Easy Lemon Sorbet

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It has finally gotten hot (95 deg. F) after an unusually tame summer and I found my head resting in the open fridge door after a run. The environmental impact was not lost on me. Still feeling the guilt. But In the fridge with me was a lovely bowl of lemons. Inspiration! Need to make something with lemons.

First let me say, in case you needed more than the word lemon to motivate you, that lemons are VERY healthy. Oddly enough, the healthiest part is the peel which has more nutrients per gram than the juice. The peel contains limonene and salvestrol Q40 which research has shown to help fight cancers of the skin, colon and breast. Although we think of lemons as acidic, they actually act as an alkalizing agent once eaten. The bioflavonoids in the peel reduce oxidative stress and lower LDL cholesterol. The pith (the white soft portion of the rind right under the peel) contains hesperidin (a flavanoid) that reduces bone loss and lowers lipids. The pectin in the lemon rind provides a feeling of fullness and assists with weight loss. There are a few folks that should check with their doctor before using the peel and that would be anyone with kidney or gallbladder stones, as eating the peels can increase the oxalates in your body.

When using the lemon rind, it is important to buy organic and wash them well. I like a vinegar and cold water soak followed by a good rinse or a soak in ozonated water. You can always use a sharp knife, grater or peeler to remove the rind but my favorite way is the microplane. Mine is a Microplane brand zester and it makes quick and easy work of adding zest to any dish.

Having just come from a run, I didn’t want a fussy recipe so here is a drop dead easy lemon sorbet that is better than anything you can buy in a store. I am using a high speed blender for this with a tamper (a Vitamix). Love my Vitamix. Using a regular blender or food processor will not give you the smooth consistency of the Vitamix but it will still taste good.

Lemon Sorbet
Makes 3-4 servings

2 cups ice chips
2 lemons
2-3 tablespoons agave nectar depending on how sweet you like things and the size of your lemons
a cup of water for adjusting consistency as needed

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Remove the outer yellow rind from ½ of the outer surface of each lemon as shown.

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Leave the white pith in place as much as possible. Save the rind for use in other recipes. Cut the lemon into 4 to 8 pieces and remove the seeds. Add the lemons, ice and agave to the blender. Start blending and tamping the ingredients into the blades at a low speed but increase to full speed as you continue the tamping process until the consistency is smooth and thick. This took about 2 mins. in my machine. If the result is too powdery like this,

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add additional water by the tablespoon, blending and tamping for 20-30 seconds until it is fully incorporated before adding any more.

This recipe can also be done sugar free by substituting stevia powder (1 ½ tsp.) for the agave. I personally like the agave better but it’s good to have options.

Scoop the sorbet out of the blender and serve immediately. Extra sorbet can be frozen but it becomes quite solid in the freezer. I pop the frozen sorbet block back into the blender and re-blend before serving.

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Magnesium-What You Need to Know

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Often called the invisible deficiency, low magnesium (Mg) intake is a common problem. Estimates vary but somewhere between 50-80% of us don’t have enough. Scientists have theorized that since farmers do not replace Mg taken up by crops, the soil, over time has become depleted and therefore, the food we eat contains less magnesium with each harvest. Since Mg is involved in over 300 enzyme interactions in our bodies that regulate everything (including energy, digestion, RNA/DNA synthesis, neurotransmitter formation and muscle and nerve function), this is a mineral you want to keep topped up.

Detecting low magnesium levels is tricky. The common blood test only finds the most critically low individuals since a mere 1% of the mineral is found in blood. The truly interested can get a Mg RBC test at www.requestatest.com for $49 that is more reliable but there is little downside to increasing consumption of high Mg foods and, in most cases, supplementation.

Symptoms of mg. deficiency can include:
Weakness                         heart irregularity                      muscle spasm

nausea/vomiting           fatigue                                             personality change

eye twitches                     numbness                                     tingling

constipation                     insomnia

How much do you need? The RDA recommends a minimum of 320mg/day for adult women and 420mg for adult men over the age of 30 with supplement recommendations running 400 to 1000mg/day depending on your health status. Several conditions lead to Mg wasting including type 2 diabetes (diabetics excrete more Mg in their urine and bind more to the sugar in their blood making it unavailable for other interactions), Crohn’s disease, GI resection, celiac disease, alcohol use, heavy soda drinking, high salt or caffeine intake, heavy menses, high stress (physical as well as psychological) and use of any of these medications: diuretics, ACE inhibitors, statins, fluoride, cipro and antacids/acid blockers. Folks who should not supplement Mg until they talk to their doctor include anyone with kidney disease or severe heart disease.

A rule of thumb for supplementing Mg is that you know when it’s too much if you develop diarrhea. While that is largely true, there are several types of Mg supplementation and not all of them lead to loose stools. Magnesium cannot exist elementally by itself and must be bound to another molecule for stability. If considering a supplement, it could matter what form you take.

Magnesium Oxide: cheap, readily available, poorly absorbed, softens stool

Espsom Salts (Mg Chloride) or Mg oil: Well absorbed through the skin, used topically as a bath additive or massage oil, it is cheap, easy to get and harder to take too much. Should not cause GI symptoms

Magnesium glycinate: good absorption, least likely to cause diarrhea, has more of a calming effect as the Mg is bound to glycine which is a calming neurotransmitter

Magnesium sulfate: found in Milk of Magnesia, has a large laxative effect. Not recommended as a Mg supplement source

Magnesium Citrate: Laxative, well absorbed

Magnesium carbonate and gluconate both have poor absorption

Magnesium L-threonate: A new player in the Mg market. The only one to cross the blood brain barrier and show benefit to cognition (see this study if you want more info)

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The safest, and best tasting, way to get your Mg fix is in food. 30-40%  of the Mg in food is absorbed. Foods high in Mg include:

Dark leafy greens                   nuts (brazils, cashews, almonds)

herbs                                              avocado                                        wheat/oat bran

sunflower seeds                      shrimp                                            beans

brown rice                                 artichokes                                     pumpkin seeds

garlic                                             dark cocoa powder

There are also several steps you can take to keep the Mg you have:

Don’t drink soda (the phosphates in the soda bind Mg)

avoid sugar and caffeine

limit alchohol to one drink per day

People who need more Mg, usually need more B6, Vitamin D and selenium to use it well. A good multivitamin should cover these bases. Magnesium is best taken on an empty stomach and not within 2 hrs. of taking a calcium supplement.

Want a recipe for a high magnesium smoothie? Thought so 🙂

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Magnificent Magnesium Chocolate Smoothie

1 cup spinach leaves

1 tablespoon raw cashews

2 tablespoons unsweetened black cocoa powder ( I use Bloomers)

1 ½ frozen bananas

4 ice cubes

1 cup cold water

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Makes a bit more than 2 cups of smoothie. If you drink the whole thing, it will give you 279 mg of magnesium, 224 calories, 4.5 grams of protein, 23% of your potassium, 59% of your daily vitamin A and 12% of your daily iron requirements. Definitely a healthy chocolate fix!

 

 

 

 

S’mores Cookies

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It’s SO summer and what do a girl’s thoughts turn to but…S’mores 🙂 Since going vegan, there are some things I have had to adapt. S’mores, that quintessential summer cookout treat, is one of them. While not a huge marshmallow fan, I do love them melted. The problem is that commercial marshmallows contain gelatin (an animal product) and the chocolate has milk.
One year, I tried to go all Martha Stewart and make my own marshmallows. While they were amazing in hot coco, they just melted off the stick over a campfire and were a ton of sticky work. Since then, vegan marshmallows have become more mainstream. Dandies makes a vegan/ gluten/GMO free version that holds up well to the rigors of S’more making. Milk free chocolate also exists. For baking, Enjoy Life brand makes regular, mini chip and mega chunk options. All of them are great and can either be ordered online or often found in local or whole foods markets.
One rainy summer afternoon, with no campfire in my future, I came up with this recipe to satisfy the craving and it was a family hit. Make up a batch of these and all you will miss is the wood smoke.

Recipe:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup Earth Balance (or vegan butter substitute of choice)
2 tbsp. ground flax seed
6 tbsp. water
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups flour
1 cup ground up graham crackers (shoot for a mix of finely ground and bigger chunks)
¾ cup chocolate bar chips
¾ cup vegan marshmallows

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Begin by adding the water to the ground flax seed in a small bowl and stir to combine. Set this aside to let it thicken. Next, cream together the sugars, Earth Balance butter, flax seed/water mix and vanilla until smooth.

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Gradually add the flour until combined and then the crumbled graham crackers.

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Once you have all the dry ingredients added, stir in the chocolate chips and mini marshmallows (if you like big chunks of marshmallow, leave the mini ones just as they come from the package. If you like smaller bits, cut them up with kitchen scissors or a knife first, as I have done here).

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Place the dough by rounded teaspoons onto a cookie sheet about 2 inches apart and bake in a 350 deg. F oven for 8-10 mins. Let cool slightly before moving to a cooling rack.

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Try to keep them from being eaten all at once. Just try:)

Learning to Run & Tarahumara Pinole Cake

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I am new to running. For most of my life, running was something one did if chased or needing to get somewhere fast without a car. It has taken me until now to see it’s merits and there are moments that I still have doubts.

On the plus side, running is cheap, accessible, infinitely customizable for time constraints and intensity and provides a great calorie burn. On the down side- it hurts. Well, for me, the first mile really hurts. It is what happens after that first mile that compels me to run. Somewhere around a mile, the pain eases, my breathing relaxes and I can get outside the protests of mind and body to appreciate the beauty of nature. The best part is after the run. No matter how tired I am at the start, the run energizes me for the rest of the day. Nothing seems impossible and there is a level of joy for life that does not seem to follow my elliptical workouts. All of these up-sides will probably keep running on my self maintenance list for the foreseeable future.

Like most new activities, I dive in with body and mind. I am trying to learn all I can about running. After reading the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, that details the amazing athleticism of the Tarahumara tribe of Mexico, something stuck with me. How they fueled their runs. Of course- the take home point for me would be about food. They swear by a special kind of corn meal cake made with corn meal that has been treated with lime water called Masa Harina. The soaking of the corn in the alkalizing lime, allows it to form a dough when handled and makes it more nutritious by freeing the niacin for digestion and radically improving the amount of calcium, iron, copper and zinc the body can get from the meal. Many grains, seeds and nuts can be infected by potentially harmful mycotoxins (I am looking at you peanut butter. I love you but- why must you be infected with mold??), but are reduced 90-95% after lime water soaking.

I tried a handful of different recipes for these cakes known as Pinole. Most were a disappointment. Too bland, boring, hard or dry. How can chocolate pinole fail to please??  The best recipe I found was by a favorite blogger, The One Ingredient Chef, Andrew Olsen. If you want some great plant based recipes and pretty pictures, check out his blog and Pinole recipe here at One Ingredient Chef. So I started my recipe adaptation using his and making it sweeter and more exciting with the addition of pumpkin seeds, peanut butter (I still love you) and fruit. I also simplified the process to eliminate the food processor and make it a one pan endeavor. Who wants to clean more stuff? The result is a portable, nutritious, high energy snack that travels well. It is not a cookie, but more a snack with a purpose that you can feel good about.

Pinole Cakes for Athletes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

2 cups Masa Harina

4 tablespoons Chia Seeds

6 tablespoons agave or honey or rice syrup (whichever you like)

1 very ripe mashed banana

1 tablespoon nut butter (I used peanut butter)

¼ cup pumpkin seeds (I use the salted variety)

¼ cup dried cranberries (or any dried fruit of similar size)

1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup water

Begin by placing the masa harina and chia seeds in a large skillet and stir to combine. Toast over medium heat stirring constantly for 5-8 mins. until it smells sweetly toasted. This can over-toast (AKA burn) quickly so turn off the cell phone and pay attention.

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Once toasted, add everything else except the water. I find it easier to mix the sweetener with the nut butter separately on the edge of the pan or in a cup. Stir to combine.

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This mixture will be thick and may be easier to mix with your hands. Here is the consistency of dough you are looking for. As with all baking, humidity levels effect flours so you may need slightly more or less water to achieve this dough:

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Spread the dough out onto a silicone or parchment lined baking sheet to a ¼ inch depth. Pat into a rectangle. This makes a 11 x 12 inch rectangle for me.

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I keep a plastic ruler just for cooking. With it, I shore up edges to be straight and score dough for even sized portions.  Here is the dough sectioned into 30 portions:

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Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 mins. until lightly browned with small cracks formed on the top. Cool for a few mins. before slicing.

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Stored in a cookie jar, these keep for a few days. They also freeze well. They are sturdy enough to wrap up and put in my running pack or purse. When made with honey and peanut butter, they come out to about 45 calories each. You can make these with regular corn meal but the results will not be as tasty or nutritious. I have tried it both ways.

Hope this snack helps keep you energized without ruining your healthy eating plan. Keep moving forward 🙂 I would love to hear how readers fuel their workouts and what you do with this recipe!

 

 

 

 

Learning to Cook & homemade bouillon

One of the biggest things we can do for our health, outside of exercising, is feeding ourselves well. To that end, all of us need to learn to cook. It’s like brushing your teeth. Nobody asks you if you like it or are good at it. We just accept it has to get done. I am not talking complicated recipes or ‘fancy’ stuff, just basic, good tasting, fool-proof food.

So how do you start? I spent months looking for the best way to learn cooking skills. My criteria were that it had to be accessible on my time, reasonably priced (I am looking at you well known cooking store in the mall with your $60 for an hour classes that teach one dish), cover the basic skills and give me a bunch of go-to recipes that would form a foundation for a healthy diet.
I found the Rouxbe cooking school. Click the link to go directly to their website. Rouxbe is an online cooking school that goes beyond recipes (although it has hundreds of amazing, well tested ones), it teaches you how to cook. For a subscription fee, you can access all their lessons. Where was this when I was a new bride??

Their detailed video lessons get across all the important facts about a skill. Even things I thought I knew how to do, I learned to do better, safer and more efficiently. When you have those kinds of skills, making food becomes fun and fast.

I began as a regular subscribing student, took some classes and was so impressed, I enrolled in the  Plant Based Professional Certification. Now, six months and hundreds of dishes later, I have graduated. What I learned will change the way I cook forever. Education is worth investment. In the end, it will save you money when you cook at home and, if you cook food that encourages health, that dividend is priceless. Go to the site. Take advantage of the free trial and see what you think.

One of my favorite things I learned was how to make my own bouillon base.

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Having paid $5 an 8 oz.  jar for one with oil and sugar, this one recipe has saved me at least $50 in the last few months and hundreds of calories. I use it in most of my dishes as a more flavorful way to salt something. Usually, I double or triple this recipe.  A doubling yields about 1 ¼ quarts. This is a recipe from the Rouxbe cooking school to which I have only added more sundried tomatoes than the original because I like the umami effect they create.

Here is the recipe:

2 celery stalks

1 small celery root

1 small fennel bulb

2 leeks

2-4 shallots

2-4 carrots

¼ bunch cilantro

⅛ bunch flat-leafed parsley

6 sun dried tomatoes

1 cup sea salt

Note: If you have a small food processor (less than 8 or 10 cup capacity), you may need to make this in 2 batches. Each ingredient, if large, should be cut into chunks of 1-2 inch size.

To make the paste, start with the celery root and carrots. Pulse them several times until they start to break down. Then add the fennel, leeks, celery, shallots and garlic; pulse again. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and pulse to blend everything together. Next, add the salt and pulse a few times. Then add the fresh herbs and pulse again. Once everything is well blended and mixed together, you should have a moist, paste-like consistency as you see here.IMG_1683
Place a bit of the paste into a jar and refrigerate so you can use it throughout the week. Place the remaining paste into a container (I use a Mason Jar as the mix doesn’t freeze so the jar won’t break) and store in the freezer. I like to add a date on the jar so I can keep track. The salt keeps it from freezing solid, so whenever you need a bit, you can just scoop it out. Alternatively, the paste can be canned.
To prepare the bouillon, measure 1 tablespoon per 1 cup of hot water. Taste and adjust to your liking. This bouillon can be used in soups, sauces, stews, risotto or grains. Basically, anywhere you want to add a bit more flavor. Just remember that it is quite salty, so keep that in mind when you are seasoning the rest of the dish.

 

Picture Gratitude

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According to the Greater Good Science Center, being mindfully grateful can enhance our immune system, improve sleep, lower blood pressure, lessen depression, strengthen our relationships and encourage us to take better care of ourselves and others. Check out the videos on the Greater Good Science Center by Emmons on the hows and whys of feeling thankful. So how do we get a piece of this?
Cultivating gratitude is a gift you can give your kids and family through modeling the behavior. It may be enough to express your appreciation for things out loud. Ask them at the end of the day, what happened that made them smile and share your daily high points with them. If you are having a terrible day, focus on how you were grateful it wasn’t something worse. It could almost always have been worse.
Journaling is a research proven winner in the gratitude contest. Folks who write down what soothed their soul were more able to keep those feelings going. It has the added benefit of allowing you to look back on what you wrote when you are not feeling the love, and remember a better moment.
But what if writing it down is a road block? In the era of phones with cameras, I encourage you to take a picture. The quality, lighting, style et cetera doesn’t matter. Just capture an image that will call your mind back to what you were feeling at the moment you hit the shutter.

 

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Save the images to a special album. Make a collage of them. Use the collage as your screen saver or have it scroll through the album on your desktop. Collect them all onto a memory card and play it on a digital picture frame.

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Most smart phones have microphones. Hit record to tell yourself about a good moment. Catch a loved one singing in the shower, a beautiful few seconds of music or the sound of rain patter when you are dry and warm inside. Record someone saying what they most appreciate about you or their infectious laugh. Make yourself a happiness mix tape to play when you need it most.
Smell recording needs to happen so I can record fresh baked bread and cookies, morning tea and coffee, the woods after it rains, the scent of my child’s head or my dog after her bath. Somebody please get on this.

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Most importantly, don’t keep the joy to yourself. Share what gives your life meaning. Joy is one of those few things that increases the more you give it away. Making everyday a little bit more like Thanksgiving (minus the drunk uncle and screaming cousins) is something we can all celebrate.

Good Versus Great Baking & Making Your Own Vanilla

Ever wondered why cooks executing the same recipe can get radically different results? While there can be many culprits, let’s look for a minute at ingredients.
What you use, how you store it and preparation method are all important when baking. Take flour for instance. There are several types with different characteristics:
All purpose flour: 8-11% protein. Comes bleached (chemically) or unbleached. Chemical bleaching will lower the protein in flour and should therefore be limited to use in quick breads and cookies. Unbleached flour is best for applications where you want air pockets in the dough such as bread and pastry.
Bread Flour: 12-14% protein and best used in yeast dough applications.
Cake flour: 8-10% protein and finely milled allows for cakes and quick breads to rise well. This product is bleached.
Self Rising flour:Low protein, not for use with yeast as it already contains rising agents. Usually bleached.
There are many other flours in the world (and a range of gluten free options), but most home cooks use the aforementioned most often. Mark the purchase date on the bag when you bring it home. Flour should be used within 3-6 months if you are storing in a dry, dark, room temp. location. If you store it in the freezer in an airtight bag it will keep for several years. Frozen flour should be brought to room temperature before using with yeast or it may decrease rise. Never store flour next to strong smells or it will absorb them.
So now you have the perfect flour for your application, let’s talk vanilla. If you have never made your own, I encourage you to try. My first foray into vanilla came when my mom bought me a perpetual vanilla kit for Christmas.

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An adorable glass jar came with a handful of vanilla beans and instructions. All I had to do was remove the beans, slice them down the middle, return them to the jar and fill with vodka, rum or bourbon, label with the date then wait at least 30 days before using. Since I still had some vanilla, I put it together then tucked it away and forgot about it. Three months later, while searching for the cream of tarter (why do I always have to empty the spice cabinet to locate this??), I found the bottle. Opening it yielded a beautiful, complex and rich aroma not even close to the supermarket product. I have never gone back.

If you don’t have a kit, any glass bottle (the cuter the better) in the 4 to 8 oz. range will do. Vanilla beans can be purchased from many sources but I get mine from Beanilla. There are several origins for beans and each carries a different taste profile. Madagascar  beans have that classic, sweet and buttery scent. Mexican beans are rich, sometimes a bit smokey or even acerbic/spicy. Indian beans have a rich scent but I find them interchangeable with the Madagascar kind. Tahitian pods have an amazing caramel, fruitiness that makes them a favorite.  Once you have your beans, slice them down the middle. I like to remove some of the ‘caviar’ and put that paste into the bottle, then put the sliced pods back in. IMG_1707

Don’t worry if your pods break apart when you slice them open. Just put the pieces into the bottle and proceed. Fill the jar with your choice of vodka, rum or bourbon until the pods are covered. IMG_1708

Label the bottle with a reminder not to use until after at least 30 days from when it was made.

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The longer it sits, the richer the taste. Shaking the bottle every day or few days for the first month, also increases the extract flavor. Once it is done, use like you would any vanilla. If you top up your bottle with more alcohol every time you use some, you can have ‘perpetual vanilla’. I have a bottle that is going on 3 yrs. now but I think new beans will be needed soon.

Once you are a vanilla fan, you will find new excuses to include it in food. Putting it in salad dressings, most baked goods, custards, whipped coconut cream, stews, rice blends, anything with curry and vegan ice creams only makes each recipe better IMHO.

So other tips and tricks for great baking?

1. Test your oven temperature. You aren’t baking at 350 deg. F unless you test it with an oven thermometer. I test my ovens at least twice a year.

2. If you have a convection setting for your oven, bake with that. If not, turn the baking sheets or pans half way through baking.

3. Use parchment or silicone oven mats on baking sheets to prevent excessive bottom browning.

4. Know the texture you are trying to achieve with a batter. Good recipes should include this information but don’t be shy about penciling it into your cookbook to remind yourself or your kids, how it should look.  Flour will vary in moisture content depending on humidity. If too dry, add small amounts of water until the batter looks right. If too wet, add spoonfuls of flour until reaching the desired consistency. This is something only experience can teach so good baking is often a matter of lots of baking.

5. Store any ingredient with oils that can go rancid, in the freezer such as flour, nuts and seeds.

6. Bring eggs (if you use them) and butters/oils to room temperature before use as they incorporate better. If you use flax eggs- ALWAYS store your ground flax seed in the freezer. It goes rancid very quickly and is then bad for your baking and health.

7. If you are using sugar and fats in a recipe, cream them together. This is not a step to skip. Ever see those cookies at the bake sale that consist of a flat dough disc with the chips standing up like mountain peaks? The sugar and fats were not blended and the batter was probably too wet.

8. Don’t over beat quick breads, muffins, pancakes and cookie doughs. The rising power of baking powder and soda lasts only a short time once it touches the liquids. You must move fast to preserve that lift and over stirring the batter will develop the tough gluten fibers of the flour. Folding the wet into the dry ingredients keeps the results soft. Who wants a hard muffin?

All this talk of baking is making me hungry. I’m off to the kitchen until next post.

When Less Sugar is More Nutrition

Sugar and I go way back and our relationship has not always been healthy. Like most Americans, I spent the early years of this affair ingesting, ahem… more than the World Health Organization recommendation of six teaspoons (or a measly 100 calories) per day for women. Men don’t get off much easier. They are allowed only 9 tsp., or 150 calories/day. Things were going well. My weight was fine and it tasted SO GOOD.

So why should I care now and why should you? Piles of studies are pointing to the damage sugar can do to your health. Check out some of it for yourself at www.sugarscience.org. Fructose especially, but all sugars really, can cause triglyceride elevation, inflammatory reactions throughout the body and liver damage. Eating naturally occurring sugars, like those found in fruits, is not so harmful because the fiber in the fruit slows absorption enough to let our bodies process the carbohydrates slowly.

Over time, I have been trying to get refined sugars out of my life. The candy bars were easy, the cookies are still a struggle. I also know that my chances for success will increase if I can find a healthy substitute for bad sugars. Enter the magic of fruit purees.

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Normally, this is easy to find unsweetened apple sauce, but prune, banana and apricot are also great choices. Prune or date puree can be found in the baking section of the grocery or can be made at home. I will routinely substitute ¼ to ½ of the sugar called for in any recipe with fruit puree. Purees can also stand in for fat in baking. If you are putting fruit in for fat and sugar, start at ¼ of the total for each and work your way up each time you make the recipe. Sugar lends proper browning and texture so some is usually needed in cookies and cakes.

There is a world of culinary uses to explore here, but let me show you how I make apricot puree. The technique is the same no matter what dried fruit you want to use.

Apricot puree:

½ cup dried apricots

1 cup water

In a dish or measuring cup, put the fruit and water together, cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge overnight until the fruit has plumped up.

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Put the fruit and water into a blender and puree until smooth.

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This may require you to stop and scrape down the insides of the blender several times before it is smooth enough to be lump free and stick to a spoon when turned upside down.

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When fully blended, store in a jar in the fridge for about a week or the freezer for up to 6 months.

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So now you have your puree, what can you do with it? Stir it into your morning granola, slather it on pancakes or toast, use it instead of jelly on a sandwich and, of course, cook and bake up a storm. It is a terrific thickener for homemade salad dressings!

Since going plant based with our diet, I began to notice how hard it was to find granola without dairy in the ingredients. Granola is often loaded with sugar and very expensive. On a recent trip, a bag of granola was selling for over nine dollars! Eek. That’s when I found out how fun, rewarding, great smelling, simple and delicious making your own granola could be. You seriously have to try this. The smell alone is worth the effort.

Naturally Sweetened Apricot, Macadamia Nut Granola:

3 cups rolled oats

1 mashed ripe banana

2 tbs. coconut oil

½ cup apricot puree

12 diced dried apricots, diced

½ cup unsalted macadamia nuts, chopped

1 tbsp. ground flax seed stirred into 3 tbsp. water

1 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla extract

optional:

1 tbs. chia seeds

You can always add sugars in the form of agave, black strap molasses or maple syrup if the naturally sweetened recipe above is just not sweet enough. I have not needed more than ¼ to ½ cup of additional sweetener per recipe to satisfy even the biggest sweet tooth in the house. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Put the oats into a large bowl with the nuts, dried apricots, mashed banana and flax/water mix (this gets gelatinous and helps hold the chunks of granola together while adding nutrients) .

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In a small pan over low heat, mix the apricot puree, coconut oil, vanilla and cinnamon until the oil is melted.

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Pour the melted mix into the bowl with the oats and stir until well combined.

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If you are adding any of the optional chia seeds or natural sugars, do that now. Pour onto a baking sheet covered in parchment or baking liner and spread out into an even layer.

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Bake at 350 deg. F for 20 mins. Turn off the oven, rotate the pan and let sit in the turned off oven another 15 mins.  Let cool on the baking sheet undisturbed if you like chunky granola or break it up and stir it around if you like it in small bits.

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The sky is the limit on what you might want to add to the recipe when you make it at home. Bran, dried cranberries, different nuts and seeds, coconut…

I store this in a glass jar with one of those silica desiccant packs taped into the top of the lid to keep it fresh. Eat within a week although it never lasts that long at our house.IMG_1705

 

 

Vegan Pasta with Lemon Caper Creamy Sauce, Asparagus & Peas

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I decided to set myself a challenge last night and ‘veganize’ a myrecipes.com entree called pasta with lemon cream sauce, asparagus and peas (click here for the original version) so those wanting to follow a plant centered diet, could see how how to transform a cream based item.

The first, and most obvious, hurdle was to make a cream sauce without dairy. Enter the humble and adaptable cashew. Soaked for a few hours, or overnight in water, the nut becomes soft. Once in this state, it can be placed in a blender and  blended until the consistency is very cream-like. You can soak the nuts when you think about it, drain and store in the fridge in a closed container for a day or two until you are ready to cook.

I always look for ways to boost the flavor layers when I am cooking so, this adaptation adds onions, white wine, lemon zest, Dijon mustard, non-dairy yogurt, Herbamare, nutmeg, capers, fresh basil and a great balsamic vinegar drizzle to the original version. The best balsamic vinegar I have found at it’s price point is the Barrel-aged Balsamic from Wine Country Kitchens Napa Valley. It is thick and sweet and there is nothing it fails to improve. Lower on the acid side with a complex flavor profile that makes you stop what you are doing and really notice what you’re eating. This stuff is so good, it spoils you. Better than wine as a hostess gift but so nice you hate to hand it over.

Another trick to making things creamy with little to no oil or fat and without dairy, is mustard. Mustard seed contains 20-30% protein that assists in thickening. This trick is useful when making salad dressings that don’t separate as the mustard works as an emulsifier. My favorite mustard is Gray Poupon and I must not be the only one as the folks at seriouseats.com proclaim it the winner for Dijon in their taste test. It brightens flavors and lowers the amount of salt needed so, if you don’t regularly cook with mustard, salt lightly and taste as you cook to properly adjust the seasoning.

This recipe calls for Herbamare which, among it’s other ingredients, includes sea salt. If you are omitting this item, slightly more salt may be needed. Although on the expensive side, a container easily lasts me 9-12 months and I use it several times a week. This blend of celery, leek, watercress, onions, chives, parsley, lovage, garlic, basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and kelp brings a savory taste to whatever it touches. A favorite for soups, dressings and pasta dishes at our house.

So here is my vegan version. Serves 4 as an entree or 6 as a side dish:

Ingredients

1/2 lb. penne pasta

3/4 cup soaked raw unsalted cashews

1 cup water or vegetable stock

1/2 cup diced onion (I normally like red onions for the sweeter taste and better nutritional profile, but they will lend a slightly pink cast to the final sauce. If that would bother you, yellow onions might be preferred here)

2 cloves minced garlic

1 tbs. non-dairy butter like Earth Balance

1/4 cup white wine

2 tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

2 tbs. non-dairy yogurt

1/4 tsp. Herbamare seasoning

3 tsp. lemon zest

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 bunch asparagus washed and cut into 1 inch segments from the tip to about 2 inches from the end of each stalk

1 cup frozen peas

1 rounded tbs. capers

salt and pepper to taste

2 tbs. finely chopped fresh basil

2 tsp. lemon zest for finishing

balsamic vinegar to taste

Begin by cooking your pasta in salted water according to package directions. Half way through the cooking time, add the peas and asparagus. Work on the sauce while the pasta is cooking.

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Drain and return pasta, peas and asparagus to the warm empty pot when the full pasta cooking time has elapsed.

For the sauce, into a saute pan or skillet, place the non-dairy butter, white wine, onions and a pinch of salt. Cook the onions over low to medium heat until tender but not browned. Add the garlic and cook until the wine has largely evaporated. The onions and garlic should look moist but not be wet.

When the onions and garlic are done, put them into a blender with the soaked cashews, water or vegetable stock, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, mustard, non-dairy yogurt, pinch of salt and pepper, Herbamare, 3 tsp. of lemon zest and 1/2 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated if you can). Blend on high until all smooth and creamy. In my Vitamix, this is about 1 minute but your blender may vary. Once fully blended, pour over the pasta and vegetable mix and stir to combine. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Put the heat back on the pot and heat on low to medium for about 2 mins. until everything is piping hot.

To serve, spoon the mix into a hot bowl, sprinkle the top of each serving with the rest of the lemon zest and basil and then finish with a drizzle of the balsamic vinegar.

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Searching For Sleep

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 30% of folks have trouble sleeping. Not getting enough sleep can impair our cognition and function as much as being drunk, age us prematurely (shortening those precious teleomeres faster than needed), make us fat, impair our glucose metabolism and overall, reduce a thirty year old to the cognitive function of your average eighty year old. Is that what you want out of life?

If you have trouble sleeping, here are some ‘sleep hygiene’ steps that may help:

1. Keep a routine. No matter how tempting it is to stay up late on weekends and sleep in over holidays, resist the urge. Your brain appreciates routine and will respond by letting you feel sleepy on schedule.

2. Keep it dark. We make the sleep hormone melatonin when it is dark. Even a night light or illuminated clock can lower your levels. Falling asleep watching TV or with a light on can lessen sleep quality. Room darkening shades or drapes can help as will pointing clocks away from your face while you sleep. If you get up in the middle of the night, try not to expose your eyes to light. Some find a red night light or red light flashlight for those nocturnal bathroom trips to be helpful  in being able to get back to sleep.

Restrict computer and TV use at night. For at least an hour before bed, no screen time. Lit screens have blue light that signals your brain to wake up. If you just must work late, check out f.lux.com. This free program uses your computer clock to start lowering the blue light component of your screen as your bedtime approaches.

3. No stimulants. Limit coffee, tea and soda to the morning or at least to no later than lunch.  Chocolate and some medications may all disrupt sleep. Check with your prescriber about medications and limit the chocolate to early in the day.

4. Exercise. 30 mins. of exercise a day is the recommendation and, since it can be stimulating, should occur early in the day.

5. Warmth and comfort. Warm herbal tea, a hot shower and soft bed clothes all help put your brain into the right mood for sleep. Research shows most find the best room temperature for a sound slumber is 65 deg. F.  A mattress you find comfortable is a worthy investment. Experts say the structure of the mattress can require replacement after about 10 yrs. If your not sleeping as well as you used to, maybe it’s time for a new one.

6. Quiet before bed. Spend the hour before bed doing something quiet and restful. Read a book, listen to music, knit or draw.

7. Eat early. Eating within an hour or two of bed will stimulate digestion which can make you more alert. Pass on the late night snack and your sleep and waistline may improve.

8. No alcohol. Although the immediate effects of alcohol can make you feel drowsy, a few hours after the drink, it acts like a stimulant,, thus making it hard to stay asleep.

9. Sips and Scents. Drinking some camomile tea as you get ready for bed can induce a sleepy state as can spritzing your pillow with some essential oil of lavender. I use rubbing alcohol in a clean empty spray bottle mixed with 10-20 drops of lavender oil and spray the pillows as I make the bed in the morning. When the scent dissipates in 2 or 3 days, spray again.

10. Don’t go to bed stressed. Easier said than done, I know. What they say about not going to bed angry is true. If you can’t talk out your problems, journal them or write a letter (you don’t need to send it) to whomever or whatever is the cause of your stress. If all else fails, find something that makes you laugh. Playing with a pet or reading a funny book can bring the stress hormone cortisol down and allow sleep to win.

Sleep can be elusive and it may take all of the tricks mentioned plus help from your healthcare provider to get what you need. I would love to see our national dialogue on sleep change from bragging about how little sleep you can function on to shared empathy and support for those plagued by insomnia. Making sleep a health priority is in all of our best interests.

 

A place to share things I have found make a positive difference. It's about food, fitness, health and inspiration.