Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pomegranate Pancake Syrup...

I suppose technically this is more of a sauce then a syrup, but I think syrup sounds better, and I generally think of sauces as being savory and syrups as being sweet, and this sauce definitely falls into the later category.

Simmering on the Stove

I first made this sauce over a year ago, when we had an abundance of pomegranates in the house, and my waffle iron was still a novelty item. I was making waffles for breakfast once or twice a week, and when you eat that many waffles you soon grow tired of the traditional toppings. Or at least I did. Since I love pomegranate in all of it’s incarnations - whole, juice, as a flavoring for anything, etc.. - I thought why not as a syrup? There are all kinds of other fruity syrups out there but I hadn’t ever seen pomegranate syrup, and pomegranates are so delicious!

Finished Product

So after a bit of thought, some playing around and tweaking I came up with this recipe. It’s very simple, without too many ingredients, but it is very satisfying and tastes wonderful on either waffles or pancakes. It’s definitely made it onto my husbands list of favorite breakfast toppings, and I’ve made it several more times since that initial time. I hope you enjoy it too!

Pomegranate Pancake Syrup

3/4 C Pomegranate Arils (roughly 1 ½ pomegranates)
3/4 - 1C Water.
1tbsp lemon juice
1-2 Tbsp Organic Cornstarch
1/3 C Brown Sugar (or to taste)

- Blend Pomegranate Arils and water on high in highspeed blender for 30-90 seconds until very smooth. Start out with lesser amount and increase to get the desired consistency, you want the mixture to be soupy not thick.

- Strain the contents of the blender through a cheesecloth or very fine metal sieve. To remove the juice from the pulp. If using a vitamix there might not be that much pulp left that needs to be discarded.

- Next pour the liquid into a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the lemon juice and brown sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer. Add in Cornstarch whisking frequently until dissolved, and the sauce has thickened. Let simmer and continue to whisk periodically for about 15-20 minutes until the syrup has thickened and begins to smell heavenly.

- Once thickened test for consistency and flavor. If not sweet enough for you then add a bit more sugar to taste. Keep in mind that this sauce doesn’t get as thick as commercial syrup, if you want you can add a bit more cornstarch to thicken further, but it’s delicious as is.

- Serve warm over your choice of pancakes or waffles. Almost any traditional or fruit/nut combination would work, but my personal favorite to accompany this syrup is blueberry pancakes or blueberry waffles, and that’s what I have pictured here. Blueberry and pomegranate are a match made in heaven and if you really want to amp up the flavor add a sprinkling of fresh blueberries to your plate, and lightly dust with powdered sugar. Delicious! Cherries are another great choice, particularly sauteed or baked cherries, yum!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Broiled Vegetable Pizza Sauce...

Everyone it seems love pizza, and I am certainly no exception. There’s just something so overwhelmingly satisfying and comforting about it. It’s become something of an ingrained cultural ritual for most people. We eat it at parties, and family gatherings. We pick it up when we get off work late, or grab a slice to eat on the go at lunch. It was a favorite childhood food for most of us enjoyed at all the best occasions and celebrations. We eat it when we have late night cravings and enjoy it cold the next day for breakfast - or at least I do - Then there are some days where you just want some of that greasy oozy-gooey goodness.

These days I don’t eat as much pizza as I used to. Partly because I don’t consider it to be a particularly healthful food, - not the way most restaurants make it anyway - but also because I’m just the type of person that enjoys constantly engaging in new culinary experiences. As much as I love it I couldn’t eat pizza all the time, and I’ve never been the kind of person who only ate one kind of pizza and that was it. I find that very boring. Not to mention limiting. I prefer to constantly change things up. I despise limitations. I relish freedom and choice, and am always looking for ways to fully take advantage of both, especially in the kitchen. So these days when I do eat pizza I take great pleasure in making my own. I love coming up with new combinations of ingredients and seeing how they work together.

My favorite kinds of pizza are the kind absolutely loaded up with veggies, I also appreciate creative sauces. Classic marinara is fine, and certainly has it’s place, but I like my pizza sauce to have a little more pizzaz. I love pesto on pizza, I also love a good garlic cream sauce on pizza, roasted tomato sauces are good too, as is a good sweet and smokey barbeque sauce. So the last time I decided to whip up a few of my own pizza creations I thought why not try my hand at making a nice delicious pizza sauce?

The following recipe is what I came up with after a little bit of thought. I love broiled veggies so much, and thought they'd be wonderful blended into a sauce, lending it a sweet yet robust flavor. I was very happy with the finished product, and the great thing about it is that while there are several steps involved it is very easy. This sauce recipe makes enough for at least 3 14 inch pizzas with still a bit leftover. A great idea for the remaining sauce If you don’t want to freeze it is to heat a bit in the microwave and then drizzle it over the finished pizza. Or heat some to use as a dipping sauce. Super tasty! Another nice thing about this sauce is that it’s very versatile. You can literally pile any kind of veggies you like on top of it and it’ll go remarkably well. I used sweet potatoes and beets sliced thin on one pizza. Tomatoes, zucchini and asparagus on one, and spinach, onions, and peppers on another. Experiment and see what you like best.

Broiled Vegetable Pizza Sauce

3 Medium Sized Tomatoes on the Vine (it’s okay if they’re a bit overripe)
½ a large Vedalia Onion (or other sweet onion)
1 Large Red Pepper
6-8 cloves garlic
1 tsp Agave nectar (or to taste)
1 tsp lime juice
Fresh parsley, oregano, and basil to taste
Sea salt and Black Pepper to taste

- Set Broiler to high.

- Slice tomatoes, and red pepper in half and lay on a lightly greased broiler pan. Slice your onion half in half again and place it on the broiler pan along with the other vegetables.

- Broil vegetables until skins are blackened. You don’t want them to be entirely black and burnt, just charred a bit. Remove from oven, place onto plate or into bowl and stick in the freezer for a quick cold shock, about five minutes.

- While vegetables are in the broiler, brown garlic cloves in a dry skillet over medium heat. about five or so minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

- Remove vegetables from freezer, skins should easily peel away from the tomatoes and pepper. Discard, along with the outermost layer of onion. Place vegetables into a highspeed blender. If there is juice remaining on the plate or in the bowl you used to hold the vegetables when putting them in the freezer pour that into the blender as well..

- Add garlic and herbs, agave, and lime juice. Blend on high until everything is combined and smooth. Add a little sea salt and black pepper.
- Next spread a generous amount of sauce onto your prepared pizza dough. Everyone likes a different amount of sauce so that is up to you. I personally like very saucy pizza, since I don’t eat cheese on my pizza the extra sauce gives it that extra oomph. Make sure to spread the sauce evenly then assemble your pizza toppings as you like and bake according to recipe directions.

So there you have it, a quick and easy pizza sauce that’s delicious and gives you the added satisfaction of knowing you made it yourself from scratch. Nothing better then that.

And incase you are curious about the pizza I have pictured here, it’s a very simple concoction that was absolutely heavenly. I used Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s pizza crust recipe from "The Vegan Table" topped it with my Broiled Vegetable sauce, then arranged thinly sliced tomato, and zucchini on top. Added sauteed red peppers, and red onions then finished it off with some shaved asparagus, some chopped green onion and some freshly cracked black pepper. Delicious!

Also my apologies for not actually taking a picture of the sauce on it’s own, that was very neglectful on my part.

*** Note - While my sauce is gluten-free, soy-free and oil-free. My pizza was not gluten-free or oil-free. I always brush my crust with a bit of olive oil before baking to get it a bit crispy, you don't have to. Also it is very easy to make gluten-free pizza and you can even buy pre-made gluten-free crusts or pre-made gluten-free pizza dough mix at many grocery and health food store chains. ***

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sweet Potato Maki...

As I’ve mentioned before, sweet potato maki are one of my favorite types of maki. They have that perfect blend of sweet and savory that just gets my mouth watering. However whenever I’ve had them in the past they’ve been made either with fried sweet potato or deep fried sweet potato tempura. Delicious as that may be, and as much as I do love that delicate crunch from the tempura mixture, when I decided to make my own sweet potato maki I opted to take a healthier route.

Now, just because these little rolls don’t come drenched in deep fried and oily ‘goodness’ doesn’t mean they’re not absolutely delectable and addictive because they are. You still get that blend of sweet and savory, accented with a little maple syrup and a bit of sesame oil to round out the flavor. Plus you get that wonderfully fresh crisp flavor of green onion. When making sweet potato maki at home this is definitely my favorite go to recipe, and so far everyone who’s tried it has loved it. My husband can never get enough. Try them dipped in a little soy sauce sweetened with mirin or stevia or better yet - my favorite - try them dipped in a peanut or almond based sauce. In fact the almond sauce I use in my Asian Veggie Skewer recipe is fantastic with these. Something about that rich almond flavor goes so well with the moist and creamy sweet potato.

Sweet Potato Maki

1 1/2C Sushi Rice
3 C Water
1-2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Granulated Cane Sugar

2 Small-Medium Sized Sweet Potatoes
4-6 finely chopped green onions (white and green parts)
Dash of black pepper and a pinch of sea salt
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp maple syrup
4 sheets Nori Seaweed

Before I get to it, the method for making these Maki is very similar to the Sesame Asparagus Maki I posted about a little bit ago. The best thing you can do for yourself, to make this a quick and virtually effortless task is to have everything you need prepared before hand. Get all your pots, pans, steamers, ingredients, matts, boards and knives ready, and definitley make sure to have a clean work space ready.

- Now, first things first. You always want to start your rice before you begin anything else, because it generally takes the longest to cook. For this recipe I used white sushi rice because that’s what I had, but if you prefer you can easily switch it out for brown rice and there won’t be any difference. So combine your rice, your water, the vinegar and sugar in your rice cooker and cook as directed. If you don’t have a rice cooker combine rice, water, vinegar and sugar into a pot, stir to combine cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until all water is absorbed and rice is cooked. Cooking time varies but for sushi rice I’d say it’s usually done within 20-25 minutes so just check on it every now and again and make sure to stir so the bottom doesn’t burn. Add more water if necessary. However if you are using brown rice the cooking time will be longer, count on 35-40 minutes cook time but be sure to check.

- When your rice is cooked set aside until cool enough to handle.

- While rice is cooking prepare your sweet potatoes. Peel and cube them then place them in a steamer basket with a bit of water in the bottom. Let steam for about 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are soft. Once cooked remove from steamer basket and set aside until cool enough to handle.

- Once sweet potatoes have cooled down mash them with a fork or potato masher. Stir in the black pepper, sea salt, maple syrup and sesame oil until thoroughly combined.

- Now of comes the trickiest part, putting together and rolling your Maki. But trust me as long as you follow the steps you’ll be okay. On your clean work surface. - I use a clean bamboo cutting board - lay down your bamboo sushi rolling mat. On top lay down 1 sheet of Nori with the shiny side facing up. Have a bowl of cold water at your work station and with wet - but not profusely dripping - hands grab handfuls of rice and spread evenly over the sheet of nori. Spread the rice as close to the edges as possible but leave about a half to a quarter inch of space on the horizontal side of the Nori furthest from you. This little boarder will help your rolled Maki stick together. Rinse your hands before moving onto the next step.

- Spoon a few tablespoons worth of mashed sweet potato over the section of rice closest to you. How much sweet potato you use is ultimately up to you and how much your medium potatoes yielded. I would guess that 4 Tbsp would be appropriate, however you’ll be able to gauge the correct amount for your supplies and your preference as you work.

- Once you have your sweet potato layer down, sprinkle some of the chopped green onion over top. A few pinches is usually good. You don’t want so much that it’s over powering, but you want enough to get that onion taste.

- Now, using your mat, and working slowly pull the mat up slightly and roll it over. Moving slowly and using both hands slowly roll your Maki, using the bamboo mat to press down and make the roll tight. You may have to stop at some point to push the filling back under the Nori or to help guide the roll. Stop just before you get to the opposite edge that you’ve left empty. Dip your fingers into the water, run them along the empty edge then roll your nori closed. Press down tightly to seel.

- It’s okay if it’s not perfect, rolling Maki takes practice and even though I’ve done it a ton of times I still don’t make a perfect roll each time. Sometimes my rolls are to fat, sometimes they don’t seel properly, sometimes I don’t cut them well. It happens, don’t beat yourself up about it. Remember that you’re doing it for the fun of it, and it’s - maybe - your first time, you’ll get better the more you practice.
- Next, and this step is very important. Before cutting your Nori into one inch sections run your chef knife under cold water. By the way you should always use a chef knife or other similar smooth edged knife to cut sushi. If you use a steak knife, or a bread knife or some other kind of knife with a jagged edge your Maki is going to get shredded and will likely fall apart. Once seaweed is wet it is very, very durable, your roll will fall apart before the seaweed cuts properly. I know from experience. So run your Chef knife under cold water. Give it a shake and then starting from one edge and working towards the other cut your roll into rounds.

- The best way to cut your roll is to do it in one smooth motion. Do not use your knife as a saw. Press down firmly it’s okay if the roll doesn’t cut right away, it’s okay if it looks like it’s getting squished a bit this is normal. Use one fluid motion, press down on the knife with your knife hand and hold the long end of the roll steadily in place with the opposite hand. Press the knife firmly down until it has cut all the way through. To separate the round from the rest of the roll you may have to give one quick saw motion depending on the sharpness of your knife, but otherwise that is it. Run your knife under cold water before EACH cut! This is important. Before each cut your knife must be wet. The drier your knife Is the more difficult this will be and the more likely your roll will fall apart.

- Congratulations you survived! You should have been able to get six to eight rounds out of one roll. Unless you cut them bigger or smaller, and that’s okay too. Once they’re cut arrange them on a serving plate or platter and begin again from step one until all the ingredients are used up. Serve with soy sauce, almond dipping sauce, sweet Thai chili sauce, some pickled ginger and wasabi, and enjoy!

PS: You may notice in a few of the pictures that there are a couple of ‘inside-out rolls’ they too are pretty easy to make but just take practice. Next time I’ll explain how you too can make an inside-out roll at home, which will definitely impress your friends!

*** Note - For Sugar-Free Omit the tbsp of sugar from the Sushi Rice***

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Spotlight Food - Apples...

Though I love almost all fruit, if there was only one fruit I could eat for the rest of my life it would be apples. There are not words enough anywhere in human language that could accurately or fully describe to you just how much I love apples. I have loved and adored them since I was a child, and though some people may consider the apple to be a rather boring fruit I have never, not once in my life, ever gotten tired of it. I eat them with relish, I always have. You know that old saying "An apple a day keeps the doctor away?" well I must have taken that message to heart as a child because I ate an apple every day at lunch or for snack growing up. Not a day went by that I didn’t pack one into my backpack to take to school, and that practice has held over well into my adulthood. I bring 1 and sometimes 2 apples to work each day. Some days I can consume up to 3 apples a day in various ways. One on it’s own, one in a smoothie, and one chopped into a salad for instance, sometimes I even enjoy them for dessert. There is just something magical for me about their cool crisp texture, and tart-sweet juicy flavor. I say tart sweet because while I love apples I only love certain kinds of apples, the tart kind.

By now some of you may have wondered why in my recipes I always specify using Granny Smith apples or Pink Lady apples, and there are two reasons for this. One is that they are my absolute favorite and very rarely do I ever buy any other kind of apple. Secondly they are lower in sugar then other apples, Granny Smith in particular contains less sugar then any other apple, which makes it’s glycemic index lower, and it’s overall glycemic load less of a burden if that’s a concern for you. In short Granny Smith are the healthiest apple to eat on a regular basis, and since I eat them very regularly indeed it’s a good thing for me.

As far as other apples are concerned I absolutely despise red, and golden delicious. I’m not too fond of honey crisp either. However I don’t mind Macintosh, and Gala - both of which remind me greatly of childhood - or Fuji but still they can’t compare to the Smith and the Lady. So I rarely buy them, and eat them rather rarely, and usually only when they’re offered to me by others. My husband on the other hand prefers Gala apples above all others.

Another thing I love about apples is that they’re perfect anytime of year. They’re so universal and can be used in so many ways. They’re perfect to bake into pies in the fall, perfect to poach for dessert in winter, they’re great for eating on their own, or tossing into salads during any season, and they are always, always available no matter what grocery store or market you happen to walk into.

The apple in my opinion is natures most perfect food, but don’t just take my word for it, read on!


Did you know that there are over 7,500 known cultivars of apples available to humans? And that China, The United States, Iran, Turkey and Russia are the top five producers of apples worldwide? Did you also know that the apple has 57,000 genes (that’s 27,000 more then the human genome!!) which is the highest number of any plant genome studied to date? The complete genome of the apple was decoded by an Italian led consortium in 2010, proving that Malus sieversii was in fact the wild ancestor to the domestic apple, an issue that had been long debated within the scientific community, and the interest surrounding apples doesn’t stop there.

The apple is the pomaceous fruit of the apple tree (Malus domestica) a member of the rose family. It originates from Western Asia and is one of the most widely cultivated tree fruits. They have been grown for thousands of years in both Asia and Europe. Alexander the Great is credited with finding dwarfed apples in Kazakhstan in 328 BCE; which he brought back to Macedonia. For millennia the apple has been an important food source in Asia, Europe, Argentina and the United States upon arrival of the Europeans. It was in the 17th century that apples were brought to the New World by colonists, and it’s said that the first apple orchard on the North American continent appeared near Boston in 1625. While the apple has been the subject of many interesting stories throughout history, it also features quite prominently in the mythologies of many diverse cultures around the world.

For example in Norse mythology the goddess Iounn is credited in the 13th century Prose Edda with giving apples to the gods that in turn gave them eternal youthfulness. The apple is mentioned in many Greek Myths from Heracles having to pick the golden apples from the Tree of Life, to the goddess of discord Eris throwing an apple in anger into the wedding party of Peleus and Thetis after being excluded, to inadvertently causing the Trojan War. The apple was also considered to be sacred to the goddess Aphrodite, but that’s not all. The apple is notoriously famous in Christian Mythology, thanks almost entirely to the story of Adam and Eve. Even though the ‘forbidden fruit’ in question, is never identified in the book of Genesis, the apple has become synonymous with the tale. Most likely due to the fact that renaissance painters had a habit of adding elements of Greek Mythology into their biblical depictions. In this case the unnamed fruit of Eden became an apple, and as a result of popular Christian tradition the apple became a symbol of knowledge, immortality, temptation, sex, seduction, the fall of man into sin, and even sin itself.

How one little fruit could become the inspiration for such wild speculation and interpretation, as well as the heated subject of thousands upon thousands of fanciful myths is beyond me, but there is plenty of evidence for why they should regularly be included into a healthful diet.

Health Benefits

No area of apple research has been more concentrated then the study of apple polyphenols. As it turns out the balance of phytonutrients in apples is a lot more unique then previously suspected. The flavonoid quercetin is the primary phytonutrient found in apples and is more concentrated in the skin than in the pulp. Kaempferol and myricetin are also important apple flavonoids, and chlorogenic acid is the apple’s primary phenolic acid which is found both in the skin and the pulp. In terms of catechin polyphenols, epicatechin is the primary nutrient found in apples, while the flavonoid phloridzin accounts for 98% of the flavonoids found in apple seeds. (However Apple Seeds are mildly poisonous, and while they shouldn’t post a threat to humans in small quantities they are a deterrent for birds and other small creatures) The total polyphenol content of an apple ranges from 1-7grams/kilogram of fresh pulp, however the ratio increases in the skin, which underscores the special value of apple skins in deriving optimal polyphenol benefits from the fruit.

There’s a very interesting reason for why apples have such a diverse amount of polyphenols as recent research shows that polyphenols are the apples favorite mechanism used to protect themselves against UV-B radiation. The cells within the skin of the apple that conduct photosynthesis are particularly sensitive to UV-B light from the sun. However many of the polyphenols in the skin can absorb UV-B light, and therefore prevent the UV-B from damaging the photosynthetic cells within the apple skin. Basically polyphenols act as the apples own natural sun block, how cool Is that?

Another interesting fact about the polyphenol content of apples relates directly to why apples brown so quickly/easily when sliced open or bruised. Inside the cells of both the apple skin and the pulp are enzymes called polyphenol oxidases. When the cells of an apple are physically damaged these polyphenol oxidases begin oxidizing, which results in the browning of the damaged portion. Subsequently not only dose the apples turn brown but it also begin releasing large amounts of ethylene gas that can pose a risk to other undamaged apples. This phenomenon is what coined the phrase "One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch." So it’s good to remember to be gentle when handling apples, as well as to remove any bruised apples from a bunch before storing in bulk, to help protect the apples polyphenol benefits, and prevent the release of this ethylene gas.

Apples are also quite high in antioxidant activity as most of the polyphenols they contain also function as antioxidants. Particularly strong is the apples ability to decrease oxidation of cell membrane fats, which is especially important for our cardiovascular system. Since oxidation of fat in the membranes of the cells that line our blood vessels is a primary risk factor for atherosclerosis. (Clogged Arteries) as well as other cardiovascular problems. Studies have shown that total cholesterol, and LDL-Cholesterol are both decreased through regular intake of apples. In addition to protecting the oxidation of fat in the blood vessels, they also help prevent oxidation of the fats found in the bloodstream. (Triglycerides) Decreased lipid preoxidation is a key factor in lowering risk of many chronic heart problems. Research also shows that the quercetin content of apples also provides our cardiovascular system with anti-inflammatory benefits. The studies show that our blood levels of C-reactive protein are reduced with regular consumption of apples which leads researchers to believe that the quercetin in apples is the primary reason for the drop.

New research on apples also shows their potential in regulating blood sugar. Studies show that the polyphenols in apples are capable of influencing our digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, and the overall impact of these changes improves regulation of our blood sugar. The impact of apples on our carbohydrate processing includes slowing down carbohydrate digestion. Quercetin as well as other flavonoids found in apples act to inhibit carbohydrate-digesting enzymes like alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase. When these enzymes are inhibited carbohydrates are broken down less readily into simple sugars, which places less of a load on our bloodstream. Polyphenols in apples also work to lower the rate of glucose absorption from our digestive tract, which again in turn lessen’s the sugar load on our bloodstream. Since getting the sugar our of our bloodstream often requires the help of insulin which is produced by the beta cells of our pancreas; by telling the beta cells of the pancreas to produce more insulin, the polyphenols found in apples can help us clear more sugar from our blood and keep our blood sugar levels in better balance. In order for sugar to leave our bloodstream and enter our cells (particularly the muscle cells), insulin receptors on those cells must bind together with the insulin hormones and create cell changes that will allow sugar to pass through the cell membrane and into the cell itself. (Muscle cells for example continuously need this uptake of sugar from the bloodstream in order to function properly) Polyphenols in apples help to activate the muscle cell insulin receptors, and in this way, they help facilitate passage of sugar from our bloodstream up into our cells, which results in better blood sugar regulation in our body.

Numerous studies have also researched the correlation between vegetable/fruit intake and a decreased risk of lung cancer, and while these studies show an impressive ability of overall fruit/vegetable intake to lower lung cancer risk very few individual fruits have been shown to be protective against lung cancer - except apples! Researchers aren’t yet certain why apples prove to be so beneficial at reducing lung cancer risk, though their unique blend of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits certainly play a role. However these things alone don’t fully explain why apples have been such a standout in this area of health, future research will hopefully shed some more light here. Some preliminary results also suggest that apples may have an effect on reducing the risk of colon, prostate and breast cancers as well.

Apples are also surprising researchers because of their anti-asthma benefits. Though further research needs to be conducted multiple studies have already shown that regular apple intake is associated with a decreased risk of asthma. Like it’s anti-cancer benefits it’s thought that apples anti-asthma benefits are related to their blend of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, however it’s suspected that there is another unique component of the fruit at play here, which we do not yet understand.

Preliminary health benefits of apples have also been established for several age-related health problems, including macular degeneration of the eye, and neurodegenerative problems like Alzheimer’s. in animal studies prevention of bone loss has also been an area of investigation, particularly related to the phoridizin content of apples.

Interestingly research shows that apple juice concentrate has been found to increase the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in mice, providing a potential mechanism for the prevention of the decline in cognitive performance that accompanies dietary and genetic deficiencies in aging. Other studies have shown an alleviation of oxidative damage and cognitive decline in mice after administering apple juice. Subsequently researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that fruit flies who were fed and apple extract lived 10% longer then other flies who were fed a normal diet.

Scientists have also recently shown that the important health benefits of apples may stem from their impact on bacteria in the digestive tract. In studies on laboratory animals, intake of apple is known to significantly alter the amounts of two bacteria (Clostridiales and Bacteriodes) in the large intestine. As a result of these bacterial changes metabolism in the large intestine is also changed, and many of these changes appear to provide health benefits. An example is that due to bacterial changes in the large intestine, there appears to be more fuel available in the large intestine cells (in the form of butyric acid) after apple is consumed.

So what should you take away from all this? The fact that there may very well be some truth to that old saying "An Apple a day keeps the doctor away"


In all honesty my absolute favorite way to eat apples is raw, and by themselves. There’s nothing better or more satisfying then taking a big bite out of a juicy, delicious apples, and this is how I eat them the most. However, I also enjoy them in smoothies, where they’re great at adding a bit of sweet and a hint of tart. I love them sliced thin or chopped in salads. They’re great blended into a salad dressing for sweetness rather then using sugar. They’re great baked, or poached, wonderful dried, fantastic in pies, cakes, cobblers, crumbles, and tarts. Perfect for topping oatmeal or cereal and this is going to sound weird but they’re really great chopped and sprinkled overtop of vegan cream of celery root soup. There are a lot of fun and creative ways one can eat apples, so don’t be afraid to try out a few new recipes. Enjoy apples in all their forms and relish the fact that you’re doing something good for your health.

Happy and Healthy Eating to you!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Garden Veggie Miso Soup...

I was inspired to make this soup last month when I was really in the mood for some miso soup but didn’t have any seaweed, or tofu on hand, and frankly wasn’t interested in eating either that particular night anyway. What I really wanted was something light, colorful, and warm yet not necessarily ‘cooked.’ Scanning the fridge I realized I was running low on groceries, but what I did have was just enough to make a delicious, healthful, and surprisingly hearty soup. Everything about this soup screams Spring to me, but really I think it’s perfect anytime of year, and the great thing about it is that you can have it done and on the table in 25-30 minutes. Using some frozen vegetables helps make the soup come together fast, and slicing the veggies thin or grating them helps them soften while simmering without needing to cook or boil them to death, so you retain more nutrition. Who doesn’t love that? This soup can also conveniently be made in a large batch and stored in the fridge for a couple of days for easy access to a nice healthy meal at lunch or dinner, on days when you might not have as much time to cook as you’d like. The first time I made this soup I served it with a simple salad, last night I served it with some hand-rolled sushi, but this soup can just as easily be enjoyed on it’s own. I really do love the combination of miso with the sweetness of peas, and the crispness of broccoli... Mm... mm... Try it for yourself and see!

Garden Veggie Miso Soup

1 Large Carrot Grated
2 Small Zucchini cut in half moons or 1 large cut in quarters
1 bunch green onion chopped (green part only)
1 C Frozen Green Peas
Frozen Broccoli to taste (Couple handfuls)
Garlic Powder, Ginger Powder and Black Pepper to taste
1/4-2/3 C Mellow White Miso
3-5 C Water

- Whisk together the Miso and Water in a medium sized pot until dissolved. Turn the heat onto medium and bring to a simmer.

- Add in all of your veggies, and season to taste with garlic powder, ginger powder and black pepper.

- Simmer for 20-25 minutes until veggies are tender but still crisp. Do not bring to a boil. If over medium heat the soup starts bubbling too heavily reduce the heat to low and finish simmering. You want the veggies to be soft, but not cooked all the way though, you don’t want them to be boiled to death and mushy. You want texture and a nice bite.

- Serve with homemade hand-rolled sushi, Summer or Spring Rolls, or a salad, and enjoy.

*** Note - If you have fresh garlic and ginger feel free to finely mince or grate them and use it instead of powdered. I didn’t have fresh on hand, otherwise I would have used it. Also keep in mind that the amount of miso you want to use will be dependant on your personal taste preference. I like a medium flavored miso broth, not weak, and not too overpowering. Usually 1/4-1/2C is good for 3-4 C of water, and ½-2/3 C is good for 4-5 C of water, depending on your taste. You can also use any color miso you want, but remember that darker shades of miso have a more pungent flavor and so less will be required. White miso is personally my favorite because I find it to be the most versatile. But feel free to experiment ***

Friday, January 20, 2012

'Healthy At 100: How you can - at any age - Dramatically Increase Your Life Span and Your Health Span' by John Robbins

"The myths and stereotypes we have about old age are so deeply entrenched in American society that they can insinuate themselves into our psyches without our ever knowing what they are. It is difficult to escape the messages that our culture sends about the aging process. From birthday cards that decry the advance of age to the widespread use of demeaning language about the elderly - ("geezer" "old fogey" "Old Maid" "Dirty old man" "old Goat" etc.) to the lack of positive images of the elderly in ads and on television programs, each of us is continually imbued with feelings of aversion to those who are old." - John Robbins - 'Healthy at 100'

"I do take heart though from the fact that modern western culture is not the only way people can live, and it’s prevailing assumptions are not the only way people can think" - John Robbins - 'Healthy at 100'

I am a big fan of John Robbins. Both "Diet For a New America" and "Food Revolution" are brilliant pieces of literature that are extremely well researched. Robbins is definitely one of the leading voices in both the health and vegan community. So when I discovered his book "Healthy at 100: How you can - at any age - Dramatically Increase Your Life Span and Your Health Span" I was very eager to read it. The name alone caught my attention, Healthy at 100 is a concept that for most of us I think seems unrealistic. However I don’t think it’s all that crazy to imagine myself as a healthy centenarian, in full control of all of my faculties and fully capable of enjoying the life I’ve always had.

For most people in the western world however the words ‘old age’ are synonymous with decline. We live in a society that treasures youth and beauty, and feels disgusted by age. We live in a culture that perpetuates ageist stereotypes, such as old people unable to do anything for themselves. We consider it normal to continue to rapidly decline as we get older, when in fact this doesn’t have to be the case. Many of us - young people in particular - view aging as a fate worse then death, and we shouldn’t.

In his book John Robbins lays to rest many of the ageist stereotypes that we’ve always grown up with. He points out the ridiculousness of how we perceive age and aging and debunks many common myths surrounding old age. However he also points out that the tragedy of our culture here in the west is our complete lack of respect for the aged, and our total compliance in allowing ourselves to decline as we age simply because it’s ‘what’s always been.’ It was these parts of the book that I found particularly interesting because here he explores the psychology behind how the average westerner sees aging compared to how aging is viewed in other cultures around the world. In many cultures spanning the glob from South America all the way to Asia it’s true that the older you are the more respect you receive. Age is seen as a triumph and a virtue, and the elderly in these cultures are revered, they would never consider themselves somehow incapable simply because they are ‘old.’

"The consequences of ageism are similar to those associated with discrimination against other groups. People who are subjected to prejudice and intolerance often internalize the dominant groups negative image and then behave in ways that conform to their negative image. Thus older people often hold ageist views about their contemporaries, about those who are slightly older then they are, and even about their own worth" - John Robbins 'Healthy at 100'

In addition to debunking the myths of age, Robbins focus’s the book on four very different cultures credited with producing the worlds healthiest oldest people, deeply exploring just how exactly these cultures have been able to remain in perfect health even at an advanced age, often exceeding 100. Those he focuses on are the Abkhasians in the Caucasus south of Russia, the Vilcabambans in the South American Andes, the Hunzans of Pakistan, and the Japanese of Okinawa. Through his extensive research of these varying cultures Robbins discovers that they all have something in common. Diet, Lifestyle and Attitude.

All four of these cultures consume diets of whole foods, no processed fair and their diets are for the most part plant-based. Containing little to no meat, and little to no dairy products. Their traditional diets are also relatively low in sugar, salt, fat, and oil, and consist almost entirely of vegetation that is both local and seasonal. Their lifestyles are also very active. While they may not engage in rigorous exercise regimes like we do here in the west, they are active in many other ways. People in these cultures walk a lot, they participate in communal work, organization, and farming. They work in their own personal gardens, play with their children and regularly engage in outdoor activity. Many people from these cultures would think nothing of walking 2 miles just to visit a friend. As far as their attitude goes they perceive aging as a happy process. They look forward to their golden years rather then dread them as people in western cultures do. They also have strong familial bonds and have lifelong connections with friends. They suffer less stress, and it’s not because they’re lives are less difficult, it’s because they take a positive attitude towards life, and tend not to fret about things that are out of their control. Stress and loneliness in Robbins opinion - and I’m inclined to agree - can kill a person just as quickly as smoking or an unhealthy diet.

"From our culture we learn what is expected of us, and to a considerable extent we then often conform to those expectations. When the prevailing image of aging expects older people to be asexual, intellectually rigid, forgetful, and invisible many elderly people will take on these characteristics even though doing so may run counter to the way they had previously lived their lives." - John Robbins ' 'Healthy at 100'

I not only found the chapters concerning these cultures completely captivating but also inspiring and uplifting. Here in the west we have so few positive association with age that it was great to be able to read about people in their 90's, or early 100's walking, running, and/or hiking miles per day. To read about 90 and 100 year olds still happily working either in their community or at actual jobs is inspiring. This is not something we see in North America. If people in our society even make it to 90 they are very often immobile and in nursing homes, hell it’s more and more common in our culture these days to see people in their 70's in that state. We consider the 90 year old grandma that lives on her own, and walks everyday to the grocery store an exception to the rule in our society when in fact - as is proven by these cultures - it should be the rule!

Through this book John Robbins has shown that getting older doesn’t have to be scary or something to dread, but rather it should be viewed upon as an opportunity. An opportunity to educate others and to show people that age doesn’t have to mean decline if you don’t want it to. Through this book Robbins imparts on us the tools we need to live healthy, joyous lives of meaning and longevity. With an emphasis on a simple whole foods diet, a manageable daily exercise routine, the cultivation of strong loving personal relationships and a positive attitude and outlook. With this book as our guide we can easily make our later years a period of wisdom, vitality, and happiness. We can at any age be productive members of society and our community, and we do not have to fall into the death trap of ageist stereotypes simply because that’s how it’s always been for us.

"Ageism represents a prejudice against a group that all people will inevitably join if they live long enough. As a result an ideology that equates aging with deterioration steals hope from everyone and from every stage of our lives" - John Robbins - 'Healthy at 100'

I highly recommend this book, as much for it’s well researched information as for it’s efforts to shift the cultural norms and common perceptions of aging.

"It remains an indisputable fact that in Hunzans as in Abkhasians and Vilcabambans, a large proportion of elder citizens have retained their faculties, remained vigorous and enjoyed life right up until only weeks or months before their deaths. It is an established fact that the elderly in each of these regions have had extremely low rates of heart disease, cancer, obesity, arthritis, asthma, dementia and the other degenerative infirmities that plague so many older people in the west. It is a fact that they have remained for the most part remarkably fit and active as they age" - John Robbins - 'Healthy at 100'

*** Note - Image found using Google Image search***

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Iron - The Truth About Iron and Iron Deficiency....

If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan chances are you’ve been asked about Iron. Next to protein and calcium, iron is one of the biggest nutrients that non-vegetarians always seem concerned about. Not for themselves mind you, but for you. How do you get your iron? Where do you get your iron? Aren’t you worried about becoming anemic? These questions get asked over and over again and sometimes they’re coupled with comments such as, "I tried vegetarian for a while but had to stop because I became anemic." or "I had a friend who was vegetarian who had to go back to meat because she was anemic." Statements like these continue to perpetuate the myths that the diet of vegetarians is in some way lacking, difficult to manage, or that vegetarians are simply incapable of receiving proper nutrition through a healthful plant-based diet. All of which are entirely untrue.

I don’t know what it is about our culture but so often it seems that we end up hearing one ‘fact’ from one person, who may or may not have any actual authority on the matter and then stick to it like it’s gospel. Somewhere along the line it seems like we dropped the ball on asking questions and doing research for ourselves. It’s this lack of education that keeps these myths alive. So since I’ve already dispelled the common myths surrounding protein, and calcium I thought it pertinent to do the same for Iron. The information you’ll find in this post I think will be helpful for a wide range of people regardless of your dietary orientation, and you’ll see why in a moment.

Iron of course is one of the essential minerals needed to sustain most of earth’s life forms (both human and non human) and is required for normal human physiology. The majority of iron in the body is found in the hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues. It’s also essential for regulation of cell growth.

There are two different types of iron problems that effect humans. Iron deficiency - which is described as low iron stores typically measured by a serum ferritin level of less then 18ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter) and Iron Deficiency Anemia. IDA symptoms include pale skin, brittle fingernails, hair loss, fatigue, weakness, difficulty breathing upon exertion, inadequate temperature regulation, and loss of appetite. Many of these are symptoms of other nutritional deficiencies and diseases and therefor only a medical doctor can properly and accurately diagnose IDA.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency Worldwide and in the United States. Iron deficiency effects people of all backgrounds, races, economic status, and dietary choices. Meaning iron deficiency effects vegetarians, vegans and non-vegetarians almost equally. Though people often show ‘concern’ for the iron levels of vegetarians the truth is iron deficiency is not about vegetarians not getting the proper nutrition while non-vegetarians are getting the proper nutrition, it’s a case of everyone needing to make sure they are receiving the proper nutrition from their diet, regardless of their dietary choices. In fact studies have shown that healthful vegetarian - and particularly vegan - diets contain higher or equal amounts of dietary iron then that of non-vegetarians. Why is it that vegetarians/vegans have more iron in their diets then non-vegetarians? The answer is simple, not only does virtually everything a vegetarian eats contain some level of iron but also vegetarians simply consume more fruits and vegetables. Why is this important? Because of vitamin C. Studies show that vegetarians consume up to 50% more vitamin C then non-vegetarians and consuming vitamin C at the same time you are consuming iron rich foods makes the iron more bioavailable to the body.

When it comes to iron there are two types available through our diet. Heme iron which comes from animal products, and nonheme iron which comes both from plants and animal products. While heme iron is considered more easily absorbable, it is not superior. Once the iron has been absorbed into the body and has reached our cells to be used in building hemoglobin and other purposes the body doesn’t care where the iron originated from and whether or not it was heme or nonheme. It’s also important to note that some studies suggest that heme iron from red meat has effects which may increase the likelihood of colorectal cancer. Which brings us to the next point.

While there is such a thing as iron deficiency, there is also such a thing as iron overabundance. Iron you see is tightly regulated by the human body which has no regulated physiological means of excreting excess iron. Excluding incidences of blood loss due to injury or menstruation, the amount of iron lost daily due to mucosal and skin epithelial cells sloughing is very, very small. Large amounts of ingested iron can cause excessive levels of iron in the blood. High blood levels of free ferrous iron react with peroxides to produce free radicals which are highly reactive and can damage DNA, proteins, lipids and other cellular compounds; thus iron toxicity occurs when there is free iron in the cells, which occurs when iron levels exceed the capacity of trasferrin to bind the iron. Damage to the cells of the gastrointestinal tract can also prevent regulation of iron absorption leading to further increases in blood levels.

Iron overload is serious and is particularly damaging to the cells in the heart and liver, as well as the pancreas, and spleen. It can cause significant adverse effects such as various types of cancer, coma, metabolic acidosis, shock, liver failure, coagulopathy, adult repertory disease syndrom, long term organ damage, osteoporosis, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and death. Excess iron has also been linked to diseases like Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, as it was found that an excess of iron had accumulated in the hippocampus section of the brains of those with Alzheimer’s, and the substantia nigra of patients with Parkinson’s. Iron overload can also accelerate the effects and symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, and Epilepsy. Not very fun stuff, and while you certainly don’t want to mess around with anemia either, recent studies have shown that low iron stores may not necessarily be a bad thing.

While healthy vegetarians are no more susceptible to iron deficiency then non-vegetarians, it is documented that most adult vegetarians have iron stores that are on the lower end of normal. In addition to not being put at a higher risk for the above mentioned diseases caused by or linked to iron overload, low iron stores are also associated with a higher glucose tolerance which may help prevent diabetes.

Those at the highest risk for iron deficiency (vegetarian or non-vegetarian) are woman of childbearing age (menstruating woman) pregnant or breast feeding woman, children and the elderly. You do not need to worry about iron if you are otherwise healthy and eat a varied vegan or vegetarian diet. Of course if you are worried about iron absorption there are steps you can take to increase the bioavailability of iron in your body. Increase the amount of beans and legumes in your diet, and just as vitamin C helps with iron absorption there are many things that can also inhibit iron absorption. Coffee and tea are two of the biggest culprits as the tannins within them work to block the absorption of iron into the body. It is not recommenced that you drink either of these beverages while eating iron rich meals, particularly if your goal is to increase absorption. Taking calcium supplements with meals can also decrease the amount of iron absorption as well as eating dairy products including eggs, chocolate, and taking Aspirin, and antacids. Drinking alcohol with meals or over abuse of alcohol, narcotics, or prescription medications can all impair iron absorption. It is wise to remove these things from meals, and make sure to eat your iron rich foods with foods rich in vitamin C such as lemon, lime, tomato, oranges etc... Of course if your concerns persist you should have a doctor measure your iron stores, which is a quick and easy thing to do. In fact I recommend having a full blood test done at least once a year just to ensure that you are getting adequate nutrition. That’s what I do, and it gives me peace of mine and the confidence to defend my diet when others may criticize it.

Part of the reason the myths surrounding vegetarianism and iron deficiency continue to persist despite evidence to the contrary is that an overwhelming amount of people self-diagnose themselves as being anemic. All too often when people first transition to a vegetarian diet they automatically assume they’ve become anemic if they begin to feel tired or fatigued. However their feeling tired could be the result of a number of things such as not eating enough calories or protein, eating too many high-sugar foods, or even not getting enough sleep. However rather then dig into the real reasons for why they may be feeling the way they are people tend to jump to what they consider to be the most logical conclusion. Since these myths about iron continue to persist that ‘logical conclusion’ is usually ‘anemia’. Some people may also base this judgment on the suggestion of family or friends who automatically jump to that conclusion as well, without having any of the actual facts. As stated before the only way to know for sure if you have iron deficiency anemia is to be diagnosed by a doctor.

There is some evidence that iron absorption may be more of a problem when a person first becomes vegetarian, because long-term studies of vegetarian woman have not shown high drop off iron rates. Physiologically it makes some sense that the problem would show up right away or not at all for the following reason: The body secretes transferrin into the digestive tract when iron stores are low in order to increase absorption into the blood. If someone has been a meat eater all their life, their body has not had a need to manufacture as much transferrin as they may now need as a vegetarian. This might cause a quick initial drop in iron absorption after first becoming vegetarian. As the person’s body adjusts to the new diet and lifestyle it may become more efficient at producing the appropriate amount of transferrin over time. However if a person becomes anemic or iron deficient right away they will likely quit the diet without giving their body a chance to acclimate to the new lifestyle. More evidence to support this theory is that children who were vegan from birth, and otherwise well-nourished and living in developed countries, are not known to have developed Iron deficiency Anemia. Since vegan infants have no prior history of depending on heme iron, they begin their lives efficiently absorbing nonheme iron and retain this ability throughout life.

If you do become anemic after switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet, this is easy to fix with iron supplements. Of course make sure to get diagnosed by your doctor first, and then talk about supplementation with him/her before self dosing. Your doctor may tell you to start eating meat again if he/she finds you to be anemic, this is a common response when doctors encounter anemic vegetarians yet it is a ridiculous one that doesn’t make any sense. After all iron deficiency and anemia in non-vegetarians is not simply treated by having the meat-eater, ‘eat more meat’ they are treated through iron supplements, and vegetarians or vegans can also be easily treated this way. However it is important to note that unless a deficiency or enhanced need exists, iron should not be supplemented, particularly in males, and postmenopausal woman who are no longer menstruating regularly, as iron is an oxidant and over abundance of it can lead to increased risk for many diseases as well as toxicity as described in the paragraphs above.

As you can see iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia is not the disastrous and un-treatable boogeyman most people make it out to be. A lot of the fear and hype is overblown, and there is some very good evidence for why a lower (within reason) iron store may be more beneficial then a higher one. To say vegetarians or vegans are more susceptible to iron deficiency or anemia simply because thy don’t eat meat isn’t only ludicrous it’s simply not true. Statements such as those have absolutely no basis in fact, and are built off of propaganda, and myth designed to discredit a vegetarian diet, or to simply justify and excuse a non-vegetarian one. The perpetuation of these inaccuracies not only due us all a disservice but they are particularly harmful to those of us who want to continue on the vegan or vegetarian path for moral, ethical, environmental or health reasons, and are told we should not. All too often otherwise dedicated vegetarians are swayed back to eating meat by these myths, particularly when informed of them by an authority figure, not knowing any better they may feel forced to switch back despite their resistence to do so. This is something I know from personal experience, as it was the reason I shifted back to eating meat after just over a year of vegetarianism when I was in my teens. I also know non-vegetarians are equally plagued by iron deficiency anemia from personal experience as I’ve had two non-vegetarian friends diagnosed as anemic despite their constantly gorging themselves on red meat.

So now that you have all the information you may be wondering what some iron rich foods are. That’s the easy and delicious part! Beans particularly white beans, pinto, soybeans and chickpeas are an excellent source of iron, as are all lentils. Nuts and seeds, particularly pumpkin seeds are a great source of iron, as are whole grains. Especially barley, quinoa, and oatmeal. Blackstrap Molasses also contains a good deal of iron, as do Sea Vegetables (Seaweeds) and tofu. Dried fruits such as apricots, figs and raisons are all excellent sources as well, and of course last but not least greens. Lots and lots of greens such as spinach, Swiss Chard, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, asparagus, green beans, peas, bok choy and Brussels Sprouts. Potatoes and mushrooms are also a decent source of iron. As you can see, given you’re eating a variety of whole plant foods not processed junk your diet should be rich in iron, and of course it’s also an option to buy iron fortified cereals, and non-dairy milks as well. For extra insurance. Don’t ever let anyone tell you, your diet is nutritionally inferior!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Triple Tomato and Farro Soup...

Last week I bought a 3 pound bag of Farro. Over the past year I’ve come across a handful of recipes that call for it, and I’ve always been curious to try it. Yet somehow it just never came to pass. Then by chance while I was out grocery shopping I saw Costco had a huge bag of it for a relatively cheap price. I eagerly grabbed it up. Though I have a few recipes in which I could have first used this interesting grain, I decided to come up with one of my own. It’s been cold here lately, snow and icy wind, you know the typical Chicago winter, and so I wanted soup. Not just any soup mind you, but something hearty and tomato based. I was really craving tomatoes, and since I know tomatoes and rice go well together I thought why not Farro? Of course I also wanted to make this dish oil-free, relatively low-sodium, and low in fat, so after a bit of playing around this is what I came up with.

It turned out so much better then I initially expected, and though the picture doesn’t in anyway do it justice - remember that bad lighting in my kitchen? Well it really makes any food with a yellow, orange or red tint look ugly, - you will have to just trust me on this. This soup is pretty damn phenomenal and it really hits the spot on those long cold winter nights. It’s especially good if like me, you are an avid tomato lover. This soup is loaded with rich acidic tomatoey goodness, I couldn’t stop myself from eating two bowls, and my husband went back for thirds!

As for the Farro, never having had it before I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, or even if I’d like it, but that’s me, always taking a chance on food. I’m glad I did though, because I quite liked it. Farro has a consistency sort of like rice, but chewier, and the flavor reminds me of barley. I can’t wait to start experimenting more with it.

Triple Tomato and Farro Soup

1 Large Onion chopped
10 Cloves Garlic minced
1/4 C Vegetable Broth
2 C Carrot Juice ***
1 1/4- 1 ½ C Low-Sodium Vegetable Broth
½ C Red Lentils
1 28oz can Diced Tomatoes with Juice
6oz Tomato Paste with Italian Herbs
½ tsp Crushed Rosemary
½ tsp Smoked Paprika
1/8 tsp Saffron Threads
1 1/4 C cooked Farro ***
1 Tbsp Dried Basil
1 Tbsp Dried Oregano
2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1/8 tsp White pepper (or to taste)
1 15oz can Stewed Sliced Tomatoes with Italian Herbs with Juice
1-2 Chopped and Seeded Fresh Tomato for Garnish (Optional)

- Combine Onion, Garlic and 1/4 C Vegetable Broth in pot on medium-high heat. Saute until fragrant and onions become translucent. Between 7-10 minutes.

- Meanwhile combine 1 1/4 Farro and 2 ½ C water in another pot on high heat. Bring to a boil, let boil for five minutes and reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Cook farro till al dente and liquid is absorbed. If farro is cooked and not all liquid has been absorbed strain through a fine mesh sieve and set aside until ready to add it to the soup.

- Stir carrot juice, vegetable broth and red lentils into the pot with the onions and garlic. Bring to a boil and let boil for five to ten minutes. Add in diced tomatoes and tomato paste then reduce heat and let simmer for another 20-25 minutes until lentils are tender and are beginning to break down. Stir in rosemary, smoked paprika and saffron.

- Remove soup from heat and puree in a blender. If you prefer a chunkier consistency blend half, for a smoother texture blend the whole pot. Once blended return the soup to the pot on low heat, and stir in the cooked farro, basil, oregano, lemon juice, white pepper, and 15 oz can of sliced tomatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes or until farro and sliced tomatoes are heated through.

- Garnish with some chopped tomato, fresh chopped basil, or parsley and serve, perhaps with a slice of rustic gluten-free or gluten-full bread. Enjoy!

*** Note - Farro may not be easy for some people to find - I got mine at Costco, but the Whole Foods in my area also sells it - or it may be expensive in your area, if this is the case feel free to use rice instead. Also farro is a wheat product, if you are gluten-intolerant this soup can easily be made gluten-free by substituting brown rice or quinoa for the farro. ***

*** Note - I recommend using Organic Carrot Juice if it’s available to you. I also strongly recommend that you choose a commercial carrot juice that only contains carrots and perhaps water. There shouldn’t be any added sugar, sodium or anything like that. Boathouse Farms makes a good carrot juice if you can find it. Of course if you are lucky enough to have a juicer - I’m not - then you could simply juice your own! ***

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Baked Coconut Curry Sweet Potato Fries...

I made a really delicious tomato and farro soup for dinner last night, the recipe for which I was planning to post today. I am however in a bit of a time crunch, but since I don’t want to leave you empty handed so to speak I thought I’d share with you the absolutely to die for sweet potato fries I made last week.

If you’ve never had a sweet potato fry before - I don’t know how you couldn’t have, they’re amazing! - or you’re simply a sweet potato fry skeptic, - Do they really exist? - I urge you to try these out. They’re simply delicious, and a heck of a lot better for you then the typical French Fry. Not only are sweet potatoes so much healthier for you then the nutritionally dead white potato, but baking your fries instead of frying them is way more heart healthy, after all, all that oil isn’t doing any of us any favors right? Now I know, baking your fries doesn’t get them quite as crispy as frying them, but they do get crispy. Not quite as crispy is a small price to pay for your health I think. By the way you could always add a bit of cornstarch into the mix to coat the fires with, that usually helps the fries crisp up, I don’t think it’s necessary here but you could always try it.

As for this recipe I love coconut and I love curry, and those to flavors just so happen to go really well with sweet potatoes. Now there is a lot of controversy out there about coconuts, and coconut oil, is it really good for us? Or is it really bad for us? Honestly I don’t have the answer to that. My opinion on it is that it’s a plant food, a plant food who’s health benefits may out weight the few negatives. I look to the cultures that use coconut extensively in their cooking and see that study after study shows that they tend to have lower rates of heart disease then we do here in the west, but I can’t say with confidence that coconut oil is a health food or an evil food. So I treat it like most other things, moderation is important. I don’t eat it or use it everyday, and when I do use it I don’t overuse it, but I don’t stress about it either. However each of us has to make up our own mind about the foods we eat with the research we have available. If you don’t want to use coconut oil you could use organic peanut oil or another mild flavored vegetable oil, but it won’t be quite the same, and you can’t call them ‘coconut sweet potato fries’

Baked Coconut Curry Sweet Potato Fries

1 Tbsp Coconut Oil liquified
1 tsp Sweet Curry Powder
Sea salt to taste
2 Large Sweet Potatoes sliced into fry shapes

- To liquify the coconut oil just pop it into a glass bowl and microwave for a few seconds or put it in a pot on the stove over medium heat.

- Once liquified stir in your sweet curry powder. Add your sliced up sweet potatoes and toss until oil and curry have coated all of the fries. Sprinkle with a little sea salt then spread on a lined or lightly greased baking sheet.

- Bake at 400'F (204'C) for fifteen minutes. Remove from oven and flip over, return to oven and bake another fifteen to twenty minutes until fries are golden and firm on the outside but soft on the inside. Depending on your oven it make take up to forty-five minutes total so just make sure to check on them now and again.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Simple Massaged Kale Salad with Avocado Dressing...

I’ll be honest, I’m feeling pretty darn lazy today. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s work, but I got up early this morning with the best intentions and an hour later I fell back asleep. After that the rest of the day was a mess, all I want to do is lay on the couch, snuggled up in a warm blanket and read.

However, the more I thought about it the more I realized that you should not have to suffer for my poor attitude today. Since the new year I’ve been trying to update Monday through Friday, and I’ve been succeeding. Last week I even posted twice on a couple of days, so I don’t want to ruin that trend now with one bad day.

Today’s recipe is rather simple, but it is also delicious, nutritious and doesn’t contain any added oil. This is a salad I made to serve alongside some leftover soup we ate Saturday night, it’s also a salad I often find myself eating while at work. It’s something I tend to gobble up at work when I’m hungry but looking for something that is oil, soy and wheat free. It always satisfies and serves as a great versatile template for any other additions you’d like to throw on top. I like to keep it simple, but to each their own

Simple Massaged Kale Salad with Avocado Dressing

1 Bunch Kale chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 Red Pepper cut into thin strips
2 Carrots gated
½ -1 Small Red Onion finely chopped
1-2 tomatoes seeded and chopped
3 Tbsp Lemon Juice
A very small amount of sea salt, 1-2 dashes at most
Black pepper to taste
½ Tbsp Maple Syrup (optional)
1 Large Avocado
1-2 Garlic Cloves to taste
Dash of smoked paprika
1-2 Tbsp Water as needed

- Place the kale in a large bowl and toss with 2 tbsp of lemon juice, sea salt, and black pepper. Massage with hands until the kale begins to break down and soften slightly. About 2-4 minutes.

- Add red onion, red pepper, tomato and carrots to the kale mixture and toss to combine.

- In Food processor blend together the avocado and garlic, and remaining tbsp of lemon juice. Depending on your food processor you may also need to add in 1-2 tbsp of water to get things moving. Blend until smooth.

- Scrape the avocado mixture onto the kale salad and using either your hands or a spoon mix the avocado into the salad. Making sure to really massage it into the leaves. Add a dash of paprika and taste for seasoning.

- If it’s a bit to tart for you, you can add the ½ Tbsp of Maple Syrup or if you’d prefer use 1-2 packets of stevia. Mix again to combine and serve. Delicious!!! Kale, if you didn’t know already is a favorite food of mine, and with good reason. Enjoy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

'The Beauty Detox Solution: Eat Your Way to Radiant Skin, Renewed Energy and the Body You’ve Always Wanted' by Kimberly Snyder, C.N.

"In order to become younger, many of ones habits must be changed. To do this constructively one can do it only with an open mind and with the wholehearted desire to see if it really works. A closed mind, a mind which has made it a practice to frown on radical changes in thought, habits and actions, is the greatest stumbling block towards any progress on the road to become younger. "
Dr. Norman Walker -Become Younger

This is another one of those books that - like "Crazy Sexy Diet" - I initially ignored because I thought it was just another fad diet book. Once again I was proven wrong, and I’m so glad that I decided to give this book a chance. Like the before mentioned CSD this isn’t a diet book, it’s a lifestyle book that focuses on bringing you to your optimal level of health through long term dietary and lifestyle changes.

After Christmas I was searching amazon for health and wellness books I hadn’t read yet, that I could spend some of my Christmas money on. In almost every search this book kept popping up. I continued to ignore it, until finally I decided to at least read the reviews. From those reviews I was able to gleam that this book was in fact about health, how to achieve it and sustain it through holistic measurers and a nutritious plant based diet. Strangely it happened to be the negative reviews that got me the most curious about reading this book. Some people seemed outraged by the books obvious vegan and raw lean, and many claimed that the advice offered within it’s pages was ‘unrealistic’ and ‘unaccessible to the average person’ after all that drama how could I not read the book? Luckily I found a copy of it collecting dust at my local library, took it home and devoured it.

The author Kimberly Snyder has an interesting story, and while she didn’t turn to veganism and raw food because she was battling an incurable disease she was fighting a grab bag of maladies that seem to plague a great majority of us. Battles with weight, poor complection and bad skin, lack of energy, poor digestion, constipation, indigestion, and more. By chance she came across an Australian holistic nutritionist - she was living in Australia at the time - who ran a holistic detox center and from there she was transformed. Giddy and impassioned by this new information Snyder realized that she was not truly living the life she wanted or was meant to. Within one week she quit her job, quit law school, dumped her boyfriend and broke her apartment lease. Instead she decided to take a trip around the world - that ended up lasting 3 years - in which she would study natural health and beauty, as well as holistic living in various remote communities across the glob. Upon her return she got jobs at beauty companies, and longevity centers to further her knowledge, became a certified clinical nutritionist and started her own business. This story in itself is amazing and inspiring, but the rest of the information within the book is certainly worth reading for all that it has to offer.

This book focuses on holistic healing, and healing oneself through diet and lifestyle changes. The book goes into great detail about why consuming massive quantities of meat and dairy products is toxic for our health, what symptoms and diseases they initiate and how they react in the body on a chemical level once ingested. There is a lot of really good solid information in this book about the PH balance of your body, how to attain a more alkaline ph as well as how to sustain it. Though the author herself is vegan she does not call for those interested in her plan to take an all or nothing approach. Her program Is very adaptable to all diets. Though one thing this book does advocates quite strongly is eating raw foods as often and as much as possible. Some people may be put off by that notion, however all the recipes in the book are super simple and easy, and don’t require any expensive equipment. - Except for a juicer but if you don’t have one - I don’t - then you can simply follow the plan by drinking a smoothie each day rather then a juice.

"The Problem is not that ageing is inevitable, it is that most of us don’t understand what causes it" - Kimberly Snyder, C.N. 'The Beauty Detox Solution"

In addition to PH Snyder talks a lot about food pairing which is a concept I find very interesting and I think makes a lot of sense. She says fruits should be eaten first and on their own as they digest the fastest, or they can be eaten with non-starchy high water content vegetables. She recommends eating proteins and Starches closer to the end of the day because they take longer to digest. The reason this order is important is because say you eat a bowl of rice and beans for dinner it is going to take a long time to break down in your body and digest. If you eat an apple after dinner for dessert, the apple will already be broken down and ready for digestion but it can’t be processed because your digestion is still working on the rice and beans. Which leaves the apple sitting on top of the rice and beans, in a state of fermentation. Which in turn causes bloating and gas. This is a really interesting concept, and I think it goes a long way in explaining how some of us may feel bloated after eating certain meals that are seemingly healthy. This isn’t something I’d ever heard of before so I really appreciate the chapters devoted to it. This is definitely a concept I’ve been trying to work into my daily meals and on days that I have done it I find my digestion is smoother.

Another concept she discusses in some length is the idea that we should eat light to heavy. Eat our lightest meal in the morning and our heaviest meal at night. Her rational for this is because eating a heavy meal in the morning will leave us feeling bogged down most of, if not all day, where as a heavy meal at night will digest over the course of our sleep. She also recommends starting the day off by drinking water with lemon, followed by a green juice or smoothie. No solid food early in the morning leaves are digestive enzymes free to repair other parts of the body that may need attention. Attention they might not get if our enzymes are once again busy breaking down yet more food.

There is an extensive amount of information on enzymes and probiotics and how they help to keep us not only healthy but looking young as well. I found the information on enzymes particularly fascinating and I’d recommend the book based solely on those chapters, but there are a lot of great ideas, concepts and principals discussed in the book that are at least worth knowing, even if you don’t practice them.
Snyder also includes lists of the best foods, minerals, and fats to eat for beauty. She includes a detox plan that has three levels depending on your comfort and how much you want to commit. Each level is suppose to be of some benefit to those interested in participating. She also includes a bunch of recipes. None of which I’ve tried yet, however they all look really delicious and I can’t wait to start making some of them!

"Detoxing ourselves by getting rid of old waste is key to allowing our digestion to function optimally" Kimberly Snyder, C.N. 'The Beauty Detox Solution"

As for the negative reviews I’ve read of this book, to say that this plan is unreasonable or unrealistic for the average person is ridiculous. None of the recipes require any heavy prep, nor do they require any strange ingredients or expensive kitchen tools to prepare them. - Except of course the before mentioned juicer but we discussed that. - Snyder’s whole idea is that we should eat healthfully, and simply using as few ingredients as possible as long as those ingredients are nutrient dense. While she does recommends colonics, or enemas, as well as taking probiotics and digestive enzyme supplements it is not an all or nothing deal. If you don’t want to get a colonic no one is putting a gun to your head. If you don’t want to go to your local health food store and buy a probiotic supplement then no one is forcing you. This plan is all on you, it’s at your own pace, at the level for which you feel comfortable and there is no judgement from Snyder about which road you wish to take. I think the people who post such negative reviews containing such ridiculous statements are really just after another fad diet book, in which they can continue eating the garbage they already eat, while making it look like they’re actually making significant change when they aren’t. If that’s you, if that’s what you’re looking for then forget this book.

On the other hand if you’re serious about grabbing the reigns of your health then you might want to consider giving this book a good and thorough read. It just might be the thing you’ve been looking for.

*** Note - Photo found using Google Image Search ***