Friday, March 30, 2012

Cramp Bark - Natures Remedy for Menstrual Cramping...

Cramp Bark is phenomenal, it’s my new best friend, and here’s why...

If you’re a woman then you are probably all too familiar with the monthly cramping that comes with menstruation. Different studies have estimated that anywhere between 60-90% of all woman have experienced menstrual cramps at some point in their life. Though cramping is more commonly associated with younger woman - those in their teens and twenties - It can - and does - effect woman of every age and nationality. Though cramping during menstruation is also said to reduce with age, particularly over the age of forty, and particularly after a woman has given birth this too is not always the case.

Cramps - which are characterized by a dull, throbbing pain in the lower abdomen - can range from being mildly annoying to severe and in some cases even debilitating. It’s estimated that between 10-15% of woman experience cramps so severe it interferes with normal daily activities. Severe menstrual cramping is also the number one reason for short term absence of woman from school or work. Most woman also experience other symptoms associated with cramping and menstruation, the most common of which include radiating pain in the highs and lower back, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, headache, dizziness, irritability and fatigue.

For me the pain has always been bad. Since I was twelve years old my cramps have always been awful and excruciating. Though I can’t recall ever missing school or work because of it, I’m often left feeling quite ill, and completely drained of life. I’ve been lucky enough to be spared such symptoms as dizziness, fainting and vomiting but all the other symptoms typically apply. On good months maybe only one or two extra symptoms might strike me, on bad months all of them might. No matter what I’ve done or tried in the past nothing has ever succeeded in bringing me relief. Except advil, during my period I practically live on it. Without it I’m a wreck. The pain tears through my abdomen leaving me feeling as though my guts are slowly and systematically being ripped out. It can get so excruciating that I’m barely capable of standing up straight, and move around as slow as a snail. The pain in my back is no better, it shoots through me like a bolt of lightning, and often feels as though someone is twisting a dull edged knife into the base of my spine. A lot of my ‘down time’ during those few days is spent whimpering and laying curled up in bed, waiting and hoping that the advil I just took will soon kick in.

This is not uncommon, most of the woman I know typically feel the same and also rely heavily on advil, ibuprofen or other chemical drugs during that time. However even though we have these chemical concoctions at our disposal they don’t always work. For one thing advil and other pills like it are usually only successful in masking the physical pain you experience from actual cramping. Very rarely do they actually help with any of the other symptoms that are associated with it. Fatigue, nausea, constipation, bloating, and irritability may sill leave you feeling a wreck. If that wasn’t bad enough a lot of people who take these drugs on a long term basis or very often, find that they eventually loose their potency and may end up not working at all. Other times you may be waiting for longer then the average 30 minutes for the pill to kick in, and then you might only have an hour or two of relief before it wares off again. One of the biggest problems however, and the most severe is the damage advil does to your stomach lining. Advil is a very harsh drug, and it wreaks absolute havoc on your system. It can absolutely destroy your stomach lining which in turn can give you other problems like ulcers, gastritis, indigestion, stomach pains and more. Your stomach lining can recover of course, but not if you continue to impair it with such things.

This happened to me two years ago or so. After years and years of relying on advil to save me I ended up with a ruined stomach lining and horrible stomach pain, and indigestion after every meal. I was told by my doctor that I couldn’t take any advil or ibuprofen or in fact any other over the counter medication except Tylenol for at least one year, until my stomach lining had recovered, and even then I should use such things sparingly. I had no choice but to obey, because the trouble and the pain that I was facing then was worse even then the cramps. How I got through that year without advil I simply can’t recall. I know it wasn’t through Tylenol which has never helped me much, but I think it had something to do with drinking a lot of really horrible herbal tea that tasted like celery and fennel, that produced only moderate results.

After the year was over, and my stomach lining had healed I went right back to advil, though I was more weary of it this time around, and used it more sparingly. I knew the dangers and the consequences of using it, and really didn’t want to put it back into my body, but felt as though I had little choice. Along with the advil I tried various teas and exercise in the times between dosages, none of which worked to any great extent.

Then I discovered Cramp Bark. I’ve learned a lot of really interesting and amazing things during my Holistic Health program so far, and this month we’ve been deeply studying herbs. It was amongst the pages of my textbook that I cam across this strange sounding herb, and I am absolutely thrilled to share with you what I’ve discovered so far.

Cramp Bark - I read - is native to North America and Europe where it grows in woodlands, thickets and hedges. It was a common Native American remedy taken by the Meskwaki people for cramps and muscle tension. It is considered an effective remedy for relieving any tense muscle whether smooth - as in the intestines and uterus - or striated - as in attached to the skeleton - and works very well to relax excessive contractions of the uterus. It’s also helpful in relieving back pain, and constipation.

Though this sounded promising, and I could feel myself getting excited by the idea of it I was still very skeptical. With cramps as bad as mine I just didn’t see how it could work. It seemed impossible. However being someone who deeply wants to rid my life of all unnecessary pharmaceutical medicine - particularly advil - I thought it was worth a try. Anything was worth trying!

So I went to my local heath store last week and bought a bottle of Cramp Bark tincture. Then I read everything about it including the textbook’s directions on how to use it. My textbook recommends you take 2 tsp 3-4 times per day. Since I generally begin cramping two days before I begin bleeding, and then the first two days after I begin bleeding - for a total of four days - I took my first 2 tsp on the morning of the two days before I knew my period was to start. I won’t lie, it tasted awful, and after the first stip I could barely gt it down. It’s probably one of the most vile things I’ve ever tasted but the honest truth is it worked!

Since I didn’t feel any cramping that day I decided it wasn’t necessary to take the full dose 3-4 times a day. Instead I took the full dose twice a day. Once In the morning and once in the evening. I did the same on the second day, and by the third day as expected my period began. In fact it happened so unceremoniously and without even a nanoseconds worth of pain that I never would have realized it had started at all had I not chosen that moment to go to the bathroom. On that first day of bleeding I did take the recommended dosage 4 times, because at various points in the day I would begin to feel a slight discomfort. Worried that it would turn into full blown cramps I didn’t want to mess around with only a half dose. On the second day of bleeding I didn’t take any Cramp Bark, I’d run out actually and yet I had no cramps at all. I always have cramps on the second day of bleeding and was fully prepared to return to the health store for another bottle of cramp bark but when the cramps didn’t come I decided not to bother.

While on the first day of bleeding I did feel some minor discomfort at various points in the day it was nothing compared to what I’m used to. It was mostly a dull sort of tension and not anything even resembling an actual contraction of cramp. It wasn’t in the least bit debilitating and it always went away after I engaged in a little hip moving exercise - hooping worked wonders!

The best and most amazing part was that in addition to not having any pain or cramping I also didn’t feel tired or fatigued. I was full of energy as though it were any other day. I didn’t feel nauseous, or constipated and didn’t experience any headaches or diarrhea. My back pain too was severely diminished, almost to the point that I wasn’t bothered at all, and I was in good spirits! Not irritable and annoyed. I was comfortable, content, happy and relaxed. I breezed through the days as though nothing was different at all. I’ve always told my husband that as far as my period is concerned I don’t care one way or the other about the bleeding. That doesn’t bother me, it’s the cramps that kill me and absolutely knock me on my ass, and it’s the other symptoms too. Without all that I felt truly wonderful.

Something else I noticed is that right after I would take the tincture I could feel it working almost immediately. Unlike advil and other chemical medications where you have to wait thirty minutes, this was fast acting. After only minutes I could feel a warm fuzzy feeling spreading through my abdomen. Kind of similar to the feeling you might have if you have one too many drinks at the holidays. After that it was as if I could actually feel the muscles of my abdomen and uterus relaxing, and it may sound strange but I felt as though my uterus was calmer, more open. I was absolutely amazed by this, because as I said I was so skeptical. As much as I wanted it to work, I didn’t believe for even a second that it would, and I surely didn’t believe that it would work so well.

So if the pains and discomforts of which I speak are familiar to you, and like me you’re searching for an alternate way to relieve your menstrual symptoms free of the aid of chemical medicine I urge you to give Cramp Bark a try. As I said before it tastes awful, really it’s just horrendous and to me tasted like bark flavored whisky but it is absolutely worth its weight in gold. I don’t care how bad it tastes, it worked for me, and I’m going to continue using it, because it’s far better then the alternative.

You can find Cramp Bark at health food stores, and some herbalists may also have it or you can always order it online from reliable herbal sellers and even Amazon. I personally buy the Herb Pharm Cramp Bark Tincture, it's about $9.99 for 1 ounce. You can get it online at Amazon, from Whole Foods, or Health Food stores. I've also read that the Full-Spectrum Cramp Bark by Swanson Premium is good, but haven't used it personally. Though i'm thinking about picking up a bottle because I like the idea of taking capsules better then I do tasting the awful tincture.

However - and this is important - please use caution, and consult your physician before using. Particularly if you’re on any kind of medication or suffering from any disease. I am not a medical doctor, I can't treat, diagnose, or prescribe anything to you. It is important that you do your own research, follow the proper recommendations and talk to your doctor, Naturopath, or herbalist if you have any questions or concerns. Also keep in mind that just because this worked wonders for me, doesn’t necessarily mean it will for you. Also, while cramp bark has not been found to cause any adverse side effects or reactions when taken at the recommended dosage, some people have reported symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea when taking Cramp Bark in large doses. Large doses being 60 drops or more hourly. Cramp Bark should also not be taken by people who have a sensitivity to Aspirin.

Also keep in mind that Cramp Bark has been poorly researched by the Scientific Community, and so not all effects may be known. If you take it and experience severe adverse reaction you must discontinue use and consult your doctor before taking again. Cramp Bark should not be given to children and should not be taken by pregnant or nursing mothers. I have read - and have heard some personal accounts - that Cramp Bark can help with labor pains, but DO NOT take cramp bark when you are in labor unless you have the okay from your Doctor or Naturopath first!!! I cannot stress this enough.

If you do try it, let me know what you think and how it worked. I really hope this has been helpful I know I’m totally over the moon about it myself. As always happy and healthy living to you!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vegan Cinnamon Buns Made Easy and Delicious...

Before Baking

As I mentioned yesterday, I woke Tuesday morning with the desire to make cinnamon buns. What sparked this sudden interest you might ask? Well it was one of the new - to me - cook books that I picked up last week. Sweet Vegan by Emily Mainquist is full of wonderfully delicious looking recipes, but it was the cinnamon buns - or rolls as she calls them - that first caught my eye.

After Rolling - Before Baking - The end bits always look a bit loose

I have never in my life made a cinnamon bun/roll. Not a vegan one, and not a non-vegan one. Though I do adore these sweet, gooey, cinnamony treats - especially when warm - I haven’t actually had one in years. After all vegan cinnamon buns aren’t exactly easy to come by, especially here, not even in vegan friendly bakeries. Though I own several vegan cook books that include recipes for vegan cinnamon buns or rolls, it had never quite occurred to me before that this was something I could make myself. Even with a recipe in hand, I didn’t think myself capable of such a feat. I mean lets be real here, cinnamon buns just look difficult! They look complicated and involved and I never thought my culinary skills were up to the challenge. Part of that mind-set has to do with the fact that I often find my eyes glazing over at lengthy recipe instructions. Even though I love to cook, and bake a recipe full of steps and detailed instructions often has me groaning and turning the page.

After Rolling - Before Baking

There also just seems to be something about bread for me, that puts me kind of on edge and I don’t know why. I’ve baked all kinds of different breads in the past. Sweet breads, savory breads, seedy breads. I’ve used a bread machine, a food processor, and I’ve done it the old fashioned way with just my hands, and virtually every time my homemade bread comes out wonderful, but it’s always a process. All that kneading, resting, and rising!

All ready to be popped into the oven!

Yet despite all my reservations, and my feelings of inadequacy there was just something about Emily’s recipe that got me salivating. In truth I can’t say that I’ve actually missed or longed for a cinnamon bun over the past couple of years. I can’t in fact think of an occasion where I’ve thought of them at all, but there was just something about that recipe that got me craving cinnamon buns, and I became determined to try my hand at it. Aside from a desire to eat a gooey cinnamony treat I can’t say what possessed me to challenge my skills in this way. Perhaps it was the fact that the recipe was only five steps and the first step consisted of the sentence "Preheat your oven to 350'." Meaning there were really only four steps. Or maybe it was the helpful pictures detailing each step that accompanied the recipe. In any case I guess I thought "How hard can it be really?" and "If it really does go tits up what does it matter anyway?" I’d only be out a few dollars worth of flour and sugar and maybe an hour of my time. It seemed a small risk for a potentially great reward.

I learned a few interesting things while making these cinnamon buns Tuesday morning. 1) Cinnamon buns are not as hard as you think to make. 2) They are a bit of a process though. 3) They are almost entirely made of sugar. I don’t know what I previously thought cinnamon buns were made of but I’ll admit I was shocked, absolutely shocked at how much sugar goes into them. 1 ½ Cups worth in the dough itself. Another 1-1 ½ Cups worth into the filling and she says to use 4 ½ Cups in the Cream Cheese Frosting! but I just couldn’t. I think I ended up using somewhere between 2 ½ - 3 Cups which is still a ridiculous amount, and far more then I would ever normally feel the need to use. So yeah, a ton of sugar. 4) Make sure you roll your dough nice and tight. 5) Be careful not to over bake even for a minute. 6) They are most definitely worth every minute of the effort you put into them. 7) Make sure you invite some friends over to eat them otherwise you’ll make yourself sick or go into a sugar coma.

Before Baking

And that about sums up what I learned. As for the actual process itself, it is indeed much easier then it appears. You make your dough, which I did in my food processor. You roll it into a ball, place it in a greased bowl and let it rise. Then you roll it out evenly. - This is harder then I thought it would be. I’ll admit my dough was a tad thicker in the middle then it was around the edges but oh well. - Spread your filling overtop, roll the whole thing up nice and tight like a sushi maki. - Again slightly more difficult then it appears since you have no convenient bamboo sushi mat to help guide you. - Slice It into rounds, let it rest and then bake them. While you bake you make the frosting, pull the buns out when they’re done, let ‘em cool slightly then frost those babies and munch away while they’re still warm. Definitely not as hard as it looks right? If you get up at eight you can have the whole thing done, including kitchen clean up and be stuffing your face with sweet cinnamony goodness by ten.

Fresh out of the oven!

The only problem I encountered was that after the 15 minute bake time my cinnamon buns were not a nice golden brown. I had to cook them a bit longer before they turned golden. Also some of the filling seeped out of the buns along the bottom of my baking sheet and some of that got burnt and made a few of the buns crispy on the bottom. I don’t know if this happened because my cinnamon rolls weren’t tight enough or if it was because of my old, cranky oven and having to cook the buns longer. In either case the buns tasted delicious, even the ones with the crispy bottoms.

Can't wait to eat one!

While I was making these cinnamon buns I found myself thinking a lot about my dad. There was a time when I was younger where my dad used to make cinnamon buns a lot, particularly on the weekends. They were delicious, cinnamony, perfectly soft and the absolute best thing when eaten warm out of the oven. I remember watching him make them when I was younger but I can’t recall the details now of what he put into those cinnamon buns. In any case they were most definitely not vegan, they were however amazing. I barely remember now what they tasted like, it was so, so many years ago, but I don’t remember them being anywhere near as sweet as these ones were. Nor do I remember my dad ever frosting his cinnamon buns, not at least with a gooey cream cheese sort of frosting. I remember his being a bit more traditional, plain and simple and if they were frosted they were probably done so simply as well. It was a nice memory. Thinking of my old house, and our old kitchen. Sitting there on a sunny Saturday afternoon just the two of us, me watching him make cinnamon buns.

Finally! They're frosted and Ready!

When I finally sat down to the table to eat one, I couldn’t help but wonder after my first bite if he would like my version. I certainly did, as did my husband, and the friends we shared them with, and my father-in-law who paid me the highest compliment. When I asked him if he’d liked it he said "Oh yes!" and then. "I could barely tell the difference between it and a Cinnabon." Cinnabon, for those of you who don’t know is sort of like a doughnut shop except it specializes in and almost exclusively sells cinnamon buns. Though they originated in Seattle, Washington, for some reason they are the be all and end all of cinnamon buns to most of the Chicagoans I know. To have a non-vegan Cinnabon loving Chicagoan tell me my cinnamon bun was just as good is definitely high praise.


So if you really want some good cinnamon buns then pick up Emily Mainquist’s "Sweet Vegan" and give yourself the benefit of the doubt. They really are not as difficult as they may appear.

Double Yum!!

PS: Remember to check back tomorrow for my post about woman’s health! I’m very, very excited to share it with you all.

Who could resist a second?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Welcoming Spring with a Vegan Cookie Extravaganza...

Peppermint Oatmeal Carob Cookies

Spring is here! I suppose technically Spring’s been here since the 20th which was the equinox, and truthfully the weather has been very spring-like for most of the month, but this week in particular has felt very much like spring in a lot of ways. The weather has been very warm, a little breezy and we’ve had a few of the traditional spring showers. The sun is out and shining almost everyday, and it’s staying out longer. Everything is golden, and fresh and fragrant. The grass and foliage around here and in the parks has gone from brown and dreary to green and vibrant in only a week’s time. Flowers are opening and reaching for the sky, and my favorite sign of spring, the cherry blossom is in full bloom. Life has moved from inside to outside as children flock to the parks to play and more and more people meander out and about with their dogs. The Canadian Geese and the ducks that chose to migrate further south have returned to the lakes, where they’re preparing to mate. Butterflies have emerged, and birds sing gloriously in the trees while squirrels and bunnies romp in the weeds below.

Lavender Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Spring and Autumn are by far my favorite seasons, both for the beauty they impart on the world and for the feeling of peaceful contentment they instill inside me. Each year I like to do something special to ring in and honor the season, and this year I chose to bake a bunch of spring inspired goodies. This wasn’t the original plan, but as it happens my favorite used book store was having a sale last week, and I just so happened to come across four great vegan finds while perusing the shelves, two of them being vegan baking books. With so many new - to me - wonderfully creative, inspirational, and delicious sounding recipes under my arm this seemed the perfect opportunity to give them a whirl.

Monday morning I woke early, grabbed my books and headed straight for the kitchen, where I popped an audio book into the little portable cd player I keep by the window and set to work. I started with Kelly Peloza’s "The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur." a book I’d flipped through once or twice at my friend J’s without much interest. I think it was the photography that initially turned me off. Most of the photos are dark - too dark in my opinion - and I much prefer cook book photos to be shiny and bright. She does however include a photo with each recipe which I appreciate - dark or not - and I figured for $5 what would be the harm in picking it up? I’m really glad I did because there is some super creative, inspiring and amazing stuff hidden within these pages. There are so many cookie recipes I can’t wait to try out, in fact I was having such a hard time narrowing it down that I made three different recipes from this book.

Top Left - Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies. Top Right - Lemon Cornmeal Cookies.
Bottom - Pink Lemonade Cookies

Though it was tough to choose which recipes to start with I decided to keep with the theme of spring and went for three different lemon flavored cookies. You may think I went a little lemon crazy, but I absolutely love lemons! Especially in the spring and what better ingredient to use when the sun is shining and the world finally feels alive after the decay of winter?

Lemon Cornmeal Cookies

I began with the Lemon Cornmeal Cookies. I chose them because they were relatively quick to put together and because the picture - one of the few that actually isn’t too dark - was so bright, and happy. Just looking at all that magnificent yellow put a smile on my face, and lifted my spirits. Plus you have to admit that the addition of cornmeal in a cookie is just a little bit intriguing, no? I did make a few changes, one out of necessity - I didn’t have soy milk so I used flax instead, it worked perfect! - and the rest out of preference. I used a bit less sugar, a touch of lemon juice, and only rolled one side of each cookie in additional sugar. Trust me that was enough! The cookies baked up quick and were absolutely ‘melt in your mouth’ while still warm from the oven. I loved the lemon flavor of course and really enjoyed the subtle crunch of the cornmeal.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies

Next up were the Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies. This recipe is also accompanied by a relatively bright and happy picture, but it’s not the only thing that put a smile on my face. I mean, is there anyone out there who doesn’t think lemon and poppy seed are a perfect combination? They are truly a match made by the gods, and I am destined to love everything with this unique flavor combination. I adore lemon poppy seed muffins, cupcakes, loaves, rolls etc... but don’t recall ever having had a lemon poppy seed cookie until now. These were absolutely scrumptious! Like the lemon cornmeal cookies these baked up quick and were fast to throw together, which you wouldn’t think from their phenomenal flavor. Again I made a couple of alterations, flax milk instead of Soy, a little less sugar, a touch of lemon juice plus additional zest and I doubled - at least - the amount of poppy seeds.

Pink Lemonade Cookies

Lastly from Peloza I made the Pink Lemonade Cookies, the very sound of which is enough to make anyone smile. However I did not have pink food coloring, nor the ingredients to make my own, and so mine are just regular lemonade cookies I suppose. Still amazing though as the pink is used exclusively for aesthetic value. These cookies, while again simple enough upon first glance were a bit more work. I used flax again, decreased the sugar, added extra zest and a touch of lemon juice. However I found the dough to be kind of sticky, so it was hard to spread into a disk shape on my baking sheet. This may have been my own fault because of my alterations but in any case it was a bit of a process to get the dough to cooperate, and as it happens I was never able to get it to spread into perfect flat disks. Oh well the flavor was impeccable and in the end that’s all that really matters. The thing that makes these cookies so great, and it’s the reason you need them to be flatter rather then round is that you make a lemon butter cream frosting which you spread over half the cookies once they’ve been baked, then place a second cookie on top to make a sandwich cookie. Sort of like a lemon oreo but a thousand times better! The frosting was super simple - again I added extra zest - and squishing the cookies together was a breeze. I highly recommend making these, as well as the other two, especially if you like lemon. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I sure wasn’t, neither were the friends I chose to share these treats with.

For my next two batches I moved onto one of my other new books, Laura Matthias’s Extra Vegan Za. Though there are so many amazing sounding recipes in this book for everything from appetizers to dessert the first recipe I knew I had to try were the Peppermint Oatmeal Carob cookies. First of all who doesn’t love an oatmeal cookie? Secondly this combination just sounded to unique and cool not to try. I’m a huge fan of peppermint as I believe I’ve mentioned, and while I’ve had chocolate peppermint cookies before and peppermint chocolate I’ve never come across the combination of peppermint carob. Nor have I had peppermint in a cookie that wasn’t an all out chocolate cookie. Though I had my heart set on making this one, I was initially a little concerned that I wouldn’t like it. I was worried it might taste overly of peppermint or that the carob would be overwhelming but thankfully neither was the case. Even though I opted to leave out the vanilla extract in favor of extra peppermint extract. This truly was a perfect cookie. Laura says in the book that it’s her favorite and I can clearly see why, in fact it just might be my new favorite as well. Peppermint is a wonderful flavor to use in spring and summer because it’s so fresh and cooling. Mint of all types is extraordinary in salads, grain dishes, desserts, teas you name it and so I thought this cookie was a beautiful choice for a Spring bake-a-thon. What I like best about this cookie though is that you have three strong flavors, none of which overpower the others so you do get a real sense of all of them and they blend together so well. Absolutely amazing, and I never would have thought of it myself!

Lastly, also from Extra Vegan Za, I made the beautiful and delicate Lavender Chocolate Chunk Cookies. Lavender is a perfect choice for spring, it’s fragrant and floral and just the scent alone brings you peace of mind. I love it. Yet even though I almost always have dried culinary lavender on hand I rarely find an occasion to use it. The minute my eyes spied this recipe I knew it was meant to be. I just knew I had to try it out. Like with the peppermint oatmeal carob cookies I was excited yet unsure. I like the taste of lavender but not if it’s overwhelming. Too much lavender can be bitter and unpleasant and so I was hoping that would not be the case with these cookies. In fact Laura states in the book that for the lavender lover or the adventurous, use two tbsp of lavender, for someone less enthused by lavender use 1 tbsp. I started off with the 1 tbsp took a look at the dough and thought ‘what the hell’ and threw in the second tbsp with a little extra for good measure. Always ready for a culinary adventure I figured ‘why not take the plunge?’ I’m so glad I decided to throw caution to the wind because these cookies were magic! With just over 2 tbsp I didn’t find the lavender overwhelming at all, it was perfect, and it blended wonderfully with the chocolate chips. Actually I would go so far as to say that lavender is to chocolate what lemon is to poppy seed. The two go hand in hand, a match made by the infinite wisdom of the universe. Seriously I can’t keep my hands off these little gems and I highly recommend Extra Vegan Za on the basis of these two cookie recipes alone. I can’t wait to see what else Laura has in store!

So that concludes my culinary honoring of Spring. Although I did continue baking Tuesday when I tried my hand at Cinnamon Buns for the first time! An amazing experience that I was going to include in this post, but seeing as how it’s already quite long as it is I’ll save it for tomorrow. Plus I think cinnamon buns are entirely deserving of their very own post anyway.

Also stay tuned for some other exciting stuff I have coming up. I know I’ve been a bit neglectful of the blog this week, and I apologize. I’ve been rather busy and as such I haven’t had the leisure to experiment much with inventing my own recipes. Mostly I’ve been enjoying trying out the cook books I received for Christmas. However since this was originally intended to be a well rounded blog, with more on offer then just recipes I have some very interesting things to share that aren’t necessarily recipe related. Tomorrow we’ll have cinnamon buns, then look out for Friday’s post which will be related to woman’s health.

PS: Apologies also for the poor lighting in some of the photos. Though the sun was bright and shining outside it wasn’t exactly pouring through my kitchen windows at the time I chose to take these photos. And yes, I fully realize the irony of talking about Peloza’s dark photography, when my own in this post isn’t very well lit either. Ha ha... it seems these things happen to all of us from time to time.

*** Note - Also please keep in mind that if you are going to use Lavender in any food recipe, please, please make sure it’s culinary lavender, and not floral or aromatherapy lavender. There is indeed a difference and I assure you, you will not be happy if you get the wrong kind. Usually culinary lavender is easily found in spice shops, herbal shops, health food stores and even some grocery stores. It can also be found for sale as a whole plant that you can then plant in a pot or your garden, which is always fun!***

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Restaurant Review: Blind Faith Café in Evanston...

Last night my husband took me out for a celebratory dinner. We were celebrating me passing my anatomy and physiology class with a 96.7%. I had been hoping to pass with 100% but as my husband says "An A is an A." which of course is right. He told me to celebrate he’d take me out for dinner to any restaurant I wanted to go. I thought long and hard about it. There are so many vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Chicago I haven’t tried yet that I found it very difficult to narrow down. I wanted our dinner to be wonderful and special and so again after a lot more thought I decided to go with an old favorite rather then somewhere new. It was without a doubt the right decision!

If you live in the Chicagoland area and you’ve never been to Blind Faith Café in Evanston, it is a must! The food is out of this world, the service is quick and friendly and the atmosphere is hip, yet relaxing. They’re also a certified green restaurant, with a changing seasonally inspired menu, which is pretty cool. Of course some staple dishes remain year-round but others change frequently. Though they’ve made it their mission to change the way people think about vegetarian food - with beautiful, creative, and innovative dishes - it was only about two years ago that my husband and I discovered Blind Faith. I don’t remember how we found it, or exactly when but I think it was sometime shortly after I’d gone vegetarian and my husband was still omni. They are - it should be noted - a vegetarian restaurant however they do have many vegan dishes, and others can simply be made so by leaving off the cheese, sour cream and so on. All but two of their desserts are vegan, they have delicious sorbet instead of ice cream or vegan ice cream, and they even have some gluten-free options - including dessert - for those intolerant to wheat.

In the many times we’ve been to Blind Faith we’ve had the pleasure to sample a lot of their offerings, some of them more then once. However not all of those items sill remain on the menu the ones that do are as follows.

For appetizers the Pot stickers with orange dipping sauce, and the roasted vegetable humus are both fabulous. I highly recommend both. In the past we’ve also enjoyed other delicious appetizers - not currently on the menu - such as mushroom tamale, sweet and sour squash (which was to die for), an olive cheese plate - of which I ate the olives and friends of ours at the cheese - and a few others that I can no longer remember.

For lighter meals I recommend the Santa Fe Salad - minus the cheese - which was really delicious or the Bowl of Chili - minus the sour cream - which comes in a much larger bowl then I was expecting, and is mouth watering. The beans are cooked perfectly and have a wonderful texture, not mushy with a bit of chew to them. Perfectly spiced and mild enough for most people to handle I think.

For the main course their Barbeque Seitan Sandwich seems to be the universal favorite. My husband adores it, and some of my friends live for it. It is an incredible sandwich, that comes with a tangy coleslaw and a good smothering of sweet and spicy BBQ sauce. Seriously do not order this sandwich if you’re on a date or trying to impress someone because it’s sloppy, and drippy and you’re bound to get food all over your face. There is no delicate way to eat this sandwich but it’s so good you hardly care. The seitan has a wonderful texture and flavor, it doesn’t taste like seitan at all, and for some reason reminds me of the European sausages my Oma cooked when I was younger. I highly recommend you try it. It comes with a choice of side, either a salad or sweet potato fries and I say forget trying to be healthy get the fries because they’re divine and really round out the meal.

I’ve also had their Thai Peanut Noodles which were good but when it comes to Pad Thai I’m very fussy. There is one place I go that makes Pad Thai exactly the way I think it should be made, it is to die for, and no other restaurant I’ve eaten at, Thai or otherwise has ever come close to matching that greatness. Their Mongolian Stir-fry however is absolutely out of this world. The sauce is just incredible and again the seitan is fantastic. My husband has also had the Seitan Marsala which he really liked, but I didn’t try since I was already stuffed with my own meal. Of course there are other things we’ve tried in the past that were excellent that no longer appear on the menu.

Lastly for the dessert I can’t recommend the Peanut Butter-Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sorbet highly enough. Beware though, it is a massive slice of cake so save room! The flavors of this cake mix together so well especially with the light fruity flavor or raspberry. The regular chocolate cake is also very good if you like plain chocolate cake and the cappuccino brownie is absolutely delicious! They also make a wicked soy chai latte if you’re looking for a little after dinner drink.

So if you live in Chicagoland or plan to visit Chicagoland make sure to put the Blind Faith Café on your list of must-try restaurants, I promise you won’t be sorry! I only wish I’d remembered to bring my camera inside last night to take pictures of the food, but sadly I forgot it in the car. C’est la vie, there’s always next time right?

The Blind Faith Café - 525 Dempster Street, Evanston, IL.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Product Review - Mmm... Tea Raw Kombucha...

The other day when I posted about GT’s Kombucha I mentioned that a new brand of Kombucha was slowly winning my heart. Excluding GT’s and the Kombucha I drank while in Maui Mmm.. Tea’s Elderberry infused Kombucha is one of the best I’ve drunk.

This line of Kombucha just recently made it’s way to my local health food store and so far I’ve only seen four flavors. Original Black Tea, Original Green Tea, Elderberry Black Tea, and Elderberry Green Tea. Both versions of the Elderberry are amazingly delicious. The flavor is tart but sweet, yet not to sweet, and I find it has a much milder taste then the other kombucha I’ve tried including GT’s. Which is great for those weary of kombucha or those not accustomed to the taste. While it’s definitely tart, it’s less vinegary, and imparts less of a burning sensation when you drink it. I look forward to trying the original flavors.

Another cool thing about this Kombucha if you live in IL, and care about your carbon footprint - it’s local! The company is based in Buffalo Grove.  Like GT’s Mmm... Tea is also vegan, raw, free of preservatives and GMO’s. Low calorie, and low carb. Though it does contain organic ingrdients it’s not certified organic as a whole, it also contains cane sugar but not much. 6g per bottle.

While it has yet to surpass the awesomeness of GT’s in my eyes, it is very good and I quite enjoy it. I like to alternate between them drinking GT’s for a few days, and then drink a couple Mmm... Tea’s. I only wish Mmm.. Tea had a larger selection of flavors. Perhaps soon.

In addition to all the health claims about Kombucha that I mentioned in my post about GT’s. Kombucha is also said to support overall immunity, and promote a healthy metabolism meaning it can supposedly help you control your weight. Who doesn’t love that? Really, is there anything kombucha can’t do?

I’ve been drinking a kombucha a day for roughly two weeks now and I feel great, absolutely fantastic, and I should mention that since I typically drink it in the afternoon after a walk or some other form of exercise I find it does help stave off food cravings and hunger pains. Which is fantastic, when my stomach isn’t groaning and threatening to consume itself out of desparation I find I’m far more likely to take the time to make a healthful nourishing snack rather then just grab whatever’s lying around. So if weight control is something you’re struggling with you may want to consider drinking Kombucha regularly to see how you feel and how it works for you!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and while I don’t have an ounce of Irish blood in me I do like to celebrate it. Once started as a religious holiday commemorating St. Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, it has now morphed into a worldwide celebration of all things Irish. More commonly in North America - and I’m sure other countries as well - it seems, for most people, little more than an excuse to get stinking drunk. I myself rarely drink, don’t particularly like beer, and have never quite understood what exactly people find so fun about getting so loaded they vomit and feel like crap the following day. Definitely not my idea of a good time, and so I celebrate St. Patrick’s day annually by enjoying Irish culture. I wear green, make Irish themed food, listen to Irish music, read Irish folk tales along with Joyce, Yeats and Wild, and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors.

I don’t know why but ever since I was young I’ve felt a very strong connection with Ireland, the people and the land. As I said I’m not the least bit Irish, but something about Ireland just pulls at my soul, and envelops my heart. I feel this way about a couple of other countries as well, but there’s something about my feelings for Ireland that feel unique amongst the rest. My husband and I visited Ireland in the summer of 09 and it was an incredible and magical experience. I remember flying into Dublin, landing on the tarmac, looking out the small airplane window to the gray, rainy sky and thinking "I’m home." Up until that point in my life I’d never felt that feeling anywhere but in Vancouver, but as we disembarked the plane and walked through Dublin airport I really did feel as though I was home. Never for a moment, no matter where we went in Ireland - and we traveled a lot of the country - did I feel a stranger. Everywhere I went I felt as though I’d been there before, everywhere I went I felt a connection to the land. Walking around the streets of Dublin that first day I felt as though I was seeing everything for the first time, yet I also felt as though I’d seen it a millions times before. I have a friend who’s told me that the reason I felt and still feel this way is because in a pervious life I was Irish, or lived in Ireland at least. As a Buddhist the idea of reincarnation isn’t foreign to me, so perhaps he’s right. All I know is that since leaving Ireland at the end of August 09 a little part of me - and sometimes a large part of me - has ached to go back every single day.

Ireland is a beautiful country, really and truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It reminds me a lot of British Columbia in some ways. The weather for one, the scenery for another, but it has a distinctly different feel and vibe. Something I can’t quite put into words. It’s a country that’s experienced much hardship seemingly since the beginning of time and yet the nature and spirit of the place is so uplifting. I felt so inspired the entire time we were there.

Dublin is a wonderful city, richly cultured with plenty to see and do but honestly my favorite thing was just to walk the streets, walk along the river, interact with the people and laze about in the parks. Galway is another fantastic city, just really amazing. Similar to Dublin but again with a different vibe. To me Dublin felt a bit more laid back, where as Galway seemed ready to bust at the seems with activity. I loved every minute I stayed there and wish we’d had longer. We stopped a lot of places on our trip, wanting to take in as much of the country as possible. Clare, Cashel, Tipperary, Waterford, Cork, Kinsale, Limerick - which I had to go to just because I’m a huge fan of Frank McCourt’s book "Angela’s Ashes" - Kilkenny, Wicklow Mountains, Connemara, The Burren, The Cliffs of Moher and The Aran Islands. - which I highly recommend! - In Northern Ireland we went to Belfast, Derry and the Giant’s Causeway. We really didn’t get enough time to explore Northern Ireland as I would have liked. So if I ever get back, I’m going to make it my mission to do so. Beautiful, beautiful land, just breathtaking. Definitely a highlight of the trip which is funny considering everyone we knew strongly advised us against traveling to Northern Ireland and in particular Belfast because of the IRA. Of course we didn’t listen because the idea of dangerous places or potentially dangerous places has never bothered me, and truth be told we had a brilliant time in Northen Ireland and Belfast. While I do admit Belfast has a sort of tense and uneasy vibe about it, we had absolutely no problems there. We felt entirely safe, even when wandering the streets well past dark, and the people we met were just as friendly and kind as anywhere else in the country. I really do recommend Belfast particularly if you’re interested in history. There is some lovely architecture and the most stunning, beautiful and sometimes frightening murals are painted all over the city. They mostly depict the religious division in the city, and really are quite a sight to see. I am definitely one of those travelers that honestly believes that a large part of your experience in a city or country is determined by what you yourself bring to it. We brought nothing but love and positive energy to Ireland and that’s exactly what we received in return.

I felt particularly drawn to the Cliffs of Moher, and it is definitely one of my best experiences of the trip. Even though the day we went it was rainy, cold, grey and misty something about the weather just seemed so fitting for the cliffs. For picture taking opportunities of course I would have preferred a bit of sun, but for overall experience the bad weather really added that extra element. The Giant’s Causeway is another place I felt particularly moved by, it’s beauty is - well there are no words for it really, it’s the kind of place you have to see and experience to believe. The weather was beautiful that day and again one of the best experiences of our trip. I recommend the Causeway to everyone I know who goes to Ireland particularly if they like a bit of a hike. The whole Wicklow area was stunning as well, just brilliant, and the Arand Islands felt very much like home to me. There really isn’t much there but it spoke to me, and it really is worth seeing. It’s as if life there stood still, the island is so untouched by many of the modern traps we call convenience. The ferry ride over’s quite fun as well, particularly when the water’s choppy! My husband however would disagree with that. Perhaps when I’ve got the time, maybe tomorrow I’ll post a few pictures of Ireland so you can see for yourself it’s magnificence, but for now on to the food aye?

Since I’ve got to work tonight I wasn’t able to make a ton in the way of Irish fare. However I did make a batch of Irish theme cupcakes from Alicia C Simpson’s Cook book "Vegan Celebrations." Stout Beer Cupcakes with Whisky Cream Cheese Frosting. Who would have thought that would be a good combination? But it was! I used Guinness for the stout and it was fantastic, though I’ll admit I added a bit more whisky to the frosting then was called for, I thought it needed a bit more ‘kick.’ It should be noted that while I don’t drink beer, I did order a pint of Guinness in a pub in Belfast just to say I had. While beer is still bear and I’ll never be fond of it, that pint of Guinness was the best beer I’ve ever drunk. Keep in mind though that Guinness doesn’t travel well. I’ve been told this by every Irish and English person I know. To experience the true goodness of Guinness it must be drunk in Ireland or at the very least the U.K. though I think bottled imported Guinness is just fine for a batch of cupcakes. It is much less thick, and frothy however. As strange as this recipe may sound I assure you it’s good, as is evidenced by the fact that only 4 cupcakes remain out of a batch of 24! My husband and our friends sure have enjoyed them.

Next I made an Irish Soda Bread. Last year I went with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s recipe which is excellent. This year I went with Robin Robertson’s recipe from "Party Vegan." The raisins are soaked in Whisky before begin added to the batter and it gives the bread a nice dimension. As you can see however most of the bread has already been devoured by my husband.

Lastly for our dinner later tonight, I made Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s Irish Mashed Potatoes with Kale from "Color Me Vegan" It’s her version of the traditional Irish dish Colcannon, which is typically made with cabbage, butter, cream, and bacon. I actually had colcannon on my last night in Dublin and honestly it wasn’t for me. I don’t know if it was the cream sauce or the ‘bacon’ which was not the typical bacon you get here in North America but more like a thicker Canadian Bacon, or back bacon. Colleen’s version is fantastic, I love the idea of using kale because it’s such a delicious nutritious green, and I also like that she didn’t feel the need to add in any sort of vegan bacon substitute as I see a lot of vegan colcannon recipes do. The dish really doesn’t need it as it’s wonderful as it.  I did top it off with some sliced green onion though. So there you have it, St. Patrick’s Day celebrated, with wonderful memories, amazing food, and a lot of incredible Celtic folk and Punk music.

By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with Celtic punk I implore you to immediately go and listen to The Pouges, Flogging Molly, and Gaelic Storm. They are fantastic, and amongst my favorites, I’ve been listening to all three on an endless loop since February. There’s something really magical about electric guitar, bass and drums playing alongside accordion, tin whistle, pipes, flute, fiddle, banjo and bodhran. Seriously it gives me goosebumps and literally transports me back to Ireland. Interestingly though all three bands have Irish lead singers and perhaps another Irish member or two none of the bands were actually formed in Ireland, go figure. Though while we were in Ireland and Dublin in particular we heard The Pogues played a lot! Also at some of the local pubs there were quite a few bands who’d do a Flogging Molly cover. Great stuff, check it out!

PS: Oh and if you are beer drinker, don’t’ forget to grab yourself a pack of Irish beer to enjoy on this holiday!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Joy of Pickling...

Pickling. It’s a process that’s always intrigued me, which I suppose is ironic considering I never much cared for pickled food aside from sushi ginger, pickles and pickled beets. When I first began my culinary adventures in earnest five years ago the fact that I didn’t like pickled food seemed inconsequential, I wanted to learn how to pickle. Of course back then I wanted to learn how to do everything! Everything in the culinary world was new, and amazing to me, and I wanted to achieve it all. I’ve mentioned before that I essentially taught myself how to cook by borrowing stacks upon stacks of cook books from my local library. Well amongst those stacks were several books on canning and pickling. Both practices that fascinated me.

It seemed such a quaint and old fashioned thing to do, but at the same time I thought of it as being a very economical idea. I’ve always been partial to the thought of having a pantry stocked with good, nutritious food that I’d grown, preserved and canned myself. I remember reading the Barbara Kingslover book "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral" and thinking "I want to do that!" Minus the raising and slaughtering of livestock of course. Being a passionate environmentalist I want to live as sustainable and self-sufficiently as possible, growing and preserving my own food is definitely a step in the right direction. However, five years ago when I read my first book on preserving, pickling and canning I felt a bit overwhelmed. Well overwhelmed may be an understatement. Not only was everything I was reading entirely new to me, but I didn’t understand half of it, and what I did understand sounded complicated. How could I be sure I wouldn’t die from botulism? I was neither confident nor skilled enough in the kitchen to embark on such a journey.

Fast forward to now. This week as I mentioned yesterday I’m eating simple, light, mostly raw foods in an attempt to re-balance my body. Flipping through my various cook books, - some raw some not - I came across several recipes I felt I absolutely must try. One of them is Chad Sarno’s recipe for Beet Ravioli that appears in Tal Ronnen’s book "The Conscious Cook." One of the components to the recipe is Pickled Balsamic Figs. Another component is Green Garlic Oil, which is essentially olive oil infused with garlic, and green herbs. I’ve been curious to try this recipe for forever but the raw aspect, combined with the pickling the infused oil and the cultured cashew cheese had me feeling a little intimidated. Until now. I made the figs and oil Monday, and not only was it super easy but I’ve already tried one of the figs and they’re delicious. I’m actually making the full dish tonight for dinner - and I’ll let you know how it turns out - but the simplicity of that one experience eased my fears about pickling.

It’s easy! So easy. All you need are some clean mason jars - or old pasta sauce jars - some vinegar, a bit of salt/sugar and whatever you want to pickle. It really is as simple as that, and I don’t know why I was always so concerned about it. I had so much fun Monday, that today I decided to pickle my own sushi ginger. I love sushi ginger so much and use it in abundance when eating sushi but to buy pickled ginger at the store is ridiculous. Almost $4 for 4oz, when I can buy 2 pounds of ginger root for less then $1 and make my own? No brainer right? So very excitedly this morning I decided to use Ani Phyo’s recipe for pickled ginger from her book "Ani’s Raw Food Asia" and it should be ready in about a week.

I’ve been feeling so good over the past few days that I’ve decided I definitely want to eat more raw over the summer, and I think pickling is going to be a great thing to do. Next up I’m going to try pickled daikon, and after that maybe kimchi. I’ve really gotten a great sense of satisfaction and joy out of the two things I’ve pickled so far, plus the infused oil. It’s given me a real positive lift, and it’s nice to finally be able to upcycle all those pasta sauce jars that have been floating around the house. So stay tuned for more pickling stories and seriously, give it a try yourself. You won’t believe just how easy and fun it is!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Rejuvenator...

It’s an absolutely gorgeous day in Chicagoland today. Sunny, and warm with a nice breeze. My favorite kind of day and I’ve been taking advantage of it by spending time outside walking and hooping, and by having all the shades and windows open while I’ve been in. It’s amazing just how good a little sunshine and exercise can make you feel!

Now I don’t know about you but I know when the seasons begin to change I begin to change with them. My habits, my food choices, my overall routine - it all shifts. During the cold winter months this usually means I eat hardier heavier fare, exercise less and stay indoors more. Something I always feel good about in the beginning because who doesn’t like to laze about a bit after the long hot sweaty months? Truth is though, I hate being cooped up indoors, I hate the stale re-circulated air, and I hate not being able to go for long walks or ride my bike. Then of course there’s the food, now as much as I love stews, soups, chilies, pasta, baked goods, sweets and creamy gooey comfort food goodness there always comes a point where I feel enough is enough. By the time Spring rolls around all I want to do is run, and eat salad. Even if I haven’t gained any weight over the winter - which I usually don’t - I always feel heavier, bogged down, and just generally sick of spirt I suppose. Which is exactly how I was feeling last Friday after a week long adventure in cooking Latin food. It was so good - mouth watering good, and it was so much fun to begin learning a new cuisine but by the end of the week I just wanted to die. I was so stuffed, so tired, so clogged up; everything about my body and my spirt felt out of whack, they were no longer working in harmony with one another, and I felt awful.

The only way I know how to remedy this is to get myself back to basics. Get off the sugar, get off the starch, get off the corn, soy and wheat. Get myself back into a routine of green smoothies, salads, and a lot more fresh raw produce. Cutting all that out and just eating and living simply is the best way to flush out the body and restore balance to both your physical and spiritual self. After only two days I’m feeling better, healthier, lighter, happier and more positive then I have in months. It’s a wonderful feeling, and so I wanted to share with you the smoothie I made Saturday morning to get myself back on track. It’s so delicious and invigorating that I drank the entire blender full in about twenty minutes, and felt fantastic all day. My sugar cravings diminished and my belly stayed full all afternoon without making me feel like death, not to mention I felt less tired and more energized.

I highly recommend you kick off the new season with a cleanse of your own, and include this refreshing, rejuvenating drink!

Happy Spring!

The Rejuvenator

2 Cara Cara Oranges***
3-4 Large Kale Leaves
1 D’Anjou Pear
1 Banana
1 Granny Smith Apple
1 tsp Spirulina
2 C water
1-2 Tbsp lemon juice
1-2 packets stevia
3-4 sprigs Fresh Mint

- Peel oranges, and remove as much pith (the white skin covering the fruit) as possible.

- Place all ingredients except Stevia in a high-speed blender and blend on high for 60 seconds or until well blended and completely smooth. Taste for sweetness and add stevia to taste.

*** Note - You could use Navel Oranges if you don’t have Cara Cara, however the Cara Cara oranges add a really unique and delicious flavor to this smoothie that Navels will not. Cara Cara’s are a favorite of mine, and for good reason, so I highly recommend you try them if you can find them at your local grocer or farmer’s market. ***

Friday, March 9, 2012

Product Review - GT’s Raw Organic Kombucha...

Kombucha, people either love it or hate it. I think it’s absolutely incredible! For those of you who’ve never had it, Kombucha is a health promoting living drink of fermented tea, and GT’s Kombucha is some of the best on the market. They have their classic line, their synergy line, and now they have synergy kombucha with chia seeds, which is very cool indeed. GT’s Kombucha is vegan, gluten-free, raw, organic, kosher, low-calorie, low-carbohydrates,, preservative and caffeine free, free of artificial flavors/colors, and low in sugar.

Kombucha has been drunk for years by many different cultures, and though it’s origins are a mystery to us - it’s story lost in the sands of time it would seem - it’s believed that it was originally developed in China sometime in the 200's BC. From there it’s said to have spread to other parts of Asia such as Japan and Korea, and to Russia from where it spread to other European countries like Poland, Germany, Denmark and so on. Called everything from ‘dangerous’ to ‘the cure for cancer’ people’s opinions and claims about kombucha are rather strong. However very little research has actually been done on this ‘elixir’ and so truthfully no one really knows what it’s long term health benefits may be - well not in any scientifically proven way at least. Kombucha has been said to be able to detoxify the body, and energize the mind. It’s been said to help prevent cancer, cure it and aid in the recovery from it. It’s been said to increase energy, reflexes, and sharpness. It’s said to improve eye sight and heal joint damage as well as improve skin elasticity, and aid in digestion. All this and more has been said about kombucha and while I couldn't say exactly what is fact and what is fiction I can at least tell you about my own experience with kombucha and how it makes me feel.

It definitely gives me energy, and I tend to drink it most when I’m staring to get tired at work or when I know I have a long and busy day ahead of me. After I drink a bottle I feel invincible, like I could run a marathon. I feel great, energetic, lighter, relaxed, enlightened. Regardless of what I’ve eaten that day or what I’m about to eat my digestion runs smoothly - which it doesn’t always - and my mind feels very clear. I also feel happier when I drink kombucha, and more at peace as though I’ve just meditated for a very long time. That’s how I personally feel after every bottle, and I love that feeling so I’m inclined to believe that scientific proof or not kombucha must certainly has some benefit, though like everything it may be dependant on the person. Since everything doesn’t always work for everyone.

Having said all of that, it must also be said that kombucha has a ‘taste.’ Some people find it horrible, unpleasant, undrinkable, tart, vinegary, pungent, potent and just down right awful, and I’ll admit that I used to be amongst the haters and naysayer’s. It was my friend T who first introduced me to the stuff nearly two years ago now. He drinks it like water. GT’s Synergy is his favorite, and after talking it up for weeks and weeks my curiosity got the best of me and I bought a bottle. I took one sip and hated it. I couldn’t finish the bottle I’d bought and ended up dumping it down the sink. T told me not to worry, that I’d be back, and when I asked him what he thought would ever posess me to buy another bottle when I thought it was so awful he just smiled and shrugged. "Trust me, you’ll be back. There will come a time when curiosity will get the better of you again and you’ll ask yourself, was that really as bad as I first thought? When that happens you’ll buy another bottle, you’ll take a sip and be hooked." He sounded like a wise old sage and if you knew T you would know there is nothing sage-like about him, and yet he was absolutely right. One night I found myself tired and thirsty staring into a massive display case of Kombucha. I stood there scrutinizing the bottles, reading each flavor carefully and wondering to myself "Is it really as bad as I remember?" In the end, after many minutes of curious contemplation I broke down and bought another bottle. I cracked it open, took a sip, squished my eyes shut at the pungent taste and took another sip. By the third sip I was hooked, and hooked for life I might add.

I guess the truth is that kombucha is a very powerful taste that most people are not accustomed too, but once you become accustomed to it, it’s delicious, and amazing. Plus you can’t beat the way it makes you feel afterwards, honestly I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t mean it. So if you’ve never had kombucha I urge you to give it a try, although you might not like it at first drink the whole bottle you might just be surprised. For kombucha skeptics go on, drink a bottle, if you had it before and didn’t like it that second bottle might just be the one for you, as it was for me.

As for what kombucha to buy and where to buy it - it’s become something of a revolution. Once not so long ago it was the kind of thing you had to make yourself or buy in little out of the way health food stores, but now several companies make it and it’s begun showing up in national large chain groceries. Some brands of course are better then others and personally GT’s is my favorite so far - although a new brand just appeared in my local grocery that I’m very excited about and will talk about next week - For me GT’s has the best flavor, and the smoothest taste. I love their classic flavors like Multi-Green, and Gingerade. Their Classic Synergy Flavors like Trilogy, and Gingerberry. Their Enlightened flavors like Botanic Number 3, Botanic Number 7 and Botanic Number 9. Their Enlightened Synergy flavors like Cosmic Cranberry, Mystic Mango, Guava Goodness and Passionberry Bliss. I also really love their Chia flavors. My hands down favorites in this category are the Grape Chia, the Green Chia and the Black Chia, i'm less fond of the Raspberry Chia, and i'm simply not a fan of the Cherry Chia but then as much as i like Cherries i'm not a big fan of cherry flavored stuff..

So next time you’re out and about keep your eyes open, and if you see GT’s Kombucha pick up a bottle. It’s amazing stuff and really does make me feel invigorated, rejuvenated, enlightened, and refreshed! Love it or hate it just make sure you try it, or try it again!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Greek Style Dolmathes...

Dolmathes are an essential part of Greek Cuisine for me, and no Greek feast can be complete without these delicious rice stuffed vine leaves. Dolmathes - or dolmas, which is the Turkish name they’re more commonly known by - originated sometime during the Ottoman Empire and have many different variations depending on the region. Though they may not have originated in Greece exactly, they have certainly become synonymous with the culture and the cuisine; and to be honest it’s the simple Greek preparation of dolmathes that I love and appreciate the most.

The cool thing about dolmathes is that they’re one of the few - possibly the only? - dish in Greek cuisine that is traditionally vegan. That’s right, true Greek dolmathes are vegan, they contain no meat, no cheese, no egg, and no other dairy products. So don’t allow people to tell you that dolmathes are meat based, or that meatless dolmathes are not traditional or are in some way lacking, because they’re not. Dolmathes have always been one of the many great vegetarian dishes of Greece that just happens to also be vegan. Having said that however, you should be mindful when eating dolmathes in restaurants because there are meat stuffed variations of dolmathes as well. In Greece the meat stuffed versions are called Dolmathakia, but on restaurant menus - at least in North America - rarely is a distinction drawn between the two. Most often all types of dolmathes are simply labeled dolmathes or dolmas and so you’ll want to read the ingredients.

Typically dolmathes are served cold with Avgolemono sauce while dolmathakia are served warm with yogurt sauce, though dolmathes can also be served warm which is usually how I serve mine. Except the leftovers of course which I prefer to eat cold. Believe it or not they taste amazing either way though even if you eat them cold you’ll want to warm your avgolemono up a bit. In restaurants dolmathes are also generally served as an appetizer but served with a nice Greek salad or small side dish they make a wonderful main course in their own right. If you’ve never had dolmathes, and in particular never made your own you really must try it!

They may appear intimidating upon first glance but I assure you they are not as fussy as they seem. In fact preparing them is relatively easy and it’s true that the more often you make them the more you improve. They don’t require any special equipment and all they really ask for is a bit of patience and a gentle hand. Be gentle with your grape leaves so as not to tear them, role your dolmathes tightly like you’re rolling sushi and pack them firmly together. Follow that advice and you shall not be led astray. Though everyone - including myself - is bound to have at least one or two dolmathes burst on them during the cooking process, no worries, they may not look pretty and they may not be the ones you choose to serve to your guests but they taste just fine so scoop ‘em into a bowl to eat the next day and don’t worry about them. My only other advice is that you buy more grape leaves then you think you need, and my reason for this is simple - you never know. You never know what the quality of your leaves will be like, you never know if you’re going to tare any or how many you might tare, and you never know how big or small the leaves are. If you get a jar of small leaves you may want to overlap two leaves to make one dolmathes instead of using one leaf. I tend to do this a lot and it actually makes the process a lot easier. So with all that in mind lets get rolling....


At least a16oz jar of Grape Vine Leaves
1 ½ C Cooked Brown Rice
2 Medium Onions grated
2 Large tomatoes grated
4 tsp or 1 Tbsp Fresh Mint minced (to taste, I typically like more)
1/3 C Olive Oil (or more as needed)
2 ½ C Water
1/4 C Olive Oil
1/4 C lemon Juice or ½ a Lemon Juiced
Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste

- First bring a pot of water to boiling drop your tomatoes into it for a couple of minutes then dunk in a bowl of ice water. Rub skins until they come off and set aside.

- Grate onions and tomato on a cheese grater, then add it to a bowl with your cooked rice. Add in the mint, salt and pepper to taste and 1/3 C olive oil. This should be enough oil, however depending on how juicy or not juicy your onions and tomatoes are you may want to increase the oil to 1/2 C. It's up to you, but also keep in mind that while you want the mixture moist and flavorful, you don't want it liquidy.

- On a clean cutting board lay out one vine leaf. Place a spoonful of filling down the center of the leaf. Carefully but firmly roll tucking in the sides as you go until you’ve formed a neat, tight roll. Think of it like rolling sushi or a burrito. Repeat this process until all filling has been used. Remember if your leaves are small or a little bedraggled you can always use a second leaf, overlapping it with the first to create a larger sturdier roll.

- Place a pot big enough to hold your dolmathes in a single layer, on the stove. Place reserved tomato skins at the bottom and then pile your dolmathes on top. Try to keep them in a single layer, packing them in tightly. If you need to go two high, or have a few extras on top it’s okay, but they cook best when packed tight so try to cram them in. Gently of course. Add the 2 ½ cups of water, plus the 1/4 of olive oil to the pot.

- Place a plate, or another pot inside the pot on top of the dolmathes to hold them down then cook over medium-low heat for fifteen minutes.

- Remove the plate or pot and discard. Give the dolmathes a gentle stir and add the lemon juice. Then cover with a lid and cook another fifteen minutes.

- Drain off any liquid that may remain in the pot then remove dolmathes from the pot with a slotted spoon and place on a serving plate or individual plates. Discard tomato skin.

- Serve with a huge dollop of Avgolemono sauce and enjoy!

PS: In retrospect I probably should have taken a picture of one of these guys cut in half so you could see the inside, apologies!