The Stinking Rose

Now I don’t know about your flowers from Valentine’s Day, but there’s another ‘rose’ which is much appreciated in the food family: garlic.  You could say our kitchen has become a makeshift ‘florist’ lately!

Known for its cardiovascular benefits, garlic is also a powerful immune booster which is particularly timely in the thick of cold and flu season.  It is also a ‘strong’ antioxidant, ‘strong’ coming from the organic compound allicin, which is what offers us its ‘fragrance.’ Click to continue reading »

To Health, With Love

I’ve been a little under the weather lately (and yay! the weather has finally arrived in Napa!) Even with the healthy diet I consume (future post,) I, too, can succumb to the bugaboos that infiltrate our systems. While I wasn’t in much of a mood to cook recently (now you know I’m not well),  I was able to access a nice assemblage of still-fresh items and pull them together for two nourishing entrees. Click to continue reading »

Flax Coffee

Do I have you intrigued? Mouth watering and ready for a healthy jolt?  Great – I’m on the right track.  In the thick of winter there’s nothing better than starting the day with something warm, and this beverage is just the ticket. Or end the day (with your chocolate polenta cake) sending more nutrients to the heart. The energy boost it provides comes from delicious, nutritious ingredients – not caffeine. You could say it’s a healthy take on coffee, lovingly provided by my #1 inspiration, Ed Bauman. Click to continue reading »

Orange Poppy Seed Muffins

Aside from the obvious vitamin C punch, oranges have many other healing properties.  In traditional medicine, fresh orange juice was once used for its antidepressant and an anti-inflammatory qualities.  Oranges also work well to help the digestive process, fluid circulation and hydration. The vitamin C not only fights the common cold; it makes optimum use of calcium contained in food pairing as well.

But wait!  That’s not all!  The peel is just as if not more nutritious (organic, of course.)  Citrus peel has been shown to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, and, according to a recent study in a medical journal, the white layer found just on the inside can help suppress hunger for up to 4 hours.  Once again, proof positive that many parts of a plant are not only edible, but good for you, too.  Click to continue reading »

Ch Ch Ch Chia!

Recently I’ve been making the rounds discussing healthy foods for the new year and featuring an item which I use in my everyday diet.  Loaded with Omega 3s, it’s a great alternative to flax seed when I’m short on time to pull out the grinder.

If you missed the ads in the late seventies, I’ve attached a picture of the Chia pet for your viewing pleasure.  (Actually it started out as a ram, but morphed into many other types of animals after breeding:)

What does this have to do with nutrition, you might ask?  An amazing amount as you will see… Click to continue reading »

Healthful Hints

You’d have to be living underground not to read or hear about all the diet options people are pushing this time of year.  But remember, as a rule, drastic diets don’t work for the long term.  Americans spend more than $30 billion annually on various fad weight loss remedies and experts agree this is not only a waste of money, but also a potential threat to our health.

Click to continue reading »

Celebrate with a Healthy Liver

milk thistle

milk thistle

I hope you are enjoying the holidays so far.  We were fortunate enough to host Christmas at our house this year and outdid ourselves with delicious indulgences.  (Had so much fun I forgot to take pictures!)

Speaking of fun, many of us tend to imbibe more than usual during the ‘season.’  With family in town or travels out of town, our daily routine can be disrupted. Our bodies bear the burden – in particular the liver. This resilient organ is on overload trying to keep up with processing more than just rich foods.

We can still enjoy the festivities while helping support our system.  Here are some guidelines:

  • Eat two to three daily servings of dark-green, yellow or orange vegetables for essential nutrition support.  Think (and buy) spinach, kale, and sweet potatoes.
  • Eat a low protein diet to avoid excess stress on the liver. Poor quality fats, conventional meats and cheeses tend to contribute to its congestion.
  • Eat the right kind of fats in moderate amounts.  Fish oils, raw nuts and seeds are the best sources of essential fatty acids which are needed for cell protection.  Corn oil and margarine should be avoided at all costs (a more in-depth post on healthy fats is in the works.)
  • Drink grapefruit juice which decreases the enzymatic conversion of many potential toxins by up to 30 percent.  A tablespoon of apple-cider vinegar with honey in one cup of water is also a great panacea with similar effects.
  • Milk thistle, burdock root, dandelion and red clover aid in cleansing the blood, reducing stress on the liver.  These are all available in tea blends as well as supplemental form.
  • Uh, I would be remiss if I didn’t list consuming alcohol in moderation.  Remember, wine is in our family, so I have to be particularly mindful of reducing my intake. But when pairing with food, the absorption is optimal. Maybe one of my new year’s resolutions will be less justification.  Or maybe not:)

Guilt Free (Holiday) Baking

Nothing smells more like the holidays than warm pies and fresh baked goodies.  Unfortunately, nothing feels more like the holidays than the extra baggage that comes with them.  Now your favorite desserts can be just as yummy and healthier, too – any time of year.

Photo by Mark Thomas

Photo by Mark Thomas

The Pastry Part

Whether you’re making cookies or pies, cakes or breads, there are more healthy options available to us than ever before.  Many store bought pie crusts are laden with trans fats and made from refined white flour.  Since whole grains are highly encouraged as a great source of fiber in our diet, let’s see how we can incorporate them here.

Unless you are sensitive to wheat (as in gluten intolerant), whole wheat flours are widely accessible – even at Trader Joe’s.  King Arthur and Bob’s Red Mill are two popular brands, or you can save by purchasing in bulk from your favorite health food store.

Another option is spelt flour, which can be substituted one for one to white flour.  Spelt is a distant cousin to wheat but can usually be tolerated by those with allergies.  Just like whole wheat, spelt has a high gluten content which is the protein that binds it all together.

You might also substitute oat flour, nut flours (by simply grinding nuts to a fine texture) or cornmeal in recipes. Other whole grain flours may be combined with all-purpose flour, but make sure you read up on it first to get the right lift and density.

The Inside Scoop

Pie filling is so versatile, but in keeping with my theme of seasonality, let’s talk apple and pumpkin (again.)  As mentioned in my post on pumpkin muffins, you can opt to roast your own, or use store-bought puree.  And when using apples, I tend to leave the peel on (only when organic) – as the skin contains more fiber and nutrients than the flesh.

Invariably recipes call for waaay too much sugar, which I not only reduce in half, but substitute with healthier sweeteners that don’t spike the blood sugar. Agave nectar is a wonderful plant-based variety which comes from the same plant as tequila (no wonder I love it!)  No processing chemicals are used in its production, keeping its integrity as a whole food. One big advantage to using agave nectar over other sugars (even honey) is that it takes longer to reach our blood stream.  Controlling these levels is an important factor in lowering risk for heart disease and diabetes, reducing cholesterol levels, and managing our weight.  Wow.  And you can find it almost everywhere now.

Agave nectar can be used in almost every baking recipe, but since it’s a liquid, reduce the ‘sugar’ amount by 25 percent. You should also cut back other liquids in recipes by same amount.  And again as a liquid, it will cook faster so reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

In addition to baking, agave nectar is delicious in coffee, tea and…margaritas, of course.  Or hot mulled wine this time of year – another holiday scent which is timeless.

Healthy Holidays – Part 1

Just back from the market (it’s already crazy) but haven’t started my cooking yet (so I apologize for no photos.)  I did want to send this off in time for holiday prep – for both the budget and the waistline. I will only indulge you with healthful suggestions this week.  No extra calories required.

“Trimming” at home:

If you are hosting one of the major meals at your house, consider some of these options in your menu plan.

Have a strategy. You know not to go to the store hungry, but also take time to prepare a list of items you will need for your gathering.  If you can do this in advance (of Christmas, let’s say) – be on the lookout for pre-holiday sales.  Just today I got a 2-for-1 deal on pumpkin and cranberries.  And shop early – in the day.

Pick seasonal fruits and veggies. With produce, it’s key to know what’s in season to take advantage of better prices (not to mention all the health benefits, etc.)  Right now there’s an abundance of fresh apples, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, persimmons and pomegranates.  Corn and tomatoes are out, but if you find they are absolutely essential, buy them canned or frozen (organic, of course.)

Try a buffet. This is an economical way to serve many.  Start with the healthier foods at the beginning of your table, and ‘heavier’ items at the end.  People’s plates will usually be full of the good stuff by the time they reach the big-ticket section.  Just make sure you offer several choices of colorful veggies.

Remember, beverages have calories, too.  Especially alcoholic ones.  I have been known to sip here and there (to keep with the festive spirit, of course) and when cooking, it’s easy to lose track.  Just 4 ounces of wine adds up to 100 calories, and come on – that’s barely an aperitif for some.  Be kind to your liver and remember moderation.

Make your own dessert.  Ah, my favorite subject.  Some of the sugar-laden, trans fat pies I’ve seen out there continue to feed this recession!  Even store bought pie crusts can fetch up to $4 a piece, vs. about $1 for homemade (and so much tastier, too.) If you’re intimidated by baking, tomorrow’s post will contain some healthful tips in part 2 of our series this week.

Where Have You Bean?

One of my favorite protein sources has just gotten some respect, as in really good press.  The legume, or in more familiar terms – the bean – has an entire cookbook dedicated to it’s heritage, preparation, and recipes which will entice even the leery ‘musical fruit’ lover (see ‘romantic’ note below.)

“Heirloom Beans” is a hot new publication by Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo, whose passion for indigenous New World food inspired the creation of his book.  In a quest to find lost varieties of heritage beans, Steve ‘searched the Americas’ for interesting and rare selections that he could bring back home and cultivate.  After discovering many nuances and flavor profiles previously unknown, Steve’s mission took on a whole new life – and it pretty much became his life.

Well, good for us on many levels. As you will read in the book, beans are a super food. They are a wonderful source of plant protein, high in fiber, low in fat.  It’s the soluble fiber which helps cholesterol move out before it has time to be absorbed.  And it’s the high fiber which slows down the rise in blood sugar, making beans a favorite choice as ‘medicine’ for people with diabetes.  Beans are also high in iron, calcium, vitamin B-complex and a slew of other minerals.  They help reduce blood pressure (as in good for the heart) and are said to promote ‘balanced’ sexual activity (I’m not exactly clear on this term but perhaps that’s why Steve labels them ‘romantic.’)

Bottom line is – they taste good!  Heirloom beans have different textures and complex flavors over their mass-produced counterparts. If you have the time, it’s best to pre-soak them to ‘turn off the music,’ so to speak, before cooking. (But according to Steve, his beans are fresher which will reduce the soaking time.) And now with over 100 succulent recipes to choose from, you can make beans a ‘regular’ part of your daily diet. (See next post for an appetizer!)

To purchase a copy of “Heirloom Beans,” I always recommend your local bookstore first, or you can find it at Amazon.  To buy the beans, visit Rancho Gordo’s website for a complete listing of varieties and shipping details.