September 27, 2013

Sunshine Selenium Cereal with Oranges and Figs

In the last post, I sang the praises of my favorite fruit, the nectarine. In this post, I wanted to share with you a recipe I've been making frequently with another one of my favorite fruits, figs.

3 years ago, I'd never tasted a fresh fig. I only knew the flavor of figs through eating fig newtons years earlier. Boy was I missing out. The first thing I ever made with fresh figs was a fig and rose smoothie, and that was all it took to hook me in. I even tried to grow a fig tree with a trimming I acquired. Sadly, it didn't take root, but I'm going to try again this year.

I decided to give this fig cereal a nutritional boost by adding a couple of brazil nuts. Why? Well, brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium. Selenium is a crucial mineral for vibrant health. Make sure you're getting enough! Brazil nuts are the best source of any food (plant or animal-derived), but a few other vegan foods that provide it are brown rice, oatmeal, spinach, and to a lesser extent, cashews, lentils, and bananas.

Selenium boasts a full range of health benefits. It works in tandem with vitamins C and E in the body, boosting antioxidant power. It is anti-inflammatory, is crucial for an optimally functioning thyroid and hormone production, supports a healthy immune system, is protective against cancer, helps balance cholesterol, and is an important mineral for beautiful skin.

This bowl is an antioxidant party, filled with selenium and vitamin C that will keep your body going strong in the present, and aid in rejuvenation for your future gorgeous self! Just one serving (1/2 of this recipe) provides a whopping 364% of your daily selenium needs, as well as 146% of your RDA for vitamin C. In addition, you'll get 1/3-1/2 of all of the B vitamins and zinc as well, 90% of the RDA for magnesium, 16 grams of protein, a good dose of calcium and iron, and a dash of vitamin E.

Sunshine Selenium Cereal with Oranges and Figs 
serves 2

1 cup of raw buckwheat groats, soaked at least 2 hours (or overnight)
10 figs, chopped
2 oranges, peeled
4 brazil nuts
1/2 tsp allspice
dash of cinnamon

- Soak buckwheat. Strain and rinse well. Place in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
- Chop figs and mix with buckwheat. Separate the mixture equally into two bowls and set aside.
- Put peeled oranges in a high-speed blender with the brazil nuts and allspice. Blend on high until it is smooth.
- Pour liquid over the cereal.
- Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.

September 19, 2013

Nectarine Dream Ice Cream + The Gut and Your Immune System

I've been following a new healing protocol with a doctor since early spring, and I was getting frustrated that my health was going in the opposite direction than I'd hoped. While my gut healing regimen over the last couple years has been successful, I am experiencing newer pitfalls in health that stemmed from my injured gut. Luckily, I met with another doctor who would help me on the same protocol I've been doing since spring, only she's tweaked it for the better. For years I had hoped to find a doctor like her; she's attentive, proactive, knowledgeable, and practical. She doesn't judge me or speak to me in an accusatory tone. It was really nice to finally be treated like a human being in a clinical setting. I respect her as a doctor, and she respects me as a patient. Why is that so hard to find?

She listened to my current woes and adjusted my treatment accordingly. I'm hoping things are on the upswing. So far, I've noticed some improvement which makes me so happy after months of going downhill. The past couple of months have been really challenging, so I'm looking forward to some relief.

Did you know your gut houses 70% of protective immune cells?

Yes, it's true. Some even estimate that it's as high as 80%. So imagine what can go wrong when your gut is damaged, and how important it is to look at medical issues from a whole body approach. Even if a problem doesn't seem related to a gut imbalance, it is of great benefit to strengthen the gut anyway because that in turn strengthens the immune system.

There are a lot of things that you can or may need to do to build up your gut health. I'd like to do a post in the future that details how I recovered from a severely impaired gut, but for now, here are 3 simple gut-strengthening tips that can benefit everyone.

1. Fiber is friendly, sugar is foe. White sugar and other processed sugars, even 'healthier' sweeteners like agave are best limited to small amounts, if used at all. They are all isolated from the whole food -- stripped of fiber and most (usually all) minerals --, and extracted from the vast matrix that nature has created. Altering foods in this way disrupts the body's natural digestive processes and causes imbalances in gut flora by feeding the bad bugs. The same goes for other refined carbohydrates like foods made with white flour. Eating these foods often is not the best habit to keep if you want healthy gut flora and a strong immune system. 

Focus on nourishing, whole foods: Don't fall into the hype that all sugar is bad. Look to fruits, whole grains, and legumes for solid energy sources. These whole food carbohydrates provide the body with sugar (energy), but do not promote the proliferation of unhealthy gut bacteria. Because they contain fiber, sugar absorption is slowed down so that it is not all dumped in the body at once. In addition, some of the fiber in these foods, like inulin, are prebiotics. Prebiotic (different than probiotic) foods are correlated with an increase in beneficial gut flora and a stronger immune system.

2. Less stress is best. Anyone who suffers from gut impairment will tell you that stress, even seemingly harmless smaller stresses, can cause major flare ups. Stress signals the fight or flight response. In attempt to conserve energy for the fighting or fleeing, the body shuts down any non-vital processes including digestion. Being in a chronic state of stress can wreak havoc on your digestion, leaching valuable energy from your body's stores and interfering with proper nutrient absorption.

The chill pill prescription: Often, meditation and yoga first come to mind when stress reduction is mentioned, but even smaller everyday things can help reduce stress. While I love both yoga and meditation, playing with my dog, going out in nature (even if it's just a 10 minute walk or sitting in the grass), talking with a friend on the phone, singing and playing piano, putting flowers and plants around the house, and making dinner with J are all effective stress relievers for me. If allotting a large portion of time isn't in the cards for you, try sprinkling your day with small things that give you a feeling of peace. And remember to breathe. Everything helps.

3. Sleep long, sleep well. With lack of sleep comes low energy, and with low energy comes the need to conserve. Lack of sleep is known to increase stress in the body. As we know from point #1 above, stress = digestive shut down.

Also, when people are sleep deprived, they often crave processed carbs. It makes sense since the body, lacking in energy, is craving quick fuel. Processed carbohydrates will give you just that. However, those foods are highly refined, which means they have no fiber and will eventually result in a sugar crash. Also, they often have a lot of unhealthy fats added in them. Neither of these factors lead to steady, sustained energy. Look for immediate stimulation, and not only will the stimulation be fleeting, but it will only cause more sleep issues in the future.

I know what not sleeping well can do to one's digestion. When I have a crappy sleep, it really affects the way my food goes down. My stomach feels uneasy and I become so fatigued after a meal, especially the heavy ones. When I have a really, really crappy sleep, I only want blended foods and juice. Otherwise, I feel even more sluggish and tired because my body is lacking energy to digest adequately.

Fuel for the sleep deprived: Think about the foods which are most easily digested. Fruits, steamed vegetables, green smoothies, soup, blended salads. These foods are full of nutrients that will make you feel the best you can after a bad night of sleep, and they won't bog down your digestion. Eat lightly, and then make it a priority to get some sleep the next night.

Now that nectarine season is winding down, I have been eating them morning and night to try and get my fill of this amazing juicy orb of goodness! Nectarines are my most favorite fruit of all time. I dream of the day that I have a backyard with a nectarine tree. It will be heaven, I tell you. Absolute heaven.

I've been making a lot of things with my stash of nectarines, but I had yet throw them into banana soft serve. Bananas are a good sources of inulin which means that they are an excellent food to help support your healthy gut flora.

I have one more nectarine left in the kitchen, and I'm planning on making 1/2 this recipe for an evening snack, though not while I catch up on Breaking Bad. Remember what I said about stress and digestion? And, geez is that show stress-inducing. 

Nectarine Dream Ice Cream vegan, raw, gluten-free, nut-free
makes 2-3 servings

5 bananas, cut into chunks and frozen
2 nectarines, sliced
4 dates, pitted and two of them chopped

-Peel and freeze the bananas overnight. (You can cut them before or after frozen.)
-Place bowls in the freezer to chill them for about 5-10 minutes. 
-Chop two of the dates and set them aside. 
-Blend the bananas, nectarines, and 2 of the dates in a food processor or high speed blender* until smooth. It will have the consistency of soft serve.
-Scoop the ice cream into the chilled bowls and sprinkle chopped dates on top.

*I usually use my vitamix (with the tamper) on a low-medium setting for banana soft serve, but a food processor works just as well if not better. If using a food processor, it will take a little bit longer. First it will ball up into one mass, but it will soon smooth out into a luscious soft serve consistency.

September 04, 2013

Almost Raw Orange-Scented Huckleberry Tartlets + Foraging at Dolly Sods

I recently went on a weekend excursion to The Middle of Nowhere, West Virginia. It had been way too long since I'd escaped the city, and it felt really good to be surrounded by fresh air, local wildlife, and trees as far as the eye could see. I had no phone signal out there, so that means I also had no internet access. Though it took a little getting used to, it was nice not to be attached to my phone for a whole 48 hours. I felt so much more present in my days.

We stayed with family friends, and I wasted no time cuddling up with their dog, Cinder. I hadn't seen her in a year and a half, and I was ready for some Cinder snuggles. Here she is saying, "Hey, why did you stop petting me?"

On my first morning there, I woke up to feel a chill in the air. I crawled out of bed and pulled a sweater over my head. The sun was shining brightly which made up for the unseasonally cold breeze, so I spent my morning wandering around their acres of property. I picked some fresh lavender, 

watched the hummingbirds come and go (try catching a picture of them whiz by!), spotted this guy expertly camouflaging himself in this sumac bush (can you see?), 

and laid down in the grass with my buddy. 

The clouds rolled in just as we headed out for an afternoon at Dolly Sods. Dolly Sods is part of the Monongahela National Forest and was the highlight of my weekend. Though it is located in eastern West Virginia, it has a unique ecosystem for it's geographical area. It is similar to what you might find in Canada. The signs said that frost can occur at any time in the year! It is the highest plateau of its type on this side of the Mississippi which is why it takes a good 35-40 minutes of slowly winding up gravel roads to emerge on top. Once you get up there, be prepared for gusty conditions. It felt about 10-15 degrees cooler up there than it was at the base.

One of many paths through the berry bushes
The breathtaking views swept me away. We spent most of our time around Bear Rocks and the health barrens. The health barrens were my reason for this day trip. It is there that wild blueberry and huckleberry bushes flourish. The zillions of unripe green and pink berries meant that we were a week or two early for the berries, but we did manage to find some ripe ones anyway. To think that if I was there right now, I could've left with buckets and buckets of glorious berries! 


At Bear Rocks, which is just past the berry bushes, I had a chance climb around on rocks and get a thrill from teetering on the edge of the precipice. The rock I climbed on is obscured by a couple small bushes, but you can kinda see it jutting out. (I did an image search of this area and found some really incredible pictures that people took on this very rock! Worth checking out, I'd say.)

Something paradoxical about me is that I love climbing things, but I also have a fear of heights. I climbed to the end of this rock – my heart skipping a few beats – and sat at the end taking in the view of the gorgeous mountains. It was there at the edge of the rock that I took this picture.

It looked like a painting. There is something magical about a scene that looks so perfect that it can't possibly be real, when it looks more like the image of the real thing instead of the real thing itself. I love the mountains.

Now, let's take a look at these cute tartlets that I made with the huckleberries and blueberries that we picked. I used these silicone heart cupcake molds which I use for every dessert I possibly can. They are too adorable. 

I had far more huckleberries than blueberries, so I chose to call this a huckleberry tart instead of mixed berry tart. If you have a hard time finding huckleberries, blueberries would work great, too. They have a really similar taste. It was my first time tasting a huckleberry, and I like them even more than blueberries (and that is saying something). Huckleberries have a candy-like sweetness and are without the tartness of blueberries. I was popping them like skittles. They are Lucky for me (and now for you), I had enough left to make these cute-as-pie tartlets.

Almost Raw Orange-Scented Huckleberry Tartlets        
vegan, gluten free, raw option

For the crust:
10-12 dates (about 1 cup), pitted
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/4 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup gluten-free oats*
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp coconut oil, melted
zest from 1 small orange or 1/2 a large orange

For the filling:
1 1/4 cup huckleberries
1 1/2 Tbsp chia seeds
juice from 1 small orange or 1/2 large orange
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp vanilla bean powder (or about 1 tsp of vanilla extract)
squeeze of lemon juice (1/2-1 tsp)

*for a raw version, use raw oats or another 1/4 cup raw walnuts.

-Put walnuts and oats in a food processor and pulse a few times. Once it begins to look like flour, add in the dates, almonds, cinnamon, oil, and zest and process until it sticks together when you press it between your fingers.

-Scoop about 2 Tbsp of batter into each cupcake liner. Press down firmly to create a smooth surface. Starting from the center of the tartlet, press the batter down and out to form a crevice. Continue to pull the batter outwards and evenly up the walls of the cupcake liner. This crust is very forgiving, so you can't really mess it up.

-Put all the crusts into the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

-Measure out 1/3 cup of the berries and pour the rest of the whole berries into a mixing bowl.

-In a high-speed blender, blend 1/3 cup of the berries, water, chia seeds, orange juice, and vanilla bean powder until smooth.

-Pour berry chia mixture into the bowl of whole berries and stir to combine. Squeeze in the lemon juice and taste it. You want enough lemon to make the flavor of the berries pop, but not so much that it tastes lemony. Start with a 1/2 tsp, but use no more than 1 tsp, tasting as you go.

-Fill the crusts with 1-1 1/2 Tbsp of filling each. You will have a little bit of leftover filling, so you can pile it on the tarts (the filling will sink down some overnight) or use it as you would any jam.

-Decorate with goji berries. Eat right away or store for up to a week.