Sunday, April 26, 2015

Church Potluck

Sometimes you're asked to bring a dish to help feed a crowd.  What can you bring that the crowd will enjoy but that is also healthy for everyone?

I like this asparagus vermicelli salad recipe,  It's an updated version of an old favorite.  It's gluten free and there are lots of anti-inflation herbs and onions.

Vermicelli Salad

2 pkg quinoa spaghetti cooked according to package directions, drained and run under cold water to cool and cut into 2" strands
1 large bunch slim asparagus, cooked, drained, run under cold water and cut into 1" pieces
1 bunch green onions sliced very thin
1 1/2 cups flat leaf parsley chopped fine
1 T fresh grated parmesan cheese (optional)

1 cup Cucini Bold Parmesan and Garlic Salad Dressing  (I chose it because it is soy oil free)
1 cup Best Foods Canola mayonnaise or any other soy free mayo (I prefer our homemade flax oil mayonnaise for extra anti-inflation omega-3s)
1/8 t onion salt
1/8 t garlic salt
1 T fresh thyme
2 t dried Italian herbs
4 T fine minced fresh shallot
1 t lemon pepper
1 t sea salt (or more to taste)

Make the vinaigrette by whisking all the ingredients together.  In a large serving bowl, using tongs, mix the pasta and the vinaigrette together.   Set aside a few tablespoons of parsley and green onions.  Gently add the asparagus, green onions and flat leaf parsley to the spaghetti mixture.  sprinkle the extra green onions and parsley on top.  Grate fresh parmesan over the top.  (If you are dairy free, just skip the cheese.  )

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Roasted Bell Pepper it the yummiest soup?

Bell Peppers Photographed at the Tahoe City Farmer's Market

Roasted red bell pepper soup has always been a favorite of mine.  Just saying..

Roasted Bell Pepper Soup

1 onion chopped
olive oil
3 roasted bell peppers (see Chef Hallie video how to, below)
4 cups chicken broth
sea salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 t dried thyme
1 T balsamic vinegar
gluten-free croutons (I used Aleia's brand.  You can also make your own.)

Put the olive oil in a soup pot and set the heat to medium.  Add the onion and saute until translucent and softened.  Add the roasted bell peppers, the thyme and the chicken broth and simmer for 20 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and balsamic.  Serve with gluten-free croutons.

To make your own gluten-free croutons, saute cut up pieces of gluten-free bread in a little olive oil, sea salt, pepper and Italian herbs.  When croutons are golden and crispy, remove from stove and serve.

You can always stir a little organic cream into this soup if you care to.  I like mine the plain old anti-inflammatory dairy-free way for any regular night at home.  But if I have guests to dinner, I'll splurge on the cream.

Chef Hallie Demonstrates How to Roast Bell Peppers

Saturday, April 18, 2015

About Canola Oil

There's a lot of confusion about canola oil.  Is it healthy or not?

Some oils are definitely health promoting.  Oils such as flax and walnut which are high in omega-3's are powerful inflammation fighters.  We also like butter and ghee from pasture raised cows for their omega-3 benefits.  

Olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil and avocado oil are also healthy choices.  

Then there are the unhealthy oils such as corn, soy, cottonseed,sunflower, safflower and mixed vegetable oils.  These are all high in omega-6s and create inflammation in the body.  

Where does canola oil fit in?  Well, some forms of canola are unhealthy and others are okay, although not exceptionally health-promoting.  Canola oil is 21% omega 6 and 11 % omega 3 so although it falls within the accepted ratios (for anti-inflammation, oils should be 2-1 or 1-1), it is not particularly healing like flax oil which is 18% omega 6 and a whopping 57% omega 3.  

However, canola has some benefits for the cook.  We like it for times when a tasteless oil is preferred, such as in mayonnaise.  It's probably best not to use it frequently, but instead, pull it out of the cupboard when you're making a special dish that will benefit from its quiet taste.

Don't just buy any canola oil, however.  Some versions are not good for you.

The only acceptable version of canola is organic expeller pressed canola, but only when used in food preparation without heat.

Heating causes oxidation and oxidation creates inflammation in the body. Expeller pressed oil is removed from its nut or seed source by a screw press machine, without the harsh chemicals used in other methods.  This process can generate heat, however, which causes oxidation, so it is important to buy oil that is cold-pressed, in a temperature controlled environment.  

What's wrong with regular supermarket canola oil?  Regular canola oil goes through the process of caustic refining, bleaching and degumming, which involve high temperatures or chemicals of questionable safety.  Canola is high in omega-3 fatty acids which easily become rancid and foul smelling when subjected to oxygen and high temperatures so it is then deodorized, a process which removes a lot of the omega-3 fatty acids by turning them into trans fatty acids. Trans fatty acids cause inflammation.

Because canola goes rancid easily, keep it in the refrigerator along with your walnut, sesame and flax oils.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

It's Still Asparagus Season

Still loving asparagus!  There's just about another month left in asparagus season, so be sure to get them while they're at their best.

If you're in California, you can find them at your local farmer's market this time of year.

As always, this recipe is maximized for anti-inflammation healing!

Asparagus with Hazelnut Vinaigrette

1 large shallot minced
2 T sherry vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1 t Coconut Nectar
1/3 c flax oil  (high in omega-3s)
1/4 c toasted hazelnuts, skinned and chopped
1 hard boiled egg (from a grass-fed chicken to increase omega-3s)
2 lbs of asparagus with coarse bottoms snapped off

Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the shallot, vinegar, Dijon, Coconut Nectar and flax oil.  Toast the hazelnuts in a 400 degree oven.  Remove and rub the hazelnuts briskly in a tea towel to remove skins.  Chop the nuts.  Chop the hard boiled egg.  Drop the asparagus into boiling water and cook until just barely done, or crisp/tender.  Remove the asparagus from the heat and place on a platter. Drizzle with vinaigrette and top with chopped eggs and hazelnuts.  Serve the dish warm or at room temperature.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Humming and Rosemary Tea

We're having an early pollen season here in California, because of the drought.  My naturopath tells me her practice is flooded with people struggling with histamine overload.

I was feeling it a bit too, until I drank a cup of rosemary tea the other day and noticed that all my sinus symptoms disappeared right away.

Wow, that was amazing.  How often in life do you experience immediate healing like that?  It got me interested in doing a little research on rosemary and histamines.

Sure enough, rosemary is recommended as a natural anti-histamine. You can drink it in tea as I did. Just bring a pot of fresh clean water to boil, stick a sprig of fresh rosemary in, let it boil for awhile and turn the flame off to let the rosemary steep in the hot water. You can drink 3 cups a day of rosemary tea as needed.  (Avoid rosemary if you are pregnant because it stimulates the uterus.)

Of course, rosemary is also a natural anti-inflammatant, as are all the dark green herbs.  I keep a pot of it growing and move it inside to a sunny window during the winter.  It's become my habit to keep several important herbs growing in pots (in my limited sunny window space) for both culinary and healing purposes.  Now that the weather is nice, these pots will soon be living in my garden.

Oregano, chamomile and peppermint also make great anti-histamine teas.  For maximum healing, don't mix them together, just steep them one at a time and rotate them throughout your week.  And remember you want to use fresh live herbs.

What about the humming, you may be wondering.  Oh, yeah.  In my travels around the web this morning I ran across an article on PubMed showing that humming for an hour a day for four days can cure nasal infection.

The world is a funny place!   I haven't hummed in years.  Maybe that's my problem.  I say up with humming!

Now my only problem is...what to hum?

If like me, you're stymied at the thought of humming, how about a little structure and guidance with a professional coach:

Or you might want to try Puccini's humming chorus from Madama Butterfly....

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Potato Chip Salad with Spring Asparagus

Salad Series for Anti-Inflammation

Inflammation is linked to many of the most serious diseases.  I don't know about you, but I take something like that seriously.  If I can eat foods that promote health, but in delicious and beautiful combinations, then I'm all for it!

Healing and preventing inflammation means upping your fruit and veggie intake.  I try to get at least 5 cups of fresh fruits and vegetables each day.

Also, the more variety, the better.  I aim for a minimum of 9 different varieties each day.  If that seems overwhelming to you, think in terms of salads. It's easy to get 5 or so different fruits and veggies in one simple salad recipe.  If you have a fruit for breakfast, a salad for lunch, a fruit or veggie at afternoon snack time, two veggie side dishes at dinner and fruit for dessert, you've made your 9.  And if you add another salad at dinner time, you're really boosting your total.*

I didn't always enjoy salad, but now I really do.  I like to add a little something hearty to many of mine. Sometimes I'll fry up homemade croutons in olive oil or use nuts if my salads are meat-free.  It gives you something to chew on and enjoy besides just vegetables.

Another options is potatoes.  Over the years, I've found that adding a little potato helps keep your tummy full between lunch and dinner.  I've added cubed leftover baked potatoes and sauteed them in olive oil, salt and pepper to use as "potato croutons".  I've added boiled new potatoes tossed in olive oil and rosemary.  I've made potato pancakes and used those to top salads.  But until now, I've never tried potato chips.

I think I'm onto something with this idea!

Homemade Potato Chip Salad with Spring Asparagus

olive oil
sea salt fresh ground to taste
black pepper fresh ground to taste
1 hard boiled egg per person, peeled and sliced in half
4 asparagus stalks per person, just cooked until tender
cucumber sliced
5 green olives pit removed (mine were stuffed with almonds)
salad greens (I used an herb mix)

1 egg yolk raw (use an egg from a pasture-raised chicken to increase anti-inflammatory omega-3s)
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1 t Dijon mustard
3 T flax oil (a fantastic source of omega-3s
5-6 T olive oil  (or use more flax oil if you prefer)
1/4 t each sea salt and white pepper or more to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Get out a cookie sheet and using a pastry brush, cover it with a light coating of olive oil.  Slice the potatoes thin and spread them out to cover the sheet.  Dab olive oil with the pastry brush on each potato slice.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Bake for 20 minutes or until potatoes have color and look ready to eat.

Make the mayonnaise topping. Add the egg, lemon and Dijon to the bowl of a food processor and process.  Drizzle in the oils drip by drip while blade is running.  Add the salt and pepper.

Layer each plate with salad greens,  asparagus, cucumber, eggs olives and potato chips.  Dollop the homemade mayonnaise over the top.  OR...throw it all in a bowl and toss,,

*More on getting at least 9 fruits and veggies a day.  Of course, even more is better.  Here's an example of what I might call a really good fruit and veggie day.  I'd start the morning with a Super Green Smoothie (6+ right off the bat), have a salad for lunch (5), yogurt plus fruit mid-afternoon (1), a side vegetable (1) and another salad (4) with a protein or grain for dinner and fruit for dessert (1). Grand total = 18+.   As alternatives, soups and stews are wonderful ways to pack even more vegetables into meals, and some of my favorite foods.  .

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mulligatawny gets a Makeover

I've made mulligatawny soup ever since I was a newlywed.  My original recipe from Bon Appetit magazine has always been a long drawn-out affair starting with a whole raw chicken and ending with a cup of whipping cream.  It's really delicious, see here.  

Mulligatawny is a classic Anglo-Indian soup, the name of which means "pepper-water".  Something I read recently makes me think that there may originally have been a strictly vegetarian Indian version of this soup.  However, that is not the version I love.  The one I love has definitely been Anglicized. It is filled with chicken, sweetened with apples and thickened with cream.

This week I decided to see if I could adapt the recipe to make it easier to make and a little more healing. The result is a soup that makes up quickly and tastes delicious.

Since I didn't have the two made up versions side by side to taste test, I couldn't compare them.  I do know that the original recipe was much more layered with flavors.  However, anyone can easily make up the new adapted recipe and will find it utterly enjoyable to eat.

This soup takes an hour or so to cook up, but I find that this is the kind of cooking that takes a little attention, but then allows you to tackle your email between steps.

A simple Mulligatawny

This Mulligatawny is a simple, mild flavored version of the original spicy soup.  If you prefer stronger flavors, add lemon, cayenne pepper and curry powder to taste.

4 T coconut oil
2 lg onions chopped medium fine
1 1/2 c celery chopped medium fine
3 carrots sliced thin
4 t curry powder (or more to taste)
32 oz organic chicken broth
1/2 c uncooked rice
3 apples peeled and cored (the original recipe called for tart Granny Smiths but I used sweet red apples here)
1/2 t thyme
1 t salt
1/2 t white pepper
4 raw organic boneless chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces
1 c thick canned coconut milk

Melt the coconut oil in a soup pot and bring the heat to medium.  Add the onions, celery and carrots and saute, stirring occasionally for twenty minutes or so until vegetables are softened.  Add the curry powder, chicken broth, rice, apples, thyme, salt and pepper.  Cover the pan and cook until rice is done, stirring occasionally.  Add the chicken pieces and cook until chicken is done, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the coconut milk and serve.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Hunting and Gathering in California's Farm Land

Road Trip

California driving-- In California, once you get outside of the major cities,  you'll find roadside farm stands almost anyplace you go.  After all, most of the state is devoted to agriculture.

Last week my sister and I were in Southern California and we decided to take a leisurely drive home in a somewhat northward vector.  After a wonderful lunch with old friends at a charming outdoor Pasadena restaurant, we hit the freeways.

Yipes!  Traffic...let's get off these freeways.

From LA we selected an alternate route down a little known highway (126 out of Santa Clarita) that took us through a beautiful interior valley, Santa Clara River Valley.  This scenic valley is planted virtually wall to wall with picturesque orange and avocado groves.  It's pretty much undeveloped other than by ranchers and farmers, and looks like pictures you see of Southern California from the 20's and 30's.

Santa Clara River Valley, absolutely stunning this time of year.  
As the miles flew by, this was the direct view we had our the car window...row upon row of orange trees bearing fruit.

Oh, oh!  Detour, emergency U-turn.  We just passed a roadside farm stand!

And what did we find there?

Only the best oranges we can remember tasting in years, above.  We bought a box full. Later, at home, our kids ate them all up.  Lickety split! 

And lemons...

Gorgeous bright yellow lemons.  We bought a box of these, too.  And we made our mother use them to bake our favorite lemon meringue pie for Easter Sunday. 

The group voted.  This was not to be a gluten-free, sugar-free pie!

What else did we buy?

Tangelos, and this caused some regret.  We only bought half a dozen of these, to discover later that they were fabulous.  We should have bought a box!

Once we were deep into the valley we detoured through Ojai (a beautiful old Spanish Rancho town) on the road to Santa Barbara,

Ojai was originally a dry air health haven built in the 1880's for East Coasters who wanted to escape the cold winters and take "the cure".  Now it is well known for it's health spa, shopping, inns and restaurants.

What did we hunt and gather up in Ojai?

A good cup of cappuccino, of course, 

It was getting to be early evening by the time we left Ojai and we had a number of driving hours yet to do that night if we were to make it to Arroyo Grande on the Central Coast.  

The next morning we woke up on our cousin's beautiful ranch in a breathtaking interior valley near Arroyo Grande.  On the charming winding road into town, we passed many lovely ranches and small farms with organic gardens.  Early spring plantings were in full swing.  

Oh, oh...detour again.  Uturn!

We just passed a row of cottages with front yard farm gardens.  Each one was selling farm produce on the honors system.  

We bought free-range eggs from the first.  (And were able to verify the free-range aspect.  The hens were roaming around in the backyard.)

Right next door was a beautiful little artichoke patch.  You can see the farmer himself supervising his early morning watering in a big straw hat.  

We decided this artichoke patch was equally beautiful as a landscaping element!  

A little pile of artichokes waiting for takers. We bought them all.   

On the honors system.  You put your money in the plastic container with the red lid on the upper left of the photo.  
It's so important to connect the food we eat with it's original source.  Seeing the farms it comes from helps us all appreciate it so much more.  I'm grateful to live in a beautiful place with the bounty of California's farmland so closeby.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Into gut health....and proud of it!

I'm into gut health.  And I'm proud of it.  Having the right balance of microorganisms in our gut is critical to our health.  These microorganisms control our immune system, our metabolism, and our digestive system.  They determine whether we are thin or fat, emotionally healthy or mentally unstable.

Science is just now sorting them all out.  Bacteria, yeasts, protozoa and other microbes are turning out to be the next new health frontier.  The act of mapping the thousands of microorganisms that populate our gut and what each of their functions are is in progress right now.  It will be years before we understand it all, but we do know, right now, that having good gut health means having good overall health.

One of the biggest problems those of us with poor gut health face is leaky gut syndrome.  When bad bacteria and yeast take over the gut, they set up large colonies and these colonies destroy the barrier lining of the gut, which is designed to keep unwanted particles from slipping into the bloodstream.  The gut lining becomes permeable and large molecules of undigested foods enter the blood.  These travel around the body wreaking havoc.  Our immune system tries to control these "alien" particles by attacking them and creating inflammation.  Inflammation is designed to protect us, but long term inflammation leads to disease (see below for a list of diseases caused by inflammation).

What determines our gut health?  We're all born with certain microorganisms that are passed onto us from our mothers during the birth process.  Unfortunately, if our mother had poor gut health, we may, too.

After birth, the food we consume affects the balance in our gut.  Certain microorganisms thrive on certain foods.  And, wouldn't you know it, unhelpful microorganisms thrive on sugar and junk food. The microorganisms that create a thriving body, love healthy foods, like vegetables full of healthy fiber. Feeding our gut microbes the right foods is critical to our own health.

What else can we do to improve our gut health?  We can eat fermented foods that contain a wide variety of beneficial microbes. I make my own homemade kefirs from raw cow's milk and coconut milk.  A small glass of homemade kefir contains from about 30-50 different probiotic microorganisms.  Compare that to a carton of store-bought yogurt with 3 or 4.  Even the best probiotic supplement formulas only have 10 or so different strains.

What's in the future?  Someday soon, we'll be able to populate our gut with the microbes our body needs for our health.  If we're overweight, we'll be able to add the gut microbes that keep us lean.  If we have mental illness, we'll be able to add the microbes that help us stabilize our brains.  It's all very exciting.

For now, the imprecise science of healing the gut is what we're working with.  So I just keep proudly drinking my kefir.  Soon there will be more that we can do.  In the meantime, cheers!

More on fermented foods. 
More on kefir.
More on gut health.