Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New Goodies: Four Ways to Go Coconuts

I used to think about coconut in one of two ways.
1.) Mounds
2.) Almond Joy

But the coconut is so much more!  It turns out coconut can take many forms and has a whole  lot of applications and health benefits.

Virgin coconut oil is one of the "healthy fats" that I'm talking about when I use that term.  It is rich in medium chain fatty acids that are very easy to digest, which is beneficial for both the liver and the digestive system.  It has anti-viral properties and is beneficial for the thyroid gland.  It is also said to boost metabolism, but I can't speak to that.  But I do know that I can cook and bake with it, eat it straight from the jar, it tastes really good stirred into banana custard oatmeal and makes my hands so soft.

Next is coconut manna, also known as coconut butter.  Imagine peanut butter only with the wonderful flavor of coconuts.  It is absolutely delicious, naturally sweet and satisfying.  I tried it in smoothies (yum) and as breakfast muffin toppings (double yum) and can't wait to try stirring it into the next curry I make.  I purchased this at Vitacost.

Coconut nectar!  When I saw this at Whole Foods, I had to splurge on it.  This little bottle set me back $8 but it was worth it.  It doesn't taste like coconut but more like a mild and tangy molasses.  I use it sparingly as an alternative to honey.  It is supposedly more nutritious than agave, which Dr. Mercola, among others, have found is not much different than high fructose corn syrup.

And finally, coconut flour.  Sorry about the ripped label.  The lid was taped down for shipping.

Coconut flour is a great resource for people who are wheat/gluten sensitive.  It is high in protein and high in fiber.  I used it to make a loaf of coconut bread.  I used this recipe from Nourished Kitchen.

The texture is more like rich pound cake rather than like traditional yeast risen bread.  But it tasted wonderful.  Crumbled over berries and yogurt turned snack time into trifle time!

I've also used it to make banana coconut breakfast muffins, which is another super quick and healthy breakfast recipe.  This makes two muffins.  Just mash a medium ripe banana in a bowl and mix in 2 eggs, 1/4 cup of coconut flour, a teaspoon of baking powder and some vanilla extract.  Divide batter into two greased ramekins and pop into the microwave for about 3 minutes each.  Like the flax muffins, these are delicious and satisfying with lots of staying power.  I need to make a larger batch and bake them in the oven.  I hate to use such healthy ingredients then sully them in the microwave.

More coconut flour recipes here:  Tiana-Coconut 

Have you tried any coconut based products?  How have you used them?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Been to the Farmer's Market, now what? Part 1

I used to be a little intimidated by a visit to the farmer's market. What should I buy? How will I know what to cook? I even went armed a few times with a shopping list trying to find things things that I could fit into pre-selected recipes.  FAIL.  When I couldn't find what was on the list, I would end up frustrated at the supermarket.

But I soon learned that by taking this approach I was missing out on the beauty of local, seasonal vegetable shopping.  I had to learn to yield to the farmer's market and work with the peak vegetables, not the other way around.  This way, a whole new world of vegetables opened up to me.

I started looking for new things that I hadn't tried and things that I thought I didn't like.  Green beans?  Ew, this is the girl who only likes them cooked to death and covered in thick mushroom cream sauce and topped with fried onions.  

When I found something that looked new and interesting to me, I started asking questions of the farmers.  How do you prepare them?  This is how I learned that I love fresh crowder peas! 

May I have a taste?  The farmers are always more than happy to let you know exactly what to do with their prized vegetables and will always offer up a sample.  Now, I'm becoming quite familiar with my favorite vendors and they are always quite generous with repeat customers, quick to break up a punnet if I want less of a particular item, or to tuck an extra tomato or two into my parcel.

Here is a look at my haul from last Tuesday...

We have Georgia peaches, hydroponically grown organic red bibb and romaine lettuces, crowder peas, baby summer squash, zucchini, a variety of spinach called poye from the Pakistani ladies who sell all sorts of exotic veggies and love to tell you how they cook them, blueberries, red tomatoes and purple and yellow Russian heirloom tomatoes, Blue Lake green beans and local honey from bees that pollinate the farmer's sweet corn.  All the produce cost under $25, the honey cost $7.

Look how lovely and golden it is.  The flavor is much more delicate than darker honeys but less sweet, more earthy.  Have you ever  eaten a bit of raw sweet corn off the ear? That's the earthy sweetness I'm talking about.  Since cutting way back on processed sugar, this honey will come in handy when I want a little sweetness, like a little drizzle on top of homemade yogurt. 

I was down to  my last $3 but wanted these blueberries.  The farmer was asking $5 but I said I only had $3.  He gave me a bagful at a special price!  Some I ate out of hand and some went into the flax minute breakfast muffins.

Georgia peaches need no explanation.  They are so good just eaten out of hand.  They are also amazing in the Jamie Oliver Peach and Mozzarella salad that I had made with my last batch of peaches.

Here's a closeup of the Russian heirloom tomatoes.  I got there late and the farmer only had a few left.  I paid for the purple ones and he added his last two yellow ones as a bonus.

Vine ripened heirloom tomatoes don't need anything other than slicing and eating.  But I made a whole lunch out of them.  Some boiled eggs and some basil drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a bit of spicy extra virgin olive oil drizzled over everything.  This weekday lunch was something out of the ordinary.  The tomatoes were juicy and sweet and bursting with rich, tomato flavor.  I hope he has more tomorrow!

Watch this space for part 2 to see what I did with the other goodies from my haul!

What is in season at your local farmer's market right now?

See this post at Real Food Wednesday!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More Thoughts on Trying Grain and Sugar Free

I want to thank those of you who commented so thoughtfully on my Two Week Experiment post the other day.  Especially reader Leila who stated that after giving up grains and sugar and embracing lots of good fats, she was no longer hungry all the time, she finally felt FED.  I love that statement, because that is exactly how I feel.  

Feeling FED is much different from simply feeling full after eating a meal.  Feeling FED is true satisfaction, physically and mentally, not being hungry even several hours after a meal, not craving sweets after dinner or salty snacks while watching a movie.  Knowing that what you are eating is nourishing to your body but still providing pleasure while eating.  Feeling FED is freedom from food addiction, overeating and the end of the binge/diet cycle.

The subject of grain/sugar free may also have hit a few nerves because I lost a few followers soon after posting it.  I wish people had commented their feelings rather than flouncing away.  But I do I realize that there are many people out there looking to have their cake and eating it, too, when it comes to losing weight.  But it's not all before and after photos, and when one is battling disordered eating, there is never an end point to learning newer, more healthful ways of doing things.  The tenet of "never stop learning" truly applies to living a healthy life in the long term.

It's true, I have managed to regain my health and lose a good bit of weight and still eat homemade bread, bagels, cupcakes, potatoes, brownies, etc.  But what I ate more of was vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, raw dairy, organic or pastured proteins.  And when I ate too much of the former, I felt tired, bloated, hungry and cravey.  I have read many articles about sugar and grains being the cause of many ills, including obesity and wanted to investigate further and see just how it made me feel living without them.  It proved to be a revelation to me and once my eyes are opened to a better way of doing things, it's hard to my your back.  I want to learn more.

I encourage you to give going grain/sugar light or free for a week or two while embracing lots of healthy fats (flax, grass fed dairy, meats, virgin oils, nuts and seeds) and see how it makes you feel.  At the very least read more about it. Here is a wonderful article from The Nourished Kitchen giving 10 great reasons to give it a try.  If you do take on the challenge, please come and post about it.  I would love to hear how you got on!

My life is constantly evolving and this blog is going to reflect that.  I will continue to write about things I learn about health and new recipes that I try, food porn and of course, my struggle with exercise (which still plagues me more than I care to admit.)  I hope you continue on the journey with me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Two Week Experiment

Here are some of the meals I have eaten over the last two weeks. Do you notice anything different?  

Not pictured: daily iced coffees with raw milk, sometimes with stevia sweetened chocolate protein powder added and blended with ice into a frappe, also several flax muffin breakfasts as pictured in yesterday's post.

Steamed and patted dry asparagus, collards and kale, grass fed strip steak, 
homemade mock bearaise sauce

3 pastured egg scrambled in butter with braised kale and collards,
kiwi fruit and Georgia peaches

Chicken salad with grapes, celery and summer squash
served in lettuce cups

Ham and cheese roll ups with lettuce and tomato 

Jamie Oliver's salad of greens, proscuitto, peaches, buffalo mozzarella,
mint leaves with lemon and evoo

You must try this!

Shrimp and avocado salad

Ham and cheese with avocado and romaine leaves

3 pastured eggs scrambled in grass fed butter
with summer squash and tomato, spinach salad

Grass fed burger, steamed asparagus, huge salad of red leaf lettuce and 
homemade blue cheese dressing made with raw milk yogurt,
 garden herbs and saga blue cheese

Looks pretty good, no? Lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, fats. But, and it's a big but: no grains, no added sugar.  I have spent the last two weeks experimenting with very low or no grains and low or no added sugar.

I've allowed one day of more liberal eating, a planned indulgence.  This day has been Sunday.  Two Sundays ago, I ate a bowl of Talenti gelato and two caramel filled Dove chocolates after dinner but ate no grains and woke up with a mild headache.

This Sunday just past I made homemade pizza for supper and had gelato for dessert.  Within the hour I had itchy eyes.  I woke up Monday morning coughing with a runny nose and had a mild headache.  I always thought that dairy was the issue.  But I've eaten multiple forms of dairy, including my raw milk daily with out so much as a sniffle. 

I have long suspected that I am sensitive, even allergic to in some way, shape or form wheat and/or other grains and refined sugar but now I have concrete proof.  Sometimes the process of elimination is the only way to know for sure.

Why did I take on this experiment?  Because things got a little out of hand the last couple of months. I know that getting the dog threw me off my routine and I got a bit lazy with my food prep.  And the slope isn't just slippery, I'm always at the top of Matterhorn Mountain with a luge strapped to my ass.  I noticed that my "weight gauge" Levi's denim shorts felt a little snug and that I felt hungry and snacky all the time.

The results?  The Levi's are slipping right on now, as they should and that was after just the first week.  No sugar and grains is a revelation!  No bloating, no hunger or snackiness, no cravings, good energy, amazing focus, great sleep and after many night's of broken sleep for puppy's potty calls, I'm feeling rested for the first time in months.  

Going forward?  At first glance this may seem similar to Atkin's, but I assure you it is not.  So much fruit, vegetables and full fat dairy makes eating this way a pleasure.  I'm going to stay the course for awhile, allowing for my planned indulgences (hello, can't give up cupcakes forever!)  I want to learn more about a grain and sugar free way of life and see where it leads.  I will be keeping you posted on how it goes. 

If you have any questions or comments, please share.  I love hearing from you.  Happy Summer Solstice!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Flax Fabulousness

Ooooh, what is this?  Looks like some decadent dessert!  But it's not, it's my latest favorite nutritious and delicious breakfast.  And best of all, it takes barely 5 minutes to prepare.  I give you the Blueberry Flax One Minute Muffin!

I have been making this shamelessly easy, super healthy, very filling and pretty tasty 1-minute muffin for breakfast this week. Though there are lots of variations of the recipe on the web, I found it via Lori at Finding Radiance.  

I went one better and added a handful of fresh, tangy and juicy blueberries and a schmear of coconut manna (more on that in another post.)  So good.

To make:  In a small bowl mix 1/4 cup flax meal, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, pumpkin pie spice to taste, one whole egg and one tablespoon of unsweetened apple sauce until combined.  Pour mixture (it will be thick) into a greased one cup ramekin.  Pop in the microwave and cook for 90 seconds.  Turn out onto a plate, top as you like.  Devour!  

Flax is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, high in dietary fiber, prevents against diabetes, cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure, can be beneficial to ward off hot flashes during menopause (win!) and has anti-inflammatory properties.  Why is this last one so important?  Diseases like cancer just love to grow and spread their nasty little selves in acidic, inflammatory conditions in the body.  We want to eat things that fight inflammation and flax does just this.

I'm currently using Bob's Red Mill organic golden flax meal but I recently found a deal at Costco that I couldn't refuse.  Three pounds of organic golden flax meal for just $7.79! 

Bargain!  I guess I am going to have to do some research and find other nutritious and delicious ways to work with my bag o' flax.

Do you have a favorite way to enjoy flax?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Try Something New: Kombucha

Lacto-fermented foods are full of probiotics and natural enzymes that are wonderful for the immune and digestive systems.  And we all know that having healthy digestive and immune systems is awesome!  Since I first tried kefir and started making my own raw milk yogurt, I have become more curious about traditionally fermented foods.  

I'm itching to get my hands on a copy of Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions to read more about why these foods are vitally healthy to our body.  I hope the Nook edition becomes available soon.

Another lacto-fermented food, well beverage actually, that I was curious about was kombucha tea.  I had never tried it, nor even seen it locally.  I was shopping at a far flung Whole Foods the other week and they had it so I picked up a bottle to sip on the drive home.  I tried the GT's Enlightened Organic Raw Kombucha citrus tea.

Though kombucha tastes nothing like wine the experience was like the first time I had really good Chardonnay.  Happy, happy tastebuds!  So refreshing and tangy and wonderful, Kombucha is made with brewed sweetened tea and a starter culture made of bacteria and yeast and left to ferment at room temperature for several days.  The result is a tangy, fizzy, delicious drink that is loaded with probiotics.  The yeast eats the sugar to create the fizz, just like in making Champagne!  

This delicious little drink cost nearly $4.  But I did some reading and found that kombucha is very easy and inexpensive to make at home.  The only specialty product needed is a starter.  I'm making yogurt this weekend but homemade kombucha is going to be my next project.

Ann Marie at Cheeseslave has a wonderful article on brewing kombucha at home based on Sally Fallon's method.  This is the method I'm going to try.

What do you think of Kombucha?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Spark

I'm sure many of you are familiar with the Spark People website.  I like the site, the nutrition, water and fitness tracker is quite useful and I also like to read the message boards from time to time.  I love the android smartphone app, it makes food journaling so simple and fun!

The founder of Spark, Chris Downie, also has a book called The Spark.  I've never read it but it is available for download for Nook and Kindle devices/apps for just $1.99 for a limited time.  I just downloaded it to my Nook Color and look forward to adding it to my summer reading list.  Not that I'm looking for diet advice, but any sort of health and fitness motivation is always welcome in my life.

Even if you don't have an e-reader, the Nook and Kindle apps for pc/smartphones are a great way to take advantage of free and discounted e-books! 

Have you read The Spark book?  I'd love to hear your thoughts about it!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Blog Frog Award

I got a blog frog award! 

The site listed their picks for the top 50 weight management blogs on the web and I'm so excited to be in the number two spot just behind Pasta Queen.  Squee!  Check out the link to see some of the other great blogs listed.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Back Porch Pruno

I love my herb garden!  I snip fresh herbs and use them every day, sometimes every meal, during the growing season.  Once the real heat of the south settles in they grow faster than we can eat them.  But in the spirit of "waste nothing" I like to use the overflow to make herbal infusions.  It couldn't be easier and it's a great way to use up fresh herbs that you may have in your refrigerator.

In a clean, half-gallon mason jar I placed a bunch of rinsed herbs, stems and all, along with a few (optional) green tea bags then topped it up with filtered water.  I set in a sunny spot on the back deck and let it steep all day. 

The particulars:  I used sweet basil, sweet mint and pineapple sage along with four Numi organic gunpowder green tea bags.  I just wanted a hint of green tea goodness as a pick me up but not so much that it would keep me up if I found myself sipping it in the evening in lieu of chilled wine (FYI: I'm teetotaling until the Independence Day holiday.)

I fished out the herbs and the tea bags and popped the jug in the fridge.  Once chilled, it is ready to drink.  The herbs are so naturally sweet, there is no need to add anything other than some ice and a straw.  It is so good, so refreshing, such a lovely departure from plain water.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Farmer's Market Omelet

Nothing like a trip to the farmer's market to rekindle one's love affair with vegetables.  There was a great selection there yesterday and I got there first thing.  I was after tomatoes and summer squash and found it...

 All of this for $5!

To give you a sense of how big those summer squash are...

The fella said he never finds anyone who likes the giant squash so he sells them cheap.  Well, I'll take them.  They are tasty in juice and are delicious cooked up lots of different ways.  I diced one up for a farmer's market omelet for yesterday's lunch.  I sauteed the squash in a hot pan with olive oil and a salt free seasoning blend.

After it started to caramelize a little, I added a diced tomato and cooked it until all the water had been cooked out and the veggies were just right.  The tomato went very sweet and the squash still had a little bite to it.  I don't like it mushy.

I wiped out the pan, melted some pastured butter and added three farm eggs that I whisked with a fork.  Once the eggs were set, I topped half with some of the squash tomato mixture and some fresh basil leaves.

Then flipped the whole thing onto a plate.

Served with some organic baby spinach leaves lightly dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar ready to be devoured...

Traditional Tuesdays at Cooking Traditional Foods

Real Food Wednesday

Monday, June 6, 2011

Nutritious and Delicious Coffee Drink Makeover

So, is it Ugh Monday or Yay Monday?  It started out as Ugh when Tally and I set off on our walk early this morning but 3 1/2 miles and a delicious breakfast later, it's a Yay!

I set out on our walk on an empty stomach, like I normally do.  It's hot and humid now and a long walk is better without anything but some water weighing me down.  But that last half mile I was dreaming of breakfast.

I have a food shopping trip planned later today and a farmer's market trip planned for tomorrow morning so my cupboards are looking a bit bare at the moment.  I know I didn't want cottage cheese and fruit again.  I wanted something cold, I wanted something frothy, I wanted caffeine.  I wanted a...a... FRAPPUCCINO!  I mentally scanned my kitchen for what I could use to fashion a similar beverage at home the nutritious and delicious way.

I'm not sure how many ingredients go into a vanilla Frappuccino but I needed only three.  Four if you count the ice: 

8 ounces of cold coffee (I save leftover coffee in a pitcher in the fridge in warm weather because ice coffee is one of my favorite things)
a few handfuls of ice

Put everything into a blender, whizz it up until blended and frothy and behold the Frapproccino...(see what I did there?)

It made a full 16 ounce glass and then half again, approximately 24 ounces and I drank it all.  I don't take sugar in my coffee so the bit of sweetener in the protein powder was perfect.  It hit every note just right; cold, frothy, creamy, refreshing, satisfying and just sweet enough.

Here is the nutrition breakdown:
calories: 277
carbs: 5
fat: 11
protein: 31

Compare that to a Venti Caffe Vanilla Frappuccino Blended beverage with whole milk and no whip from the Starbucks website:
calories: 420
fat: 5
carbs: 89
protein: 5

I'll probably be needing some cottage cheese and fruit by mid morning but for now I'm smiling and my belly is full.  Time to make my menus and shopping lists hit the shower and set out.  Yay, Monday!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On the Road: Beaufort, South Carolina

Because we didn't get to the beach for Easter, Rob and I decided to sneak away for a couple of days over Memorial Day weekend.  We set out on Sunday  morning, Tally's first road trip!

When one is traveling with a dog, there are certain restrictions that you have to deal with. One is where to stay, another is what beaches allow dogs and the last is where to eat.  Most beaches have restrictions from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but not Hunting Island State Park.  So we decided to stay in Beaufort, South Carolina which is about a half an hour drive from Hunting Island.

Beaufort is lovely in a real slow southern way.  It's a nice gateway to all the low country islands.  We hit Hilton Head Island on Sunday evening.  Hilton Head is amazing in the off season but this weekend the beach was packed and Tally was freaked out by the crowds and the ocean.

So we left and went over to the marina to an outdoor cafe that allows dogs.  The drinks were awesome but the food and service, not so much.  I had high hopes for Monday, though.

The accommodations were not fit for humans, let alone dogs, but Hunting Island State Park was magnificent and well worth the five hour drive from Atlanta.

Picture Jurassic Park that opens up to a four mile expanse of unspoiled beach, no hotels, no condos and very few people.  We set up base camp and settled in to spend the day.

 Tally is afraid of the water (it chased me Mama!) but loved lounging in the sand.

We enjoyed several longs walks along the shore picking shells and just taking in the gorgeous scenery.

One of the benefits of the state park vs. the resort beach is the startling lack of crowds on a busy holiday weekend.

A beached Man o' War jellyfish

We enjoyed a picnic on the beach and stayed all day.  It was wonderful!  That evening we headed to the historic downtown waterfront area of Beaufort for a walk and some dinner.

The food was nothing more than a mediocre pub burger and some beer on an outdoor patio, but we were happy not to have to leave Tally alone in the hotel room.  First thing Tuesday morning we headed home.

As much as I enjoyed our day at the beach, I don't think I'd travel with the dog again.  But I would go back to the beaches at Hunting Island.  I've never seen such a beautiful stretch of unspoiled beach along the Atlantic coast.  It was heavenly!