Flashback: Icelandic Pesto is the Best Thing Ever

Last August, Loren and I drove the Ring Road exploring the wonders of Iceland for 9 days. We enjoyed amazing food (mostly food we cooked on a single burner camping stove at campgrounds and stops along the way) and gazed upon some of the most spectacular features of planet earth. 

The food part was particularly memorable, because I had zero issues eating the baked goods we found at an amazing bakery called Brauð & Co in Reykjavik. Zero stomach cramps or digestive issues, zero discomfort. I’m guessing it has something to do with the strain of wheat they use or a nice, slow leavening … all I know is that we couldn’t get enough of this place for the short two days we spent in Reykjavik before hitting the road. And I certainly enjoyed my consequence-free glutinous vacation.

Icelandic Pesto

Brauð & Co: Baked Goods and Pesto from Heaven 

This bakery was truly a thing to behold: a tiny room that could hold no more than 7 or 8 customers, with 4 bakers and two cashiers behind the counter — and a line down the block. You could smell this place from a block away, following your nose to the long line of Icelanders patiently awaiting baked goods from heaven. 

Icelandic Pesto

They had staggeringly delicious, warm loaves of sourdough bread and the most incredible house-made pesto I’d ever tasted. I have never experienced pesto like this anywhere else, and I LOVED it. On our way to pick up our camper van and hit the Ring Road, we stopped and grabbed a fresh loaf of bread and a container of pesto, so we wouldn’t be without on our road trip. We made some pretty amazing sandwiches using those two ingredients. 

Icelandic Pesto Mission: The Translation

As I slowly grew more and more obsessed with this unfamiliar pesto, I decided that I needed to have the option of eating it forever. To do that, I’d have to find out what was in it. I took a picture of the label (all in Icelandic PestoIcelandic) and made plans to sit with Google Translate once I was stateside and figure out exactly how to replicate it at home. Then I had the chance to ask a couple of Icelandic natives to translate it for me. I wrote down their translations and deleted the picture.

Then I lost the piece of paper. That’s right. TRAGEDY. 

That being said, I do remember a few key ingredients from the translation, so I used those as my jumping of point and combined them with the circumstances of my refrigerator and cupboard to bring you today’s recipe.

The ingredients that I know overlap between my version and theirs are: arugula (which they called rocket), sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and sunflower seeds. Everything else is a guess. And I’d say I made a pretty darn good approximation of what this stuff was all about. I’d love to have a side-by-side comparison, so if anyone is planning a trip to Iceland soon, please stop by Brauð and get yourself some pesto. I’d love to know how mine measures up. And also get a loaf of bread and a cinnamon roll. And then mail them to me. Thanks.

Icelandic Adventures

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say more about our amazing trip in this flashback post — after all, flashing back is all about reliving the glory of a wonderful experience.

icelandic pesto

Highlights (in no particular order):

  • We experienced some of the most majestic natural hot springs on earth, including a hot river. Almost the entire country is geothermally active, and there are areas where water and steam just pour out of the earth. It’s magical.
    Icelandic Pesto
  • I had my first experience using cramp-ons when we hiked the Svínafellsjökull glacier.Icelandic Pesto
  • We saw enough waterfalls and rainbows to satisfy the imagination of every child with magic in her heart.
    Icelandic pesto
  • We did a spontaneous beach clean up while waiting for a cave tour in Snaefellsbaer.Icelandic pesto
  • We got a unique view of Kirkjufell by hopping a fence and taking an unofficial waterfall tour into the mountains at Snæfellsnes.icelandic pestoicelandic pesto
  • We picked wild blueberries with the aid of two locals stocking up for winter (literally filling three giant buckets) at the beginning and end of a beautiful hike that required no trail to find our way.Icelandic pestoicelandic pesto
  • I learned how to drive a stick shift (but not really in a city, and definitely not to parallel park).
  • A tour guide in Reykjavik told us that we were too late to see the puffins, but in fact, we arrived at Black Beach just in time to see pretty much every puffin on earth preparing to leave for the winter. (They were too high up for a good photo without a better camera.) 

You Should Go to Iceland!

All of this, and we barely made it halfway around the country before having to turn back. Iceland is absolutely magnificent (and very tourist-friendly), and there are a lot of ways to stop through if you’re planning a trip with a European destination. We will definitely go back there in the not too distant future. It was just stunningly beautiful — so much so that it was difficult to take it all in. 

So with that, here’s the Icelandic pesto recipe — I recommend using it however you’d use regular pesto, including scrambling into eggs, dipping bread or crackers, stirring into veggies, pasta, or veggie pasta, and even cooking with shrimp or chicken. 

Icelandic Pesto
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Ingredients
  1. 3 cups raw baby arugula
  2. 1/4 cup blanched carrot tops
  3. 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  4. 1/4 cup cashew pieces
  5. 1/4 cup pine nuts
  6. 1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes
  7. zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
  8. 1/2 cup garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil (split into 1/4 cups) OR 1 clove garlic + EVOO
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients (except 1/4 cup EVOO) in food processor and process until a choppy but incorporated mix is achieved. You can decide how chunky you want it to be.
  2. Once ingredients are mixed to your liking, stir in remaining 1/4 cup of EVOO.
  3. And you're ready to serve!
Adapted from Inspired by Brauð & Co Bakery in Reykjavik, Iceland
Adapted from Inspired by Brauð & Co Bakery in Reykjavik, Iceland
Cultivated Wellbeing http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/

Salvadoran Guacamole: Avocado Egg Salad Boats [RECIPE]

Today’s avocado egg salad recipe is one of those things that should have occurred to me a long time ago. For some reason, it required a rushed morning of grabbing some hard-boiled eggs from the coffee shop and needing to use a nearly expired avocado for me to think about combining these two glorious foods. And why not really?

Eggs are delicious and quite possibly one of the most nourishing foods on earth. By design, they exist to support and build life, right? And avocados — they’re creamy, they’re rich, they’re full of healthy fat (namely monounsaturated fat) and fiber, and they NEED to get eaten or they turn to brown mush. Honestly, I know a few people who don’t like avocado, and I’m really not sure how to cure them of their wrong-ness on this topic. It’s sad really. 

Her’s my fancy equation for those of you who enjoy a good visual from time to time.  

Eggs: nature’s perfect food + Avocado: nature’s perfect fat = Toni’s perfect snack

avocado egg salad

A Recipe’s Evolution

Call me late to the game on this recipe all you want. I know. When I googled “avocado egg salad,” I realized that this was not an original idea in any way, but I’m still sharing my own version of it with you today, because my recipe is awesome, and it makes me happy to share awesome things with you. It’s also simple with only a few ingredients, and that makes me happy too. Prepare as I walk you through my experience of innovating something that I wasn’t aware was already a “thing.”

Eggs and Avocado Mash: Beta test 

I started out that first morning just mashing the two things together with a fork and adding a pinch of salt: 2 eggs, 1/2 a decent-sized avocado. When I took a bite, I wondered why I hadn’t been doing this for years. I also knew there would be more iterations of this heavenly combination of foods on the horizon. It was delicious, but I knew I had some ideas on how to kick it up a notch.

Avocado Egg Salad: Version 1.0

Next I tried adding some of my homemade salad dressing and chopped scallions to the mix. The dressing I used was pretty much identical to the linked recipe, except no orange and a little apple cider vinegar added. This version was divine, but I hesitated to share it, because I though that asking you to make a salad dressing before you made the egg salad was asking too much. Granted, it’d be awesome if you just made a batch of dressing and jarred it in your fridge all week, but in the event that you didn’t do that, I didn’t want to confuse things with too many steps and prep. This iteration was already creeping too far away from my mission of SIMPLE.  

Leftovers: Version 2.0

Believe it or not, I was able to eat leftover salad the next day without it being a gross brown blob of mush. It wasn’t quite enough for breakfast though, so I added another egg, a bit more avocado, and a squeeze of lemon. I tossed it my tote to go to work and as I dug in at my desk, a coworker said, “What are you eating?” When I answered with “avocado egg salad,” another coworker said, “Hey, that’s Salvadoran Guacamole!” I had no idea just now unoriginal this idea really was.

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Salvadoran Guacamole, CWB-Style: Ready for Launch

After a lovely morning of gardening, Loren and I needed a snack, and I decided that this was my chance to perfect this recipe for sharing with you! In the spirit of how this whole thing started, I pulled out some romaine lettuce that needed to get eaten and spread the leaves out on a plate to make boats for holding the goodies. And then I got to work on the recipe I’m sharing with you today. 

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CWB-Style Salvadoran Guacamole: Avocado Egg Salad Boats with Smoked Paprika
Serves 2
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Prep Time
5 min
Prep Time
5 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 hard boiled eggs, peeled
  2. 1 avocado
  3. 1 stalk celery, chopped
  4. juice from 1 lemon
  5. 1 chopped scallion
  6. 4 or 5 springs fresh cilantro, chopped
  7. Salt and pepper to taste
  8. OPTIONAL: smoked paprika
  9. 4 large leaves romaine lettuce
Instructions
  1. Scoop avocado and eggs into a mixing bowl
  2. Mash the two together with a fork (you might need to start off cutting up the egg, depending on how easily it comes apart with your fork)
  3. Add all chopped veggies, herbs, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to mixing bowl and continue mixing with a fork
  4. Divide the mixture between the 4 lettuce boats and sprinkle each with smoked paprika
Notes
  1. Prep time doesn't include the time it takes to hard-boil and peel the eggs. Cook times depends on how you like your eggs, but can be anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Then if you want to let them cool in an ice bath, that takes a little more time. If you're me, peeling an egg can take anywhere from 10 seconds to 10 minutes, so I chose to leave this whole process out of the prep time.
Cultivated Wellbeing http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/
 Salvadoran Guacamole AKA: Avocado Egg Salad

Flashback: Love Muffins (Almond Flour Muffins [RECIPE])

It’s been a couple of months since I did a “flashback” post, so for those of you who haven’t read the previous ones, I’ll quickly explain. Flashback posts are blasts from the pasts — recipes, experiences, time travel from before my blogging days. I post these stories from time to time, usually because they hold some sort of juicy morsel worth sharing with the world. They often involve a special experience in my life, and today’s flashback recipe is no exception — it’s a love story in fact!

Today, we’re transported back in time to spring of 2011, when these little yummies were introduced to me for the very first time…

Loren had just proposed marriage atop Indian Rock in Berkeley. The following morning, my lovely friend Colleen called to ask if we’d planned to go to the farmers’ market (which took place halfway between our respective homes). I said yes (to both questions!), and she asked if she could meet us there.

Upon seeing Loren and me, she held out a plastic freezer bag filled with beautiful home-baked almond flour muffins and yelled, “CONGRATULATIONS, LOVE MUFFINS!!” A huge fan of cheesiness with a healthy appreciation for pun, I laughed and gave her a big hug, just before sampling a muffin on the spot. Pure gloriousness! I couldn’t wait to get the recipe.

And then the truth was revealed. Once the excitement subsided, Colleen said, “I don’t really need much from the farmers’ market. I just wanted to see your ring, so I brought you these muffins as an excuse. Let’s see it!” 

almond flour muffins love muffins

We got married the following summer. Here are a couple of pictures (sans muffins).

almond flour muffins love muffins

A Muffin Was Born

So that’s how the name of these beautiful almond flour muffins came to be — I got engaged, and since they were kind of an engagement gift, they were dubbed “Love Muffins.” And boy oh boy will you love them! My recommendation is to get as creative with these babies as your little heart desires. But first, try them exactly as the recipe suggests. This way you’ll get an idea of just how delicious they are before you start tweaking things.

Then, the next time you make them, play with the details as much as you like without losing the main ingredients that make them a nice, solid muffin (that’s the ingredients with asterisks* next to them in the recipe below, for those of you who were wondering).almond flour muffins love muffins

Some variations could include:

  • skipping the chocolate and adding fresh blueberries
  • doubling the cocoa powder and skipping the dried cherries for a chocolate/chocolate experience
  • switching out the dried cherries for fresh cranberries and adding in some orange extract
  • swapping the cocoa for cinnamon and switching to white chocolate chips, or even skipping them altogether 
  • adding additional nuts and seeds of your choosing for a heartier, more calorie-dense snack

On the Health Front

This muffin works great for breakfast or a snack, but it does have some extra sugar in it. If you’re tracking your sugar, choose the darkest possible chocolate chips for your muffins or skip the chocolate chips altogether. (These chocolate chips from Enjoy Life are my favorite because they’re dark chocolate and soy-free.) (affiliate link) You can also reduce the amount of maple syrup to 1/4 cup to further cut back the sugar.

These muffins are gluten-free and grain-free, decently high-fiber, full of healthy fats and proteins (from the eggs, almonds, and walnuts), and are sweetened with an unrefined, natural sugar source. They’re a perfectly wholesome addition to nearly any diet — plus they’re called Love Muffins, which makes them great for the mind, body, and spirit. 🙂 

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Love Muffins
This recipe yields 8 large muffins or 10 medium-sized muffins
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
18 min
Total Time
25 min
http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/cultivatedwellbeing.com_-150x150.png)">
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
18 min
Total Time
25 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 eggs*
  2. ½ cup real maple syrup
  3. 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  4. ½ cup unsweetened dried cherries
  5. ½ cup chopped walnuts
  6. ½ cup dark chocolate chips
  7. 1 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
  8. 3 cups of almond flour*
  9. ½ tsp baking soda*
  10. ¼ tsp salt*
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees
  2. Line a muffin tin with baking cups
  3. Combine the almond flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa in a bowl
  4. Combine the cherries, walnuts, chocolate chips, vanilla, maple syrup, and eggs in another bowl
  5. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well
  6. Evenly fill each baking cup with the batter
  7. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes
Notes
  1. *ingredients with asterisks should remain the same no matter how you modify the recipe with new or substituted ingredients I suggested in the post.
Adapted from a recipe in the book Grain-Free Gourmet by Jodi Bager and Jenny Lass
Adapted from a recipe in the book Grain-Free Gourmet by Jodi Bager and Jenny Lass
Cultivated Wellbeing http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/

FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains an affiliate link, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

The Best “Cheezy” Popcorn [RECIPE]

cheezy popcorn vegan

To be perfectly honest, I can’t believe I’ve been blogging for almost three years and not shared this vegan “Cheezy” Popcorn recipe yet. The nuts and bolts of this recipe take me waaaaay back to my days of doing demos at Whole Foods Market as the Supplement Specialist on the Whole Body team. If you’ve ever shopped at Whole Foods on a demo day, you know that there are tons of tasty treats all over the store waiting to be sampled and then added to your shopping cart right then and there, either by a rep from the company or a Whole Foods team member. One of the treats I used to demo a lot was a simplified version of the recipe I’m about to share with you today. It’s a healthy snack chalk-full of micronutrients and packed with flavor that can be as customized as your fingerprint — or at least as what’s on your spice rack.

A Word on Popcorn

cheezy popcorn vegan

click to purchase (affiliate link)

Popcorn (corn in general) is technically considered a whole grain — a whole kernel unadulterated or processed. While it’s a starchy food, it’s certainly a decent part of a whole foods diet, but the topic of popcorn isn’t cut and dry. We’ve talked recently about GMOs on this blog, and so much of the corn we grow in this country is GMO that it’s important to seek out organic, non-GMO popcorn kernels. This way you know you’re not getting a mouthful of pesticides to go with your whole grains, and you’re doing something good for Mother Nature too. Another important caveat about popcorn is the method used to make it.

There’s a big difference between the microwaveable stuff and the stuff that pops on your stove top or in an air popper, and the difference is in the bag. Literally. The ‘microwave-safe’ bags used to pop popcorn contain what the EPA considers a “likely carcinogen,” perfluorooctanoic (PFOA). There’s also that weird butter powder that microwave popcorn tends to feature. A chemical in that powder diacetyl is so toxic to the respiratory system that there’s an actual disease unofficially called “popcorn worker’s lung.” Why this substance is considered safe by the FDA is beyond me, but I’m going to go out a limb and say you probably shouldn’t breathe it in — or eat it. 

So, in conclusion, air-pop or do some old-school stove top action, and choose organic, if you plan to make popcorn part of your healthy lifestyle. I use this air popper and absolutely love it. (affiliate link)

Fancy Flakes (aka Nutritional Yeast)

CWB Favorite Pick (affiliate link)

The first thing I thought when I learned about the benefits of nutritional yeast was, “wow, I bet more people would try it if it
weren’t called that.” Nutritional Yeast, while possessing a less-than-appetizing name (should we rally for “fancy flakes??”), is a micronutrient powerhouse and a delicious additive into sauces, vegan “cheezes,” and even smoothies if you play your cards right.

Rich in B vitamins (including thiamin, folate, niacin, and B6), minerals (including iron, selenium and zinc), and glutathione (a potent antioxidant), it’s an awesome ingredient to add into your diet whenever you can. It’s also low in sodium but high in flavor, and it contains all the essential amino acids (plus more), making it a complete vegan protein source. For those of us concerned about candida overgrowth, nutritional yeast does not aggravate or feed candida in the body. 

For our purposes today, nutritional yeast brings the cheez too our cheezy popcorn.

Flax Oil

By now you’ve probably heard hundreds of times the importance of including Omega 3 fatty acids into your diet, and that as Americans, we definitely aren’t eating enough of them. I’ve shared my Ultimate Guide to Cooking Oil, which mentions the importance of Omega 3s, so I won’t go through all of it again, but quickly I’ll share that flax oil is great not just for Omega 3s, but also for the lignans from the hulls of the seeds pressed to make the oil. Lignans are beneficial to cardiovascular health and may play a role in breast cancer prevention. There’s still more research to be done on the potential benefits of lignans, but we also know that they’re a great fiber source as well, and come with all the benefits generally associated with adding fiber to your diet. You can buy the oil with or without the lignans. In addition to their health benefits, they also offer a more nutty flavor to the oil. 

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"Cheezy" Popcorn
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 10 cups air-popped popcorn
  2. 2 tbs Organic Flaxseed Oil (with lignans)
  3. 3 tbs Nutritional Yeast (CWB Favorite Pick)
  4. 1/4 tsp Seasoned Salt
  5. 1/4 tsp Garlic Powder
  6. 1/4 tsp Lemon Pepper
Instructions
  1. While the popcorn is warm, mix all dry ingredients together in a small bowl
  2. Toss popcorn with oil first, then toss in dried seasonings
  3. Enjoy fresh
Notes
  1. This recipe is versatile and flexible. Try adding in some fresh chopped rosemary, one time, a touch of cayenne or chili powder another time, or even a sprinkle of truffle salt. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination!
Cultivated Wellbeing http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/

 

FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains an affiliate link (CWB Favorite Picks), which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

Kasha Krunch: A Healthy Homemade Cereal [Recipe]

So last week I went on a bit of a rant about cold cereal. I said that basically all cold cereal is garbage. And what I meant by that was that almost everything you can get in a box from the center aisles of the grocery store is … garbage (or TRAY-ISH, as my Texan grandmother likes to say). 

Of course there’s the obvious stuff: the sugar cereals like Lucky Charms, Cocoa Pebbles, or my personal college-era favorite, Reese’s Puffs. But don’t be fooled by the “high fiber,” “heart-healthy” cereals like Chex, Cherios, or Kashi Go Lean either. Sure these cereals are higher in fiber and lower in sugar than kids’ cereals, but those are basically candy. Better-than-candy does not = good. It equals less bad. And honestly, only very slightly so. Cereals that have gone through an extrusion process to turn the grain into an “o,” flake, puff, pebble, pop, whatever shape, contain proteins that are now denatured and potentially neurotoxic.

“… All Part of a Balanced Breakfast”

Remember the cereal commercials from the 80’s and 90’s that ended with “… all part of a balanced breakfast” and then showed you what an “ideal” breakfast looked like? Let’s talk about what’s in that picture. Extruded cereal puffs, milk, 2 pieces of toast with a pad of butter, fruit, and a glass of orange juice. Put a different way, that’s a picture of sugar, sugar, sugar, a little fat, and a glass of sugar. Wow! If I ate that, I’d never make it out of the house! Who said this was a balanced breakfast? I’d venture to say that most people don’t eat toast with their cereal, so let’s take that out. But we still have a whole lotta empty carbs, calories, and sugar with very little nutrient-density to show for it. 

healthy homemade cereal

Check out this super retro picture I found of another childhood favorite. image sourced from thefeedingdoctor.com through Creative Commons

Enter: Kasha Krunch – a Healthy Homemade Cereal

Two years ago, I gave this cereal as Christmas gifts to my friends and family — it was super cute in big mason jars with ribbons and labels. While getting through airport security with it was a bit of a challenge, the end result was my mom begging me to make more for her the next time she came to visit. Needless to say, it’s a winning recipe. It goes great with milk or yogurt — add fresh berries for some extra phytonutrients — but it’s also a perfect trail snack. Just stick it in a baggie and eat it by the handful. 

Kasha Krunch

Kasha (another name for buckwheat groats) is a pseudocereal, which means it’s more of a seed than a grain. It’s gluten-free, higher in protein than cereal grains (like wheat, oats, and rice), and is considered an “ancient grain” having avoided the selective breeding of big agriculture. It’s pretty much the same food as it was a hundred years ago.

I do feel obligated to say that if you’re strictly Paleo or sticking to a low-carb plan, this cereal might not be for you — pseudocereals are a debated topic in the Paleo community, but I think most strict followers don’t eat them. This isn’t a strictly Paleo or low-carb site, but since I do share recipes in those categories regularly, I felt the need to point that out.

Moving on!  Here’s the recipe.

  • http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Kasha1-150x150.jpg)">
    Kasha Krunch
    Yields 6
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    Prep Time
    3 min
    Cook Time
    40 min
    Total Time
    34 min
    http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Kasha1-150x150.jpg)">
    Prep Time
    3 min
    Cook Time
    40 min
    Total Time
    34 min
    Ingredients
    1. 3 cups raw buckwheat groats (Click to buy a CWB fave)
    2. ½ cup raw almond butter (click to buy a CWB fave)
    3. ½ cup chopped raw pecans
    4. ½ cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
    5. 2 tablespoons REAL maple syrup or raw honey (optional)
    6. ½ teaspoon cinnamon
    7. pinch of sea salt
    8. ½ cup unsweetened dried fruit of your choice (optional)
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees
    2. Spread raw buckwheat groats across a large cookie sheet and bake for about 40 minutes, shuffling them around about halfway through, until slightly golden
    3. Mix all other ingredients in a large bowl as best you can
    4. Immediately out of the oven, stir in warm toasted groats into the bowl until everything is evenly distributed (the heat from the groats will soften the nut butter and allow it to coat everything nicely)
    5. Let cool to room temperature
    6. Place in a tightly sealed glass storage container and store in the fridge
    Notes
    1. This recipe is super versatile -- you can switch out almond butter for your favorite nut butter, trade the seeds and nuts for other varieties, and play with the amount of maple syrup you use to vary the sweetness. Enjoy Kasha Krunch with milk, yogurt, or as a dry snack.
    Cultivated Wellbeing http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/
     

     FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

 

Pickles Gone Wild: Wild Fermentation and the Good Bugs

wild picklesI’m excited to share this super simple wild pickles recipe with you! And I’ll say up front that although my recipe calls for green tomatoes, this formula works with cucumbers, peppers, cauliflower, and just about anything else you might be curious to try pickling. The fermentation time will vary based on what you’re pickling and whether or not you cut it up or pickle it whole, but start with this framework and you’ll have yourself some effervescently sour pickled veggies in no time. Eat a few bites at every meal to encourage healthy digestion.

What are Wild Pickles?

wild picklesWhat we’re making here is not the homemade version of what you can find in the grocery store aisles. These pickles are usually sterilized and, for lack of a better word, dead. While the internet is teeming with “refrigerator” pickle recipes that include vinegar as part of the pickling liquid, these are not true pickles in the purest sense of the word. True pickles are done with a wild ferment. They are a live food packed with living bacteria that do the souring instead of all that vinegar. And they’re awesome for your digestion and your wellbeing.

How do the bacteria get into the jar?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Bacteria are in the empty jar in your cabinet right now. And they’re on the cucumbers growing in your garden. and they’re on the dill weed, the jalapeno, in your spice  rack … you get the point. Give the bacteria that live among us the proper environment to turn something good into something great, and they’ll be up for the task. All you need is some salt water, something to pickle, and some spices to make them delicious, and let the wild bacteria do the rest!

What’s the Difference? Why Wild?

On Tuesday in part 1 of my Why Gut Health Matters series, we talked about your gut as your body’s Gate Keeper. We covered quite a bit in that post, but one of the things we touched on was the important role gut bacteria play in the integrity of the gut lining, and therefore our health in general. Ensuring that we have a healthy ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria in the gut is an integral step toward having a healthy gut lining and preventing leaky gut.  

Before we go further though, a little vocabulary speed round is in order.

All of these words refer to the microscopic bugs that live in your intestinal tract, primarily in the colon. I’ll use them interchangeably for the most part:

  • gut bacteria
  • microbiota
  • probiotic (refers to the good ones only)
  • microbiome (refers to the whole ecosystem)

So what else do probiotics do?

  1. Probiotics play a vital role in strengthening our immune system. In fact, anywhere from 65 to 90% of our immune system lives in our gut in the form of epithelial cells (villi), which are fed by … drumroll please … probiotics. These bugs keep us well!
  2. Probiotics protect us from harmful bacteria. They take up space in our bowel that might otherwise be filled with harmful bacteria, which cause disease, create gas and bloating, promote inflammation, make us crave sugar and junk food, and can even negatively affect our mood, resilience, and cognition. They also release substances (including lactic acid) that inhibit the growth of the bad guys, preventing them from taking over and wreaking havoc on our health. 
  3. Probiotics produce bioavailable vitamins from the foods we eat. Without beneficial bacteria in our gut, we would have no access to the B Complex (biotin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, folic acid, and B12). We would also be deficient in vitamin K, because the bugs down there actually synthesize it from our food.
  4. Probiotics reduce cortisol, (a stress hormone) and increase GABA (a relaxing chemical), therefore positively affecting mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and reducing stress. Reducing cortisol also improves insulin sensitivity, which is beneficial for folks at risk of developing type 2 diabetes or other metabolic disorders.

Let’s get to the Pickles

wild picklesThe instructions included in this recipe are for the green cherry tomatoes I pulled from my garden when the weather was cooling down but the vines were still full. They were very fresh when they were pickled. 

I recognize that green cherry tomatoes might not be the easiest thing to find on a whim, so if you make your pickles using larger tomatoes or cucumbers and you plan to slice them up, make sure they’re SUPER FRESH, and start checking them after 24 hours. One tip I’ve read but haven’t tried is to give your cucumbers an ice water bath before starting the process. Leave them in ice water for an hour or so before getting them into the jars to freshen them up and ensure crisp and crunch in the final product. (Adding grape or blackberry leaves will do that too, but why not do both just to make sure? Who wants a mushy pickle? No one.)

If you plan to keep your cucumbers, green tomatoes, or peppers whole, wait to check them until day 6 or 7. It takes the whole veggies a while longer to pickle all the way through than the slices. I’ve seen some recipes recommend that you leave whole pickles to ferment for up to two weeks; but again — check them. No one wants a mushy pickle.  In the meantime, check out this cool video on how to chop a bunch of cherry tomatoes super quickly!

 

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Wild Pickled Green Tomatoes
This recipe works with all sorts of veggies, so be creative!
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Ingredients
  1. One 1500 mL (6 cup) jar
  2. 2 lbs green cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
  3. 2 tbs sea salt
  4. 4 cups water
  5. 1 jalapeno (I used 1/2 the seeds, but how spicy is up to you)
  6. 10 sprigs fresh dill
  7. 5 cloves garlic sliced in half
  8. 1 tbs black pepper corns
  9. 1/2 tbs whole coriander seeds
  10. 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  11. 1 tbs mustard seeds
  12. OPTIONAL: grape leaves or blackberry leaves (this ingredient is as source of tannins, which is intended to promote crispness -- more useful when pickling cucumbers)
Instructions
  1. Slice the green tomatoes in half (for full-sized tomatoes, quarter them instead of halving them)
  2. Pack the jar tightly with all the tomatoes leaving at least two inches of space at the top of the jar
  3. Add all other ingredients on top of tomatoes
  4. Dissolve salt in 2 cups warm water in a separate container
  5. Pour salt water over all ingredients into the jar
  6. Fill the jar with the remaining 4 cups of water leaving no less than 1 inch at the top for gas and ensuring that the veggies are completely submerged in the liquid -- this is important. If you need to put something heavy on top to weigh down the veggies waiting to be pickled, do it.
  7. Seal tightly and leave on the counter at room temperature for 3 to 5 days (check at 24 hours for sliced cucumbers)
  8. You want the tomatoes to be firm but pickled all the way through (not mushy). When they are to your liking, refrigerate them and they will keep indefinitely
Notes
  1. BE CAREFUL when you open the jar for the first time. Gas can build up and create some effervescence as the bacteria do their thing.
Cultivated Wellbeing http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/

Chicken Salad-Stuffed Cucumber Cups

chicken salad recipe

I have to admit, this cute little finger food idea is something I came across almost two years ago, but somehow I completely forgot about it until the other day when I was reformulating my chicken salad recipe. I love it because it brings a healthy element to the holiday snacking spread of cookies, candies, eggnog, and pie. It can be tempting to load up on sugary, starchy, nostalgic comfort foods this time of year, but if you present something healthy and delicious in your holiday spread, you might be surprised at how many people will appreciate the reprieve from the (delicious) junk. 

Quick unrelated confession: I had to pull myself away from buying a canister of a chocolate and caramel drizzled popcorn and almond concoction the other day. I seriously canNOT resist when that stuff is around. Thanks to an encouraging text message from a friend, I successfully left the store without the purchase, but it was a close call! This time of year is hard for everyone, even health and wellness bloggers!

Intuitive Cooking

A chicken salad recipe is one of those recipes that has room to breathe; it’s more a formula really. It can change every time you make it based on what you have in your kitchen. It can be more or less healthy, and it can be adapted to a wide variety of flavor profiles. As you know, I’m big on intuitive cooking — a little bit of this and a little bit of that — and only since launching this blog did I start really paying attention to measurements so that I could share them with you in some coherent manner. This recipe has some good ingredient estimates, but for the record, I believe in you. If you want to add more of this or that, do it. I’m sure it will be great. 🙂

 chicken salad recipe

3 Secrets for Healthy Delicious Chicken Salad

There are three main secrets in concocting a healthy, delicious, and (dare I say) perfect chicken salad.

Secret #1: Use organic chicken (pastured if you can find it and afford it). I often make chicken salad when I’ve bought an organic rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods and have eaten the dark meat for dinner. That’s a great way to go, but you can also cook the chicken yourself too if you find a pastured one. Using organic will mean that your chicken ate non-GMO feed, but eating pastured means that it was walking around enjoying the sunlight and grubs it was digging up in the dirt. Both are preferable to conventional chicken. Find out more about pastured  chicken and eggs in this post.

Secret #2: Pack in as many green things as possible, especially herbs. This recipe includes a lot of celery, chopped green onions, and fresh parsley. Fresh herbs provide a wild and highly nutrient-dense element to your food, and adding them into everything you eat as often as possible is the best way to ensure that you’re getting a good array of phytonutrients. The mayo I used also had some fresh herbs in it, which brings me to secret #3.

Secret #3: Make your own mayo if you can. It might seem like a lot of work or creating extra steps, but I promise you, it takes 2 minutes or less to make your own mayo (just watch the video. It’s like magic).

Advantages of Homemade Mayo:

  1. You can control quality – if you have the highest quality pastured eggs and organic oils in your kitchen, then you are already leaps and bounds ahead of what you can buy at the store. 
  2. You can control the flavor – a small batch of mayo can be whipped up in mere seconds, so you can make it to match whatever suits your fancy. Want a cilantro mayo for this recipe and a smoked paprika mayo for that one? Great! Customize to your heart’s content. This also means controlling for how much salt is added if you’re concerned about sodium intake (not that I’m saying you should be, but if you think you should be, you can control that element here too).
  3. You can control what type of oil you use – the type of oil you use dramatically affects how nourishing (or harmful) the mayo will be to your body. Most people regard mayo as an ‘unhealthy’ food. Store-bought mayo with conventional eggs and processed soybean an canola oil is unhealthy. What you make at home with the right ingredients won’t be. 

chicken salad recipe

Holiday Cucumber Bites

You don’t typically think of chicken salad as finger food. It’s wet and messy, but if you package it in adorable little bite-sized nibble, it’s the perfect, high-protein finger food. These little cucumber cups are adorable and also another way to add a veggie into the mix instead of using a cracker or mini toast. It’s also friendly to those working on reducing processed carbohydrates or avoiding gluten. 

  1. Chicken Salad-Stuffed Cucumber Cups
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    Ingredients
    1. 2 chicken breasts, cooked
    2. 4 stalks celery, chopped
    3. 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
    4. 1/2 cup chopped pecans
    5. 2 tbs chopped fresh parsley
    6. 4 green onions, chopped
    7. 3-4 tbs dijon mustard
    8. 2-3 tbs mayo*
    9. Juice from 1 lemon (separate in half)
    Instructions
    1. Mix all chicken salad ingredients (using only 1/2 the lemon juice) with two forks in a large mixing bowl until well-combined
    2. Slice cucumbers into about 1 inch slices
    3. Scoop out centers of each piece to create a tiny cucumber cup
    4. Squeeze a little lemon juice into each “cup”
    5. Using a spoon, place a bite sized portion of chicken salad into each “cup”
    6. OPTIONAL: Sprinkle a bit of paprika over the top for color
    Notes
    1. *If you have time, I recommend making your own mayo. For this recipe, I made mine using the instructions linked in that video, but I used olive oil instead of coconut oil and added some fresh herbs into the mix. Both work great for this chicken salad recipe. If you're using store-bought mayo, try to find an organic one with high-quality oils and eggs.
    Cultivated Wellbeing http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/

 

Easy Japanese Cucumber Salad – Sunomono Recipe

If you’ve been to a Japanese restaurant, chances are you’ve had the Japanese appetizer sunomono. If you haven’t, then I’ll tell you that it’s a simple cucumber salad lightly dressed with oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and a little sugar and allowed to sit in its own juices for a while for enhanced flavor. I love ordering it with chopped octopus — as long as I know that the restaurant cooks the octopus well and doesn’t give rubbery grossness. Rubbery octopus is a bummer, but perfect octopus is divine!

cucumber salad sunomono

I’ve made this dish a couple of times out of a need to use up the giant cucumbers sprouting endlessly in our front yard. They aren’t Japanese cucumbers (which are smaller, so if you use those you might want to use 2 or 3), but they’ve done just fine every time I’ve made this dish. And when I say giant, I mean giant — I used one and made a massive bowl that Loren and I split and still had leftovers (split as an appetizer … I’m known to cook a lot of food). Also, the variety I have growing out front is “burpless” for those of us out there who find that cucumber “repeats” on us. This variety doesn’t do that, so if you’re into gardening, consider growing them.

cucumber salad sunomono

Anyway, this recipe is simply the easiest thing to whip up you could imagine. I literally measured nothing to make it, so the following instructions might not be for everyone. If you want exact measurements, you might want to find another version of it somewhere on the interwebs. I can promise you that this is very hard to screw up though, so go with me down the path of intuitive cooking this one time and see how it turns out. This could be the first step you take toward trusting your own instincts in the kitchen! You won’t be sorry that you didn’t dirty your measuring spoons.

Also, as you’re slicing in the kitchen, I suggest saying “sunomono” to the tune of the Muppets singing in this video. I can’t help it and do it every single time I make or order it. It might be compulsive but I’m not sure. Either way, it’s fun! Or you might hate me for putting this song in your head.

Easy Japanese Cucumber Salad (Sunomono)

Ingredients (serves 3 or 4):

  • 1 giant burpless cucumber or 3 Japanese cucumbers
  • Unrefined expeller-pressed sesame oil — check out my Ultimate Guide to Cooking Oil to find out why “unrefined” matters (about a 5 second pour)
  • Maple syrup Maple Syrup (about a 3-second pour)
  • Gluten-free Tamari (just a dash, maybe 5 shakes through the plastic filter on sunomono Japanese cucumber saladthe spout of the bottle)
  • Black sesame seeds (black ones are more nutritious than white ones, but white works too — use as many as you want)
  • Rice vinegar (about 10 shakes through the plastic filter on the spout)
  • OPTIONAL: fish sauce (2 or 3 shakes, only a 1-second pour if there’s no plastic filter)
  • OPTIONAL: sesame chili oil (start slow with this so it doesn’t get too spicy and add what you want for your own taste)

Directions:

  1. Slice the cucumbers as thin as possible into a large sunomono Japanese cucumber saladbowl. (I use a stand-up grater that has a mandolin-style blade on one side. It’s super simple and safe to use)
  2. Drizzle in all the liquid ingredients
  3. Toss using tongs and make sure everything mixes thoroughly
  4. Add in sesame seeds and do another light toss
  5. OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED: Let sit in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving

 

japanese cucumuber salad sunomono


FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains an affiliate link, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

Spicy Watermelon Skewers and Agua Fresca

Today’s post is short, but that’s OK. We’re ready for the weekend right?

I started writing this post with the intention of only sharing the Spicy Watermelon Skewers recipe, but then I started to feel like I was cheating posting something so simple.

Honestly though, it’s sweet, simple, and really really delicious; perfect for a back yard BBQ on a hot summer day and great to bring to a picnic.

To assuage myself of the guilt, I’m also going to recommend that you try a slightly modified version of the skewers in the form of an agua fresca as well — instead of skewering the melon, stick it in the blender!

Now you get two recipes for the price of one!

CYMERA_20140627_153734

Spicy Watermelon Skewers:

Ingredients

  • 1 small seedless watermelon (makes about 8 skewers)
  • About 20 nice fresh basil leaves
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Chili powder
  • Pinch of sea salt

Directions

  • Cut the watermelon into large chunks
  • Skewer three to a skewer, placing a leaf of basil between the three chunks
  • Sprinkle skewer with a touch of cayenne, chili powder, and sea salt
  • Enjoy outside where you can get messy!

Watermelon Basil Agua Fresca

watermelon skewers

photo sourced with permission from Creative Commons

Ingredients

  • 1 small seedless watermelon (makes about 3 agua frescas)
  • About 6 basil leaves
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • Maple syrup (about 2 tsp)
  • Chili powder (optional)
  • 1/2 cup water

Directions:

  • Chop the watermelon up enough to fit it into the blender
  • Add all other ingredients
  • Blend
  • Enjoy!

 

 

 

Creamy Cashew Dip

cashewdip2This recipe isn’t pretending to be cream cheese.

There’s cheese, and then there are nuts or soy/tofu or rice or hemp — there is no substitute for cheese. The sliceable or shredded rice cheese is a waste of space, and I try to avoid soy-based fake dairy at all costs. Nutritional yeast is DELICIOUS on popcorn or kale chips, but it’s not cheese.

It’s not!

I am not vegan, but I started avoiding cream cheese after multiple cream cheese snacks resulted in uncomfortable emergencies at the crag. Cream cheese bothers my system — a lot — and coupled with the nerves that come with climbing (for me), it’s all bad. I’ve tried vegan alternatives, but they are no replacement for cream cheese, and they just make me sadly wish I had the real thing.

So I decided to try something entirely different: instead of attempting to replace cream cheese with a non-dairy imposter, I took my spreadable needs in a whole new direction. (And now I just accept that if I want real-deal cream cheese, I will have to deal with the consequences — preferably not outdoors on a climbing trip.)

One of my go-to solutions for the past few months has been a standard hummus, but lately I’ve wanted something with a little more zing. I started playing with recipes that some people call “cashew cheese,” mixing, matching, adding new ingredients, substituting others, and discovering some pretty great combinations! But I am calling it a dip, because it’s not cheese. It’s delicious! But it’s not cheese.

You can also thin this recipe out with a little bit of water or almond milk into a saucier consistency for pasta or veggies!

cashewdip1Creamy Cashew Dip

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight in warm water with a few drops of raw apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup fresh water
  • 1 tsp avocado oil or EVOO
  • 2 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp raw apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp lemon pepper
  • ¼ tsp REAL or sea salt
  • fresh cilantro* (no need to chop, just use 10-15 sprigs or so, that should do it)

Blend everything in the food processor until completely smooth (about 5 minutes).

Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with crackers or fresh crudités.

*I know there are tons of people who hate cilantro. My sister hates cilantro and thinks it tastes like soap. I didn’t name this recipe Creamy Cilantro Cashew dip, because the next time I made it, I didn’t have any cilantro and used fresh parsley instead. It was equally delicious!

For all recipes I post, I encourage substitutions, creative alternatives, leaving out something you don’t like, adding more of what you do, etc, etc. Recipes are flexible, I’m just giving you a jumping off point. Be creative!

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