9 Reasons You Need Coconut Oil In Your Life

I am SO excited to share a guest post today written by my long-time friend, Dana Gelsomino, RN. She’s been a force for good in my life for over a decade, and I can’t say enough about her medical knowledge and personal wisdom. I’m thrilled to see a  conventionally trained nurse ready to profess the wonders of coconut oil in her new book, Coconut Oil Made Easy: Answers to the 102 Most Frequently Asked Questions. Check it out on Amazon — TOTALLY FREE through May 17th at midnight.

Take it away, Nurse Dana!

coconut oil made easy

Hi, I’m Dana, and I’m a coconut oil devotee. I discovered coconut oil about 6 months ago, and the radical changes to my health that have come as a result are truly hard to believe. But first, a little background on me …

For years I suffered with severe, chronic depression — to the point that I was hospitalized for it twice. I was also diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which means my hormones had gone rogue, and I was prone to acne flare-ups, irritability, weight gain, and painful periods. You can also add chronic back and neck pain to my list of complaints.

Like most people with chronic pain and health challenges, feeling sub-optimal had become my new normal. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I didn’t try to feel better—believe me, I tried everything. Over the years I have been on Accutane, a handful of different anti-depressants, prescription pain killers and muscle relaxers. I’ve gone to chiropractors, massage therapists, doctors (was even physically carried into urgent care once for debilitating pain), physical therapists, herbalists, nutritionists, live blood cell analysts, Reiki practitioners, acupuncturists … You name it, odds are I tried it.

My First Teaspoon Of Coconut Oil

I first tried coconut oil at the behest of a good friend from Columbia. He said that he mixed some into his coffee every morning, and it really helped increase his energy. In no way was I expecting an effect on any of the health challenges I just mentioned.

The idea of oily coffee both disgusted and intrigued me — I had to try it for myself. After adding that first teaspoon of coconut oil to my coffee, the physical signs and symptoms of every one of my health challenges began to reverse, and now they are completely gone. I have no more chronic pain in my back or neck, no more severe PMS, no more depression and no more low energy. I don’t even take an Advil for cramps, because I don’t have cramps!

If I hadn’t experienced this first hand, I wouldn’t believe it. I began researching coconut oil and learned that my experiences are not unique! Thousands of people swear by the healing properties of coconut oil and have so many amazing stories to tell. Fascinated by Coconut Oil Made Easywhat I was reading, I decided to commit to using coconut oil for thirty days and recording what happened. Over those thirty days I learned more about coconut oil than I ever knew existed on the topic! I cooked with it, I used it on my body and face, I drank it in my coffee, and I replaced a few beauty products with it. I also  began telling anyone who listen about my experience and found myself answering the same questions over and over again.

And thus a book was born!

Here’s a sneak peak of some of the information you’ll find in my new book, Coconut Oil Made Easy: Answers to the 102 Most Frequently Asked Questions. I hope you enjoy exploring this amazing, healing food as much as I have — it just might change your life.

9 Reasons You Need Coconut Oil In Your Life:

  1. Lauric acid’s “Anti’s”
    Coconut oil is packed with over nine “powerhouse components” including perhaps the most important one, lauric (aka monolauric acid). This acid is anti- “bad” bacterial (fights off “bad” bacteria, while leaving beneficial bacteria alone), anticarcinogenic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial/infection fighting, antioxidant, antiparasitic, anti-protozoa, antiretroviral, and antiviral.
  2. Easy way to go chemical free
    Using coconut oil is an easy substitute for lots of chemical-laden products in our health and beauty routine. You can replace tens, if not hundreds or products  with a jar of $12 organic extra virgin coconut oil. There is no complicated labeling to decipher and no added ingredients—it’s just coconut oil. I’ve successfully rid my cabinet of eye make up remover, shaving cream, face and body moisturizers; all have been replaced with one jar of coconut oil.
  3. Few if any side effects
    Prescription and over the counter drugs often come with potential side effects. Some of these side effects are long-lasting, permanent, and can even be fatal! I’ve replaced my dog’s arthritis medication with coconut oil, and you won’t believe the spring in his step! The vast majority of people aren’t allergic to coconut oil, and those who are often find that any reaction they may have disappears with discontinued use.
  4. Saves money
    You can either spend hundreds of dollars on multiple products, or you can use a $12 jar of organic, extra-virgin coconut oil. The small list I named above are great examples from my own bathroom cabinet.
  5. Saves the planet
    By using one jar of coconut oil in place of so many other products, you are consuming less in general, which means less manufacturing, storing, packaging and shipping. Not to mention there is no toxic run off into the water table when you use coconut oil!
  6. Reduced transdermal exposure
    Our skin is our largest organ. Everything we slather on our bodies is absorbed to some degree. Most people find this fact interesting, but don’t take it as seriously as they should when it comes to choosing body care products. Lots of different medications come in a transdermal form — nicotine, birth control and pain patches as well as burn gels and creams, to name a few. Transdermal medications are just as effective as the oral medications or herbs that we swallow. Coconut oil can replace your chemical-laden moisturizers for your face and body. Good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t eat it, you shouldn’t put it on your skin.
  7. Easy way to simplify your life
    I live in a small house where storage space is a luxury. Using one product instead of tens or hundreds, is an easy way to begin simplifying your life.
  8. The refreshing aroma
    Most people love the smell of coconuts — it’s like summertime in a jar! I love to throw it in a pan for stir fry and fill the house with the smell of the tropics.
  9. Fantastic flavor
    I encourage you to try using coconut oil as your main cooking oil for one week. The flavor is a lot milder than most people expect — I was a skeptic at first myself! Some delicious dishes to cook with coconut oil are fried plantains and sweet potato fries. Just pour a tbsp of coconut oil in a frying pan, chop up the plantains or sweet potatoes, let brown and serve! YUM!

Author bio:

Dana Gelsomino is a Registered Nurse practicing and writing in Haslett, Michigan. Her miraculous experience using coconut oil to address her severe depression, low energy, hormonal issues and chronic back and neck pain has turned her from a skeptic to a coconut oil devotee. Dana recently published her first book on coconut oil, Coconut Oil Made Easy: Answers to the 102 Most Frequently Asked Questions. She has several other coconut oil related books in her writing pipeline, and is always open to any coconut oil related conversation and success stories! She is most easily reached through her Facebook group Real Coconut Oil or by email at dana@realcoconutoil.com.

 

 

5 Ways Rock Climbing Empowers You

When I first embarked on this blogging journey, my plan was to create a sounding board for my broad approach to health, fulfillment, and balance. I’d share stories about my adventures in the kitchen, in the garden, at local establishments, and in nature. I fully planned to write about my experience in nature from the perspective of a rock climber, but after a recent trip to Yosemite, I realized that I haven’t shared anything with you about climbing at all.
Part of the reason for this is that I’m not an elite climber. I’m not even a great climber – I’d put myself at slightly more advanced than a beginner with only a few years of the sport under my belt, so I surround myself with folks who have far more skill, knowledge and strength than I do. I’m always striving to learn and keep up – a position I grew used to as the younger, shorter, less-athletic sister always getting stuffed at the hoop in our driveway. Being in that position as a kid made me a stronger player, both physically and mentally. I wasn’t afraid to try as hard as I could, and I wasn’t afraid to fail. I just went for it, and I try my very best to apply that mentality to climbing.

There’s only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything. Football Coach, Vince Lombardi

People ask me why I climb, why I couldn’t pick something that keeps both feet on the ground as my adult activity of choice. My mom worries about me on the weekends, my coworkers think I’m crazy – why risk an injury? (Truthfully, when done properly and safely climbing isn’t much more dangerous than other sports, but that’s commentary for another time.)

rock climbing

Owens River Gorge – Bishop, CA

The answer, in short, is to conquer fear. Fear holds us back from pursuing our dreams. Fear of failure, fear of not being the best (or even all that good). Fear of learning something new. Climbing forces you to face your fears – in fact, before I started climbing I had a relatively intense fear of heights. The perpetual quest to conquer fear through climbing has tremendous benefits for your life as a whole. Here are the ways it empowers you.

5 Ways Rock Climbing Empowers You

1. Climbing pushes you out of your comfort zone, repeatedly.

You’re reaching for something you never thought you could reach, you’re shifting all your weight onto a tiny feature in the rock and trusting yourself, your shoe, your body, your strength, to hold you there. Your resolve is constantly tested, and the limit of what you can manage physically and mentally gets higher and higher with each summit. You’re stretched, you’re challenged, and as a result you grow.

2. You are only competing with yourself.

Nobody’s keeping score. Your teammate is there to keep you safe, and the two of you are working together to do something amazing. But the only opponent is the rock (although I will admit that sometimes you feel like the rock is fighting back!) Climbing is all about personal best and working toward your own goals. Worrying about how you compare to others is only a detractor, and the exercise of controlling that tendency to compare is an advantageous mental task to master in itself. The gratification of sticking a hard move and finishing the route is all the motivation you need. This inner drive will carry over into many aspects of life where the only one keeping track of whether you accomplish your goal is you.

3. The Unknown awaits on every climb.

1climbingteam

Happy Boulders in Bishop, CA

Every route has a ‘crux’ – the hardest part of the climb that determines the difficulty rating. The crux can be anywhere in theclimb. It can be the first move when you’re not quite warmed up or it could be toward the top when you’re totally burnt out. You can guess based on the rating if you’ll be able to do it, but you never know until you try, and often it’s that part of the climb that truly tests your grit. Even though we usually have a guide book to tell us roughly where the route goes, I often find myself in spots where the exact path is unclear or the best sequence of moves is elusive. Sometimes you have to just commit and have faith in your intuition that you’re going the right way and you’ll make it through. Sometimes I see my partner climb first and I know that whatever he’s doing is definitely NOT what I’m going to do – whether it’s because of a difference in height, skill, strength, or a combination – and that I’m going to have to figure out my own way when it’s my turn. One of the best parts of climbing is pushing through and accomplishing something you didn’t know you were capable of. Often that’s the real unknown that awaited you.

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great. – Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own

4. Persistence, determination, and problem-solving are crucial to climbing.

These three characteristics are among the most valuable in ensuring that you are achieving your personal potential. And I’m not just talking about climbing anymore. Building and practicing these skills is a huge factor in professional success and personal growth. It’s impossible to grow as a person without pushing forward through (at least some) adversity and difficulty. When you’re on a wall working to find the next move, you might have to rearrange your feet, switch your hands, or shift your center of gravity. You might have to try, fail, and rework it another way. All of this while dangling high in the sky. The harder you work to get it right and solve the puzzle, the deeper your commitment to yourself and the climb.

rock climbing

Grotto – Sonora, CA

5. Climbing fosters an alliance between humans and nature.

No one appreciates the reality of gravity like a climber. That might have been a bad joke, but seriously, climbing was meant to be an outdoor sport – even a wilderness sport. Most climbers train in the gym in preparation to climb outside on real rock under an open sky (or sometimes in a cave!). Groups like Access Fund that work to ensure climbing access across the country are focused on conservation, respect for the sanctity of nature, and reverence for the pristine outdoors. Climbers carry that mentality with them at the crag. Not only is there an etiquette that accompanies this sport in terms of keeping crags clean and safe, there’s also a spiritual relationship built between humans and nature when you spend that much time outside. Having that connection to nature and recognizing the role and responsibility of humans in preserving its beauty is empowering and motivating.

Climbing is a sport with transformative grit that demands a respect for how nature and humans interact. You don’t have to be an elite climber to know that climbing builds strength, character, community, and alliance with nature – maybe that’s another way of saying that it strengthens “mind, body, and spirit.” I may not have the skill and experience of an elite climber, but I think that’s something worth sharing.

rock climbing

Yosemite National Park, CA

rock climbing

Lake Tahoe, CA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rainbow Frittata – Easy Breakfast that Keeps in the Fridge

rainbow frittata

I love a good frittata. They’re easy to make, they leave room for creativity, and they keep well in the fridge so you can have a ready-made breakfast waiting for you on weekdays. Playing with the endless possibilities that come with baking eggs in the oven has unleashed some epic Sunday morning breakfasts in my house lately. I almost feel silly for ever paying a restaurant to make me a frittata.

I’ve recently confirmed that you can put basically anything in a frittata and it will be delicious. In fact, there’s a podcast about this very topic over at Table to Farm, a short podcast that’s been entertaining and educating me lately. In their frittata episode, they even suggest throwing leftover mac and cheese into the mix. Great idea! (sadly, I just noticed that Table to Farm is a year old and they haven’t made any new episodes. Boo.)

This particular gem covers the colors in the rainbow pretty well, because I was able to find a bright orange cauliflower at the market this week. It’s gorgeous!

orangecauliflower

I also used pastured eggs from my in-laws’ neighbors (they have 24 chickens!), and some of those egg shells were blue — maybe it’s a stretch to say that this frittata actually includes the color blue, but I’m counting it for the sake of the name Rainbow Frittata.

The beet greens have red stems and purple leaves, the kale is green, and the egg yolks are electric yellow (find out why the yolks were so vibrant in these pasture eggs).rainbow frittata

Rainbow Frittata:

Ingredients:

  • 10 pasture eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • orange cauliflower (or regular if you can’t find orange) — chop up as much as you like!
  • beet greens (chard works great too)
  • kale
  • lemon pepper
  • season salt
  • garlic powder
  • EVO or coconut oil
  • feta cheese (I used goat feta)
  • salt and pepper to taste

 Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees
  2. Chop cauliflower into small pieces
  3. De-vein the kale and chop all greens
  4. Lightly saute for 8 to 10 minutes in a bit of EVO or coconut oil
  5. Whisk the eggs and coconut milk until uniform and pour over veggies
  6. Add in the feta
  7. Bake for at least 20 minutes, might take longer, depending on your oven — you’ll know it’s done when a fork comes out clean from the middle
  8. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving
  9. Slice and serve1rainbowfrittatabitecwb

 

7 Tips for Mindful Eating

To be honest, the areas of mindfulness and mindful eating are places where I struggle. I come from a family that eats off of each others’ plates, and I think somewhere along the way I learned that I’d get more food into my mouth if I ate it really quickly. It became a running joke that at the end of each meal, I’d be so full that I had to unbutton my pants and hold them away from my little belly. In retrospect, it’s not really that funny, but I was a pretty cute kid and my parents didn’t know any better. It’s been a challenge to learn my lesson about overeating even as an adult, but I’ve found a few little tricks, which I’ll share with you today.

mindful eating

my love for food started young

Mindful eating isn’t just about avoiding overeating. It’s about ensuring that the food you do eat is nourishing you on every level: mind, body, and spirit. It’s about examining your habits and finding ways to refine or change them into those that feed you in more ways than one. It’s about being present at meal time, whether you’re with company or alone, and truly appreciating what’s in front of you.

Like I said, I struggle with this too, so try not to be overwhelmed with this list. I’ve kept it simple and listed a few small, doable actions that can help you get your mindful eating practice started today. I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to implement every single one of these at once, so keep this list as a reference and try one at a time to see what works best for you. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.

7 Tips for Mindful Eating

1. Turn off and unplug

Mealtime should be only that — mealtime. Not text time, not web-surfing time, not TV time. This might be the hardest task on this list if you’re eating alone (especially in public), but just try it. Set a goal for yourself to unplug while eating for the next 3 days and see if you notice a difference in a) how much you eat, b) how nourished you feel, and c) how relaxed you feel upon completion.

When you engage in activities other than the task at hand during mealtime, your brain doesn’t focus on the signals being sent from your stomach. It’s a lot easier to overeat when you’re not paying attention to your body and how you feel with each bite. If all you have to do is put the food in your mouth, chew, and swallow, your brain has no choice but to listen to your body.

mindful eating

click to see the source of this picture and learn more about this “social etiquette” cause

2. Express/Observe gratitude

These days, it’s just too easy to whip something up in the kitchen, throw it on the table, and start mowing down the second my butt hits the seat without a thought. But what if I took a few extra seconds to acknowledge how the food I’m about to eat got to my plate? is it food I grew in my backyard with the help of my husband? Was it food I bought at the farmers’ market from the farmer herself? Is it an animal that lost its life so I could nourish mine?

Giving gratitude not only innately slows us down, it feels good! I know it sounds silly, but gratitude can improve your health and is a great tool in your mindful eating tool belt.

click through to see more art from avenues of artistry

click through to see more art from avenues of artistry

3. Stop and smell the roses (or the pot roast)

The time I have between the gym and bedtime feels like it’s getting shorter, and the less time I spend cooking and eating, the more time I will have to relax with the dog at the end of the day, right? Maybe, but maybe not. If I treat cooking and eating as part of my relaxing evening, won’t each night be more enjoyable?

Some research has shown that the simple act of smelling your food for a few minutes before you dive in can initiate the physiological process of feeling satisfied before you’ve even taken one bite. These findings have promising implications for weight loss — in fact, this strategy is referenced in the famous HBO-sponsored call to action Weight of the Nation (part 2).

4. Sit at a table, not in the driver’s seat

We’re all guilty of snacking in the car from time to time, some of us more frequently than others. I have to admit that I’ve had to break this habit more than once. At times, it’s been reflexive for me to leave work, plop into the driver’s seat, and open the center console for a snack without thinking.

Eating in the car is another version of distracted eating. Not only is your brain distracted from eating and telling you when you’re full, you’re also distracting yourself from the more important task of driving safely! Sure, eating and driving might not be as risky as texting and driving, but it’s still not the best idea. Sit at a table when you eat to create the memory in your mind that the table is for eating and the car is for driving.

mindful eating

more tips to avoid distracted driving are a click away

5. Plan Plan Plan – Be prepared

This tip is about deliberately setting yourself up for success. If you have the right foods to choose from at any given time, foods that were chosen mindfully, you’re far more likely to choose what you’ve planned to eat than head down to the vending machine for a Snickers to chomp on while finishing up your day on the computer.

Breaking the eating while driving habit took planning my workday better so that I wouldn’t be hungry when I got in the car after work. Having a strategy for meals and snacks at work or away from home will help set you up for a more mindful eating practice.

mindful eating

Here’s what my work cubby looks like

6. Assess your hunger

Mindful eating is just as much about why as it is about what, how much, and how often. Are you truly hungry? Is there a void you’re filling or stress you’re avoiding with that mid-morning doughnut hole or do you actually need food? Are you bored? Tired?

The best way to decide if you’re truly hungry is to ask yourself “Would I eat an apple right now?” If the answer is “No, but I sure do want those Doritos,” then you might not truly be hungry. If the answer is “yes” then actually eat the apple or some comparably healthy food and skip the junk.

7. Try a gentle cleanse

I recently did a very short kitchari cleanse to usher in the spring season, and in the few days I spent eating only mung beans, brown rice, fruits and vegetables, I realized that limiting my choices truly brought about mindful eating. It wasn’t what I was expecting to get out of my cleansing experience, but it was a truly valuable lesson. Being temporarily limited (emphasis on temporary) allowed me to subconsciously utilize a good portion of the list I just spelled out for you. In fact, it’s what inspired this post in the first place. When I only had the few foods to choose from, I had to ask myself if I was truly hungry enough to eat the same thing again, I couldn’t eat in the car, and I had to make my food in advance.

mindful eating

photo taken by Sanjay Acharya

Cleansing can do a lot for us physically, but this psychoemotional piece was a pleasant surprise, and it’s helped me bring a more mindful intention to my daily meals.

Do you have a tip for mindful eating or a challenge you face with starting a mindful eating practice? Share below! Let’s talk!

Rainy Days at Home — What to do?

This weekend is going to be a wet one, and as I pulled on my rain boots and opened up my umbrella this morning, I was reminded of the value of forced relaxation.

What the heck does that mean?

photo source linked

photo source linked

Forced Relaxation is a potential that can arise at the times when we can’t do what was on the schedule due to outside forces, like rainy weather, catching a cold, or a store being closed that had the one tool we needed to finish a project.

If gardening, hiking, or mowing the lawn were in your plans for this weekend, they’re probably out now.

So what to do instead? There’s always house work: dishes, laundry, organizing your shoes (some of us need this more than others!) … but why not take advantage of this rainy weather to regain some stamina? Why not relax into it or do something creative?

Do you have a covered porch where you can sit outside and listen to the rain cozied up with a blanket and a book (and maybe a pet on your lap)? Or could you open a window for the same effect? Is there a movie you’ve been wanting to see, but just haven’t found the time to watch, or a fun or relaxing project you’d like to finish indoors?

What do you think your weekend would look like if you kept your laptop closed and committed to a rejuvenating experience at home, no work, no surfing the web? Would you open up an old photo album? Would you bake a treat with your kids? Would you stay in bed an extra hour and listen to rain beating on the roof?

This weekend, I plan to see a movie, work on my bedroom painting project, hem two pairs of pants, and relax on the couch with my favorite furry friend. That’s it. I’ve intentionally left the weekend open to sleeping in and whatever possibilities could arise for fun and creativity.

Now it’s your turn:

How often do you pause in those moments when the universe gives you a sign that it’s time to slow down? How do you plan to take advantage of the grey skies this weekend? Share with me below!

Starting a Garden with Heirloom Seeds at Petaluma Seed Bank

Last spring, I built my first planter box, filling it with seedlings from my local nursery. I planted curly kale, celery, bush beans, asparagus, red chard, and strawberries. It was so much fun to watch the plants grow and change, and lucky for me, there aren’t huge numbers of pests in my backyard to ruin the good time. I literally had no idea what I was doing, beyond putting dirt in the box and planting the little guys; I just went for it!

the proud little garden helper dug in the dirt with me for our first garden project

the proud little garden helper dug in the dirt with me for our first vegetable project

Almost a year later, having planted many new seedlings and enjoyed the harvest from every corner of my back yard, I’d say I’ve learned a lot (including that kale can grow REALLY tall and look like a mini-tree in the planter box, and bush beans should not go behind them in their shade). We’ve had some ups and downs in our garden, but for the most part, it feels good to know that I am capable of growing at least some of my own food!

That being said, there’s one thing that’s still very much intimidating — starting from seed!

As a very sweet and thoughtful housewarming gift last year, some good friends gave me an herb planter and some seed packets — tarragon, thyme, sage, oregano, and basil. (Just for some perspective, before moving to California, I couldn’t keep a fern alive, much less start with a seed and grow it into something worthwhile. The thought of putting in the effort and failing is a very big hurdle for me to clear in my mind.)

I tried my very timid hand at all but the basil (just couldn’t pull the trigger on that one, so I threw the seeds into a smoothie). I started them indoors in little pots, and tried carefully not to over-water, as I’m wont to do. While the sage and oregano are doing great in my herb garden more than a year later, the tarragon and thyme have never reached usable volume, and in fact, I’ve presumed them dead more than once, only to see them return, still pathetic, still tiny, but alive.

I’ve read some great tips online about how to start vegetables from seed, but for some reason (read impatience, fear of failure, and too many directions), I have just had the hardest time attempting it for myself.

This weekend, I was finally convinced to take the plunge! My mother-in-law mentioned the Petaluma Seed Bank, suggesting that I stop by to see all the heirloom seeds they have for sale. I wasn’t going to buy anything, but she made it sound so neat that I wanted to check it out. When I walked in, I knew I wouldn’t be walking out empty-handed.

seedbank3

Here’s the view from the front door. Giant dried gourds are hanging from ceiling on the left.

The selection is overwhelming, and the building is amazing! (In the bathroom, they have a poster with at least 25 garlic varieties and their pictures. So cool!)

seedbank5

 

 

 

“We offer over 1,500 varieties of heirloom seeds, garlic, tools, books, and hundreds of local hand-made gifts and food items. Remember—everything we offer is pure, natural, and non-GMO!” (source)

The short story:

  • The building, which used to be the Sonoma County Bank, is a beautiful focal point of the downtown Petaluma area, and is the perfect spot for such a wonderful attraction
  • Any homestead or gardening magazine your imagination could ever dream up is right there on the rack when you first walk in (including RABBIT USA Magazine, which had an adorable front cover)
  • Any gardening tool, growing equipment, lighting, how-to guide, seasonal planting chart, or locally made sun hat your heart could fancy can be found inside these walls
  • Culinary herbal blends, seasoned salts, aromatic sugars, and infusions are waiting for you at the back of the store, ready to be added to your goodie bag
  • The staff is extremely knowledgeable about what should grow where, when, and how, and they’re happy to help a novice like me

seedbank1

After about 20 minutes of open-mouthed gawking and feeling totally overwhelmed with choices, I selected two varieties of cherry tomatoes, sugar pie pumpkins, delicata squash, giant celery root, and giant leeks (all heirloom). I also grabbed an indoor starter tray, and with trepidation, approached the counter with an arsenal of questions. The friendly woman behind the counter waited patiently as I wrote down every word she said, took a deep breath, and made my purchase.

I also scooped up this tasty culinary salt, as my interest was peaked after listening to a Salt Tasting Here and Now episode last week with Chef Kathy Gunst. I can’t wait to sprinkle it on something.

 

smoked salt2

This is going to be a very exciting experiment, and I anticipate I’ll learn quite a bit from it. I have to wait to plant some of what I purchased, as the last frost is estimated at April 15th this year, but the leeks and celery root are ready to go.

Stay tuned for updates as these little guys take off! And any lessons I learn along the way, you’ll be the first to know.

seedbank4

Your Turn:

Do you have a garden or interest in starting one? Have you ever planted a garden from seed? What tips do you have to share? Any thoughts on the best way to start? Share your thoughts below!

 

Be Yours, Not Mine – Taking Back Valentine’s Day

I have to admit, I think Valentine’s Day is a little silly. The history of the actual figure, St. Valentine of Rome, is vague at best, and the holiday we know today is little more than a boon for the vendors of greeting cards, diamonds, flowers, chocolates, and teddy (Have a look at this ridiculous ad and tell me that this holiday hasn’t reached out-of-control proportions.)

Do we put too much pressure on Valentine’s Day? I would answer that with a resounding YES.

The stated goal of the holiday is to show someone you care about them. But If we don’t have a partner, if we are upset with our partner, if we can’t afford diamonds, if we don’t care about flowers, if we can’t get the perfect reservation … you get the point. It’s too much pressure for those IN a relationship and too depressing for those NOT in a relationship. How has a holiday that was meant to encourage love and affection turned into this chaotic, one-upping mess?

Be Yours, Not Mine – I’m saying that today to encourage you to take back Valentine’s Day. Make it about loving yourself, about treating everyone around you (including yourself) with love and respect, and take the commercial and material expectations out of it.

If you are not in a relationship, take yourself on a date; treat yourself to a night of relaxation at home with a book or movie; invite friends over for a potluck.

If you are in a relationship, agree that today isn’t about gifts or expectations, and instead do something extra around the house or offer a foot massage, or just be your usual, amazing self.

Loren and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, because we feel that it’s important to show each other appreciation, love, and devotion year-round, and that material gifts on a day when it’s expected aren’t necessarily the best way to do that.

This Valentine’s Day, I challenge you to remove yourself from the hustle and bustle and redefine the holiday into something with less pressure and expectation.

Let me know what you come up with — we could start a revolution!

 

 

Homemade Bone Broth

homemade bone broth

You may not think of broth as anything more than a flavored source of liquid for cooking, but in fact, when prepared properly, broth adds a whole lot of goodness into your diet, acting as a super-efficient, super-delicious nutrient delivery system. From the vitamin and mineral content to the gelatin and collagen that’s released from the bones, broth is a veritable nutrition powerhouse. It boasts a number of health benefits, including improving hair, skin, and nails, support for the digestive tract, enhanced immune function, hormonal support, bone and joint health, and increased overall vitality. In my Chicken Soup for the Sick post, I share a bit about the benefits of bone broth when you’re not feeling well, but this post is more comprehensive in explaining why bone broth is important for your overall health. (Well-care, not just sick-care.)**

I love to use my own homemade broth as often as possible, so I make a LOT of it at a time. Whether I’m sipping it in a warmed coffee cup first thing in the morning or adding it to a soup, stew, or pan of veggies, I try to get it in every day. Although I’ve been making my own broth for years, drinking it every single day is something relatively new for me, and so far, I can say that I’ve already noticed a difference in my skin. We’ll see what else comes about over the course of the next few months…

By the way, do you know the difference between stock and broth? I used to think that one used bones and one used meat, but it turns out the difference is simply that one is seasoned and one is not. Basically, broth=stock+seasoning, and both are made with bones. Of course, there’s no harm in leaving the bits of meat that are stuck to the bones or using a whole chicken and fishing out the meat for another meal. While I don’t think this distinction is particularly important in general, I mention it so that we can all speak with authority on the matter going forward! If you want a more versatile base, leave the seasonings out until it’s time to add the stock into a particular dish, and season accordingly. The recipe I’m going to share is only seasoned with REAL salt and fresh parsley from the garden, so technically that puts it in the broth category.

Why make your own?

Making your own broth or stock is not complicated. It requires no measuring, no precision, and no peeling — in fact, no peeling is the preference — there are tons of great nutrients right in the skin of the veggies. All you do is throw everything in. Don’t peel the onions, garlic, or carrots. Don’t chop the leaves off the celery. Throw all of it into the pot. You don’t even have to cut them up if you really don’t want to, just break the carrots and celery in half, and throw in whole cloves of garlic. You might want to slice the onions in half, but that’s it!

There are both health reasons and culinary reasons why making your own broth is far superior to buying it in a can:

  • control over the ingredients (this should really count as 5 separate reasons — organic veggies, filtered or good-quality water, organic/pastured meats, type and amount of salt used, no preservatives)
  • amount of time it spends cooking
  • greater level of nutrient extraction (related to #1 and #2)
  • taste
  • texture

The only limiting factor in broth-making is the size of your pot. For me, it’s go big or go home — if I’m going to make broth, I’m going to make a nice big batch and freeze it. Generally, I just collect the bones from our meals, and once I have a couple of freezer bags full, I know it’s time to make another pot of broth. (You could also buy a cooked chicken from the market, strip the meat for chicken salad or soup, and throw the carcass in). Making fish broth is also an option, although I prefer to cook with it more than I prefer to sip it. I’ve made it with fish heads and crab shells before with great success!

I am a self-admitted overly aggressive jar collector, so I have the resources to make large batches to store. If you don’t have jars to freeze your broth, you might want to go get some. I like 16 and 32 oz jars, depending on how I plan to use the broth. But please please be careful when freezing your broth — leave a couple of inches of room for the liquid to expand, and maybe even leave the tops off in the freezer over night if you have enough space for that. I’ve had jars break in my freezer because I didn’t pay attention to this crucial detail, and things got messy (and I wasted some home-made broth, which made me very sad).

Bang for your Buck:

Bones:

If you’ve ever roasted a chicken (or purchased an already roasted chicken from the grocery store) and then let it sit in the refrigerator, you may have noticed the gelatinous pools that collect in the tray. These pools of goodness represent the stuff of life. Gelatin is leached from the bones of the animal during the cooking process and provides us with:

  • key amino acids that help with muscle development
  • minerals for bone and joint health and proper metabolic function
  • collagen, often sold as a beauty product to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and improve cell health
  • all those great things I listed at the beginning of this post

The best way to ensure that your broth is going to be full of gelatin is to add a few splashes of raw apple cider vinegar or the juice of a whole lemon into the water. The acid will leach all the good stuff from the bones. When you make your own broth, it will thicken up in the fridge the way Jell-o does. Nothing you buy in the store is going to do that.

Veggies:

Veggies are technically optional in bone broth-making, but it’s my opinion that if you’re going to go to the trouble to do this yourself, it might as well taste fantastic. Onion, garlic, celery, and carrots are a great place to start. They have a host of benefits on their own, and because you have control over the quality and cook time, you can ensure that you’re getting the most of those veggies. Taste-wise, these ingredients (or some slight variation) are the basic building blocks of nearly all cuisine, creating the first layer of flavor for most pot dishes. Nutrition-wise, these ingredients provide:

  • Beta carotene
  • B vitamins
  • vitamin A
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • selenium
  • phytonutrients (especially potent if you pick them from your back yard garden)

Salt:

The type of salt you use is another controllable detail with homemade broth that is not so with what you get in a can. Sea salt and REAL salt contain far more trace minerals that help with hydration and general mineral balance in the blood than regular table salt, which is simply NaCl (Sodium Chloride). In fact, some argue that these types of salts aren’t implicated in hypertension the way regular table salt is, and that a deficiency in these salts contribute to heart disease and various other physiological malfunctions. These more complex salts taste better too.

Seasoning:

Making your own broth means choosing your own seasonings and avoiding weird additives like MSG, thickeners, and “natural flavors” (which usually means something soy- or corn-based, and very likely GMO). The recipe I’m sharing only includes salt and fresh parsley as seasoning. I chose to add in parsley mostly because it’s plentiful in my backyard, but also because parsley is a fantastic super food. It boasts a rich vitamin and antioxidant profile and helps mitigate inflammation, balance blood sugar, and improve immune function. 

How To:

It’s more accurate to call this a set of instructions than a recipe. Basically, you throw everything into either your large slow cooker or your biggest stock pot, and fill it up with filtered water. Here you see three large carrots, 2 small yellow onions, 1/2 a bulb of garlic, 7 or 8 small celery stalks from the garden, a giant bunch of parsley, and 2 freezer bags of chicken and turkey bones. I chopped nothing but the onions in half and thoroughly scrubbed the dirt off of the carrots. I threw more parsley in about 30 minutes before I turned off the fire to enhance the flavor and add in even more beneficial micronutrients.

homemade bone broth

Once the pot is filled, add in a few splashes of raw apple cider vinegar and about a tablespoon of either sea salt or REAL salt.

Let that sit for about 30 minutes before you turn on the heat.

Turn the stove or slow cooker on low, and let simmer for anywhere between 8 and 24 hours. If you’re uncomfortable leaving your stove top on unattended, a slow cooker might be better for you, as there’s no reason for you to be in the kitchen during this process. I usually set this up on low heat, go to sleep and work the next day, and take it off the fire when I get home. If you see a weird film on the top, skim it off with a spoon or your small strainer.

Once it cools as bit, use a slotted spoon or strainer of some kind to fish everything out until you’re just left with the broth. Or you can pour the broth through the strainer into the jars. I use a tiny one that works quite well.

Store it in jars in the freezer until you’re ready to use it.

homemade bone broth


Sometimes for a recipe like this one, it’s easier to have everything listed out in bullet points in a simple, one-sheet guide. Lucky for you I have just the thing! Click the image below to download the recipe.



 Check out my story about how drinking bone broth changed my life

**to learn more about the health benefits of broth and traditional ways of eating, check out the Weston A. Price foundation.

Not-So-Healthy Health Claims

As a health and wellness advocate and self-proclaimed foodie, I pride myself in keeping my finger on the pulse of food and nutrition trends. For me, doing this serves multiple purposes: 1) it reinforces the good things I’m already doing, 2) it provides new information that might contradict what I’m doing and prompt me to research it further, 3) it informs me of the garbage that’s being propagated as health food or healthy supplements.

This little bag of lies lives in that third category:

A few weeks back, I attended a party and saw these on the counter. Being the huge coconut fan that I am, I picked them up to take a look.

First red flag: The advertisement of how many mg of coconut oil were in each chew

Second red flag: Health claims in GIANT font accompanied by asterisks (the asterisks, of course, refer to the note on the back that says that these statements have not been approved by the FDA)

I flipped the bag over and continued reading.

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Ok, not terrible Supplement Facts. Yes, there are more grams of carbohydrates and sugar than there are in actual coconut oil (actual coconut oil has zero grams of carbs or sugar), but I am letting that slide for a minute. We’ll get back to Supplement Facts shortly.

And then I read the most important information on any packaged food item: the Ingredients list.

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By law, ingredients must be listed in order from highest to lowest percentage by mass. The first ingredient is the most prevalent ingredient in the product. So in this product, there is more corn syrup and sugar than there is coconut, and there is more dairy fat than there is coconut fat

WOW. So let’s go back to the health claims on the front of this package and do a quick ingredient reconciliation:

  1. Promotes Healthy Metabolism:
    Yes, pure coconut oil promotes healthy metabolism, because of the short- and medium-chain fatty acids that are present in it. However, corn syrup, sugar, and soy do just the opposite. Corn syrup and sugar (both essentially sugar) disrupt a healthy metabolism by spiking blood sugar and flooding the blood stream with insulin, a process that, when done to often and in extremes, ultimately helps keep us fat. Soy contains phytates, which disrupt the absorption (and therefore the metabolism and proper utilization) of important minerals necessary for proper sugar metabolism, sleep (essential for weight loss), bone health, and brain function. (These minerals are zinc, magnesium, and calcium.)
  2. Helps Control Appetite:
    Yes, the saturated fat in coconut oil helps control appetite. However, as I just stated, corn syrup and sugar do just the opposite by spiking blood sugar, which causes a flood of insulin and the return of your appetite (often more voracious than before).
  3. Natural Energy Source:
    This one I love, because it applies to basically everything we put in our mouths that contains calories. Calories=energy. Nothing about this product is special in terms of providing energy, except that coconut oil itself is a very dense source of high-quality calories. It’s true that coconut oil is great for our brain function, our memory, and our ability to remain alert, however that’s not the claim they’re making. In essence, they’re saying, “this product contains energy from calories” — indeed, a useless piece of information.
  4. Supports Immune System:
    Coconut oil is a wonderful thing — it contains lauric acid, which acts as an anti-fungal and helps keep problems like yeast and candida under control. It has antibiotic and antiviral properties. In that way, I suppose you could claim that it supports the immune system by helping it fight off invaders. However, GMO foods like corn, sugar beets, and soy are linked to total gut disruption and dysbiosis. They contain glyphosate, one of the active ingredients in Roundup, which destroys the bacteria in our gut responsible for the bulk of our immune system. So again, the ingredients in this product (2 out of 3 of which are more prevalent in the product than coconut oil itself), do exactly the opposite of this health claim.
    Dr. Mercola has some great things to say about glyphosate and GMOs in case you’d like to read more: “What’s worse, glyphosate preferentially affects beneficial bacteria, allowing pathogens to overgrow and take over. At that point, your body also has to contend with the toxins produced by the pathogens. Once the chronic inflammation sets in, you’re well on your way toward chronic and potentially debilitating disease…”

Products like this infuriate me. It’s true what Michael Pollan says in his book Food Rules: “Generally, it is the products of modern food science that make the boldest health claims, and these are often founded on incomplete and often bad science.” — Put more simply, if you are concerned about your health, avoid foods with health claims.

This brings me back to the Supplement Facts. Don’t they seem pretty harmless? Only 2 grams of sugar, 4 grams of carbohydrates. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It doesn’t sound so bad because it’s not real information. Supplement Facts tell us basically nothing except for reductionist information about a serving size of whatever’s inside the package. It doesn’t tell us anything about quality or substance; it simply measures macronutrients, and often inaccurately to how people will consume the products. Look closely on the right side of that picture again. Do you see the recommendation of how to eat these chews? “Adults enjoy 1-4 chews daily.” It makes it sound like medicine, and it’s SUGAR! It’s a farce! And if you consume the chews as directed, you’re potentially quadrupling those numbers! 2 grams of sugar and 4 grams of carbs increases to 8 and 16.

As I said before, if you’re considering food that comes in a package, look at the INGREDIENTS. Skip the Supplement Facts. You’ll be surprised what’s lurking in your cabinets. Hopefully it’s not Coconut Oil Chews.

 

Pig and Pie

This is my first restaurant review!

When I launched this site, I knew I wanted business reviews to be part of it, but I’ve been waiting until something really amazing came along before adding in another category to this very broad site on how to create a sweet, rich life. Granted, Yelp already exists, but this new section is going to be different — more like a running log of restaurants, spas, tea houses, coffee shops, specialty stores, etc., that are aligned with my personal health and wellness philosophy. I won’t be doing any negative reviews here, just giving a shout out to cool places I find on my journey. And while I won’t be providing an interactive rating system (mostly because I don’t know how), comments on the reviews are definitely welcome if you’ve been to these places! And maybe one day I’ll figure out an interactive rating system too…

On Thursday last week, I had a meeting in the Mission District of San Francisco, so I decided to bring my laptop with me and spend the afternoon working in a nice, quiet coffee shop. My meeting was at SF General Hospital, and the walk from 24th St. BART was so full of choices that I was struggling to make a decision.

I stopped to look at a few menus and, realizing that I was hungry for lunch, revised my search from coffee shop to lunch spot, hoping I could find a place to eat with wi-fi. Almost immediately after making that switch this door appeared in front of me.

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Pig and Pie — I love both of those things! The enticing name and cute chalk board menu above the register drew me in — I had to at least see what this place was about, and I’m so very glad I did. (And yes, they do have wi-fi.)

As I approached the counter, I noticed a sign next to the register that indicated that the animals served here were pasture-raised on family farms in Texas, eating the foods they were meant to eat and getting plenty of sunlight.

Score! I made the easy decision to stay for lunch (and the rest of the work day actually).

Next, to decide what to eat…this was a tough call. Check out this amazing menu! I can’t wait to get back here to try the brunch.

PigandPiemenu

I settled on the Allspice Pork Shoulder with brown sugar maple bacon baked beans and frilly mustard greens. I was expecting cooked, southern-style greens, but what came out with the other two gems was a delicate salad of lacy baby mustards with a very light dressing. All three elements of the dish were delicious. The pork was perfectly tender but still plump, and the beans were sweet but not too sweet. Perfect!

PigandPieBraisedPorkShoulder

And the woman who took my order was very sweet too. I was there literally all afternoon and no one bothered me or asked me if I wanted to spend more money for staying there all that time. It was peaceful and awesome.

The two parts of the menu I missed out on for this first trip to Pig and Pie were the beer and the dessert. Mid-day beer and pie just didn’t seem right with all the work I had to do, so I promised myself another visit sometime soon. Check out this drink menu.

PigandPiebeer

I’m especially curious about the Squid Ink India Black Ale and the Nautilus Hibiscus Saison.

All the pies are home-made with the option of ice cream for an additional $2. If memory serves, the day I went, they had apple pie, a grape crisp, and pecan pie. As a Texan, I like to think I know a little something about pecan pie, so I plan on going back for that too. I assume that the pies aren’t gluten-free, although I didn’t ask, but I’m perfectly willing to scrape the filling out of a pecan pie — in fact I think I did it twice in Texas on my last visit.

As an East Bay dweller, I hesitate to go to SF by myself unless I can BART, as the traffic and parking challenges tend to be more than I’m willing to deal with. This restaurant is a 5 to 10 minute walk from 24th St. BART, right on 24th St, and worth every minute of the commute. I was there at lunch, and it wasn’t busy, but with food this good, I imagine the dinner crowd is much larger. Definitely check this place out!

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!

Bulletproof Peppermint Mocha

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So I’m new to this “bulletproof” thing, and I’d hate to use the term incorrectly since I’m not using the beans sold on the Bulletproof Executive’s website, but I really like the concept, so I made my own version of it based on a few different ideas. That was one long sentence!

The main concept comes from the recipe on the Bulletproof site and an instructional video on the Fat Burning Man‘s site, which Abel calls “Fatty coffee.” (I guess “fatty coffee” is to “Bulletproof” as “cotton swab” is to “Q-tip.”)

I’m using really good, organic, fair-trade, small-batch coffee (and mine’s decaf using water extraction), but I haven’t tried the official Upgraded label yet. (I figure if I link to it, they won’t get too mad that I’m using the name for this blog post, and if they do get mad, I’ll rename it. No biggie. 🙂 )

To be honest, there’s so much commentary online that claims that it’s not worth the price, so I have been putting it off. But it’s really not that much more expensive than the coffee I buy, so maybe I’m just too impatient to order it when there’s great coffee walking distance from my house.

I’m still interested though and will probably get some sometime soon just to try it out — if they make decaf. My body just doesn’t do well on fully caffeinated coffee anymore. I start clenching my jaw, getting headaches, and my skin doesn’t like it much either.

So for those of you who don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, let me tell you about this awesome concept.

The whole idea behind bulletproof coffee (or fatty coffee) is to start your day with a healthy dose of saturated fats like those in coconut oil and butter (I use ghee to avoid the lactose and casein in butter). These awesome saturated fats are high in a type of fat called medium-chain fatty acids, or MCTs. MCTs have been shown to improve memory in as little as one dose for

peppermintmocha4those suffering from cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s also great for optimizing brain function in general, as it provides the brain with nutrients it needs to work at the peak level. My recipe uses coconut oil and ghee, but you can purchase pure MCT oil here — I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m told it’s tasteless, so can be added to salad dressings, smoothies, etc. (Yet another example of something I just haven’t made time to purchase online yet. That sentence started and ended with “yet.”)

The recipe for today is a holiday rendition of fatty coffee. I love it because it’s festive for the season, and also because I love love love chocolate peppermint flavored things (as evidenced by the recipe I posted yesterday on my other blog for a Peppermint Bark Smoothie). It makes my morning cup of coffee feel special and fancy, which takes the monotony of the morning routine and spins it into something fun. There’s a life lesson for you.

Bulletproof Peppermint Mocha

(makes 1 large cup of coffee)

You’ll need a bowl that’s big enough for you to whisk or blend your ingredients, or you can just put them in the blender. I use one of these nifty little things.

Ingredients:
  • enough coffee to fill 2/3 of your coffee mug
  • 1 tsp – 1 tbs coconut oil (start small and then start working your way up. If you start with 1 tbs right off the bat, you might have lots of visits to the bathroom)
  • 1 tsp – 1 tbs ghee (I use ghee instead of butter because the lactose and casein in butter bother me, but feel free to try butter if it doesn’t bother you. Just try to get either the butter or the ghee from pastured cows, organic at the very least.)
  • 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk (I like this one because it’s BPA-free and 100% pure with no extra thickeners or additives.)
  • 1/4 tsp peppermint extract (like this)
  • 1 to 1.5 tbs raw cacao (like this)
Optional Ingredients:
  • pinch of stevia or 1/4 tsp pure maple syrup
  • 1 to 2 tbs gelatin (like this)

Put all ingredients into a bowl and whisk or into the blender and blend until frothy. You want to make sure the oil has emulsified into the drink so that you don’t end up with a funky oil slick on the top of the beverage.

Enjoy your delicious Peppermint Mocha on its own for breakfast or with something small like an egg. You’ll feel clear-headed and full of energy as you start your day.

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Black Sesame Cabbage Cups

Poor Loren (my husband) spent his entire 33rd birthday traveling. We started the morning with a drive to the airport, had a layover in LA, arrived at the airport shuttle, which took us to a train, which dropped us at a bus stop so that we could walk 4 blocks home from there.

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Then he got in his car to drive 30 minutes away to take a test for his new certification at work. He didn’t get home until late. What a day! Feeling terrible for him, I decided to make something special for dinner the following evening. And in declaring this week his birthday week, I opened up a nice bottle of wine from our new wine club at Truett Hurst. This 2011 Zinfandel was delicious and the perfect complement to the lamb in our meal.

For dinner, unless we’ve had a particularly grueling day at the gym, I try to keep our meals limited to meat, veggies, and fat, leaving out complex carbs, since it’s so close to bed time and we won’t have time to use them up. When I make dinner this way, the only way Loren will stay full is if I load up on the fats. For this meal, I didn’t drain off the lamb fat before throwing in the veggies, but that’s up to you. I also used high quality palm oil (sustainably harvested), a healthy saturated fat, to sauté the onions before adding in the meat. (This is the palm oil I like.)

As for the black sesame seeds, these little nutrition powerhouses boast a healthy dose of calcium and magnesium, as well as a lot of other valuable trace minerals (check out more at Livestrong.com). I added these in mostly for flavor, but also for the relaxing quality that magnesium can have on our muscles and our minds. The wine helped with that too. 🙂

We’re really lucky to live where we do with access to wonderful farmers’ markets that feature local ranchers selling the meat of happy animals. I say “happy animals” as a tribute to my favorite high school teacher in Houston, TX. She was a lacto ovo vegetarian (not an easy thing to be in Texas back then) who insisted that she only ate eggs from happy chickens, which, at 18, we all thought was equally hilarious and ridiculous.

14 years later, I know what that means — do the animals roam freely? Are they given a diet they were meant to eat? Are they healthy and vibrant? Are they free of hormones and antibiotics? Do they spend time in the sun every day?

This meal is made with ground meat from a happy lamb, and that makes me happy too. It’s full of plenty of healthy fats, as pastured animals have the proper ratio of omega 6 to omega 3s in their body fat (feedlot animals have far too much inflammatory omega 6).

Black Sesame Cabbage Cups

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Ingredients (serves 4)
  • 2 lbs ground lamb
  • 2 tbs red palm oil or ghee for sautéing
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 big bunch of broccolini, chopped
  • 3 small bunches tatsoi or a few fistsful baby spinach
  • 12 large raw leaves green cabbage (for the cups)
  • 1/4 cup black sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp – 1 tbs lemon pepper to taste
  • red pepper flake to taste
  • REAL or sea salt to taste
  • OPTIONAL 1/2 tsp sesame oil (for drizzling)
  • OPTIONAL hard cheese for grating over the top
Directions
  1. Warm your skillet over medium heat
  2. Once hot, add 2 tbs palm oil or ghee
  3. Add in diced onions and let them sweat for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly (you don’t want them to get brown, just translucent. Turn down the fire if you need to to avoid burning them)
  4. Once the onions are translucent, add in ground lamb and the minced garlic
  5. brown the meat completely, allowing the water to evaporate before adding veggies
  6. Add broccolini only, and cook until it softens slightly
  7. Add in salt, spices, and black sesame seeds
  8. Once the broccolini is just about as tender as you like it, add in the tatsoi just to wilt it. You want all the veggies to retain their vibrant green color.
  9. To serve, place 3 large cabbage cups on your plate and fill to the brim with the mixture from the pan. Drizzle a bit of sesame oil and top with your favorite dry cheese (we used Pecorino Romano)

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Kitchen Alchemy: Cran-Strawberry Sorbet

I have to admit, I don’t like cranberry sauce. Every year at Thanksgiving, I try it, and every year I don’t like it. Whether it comes right out of the can or someone offers me a “family recipe” that’s been perfected over the years, it’s just not my favorite thing. But for some reason, when I was wandering through the produce section at Berkeley Bowl, I felt compelled to buy a box of fresh organic cranberries.

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When I brought them home, my husband asked what I’d planned on doing with them. I said maybe I’d make a holiday smoothie, and he laughed, suggesting that I try a raw cranberry before making that commitment. SOUR!!!

I decided that if anyone could make a cranberry sauce that I’d like, it would be me. Even though I’ve never made one before. Even though I had no idea what I was doing.

Because I was doing 4 things at once, and because my heart wasn’t really in it, I threw the cranberries into a pot, filled it with water, turned on the stove, and proceeded with my other kitchen tasks (baking muffins, mixing homemade humus, and making chicken salad out of leftover chicken breasts). As a result of this unplanned process, the recipe will read more like a story. Hopefully it will inspire creativity when something doesn’t go quite right in your kitchen. This post is about a poorly thought out experiment, so the measurements will be very approximate. But my mess of an attempt at cranberry sauce transformed into something delicious! Creamy sorbet!

After about 30 minutes on the stove in a covered pot, my cranberry sauce was a red soup. I uncovered it and let it cook a bit longer and then I gave up and poured it into a glass bowl. I squeezed the juice of 1/2 a lemon in and tasted. SOUR!!! And really really soupy.

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I thought maybe I could add some gelatin and leave it in the fridge over night to see if I could turn it into a “healthy jello” type concoction. The gelatin I use comes from grass-fed cows on pasture and is designed to dissolve in cold water. I’ve only ever used it in smoothies, and only very recently, so I had no idea how much to add and no idea what it would do.  I would guess that I used about 3 or 4 tablespoons.

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I also added in roughly 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/2 a box of my favorite coconut milk (Arroy D).crans2

After dinner the following night, I pulled my bowl out of the fridge, and it was still soup, although it tasted pretty good. After a few soupy spoons a lightbulb went off. Freeze it! I poured what was left in a silicone ice tray and stuck it in the freezer for a while.
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My impatience got the best of me, so I pulled out the ice tray and threw some frozen strawberries (maybe like 10) and about half of the not-quite frozen cubes into the food processor, and voilà!

Cran-Strawberry Sorbet was born!

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I still have the other half of the cranberry coconut gelatin in the freezer. I think when I do this again, it will be a more solid sorbet because the cubes will be completely frozen, but this was definitely delicious, creamy, and refreshing. I’d say that my fresh cranberry purchase turned out to be a success after all!

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