Bacteria, and more bacteria!

Did anyone hear the report on NPR earlier this week about bacteria?  It was great!  It was an update on an earlier report about bacteria and the immune system.  The first report talked about children and pacifiers and how the children whose parents picked up the pacifier when it dropped on the ground and put it in their mouth before giving it back to the child developed fewer allergies. I thought that it was a great report.  A few days ago they did a follow up about the important role of bacteria in the body and how they continue to learn more everyday about the role that bacteria actually plays inside of us. It was saying how years ago they thought all bacteria was bad. Now they realize that there is bacteria on every square inch of our body inside and out.  They think that some bacteria even may produce their own versions of antibiotics.  So why am I telling you this? When I was listening to the report, it made me think about the good bacteria that is found in the gut and how for many years there has been talk about overall health being linked to the health of the gut. It made me think about the ALCAT testing and the dietary plan that we are following and how glad I am that I am working on my health through my intestinal tract.

I have been mentioning ALCAT on and off in this blog and thought it was appropriate to mention it again.  The test that we did was looking at foods and their link to inflammation in the body.  There has been speculation for years about “leaky” gut syndrome and it’s role in allergies and other digestive issues. However, since using this testing for myself, my family, and clients, I have seen the direct link between food and all sorts of inflammatory reactions.  Joint pain anyone? Insomnia? Chronic sinus congestion? Knee pain? Fatigue? Constipation? Chronic stomach distress? Frequent urination? Depression?  All of these symptoms and more have been helped by changing our diet according to the results of the test.  Foods that you would think are supposed to decrease inflammation were found to increase inflammation in multiple clients.  How often have you been told to use ginger, turmeric, or garlic and to eat lots of leafy green vegetables?  As a nutritionist I feel it almost a disservice now to give advice that is not individualized for each person. We are all unique and what works for one person does not always work for another. I am learning and growing so much this year and am enjoying being challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone. (Okay, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration but it is certainly making me a better practitioner.)

No, insurance does not cover this test and yes, there are plenty of people who can’t afford to take it.  Is it going to cure all of your ailments? No!  Is it going to help heal your gut so that your body can function like it should? I am seeing the results now, so I am voting Yes!

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Calling all Gardeners

I love to be in the kitchen experimenting with different recipes, but my other love is being outside in the gardens. I have been trying to plant a garden for the past 4 or 5 years. I have a very shady property which makes it very difficult to grow vegetables, but I keep trying anyway! I am pleasantly surprised that this year my garden is actually growing! The moon, the planets and the stars must have all lined up perfectly this year!

gardenThis is my one garden.  Look how green everything is!  I have been eating onions from last year, lettuce, spinach and peas so far.  I also have a lot of squash growing – plus I had a volunteer grow out of the compost pile.

compost pileI had no idea what kind of squash it was until I finally saw one growing amongst the weeds!

squashLooks like a butternut squash variety.  One of my favorites!

Last year when my garden wasn’t growing well, I asked my husband if we could make another garden on the side of the house where a tree was taken down. I thought maybe it would be a sunnier location for some of the vegetables.  Not much grew in that space last year, but this year…

garden2I have a lot of beets and beet greens.  We ate some of the greens but none of the actual beets are quite ready.  I have more lettuce that I just picked today and in that big mass of leaves there is one yellow squash growing.  I hope that the other plants will soon produce zucchini  but you never know.  They look healthy though!  On the far side of the garden I have a lot a different squashes growing.  I was looking the other day at one of the plants that I  thought was a cantaloupe plant.  That is what I planted.  Well, it isn’t.  It’s cucumbers!  I have several of those popping out on the vine as well.

You can’t see it, but on the other side of the squash I have strawberry plants.  They did great in the spring.  Every morning my husband would go outside and bring at least 10-15 in each time.  There is nothing as sweet as the strawberries that you pick and then eat!  I also really wanted to grow raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.

blackberriesThe blueberries are not liking the soil so I just amended it with some nice organic acid fertilizer and put pine bark around them so hopefully next year we will be eating blueberries.  The raspberries are not so great either – I think we ate 2 and the birds got the rest.  The blackberries have flowers and fruit but you have to time it just right or the birds get them before we do.  That’s ok, I don’t mind sharing.  I did give my daughter one blackberry that was about an inch long and she said it was the best she ever tasted!

As you gardeners know, gardening takes up a lot of your free time.  In february, I swore I was not even going to plant anything.  Well, you can see where that got me.  I just couldn’t resist.  My husband laughs every time we eat anything out of the garden and jokes about my million dollar vegetables, but I don’t care.  I just love to see it growing in my yard!

All you gardeners certainly know just how I feel.  There is nothing fresher than walking outside, picking what you want for dinner and then preparing it in whatever way you want!  There is really nothing quite like it.  So, if you see me next February and I tell you that this year I am not planting a garden, check back with me in July and see what sprang out of the earth!  Happy Planting!

Kitchen Experiments – Buckwheat Crepes

Here is a great recipe for a gluten-free crepe made with buckwheat flour!  I have been grinding the raw buckwheat groats into flour instead of using the pre-packaged flour.  I find the flour that is already ground has a very strong buckwheat taste.  The raw groats are a lot more mild. I have been eating the crepes like a tortilla with hummus or nut butter.  The first night I made them, I served them with fresh strawberries; that was delicious.

I keep trying to find different food ideas that are easy to make and then easy to freeze.  I save the paper wrap and plastic packaging from the rice tortillas that I buy and then package the crepes between the paper and put it in the plastic bag and then place it all right in the freezer. The paper makes it very easy to defrost just the right amount of crepes that you need.  They do not stick together and freeze beautifully.  See what fun recipe you can create using these lovely, light crepes! Bon Appetit!

crepes

Gluten-free Crepes

1 ¼ cup almond milk

4 Tbs. arrowroot powder

1/2 cup water

2 Tbs. melted ghee

1 cup buckwheat flour

1/2 tsp. xanthan gum

½ tsp. salt

In a medium bowl, combine the buckwheat flour, arrowroot powder, xanthan gum and salt.  In a small bowl, mix the almond milk, water and butter together and slowly whisk into the flour mixture.  Make sure that the batter is not lumpy.  You want a nice thin batter than will easily swirl in the pan.  If it seems to thick, add some more water or milk.

To cook the crepes: set a large cast-iron skillet over low heat. Slowly, bring it up to medium heat. Spray the skillet with cooking spray. Swirl in some of the crêpe batter (about 2 ounces, if you want to measure it). Tilt the skillet back and forth until the batter covers the entire surface. When the edges are set and starting to curl up from the pan, about 30 seconds to 1 minute, run a metal spatula under all the edges of the crêpe. Flip the crêpe. Cook for 30 seconds then turn the crêpe out onto a cutting board or plate.

Repeat with the remaining crêpe batter.

1/8 tsp. baking powder

Kitchen Experiment – Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pecan Bread

Have you ever been really excited to find a recipe that you just knew was going to be delicious? Well, this was one of those recipes. I can never follow a recipe without making some slight changes but since doing the Alcat diet, I have no choice but to make substitutions when needed. The problem of late is that I am often not just making one recipe but several all at once because when I am “in” the kitchen, I am “in” for hours.  So, I had some frozen pumpkin from last fall and decided I should use up.  Here is the recipe that I followed…

1/2 c. non-hydrogenated margarine, Earth Balance or another similar brand

1/2 c. agave nectar

1/4 c. date sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/3 c. pumpkin puree

1 tsp. orange flavor

1 1/2 c. oat flour

1 tsp. baking powder

2 Tbs. arrowroot powder

1 tsp. xanthan gum

1/2 tsp. cloves

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. sea salt

3/4 c. pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare baking pan with non-baking spray.

In a large bowl, cream the butter, agave, date sugar, eggs, pumpkin and orange flavor.

In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, spices, sea salt and pecans.

Fold wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Transfer mixture to the prepared loaf pan.

Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

 

So, I followed the directions, made my substitutions, was careful to write down the changes that I made and stuck it in the oven and moved on to the next recipe I was making.  About 10 minutes later, all of a sudden I realized I forgot to add the baking powder!! Oh no, too late to take it out and change it, so I had to just let it cook.  Here it is…

pumpkin oat breadSo, as you can see, it is a little flat!  Oh well, the flavor is delicious!  I can’t wait to make it again with the baking powder!

 

Kitchen Experiments – Millet “Pizza” with Greens

Growing up in an Italian household, my Mom would make something that she called polenta pizza.  I am not sure why they called it pizza but it must have something to do with the italian word for pizza because pizza it was not!  It was more like a thick polenta with a delicious crust on the outside and a firm center.  She always made it with minestra which is basically greens and beans.  In recent years she has made it when my uncle would come to visit as a bread substitute since he has celiac and can’t eat wheat or gluten. As a kid, I did not like the greens and beans but I loved the polenta pizza.  We would eat it with maple syrup making it more like a dessert.

Since doing the ALCAT plan, I have not been able to have corn, cornmeal or polenta but I can have millet, which when ground is pretty similar to cornmeal. So I decided to give millet pizza a try.  What I love about this pizza is the crusty exterior!  It is very simple to make and yet versatile and delicious.  My family and I still love it smothered with real maple syrup.

millet pizzaTo make the pizza, you need to have a cast iron skillet.  Well, maybe not need, but I think the crust is best when cooked in a cast iron skillet.  Basically you make a thick polenta or millet by cooking 1 cup ground millet or cornmeal with 2 cups water.  Spray or grease your cast iron skillet with olive oil and then spread the millet or polenta in the skillet and spray or grease the top of the mixture as well.  Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 35 – 45 minutes, then flip the pizza to crust up the other side. Bake for an additional 20-30 minutes.  I found the cooking time to be a little less with the millet than with the polenta.  Serve warm!

When I made it the other night for dinner, I sautéed escarole with some sun-dried tomatoes and butternut squash and then added cannellini beans and served it on the side with the millet pizza.  It was delicious.

millet and greensFor dessert we had millet pizza with maple syrup!  It brought back some good childhood memories.  Enjoy!

Kitchen Experiments – Gluten-Free Chocolate Joe Cake

Gluten-Free Chocolate Joe Cake

Did you ever find a recipe that is your go-to recipe whenever you need to make something that you are sure everyone will love?  I have and it is delicious!  I know you may be skeptical since right there in the title it says gluten-free and you have never eaten a truly delicious gluten-free cake before, but I am sure that this cake is going to change your mind!  I have made this cake every Valentine’s day in heart-shaped pans for about 7 years now and I think that if I did not make it my husband would be quite upset!  He recently informed me that I should not mess with this cake because it is close to perfection.  He could probably sit and eat the whole thing if I let him. He did not like the cocoa nibs addition and preferred the smooth texture of the cake, so you can decide if you would prefer not to have anything crunchy in your cake. This is a great recipe to bring to a potluck or picnic as it translates quite nicely into cupcakes or a Bundt cake (either sprinkled with powdered sugar or drizzled with the frosting).

The other surprising thing that you may notice about this cake is that not only is it gluten-free but it is egg and dairy free as well.  OK, now I know you are thinking this lady must not remember what a good cake tastes like but really I assure you that you are going to love it as much as I do.  If you do not know anyone that is gluten-free or you really do not want to go to the trouble of finding gluten-free flour, then you can make this cake with regular unbleached all-purpose flour, just omit the xanthan gum.  If you cannot find the Fearn Brown Rice baking mix, you can use any other gluten-free flour mix, but this is my favorite! Often these mixes already have baking powder in them, but I don’t trust them so I always add the extra.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Joe Cake

1 ½ c. Fearn Brown Rice Baking Mix

¾ c. Cocoa

1 Tbs. Baking Powder

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1 ½ tsp. Xanthan Gum

1/4 c. Cocoa nibs (Optional)

 

½ c. Prunes, soaked in 1 cup strong, hot coffee for 30 minutes

2 Tbs. flaxseeds, ground

½ c. Water

 

6 oz. Silken Tofu

½ c. Brown Rice Syrup

½ c. Maple Syrup

1 Tbs. Almond Oil (or any Vegetable or Nut Oil)

2 tsp. Vanilla

 

Frosting

1 c. Semisweet Chocolate Chips

6 oz. Silken Tofu

 

Preheat oven to 350oF. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and coat with flour, tapping out excess flour. (Use a Bundt or cupcake pan greased with non-stick spray.)

In a large bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa nibs (optional).

cocoa nibs

In a food processor or blender, grind flaxseeds to a fine powder. Add ½ cup water and process until thick and frothy, about 30 seconds.  Add prunes and the coffee they were soaking in, tofu, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, oil and vanilla, and process until smooth.

Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix thoroughly blending until thick.  With gluten-free baking you need to make sure you activate the xanthan gum and the texture of the batter will be much thicker than you are used to with regular flour.  If you are not using gluten-free flour, blend until smooth and then stop.  Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and smooth out the top.

batter

Bake until cakes spring back when lightly pressed, 20-25 minutes.  Cook cakes in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes; then invert onto wire racks, remove pans and cool completely.

cake pans

Make frosting: In top of double-boiler set over simmering (not boiling) water, melt chocolate, stirring until smooth. Remove from water and set aside.

In food processor or blender, blend tofu until smooth. Add melted chocolate and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until chilled. This is more like a ganache then a frosting.

frosting

 

To frost cake, spread about ½ cup frosting over top of one layer. Cover with second layer and spread top and sides with remaining frosting.

frosted cake

Cut into wedges and serve.

piece