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mashed caul closemashed caul aboveI resisted making these for months because somewhere in the back of my mind an unpleasant relationship with cauliflower lingers in my childhood memories. My mom was an excellent cook overall, but being inventive with vegetables simply wasn’t her thing. If she served cauliflower to us, it was plain and raw or steamed plain.

I’ve been doing lots with roasted cauliflower these days (see Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower and Cauliflower Apple Soup with Truffle Oil and Chopped Chives), but have been reluctant to try much more. I’ve tried the “rice” made from cauliflower, and while it was a decent and much healthier substitute for regular rice, it wasn’t anything worth writing home about.

So I guess I had low expectations when I tried making mashed cauliflower as a great base for meats in sauces and a mashed potato substitute. But no matter–mashed cauliflower is amazingly delicious!! It’s also super easy to make and you get to feel great about eating it because it’s very nutritious and far superior in taste, texture and nutrition to the ol’ white potato. Remember, doctors recommend we eat cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, etc.) 2 to 3 times per week. Cauliflower is an excellent source of Potassium, fiber, Vitamin C and Vitamin B-6.

 

Ingredients

2-3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized head cauliflower, trimmed and broken into florets
1/4 cup coconut milk
3 tbsp butter, ghee or other butter substitute
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
Fresh-ground pepper

 

mashed caul raw

 

Preparation

Preheat a toaster oven or regular oven to 400F. Place the unpeeled garlic cloves in a small heat-proof dish and roast until soft, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring 1/2-inch of water to boil in a medium saucepan. Drop in a steamer basket and add the cauliflower florets. Cover and steam until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain off all the water and place the florets in a food processor or high-powered blender, such as a Vitamix.

Remove the papery skins from the garlic cloves by squeezing them gently and add the cloves to the cauliflower along with the remaining ingredients. Process or blend until smooth.

Serve immediately. Serves 4-6 (just 4 with my family because we fight over every spoonful).

Enjoy!

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BPA bottlesDo you feel like the concerns over BPA have quieted down lately? Perhaps it’s because in July 2012, the FDA banned BPA from the manufacture of infant bottles and sippy cups. However, the FDA’s decision came after manufacturers of infant bottles and sippy cups had voluntarily stopped using the estrogen-mimicking chemical.

 

What exactly is BPA?

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industry chemical widely used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics, which are used by nearly every industry. BPA is released into our environment in excess of 1 million pounds per year. Studies show that humans are mainly exposed through food packaging; think about all those water bottles and nearly every canned item on your kitchen shelf, including beans, tomatoes, soups, etc. Food packaging falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA.

BPA is a reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant and is estrogenic. For these reasons, it’s of particular concern to children’s health and the environment. Studies have linked BPA–a known endocrine disruptor, to diabetes, breast cancer, obesity and hormone abnormalities in children.

The FDA, which originally declined to ban BPA in early 2012, has gone as far as to state on it’s website that the department has “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.”

As a result, the FDA is currently conducting its own studies to better determine the risks of BPA. It also claims to be taking measures to reduce our exposure to BPA in the food supply. Sadly, these measures are only in support of actions the food industry has initiated on it’s own–very likely in response to public outcry. These measures include:

  • Supporting the industry’s decision to stop manufacturing baby bottles and infant feeding cups containing BPA.
  • Supporting the development of alternatives to BPA for the linings of cans of infant formula.
  • Supporting the industry’s efforts to minimize BPA levels or replace BPA in other food can linings.

Also on the FDA’s website: “Consumers can be assured that the FDA supports the strongest regulatory approaches to protect them from risks in the food supply, and will act swiftly to eliminate any individual product, ingredient or chemical that is determined to present a risk to the public health.”

Uh, I think not. If you’ve been following my blog since the beginning, you’ll remember my posting on the pesticide atrazine, another estrogenic chemical which studies show turn male frogs into female frogs and/or make them sterile. The EU banned atrazine in 2006, but the toxic chemical is still widely used in U.S. agricultural practices. (Note: the EU banned BPA from infant bottles in 2011, and is currently re-evaluating its assessment in light of new concerns.) Because the FDA still allows atrazine on our food crops, and because it banned BPA from infant bottles only after the industry had already voluntarily banned it, I have little faith in the FDA, acting “swiftly to eliminate any individual product, ingredient or chemical that is determined to present a risk to the public health.”In addition to being a large, bureaucratic regulatory body (i.e., slow to move and slow to respond), it’s also heavily-influenced by politics (i.e., the pharmaceutical industry, the agricultural lobby, etc.). The FDA’s current assessment is still that “the use of BPA in food packaging and containers is safe.”

Europe takes a much different approach to keeping it’s citizens safe. Since 2007, companies must prove their chemicals are safe, while in the U.S. the burden lies with the EPA. According to a California Senate review from 2010, the EPA has only tested approximately 200 of the 83,000 chemicals in its inventory.

 

Where else are you exposed to BPA?

All those slightly silky-feeling receipts from your favorite retailers and grocers likely contain BPA. A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found significantly higher levels of BPA in the urine of people that regularly handle store receipts (such as cashiers). And in a recent study commissioned by the Bay Area based Center for Environmental Health, a Texas lab found that nearly all of the 18 BPA-free toddler cups it tested leached synthetic estrogens–in some cases, more potent than BPA.

 

BPA receiptsWhat can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones?

  • Use glass or steel water bottles instead of plastic. If you continue to use plastic, make sure it’s BPA-free and avoid exposing it to radiation (microwave) and heat (dishwasher or direct sunlight).
  • Buy less processed, packaged food, including canned. (This step has too many health benefits to enumerate.) Buy your stewed tomatoes or tomato puree in a box carton not a can, unless it’s from one of the handful of companies who have banned BPA from their cans. These include: Native Forest, Eden Organics, Wild Planet, Oregon’s Choice, Eco Fish, Vital Choice and Trader Joe’s.
  • Don’t handle store receipts more than necessary.

Be well!

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cauli sprout closeDoctors recommend we eat cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, etc.) 2 to 3 times per week. I think there may have been an entire decade–possibly in my 20s, during which I didn’t eat (at least knowingly!) any cruciferous vegetables. And I avoided brussels sprouts, in particular, like the plague. They’re one of those vegetables I hated as a kid but can’t eat enough of as an adult. Not only have I discovered many delicious ways of preparing them (unlike the boring method of simply steaming them that my parents did), but I love the fact they’re so good for me. In addition to helping lower cholesterol and protecting DNA, brussels sprouts rank as high as the other superfood, broccoli, for glucosinolates which studies show help prevent cancer.

This dish has become one of my favorite things to eat. And I’ll eat it for lunch or dinner or whenever I’m craving something with tons of flavor.

The original recipe called for the sprouts and cauliflower to be fried. (Who doesn’t love fried food?!) I made the dish  twice that way, but decided to try just roasting the vegetables instead of frying them. Frying can be messy and, well, greasy. While you don’t get quite as much “fried” flavor roasting the vegetables, it’s much easier, and I think the dish is just as good with more of flavor of the brussels sprouts and cauliflower retained.

Serve this dish as a side to roasted meat or a winter vegetable soup like butternut squash or pumpkin.

cauli sprouts chop

Ingredients

1 small head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut/broken into small florets

1 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved or quartered depending on size

3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary

3-4 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp garum fish sauce

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp sea salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

cauli sprout sheet

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 400F or 375F if using a convection oven. Break off the rosemary leaves and combine with the brussels sprouts and cauliflower in a large bowl. Toss with the olive oil. Spread out on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until some of the sprouts get quite brown. You can run the tray under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes if you want your vegetables even crisper.

Scrape the vegetable mixture off the baking sheet back into the large bowl. Season with the salt, fish sauce and lemon juice. Add pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Enjoy!

cauli sprout above2

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I first posted this a little over a year ago, but since I’m still getting inquiries regularly, and since there is a nasty flu circulating across the country (H1N1), here it is again…

People regularly ask for my recommendations for staying healthy during the winter season. I always preface my response with the line: “Well, I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, but here’s what I do to keep bugs at bay.” Due to some combination of luck, genetics, careful measures and healthy eating, I rarely get sick, and when I do, it’s typically very mild–a runny or stuffy nose for a few days and maybe an annoying tickly cough from the post-nasal drip. I get a bad cold every 5-7 years, usually after allowing myself to get run down, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve had the flu. (I’m touching wood here!!)

Give your body’s natural immunity a fighting chance by going light on the sugar–just 1 teaspoon of sugar can significantly suppress your immune system (see Sugar: How Much Is Too Much). Wash hands often, and get plenty of sleep are the other two mantras of winter bug avoidance strategies. But if you want to “buy” a little extra insurance, these are my recommendations.*

Vitamin C: Take 500 mg once or twice per day. The RDA is about 70 mg, but most of the studies showing the benefits of Vitamin C usage–from preventing eye disease to protection against cardiovascular disease, used at least a 500 mg daily dose. If you have a sensitive stomach, consider taking a non-acidic, buffered option.

Vitamins D3: Take at least 800 IU but up to 2,000 IU per day (The RDA is 800 IU, but there is much discussion about increasing this amount. See Vitamin D: Why Are We Hearing More About It.) I like the liquid version from Source Naturals.

Elderberry extract: I take this (according to instructions) whenever I feel rundown, had a bad night of sleep or know that one of my little ones is coming down with something. It’s an herbal immunity booster. It’s also known as Sambucus and comes in many different forms. I like the liquid extract from Herb Pharm because it’s alcohol-free and doesn’t have added sweeteners like many of the “syrups” do.

Astragalus: I take capsules of this herb (according to instructions) as a preventative measure all through the winter season.

Omega 3: Take 1000+ mg every day all year long for overall health and inflammation reduction.

Echinacea extract: This herb is often combined with Goldenseal, and is most effective when taken at the onset of a cold. It can be taken throughout the day, but formulations containing Goldenseal should not be used by pregnant women.

Zinc: I take this in combination with Selenium to shorten the severity and duration of a cold. In addition to fighting colds, zinc has been used to prevent recurrent ear infections and lower respiratory infections.

I also try to incorporate fresh citrus fruits into beverages and food for the extra Vitamin C and bioflavonoids they provide. Honey made locally by local bees is believed to help with seasonal allergies, which only serve to aggravate cold and flu symptoms. Try a non-caffeinated herbal tea with a teaspoon of honey and half a squeezed lemon added in.

Best wishes for a healthy winter season!

*While I have used these products and amounts for years, it is always prudent to check with a health care professional before starting a new vitamin or herb program, particularly if you are taking any medications or have any allergies.

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crackers aboveI’ve been thinking of giving up grains for 30 days to see if I experience any significant changes in my health. Mind you, I feel pretty darn healthy most of the time, but there are those minor, in some cases–frequent annoyances. For example, the inside of my nose is often wet in the mornings. It’s usually not enough to bother blowing, but I can feel it, and it’s definitely annoying. I also have scalp psoriasis, which I’ve had since my mid-20s. You usually can’t see it, but I can almost always feel it. To both issues, my doctor says it’s likely a very low-grade allergic response to something I eat regularly. But what? I did the food sensitivity testing and that didn’t reveal the culprit. A while ago, I gave up dairy for two months, and that didn’t help. I went gluten-free for several months, and that didn’t do anything (although I noticed the skin on the back of my upper arms became incredibly smooth). So maybe it’s grains–not particularly gluten.

I’ve been reading Chris Kresser’s Your Personal Paleo Code. His logic is compelling, and the people I know that have gone grain-free lost their “wet noses.”

Of course, I’m not one of those people who simply dive into things, and it’s hard for me to imagine giving up all dairy, grains and sugar for 30 days! First, I need to research the proposed change and test it out to see if I think I can really handle it. So along those lines, I’ve been making all sorts of dairy-free and grain-free dishes–many of which you’ll see soon on this website.

When I gave up gluten I turned to corn–NOT a great alternative since it’s one of the oldest genetically-modified crops in the world (certainly here in the United States). But I love cornbread and I love guacamole and salsa, so corn serves me well in that regard. But what happens when corn and rice are also off the menu? I’m a snacker and still require something crunchy I can reach for during the mid-afternoons.

As part of experimenting with Paleo, I bought Against All Grain by the best-selling author and blogger, Danielle Walker. She realized early on that people can’t survive on meat and vegetables alone (emotionally, not physically), so her book contains all sorts of snacks and desserts as well as salads and meat dishes.

I tried her grain-free Raisin-Rosemary Crackers and loved them! They are super easy to whip up, and contain a nice balance of sweet, salty and crunchy. I only modified the recipe ever so slightly in ingredients and instruction.

Ingredients

1 cup blanched almond flour/meal (I use Bob’s Redmill)

2 tbsp raisins

2 tbsp cold water

1 tbsp plus 1 tsp raw sunflower seeds, divided

1 tbsp fresh rosemary

1 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp sea salt

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350F.

If you have a regular-size food processor, put all the ingredients except the 1 tsp sunflower seeds in the processor. Process for 15 seconds, or until the ingredients are well mixed and the raisins and rosemary leaves are chopped into small bits. If you don’t have a regular-size food processor, like me, and have to rely on a mini-processor (like my mini Krups), put in all the ingredients except the almond flour and process until the raisins and rosemary leaves are chopped into bits. Then add the “flour” and process until the dough comes together (several 2-second pulses on my machine).

cracker mixForm the dough into a squarish shape and roll between two pieces of parchment paper until you have a 1/8-inch thick rectangular shape.

cracker rolled outRemove the top sheet of parchment. Use a sharp flat-edged knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into 1-inch x 2-inch rectangles. Save the end bits to re-roll in the first piece of parchment to make more crackers.

crackers cutCarefully transfer the parchment paper to a baking sheet. You can bake as is, or carefully separate the crackers from one another. I find they bake better when they’re separated.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, rotating the pan once, until the crackers are golden and browning slightly on the edges.

Cool completely before serving. Serve with dairy-free “cream cheese” or a piece of prosciutto.

Happy snacking!

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prawn veg polenta aboveWhen I traveled through my no-gluten phase (which ended abruptly when my food sensitivity test suggested I can handle gluten perfectly well), I was in constant search for starch substitutes. I believe we need some, and unless you are dieting to lose weight, there’s no reason not to eat them. They’re filling and satisfying in so many ways.

Rice seems to be the number one choice for gluten-free eaters, but there’s so little nutritional value, that it’s usually my choice of last resort–unless, of course, I’m cooking an Indian dish which is nearly always best over rice. So that leaves potatoes and corn. I have a natural aversion to potatoes because I feel you need to use a lot of fat (e.g., butter, ghee, olive oil, etc.) and salt to make them tasty and give them a desirable texture (e.g., roasted, fried, etc.). Corn, on the other hand, has a natural sweetness and a unique texture and can be used in countless ways.

Polenta is perhaps the best and easiest base for any number of meats and/or vegetables. It whips up in about 20 minutes and can be molded or served soft and creamy. And you can make it soft and creamy without adding any “cream” (milk or cheese, that is). Grilled or pan-roasted fish or meats go perfectly with polenta. If you’re vegetarian, any combination of grilled or roasted vegetables make a great companion to polenta. You can also serve marinara sauce over polenta if you’re avoiding pasta.

And corn is surprisingly nutritious! Just one cup provides an impressive 16 grams of protein. Corn is also an excellent source of iron, magnesium and Vitamin B-6. (Note: 1 cup of corn also has 600 calories, so don’t indulge too often if you’re calorie counting.)

When I haven’t been able to make it to the store, I can grill or saute whatever bits are left in my fridge and serve it over polenta for a perfectly satisfying dish.

You can make this dish with prawns, mushrooms and spinach in less than 30 minutes. The only real skill required is the ability to multi-task, as you will need to monitor three burners simultaneously. It’s really not hard (I’m speaking mainly to some men here), since the polenta just does its thing with only a little stirring, and the mushrooms are pretty self sufficient, too.

prawn veg polenta closeIngredients

6 cups filtered water or 4 cups water and 2 cups milk (regular or coconut)

1 1/2 cups polenta

1 lb crimini or other mushroom

1/4 cup dry white wine*

3/4 lb prawns, shelled with tails left on and deveined

1 lb baby spinach

2-3 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, finely minced

sea salt

fresh-ground pepper

pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

pinch of parmesan cheese (optional)

Preparation

In a large saucepan, bring 6 cups of water (or water/milk combination) and 1/2 tsp salt to simmer over high heat.

In the meantime, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a cast-iron or other saute pan over medium heat. Add in the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes taking care not to let the garlic burn. Add in the mushrooms, white wine*, and 1/4 tsp free-ground pepper (and red pepper if you’re using it), and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften and slightly brown, about 15 minutes.

Once the water simmers, reduce the heat to low and slowly pour in the polenta, stirring constantly. Allow the mixture to cook on a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. Your polenta should be very thick and creamy and take effort to stir.

When the mushrooms are close to done, heat another cast-iron or saute pan over medium-high heat. Pour in 1 tbsp olive oil and swirl to coat the entire bottom of the pan. Add the prawns to the pan in a single layer. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt, and cook for approximately 2-3 minutes on each side or until opaque.

When the mushrooms are done, put them in a bowl and keep warm. Using the same pan, toss in the spinach and cook until just wilted, about 5-7 minutes depending on the size of your pan.

On plates or in wide pasta bowls, serve up a good-sized dollop of polenta. Top with spinach, mushrooms and prawns. Top with fresh-grated parmesan if you’d like.

*Omit if you’re using coconut milk in the polenta.

Vegetarian? Skip the prawns. The dish still gives you a hefty amount of protein.

Vegan? Skip the parmesan and use coconut milk in place of half the water to make the polenta creamier.

Enjoy!

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We are a family of four, and three out of the four of us have become kombucha addicts. It’s supposed to be good for you–good for your gut, that is, which means good for your whole body. However, several months into this addiction, I saw a big jump in my grocery bills as a result. At roughly $4 a pop, those 8 oz bottles were beginning to take a larger than acceptable portion of our whole paycheck.

I know lots of people make their own kombucha, so I figured I’d join the movement. However, just about that time, I drank a larger-than-average-sized bottle (12 oz) of kombucha, and got a very upset tummy. My tummy wasn’t just a little gurgly, it was downright knotted up and in pain! (And as luck would have it, this happened the same day one of my dearest friends flew in from NYC, and we had a reservation at one of my favorite wine country eateries– Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch.) Had I been the only one to drink a “bad” bottle kombucha, I would have shrugged it off. But as things stand, I know several people who have experienced a very rough day (and night!) or two due to a bottle gone bad.

water kefirSo that was the end of my relationship with kombucha…. Well, sort of. I was determined to find a probiotic drink, and I’m not a fan of regular probiotic drinks, such as kefir, since they’re made with dairy and incredibly high in calories.

By chance, I had recently read about water kefir. It was marketed as a delicious, lightly-carbonated drink rich in probiotics, and since it didn’t carry any of the bad baggage I had with kombucha, I decided it would be my fermented drink of choice. (In all honesty, water kefir is remarkably similar to kombucha.)

I ordered my water kefir grains from Cultures for Health, the same company from which I got my yogurt starter. Through CFH, you’ll initially spend $16.99 for the grains plus shipping, but then settle in to a joyous period of spending just pennies for quart after quart of water kefir. Once activated, the grains can be used indefinitely!

Water kefir grains after rehydration

Water kefir grains after rehydration

It takes me 5 minutes–read: 5 minutes–to prep two quarts of water kefir, after which, you let the grains work their magic for 48-72 hours. Then voila! You have a lightly-carbonated, refreshing drink that’s delicious as is or flavored any number of ways. (I added fresh-squeezed lemon juice to the first few batches, which made the water kefir taste just like an Arnold Palmer, but now I love it best just plain.) Two quarts lasts us several days, which is how long I ferment my water kefir, so I always have one glass jar in fermentation, and one in the fridge for drinking.

But was it too early to start rejoicing? During a recent excursion to Whole Foods, I happened to overhear an employee lamenting the high sugar content–28 grams(!!), of a particular brand of kombucha (which I won’t name here because if you’re a kombucha drinker and you’re reading this post, I’m betting you’ll take 10 seconds to look at the “nutrition label” next time you reach for a bottle). Due to my nature, I panicked and contacted CFH the second I got home, asking the sugar content of water kefir.

CFH said, “About 80% of the sugar you use in kefir will be converted to glucose, which is used by the grains for nutrition and reproduction, leaving about 20% by volume of fructose. The fructose will continue to ferment and reduce. So if you start out with about 200 calories of sugar (about 1/4 cup) per quart, you’ll end up with about 40 calories of fructose after two days.”

They cautioned that this is a very rough estimate with many variables. However, considering I let mine ferment for three days, I can safely assume there is less than 2 grams of sugar per 8 oz. Whew!

In case you decide to make your own–I really can’t stress how easy and incredibly economical it is, you might like to know that I use 1/4 cup evaporated cane juice crystals and 1/4 cup sucanat per 2 quarts of water.

To happy tummies everywhere!

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