29 September 2014

Liebster Award

Recently, Laura at Incredibly Edible generously nominated me for the Liebster Award. It was such a pleasant surprise and so nice to get the recognition, especially coming from a like-minded blogger. Thank you, Laura!

On her blog, Laura's passion for "natural, unprocessed, nutrient dense - as nature intended- ingredients" shows in her diverse collection of whole foods recipes. As Laura and other bloggers can relate, we blog because we enjoy it, because some part of it aligns with our passion. But we don't always know who the blog reaches and how it impacts those who read it. So it is always nice to feel the support from our readers and other bloggers. And this is what the Liebster Award is all about. It's not competitive in a traditional sense, rather it provides an opportunity for bloggers to recognize and show appreciation for each other's work.

The Liebster Award rules ask that I do the following:
  1. Thank the blogger who nominated me and link to their blog + display the award badge.
  1. Answer 11 questions provided by the blogger who nominated me
  1. List 11 random facts about myself
  1. Nominate 11 bloggers (I tweaked this rule)
  2. Pose 11 questions to said nominees
  3. Go to each nominee’s blog and notify them of their nomination.

Questions

What is your most favourite blog to follow and why?

The food I make everyday and share on the blog is inspired by many things; local, seasonal produce, the weather, and our travels. But I am also endlessly intrigued by how others think about and transform whole, plant-based food into accessible, delicious, and unpretentious meals. While my longest standing favorites (and ones you may also know: 101 Cookbooks, Green Kitchen Stories, and My New Roots) will always be reliable standbys that I'll never tire of, I equally enjoy following and cooking from Amy's Coconut and Quinoa and Elenore's Petite Kitchen. Their blogs are inspired, creative, and authentic - they never try to be anyone but themselves. And their recipes are magical.

How long have you been blogging for? 

I have been blogging for a little less than two years. At the beginning I didn't know how I would feel at this point, but I am happy to say that I enjoy it more and more each day and it never gets old. Blogging is creative work, and seeing a vision come to fruition, working through a food project from start to finish, is very satisfying. But even more satisfying is connecting with my readers and hearing how the recipes have been a source of inspiration for them and have made their mealtime more enjoyable.

What time of day do you write the best content for your blog?

I wish my whole day could be one long morning. Does that answer your question?! This is when the world is calm and peaceful, I have the most energy and clarity, and I feel the most inspired. 

What would be the first thing you would do if you won a million dollars?

Um, probably invest it. Boring, I know. But I believe that investing money allows me to feel the freedom to continue pursuing my dreams.

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

Ha, good question. If you're asking where we'll be living, I don't have an answer but that's fine with me. It's kind of fun not knowing exactly how things will unfold in the future. But I think the dream job response below will answer the rest of this question.

Which book would you encourage others to read?

I love to read and I read a variety of genres: memoirs, novels, historical fiction and anything to do with wellness.

So sticking with the theme of wellness, for anyone interested in mindfulness as it relates to our decisions about what to eat and how we eat, I would highly recommend In Defense of Food and The Yoga of Eating.

For adventure and an escape into other people's lives I really enjoyed Buried in the Sky and The Paris Wife.

What is the most treasured item you own and why? 

It would have to be all the pictures my husband has put into photo books that capture memories with family and friends. After that it would be a few special pieces of jewelry from my husband, mom, grandmother, and dad.

Where were you born?

New Mexico

What's your dream job?

They say "find work that you love or find a way to love your work." It has taken me a good 6 years to decide it was the right time to pursue, but I am now finishing my training to become a certified Holistic Health Coach where I'll help women make diet and lifestyle changes to reach their wellness goals. I've always wanted to do work that empowers women; in spite of our many responsibilities as women, I want women to know that we can choose to lead a more balanced, healthy, and mindful lifestyle and it's our right to feel content with ourselves, our bodies, and our health.

Tea or coffee? 

Tea - preferably rooibos, mint, or herbal and spice blends with sweet, spicy, and citrus notes. I am very sensitive to caffeine, so other than the caffeine I get through chocolate I generally avoid it.

Sweet or savoury?

Does sweet trump savory since I like to finish meals with something sweet and I'll choose a sweet breakfast or snack over a savory one?!

11 Random Facts About Me

  1. I learned to drive stick in South Africa at age 26, so I'm more comfortable driving stick on the right side of the car.
  2. I can only hear out of my left ear, I was born this way. I've never seen it as a handicap but my husband likes to use it as an excuse to get that perfect table at restaurants. ;-)
  3. Because of # 2 I am generally more comfortable being a passenger than the driver (assuming there are others in the car), unless of course we're driving on the left hand side of the road.
  4. I love, love dancing - Salsa dancing, to be exact
  5. Meditation, yoga (or exercise in nature), and a smoothie bowl or warm quinoa porridge (depending on the season) is the perfect way to start my day
  1. I am a dog lover - Starr was our black and white pit/lab mix for four years and now we are the chosen second home for our friends' fur child, Miss Leila.
  1. I am a Facebook holdout (at least for a personal page). Obviously most of my friends are on Facebook but it's simply not me. 
  1. My husband and I met studying abroad in Argentina
  1. I am in love with the skincare line, Just the Goods. Check out my interview with Milena, the founder.
  1. One of the best choices I've made for myself in the past few years is switching over to Just the Goods. When it comes to our well-being and consumerism I believe we shouldn't passively "buy into" the way things are. Our desired changes start with proactive choices to educate ourselves and shop around.
  1. Thai massages are my nirvana - it's a shame our society associates self-care with selfishness and self-indulgence. 

Blog Nominations

Sarah - Highgate Hill Kitchen - fantastically flavorful everyday  meals inspired by seasonal, unprocessed whole foods; she has a knack for pairing classic flavors in original ways.

Lyndsey - Lyndsey Loves Food- a Registered Holistic Nutritionist who says "when we love food it will love us back"; her belief in moderation and not taking food too seriously shows up in her delicious and fun recipes.

Chelsea - The Naked Fig  - a fellow certified Holistic Health Coach and yoga instructor with gorgeously photographed and freshly creative , whole, plant-based recipes.

Teri - Nourished Kitchen - a Certified Holistic Nutritionist who offers doable whole foods recipes for the whole  family and wellness tips to live by.

Kristie - Birch and Wild - uniquely nourishing recipes from a whole foods chef with a passion for natural health and organic agriculture.

Ksenia - At the Immigrant's Table - a heartfelt allergy-conscious recipe journal capturing her family's migrant history from the former USSR, Israel, then Canada.

Izzy - She Loves Food - plant-based recipes that are naturally gluten-free (you'll never miss it here!) and often with a fantastic Mexican/Southwestern flair.

Nominee Questions

  1. What is your favorite food movie?
  2. What can always be found in your fridge?
  3. What are your non-negotiables when it comes to food?
  1. Has blogging helped you learn anything new about yourself?
  1. Blogging is creative work. Some people argue creativity is artfully bringing together seemingly disparate ideas to make a dish while others say it's about creating something new. What does creativity in the kitchen/on the blog mean to you?
  1. What is one thing most people don't know about you?
  1. What on your life bucket list are you determined to make happen?
  1. What cookbook do you cook from the most?
  1. What is your favorite go-to quick dinner?
  1. How do you like to start your mornings?
  1. What is your most nourishing daily habit?


**Announcement**
In other news, I have been collaborating with a few fellow bloggers behind the scenes to bring you a fun but also very useful Cooking for One week-long series. This series kicks off here on the blog next Sunday, October 5th, at which time I'll share the details and line-up of participating bloggers who will also be contributing recipes. So check back on Sunday, you won't want to miss this!!

21 September 2014

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

In my last post, I mentioned that no matter what "diet" each of us subscribes to, we should all be adding more anti-inflammatory foods to our daily meals. Here I am explaining why and calling on one simple action step we can all take today to get started. 

Why Is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Important?

Anti-inflammatory foods combat our all too common pro-inflammatory diet and lifestyle. A diet high in processed, highly refined foods and vegetables oils, fast food, over consumption of meat and dairy and too little fresh fruits and vegetables are upsetting our body's equilibrium and innate ability to control inflammation1. The acute inflammatory response to heal is healthy and necessary. But we run into problems when inflammation sticks around. Lifestyle factors such as how we deal with stress, too little exercise, and over-reliance on over-the-counter medicine and prescriptions such as steroids exacerbate the situation.

The result is a chronic, low level of inflammation in our body which is believed to accelerate the aging process and be at the root of many ailments ranging from fatigue and migraines to irritable bowel, eczema, auto-immune conditions, and heart disease. Dr. Mark Hyman, an American physician, chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine and author of several noteworthy books, goes as far as saying an anti-inflammatory diet is the one diet that can cure disease2.

"Our choices in food can turn on or off our body's inflammatory response."

The state of our healthcare system is one of disease management, and the sad fact is that many of these life-threatening diseases such as obesity, Type II diabetes, and heart disease are lifestyle related. However, that also means we can do something about it, if we really want to. Our choices in food can turn on or off our body's inflammatory responses, and incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods into our daily diet is the switch that allows us to turn the response off.

What Is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

  1. The base consists of a variety of fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats (use Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory pyramid below as a guide)
  2. Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids (flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, salmon, fish oil, etc.)
  3. Foods rich in polyphenols (the chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their color)

Anti-Inflammatory Food List 1,3
Here is a non-comprehensive list of foods to start you off with. 
  • Berries
  • Black cod
  • Broccoli
  • Bok Choy
  • Carob
  • Chia seeds
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Flax seeds (freshly ground)
  • Ginger
  • Green tea
  • Papaya
  • Sweet potato
  • Turmeric
  • Walnuts
  • Wild Alaskan salmon

Action Step: Take a look at the anti-inflammatory food list and pyramid above. What foods here do you like? How can you easily incorporate just one of them into your diet today? Work your way up to adding at least one of these foods into your diet each day.

Resources
1. P. Pitchford. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, 3rd edition.California: North Atlantic Books, 2002.

16 September 2014

Carob Fig Superfood Smoothie


Fresh figs are one of my top three favorite fruits, so I had to laugh when I realized there are no fig recipes on the blog. I grew up eating them off of the tree in my grandmother's backyard, checking on the tree every so often for weeks in advance anticipating their ripening and hoping we'd get to them before the birds did. These plump deeply purple-brown jewels, when perfectly sun-ripened have a unique earthy, berry-citrus flavor and I love to eat them fresh, just as they are.

But I'm branching out today and decided the next best way to eat them is blended with carob in a late-summer smoothie. Surprisingly enough however, this has now moved up to my favorite way to eat figs because I feel like I can celebrate them in a special way while still enjoying them raw so as not to compromise their unique flavor.

Carob also flourishes in hot, dry climates so this is another example of following nature's cues by pairing foods that naturally grow up together. Carob is the newest member of my pantry community. It's great in raw desserts and smoothies when I want a hit of something rich and dark. Carob grows in pods on a tree and is ground into a powder resembling cocoa powder. It is often used in place of cocoa powder or cacao in baking, but it does not taste the same. It has a sweeter, more delicate flavor, and it does not contain the stimulating properties of chocolate, which I sometimes prefer. Here in particular the delicate, sweet flavor, together with a squeeze of orange compliments the fig nicely.



Superfoods
There is so much hype over superfoods like chia seeds, hemp seeds, goji berries, etc. that we overlook the powerful superfoods found in all of our markets: fruits and vegetables and accessible products like raw cacao and carob powder. Although I often enjoy chia and hemp seeds for the fantastic nutritional boost they provide, I choose not to talk about them much on the blog because I consider them to be a helpful supplement rather than essential for a healthy and whole diet. Carob and figs are just as much a superfood, and they are paired with chia and hemp seeds in this smoothie to give a super anti-inflammatory boost.

No matter what "diet" we subscribe to we should all be adding more anti-inflammatory foods to our daily meals, and the carob, fig, hemp, and chia seeds all play a role in fighting inflammation. In a few days I will be back with a post on anti-inflammatory foods and why they are so important. Until then, I hope you treat yourself to some fresh figs and enjoy them in this late-summer smoothie!


Carob Fig Superfood Smoothie
Serves 1 generously

1 cup (250 ml) water
2 Tbsp. hulled hemp seeds
2 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 small, frozen banana (separate peeled banana into 2-3 pieces and freeze in plastic ziploc bag overnight)
2 fresh figs (+ 1 extra to top smoothie)
2 tsp. carob powder
Spoonful nut butter (I used hazelnut butter)
1 1/2 Tbsp. chia seeds
Squeeze of orange (~1/4 of a small orange)

Add water, hemp seeds, cinnamon and salt to a blender and blend for about one minute, or until you have a smooth hemp milk.* Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy. Pour into a bowl, top with sliced fig, and enjoy!

*This is my secrete shortcut to replacing nut milk in a smoothie when I don't have any on hand. No straining nut pulp required! And if I know the smoothie will not be as sweet I'll also blend a date or two into the hemp milk.

10 September 2014

Grilled Corn and Peach Quinoa Salad


Peaches and sweet corn grow up to full, sweet and ripe maturity together, so I think they're destined to get along on a dinner plate too. Nature's cues really aren't something to overlook. She gives us advice on what to eat and when to eat it. If we tune into her quiet but reliable voice rather than that of the aggressive, cerebral-centric media, then the question of nutrition and what to feed our bodies becomes a lot more intuitive, and therefore simpler.

I loved this duo together in last week's platter salad so I decided to stick with the theme this week and make a quinoa salad with it. This recipe came about when I needed something to take to our friends for dinner. I wanted it to be transportable, but also freshly prepared (with minimal prep work) just before serving. They were grilling eggplant, tomato, and mozzarella stacks so I knew I had some handy grillers at the ready. I made the quinoa and mixed the dressing in a small glass jar at home, and the corn and peaches were grilled at their house. The only thing left last minute was to cut the corn of the cob, dice the peaches and toss it all together. Our friends made this again for their boss who was coming for dinner a few nights later, so they have nicknamed it "Boss Salad".

Take my advice. Don't wait to enjoy the salad because you are going to fall in love with this duo and will want to make it again before the sweet corn and peaches disappear.



Grilled Corn and Peach Quinoa Salad (a.k.a. Boss Salad)
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 cups (276 g) quinoa, cooked
2 1/2 cups (625 ml) water

Lemon dressing (recipe below)
2 peaches (ripe but firm)
2 pieces corn on the cob
Big handful cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp. salt + freshly ground pepper, to taste

Rinse quinoa in a fine mesh sieve. Add to a medium sauce pan with water and a big pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer (about medium heat) and cook for 15 minutes, shaking pan a few times in the last 2 minutes to make sure it's not sticking. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and while still warm add to the serving bowl with the lemon dressing and stir to combine.

While quinoa cooks, cut peaches in half and grill cut side down with corn until peaches are charred but not too soft and corn is charred on all sides. Slice corn off cob and cut peaches in bite-size pieces. Add to quinoa along with cilantro, salt, and pepper. Gently toss everything together and serve warm!

Lemon Dressing

5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Juice from 1 juicy lemon
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. whole grain mustard
2 tsp. runny honey (or maple syrup)
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. turmeric (optional - for golden color)
1/4 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Use a fork to mix all ingredients together in the bottom of a large serving bowl. 

05 September 2014

Tomato, Peach, and Tarragon Salad with Smoky Corn Gremolata


Summer weather has passed but summer eats are still alive and well here. The air is cool, the foggy days have started trickling into the valley, yet tomatoes, peaches, corn, and the like are still showing up at the markets and I'm taking full advantage.

This is a quick salad I put together for lunch last weekend but I could have just as well served it  at a dinner party. When a dish can be made for a group just as easily as it can for a Saturday lunch for two, it's a winner in my book. Platter dishes are one of my favorite ways to entertain because the platters are set in the middle of the table, and everyone helps themselves which encourages an interactive, casual environment where everyone feel at home and conversation flows freely.



Tomatoes and peaches when at their peak like they are right now are so sweet and juicy that they provide the perfect balance to the bright and tangy tarragon pesto and smoky bites of corn. If you're a miso fan, you'll love the tip I picked up from Amy for adding miso to the pesto. It gives that salty, umami flavor, similar to what toasted pine nuts and/or parmesan would give. But of course salt, pine nuts and/or parmesan can be substituted if you don't have miso.



Tomato, Peach, and Tarragon Salad with Smoky Corn Gremolata
Serves 2-4

Notes: You will have leftover tarragon pesto. It keeps well in the fridge for several days and is delicious stirred into soups, folded into quinoa or rice, or drizzled over roasted veggies.

2 large tomatoes
2 large peaches
Smoky Corn Gremolata
Tarragon Pesto

Slice tomatoes and peaches and arrange on a platter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Top with corn gremolata and tarragon pesto.

Smoky Corn Gremolata
1 corn on the cob
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. cumin
Salt + pepper, to taste

Heat medium skillet over medium to medium-high heat.

While skillet is preheating, cut corn off the cob. Add oil to skillet and immediately add corn, cumin, and salt/pepper to taste. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute, just until the corn turns bright yellow and the cumin is fragrant. Remove from heat before pan starts to smoke.

Tarragon Pesto
1 bunch (1 cup/22 g) tarragon leaves
1/2 bunch (1/2 cup/11 g) parsley
1 Tbsp. (3 tsp.) white miso*
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

Add everything to a food processor and process until smooth. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

* If you don't have white miso replace with salt, to taste, or salt + a handful of toasted pine nuts or parmesan.

02 September 2014

Blueberry Lemon Muffins


Blueberry season is almost behind us, but I am confident I've given these summer stars the limelight they rightly deserve in these muffins. Aside from showcasing blueberries, there are many reasons I love these muffins.
  1. Blueberry and lemon is a classic pairing that works really well every time. Like an old friend who you can pick up with where you left off no matter the distance or time passed, lemon and blueberry is a sure, reliable flavor combination; you know exactly what you'll be getting and that you'll enjoy it whenever, wherever.

  1. All the ingredients are dumped into a food processor and the mixing is done for you, with the bonus of having only one bowl to clean. I don't even melt the coconut oil beforehand. I just add the tablespoons full of oil directly to the processor and the processing distributes it well enough. Preparation could not be easier.

  1. Probably most important, the mix of buckwheat flour and ground almonds (almond flour/meal) make for a lighter crumb and a naturally gluten-free muffin. Whether or not you deliberately avoid wheat/gluten, it is important to cultivate a diet of variety and moderation. This ensures we don't get caught in the trap of relying too heavily on the same foods day after day and is another reason a whole foods diet is so important. Like refined sugar, wheat is hidden in so many processed foods that we eat so much more of it than we are even aware. We are overexposed and this is thought to be one of the reasons we develop sensitivities to foods like wheat and dairy.


Before industrialization and globalization, the traditional diets of our ancestors were comprised of what was available to them, and they adapted their hunting, gathering, growing, and eating patterns to what was possible at that time of year. Thus, our bodies evolved to thrive off of variety, not a limited range of the same foods day after day. And because this is a whole foods muffin that may contribute to blood sugar control (thanks to the buckwheat) and is not very sweet, it is an easy, more substantial replacement for that bowl of cereal or bagel at breakfast or the packaged energy bar in the afternoon. 




Finally, a note on buckwheat flour. I have had much success using it anywhere regular flour is called for. It has a subtle, nutty flavor in baked goods, much different from the assertive flavor that dominates when whole buckwheat groats are cooked as porridge.  However, if you are new to buckwheat flour, start with a recipe such as this one where buckwheat flour is combined with another.

Blueberry Lemon Muffins
Adapted from Petite Kitchen
Makes 12 muffins + 1 small loaf

3/4 cup (180 ml) full-fat coconut milk
3 eggs
1/2 cup (125 ml or 6 Tbsp.) coconut oil
1/4 cup (60 ml) honey
1 cup (176 gr) buckwheat flour
1 cup (100 gr) ground almonds (almond flour/meal)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt

To Top
Several handfuls (250 gr) blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup coconut sugar (or muscovado)

Preheat oven to 160 C (320 F).

Add coconut milk, eggs, and coconut oil to the bowl of a food processor, and process until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until well combined.

Divide between greased muffin tins and/or loaf pans, and op with blueberries and a generous sprinkle of coconut sugar. Bake for 15-25 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.