Tuesday, April 28, 2009

happy but sad

Happy, yes I am, mostly because I am sitting here eating this delicious muffin.  Sad, yup, that too, because I'm not sure I'll be able to replicate it.

It's raining here today...for the third day in a row.  Big bolts of lightning, huge crashes of thunder and a torrential downpour.  Enough to make me decide that I needed some muffins and a cup of tea to cheer myself up.

Not sure what kind of muffin I wanted I decided to rummage and see what we had. Leftover flours in the freezer, millet, corn, oat and wheat yielded just enough flour to feel "muffin-y."  I had some applesauce, a few raisins, some pecans, mixed those together with a couple of glugs of oil, an egg, cinnamon, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, salt and voila!  It tastes scrumptious.  I just wish I had remembered to measure before I started throwing things into the bowl.

But the important thing to remember here is to be creative with your food.  If you have a little of this, a little of that try it, you'll never know but you may find a new favorite.  If you start with good ingredients you'll usually end up with a pretty successful result.  I think part of what makes this creation so successful is that it is basically a cinnamon raisin muffin with pecans but the balance of the different flours is what makes it special.  A previous family favorite of greens and beans was also a "smattering" recipe it came about because I had a lot of little bits of leftovers.

To the best of my remembering (in other words guesstimating amounts) here is the recipe:

3 C. flour (from assorted grains)
1 C. applesauce
1/3 C. oil
3/4 C. sucanat
1 t. vanilla
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 C. pecans - crushed
1 C. raisins
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 egg

mix all ingredients together
spoon into greased muffin tin
bake 375 F for 15-18 minutes
rest 2 minutes in tin before transferring to a wire rack to cool


PS My friend Mary who stopped by for tea tells me that these are "Yum yum yum!" hope you enjoy them too

Sunday, April 26, 2009

carob update

I wrote a previous post about using carob as a sweetener.  Since it really is more than just a sweetener I thought I would share a little more information about this amazing legume.

Carob is currently being examined as a protein source.  Research indicates that the flour made from the germ of carob has a high protein content, 46%.  By isolating the germ further, protein content percentages, in a laboratory setting, have reached as high as 95% according to studies currently being done at the Universidad de Sevilla, Instituta de la Grassia.  This isolate is of interest because it would offer an alternative to soy or dairy proteins for protein shake formulas created for athletes and for diabetics.  

In addition to the higher levels of protein, the germ flour also yields higher levels of arginine, an essential amino acid that is important for healing wounds, immune function, and hormone release among other physiological functions.  

Carob flour and carob bean gum are also useful for people with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance as carob contains no gluten.

Another health benefit is the effect of carob fiber, taken from the pulp of the fruit, in lowering cholesterol.  According to a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition "Daily consumption of food products enriched with carob fibre shows beneficial effects on human blood lipid profile and may be effective in prevention and treatment of hypercholesterolemia."  The fiber is also high in phenolic antioxidant substances and there are studies underway looking into the chemopreventive qualities of carob.

To rephrase all of that in a less confusing way carob is great as a sweetener substitute, it is high in protein and will probably be coming soon to a protein supplement near you.  Useful for people who can not ingest gluten, it is also showing promise as a functional food that may help lower cholesterol and help prevent oxidative cell damage.  

Consider adding carob to your diet but please remember to read the labels.  If you start seeing wonderful health claims that's fine but always check what other ingredients are in your food before you unthinkingly purchase something because of the marketing on the package.

Be well.

http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science-Nutrition/Scientists-study-carob-as-alternative-protein-source, http://www.foodsciencecentral.com/fsc/ixid15288, http://cerealchemistry.aaccnet.org/doi/abs/10.1094/CCHEM.1998.75.4.488?cookieSet=1&journalCode=cchem
, http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=safari&rls=en-us&defl=en&q=define:arginine&ei=AH70Sd2iH5LAM4qFnMAP&sa=X&oi=glossary_definition&ct=title, http://www.herbco.com/p-449-carob-bean-pods-cs.aspx, http://www.botanical.com/products/learn/c/carob-p.html, http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/Carob-fibre-to-reduce-cholesterol-levels

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

organic gardening

It's beginning to take off.  First we started with the White House Organic Garden

Now we have the People's Garden.

It seems like the concept of organic gardening is "taking off." Believe me, this is a good thing. Organically grown food has no pesticide residue because pesticides aren't used. Organic farming methods produce lower levels of pollution and conserve soil and water resources. Organic fruits and vegetables have more nutrients because the soil isn't depleted by use of chemical fertilizers. In my book these are all compelling reasons why organic needs to become the norm rather than the exception.

In one of the classes that I teach I tell people about the benefits of buying organic. I understand that for a lot of people it's a difficult decision and one that involves your wallet. One resource that I encourage them (and you) to take advantage of is the Environmental Working Group's Shopping Guide to Pesticides which tells you which are the 12 biggest pesticide laden fruits and vegetables and which are least likely to be affected. This printable guide can help you make better decisions at the grocery store.

Of course big agribusiness isn't too thrilled about public organic gardening but then again I wouldn't expect them to be. I do, however, expect this trend to continue; it's better for all of us, for the environment and for future generations.

Be well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

orange you glad?

A woman I know recently shared with me part of the story of her childhood during World War II.  Oranges were not very available and were rather expensive.  When there was an orange in the house she and her brother were given the fruit.  Her parents ate the peels.  

Eating the peels of oranges is not something that we normally consider unless we are making marmalade or creating zest for a recipe.  However it is interesting to note that in phytonutrient research on oranges one of the flavanones, herperidin, which is found in the peel and inner white pulp, has apparently been shown to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol and to have anti-inflammatory properties.  Recent research published in March of 2009 in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry states, " Our result proves hesperidin [a different form of herperidin] to be a valuable antioxidant that protects pBR322 DNA and RBC cellular membrane from free radical induced oxidative damage."  Not only does the herperidin help lower blood pressure, the natural magnesium in oranges helps to maintain the blood pressure.

Oranges are a very healthy fruit.  They are high in vitamin C, fiber, and provide antioxidants, calcium, magnesium and potassium.  The fiber in oranges is helpful for relieving constipation while the iron and vitamin B6 content help purify the blood, produce hemoglobin and oxygenate the blood.

In other nutrition news it turns out that oranges also provide us with something called citrus liminoids, a bio-available substance that we access when we eat the fruit or drink the juice of citrus fruits.  Previous research indicates that citrus liminoids may lower cholesterol and there is a new research project being done on this topic by Agricultural Research Scientists in California.  Laboratory tests done with animals and with human cells have also shown that these liminoids can be helpful in fighting mouth, skin, breast, stomach and colon cancers.

Anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-tumor and delicious!  Orange you going to have one today? 

photo courtesy of www.free-stock-photos.com

photo courtesy of www.free-stock-photos.com

Monday, April 20, 2009

national zucchini bread day

April 24th is National Zucchini Bread Day.  I'm not sure why it is zucchini bread instead of just zucchini but I'm happy that at least zucchini is getting mentioned.

Here in Texas, as in many other places of the country, zucchini is starting to produce in abundance.  My uncle, who lives in California, claims that in the middle of the summer you need to drive around with your windows rolled up.  Otherwise when you stop at a traffic light grocery bags of zucchini are apt to come flying through the window.

Everyone who grows zucchini seems to fully understand the abundance of nature.  One tiny seed can produce a fruit that ranges in size from baby-pickles to dugout canoe.  But before we malign this wonderful fruit (and yes, zucchini is indeed a fruit, even though we treat it like a vegetable) let's look at how good it is for us.

Zucchini, sometimes also called courgette, is a type of squash from the Cucurbito pepo species; they can be green skinned or yellow skinned and are usually shaped like a cucumber, although there are some varieties that have different shapes. The species is believed to be native to the Americas and was brought to Europe during colonization.  Eventually, in Italy, there was a mutation that gave rise to the green skinned version that we usually refer to as zucchini today.  This variety was brought back to America by the Italian immigrants.

Zucchini are great for a lot of different things.  They are wonderful sliced and served straight up in a salad, as crudites or baked, stuffed, grilled, in soup or shredded and baked into dessert.  In addition to tasting great and being such a useful fruit what nutritional benefits can you find in zucchini?  To start with they are a great source of manganese which is an essential trace mineral.   Zucchini are also very high in vitamin C.  Manganese works with vitamin C to help detoxify the body among other health benefits.   They are also a good source of magnesium, Vitamin A, fiber, folate, potassium and phosphorus.  So to salute this fabulous fruit, and in honor of National Zucchini Bread Day, grab your favorite recipe and make a batch.

Unfortunately my research turned up the fact that two genetically modified (GM) strains of zucchini are currently approved in the US for cultivation and use as food.  Unless you are getting them from a trusted source or from your own garden you may want to purchase organic zucchini.

Be well.

photo courtesy of
Forest & Kim Starr

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

grapeseed oil

Karen just asked, "What is grapeseed oil? I've seen it in numerous recipes and the cheap, or shall I say frugal, side of me won't let me purchase it until I know I'll use it"

Well, I'm so glad you asked. Grapeseed oil is pressed from the seeds of lots of different varieties of grapes. It is used for used for salad dressings, marinades, cooking, frying, baking, as a massage oil or sunburn lotion, and has a number of other applications. It has a fairly high smoke point which makes it an excellent choice for frying but many people like it most for sauteeing or as a salad oil because of it's delicate, somewhat neutral, flavor.

It is a high linoleic acid oil (73%), meaning it contains a lot of omega-6 essential fatty acids. Most of us actually consume too many omega-6's in our diet but used in moderation grapeseed oil is fine. It does have some other health benefits; a study published by the University of California, Davis in 2006 found that it reduced blood pressure in people with metabolic syndrome. In the study patients were given a placebo, 150 mg or 300 mg of grapeseed oil. Those taking the grapeseed oil had a beneficial result and those on the larger dose also experienced a drop in LDL cholesterol. Further studies are underway at the University to see if there is a benefit in patients with hypertension.

Although grapeseed oil is more expensive that most oils, unless you are planning to deep fry with it a little goes a long way. As with other oils, please purchase cold pressed as this is the best, least damaging process by which to extract the oils, and purchase organic, if you can, to ensure no pesticide contamination.
source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grape_seed_oil
and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linoleic_acid
and http://www.upi.com/Business_News/2006/03/27/Study-Grapeseed-oil-lowers-blood-pressure/UPI-21071143520705/

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

national garlic day

Friday April 19th is National Garlic Day.  In our house we love garlic and use it quite a lot in cooking.

I've just had an article about garlic published, you can read it here.

photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Rüdiger_Wölk 

national pecan day

Today is National Pecan Day.  Pecans are one of my favorite nuts.  Although they are very hard to crack they are certainly worth the effort.  Pecans have sweet, tender nutmeats that are very tasty.

Pecans (Carya illinoinensis) are a species of hickory tree that is native to the south-central region of the United States of America. The name Pecan comes from an Algonquin word that means a nut requiring a stone to crack. Although they are native to North America they have been imported and are now grown commercially in Australia, Brazil, China, Israel, Mexico, Peru and South Africa. A pecan tree can bear fruit for up to 300 years.

There has been a lot of interest in pecans and their healthy profile; they add fiber to your diet as well as providing vitamins B and C, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorous.  Pecans are also a good source of monosaturated fats (the same kind of beneficial fat that is found in olive oil).  

According to studies from Loma Linda University and Texas A&M University, "a heart-healthy diet...is more effective in lowering cholesterol when pecans are added - even though the pecans added more total fat to the diet. And study participants did not gain weight on the pecan diet. This confirms that it is the type of fat in the diet (i.e. the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat in pecans) that is more important to heart health than total fat intake. These studies showed that the addition of pecans to a heart healthy diet decreased the levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol...and helped maintain desirable levels of "good" HDL cholesterol."

The National Cholesterol Education program states, "For every 1% reduction in LDL cholesterol, there is a 1.5% reduction in incidence of coronary heart disease. Thus, the pecan diets in the Loma Linda and Texas A&M studies would correspond with a 25% decreased risk of heart disease."

Of course the best way to eat them is to start with raw nuts.  Pecans are very versatile and can be added to a wide variety of baked goods, they go well in salads, can be used in pilaf-type recipes, or can be spiced and flavored to be eaten as a snack.

However you use them, just remember to store them properly.  Pecans need to be kept in dry, clean, airtight containers.  Out of the shell they will last at room temperature up to two months or refrigerated up to one year and frozen up to two years.  Because they are a low-moisture nut pecans can be refrozen several times without losing quality.

Eat well, be well. 
photo courtesy of: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2_pecan_nuts.jpg
information source: http://plantanswers.tamu.edu/recipes/pecanrecipes/healthstudies.html and http://www.royaltypecans.com/nutrition.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pecan

Saturday, April 11, 2009


We love kiwifruits at our house.  Going to the grocery store we discovered that they were on sale and bought a large number of them.

Kiwifruits originated in China and were originally called Chinese gooseberry.  At some point it transitioned to New Zealand where it was renamed Kiwifruit.  From there it travelled to California where it is now a commercial crop; they are also grown commercially in New Zealand, Italy, France, Chile, and Japan.

Kiwifruits are very high in vitamin C with just one small fruit providing 120% of your RDA.  They have a lot of fiber and are also a good source of potassium, magnesium and vitamin E.  

Our favorite way to eat them is to simply cut them in half and scoop them out with a spoon although kiwi pineapple smoothies are pretty tasty and kiwi lime pie is a wonderful thing.  Kiwifruits are a very attractive and healthy addition to a fruit salad but beware, they mush easily.  Kiwifruits contain actinic and bromic acids which tend to make the fruit more tender once it's been cut.  If you cut it and let it sit it tends to get mushy so add it to your fruit salad just before serving.  

One side note, kiwifruit contain a substance that has been associated with a latex-fruit allergy so if you are allergic to latex it may be wise to avoid eating kiwifruits.  Other fruits that have this same compound are avocados and bananas.

photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Friday, April 10, 2009

jet lag

We're back from our vacation, enjoying the memories of all the things we saw, all the places we visited, all the meals we enjoyed. Not enjoying the laundry and the jet lag. 

Jet lag is a condition that occurs when you travel across several time zones; obviously flying can take you across quite a number of them.  When you cross a number of time zones in a relatively short period of time your natural circadian rhythms (the approximately 24 hour body cycle) are disrupted.  

Symptoms of jet lag can include nausea, headache, fatigue, digestive problems and insomnia.  I find that going eastward causes more disruption than traveling westward.  We adjusted to our eastward travel by taking a short nap as soon as we arrived, sleeping with a nightlight on (this is supposed to be effective for tricking the brain into believing it is moonlight and somehow helping to reset faster), drinking lots of water (especially necessary since air travel tends to be rather dehydrating on the system) and eating smaller, more frequent meals for the first couple of days.  I also doubled up on my probiotics since digestive issues tend to be a problem for me.  

There are natural remedies that are believed to be helpful in countering the effects of jet lag with melatonin being the most commonly used.  I personally prefer valerian as I find it works better for me at not only helping me get to sleep, but in staying asleep as I try to adjust to the new time zone.  Chamomile tea is also believed to be effective in helping you relax before the new bedtime.  Obviously avoiding stimulants or suppressants such as caffeine or alcohol can go a long way toward helping the body adjust more quickly.

On the westward journey to return home we followed all of the above with the exception of the nap.  For some reason it seems to be easier to force ourselves to stay up late until at least 2-3 hours before our "normal" bedtime.  Although we found ourselves up early at 5 AM the next morning it felt closer to our regular schedule even though we had only been back for one day.  

If you do find yourself traveling across multiple time zones remember that jet lag is generally believed to require one day for each hour of time difference to fully adjust to the new local time with 12 hours being the maximum amount of disruption.

photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


We're on vacation in Belgium at the moment.  We've been enjoying all sorts of wonderful food, the cheeses, the fresh Belgian endive, mache (a wonderful salad green), chocolates, beer and more.

Today we drove up to Ghent to do some sightseeing.  While we were there we had the incredible pleasure of dining at an amazing restaurant called Kasserolleke.   We sat down, ordered our drinks and our very friendly server brought us some delicious mixed olives in olive oil flavored with red pepper flakes and rosemary.  She also brought us some small rolls and butter.  Steve tried a local beer on tap, I went for the Kriek, a cherry flavored beer that is absolutely wonderful.

The host came over to take our order and when I mentioned that both my daughter and I were vegetarians and we were wondering if we could just get something without the meat in it he offered to check with his son, the chef, to see what he could do.  Our host came back and said that the chef proposed a dish of pasta with mushrooms and parmesan in a light cream sauce.  We agreed that this sounded fine.  Fine does not begin to describe how amazing this dish was.  First of all the presentation was fabulous and I regret that I did not bring my camera cord with me so that I could share the picture.  The dish was mushrooms and shaved fresh parmesan in a heavenly cream sauce topped with finely diced tomatoes and amazingly tender, fresh, young arugula.  We loved it!  We told the server to tell the chef how wonderful it was.  My daughter told the server it needed to be a regular menu item (although who knows when we'll be back).  I told the host how amazing it was.  Good food, cooked well is just a wonderful thing.  And the kindness and accommodation of the chef was a gift, thank you sir.

Steve had a roundsteak in a lovely sauce with a great looking salad, a huge pile of fresh frites with fresh-made mayonnaise.  I stole a bunch of frites because they are just that addictive.  His grandmother had a fresh salad that looked amazing and was so large she could not finish it.  

I can assure you that this was one of our most memorable visits to any restaurant in Belgium and should we ever manage to make our way back to Ghent we will definitely go there again.  If you find yourself in Ghent, look these people up, it's worth the visit.