Sunday, May 31, 2009

gluten-free oats

On a forum that I belong to there was a recent question about whether or not oats have gluten in them. I also have a new client who is concerned about gluten issues. Additionally I am still getting a lot of interest in my articles comparing barley to oats here and here.

As I've mentioned before and want to clarify; barley has gluten, if you have gluten intolerance issues or Celiac Disease you cannot eat it, ever. If you think you have either of these conditions I urge you to get tested as that is the only way truly identify Celiac. If you do not test positive for Celiac Disease but feel that there is a gluten intolerance I urge you to work with someone as you go through an elimination diet.

All of the research I have found indicates that oats do not have gluten in them. However, they are frequently grown near wheat or processed in the same facility as wheat or transported with wheat. This means that cross-contamination is an issue. There are a few brands that are advertised as gluten free and these companies maintain separate gluten-free facilities if they happen to produce gluten-containing foods as well.

Gluten Free Oats LLC

Gifts of Nature -

Bob's Red Mill -

Chateau Cream Hill Estates -

Friday, May 29, 2009


Mydaughter and I were rummaging through the fridge trying to figure out what to make for lunch and realized that we had all of the ingredients to make gazpacho.  With the temperatures rising into the 90's this cool, flavorful soup was a great idea.  I love gazpacho because it is easy to make, refreshing and a wonderful way to get a huge serving of healthy veggies into your day.

My daughter learned to make it from a friend at college, she prefers it extra chunky, I prefer a smaller dice.  You can also lightly blend all of the ingredients together to make a smoother style soup.  Either way it is delicious.


dice and place in a large bowl:
1 cucumber
2 large tomatoes
1 small vidalia onion
1 sweet bell pepper
2 stalks of celery
1 zucchini or yellow squash

add in
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/4 C. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

cover with:
tomato juice (we didn't measure - just poured until it covered the veggies)

place in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours

to serve:

ladle into a bowl
drizzle with olive oil
garnish with diced avocado and chopped cilantro


photo courtesy of Paul Goyette,

Thursday, May 28, 2009


A recent article in Time magazine talked about a new drink on the market, Drank. The Time article refers to it as the "anti-red bull", the company itself promotes the drink as an "anti-energy" drink. I'm appalled that such a thing is even on the market.

I do not like all of the energy drinks, they are so unhealthy with their overload of caffeine, sugar and chemicals. Unfortunately since they tend to have celebrity endorsements and be a part of popular culture many people drink them not realizing how unhealthy they are. Now, with the appearance of this new drink, you can apparently overstimulate yourself with one and then try to calm yourself with another. Or possibly just try to help yourself get to sleep with your soda. As with the energy drinks this new "anti-energy" drink has a lot of sugar. In addition to high fructose corn syrup it apparently has a grape flavor. Also included in the ingredients are valerian root and melatonin, an herb that promotes sleep and a hormone that promotes sleep. While I'm not sure if there is enough of either in the drink to truly have an effect I do know that the high levels of HFCS combined with these is sure to send your body into some sort of metabolic shock.

Do yourself a favor, avoid this stuff like the plague and keep it away from the kids.


Our farm share is including some neat vegetables that I haven't seen before including these cute little eight-ball squash.  They are a type of round zucchini.

 As I've mentioned in a previous post zucchini are great and have a lot of health benefits.  They are also a versatile vegetable and can be served a number of different ways.  The eight-balls seem ideal for stuffing because who would want to cut them up and cook them, destroying that cute shape?  Having some leftover quinoa from when I last made quinoa taboule (I always double quinoa when I cook it because we eat so much of it) I decided to create a quinoa stuffing to fill these little beauties.   This turned out to be so delicious that we can't wait to get more of these squash to make it again.

Quinoa Stuffed Eight-ball Squash

4 eight-ball squash, washed
2 C. cooked quinoa
1/2 C. roasted tomatoes in oil, diced
2 scallions, diced
1 clove garlic diced
2 T. chopped basil
1 t. salt
2 T. olive oil

pre-heat oven to 400 F
cut tops off of squash and set aside
scoop out inside of squash being sure to leave a layer of flesh to maintain the shape
place hollowed out squash into oven proof dish
roughly chop squash 
heat olive oil in a large sauce pan
add squash to pan and saute until starting to soften
add tomatoes, scallions, garlic, and basil and saute 2 minutes
add quinoa and toss to mix well
add salt and toss again
turn off heat, fill squash with mixture
place tops back on squash and place in oven
bake 20 minutes


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

guided meditation

It is important for us to take time out of our hectic, frequently over-scheduled lives to decompress.  For many people that takes the form of yoga, journaling, or a spiritual or meditative practice.  I often have people tell me that they don't know how to get started or they can't focus enough to take those few beneficial moments to re-center themselves.  Guided meditations can be a good way to get started if you are out of practice or just beginning a centering practice of your own.

I've come across this guided meditation at My Own Healing Power and it's free.  Take a few moments to do something positive for yourself and check it out.

if you're sick...

...stay home.  I was just talking to a friend who was complaining about an office mate who showed up for work, sneezing, coughing, bleary-eyed and obviously not feeling well.  My friend is upset because that person might get her sick.  And she's got a valid point.

I confess to being on both sides of that equation.  There have been times in the past when I dragged myself to work and had co-workers waving cans of antiseptic spray in my general direction begging me to go home.  Why did I go to work in the first place?  Because I somehow felt it was "that important" to be there and be productive; not realizing how un-productive I was being.  Funny enough although it was okay when I came to work ill it was not okay when others came to work in the same condition.  I'm not talking about a modest sneeze or sniffle, I mean a full-blown, all out, old fashioned sick-as-a-dog illness.  When someone else showed up that way I was upset, I didn't "have time to get sick" and they weren't being very effective anyway, so why didn't they just go home?  When we're that sick we should all go home.

The truth of the matter is that if you take that time to recuperate, rest, and avoid sugar, chances are pretty good that you will be back in action much sooner than if you continue to deplete your body.

Other ideas to help you feel better include the usual admonitions to drink lots of warm fluids (not coffee) especially herbal teas with lemon juice or fresh grated ginger, you can also drink soothing broths.  You can take zinc gluconate, use the lozenges not the tablets.  A neti pot can be very helpful to clear the sinus cavities of mucuous and can also reduce the swelling of the nasal tissues.  Of course there is also Vitamin C, a strong antioxidant and is believed to help stimulate the immune system. There are admittedly conflicting studies about it's effectiveness.  Some studies seem to indicate that it is not helpful while according to the Linus Pauling Institute "Overall, the preventive use of vitamin C supplementation reduced the duration of colds by about 8% in adults and 14% in children".  I personally believe in using it.

Garlic is great especially as a preventative.  My friend Helene takes it raw when she feels a cold coming on, 1 clove chopped up and swallowed down with a glass of water.  I do find that this method is better to take after I've eaten a meal but it really does seem to help.  Another friend swears by this James Beard Garlic Soup recipe. When making it for a cold I would leave out the heavy cream.

So the next time you're not feeling well, instead of martyring yourself, do yourself and your co-workers a favor.  Stay home.

photo courtesy of

Sunday, May 24, 2009

kids care too

A recent article that I found on the website caught my attention. According to the article a number of fourth grade students tried to protest the food that they were being served in the school cafeteria and hold a boycott. Administrators found out about this and asked the parents to help squash the boycott so it never happened. This makes me sad for a number of reasons, chief among them is that if fourth graders know that they are not being fed healthy food shouldn't they have the right to protest? These kids are 10 years old. If they can figure it out why can't the administration? Another is my belief that this initiative was squashed because the school makes money off the lunch program. They would rather take the profits and disregard the health of their student body than to serve nutritious food at a potentially lower profit.  Another upsetting factor is the thought that public officials do not see the correlation between poor nutrition and potential future health problems.  

There are examples of college students pushing to take back their cafeterias through programs such as Farm to College.  At Yale University in New Haven, CT Alice Waters helped to develop the Sustainable Food Project when her daughter began to attend the university. The food that is served through that program typically "goes first" showing the college students really do care about what is on their plate.   Many people, myself included, are not surprised that college students care.  This is, however, the first time I've heard of elementary school children being this aware and this willing to take on the system.

As I wrote in a previous post it is important to provide decent, healthy meals to our students but corporations and lobbyists keep getting in the way.  That's not stopping these fourth graders.  Not allowed to have their boycott they have turned their efforts to a letter writing campaign and petition.  I wish I lived in Madison, WI; I would sign the petition.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

it's not just soup

My recent post about substituting barley for oats has generated a number of inquiries about barley itself so I thought I would address them here.

Barley is a very versatile cereal grain that we get from grass, Hordem vulgare. It is cultivated all around the world and has a wide variety of uses, from animal fodder to cereal to alcohol to malt and more.   Barley contains all eight essential amino acids and is a very rich source of both soluble and insoluble fiber.  It is also a good source of selenium, a trace mineral that is helpful to the immune system and with helping to regulate the thyroid.

Before I go any further I should also mention that barley is one of "those" grains; it contains gluten.  Many more people are being diagnosed with Celiac Disease or are gluten sensitive.  If you have gluten issues of any kind it is best to avoid all forms of gluten; I encourage you to speak with a healthcare practitioner to determine if you think you have any gluten issues.  

Barley comes in several forms.  The most common is pearled which is frequently used for soups or as a substitution for rice in pilafs and stuffings.  Pearled barley is not considered a whole grain because all of the bran coating has been polished off.  Scotch, or pot, barley is the next step up the ladder with minimal polishing but is also not considered a whole grain because although some of the hull remains too much of it has been removed.

Next is hulled barley, sometimes called barley groats, which is considered a whole grain because of the fiber contained in the hull, left after the outer, inedible layer has been stripped away.  Hulled barley requires soaking due to the added fiber, but it gives a lovely texture, or bite, to stews, soups, cereals, puddings, and other dishes.  One of my favorite breakfast dishes is a crockpot cereal made with oat groats, hulled barley groats and brown rice.  

Dry pearled, scotch, and hulled barley can be ground into flour and used in baking.  Barley flour is light and delicate in flavor however you need to be aware that barley is a low gluten grain. Therefore it may need to be combined with other higher gluten grains when using the flour in baking.  Used by itself barley flour makes a wonderful, delicate cookie.

Barley can also be flaked, similar to oats, and used as a cereal or added to baked goods for texture and flavor.  Due to the flaking process this is not a considered a whole grain so the amount of beneficial fiber is not very high.  Flaked barley can also be ground into flour; this is best done in a food processor or blender rather than a grain mill to prevent any clogging.  As with corn, barley can be toasted, ground, turned into grits and eaten as a cereal or side dish or, similar to wheat, it can be turned into a bulgur-type texture.

Last, but certainly not least, are the benefits of barley greens.  Many people like to juice and drink barley grass, similar to wheatgrass, or to use barley greens powders made from dehydrated barley grass.  Because barley grass is made from the leaves, or shoots, of the barley it does not contain gluten however the risk of contamination with the kernel or the risk of not harvesting at the right time is a possibility so barley grass and barley greens should not be consumed by people with gluten issues.

Because of the varieties of textures and it's use in so many dishes I encourage you to try adding barley to your diet, it makes a great change from rice or pasta.

Crockpot Breakfast Cereal
makes 4 servings

place in crockpot:

1/3 C. each oat groats, hulled barley and brown rice
Three cups of water 
1/2 C. dried fruit

Set crockpot on low overnight

In the morning add:
2 T. ground flax
1 T. ground cinnamon
the sweetner of choice (we tend to use either honey or maple syrup)


photo courtesy of,,,,

Friday, May 15, 2009


On a forum that I belong to Shannon asked the following question: "I've used vital wheat gluten to achieve a more tender crumb when baking traditional/artisanal breads with whole grain flours. I'm still not sure if vital wheat gluten is a heavily-manufactured and processed product. Anyone have experience or knowledge on this? If it is heavily processed, is there a good substitute in whole grain baking?"

Here is my reply:

Gluten is the protein in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. There is some controversy as to whether oats have gluten or not. Obviously if there are any celiac or gluten sensitivity issues you cannot use gluten in any cooking or baking. This answer assumes there are no gluten issues.

Vital Wheat Gluten is nothing more than concentrated gluten. Many vegans and several Asian cultures use it to make a meat substitute called seitan (sometimes referred to as "wheat meat") which can be cooked almost like meat.

Gluten can be obtained by washing it out of flour but because the process is so lengthy many people just use vital wheat gluten. I do not have any specifics on how vital wheat gluten is created commercially.

Gluten, especially used with whole grain flour, is usually referred to as a conditioning agent. This is because the extra fiber in the whole grain flour retards the gluten and slows down the rise. By 'conditioning' the dough you can get a better texture, a higher loft, and sometimes a moister crumb. Gluten is also added to low gluten flours to get the dough to stretch. The typical amount to add is 1-2 Tbsp per batch. Be aware that if you add to much your loaf with over-rise and then collapse.

Other conditioners include lecithin (you can use approximately 1 tsp per loaf in your recipe), citric acid (just a pinch, okay a generous pinch if it is a two loaf batch, otherwise your bread will taste very citrus-y) and powdered ginger (as my Uncle Joe used to say, "It aggravates the yeast." Use up to 1/2 tsp per loaf). You can combine these conditioners in differing amounts to see what will work with your recipe. You can also use barley malt as a conditioning agent.

Be aware that commercially there are lots of chemicals that are used instead of natural substances. Chemical dough conditioners (also called improving agents) include azodicarbonamide, carbamide, sodium stearoyl 2 lactylate, calcium stearoyl lactate, bethoxylated and succinylated monoglycerides, and polysorbate 60.

photo courtesy of

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

skin sense

As the weather warms up and the summer grows closer many people are spending more time outdoors, enjoying the sunshine and trying to get some vitamin D.  With outdoor exposure comes the inevitable sunscreen.  Before you rush off to the store to stock up on your supply, be sure to check the Enviornmental Working Group's sunscreen database so that you can purchase a product that is safe for your skin.

According to the National Institute of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements "Complete cloud cover reduces UV energy by 50%; shade (including that produced by severe pollution) reduces it by 60%. UVB radiation does not penetrate glass, so exposure to sunshine indoors through a window does not produce vitamin D. Sunscreens with a sun protection factor of 8 or more appear to block vitamin D-producing UV rays." And according to the Medical College of Wisconsin if you live in Boston, MA, from November through February you will not get sufficient exposure to synthesize vitamin D.  This would, logically, include anyone living further north than Boston, MA.
One suggestion to increase vitamin D is to go out for a short period of time, in the spring and summer months, without sunscreen and then apply after getting some exposure.  Since how much exposure you need is determined by a number of factors, skin color, latitude, climate condition, and season, it is not easy to know how much is enough but 10-15 minutes a few times a week is generally considered reasonable.

edit:  Apparently now there is some controversy about SPF numbers as evidenced by this NYT article.  The article gives several important pieces of advice including to use the recommended amount of sunscreen; if you don't you're not getting the coverage that you think you are.  Another important point is that you are looking for appropriate UVA and UVB coverage.  Also mentioned is the fact that even SPF100 does not provide 100% coverage.

 provide photo courtesy of

Thursday, May 7, 2009

grilled chicken give-away

I just got an excited announcement from a friend about a free coupon that she got from Oprah.  Apparently on her tv show Oprah announced that she was "giving a gift to all her viewers" and offered up a KFC coupon good for a free grilled chicken meal.  My friend wanted to know if she should redeem her coupon.  In all honesty I had to tell her no, and here's why:

a)  Although the chicken is grilled, which is admittedly better, it is still a highly processed meat and probably loaded with tons of antibiotics and other chemicals.  I really advocate eating the best meat possible and this does not cut it in my book.

b)  The meal comes with two sides and a biscuit.  I checked the website and found that their sides are potato wedges, seasoned rice, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and macaroni and cheese.  All starches.  There is also baked beans which are probably pretty high in sugar and possibly other chemical additives, green beans which I'm guessing are loaded with fat, and coleslaw in some sort of dressing.  Too many carbs, too much fat and far too many chemicals.

c)  You will probably be tempted to ameliorate the calories by getting a diet soda on the side.  That or any other soda is simply not a good choice.

d) Since you are getting a free meal you may be tempted to get a dessert.  The choices here are overwhelming in their highly processed simple carb, high sugar content.  Nothing that anyone should be eating and something that will definitely cause blood sugar imbalances.

So as exciting as this offer sounds I would have to advise her, and all my readers, to pass on this one. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


This week's farm share included fennel.  I love fennel and am always happy when it appears on my table because it is so tasty.  It's also good for you but don't tell the kids, just let them taste it and they'll love that great licorice-y flavor.

Fennel is a perennial herb that has medicinal and culinary uses; the whole plant is useful, roots, bulb, foliage and seeds.  It has carminative properties meaning it is helpful with indigestion and gas.  It appears in many different cultures and many types of dishes.  In Indian restaurants you can usually find a dish of fennel seeds by the register to chew on after the meal to help with digestion.

Nutritionally fennel is a great source of vitamin C; it's also a good source of fiber, potassium, manganese, and folate.  

One of my favorite ways to eat fennel in the winter is in a roasted root casserole. Sliced fennel chopped up and mixed together with carrots, parsnips, potatoes and beets. Tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and parmesan dressing with salt and pepper and then roasted in the oven until the vegetables are done. You can tell when they are done when the fennel starts to caramelize a little.  I roast them at 400 degrees F and use just enough dressing to coat the vegetables.  Roasting the fennel softens it's licorice-y flavor and makes it milder.

Since it's not winter I decided to switch this up a bit and roasted the fennel with red pepper, vidalia onion and the dressing. It was delicious. I had been planning to grill the vegetables but by the time I finished marinating them it looked like rain so into the oven they went. Served alongside another family favorite, "beans-n-greens", and a sweet potato on the side it was a colorful and delicious dinner. Give it a try, if you've never eaten fennel you may be surprised by how much you like it.

Another great recipe that I plan to try is this fennel slaw recipe from Epicurious.

Be well.

photo courtesy of
Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

Friday, May 1, 2009

fabulous frittata

I recently had lunch with a friend and we enjoyed  a wonderful frittata as part of our meal.  Frittatas are such a great dish to serve; they are easy to make, delicious and take very little time to put together.  We enjoyed a spinach, red onion, red pepper, oregano and parmesan frittata.  Frittatas come together so quickly and are so versatile that you can't miss when you make one.  We enjoyed ours with a cucumber salad and some pumpkin corn muffins.

Eggs are not only delicious, they are a great food to have in your diet.  A protein powerhouse, two eggs contains 12 grams of protein and also provides iron, calcium and vitamin A.  They're so versatile, you can serve them poached, hard cooked, soft boiled, fried, over easy, scrambled, as an omlette, the list goes on.


3 eggs
1 C. spinach washed
1/4 of a red onion diced
1/2 of a red pepper large dice
1 t. oregano
2 T. fresh grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 T. olive oil

preheat the oven to 400 degrees F
lightly oil an oven proof pan
saute the red onion and red pepper and set aside
wilt the spinach and set aside
whisk together the eggs
re-oil the pan, turn to medium heat and pour in the eggs
as soon as the bottom of the frittata starts to set turn the heat down to med-low
sprinkle the cooked ingredients on the setting egg
top with oregano salt and pepper
when the bottom appears to be fully set sprinkle frittata with parmesan
remove pan from stove top and place in oven 
bake approximately 10 minutes until frittata is puffy
remove from oven, cut and serve immediately

depending on what else you serve with it this can make 2-4 servings

Eat well, be well