spaghetti squashin’ it

finished

I’ve often been puzzled and intimidated by spaghetti squash.  If you’ve never seen it, it’s a big, oblong yellow squash that turns into NOODLES when you cook it.  It’s amazing how much it really looks like spaghetti, and how it doesn’t turn to mush when you stir it.  I told myself that it must be only by some hoodoo folk magic that this is possible.  But as it turns out, as with many tasty dishes that I’ve been afraid to cook, it’s a cinch.  And the goodies I added to it (also cinchy) made it extra good.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to The Farmer’s Daughter CSA from KMK Farms in Kingsburg, which brought us our spaghetti squash gourd this week.  Their program is fantastic- tons of produce, herbs, even eggs and olive oil.  Plus, you get to hand-pick your box every week AND there’s no long-term commitment; you pay when you pick your box up at one of their drop-off location.  I highly recommend for Valley residents in search of a local, organic bounty.
On to the spaghetti squash…
Super Cinchy Spaghetti Squash
  1. Cut the squash in half or quarters, length-wise.
  2. Scoop out the seeds and cuts, like you would any gourd.
  3. Spread butter or olive oil on the surface of the squash.
  4. Place on a cookie sheet* in the oven at 375 for 40 minutes.
  5. Let cool enough so that you can hold the squash pieces by their rinds.  With a fork, scrape length-wise down the cooked squash and see the magical squash noodles appear before your eyes!
  6. Add Sunflower Seed Pesto and a little olive oil.  Toss, and enjoy!
 *I placed mine face-up (rind down) on the sheet, and then later read that you’re supposed to do the opposite (rind-up).  Mine worked fine, but I did cook it longer- probably an hour total.  I’m thinking face-down would cook faster.
scraping the squash
Sunflower Seed Pesto
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast*
 Pulse all ingredients in food processor until combined and crumbly.
*I’m not sure if I’ve talked about nutritional yeast yet on this here blog.  It’s simply deactivated yeast that has a sort of buttery, nutty flavor and the consistency of cornmeal (sort of- flakier).  It’s a great source of protein and B vitamins, which makes it popular with vegans and vegetarians.  But most importantly, it’s delicious, and adds a lot of flavor and texture to things like this pesto.  

super breakfast week, day three: the green smoothie

Your third Super Breakfast this week has been my go-to for the past few months.  Once I realized that I could pack a couple servings of leafy greens into a cold, creamy, morning beverage, I was sold.  The concept is simple: a breakfast smoothie with spinach, kale, chard, or any other dark leafy green.  I’ll share the main components of mine and some different winning flavor ideas, but know that you have full creative license on this puppy.  You can’t mess it up!

The Freeze
I start with something frozen.  This can be (for one smoothie):

  • Half a banana (Once my fresh banana stash starts looking overly ripe, I’ll cut them in half and put them in a Ziplock in the freezer.), OR
  • 5 cubes of almond milk (just pour almond milk into an ice cube tray the night before.), OR
  • A handful or so of any other frozen fruit.
  • This will ensure that your smoothie is nice and cold, and also thickens the texture a bit.

The Greens

  • Then add as many dark leafy greens as you can! For me this is usually roughly between one and two cups of spinach, kale, or a mix of both.  A couple of handfuls is a good start, but the more the better!

The Fat

Some good healthy fat will not only make this smoothie stick to your ribs, but will also help thicken and smooth out the texture.  I recommend choosing ONE of the following per smoothie:

  • Nut butter! Peanut and almond are my favorite. Use one hefty spoonful.
  • Avocado- This may sound strange, but you will not taste one iota of avocado flavor, but you’ll be reaping the benefits of the monounsaturated fat and creaminess. I use about 1/4 of one avocado.
  • Coconut oil- Despite being high in saturated fat, coconut oil is proving itself to fit unconventionally on our list of “good fats.” Without going into too much detail, know that the TYPE of saturated fat matters very much- coconut oil has medium chain triglycerides which don’t harm us like the kind of saturated fat in animal products.  It’s also rich in vitamins and minerals and will make your smoothie absolutely delicious. One tablespoon is plenty.

The Grain
When I want my smoothie to be extra filling, I’ll add some grain.  This could be:

  • Raw rolled oats, OR
  • Cooked quinoa or brown rice- Make extra the next time you’re cooking dinner and save it in the fridge! (I wouldn’t recommend using it if you’ve cooked it with vegetable broth or anything salty.)
  • About 1/4 of a cup of any of these grains oughta do it. But this is a non-essential ingredient; I only do it when I know I need my smoothie to last me several hours until my next meal.

The Flavor
Try any of the following to give your smoothie some extra flavor (and sometimes to mask the bitterness of the greens, especially if you’re using kale):

  • Vanilla extract
  • Almond extract
  • Cinnamon
  • Shredded coconut

The Boost

  • Finally, I crank up the nutritional punch in my smoothie with a green superfood supplement.  One little scoop of this stuff contains tons of concentrated greens- we’re talking wheat grass, spirulina, chlorella- as well as antioxidants and probiotics.  All of this together is supporting immunity, healthy digestion, and helping to keep an alkaline balance in my system.  I’ll warn you that it’s a little earthy tasting, but the energy you’ll feel from this stuff is incredible.
  • A spoonful of ground flax for some extra Omega 3’s can’t hurt, either!


Blend all of that together and enjoy! Starting your day with a big glass of vegetables is setting yourself up for success. You’ll feel full and energized and ready to keep making great decisions about what you put into your body for the rest of the day!

upcoming: a week of super breakfasts!

Though I fully believe that there is no ONE right way to eat, no single diet that solves all health problems, no one-size-fits-all answer to eating for wellness, there are some things that ring true for almost everyone.  Eat more vegetables. Drink more water. Sleep.  And eat a good breakfast!  I understand that some people just CAN’T eat in the morning; their bodies don’t want to.  But more often I hear about people who don’t have the time, don’t make the time, or, if they have the time, don’t know what food to make! As someone who wakes up starving, creating healthy breakfasts has been a hugely important part of my food journey.  So, I want to share some of my favorites with you! This coming week (starting Monday, 8/20), I’ll be posting once a day with a new nutrient-dense, sustaining, easily-assembled Super Breakfast! My goal is to pass on as many ideas as I can to help you quickly and easily pack your morning with delicious nutrition. So stay tuned!

dairy in the raw

YOUGUYS, it’s summer! I decided it was finally time to take the cover off the ol’ Bianchi, fill up her tires, and take a ride through the afternoon sunshine in Santa Monica.  My sore butt muscles told me that the hills between me and the beach were not a good idea, so I took the flat path north to the Co-Op natural foods store on Broadway.

How have I lived in Santa Monica for over a year and never been to this place?! It’s basically a cheaper, cooler, non-corporate Whole Foods.  Plus, they had a lot of stuff that Whole Foods doesn’t carry, including one particular item I’ve been hunting lately: raw dairy.

Dairy is a subject that I won’t claim to have figured out; whether or not I feel it’s ethical to produce, if my body digests it well, if I should recommend that other people eat it, etc.  I’m not surprised that many people are puzzled about the role dairy should play in their diet.  Movies like Forks Over Knives warned me about the links between animal proteins and our country’s epidemic of lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  I’ve been told (and can vouch, as you probably can) that it is mucous-forming; this can be harmful to our digestion and nutrient absorption.  But we also hear about our need for calcium and fat-soluble vitamins like A and D and how dairy is the best source. It’s confusing! Part of me says, “Emily, no other species on the planet drinks another species’ milk, or any milk at all after infancy. Isn’t it strange that humans do?” But another part of me says, “Gee, I sure do like brie.” What’s a girl to do?

The Weston Price Foundation will have you know that dairy is not only an acceptable, but important part of a healthy diet.  Weston Price was a dentist who became fascinated by links he saw between dental health, and nutrition and physical health.  In the 1930’s, he studied a number of non-industrialized cultures across the globe with their traditional diets still intact.  His idea was to figure out what common factors existed in these diets and how they contributed to the stellar health of the people eating them.  I love this approach, because clearly industry, technology, and the lack of traditional eating practices in the United States is part of how we got to the unhealthy place we are today.  If what we’re doing now isn’t working, it only makes sense to observe the diets of people who survived, thrived, even, without pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, or least of all, Cheetos.

So what did Price find? Lots of really interesting stuff, but I’m going to focus on his findings that related to dairy before this turns into my post-bacc thesis.  First of all, of the 10 “primitive” diets that he studied, all of them contained animal products.  Secondly, all of these diets contained TEN TIMES the amount of vitamins A and D that the typical modern American diet does.  Remember, these are cultures with no access to any modern methods of cultivating or processing food whose people boasted exceptional, robust health. To make what could be a really long story short, Price figured that A and D must be super important for developing healthy humans, and his subsequent research proved this to be true.  And it turns out that A and D aren’t really vitamins that we can get easily from plant foods.  This guy is making a great case against vegans, eh?!

Before you go guzzling a gallon of Alta Dena 1%, there are two crucial differences between the way these cultures ate their dairy and the way Americans do today:

1) THEY DIDN’T TAKE OUT ANY FAT. Before the onset of Fatphobia, and before there was a way to remove fat from dairy, people drank (gasp!) whole milk.  Straight from the cow or goat or sheep.  Remember how A and D are fat-soluble vitamins? That means our bodies need fat to absorb them.  So go ahead, take the fat out of your milk…but you won’t be getting the benefits of those incredibly important vitamins, which is probably the reason you think you’re supposed to be drinking the milk in the first place.  We also need fat in order to use calcium properly; consuming calcium-rich milk sans fat is going to send that calcium to all the wrong places (i.e., not your bones, where you want it, but your arteries where it hardens and becomes atherosclerosis.)

2) THEY DIDN’T PASTEURIZE IT. Of course they didn’t, because they drank it straight out of the animal! Pasteurization is a process of sterilization invented by Louis Pasteur in the 1860’s to prolong the shelf-life of milk by killing microorganisms and pathogens.  It also comes in handy today because most of the cows we use for milk live in their own filth and are very sick due to grain diets that are unnatural to their systems; it only makes sense that we should want to sterilize THAT milk.  But the milk of these primitive cultures came from grass-fed cows that were well taken care of and healthy, so there was no need to pasteurize anything.  That’s not all– as it turns out, pasteurization does all kinds of crazy things to milk! I can already sense you falling asleep at your computer, so I’ll summarize: Pasteurization involves heating up the milk to kill all of this stuff so it will last longer and be sterile.  But the heat also kills or warps the stuff in milk that’s GOOD for us, ultimately making the milk harder for us to digest and devoid of nutrients that we need.  Proteins become misshapen and our body mounts an immune defense against them.  Also, because enzymes present in raw milk have been killed, the body must supply its own enzymes to digest the milk, requiring more energy.

Moral of Price’s story? Consume dairy the way the primitive cultures did; full-fat and raw.  But good luck finding raw dairy products– it took a visit to the Co-Op for me to find it.  It’s still highly “controversial” (and illegal to transport across state lines!), probably because of the dairy industry’s influence in Washington; of course Big Dairy corporations want you to buy their mass-produced, pasteurized dairy, which should be pasteurized because it comes from filthy, sick cows.  But find yourself a nice family farm with grass-fed cows, and eating their raw dairy should not cause you any worry.

I should reiterate that this is just one perspective on dairy.  I’d say the jury’s still out, and may never truly reach a verdict on dairy consumption.  It’s different for everyone and there are a million different ways of looking at it!  I’m fascinated by this raw vs. pasteurized comparison and am willing to give raw dairy a shot.

Wow, all of that was to tell you… I ate a grilled cheese for lunch today.  A delicious, raw-cheddar grilled cheese with heirloom tomatoes and avocado on sprouted wheat bread.  It looked like this:

Happy summer, everyone! Hope this provided you with some light beach reading.

For a plethora of information on raw dairy and Weston Price’s research, please visit http://www.westonaprice.org/.

the joy of overnight oats

Baking is becoming a part of my weekend routine.  It’s not that there’s some cause I’m trying to support with a bake sale, or that I’m preparing for a life of domesticity where I keep my husband happy with cookies, or even that I’m disguising some unhealthy relationship with food by making tons of it and pawning it off on my coworkers (tell me you know these people, too!).  The real reason is that I love eating cookies, cake, granola bars, muffins, you name it- but I disagree with how most people, especially food manufacturers, make them. My biggest gripes are the over-representation of refined sugar, refined carbohydrates, preservatives, and crap I can’t pronounce, and the lack of whole grains and healthy fats that can be easily integrated into treats.  So instead of depriving myself the immense joy that can be obtained by eating baked goods, I make them myself.  I do a little research, I spend a little (lot of?) money at Whole Foods, and I give myself some weekend time in the kitchen to insure that my week’s snacking is taken care of.  A lot of the time, I don’t even consider this stuff share-worthy, because I know that most people would take one bite of what I’m calling a “cookie” and be very confused.  Not that it doesn’t taste good, but most of us (myself included) are very accustomed to the nutritionless versions of these things.  My plan is to wean myself slowly, so that one day eating conventional sweets will just be a junk-overload on my system and consuming them will be impossible.  I’ll let you know how that turns out…

Today, I made Karen Morgan’s gluten-free cherry oat bars. They’re a lot like my chewy cherry oat bars, but way easier and with less ingredients.  Mine are sweeter and something I would maybe even peddle as dessert; these are really just a granola bar.  But, at least for me, they satisfy that sweet/carby craving I get after a meal.  Also, I am in love with these videos- I can only find 5 of them but they’re humorously edited and the theme song is damn catchy.

Another trend in my life (because that’s why you read this, to know about trends in my life?) is OVERNIGHT OATMEAL! Caps lock very necessary.  Basically, I can’t currently think of a better breakfast option than oatmeal in terms of ease, simplicity (I always have rolled oats and water, usually nutmilk, and they’re so easy to fancy up with whatever else you have on hand!) and, most importantly, nutrition; basic whole grain, very amenable to the other nutrient-rich stuff you throw in it (fruit, nuts, nut butter, flax!).  I know they can be microwaved, and that even on the stovetop they don’t take very long, but I’ve stumbled upon a way to eat them that I like even better and takes even LESS time.  Allow yourself to consider eating cold oatmeal for a second.  Not cooked oatmeal that’s been sitting out for god-knows-how-long-but-you-eat-it-anyway, but delicious, RAW oats that have been soaking in nutritious nut milk all night, topped with other delicious goodies.  And, the best part is, you do all the work at night, and literally just have to grab the tupperware out of the fridge on the way to work! I think that’s my favorite part and the root of the obsession- the 15 minutes I’ve shaved off my morning routine.

Here’s a basic how-to:

  1. Start with 1/4 cup rolled oats.
  2. Add 1/2 cup soy, almond, or hemp milk (or regular milk, I suppose- haven’t tried it).
  3. Stir in 1 tablespoon ground flax OR chia seeds.
  4. Put it all in a sealed tupperware overnight, give it a quick stir in the morning, and enjoy!

Flavor/texture ideas:

  • Vanilla or almond extract
  • Unsweetened applesauce
  • Organic canned pumpkin
  • Honey
  • Nut butter (you can add this in the morning or at night)
  • Fruit! Bananas especially! (add this in the morning)
  • Cinammon, nutmeg, cardamom- add these with some pumpkin and you’ve got yourself pumpkin pie for breakfast!

The oats will absorb the liquid and acquire a texture not unlike cooked oats, but a little better in my opinion- less mushy, I guess.  Do NOT omit the flax or chia seeds.  These both absorb liquid, too (chia seeds especially- 10 times their weight!) and help “cook” the oats.  They are also both omega fatty acid superstars, so you should eat them, anyway! Chia seeds turn into gelatinous little blobs, which sounds gross, but isn’t. It’s pretty cool, actually. I promise.

I don’t consider my bowl of oats complete unless it has something a bit sweet (so if I don’t add a banana, I’ll use honey in the mix at night) and some kind of nut butter.  Almond is a great neutral flavor that I found works great with the pumpkin pie flavors, or with applesauce and cinnamon.  Peanut butter is a stronger flavor but I know I don’t have to remind you how awesome it goes with bananas.

Give these a try before it gets too cold and you want hot oatmeal all winter! And maybe carve yourself (pumpkin joke) some time next weekend to do some healthy baking? Here are some of my favorite recipes if you need inspiration:

Trailmix Cookies from 101 Cookbooks
Doughballs from Peas and Thank You
Breakfast Bake from Edible Perspective <–(I turn these into muffins)

ANDI and some chewy cherry almond bars

Do you know what an ANDI score is? You might have seen signs advertising the concept at Whole Foods recently, as they have adopted this system of “scoring” food to help you make better choices.  ANDI stands for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index, and it is based on the research of Dr. Joel Fuhrman, founder of Eat Right America.  I don’t know much about Dr. Fuhrman, and quite frankly, I think anyone who has a picture of themselves in a lab coat on the masthead of their website should immediately be viewed with skepticism, but ANDI scores make a lot of sense to me.  The score, a number from 0-1000, is determined by the amount of vital nutrients in the food and the calorie content.  Basically, it represents nutritional bang for caloric buck.  Of course, we can’t JUST eat foods with super high ANDI scores, like kale (what a show-off!):

…because then we wouldn’t get enough of things like important fats that obviously have a lot of calories (olive oil’s score is only 9, for instance).  However, you can use ANDI to see that some fats are going to give you more nutrients than others, like avocado versus eggs and cheese, making them a smarter way to spend your fat calories. Here’s a list, courtesy of Eat Right America, of several foods and their scores:

You’ll notice that meat, dairy, and processed foods like white bread go at the very end, which I think is the main take-away of the ANDI system.  It’s so often recommended that we base our diet in plants for a very good reason; they’re dense in the nutrients that we need most.  Dr. Fuhrman preaches a lot about weight loss, and I’m sure that following a nutrient-dense, plant-based program like his is the best way to lose weight if you really need to.  But even if you’re blessed with the metabolism of a 16 year-old cross country runner, or let’s say you ARE a 16 year-old cross country runner, your body/mind/being/self will be better off with a diverse, plant-filled diet.  Thin, fat, old, young- everyone needs what nature has grown to nourish us.

The inspiration for this recipe was two-fold: One, I saw in the bulk goods at Whole Foods that sunflower seeds are the winners of the nut/seed section:


Then, I was watching daytime television (#summervacation) and caught the end of Rachel’s Favorite Food at Home, which I believe is a British show syndicated on public access.  Anyway, Rachel was baking up some chewy apricot bars that had sunflower seeds in them, so I thought, hey, let’s see if we can’t make an even more nutrient-dense version of these with whole-food ingredients!  I used cherries instead of apricots, added some almonds, lessened the sweetener, used brown coconut sugar instead of refined, whole-wheat flour instead of white, and Earth Balance instead of real butter.  I also kiinda over cooked them, so they’re especially chewy, but tasty nonetheless. Hopefully they will be enjoyed on my week-long camping expedition to Colorado for a bluegrass festival, starting early Tuesday a.m.!

Chewy Cherry Almond Oat Bars

  • 1 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup dried, unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 cup spelt or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup vegan margarine, like Earth Balance
  • 1/2 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar or other brown/unrefined sugar
  • 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1/4 cup dry roasted almonds, chopped
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2. Mix together oats, sunflower seeds, coconut, and flour. Set aside.
  3. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, syrup, and honey together.  Remove from heat, then add almond butter, sugar, and vanilla.
  4. Combine the dry ingredients, butter-sugar-syrup mixture, cherries, and almonds.  Mix well.
  5. Line a 9×11 pan with parchment paper, or do a grease/flour combo. (I did a really special mix of olive oil spray and flour- not recommended. Goopy mess.) Press mixture into pan evenly.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until edges start to brown.  Don’t over-bake!
  7. Let cool for 10 minutes, then cut into squares.  


And just for fun, because they were so flipping cute and I was proud of them, birthday cupcakes for my friend Josh (vanilla cake with homemade, coconut sugar-honey-buttercream frosting):

lunchtime

Just a quick post to brag about the lunch I’m eating right now.  Lunch is usually a really hard meal for me during the school year.  Like most people, I have to pack what I want to eat ahead of time and rarely have time to eat out (which is fine for money/health purposes).  Leftovers are a great idea, and I generally have a lot of them since I only cook for my own little self (wahmp wahmp), so much so that I get sick of whatever I’ve prepared and can’t bring myself to eat it all week.  Sooo…yeah, cry me a river, eating lunch is hard sometimes, the end.  Moral of the story, reason #229,583,482 I’m thankful it’s summer right now, is that I get the luxury of preparing my lunch at home and not having to think ahead.  Here’s what you need to know about this wrap:

  • Whole wheat flax tortilla, microwaved for about 10 seconds to soften it up
  • Hummus, spread in a thin layer over the tortilla
  • Red leaf lettuce- thanks CSA!
  • Tomato- woo CSA!
  • Maui sweet onion- CSA is the best!
  • Apple, sliced very thin- seriously, sign up for a CSA box.
  • Avocado
  • Queso fresco- a light, salty, crumbly Mexican cheese that I love love love.  You can use it almost anywhere you’d use feta, and it makes a great quesadilla.
  • TEMPEH! Let me introduce you if you haven’t already met my Indonesian friend, Tempeh.  Tempeh, like tofu, is a fermented soy product; however, since it retains the soybean in its whole form, it has more protein, fiber, vitamins, and whole-food swagger than tofu.  It’s also a lot firmer and more dense (it usually has other grain, nuts, or veggies incorporated into it), making it a great meat substitute.  Although, I have to say, I’m not one that feels like I have to have something to replace meat in a meal (especially when it’s replaced with something like seitan, which is just wheat gluten and arguably not great for you in mass quantities).  Plants have protein, and I eat plants.  But tempeh does offer some substantial texture in a vegetarian meal that might be mostly mush without it.  It’s also delicious.

tempeh, browned in a pan with a bit of oilve oil. you can eat it raw, too!

 

aaaand lunchtime (I had chips, too).

 

Come to think of it, this could probably be a feasible school-year lunch if I plan ahead and make sure my fridge is stocked with all of the goodies that make it so GOOD. Don’t be a weenie; try tempeh! Happy Friday!