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Monday, August 17, 2015

The New Kosher

It's undeniable that for the last few years, a revolution has been brewing in the kosher food world. From being the most boring, restricted, and least innovative sector in gastronomy, it's becoming a very promising niche thanks to a handful of gutsy, creative, and curious chefs, bloggers, entrepreneurs, foodies and food writers, who are committed into keeping the dietary laws, but who are also willing to push the boundaries of inspiration, innovation, quality and taste.

We're moving beyond margarine (yay!!!!), we're caring about seasonality, we're making kosher more dynamic, and we're refining our flavors and how we enjoy our food. We're also coming back to the flavors of our roots and combining them with global ones.  And this my friends, is exactly The New Kosher, the name Kim Kushner has not only given to her new cookbook, but a whole movement that she's representing. 



The absolutely gorgeous book is personal and welcoming. You open the tile-inspired first page and Kim opens her door for you to come into her home. You are in her in the kitchen, listening along to the same Manhattan noises and seeing her lovely children walking by. You keep reading and you prepare together with her not only delicious food that feeds the body, but meals that nourish the spirit, the family and everyone you love. 

Many people can entertain beautifully, with artfully decorated tables, the finest china, the most exotic flowers and delicious food. However, very few people are capable of making you feel at home, happy, at ease, fulfilled and completely satisfied when they host you. Full disclosure: Kim is a very dear friend of mine, a colleague, an advisor, an inspiration, and one of the only three people who presses "like" in my Instagram feeds, which makes me incapable of a completely impartial review, but which on the other hand, allows me to tell you that what you see in her book is how she is in person, and that her advice is all brilliant and her food always outstanding. If you want to create happy, fabulous worlds for people on your table, she's the authority. "My house," she says, "is not a fine-dining restaurant; it is my home. My guests are not my customers; they are my family and friends. My kitchen is not the center of my business; my kitchen is the center of my heart. When I think about food, many strong memories and traditions from my upbringing filter into everything I make. I express myself through my food. Cooking serves as a connector, a comfort in my life." 

Her recipes are not complicated--so you don't become a slave in the kitchen depleted of all energy by the time dinner comes--but they are sophisticated, fresh, modern, beautiful and each one delivers a punch of flavor and fun. Each dish is designed to please, to be shared, to make mealtimes a joy.

I personally love Kim's use of produce to make vibrant food, full of bright colors, textures, crunch, sweetness, freshness, and obviously, nutritional value. This is a huge part of The New Kosher. Chiles, rose petals, kale, heirloom tomatoes, fennel, pomelos.... Look into your old kosher cookbooks and try to find any of those!
Another feature that most be noted is that the ingredients are given in measures as well as in weight, which is awesome if you use a scale for cooking/baking, which makes the task way easier, faster, more precise and with less cleanup!

I'm looking forward to making all the recipes. So far (and I just got my book yesterday!), we're big fans of her mini meatballs in cinnamon-tomato sauce--which counts with my picky eater's seal of approval, and that judge is way tougher than the Michelin Guide's examiners...Her "bowl of crack" quinoa is probably the most amazing quinoa dish I've  ever had (and trust me, I eat loads of quinoa). Her dark chocolate bark with rose petals, pistachios & walnuts is beautiful, delicious and super easy to prepare. And those three characteristics summarize The New Kosher. 

"Bowl of Crack" Quinoa
by Kim Kushner 
Photography by Kate Sears
Weldon Owen

1 cup (8 oz/250 g) white quinoa, well rinsed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups (5 oz/155 g) shredded kale
1 large bunch fresh dill
1 large bunch fresh cilantro
1 large bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 handful of toasted pine nuts, pistachios, or chopped almonds
1 handful golden raisins

In a saucepan, bring 2 cups (16 fl oz/500ml) water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the quinoa and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until all the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Uncover and let cool for about 10 minutes, and then transfer the quinoa to a large bowl. Stir in the kale.
Use a chef's knife to chop the dill, cilantro, and parsley into teeny-tiny pieces (I use the stems too). Doing this by hand is important because the food processor will make the herbs mushy. Throw the herbs into the bowl. Add the lemon juice, lime juice, oil and vinegar and toss to mix well. Stir in the pine nuts and raisins and season well with salt and pepper. The quinoa will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Serves 4-6



Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Pancakes

I love pancakes! Duhhh...who doesn't love pancakes??? 

I'd been trying for a while to make healthier versions of them, often with nut flours. Almond, macadamia, hazelnut, etc, but my kids rejected them all mercilessly. Two Sundays ago I asked them if they wanted pancakes, and they said "yes, but with no apples. And no nuts. And no chunky things. Just regular pancakes." But I don't know what "regular" anything is at this point... 

There are terrific egg-and-bananas only pancake recipes navigating the cybersphere, but I live with a true banana hater, so those were a no, no. Finally, after sad failed attempts full of rejection, that I obviously took super personal, I hit the nail on the head with this recipe that I've made twice for them with great success. 

It's nicely loaded with healthy ingredients, but still delicious for all (included my daughter's friend who's terrified of eating anything in here because I'm the Scheming Health Witch to her eyes and my food never is what it seems...Who can blame her?)

They are gluten, nut and dairy free.

I hope you like them too!



INGREDIENTS
1 (13-oz) can full fat, unsweetened coconut milk (I like Natural Value)
1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar (any kind will do)
3 eggs (organic, pastured, preferably)
3 tablespoons avocado or coconut oil, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Himalayan (or other unrefined) salt
60 g (1/2 cup) gluten free oat flour
60 g (1/2 cup) teff flour
40 g (1/3 cup) arrowroot flour
20 g (1 heaping tablespoon) flax meal
3 tablespoons erythritol (or coconut sugar or sucanat)
1 3/4 teaspoon non-aluminum baking powder

Pure maple syrup for serving.

METHOD
In a large bowl, whisk coconut milk with vinegar. 
Add in eggs whisking after each addition, and add oil, vanilla and salt. Whisk until well mixed.
Add in all the flours, flax meal, sweetener and baking powder. Whisk until only small lumps are left.
Hit up your griddle or pan and place a bit of oil on it. 
Add about 1/4 cup batter onto pan (I like using an ice cream scoop) and cook until bubbles appear all over the surface. Filp and cook for a few more minutes, then remove onto a plate and keep piling them up as you go.

Serve them with maple syrup (please use the REAL thing, NOT "pancake syrup").

Enjoy!

VARIATIONS: If you don't mind adding dairy, use 11/2 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt instead of the coconut milk with the vinegar and use butter in place of oil. 


Friday, February 13, 2015

Why spending time with your friends matters, a cleansing chicken recipe and a million things





We live in a difficult world. There's no question about it. And...what can we do to thrive in it, despite it all?
I wished I had an easy answer that would solve everything. But I think that starting small is where the big changes take place. A couple of weeks ago I taught a class about how purposely finding pleasure in every day (and often free) activities can help us reduce stress and become healthier. The feedback I received was amazing, and what I presented was nothing new. No special skills, no Powerpoint, not even a food demo. It was all about simple things in life: deep breathing, scents, praying, cooking and eating, sleeping, moving joyfully, hugging and laughter; all of which have the power to change our brain chemistry, impact of microbiome (gut bacteria), lift our spirit, help us connect with others, strengthen our immune system, better our digestion, help our metabolism, and improve our overall health and happiness. 
And you know how often, certain things in life don't come separately... This past weekend I felt even more how pleasure has a mind-body-spirit effect. I met with some of my dearest friends of 28 years for two days. We're all turning or have just turned 40 and we decided it was finally time to get together. We laughed, we cried, we sang, we danced, we huged, we complained, we remembered. It was exactly like a scene of a cheesy chickflik that my husband wouldn't watch even if I paid him a million dollars. And it felt GOOD. It still feels good!!!
A day after that weekend retreat, another beloved childhood friend mentioned how a psychiatry professor at Stanford (I'm a sucker for anything coming from Stanford, as that's where I met my husband. It's the place where I spent some of the happiest, most exciting days of my life and where I was first introduced to Google, then an obscure search engine) stated that “One of the best things that a man can do for his health is to be married to a woman whereas, for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health is to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends.” He explained that when we hang out with our girlfriends, we produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can combat depression and create general feelings of well-being. Sara Gottfired MD, author of The Hormone Cure writes that women form "a network of stress-reducing, protective females and leverage oxytocin, the "love" [and cuddle] hormone that also acts as a neurotransmitter." This in consequence reduces our blood levels of cortisol, which is the main stress hormone. So there you go! Bonding with your girlfriends is food for the soul, and for the body as well.
Smelling wild orange essential oil or having coffee with your friends won't solve the violence, frustration, pressure, worry and uncertainty that the world is filled with, but things like those do equip us with tools to reduce the physical and emotional stress that makes us feel so threatened. The palliatives are there for us to grab. Do you use them often enough? 

We have to pay attention and make an effort. Nourishing ourselves by connecting, breathing mindfully, infusing with the sacred everything we do, purposely enjoying cooking, eating, moving, resting, creating, is possible. Being more aware of our senses; being present every time we hear, see, touch, taste and smell something can transform our experience of life. 

Consciously thanking our bodies, the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit it, our souls, our loved ones, the healing powers of touch, of connection, of holiness takes us through a very different path in life than if we don't acknowledge them. 

I want to invite you to a series of classes where I will be talking about these topics and doing activities and demos, many of them food related, but none of them like any other food/nutrition classes you've ever taken! They will all be a mind-body-spirit experience, and I'd love you to join me! I know time is a scarce commodity, but you won't regret it!

  • First class: February 25 at 10:00 AM at East 72nd Street (exact location will be given upon signing up) and will be about ESSENTIAL OILS. How to use these concentrated, super potent plant compounds to improve our immunity, our mood, clean our household without toxins, and better many health ailments from skin issues to respiratory concerns. Space is limited. Cost: $40.00 and includes all materials (and essential oils will be available for ordering)


  • Second class: March 23 at 10:00 AM at East 79th Street (exact location will be given upon signing up). We will learn about mindful cooking and mindful eating. It's about cooking and eating with your senses, and with your heart, while being present. Even if you hate cooking, you'll see everything through a different view. Space is limited. Cost: TBD.

April and May classes are still on the planning stages, so feel free to request topics. Among ten will be: eating for immunity, eating for beauty, the importance of the seasons, super foods, digestive health, sugar-free sweets.


Other announcements (sorry, too many things to share!!!):
  • I'll be teaching a gluten free, dairy free, super food loaded treat-making demo in Brooklyn at the SCC on March 17 at 10:00am. Please tell your friends!


  • Thank you for making Three Tablespoons Frozen Cookie Dough such a success! More products are in the works, and I'll keep you posted. Please keep placing your orders at 718-986-7374 (text or call). I deliver every Thursday in the Upper East and Upper West Sides. For now, it comes in 4 varieties: chocolate chip, oat-quinoa-chia, vanilla-maple, cacao nib-coconut-hemp biscotti. Each roll is $12 and makes 20+ gluten free, dairy free, refined flour and sugar free cookies loaded with super foods and NO MESS, and they make your home smell amazing!


  • Purim is coming! Place your orders for your Hamentaschen kits. This year, they are a bit different. They come with: frozen Hamentaschen dough (that you just roll out and cut into circles with either a round cutter or the top of a glass) and mixed berry-chia filling, a brown gable box, themed stickers, a card and a very cool multi-colored crayon stick, so you can prepare Mitshloach manot. Kids LOVE them! $35 each. Call or text.


I leave you here with 2 things: Virginia Satir's recommendation "We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth." So you can make yourself (and the one you hug) grow... and a delicious, comforting recipe that I wrote originally as part of a detoxing piece of www.joyofkosher.com that came up last month. It's incredibly aromatic, full of super foods and since you make it in a slow cooker, it gives you extra time to spend with your girlfriends and produce lots of serotonin and oxytocin!

Chicken in Coconut Milk Detox Broth
Lemongrass, garlic, lemons, ginger, turmeric, cilantro, cinnamon, are all phytochemical and digestive powerhouses. They've been coveted for centuries for their antioxidant, antiiflammatory, disease fighting and cleansing medicinal properties. And the best part is, that they aren't only healthful, but delicious, as they lend their fragrance, pungency, flavor, color and deliciousness to this comforting, but sophisticated chicken dish. The slow cooker allows the flavors to develop beautifully, and gives you a break from the kitchen, but if you are shorter on time, place everything in a Dutch oven and cook covered in a 375 F oven for about 45 min to 1 hour. I usually double up the recipe and freeze one for the following week. 

Servings

4-6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken (3 to 4 pounds, preferably pastured or organic), skinned and cut into eights (bones in)
  • 1 inch gingerroot, peeled and minced
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, white part of inner bulb only, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 bunch cilantro, stems roughly chopped and leaves, set aside (for garnish)
  • 1 large lemon, cut into 6 slices and seeded
  • 1 (16-ounce) can full fat coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 cups dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, etc)
  • Cooked rice, to serve (I love serving it with forbidden rice. It's whole grain, delicious and makes for a dramatic, colorful presentation), optional
Chicken in Coconut Milk Detox Broth

Directions

1. Place chicken pieces in the bowl of a slow cooker. Sprinkle with the ginger, lemongrass, garlic, chopped cilantro stems, and lemon slices.
2. Pour coconut milk on top. Top with turmeric and vinegar and mix all together a bit (it doesn’t have to be completely mixed, cooking will do its thing!).
3. Add cinnamon stick and salt, cover and cook in high for 5 hours or in low for up to 8 hours.
4. A few minutes before serving, add in the greens, mix them into the broth a bit, cover and cook for 5 to 10 more minutes.
5. Top with cilantro leaves right before serving. Serve with rice, if you’d like.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Health Food 2014 in review and predictions for 2015



It's been a tradition for a few years now to look back at what happened during the about-to-end year and to play psychic to what I think will happen in the new one in the world of health food trends. I know that I'm such an original and that no one else has come up with this lists ever before, but since I know that at least my friend Sarah likes this special edition, it's all worth it! I hope you enjoy it too!

This is the link to last year's post, so you can send me annoying emails telling me how wrong I was, or asking me what kind of super green juice I drank to posses those amazing prediction powers. Share anything, the fact that you read what I write is plain incredible! Here we go,


  • BLACK IS THE NEW HEALTHY: Watch for these black hued edibles. 
1. Nigella sativa seeds (aka black seeds or black cumin), the seeds of a flowering plant found throughout India, South Arabia and Europe, have been used in cooking and in traditional medicine to heal inflammation, infection and cancer, and it's been confirmed that compounds in these seeds have immunomodulatory, antioxidant, antiparasitic and liver-protective effects. Black seeds may also be useful to treat asthma, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, dyspepsia, diabetes, and cancer. Yotam Ottolenghi uses them in Plenty and Plenty More in delicious and stunning dishes. Maybe he didn't know the seeds were so healthy, but now you do! You can get them in amazon.com or if you are in NYC, Kalustyan's has them. 

2. Black garlic. It's well documented that fresh garlic is one of the most potent super foods there are. It has strong cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, cancer-protective and iron metabolism related benefits. But in order to take advantage of its beneficial substances--mainly allicin, which forms as a defense mechanism of the vegetable once a bulb is "attacked"-- garlic needs to be eaten raw and within 1 hour of ripping apart a clove from its bulb. Within the last couple of years, a "new" garlic has been taking up center stage. Not so long ago, a farmer in the UK claims to have tried a very old Korean recipe, which is actually a process to age garlic by elevating temperature and controlling humidity in an attempt to preserve the bulbs through the off season months (although other references state that black garlic was introduced in Japan hailing from Korea in 2005). He hit the jackpot among chefs and foodies, and with a balsamic-like flavor and reduced pungency, black garlic became the culinary it girl. Interesting health claims are now being made about black garlic (which, by the way is NOT technically fermented, as the garlic turns black due to chemical reactions and not due to microbiological processes). It's important to note that sensitive allicine is pretty much gone in black garlic, but black garlic seems to have a whole new range of compounds, including a much higher amount of antioxidants than fresh garlic, more calcium, phosphorous and much more protein. Black garlic is also packed with sulfurous compounds, that may have benefits in the synthesis of cholesterol. Bottom line: eat both, fresh and black garlic. No need to substitute one for the other.

3. Activated charcoal. This black powder is made by heating common charcoal in the presence of an oxidizing gas that causes the charcoal to develop internal pores that trap chemicals and reduce their absorption into our bodies. This comes in handy in medicine when in need of removing toxins or poisons, or in treating overdosage of certain substances/drugs, thus it's often used in the ER. However, activated charcoal is now making it into skincare products and even food, particularly juices. Although it's great to keep at home as part of your emergency kit, and I happily smudge clay-and-activated-charcoal masks on my face (to clear my skin and to scare my kids, two birds, one stone), I won't be ordering it at Juice Generation any time soon. Why? Because even if activated charcoal can prevent my intestinal tract from absorbing certain toxic substances, it can also prevent me from absorbing vital nutrients, as it's not only specific to the "bad guys." Why would I pay $10+ for 1 juice and only absorb a fraction of its nutrients? Again, activated charcoal can be a very helpful tool, but you should be monitored by a doctor to make sure you don't get depleted of nutrients, and be especially careful if you are taking medication (which can also be absorbed by the coal) or if you have a digestive or intestinal condition.


Read more about activated charcoal:

http://dailyburn.com/life/health/eating-charcoal-detox-diet/?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=pubexchange_article

http://wellnessmama.com/247/activated-charcoal/



  • CHICKEN SOUP NOT ONLY FOR THE SOUL
Bone broths: wild or pastured animal (poultry, beef, fish, etc) bones boiled in water and unrefined salt for at least 3 1/2 to 4 hours (and up to 48 hours) have been around since prehistoric times, but sadly, old-fashioned broths have been mostly substituted for less expensive, instant, artificially flavor-enhancing chemicals. No one seems to have time anymore, and we've become squeamish to face the fact that we're actually eating animals. However, with big supporters in the traditional foods, Paleo/Primal, SCD, GAPS and functional medicine communities, these mineral and collagen rich elixirs are are making a comeback. They can be drank in cups or used as a base for cooking soups or anything else that cooks in a liquid. With some good aromatics, they can be extremely flavorful and enjoyable, plus extremely healthful and restoring: they provide our bodies the building materials to rebuild the intestinal wall, they soothe inflammation, aid digestion, are excellent for joints, ligaments, cartilage and tendons, as well as an amazing tool to ameliorate autoimmune disorders and leaky gut syndrome. A new "window" selling bone broths in New York's Downtown, might just show a bit of how people are embracing them. The key point to make a bone broth is to MAKE IT FROM SCRATCH. No consomme powders or "magic" hydrolyzed soy cubes. They are about using the best quality joints and bones, yes, the real things, and a piece of meat, if you want, and giving them time to cook in the water. Bone marrow, chicken, duck, fish bones, try them all at different times, they all have many healing qualities. I purchase mine from www.growandbehold.com It's like going back into your great-grandmother's kitchen, although I do take the short cut by throwing it all in the crock pot for as many hours as I can. I come back home and all done! I use some right away, and freeze the rest.



  • PLANTS RULE
OK, I'm cheating because this is a repeat from last year, but produce just keeps getting cooler and getting better and better treatment. I love this, because I'm a firm believer that we have to fill our plates 75% with plant-derived foods, and if they taste amazing, the chances of most people doing it, increases. If restaurants (FYI Jean Georges Vongerichten is opening a vegan restaurant this spring at ABC Carpet), cookbooks and online weren't enough, just check out Opening Ceremony's produce-inspired collection for pre-fall 2015.
Some of my favorite cookbooks published this year that feature great veggies (although some are not exclusively vegetarian) are: Plenty More , Clean Eats,  The Oh She Glows Cookbook,  At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, and Bar Tartine . I'm looking forward for next year's My New Roots and for Kim Kushner's upcoming cookbook.
(Photo: Opening Ceremony)
“Locally grown” and “Fresh ‘N Wild” fashion at Opening Ceremony (Photo: Opening Ceremony)
  • THE COOL GUYS ARE DOING IT: SPICES AND HERBS 
Chefs, bloggers, cookbook authors and good cooks all make their food shine with classic and inventive spice blends and fresh herbs. Everyone is crossing culinary borders by mixing the Far and Middle Easts with Latin America, the Mediterranean and Africa. Miso, curries, sumac, dukka, vadouvan, ancho chiles, za'atar, you name it. From spice Mecca Kalustyan's, to La Boîte or Whole Spice's custom blends to Trade Joe's, it just shows how endless the possibilities are. It's all pretty exciting and delicious, and even more when you realize that herbs and spices are loaded with healthful compounds, some of them incredibly effective in preventing disease, others that help digestion and/or are powerful antioxidants, are antibacterial or may help lower glucose levels. Turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, thyme, oregano, and pretty much all herbs and spices have amazing attributes. It's a win-win: more flavor and more health.

Just some examples from healthywaytocook.com:

  • SEED RENAISSANCE
With the whole grain-free current (see last year's post), many people have turned to almond and coconut flours, and they are slowly discovering the magic of seeds, which are nutritional powerhouses and many of them are quite inexpensive. We've seen hemp, chia, sesame, flax, pumpkin, and black seeds featured in amazing recipes, but sunflower seeds, are worth mentioning. You can substitute ground hulled sunflower seeds for at least part of the flour in many preparations, and definitely switch almond flour for these ground seeds, which is beautiful for people with nut allergies that want or need to stay away from grains/gluten. So stay tuned for a company selling sunflower seed flour soon. I have my bets on Bob's Red Mills... We'll see...
Another seed that is making it into the mainstream is Psyllium, a seed with a husk that can absorb great quantities of liquid and that you may know better as the active ingredient of Metamucil. It's actually an amazing ingredient to bake with (although anyone eating it should drake sure to drink plenty of water), especially in gluten/grain free concoctions.

  • NEW WAYS OF FOOD/GROCERY DISTRIBUTION
So now Google knows my deepest emailed secrets and drama, has my bank account number, knows what I search for online, holds money for me (or whatever exactly Google Wallet does), and now is aware of all my consumer behavior and brings me groceries at home. I just recently tried Google express and although I feel Google with its naive-looking logo now owns me, I couldn't have been happier for not having to schlep to Costco! Fresh Direct changed the way we all shopped, at least in Manhattan, and now, with Instacart, Google Express and awesome start ups like farmigo, which sells through communities, there are interesting changes on how we get our goods in our increasingly saturated lives.
  • BIG FOOD, SMALL PRODUCERS
OK, so big food is not going anywhere, but thanks to documentaries like Fed Up, and Origins and bloggers like Food Babe and many others, the food industry practices are definitely being exposed more than ever, and consumers are realizing that there's some thought to be put into their purchases. However, there're still adds and packaging targeting children, and in every store, no matter what they sell (including sports goods--the irony), there're always strategically placed junk foods at kids' eye-level near the cashiers to provoke the child's tantrum and turn the store visit into a parenting resistance test... But at the same time, artisans who put care and their souls into their ingredients, foods and products are slowly growing in some markets, making awesome things. From small batch granola, nut butters, fresh doughnuts, to pickles, sweets, raw honey, or preserves, small producers are making farmers' markets and independent stores, even goodeggs.com, rich places to have incredible food experiences. I'm all for food made by people, not by machines!

  • FERMENTED, SPROUTED AND THE MICROBIOME
You probably already know that I'm obsessed with the microorganisms that inhabit our digestive tract, but I'm clearly not the only one. Cultured and fermented foods are increasing like crazy, there are tons of brands of probiotics that promise they are "the right ones" for your particular needs, and there are scientists all over the world finding new, interesting things every day, although there's still a long way to go. In the meanwhile, this are some things I've learned so far: eat unpasteurized fermented foods/drinks, open my windows (this one is a tough for me), breastfeed (OK, I'm done w that one), I would love to get a dog, don't use antibacterial gel (use a natural, essential-oil based one and/or colloidal silver instead) nor antibacterial soap, leave antibiotics for only occasions that truly need them, eat the largest possible variety I can of plant foods, and preferably, in season. Ditch refined foods and abstain from artificial sweeteners. Perhaps, take a good quality probiotics supplement with as many strains as possible, and with at least 10 CFU. Sprouted foods: they make it easier for your body to digest and are some nutrients are more bioactive, which is great, when the microorganisms are not at their best. Stay tuned for more about poop transplants (now officially Fecal Microbiota Transplants) and pills in the years to come (sorry, not the most appealing in a food blog, but this is actually allowing people to eat again!).

  • BREAKFAST COOKIES
A huge trend all over the blogosphere and the internet in general, just google it and you'll see what I'm talking about. Not completely sure how I feel about this one, as it's very personal. I do sell frozen cookie dough that I prepare using the most wholesome, allergy-friendly ingredients I can find, no refined grains, and no gluten, the smallest amount of unrefined, natural sweeteners that I can get away with to still make a delicious cookie, the best fats, and the widest variety of super foods I can think of. However, I still believe my cookies are a treat, not a meal; and in general, this is what concerns me about the breakfast cookie hype. It's amazing to add sunflower seeds, chia, flax and blueberries to your treats, and to make them at home (that's been kind of the purpose of my blog!). Once in a while it can be lots of fun and very delicious. However....nutritionally speaking, I think we should try to do better with the "most important meal of the day," and not substitute cookies for richer sources of protein and plants that are also lower in sugar. However, if breakfast means artificially-colored-oversweetened cereal with chocolate milk, do make some cookies with beans and sunbutter! And yes,  I'm confessing: I've given my kids my cookies for breakfast in some occasions!




Now, after a treaty that took me about a whole year to write, I hope you find this post informative, helpful and/or inspiring and I wish you a very happy and healthy 2015!

In good health,

Alexandra







Friday, October 31, 2014

There is a place on Earth where baseballs caps, burkas, turbans, kippahs, sombreros, bald heads, hair extensions, and Madison-Avenue highlighted manes all get along peacefully. The UN should go to Costco to take notes on how to make it happen, as everyone happily belongs to The Club! 

You walk into The Wearhouse and happiness, possibility, and excitement hit you like fresh wind. There's no hatred, no differences, we all turn into equal beings breathing the promise of realizing the American Dream. We grab an enormous cart and the magic starts: in goes a gigantic flat screen TV, 1000 rolls of cotton-soft toilet paper, a never-ending supply of soap, a 6 ft Teddy bear, cereal boxes the size of apartments, enough coffee to keep us awake for the rest of our living nights, and/or whatever else our insatiable heart desire--always at a fraction of the price of any other store and at massive portions/sizes. Plus, even less if you brought in your coupons and/or if you have a special membership that gives you money back. How's that for unifying happiness and cross-cultural peace? 

With so much merchandise and cheap prices it's easy to get lost in our personal Costco shopping experience. Impulse buys are hard to avoid... As a health coach, I think the most concerning temptations Costco offers are the excessive amount of hyper processed, artificially flavored and colored, sugar, hydrogenated soybean oil, salt ladened "foods" that come in XXXXL brightly colored packages and that cost $0.15. But this is not to say that Costco only sells the wrong stuff. Within the last couple of years, they've also realized that the health food revolution is undeniable (and quite profiting) and they've added some great products, which are the ones I'd like to focus on in this post.

So here we go (I apologize in advance for the horrible photography, but it's hard to push an overflowing cart, chase two children who think free food samples are the best thing in the world--part of the whole Costco experience--  add the needed items, resist my impulses, read all labels, while taking pics. Something had to give, and sadly, the quality of the photos were it...).

The following are my Costco musts:

ORGANIC FROZEN BERRIES:
I'm a huge fan of organic frozen produce. It's quickly frozen at the peak of the season, so most nutrients are retained, and you can keep it in your freezer for a long time, being ready and easy to use. I love having these organic frozen berries around for smoothies, sauces, dessert and my berry chia bars.  My kids and their friends love when I place the frozen berries directly into drinking water instead of ice. They flavor the water a bit, as they chill it. Yes, they are imported from South America, where the organic laws might (or might not) be as strictly followed as in here, but I think that overall, these berries, are a great product at a great price, and awesome value, as berries are really high in antioxidants, vitamins (especially C) are low in sugar, and a minimally processed fruits (that come WAY cheaper than getting out-of-season in fresh form during fall and winter), and are a great addition to the plant-derived rainbow we should all be eating every day.

truRoots SPROUTED LENTILS and QUINOA:
I was more than hyped when I saw this brand at Costco. I've been loving their lentils for a while. They cook in under 5 minutes, and by being sprouted, they have more nutrients available to our bodies. The initial problem with them was that they are kind of pricey in other stores, but by getting the huge bag at Costco, the issue has been solved! I like them in salads, soups, made into patties, tacos, or just drizzled with a bit of walnut oil and sprinkled with Himalayan salt and nutritional yeast. My children love them, and they totally beat mac 'n cheese in termos of time and nutrition! Their quinoa is also very good, and I like keeping it around to use in salads, side dishes, desserts and I even use cooked quinoa in recipes that call for bread crumbs as a binder (like in meatballs, patties, etc). I cook 1 batch and I use a many bits during the week.


ORGANIC UNREFINED COCONUT OIL:
When I first started baking with coconut oil, the price was prohibitive and the quality was very inconsistent. Some coconut oil can have a soapy flavor. That's why I was hesitant to buy Costco's at first. But once I tried it, never looked back! I always have it around for baking, roasting, sautéing and even for my skin as a moisturizer, eye makeup remover, and for applying essential oils.

AVOCADO OIL:
This oil only is worth the trip to The Club, yes, despite the lines and all!!! Avocado oil, as I've written before, is one of the best oils to cook with, as it can withstand high temps and has basically no flavor. It's quite expensive in most health food stores and not super easy to find. Costco's is a great value.

PRODUCE:
Given the quick turnover in Costco, you can usually get really fresh produce in there at more than reasonable prices (take note Gristides!!!). I've been pleasantly surprised to find organic fruits here and there, although the great majority are not. If you are concerned about not consuming GMOs, always remember to check out the PLU (the number in the annoying little sticker your produce always comes with, right next to the bar code). If the number has 4 digits and starts with 3 or 4, the product was grown conventionally (non organic, but it's not GMO); if the PLU has 5 digits and starts with a 9, it was grown ORGANICALLY, but if it starts with an 8, it's a GMO (genetically modified organism). Also, if you'd like to know what products are worth to purchase organic, you can always look at the EWG's Dirty Dozen Plus (TM) list here or you can download their great app (EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce).

WILD FROZEN SOCKEYE SALMON:
Pre-portioned, kosher certified wild Alaskan salmon. I love having this in my freezer. No comparison to the prices elsewhere. Great quality for this incredible source of omega 3s and excellent quality protein. Other wild frozen fish are also great offerings.

WILD ALASKAN SOCKEYE SALMON:
Many lox or smoked salmon brands are made with farmed salmon and have a bunch of additives in them, even artificial food coloring. This one is made with just the wild Alaskan salmon, salt, brown sugar, and natural wood smoke, kind of the old fashioned ingredients. I love having it around as a great source of quick protein and omega 3s, especially for breakfast or lunch. However, it's important to mention that the suggested weekly consumption of fish is 2/week (sometimes I do 3 times or in rare occasions, even 4, but try to keep it at 2). This is important to keep in mind, as fish is definitely very healthy and we should eat it, but fish every day, given the pollution of our oceans, is not a great idea...

CHIA SEEDS:
If you know me, you know what a big fan I am of chia seeds and how I use them in everything: from salad dressings, to desserts, puddings, overnight jams, in yogurt, breads, and a whole encyclopedia worth of recipes. They are a great source of Omega 3s, fiber, antioxidants, minerals and protein. Costco's are great and again, awesome price!

ORGANIC PURE MAPLE SYRUP:
Awesomely, they just added the organic certification to their pure maple syrup, which trust me (I've looked EVERYWHERE), is the best priced one I've seen. It has a nice flavor, and is the real thing! Beware of pancake syrup, which is basically colored high fructose corn syrup. Real maple syrup is an investment, but you get what you pay for, and a little goes a long way.

RAW NUTS:
I'd love if they were organic, but I'm happy their raw nuts (please note I'm not talking about their roasted nuts, which might have some undesirable oil additions) are just that: nuts. Again, their value is great. Just remember to store nuts in the freezer to prevent rancidity and nuts are more digestible and their nutrients more available when soaked in water overnight, then rinsed and drained. If you don't like the softened effect this gives the nuts, just dry them back in the oven at 200 F for about 15 minutes. I like their almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc.

UNSWEETENED DRIED FRUIT:
Beware because a lot of their dried fruit is sweetened, but their organic dates and figs are great for cooking and baking and are unsweetened. Read the labels!

KIND BARS:
From all the processed snacks and bars out there, KIND bars are my favorite, as they are made of recognizable ingredients, have versions with 5g or less of sugar, and are nicely portioned, tasty and satisfying. Again, best value at Costco, although unfortunately, they don't carry my favorite flavor: dark chocolate chili almond.

POWER BLENDERS:
This is not a food, but a great tool to prepare food. A power blender allows you to do amazing preparations such as smoothies, soups, sauces, desserts, and purees quickly and easily, while clean up isn't that bad! They are a great tool to have. Costco often offers Vitamix, which is The Blender, but which comes at The Price. If you are looking for a great blender for less, Costco often sells the Ninja, which is the one I happily own. For either product, Costco has great prices, although unfortunately, you might not always find these products in the stores.

Pretty please, if you are a Costco connoisseur and have any tips or favorite products, I'd love if you added your tokens of wisdom to the comment section. I'm sure all my readers (and by that I mean me, and 3 more people) would love learn more. Don't be shy!