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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Big Balls of Fiber (OK, small ones)

Becoming a parent is probably the most humbling experience in someone's life. Nursing a baby, convincing a toddler, comforting a child, guiding a teenager, giving advice at any age...All those responsibilities, with no previous schooling in any of the topics.

And one of the toughest challenges that parenthood forces people to face involves meddling with one's kids' poop. From diapering, to potty training, accidents, urgency to go in the middle of nowhere, overflows, explosions, or actually not going at all. They all happen in the least anticipated places and times, they stain (you, the child or both), embarrass (you, the child or both), stink, and affect mood and general health (physical and mental, again, yours, the child's or both). They often function as psychosomatic methods of control when the child is facing new situations (a new sibling, new school, etc), or it's just a physiological challenge some kids suffer from.

I know, I know....a food blog might be one of the worst places to discuss vowel movements, but at the end, what comes into the body, does have crucial consequences on what comes (or doesn't come) out of it.

Recently, a friend asked me to come up with something to help alleviate her child's constipation, which is such a huge issue, that her physical discomfort reflects in terrible moods and poor behavior, that are completely atypical to this kid's personality. My first answer was: "chia," but my favorite seeds we're not liked by the 7-year-old. A fiber rich "treat" was I got to work.

First of all, I'll try to explain what dietary fiber is. Its official definition goes like this: "fiber refers to all parts of plant foods that the human body can't digest or absorb." It is commonly classified into:
· Insoluble fiber. Doesn't dissolve in water. Promotes the movement of material through the digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can help against constipation and/or bowel irregularity. Present in cinnamon, wheat bran, root vegetables, fruits with edible seeds (like strawberries and kiwis)
· Soluble fiber. This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and regulate glucose levels. Oatmeal, barley, and legumes, apples and citrus are rich in this.
However, lately, in different scientific communities, it's been argued that the definition should be more specific, as there are some kinds of dietary fiber that are viscous and others fermentable. But now, and before a more accurate definition is generally accepted, let's just mention that most whole (unprocessed) plant foods contain both kinds of fiber in different percentages, and that we need both.

Excellent food sources of fiber are:
· Turnip, collard and mustard greens (yeah... I know, try giving those to a child. But don't forget the power of a green chip), beans (navy, kidney, pinto, black, adzuki, garbanzo, etc), eggplant, raspberries and cinnamon (it's a bark, so what could be more fibrous?).
Very good sources of dietary fiber:
· Romaine lettuce, celery, Swiss chard, spinach, fennel, asparagus, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, green beans, cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes, green peas, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, shiitake mushrooms, kale, dried peas, lentils, strawberries, pears (unpeeled), cranberries, oranges, whole wheat, barley (preferably not "pearled"), flax and chia seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, and oregano.
Good sources of dietary fiber:
· Apricots, grapefruit, bananas, figs, pineapple, cantaloupe, avocados, plums, papaya, kiwi, blueberries, apples, dried fruit, sweet potato, summer squash, onions, yam, leeks, olives, crimini mushrooms, potatoes, corn, rye, quinoa, whole buckwheat, oats, and spelt, soybeans, miso, sesame seeds, rosemary, black pepper, cayenne pepper, dill, and turmeric.
You may have noticed that whole grain flours are not listed. They are indeed way higher in fiber than refined white flours, but their fiber content is still less than in all the foods mentioned above.

Bottom-line? Dietary fiber is indispensable for sustaining our health. Besides promoting bowel regularity, preventing constipation, decreasing transit time of fecal matter through the intestines, (which reduce the risk of colon cancer and hemorrhoids), regulating blood sugar levels and reducing blood cholesterol, fermentable fibers help maintain healthy populations of friendly bacteria. In addition to producing necessary short-chain fatty acids to feed the cells in the colon, these bacteria play an important role in the immune system by preventing disease-causing bacteria from surviving in the intestinal tract. So preferably, eat your fiber from whole legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains, another reason to eat a rainbow a day!
And...For dessert, make the following recipe that uses many of those ingredients.

NOTE: Remember to always drink PLENTY of water, as insoluble fiber needs H2O to help the bulk transit through the intestinal tract, and soluble fiber uses it to make its gel-like substances that help regulate cholesterol and glucose blood levels.

                                                    For additional info. visit:


Inspired by GourMaya's AMAZE-BALLS and by Sprouted Kitchen's almond date truffles, I made these chocolate chip cookie dough-looking balls full of fiber-rich ingredients. They are super healthy, easy to make (if you have date paste stored in your freezer as I mentioned I usually do in here), plus no baking is required. Ah! And they were approved by the child they were designed for, plus by my own daughter, who's eating them like candy.

· Vegan, free of dairy, gluten, soy, eggs, flour and refined sweeteners
· Contains nuts (peanut butter can be substituted with  other nut butters, Sunbutter or soy nut butter, if needed)
· Super ingredients: adzuki beans, dates, mesquite flour, all-natural (unsweetened) peanut butter, chia, cinnamon
2 teaspoons chia seeds
1 (15-oz) can aduki (or adzuki) beans, rinsed and drained (EDEN brand preferably)
2 tablespoons all natural peanut butter (unsweetened and unsalted, ingredient list should say only peanuts)
2 tablespoons date paste*
1 1/2 teaspoons mesquite flour (available here and here)
1 teaspoon raw (non-alkalized) cocoa powder (Rapunzel, Shiloh Farms, Scharffen-Berger or other brands)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch fine sea salt
1 tablespoon semisweet mini chocolate chips (Enjoy Life brand is allergen free)
1/2 cup puffed amaranth, optional


Grind chia seeds in a clean spice or coffee grinder. Transfer chia "meal" into a medium mixing bowl.

Puree aduki beans in a food processor, or with an immersion blender. Measure 2 tablespoons of the puree and place them in the bowl with the ground chia. Transfer the rest of the beans to a freezer-safe container and freeze until needed.

Add peanut butter, date paste, cocoa, mesquite, vanilla, cinnamon and salt and mix well with a spatula, until homogeneous dough is formed.

Add chocolate chips and mix until incorporated.

Make balls of dough (about 1-inch diameter). Roll balls on puffed amaranth if desired. Freeze or refrigerate.

Serve and enjoy!


Thursday, September 20, 2012

After the Flood

The last few weeks have should I put it? Over eventful, let's call it that.
As we left Rio, the kids were completely unhappy to come back to reality. My daughter must have cried a river. Her tears only served as a metaphor for what we were going to face back home...
As we were told by the super, the doormen, the landlord, and our neighbors: it was an ugly wet mess. 
Our bathroom missed us so much, that a pipe bursted, not into tears, but into uncontrollable torrents. Thankfully, they kept us in ignorance until the day we were coming back. 6 inches of water, bad damage in our home, and in the neighbours' on both sides and downstairs, a moldy rug, and sorry I'm-boring-you-but-I-need-to-vent-OK-I'll-spare-u-from-more-details and much more. Everything is still upside down (and down side up), plus cable (including Internet) wasn't working until early this week, which explains my blogging absence. Adding on: going back to school, which I'm never prepared for, although I begged all week for the moment to come, so I could start cleaning up. Then teaching classes, including one to the amazing gals of West Orange, NJ; and baking orders for Rosh Hashanah for clients on the SCD diet, celiac disease, seeds, legume, sugar, dairy and nut allergies. Then, 10 loaves of challah and four festive meals to celebrate the Jewish New Year...My freezer, my fridge and my head about to explode, but somehow, it all worked out.

Mostly, thanks to my 86-year-old grandmother who prepared baths for the kids, scrubbed potatoes, ran to the store when I ran out of gluten free oat flour, sliced apples, washed dishes, co piloted me all the way to New Jersey, babysat, washed bowls, advised on the use of phyllo, and even patted my hand thanking me for having her here for the holiday. I am so grateful for having this admirable, incredible, inspiring, strong, determined, generous and hard working woman as a grandmother; with whom I can talk, share, complain, cry, hug, cook with, and be driven crazy by. How great is it to have this woman who moves mountains, manages to bring me a chandelier all the way from Mexico, rubs my neck with Icy Hot and goes through the difficulties of life never taking an "you can't" for an answer?
Today, the two of us ventured to Broadway so her trip wouldn't be all work and no fun. We had a nice lunch and then we watched the Evita matinee. We both fell in love with Ricky Martin and can't stop singing  (completely off tune, neither of us possess the musical gene) "Don't cry for me Argentina." We spoke about family, work, past good times and my mom. Today was a treasure! What a way to start the New Year!!!
A happy New Year to all of you who celebrate it, and to all of you who don't too!

In the meantime, while we meditate, analyze and consider the good things, the bad things and all we did this past year, there's still a menu to plan to prepare for the big fast of Yom Kippur.
I've perfected mine over the years and got down to an easy-to-prepare, tasty, crowd-pleasing meal that fuels the body with immediately available energy (complex carbs), and with some energy that's saved for later (fat), hydrating items and very little salt, to avoid thirst. Some protein and lots of store-bought ice cream. Yes! For us it's a Ben & Jerry's moment, and trust me, everyone who's tried this pre-fast menu swears by it. 

1. About four days before the fast, start decreasing your consumption of coffee or tea, gradually.

2. One day before, start drinking as much coconut water (natural, don't get the sweetened one) as you can (at least 8 cups throughout the day). If you're up to it, add a couple of teaspoons of chia seed into your coconut water (do no't exceed 4 teaspoons a day). It helps retain even more liquid. Best way to stay hydrated.

3. Eat this as the last meal before starting to fast (listen to your body and don't overeat. You'll feel hungry at some point during the fast. Tha't normal and a bit of the point):

- Chilled melon soup with mint and fresh lime juice from this recipe*. Do you remember it? If I'm in a hurry I just make it all honeydew, mint and limes. This will be refreshing and hydrating.

-Green salad with seeds and nuts (not salted!), sliced fruit (apples, nectarines, figs, avocados, whatever you have in hand), extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Here go some more hydrating fruits and some protein from the nuts and seeds.

- Pasta salad made with: Udon noodles (I prefer Eden Organic's 100% whole grain, but any brand will do, even if it's not whole grain) cooked and cooled, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, a bit balsamic, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and ricotta, fresh mozzarella or goat milk cheese (just make sure it's not a salty kind). Use quinoa noodles if you eat gluten free (i find those are the best gf alternative). Here are some complex carbs for the first hours of fasting, some protein and a touch of good fat.

- Ice cream Sundays baby!!! Serve your favorite flavors with this home-made chocolate shell (Just melt 4.5 ounces of bittersweet or semi sweet chocolate with 0.75 ounces of virgin or expeller pressed coconut oil over a double boiler. Serve over ice cream and it will solidify immediately when the chocolate sauce touches the cold dessert) and whip some heavy cream sweetening it a bit with a touch of coconut nectar and pure vanilla extract. This might not be the best every day option, but the fat and sugar in these foods will allow your body to have good sources of energy available throughout the day. 

- Break the fast eating sensibly, slowly and preferably lots of fruits and veggies.
Adapted from Gourmet

1 small very ripe cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 very ripe honeydew melon, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh mint, minced, or to taste (plus additional sprigs for garnish)

In a food processor or blender, puree the cantaloupe and lemon juice (in batches if necessary), until very smooth. Pour into a bowl or large pitcher and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.
In the same processor or blender (no need to wash it), puree honeydew, lime juice and mint. Pour it into another bowl or pitcher and chill as well.
To serve, pour equal amounts of both purees at the same time into the serving bowls. Using two measuring cups (or the pitchers) is helpful to do this easily. Garnish the soup with mints sprigs and serve.
Serving variation: For a more modern look, place a round cookie cutter on the soup bowl and fill in the center (inside the cutter) with one of the soups and the outside of the cutter with the other one. Remove the cutter and the two circles will stay in place, making for a beautiful presentation.

Makes 6 servings

Have an easy fast, and we may all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a healthy and happy New Year!