Grilled Corn & Zucchini Ribbon Salad with an Herbed Buttermilk Dressing

cottage holiday_2015

We made it back to our cabin in the woods for the first time in two years.

It sits atop a forested hill overlooking a quiet, clean lake. We bought the original fishing cabin about 12 years ago with its bumps and bruises and have since fixed it up, little by little, turning it into something slightly more livable for our family. The functionality has improved but the simplicity remains the same.

Wifi free we disconnect from the noise around us for a while and enjoy long swims with warbling loons, sunset sails and roaring campfires that endure through the night.

One deliciously lazy afternoon my husband and I sat in a trance watching a couple of hummingbirds catch water droplets off our rotating sprinkler.  Their suspended bodies vibrating wildly as the sun hit their iridescent wings in bands of silver and gold.

Above our outstretched bodies on the dock, the night sky is clear and black and filled with winking stars.  We fall asleep to a racket of throaty frogs and wake to a most enthusiastic, and early rising, woodpecker. Even this is welcome.

cottage holiday_3_2015

On my favorite walk to nowhere along the winding gravel road, I encounter not one but six wild rabbits in pairs of two. Observing and then eventually photographing, it occurs to me that one of them is stuck and unmoving – frozen in the middle of the road and without a friend.  Flush with guilt, I gently crouch down and then lay flat on my back to remove any perceived threat and watch the bunny bounce to freedom out of the corner of my eye.

cottage wabbit

I never realized just how high and far rabbits can jump.  I’ve only ever been up close to them in cages before.

All the things we look at but don’t see.

~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And this salad…

grilled corn & zucchini ribbon salad_blog

Full of seasonal goodness! Thin strips of raw zucchini are surrounded by paprika spiced grilled corn, creamy avocado, juicy blueberry and crunchy sunflower seeds ~ the salad is then drizzled in a soothing honey-herb buttermilk dressing.

I’ve been working on perfecting my homespun version of buttermilk ranch and I’m so pleased with the result. It only takes a few minutes to whip it up too. Be sure to read the Notes in the recipe card for best results.

And remember, there’s still plenty of summer to enjoy so let’s not rush the process.  The snow will arrive soon enough; meantime, let’s savor the green.

cottage holiday_farmers' fields

Grilled Corn and Zucchini Ribbon Salad
 
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Thinly sliced raw zucchini noodles are surrounded by grilled corn, avocado, sunflower seeds and blueberry and then drizzled in a soothing honey buttermilk dressing.
Author:
Recipe type: Salad
Serves: Serves 4
Ingredients
  • The Salad
  • 2 ears of shucked corn cooked on the grill, (or 1 cup corn kernels)
  • ¼ tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 medium sized zucchinis, sliced thin with a mandoline
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower seed
  • ½ cup fresh blueberries

  • The Herbed Buttermilk Dressing
  • 4 Tbsp buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp natural mayonnaise (see Notes)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • ½ tsp apple cider vinegar
  • ½ tsp honey
  • pinch sea salt, coarse pepper
  • 2 tsp finely chopped dill
Instructions
  1. At least one hour before serving time, assemble the Herb Buttermilk dressing ingredients in a container with fitted lid shaking and/or whisking to fully combine - store in fridge. Making the dressing ahead allows the ingredients time to harmonize and the flavors to develop.
  2. Brush shucked corn with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika.
  3. Heat barbecue to high setting and then reduce to low heat as you place corn on the grill.
  4. Grill corn for approximately 6-8 minutes, rotating as you go along and adding more paprika if you wish, until the corn is cooked and nicely browned in spots.
  5. Carefully remove corn from grill and allow cobs to cool slightly before slicing the corn off the cobs with a knife.
  6. Assemble zucchini ribbons on a serving plate and top with grilled corn, chopped avocado, blueberries and sunflower seeds.
  7. Remove Herbed Buttermilk dressing from fridge, give it a good shake or whisk and taste making any final flavor adjustments desired before drizzling over salad. Enjoy!
Notes
Make ahead option - you can prepare the grilled corn ahead of time and simply store the kernels in the fridge until you are ready to make the salad.
Mandoline - if you search the word mandoline on my site you will see all of the recipes I've made using my mandoline (a worthwhile $14 investment).
Raw Zucchini - I have come to love the taste of raw zucchini - particularly in the company of a delicious dressing - but if it's not your thing, you could grill the strips along with the corn in a vegetable basket.
Sizing - I know many of you are growing your own gorgeous garden zucchini and I have seen some the size of an adult's head! If you are working with a huge zucchini just slice enough to reasonably accommodate your salad servings.
Non-grill option - if you don't have a grill or don't wish to use it for this recipe, simply use 1 cup of sweet corn kernels (you can boil the cobs or steam from frozen). If you wish you can also sauté some corn in a skillet with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika.
Mayonnaise - I prefer a simple olive oil & egg mixture for mayonnaise which can be tricky to find in stores. (Even the one's that announce that they are made with olive oil almost always list soybean oil as the first ingredient). A combination of fat fear and a preference for cheap oil means that the more traditional whole ingredients are scarce on the shelves. Empire mayonnaise is one brand available at Whole Foods but you can also try your hand at making your own mayo - it's wonderfully simple - here is one method.

grilled corn & zucchini ribbon salad_blog_2

cottage holiday_4_2015

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Blueberry Basil Frozen Yogurt ~ all natural froyo!

5 minute blueberry basil frozen yogurt_1

I’m so excited to share this delicious and refreshing little number with you before things wind down over here for summer break.

I’m always amazed to discover how a small collection of ingredients can harmonize to create such complex flavor.  And in this case, it all happens in about 5 minutes – no ice cream/yogurt equipment required and no need to spend a ton of money at a froyo shop.  You can make this in the comfort of your own home any time day or night.

For this recipe, all you will need is some frozen fruit, yogurt, whatever add-ins you wish and a simple blender.

blueberry basil frozen yogurt

Nourishing, gorgeously addicting, and hydrating too.  You can have fun playing around with different combinations of fruit, herbs and flavors.  Another garden herb we love with blueberry is mint — my son makes blueberry mint popsicles and they are seriously gooood.

Word to the wise ~ I’ve been making homespun treats of this nature for a few years now and one thing I can tell you is that these cold snacks/desserts are always best served right from the blender.  If you leave them out too long at room temperature (or even in the fridge) the frozen fruit will begin to thaw and you will end up with a little puddle.  If you try to freeze and save for later, the consistency will change and become grainy and pasty – not good.

So if there are any rules, I would say serve immediately.  Otherwise, be a rebel. You can assemble all of your ingredients ahead of time (while keeping the fruit frozen) and then just give it a whirl when you’re ready to enjoy.   You can also modify quantity, varying the batch size to suit your needs.

5 minute blueberry basil frozen yogurt_blog

Now I did try a balsamic version (just part of the sacrifices I make) — subbing balsamic for the lemon juice but, to my surprise, I didn’t like it very much.  Not much at all, in fact.  In this particular recipe, I found the balsamic contributed too much on the sweet side and not enough on the tart side – not my thing but you could certainly play around and see what suits you best.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Blueberry Basil Frozen Yogurt ~ all natural froyo!
 
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An all natural frozen yogurt that comes together in a snap!
Author:
Serves: About 3 cups of froyo
Ingredients
  • 4 heaping cups frozen blueberries (or frozen chopped fruit of choice)
  • 1 generous cup plain Greek yogurt (I use 2%)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 to 4 Tbsp pure maple syrup (or sweetener of choice*) depending on taste preference
  • Handful fresh basil leaves
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until well combined, stopping to scrape down sides of blender, as needed. The consistency will be fairly thick but will begin to thin relatively quickly.
  2. Be sure to serve right after blending for best consistency and taste!
Notes
The consistency - you can adjust the consistency of the froyo as necessary - if it's too thick to work with, add a little more lemon juice or frozen fruit. If it's on the fluid side, add more yogurt as desired.
Use frozen fruit - you can experiment with different fruit, citrus juice/zest and herbs here but the fruit needs to be frozen in order for this recipe to work - frozen berries work especially well but you could experiment with other frozen fruit such as mango, kiwi and melon chunks to see how you like the texture.
Serve Immediately - I mentioned this in the body of the post but it's important to serve this snack/dessert right from the blender for best taste/texture results.
The sweet factor - the amount of sweetener you add, if any, will depend on your taste preference but keep in mind that fruit is already quite sweet by nature and if you choose to use a flavored yogurt, you may want to skip the additional sweetener all together.
Why Greek Yogurt - I favor Greek yogurt for its exceptional protein content and gorgeous texture. All yogurts, regardless of milk fat content, begin the same way - by adding bacterial cultures to milk. Greek yogurt begins this way but it soon departs from other yogurt brands in that the milk is strained to remove the liquid whey. According to manufacturers, this process of straining means that as many as four pounds of milk are required to produce one pound of Greek yogurt. The resulting product is a far more concentrated source of protein (from casein) and a thick and creamy texture characteristic of Greek yogurt (regardless of fat content - even zero fat Greek yogurt has a cream-like texture reminiscent of sour cream - though I generally use 2% fat content). You will pay more for Greek yogurt but I think you will find that you get what you pay for.

sunset on the lake ie

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7 Natural Strategies for Healthy Skin this Summer

Our skin is our largest and fastest-growing organ.  It is our first line of defense, protecting our interior, helping regulate our body temperature and allowing us to experience the sensation of touch. And like all other body parts, our skin requires and responds to care.

Much of what we see on the exterior of our bodies is a reflection of what’s going on inside of us. You can certainly spend a great deal of money on skin care products and cosmetics that work on the surface but my view is that you will be far more successful over the long run working from the inside out.  Not surprisingly then, this feature focuses on recommendations that support our beautiful, radiant skin from the inside out ~ including, of course, our diets.

The Balance between sufficient Vitamin D & Overexposure 

Our best source of vitamin D comes from the sun.  Ensuring adequate amounts of vitamin D throughout the year is important for supporting our immune system and allowing our bodies to absorb calcium but too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation can prematurely age our skin and leave us vulnerable to skin cancer.

cottage splendor

The amount of sun exposure we require to produce sufficient vitamin D will depend on the strength of the sun (time of day/where we live), and the color of our skin.  When the sun is strong, only brief periods of exposure (five to ten minutes) without sunscreen a few times per week is generally sufficient to produce adequate vitamin D in most individuals.  Those with darker skin may require more.  During the non-summer months when our body stores begin to drop, supplementation of vitamin D becomes important (our diets cannot supply sufficient amounts).

The best way to gauge vitamin D levels is to have them tested (this is obtained through routine blood work that can be requested from your physician).

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1. First things First: Ensure Adequate Protection

The best way to protect our skin and avoid sun damage is to take the necessary precautions, including:

  • staying out of the sun during the hottest times of the day
  • applying adequate sun block throughout the day
  • investing in a quality sun hat with a generous rim
  • wearing suitable clothing — this is something I have really expanded on since moving to CA – I wear light fabric cotton shirts that are not heavy but that fully cover my skin right up to the neck (no more scoop or v-necks) and have also found light weight shawls useful – the sun is relentless here.

2. Work in some Lycopene

There is a natural sun protector found in our diet that may also help prevent sun damage.  It is the carotenoid known as lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant found primarily in cooked tomato (tomato paste is a particularly concentrated source) but also in watermelon and pink grapefruit.  It has been linked to the reduction of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease and more recently to the reduction of photodamage.

In a recent study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, scientists from the University of Manchester revealed that lycopene found in tomato paste offered skin protection against ultraviolet radiation by inhibiting free radical damage and supporting collagen production.  The study also demonstrated that lycopene reduced damage to mitochondrial DNA.  This is an exciting and promising new area of research. Tomato paste has never tasted so good in this Zucchini Pasta with garden fresh Marinara

zucchini pasta_blog

3. Get your Vitamin C – Vitamin C is a powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant that protects collagen fibers from injury and supports new collagen growth helping to firm the skin and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.  In addition to citrus, dose up on vitamin C with red bell pepper, broccoli, kiwi fruit and succulent summer strawberries.  One of my favorite wake-ups ~ Cooling Strawberry Chia Overnight Oats

Strawberry Chia Overnight Oats_blog

4. Add Omega-3s – In addition to their anti-inflammatory effect on the body, the rich emollient nature of Omega-3 fatty acids help restore hydration and prevent drying skin by supporting the skin’s ceramide barrier.  Fish based Omega-3 fats (EPA/DHA) can be found in salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, krill, anchovies and rainbow trout.  Plant based Omega-3 fats (ALA) can be found in flaxseed, flaxseed oil, hempseed, hempseed oil, walnuts and Canola oil.  These simple and vibrant Chili-Rubbed Salmon Bowls are packed with flavor.

chili rubbed salmon bowls_IE

5. Savor Glorious Green TeaA study published in the Journal of Nutrition revealed that the polyphenol content in green tea can protect skin against harmful ultraviolet radiation and help improve overall skin quality.  Study participants who consumed green tea beverage for 12 weeks experienced improvements in blood flow and oxygen to the skin; a reduction in UV-induced inflammation (by 25 %) and improved structural characteristics including skin elasticity and hydration.  Summer perfect Green Tea (matcha) Soft Serve

Green Tea (Matcha) Soft Serve_IE

6. Eat the Rainbow – The warm summer months are best suited to a lighter diet of fresh, water-rich foods, which is precisely what nature provides.  Fresh foods are available throughout the warm weather season, allowing us to minimize indoor heating and maximize our nutrient intake.

The glorious rich pigmented colors we see in produce come from their phytonutrient content – plant compounds that act as disease fighting antioxidants in the body.  They help support our immune system and protect us against various forms of illness and environmental harm.  Produce is also rich in health-building fibre and water which supports our hydration needs during the warm weather months.

jasmine fruit

Since different colors produce unique phytonutrients, incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables from the different color groups into the diet is key.

  • Radiant Reds: beets, cherries, cranberries; pomegranates; pink grapefruit; radish; raspberries; red apples; cabbage; red grapes; rhubarb; strawberries; tomatoes; watermelon;
  • Opulent Oranges: apricots; cantaloupe; carrots; grapefruit; mangoes; nectarines; tangerines, oranges; papayas; peaches; pumpkin; rutabaga; squash; sweet potatoes;
  • Gorgeous Greens: artichokes; asparagus; avocados; broccoli; Brussels sprouts; celery; collard greens; cucumbers; green apples; green beans; green grapes; green peppers; kale; kiwi; limes; peas; spinach; zucchini;
  • Bountiful Blues/Purples: blackberries; blueberries; eggplant; figs; plums; prunes; purple grapes; raisins; purple potatoes;
  • Luscious Yellows/Whites: bananas; cauliflower; corn; lemons; pears; golden apples; coconuts; fennel; garlic; onions; parsnips; potatoes; shallots; turnip.

7. Hydrate Sufficiently – A diet rich in produce will support hydration but factors to keep in mind when appropriately fueling hydration needs include: ambient temperature, activity levels (the amount of water you are losing through sweating) and general health.  Consumption of diuretics, such as caffeine and alcohol, also increase urinary output requiring more water consumption to make up for this loss.

Ideas for enhancing taste — some delicious ways of enlivening the taste of water include adding fresh herbs, edible flowers, fruit and vegetables to your beverages. Some choices include: sliced cucumber,  lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, berries, pomegranate, mint, thyme, jasmine, rosemary and lavender.  You can also enjoy herbal teas and sparkling water or add a splash of your favorite unsweetened fruit juice to water. Smoothies are another delicious way to stay hydrated (and nourished).  Have fun experimenting and coming up with your own combinations.

The information in this post is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician or other health care professional directly before beginning or changing a course of health treatment.

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3 Artisan Herb Butters you will love!

Here we are at the onset of summer.  The season of warmth, abundance and discovery.

My husband and I marvel at the rate of growth and the pace of change as we walk our little garden together in the morning.

sweet bell pepper_km

Sometimes we have to crouch down low, turn ourselves upside down on the ground or slide branches sideways to get a full view of the beauty around us. Each day holds a new wonder and we do whatever we can to put ourselves in the middle of it.

flowering feijoa_blog

Whether you’re making your own discoveries in sunlit windows, on balconies, in yards or at your favorite farmers’ market, now is the ideal time to take advantage of nature’s bounty.

A few weeks ago, I shared my unexpected but happy little problem of fast growing herbs and these fragrant green bouquets I started making for neighbors to keep up with growth.

Well today, I’m sharing another way to use up these garden fresh beauties in the form of delicious and versatile compound butters — have you made them before?  Truly one of the simplest and most satisfying condiments you will ever hand assemble.

3 artisan compound butters you will love!

Compound butter is simply butter that has additional ingredients mixed in to enhance flavor (and texture) — but the amazing thing is that the combinations are truly endless.  So you can let your imagination run in all directions — savory, spicy, sour and/or sweet — depending on taste preference and what you intend to use the butter for.  I came across a rosemary, shallot and red wine version a year or two ago that had my toes curling… I mean, could you imagine a more delicious bring-along for a summer picnic?

3 artisan compound butters you will love! 1

And aren’t they cute? We just love the shape and artisanal quality of them.  (I think they would make a beautiful hostess gift bundled in simple parchment and hand tied on either end – you could add a tag identifying the type of butter and attach an herb or two to the outside.  So fun).

3 artisan compound butters you will love! 2

While olive oil is the fat that is used most commonly in our home, there are some foods for which, in my view, there is simply no substitute for butter:

lemon rosemary-oregano compound butter_blog

Am I right?

These recipes are entirely adaptable and not just in terms of herbs but other taste enhancers including the pungent allium family (onion, garlic, chive, leek, shallot) — the citrus family (lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit zest) and the full gamut of spices.  So you can play around with different combinations and experiment with your favorites.

The artisan butters also freeze well so you can preserve them longer and minimize spoilage.  Perfect for picnics, potlucks, garden parties and hostess gifts.

Our favorite? We sincerely liked all of these combinations (and enjoyed taste testing them on various foods) but if I had to pick one, it might be the dark horse ~ basil, black pepper and garlic.

Basil, Black Pepper & Garlic Compound Butter

Delish!

I hope you have fun with these – we certainly did. Be sure to read the Notes in the recipe card below for more information and best results.

3.0 from 2 reviews
3 Compound Herb Butters you will love!
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
3 Delicious Artisan Compound Butters made from Fresh Garden Herbs
Author:
Recipe type: Condiment
Serves: Makes 3 blocks of artisan butter
Ingredients
  • Lemon, Rosemary-Oregano & Sea Salt Butter
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 + ½ Tbsp finely chopped rosemary
  • ½ Tbsp finely chopped oregano
  • ½ tsp lemon zest or to taste
  • ¾ tsp sea salt of choice

  • Cilantro, Lime & Chile Salt Butter
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
  • ½ tsp lime zest or to taste
  • For the Chile Salt: ¾ tsp coarse salt of choice, pinch of chile of choice* I used ancho

  • Basil, Black Pepper & Garlic Butter
  • ½ cup salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped basil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp coarse black pepper
Instructions
  1. The instruction method is the same for each recipe.
  2. In a suitably sized bowl, place butter and add all ingredients mixing well to incorporate.
  3. At this stage it is sometimes helpful, if the butter is too soft, to return the mixed compound to the fridge to harden somewhat before trying to roll it (see Notes section below).
  4. Once the butter has achieved the right temperature, transfer contents onto a piece of parchment paper (about 10" x 10") and roughly shape into a log form (don't worry about the shape too much - it might just look like an awkward heap but it should roll out well regardless provided the butter is room temperature). There are a number of web based videos (youtube, etc) that illustrate how to roll compound butter if you would like a visual queue - some like rolling in plastic wrap, I prefer parchment.
  5. Beginning at one end, roll the paper around the butter until you reach the other end - roll the wrapped butter back and forth to smooth and shape and then seal the ends by twisting - once you twist you will see how compact and shaped it becomes - magic!
  6. Chill the butter in the refrigerator until firm, at least one hour.
  7. These compound butters will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks and in the freezer for a couple of months.
Notes
The Butter I used a quality organic butter for these compounds. If you wish to add your own variety of salt (or create a spiced salt such as the chile-salt), be sure to purchase unsalted butter as the base.
The Temperature of the Butter You want the butter to be soft enough to mix with the ingredients but not too soft that it's impossible to roll. The ideal is room temperature. If your butter is too soft to hold any shape at all, place it back in the fridge until it achieves room temperature.
Amount of Butter I used ½ cup increments of butter in these recipes as my base but you could easily double, triple or quadruple the batch (just remember to increase other ingredients accordingly).
The Chile there are many different kinds of chile you can use for the chile-salt; it really just depends on the type of flavor impact you are looking for. Ground chile peppers such as cayenne and habanero are amongst the hottest varieties so you will want to use these chile powders carefully and in small pinches (1/8 tsp) particularly if you are new to them. Ancho chile is beautifully complex and warm (but not as hot as cayenne/habanero). Paprika and chipotle (smoke-dried jalapeno) are other favorites. The more generic ‘chili powder’ that you find in the grocery store is really a mixture of milder chile peppers with the addition of herbs/spices such as onion/garlic powder and salt and may be more suitable for youngsters and those who don't tolerate or enjoy heat.
The Raw Additions If raw garlic is not your thing, you can sauté or roast the garlic instead (same goes with onion, etc).
Herb Health - A promising study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry last year showed that both rosemary and oregano contain compounds that may assist in inhibiting type 2 Diabetes - research is ongoing.

3 artisan compound butters you will love! 3

 

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Glowing Greens Smoothie and some unlikely inspiration

I don’t normally take my dietary cues from Starbucks but when the temperature climbed upwards of 100F earlier this week, I was reminded of a little discovery I made last year.

glowing green smoothie_blog

It was a glorious late spring day when I found myself out and about (that’s oot and aboot for my American friends — see how much I’ve learned in the short time that I’ve been living here? Who knew that the way I would pronounce these two small words would be akin to having a maple leaf stamped on my forehead. I do feel compelled to note for the record however that I’ve never actually heard a Canadian say oot or aboot – not even a Maritimer – but I get that there is a slight difference in emphasis and I’m happy to go along with the chuckle.  Canadians can be kind that way, wink).

Right.  Where was I?

So I found myself on the road longer than planned and popped into the closest establishment — a Starbucks — to purchase a bottle of water.

lemon tree_blog

After some small chat, the barista proposed one of the store’s brand new smoothies.  Starbucks is in the smoothie business now? I was polite but reluctant and skeptical. Starbucks makes a mighty fine cup of coffee but I anticipated getting strapped with a supersized cloying bevy — you know, dripping with excess sugar on a hot, tired day and I really wasn’t in the mood.

So I asked a lot of questions (I can be like that) and finally decided to try the Sweet Greens Smoothie.  Well, not only was it not overly sweet (actually just the right note) — the bigger clincher was that it actually tasted good.  Really good. Fresh and perky.  How did they pull that off?

glowing green smoothie_blog_4

It turns out that last year, Starbucks teamed up with Evolution Fresh to test a line of smoothies in select stores (since Evolution Fresh is CA based, I guess we were one of the lucky ones).

Cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices sourced from farms and orchards here in California are used in combination with creamy Greek yogurt and banana to create the Starbucks featured smoothies.

What struck me most about the Sweet Greens Smoothie was the grassy, vibrant taste of the greens – so bright and refreshing.  It felt like something I could build right from my garden.  So I did.

I’m in no way associated with Starbucks (nor Evolution Fresh) – I just happen to like this drink and I hope you do too.

You just never know where you’re going to get your inspiration, eh?

5.0 from 1 reviews
Glowing Greens Smoothie
 
Prep time
Total time
 
A delicious and nourishing smoothie that combines fruits and vegetables
Author:
Recipe type: Drinks
Serves: approximately 2 8 ounce glasses
Ingredients
  • 2 generous cups (packed) fresh baby spinach
  • 4 large Romaine lettuce leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 handful fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ of whole English cucumber, skin-on and coarsely chopped
  • ¾ cup apple juice
  • 1 cup mango chunks, fresh or frozen
  • 1 banana, fresh or frozen
  • Generous ½ cup plain Greek yogurt, I used 2%
  • 2 shakes ground nutmeg or grated whole nutmeg
  • Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth (if you are using a smaller machine, work incrementally adding ingredients as you go along and scrapping the sides of the blender down with a spatula as necessary).
  2. Add more fluid as necessary to achieve desired consistency.
Notes
The Chill factor: If you are using fresh mango and banana, you can add ice to chill the drink, as desired.
Nutmeg & Parsley: The nutmeg and parsley are not for garnish! Don't be tempted to skip them -- they are an integral part of the delicious grassy taste of this beverage (and if you have whole nutmeg, even better, grate some up).
Dairy Free: If you want to make this smoothie dairy free, almond milk might be the best sub for the yogurt in terms of mild flavor but you could also experiment with hemp and/or rice milk.

glowing green smoothie_blog_2

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Buffalo Chickpea Tortilla Bites

buffalo chickpea tortilla bites

Summer officially begins on Friday in this home.

It’s the boys last week of school and we are cruising through it with the usual mix of chaos and excitement.

Just beyond the end-of-semester projects, presentations and ceremonies, await the pool parties, UEFA Champions League finals and midnight chip runs to CVS.  Yup, the first week of summer is about to descend on us in all of its glory and the boys can literally taste it.

The tradition at our sons’ school, like many others, is for the parents of the Grade 11 class to prepare the food for the Grade 12 graduation reception — (I say this with a huge lump in my throat knowing that next year, we will have our own Grade 12 graduate and it will no longer be possible for me to keep denying the inevitable.  Please tell me I am not the only mom who has trouble with this…).

buffalo chickpea tortilla bites mixture_IE

Anyway, when I went on-line to check out the sign-up sheet, the dessert and drinks categories were looking happily occupied so I shuffled over to the sandwich section.

Having been to a few of these ceremonies in the past, my observation is that the deli counter is typically well represented — you know the turkey, salami, pastrami trifecta.   And that’s all good but with a growing number of teenagers being vegetarian or meat avoidant, I thought it might be nice to offer a veg option (other than cheese) that might also be compelling enough to eat.  So the challenge became how to work the idea into a sandwich food.

buffalo chickpea tortilla bites_4_IE

Well, I have to say, beyond being a bit of a bugger to photograph (and some lingering uncertainty about whether I will ultimately go with the spinach tortilla for the students — too much love do you think?) — these little buffalo pinwheels are so tasty, I had to blog about them.  What is it about Buffalo sauce that renders everything it comes into contact with deliriously delicious…and those subtle yet fully perceptible hits of blue cheese… oh. my.

It remains to be seen whether these little bites get eaten by anyone at the graduation ceremony but in our home, they are a definite make-again.  If not in tortilla form, then in buffalo hummus form.  The recipe works equally well as a dip, a must try!

For best results (and ingredient sub ideas), be sure to read the Notes.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Buffalo Chickpea Tortilla Bites
 
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A delicious and approachable finger food featuring the well-loved buffalo 'wing' sauce.
Author:
Serves: Makes approximately 24 tortilla bites
Ingredients
  • 900 grams (about 3 cups) cooked chickpeas, thoroughly rinsed if using canned
  • ½ cup crumpled Gorgonzola cheese, or cheese of choice
  • ½ cup Buffalo sauce of choice*
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • ½ cup finely chopped optional crunchy add-ins: spring radish, fennel, celery, apple, seeded cucumber
  • 3 10-inch tortillas of choice, I used spinach
Instructions
  1. Place cooked and cooled chickpeas in a blender or food processor (or, you can simply use a potato masher)
  2. Add the buffalo wing sauce and ¼ cup of cheese. If you are not using cheese, I recommend adding 2 Tbsp of olive oil or coconut oil instead for adhesion and healthy fats.
  3. Pulse the chickpeas, buffalo sauce and cheese together until desired consistency is achieved. I left mine a little on the chunky side but if you prefer a smoother consistency like hummus, just keep pulsing (stopping to scrape the sides down as necessary).
  4. Remove contents into a mixing bowl and add remaining ¼ cup cheese, green onion and any crunchy add-ins. Use a spatula to mix the contents together before spreading on tortillas.
  5. Lay each tortilla out on a flat surface and divide the mixture among them -- spread the mixture evenly over the full surface of the tortilla using a spreading knife or spatula.
  6. Beginning on one end, gently roll the tortilla as evenly and tightly as possible (like a sleeping bag!).
  7. Carefully place each rolled tortilla into some plastic wrap and store in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  8. Remove from wrap and slice the tortilla to the thickness desired.
Notes
Noteworthy ~ the beautiful checkered kitchen towel that appears in this post was handmade to perfection and sent to me (along with two others) courtesy of the talented Suzanne McCarthy who blogs over here.
Cheese ~ we happen to like the classic combination of blue cheese and wing sauce but you can skip the cheese altogether or use a milder or different cheese. Some options that might work well here include: feta, goat and cream cheese.
*Buffalo Sauce ~ I have never been a fan of Frank's buffalo sauce (I know, I'm sorry); I like Bella's all natural brand of hot wing sauce available at Whole Foods and you can also experiment with making your own buffalo sauce by following this link.
Dipping Sauce ~ if you'd like a dipping sauce for these tortilla bites, I recommend this one.

pinwheel sandwiches

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5 ways to Improve Digestion & ease Tummy Trouble

Gastrointestinal discomfort, or tummy trouble, is one of the most common health conditions I encounter in my nutrition practice.

Some of the more familiar symptoms include: bloating; cramping; heartburn; gas; constipation and/or diarrhea.  The associated discomfort levels can range from mild to debilitating and the causes, consequences and potential cures, are equally diverse.

What I want to talk about today are some of the founding principles and practices we can put in place to help lay the groundwork for gastrointestinal health.

These strategies are not meant to be mutually exclusive but rather work together to inform the overall picture of health.  Often with digestion, our bodies will accommodate a certain amount of flux (and tolerate a certain amount of abuse) before things start to come undone.  As things deteriorate, we are often visited by clear — and sometimes loud — signs of trouble.

The founding principles are just that — the basis upon which healthy digestive habits are formed.  At first blush they may seem simple but, like all things, the trick is to practice them.  The results don’t come instantaneously or from a single act of intensity.  Rather, they are achieved through regular practice over time.

5 ways to improve digestion and ease tummy trouble

1.  Slow Down & Change the Focus – our digestive system does not like to be rushed, which is very different from the way most of us live our lives. By slowing down we help calm our nervous system and support proper chewing, the first critical step in the digestive process.

Trying to imagine mealtime in more ritualistic, even celebratory terms ~ as it was once practiced ~ can be very helpful for transforming our approach.  I don’t mean making things complicated or fancy, quite the opposite, I just mean shifting our mind so that we pay attention.  Setting aside, even momentarily, the usual distractions and focusing instead on the smell, taste, textures and nourishing properties of the food we are about to eat.  We might even imagine how our food serves us by providing energy, growth, repair and rejuvenation and how fortunate we are to receive it.  It’s hard to imagine this kind of singular, uncorrupted focus – I know.  But if we can manage it, even intermittently, we begin to see how the act of shifting our attention to our food allows us to slow down naturally.  Other simple elements such as candles, field flowers and pretty cloth napkins can also enhance the dining experience by transporting us out of our electronic fields and bringing our focus back to the joy and celebration of eating.

2. Chew, Chew, Chew — digestion begins in the mouth ~ it is initiated and facilitated through the act of proper mechanical chewing. As we chew our food, digestive juices from our saliva further assist in the process of breaking down our food. The more thoroughly chewed our food is, the more exposed surfaces there are for enzymes to work on as our food moves through the intestinal tract.

It has been said that many intestinal conditions could be significantly improved if people chewed their food

Proper chewing is made difficult by the fact that we are not always aware of how quickly we are eating our food. Shifting our focus will help with this but in the initial stages, when our minds are more prone to wander, the following strategies can be very helpful for slowing down and promoting proper chewing:

  • the fork rest — simply put your fork down between bites and wait until your food is properly chewed and swallowed before picking it up again.  You might be amazed to discover how this small step will make you aware of just how quickly you eat your food (you may also find it rather annoying which is also informative);
  • chopsticks — I encourage the use of chopsticks wherever and whenever possible; they are a natural speed and quantify tamer and a great way to promote proper chewing and digestion.

 3. Identify your Tummy Triggers – certain foods can promote inflammation in the body and intensify tummy trouble.  Cleaning up the diet is a very helpful, often essential, step in improving gastrointestinal comfort (not to mention systemic health). Triggers (and symptoms) will be different for each of us and keeping a food journal is a very helpful tool in pinpointing individual trouble spots.  With this in mind, some principles:

whole foods — often the simplest and most important step we can take towards promoting an anti-inflammatory diet is to increase our intake of whole foods and decrease our intake of manufactured foods.  By whole foods, I simply mean food that looks the way it did when it was growing in nature – on trees, in our gardens and on the farm.  These foods deliver the greatest concentration of nutrients for our bodies (vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals) as well as enzymes which help break down our food and facilitate digestion.

manufactured foods — manufactured foods (processed/refined foods and fast foods) by contrast, contain a disproportionate amount of sugar, sodium and unnatural fats relative to whole foods which can bog down digestion and undermine systemic health. These same foods also tend to contain a host of artificial preservatives, colorants, flavor enhancers as well as binders, emulsifiers and/or other ‘gums’ which can further act as triggers in a host of different ways (digestion/migraine/mood) depending on individual susceptibility.

the sugar load — excess sugar can put our immune systems on alert and increase levels of pro-inflammatory messengers (cytokines) in the body.  Sugar is abundant in processed foods and often hidden in “low-fat” and “no-fat” dressings and sauces. Keep in mind that although honey and pure maple syrup may be less refined sources of sugar than white sugar (and carry tiny amounts more of trace minerals/vits), they are still very much sugars and operate like sugars in the body.  I happen to enjoy their taste but nutritionally there is very little difference between them so the focus should really be on the overall load/quantity used.

5 ways to improve digestion_IG

4. Be aware of the role of Stress – this is possibly one of the most important and least appreciated keys to digestive vitality.  Proper digestion depends on the engagement of the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” branch of our nervous system).  During times of stress, it is our sympathetic nervous system (the “fight or flight” response) that takes over and digestion begins to shut down.

Stress is one of our body’s most powerful, adaptive responses.  It triggers the release of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol which prepare us for fight or flight. When this happens, certain body systems become more acute or higher functioning (blood pressure, visual acuity, mobility reflexes) while others, deemed not essential or unsafe, begin to shut down.  When there’s a saber-toothed tiger on the scene, the stress response makes a great deal of sense and may well save our life. The difficulty is when we start seeing saber-toothed tigers on every corner (in our home, at the office, in our cars, etc) — we begin to live in situations of chronic stress where we are continuously triggering the stress response in our bodies and preventing the rest and digest branch from doing its job.  The last thing that is safe for us to do when preparing for fight or flight is to spread a picnic blanket and enjoy a relaxing meal.

Whether our saber-toothed tigers are real or imagined, they have the same effect on our bodies 

5. Engage the Relaxation Response — once we become aware of the link between stress and digestion, the next step is to engage the rest and digest branch of our nervous system.  There are many effective ways to promote this response and each of us will have our preferences.  Experimenting with different modalities is often the key.  I touched on many relaxation techniques in this feature, but the one I want to highlight today is breathing.

Breathing techniques have been an integral part of wellness practices throughout Asia for centuries.  Lauded for their ability to calm the nervous system, lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve sleep, digestion and mental clarity, breathing exercises do not require any special equipment or membership and you can practice them anywhere — while you’re stuck in traffic, standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for takeoff or trying to fall back to sleep in the comfort of your bed.

The idea with breathing exercises is that when practiced regularly, we start to feel the benefits not only during the directed breathing itself (voluntary nervous system) but also eventually in our day-to-day actions and reactions to things (involuntary nervous system) – and that is the true gift.  Here are two methods for consideration:

◊ Diaphragmatic/ Belly Breathing – most of us are chest breathers (thoracic breathers) particularly when we are stressed, anxious or upset, we tend to take short, shallow breaths without fully engaging our diaphragm (the muscle beneath our ribcage).  Breathing with a fully expanded tummy allows us to benefit from deeper, fuller breaths, while calming our nervous system as we go along. Herbert Benson (Harvard physician) describes the belly breathing method in his book The Relaxation Response, as follows:

  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose allowing your belly to fully expand (like a pregnant tummy) – exaggerate this motion to get the idea – hold the position for a count of 3 seconds (eventually moving up to 5)
  • Exhale gently through your nose or pursed lips if preferred – the diaphragm will relax as the tummy moves back to its resting position
  • There is little or no upper chest movement – place one hand on your chest and one hand over your belly.  You should feel your belly hand extending and your chest hand staying relatively still
  • Practice 10 series of breaths (inhale/exhale) and if you find your mind wandering, gently but firmly return your focus to the breath, counting as you go along

◊ 4-7-8 Breathing — the 4-7-8 breathing method is another technique (likely originating from India) that has been adopted in the West.  One of my favorite interpreters is Andrew Weil (American pioneer of Integrative Medicine and graduate of Harvard Medical School). I first came across the 4-7-8  breathing method back in 2011 when I was preparing a research piece on digestion and relaxation. I will describe the method verbally but for a more helpful visual demonstration, you can view the video link below.

  • Place the tip of your tongue gently and loosely against the ridge behind your front teeth; keep it there throughout the exercise
  • Exhale through your mouth, making a whooshing sound.
  • Then, with mouth closed, inhale deeply and quietly through your nose for a count of 4
  • Hold for a count of 7, and exhale audibly through your mouth for a count of 8.
  • Repeat the exercise for a total of 4 breath cycles twice a day.  After a month, if you’re comfortable with it, increase to 8 breaths each time.

Here is a clip of Andrew Weil’s demonstration (there are fancier versions that have been recreated but this one remains my favorite in terms of background and technique – if it doesn’t work in your geographic area simply google 4-7-8 + Weil for a video demo that does): The-4-7-8-Breath-Benefits-and-Demonstration.

——-

Rule out Medical Causes — if you are living with chronic and persistent gastrointestinal discomfort, be sure to follow-up with your trusted health care practitioner to investigate any underlying medical causes for your symptoms.

The information in this post is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician or other health care professional directly before beginning or changing a course of health treatment.

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Spring Frittata with Fresh Garden Herbs

spring frittata with garden herbs_blog

This year marked our first spring planting season at our new home.

I was intent on growing herbs and getting a vegetable or two into the ground.  So with a deep breath and a huge leap of faith, I kept my ambitions low, stayed focused and started small.

My husband built me two wood boxes and with that, our adventure was underway.

herb & vegetable planters

Having had a high success rate for growing weeds in the past (you know the mint and clover variety of ground cover that you can’t kill no matter how hard you try) and an abysmal success rate for keeping anything otherwise edible/desirable alive — how about some basil or cilantro for a change? — I entered the fray somewhat weary but not ambivalent.  This is California after all.  I can do this.

herb bouquets_Inspired Edibles

And then it happened.  Just like that. Within one month, growth was so abundant that I found myself making herb bouquets for our neighbors — (waaa?) I felt like I was starring in somebody else’s garden show and I liked it — a lot.

Fast forward 6 weeks from our original planting date and we now have three boxes, 13 different herb and vegetable varieties growing and tomato plants that are hip high — little miracles, each and every one of them.

asparagus_egg

So today, a celebration of spring, growth and green with this garden fresh frittata! (aka: quiche’s sexier Italian cousin).

Of course with the frittata, much like its fussier kin the omelet and its more matronly cousin the quiche, (I do love quiche incidentally), you can truly make it your own by working with whatever seasonal or preferred ingredients you wish.

Ideal for serving a group, the gorgeous golden-rimmed frittata is a breeze to make and works well not only for breakfast/brunch but for any meal of the day.  Leftovers are also delicious.

The hallmark of the frittata is that it is crustless and its contents are sautéed prior to hitting the oven. Beyond that, it’s a bit of a rebel among egg pies and all rules are subject to interpretation (well, at least in my world view with deference to all Italian grandmothers out there).

spring frittata with garden herbs_blog_3

I want to dedicate this post to mothers around the globe — those who are still with us and those we carry in our hearts.  And to all of our sisters, aunts, cousins, nieces, friends and loved ones who have acted as mentors in our lives.  Thank you.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Spring Frittata with Fresh Garden Herbs
 
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A spring celebration frittata featuring asparagus and leek with fresh garden herbs
Author:
Serves: 8 pieces
Ingredients
  • 1 heaping cup chopped leek (1 stalk should do it)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and salted
  • ½ pound asparagus (about 10 spears), cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 8 (or more) cheery tomatoes, cut in half
  • 10 large fresh eggs
  • ⅓ cup half and half cream (10%)
  • pinch of fresh grated nutmeg, optional
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (or cheese of choice)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh oregano (or other herb of choice), minced
  • 1 ounce feta cheese (or cheese of choice)
  • sea salt & black pepper
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F
  2. Warm a 10" cast iron skillet (or oven proof skillet of choice) over low-medium heat making sure to grease sufficiently with oil or butter (I used coconut oil)
  3. Sauté leek, onion and garlic in the skillet over low-medium heat, just until the onion/leek become translucent being careful not to scorch the garlic, about 3 minutes. Add the asparagus and toss with veggies for a minute or two just until it brightens.
  4. Meanwhile whisk together: eggs, cream, nutmeg, 1 Tbsp parsley, oregano, sea salt & coarse black pepper together in a bowl.
  5. Add the grated Parmesan to the egg mixture and combine.
  6. Pour egg mixture into the skillet over the vegetables and cook for only 3 or 4 minutes over low-medium heat -- resist the urge to stir -- instead, draw a heatproof spatula across the bottom of the skillet in 3 or 4 long, deliberate strokes, pushing the cooked eggs toward the center and allowing the runny parts to gather underneath - this prevents scorching on the bottom of your frittata.
  7. Remove the skillet from heat and sprinkle the egg surface (which will still be runny in the center and barely set around the edges) with crumbled feta and then dot with tomatoes, as desired.
  8. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until the egg mixture is puffed and beginning to take on a golden brown appearance (particularly around the edges).
  9. Carefully remove the skillet from the oven, top with remaining sprinkle of fresh parsley.
  10. Run a spatula around skillet edge to loosen the frittata, then carefully slide it out onto a serving plate to cut and serve.
Notes
Make it your own - one of the beautiful things about frittata, omelet and quiche is that they are completely adaptable -- use whatever ingredients you have on hand and take advantage of what is in season near you. The custard content can also vary from milk (or alternate milk beverage) to cream to coconut as well as your cheese and herb selection.
Sauté to remove excess water - vegetables contain a lot of water, (notably: mushrooms & zucchini), sautéing them prior to baking the frittata allows much of this water to be released so that you don't end up with a soggy mess during the baking process.
Leek Prep - to prepare leeks, cut the ends off (the roots) and darker green tops (you can reserve for stock). Be sure to rinse thoroughly as leeks can be sandy. Slice the white/yellow part of the leek in half lengthwise (and then again if still large) and then chop the long pieces, widthwise.
Leek Nutrition - leeks form part of the powerful allium family together with its confrères garlic, onion and chives - a class of vegetables which are rich in phytonutrients and operate as antioxidants in the body. This s one sexy allium rich pie!
Smashing Garlic - I recommend smashing the garlic (as distinct from running it through a garlic press) for two reasons. I love the chunkier texture of the garlic and chopping/slicing the garlic cloves alone without first flattening it (smashing/crushing) will not release the allium's beneficial oils. To smash, simply use the flat side of a large knife and carefully press down on the garlic over a cutting board until it breaks/flattens somewhat. Sprinkle with sea salt which will absorb beautifully into the oils and then chop or slice the garlic.

asparagus_blogspring frittata with garden herbs_blog_5

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Strawberry Ricotta Cake (Gluten Free)

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I’ll admit to feeling a little torn between lovers these days.

It’s a spring thing, you know.

With each passing day, I find myself surrounded by new and ever-growing possibilities.

strawberry ricotta cake_blog_1

Now I’m not one to name-drop but, if I must, I’ve got asparagus, artichoke, beets, leeks, radish, ramps, rhubarb, spinach and strawberries, all knocking at my door right now.

A dizzying array of prospects, don’t you think?

It’s a little overwhelming in a wonderful kind of way.  I want to feature them all in an endless blaze of seasonal glory. And yet, each week I find myself having to pick and choose without hurting anyone’s feelings — (food can start to take on a rather human presence in a foodie’s life) — just this week I found myself apologizing to asparagus for putting it on the back burner. Again.

strawberry ricotta cake_blog_2

This week’s nudge came from this lovely lady’s featured recipe.

I won’t go as far as saying that fights broke out over the last piece, although I’m hard-pressed to describe it otherwise.

As always, I’ll let you decide.

strawberry ricotta cake_blog_3

About a month ago, I started playing around with the combination of rice flour and almond meal in baking, thanks to this post.  I had the successful experiment in mind when I started developing this recipe.

This cake is a snap to make but there’s so much going on in terms of flavor and texture — from the fluffy eggs to the luxurious olive oil, to the creamy ricotta to the juicy seasonal berries.

The result is a soft, silky and gorgeously moist cake with just the right amount of sweetness.  It holds together beautifully and is very portable (for those ocean-side picnics, you know). A perfect accompaniment to your afternoon tea or a pretty centerpiece for your spring brunch (mother’s day/father’s day).

Enjoy and, as always, be sure to read the Notes in the recipe card below for best results.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Strawberry Ricotta Cake (Gluten Free)
 
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A moist and delicious ricotta cake with seasonal berries
Author:
Recipe type: Inspired by Bewitching Kitchen
Serves: 8 pieces
Ingredients
  • 1 cup white rice flour
  • ½ cup almond meal
  • 2 Tbsp tapioca flour/starch
  • ⅓ cup coconut palm sugar (or dry sugar of choice)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 + ½ cups whole ricotta cheese (full fat)
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 heaping cup of coarsely chopped fresh raspberries or berries of choice
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F
  2. Line the interior of a 9-inch cake pan (the flat circle part) with parchment paper fit to size and lightly coat with olive oil
  3. In a large bowl, combine: rice flour, almond meal, tapioca flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  4. In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together: eggs, ricotta, olive oil, lemon zest and vanilla
  5. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients just until blended
  6. Add ¾ cup strawberries and combine into batter taking care not to crush berries
  7. Scrape batter into prepared pan and scatter remaining strawberries over top pressing down ever so gently
  8. Bake cake until golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50–60 minutes ** at the 20 minute mark my GF cake was already golden brown - I tented it loosely with foil to prevent over-browning **
  9. Remove cake from oven and allow it to cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes before running a clean dry knife around the edge of the cake and then gently and carefully unmolding - the greased parchment helps a great deal with this.
  10. Before cutting, sprinkle the cake with a dusting of confectioners sugar and serve with a dollop of fresh cream, as desired.
Notes
Ricotta - I don't generally eat cake for its protein content, but, I did think you might find it interesting to know that there are 7 grams of protein in just a ¼ cup of ricotta ~ more than your average egg! This recipe contains 42 grams of protein from the cheese component alone.
Berries - I used strawberries in this recipe because they are in season here and their gorgeousness would not be denied but you can absolutely use whatever tickles your fancy. Although I have not performed the experiment, the original recipe calls for frozen berries, so that should work too.
Choice of Sweetener - I most commonly use maple syrup or honey but I don't recommend them here - there is already plenty of liquid in this recipe and adding more might result in a mushy wet cake (not good).
Tapioca - tapioca (a starch extracted from the root of the cassava plant) has become my thickening agent of choice in cooking and GF baking - I have replaced cornstarch slurries (cornstarch/water) that I formerly used to thicken sauces with it to great success and have also begun using it in GF baking where it plays that critical role of binding/thickening to give baked goods solidity and sponginess. A little goes a long way.
Parchment - don't be tempted to skip the parchment paper; it makes the task of unmolding the cake a snap (if you've ever tried unmolding a 'sticky' cake only to have it break into pieces, you know what I'm talking about).

strawberry ricotta cake_blog

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5 Ways to keep Metabolism Strong & Healthy

In simple terms, our metabolism is the rate at which our bodies utilize calories.  The higher our metabolic rate, the faster our bodies expend calories.

Our metabolism may be influenced by a number of variables including our age, gender and genes – factors which may seem completely out of our control. The good news is that there are certain things we can do to help maximize our body’s calorie burning potential and improve our global health.

The strategies I set out in this feature are science-based. To be sure, I know of no magic pill, pouch or bullet that will do for you what exercise and sound dietary choices can.

ginger pear smoothie_blogrecipe for my gingered pear green smoothie here

some principles:

  • Men generally have a higher metabolic rate than women – this is because they have a higher percentage of muscle mass and muscle burns more calories than fat, even at rest.
  • Metabolism generally decreases with age - this is often attributed to loss of muscle mass, which is certainly a key consideration, but the situation is more complex than that.  Hormonal changes that occur in women during the perimenopausal and postmenopausal phases of their lives, can also contribute to metabolic changes and increased fat storage (study).
  • Our Daily Energy Expenditure – our daily energy expenditure is made up of three main components: (i) our resting metabolism or basal metabolic rate (BMR) – the energy required to perform our vital body functions while at rest (breathing and heart beating for example) – BMR can make up as much as 75% of our daily calorie expenditure; (ii) our physical activity – anywhere from 15-30% of our daily expenditure depending on our activity level; and (iii) thermogenesis – the energy needed to digest and absorb food – somewhere around 10% of daily expenditure depending on the type of food consumed.
  • Start where you are, do what you can — it’s important when considering the strategies below to always work within your individual parameters, whatever they may be — age, stage of life, health considerations, fitness levels.

5 strategies:

1. Build Muscle

Muscle is our body’s most efficient calorie burner.  The more muscle mass we have, the higher our metabolic rate and the more efficiently our body is going to use calories, even at rest.

The very unique (and wonderful) thing about building muscle mass is that it not only requires us to expend energy during the exercise of weight training (the ‘physical activity’ prong) it also, critically, raises our resting metabolic rate because muscle is more metabolically active than fat — so we end up burning more calories simply lying on the couch than we would if we had less muscle mass.  That’s a pretty nice return on our investment.

Building muscle mass not only helps improve our body’s calorie burning potential, it also helps build the necessary foundation to keep us strong and robust as we age. Weight-bearing and/or resistance exercises are integral to maintaining strong and healthy bones. Women are especially vulnerable to loss of bone mass in the years following menopause as estrogen production drops significantly.

nutrition feature_metabolism_blog

Strength training most commonly comprises of  weight lifting and/or resistance exercise.  Weight lifting – customarily through the use of weight machines or free weights such as dumbbells and barbells. Although a gym environment may offer the most efficient way to use this equipment, you certainly don’t have to go this route.  You can invest in dumbbells of differing weights and use them in the privacy of your own home.  If you are new to weights, start with lighter weights and gradually/safely build over time. Strength training that offers resistance by way of equipment — such as rubber bands and balls — or by using the body’s own weight to create resistance — notably: push-ups, planks and dips as well as squats and lunges used in tandem with bands/balls — can also be very helpful and offers a broader range of options.  Exercise classes that incorporate these weight-bearing and/or resistance exercises such as Pilates, yoga and interdisciplinary aerobics/interval training, provide multiple benefits and are also well worth investigating.

2. Engage in Aerobic Exercise

Any aerobic activity from walking, dancing, cycling, rowing, swimming to running (and many more) will increase calorie expenditure.  The longer and more intense the workout, the more calories expended. Aerobic exercise also has the advantage of benefiting our cardiovascular system, bone health, circulatory system and mood.

◊ The best type of aerobic exercise is the kind that you enjoy and that you’re more likely to do on a regular basis.  This is what building a sustainable lifestyle is all about ~

Keep in mind too that exercise is cumulative.  If you only have 10 minutes at lunch — use it and try and sneak in another 10 minutes after dinner.  Any amount of exercise is worthwhile and beneficial so don’t feel like the circumstances have to be ideal before partaking.   The trick is to start — do what you can, when you can.  As a general rule, aim to include at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity into your daily routine. You can challenge yourself by adding time and intensity to your workouts over time and experiment with different types of exercise to see what works best for you.

3. Consider High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT) 

HIIT is a training technique that involves alternating intervals of high-intensity exercise followed by brief recovery periods.  HIIT can be a very demanding/intense form of training and it is not for everyone.  HIIT is lauded for its ability to not only burn calories during the course of the exercise itself but also notably, for its ability to burn calories following the completion of exercise (this is due to an increase in excess post-exercise oxygen consumption — or EPOC — wherein the body continues to recover from the intense exercise ~ sucking wind as my friend would say).

Although studies have shown that interval training does raise EPOC and calorie expenditure following exercise (study), it would appear that this increase is highest among untrained individuals (study).  The higher your cardiorespiratory fitness level, the lower the magnitude of EPOC you will experience.  Stated differently, the better shape you are in, the less you will benefit from the post-exercise calorie burn because you recover more quickly and your body’s metabolism returns to normal sooner. In well-trained individuals the post-exercise caloric expenditure, or after-burn, has been found to be as low as 1% (with a mean of 4.8%) (study).  Still, an average 4.8% post-exercise expenditure is more than baseline and if you enjoy HIIT (and it’s a safe form of exercise for you), you can certainly take advantage of the metabolic benefits.

4. Eat a balanced diet that includes sufficient Protein

I’ve written about the importance of protein in other features (and will no doubt do so again). Unlike carbohydrates that are metabolized relatively quickly into sugar in the body, protein requires more work for our bodies to break down and metabolize.  This not only leads to a higher expenditure of energy relative to other macronutrients that we consume, it also means that protein can help stabilize our blood-sugar levels, improve our sense of fullness and satisfaction and assist in helping our mood and concentration.

Keep in mind as well that protein is essential for building muscle mass (strategy number 1 above).

There is also new and compelling research to suggest that individuals who consume normal- and high- range protein in their diets store more excess calories as lean tissue, or muscle mass, than those on low-protein diets – and while the mechanism is not yet fully understood, this remains a promising area of study (research).

5. Make sure you’re getting enough Sleep 

Sleep is intimately connected to hormonal processes in the body and critical for maintaining metabolic homeostasis. Sleep deprivation has been associated with multiple physiological changes, including increased cortisol and ghrelin levels, decreased leptin levels, impaired glucose metabolism, increased pro-inflammatory markers (review, review) and decreased energy expenditure.

A compelling study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that just one night of total sleep deprivation was enough to significantly reduce resting metabolic rate in adult men in comparison to those obtaining 8 hours of sleep. Since up to 75% of the calories we consume during the day are used by our bodies while at rest, this is a significant finding.

Most adults require 7 to 8 hours of restorative sleep per night.  More information on sleep and strategies for obtaining a better one, here.

The information in this post is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician or other health care professional directly before beginning or changing a course of health treatment.

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