Chocolate power nuggets

In an attempt to curb my stress induced sweet cravings, I have been doing some extra things for adrenal support. But sometimes a girl just needs a teensy bit of chocolate. I’m talking good quality chocolate, not your drug store Easter chocolate. These little nuggets fulfilled my sweet craving and left my very satisfied.  Recipe makes 12-15 one inch nuggest at about 50 calories each: Image

  • 6 fancy Medjool dates, pitted
  • 1/4 cup raw almonds
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter
  • 2 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • small pinch sea salt
  • unsweetened shredded coconut (optional-for outer coating)

For this recipe you’ll need a food processor or Vitamix. Make sure the dates are pitted- double check even if the package says pitted! Combine ingredients in food processor (except shredded coconut), pulse until almonds are finely chopped and ingredients form a dough-like texture. You may need to add a little bit more coconut oil for the right consistency. Form teaspoon sized amount into a 1″ ball and roll in shredded coconut. And that’s it. I like them best after they’ve been refrigerated for a few hours. The closest thing I can compare them to is the Chocolate Coconut Lara Bar

Blueberry Banana Protein Pancakes

My plan was to take a picture of a nice stack of warm pancakes, dripping with something delicious like honey or pure maple syrup. The reality: I was really hungry and I decided to take one small bite of the first pancake hot off the skillet. IT WAS SO GOOD, and this resulted in me eating ALL the pancakes straight off the skillet, so there never was a stack to take a picture of. Image

These were very easy to make. I’m sure there are similar recipes out there, although I didn’t use a recipe. It was more of an emergency experiment because I didn’t feel like getting my phone and searching recipes at 7 AM. It was one of those mornings where I knew I needed something to “stick to my ribs” as I’m going to be abused (I say that jokingly and lovingly) by this guy later. I stood in front of the fridge weighing my options: eggs (out of salsa, so no), leftover oatmeal (not quite enough left to be a substantial meal), and conveniently all the ingredients to make pancakes (duh).

1 ripe banana (mashed)

1 egg (for vegans, use flax seed egg)

1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder (for me this was equal to about 2 TBS Raw Vegan powder)

2 TBS unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup almond meal

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup frozen blueberries

coconut oil for skillet

  • Preheat a skillet or cast iron pan on medium. Coat with coconut oil.
  • Mix all ingredients except blueberries in a mixing bowl. Alternatively, you can blend them all in a vitamix, but be careful not to over-blend- you want the batter to have some texture to it.
  • Pour 1/4 cup batter into pan, add 10-15 blueberries once the batter has spread out on the pan.
  • Cook about 3-4 minutes per side, or until golden brown and cooked through
  • Try not to eat all the pancakes before they make it to a plate 🙂

Gardening for Dummies: Grow it yourself is easier than it looks

I always loved the idea of fresh salads and vegetables but it sounded like way too much work. However, when I moved back to Tucson I finally had a few weekends to myself that didn’t involve studying, and I thought it was about time to try my hand at gardening. Let me tell you- this has been one of the most rewarding things I have done (aside from becoming a doctor, having a dog, etc). There’s something about planting a seed and then eating a plant that came from that seed that seems miraculous to me.

What follows is a step-by-step of how I built my first garden. Yes, this is a long post, and might make gardening seem like too much work before you’ve even read the post. But I have to tell you that once the garden was built, I’ve only spent 5 minutes per day working on it! I know I have a lot to learn, but here is what I  have so far…

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(basic set up of raised bed, pre-soil)

1. PICK A SPOT: Most vegetables require 6-8 hrs of sun per day. I chose an area of the yard that is North facing and gets 6 hrs of light mostly in the morning and early afternoon. I was worried  that this wouldn’t be enough sun for the winter plants, but they did quite well! As for the summer…we have yet to see…

2. BUILD THE BED: I decided to build a raised bed. I did this for many reasons: 1. our backyard is mostly gravel so it would’ve been a lot of work to clear it and ensure the soil was in good condition for growing 2. Easier on the joints to not have to bend down so far to do the work 3. It made for a pretty focal piece.

There are several options for raised beds- wood, cinder block, pre-built structures you can buy at plant nurseries, etc. I liked the idea of cinder block because I could plant herbs in the spaces in the blocks around the perimeter of the garden. I used 32 cinderblocks, 5 running East-West x3 running North-South, two layers, stacked so that they are staggered for stability. In retrospect, I probably only needed one layer, but I didn’t really know what I was doing and I wanted to make sure my bed had enough depth for roots to grow properly. My yard was already pre-lined with a weed-cloth, which allowed for drainage and prevention of weed-growth. I put about 2 inches of gravel down over the weed-cloth.

I then capped each end of the bed so that I would be able to sit on the edges while harvesting. I also painted the blocks to give a nice pop of color.

3. “BUILD” THE SOIL:

This was probably the most time consuming part because it involved finding good dirt, mixing with potting soil, fertilizer and vegetable food. I was getting overwhelmed by all the information online about soil recipes (especially since they were not desert specific) so I consulted with a former Tucson plant nursery owner who used to make all the soil for the seedlings at his nursery. He explained that it is important that the soil be neutral pH, and be porous enough for root growth. He helped me come up with this recipe:

Dirt:  I filled just over 1/3 of the bed with regular old dirt (make sure it has not been treated with Round-up or any other chemicals that could affect plant growth or the health of the soil in general). It’s also important that the dirt does not have too much clay content as this makes the soil too dense for roots to be able to grow properly. Rid the dirt of rocks, weeds and roots of former plants.

Potting soil: The amount was equal to the amount of dirt used. I used an organic all purpose potting soil and mixed it with the dirt using a shovel.

1 (8 qt) bag of Perlite: Once the dirt and potting soil were mixed well, I incorporated perlite because it seemed my soil was still very dense. (I was told that you should be able to punch your fist through the soil without much resistance). The perlite helps aerate the soil, allowing for drainage and root expansion.

1-2 bags deordorized steer manure: this was spread across the top of the dirt/potting soil/perlite mixture and worked into the first 6″of soil. Well rotted compost can be used in place of the steer manure, however I hadn’t started my compost yet. I used El Toro brand.

Vegetable “food”: I used a granular organic fertilizer that had phosphorus, sulfur, nitrogen, calcium, magnesium and potassium. It was from Lowes, and I honestly cannot remember the name of it but I remember it saying “no burn.” I sprinkled about 2 TBS per square foot of garden, mixed into the top inch of soil and then watered thoroughly.

It is recommended that you check your soil pH using an at home soil test before fertilizing. I didn’t do this…but I probably will in the future.

Water: before planting, make sure the soil has been watered thoroughly and is draining properly.

4. PLANT AWAY! With the exception of a few herbs, I planted mostly from seed. My seeds were purchased from Mesquite Valley Growers and their staff was very helpful in making the best seed choices. Seeds I chose: broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, multicolored carrots, sweet peas, kale, spinach, swiss chard, mixed lettuce, chamomile, cilantro, chive, onion, and cumin. From seedling, I planted chive, parsley, thyme, oregano, and mint. The herbs were all planted in the perimeter holes of the cinderblocks. All seeds and seedlings were planted in the last week of September. I followed the directions on the seed packets for planting depth, distance apart, etc.

The first 5-7 days after I planted the seeds were tense. I went outside every day to water not knowing what I would find, but eventually everything started sprouting. I was able to harvest the greens after about 3-4 weeks, everything else was around 2 months.

5. WATER: I water almost every day, sometimes every other day. I do not have an irrigation system, and don’t mind watering, but from what I understand it would not be difficult to rig some kind of irrigation. I use an attachment on my hose that has a “shower” setting, and ensure that the soil gets soaked through with each watering (checking for areas of pooling that might indicate poor drainage).

6. FEED: Every 3-4 weeks, I sprinkled some of the granulated vegetable fertilizer around and then watered thoroughly.

Results:

What did the best: All the greens (kale, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce) grew like weeds. The carrots, broccoli and cauliflower also did very well. The broccoli was the tastiest I’ve ever had! The herbs also did well, with no issues growing from seed.

What kind of flopped: Sweet peas: (they grew, but never looked as healthy as the other plants. I maybe got 20 pea pods off of one plants throughout the winter. Next time I will plant them in a large pot with a trellis. Brussels Sprouts: I was warned that these need a longer growing season, but I wanted to see what would happen. I grew two plants from seed, but they never produced and at the end of the season they had wooly aphids.

Pest Control:

All of the brassica family plants (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels, kale) are prone to getting cabbage worms (really more of a caterpillar). I plucked off maybe 5 of them throughout the winter, and almost ate 1 that was hiding in the lettuce and survived the lettuce washing! If they become a bigger issue and are eating your produce, using BT spray (a biological insecticide-actually a bacterium that only infects caterpillars) can help you control an existing cabbage worm problem.

Wooly aphids: these are nasty little buggers, but if you catch them early, they are easy to get rid of. I made up a solution of 1 quart water, 2 drops dish soap, 1 tsp cayenne, let it sit overnight, and then sprayed directly on the aphids. They were gone the next. After that point I sprayed the solution directly onto the broccoli and cauliflower crowns once a week as a prophylactic.

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(If you look reeeeealllly close, you can see some seed sprouts coming up 🙂

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(Winter garden in all its glory! Early Feb. Side pots are rosemary and lavender)

Special thanks to my gracious landlords who allowed me to do this to their back yard!

I’d love to hear from all of you out there about your garden successes! What have you done that works or doesn’t work? Any tips for the upcoming (I guess I should say current, based on our weather) summer planting season?

Happy Planting!

The ugliest smoothie ever…

Generally speaking, I like to eat things that taste good AND look good. But just because food can be aesthetically pleasing doesn’t mean that it tastes good, and vice versa. This smoothie was one of the “vice versa.” Short on time and soooo hungry after a quick but intense lunch work out, I needed something nutrient packed, portable and satisfying. I had the ingredients, but the result was…well just imagine when you were a kid and thought “what would happen if I mixed ALL the paint colors together?!” This is not one of those pretty smoothies whose bright, happy color reminds you of sitting by the pool. It turned out looking like something you would scrape from the bottom of a pond.  But it was also DELICIOUS and had 4 servings of vegetables, 1 serving of fruit, and appx 20 g of clean protein.

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Ingredients:

LOTs of spinach- 4 handfuls or so

1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1 cup frozen bluberries

Small handful of almonds

½ scoop unsweetened chocolate rice protein powder

1 scoop greens powder

1 cup water (or less depending how thick you like your smoothies)

Directions: Combine all ingredients in blender. Blend on high until smooth.

Roasted Pumpkin & Coconut Soup

I made some fun fall food purchases last week! Trader Joe’s had Brussel sprouts on the stalk- which I’ll post a simple recipe for later- and Sprouts had small pie pumpkins on sale. To be honest, I had never made anything with a real pumpkin. I’ve been using canned pumpkin for what seems like forever! But one time I tried using canned pumpkin for a soup recipe…and there’s no nice way to describe how that recipe turned out. My love of soups told me I had to try again, and this time with a real pumpkin. I put it off for a looooong time- I mean years- until these adorable little pumpkins showed up at Sprouts.

 

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Roasted Pumpkin & Coconut Soup:

1 small pie pumpkin, cut into 2” pieces

½ cup yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cups low sodium chicken broth

½ can light coconut milk

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon coconut oil for roasting pumpkin and sautéing onion

 

I will warn everyone out there that you’ll want a sharp knife for cutting the pumpkin. I cut mine in half, seeded it (saving seeds for roasting later), then cut into smaller pieces (about 2”x2”). After roasting, I allowed the pumpkin to cool off enough to remove the skin.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place pumpkin on a lightly oiled, rimmed baking sheet. Brush pieces with coconut oil. Bake 25-35 minutes or until pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork. Allow to cool, remove peel.

While pumpkin is roasting, saute onion in a sauce pan with 1 tsp coconut oil until slightly browned. Add chicken broth and coconut milk to onions.

After you peel the pumpkin, place pieces in blender and cover with the onion, broth, coconut milk mixture. Add salt and pepper. Puree to desired consistency. Adjust seasonings to taste.

 

NOTE: I used a vitamix for this recipe so I was able to make my soup in one batch. If you have a traditional blender, you may want to puree smaller amounts.

This recipe has a lot of room for changes. Butternut squash can be used in place of pumpkin, red or white onion can be substituted for yellow, and vegetable broth can be used for vegetarians. If you like your soup a little sweeter, you can add ½ a green apple (cored and chopped). If you like a little more spice, you can add a pinch of curry powder or nutmeg. If you can’t stand coconut, you can use heavy cream- although I recommend not using dairy products as they tend to promote inflammation in the body. I would not say I’m a huge coconut fan usually, but I love the way this soup turned out!

Health Benefits of Pumpkin

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Justification for all the great pumpkin recipes out there:

1. Great for weight loss!

One cup of cooked pumpkin has between 60-80 calories and up to 7 grams of fiber, meaning it will keep you feeling full longer. Studies have shown that fiber lowers the glycemic load of a meal, preventing blood sugar spikes and excess insulin output that leads to insulin resistance. This means that eating pumpkin can help you maintain a stable blood sugar, which helps fight sugar cravings, and overall can help you lose weight.

2. Eating pumpkin can brighten eyes, skin, and prevent cancer!

One cup of pumpkin provides 200-700% of the daily value of vitamin A.  Vitamin A and carotenoids (the phytonutrient that gives pumpkin their orange color) are great for eye and skin health. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A, which is important in keeping eyesight sharp, especially in dim light. Vitamin A and carotenoids brighten skin by reducing sebum production and preventing acne. Carotenoids are also antioxidants, protecting skin from the damaging effects of the sun and preventing skin cancer.

3. Great for post workout recovery!

For any of you who have ever experienced muscle cramps following exercise, you may need to be replacing electrolytes- especially potassium and magnesium. We’ve all heard that bananas are a good source of potassium, but did you know that pumpkins are even higher in potassium than bananas with 500 mg per one cup serving? Pumpkins also have 14% of the recommended daily value for magnesium, which helps lower blood pressure and prevent muscle cramps. Try this delicious smoothie following your next workout!

4. Great source of iron!

Dietary iron is necessary for preventing iron deficiency anemia. Iron is used to produce hemoglobin, the molecule responsible for carrying oxygen in our red blood cells. Without enough iron, we can’t make hemoglobin and our red blood cells can’t transport enough oxygen to our tissues. This can cause fatigue, exercise intolerance, and heart palpitations. Foods we usually think of as being high in iron are red meat, and dark green leafy vegetables, but pumpkin is also a great source of iron with 1 cup containing 20% of the recommended daily value. Pumpkin also contains 17% of the daily value for vitamin C, which is great for enhancing iron absorption.

5. Pumpkin is highly anti-inflammatory!

Inflammation is what we think of with all the disease processes ending in “-itis.” But many other diseases are thought to be triggered by inflammation (cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and even Alzhemiers). Inflammatory foods are those that are processed, high in sugar, trans fats, are too high in omega-6 fatty acids (think agri-industry meat) and too low in omega-3 fatty acids. Anti-inflammatory foods are high in vitamins, minerals and compounds called phytonutrients and phytosterols- found in plants and unprocessed whole grains. Wild caught, cold water fish (high in omega 3s) is also considered anti-inflammatory. Pumpkin- in minimally processed form- is considered highly anti-inflammatory as it is high in phytonutrients and fiber, and low in sugar!

Easy Pumpkin Oats

The mornings have been chilly here in Tucson and considering I’m not much of a morning person AND I’m not crazy about cold weather, I needed something warm and delicious to get me out of bed this AM. I thought, “why not keep up the pumpkin recipes with some stick to your ribs pumpkin oatmeal?” Actually, in my bleary-eyed state I just pulled a bunch of things out of the fridge and this combination was the easiest to make for breakfast. With my warm bowl of oats in hand, I curled up on the couch under a blanket to watch the morning news with my favorite golden retriever.

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Pumpkin Oatmeal

1 cup precooked oatmeal (I like steel cut oats best, but you can use any type of oatmeal you prefer)

3 tablespoons canned pureed pumpkin (I think using organic pumpkin makes a huge difference in taste)

¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons toasted pepitas

Stir precooked oats, pumpkin and spices together in microwave proof bowl. Microwave 1 min 30 sec. Meanwhile, toast pepitas on the stove top in a dry frying pan (about 1 minute). Top oatmeal with pepitas and drizzle with maple syrup.

What get’s you out of bed in the morning?