Recipe: Smoky Maple Mahi Mahi

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This week has been busy, but full of good food, including:
– crock pot chicken – no more need to buy a roasting chicken from the grocery store anymore! My absolute favorite way to cook chicken when I have no time.
– Paleo Naan. 3 ingredients only: almond flour, tapioca flour, and cocinut milk. Oh my goodness, if I hadn’t added too much coconut milk, it would have had the perfect texture. I got a new shipment of my bpa-free canned coconut milk…totally making more tomorrow.
– liver, bacon, and onions – I will forever thank my mom for introducing me to liver when I was a child, because it’s delicious when prepared correctly.
– a daily green smoothie – It’s fun to try new recipes, but not yet sold on the amount of fruit that these smoothies require. Just seems like a lot of sugar to me, even though it’s from whole food. I also recently learned that people with adrenal fatigue may have issues with a lot of raw fruits and veggies, and that cooking some of the ingredients of a green smoothie might help with energy levels. I haven’t noticed any negative energy effects yet, so the jury’s out.
– And tonight’s dinner: Smoky Maple Mahi Mahi!

Mahi Mahi is one of the more “meatier” fish, in my opinion – not as strong-tasting as salmon, but not light like flounder and tilapia. I wanted some boldness tonight, so after a quick internet search, I blended a few different recipes together.

Ingredients
1 pound mahi mahi
Coconut oil or olive oil to coat bottom of pan (I start with a tablespoon and add more as needed.)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon seasoning of choice*
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

There was a lot of variety in seasoning choices. They all had an element if smoke or spice: chipotle, Cajun seasoning, cayenne pepper, etc. I can’t handle that much heat, so I went with a Penzey’s blend called Northwoods (salt, paprika, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, garlic, and chipotle).

1. Mix spices and syrup together in a bowl.
2. Brush mixture on both sides of your fish.
3. Place oil of choice in pan on medium heat.
4. Once pan is heated, place fish in pan. 5. Cook for 3-5 minutes per side. Depending on thickness, it might need a bit longer, like mine did. It is done when it easily flakes when cut with a fork.
6. Enjoy!

A word of advice: make sure you have enough mixture to coat BOTH sides of the fish. Make more mixture if you need to! The picture above has it only on one side (slightly charred, oops) and it wasn’t that flavorful. Quickly made some more mixture and slathered it on (slather is a fun word). It was then delicious. Then I realized I had two pounds of fish, not one, and totally should have doubled my own recipe. Duh. So learn from my mistakes.

This recipe was quick to make…maybe 15 minutes from start to finish (and a few minutes extra to make/add more syrup mixture, which hopefully won’t be an issue for you. It would pair well with roasted or sauted zucchini, cauliflower rice, or any vegetable you will eat (remember, corn is NOT a vegetable!).

I love leftovers, but I know not everyone likes to eat the same thing for numerous meals in a row. So I made “tuna” salad with some homemade mayo, just to see if it would work, and it was yummy! I plan to add some celery, carrots, onions, and tomatoes tomorrow for lunch. I imagine it would work well in fish tacos, but I’ve never had them before. If you try it, let me know how it goes!

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend! My mom and I are going to get our favorite gluten-free pizza at our favorite restaurant, Wheatfields. I haven’t had pizza in forever! What will you be doing this weekend?

Until next time! Be kind to yourself!

Blogging, Take 2

I’m back!

And boy, do I have a story to share with you. It’s one of intrigue, and suspense, and mystery, and DEATH. *dun dun dun*

Okay, not really. Well, actually, my mom and I have to put our eldest dog down during my blogging absence, so in truth there was some death involved in my life story these past few months.

But the main reason I’ve been away from this blog for what feels like forever comes down to this: I got sick.

While my journey of clean eating as mostly stayed on track (I do love sushi, frozen yogurt, and gluten-free cookies), I learned an incredibly valuable lesson about keeping the rest of my life healthy.

So this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute – just sit right there – (I got you singing, right?) I’ll tell you how stress can make you sick! Be aware!

Ah, self-amusement is fun.

For those of you who know me or read my info, you know I’m a substitute teacher. I mostly substitute in suburban schools, but on occasion I’ll sub in one of the city districts in my area. Back in March, I was asked to substitute for three weeks in my area of specialty in a city school. I had subbed there before, so I knew a few of the students, which I find helpful, and hey – three weeks of steady work is fantastic. So of course, I said yes.

A few days before I started this job, I came down with some kind of stomach bug/food poisoning. I ate a burger (with no bun) at a restaurant that REALLY didn’t agree with me. I couldn’t work for a few days, and my first day back to work was the first day of the substitute job. In hindsight, I should have taken more time off to let my body properly heal, but I didn’t, so moving on.

I have so much admiration for the teachers at this school. They are able to do such amazing things in a tough environment. My schedule was brutal, I rarely had a break between classes, and for some classes the students just WOULDN’T. SHUT. UP. I’m not someone who enjoys raising my voice to be heard, and I had to do that for most of the day. Seriously, taking attendance for 20 minutes is ridiculous. Thinking it was just an adjustment period of being in a new school and adjusting to the energy it takes to create lesson plans, keep control of a classroom AND learn names of students, I didn’t think anything of the fact that I was utterly exhausted at the end of the day. I started to go to bed at 9:00 pm – a bit earlier than my usual 10:30 bedtime.

But then 9:00 pm didn’t work – I was still exhausted when I woke up. So I tried 8pm. Didn’t work. I took a nap at 3pm for an hour when I got home, and also went to bed at 8pm. Still didn’t work. Even 12 hours of sleep didn’t make me feel any better. There was absolutely no reason for me to be that tired.

And the stress of the job kept building. I started sending kids to the office because I couldn’t deal with their insubordination by myself. I spent most of my day needing to yell just to be heard. I stopped caring about making the curriculum fun and interesting, and just did the bare minimum, counting the hours until I could leave. Instead of teaching students, I felt like I became a babysitter. That is not why I became a teacher.

I think it was during the 2nd week of this job that I started crying at night because I didn’t want to go to work the next day. I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and I started to hate being a teacher. I began to seriously contemplate looking for a new career outside of teaching. Not just a new job – a completely new career. And anyone who knows me knows teaching has been a love and a passion for most of my life. Even in 2nd grade I was a mini-teacher, keeping those around me on task (which is why I strongly believe my teacher always put me next to the students who often were off-task). This job was making me depressed.

During that 2nd week of the job, I came across an article on adrenal fatigue and an easy at-home test. I was intrigued. I looked at the symptoms of adrenal fatigue:

Feeling tired for no reason – check.

Trouble getting up in the morning, even when you go to bed at a reasonable hour – check.

Feeling rundown or overwhelmed – double check.

Recent illness or high levels of stress – double check.

Craving salty and/or sweet foods – check.

More alert at night than in the morning – Check, in the beginning of the job – I felt great after a nap, so from 5pm-7pm I felt pretty good. Then I’d get tired again. By the time I was reading these symptoms, I was tired all the time.

So I decided to take the at-home test, which was an eye test. Basically, it’s testing how well your pupils can stay contracted. A poor ability could be a sign for fatigue. And how long did my eyes stay contracted? FOUR FREAKING SECONDS. And man, pulsating pupils are kinda freaky.

Being me, I then start researching everything adrenal fatigue. I listened to podcasts (Balanced Bites as three pretty terrific ones) and read articles. I figured I’d try to heal myself first, and if that didn’t work I’d then go see a doctor.

To help heal, I quit the things that added stress to my body, good or bad: blogging, exercise, and work (within reason). I had been too tired to blog anyway, but it helped ease my stress to tell myself it was okay to get healthy first. Krav Maga, my go-to exercise, while super fun, wasn’t helping my body heal from stress, so I stopped going for about a month. I’ve been easing my way back, starting with only one day a week, working my way back to going three times a week. As for work, I finished out the job – I’m responsible like that – and then took a few days off. I won’t be subbing in that district for a long time, and I now make sure to choose subbing jobs in schools that have a low-stress factor.

But I’m not yet 100%. I still wake up sometimes feeling stressed for no reason. I have more trouble bouncing back from stress than I think I did before…it’s hard to remember. I can feel the difference in my body if I get less than 8 hours of sleep. If that happens for more than two days in a row, I know I don’t have the energy resources to do a high-intensity workout like Krav.

I never, in a million years, would have thought that stress could change my life so much.

Food has been crucial in my healing. I lost my love of cooking for a while – I was just too tired to do it – and I’m happy that’s changing. My food focus has been on eating more vegetables and natural fats (it’s a good thing veggies and butter taste amazing together!), sardines, bone broth, and taking my fermented cod-liver oil daily. Let food be thy medicine, and all that jazz.

As for blogging, I’ll be here as long as it doesn’t stress me out. And I totally know it was self-imposed stress. I felt bad when Monday came around and I didn’t have the energy to update. So, from now on my updates will be whenever they happen. They’ll be much shorter than this, since I don’t have hours every day to write (although what a cool job that would be). Sometimes they might just be what I had for dinner that night. Who knows? It’ll be a surprise.

Other things that have been going on: I finished reading Cholesterol Clarity and have almost finished Eat the Yolks, and I’d love to write up review for both books…someday (summary: they were awesome, I learned a lot, and everyone should read them). I’m 80% sure I want to take some online nutrition program and become a health coach as a supplement to my day job of teaching. And my boyfriend’s been fantastic through my illness/stress/fatigue stuff. Thank you, babe!

Until next time…be good to yourself.

Recipe Review: Brownies!

It’s the post I’ve been talking about/mentioning since the end of January. It’s FINALLY time for my brownie review!

But before I get to that, I have to write a little about my Jensen Beach vacation (I know, I’m such a tease).

It was fantastic. I’m from Upstate New York, and shortly before my mom and I left for our trip, we got 18″ of snow dumped on us. So, we were incredibly happy that our flight didn’t get canceled, and that we were able to enjoy 80 degree sunny days for a whole week.

This is the view from the balcony. I love the sound of the ocean!

This is the view from the balcony of our condo. I love the sound of the ocean!

We went to the Brevard Zoo, and were able to kayak around the giraffes, and later feed them.

We went to the Brevard Zoo, and were able to kayak around the giraffes, and later feed them.

Heathcote Botanical Garden has one of the largest Bonsai Tree collections in the country - over 100 of them!

Heathcote Botanical Garden has one of the largest Bonsai Tree collections in the country – over 100 of them!

We also went to a flea market, a wine tasting, saw a movie, and, of course, went to the beach every day. But now I miss the sun. Two more months…?

Okay, on to the brownies! I made four different brownie recipes within a week. Thank goodness I had friends and family to help me eat them! These are not ranked in favorite order, but in baking order.

Brownie #1: Grass Fed Girl’s Fat Bomb Coconut Brownies.

Ingredient list: cocoa, eggs, sweetener choice (maple syrup/honey/birch xylitol/stevia powder extract), coconut oil, canned coconut milk, vanilla extract, almond flour, baking soda, shredded coconut, and chopped walnuts.

My adjustments: I chose to use honey as my sweetener, and did not add in the walnuts.

These brownies were the perfect middle-of-the-road, Goldilocks brownie: not too fudgy, not too cake-y…they were “just right” and nicely balanced. I loved the texture the shredded coconut added, but if you want it a little smoother you could try putting the coconut in a food processor to make a more finely-shredded coconut. I also loved that I didn’t need to have a huge piece to satisfy my sweet tooth. And due to the satiety factor of the fat from all the coconut, I rarely found myself going back to eat more than the amount I allowed myself each day.

Brownie #2: tigpaleo’s Avocado Brownies.

Ingredient list: unsweetened chocolate melted in coconut oil, avocados, honey, eggs, cocoa powder, vanilla, coconut flour, baking soda, and a little salt.

My adjustments: I was out of honey, so I had to sub in coconut sugar.

I don’t think my sugar substitution affected the flavor at all – the brownies were plenty sweet for me. Then again, I love dark chocolate and prefer it over milk chocolate, so you might need to play around with the sweetness if you aren’t a dark chocolate fan. And no worries – these brownies will NOT taste like avocados! These brownies were the perfect cake-y brownie – somewhat light and airy, but sturdy like a typical brownie. So if you love your brownies with a cake-like texture, these are the ones to bake (out of the ones I’ve tried, anyway). For me, I like my brownies to be fudgy, so while I liked this one the least, it was still very tasty.

Brownie #3: Living Nutrition’s Triple Chocolate No-Bake Brownies.

Ingredient list: for the brownie – walnuts, cocoa, sea salt, medjool dates, liquid stevia; for the ganache – cocoa powder, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla extract and a little sea salt

My adjustments: I didn’t have stevia, so I just left it out…it’s been a while, but I don’t think I replaced it with anything. I find dates are sweet enough on their own, and the maple syrup in the ganache helped on the sweetness level. I’d say taste the batter before you add in any sweetener – you might not need any!

Oh. My. God. These are one of the fudgiest brownies I’ve ever had. And the ganache adds a lovely chocolately layer to the brownie. I had a very hard time eating only one, so these need to be carefully controlled. These were relatively quick to make Out of all the brownies, I was the most sad when these were all gone.

Brownie #4: Primal Palate’s Grain-Free Fudgy Brownie with Dairy-Free Fluffy Chocolate Frosting.

Ingredient list: brownie – dark chocolate, unsalted butter, vanilla extract, egg, chestnut flour, sea salt, baking powder, coconut sugar; frosting – coconut cream, enjoy life chocolate chips, vanilla extract

My adjustments: This recipe had a lot of unique ingredients to me, but I love trying new things. I got the chestnut flour online, as well as the corn-free baking powder. But I hear it’s pretty easy to make your own chestnut flour if you have a strong enough food processor. I happened to have a can of coconut cream concentrate, but if you don’t, just chill a can of coconut milk in the fridge and then only use the creamy part – not the water. I love the Enjoy Life brand of dairy-free and soy-free chocolate, but I’m having a difficult time finding it in dark chocolate. So I used the milk chocolate chips for the frosting. I also didn’t use the recipe’s recommended brand of dark chocolate since it was too expensive for me to get at the time. I either used Green & Black or Ghirardelli.

This brownie was similar to the Fat Bomb Brownies in texture – not too fudgy, and not too cake-y. But they certainly weren’t fudgy like the No-Bake Brownies were, and I feel they were a little dense. The chestnut flour added a unique flavor – not a bad one at all, just different. I’m more used to baking with other nut flours like almond and coconut, so I was aware of a different flavor than the typical grain-free brownie. But like I said, it wasn’t a bad “different” taste at all, so I look forward to using chestnut flour again. If you want a brownie that can be topped with paleo ice cream without getting soggy, I would think this recipe would work nicely.

Now, I’m not usually a fan of frosting on brownies, but the frosting really helped balance the dense-ness of the brownie. Due to user error I couldn’t make the frosting as fluffy as the picture on the recipe page, but the taste was so awesome it is in my top three list of paleo frostings. I had a lot of it left over after spreading it on the brownie, so I stuck it back in the fridge and it firmed up to a mousse-like consistency. I am not ashamed to admit that I ate the rest of the bowl of frosting by itself the next day. It was that good.

And the winner is…

For best fudgy brownie: Triple Chocolate No-Bake!

For best cake-like brownie: Avocado Brownies!

For best “regular” brownie: Fat Bomb Brownie!

For best brownie with frosting: Grain-Free Fudgy Brownie! (I know, kinda lame category…but it had to win something.)

Out of all of them, I will make the Triple Chocolate No-Bakes and the Fat Bomb Brownies again. I will also make the frosting that went with the Grain-Free Fudgy Brownie again, and use it as a cake frosting.

Questions for the readers: What kind of brownie do you like? Is there a “paleo” brownie recipe you’ve tried that you love?

Coming up in future posts: I’m exploring with/creating an Asian honey mustard glaze or spice (haven’t decided which yet), I just cooked a whole chicken in my slow cooker that turned out AMAZING and want to share it with all of you, and I want to do another “Let’s Talk About” post, either about dairy, soy, or vegetable oils. Until next time!

Review: The 21 Day Sugar Detox

Happy Friday!

This week beat me up. On Monday, I had an interview for a job that was 90% perfect for me. I didn’t get the job. And while I know I’ll someday find a job that plays to more of my strengths than this job did, it put me off my groove for the rest of the week.

But it’s the weekend. Time to recharge. One week until my trip to Florida, and I’m so excited!

Tonight, I’d like to share with you my experiences with the 21 Day Sugar Detox. I’ll review the book and program and share my new awareness of sugar.

Why The 21 Day Sugar Detox?

I’ve done a couple Whole 30 and have had positive experiences, but I felt like I was still having major sugar issues, especially after the holidays. I’m not sure how I first heard about the program… I’m sure it was from one of the many blogs I follow. But it made a lot of sense to me – cut out sugar and sugar triggers for 21 days, then reintroduce foods one at a time to see how the body reacts. I read the sample pages and liked what I read.

The Program

One thing I love most about this program is how it can work for everyone. The program is broken into three levels: level 1 is for anyone who follows the Standard American Diet – full of refined grains and fat-free foods. Level 2 is for anyone who follows a gluten-free diet. Level 3 is for anyone who already follows a grain-free, paleo or primal diet. Of course, you can do any level you want regardless of current diet, but level 1 is the most lenient and 3 is the most strict. There are also modifications for those who are pescetarian, pregnant or nursing, lead highly active lives, or are diagnosed with an autoimmune condition.

Food List

For all levels: no refined carbs, no processed food, no soy, limited non-sugary fruits
Level 1: Certain gluten-free grains allowed, some legumes, some full-fat dairy
Level 2: No grains, no legumes, some full-fat dairy
Level 3: Excludes all grains and dairy.

Sounds like a lot of “no” foods, but all levels include tons of veggies, protein from meat, fish and eggs, some nuts, fats/oils, and more. There was plenty to eat! Each level has it all spelled out in the book.

The Book

Diane Sanfilippo writes in a style that is informative, understandable, and caring. She starts off describing why sugar can be a problem, and for me it was a checklist of so many things I had been experiencing:

sugar cravings – paleo treats and bananas
spikes and dips in energy levels throughout day – I was back to wanting a nap around 3pm…something that only started after Thanksgiving
tired upon waking – I had been blaming it on seasonal affective disorder
trying to burn body fat – it just wasn’t coming off!
meals leaving you unsatisfied, hungry and snacking every 2-3 hours – yes, and I suspected part of it was due to all the paleo treats I had baked

Diane then gives a brief description of the program before she gives some scientific background on sugar and carbohydrates. I seriously wish she could have been my science teacher because she made the science easy to understand while keeping me interested. She describes good carbs vs bad, nutrient density, how the body digests carbs and stores glucose, and more. It’s one of my favorite resources for just the science chapter, but the whole book is great.

Then the book discusses the levels, how to prepare for the detox, handy food lists, dining out guides, food swap list…it’s a whole bunch of useful resources, and many of these guides are on the website for free.

Another favorite part of the book is how Diane spells everything out. She gives you a meal plan and all the recipes. That’s 21 days – three meals and a snack, every day, for 21 days. She even has a roadmap for the detox – a day-to-day description of what you might feel and advice to get through the rough times. Diane is your friend throughout this whole journey, guiding you to success.

And it’s more than just eating the “right” things – it’s becoming aware of our relationship with food. So if there’s a day where things don’t go so well, there’s no need to start back at day 1. Learn from what happened, and continue on. I love that concept.

The Community

The 21 Day Detox Facebook page is very active, and so is the forum. It is an amazing comfort to know that anything physically or emotionally you experience during this journey, others are experiencing it too! I definitely came down with detox flu for the first three days, and then on day 5 I just couldn’t stop eating. I was eating all 21dsd foods, but I would need to eat every few hours…I was just insatiable. I felt like I was eating two days worth of food one day. I went on the forum, and there was a thread on day 5 hunger. It was normal for some people to be that hungry! What a relief.

Most groups begin on the first Monday of every month, but there are people on a variety of days on all different levels supporting each other. It’s a wonderful community.

Oh goodness, I almost forgot about Pinterest! Recipes are being posted all the time by the 21DSD team and by many other paleo bloggers. Just search “21DSD” and you’ll finds lots of yumminess. Yes, yumminess is a word, even if my computer doesn’t recognize it.

My Experience

I’ve already mentioned my first five day, so I’ll skip that here. My birthday was on Day 10, and by then I felt pretty good, so the rest was smooth sailing. I do remember being antsy on Day 20 for it to just be over, but I think that was my desire for brownies. 

The first thing that I noticed improving was my sleep. I slept so well I started dreaming again. I woke up feeling refreshed. I had energy to make it through a krav maga class without feeling drained afterward. That wad awesome. I also noticed my taste buds changing. By the end, granny smith apples and green-tipped bananas were deliciously sweet without setting off sugar cravings. And the recipes from the book were delicious! My favorites were: Green Apple Breakfast Sausage, Tomato-Basil Quiche with Bacon and Spinach, and Ginger-Garlic Beef and Broccoli. I loosely followed the meal plan in the book, because most of what I already cooked was 21dsd compliant.

Cutting back on bananas and sweet potatoes was trickier than I thought it would be. I could only have one banana a day, and I was used to sometimes having two…occasionally three. I love bananas (they’re full of potassium)! Sweet potatoes were only allowed for me on days I did krav maga for the energy modification. I didn’t have a sweet potato until day 11 or so, and it was seriously the mist delicious sweet potato I’ve ever had.

On Day 21, pants that had felt tight before the detox felt lose. Not sure how much weight I lost because I don’t weigh myself that often, and I neglected to use my body tape measure before I started. But hey, pants fitting better, food tasting better, sleeping better and living with more energy – all after only 21 days? I’ll take it!

After Day 21, I tried so much to take Diane’s advice and introduce only one food at a time. I wanted brownies – I didn’t get any for my birthday. And that was fine. I had some cheese – and that was fine, too.

But then I had the idea to make FOUR different kinds of brownies (partly for the blog, and partly because I really wanted to try different recipes), and go out for all-you-can-eat sushi, and then there was Superbowl and wonderful meatballs made with gluten-free breadcrumbs…

And I learned:
– When I have too much sugar (like, more than 20 grams at a time) it will perk me up for about 10 minutes and then I’ll be sluggish, and sometimes will get a headache afterward.
– This whole week I’ve been exhausted. I blame sugar for a lot of it.
– Strawberries are a trigger. I had made the SB&J Burgers from Well Fed 2 – so amazing – and before I knew it, I had eaten all four burgers. That was a pound of meat!
– I can’t do any grains anymore, except maybe rice. Sushi was fine…at least I didn’t notice any adverse reaction. But the gluten-free breadcrumbs definitely did not agree with me. Good to know, but kind of annoying.
– I’ve been without brownies since Monday, and I’m incredibly aware of the sugar cravings that I now have.
– Cheese, while doesn’t create any sugar cravings, does create a bit of belly bloat. Not yet sure if it’s all cheese or just cream cheese and the bagged shredded cheese that has extra chemicals in it to prevent caking. I think the goat cheese is fine, but hard to tell now because I reintroduced everything at once. DON’T do that.
– Preparation is crucial to success. When I’m not prepared with good food, I’ll find quick food, which is not always good.

So, starting Sunday I’m doing a mini detox. I don’t want to restrict myself too much on vacation – I want some tropical alcoholic drinks while in Florida. But for the 6 days I hope to get these cravings back under control. (The lack of brownies will help!)

Overall, my experience with The 21Day Sugar Detox has been wonderfully positive. I love the new awareness I have, and when prepared I can make better food choices.

Speaking of brownies, my next post will be a review of those four different “paleo” brownie recipe. Stay tuned!

Love and Fear

I’m feeling a bit contemplative tonight. I hope you don’t mind. Next week I’ll have a sweet treat for you!

I would have written last night (I try to post every Monday night), but the Future of Nutrition Conference started yesterday, and there are not enough hours in the day to listen to everything! Seriously, you need to check it out. Videos are free, but are only up for 24 hours. I’ve been listening to a lot of people: Mark Hyman, Kathie Swift, Sayer Ji, Sara Gottfried, Gundi Gunnarsson, Jonathan Bailor, David Perlmutter…the list goes on. And I’m so enthralled by these minds that know SO MUCH about their field of study, and yet can make it relevant and meaningful to the listener.

I really wanted to write this week about my experience with The 21 Day Sugar Detox, but that will have to wait, because I feel like I’m on the verge of having some kind of revelation of some sort regarding all the lectures I’ve listened to, and I need to let my thoughts simmer, like a good pot of chili.

Gudni Gunnarsson spoke today about the difference between nourishment and feeding is love and fear. My summary: When we love ourselves – truly love ourselves: for who we are as a human being; for where we are in life, even if it’s not where we want to be; for how we physically look – we will then nourish our bodies with wonderful food due to that love. If we beat ourselves up about how we are now, if we keep thinking about how much better our future selves will be “when I lose weight” or “when I get a job” or “when I get married,” and if we don’t forgive ourselves for things in our past, we’ll only feed into the fear of never being good enough, and that food is then often low-quality. We must have compassion for ourselves in order to fully nourish ourselves with good food. The mind-body-food connection is incredibly powerful.

This idea is resonating so strongly in me right now, and I’m struggling to find the words to explain why.

I’m currently in a place in my life where I often think about my future self and “how much better life will be” when I have a full time job. And I’m realizing now that when I get to focused on that, I lose what I thought what motivation to eat well. But what if it’s not lack of motivation, but lack of love and compassion for myself?

I love parts of me. I love my thirst for knowledge. I love the strength in my body. I love the interests that make me happy and fulfill me. But do I truly love the entire being that is me?

What would happen if I completely love myself right now, as I am and where I am in life? What would happen if I was more kind and compassionate to myself? What would happen if I let the fear go?

I could move mountains.

With that much positive energy, how could I not?

I Love Spices!

When I first started eating clean, spices were the first magical thing I discovered. My taste buds were changing, and I was able to recognize differences in flavor from the spices alone. I found, and still find, it fascinating that one can travel the world through spices.

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I actually have three drawers full of spices…and 1/2 a cabinet shelf.

So today we’re going to travel the world together! If you want your dish to have a Middle Eastern flavor, I’ll give you the spices for that. Chinese? Indian? French? Italian? I’ve got it all. I haven’t figured out all areas of the world (Greek food, I’ll get to you soon!) but here’s a good starting place, especially if you’re new to spices.

Italian

Basil, Garlic, Onion, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, Fennel, Cinnamon (Southern Italy) and Marjoram (Southern Italy)

Mexican

Chili powder (you can buy it, or make your own using any of the following spices), Chili peppers, Cumin, Oregano, Garlic, Cloves, Coriander, Onion, Cocoa, Cilantro, Cinnamon, Saffron

Chinese/Asian

Chili Powder, Chinese Five-Spice (star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, fennel), Coriander, Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, Cumin, Ginger. I also like to use Toasted Sesame Seeds for garnish.

Indian

Turmeric, Chili Powder, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Curry Powder, Thyme, Nutmeg, Paprika, Allspice, Cardamom, Mint, Sage, Saffron, Garlic (especially Northern India), Ginger (Northern India), Cumin (Northern India), Cilantro (Southern India)

Caribbean

Allspice (considered the Jamaican pepper), Cinnamon, Bay Leaf, Cilantro, Cloves, Thyme, Parsley, Dill, Garlic, Ginger, Nutmeg, Onion, Orange

A great flavor combination: cilantro + garlic + onion

Middle Eastern

Aleppo Pepper, Cinnamon, Coriander, Cumin, Cloves, Paprika, Garlic, Ginger, Dill, Parsley, Marjoram, Mint, Nutmeg, Oregano, Thyme, Sesame Seeds, Ras el Hanout

Ras el Hanout (rahs-el-haNOOT) is a spice blend. Usually vendors all over the Middle East and North Africa will have their own version. This is the recipe I use. It’s delicious!

Mediteranean

Bay Leaf, Basil, Coriander, Garlic, Marjoram, Oregano, Mint, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Savory

Great combination: marjoram + rosemary

Moroccon/North Africa – my favorite flavor combinations!

Cumin, Paprika, Cilantro, Cinnamon, Coriander, Ginger, Saffron, Mint, Parsley

Great combinations: Moroccon: cinnamon + coriander + cumin; North Africa: cumin+garlic+mint

African

Coriander, Cumin, Chili pepper (West and South Africa, especially), Garlic, Onion, Cinnamon (South), Cloves (South), Ginger (South), Turmeric (South)

French

Chives, Thyme, Tarragon, Mustard, Parsley

Southern/Provençal: Anise, Basil, Garlic, Lavendar, Marjoram, Rosemary, Sage

Spanish

Bay Leaf, Garlic, Onion, Orange, Sweet Paprika, Parsley, Thyme

Great combination: garlic + onion + paprika

Thai

Chili Powder, Cinnamon, Thai Basil, Cilantro, Coriander, Cumin, Chili Peppers, Curries, Garlic, Ginger, Lemongrass, Mint, Turmeric

Great combination: chili pepper + garlic + cilantro + coconut milk (I know, not a spice, but it’s yummy!)

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Cabinet full of spices and spice mixes. I love Penzeys!

So there’s my list so far! But you might be asking, “Where do I start? Buying all those spices at once is too expensive!” And I completely agree. Therefore…

My List of Most-Used Spices (and some others that are good to have)

Most-Used: Cinnamon, Cumin, Cloves, Coriander, Cilantro, Chili Powder (you can make your own to save money), Garlic, Ginger, Onion, Parsley, Thyme

Good-To-Have: Basil (especially if you make a lot of Italian food), Cardamom (not used by itself often, but used in a lot of spice mixes), Chinese Five-Spice (for Chinese food), Cocoa Powder (Mexican), Marjoram, Oregano, Rosemary, Paprika, Mint, Turmeric

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Well Fed 2 Spice Mixes

Well Fed and Well Fed 2 by Melissa Joulwan are two of my all-time favorite cookbooks. I’ll write a full review in a different post someday, but among all the things I love about these books, the thing I love most is the way she teaches the reader to create different ethnic meals through the use of simple base ingredients and a change of spice mixtures. The spice mixes pictured above are from Well Fed 2. The tall jar is Magic Dust, and it’s more than just a spice mix…I use it like a condiment. I also have a few favorite Penzeys spice blends that I’ll share in another post.

Poll Time! 

Question Time! What’s your favorite, go-to spice or spice mix? Answer in the comments!

Sources:

Well Fed + Well Fed 2

The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg

Let’s Talk About Grains

Hello all! I hope you’ve had a fantastic weekend, and that your Monday wasn’t too horrible.

Rule #473984 that I’m learning about blogging: Don’t make promises you can’t keep! I’m still planning on writing about making bone broth, as I said I would in my last post. But my last batch (the one I was making to share with you all) didn’t turn out the way I expected. It was my first time using beef bones, and it didn’t gel. It bummed me out. I think I figured out why (not enough gelatin in the bones), and I look forward to trying again, and hopefully I’ll get to take pictures of some wonderful gelled bone broth.

For today, however, I’d like to have a talk about grains, and their value, or perhaps their lack-there-of, in our diets. People can be pretty polarized on this topic. I understand that for many people, grains make up a major part of their diet. Most celebrations, whether holiday, birthday, or I’ve-got-good-news, tend to contain grain products. And people don’t want to miss out on social events that involve those products. I definitely get it. But for me, the negatives out-weight all of that – especially when there are millions of grain-free recipes of many favorite baked goods. Being grain free, I still can have my cake, cookies, brownies, pancakes, bread, French toast…there’s only a handful of foods that I haven’t been able to reproduce, and out of that handful, there’s only a few that I actually miss. Now, some Paleo-Purists might criticize the fact that I do make things that are not from the Paleolithic Era, but I feel that as long as these baked goods are treated as treats and not daily staples, it’s fine. And like Jeph Jacques put on an apron, baking is science for hungry people!

My issues with grains:

1) Processing

Refined grains are incredibly processed. That means that there was a lot of machinery, chemicals, and/or heat involved in making the product. The bran and the germ of the seed are removed, so you lose a lot of nutrients in those layers. The lost nutrients are often added back in – that’s what “fortified” means – but that doesn’t necessarily mean the body recognizes those chemical versions of nutrients as the real deal. And, going back to my definition of real food, since it’s processed, it’s not a real food. It’s a food product. It’s edible, but is it really healthy?

2) Anti-nutrients and Hard-to-Digest Proteins

Get ready for some science!

There’s an anti-nutrient in whole grain called phytate, which is found in the bran. Phytates combine with the minerals in the bread or other grain product and prevent the body from using that mineral. It doesn’t matter that there’s calcium and magnesium in the whole grain – the phytates won’t allow your body to absorb it and benefit from it.

As for proteins, there are two (I suppose technically three) big ones that are troublesome: lectin and gluten. Lectins are problematic because those molecules can stick to the lining of our intestines, causing all sorts of digestive distress and erode you intestinal barrier – also known as “leaky gut”. Gluten, found in wheat, barley, and rye, is made up of two proteins: gliadin and glutenin. You’ve probably heard of celiacs disease, in which people have no tolerance for gluten due to the autoimmune disorder in the small intestine. But recently, researchers and doctors are discovering that many people who test negative for celiacs disease can still have severe reactions to gluten – I’m one of them – and we now have a name for it: non-celiacs gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Those of us with NCGS may not have the digestive issues that celiacs have, but we could have other symptoms: fatigue, joint/muscle pain, headaches, skin irritations, brain fog and depression are just a few. Non-gluten grains, like corn and oats, contain a different protein than gluten, but can cause similar symptoms.

3) GMOs

If we all had access to einkorn, one of the original wheat grains, our bodies would probably be a lot happier. That’s because it was a naturally grown grain that had 14 chromosomes, and our bodies recognized it as nourishment. Today’s modern wheat has been genetically modified for various reasons, and now has 42 chromosomes. It’s almost impossible to find corn now-a-days that isn’t genetically modified. Now, what’s wrong with GMOs? I believe it hasn’t been tested enough to be 100% sure that it’s safe for consumption long-term, and I wonder if there’s any connection between GMOs and the rising obesity population, or any connection to a variety of diseases. We just don’t know. Also, I don’t like the idea of my food being modified to a point that my body doesn’t recognize it as nourishment. What is so wrong with the food that nature provides?

4) Inflammation

According to Dr. Tom O’Bryan, “Every degenerative disease – cancer, heart disease, brain diseases, joint diseases – every degenerative disease is a disease is a disease of inflammation inside the cell. It means the cell’s on fire…there’s too much activity, too much heat.” Every bite we eat is either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Either the food will cause that “fire” to which our immune system then responds, or it will help slow down or stop the inflammation. And more and more research points to the theory that most people, if not EVERYONE, has an inflammatory response to grains. What could this mean? It could mean that the inflammation is in your brain, and you can’t feel it, so you continue to eat grains. Maybe in your 30s you start forgetting things, and you blame it on “getting older”. Then, when you’re in your 60s, you get a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. That’s the result of inflammation killing your brain cells. And that’s not good! But what I find really cool is that our blood will show elevated antibodies YEARS before we show symptoms of a disease, and we have the technology to test our blood to discover these antibodies. Kind of like Doppler radar, but it predicts disease instead of storms.

5) Blood sugar levels

I think it was Dr. Perlmutter who said that two slices of whole wheat bread can spike your blood sugar higher than a snickers bar. He was on Dr. Oz, and they tested some women and found that for 3 out of the 5, this was true. Ideally, we want to keep our blood sugar as stable as possible. If it spikes, it’s going to eventually come down, and that’s how we get sugar crashes. Your body did what it needed to do – produce insulin to help your body adjust to the increase sugar. When our blood sugar levels keep rising and falling, it’s almost like a drug affect – we want more of what we already had to bring that level back up. If you’ve done a Whole30, then you’ll recognize this as the Sugar Monster. We might expect this from a candy bar, but not from something that the government calls, “healthy”. If you’re trying to lose weight, keeping a stable blood sugar level is crucial for success.

 

So there you have it! That’s what I’ve learned about grains so far…I will update when I learn more.

Now, does this mean I won’t occasionally indulge in some grains? Hey, I’m not perfect, and I love sushi. I’ve learned through lots of self-experimentation that rice does not affect me as severely as other grains, and I don’t have sushi all the time. Some people, for example, have no apparent symptoms when they eat rice or oats. Could inflammation still be occurring somewhere in the body? Probably. But if every other forkful you have that day is anti-inflammatory, maybe your body will balance it out and heal itself. Who knows? We are all our own chemistry experiment. I can’t tell you what’s best for you, but I hope I’ve given you something to think about.

If you have questions, please ask! Also, I want to post a grain-free recipe. Is there a particular dish or dessert you’d like to see grain-free?

 

Sources:

The Grain Manifesto

Mark’s Daily Apple

Speed Endurance

Einkorn.com

The 21 Day Sugar Detox book

Dr. Tom O’Bryan’s Real Food Con lecture