Five Delicious Foods For Winter Health

Winter is finally upon us in the Berkshires. Now is the time to take some preventative measures to insure a healthy winter. There are many ways to incorporate health building foods into a home cooked meal. Here are my top five, must eat foods for winter health and the best part is that combined, they make a delightful, one bowl meal.

muchroom miso broth with greens and ginger

  1. Bone broth + harmony

If you add one thing to your winter routine, start drinking a hot cup of bone broth. Why? Because it’s a collagen building, infection fighting, inflammation reducing wunder food. Just heat up and get cozy with your favorite mug and you are ready to go. We make our own, but you can also pick up bone broth at your local butcher shop. If you’d like to make your own, I recommend “How To Make Bone Broth” on WellnessMama.com, it’s full of resources. For the amount of broth we get, it’s definitely worth the effort!

  1. Mushrooms: we all love a fungi!

What goes great with bone broth and keeping your immune system strong and fortified against the winter chill?  Mushrooms! Maitake and shiitake are two flavorful varieties that are readily available fresh or dried. Maitake, aka “Hen-of-the-Woods”, is my personal favorite. Add them dried to your broth for extra flavor and an immune boost. A plateful of fresh maitake mushrooms sauteed in butter with a little salt and black pepper is sublime. Add a perfectly fried over easy egg and it’s dinner.

  1. Get fermented: foods that are good for your gut

Fermented foods introduce good bacteria and balance existing bacteria in your digestive system. Miso is a fermented superfood and it’s nutty umami depth adds the right amount of salty flavor to simple bone broth. Mix it in after the broth has been heated and plated. I’m a fan of Chickpea Miso by South River Miso. Other great for your gut and immune health fermented foods include yogurt, unsweetened Fire Cider and lacto-fermented veggies — Hosta Hill sauerkraut and kimchi are staples at our house.  

  1. Stay warm

Ginger offers anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties. A warming spice, you can add it to soups, cookies, hot teas and broth. Grated fresh ginger in hot water with lemon is a soothing way to fight germs and mend a sore throat.

  1. Get your greens

It’s cold and dark outside so be sure to keep your mind and body bright with daily doses of green veggies. They are full of the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy and balanced, so make slow cooked collards or give saag paneer a try. Plate up a quick salad to go with your bowl of broth for a balanced meal of both raw, cooling food and warming, cooked food.

Best of all, you can combine these five super ingredients into one dish in about 15 minutes, with only 5 minutes of active time, for one satisfying meal. For someone who frequently skips lunch, I’ll consider this recipe my new year’s resolution.

Mushroom Miso Broth – 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • a small handful (about ⅓ cup) of dried maitake and/or shiitake mushrooms , chopped small, stems removed.  Keep in mind they will expand 2-3 times during cooking.
  • about 1 teaspoon or so of dried powdered ginger
  • two cups or more bone broth, unsalted or lightly salted is best since the miso will add all the salt you will need!.
  • shredded napa cabbage or kale, about a ½ cup or less should do.
  • Miso to taste – use traditional soy miso or experiment with other flavors.

In a pot combine the dried mushrooms, powdered ginger and bone broth. Add a lid and bring to a boil.

Turn down the heat and simmer on low for 10-15 minutes or until the mushrooms are fully hydrated.

Turn off the heat and add a small handful or less shredded napa cabbage or kale.

When the greens are bright green, serve in two bowls.

Add your favorite miso to each bowl, I like about a tablespoon, or more.  Serve with a side of kimchi and enjoy in good health!

 

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Non Dairy Milk Alternatives

Don’t get me wrong, I love cow’s milk in its many forms: cheese, creme fraiche, Ayelada!  And I’d say that when you consume cultured whole milk dairy, from cows, goats or sheep, that have been raised humanly on an organic diet optimal for each breed, dairy counts as health food, in proper amounts, of course!  Unfortunately, like many of us, I don’t have the necessary enzymes to digest lactose, or milk sugars, present in raw dairy.  I’m ok with cultured cream or cheese but plain milk, no way!

Raw cow's milk in glass bottles from Cricket Creek Farm in Williamstown, MA

Raw cow’s milk in glass bottles from Cricket Creek Farm in Williamstown, MA

So, what should you drink in place of dairy milk?  I used almond milk for a long time since I’m allergic to soy due to years of eating highly processed vegetarian soy products, consider yourself warned, those are not health foods!  Almond milk comes in conventional and organic varieties, in these cardboard boxes, some refrigerated, some shelf stable, all of them with too many questionable ingredients.  And those containers are not recycle-able everywhere the way glass and metal are.  The same goes for the processed coconut milks and other nuts or seed based dairy alternatives.

The packaging is not awesome, the fillers and ingredients are weird and you are paying for water, with flavor.  Anyone can make flavored water!

The packaging is not awesome, the fillers and ingredients are weird and you are paying for water, with flavor. Anyone can make flavored water!

I have made my own almond milk, there’s one good solution.  Way less packaging, especially if you buy almonds in bulk, which you kind of need to in order to make homemade almond milk (or other nut/seed milk) affordable.  And almond prices are going way up since this years crop was a disaster.  My issue with making almond milk myself isn’t just the time, it’s putting the leftover almond pulp to good use.   Even though I have a great almond cracker recipe, totally worth making, it is time-consuming and I don’t really want to eat that many almond crackers each week.  The amount of milk I want to drink far exceeds the amount of leftover pulp I want to eat. And that’s why I haven’t ever gotten into the habit of making my own and my guess is most folks don’t either for many of the same reasons.  But I also no longer want to buy almond flavored water with junk in it!

The answer to the milk alternative issue is so simple I’m wondering how I could have overlooked it for so long: Canned, organic coconut milk and filtered water combine to make…coconut milk.  A non dairy milk that is organic, has minimal recyclable packaging, is nutritious AND it’s fast and easy to make, perfect!  When you make your own coconut based milk there are no weird ingredients or thickeners, and you are paying for some actual nutrition, not flavored water!

Coconut milk has a lot of health benefits to offer!

Coconut milk has a lot of health benefits to offer!

Coconut milk is nutritious?  Isn’t it high in fat?  Yes, and yes, one of the best fats you should consume regularly!  “Coconuts are highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins C, E, B1, B3, B5 and B6 and minerals including iron, selenium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous.

Coconuts contain significant amounts of fat, but unlike other nuts, they provide fat that is mostly in the form of medium chain saturated fatty acids (MCFAs) in particular, one called lauric acid. Lauric acid is converted in the body into a highly beneficial compound called monolaurin, an antiviral and antibacterial that destroys a wide variety of disease causing organisms. It is therefore now thought that consumption of coconut milk may help protect the body from infections and viruses.

MCFAs are rapidly metabolized into energy in the liver. It is thought that unlike other saturated fats, MCFAs are used up more quickly by the body and are less likely to be stored as fat.”  -excerpt from Jo Lewin, Nutrtional Therapist on the  Good Food Blog

Two cans of coconut milk will make up to two 64 oz Mason jars.

Two cans of coconut milk will make up to two 64 oz Mason jars.

Organic, canned coconut milk costs me about $1.80 per can from the buying club at my co-op.  I use 1 can to make about 1/2 gallon mason jar of coconut milk, much cheaper than any of the pre-made non dairy milks, organic or otherwise that you can buy in the store.

To make: open one or two cans of organic coconut milk, add one can per 64 oz wide mouth mason jar.  Fill at least halfway with filtered water and blend using an immersion blender.  Add more water to desired consistency.  You can also add: vanilla or another extract and stevia or honey to sweetened things up if that’s your style.  Non dairy milk that’s affordable, organic, easy to make and delicious- let’s drink to your health!

Short and Sweet: Almond Cookies

These easy little cookies are perfect for a birthday tea party, a quick dessert or an anytime snack.  My dear friend Bobbie made these for her birthday party- they vanished quickly and no one seemed to notice they were free of wheat flour and sugars!  The original recipe comes from the blog L. Michelle, she’s got great photos, recipes and even a craft section.

An important note: Use very fine almond flour.  The cookies are still delicious with a more coarse flour, but the texture is completely different.  I made them with the same brand (Bob’s Red Mill) for the third time, and the texture was a little different than the first bag of Bob’s that I purchased.  I ended up using nearly twice as much almond meal to get them to stick together.

Bobbie's birthday cookies, they did indeed, get eaten!

Bobbie’s birthday cookies, they did indeed, get eaten!

Ingredients:

1 cup almond flour (L. Michelle recommends Honeyville brand and Bobbie successfully used Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour)

1 egg

1 tbsp coconut oil (or butter)

stevia to taste

1/4 tsp almond extract or whatever extract you like: vanilla, orange, maybe coconut?!

Procedure:

Combine all ingredients and mix well. To prevent lumping try mixing the dry flour and oil before added it to the egg. If it’s too dry add a tiny bit of water or almond milk.  If it’s too wet, add more almond flour- the batter should stick together well.

Roll batter into small balls and set out on a parchment lined baking sheet. Use a little less than a tbsp of batter for each cookie to make 12 cookies.

With your palm lightly press down on each cookie. Use a fork to make a design. Or, just roll out the dough and use a cute cookie cutter to make your cookies.

Bake at 325° F for 10-12 minutes or until firm.

NOTE: These are sweet and simple and you can add things like cinnamon or nutmeg and different extracts or flavored stevia for a wide variety of almond cookies.  Enjoy!

5 Star Dessert

Chocolate Avocado Pudding with Cocao Nibs

One of my clients recently went to Thanksgiving dinner hosted by a chef whose day job is at a 5 star restaurant in San Francisco, lucky her!  She was worried, of course, that there would be only a few things that she would be able to eat since she is on the Candida diet.  And rightly so, it’s usually difficult to get someone who doesn’t have any idea what Candida is to understand this diet.  I recently had the pleasure of eating a meal at Eat in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  They usually serve a small, set menu based around what’s local and fresh, my kind of place!  And the set menu on Saturday night was not looking very Amy-friendly.  The chef, surprisingly, wanted to accommodate my diet and asked me, what can I eat?  We went through a list of the usual suspects and he seemed to understand.  What came out of his kitchen was absolutely delightful, lots of greens, some smoked fish, a little cheese, more fresh green herbs in an olive oil and apple cider vinegar dressing.  I was impressed.  And so thankful that he was willing to be flexible and to listen.

I went to a restaurant with my mom yesterday for a little post holiday shopping meal.  Mom was familiar with the menu and quickly pointed out the things I could eat and probably get on the side.  And she was right!  It’s funny how something so seemingly insignificant as the minutia of what I can and can not eat means so much to me when someone else gets it, especially family.  Eating the same food, together at the same time, is so important and that’s why it’s so easy to feel lonely and left out when your diet seems drastic, mysterious and limited to those around us.  With all the holiday parties and family get togethers coming up it’s important to speak up and participate.  Bring food to share so that your friends and family can understand that your diet is full of delicious food.  Plenty of recipes to choose from here!  Ask ahead about the proposed menu and make sure that there will be plenty for you to eat that doesn’t compromise your health.  Is it really worth it to just eat what happens to be available (and end up starving) or have your health suffer for days because you ate something to be polite that you really shouldn’t eat?  Eating together is one way that we social creatures bond, so speak up and share your food, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Avocados: creamy, rich, healthy and versatile.

Back to the Thanksgiving dinner, my client had a great time because she chose to get in touch with the chef and, politely ask about his Thanksgiving menu.  The chef was very nice and had a chat with her about what she can eat.  He made plenty of friendly foods and he even made dessert!  Here’s the recipe for the rich chocolate pudding that he made.  My client loved it and, a few days later, replicated the recipe easily at home.  So we’ll call this one ‘Five Star Dessert’.  The recipe can easily be doubled.
Ingredients:
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
Stevia, to taste
A bit of heavy cream or coconut cream, to desired consistency, about 1/4 to 1/2 cup
1 ripe avocado
Optional: vanilla extract, just a dash and cocao nibs, sprinkled on top!
Procedure:
Put everything (except the stevia) and about 1/4 cup of the coconut or dairy cream into a blender and blend.  Adjust the consistency by adding more cream and/or more cocoa powder.  Add stevia, a little at a time until it’s sweet to your liking.  Top with cocao nibs and/or shredded coconut.  Share, eat and enjoy!

Roasted Baby Leeks with Thyme

Baby leeks dressed up in olive oil, garlic and thyme.

Baby leeks are just small leeks and there are two things that are exciting about them: a) the fact that they haven’t had the time to develop many green leaves or the fibrous structure that can sometimes make them stringy, and b) they’re definitely sweeter.   Also, Dana and I have an abundant crop of baby leeks since we planted them from seed, late in the season.  We harvested some yesterday and will pull the rest out soon, with pictures to follow, of course!

The purpose of quickly boiling them in water and then roasting them, as I’ve done in this recipe, is to make them deliciously soft and then to caramelize them so they develop a robustness that makes them wonderful served over or next to fish and meat. They will also add an interesting flavor to pastas or soups. You can do everything in the method below in advance apart from roasting them, so when it’s time to eat, all you need to do is flash them in the oven for 10 minutes.

Ingredients:

20 baby leeks
olive oil
red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced

Procedure:

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Lightly trim both ends and peel back the first or second layer of leaves and discard.

Drop the leeks in a pan of boiling salted water for 2 to 3 minutes to soften – this is called blanching.

Drain them well (if there’s too much water in them they won’t roast properly) and toss in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, the chopped thyme leaves and the garlic.

Arrange the leeks in one layer in a baking pan or earthenware dish and roast in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes until golden and almost caramelized. Keep your eye on them – they will go from golden to burned quickly!

Serve as a side, with fish or meat, or add to a soup before you puree it for extra amazing flavor.

This recipe is from Jamie Oliver in his book Cook With Jamie

Happy Thanksgiving!