Category: Connect (Page 1 of 2)

Mediterranean Spring Salad with Easy Avocado Dressing

As someone who used to hate salads and didn’t eat them until midway through college, I’ve come to love them and enjoy them as a regular part of my meals. What I love about salads is how many nutrients and colors you can mix together at one time and how versatile they are!

I tend to put my salads together based on whatever I happen to have in the fridge at the time. I start with a base of greens, add in chopped or shredded veggies, toss in some source of protein, and add something crunchy like nuts or seeds…or in this case – crunchy Mediterranean veggie patties!

Most veggie burgers I’ve tried have been pretty nasty and full of ingredients that I wouldn’t find in my pantry, so I stayed away from them for most of my life.

That was true until I tried Hilary’s Eat Well Burgers at the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore in 2015.

I’ve been a huge fan ever since, and we always have them stocked in our freezer. What I love about these burgers is that they are free from gluten, dairy, soy, nuts, and eggs, and they are made with real food ingredients – nothing weird. Oh, and their taste and texture are SO good! I’ve even heard someone describe them as a healthier hush puppy.

They have a bunch of different varieties of burgers, including the following: Root Veggie, Hemp & Greens, Adzuki Bean, Kimchi, Curry, Spicy Thai, Black Bean, and the “World’s Best Veggie Burger” Original flavor, which is their best seller. We buy them at MOMs Organic Market and Wegmans. To find where they are sold near you, click the Find It Here Link beneath the product on this page.

The dressing came to be when I opened my fridge and saw an avocado and a lemon and decided to put them together to see what would happen. It was a success!

This salad is packed with anti-inflammatory, nourishing, plant-powered ingredients and is full of flavor and a variety of textures to keep your taste buds and your tummy happy 🙂

Mediterranean Spring Salad with Avocado Dressing

Servings: 2

Ingredients

Salad
6 cups leafy greens (I used a greens and radicchio blend)
1 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup broccoli or other sprouts
1 small handful fresh basil, chopped
1 cup cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 mini Hilary’s Eat Well Mediterranean veggie burger patties, cooked according to package instructions

Dressing
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
Flesh of 1 avocado
1.5 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons water
1/4 tsp plus a pinch sea salt
Fresh black pepper, to taste

Directions
1. Toss all salad ingredients together in a bowl and set aside, except burgers.
2. In a mini food processor, pulse the garlic until finely minced then add remaining dressing ingredients and process until smooth. You may have to scrape down the sides and repeat. Alternatively, you can try to mash the avocado and whisk ingredients in a small mixing bowl by hand, but it won’t be as smooth.
3. Toss dressing with salad (it’ll be thick) and top with veggie burgers. Feel free to chop them up to the size of croutons!

My Food Philosophy: What Matters Most

Are you paleo? Vegan? Gluten-free? What diet are you on?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked questions about what “diet” I follow. I get it. It can be tempting to categorize ourselves and to label the way we eat.

We have a desire to know “the way” and what the right answer is when it comes to what we “should” be eating. But I’m not a huge fan of labels. They can be limiting, restrictive, and isolating.

If I had to describe the type of food I eat, I would say it is colorful, mostly plant-based, with a focus on whole, real ingredients that I can pronounce. I eat to feel good, not just for the next five minutes, but for as long as possible. I’ve found that gluten and dairy-based foods don’t make my body feel good, so I don’t eat them. I prioritize the quality of my food and want to know where it comes from and whom my purchase impacts.

But I’m not “on a diet,” and I don’t eat this way to prove anything to anyone.

A few years ago, I interviewed a local naturopathic doctor, Dr. Kristapps Paddock, and I’ll never forget what he said.

Dogma is a belief or set of beliefs that’s accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.

Isn’t that true of most diets?

We don’t question them. We accept them as truth because some celebrity, health expert, or friend told us so.

Unfortunately, this has brought us to a place of not questioning things, not asking why, not getting curious. We don’t stop to notice if they are working for us. One of the most helpful and transformational things we can do when it comes to what we eat is to question everything. To get curious. To pay attention to our body’s signals.

We know more than we’ve ever known about food and nutrition, but there is still so much more to learn that it doesn’t make sense for us to be polarizing when it comes to eating. It drives a lot of people away from conversations about nutrition. While the same general principles are universal (i.e., eat food, not too much, lots of plants), the nuances may not be. Everybody is different, so what’s most important is that we get curious about what works for US (not our neighbor, co-worker, friend or family member).

So, instead of adopting a dogmatic attitude toward eating, I have a food philosophy. It captures my approach to eating, the mindset I have around food, and what I believe to be true. It communicates what I’m about and how I want to think and feel when it comes to food.

It’s not irrefutable. It’s not scientific. It’s not the only way.

It’s empowering. It’s clarifying. It reminds me of what is true for me and my body. It’s what I’ve come to learn works best for me.

As you read it, I invite you think about which parts resonate with you. If anything does, try to hold on to that idea and let it guide the eating choices you make this week. If you want to take it to another level, try coming up with your own version of a food philosophy!

My Food Philosophy

I believe food matters.
I believe my body matters.
I believe I matter.
I believe I’m more than a number.
More than a dress size, calorie count, or scale reading.
I believe in being curious about what I eat and noticing, without judging, how food affects me.
I believe in connecting with my food, how it makes me feel, where it comes from and the impact it has beyond my plate.
I believe food is a way to connect with my body, my community, and my purpose.
I believe in slowing down and savoring food, noticing its textures, aromas, and beauty; pausing to express gratitude for the beauty on my plate.
I believe in enjoying food without anxiety, guilt, shame or judgment.
I believe in elevating the quality of my food and eating the highest quality available.
I believe in upgrading my diet to crowd out whatever is not working for me.
I believe in eating food that tastes good AND makes me feel good.
I believe in being open to exploring and trying new foods.
I believe food is inherently amoral (neither “good” nor “bad”).
I believe I am responsible for my eating choices.
If I’m going to eat it, I own it (I’m not “cheating”).
I believe having energy, glowing skin, a strong immune system and a positive mood are signs that I’m giving my body what it needs.
I believe in fueling and nourishing my body with whole, vibrant, healing food, so I can feel alive and energized and fulfill my purpose here on earth.
But I believe food is only part of the puzzle when it comes to being our best selves.
Food matters, but there is more to living well than eating well.
Friendships, community, connection.
Peace, patience, kindness.
Faith, grace, joy.
Love.

8 Easy Ways to Upgrade Your Thanksgiving {+ Dozens of Recipes!}

I have so many positive memories of Thanksgiving from growing up – the giant glazed donuts from Woodlea Bakery we got every year for breakfast, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and helping my mom peel apples for her signature three-apple pie.

We never did anything too extravagant, and it was usually just the five of us – my parents, me, and my brother and sister – but Thanksgiving was a special day in our house. Now that I’ve grown to love cooking so much, it’s become my second favorite holiday after Christmas. This year, I’ll be making this gluten-free stuffing, pecan-crusted sweet potato casserole, roasted garlic cauliflower mash, and these pumpkin cheesecake.

I wanted to offer up some helpful tips and tricks to support you on Thanksgiving Day. Most of the websites that give tips for Thanksgiving just tell you to use healthier versions of your favorite staples, avoid going back for seconds, and watch your alcohol consumption. While I agree that all of those recommendations are useful to some extent, I’m here to offer something different, something more inviting and life-giving.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends! 🙂

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1) Be Present & Enjoy It

Thanksgiving is meant to be a time to come together with friends and family to celebrate the abundance and blessings in our lives. It’s easy to get caught up in the busy pace most of us keep throughout the year. For at least this one day, we can choose to pause, reflect, and be present. Enjoy the day. Savor the meal.

Part of being present means being aware of our body. If you’re going to eat something, OWN IT. Notice how it smells, tastes, and feels. Notice the signals your body sends you. Are you really hungry or do you just want something to do? Your body will let you know when it is no longer hungry. Pay attention to it. Take a break. Save the leftovers.

2) Eat Breakfast

When we know we’re going to be eating a lot later in the day, many of us will skip breakfast or eat too little early in the day to “save up” for the afternoon. Instead of skipping breakfast, which will lead to overeating later, have a nourishing breakfast to start your day. Try one of these 25 breakfast recipes, like this pumpkin spice oatmeal or this quick and easy black bean scramble.

3) Upgrade Your Recipes

All of us have family favorites that aren’t likely to be replaced anytime soon, but I invite you to give a new side dish recipe a try. I put together a collection of nearly 30 nourishing, delicious, and upgraded Thanksgiving recipes in this blog post. You won’t want to miss the maple-roasted Brussels sprouts, shredded Brussels sprouts salad, pumpkin spice dip, pecan-crusted sweet potato casserole, or pumpkin cheesecake.

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Shredded Brussels sprouts salad with walnuts

4) Taste the Rainbow

Most Thanksgiving plates look pretty one-note with lots of browns and whites and a little bit of green or orange. Focus on filling your plate with as many colors as possible. This sweet potato casserole, shredded Brussels sprouts salad, and butternut squash and quinoa harvest salad will all add color to your plate!

The more colors you have, the more fiber is on your plate, the fuller you will feel, and the more nourished you will be. If you have kids, encourage them to count the colors on their plate and celebrate who gets the most.

5) Reallocate Your Plate to 50 / 25 / 25

That’s the ratio I recommend to “up” the nutrition of your plate. Half of the plate filled with vegetables (i.e., greens, salad, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, etc.) with some room for fruit, 25% protein (i.e., poultry, meat, seafood), and 25%  fiber-rich starch (i.e., sweet potatoes, squash, corn, grains). I’m a big advocate of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Plate below, which is a visual representation of the 50/25/25 ratio.

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6) Slow Down

I hear a lot of people (me being one of them!) say things like, “But you don’t understand, it’s just that I LOVE food.” It’s given as a reason why we eat so much. Here’s something to consider from author, Geneen Roth, one of my favorite writers and truth tellers:

When you love something, you spend time with it.

Boom.

Man, she is always so spot on.

If you really, truly love food, spend time with it; take time to connect with your food. Pause before you eat and offer gratitude for the farmers who grew it or raised it, the money you have to purchase it, and the hands that prepared it. So often we forget about the process our food goes through to get from the farm to our fork. If you want to cut down on discomfort later that day, slow down and chew your food thoroughly before taking the next bite. 

7) Take a Digestive Enzyme

If all else fails and you realize you’re not going to follow any of the steps above, give your digestive system some support and take a digestive enzyme. This is kind of like the last-ditch effort. I almost feel like I’m advocating for overeating by putting this one in here, but I also think it could help a lot of people. When we overeat, we put a lot of extra work on our digestive system and don’t have enough enzymes to break down the massive amounts of food we’re eating. Some of my favorite digestive enzyme brands are Rainbow Light, DigestGold, and Garden of Life. You can find them on Vitacost.com.

8) Move Your Body

Moving your body helps stimulate digestion and regulate your blood sugar – something that is usually out of whack due to the amount of food most of us eat on Thanksgiving. 

Start a new family tradition focused on movement. Take a walk Thanksgiving morning for at least 30 minutes and try to do the same after dinner. Find a Turkey Trot 5k in your area on Active.com. Or, if you’re in Baltimore, JOIN ME at Movement Lab for a 90-minute dance jam on Thursday morning at 10:00!

Some of Baltimore's Nia community with a few amazing Movement Lab instructors

Dancing with some of Baltimore’s Nia community with a few amazing Movement Lab instructors

Do you have any helpful tips to share to make Thanksgiving more nourishing for your body, mind and soul? Feel free to comment below!

Pure Genius Brownies & Blondies: Upgrade Your Sweet Treats

When I was in college, one of the nicknames given to me by my husband’s fraternity brothers was “Betty Crocker.”

I grew up baking with my mom and neighbor, Miss Muriel, and it was always something I enjoyed. I was known for making Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cookies, GIANT chocolate chip cookies, and cookies and cream brownies in college. I wasn’t exactly into healthier baking back then, but the cookies and brownies were always a hit!

Since I’m all about upgrading what we eat, so we can eat tasty things AND feel good about it, I share dozens of sweet treat recipes on this blog. And as much as many of you like making things from scratch, sometimes it’s nice to have store bought options when you’re short on time or just want to try something new.

What if there was a company that could take one of our favorite sweets – brownies – and upgrade them by adding in some fill-you-up fiber and protein? And what if they put all of that goodness into one little package that actually tasted good?

For all of you with kiddos, what if you could find a dessert that you felt good about putting in your little ones’ lunchbox, knowing it was school-safe and nut-free and had some nourishment in it?

Meet, Pure Genius brownies and blondies.

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I first tried these at the Natural Products Expo East last fall and became a fan. They were recently named the NEXTY award winner for best new sweet or dessert at Expo East 2016.

I couldn’t believe that the FIRST ingredient in both the Deep Chocolate Brownie and the Chocolate Chunk Blondie was…chickpeas!

You’d never guess that every Pure Genius brownie and blondie contains more than 40% garbanzo beans (chickpeas). And we’re talking whole beans, not flour.

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Believe it or not, YOU DON’T TASTE THEM AT ALL! All they do is add protein, fiber, and a nice soft texture to these tasty treats. Here are a few more reasons why you should give these brownies a try:

  • They’re gluten-free, vegan, soy-free, dairy-free, and nut-free (perfect for nut-free schools and kids with food allergies!)
  • GMO-free (verified by the Non-GMO Project as not being genetically modified or made with genetically modified ingredients)
  • They taste great and have a nice chewy texture, unlike most gluten-free brownies, which are often crumbly. My husband, who also has a sweet tooth, loves them as well, especially the blondie.
  • Each hefty bar has under 200 calories, 3 to 4 grams of protein, 3 to 4 grams of fiber, and only 11 grams of sugar.
  • They have an expiration date! Real food is supposed to go bad and rot, and these will, too. If a food lasts on a shelf for six months or more, is it really something we want to be putting in our body if we want to feel our best?

So, where can you buy these bean-based brownies?

  • Visit Pure Genuis’ website here. I’ve got some good news for you! Use code RACHELSKITCHEN for 20% off all online orders. The code is valid through November 30, 2016.
  • Buy on Amazon: Chocolate Chunk Blondies or Deep Chocolate Brownies.
  • Find them at your local Whole Foods.

Have you tried Pure Genius brownies and blondies before? Let us know what you think below!pure-genius-brownieblondie-brownie

Triple Orange, Fennel & Beet Salad with Arugula

Wouldn’t you love to know how to make the most of your food, so you waste as little as possible AND stay nourished with delicious food?

I’m here to help 🙂

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In the first part of a two-part series I’m teaching about the restorative, healing power of food, I shared several anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich, nutrient-dense recipes. All of the recipes are free from wheat, milk, eggs, soy, shellfish, and peanuts, which are some of the most commonly allergenic foods.

In their book, The Elimination Diet, Tom Malterre and his wife Ali Segersten point out that 80% of their patients felt significantly better after removing dairy and gluten from their diet. I found that all of my symptoms – allergies, congestion, frequent colds, dry skin, acid reflux – were reversed when I changed my diet and removed dairy and gluten.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share recipes and inspiration for you to make changes based on what your body is telling you it needs.

We made homemade almond milk, chocolate-covered cherry smoothie, white bean and fennel soup, sauteed greens with pumpkin seeds, and the recipe in today’s post. I was inspired to make a salad with beets and oranges as I was reading Dr. Michael Miller’s book Heal Your Heart. But I wanted to upgrade it by adding in some stomach-soothing fennel, anti-inflammatory avocado, and anti-cancer arugula.

Not only that but this recipe features all three components of the orange – zest, juice and whole segments. It’s a great way to reduce food waste and make the most of the dollars you are spending!

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beet-salad-side

Ingredients

4 beets, diced (Love Beets is my favorite brand)
1 fennel bulb
2 oranges
1/4 tsp coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
1 tsp raw honey
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 avocado, diced
1/4 cup pecans, chopped

Directions

  1. Prep fennel following these steps from The Kitchn and put in a large bowl. I used a mandolin to thinly slice it.
  2. Peel one orange, cut into slices, then pull segments apart. Set aside.
  3. Zest half of second orange using a microplane grater into a medium bowl. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl, being careful to remove the seeds. Whisk salt, ginger, and honey into bowl with juice and zest. Whisk in olive oil until it starts to thicken.
  4. Pour half of dressing over fennel and let sit for 10 minutes, so orange juice can soften fennel. Add beets and orange slices and toss to combine. Add arugula, avocado and pecans and toss gently to combine. Add additional dressing if needed. Serve immediately.

10 Tasty New Food Finds from Natural Products Expo East 2016

What a whirlwind the past few weeks have been!

From the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore to the Culinary Nutrition Expert Retreat in Toronto, a Holistic Health Conference in Madison, Wisconsin and the New Jersey Veg Fest yesterday, and teaching a few workshops in between, I’ve been on what felt like a natural health tour of North America.

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I’ve also gotten some clarity around how I want to focus and what I want to share. I feel drawn to go deeper on this blog than I have been in the past few months. I’m grateful for your patience with me as I’ve been a bit less regular with posts over the past month, but the clarity I’ve gained during that time was worth it.

One of the reasons you’ve told me you come to me with questions or follow me on Instagram and Facebook is to be up to date on the latest and greatest natural food products that I use in my own home and recommend to you. I know one of the most frustrating aspects of starting to eat well and remove foods like dairy and gluten is the overwhelm you feel when you step into the store and blankly stare at a wall with 20 options for one product.

How do you know which to choose?

I’m here to make it easier AND to introduce you to some fun, new products before they hit stores. For the past three years, I’ve attended the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore as Press because of how much this community supports my efforts on social media (THANK YOU!).

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I want to pay it forward by sharing with you my top finds from the expo. As with all of my recommendations and recipes, they are all gluten-free and dairy-free.

I think you’ll be excited to see what is going to be coming to grocery stores in the coming weeks and months!

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1) Hilary’s Eat Well Breakfast Sausage Patties

I first found out about Hilary’s Eat Well veggie burgers two years ago at my first Expo. To be honest, I wasn’t someone who ate veggie burgers; I thought they were pretty nasty and full of a bunch of ingredients I wouldn’t have in my own pantry.

These burgers are different. They are one of the ONLY foods we have in our freezer at all times. Bill loves to have them for breakfast, topped with an egg or on top of a sweet potato hash, and we also love them toasted and then crumbled up on a salad. I featured these burgers in my mason jar salad recipe at the end of the summer. They are SO good!

To make things even better, they now have a breakfast sausage version. It contains all real food for ingredients (i.e., no weird soy protein isolates) AND is dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, and egg-free. The two versions I tried were Apple Maple and Spicy and my favorite was definitely the Apple Maple.

Where to Find Them: Click this link to find a store near you where you can buy all of Hilary’s Eat Well products.

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2) Farmhouse Culture Ginger Beets & Kraut Krisps

Since over 70% of our immune system sits in and around our digestive system, eating fermented foods is one of the best things we can do to boost our immune system, not get sick, clear up our skin, reduce bloat, and have regular bowel movements (at least 1/day!).

I’ve been a fan of Farmhouse Culture’s Kimchi and Sauerkraut for about a year now and a few months ago I started taking their Gut Shots to support my digestive and immune systems. When I stopped by their table and saw their new branding (love it) and their new products, I was stoked!

The ginger beets were amazing and would be delicious chopped up and put on a salad or just eaten as a snack. But one of the coolest snacks I tried all day was the Kraut Krisp. With almost 50% sauerkraut, organic corn masa and a shelf stable probiotic blend in the seasoning mix, this is a chip you can feel good about eating. The dill pickle is amazing! I’m hoping to see both of these yummy foods in my local store soon!

Where to Find It: Here is the link to their Store Locator. On the link is a Product Request form that you can print out and take to your local store!

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3) Beetnik Organic Frozen Meals 

We discovered beetnik Organic frozen meals about a year ago.What I love about them is that they are made with real, whole food ingredients and taste more like a homemade meal than a frozen one.

They are Bill’s #1 go to choice for lunch at school when he hasn’t packed leftovers or planned ahead. As an elementary school teacher, he’s lucky if he gets 20 minutes to enjoy his lunch, so convenience is key, but so is staying fueled and energized throughout the day.

Bill has liked every single one he has tried, and I know he’ll be excited to check out some of their new flavors like Ragu Alla Bolognese, Pollo Alla Cacciatora, Organic Lemon Chicken with Cauliflower Rice, Organic Shepherd’s Pie with Grass Fed Beef, and Organic Beef Chili with Sweet Potato. The first two are pasta sauces, and the last three are paleo-friendly and grain-free.

Where to Find Them: I buy them at MOM’s Organic Market or Roots Market, but you can use this store locator to find them near you.

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4) Miyoko’s Creamery {Dairy-Free Cheeses}

When you stop eating dairy, one of the things you miss the most is the creaminess of cheese. Fortunately, food has come a LONG way, and brands like Miyoko’s give us the opportunity to get that beloved texture back 🙂

At the Expo, they were sampling their Smoked Farmhouse, Fresh Loire Valley and Double Cream Chive cheeses as well as a few others. They also have Garlic Herb, Sundried Tomato Garlic, Winter Truffle and Herbs de Provence varieties. Organic cashews are the base of their cheeses and give them a rich and creamy texture

Where to Find It: I buy mine at MOMs Organic Market or Whole Foods but you can use this store locator to find where they are sold near you!

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5) Soul Sprout Snacks

After undergoing a rebranding from Two Moms in the Raw (who I’ve written about here) to Soul Sprout, these snacks are better than ever. They have granola bars, almond butter truffles, nut bars, grain-free cereal, and almond protein crackers.

Their plant-based snacks are made with sprouted ingredients and have recently undergone a makeover in the ingredient list. They used to use agave as a sweetener but upgraded to coconut sugar, which is less controversial and even more delicious.

Where to Find Them: I buy mine at MOMs Organic Market, but Whole Foods and The Fresh Market carry their products as well. Look for them at your local grocery store or shop online on their website here.

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6) Jackson’s Honest Chips

I first tried these chips at Expo East two years ago and fell in love. They have become our go to chip and I’ve introduced them to dozens of people through my workshops and cooking classes, and my coworkers are kind of obsessed with them, too. They’re perfectly crunchy and incredibly satisfying.

The founders of the company created the chips as a result of helping their son recover from an illness doctors couldn’t diagnose or treat. They discovered how powerful coconut oil was in his healing and use it as an ingredient in all of their chips. My favorite variety is the sweet potato chips, but they introduced two *new* products at the Expo – Maple Cinnamon Sweet Potato and Rippled Red Heirloom Potato Chips. All I can say is YUM.

Where to Find Them: I buy mine at MOMs Organic Market, Wegmans or The Fresh Market, but you can find them near you using their store locator here.

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7) Cappello’s Cookie Dough

I first fell in love with their chocolate chip cookie dough two years ago at the first Expo East I attended. Their cookies are gluten-free, dairy-free, and grain-free and use almond flour as the base. They introduced three new kinds of dough at the expo: Double Chocolate, Lemon Zest and Ginger Snap. I have a pack of each sitting in my freezer right now along with some of their fettuccine and lasagna sheets that I can’t WAIT to use!

Where to Find Them: I’ve bought their products at MOMs Organic Market and Whole Foods Market, but you can find them near you using this locator.

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8) Simple Mills Crackers & Baking Mixes

I fell in love with Simple Mills baking mixes when I met them at Expo East two years ago. They have the best boxed bread mix, pancake and waffle mix, cake mix, muffin and cupcake mix, and pizza dough. I use their bread mix to make this delicious paleo-friendly, gluten-free stuffing, perfect for the upcoming holidays!

At the Expo, they were introducing their new almond flour crackers. My favorite is the Sun-dried Tomato Basil version, but they also have a Fine Ground Sea Salt and Rosemary & Sea Salt variety. You HAVE to try them!

Where to Find Them: I buy their products at MOMs Organic Market, Target, Home Goods (hit or miss!), or online at Amazon. Use their store locator to find them near you.

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9) Forager Dairy-Free Yogurt

I used to eat yogurt every day growing up. I didn’t like sandwiches as a kid, and yogurt was one of the few foods that was easily portable and filled me up. It took me 25 years to figure it out, but the yogurt I was eating wasn’t the healthiest. It was usually full of lots of sugar and the brands I used to buy (Yoplait and Dannon) rank as two of the BOTTOM FIVE of a list of 129 yogurts rated by the Cornucopia Institute here.

Most dairy-free yogurts have a funky texture and more gelatinous than smooth and creamy. Fortunately, companies like Forager are beginning to step up their game and bring us delicious dairy-free yogurts that taste closer to the real thing. I loved how velvety smooth their cashew milk-based yogurt was and think you will, too!

Where to Find It: I’ve found their other products at MOMs Organic Market, so I’m hoping they will carry the yogurt soon! You can find out more on Forager’s website.

img_827010) Coco-Roons Superfood Cookies

I have to admit it – I used to hate coconut. At Halloween, every Mounds bar or Almond Joy went straight into the trash. No thank you! Over the years, I’ve come to love coconut no matter what form it takes – coconut flakes, milk, oil, and butter. It’s so rich and full of flavor.

One of my favorite desserts are the Coco-Roons made by Wonderfully Raw. My usual go-tos are the brownie and vanilla maple versions, so I was super excited to find out that they rebranded AND introduced two new flavors at Expo – Salted Caramel (YESSSS) and Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Where to Find Them: The best deals are at Home Goods, but you can also buy them at MOMs Organic Market, The Fresh Market, Whole Foods, and Safeway. Check out their store locator for more store options!

Well, that’s a wrap, friends! Those are my first ten finds. I think you’ll love them and can’t wait to share another round of awesomeness in my next post!

HEX Ferments: The Difference, The Flavor & The Future

This is the second part in a two-part series. Did you miss the first post? To learn about the start, the art and the heart of HEX Ferments, click here. 

I had the privilege of interviewing Meaghan Carpenter, one of the founders and owners of HEX Ferments, a fermented food and drink company located in Baltimore. I was drawn to her story because of how her company embodies the core of my food philosophy – to connect with our food, where it comes from and how it makes us feel; to savor our food, prioritizing quality and taking time to enjoy it; and to nourish our bodies with vibrant, life-giving food.

The Difference

So, what makes HEX Ferments different than other fermented foods and drink companies? Meaghan had a lot to say about that and was passionate about the quality of what they create.

We source and ferment for peak flavor. [
] We work with layering flavor. Our staff are all trained in the culinary field. We’ve hired people that know how to work with flavor. We don’t use a lot of dried spices. We use a lot of fresh herbs and spices and we source from local farms for about 90% of our produce. That helps us to get the foods that are the freshest and at the peak of their flavor and nutritional profile.

The health benefits of HEX’s products vary greatly from most products on the market, especially in the case of something like pickles. Most pickles on the market are made with vinegar, which acts as a preservative to make them more shelf stable. It’s used as an instant acidifier.

hex-picklesUnfortunately, most vinegars are denatured or killed, so the nutritional benefits of fermented food are lost; there’s no probiotic component to vinegar pickles. The way HEX produces their products preserves the nutritional integrity and gives us the host of benefits we expect.

HEX naturally ferments their products through the process of lactic acid fermentation, which creates the beneficial microbes that characterize pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi. The next time you’re in the market for a jar of pickles or sauerkraut, make sure you read the label. You want it to be a “living food” with live cultures, no heat and no vinegar.

Not only does HEX prioritize using high quality ingredients and best in class fermentation practices, but they are also particular about the vessels in which they make their products. Unlike most large companies, they don’t use plastic barrels lined with plastic to ferment. When you’re creating a food that acidifies itself, you’re creating a lot of microbes that are really powerful that can eat away at plastic. Because of that concern, the team at HEX ferments in stainless steel, which also helps to keep their products tasting the same as well. That is considered the gold standard for how to ferment.

What I was surprised to learn next gave me another reason to take pride in having HEX Ferments as one of our own. They are the only fermented food company in the U.S. that makes and sells everything at their storefront. This gives their customers a unique experience and the ability to taste and smell everything and talk to the people who have a hand in making the food.

The Flavor

People often come up to the stand and aren’t shy about their feelings toward fermented foods, “I hate sauerkraut.”

Instead of being flustered or offended, Meaghan responds gently, “I’m sorry to hear that. That just means you haven’t had really good sauerkraut. You can learn to like sour.”

If you’re new to fermented foods, it can take a little while to adapt to their naturally sour taste, but Meaghan gave me some suggestions that could help.

  • Pickles are a great way to start because most of us are already familiar with them and have tried them before. Try some cucumber pickles or other pickled vegetables.
  • Try kombucha. It’s an easy entry point because it often has a bit of sweetness to balance the sour, and people tend to like its fizziness.
  • Their carrot confetti made with pickled carrots is a good starter and converted a former sauerkraut hater into a weekly customer.
  • Mix and eat things like sauerkraut with food. If you eat salad, instead of adding dressing, take a few tablespoons of the kraut, chop it up, mix it into your salad and add some olive oil.
A few bottles of HEX's brightly colored kombucha

A few bottles of HEX’s brightly colored kombucha

So, how much sauerkraut should you eat? What amount of kombucha is best to drink?

Start small. Keep in mind it is a living food and you’re introducing billions of bacteria into your system.

Meaghan suggests starting with one tablespoon of kraut or kimchi a day with food (i.e,. chopped up on a salad, as a condiment, mixed in with grains and beans, on a sandwich, etc.) and see how your body reacts. Her stepmother swears by breakfast consisting of an English muffin with peanut butter and HEXs juniper caraway sauerkraut. I can’t say it appealed to me, but Meaghan’s enthusiasm about it might get me to try it!

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Sauerkraut pairs nicely with tacos in this dish with Clavel’s tacos and watermelon radish pickles

For kombucha, Meaghan recommends starting with four to six ounces on an empty stomach in the morning. This has helped her and others with chronic constipation.

As with any food, slow down and pay attention to how your body responds and then increase the amount you’re eating or drinking or stay where you are. Over time, it’s likely you will be able to eat more.

The Shop (Where to Find It!)

To learn more about HEX Ferments and their upcoming events and for locations where you can find their products, check out their website at www.HexFerments.com.

Locally, you can find their products at MOMs Organic Market, Whole Foods, Graul’s, and Eddies Market as well as at the Waverly Farmer’s Market in Baltimore on Saturday mornings.

fullsizerenderIf you’re in the DC area, swing by Each Peach Yes! Organic Market at Capitol Hill, or the Arlington MOMs Organic Market for a jar of their famous kraut or kimchi. Hex also has a presence at the Silver Spring Farmer’s Market and Bethesda Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings.

If you’d rather skip the trip to the store or market and order online, you can order their products through Washington Green Grocer, Relay Foods, Hungry Harvest, and Hometown Harvest.

The Future

HEX Ferments is experiencing a ton of growth and will be expanding to a larger production space just down the road from Belvedere Square, where their storefront will remain. They will gain over 1,000 square feet of space.

A sneak peek at the new space

A sneak peek at the new space

They have plans to teach a few workshops in the fall and look forward to introducing more people to the art of fermentation. I’ll be sure to keep you updated about those events through my Facebook page and this blog.

Over the years, Meaghan and Shane have grown to appreciate and embrace all that Baltimore has to offer. They look forward to continuing to build community through HEX Ferments, as they invite us to connect with our food, how it makes us feel and where it comes from; appreciate food as beauty and art; and nourish our bodies with living, healing food that will leave us looking and feeling our best.

Have you tried HEX Ferments products? Do you have a favorite? Feel free to share below!

HEX Ferments: The Start, The Art & The Heart

I had the privilege of interviewing Meaghan Carpenter, one of the founders and owners of HEX Ferments, a fermented food and drink company located in Baltimore.

I was drawn to her story because of how her company embodies the core of my food philosophy – to connect with our food, where it comes from and how it makes us feel; to savor our food, prioritizing quality and taking time to enjoy it; and to nourish our bodies with vibrant, life-giving food.

The Start

What is this place?

Aside from what she had seen in John Waters’ movies, Meaghan Carpenter knew little about Baltimore when she moved here on a whim 12 years ago. The heat and humidity of Charm City in August and her cockroach-infested apartment weren’t the welcome she had anticipated when she picked up her life in Minneapolis to relocate here. She says “a boy” brought her here, but she stayed for a different boy, Shane, who’s now her husband.

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Over the years, Meaghan’s initial impression of Baltimore has faded, as she has grown to appreciate and embrace her new home.

I feel like Baltimore is this really incredible city that is this melting pot that never seems to fully merge. People come from all over the place. But everybody has a pretty strong identity here. It doesn’t feel like a homogenous city at all.

Meaghan always loved food, grew up spending time in the kitchen with her parents, and worked in restaurant kitchens for years but never considered food for a career.  Both she and Shane have been connected to fermented food since childhood. They grew up eating the harvest from their parents’ vegetable gardens and learned the art of canning at a young age (“You can only eat so many cucumbers, zucchini and carrots” Meaghan confessed.).

They were raised eating sour foods, a taste most Americans have not developed. It was their early introduction to sour, fermented foods that would eventually influence the business they formed together nearly four years ago, a fermented food and drink company called HEX Ferments.

When Meaghan was in college, she was part of a natural foods store co-op and learned how to make simple kimchi and sauerkraut. She noticed it helped the digestive issues she had in college that stemmed from her very poor diet. When she started sharing simple meals of rice, beans, steamed veggies and sauerkraut with the co-op staff, she noticed by how much better she felt. She carried that with her and it would come in handy years later.

schlossmanhex0422It would take two transatlantic trips to the U.K. before Meaghan and Shane would delve more deeply into the art of fermentation. Both she and Shane spent some time separately in Ireland, where Shane worked on organic farms in Wales and saw a different side of fermentation – wines, meads and preserved foods – the side most of us are more familiar with here in the States.

It was in Ireland that Meaghan first learned about the sour, tingly, fermented drink called kombucha. She fell in love with it, and as soon as she got back to U.S., she put out a flyer asking who had the culture needed to brew kombucha. Meaghan was in luck. She learned the simple instructions for how to do it and has been making kombucha for the past 15 years, well before the recent kombucha craze started.

Years after Meaghan’s introduction to kombucha, she and Shane quickly realized that when they got together, they loved playing with flavors and having food experiments. They had a garden and had an overabundance of cabbage and decided to make sauerkraut. So Meaghan dug out Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, a book she first learned about through the co-op, and they got to work. Since then, they’ve visited Sandor’s farm in Tennessee and have been mentored by him along with another husband-wife fermentation team from the Cultured Pickle in Berkeley, California.

hexplusculturedI loved what Meaghan had to say about what happened once they embarked on the journey to come together and explore the art of fermentation:

We instantly got rehooked into it all. Once you make fermented foods and you learn about it, there is the potential to get bitten by its mystery and magic, and there’s no turning back. Once you’re hooked into it, that’s it. It’s an obsession. We became totally and immensely obsessed.

Their friends loved what they made and suggested they open a business, but Meaghan and Shane were hesitant. They were enjoying their hobby and didn’t think they wanted to have a business doing it, even though Shane had been in business for himself since the age of 17.

But sometimes your calling finds you, and if you’re meant to do something with your life, it can be nearly impossible to escape. Meaghan was working at a desk job where she was “totally bored”. She was also teaching and making art, but she was not satisfied and found herself researching how to start a fermented foods business. Fueled by their newfound obsession and bolstered by Shane’s entrepreneurial skills, they decided to go for it and start HEX Ferments. It’s been nonstop ever since.

The Art

Meaghan designed the HEX Ferments logo and partnered with a fellow MICA alum to render the logo and set the vision for their brand. The inspiration for the name comes from Hexology folklore, which uses signs and symbols to protect relationships, secure the harvest, and ward off the unwelcome. In the same way, fermented foods protect and support our body, digestion, immune system and overall health and well-being.

hex-logo-web-01

Through her work, Meaghan has the opportunity to combine her two loves – food and art. She doesn’t see a separation between the two and credits her art education at MICA with her visual, creative problem-solving skills, which have served her well in business.

I see what we do as art. We get to play with flavors, and textures, and colors and beautiful objects and we get to put them together and let them slow cook, also known as ‘ferment’.

The inspiration behind unique flavor combinations, like Juniper Caraway Kraut, Carrot Confetti, Lover’s Truce Kimchi, and Butterfly Lime kombucha, often stems from whatever is in season.

The HEX team scours articles, recipes, and books for inspirations as well and considers their experiments a form of play. Meaghan said naming them is like naming a child and she and the team come up with names together.

hex-kraut hex-kraut-jarsFor Valentine’s Day, an abundance of local beets inspired the creation of a complex kimchi called Lover’s Truce. And when Meaghan was given green tea and saffron tea from Afghanistan by her brother-in-law, it wasn’t long before Saffron kombucha was born.

Meaghan flavor preferences vary seasonally, so she didn’t have a go-to kraut or kombucha. If she had to pick, the plain sauerkraut that is currently at the peak of its ripeness and the Carrot Juniper kombucha were at the top of her list.

Customer buying habits are more particular. Some customers shop by color (i.e., “I only buy things that are red.”) while others have their standby flavors like Garlic Oregano and never waver from them. At times, Meaghan and Shane will come up with make something that’s “super crazy” in a small batch, and people will eat it up and come back months later looking for it. They like to keep things fresh, fun and seasonal.

The Heart

When I have the opportunity to talk to people about food and hear their story, what I gravitate toward most is their food philosophy and the language they use around food.

My approach toward food is to invite people to be curious about eating – to connect with why we eat, how it makes us feel and where our foods comes from; to savor food and make eating a joyful experience; and to nourish our bodies with energizing, life-giving, real food, so we can look and feel our best.

When I asked Meaghan about her philosophy around food, I discovered that we share a similar approach and both prioritize being connected to our food along with nourishment:

I see food in different levels. I see food as culture. I see food as commodity and food as nourishment. The level that we operate in is all three. HEX sees food and our food system in a holistic approach. We need to address the entire system of what brings food, nourishment and culture to our plate.

I couldn’t agree more.

It’s a privilege to have a company right here in my hometown that is so committed to upholding the integrity of their food and nourishing people every day.

Stay tuned for the second post in this series to learn more about what makes HEX’s products different from everything else on the market, get some tips for how to incorporate these foods into your diet, and get a sneak peek at some plans for HEX’s future.

Join Me LIVE for 2 Cooking Classes in Baltimore in October

Fall has always been my favorite season.

I love the colors, the weather, the crisp air, and, of course, the food.

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Laura Toraldo Photography

But fall hasn’t always been a time of optimal health for me.

I used to suffer from seasonal allergies, which meant taking Claritin or Zyrtec, and I couldn’t make it through the fall and winter without dealing with multiple bouts of congestion, post nasal drip, sore throats, and bronchitis. I always had a steady supply of Mucinex, Throat Coat, and Advair inhaler discs. For a third of my life, I also dealt with acid reflux, which meant popping pills at Thanksgiving and Christmastime, in particular, because of all of the rich food I would overeat and then pay for later.

Because I know what it’s like to feel sick and not at my best, I’m passionate about sharing what I’ve learned and experienced as my health has been transformed over the past five years. I no longer take any medications, can get through the whole winter with NO congestion, and don’t deal with post nasal drip, allergies, reflux, or bronchitis.

If you had told me five years ago that that was possible, I would have been skeptical and cynical, but because I now live that reality, I know that it’s true and possible.

Changing my diet has been at the root of why my body has begun healing and continues to heal.

For centuries, food has been used to prevent illness, relieve symptoms, and even cure disease. I’m now in a position of optimizing my health, so that I can continue to feel energized, have glowing skin, and build a strong immune system.

I will be teaching a two-part cooking class series about Healing Foods at the Institute for Integrative Health in Baltimore on Thursday, October 6th and 13th from 6:00-8:00 pm, and I would love for you to join me LIVE! 

REGISTER HERE

Laura Toraldo Photography

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Laura Toraldo Photography

We’ll explore the power of food and discover how it can be used to prevent and alleviate inflammation, strengthen our immune system, and enhance our energy and vitality. Through recipe demonstrations as well as nutrition and cooking tips, I will show you how to eat for optimal well-being. Everything will be dairy-free and gluten-free, and you will find out why during the class.

University of Maryland nutrition researcher Chris D’Adamo, PhD, will be joining me for both classes to offer commentary and answer your questions. He’s a wealth of knowledge and it’s an honor to partner with him again.

Want to join us? Click the button below.

Register_Now_Button

**There are a limited number of spots for these classes, and they are filling up, so if you want to snag your seat, click here to register! The early bird discount of $50 for BOTH classes ends on September 15th, when the price will go up to $60 for both classes. This is the best deal you are going to find for this type and quality of class in the area!**

If you have any questions, please email me through this link, and I will get back to you. I hope to see you there! 🙂

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Laura Toraldo Photography

3 Secrets to Heal Your Heart {…and Live to 100!}

Baltimore is home to some of the world’s thought leaders in health and medicine. One local organization at the forefront of innovation in healthcare and holistic health is the Institute for Integrative Health.

The Institute’s mission is to create a wellness and medical model to shift society’s focus from managing disease to promoting health. Their approach aligns with mine, as I strive to offer hope that we can be well and feel better, that health and vitality can become the new normal. It’s been a privilege to serve as one of their health educators and instructors over the past year or so.

For the Institute’s most recent healthy happy hour, Dr. Michael Miller, a preventive cardiologist, and his wife and podiatrist, Dr. Lisa Miller, facilitated a discussion about how to heal the heart. At the happy hour, I provided samples of my popular Love Your Heart trail mix before heading into the main room to listen to the Millers’ presentation. (Shout out to my favorite grocery store and cafe, MOMs Organic Market, for generously sponsoring the trail mix! If you haven’t been to their Naked Lunch cafe yet, it’s well worth going and is one of my favorite heart healthy lunch spots in town.)

trail mix

Aside from being an internationally recognized leader in the field of preventive cardiology, Dr. Miller has written the best-selling book, Heal Your Heart, which is the top-rated book on heart disease on Amazon out of over 1,000 books.

Included in the book are Dr. Miller’s Positive Emotions Prescription, over 100 recipes (that I can’t wait to try!), and practical tips to heal your heart and optimize your health and wellbeing. All proceeds from the book go to the American Heart Association.

Dr. Miller opened his talk with insights from centenarians – people who have lived to be over 100 – and identified their secrets to longevity. It’ll make you smile (and the simplicity of their advice may surprise you!):

During his talk, which served as a preview for a four-week coaching series he and his wife will be teaching in the fall, Dr. Miller pointed out the main risk factors for heart disease and what we can do to heal our heart and reduce the likelihood of succumbing to a disease that affects millions of Americans each year.

Most of us are aware of the main risk factors for heart disease and heart attack – smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Dr. Miller touched on those but spent the bulk of his time focusing on the impact of two lifestyle factors – stress and what we eat.

Our bodies were designed to respond to acute stressors (like being chased by a tiger), but most of us are in a state of constant stress these days – one that never seems to shut off. If I had to identify one aspect of my health that I want to transform, it would be how I handle stressful situations in my life and making more time for rest, play and relaxation.

Miller-Talk

One of the comments Dr. Miller made that stuck with me was that chronic stress is the same as cellular aging; stress advances the aging process. Even if we’re eating healthy food, exercising regularly and not smoking, this one factor – stress – can undo a lot of the helpful things we’re doing. That’s how powerful stress is.

Dr. Miller shared the story of a former cardiologist colleague of his who passed away from a heart attack in his mid-50s. The stress that accompanied a new, more demanding job on the other side of the world was too much for his heart to handle and ultimately took his life decades too soon. 

So, what can we do? What are some simple and effective things we can do to help heal our heart? Here are three tips Dr. Miller shared:

1) Add Mind-Body Exercises to Your Daily Routine

Research has shown us that these exercises down-regulate our body’s pro-inflammatory genes, which is exactly what we want to happen! Taking time for ourselves can be challenging, as we may feel selfish, but if we want to be well, self-care is non-negotiable. Here are some ideas for mind-heart exercises to try:

  1. Listen to music you enjoy.
  2. Meditate. Try the Headspace or Calm apps on your phone. They are great guides!
  3. Practice yoga. My favorite YouTube channel for yoga is Yoga with Adriene.

2) Watch a Funny Movie or TV Show

Dr. Miller shared some fascinating research about the blood vessel constriction that happened to a group of participants who watched the harrowing, stress-inducing opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. He compared it to the blood vessel dilation that happened when they watched comedies that made them laugh like Shallow Hal, Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary. 

After just 15 minutes of laughing, volunteers experienced the same vascular benefit they’d experience from spending 15 to 30 minutes in the gym or from taking a daily statin medication to lower their cholesterol.

Not only that, but the blood vessel expansion lasted for up to 24 hours! Get a good laugh in in the morning, and the positive benefits could last the entire day.

We all agree there are still plenty of benefits to exercising, so keep up your daily movement routine, but don’t downplay the importance of a good laugh.

Need another excuse to watch The Office (my favorite!) or your other favorite funny TV show, movie, or YouTube videos? Permission granted! It’s good for your heart 🙂

3) Fuel Your Body with Heart-Healing Foods

In his book, Dr. Miller lists the top 50 foods that affect heart health and mood. To add an interactive component to the presentation, his wife, Dr. Lisa Miller, made a delicious raw blueberry cashew gelato topped with mashed peaches and a sesame cookie.

A few of the top 50 foods were cinnamon, ginger, peaches, vanilla, cashews, blueberries, maca powder, and sesame seeds. Here are some simple ways to incorporate these foods into your day:

  1. Add 1/2 tsp CINNAMON to your coffee each day. Cinnamon has been shown to lower triglyceride levels (that’s the fat in your blood). and inhibits a protein connect to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
  2. Add GINGER to smoothies, use it to make your own tea, and try these delicious ginger energy bites. It reduces plaque buildup and improves mental performance. It also promotes healthy digestion and settles nausea!
  3. Enjoy all of the delicious PEACHES that are in season. Peaches are high in antioxidants and other heart-healthy minerals. Mash them up in a mason jar, stir in some cinnamon, ginger and vanilla and add them to overnight oats or use them as a topping on ice cream, as we did that night.
  4. Enhance flavor (and your libido!) with VANILLA. It has been show to reduce inflammation and has high antioxidant activity. To avoid the alcohol content and bitterness of most liquid vanilla extracts, opt for the powdered version from Nielsen-Massey. We add it to smoothies, ice creams, and most of my energy bites!
  5. CASHEWS served as the base of the ice cream we made. If you don’t eat dairy (all recipe on this blog are dairy-free!), cashews add a creamy consistency to everything from cheesecakes and smoothies to soups, cheese sauces and dips. They are high in antioxidants and lower the risk or macular degeneration.
  6. In addition to being packed with antioxidant and blood sugar regulating components, BLUEBERRIES inhibit cortisol – the major stress hormone that runs rampant under chronic stress and adds weight to our bellies. Dr. Miller has a large handful of blueberries every day and swears by their eye health-promoting properties!
  7. MACA powder is derived from a Peruvian radish and has a malt-like taste that I absolutely love. I toss it into smoothies and my chocolate bark and find it pairs especially well with chocolate. It’s known for being a hormone-balancing food and has high antioxidant and blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose-lowering properties. This is the kind of maca powder I order on Amazon.
  8. SESAME SEEDS help regulate blood sugar and contain cholesterol-lowering compounds that protect our heart. Enjoy the seeds themselves and try tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds that we use to make salad dressings super creamy! You can find it in the international aisle of the grocery store. Trader Joe’s just started carrying it, too.

Dr. Lisa Miller’s raw cashew blueberry gelato combined several of those delicious ingredients, and I will share the recipe for it (and her sesame tahini cookies!) in my next post.

In the meantime, here are a few action steps to take if you want to keep learning more about this topic (and spend more time with the Millers and me):

  1. Buy Dr. Miller’s book, Heal Your Heart, on Amazon by clicking here.heal-your-heart-book
  2. If you want to be part of Dr. Millers’ Positivity Challenge Coaching Program in the fall, click here to learn more and register.
  3. Leading up to the Millers’ challenge, I will be teaching a two-part cooking class series about healing foods that you won’t want to miss! Click here to learn more and register.

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