Five Years Plus

{July 3, 2011}   The New Crunchy

It’s been quite some time since I’ve eaten granola, save the odd emergency bar during a long tennis match. But I miss it, the comfort food of my adolescence. In 1973 my Mom returned from a visit to her family in Eastern Canada bearing gifts – a bag of a new kind of cereal called “granola” and a Neil Diamond album called Hot August Night that included the song, Crunchy Granola – “Drop your shrink and stop your drinkin’, crunchy granola’s neat!” Mom immediately got on the case and created a recipe including 12 cups rolled outs, 2 cups sunflower seeds, 1 cup melted honey, 1 cup safflower oil and more, all baked together in a big pan. It was delicious and the granola jar was just wide enough to get your hand in for a favorite after school snack.

It wasn’t long after that granola caught on across North America, touted as the new health food. Soon “being crunchy” became synonymous with being a natural type of person, referring to “the crunch of granola, which (as goes the stereotype) hippie-esque people are likely to eat”. Since the 70’s granola has become mainstream. I know this because my son used to eat granola bars for breakfast and there is a whole aisle full of nothing but such bars in the grocery store. This once “health food” may now be filled with dangerous non-foods such as high fructose corn syrup and highly processed soy protein.

But was granola ever really a health food? On the pro side, my Mom’s was made from mostly whole ingredients, processed at home and infused with a mother’s love and care. But even good granola is primarily carbohydrate including a great deal of simple sugar. Look for example at the nutritional analysis of one of the better quality commercial granolas, Bear Naked. One serving provides 140 calories: 18 grams carbohydrate (6 grams sugar from honey, maple syrup and sugar-sweetened cranberries), 3 grams protein and 7 grams fat. Watch out though, one serving is only 1/4 cup. Aside from all that sugar, granola is largely made from its namesake – grain. Mainstream nutrition literature touts whole grains as a staple, but grains can irritate the digestive system and cause a host of health problems in some people. Since having cancer I’ve cut way back on sugar (which can feed many kinds of tumors) and also cut out grains almost entirely to avoid the inflammation they can cause. So even the best granola isn’t on my menu.

Imagine my delight when last year I discovered a raw grainless version made by Lydia’s Organics. Since then, following in my mother’s footsteps, I have worked out a new recipe that is too good to keep to myself. I call this Paleola, as I follow a Paleo. It fits the bill as a vegan, raw, gluten-free, grain-free, sugar-free and fat-free, thereby making it suitable for almost any eating regimen. It is delicious, healthy and yes crunchy too!


  • 3 pounds apples
  • 2 cups sunflower seeds
  • 6 dates
  • 6 figs
  • 6 apricots
  • ½ cup goji berries
  • 2 cups walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (optional)

The nuts and seeds should be raw and refrigerated before and after purchase. Ideally everything should be organic.

Making Paleola requires some organization, a food processor, a sprout jar and a dehydrator.  It is fairly labor intensive, but well worth it. If you’re planning to make Paleola on Wednesday, for example, you will start on Sunday night. Remember, this is a labor of love!

Sunday overnight: Soak 2 cups sunflower seeds in a large sprouting jar (at least 4 cups) for 8 hours. Over the next couple of days you will keep these in a dark place and rinse twice a day. Drain well after each rinsing. They will grow a tail as long as the seed in this time. In warm weather be alert as they can turn sour if you miss a rinsing or grow them too long. If the sprouts are done but you’re not ready to make Paleola you can store them in the fridge for up to two days.

Tuesday morning: The rest of the nuts and seeds should be soaked and dried before using, as they contain anti-nutrients that soaking helps to deactivate. I do each nut or seed separately a pound of each at a time so my dehydrator is full. I keep the rest on hand for using as a condiment or for the next time I make Paleola. These soaking directions come from Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions.

Soak the nuts/seeds in water, in a ratio of 4 cups of water to 1 tbsp salt. After 6 hours rinse the cashews and put them in the dehydrator on the hottest setting. Two hours later rinse the rest of the nuts and put them in the dehydrator. You will continue to dry the cashews as well. At this point you want to get the temperature as close as possible to 110 degrees without going over. Continue to dry the nuts in the dehydrator overnight.

Wednesday morning: Take the nuts and seeds out of the dryer and let them cool to room temperature. Take out what you need for the recipe and store the rest in glass jars. I’m not sure you need to keep them in the fridge at this point but that’s what I do.

Core and cut the apples, and grate them with the appropriate food processor attachment. After grating use the S blade attachment to gently process the apples a little more. If you miss this extra step your Paleola will be stringy. Next, use the S blade to process the sprouted sunflower seeds so they get chopped a little. It is better to process both the apples and seeds in small batches. Now, use kitchen scissors to cut the dried fruit into tiny pieces. Excessively dry fruit will need to be soaked first. Add the cinnamon, cayenne and salt and mix well. Divide evenly into your dehydrator trays and dry at the same temperature as you did the nuts, 110 degrees. Stir after about six hours. Depending upon your dryer it will be at least another six hours before this mixture is dry.

Next you mix in the dried nuts and seeds. The nuts are a feature of this recipe. You want them to be a little chunky and have a nice shape. You can chop them in the food processor, but I think it’s worth it to prepare them by hand. Pecans can be sliced into three slivers following the spine of the nut, the cashews can coaxed in half where they naturally divide. The pumpkin seeds and walnuts just need to be coarsely chopped or leave the pumpkin seeds whole if you prefer. Of course you could dry the chopped nuts with the apple and sunflower mixture and skip the separate drying step. My dryer isn’t big enough and I like to dry a lot of nuts at once for other uses. Suit yourself.

Depending how much you munch along the way, this makes about 16 cups. It is very concentrated, so use it sparingly – 1/4 cup is still the ideal serving size. Together with almond milk and currently mangoes, it makes a superb finishing touch to our Special Breakfast.

Paleola is a concentrated food and should be used as a condiment. It is also a great emergency food in my tennis bag or for travel. Eating well takes attention, time and commitment. Trust me though, once you have the knack of making Paleola it is a worthwhile way to spend a little of your precious time.


{August 6, 2010}   Milk & Cookies

This week I decided to share something that brings me great joy, that’s right, milk and cookies. I venture to say that these recipes are about as healthy as you can get. Like many good things, they take a little time and organization to prepare.

Although I occasionally eat cheese and include a little yogurt with breakfast, I aim to keep the amount of dairy in my diet to a minimum. I also don’t drink soymilk, for reasons I outlined in Soytistics. Recently however, Special Breakfast has taken on a whole new look with the addition of home-made almond milk. My friend who grew up on a dairy farm marvels at how much it looks and feels like cow’s milk, so I figure that’s a pretty good endorsement. It has that slightly slippery, thick texture and tastes slightly sweet.

Almond Milk

  • 1½ cups almonds, soaked 8 hours and rinsed
  • 3½ cups water
  • 2 cups coconut water
  • 1 tsp non-alcoholic vanilla

Blend the soaked almonds and water; a high speed blender like a Vitamix works best. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth or a jelly bag. You will need to squeeze out much of the liquid by hand, as if milking the animal herself. Mix with coconut water and vanilla. This makes about five cups and will keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to five days. It will separate with an almond cream layer on top, so stir before drinking. You can make almond milk without the coconut water, however this addition makes it simply wonderful.

I have to admit, I have abandoned hacking open the fresh coconuts for this purpose (as I described in Cream of the Crop) when one of my milk batches went sour after two days. I blamed the coconut water. I just don’t how fresh it was, as the coconuts are shipped from Thailand and then sit in the store before sitting in my fridge, awaiting the right moment to put it all together. I discovered some 100% pure coconut water that comes in a convenient 2 cup Tetra Pak. The seven month old coconuts are from northern Brazil, hmm, still not local but closer than Thailand.

Now you might be wondering what you do with the soft almond pulp that is left-over, or perhaps you are just waiting to hear about the cookies. I couldn’t bear to throw away the pulp, so I created some “cookie” recipes. They are raw, gluten free and nearly vegan. I use honey rather than agave nectar since the supposed health benefits of agave were brought under scrutiny earlier this year.

Chocolate Cookies

  • Pulp from 1 1/2 cups almonds
  • 1/4 cup finely ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup coconut
  • 1 tsp alcohol free vanilla
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 16 drops liquid stevia
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Vanilla Cookies

  • Pulp from 1 1/2 cups almonds
  • 1/4 cup finely ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/3 cup coconut
  • 2 tsp alcohol free vanilla
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 16 drops liquid stevia
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp very finely chopped dried apricots (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Place ingredients in a small bowl, mix and then knead with your hand. Press and roll dough out on wax paper. Cut using 3 inch round cookie cutter or glass and transfer to dehydrator with thin spatula. Dehydrate for about 6 hours until dry, ensuring that the heat is no more than 108 degrees for a raw cookie. (If you don’t have a dehydrator or an oven that has this modern option, I think you could probably bake these at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.) Each recipe makes 24 lightly sweetened cookies.

One of the difficulties of transitioning to a healthier diet is the loss of treats. Using foods like almond milk and cookies in moderation can give us that sense of comfort we all enjoy at times.

{July 11, 2010}   The Cream of the Crop

This week we have experienced extremely hot, humid days that remind me of living in the tropics. In 1991 I spent the summer in Mysore, India, studying yoga with Pattabhi Jois. On my bike ride home after each morning’s vigorous sweaty practice, I stopped at the coconut vendor’s stand to replenish my energy with the satisfying fluid and white succulent flesh of a young coconut. My coconut vendor knew I preferred plenty of water and a minimum amount of flesh. After tapping a number of the round, green coconuts to listen to each ones distinctive sound, he would choose one, hack it open with his cleaver and let me pick out a colorful straw. After I had savored the sweet, clear liquid I would hand it back, asking him to “open”. He would carve a scraper from the coconut husk itself and expertly split the coconut  into two for me to scoop out the thin layer of slippery innards. (This photo by Vikas Kamat shows a common method of coconut transport in India.)

Now, nearly twenty years later, my husband hacks open the young coconut I buy from our grocery store with the precision gained from a couple of months of practice. These coconuts appear to be an off-white color because the outer skin has been stripped away to give a flat-bottomed and pointy topped shape (see photo below from Melissa’s website). Inside this lies the seed of the coconut. The water inside is completely hygienic and under slight pressure. The amount of flesh clinging to the inside of the nut varies considerably; when scraped away it can yield between a couple of tablespoons to a cup or more of pulp. Coconuts with more pulp generally contain less water. These tender coconuts are picked before they are ripe when the liquid inside is sweet, almost clear, and the flesh is soft, thin and easily separated from the shell.  Mature coconuts from which the familiar dessicated coconut is made are different. They have thick white flesh and a cloudy, perhaps bitter liquid inside.

Since I committed to a Paleo diet, young coconuts have found their way into our diet. Coming from Thailand, I realize that they are a long way from local but I make an exception because they are such a wonderful healthy treat and remind me of my years living in India. I chose coconut as the base when I decided to create a raw, vegan, paleo, sugar-free ice cream recipe. I recommend using whole young coconuts if you can. They taste so pure and you can blend both the pulp and coconut water together, rather than only getting the blended meat that canned coconut milk is made from.

The coconut oil in this mix is not only good for the hair and skin, but also bestows a plethora of health benefits, contributing to stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, bone strength and dental health. Coconut oil has also been associated with improvements in conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV, and cancer. The main active ingredients providing these benefits appear to be lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid which show antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Specifically, digestion converts lauric acid into monolaurin which appears to be active against the viruses causing influenza, herpes, AIDS and others. It also appears to thwart disease caused by harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia.

Ginger Coco-Cream

  • 2 young coconuts – use all the pulp and up to 1½ cups of the water (or 2 – 13.5 oz cans of coconut milk)
  • 4 tsp ginger juice, grated ginger or ginger powder
  • 4-6 soaked, pitted dates or 2 tbsp xylitol
  • 8-12 drops liquid stevia

With cleaver, open the coconut and drain out liquid. Chop coconut in half. This takes some force, as if splitting wood. Use an upside down spoon to peel the flesh out of shell. Remove any hard bits and rinse if needed. Blend flesh from the 2 coconuts with 1.5 cups of coconut water. You will probably end up with extra water which you can drink straight or add to homemade almond milk. If you have a juicer, simply juice the whole ginger root – no need to peel. Add remaining ingredients and blend thoroughly. Freeze using an ice cream maker of your choice. Makes about 4 one cup servings.

Chocolate Coco-Cream

  • 2 young coconuts – use all the pulp and up to 1½ cups of the water (or 2 cans coconut milk)
  • 6 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 4-6 soaked, pitted dates or 2 tbsp xylitol
  • 12-16 drops liquid stevia
  • ½ cup lightly chopped raw macadamia nuts (optional)

Follow directions as above. I make this recipe with a raw cacao powder that is grown and produced in Bali, Indonesia. Its flavor has incredible depth that is makes this product well-worth the effort to find.

Coco-cream is meant to be enjoyed in small quantities. Although made from top quality ingredients, it is a concentrated high calorie, high fat food. I serve it in small ceramic bowls so we get the feeling of eating a full dish. It is best to eat it right away as the texture is best right out of the ice cream maker. Because it does not contain emulsifiers, it will freeze solid if you put it in the freezer. In this case, simply let it soften up at room temperature before eating.

Making your own ice cream takes a considerable amount of effort and equipment. However, it is very satisfying to create such a delicious treat and you know exactly what is in it.

{March 28, 2010}   Special Breakfast

We have all heard that breakfast is the “most important meal of the day”. However, many breakfast foods (e.g. cereals, breads, breakfast bars, pancakes, potatoes) over emphasize carbohydrates that raise blood sugar quickly, leading to a release of excess insulin and a subsequent drop in blood sugar. This mid-morning slump (a drop in energy) is often associated with a desire for a sweet snack. Thus, eating the wrong foods at breakfast can initiate a vicious cycle of craving.

I designed Special Breakfast with the help of my nutritionist during the year I had cancer. I wanted a breakfast that was satisfying and delicious while meeting some important nutritional qualities:

  • Keeping blood sugar stable
  • Providing sufficient protein and fiber
  • Having an overall alkalizing effect on the body
  • Promoting health benefits that aid in the prevention of cancer

Although each ingredient plays its part, I wish to highlight three of the most nutritious ones.

Previously known in the United States primarily as the gimmick behind the “Chia Pet”, Chia Seeds are being heralded as the new “superfood”. In fact there is nothing new about chia. It was a staple of the ancient Aztec people as well as other indigenous peoples of the Southwest United States and Mexico. It is said that a warrior could march 24 hours nourished only by water and one teaspoon of chia. Chia is a source of protein, fiber and Omega 3 fatty acids. It helps stabilize blood sugar and aids in hydration.

Almonds are probably the healthiest of all nuts and boast large amounts of vitamin E and mono-unsaturated fats. They originated in the Middle East and are now a major Californian crop. Touted health benefits include improved complexion, protection against cardiovascular disease and prevention of cancer. I use raw organic almond butter from the health food store. It is convenient, absolutely delicious and actually tastes sweet.

Flaxseed is another ancient food, cultivated as early as 3000 BC in Babylon and now grown in Canada (like me). They are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which help to lower both total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol), lignans and fiber. The lignans contain a weak phytoestrogen that binds to the estrogen receptors of a tumor cell without stimulating growth, a process that seems to offer protection against cancers that are sensitive to hormones. This process may be similar to that of the estrogen modulating pharmaceutical drugs (e.g. tamoxifen, anastrozole / Arimidex).  I choose not to take these drugs because of their side-effects, so flaxseeds are extremely important for me. Beware that flaxseed must be ground to be properly digested.

Special Breakfast Recipe – With all the ingredients readily at hand it takes about 15 minutes to assemble and it is well worth the effort.

  • 2 tbsp ground brown or golden flaxseed
  • ¼ cup chia seed gel
  • 1 scoop whey protein powder
  • 2-6 tbsp yogurt (optional)
  • 1 tbsp almond butter or 2 tbsp soaked ground almonds
  • ½ grated pear
  • 1-3 drops liquid stevia (optional)
  • A little water if needed to reach desired consistency
  • ¼ cup blueberries
  • 2 tbsp toasted pecans

Mix the flax, chia seed gel, whey powder, yogurt and almond butter together. I use the bowl I intend to eat from or a larger bowl if I’m making it for 3 or more. Add the grated pear and mix. The perfect pear will be ripe enough so some of the sweet juice is released while grating. Top off with some fresh or frozen (defrosted) blueberries and toasted pecans. This will provide about 500 calories of energy. You can omit the pecans to reduce this by 100 calories.

To make chia seed gel, add 2 tbsp chia seed to 1¼ cup water and either shake together in a jar, or whisk in a bowl every couple of minutes until it becomes thick and gelatinous. Chia seed gel takes 10-15 minutes to prepare and will keep in the fridge for about 5 days.

You may also like to add soaked goji berries and sunflower or pumpkin seeds or try blackberries or raspberries instead of blueberries. You can substitute apple, but it will not have the same soft texture as pear. I don’t recommend soy protein, but there are non-dairy non-soy protein powders available if you are sensitive to whey.

When I travel, I pack up the ingredients and my grater and make this breakfast, even when staying in a hotel. My commitment to Special Breakfast and using food as my medicine represents my commitment to life.

Special Breakfast is my way of starting the day off with a big dose of self-love. No matter what happens as the day unfolds, I have provided my body with a familiar combination of some of the most nourishing foods available. I have shared this recipe with many of my friends and family, however as far as I know, I am the only one who makes it every day. I invite you, dear readers, to join me.

et cetera