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!

Paleola

  • 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.



{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.



{May 1, 2010}   The Paleo Challenge

It began three weeks ago at a friend’s evening movie night. I had just dropped Chuck off at the airport for a business trip, which always makes me feel a little vulnerable when he leaves on a Sunday. We shared some pizza at the airport. When I arrived at the party, I had some pasta, meatloaf and salad and noticed that everyone seemed to have brought a dessert. There was apple pie, berry pie, homemade chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake and ice cream embedded with candy. What a treat! I tried a little of each one, which led to a little more of each one, and perhaps a wee bit more after that. It was fun and I didn’t completely stuff myself, but…

When I crawled into bed I noticed my body was buzzing with sugar and my mind was racing, full of thoughts and ideas. I tried to calm myself with breath and relaxation, but alas, I was too sugared-up to rest calmly in the arms of Morpheus. So, as I sometimes do, I lay in bed listening to a podcast to calm my own jumping thoughts by focusing on someone else’s. I was delighted to find a new episode of The Paleolithic Solution, a humorous and informative exploration of an approach to eating called the Paleo Diet. Just as I was about to drift into slumber I heard the voice say: “Most people never fully commit; they swing on “an oscillating pendulum of ridiculous eating on both sides of the spectrum”. Wow. That sounded like they recorded it for me personally. Right then and there, I decided to break that pattern and challenge myself to eat a Paleo diet for a full 30 days, paying attention to how my body responds. I call this my Paleo Challenge and I began it with enthusiasm the next morning.

The Paleo diet is based on the theory that humans evolved as hunter-gatherers for two and a half million years. Agriculture has only been around for ten thousand years and processed foods a few hundred at most – not long enough for our bodies to evolve. Therefore, the Paleo theory says, we are naturally most suited to eating foods that were available to hunter-gatherers during Paleolithic times. The diet features meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts, produced as naturally as possible. Since grains, legumes and dairy products were introduced only recently in the Neolithic era, they are excluded, as are added sugars with the exception of a small amount of honey.

There are two main motivations to follow a Paleo diet: health and athletic. By eliminating grains which are irritating to the digestive system, especially those containing gluten, a Paleo diet can be life-changing for people who have suffered with digestive or autoimmune issues. It can be helpful for many other conditions, including people dealing with diabetes or pre-diabetic conditions, as it combines protein in every meal with relatively low concentrations of sugar and starch. I haven’t found specific references for cancer prevention, but the diet does meet my criteria of being alkalizing, keeping blood sugar stable and providing adequate amounts of protein. Many athletes have found that a slightly modified Paleo diet enhances the building of muscle tissue, helps improve endurance and aids in after workout recovery.

Since my cancer diagnosis five years ago, I have followed a similar eating regimen, with the inclusion of yogurt, raw dairy products and occasional grains such as rice or quinoa. I was operating on the theory that cancer cells prefer an acidic enviroment with high levels of sugar. Avoiding the carbohydrates that tend to raise blood sugar quickly (added sugars, sweet fruits, fruit juice and processed grains) helps me to avoid spikes in blood sugar while eating plenty of vegetables keeps my body tissues more alkaline. While meat and fish do add to acidity, they stabilize blood sugar  and provide protein needed to maintain and build nerve, muscle and connective tissues.

I find it challenging to stick with my ideal eating system. I have times where I am eating consistently well and in turn I feel light and energized. At other times food seems to control me and despite my good intentions, I eat foods that make me feel sluggish and gain weight. In my 30-day Paleo Challenge, I’m enjoying cooking delicious and satisfying Paleo meals. Tonight I prepared salmon teriyaki, daikon slaw and fried zucchini. I don’t miss the rice and simply watch my desire for dessert after dinner rise and dissipate. I’ve included pictures of my beef kabob and slow-cooked chicken legs creations to whet the appetite of those of you who like to eat meat. You can also find recipe ideas and more photos at the Everyday Paleo blog of  a fitness trainer and mother of three.

The exploration of conscious eating I described in last week’s blog has been helpful in keeping me focused. Since I’m doing both Paleo, conscious eating and recently started a regular workout routine, I attribute the happiest unintended consequence to this unique combination; during the first 10 days of the Paleo Challenge, I miraculously and effortlessly dropped four pounds.

Today is Day 20 of 30 in the Paleo Challenge. This week was the hardest one thus far. I have had many slip-ups, plenty of events which included drinking alcohol and feel that familiar sugar craving coming back. Some might say that the diet is too extreme and my difficulties this week are simply a backlash. In fact, critics call Paleo a “fad” diet and unsustainable due to its emphasis upon meat and fish. I’m withholding judgment until I’ve sustained it for 30 days. Then I’ll decide for myself. In this home stretch of the Paleo Challenge, I’m reminded of the Rumi poem “even if you have broken your vows 1000 times, come, yet again come”. To me this means I need to accept myself even when I falter and simply get right back on my path.



et cetera