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Herbs and Spices for Digestive Health

I’ve been thinking about Indian food lately…yum…but specifically how is it that a (largely) vegetarian diet could have existed so long in a culture without mass IBS issues? Not that I know about the IBS percentages in India, nor have I ever even been there, but I do think I know at least part of the puzzle~ the herbs and spices that are a part of daily life. The traditional foods are prepared with digestive help built-in~ turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel, anise, ginger, and more all have positive digestive influences, and some also help regulate blood sugar. (Another bugger with vegetarian diets that one has to watch closely.) If you want to know specific herbs and their detailed affects, here’s a great list. Not only are the meals prepared with these herbs and spices, but in many parts of India is common to chew a spoonful of fennel seeds after each meal. This not only freshens breath but it helps digest the meal without bloating and gaseous effects. Also, many Indians drink chai multiple times a day, with digestive soothing spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves mixed with their (usually) black tea. This means they are getting good digestive support all day long~ something that I bet no one there even thinks about because it is just naturally a part of everyday life. Not only are these customs part of their food and drink regimes, the tri-herbal formula, Triphala, is largely taken by people there for decades upon decades. Triphala has many actions, but one of the most well-known traditional uses is on the digestive tract~ it regulates the intestines. People reach for this blend when constipated especially, and it has an extremely large following for just daily usage. I’ve heard and read it is the most commonly used herbal blend in the world, but I cannot say for sure if this is true and really I have a hard time believing anyone tracts things like “most popular herbal blend” but maybe… I think it’s safe to say that it’s popular anyway. For those familiar with Ayurveda, the three herbs used in Triphala are specific to the three doshas, Vata, Pitta, Kapha, and therefore balance out all three doshas in the body. If you want a very cursory introduction to Ayurvedic doshas, here’s a short bit to read. So it seems all together, Indian cuisine works because it is so fundamentally supported by the traditional herbs and spices used. Personally, I can’t incorporate all these factors into my life, but I have started having chai in the afternoons instead of coffee or plain black tea when I need a lift which is usually around 2:PM. It takes a little more effort than boiling water and grabbing a tea bag (though you can find chai in tea bags) but I must say it has been worth it. Not only is it delicious, I’ve noticed less bloating in the evenings. Hoorah! In fact, I think I’ll put some on the stove right now. Here’s my process:

I bought a chai mix in the loose tea section at our local PCC, near the bulk coffee section. If you do not have that option, there are plenty of recipes online which you can modify to your own specific tastes. Here’s one page I found with several recipes: chai.

First I fill my mug with water and then pour it into a small sauce pan, put the chai into a tea ball, and bring to a slow boil. It is actually better to do this part loosely, with no tea ball, but I find pouring it too difficult without a lip on this pan, so for now I’m sticking to the tea ball for ease of pouring. Also I end up getting two uses out of the chai in the tea ball, putting more water on to boil almost as soon as I finish the first cup.

Chai

Some water evaporates in the boiling so there is enough room to add milk to warm up at the end of the process. I use vanilla coconut milk, but use whatever you wish, or none at all!

Chai with vanilla coconut milk

Be sure to look at the ingredients of chai blends because they can have large amounts of sugar, especially the ones that are in a concentrate form. (If it’s the first or second ingredient, find another brand!) You can add honey or sugar to sweeten if you like, but if you are interested in the most healing blend for your digestive system, stay away from the sugar.

Chai while I type

Enjoy! It’s always nice when something delicious also happens to be nutritious. And who couldn’t use more spice in their life? Well, maybe quite a few people, but as for me…I’ll take it.

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Caveman Cookies

Paleo people, get ready to be jealous. A couple of weeks ago I won an entire box of Caveman Cookies.

Caveman Cookies

Aren’t they cute?! Their tag line up at the top is so clever that even my 9 year old got a kick out of it. Here’s a better pic for reading it:

Just like you great, great, great...

As you may have guessed, the ingredients are Paleo friendly and are also gluten and dairy free. They are made with nut flours and other simple, whole ingredients that result in sophisticated flavor combinations which you can read above. They are also individually wrapped which was a nice surprise since that means they can keep longer and it makes it easier to share them.

Individually wrapped

Now the big question is…did cavemen share? Considering we can’t possibly eat these all ourselves, sharing is exactly what I plan on doing even if caveman manners are debatable. My son and I thought it’d be a nice surprise to put these in the teachers’ lounge at his school because we know there are a couple of gluten-free eaters there and most likely some Paleo eaters there too. As for the others, well, who doesn’t appreciate a free cookie every once in a while? These boxes are so fun that they would be perfect for a gift or in a gift basket for Paleo people so remember these at gift-giving times. (Easter baskets? Passover desserts? Mother’s Day?) And remember, caveman caught more cows with cookies than clubs. At least they should have.

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Winter Wellness

There are many ways to stay healthy in the winter despite the season having such unflattering nicknames as ‘flu season’. Sometimes it just takes a little extra effort when the temperatures are dropping and it sounds a lot more pleasant to stay under the covers than go workout for an hour and then make a healthy warm soup. Luckily there are websites like Aloha that have healthy recipes to help inspire you when you are tired of making the same ol’ winter-y meal about this time of year. I love the idea of these Egg, Kale, Quinoa No-Fry Fritters because they are so different from anything I ever make and they sound delicious. Aloha inspired me to think about what I do to stay healthy in the winter and after mulling it over, I think the healthiest thing I’ve been doing is starting the day with a healthy dose of protein, greens, and berry-goodness. The protein makes certain I’m sugar-stable through the morning while the greens and berries with all their antioxidants just feel so nutritious and energizing first thing in the morning. There’s nothing like starting the day with your “5-8 servings of produce” already underway. Here’s my smoothie recipe which avoids milk and milk alternatives for best digestive health.

Berry Green Protein Smoothie

First I fill the blender with 1 cup of cold water (more or less) and add 1 T. of chia seeds and let them soak for about 10 minutes. Chia seeds soaking

Next I add about 1 leaf of kale or a handful of spinach if I am out of kale.

Kale added

Next the protein powder goes in, along with about half a frozen banana (I freeze them myself) and about 1 C of frozen mixed berries.

Frozen fruit

After that I warn anyone nearby that I’m starting the blender because it’s loud. But oh-so worth it.

Berry Green smoothie

This is my morning nutrition in a glass and I love it. I hope you do too or find another recipe to try on Aloha’s site. It’s always great to have new recipes to try~ variety is, after all, the spice of life!

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Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos (Gluten-free and Vegan)

Just when I thought I never wanted another corn tortilla again, I got a craving for a taco with some sort of orange veggie in it. Whenever we go out to dinner we often go to one of two places where I order a butternut squash quesadilla. I love them, but I hate dealing with squash and its hard shell that eats knives for breakfast so I have never attempted to make them myself. It got me thinking though that wouldn’t a sweet potato taste just as good in that kind of meal? And if I could eliminate the cheese it’d be even better for our family, so onto the web I went and sure enough there are plenty of recipes for sweet potatoes and black beans together in all sorts of fashions~ tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc. I went the taco route and used several different recipes to cobble together what is written below to work with what I had in my refrigerator. My husband and oldest son loved these by the way, as did I, and my youngest who only gathered enough courage to try one black bean and one piece of sweet potato admitted the black bean wasn’t bad. That says more to me than the fact that my husband is generally not a huge sweet potato fan, nor a big black bean fan, and really he prefers flour tortillas and definitely cheese and preferably meat. This recipe outshined all that. It is a keeper.

Vegan, Gluten-free Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos

Sweet potato and black bean taco

1.5 T vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil and olive oil)

1/2 t salt

1 yellow or red onion (I used red b/c that is what I had and the purple hue was so pretty)

1 pepper (I used 1/2 red pepper and 1/2 yellow pepper, but orange or green would work)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium-large sweet potato

1 can black beans (or 1.5 c if using dried beans)

1 t cumin

freshly ground pepper to taste

corn tortillas

guacamole (or avocados)

Preheat oven to 400. Using a large cast iron pan or some other oven-friendly pan* sauté the onions, peppers, and garlic until the onions are translucent in 1 T of vegetable oil. (I used sunflower oil). In a bowl coat the sweet potato which has been skinned and diced into bite size pieces with 1/2 T of oil (I used olive) and 1/2 t of sea salt. Add this into the sauté pan and cook for 1 minute before transferring into the oven for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm up the rinsed and drained beans on medium with 1 t cumin in a small sauce pan. Also warm up some corn tortillas** until they are soft. Take the pan out of the oven and if the sweet potatoes are cooked through add the beans and stir to get everything mixed together. Load the tortillas and top with guacamole or fresh avocados. It’s a symphony of flavors played just right. If it were up to me this is what I’d make for Thanksgiving, along with kale chips and pica de gallo salsa. It’s enough to make a pilgrim say, “Ole!” But alas, we are hosting this year and I’m going to have to stick to the more traditional items I’ve already planned.

sweet potato and black bean taco

 

* If you don’t have an oven proof pan, use one that you can top with a lid or plate and add 2 T of water to the mixture to steam it for approximately 5-10 min.

** I use Trader Joe’s corn tortillas b/c they are thick and sturdy, plus they are remarkably clean. Their ingredient list is all of: ground white corn masa flour, water, trace of lime. That’s it. Exactly how it should be. And they taste incredibly good, much better than any other corn tortilla on the market.Trader Joe's corn tortillas

 

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Gluten-free Travel in Maui

Maui Beach

We just took a trip to Maui, my sons and my first to Hawaii, and I was of course nervous about what we were all going to eat. The good news is that it wasn’t actually that difficult, but the bad news, I have to say, was it was food-boring. On the first night we got in late and ordered room service because it actually pointed out their gluten-free foods on the menu (Westin Ocean Villas at Ka’anapali). Their gluten-free buns were dark and awesome, though I was much more enthusiastic than my boys who prefer whiter breads. They must use teff or some other flour that isn’t in heavy rotation in the gluten-free bread circles because they were darker than I’d ever seen any gluten-free baked good, and hearty like a dark whole wheat. The next day we went to a typical grocery store and bought gluten-free pasta, corn tortillas, refried beans and a few other things plus fruit and veggies. We ended up eating those things just about every single meal of every single day of the week, hence the food-boredom. We went out to two other meals, one, a Mexican restaurant so more tortillas and beans, and then another to an open-air sports pub kind of place where the boys and I got…tacos. Thank goodness for corn tortillas but it will be a long time before I care to make anything with them again. My youngest son found a bread he adores though, so he actually ate toast, plain toast nothing on it, for part of many meals. Ener.g tapioca bread was a big hit with him and about as white as you can possibly make any bread. tapioca loaf

I had brought with me pumpkin seed butter by Omega Nutrition and my other son spread that on all his toast and Udi’s bagels which I had brought with us. pumpkinSeedButter-12oz-MediumThat pumpkin seed butter is really good~ it tastes closer to peanut butter than sunflower seed butter does, and less salty. If you have a nut-free child, or are nut-free yourself, I definitely recommend trying it if you haven’t already.

I suppose people don’t go to Maui in November for the food, but it made it a little easier to go from 80+ degree weather to 30 degree weather when we were so bored with our meal times. It is nice to be home with our warm kitchen, even if the weather outside is back to the typical Fall drizzle and there are no oceans nearby. It was good to see that so many gluten-free things could be found in a regular grocery store though~ I suppose traveling anywhere in the U.S. would be fairly easy at this point, as long as you had your own toaster and stove-top to use.

Thanksgiving is next week already and all the recipes I’ve seen going around all look so tempting! I think I’m going to stick with a few side dishes I know though while my husband deals with the turkey. So far this is the plan:

Marinated goat cheese appetizer (Café Flora cookbook) with crostini and rice crackers

Gluten-free, vegan corn bread muffins

Rolls from Wildflour

Roasted Winter Vegetables from Whole Living

Husband will make (or buy!) Turkey and Mashed Potatoes and probably cranberry sauce which no one ever actually eats at our house

Some kind of pie with (non-dairy) ice cream

(Please ignore my ‘creative’ capitalization.)

What’s on your menu?

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Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup with Gluten-Free Breadsticks (Nut Free)

When I looked for recipes online for vegan cream of broccoli soup I found a lot of recipes with cashews. My oldest and I do not do nuts very well, or at least our stomachs don’t, so those recipes obviously wouldn’t do. I looked at regular cream of broccoli soup recipes but was reluctant to try a complicated recipe with so many substitutions required, so I was pleased when I finally found a recipe that used white beans for the ‘cream’ part. I tweaked the recipe a bit because it was a simple recipe and easy to add to it, but the bulk of it comes from Tasty Yummies, so thank you TY!

vegan cream of broccoli soup

It’s hard to make green soup look good, but trust me, it tastes like a dream. My oldest was so excited he ate it every day for three days straight and loved every drop. I served it with garlic bread sticks which I make almost every day anyway, by taking Trader Joe’s flat breads

Gluten Free Pizza Crust
Gluten Free Pizza Crust

or a gluten-free baguette if we happen to have one, (if we do it is Olivia’s Super Free or Wildflour brand).  Whether I use the flatbreads or baguettes, I preheat the oven to 425, spread about 1/2 t olive oil on a piece of bread, add crushed garlic and Tuscan Sea Salt which has Italian herbs added into it, then bake for 10 minutes, or less if the baguettes are room temperature. Truth be told, I make breadsticks so often I actually just have all the ingredients in a jar of olive oil so I can just scoop it out and rub it on the bread, no garlic crushing or salt sprinkling required. Anything to get dinner on the table faster, right?!

Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup:

1 head of broccoli

1 chopped leek

1 chopped yellow onion

enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a soup pot

3-5 garlic cloves, crushed

1 15oz can of cannelloni beans

2.5 C veggie broth

Sea Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

1 t. Herbs d’Provence

First steam the chopped broccoli for about 3 minutes, until nice and bright green. Sauté the onion, garlic, and leek in a soup pot until translucent, sprinkle with the Herbs d’Provence, then add in the beans and broth. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat and add in the broccoli. Once cooled a bit, puree in a blender until smooth~ it doesn’t take long. Add salt and pepper to taste, then scoop out with a bread stick and eat your fill guilt-free since this is one ‘creamy’ soup that is low in fat and high in fiber as well as highly nutritious. For a blended soup, this was exceptionally quick and easy. Definitely will go into my week night meal rotation.

 

 

 

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Schar Sandwich Bread

This is just a quick note to say we have a new favorite gluten-free everyday bread at our house. Schar Classic White Bread:

Schar Bread This bread surprised us for two reasons. The first being that the second ingredient listed is sour dough, made with rice flour and water. When I bought the bread I had only looked at the area that says “contains: soy” to see if it contained dairy and or eggs, so I happily bought it when I saw that it didn’t. I had no idea I was buying a sourdough bread! But as soon as I tasted it I could taste the sour dough and was so excited~ a dairy free, egg free gluten-free, sourdough sandwich bread is something we haven’t had since….well, ever, actually. We are eating a lot of sandwiches these days.

The second reason this loaf surprised me was because it isn’t in the normal spot where I shop for bread at the Whole Foods I frequent. I imagine this is one of those things probably debated among store employees, vendors, brokers, and merchandisers. At the Whole Foods I go to there is a dedicated gluten-free aisle, but there are also gluten-free items throughout the store. Normally when I buy bread, I go to where all the bread is and pick up a loaf or a bag of bagels or rolls. Schar bread is not there. It is only in the aisle dedicated to gluten-free items and by the time I hit that aisle my cart is usually already filled with bread products I got from the bread area. Hm. I know it is difficult to set up a store, I’ve worked in several myself, so I’m curious what people think…Do you like your store to have the gluten-free items mixed in with the other food, or do like it all in one specified space? Or mixed, with a dedicated gluten-free area but with other gluten-free items mixed with the other food in all the other aisles?