Aside

‘Tis The Season…For Green Juice!

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I got a call from ZiZi this morning, asking if she could come home from school.

I’m in the nurse’s office and I feel awful, Mom. My nose is running, it’s hard to breathe, my tummy aches, and my throat hurts. 

My kids have not been home sick from school in ages–and definitely not since we committed fully to this crazy healthy life–so I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with her after I picked her up. When I was a kid, sick equalled Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, Saltine Crackers and 7-Up. None of that flies in this crazy healthy life, so I needed a Plan B.

I thought about it on the drive to school. She needs to get better quickly. Her big performance in “Honk! The Musical” is only five days away, and she just can’t be sick. She needs an injection of crazy healthy.

Poor girl was looking pretty puny when I picked her up.

You need a great big green juice and a lot of water, sweet girl. Let’s go get you better.

We bundled her up, and off to the grocery we went. On the list? The makings of an immunity-boosting green juice: parsley, swiss chard, celery, lemon, ginger, carrots, apples and pineapple juice.

I ran it all through the juicer, and what came out was as green as the grass in our yard. Most of the juice was greens, but the apples, carrots and pineapple added enough sweetness to cut the bitter and balance the sour.  Of course, the sweeter foods did up the sugar content of the juice, but it’s a trade off I am willing to make, to make sure my kids are getting the phytonutrients they need, when they are sick.

When I set it before her, the look on her face was priceless…the juices I normally make for her are less green and more berry colored, so this was a big change. I told her that, when my kid’s sick, I don’t mess around. Leafy greens, citrus and ginger are the best ammunition we have to fight disease.

ZiZi didn’t exactly love the juice…it was “just ok”, but she drank it all, after I explained why it would help.

The greens will reduce the inflammation that makes it hard to breathe, the lemon gives you vitamin C to for energy and immunity, ginger will settle your tummy, and the vitamins and minerals in the apples, celery, carrots will help your body eliminate the virus. 

Coincidentally, Erika Miller, a reporter/friend/supermom in NYC who follows us on the Facebook page for My Crazy Healthy Life, asked a similar question about green juices earlier this week. She wrote:

“I bought a 20z “Hail to Kale” juice drink (120 calories) — only to discover it has 20 grams of sugar! Can you talk about how to make the decision trade off between calorie count and sugar count?”

The thing that struck me about this question was the focus on calorie count and portion size. Although I was a die-hard calorie counter in college and my early twenties, I honestly have not considered calories at all, in the past ten years.

Here’s why: practicing yoga has made me aware that A) my body tells me how much is enough, if I am mindful and intentional about food, and B) the way we treat food today is not the way God intended.

This is true for both calorie counting, and portion size. I try to eat as if we live in a time before food labeling, frozen dinners, and fast food. How did people eat 100 years ago? Most people didn’t know what a calorie was, there was no such thing as Super Size, and food was less convenient…it was harder to come by, and it took longer to prepare. People actually planned their meals, and ate on a schedule.

The cultural norms were radically different before processed foods, sodas and drive thrus became mainstream. A hundred years ago, people ate what was served, when it was served. They were more aware of what they were eating, and where it came from, and they were appreciative of the preparation and presentation of the food. Perhaps most importantly, they stopped eating when they were full, and waited until the next meal to eat.

I think this is the way we are supposed think about food. Intentionally, and with awareness and gratitude. The more we pay attention to how foods affect us, the easier it is to make healthy choices.

The other thing that struck me about Erika’s request was the question about sugar count, in relation to the portion size. Twenty ounces is, in my opinion, two servings, not one. Which means the sugar count is only 10g per serving, and I think that’s pretty reasonable for a green smoothie, especially if the sugar comes from fruit. Remember, fruit sugars are the good kind of sugars…the kind our bodies know how to process. It’s the refined sugars that cause the biggest problems, and should always be avoided.

That being said, it’s still important to eat more veggies than fruit. Too much of any kind of sugar can cause inflammation and put stress on our liver and kidneys.

In our family, we talk a lot about the idea that vegetables, beans and grains should be the foundation of our diet, and fruit, nuts and proteins are complements (we don’t need as much protein as Dr. Atkins and The Paleo Diet have led us to believe, in my experience). Serving fruit for desert helps my kids understand that fruit should be used in moderation, and when they have a pure fruit smoothie for breakfast or snack, they are not allowed other fruits for the rest of the day.

And when we get sick, we fill our bodies with veggies, and eliminate sugars and processed foods as much as possible, until we feel better. This easier for me than it is for my kids, but I think we do a better job now than ever before. As I have said before, crazy healthy is a journey, and it gets better ever year.

ZiZi seems to have perked up a little in the hour since she drank her green juice. I’d like to think it’s working already! We’re going do a little yoga and pranayama in the studio now, and that should make a difference, too.

Say a little prayer for her as she heals…so she can back on her feet, and on the stage by Sunday. And stock up on leafy greens, the next time you hit the market. That way, you can be armed and ready, if the next call from the nurse’s office is made to you.

How To Cook Without Recipes: Part 3

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“It’s only food”.

This is my mantra, when I get anxious about what I will serve for dinner, because we are running low on groceries. When I feel like “we should probably just eat out”, because I worry that I can’t pull a delicious meal together.

“It’s only food” reminds me that, as long as we have some essentials in the house, I can prepare healthy food. It might not win any prizes, but it will nourish my family. And, more importantly, it keeps us off the slippery slope of fast food.

It’s habit that must be cultivated, but it’s fairly easy, once we get comfortable working with what we have on hand. Here are a few tricks that have helped me along the way:

Keep it simple. I think it’s much easier to create one dish meals, such as stir fry, pasta salad, or burrito in a bowl, than it is to create three items. Sometimes I worry that my family will think this is boring, but I’m starting to think they actually prefer it!

Think of vegetables, salads, beans, rice and/or quinoa as the main course. i try to build meals around whole foods, instead of meats. It’s not only healthier, but it also makes it easier to create a meal when the pantry seems bare.

Get in the habit of roasting and sautéing. If the pantry and fridge are stocked with essentials (as discussed in my last post), I always have some fresh veggies on hand. Most vegetables taste great roasted or sautéed with oil, salt and pepper. And don’t forget about fruit! My family loves sautéed apples, pears, peaches and pineapple.

Go raw. I try to serve raw carrots, bell pepper strips, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and fresh fruit salads as sides when possible. Sometimes I make them into a slaw, or salad, but either way it’s a great way to boost the nutrient content of meals, and save time in the process.

Don’t forget the nuts and seeds! I use raw nuts and seeds to boost the nutrient content of our favorite salads, pastas, baked goods, veggie dishes and desserts. They also make great appetizers when “candied” with a little oil, sweetener (such as raw honey), salt, and spices (such as cayenne or rosemary).

Learn to make homemade dressings, dips, and sauces. Dressings, dips and sauces keep things interesting, and can boost the nutrient content of our meals. I also find that salads taste much better with a homemade vinaigrette, than a bottled dressing! All that is needed for dressings is an acid, an oil, a sweetener, sea salt, and a spice or two (optional). My favorite is balsamic vinegar with olive oil, sea salt, maple syrup and cayenne. My favorite homemade dip is an oldie but goodie: simple guacamole made from avocados, tomatoes, red onion, garlic, and tabasco.

Season to taste. Letting go of precise measurements helped me realize that cooking is as much art, as it is science. I don’t have to measure the salt and pepper every time! It helped me get more comfortable experimenting with other spices, and realize that there’s a lot of possibility in a bag of rice, some fresh veggies, and a drawer full of spices.

Add fresh foods to preserved supplemental items. When short on time, I turn to preserved organic foods, such as dry quinoa pastas, or Amy’s soups and chilis, to build meals for my family. It’s not as healthy as fresh foods, but it’s always better than fast food. One of my favorite quick and easy meals is quinoa fettucine with lots and lots of sautéed veggies (more veggies than pasta), grape seed oil, and a little shaved parmesan.

Experiment within reason. We have to take some chances, in order to change. When I get bored with what I’ve been serving, I look for recipes that are outside my zone, and figure out how they might help me improve my cooking without recipes habit.

I hope this three-part series has helped you think different about how you prepare healthy meals. Let me know which tips you have found most useful, and if you have anything to add to these suggestions. And thanks to everyone who has been commenting…I love sharing this crazy healthy life with you!

Namaste and happy cooking without recipes!

Amber

photo: arizonafoothillsmagazine.com

How To Cook Without Recipes, Part 2

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I was not prepared last Sunday, when my kids asked “Mom, what’s for breakfast?”

We had made the long drive home from Vero Beach, FL the day before, and I completely forgot that we had taken most of the food with us on the trip. For the first time in a long while, our cupboards were bare, the fruit bowl was empty, and my kids were hungry.

Before I got crazy healthy, I probably would have told my kids we were out of food, and should just walk to the Chick-fil-A down the street. Or I might have driven to Einstein’s Bagels and brought back an assortment of bagels and cream cheese. That would have seemed faster and cheaper.

But now I that I understand the importance of eating nutrient-dense foods, I actually prefer to stay home and get creative with what we have on hand. I’ve learned that it can actually take less time to prepare and serve real food, than it does to eat out. And that eating healthy food doesn’t necessarily cost much more, if I am smart about how I stock my pantry.

That morning, I did find some frozen fruit and gluten-free bread in the freezer, and organic peanut butter in the fridge. Breakfast ultimately consisted of fruit salad and toast with peanut butter. Not my best creation, but it did the trick, no one seemed to mind, and it taught my kids to make healthier choices.

This is a great example of why it is important to keep healthy essentials on hand, so we don’t have to fall back on fast food when we get in a bind. In my experience, I can always create a healthy meal when I keep my fridge and pantry stocked with:

  • cooking supplies
  • fresh produce
  • grains
  • beans
  • nuts
  • frozen fruits and veggies
  • organic meats, dairy and eggs
  • supplemental foods

Keeping these foods on hand has greatly improved our diet in recent years. Below is more about why I think they are essential.

Cooking Supplies

Cooking supplies are products that I absolutely have to have to be able to prepare whole foods. This includes oils, spices and sweeteners. This will mean different things to every cook, but personally I rely on:

  • high heat oils, such as coconut, grape seed, sunflower and safflower
  • fresh onion and garlic
  • sea salt
  • cracked black pepper
  • sweeteners, such as honey, maple syrup, coconut water and stevia
  • spices such as cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, basil, mustard seed, rosemary, ginger, and taco seasoning
  • acids, such as fresh lemons and limes, and a variety of vinegars (my faves are balsamic, apple cider vinegar and rice vinegar)

There’s no real trick to learning to work with these items…it just takes practice. With a small investment of time, these staples can help greatly improve the quality and variety of the foods we serve.

Fresh Produce

There are so many things we can do with fresh produce, that I never imagined before I got crazy healthy! It takes practice to learn, but it’s definitely worth the time investment.

Here’s how I like to use fresh produce to feed my family:

  • stir frys
  • veggie burgers
  • soups
  • veggie pastas
  • quinoa salads
  • taco salads
  • fruit and veggie plates
  • smoothies

We eat these dishes more than anything else, so I get a little panicky when run low on produce.

When I shop, I usually just buy what looks good, and figure out what to do with it when I get home. I’m not much of a planner, so this works for me. For those who are planners, however, I recommend researching which foods are in season, and building a list around them. Your food will taste better this way.

Some fresh foods are easier to prepare and serve than others. I try to have a balance of what I consider fast foods, such as apples, bananas, berries, carrots, sugar snap peas, etc. in the house at all times. At least 30% of our diet consists of foods that can be washed, chopped, and served without modification. It took a lot time, patience, and positive feedback to help my kids learn to appreciate eating this way, but nowadays they seem to really enjoy a veggie plate for snack and chopped cucumbers (for example) in their lunch.

Foods that are denser, such as broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts make up another 20% of our diet. These foods are more labor intensive, so I usually save them for dinner. Roasting veggies is really simple, once you get the hang of it, so that’s how I usually prepare these foods. For more on this topic, check out my article, Roasted Veggies The Crazy Healthy Way.

Because I spend more time preparing dense veggies, I almost always make twice as much as we need for dinner, so we can have leftovers the next day.

Whenever possible, I boost my family’s intake of veggies by adding them to foods that might not otherwise contain veggies. For example, when I make turkey burgers, I process whatever veggies we happen to have in the house, and add them to ground turkey. Our turkey burgers are usually 30% veggies, 80% meat. I think they actually taste better this way!

Grains

Whole grains are rich in fiber that helps us feel full, and phytonutrients that are essential to good health.

My favorite grains are oats, quinoa and brown rice, so I always keep them on hand. It takes about 20 minutes to prepare rice and quinoa, so I recommend prepping these foods before prepping other foods. When I prepare rice and quinoa, I double the recipe. This helps me make two meals in almost half the time.

Oatmeal cooks a little faster, and is a great, hearty breakfast. I usually add sea salt, maple syrup, cinnamon, raisins, and walnuts to ours. Cherries and pecans are another great flavor combination. We use gluten-free oats, but steel cut oats are also a healthy option.

Beans

Beans are healthiest when prepared from scratch, but most have to be soaked for a good while before cooking. Because I am not much of a planner, I end up using packaged beans more often than not. However, in an ideal world, I would soak my beans the night before, and we would have beans prepared from scratch. The one exception to this rule seems to be lentils (let me know if you know of others!). Lentils cook almost as fast as rice, so we eat these beans most often.

I keep a variety of canned beans in the pantry at all times. We eat more canned black beans than anything else, but chick peas and kidney beans help me create variety in our diet.

Nuts, Dried Fruit, and Nut Butters

My family eats a lot of nuts, dried fruit and nut butters. My kids love to make their own trail mixes, and I love to make sauces and nut butters with nuts, sea salt, and coconut water. Soaked and processed cashews are also a great dairy substitute for sauces (more on this topic in my article, The Incredible, Edible Cashew).

Nuts and dried fruits are great snacks, especially when we are in a rush. I keep them in a convenient spot, so I can grab them as we walk out the door to soccer games and other family outings.

Nut butters, either made from scratch or purchased, are an excellent addition to smoothies, and a great complement to fresh fruit. My absolute favorite snack is strawberries with peanut butter…try it sometime and you’ll see why!

Frozen Fruits and Veggies

Flash frozen foods can be almost as healthy as fresh foods, and can make great additions to salads, salsas, soups, burgers, and dips. I use frozen organic corn in my veggie burgers, and add frozen mango to salsas. No one ever notices that I used frozen instead of fresh.

Frozen fruit can be a quick and easy snack for kids. My kids love frozen cherries and frozen pineapple for breakfast and snack.

Frozen foods,such as peas, edamame, and corn, can also be great time savers. On the nights that I make a labor intensive main dish, I try to serve a combination of fresh and frozen veggies as a side.

Organic Meats, Eggs, and Dairy (optional)

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, my favorite nutritionist, says that animal products should comprise 10% of less of our diet. We have followed this rule for over a decade, and although it was difficult at first, it has made a huge difference for my entire family. My kids and husband eat more meat than I do, but we all keep it under 10%. I think eggs are ok once in a while, but we don’t have them very often because three of us are extremely allergic.

Supplemental Foods

Supplemental foods are foods that are not necessarily healthy, but necessary to save time, create balance in our diet, and make sure no one feels deprived. Some of the foods I use the most are:

  • gluten-free breads for sandwiches
  • ketchup and mustard to pair with veggie burgers
  • gluten-free flour for pancakes (these work great as chicken sausage wraps, too!)
  • gluten-free pastas
  • canned soups and chilis (I buy organic brands, such as Amy’s, and add fresh garlic, onion and veggies to boost flavor and nutrient content)
  • pesto and marinara sauces
  • packaged dips (such as Trader Joe’s Pineapple Salsa and Eggplant Garlic dip)
  • mini chocolate chips to add to trail mixes and top peanut butter and banana bowls
  • gluten-free baking mixes, such as Pamela’s Cornbread Mix and Vanilla Cake Mix (you can make them from scratch, but these are great time savers!)

Again, these foods count toward the overall 90/10 ratio that Dr. Fuhrman prescribes, so if we are eating a lot of supplemental foods, than we cut back on meats and dairy.

The bottom line is that keeping our pantry stocked with essential foods is a one of the most important practices in learning how to cook without recipes. I hope this information helps you think differently about how you shop for, and prepare healthy meals.

In my next post, we will talk about Step 3 in learning to cook without recipes: learning how to work with what we have on hand. In the meantime, follow “My Crazy Healthy Life” on Facebook, for daily inspiration and tips, and let me know if you have questions or comments about this series! I always love hearing from you!

Photo: eatingwell.com

How To Cook Without Recipes: Part 1

healthy-grocery-shopping1In my last post, I introduced the three simple steps that empowered me to learn to cook without recipes:

1. Learn how to prepare whole foods as close to their natural state as possible, to maximize their flavor and nutrient content.

2. Keep the pantry stocked with good quality essentials.

3. Get comfortable with working with what is available.

In the posts that follow, we will explore each of these steps in detail. This post will address the first step:

Learn how to prepare whole foods as close to their natural state as possible, to maximize their flavor and nutrient content.

Food is most nutritious when it is in the earth. As soon as it is picked, it starts to decompose, and lose its value. This is why it is important to buy local when possible, and try to consume the freshest, most recently picked foods.

This is why I always try to eat the freshest foods, as close to their natural state as possible. I choose local foods because they have been picked more recently than foods that have been transported from other regions. And I try to minimize chopping, cooking, freezing, and blending, because it breaks down valuable vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

It took me a while to get used to eating this way, but, with a little practice, I realized that cooking healthy dishes without recipes is often simpler than I think. Here are some of my favorite tips for success:

Make a date with the produce aisle.

So often, I am in a rush to buy groceries, and I reach for what is familiar. And as a result, I miss a lot of really wonderful foods. On the flip side, however, I have found that we eat better when I take time to explore what is available in the produce aisle. I discover new possibilities, and bring home a greater variety of foods, when I remind myself to stay in the moment, instead of rushing through my shopping.

I have seen many of my clients do the same thing, so I know it’s pretty common. This is why I decided to start taking my clients on grocery store tours. We meet at their favorite store, and spend time examining what is available. They are always amazed by how many fabulous foods they discover, that they would have otherwise missed.

When we take our tours, we examine the produce section methodically. We start at the front of the refrigerated section, at the bottom shelf. We move from one side to the other, and talk about every single item, its nutrient content, and how it might be prepared. After we finish the bottom shelf, we discuss each item on the next shelf. We continue this process, until we have explored every food available.

Afterward, we move to the non-frigerated produce (apples, oranges, etc.), and follow the same process.

The point of this exercise is to teach clients to think differently about shopping, and create new habits, that empower them to pick the best produce available. It also reminds me that, the more familiar we become with our options, the more likely we are to expand our cooking repertoire.

Learn how to pick the best quality foods.

After clients have reviewed what is available in both refrigerated and non-refrigerated produce, we return to our starting point, at the bottom shelf of the refrigerated produce. I remind them that fresh, ripe, local and/or organic foods are always highest in nutrient content. We talk about the importance of local and organic foods, and I remind them that some foods are more important to buy organic than others.

Research and experiment.

I try to pick one new food to try, each time I shop. It also helps to ask store employees about foods that look interesting, and ask for preparation suggestions.

When I have extra time, I browse the internet for interesting recipes. Not because I am going to make them, but because I can learn from them. I pay attention to which spices compliment foods I like, and try to get a feel for how much to use. After a while, I can identify common themes, and feel more comfortable with how much to add when cooking without a recipe.

It is also helpful to research food prep techniques, for the best ways to chop fruits and veggies. There are a lot of handy shortcuts, such as crushing garlic bulbs before peeling them, that save time and frustration.

Most of all, I remind myself to take chances. Experimentation is a valuable part of the journey in learning to cook without recipes.

Allow extra time to clean and prep produce.

Preparing fresh produce can be more time consuming than other popular methods of cooking. This is why I always add extra prep time into my cooking schedule. Otherwise, I take shortcuts that I hope will work, but usually don’t. I find that my dishes almost always turn out better, when I give myself enough time to prepare my foods properly.

Practice roasting, sauteeing and grilling.

At least half of what I serve my family is vegetables that have been roasted or sautéed. In my experience, this is how they taste best. Grilling is another option, but I find roasting and sauteeing to be much more convenient. Note that veggies are done when they are brightly colored, and still crunchy but soft inside.

Roasting is as simple as cleaning, and chopping veggies, tossing them with a little oil, salt and pepper, and cooking them in the oven at 375 or higher for 10-20 minutes (cooking time depends on vegetable density).

Sauteeing is as easy as cleaning and chopping veggies, heating some oil in a skillet, adding veggies, salt and pepper, and stirring frequently. Cooking time differs, depending on the size and density of the vegetables. Ten to 20 minutes is a good rule of thumb for sauteed veggies as well.

For grilled veggies, I toss them with a little oil, salt and pepper, and grill them in a grilling basket, or aluminum foil. Some veggies do ok directly on the grill, but most will need to be contained, so they do not get lost during the cooking process. Cooking time depends on the temperature of the grill, the size and density of the vegetable, but is usually 10 to twenty minutes.

Be a copy cat.

When I find a healthy dish or food item that I really love, I try making it at home! It’s usually easier than I think, and I learn a lot through these kinds of experiments.

A great example of this is how I learned to make garlicky kale, a few years ago. This is my favorite dish at our Whole Foods salad bar. Thankfully, they list the ingredients above each item, so it was easier to figure out the recipe. I bought everything I needed while I was still in the store, and the next day I had homemade garlicky kale for lunch (and I still make it quite often at home–it has become one of my “go to” recipes, especially when I feel like I might be getting sick.)

When I look around, I am reminded that there are a lot of really amazing, simple dishes that can be replicated at home with very little effort. This realization was, for me, one of the most empowering experiences in my adventures in crazy healthy cooking.

Give yourself grace.

Overcooking the broccoli really isn’t a big deal, in the scheme of things. It took me a while to accept this, but once I did, it became easier to learn from my mistakes. Just like like balancing on my yoga mat, cooking is most enjoyable when I surrender to the experience, instead of getting stuck in my expectations.

I hope these tips inspire you to get creative in the kitchen, in your pursuit of a crazy healthy life. In my next post, I will share a list of foods that are, in my experience, essential for learning to cook with ease.

I post additional tips and insight on the Facebook page for My Crazy Healthy Life, so please join me there, and follow this blog, as we continue this discussion. And feel free to ask me anything! I learn from you as well, and feel certain that together we can live our craziest, healthiest lives.

Cook Without Recipes in Three Simple Steps

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I used to think the crazy healthy cooking is difficult–that it takes years of training and practice to learn how to make nutritious meals.

Thankfully, I was wrong. I just wish I had known then, what I know now.

Crazy healthy cooking is actually quite simple, once we learn which foods fortify our bodies, and how to maximize their flavor during the cooking process. When we learn to trust our own instincts, and rely on our intuition more than cookbooks, we empower ourselves to create nutritious meals that lead us to a healthier life.

Admittedly, it took me a while to figure this out. I followed other people’s recipes for years, before l realized that I was working harder than necessary, to feed my family healthy meals. I wore myself out, trying to prepare multiple dishes that would all be ready at the same time, running to the grocery store for forgotten items, and beating myself up for not getting things “just right”.

Until one day I realized that my meals didn’t need to be complicated. Simple dishes can actually taste better than complex concoctions. Less really could be more, when it came to cooking delicious, healthy foods.

I started simplifying recipes, and eliminating unnecessary ingredients whenever possible. Instead of trying to follow recipes to a “T”, I explored new, creative ways to bring out the best flavors of fresh, healthy foods. Most of the time, this meant less ingredients, and less cooking time. Cooking became less burdensome, and I actually enjoyed being in the kitchen, for the first time in my life.

I was amazed that, with a little high heat oil, proper cooking utensils, and a few basic spices, I could prepare almost anything to my family’s liking. I spent less time preparing food, and found it easier to time my dishes, so they all came out the oven at the same time.

This blog is all about learning to let go, so we can live well. In my next few posts, I will share tips and stories about how I learned to let go of cooking with recipes, and empowered myself to cook nutritious meals more efficiently and effectively.

Follow along here, and on the Facebook page for My Crazy Healthy Life, as I share techniques and practices that make crazy healthy cooking as simple as 1-2-3.

Crazy Healthy Cooking In Three Simple Steps

1. Learn how to prepare whole foods as close to their natural state as possible, to maximize their flavor and nutrient content.

2. Keep the pantry stocked with good quality essentials.

3. Get comfortable with working with what is available.

Stay tuned for more on each of these topics in the next few weeks, and let me know what questions you have about this series. I appreciate your comments and feedback–thank you for joining me in this crazy healthy life!

Namaste,

Amber

Photo: http://www.coachcalorie.com

Aside

How Sweet It Is: Strawberry Picking at Mercier Orchards


This is my crazy messy family:

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Their fingers (and clothes) are stained with strawberries, after an amazing morning of strawberry picking at Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, GA. We had a great time last Saturday, playing in their strawberry fields.

Mercier is a family-run business in the North Georgia mountains, with a wide variety of fruits that are grown as naturally as possible (our guide told me they only spray calcium and water on the fruit to keep pests away, and called it “pretty close to organic”). We have picked cherries at Mercier in the past, and have picked wild blueberries and blackberries elsewhere, but this was our first experience picking strawberries.

The girls got a kick out of paying for their baskets at the country store, and riding the hay truck through the orchards full of apple trees, cherry trees, and blueberry bushes, until we got to the strawberry field. When they climbed off the truck, got down on their knees, reached for, and bit into their first strawberry…warm, juicy, and fresh off the vine…their big bright eyes got a little brighter, and a smile grew across their face. And I knew, in my heart, that, for the rest of their life, they would always remember the taste of warm strawberries in the North Georgia mountains. We were making memories.

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The strawberries were delicious, but I what I loved most was getting down in the dirt to find our treasures. Being close to the earth is good for the soul. The best strawberries were usually buried under the biggest, brightest green leaves, which added an element of surprise, and joy, to the experience.

“Look at this one, Mom, it’s huge!”

“What about this one, it’s even bigger!”

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I’m pretty sure we ate more berries than we took home, and we definitely had a great adventure together as a family. We also gained a new appreciation for one of our favorite crazy healthy foods. We talked with the farmers who tend to the fields, and learned how strawberries get from the farm to our table. It’s one thing to talk about “eating from the earth”, but actually meeting the people who grow our food, pulling their berries from the vine, and savoring the sweetness in the field, reminded us all how blessed we are to live this crazy healthy life.

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Cleansing And Juicing, The Crazy Healthy Way

photoIn January, I received an email from a wellness client named Carita, asking about cleanses. She was thinking about trying one, to help break some unhealthy habits.

In my reply, I told her that I don’t recommend cleanses.

“The only way to create sustainable wellness, in my opinion, is to commit to exercise every day, and eat a balanced diet. Change your mind about what you like and what you want. Increase veggie intake and stay away from sugar. It’s not easy, but you can do it.”

So, it’s no wonder she was confused when I started talking about the Pranaful Spring Cleanse last month!

Thankfully, Carita followed up and asked me about it, which led to an incredibly productive conversation (on Facebook, of all places) about the pros and cons of cleansing and juicing. I thought I would share it here, for those who might be interested:

Carita: What do you feel makes this cleanse different from others? We’ve talked about cleansing & I know previously you were opposed to cleanses.

My Crazy Healthy Life ॐ: I am still opposed to most commercial cleanses, because I think they are unbalanced, and too taxing on our system. I do, however, like the Pranaful Cleanse because 1) I know and trust Meredith Klein as someone who truly understands the use of food as medicine; 2) it is founded in ayurvedic principles that have helped me heal in the past; and 3) The Pranaful Cleanse allows us to eat throughout the day (instead of starving ourselves), according to our nutrition needs.

I finished the cleanse last month, but as you can see, it has inspired me to juice more, and include more grains and beans in my diet. As for other cleanses, I had never found one (until now) that seemed nutritionally sound. Many of the cleanses I hear about are really hard on the body (The Master Cleanse, for example), or include processed shakes and supplements that do not teach a balanced approach to whole food nutrition. All of that makes it really easy to go back to old habits after the cleanse…so why do it in the first place?

That is why I have not been a big fan of cleanses in the past…this was actually my first cleanse in ten years! Now that I found the Pranaful Cleanse, however, I will recommend it. I think it is well-balanced, and teaches us that a steady stream of potent nutrients can enhance our long term health. Hope that helps! Let me know if you still have questions.

Carita: Thanks Amber for your beautiful, detailed explanation!!! I completely agree with the sentiment about the Master cleanse. Recently, I started ‘blending’ as I call it, since I don’t currently own a juicer, which actually brings me to my next question…why strain what you blend if you are cutting out seeds, etc? I guess I should do some research but, I’ve never strained what I blend. I just consume it all and I actually love the pulp. To me, it gives more flavor and texture to the ‘blend’. What are your thoughts on this?

My Crazy Healthy Life ॐ: You are asking all of the right questions, Carita! Juicing does remove the pulp, and much of the fiber. It’s not something you should do every day, and it’s not a replacement for whole foods. The benefit of juicing is that it is a fast way to get a lot of phytonutrients, while giving your digestive system a rest.

Personally, I have found that juicing gives me a quick energy boost, and can prevent a headache or a cold from coming on (or at least not be as painful), if I juice soon enough. It’s also a great way to get a wide variety of nutrients and spices that you might not otherwise eat (dandelion greens, which are great for the liver, is an example of something I don’t eat often, but I always put in my juice). The pulp is full of great benefits, too, though, so it’s great if you want to include it in your drinks…it all depends on your reasons for juicing. Dr. Fuhrman talks about the downside of juicing in his book, Eat to Live, which is why I avoided it for so long. But, as I mentioned before, the Pranaful Cleanse taught me that, just like everything else, juicing can be a good thing, when done in moderation, and for the right reasons.

Carita: Thanks again for a wonderfully thoughtful, detailed response !!! Juicing, blending…I think like all things, we can each design a practice & make it our own, but I also know that it always helps to get all the facts on the table to know what is best for each individual. You have such a vast toolbox full of healthy knowledge! Thanks for indulging me & allowing me to pick your brain .

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The bottom line is that our bodies require a lot of nutrients to operate efficiently. If you find a cleanse that, like the Pranaful Cleanse, is founded in whole food nutrition and time-proven scientific principles, then I say go for it. And if juicing every now and then means you consume more phytonutrients than you would otherwise, than that is a good choice as well. Nothing is black or white in this crazy healthy life…it’s all about creating and sustaining a balanced approach to nourshing our mind, body and spirit with exercise and proper nutrition.

I always enjoy hearing from you, so please share your questions and experiences in the comments below, or on Facebook at My Crazy Healthy Life.

Namaste~
Amber

Green Juice, Kitchari and Aloe Shots

photo copy 2I’ve dabbled in Ayurveda off and on for over a decade. I first learned about this ancient practice during my 200 hour yoga teacher training program, and have been both fascinated, and intimidated by, Ayurveda ever since.

I’m fascinated by Ayurveda because it all makes so much sense, and it has stood the test of time. Ayurveda has been around for thousands of years, and is the most widely practiced form of medicine in India. It stresses medical diagnosis through the use of the five senses, use of food as medicine, proper hygiene (internal and external), and eating seasonal foods that support our personal body constitution.

Even though I know it works, I find Ayurveda intimidating at times, because it’s so incredibly different from modern American practices and attitudes. It forces me out of my comfort zone.

It’s also not the kind of thing that you can just read a book and understand…Ayurveda is experiential. It requires patience, intention, and a lot of practice to assimilate it into our lives.

This is why I really wanted to participate in the Spring Cleanse with Meredith Klein, that I shared with you last week. It is founded in Ayurveda, and I knew it would deepen my understanding of the practice. Meditation and yoga are also highly recommended during the cleanse, and you know I’m all about that!

It hasn’t been easy, but as of right now, on day 3 of the cleanse, I feel great, and extremely grateful for what I have learned so far:

1) I am really attached to food, but not in the way that most people are attached to food. I rarely use food for comfort. Instead, I think of food as a drug, and use it to give me energy, alter my mood, and relieve pain. Not being able to eat some of the crazy healthy foods I normally use medicinally, such as bananas an chocolate, has been hard. I am also attached to eating small meals every 3 hours or so. Trying to eat less frequently on this cleanse brings up all kinds of stuff for me. Which is awesome, because awareness of my attachments always breeds progress.

2) I get hungry less often when I eat Indian comfort food, known as kitchari (pictured above). The word kitchari means mixture, and usually refers to mung beans, basmati rice, spices, and veggies. I now know that mung beans, which taste a lot like lentils, are highly detoxifying. Who knew?

3) I can make green juice from leafy greens and water in my blender. No juicer needed. Simply strain the juice with a cheese cloth or jelly bag. And just for the record, adding a green apple, lemon and ginger makes green juice more palatable.

4) Tumeric, cumin, and black mustard seeds taste awesome with cilantro, coconut and lime. I have, for a long time, been afraid to mix too many flavors in with my veggies. Most of what I cook is very basic, with salt, pepper, garlic, onion, cinnamon, honey and/or lemon as flavoring. Now, thanks to this cleanse (and being forced outside my comfort zone), I have a few more spices in my repertoire.

5) Aloe juice is good for reducing inflammation, and enhancing digestion, especially if you add tumeric and black pepper (Meredith calls it “aloe shots”). It also has a fairly pleasant taste on it’s own. Again, who knew?

5) Kombu seaweed adds a lot of nutrients (iodine is the most important!), but very little taste to kitchari.

6) Kitchari can be made in advance, and enjoyed for several days, with a different sauce and veggies every day…which makes my busy life a lot easier.

7) A salt water flush works a lot like an enema. You drink four cups of salted water first thing in the morning, and stay by the bathroom for a long while. Drinking that much salt water makes me want to gag, but I’m sure I’ll feel better later for it.

8) I can make digestive tea from cumin, fennel, and coriander. It’s not my favorite tea, but I have to admit it is comforting.

9) I can give up anything for a week, even coffee.

10) The more I learn about ayurveda, the more I question why I don’t eat this way all the time. I have to avoid some of the suggested ayurvedic foods, due to my allergies, such as dairy and wheat, but I do believe an ayurvedic diet might be the best choice for my constitution.

There’s still time to participate in the FREE Spring Cleanse with Meredith Klein of Pranaful. Just register on her site, print the materials, and start it on a day that works best for you. And, as always, let me know if you have questions, or need encouragement.

Also, please follow me on Facebook at Come On, Get Healthy, if you want to see what I have been eating this week!

 

Namaste,

Amber

FREE Online Spring Cleanse

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I met Meredith Klein three years ago, when she cooked for us at a yoga retreat with Steve Ross in Ojai, CA. I watched in awe, as she lovingly prepared ayurveda-inspired dishes throughout the weekend. The food was beautiful, delicious, and inspiring.

When I returned home from that retreat, I felt amazing. I’m certain it had as much to do with the yoga, as it did with Meredith’s perfectly balanced meals.

Since then, I have followed Meredith’s business, Pranaful, and emailed her when I need inspiration. She is always quick to respond, and brilliant in her replies. I have incorporated many of her recipes into my regular routine, and especially love her garlicky kale chips and cashew creams.

So, I was thrilled when I heard that Meredith is offering a free online spring cleanse, beginning this Sunday. Please check it out, and join me, in what promises to be an inspiring experience. I will write about the cleanse in a future blog post, and would love to feature your stories, so please let me know how it goes.

Happy cleansing!

Amber

The Avocado Pudding Party


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Instead of the usual after school snack yesterday, the girls and I had a pudding party. Not just any pudding party, but a crazy healthy avocado pudding party. And they thought it was the best thing since sliced gluten-free bread.

It might sound decadent, but it really wasn’t. Avocados are full of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. They actually rank pretty high on Dr. Furhman’s Nutritarian Food Pyramid (love him!), which means they are nutrient-dense, and an important part of a crazy healthy diet. The other ingredients we used for the basic pudding were also full of phytonutrients. As far as I’m concerned (and I think Dr. Fuhrman would agree), this basic avocado pudding is a guilt-free indulgence.

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So here’s how we did it: my eight-year old beat three medium ripe avocados with approximately 3 T. raw cacao, 2 or 3 T. local honey, 1 T. unsweetened almond milk (you can substitute soy or coconut milk) and a healthy pinch of sea salt, to make a basic avocado chocolate pudding. Sometimes I add a little vanilla for taste as well. *

I separated the pudding into small bowls, and then we all got creative with mix-ins. I wanted the girls to be invested in the final product, so I let them pick the flavors.

The end result was peppermint chocolate pudding, banana chocolate pudding, strawberry chocolate pudding, cinnamon chocolate pudding, and peanut butter chocolate chip pudding. This is what it looked like after they devoured it all (don’t you love the cute little signs my daughter made?).

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We tried to vote on the best flavor, but couldn’t come to a consensus. My eight year old loved the peppermint, my seven-year old preferred the peanut butter chocolate chip, and my five-year old loved the cinnamon. Personally, I thought banana chocolate pudding was the best. I also thought that raspberries would taste better than strawberries, and will try that next time.

The best part of the avocado pudding tasting party was that the girls and I had fun experimenting in the kitchen with crazy healthy foods, and they’re already begging to do it again. And that makes me really happy, because it means I now have even more opportunities to help them create crazy healthy childhood memories.

Note: I use less cacao, milk and honey than most recipes you might find because I think it’s healthier that way, but you can add more if you think you need it.

Photo: http://www.diseaseproof.com

Who Doesn’t Love A Chocolate Covered Strawberry?

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Last month, I posted some crazy healthy ideas for satisfying a sweet tooth. The one I neglected to mention is my absolute favorite: chocolate covered strawberries. As much as I love them for dessert, I also love giving chocolate covered strawberries as gifts. People appreciate them because they seem decadent, but they really aren’t.

They’re crazy healthy because strawberries and chocolate are both rich in phytonutrients, and together they are the perfect combination of sweet and bitter (this is why dark chocolate tastes best; it’s more bitter; it’s also the healthiest choice for chocolate because it is lower in sugar, and good chocolate is often dairy-free).

It’s fairly simple to make chocolate covered strawberries, but there is definitely an art to the dipping process. Here’s what you need:

1) A double boiler

2) A large bag of dark chocolate chips or several dark chocolate bars

3) Coconut oil or paraffin wax to harden the chocolate (food grade, used for canning–available at most grocery stores, usually in the baking section, but sometimes by the paper plates)

4) Strawberries, washed and dried

5) Cookie sheet, covered in wax paper

Melt 1 large bag of chocolate with  1T. coconut oil in the double boiler over low heat, stirring frequently. Be patient–if chocolate heats too fast, it gets grainy.

Be sure to use enough chocolate to submerge the strawberries. This usually means using more than you think you need!

Leftover chocolate can be used for dipping other fruits or making homemade snack bars with nuts, honey and fruit (just like KIND Bars).

Use a cocktail fork to skewer the strawberry, or hold the berry by the stem (if it is solid). Only dip 3/4 of the strawberry, for appearance sake.

After dipping each berry, give it twenty seconds to drip and cool, before placing it on the wax paper.

Refrigerate dipped berries for thirty minutes before assembling on a plate. Wrap with cellophane or plastic wrap and a red ribbon. The perfect gift for teachers, neighbors, kids and sweethearts.

Wishing everyone much love, and a crazy healthy Valentine’s Day! THANK YOU for joining me on this journey!

Photo: http://www.foodnetwork.com

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Roasted Veggies, The Crazy Healthy Way

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Remember  my foodie friend, Angie? She changed my relationship with vegetables forever, and helped me get crazy healthy, when she taught me how to roast brussel sprouts.

It was 2003. I was a new vegetarian, and desperately wanted to learn how to eat more vegetables. Angie gave me the perfect opportunity one night at dinner, when she exclaimed (in her amazingly charming foodie way) the she absolutely LOVES roasted brussel sprouts. I told her I had never had brussel sprouts, and asked her how she prepares them.

She told me it was soooo easy:

1) cut them in half,

2) toss with oil*,

3) season with salt and pepper, and

4) roast at 400 degrees, until they turn bright green, and edges start to brown (about 15 minutes).

So, I tried it. And of course, Angie was right. I loved them. Angie’s roasting technique was so simple, that I decided to experiment with other vegetables: sweet potatoes, asparagus, broccoli, and carrots. I had to play with the temperatures a bit, and learned that denser, thicker vegetables (such as potatoes) can be roasted at 425 degrees, but thinner veggies (asparagus, for example) are better at 375 degrees.

I also found that it is really important, for thorough cooking, to make sure that veggies are sliced to approximately the same size. And, of course, the smaller the slices, and the bigger the roasting pan, the faster they cook.

It took a few months to master my roasting technique, but once I got it down, I found it a lot easier to stick to a nutrient dense diet. After a while, I got curious about other veggies, such as eggplant, rutabaga, zucchini, and parsnips. Sure enough, Angie’s simple roasting technique worked for these foods as well.

More recently, I have discovered that spices and sweeteners can also be added before roasting certain vegetables. I use the basic roasting technique, plus the following flavorings:

  • maple syrup or honey with brussel sprouts and green beans
  • garlic with sweet potatoes and broccoli
  • rosemary with all kinds of potatoes
  • thyme with parsnips and rutabaga
  • apple cider vinegar with turnips, cauliflower, and carrots

It’s also fun to roast complementary veggies together, such as parsnips, rutabaga, and carrots, or broccoli and cauliflower. Just make sure they have similar cooking times, or you’ll end up burning part of your meal!  The Whole Foods website, and epicurious.com are great resources for inspiration.

The more time I spent experimenting with roasted veggies, the more I learned to prefer roasting to all other cooking methods. It’s simple–cut, toss, season, roast–and always produces great results.

My advice: if you’re not already roasting veggies on a regular basis, make it a new habit. As far as I can tell, there’s no such thing as too many veggies in this crazy healthy life.

*Olive oil can turn toxic above 250 degrees, so it’s always best to use a high smoke point oil, such as grapeseed, sunflower, or safflower, for roasting.

Photo: lisasdinnertimedish.com