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Archive for September, 2008

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Goodness!  Is it time for menu planning again already?  I feel like I haven’t yet caught my breath from the weekend.  At least cooler weather is rolling in to comfort me.  I adore fall! 

Monday: Curry Chicken with sauteed vegetables and, for J, a mixture of brown rice, millet, and quinoa  (I’ve been working on this recipe lately, so I look forward to sharing it)

Tuesday: Taco salads made with my turkey taco meat, lettuce, bell peppers, celery, shredded carrots, avocado, and 5-minute salsa

Wednesday: Leftovers

Thursday: Lemon Chicken with Thyme (I’ll share this recipe, as it’s an old favorite by now), vegetables, and rice for J

Friday: Deconstructed shepherd’s pie (I’ll share this recipe too.  I’ve been working on it recently.)

Saturday: Busy Day Mexican Chicken Soup

Sunday: Leftovers

Breakfasts will be either low-glycemic smoothies or scrambled eggs with veggies (maybe we’ll use up the leftover taco meat for these special eggs on Wednesday morning). 

Lunches will all consist of leftovers. 

Snacks will include fresh veggies, apples, and nuts and seeds.

Thanks for hosting MPM, Laura!

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DeAnna asked last week if I have found a good gluten-free flour for baking.  Hmmm…yes and no. 

Disclaimer: I’m not a big baker and never have been.  Cooking is my preferred activity, and it seems that almost every time I try baking, I swear it off.  My baking projects turn out fine.  That’s not the problem.  I just don’t get the same pleasure and joy out of baking.  This means that I am not a great authority on the subject of baking, gluten-free or otherwise.  

But since I do have some experience, and since I was asked, I’ll share my opinion anyway.  🙂

 

Standard GF Flours

I think that most gluten-free baking flours are extremely poor nutritional choices.  The typical blends include such nutritional nightmares as tapioca starch, potato starch, corn starch, and rice flours (mostly white).  These substances contain virtually no fiber and hit your blood sugar in a heart beat.  And this is beforeyou add the sugar.  Even if you’re not diabetic or hypoglycemic, blood sugar spikes like this can cause problems.  Maintaining stable blood sugar is vital for good long-term health.  Furthermore, these flours simply can’t compete with the fiber, protein, and mineral content of whole, freshly ground wheat, spelt, or kamut (all of which contain gluten).  On a day-to-day basis, then, I don’t think these kinds of gluten-free flours are very good choices at all. 

But since we do have special occasions from time to time, it’s nice to have a white flour-mimicking option available.  I really like Pamela’s all-purpose mix (the brownie mix is fabulous too, by the way). 

Pamela's Ultimate Baking and Pancake Mix, 64-Ounce Bags (Pack of 3)

(Photo from Amazon.com)

I’ve only used it a few times, but I am very impressed with the taste and texture.  For my husband’s birthday in November, I plan to use it for this to-die-for chocolate cake.  A friend from church has found great success with this flour blend in muffin recipes.  In place of sugar, she uses a special stevia product made by NuNaturals that contains lots of fiber to drop the glycemic index a bit (this stevia also measures one to one with sugar, which is pretty nifty).  She shared a blueberry muffin made this way with me one Sunday, and it was great! 

 

Alternative Whole Grain GF Flours

Fortunately, more nutritious gluten-free baking options do exist.  Whole millet flour and whole quinoa flourcome immediately to mind.  Kimi, The Nourishing Gourmet, has experimented with millet flour to make wholesome gluten-free biscuits and a root vegetable cobbler.  I tried the cobbler with chicken and some extra seasoning several months ago, and J and I both enjoyed it.  The millet biscuit topping is quite good!  Quinoa flour has a more distinctive taste than millet, so some may find it objectionable.  For my part, I really liked it in this quinoa applesauce cake.  If you would like to experiment with either of these flours, you can grind the whole grains yourself, or you can buy them pre-ground at health food stores or online (here and here).

Buckwheat and amaranth flours are also gluten-free and nutritious, but I have not experimented with them myself.  It’s my understanding that they do best when combined with other flours.

 

Alternative Non-Grain GF “Flours”

This is where my interest lies these days.  After realizing that my body does not tolerate any grain well, regardless of preparation or combination (with the possible exception of corn), I have decided to give up all grains as a regular part of my diet for a while.  Now what? 

I have just begun experimenting with coconut flour, since it is extremely high in fiber, low glycemic, and contains healthy medium chain fatty acids.  A friend gave me the inside scoop about a sale on the stuff at Wilderness Family Naturals, so I bought about 10 pounds of it.  With all those bags of white powder lying around, my husband joked that we looked like drug lords. 

So I closed the blinds.

Thus far, I have used the flour to add fiber to my smoothies, to bind together shredded zucchini for zucchini fritters, and, as of last night, to bake brownies.  I used the recipe from The Truth about Beauty.  The texture is great, so I will definitely continue moving this direction.  Unfortunately, the sweetener I decided to try at the same time, erythritol, is not my cup of tea.  If I find coconut flour brownie success in the future, I’ll post the recipe here.  (As a side note, I’m now storing the bags away from prying eyes in my freezer.)

Almond flour and other nut flours are also good possibilities.  I recently stumbled upon the gluten-free, grain-free blog, Elana’s Pantry, that’s chock-full of recipes based on almond flour.  I am intrigued.

A friend from church (the one with the stevia-sweetened muffins) has also recommended www.pecanbread.com, a Specific Carbohydrate Diet website, for nut-based baking recipes.

Although the high protein and low sugar/starch content of the nut flours make them attractive and probably the best option for me, nut allergies and the necessity of using lots of eggs can render them impractical for many people.  (When I say lots of eggs, I mean 6 eggs for a tray of brownies.)

I hope this answers your question, DeAnna!  For the rest of you, what are you using for nutritious gluten-free baking?  Did I miss something?

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Two years ago, my new husband and I retreated to Traverse City, Michigan for a beautiful honeymoon.  We stayed at Chateau Chantal, a vineyard and gorgeous B&B on a peninsula on Lake Michigan (check out the website for breathtaking photographs of the area).  With fall colors bursting on the scene, sparkling blue water all around, and the chilly air driving us deeper under the covers, it was divine.

Here I am basking in a fiery sunset behind the Chateau.

We spent ten days snuggling and meandering through the little town and its boardwalk.

We also ate.  A lot.  Schelde’s quickly established itself as our favorite restaurant in town, and we darkened its doors at leat six times during our stay.  Almost every time we were there, we ordered the same thing, Cherry Chicken Salad.  Traverse City is the world’s cherry capital, so cherries pop up in almost every dish.  No complaints here!  We both adored this salad, and when we returned home and moved into together, I set about recreating it.  I believe I have captured its essence, while tweaking some particulars.  When J asked me to prepare it for our anniversary, I was delighted.  I think we’ll make this a tradition, as it’s such a pleasant reminder of our honeymoon.

With a couple of modifications, this also makes a wonderful side salad.  Nix the chicken and simply sprinkle toasted whole or chopped pecans onto the salad.  I’ve served it like this for everything from a bridal shower to Christmas dinner.  It’s always a hit!  Alternatively, the pecan-crusted chicken can be served on its own with vegetables on the side.  This works well too.

 

Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad with Cherries, Gorgonzola, and Cranberry Vinaigrette

Chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (1 to 1 1/2 pounds)
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups raw pecan halves
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (Celtic sea salt and Real Salt are two excellent brands)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Vinaigrette (yields ~1 cup)
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons sugar (I prefer Sucanat or Rapadura)

Goodies
mixed baby salad greens, washed and dried
4 ounces dried cherries (use dried cranberries if you want to cut down on the cost)
4 ounces gorgonzola or another blue cheese

Set the oven to 400.  In a food processor or blender, finely chop the pecans.  Pour them onto a plate and stir in the rosemary, salt, and pepper.  In another bowl, lightly beat the egg.

If desired, pound the thick side of the chicken breasts to make them more even in thickness.  (I use a rubber mallet with a piece of waxed paper over the chicken.)  Dip each breast into the egg and then into the pecans, covering completely.  You may need to press the pecan mixture into the chicken.  Arrange the breasts on a baking sheet, then bake for about 20 minutes, or until the breasts are juicy but cooked through.

Meanwhile (or ahead of time), prepare the vinaigrette: Place all ingredients in a blender and whirl until combined well.  You may desire to sweeten the dressing a bit more.  Set aside in the refrigerator.

Distribute the greens among 4 plates and divide the cherries and gorgonzola evenly.  When the chicken is cooked, you may either place a whole breast on each salad, or slice them first.  If you slice them, proceed carefully so you don’t disturb the pecan crust too much.  Drizzle the dressing over the top and serve more alongside.

Alternatively, you could toss the greens with the dressing, cherries, and gorgonzola before distributing them among the plates. 

Enjoy!

Note: Though I have altered it, the vinaigrette is based on this recipe.

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Our Second Anniversary

I feel like the most blessed woman alive to be married to this man.  What did I ever do to deserve him?

Did you know that on our wedding day he gave me a wonderful gift by memorizing his vows?  Here he is, dear soul, working on it.

There was just one problem: he didn’t tell me he was going to do this.  Although I had mentioned long before that I wanted to recite our vows by memory, when he expressed concern, we agreed to hold a card between us during the ceremony with our vows on each side (this avoids the endless repeating after the pastor).  I can’t tell you how surprised — and momentarily panicked! — I was when he began to recite his vows without pulling out the card.  I listened very, very closely, let me tell you!  Fortunately, all went well.  Even though I had never made the effort to memorize my vows, I discovered in the moment that I knew them by heart.

Before God, who brought us together, and before these witnesses,
I, Alison, take you, Justice, to be my wedded husband,
to have and to hold from this day forward,
for better or for worse,
for richer or for poorer,
in sickness and in health;
to love, honor, and cherish you;
to submit myself to you in all things,
and to follow you as we walk with God,
as long as we both shall live.

Beloved, 

You have loved me tenderly, with great compassion, through much sickness in the past two years.  You held my hand when I felt discouraged, pressed me closely against you when I needed hope, carried me when I could not even walk.  You communicated your joy in caring and providing for me when I felt like nothing but a miserable burden. 

You poured out forgiveness generously, never punishing me, though I may have deserved it at times.  You sacrificed precious sleep to stay up and talk during times of difficulty or to comfort me after nightmares.  You patiently let me cry over past hurts, rather than telling me to get over them.  You have not been proud, but loving and flexible; you have cared more about our relationship than about being right.  You were willing to change and grow.

And how you have changed and grown!  My love, you are not the man I married.  Sometimes I feel bewildered as I come to know you better, but I am excited that learning to know you and love you will take a lifetime.  To think that years and years of discovery lay ahead of us! 

I love your smile and the way your eyes soften when you look at me.  I can see your love so clearly in them.  It brings tears to my eyes to think of it. 

I appreciate your sincerity; I feel so safe with you.  Your words are those of encouragement.  

I still find you funny, even hilarious.  Laughing with you is one of my deepest joys.

I revel in playing with you.  Hiding under the covers.  Wrestling.  Tickling.  Dancing.

I admire you too.  I admire your pursuit of God and the sincerity of your faith.  I admire your love for others.  I respect your integrity and your courage in doing right, even when it is uncomfortable.  Watching you becoming more like Christ inspires me.  How I look forward to growing closer to the Lord together!

Experiencing your sacrificial love has taught me much about God’s love for me.  If you, a mere human, can love like this, I cannot even fathom the love of our Creator. 

I pray for many more years together.  Years of laughter and tears.  Of deep joy, even in difficult circumstances.  Of love — great, abiding, steady love.  Love that heals.  Love that lives and gives life.

Oh my darling, I still do.

 

With all my love,

Alison

 

[To see a slideshow of our whole wedding, go here.]

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I ruled out smoothies as a reasonable part of my diet quite some time ago.  With my hypoglycemia, all of the bananas, mangos, pineapple, and raw honey were decidedly counterproductive.  Blood sugar crash guaranteed.  I also discovered that soy protein powders weren’t a good option because of my hypothyroidism and female hormone imbalances.  Not to mention that smoothies didn’t seem to satisfy me for more than forty-five minutes.

Lately, however, I’ve been dallying with smoothies again.  They are one of the nutritional experiments to which I referred a few weeks ago.  It was The Truth about Beauty by Kat James that inspired me to give the ubiquitous smoothie another shot–but with a few twists.  So far, it’s working.  Here’s what I’ve been doing to make smoothies a viable option for me, blood sugar problems and all:

Base

OUT: soy milk (hormonal concerns), rice milk (too sweet), pasteurized milk (hard to digest, lower vitamin content, and exacerbates allergies), commercially sweetened yogurts (duh), skim milk

IN: 8 ounces of whole raw cow milk, raw goat milk, or whole kefir or yogurt made from said raw milks (homemade nut milks or diluted coconut milk would work too)

Fat slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, thus making the overall meal lower glycemic.  High quality dairy fat (from organic, grass-fed cows) also has many other health benefits, particularly in relation to fertility.  Kefir and yogurt are lower glycemic than plain milk because bacteria have already eaten most of the milk sugars (lactose) and converted them to lactic acid.

Fat

OUT: none, since the standard advice has been, “Fat is E.V.I.L.  Run away!”

IN: 1 to 2 tablespoons coconut oil

Not only does fat lower the glycemic index of the smoothie, it keeps you full longer.  Even better, coconut oil boosts the metabolism and supports the thyroid.  Nice!

Fruit

OUT: bananas, mangos, papaya, pineapple, and grapes

IN: just berries–strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries

Berries are high in fiber and low in sugar, making them a perfect choice for the hypoglycemic or diabetic.  I use them frozen.  Occasionally, I throw in a fresh pear or peach with the skin, both of which are still much lower in sugar than tropical fruits.

Protein

OUT: soy anything

IN: raw eggs from free-range hens or unsweetened hemp protein powder (a good-quality, unsweetened whey powder would work too; I just haven’t tried one yet)

Raw eggs from well-kept, free-range hens are extremely safe, contrary to popular belief.  They provide an excellent source of protein with lots of health benefits.  They are undetectable in a smoothie, so you don’t need to worry about taste or texture.  I add them in at the very end while blending on low speed.  Supposedly, blending eggs vigorously damages the proteins.  I don’t know if this is really true, but I figure, “Why not slow down the blender?”

Hemp protein may not taste great, but it surely packs a nutritional punch with GLA and tons of fiber.  I bought the Nutiva brand, which is available at a steep discount at Vitacost.

Fiber

OUT: is there any fiber in traditional smoothies?

IN: coconut fiber (also called coconut flour) and/or hemp protein powder

Like fat, fiber slows down our digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, which keeps blood sugar levels steady.  Raising blood sugar too quickly is often what leads to a blood sugar low, so a slow, steady rise in blood sugar is most desirable.

Sweeteners

OUT: sugar, unrefined sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave nectar

IN: stevia (I strongly prefer NuNaturals brand); xylitol and erythritol would also be good options, though I don’t particularly care for them myself (they make me feel thirsty)

Many people use agave nectar as a low-glycemic option, and I did too for a while.  But I’ve read enough unsettling information about it that I’m going to keep it out of my pantry for now.  The jury’s still out on it.

Extras

IN: a few leaves of lettuce or spinach, a greens powder

I don’t always add the greens, though I look forward to experimenting more with green smoothies in the future. 

 

Blending up these ingredients with a little ice has produced some very tasty and filling meals for me that don’t seem to lead to blood sugar lows.  I think it helps that it take me, easily, an hour to drink a smoothie.  I just sip on it steadily.  Only time will tell if smoothies will work for me long-term, but I’m quite happy at the moment. 

Do you have any other ideas or tips for low-glycemic smoothies?  What works for you?  I’m very interested to know!

Thanks for hosting Kitchen Tip Tuesday, Tammy!

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Menu Plan Monday, September 22

I like this latest scheme of Laura, the Organizing Junkie.  Dedicating a Menu Plan Monday to sharing favorite family recipes is pretty brilliant.  I look forward to reading everyone’s ideas, since I’m always on the prowl for new healthy recipes.  Here are my contributions:

White Turkey Chili — One of my personal recipes, this is a favorite of my husband, my family (including my in-laws), and just about everyone else who tries it.  It is a perfect meal to take to others because it’s easy, people-pleasing, hearty, and freezer-friendly.  Did I mention that it’s healthy?  And allergy-friendly?  Seriously, what’s not to like?  

Kale with Aduki Beans— Granted, this recipe won’t suit everyone’s tastes, but we surely like it!  A macrobiotic dish, it makes a wonderful meal in itself or a hearty side.  We just ate some last night, and I plan to prepare it again this week.

Grilled Lamb Patties, Lemon Lentil Soup with Collard Greens, Fattoush, and Hummus with raw veggies — This meal sends us into orbit.  We love, love, love it!  Our guests do too.  I’m drooling just thinking about it…

Mulligatawny Soup — Heaven.  Really.  An Anglo-Indian curry creation, Mulligatawny Soup is easy, fragrant, and just plain delightful.  I like to make it by pureeing the vegetables and the broth before adding brown rice and chicken (I use extra chicken).  This allows me to leave out the flour with no loss in body and texture.  Using cultured butter and raw cream from grass-fed cows keeps this recipe in the “healthy” category, at least according to alternative nutritional guidelines, a la Nourishing Traditions.

Cran-Turkey Enchiladas — Alright, so this one won’t win any health awards, but your taste buds will rejoice.  I discovered this recipe in Better Homes and Gardens soon after Justice and I married, and we both really enjoy it.  Now that I’ve been diagnosed with a gluten allergy, I’ll have to prepare it with corn tortillas, but I’m sure it will still be delicious.

Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette — Studded with dried cherries and gorgonzola, this salad is my recreation of our favorite meal from our honeymoon in Traverse City, Michigan.  This Wednesday marks our second anniversary, so I’ll be preparing it then, at my husband’s request.  Look for the recipe and photographs on Thursday, September 25th.

And, now, here is my menu plan for the week:

Monday
low-glycemic smoothie
leftover chicken and vegetable soup
Kale with Aduki Beans and green salad

Tuesday
low-glycemic smoothie
leftover chicken and vegetable soup 
leftover Kale with Aduki Beans and green salad

Wednesday (our second anniversary)
low-glycemic smoothie
leftover chicken and vegetable soup
Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette, champagne, and Chocolate Orbit Cake with Creme Anglaise, an incredible-looking flourless chocolate cake suggested by Amy of Eggs on Sunday (fantastic food blog with great photos!)

Thursday
scrambled eggs and veggies
leftovers
White Turkey Chili and green salad

Friday
scrambled eggs and veggies
leftovers
Dinner at Masraff’s, the restaurant where we had our wedding and reception

Saturday
low-glycemic smoothie
leftovers
??? (depends on what I find at the farmers’ market)

Sunday
scrambled eggs and veggies
leftovers
beef and vegetable soup

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I know.  I eat a lot of ice cream.  I won’t deny it.  My former roommates could tell you stories about the ice cream they would buy and put in the freezer.  I would eat the ice cream, then go out and buy a replacement.  But they would leave it in there so long that I finally ate the replacement too, then had to buy another replacement.  Sigh.  I am not a person that can leave ice cream in the freezer, untouched, for weeks on end. 

Fortunately, my ice cream habits are far more moderate these days.  I eat it once a week, and lately, I’ve tried to eat only homemade ice cream (unless I’m a guest in someone’s home).  This allows me to avoid yucky ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings and colors.  Even better, it means I can bypass pasteurized dairy in favor of coconut milk or raw milk and cream.  And now, because of the new stevia I ordered, I can make sugar-free ice cream at home that tastes outrageously good. 

This is big. 

In fact, one could almost consider this kind of ice cream health food, right?  It’s made of whole, raw dairy or coconut milk (both sources of important, healthy fats that are great for fertility), stevia (no effect on blood sugar and, as the extract of a sweet herb, no negative impact on the body), and natural flavorings like vanilla and fruit.  Hmmm.  Health food, indeed!

Still, since I want to keep my waist line, I’m sticking with once a week for now.  I don’t want to get carried away.  The ice cream pictured above, however, is almost enough to make me temporarily forget about my waist and fitting into my jeans.  Cheesecake ice cream is a beautiful–and dangerous–thing.  I’ve made it three times now, but last night’s batch was special because I used my new stevia.  I wrung my hands nervously while it churned because I wanted so badly for it to be good.  Lo and behold, it was still fabulous!  As I mentioned in the notes to the last stevia-sweetened ice cream, it didn’t have the caramelly depth you get with an unrefined sugar like Sucanat or Rapadura, but it was still wonderful.  It’s probably more like using plain white sugar, though I haven’t done that in so long, I don’t really remember.  In any case, if you don’t tell the people to whom you’re serving this ice cream that it doesn’t have any sugar in it, they’ll never guess.

A few notes: First, really do try to find raw milk for this recipe.  Go here for more information on why raw milk is so much healthier than pasteurized milk and for help finding a raw milk source in your area.  If you live in the Houston metro area, email me (alison [at] wholesomegoodness [dot] net), and I’ll tell you what I know.  Second, use an organic, cultured cream cheese if possible.  Cream cheese was originally a cultured product, but most companies these days make it without the healthful probiotics.  Organic Valley makes a wonderful organic, cultured cream cheese that I have been buying at my local grocery store.  If your market is not well stocked with healthy items, you may need to check out a health food store to find it.  Finally, never use Now, SweetLeaf, or a store’s generic brand stevia for this recipe.  Because it is sweetened 100% with stevia, only the best-tasting stuff will do.  I have tried several brands, and the only one I will use now is NuNaturals NuStevia (some health food stores carry it, but I order it online; shipping is free on orders over $35).

I served the cheesecake ice cream with a strawberry sauce, but I’ll wait to share that recipe as it still needs tweaking.

 

Sugar-Free Cheesecake Ice Cream

(adapted from this recipe found at www.epicurious.com, a great recipe resource)

1 1/2 cups whole raw milk
8 ounces organic, cultured cream cheese
4 packets NuNaturals NuStevia NoCarbs Blend (or another form of NuNaturals NuStevia to taste)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch sea salt (Celtic Sea Salt or Real Salt are ideal)

In a blender, mix all ingredients until smooth.  Follow your ice cream maker’s churning instructions.

Although you can eat this immediately after churning, I prefer to leave it in the freezer for 1.5 to 2 hours before serving.  If left longer than that, you may need to let it thaw on the counter for 10 to 15 minutes before scooping.

Serves 4.

 

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