“Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food.” – Hippocrates
“Abs are made in the kitchen.”
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” – Brillat-Savarin
Good health starts with cooking your own food. It’s near impossible to achieve lasting health, weight, and strength building goals without a little blood sweat and tears in the kitchen (unless you are one of the lucky few who can pay someone to cook for you, and that’s not many of us).
I smile every New Year, as the number one resolution on everyone’s list is to improve their health in some way – eating better, exercising more, smoking and drinking less, etc. Each New Year, we pick out a diet plan that seems to fit our lifestyle, and we go for it whole hog starting January 1. Most people last a few weeks, but the majority of us seem to lose our dedication by the end of the month. Life is just too hectic to stick to a strict plan, a plan that most likely involves more time spent in the kitchen preparing healthy food.
Even without starting a new healthy eating plan, most of us know that to be healthy, we need to eat more fruits and vegetables and eat less sugar, bad fats, and refined and processed foods. But what we don’t always know how to do is COOK those healthy fruits and veggies, good fats, and healthy meats into fabulous meals three times a day. Rather than a new diet plan, what most of us really need is to a) come to the realization that we need to cook for ourselves most of the time and then b) find a strategy to do it while the rest of our life is going on.
Here’s the deal – life will ALWAYS be hectic, everyone is busy and no one wants to spend extra time in the kitchen (unless you are one of those who find it a creative and therapeutic outlet). The bottom line is that it is near impossible to achieve your health goals without cooking your own food. There is simply no other failsafe way to control what goes in your body.
I think it’s interesting how much time we all spend taking care of our exterior bodies – workouts, manicures, pedicures, facials, wraps, eyelashes, hair color, hair cuts, veins zapped, hair removed, botox, injections, and the list goes on. Why don’t we have the same awareness and desire to take care of the inside of our bodies? After all isn’t that what our bodies use for fuel, rebuilding, and repairing, eventually reflected in our outward appearance and also how our bodies function – our energy level, ability to focus, mood stabilization, sleep quality, etc.
While eating fast food and restaurant food might taste good and be convenient, it typically adds excess salt, seasonings, sugar, and unhealthy fats to your diet that you cannot control. And all those packaged convenience foods are also a substandard choice, as the ingredients are not fresh and usually include more salt, sugar, additives, colorings, and preservatives that are not present in a home cooked meal. Even the packages labeled “all natural” or “organic” are a step in the right direction but still include a healthier form of additives, sugar, salt, and still lack the nutrients in fresh food.
Your best bet to improve your overall health for the long term is to start cooking at home. In fact, if you choose one thing to do for yourself to be healthier, let it be preparing your own fresh food. If you are new to cooking or in general just really don’t like it, here are 10 tips that got me started:
1. Be prepared. Set aside time each week to grocery shop. Stock your fridge with fresh fruits, veggies, eggs, and meats, and line your pantry shelves with spices, condiments, oils, and healthy staples like canned coconut milk, canned pumpkin, and frozen berries. I find I do best when I plan to grocery shop at the same time each week. It becomes built into my weekly routine, and I always have healthy food ready to make into meals.
2. Make cooking a priority. Schedule time each day to prepare your meals. Your life will always be busy. Your life will always be hectic. You will always be going through something difficult or distracting. So do not use that as an excuse. In fact, when we are the busiest or having the most difficult time with life is when we need to feed our bodies with the best quality food. It is at those times that we especially need nutrients, so we can stay healthy and strong physically and emotionally.
3. Keep a clean kitchen. Remove the clutter from your counters, and wipe them down morning and night. A clean, uncluttered environment not only gives you the space you need, but it also creates a place of calm and order, which is inviting for cooking.
4. Buy high quality, fresh foods to use in your cooking. Why spend the time in the kitchen if you’re going to cook with a bunch of packages and poor quality ingredients. If you’re looking for shortcuts, buy pre-chopped fruits and veggies in the produce section. Check out the spice section for familiar spice blends to use like curry, chile powder, taco seasoning, Cajun seasoning, etc. Condiments like infused vinegars, mustards, and coconut aminos are an excellent way to make your healthy food taste good. Just remember to look at the label and choose pure spices and condiments without additives.
5. Keep it simple. To begin with, choose recipes with few ingredients and fewer steps that include plenty of vegetables and a little meat and healthy fat. I love easy one-pot meals that combine veggies, a healthy meat, a little healthy fat, and lots of spices to make the meal taste good. If you don’t own a slow cooker or a steamer, invest in one. I use mine daily. I also have super sharp knives so I can prep produce efficiently.
6. Give yourself the freedom to be creative with your meals and the permission to fail. You don’t always have to rely on a recipe with numerous steps. Some of your originals will turn into family favorites while others will not. But taking the pressure off yourself to serve gourmet masterpieces every meal will increase your confidence and enjoyment in the process.
7. Record your favorite recipes as you go. Slowly build weekly meal plans with grocery lists of all the recipes that are hits with your family.
8. Cook in bulk, doubling a recipe so you can eat the leftovers throughout the week or freeze them for next week. I love to look in my fridge and see all the containers of fresh home-cooked food.
9. Have a positive attitude in the kitchen. Be thankful for your food, your kitchen in which to prepare it, and your loved ones with whom you share it. Just like everything else in life, your attitude in approaching it greatly impacts how much you enjoy the experience.
10. Create an atmosphere in the kitchen that inspires you. If you are one who isn’t fond of cooking, make the experience enjoyable. If you are one who has worked all day and just wants to relax, make the experience relaxing. Turn on music, light candles or adjust the lighting, focus on your breathing, use the time to be quiet and think, make yourself a pretty drink in a pretty glass. It doesn’t always have to be wine or a cocktail. My favorite is sparkling water with a couple of raspberries and lime in a stemmed glass. Or use your cooking time to catch up with your loved ones. Get your kids or your spouse in the kitchen with you to help or even just to visit. Put your phone on speaker and catch up with a friend while you prepare your food. Whatever makes the experience a good one for you and helps meet your needs at that moment – do it.
This spaghetti squash with sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples is one example of a simple meal that I came up with using a variety of fruits, veggies, spices, and a healthy meat option. It has been a repeat meal at our house many times this winter.
Spaghetti squash is a delicious and nutritious alternative to traditional pasta. Roasting a spaghetti squash is almost as easy as baking a potato. Almost. To roast a spaghetti squash, I first need to soften the tough outer exterior by placing it in the oven while the oven is preheating to 400 degrees. Once the oven is preheated, I take out the squash and using a sharp knife, cut through the hard shell to halve the squash. Once cut in half, I scoop out the seeds, rub the insides of each half with a little olive oil, and place both halves cut side up on a parchment lined baking sheet. I roast the squash for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. I make sure not to over-bake, so the squash doesn’t become mushy.
Next, I prepare the sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples. I start by quartering the Brussels sprouts, and blanching them in boiling water for about two minutes.
I transfer the Brussels sprouts to an ice bath and let them sit while I chop the onion and apples.
I buy turkey or chicken breakfast sausage from the meat counter at Whole Foods. It’s fresh, and I trust that it is high quality meat. I brown the ground turkey sausage with the onion in a little coconut oil in a large sauté pan until it is no longer pink.
After the turkey sausage is no longer pink, I add the blanched Brussels sprouts and sauté over medium heat for about 7 minutes.
Next, I add the apples, sea salt, and thyme and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes more before lowering the heat to low.
It’s time to remove the spaghetti squash from the oven and fluff the squash “noodles” away from the shell using a fork. I place the squash “noodles” in a bowl and toss with a little olive oil and sea salt. Sometimes I add a little garlic or chile powder for additional flavor.
To serve, I layer the sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples over the spaghetti squash on each plate. This recipe takes a bit longer and has a few more steps, so I choose a to make this one when I can look forward to spending some time in the kitchen.
- 1 spaghetti squash
- olive oil
- sea salt, to taste
- 1 pound breakfast sausage (I use chicken or turkey)
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 bag Brussels sprouts, quartered
- ½ purple onion, cut into slivers
- 2 apples, cut into slivers
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and place the whole spaghetti squash in the oven while it is preheating.
- After a few minutes, remove the spaghetti squash, cut it in half, and scoop out the seeds.
- Place cut side up on a parchment lined baking sheet, and rub a little olive oil over the inside of the squash.
- Bake for 45 minutes, and then fluff spaghetti squash “noodles” out of the shell with a fork.
- Transfer the “noodles” to a bowl, and toss them with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt to taste.
- Meanwhile, blanch the Brussels sprouts in boiling water for two minutes, and then transfer to an ice bath.
- In a large saute pan, brown the sausage and onion in the coconut oil until no longer pink.
- Add the Brussels sprouts, and saute for about 7 minutes.
- Add the apples, thyme, and sea salt, and saute for 5 minutes more.
- Divide the spaghetti squash onto 4 plates, and top each dish of squash with ¼ of the sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples mixture.
My brother and sister-in-law gave me a NutriBullet for Christmas to replace my tired old Magic Bullet. Since 2014 began, I’ve been on a smoothie kick, blending up different concoctions each day for at least one of my meals. Some of my smoothies have turned out so yummy while others I probably won’t repeat. Regardless, I’m giving my body a powerful nutritious punch with each one. Today, I’m sharing with you my favorite smoothie I’ve made so far this month.
Reasons I love smoothies…
- Requires no skill in the kitchen
- Leaves minimal mess
- Easy to digest
- Promotes detox
- Unlocks nutrients from fibrous fruits and veggies
- Hides all kinds of nutritious goodies
- Gets large amounts of fruits and veggies into one meal
- Kids like them
I don’t drink sodas or sports drinks, so I keep all kinds of teas on hand to drink when I need a change from water or infused water. Chai is the word for tea in other parts of the world. When I hear the word Chai, I think of the spiced milk tea that originated in India and is made of black tea, milk, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, pepper, cloves, and a little something sweet. Its signature flavor is both warming and soothing but with a little kick to get me moving in the morning. I love it so much that I decided to take it to a smoothie.
In my “reasons I love smoothies” above, I listed “hiding all kinds of nutritious goodies”. In this smoothie, I tried a new hidden gem recommended by my Airrosti doctor…cauliflower. Cauliflower is a cancer fighting, liver cleansing cruciferous veggie that does not change the taste, texture, or color of the smoothie. In fact, my kids unknowingly drank cauliflower in their smoothie this morning. Rob wasn’t super keen on the idea of trying to sneak it in, but I decided to experiment anyway, and they didn’t say a word. I also added greens to this smoothie, but that is nothing new. I throw greens in every smoothie.
I used my basic smoothie formula to come up with this Double Chocolate Chai Smoothie: 1 cup liquid like almond milk or coconut water, greens, creamy fruit like banana or mango, additional fruits and veggies, a little healthy fat, a little protein, a little fiber, a little stevia, additional nutrient boosters like cacao, maca, goji, acai, etc., and spices and/or flavorings.
To make this smoothie, I blended a cup of unsweetened almond milk, a handful of spinach, a handful of cauliflower florets, a banana, a tablespoon of almond butter (sunflower seed butter also works well), a scoop of chocolate protein powder, a tablespoon of finely ground flax seeds, a dropper of liquid stevia, a tablespoon of raw cacao powder, and chai spices: cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and pepper. I topped it with a little bit of dark chocolate bits (cacao nibs is another great choice).
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- handful of greens
- handful of cauliflower florets
- 1 banana
- 1 tablespoon almond or sunflower seed butter
- 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
- 1 tablespoon finely ground flax seed
- 1 tablespoon raw cacao powder
- dropper of liquid stevia (I used vanilla flavored)
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon ginger
- ⅛ teaspoon cardamom
- ⅛ teaspoon cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper
- handful of ice
- optional: dark chocolate bits for a garnish
- Combine all ingredients in a Vitamix or other blender, and blend for 30 seconds.
Happy New Year! My family celebrated Christmas with my parents in Santa Fe, where my mom greeted us with all kinds of yummy gluten and grain free treats and meals. My brother and I both eat gluten and mostly grain free for health reasons, and my mom has embraced our new way of eating wholeheartedly with gusto! Her fridge and freezer were full.
My favorite was her toasted coconut granola. I’ve tried many a granola in my day and this one is by far the best. It is grain free, and every bite is packed with crunchy goodness – minerals (zinc, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, copper, and manganese), healthy fats, protein (the amino acid tryptophan), and fiber that help satiate your hunger and boost your energy while keeping your blood sugar stable. Plus, cinnamon is a powerful antioxidant that also regulates your blood sugar, so you can avoid those spikes and drops, which lead to unnecessary eating, brain fog, and crankiness.
With 2014 and my daughter’s volleyball season in full swing, we are always in need of a quick energy pick me up in the form of some kind of snack. It’s so tempting to swing by the most convenient fast food place to fill her up, so I trying to have on hand some hearty and nutritious snacks for before and after practice and during tournaments. My daughter gives Grandma’s granola two thumbs up.
Another perk to making this granola is that I have most of the ingredients on hand at all times. I buy my nuts, seeds, and dried fruit in bulk and store them in my extra fridge in labeled glass containers. The kids always have access to combining different nuts and seeds for a personalized trail mix snack, and I always have them available for adding to salads, meals, and toppings. Here’s a peek inside my fridge…
Simple directions to make Grandma’s Toasted Coconut Granola:
The first step in making this granola is to process the cashews, macadamia nuts, and slivered almonds in a food processor just slightly. I think I pulsed my processor no more than 5 or 6 times to barely brake up the nuts.
Next, I transferred the processed nuts into a large mixing bowl and added pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, and toasted coconut flakes. Toasted coconut flakes is one of my new favorite things, and I think quite possibly why this granola is such a hit. I love to snack on these dried coconut flakes by themselves or add them as a topping to anything. I’ve heard (although I haven’t tried yet) of eating them like a bowl of frosted flakes cereal. I can see how it would resemble the taste and texture and be delicious!
The third step is to combine the coconut oil, maple syrup, maple sugar, salt, and pumpkin pie spice in a small pitcher. I warmed the mixture slightly to melt the coconut oil and drizzled it over the nut and seed mixture.
I stirred to thoroughly incorporate the sweet liquid with the nuts and seeds.
Lastly, I preheated the oven to 300 degrees and spread the mixture out on a parchment lined baking sheet. I baked the granola for about 35 minutes, removing it from the oven a couple of times to stir.
- 1 cup toasted coconut flakes
- 1 cup cashews
- 1 cup macadamia nuts
- 1 cup slivered almonds
- 1 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1 cup sunflower seeds
- 1 cup pine nuts
- ⅓ cup maple syrup
- 3 tablespoons maple sugar
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
- pinch of sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
- Slightly process cashews, macadamia nuts, and slivered almonds in a food processor, and then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
- Add toasted coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and pine nuts to the bowl.
- In a small pitcher, stir together maple syrup, maple sugar, coconut oil, pumpkin pie spice, and salt, and then warm slightly until the coconut oil melts.
- Pour the maple syrup mixture over the nut and seed mixture, and stir until thoroughly combined.
- Spread the granola on a parchment lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 35 minutes, removing from the oven during baking time several times to stir.
Last year, three people gave my husband a tin of gingerbread cookies from World Market. My family loves gingerbread, and they love cookies, so these seemingly innocent crispy little delights soon became like crack for my family. By the time Rob brought home the third tin, I’m pretty sure he sighed “Nooooooooo….”, as he pictured losing control over his late night munchies. Between my two kids and Rob, they polished off all three tins before we left for Santa Fe for Christmas. Sometimes I feel a little deprived in my gluten free life, but after watching the addiction unfolding under my roof, I was actually thankful that trying one of these gingerbread cookies wasn’t an option for me.
I was in World Market last week, and when checking out at the register, two people came up and asked the store clerk where to find the gingerbread cookies. He pointed to no less than five places where four feet tall mountains of the tins were displayed. I decided to ask him how the gingerbread cookie sales were going this year, and I was not shocked to learn hundreds had been purchased already this Christmas season. Crack people, I’m telling you, those things are like crack.
Even though I was deprived the experience of World Market gingerbread cookies, I love to make anything with gingerbread flavor. The signature flavor of gingerbread comes from the type of sweetener used – blackstrap molasses. I LOVE blackstrap molasses – its earthy sweetness and the many nutrients that come along with such a delicious food.
While it’s true that sugar and natural sweeteners in general are not healthy to eat regularly, small amounts of sweet treats are part of life, a part that if missed out on for too long can lead to cravings and binging. Christmas is a particularly tempting time to indulge in sugary foods, but the good news is that it is a short season of the year. My personal way of approaching the sugar that comes with Christmas is to partake in small amounts, making sure to get plenty of healthy veggies and protein too, so I stay grounded and feel good while enjoying the season. And, I also substitute natural sweeteners that do a good job making desserts taste good but at the same time are gentler to my body, giving me a boost of nutrients while my taste buds enjoy.
Blackstrap molasses is a sweetener that has quite a few nutrients that are good for you. Blackstrap molasses is made during the process of refining sugar cane into white table sugar. It is the dark liquid left over after the refining process, and it contains a truckload of important energizing minerals for your body in large amounts. Molasses is known for its high iron content (it contains 20% of the daily recommended amount in just one tablespoon!). Iron is a mineral crucial for maintaining optimal energy, as it is used by your body to make hemoglobin, which is the protein in red blood cells that picks up oxygen in your lungs and carry it to all the cells in your body. Iron is also a key part of enzymes that keep your body producing energy and your metabolism revving. In addition to iron, molasses has quite a bit of calcium, which is important for muscle contraction (including your heart), nerve impulse conduction, and of course healthy bones and teeth. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to indulge and eat something sweet, I feel a whole lot better about choosing something sweetened with molasses than white sugar.
Molasses has a strong, bittersweet taste and can be substituted for other sweeteners in recipes besides gingerbread. Substituting molasses changes the taste of the recipe, as it is a much bolder, robust sweetener. Below are simple substitutions:
- 1 cup molasses for ¾ cup brown sugar
- 1 cup molasses for 1 cup corn syrup
- 1 cup molasses for 1 cup maple syrup
- 1 cup molasses for 1 cup honey
- 1 1/3 cup molasses for 1 cup white sugar
I love the aroma of gingerbread almost as much as eating it, so I made this gingerbread pudding cake in my slow cooker, so my whole house would fill with the rich smell. The cake turned out very moist, and I enjoyed it by itself and also as a topping over coconut milk ice cream.
To start, I used a standing mixer to cream together ghee and maple sugar. Ghee is clarified butter that is a casein free and lactose free alternative to butter. If you cannot tolerate ghee, try substituting coconut butter or coconut oil for the ghee. I used maple sugar, but coconut sugar also works well. Maple sugar is made from maple syrup and contains the important minerals manganese and zinc, which is needed for healthy immune function. Maple sugar is yet another natural sweetener that also gives something good to your body.
While the mixer was still on, I added two eggs and vanilla. I scraped the sides of the bowl often until the eggs and vanilla were fully incorporated into the creamed ghee and maple sugar mixture.
Next, I whisked together blackstrap molasses and water and set aside.
For the dry ingredients, I combined almond flour, unmodified potato starch (sweet potato flour works well too), baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and sea salt.
Turning on the mixer again, I alternated adding the molasses-water mixture and the dry ingredients. After the wet and dry ingredients were fully incorporated, I poured the gingerbread pudding cake batter into the greased slow cooker and set the temperature to low. Before covering the slow cooker, I sprinkled the chopped pecans over the top.
About two hours later, I tested the cake with a knife to make sure it was cooked through. I turned off the slow cooker and let it sit for about 15 minutes before scooping out a serving.
- ½ cup ghee
- ⅓ cup maple sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla
- ¾ cup blackstrap molasses
- 1½ cups water
- 1½ cups almond flour
- ½ cup unmodified potato starch
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon sea salt, to taste
- ½ cup chopped pecans
- Using a mixer, cream together ghee and maple sugar.
- Add eggs and vanilla to the mixer, and mix together with creamed ghee and maple sugar.
- In a small bowl, whisk together molasses and water. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine almond flour, potato starch, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and salt.
- Turn on the mixer, and alternate adding the wet ingredients and the dry ingredients.
- Mix together until both wet and dry ingredients are fully incorporated.
- Grease the slow cooker with coconut oil, and pour the gingerbread pudding cake batter into the slow cooker.
- Set the temperature to low, and sprinkle chopped pecans on the top before covering.
- Cook for 2 to 2½ hours.
- Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.
I have a serious chocolate addiction. The darker the better. You can imagine my delight to read David Wolfe’s book Superfoods and find that he includes raw cacao (what chocolate is made from) in his list of the ten healthiest foods on the planet. How fantastic is that? I can now feel no guilt in indulging daily.
But not all chocolate is the same. To get the full health benefits of raw cacao, it needs to be just that. Raw…unprocessed…unaltered…pure. Cacao is the richest source of magnesium you can find. Over 2/3 of the population does not get enough magnesium in their diet. Magnesium is good for your nerves and muscles, your immune system, your bones, and your heart. It helps with lots of biological processes like regulating your blood sugar and your blood pressure, and it elevates your mood. Seriously, cacao actually does improve your mood. No wonder I reach for the chocolate when I’m stressed out and hormonal.
When picking out chocolate, I choose a variety with a high percentage of cacao. The higher the percentage of cacao, the more you benefit from all of those antioxidants. The flavonoids (the dark pigments that act as powerful antioxidants) in cacao are more numerous than other rock stars you hear about like green tea, red wine, and blueberries. A diet rich in flavonoids reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Extremely dark chocolate – the kind with almost 100% cacao – is pretty bitter. I have grown to love the bitterness of cacao, even enjoying raw cacao nibs sprinkled on chia pudding and other things, but I still crave that creamy, sweet dark chocolate too. These dark chocolate avocado truffles satisfy my sweet and creamy craving as well as my love for dark chocolate, and the best part is I can make them in a jiffy.
I start with a perfectly ripe medium sized avocado. I cut it in half, remove the pit, and mash it in a small bowl.
Next, I melt the dark chocolate chips in the microwave for about two minutes, stopping after one minute to stir. I chose Sunspire Organic Fair Trade dark chocolate chips because they are gluten, dairy, and soy free.
I combine the melted dark chocolate with the mashed avocado and then add a few droppers full of liquid stevia, raw cacao powder, and a little bit of vanilla. Stevia is a zero calorie sweetener that is actually an herb which contains antioxidants and works to cleanse the pancreas and regulate blood sugar. I avoid buying stevia blends like Truvia, Stevia in the Raw, and Purevia because they are processed and contain other additives like dextrose, maltodextrose, erythritol, and rebianna. I buy Sweet Leaf liquid stevia because it is pure and the least processed. Plus, it comes in a liquid version that is free of inulin (an irritant to some) and combines better with other ingredients.
I refrigerate the chocolate mixture for about thirty minutes, so it is easier to mold into balls. Then, I use a small spoon to scoop one chunk at a time into my hands and shape it into a ball. Lastly, I roll the dark chocolate balls in raw cacao powder. These dark chocolate avocado truffles turned out fantastic. Rich and decadent for those who love chocolate as much as I do.
- 1 medium ripe avocado
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips
- 3 tablespoons raw cacao powder, split
- 3 droppers full of liquid stevia
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla
- Mash the avocado in a small bowl.
- Melt the chocolate chips for two minutes in the microwave, stopping after one minute to stir.
- Combine the melted chocolate with the mashed avocado, and add one and a half tablespoons of the raw cacao powder, stevia, and vanilla, mixing together until smooth.
- Refrigerate the chocolate mixture for thirty minutes.
- Using a small spoon, scoop chunks of the chocolate mixture into your hands and form into balls.
- Roll the balls of chocolate in one and a half tablespoons of the raw cacao powder. Makes 12 – 15 truffles.
- Store in the refrigerator for a firm truffle or on the counter for a softer truffle.
The holidays are upon us. Thanksgiving is next week! Even though I love this magical time of year, I can’t help but feel my anxiety level rise as my to-do list grows. And when my anxiety increases, my sleep decreases. For whatever reason, my body likes to deal with anxiety at night in the form of insomnia.
Until several years ago, I have not been a good sleeper. I have been tortured with insomnia on and off my whole life. And torture is a pretty accurate word to use when it’s 2am in the middle of your umpteenth sleepless night, and your mind is still on that hamster wheel. I used to describe the feeling in my brain as having a light switch on that I just couldn’t flip off. Insomnia is MISERABLE!
About ten years ago, when I was also going through the worst of my years of sickness, I was driven into such a craze from yet another night of no sleep, that I decided I needed a little help in the form of a pill to get some relief. My doctor did not immediately jump to Ambien (which is what I was hoping he’d prescribe me for a quick fix) but instead looked for the source of my night time wired mind. He explained that when a person is experiencing anxiety, it is common to motor through your day pretty unaffected and coping just fine, but the second your head hits the pillow, that switch in your mind flips on and your body deals with the anxiety at night. I left his office without a prescription for Ambien and instead began a three year relationship with Lexapro, a serotonin re-uptake drug. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in your brain that promotes a good mood and relaxation.
At first, I was so happy to be sleeping like a baby, that I was perfectly content taking my one little “sanity” pill each day. But after I had several months of better than average sleep under my belt, I was thinking a whole lot more clearly and became much less enthused about my magic fix. I loved how Lexapro took away any anxiety and insomnia I had been experiencing, but that’s not all it took away. I had no feelings. I had to force myself to do what I had previously been motivated to do during my days. I would be perfectly content sitting on the couch watching life happen around me with no care in the world. I didn’t like the feeling of not caring and not having an emotional attachment to pretty much anything. And then there’s the weight gain. I felt puffy and carried around an extra five pounds the three years the drug was in my system.
I made the decision to stop taking Lexapro after less than a year of starting it. Then began my two year yo-yo experience, as I tried to wean from myself from it. I began to research natural ways to boost my serotonin level because I believed that the cause of my chronic anxiety and insomnia was a chemical problem within my brain. I found that the body makes serotonin using the amino acid tryptophan. Eating a well balanced diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, eggs, fish, and meat is the best way to ensure I’m getting enough tryptophan. But some people can still come up short and need a little boost. I decided to supplement with additional tryptophan. Except I didn’t start with tryptophan, I started with something called 5-HTP, which is what the body converts tryptophan into before making serotonin. I started off very slowly and worked up to several capsules per day until I started to feel relief. I was able to ditch Lexapro for good with the help of 5-HTP.
But to be honest, I wasn’t completely satisfied with my sleep. I still lay in bed awake for at least an hour trying to shut off my overactive mind. I went back to researching and even met with a holistic specialist who suggested I try L-tryptophan instead of 5-HTP because it works better for some people. And guess what, I was one of those people. For the last several years, I have experienced amazing sleep. I feel like a new person!!
A few other supplements that have also helped improve my sleep are GABA, melatonin, and liquid calcium and magnesium. GABA is also a neurotransmitter in your brain that calms you down for sleep at night. I’ve found that GABA wipes out my anxiety, so my mind can turn off. Melatonin is a hormone that helps you fall and stay asleep through the night. Magnesium is also needed for your body to relax, and because magnesium and calcium need to be taken together for both to absorb properly, I take a liquid calcium and magnesium supplement by Bluebonnet each night. I have found all three of these supplements have further helped improve my sleep quality, especially during stressful or hormonal times when I’m prone to anxiety.
The holidays are a busy and crazy time of year. If you aren’t sleeping well or are suffering from anxiety or insomnia, don’t let that sabotage the merriment and celebration of the season. I encourage you to ask your doctor or other professional about these natural supplements that have helped me sleep.
My favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is the side dishes. I plan to make this bacon and butternut squash “risotto” for my family this year.
I am open to any shortcuts I can find to save myself a little time in the kitchen on Thanksgiving. To make this side dish, I bought my butternut squash pre-chopped. I have found organic pre-chopped butternut squash at both Costco and Whole Foods. If you prefer to chop your own, here is a great tutorial on how to do it.
Next, I “riced” the cauliflower by putting the florets in my food processor and pulsing until they are pieces the size of rice. A head of cauliflower yields quite a few florets, so I processed several batches before finishing the entire head. Here is another method to “rice” cauliflower. I also diced a couple stalks of celery and about a fourth of a purple onion and set them aside.
I then chopped five pieces of uncured bacon and cooked them in a large pan over medium-high heat for about five minutes.
Next, I added the diced celery and onion and a half teaspoon of both salt and pepper to the pan and cooked it for another five minutes.
I added the butternut squash to the pan and cooked it for about seven minutes or until the cubes of squash became tender.
I added the “riced” cauliflower to the pan and cooked it for another seven minutes. And lastly, I stirred in chopped sage, pine nuts, and a little ghee for additional flavor. Ghee is clarified butter that is a casein-free and lactose-free substitute for butter.
- 1 butternut squash
- 1 head cauliflower
- 2 stalks celery
- ¼ purple onion
- 5 pieces of bacon
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- handful of chopped fresh sage
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- Peel and cut up the butternut squash, or buy it pre-chopped. Set aside.
- “Rice” the cauliflower in a food processor and set aside.
- Dice the celery and onion and set aside.
- Cut up the bacon, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes in a large pan.
- Add the celery, onion, salt and pepper to the pan, and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Add the butternut squash to the pan, and cook for 7 more minutes or until the squash is tender.
- Add the “riced” cauliflower to the pan, and cook for 7 more minutes.
- Stir in the the sage, pine nuts, and ghee.
- Serve warm.