Monday, October 30, 2017

What do you crave, salty, sweet… or both?

As daylight gets shorter and temperatures get colder, we tend to hibernate inside, huddled under a blanket, reading a good book or binge-watching Netflix. What better way to enjoy that than with some fresh baked vegan brownies or a bag of Kettle chips to much on? While that may be part of our comfort food routine, the salty-sweet seesaw can become an endless cycle that is never fully satisfied, and we may not realize that it’s making us sick.

Cravings are a sign of imbalance, or what is known as “dysbiosis” from a holistic health perspective. It is a term for a microbial imbalance or maladaptation on or inside the body, specifically the gastrointestinal tract.  

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “microbiome,” which is the community of microorganisms which reside in our bodies that help keep our immune systems functioning efficiently.  When the “good bacteria” is flourishing, our digestion is strong and we’re able to absorb vitamins and minerals for optional health. However, when there is a proliferation of “bad bacteria,” our health can be compromised.

Symptoms of dysbiosis may include food cravings as well as gas, bloating, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, sinus congestion, and a myriad other responses essentially due to inflammation throughout the body. 

Why does this happen? This condition can be caused by poor diet, such as eating overly sweet and salty processed foods or food sensitivities and intolerances to such foods as wheat, soy, and corn, and flareups can be triggered by stress, lack of sleep, and overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs which weaken the gut lining.

How can we stop it?  A comprehensive health history analysis is essential to pinpoint the exact cause, since every body is different. However, everyone can benefit by eating more whole foods, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables which are anti-inflammatory and high in anti-oxidants. 

Balancing salty and sweet with sour and bitter is also important. Try adding dark leafy greens and spices like turmeric and ginger to your diet. In addition, consider your beverage of choice filtered water with a squeeze of lemon. To aid in digestion, try drinking mint or ginger tea and take bitters with each meal. These little tweaks can make a big difference in your overall health and wellbeing.

For a comprehensive list of strategies for killing cravings and treating the underlying causes of dysbiosis, contact me for a free consultation.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Soup Making 101

I had a great time making a variety of vegan soups this afternoon for my "Soup Making 101" class. Thank you to all who attended and to Kat Dargan for assisting! We enjoyed lots of warm and yummy comfort food.

- Japanese Miso Soup with Immune Boosting Aromatic Herb Broth
- Rootsy Chowder with Toasted Spiced Pepitas
- Lemony Lentils with Collard Greens and Horseradish Dijon Crema

We started with some hands-on miso mixing which one of the attendees described as "meditative." Indeed. It's a nice way to relax before eating a meal.  I steeped some lemon balm, oregano, and thyme in the broth during the last minute to infuse essential oils that help boost the immune system.  

We also enjoyed layers of flavor from the lemony lentil soup that was topped with a horseradish Dijon crema. This added a creaminess when stirred into the soup. Everyone really enjoyed this combination.

Finally, we closed our meal with a root vegetable chowder made with carrot, parsnip, turnip, yam, potato, and onion. Root vegetables help "root" us and provide strength for the cold season ahead.  This delicious soup was topped with toasted spiced pipits for an added layer of taste and texture.

Everyone had a great time tasting delicious and healthy vegan food, observing the process, and enjoying the company of new friends.  I love getting feedback like this! 

"What amazing food... everything was perfect. My only comment is Bravo!"
"The education along with the prep tips make me think I can do this healthfully."
"The miso soup warmed my chest. Excellent presentation!"
"Lots of chopping to do, but I liked your easier methods."
"I loved the food!!! And seeing it prepared from start to finish." 
"I loved the hands-on experience and seeing different ways of preparing everyday foods." 
"It was delicious. Please do more!"

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Seed Saving 101

How is your garden growing? If yours is anything like mine, you're thinking about saying goodbye to summer and beginning to plan ahead to next year's garden.  On the top of my list is saving seeds.

I've had a good run with several varieties of heirloom tomatoes, string beans, peppers, squash, and greens, and I'm already looking forward to starting them again in the spring. So I've been saving seeds.

Let the plants mature, then collect good sized fruits of tomatoes, squash, and peppers. Tomatoes and squash need to be thoroughly rinsed and dried before storing, while pepper seeds can easily be set out on a paper towel to dry.


The pods of string beans will swell up, turn brown, and begin to crack open when they're ready for harvesting. Mustard greens go to flower, then form pods which dry out and release tiny round seeds. The same is true of other greens such as lettuce and arugula.

In just a few minutes over the course of a few days, you will have seeds ready for planting next spring. Imagine how fun it will be to harvest free food all summer!  

You can learn more tips on saving seeds from Seed Savers Exchange.  

Sunday, August 27, 2017

New England Women's Herb Conference

This weekend I was fortunate to be able to attenan herb conference with experts in the field of ethnobotany and plant medicine. This was the 30th annual New England Women's Herb Conference held at a camp in beautiful Hebron, NH.

Each year, for the past 30 years the New England Women’s Herbal Conference has brought together women, herbalists, healers, and plant lovers to share their wisdom of the herbs and natural healing. Though the emphasis is on women’s health, healing, and well being, the WHC is also a joyful celebration of women spirit and women’s wisdom, as well as a special time to honor Mother Nature.

In one workshop on flower essences, we learned the energetic properties of some native flowers, including this lovely borage flower. It's easily grown as an annual in New England, and its bright blue flowers make a pretty edible garnish on salads.

Its properties are strength during times of stress, particularly with major life change. That's why borage is known as the courage flower. So plant it in your garden for strength and resilience, and eat some when you need that little boost to move forward in your life.

The founder of the conference, Rosemary Gladstar, led an herb walk across campus where we learned plant stories about native species such as Dandelion, Self-heal, Japanese Knotweed, Goldenrod, Plantain, Lamb's Quarters, Phlox, Jewelweed, White Pine, Elderberry, and a hidden clump of Indian Pipe.

Deb Soule also led a fantastic workshop on designing a Sanctuary Garden: one that is a sanctuary for birds, beneficial insects, pollinators, and people. She runs the wonderful herbal apothecary Avena Botanicals in Rockport, ME. It was a true pleasure to hear her share her plant wisdom with us, including these lovely messages from Native American plant healers.

This was such a wonderful experience and I gained such a wealth of knowledge about the plant kingdom. I look forward to sharing it with students in my vegan cooking classes and presentations.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Backyard weed walk

Daylily, Mint, and Lemon Balm

Our backyards are filled with wild plants that can be consumed for food and medicine.  A common Cherokee belief is that when we respect the plants, they will give us medicine to cure any illness. By observing and understanding plants, we reconnect with Mother Nature and our body’s natural ability to heal. This is also how we empower ourselves and resist oppression. 

Purple and Holy Basil "The King" of Herbs

This weekend I held a weed walk in my backyard.  While it's a relatively small space - just a quarter acre - it's amazing to discover the wide variety of plants growing there.  

The weed walk included hands-on instruction in plant identification, habitat analysis, medicinal properties, and folklore of over 25 common plants found in the suburban landscape.  I shared what I've learned over the past 20 years as a gardener, forager, and herb enthusiast, learning from such luminaries as Widman Steve Brill, David Winston, Jim McDonald, and Rosemary Gladstar. 

We followed the walk by sipping some mint and lemon balm sun tea and munching on fresh snow peas from my garden dipped in an oregano and garlic scape pesto. 

Snow Peas with Oregano and Garlic Scape Pesto

I love these words of inspiration from Michigan herbalist, Jim McDonald, about his first forays into wild plant foraging:
"In 1994, while living in an old, overgrown farmhouse in Okemos, Michigan, I discovered a tattered, purple herb book, left out haphazardly on the kitchen counter by one of my roommates. I began flipping through the book, and within a few weeks had begun foraging through the abundant weeds that covered the property and brewing them into strange tasting teas. Till then, I had little interest in either herbs or health, and so my sudden and growing passion with them was perhaps unusual. In hindsight, I think something in those first sips of strange tea woke in me my passion for plants and their medicine. From those first curious experiences, my hunger to both learn from and serve my green friends has been without end."
My experience began in a similarly innocuous way in 1995 when I was visiting my in-laws and began flipping through the pages of Culpeper's Color Herbal sitting on their coffee table. The book was filled with beautiful color illustrations of plants I had never before taken the time to notice, and I was fascinated by the historical context that extended hundreds, even thousands, of years, and included medicinal properties, food and nutrition information, and folklore. My eyes were opened, and I began to notice these incredible living things everywhere. 

Feverfew growing in abundance on my brick patio

I recommend going on a weed walk whenever you can -- in your own yard, in a field, or deep in the woods. Identify what you know, learn the basic properties, ignite your passion for plants, and share your knowledge with others. Connecting with the wisdom of plants develops our bond with Mother Nature and establishes a pact of protection. If we honor and respect her gifts, use them wisely, and reciprocate with environmental practices that nurture the ecosystem, we can have what Robin Wall Kimmerer calls an "honorable harvest," a truly sustainable environment that supports us all.  

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea)

Garlic Scapes

Plantain (Plantago Major) also known as "White Man's Footprint"

Catnip (Nepeta Cataria) and Lavender (Lavendula Agustafloria)

Tofu with Garlic Scape Pesto

Minto, Cilantro, and Thai Basil Coconut Curry 

Fresh Mesclun Green Salad with Garlic Scape Vinaigrette

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Recipe: World Peas Salad

This is the kind of recipe you'll want to make all summer because it's colorful, refreshing, and most importantly, does not require any cooking. We've been in the midst of our second heat wave here in Connecticut and it's just the first week of summer.  It's been a blessing to indulge in this dish and not have to heat up my kitchen in the process.

I once catered a bridal shower where one of the guests was telling me about a family favorite recipe called “Carolina Caviar” (also known as “Cowboy Caviar”), which she enjoyed when growing up in the south.  It's made with black-eyed peas, a southern staple because it's easy to grow and is a low-cost source of protein. In fact, the other common name for them is "cow peas" because they're often a thrifty feed for cows.  They originate from Northern Africa, so I decided to reclaim their heritage with this recipe and spread the message of world peas/peace in the process.

You can see me demonstrate how to make this quick and easy recipe on my recent cooking segment for WWLP-TV's "Mass Appeal" program. The recipe follows below. 

World Peas Salad
(serves 4-6)

Salad Ingredients
1 15 oz. can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup sweet red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 cup green bell pepper, finely diced
1 tbsp jalapeno, finely diced 
10 oz. frozen yellow corn, drained and thawed
2–3 scallions, finely sliced
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 of a 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes

Dressing Ingredients
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp agave syrup
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sea salt
a few splashes of hot sauce

Combine all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients.  Combine dressing with the salad ingredients, season with salt and hot sauce, then refrigerate at least a half an hour before serving.  Garnish with fresh chopped scallions and edible flowers.