Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring into Clean (sans Chemicals!)

What is around you, is in you. So, look around. What products are around you? Toothpaste full of dyes, chemicals, fillers, flavoring agents, foaming agents, and preservatives? What is in your makeup bag? In your pantry? Your closet? Your fridge? This spring, take small steps to live a cleaner, greener, more natural lifestyle. In this blog entry, I'll offer a few ways to help.

First, don't overwhelm yourself. Pick one category of things to go through, to clean out, to replace with healthier natural products. What are you ready to commit to? Are you ready to green-ify your hygiene routine? Maybe your laundry could use a natural spruce-up? Last year, I went through all my makeup and traded in everything for natural products.....yes, nail polish included. This year I went through my hygiene routine again and improved all my favorite beauty care recipes, some of which I will share with you in this entry. There are different levels of readiness so don't be hard on yourself for not being eager to immediately jump into the water without spending some time wading in the pool first. We are all willing to give up certain things, but don't push yourself too far outside your comfort zone; too much at once can feel overwhelming and often leads to failure. There are different hues of readiness and even some things you may not be willing to give up. That is ok. Embrace your choices, be human, and do the best you can.

If you're willing to peel back the mirrored face of your medicine cabinet and sift through your new, old, and mostly forgotten products, and to replace some with healthier counterparts, check out my review of a few reliable and amazing products below!

For lotion, I use organic, unprocessed, extra virgin coconut oil that can be bought HEREDid you know that what goes onto your skin becomes absorbed into your bloodstream? What goes on the outside ends up on the inside. So, I use only edible and organic products on my body that offer my skin, hair, and nails nutrition rather than chemicals. Extra virgin coconut oil helps minimize the appearance of scars, stretch marks, and it nourishes the skin by supplying vitamin E and omega 3s as well as other antioxidants and polyphenols! It keeps your skin smooth, radiant, and since it is 100% absorbable by the skin, it does not leave an oily film. It nourishes without being slippery, shiny, or greasy. I use it on my face as well and the ends of my hair to prevent the formation of split ends, which occur in dry, overly processed, and damaged hair.

When I don't make my own soap (a labor of love.....but certainly a labor!), I buy soaps that contain high-quality ingredients, natural scents, and no artificial anything. Some great brands are:
Dr. Bronner's South of FrancePangea Organics, and Wild Natural Beauty  soap. All of these brands offer organic ingredients, are chemical-free, use pure essential oils, produce high-quality soap bars that last a very long time, and are hypoallergenic.

Shampoo and Conditioner
What about shampoo? Conditioner? After searching for the best, most pure, simple, and natural shampoo and conditioner out there, I finally found them. The best I have ever used is a small brand whose products are made right here in NYC called Earthly Delight. The only place I have ever been able to find this amazing brand is in NY-state Whole Foods. The shampoo and conditioner boast natural ingredients such as: wheat germ, nettles, avocado oil, and rosemary. Anywhere else in the country where this brand might be difficult to impossible to track down, I always rely on Aubrey Organics, whose lines of shampoo and conditioner have never disappointed me. They are a cruelty-free company who uses certified organic ingredients, vegan raw materials, and never include anything synthetic or paraben-based in any of their products. Their Green Tea Shampoo, Green Tea Conditioner, Henna Shampoo, and Henna Conditioner can be found at any local health food store and  sometimes even at expansive regular grocery stores. Natural shampoo, conditioner, and soaps have no fillers and empty ingredients in them, rendering the products very effective, gentle, but concentrated, so remember the succinct saying,  "a little goes a long way," when using natural products (which hopefully is every day!).

Liquid Soap and All-Purpose House Cleaner
For liquid soap and dish soap, even laundry detergent, carpet cleaner, and soapy sudsy bath scent, you cannot find a better or more versatile product than Dr. Bronner's Liquid Soap. With 18 uses and one concentrated bottle with scents like rose, eucalyptus, and citrus, you can celebrate saving all your money by splurging on some really comfortable organic cotton pajamas that utilize cotton grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides and made without the use of synthetic dyes and materials.

At the top of the charts for natural toothpaste is Auromere Toothpaste. They offer many flavors such as cardamoom-fennel, fresh mint, and licorice. Auromere's toothpaste is pure goodness. They are a little more expensive but their product is very concentrated and will normally last me almost an entire year! They use absolutely no fillers; only the best natural ingredients to protect your teeth and gums. These kinds of toothpastes, however, take a little time to get used to. They foam less (foaming is an experience the hygiene companies created for human pleasure, it actually does not denote cleanliness at all. Foaming agents are usually a chemical called sodium lauryl sulfate). Natural toothpastes also have a slightly different mouthfeel, the product feeling a bit heavier (ie more concentrated), and having less of a smooth jelly texture and more of a paste texture. The earthy color of natural toothpastes can also shock you at first, which is ironic considering the neon hues of modern branded toothpaste. With ingredients like: Fine Chalk (it absorbs chemicals and toxins, whitens, and is gentle yet abrasive enough to thoroughly scrub teeth), neem oilpeelu, rose apple, clove, Indian licorice root, sarsaparilla, and cardamom oil instead of the list of ingredients in conventional toothpaste, which includes a plethora of chemicals: sodium lauryl sulfate (also used as an engine degreaser), sodium fluoride (toxic when ingested and the chemical used in roach and rat killer, used as nerve gas, and used by the Nazis to sterilize women), FD&C Blue #1 (which causes allergic reactions, hyperactivity, and is banned in almost all of Europe), and the allergen, Dioxin-precursor, and endocrine disruptor Triclosan. Why ingest chemicals, synthetic additives....engine degreaser? There are many brands out there that offer extraordinary natural toothpaste are some other wonderful products:
Tom's of Maine Fluoride-Free toothpaste

Peelu Toothpaste

Desert Essence Tea Tree Toothpaste

Jason Mint-Cinnamon Fluoride-Free toothpaste
and one of my all-time favorites: Nature's Gate Creme de Menthe all-natural toothpaste

That was a lot of information to digest. So, take some time, relax, mull over this article, and replace a few things at a time. Baby steps! For those of you interested in  making your own homemade toothpaste, facial moisturizer, hair detangler and shine-enhancing spray, emollient facial scrub, and body scrub, be sure to check out the next blog entry this week which will be a lesson on homemade beauty and hygiene care products. The compete recipes and pictures will also be archived on the website under "INEDIBLES" in the RECIPE tab so you can enjoy making these same products year after year.

Happy spring cleaning!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Natural Winter Remedies and Rethinking the Context of Illness

It has come to my attention lately that the military-industrial complex is one of America's largest monetary expenditures. If people mimic their environment and doubly create an environment to mirror their internal landscape, then America's inflated and superfluous expense on war and our "national security" must resonate within most Americans as well. This analogy brings us to this blog installment's topic: Rethinking the Context of Illness. We load up our steel-barred shopping carts with all sorts of weapons that, since birth, we are conditioned to think of as necessary and healing, from Robitussin to Halls to Tylenol and even antibiotics. How much of what we believe in when it comes to the vein of medicine is actually a product of our own analytic mind, our own personal opinions, and how much of what we believe in is out of conditioning, ignorance, comfort, tradition, and even fear? How much of what we think we know do we actually know? And even further than that, how much of what we think we know is corroborated by objective evidence and works with our bodies instead of against them? We have an entire medical field full of intelligent life and wisdom within us, why not use it?


To understand illness and healing, we must first understand what illness is. Simply, it is a messenger sent by the body to inform your mind of imbalance.

Let's all pretend to be as excited about this topic as I am and consider some of the reasons your body will want to send you a message:

Have you been unhappy at work/in a relationship lately?
Have you been too hard on your self or overworking your self?
Have you avoided a situation or the emotions of an event such as a death in the family, a breakup, etc?
Have you ever experienced a serious emotional/psychological/physical trauma and have been repressing      
        the feelings of that for a long time?
Are you in a difficult financial spot that is causing a lot of stress?
Have finances and/or time constraints lately led you to ignoring your self, your personal happiness, and
        your health?
Have you been eating poorly and not exercising?
Have you been depressed or inside often, rarely socializing or getting out?
Have you physically hurt yourself lately and ignored the pain, going on with life as usual?

There are so many reasons why one's body sets off alarms, ranging from emotional reasons to physical or psychological and even to biological. You are the most qualified person to know your body, so trust thyself! You are a physician, we are all physicians, with enough information at our disposal to understand ourselves, to take the time to heal, and to enjoy abundant health. How can we as people expect to help, care for, and heal others when we can not first heal ourselves? A great quote to follow is from Luke 4:23: "Physician, heal thyself." We are all our own caretakers. Your body is a wonderful body that wants to be joyful, healthy, clean, and alive. You have the ability to heal yourself. Trust in yourself!


Illness is the messenger your body sends to say "Captain, something is wrong here." Illness arrives when our internal landscape mirrors something like the game of minesweeper instead of one of those quintessential "peaceful landscape" photos that come as the default wallpaper to all new computers. Let's think about illness and health as a set of scales. One side of the scale is order, quiet, scarcity, minimalism, coldness, hardness, implosion, logic, thought, and cleanliness. The other side is chaos (not to be taken negatively), loudness, energy, explosion, indulgence, color, brightness, creativity, emotion, busy-ness, and warmth. This is essentially the whittled-down and American version of most concepts of medicine, illness, and healing in Asia: the Yin and the Yang. For simplicity purposes here, we will stick to the flawed but workable headings of Implosion and Explosion (also, Order and Chaos, respectively). At all times, we need to have a balance of the two. In meals, in our social experiences, with color, with love, with travel. When these two forced become tipped, our body is out of homeostasis, and our bodies strive very hard to reach this point, so, let's reward them, what do you say?

So, illness=imbalance. Our minds, emotions, and bodies are all connected. Have you heard the phrase, "You're going to worry yourself sick!" Well, there is a lot of veracity embedded in that statement. We have grown up in a society and a system that perpetuates the idea that the mind and body are separate and that emotions are something to be conquered. Emotions are our guidance systems, they help direct us , support us, and help us to engage in actions that help build our spirit, not tear it down. Emotions and thoughts influence the body, and thus can influence health. Doubtful? Check out THIS BOOK by Dr. Candace Pert, the woman who first discovered the opiate receptors in the brain and later found that neuropeptides (the molecules that neurons use to communicate with one another.....basically what allows you to think and your body to communicate with itself) were found all throughout the body, not only in our brains. This means that our thoughts affect our organs, our skin, our muscles, everything, just as much as a drug, sugar, or caffeine. Your entire body has the ability to think, to feel, to change and communicate. Illness can arise from imbalances caused by the environment, a relationship, negative thoughts, emotions, everything. So, when you first become ill, ask yourself what your body is trying to tell you. For example, I become ill every single Christmas without fail. I stress out about not having enough money to give people the gifts they deserve, then I beat myself up for it and I begin to feel inferior and surround myself with negative emotions. I begin to ignore my health because my self-esteem is hurt, and I stay up all night right before Christmas trying to make something meaningful and beautiful for the people I love. Then, I still feel like I cannot give them what I want to get them, what they deserve. So, my body reacts, and I become sick. I am forced to be calm, quiet, to heat well, to sleep, to relax, to forgive myself and love myself. Becoming sick is sometimes the best thing that could have happened. It reminds me to be loving and to take care of myself. Your illness is a message, is a gift. Respect it, understand it, and try to learn from it to prevent the imbalances from occurring again in the future. Maintain homeostasis with moderation, the middle path, and understanding. As Dr. Christiane Northrup says in Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom: "For healing to occur, we must come to see that we are not so much responsible for our illnesses as responsible to them." 

A few natural winter remedies for you to enjoy while wrapped up in a blanket, taking time for yourself, and enjoying health:

A couple of cinnamon sticks boiled for 20 minutes in filtered water along with cloves and honey. Cloves are a natural pain killer, so if you are having toothaches, mouths sores, or a sore throat, soothe yourself with clove and cinnamon! Cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar levels, warms the body, and helps increase blood flow. 

 Sore throat recipe: a 2-inch knob of fresh ginger, sliced, and simmered in filtered water for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, pour ginger infusion into a mug, add some raw and/or local honey and juice from a wedge of organic lemon. The ginger also helps stimulate blood flow, ease the stomach, warm the body, and fight infection. Lemon cleans and purifies and can help return mucus glands back to normal production. And, honey in small amounts boosts the immune system, provides energy, and provides valuable enzymes in addition to soothing the body medicinally.
Apple Cider Vinegar. AKA The Miracle Cure. Is there anything ACV cannot treat? For great health in the winter months, drink a tablespoon of ACV in a glass of water upon rising. To help digestion, take a small tablespoon shot of ACV twenty minutes before eating, this stimulates enzyme production. ACV also helps break down food when eaten with food, say, in a salad dressing. It also soothes the throat when served hot with honey, it makes hair shiny when applied via a spritzer bottle after bathing, and ACV is an all-natural facial astringent when diluted with water 1:3. ACV helps brighten complexion, slough off old, dead cells, and helps restore the skin's natural PH to help prevent breakouts, overly-oily, or overly-dry skin! ACV also alkalinizes the body, which helps prevent disease and provide energy, and it provides powerful probiotics! 

A delicious mix of cinnamon, aged cloves, and black peppercorns for mulling with cider for a healthy winter drink. These spices which are heavy in natural oils, are also antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial......a great mix for cleaning the house naturally.

As a close to this much, much belated blog entry, I want to apologize for the sporadic nature of my posts recently. I have been in the middle of a huge life change! Just this week I moved to Manhattan where my business partner and I are in the infant stages of opening our own organic, handmade, vegan chocolates bar coupled with a cocktail bar where all the luscious drinks are made from NY-state-made alcohol and NY-state-grown and freshly-pressed fruit! I will absolutely keep you all posted on this journey, thank you all for the support and the patience thus far!

Also coming this week are a few great meals: white bean cassoulet with roasted red peppers and olive oil, no-dairy mashed potatoes, caramelized onion gravy, and roasted cauliflower! And another surprise dish, a delicious local bluefish dinner, NYC restaurant reviews, and the "Are you getting enough water? Do you hate the taste/tastlessness of water? Here are some great drink ideas to help you drink more water, flush fat, detoxify, and get beautiful and feelin' great!" talk....I know, you can hardly even stand it. The suspense! For now, thank you all again for all the patience and for hanging onto this blog even though I have been neglecting an entry for quite some time now. Now go, be free, be healthy, and try to maintain that balance!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Feasting and Fasting: The Virtues of Greens (and sweet potato gnocchi!)

I hope you all thoroughly enjoyed the holidays, found space for all of your shiny new toys, and are ready to jump off the feasting train. We'll step off slowly, don't worry. Easing into the spirit of the new year, let's align the focus of our minds and hearts with the focus of our bodies toward better health! In this blog installation (after much ado), we're going to explore the detoxifying abilities of greens, why chlorophyll helps your body to utilize nutrients, helps breathing and healing, and a delicious and easy sweet potato gnocchi recipe!

Why Clean with Green? 

After gorging on less-than-nutritous food all holiday season (as I have!), a lot of those foods have less than satisfactory effects. Too much processed high fructose sugar can actually tax your liver even more than the same amount of ethanol sugar--alcohol. That's right, sugar can also be a weapon against the body. Not to mention sugar lowering the effectiveness of one's immune system, causing the formation of cavities, and increasing the uric acid levels in the blood (high uric acid levels is the cause for gout and many other problems). Dairy can also increase uric acid levels int he blood, increase the production of mucus, and if inorganic, attack the body with an onslaught of hormones, antibiotics, and the types of fats that are too present in our modern diet, causing weight gain, acne, brittle hair, nails, and bones, and a sluggish metabolism.

I know, I know. Your new years resolution is now going to be to stop reading this blog because I keep threatening you with all of these ailments. BUT before you add me to your "blocked sites" list, know that buried deep in the epicenter of our guilt and fear of eating unhealthy foods, there is a great glimmer of hope: greens!! Think of it like Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. The big "fix-all." That magical place of instant health, understanding, and forgiveness. I may not be able to promise magic teleportation shoes, a heart, or courage, I can absolutely do my best to lay down the path for you to reach optimum health and happiness (munchkin kids not included).

Step 1: Don't be afraid of failure. Try the dating scene. Get to know a few greens at your local store, co-op, farm, or farmer's market. Here are some great options, each suited for a different intention. To make it easy, I'll categorize the greens by the intentionality of their use.

SALAD GREENS: Spinach, frisee, Belgian Endive, red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, parsley, cabbage sliced thin, romaine lettuce, mizuna, baby arugula, spring mix.

GREENS BETTER SUITED FOR COOKING: Spinach, escarole, swiss chard, red and green cabbage, lacinato (also called Dinosaur) kale, curly kale, collard greens, turnip greens, mature arugula, beet root tops, tough mizuna.

Step 2: After playing the field, have found some potential mates, then, be open. Test 'em out. Try one new green a week in a few different recipes. Become acquainted with its taste, its texture, its cooking time. Getting to know the taste of a green can help you understand its best purpose, ie, how to serve it. For example, arugula is spicy and pungent. Using a mustard vinaigrette would not be a wise choice since it too is spicy and pungent. Like in matchmaking, we're looking for balance. Consider a sweet but not overly saccharine choice to balance out the arugula. Sweet cherry tomatoes would be very nice. Or grilled roma tomatoes with olive oil, cracked pepper, and salt, or thin-sliced asian pear, orange segments, or the classic green apple pieces. Now, you'll need some salt for balance. For you dairy-eaters, try an unpasteurized chevre, stilton, or other sweet but salty cheese. For you vegans, try another salty options, maybe just a simple olive oil, salt, pepper, and orange juice vinaigrette? Maybe some cinnamon-and-salt-toasted pecans or walnuts? This same principle of balancing goes for cooking. Making a soup that needs some extra salt but you'd like to cut down on sodium? Try a handful of chopped parsley, which adds a lot of flavor and natural saltiness to foods. To balance the parsley's astringent qualities, you may need some sweetness. Tomato would work very well. Or a sweet bean like black-eyed-peas. Yum. Then a little tart, some fresh lemon juice to brighten it up. In the case of the tomato in soup, it provides both the tart and the sweetness to balance parsley. Then add some garlic, maybe some white beans, great northern beans, or butter beans, some escarole, chopped kale, or spinach and some chopped garlic finished with a swig of olive oil on top and a glass of red wine and you've got yourself a delicious and balanced soup with greens!

Step 3: Research. Think of this like the background check period. Get to know your greens' friends. Parsley and tomato spend a lot of time together.....escarole and kale love to mingle with olive oil and soft, buttery white beans. Frisee is a friend of the goat cheese+grilled fruit (such as peach, plum, or apple) combo, and spinach is the universal friend, cooked, raw, in soup, salad, on eggs, creamed, any way, spinach is the easy-going guy or gal. Look up pictures of greens so you aren't completely overwhelmed at the market or store with all these new foods and their missing labels in the produce aisle. Look up some traditional recipes from the area of origin of your green. Get to know its flavor profile and how it has been used throughout history. Let the knowledge of past cooks inform your choices and know-how now. Getting to know a new foods helps you to be able to use it well, releases fear or anxiety, and is fun......broaden those horizons! Become a vast source of knowledge and experience!

Step 4: After you've found your favorite greens, the honeymoon phase may begin to melt away and you may be searching for, well, a little more. Nothing to be ashamed of, greens monogamy is quite the boring game out there with so many options and combinations available. Always try new recipes, new ingredients....this will keep your interest so that eating well is always a new and enjoyable experience. So much diet failure comes from setting up a strict monotonous routine with the same few recipes again and again and again! Get out of that slump, experiment! Go ahead, try a menage a trois (with greens of course! I don't want to get any emails from angry husbands and wives in the, for now, stick to the swiss chard and spring mix).

-Chlorophyll, the cells in plants that make them green, is very similar to a crucial part of human blood: hemoglobin. Chlorophyll helps build blood, stimulating the production of new cells.
-Chlorophyll also brings oxygen to your cells, it increases the amount of oxygen in your body. Eat a huge bowl of steamed greens with olive oil, toasted garlic, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar. Eat slowly, chew well. Pay attention to how much larger your breaths are 30 minutes after eating if you chewed well. Chlorophyll is great for athletes, busy people, those looking to lose weight, and those wishing to have more energy. It floods the body with oxygen, bringing nutrients and energy to cells, cleaning the blood, cleaning the arteries and veins, increasing brain function by feeding the brain a lot of oxygen, and in combination with water, helps flush fat out of the body.
-Greens require much, much less energy and water to produce than meat, thus helping stop global warming, superfluous energy spending, and the overuse of water.
-Greens are easily found locally (more so than most other foods). Don't think so? Try one of these websites to find a CSA or Farmer's market near you: HERE or HERE. From my local farmer I can get 6 heads of organically-grown collard greens (my FAVORITE green!!) all winter and fall for only $6. With each head being about the size of 3 basketballs, that is enough greens for 2 people for 2 weeks......for $6!!!!! Can't beat that! 
-Greens promote healthy teeth by cleaning as you chew. AND get even helps reverse signs of aging in the face. Developing strong jaw muscle and chewing food very well is like exercise for the face. It increases blood flow to the face, allowing skin to look younger and fresher, it tightens up sagging skin, promotes collagen production, which helps fill in wrinkles and make skin look more taut. New slogan: "Greens, the Original Face Lift." 

For more on chlorophyll, check out my basic class on polyphenols HERE.

Now, a recipe using organic and local swiss chard, local eggs, and local sweet potatoes! This gnocchi recipe is delicious and very simple since you can make a lot ahead of time, freeze them, and boil them whenever you'd like.


  • 1 lb of sweet potatoes, or about 4 sweet potatoes....if you have extra sweet potato, no problem, make a quick mash to serve with the gnocchi! 
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a baking sheet, bake sweet potatoes in their skins, whole, for 50 minutes to an hour, until a fork easily penetrates the sweet potato and it feels like mashed potatoes on the inside. 
-When the potatoes cool enough to touch, but are still very warm, peel off their skins and eat! Or feed your dog, or compost! 
-Fill a big pot with water and place it on the burner to begin to heat.....we want this to reach a boil just as we begin to shape the gnocchi. 
-Mash the sweet potatoes in a big bowl. Add salt and spices and mix well. 
-Whisk in eggs and mix well. 
-One cup at a time, add in the flour, mixing very well to avoid clumps. 
-The batter should be slightly sticky....stiff-ish yet soft. 
-I usually roll the gnocchi in logs and then cut them into their shapes, which is a tiring, inconsistent, and messy process. Just last night I experienced a new way of making them which has made me jump for joy! We'll call it the bag method. 
-In a freezer ziploc bag or a large pastry bag (with a large tip attachment), fill with sweet potato mixture. -When the bag is full, create tension by twisting the end of the bag so that the bag becomes stiff and tight. Tie with a rubber band or hair tie. 
-On the end of the ziploc bag, snip off the end to allow a hole the size of a dime. 
-Ok, here's the fun part. When the water comes to a boil, squeeze out the sweet potato mix out of the bag SLOWLY over the pot of water. When the paste is coming out of the bag and reaches a length of about 3/4 inch, use a butter knife and cut down on the sweet potato mix shaped like a little cylinder. This should allow the little gnocchi to fall into the water (making sound effects at this point makes it a little more fun). 
-Don't worry about all the gnocchi pieces going into the water at different times. You'll know when they are done. When they float, they're ready.....take 'em out with a slotted spoon, being careful not to squish them. Place them on an oiled sheet or plate. They should be soft but al dente after cooking, each piece done after about 2 1/2-3 minutes. 
 **I'll make a video on how to do this this week and I'll post it on a new blog installation so you can have some visual guidance. Once you get the hang of it, it is very easy, quick, and not messy at all. 

I served mine with a sage-olive oil sauce with some carmelized onions but feel free to use another option of you'd like. 
  • One spanish onion, sliced. 
  • Grapeseed or coconut oil for sauteeing, or local butter. 
  • salt to taste and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp powdered, dried sage
  • dash of cinnamon 
-Cut one spanish onion into slices. 
-Heat up oil in a pan on medium heat. 
-Cook onions, stirring constantly once they lightly brown. They are done when soft and the color of those rip-your-teeth-out caramel squares that are omnipresent at CVS and dollar stores. 
-Once the onions are done, add the salt, pepper, sage, and dash of cinnamon. Give a quick stir, let cook for about 20 seconds, then take the pan off the heat, add in more butter or oil to give the sauce body, then add the gnocchi to mix into the sauce and to warm. 

  • Use as much swiss chard as you'd like! I used about one pound.....I love my greens!
-Fill a pot with an inch of water and place a steam basket in the pot. 
-Cut the swiss chard where the green stops and only the stem exists. The stems take longer to cook, so we'll cut them in 1/2 inch pieces so they'll finish cooking in the same time as the greens. 
-When water comes to a boil, put all swiss chard into the steam basket and steam, with the lid on, about 5 minutes on medium-high heat, until the stems are soft but still crunchy and leaves are a vivid green. 
-When done, mix in a bowl with some salt, olive oil, and a little balsamic vinegar. 

-Place a handful of swiss chard on each plate then top with a portion of the gnocchi mixed with the onions and sauce. 
-Top all with a shaving of pecorino romano or cave-aged gruyere, if preferred. 

ENJOY!!!! Here are the pictures. They demonstrate the old way of making gnocchi but I'll put up a video this week of "The Bag Method." 

Beautiful, vibrant orange yolks......can't get a color like this from the store!

Mixing the dough.....getting as messy as possible of course

Just cut, pre-cooking

Gnocchi warzone


After cooking, mingling with a light olive oil finish to prevent them from sticking together. 

Locavore's heaven

The Final Presentation

Saturday, December 11, 2010


4-Tiered Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Cream Frosting and Peach Jam

Firstly, a BIG thank you to my mom who has always been there for me with love, support, and baking advice.......and who inspired me to cook from a very young age. Her help in making this cake is incomparable and she made it such a fun amazing day!

You heard that title correctly...... 4-Layer Chocolate Cake! Let me start out by justifying my actions with the bold statement that, in moderation, chocolate is healthy. That doesn't mean you'll live to be a hundred if you double up on your Snickers bar intake or that you'll lose weight, feel wonderful, and lose those wrinkles with a few extra bags of M& does mean that occasional high-quality dark chocolate indulgences can actually help increase the antioxidant power within your body, can help lower stress and blood pressure, elevate mood, relax muscles, and increase brain function. High-quality dark chocolate offers a host of benefits: omega-3s, magnesium, phenethylamine (PEA), and theobromine.

Chocolate comes from a large tropical fruit called theobroma cacao that grows in South America. Cocoa is made from the beans of the fruit, which are roasted, pressed, and separated from the fat, resulting in a chocolate powder. The fat is called cocoa butter, which is the base of hard chocolates. Two of the naturally-occurring chemicals in chocolate are responsible for being the food of choice for post-break-up women all around the world. Why do women love their chocolate? Why do people feel so great gobbling down a thousand calories of Valentine's chocolates or Ben & Jerry's? Why do I mourn for days on end when the CVS down the street runs out of Dove dark chocolate? One answer may be that chocolate offers two chemicals mentioned earlier called phenethylamine (PEA) and theobromine. Both chemicals increase the levels of serotonin (the "happy" chemical) in the brain, making one feel similar feelings of being in love. Both chemicals increase mood, ease stress, lower tension, and help loosen arteries and increase blood flow, making one think clearer, have more energy, and feel happier. When confronted with the realization that an angry mob of starving people were storming he castle, Marie-Antoinette may have been onto something when she facetiously responded with, "Let them eat cake!" Especially if it was chocolate cake!!

Winter makes you creaky. Brittle. Stiff. Cold. Don't you wish there was some magical thing that could make you feel good, help you warm up, get blood flowing, help your heart, and relax muscles? It's called a gym membership, lazy bones! Get running! But a more delicious option that requires absolutely no spandex, bench presses, or sweaty towels is chocolate! A good-quality dark chocolate helps increase circulation which brings blood flow to the colder parts of your body to warm them up. Increased blood flow also allows more calories and nutrients to reach cells, making your body energy stores more easily accessible. Increased blood flow also promotes healing, healthy-looking skin, and flexibility. Chocolate is also an amazing therapy for the heart (both emotionally and physically!) and it helps to lower blood pressure. A really amazing experience is to buy yourself a 70% organic cocoa chocolate bar, to eat about half of it veeerrrrryyyy slowly, having the chocolate melt in your mouth (this method releases the most "happy" chemicals in your brain), and then to hit the mat. The yoga mat that is. The chocolate helps provide the increased blood flow and relaxing feeling that both contribute to a successful jaunt in yoga. Or try some Tai Chi, dance, or just some simple stretches. Clean the kitchen, make the something active, enjoy the moment, and feel the warmth flowing through your body and mind. And then thank your lucky stars for the conquistadors who brought the bitter ground cocoa to Europe where nations like Italy and France added sugar and made the confection we have today. Take a "me" day. Enjoy some music, buy yourself some good tea, read a book, do some yoga, write, or celebrate the holidays, friends, family, and all the riches in your life by baking a cake. Don't be afraid of may seem a little intimidating but really, it is all just about following directions and being willing to learn and enjoy the process! Try something new, learn a few skills, eat some chocolate, enjoy the day before the craziness of the holidays really begins to set in! Gratitude and joy attract peace and plenty.


Makes one 4-tiered cake. OR one 3-layered cake. OR 3 individual cakes!

This cake freezes really really well, so no worries about extra!

You will need:
-electric mixer, either a stand-up Kitchenaid mixer or a hand-mixer
-big, big bowls!
-either three 8" or 9" cake pans OR 4 cake pans of varying sizes, none larger than 9"

**For baking tips and hints, read THIS

Ingredients for the BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE EVER:
  • 1 1/2 cups of local or at least organic unsalted butter, softened. This equals 3 sticks. 
  • 2 cups organic unsweetened cocoa
  • 3 cups sifted, organic pastry flour or all-purpose flour 
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 c organic sugar
  • 2 cups organic whole milk, coconut milk, or soy milk
  • 3 large eggs, beaten, plus 3 yolks
  • 1 tsp stevia or to taste, OR use 3 cups organic sugar
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
-Grease all pans generously with butter
-Sift salt, cocoa powder, flour, sugar, and baking soda together in a bowl and mix thoroughly
-Mix softened butter, vanilla, eggs, milk, and stevia together in another bowl and beat with a mixer or by hand until a smooth consistency is reached and all ingredients are combined.
-In a mixer, slowly add about 1/2 cup at a time of the dry ingredients to the wet on medium speed, mixing well in between adding the dry mixture.
-When all ingredients are incorporated, beat on high speed about 3 minutes.
-Pour batter into cake pans 1/2 inch away from the top rim.
-Bake about 25-50 minutes, remembering that if you are making a tiered cake, the smaller cakes will be done much quicker than the larger ones, so keep a diligent eye.
-Cake is ready when top cracks open a bit and when a knife is inserted fully into the cake, it comes out clean.
-Let cakes cool in their pans rested atop wire racks to allow the bottom of the pans to cool.
-After 15 minutes, gently and quickly flip cakes over onto wire racks or plates to rest

  • 24 oz semi-sweet chocolate morsels 
  • 4 cups organic heavy cream OR 4 cups coconut milk heavy cream
  • 1 tsp organic light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract 
**Warning: This Frosting seems to be a pain but it is WORTH IT!!! It may be one of the best frostings you have ever had......

-Put a pot of water on the boil 
-Place a large metal bowl over the top of the pot and place chocolate int he bowl, stirring it constantly as it melts. This process is tempering temper, read Baking 101 HERE
-Once melted, add cream and mix well, keeping over heat.
-On medium-high heat, stir chocolate-cream mixture for 30-35 minutes. It may be very runny or long as you followed the directions, no worries, it will thicken.
-After 30-35 minutes of stirring, take bowl off heat and stir in the vanilla and corn syrup.
-Place bowl in fridge and let set a minimum of two hours, until thick.

-You will need the thickened frosting, the cooled cakes, an offset spatula, a piping bag and tips if you want to pipe decorations on the cake. These are cheap, fun, and you can use them for cake decorating, cookies, and even savory hors d'oeuvres. HERE is a great beginning set!
-AND you'll need 2 1/2 - 3 cups of a good-quality jam that goes well with chocolate. Raspberry would be amazing, as would apricot, strawberry, or marmalade. I used a homemade peach and star anise jam made from NY peaches I dried in my dehydrator when I lived up in the Hudson was a great-tasting combo!
-Ok, so spread a thick layer of about 1/3-1/2 inch of jam on the bottom of each tier except the bottom tier and then stack them evenly straight up. If you are making a layered cake instead of tiers, spread a thick layer of jam on top of each layer and stack the layers.
-Make sure cake is steady, not leaning, etc, and that the jam is thick enough to hold the cake layers/tiers up.
-Cover cake with a very thick layer of doesn't have to look good at all. Just throw it on! You'll see my pictures below. Cover every part of the cake.
-Using the offset spatula and a pitcher of very hot water and a towel, get the spatula hot int he water, wipe off the water, and use the heat to evenly spread and smooth the frosting on the cake. The best way the do this is to hold the spatula so it looks like an "l" and slowly go around the edges of each tier and then carefully around the top of the tiers, making neat meeting points where the top and sides meet. A great beginning book to help you build a repertoire of basic cake and decorating skills is THIS BOOK. I have this book and love, love, love it. The Swiss Buttercream Frosting recipe in that book is to die for!
-You are DONE! Well, unless you'd like to fancy your cake up a bit.....which, of course you do! Why go through all that trouble to have a boring cake? For a classically beautiful and easy look, go to your local store or florist and buy some flowers like daisies, violets, or pansies and stick flowers to the cake and around it.....lovely!
-If you'd like to decorate, get some extra frosting and fill your pastry bag. Put on the many-pronged circular sunburst tip, tie end of bag with a rubberband and make little sunbursts/flowers around each layer/tier and covering the top of the top layer/tier and covering the entire sides of the first'll see what I am talking about in the pictures.

--Enjoy your work! Have a party! Show this beauty off and relax with chocolate and these pictures!!

Stewing my peaches to make jam....

My peach & star anise jam in jars

Varying sizes of cake pans I used......some springform, some not.

The butter, cut up to make mixing easier

The wet mix!

The dry mix!

This bottom tin is lined with parchment to make clean-up easier and to help prevent the cake from sticking

Me mixing away!

The batter!

Baking the cakes!

Making the frosting in the stove

Cake cooling on a wire rack

The cake assembled but naked

Putting on the frosting to cover before shaping

The finished cake!

And it tasted even better than it looks!

For my aunt Candy's birthday!!!

Cross-section to show jam and layers!

My aunt Candy so happy to have a delicious cake made with love for her birthday!!!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Baking 101 and Double Chocolate Cookies OH MY!

Happy post-Thanksgiving I-ate-way-too-much-and-am-mourning-the-loss-of-my-money-after-Black-Friday day!! I hope you all learned to cook something new, enjoyed family, and ate at least one thing green or otherwise marginally healthy! If you did, good for you. Treat yourself with some Double Chocolate Snow Cookies (recipe will follow). If you failed at the healthy thing, then you may as well just dig the hole deeper and eat this great dessert anyway!

I know, I know. This is a blog about health and nutrition.....why are there cookies and cakes littering the pages? Not that you're complaining, right? This may be a blog about being healthy, but I would argue that happiness coupled with a little sweetness once in a while is a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. Dancing in the kitchen to Cher, Ani DiFranco, or White Snake while mixing a bowl of double chocolate batter and eating spoonfuls of powdered sugar (have you ever really tried that? It's impossible!) can also be a cathartic and meditative experience. Let that creativity out! Let out that squeaky off-pitch voice! Learn some basic baking skills, unearth your most embarrassing guilty pleasure music, lock your front door so your significant other won't walk in to the best opportunity for black mail ever, and get cookin'!

Baking Skills and Tips 101: Cookies
All right, so let's go over some of the basic ingredients in cookies, what they do (the chemistry of them), what they are about, and what kind is best for these desserts.

Flour: There are a bagillion (yes, I counted) types of flour. Chestnut flour, millet flour, spelt flour, bleached white flour, pastry flour, whole wheat flour, organic flour.....and many more. And they all have their uses. For cookies, whole wheat flour is healthiest yet it imparts a very strong taste to cookies that makes them, well, less than delicious. In my last recipe of Orange Blossom Water and Crystallized Ginger Cookies 
I used brown rice flour for its subtle nutty sweetness and health benefits. This kind of flour works well with heartier cookies like oatmeal, chocolate chip, espresso cookies, and so on. For chocolate-dough cookies I prefer to use organic unbleached all-purpose flour. This type should be your basic cookie flour unless otherwise specified for a specialized cookie. 

Sugar: There are so many sweeteners out there! Agave, maple syrup, Sucanat, stevia, crystallized sugar, powdered sugar; and, they all have their uses. Remember that baking is about science and balancing the equation of wet and dry ingredients. So, if you want to make a cookie with maple syrup as the sweetener, you'd have to balance that by adding more flour. If you want to make a crumbly cookie like shortbread, you'd use confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar) instead of regular sugar since regular sugar melts and turns into a binder in cookies. Say you make my Double Chocolate Snow Cookies and you are watching your cane sugar intake and want a healthier option. Lessen the amount of sugar the recipe calls for, add in more stevia, and replace the crystallized sugar with maple syrup, which has a lot of minerals and vitamins. Now that you have introduced more liquid into the mix, you will also need to add more dry ingredient to balance the equation. So, add some more flour or cocoa powder. It takes some experimenting to really know the ropes but that is ok. Enjoy, experiment, and soon you'll be able to create any combination of flavors and your own recipes just by understanding the chemistry behind baking. 

 Eggs: Like butter, eggs are a binder. If you have ever made meatloaf you know that it calls for eggs. In meatloaf, bread, and cookies, eggs are the glue that holds the product together. Eggs are comprised of two parts: the yolk and the white. The yolk is the fat and it makes cookies, brownies, cake, and bread denser, richer, and more moist. The whites are the protein and it makes desserts crunchier, crumbly, and fluffier. In most recipes, you need a balance of rich and fluffy, but, in some chocolate recipes it helps to add an extra egg yolk in for richness. If ever you have added too much flour to a recipe that has already called for eggs and you don't know what to do, you have two options to create a balanced product. You can add more eggs or more butter. Next time the flour bag tips over into you dough and you are crying on the floor, wondering what in heck you're going to do now that your cookies are ruined and your friends will be disappointed and will disown've got the knowledge to fix it up like it never happened! 

Salt: You're probably thinking yourself, "oh, yeah...........why IS salt in every cookie recipe???" You may have seen salt called for in every cookie recipe ever and you've always added it without thinking about it or you've completely ignored it. "Salt has no place in a cookie!!" you may be screaming at your computer screen now. I hate the be the bearer of bad news but....salt is a cookie's best of best friends. Think of a beautiful woman. Now think of her with knotted hair, eyebrows like Frida Kahlo , a T-shirt stained with last week's dinner. Now, we want to help accentuate this woman's beauty. Let's brush her hair, get her makeover, some clothes that show off her beautiful figure. That fashion stylist is salt. Well, at least in the case of cookies. Salt brings out the flavors of everything. It makes vanilla more vanilla. It brings out the chocolate-ness of chocolate. ALWAYS add salt to your desserts! A good, mineralized salt will bring out the flavors the best. I suggest Himalayan Pink Salt because it has the best flavor, has 83 minerals where regular table salt has 2, and has a slightly subtle sweetness that lends itself nicely to sweets. And, it isn't very expensive for what it's worth. 

Butter: This may be the best part of the cookie for some of you and for others, this may be the most difficult to work with. For all of you vegans out there, remember that butter is simply a saturated fat. Just replace it with another saturated fat! A saturated fat is a fat that remains solid at room temperature. The best option is Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil . It adds a light coconut flavor which you may or may not like but the other options are not very healthy and are usually hydrogenated vegetable oils. I use Organic Extra Virgin Coconut oil in my cooking, baking, frying, and even on my skin and hair every day. It's a great investment and provides many healthy essential fatty acids, helps regulate your thyroid, balance hormones, and can help increase metabolism with prudent daily use. Anyhow, for all you butter-lovers, butter is the fat that adds richness to cookies and, like eggs, binds the product. Added too much butter? Add more flour/dry sugar for balance. A little short on butter for the recipe? Add an egg or an egg and a yolk to replace a couple tablespoons of butter. And remember, buy local if possible and ALWAYS buy organic! Organic produces a better product, creates better texture, better flavor, is healthier for you, for the environment, and for those you love. A great investment for a few extra bucks. 
Some baking tips:  
  • In a recipe, mix all the wet ingredients in one bowl and all the dry ingredients in another bowl. That means salt, flour, cocoa powder, dry sugar, baking powder, baking soda together. Eggs, soft butter, vanilla extract, milk, water, and liquid sweetener mixed well in another bowl. Once the ingredients are mixed well in their own bowls, slowly incorporate the mixture into one bowl using the folding method. This means to be gentle with mixing. DO NOT knead, beat, or otherwise be aggressive to the dough. Treat it like a baby, or a mine! Or a 3,000 year-old piece of China worth millions of dollars. "Why?" You may be asking. Well, by being aggressive, kneading, or over-mixing the dough, you are forming gluten from the wheat flour and your result will be bread, not a cookie. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold layers of the dry and wet mix on top of each other until it ends up well-incorporated. There is a picture of what the batter should look like below. 
  • Pre-heat the oven! Not with the baking sheet in the oven!
  • Do not place cookies straight on the metal baking sheet; always use parchment on top of the sheet not only because it helps prevent the cookies from sticking but also because it prevents the burnt-bottom & raw middle syndrome cookies often get. 
  • Taste the batter before shaping the dough
  • Keep cookies about 1 inch apart
  • Check the cookies 5 minutes earlier than the earliest bake time. Better to be diligent than to end up with rock-hard burnt cookies
  • Take cookies out of oven a tad before they are exactly ready. They will continue to cook a little once you take them out of the oven and taking them out early prevents over-cooking.
  • Freeze extra cookies in a freezer bag. They'll last for an entire year if well-kept!
  • When melting chocolate, NEVER EVER NEVER melt the chocolate in a pot or pan on the stove! I hate to tell you but this is murder. Just plain murder. It may not seem like it but that chocolate is now useless, overcooked, and not even your dog will want it. Instead, use a process called TEMPERING. Put an inch of water in a pot and bring to a boil. Place a large metal bowl on top of the pot so that the bowl's sides rest on top of the pot. The steam from the boil will heat the chocolate perfectly. Stay by the chocolate, mixing it gently with a rubber spatula. Keep moving the chocolate around to make sure it all melts and that the chocolate on the bottom does not overheat. When all chocolate is just melted, take the bowl off heat immediately. Chocolate should be smooth, thick, shiny, and not too hot. Congratulations, you just tempered chocolate!
 Onto the good stuff:

Double Chocolate Snow Cookies!

Double Chocolate Snow Cookies
 Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Recipe makes 40 cookies or around 3 dozen.
This is a rich, double-chocolate cookie topped with powdered sugar to look like snow. The cookie is great for children and adults and can be made chewy and fudgy or crunchier, depending on how long you choose to cook them. Cook for 20-23 minutes for a crunchier cookie and about 15 minutes for a chewy little darling. These keep well in the freezer for a year. 

  • 1 cup of organic, unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup organic cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp Himalayan Pink Salt
  • 8 oz semi-sweet organic chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp butter or coconut oil, softened, not melted
  • 2 cups organic sugar
  • 2 large eggs plus one additional egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Stevia extract to taste if you prefer sweeter cookies (I added 1/2 tsp stevia extract to mine)
-Put 1 inch of water to a boil in a pot. 
-Place a large metal bowl over the pot and pour chocolate chips into bowl, stirring mixture constantly to melt all pieces of chocolate but being careful not to overcook the chocolate. 
-Mix together melted chocolate, softened butter or coconut oil, vanilla extract, stevia extract, the 2 eggs and one extra yolk in a bowl. 
-Mix together salt, sugar, flour, baking soda, and cocoa flour. 
-Gently fold wet mixture into dry until well-incorporated. 
-Roll dough into balls about the size of a gold ball, flatten, and place on a parchment-covered baking sheet in rows with cookies one inch apart. 
-Cookies will fill approximately 2 baking sheets. 
-Place cookies in the ore-heated oven and cook for 15 minutes for chewy cookies and 20-23 minutes for crunchier cookies
-Dust with powdered sugar in a sieve when cookies are still warm to create a snowy look! 
-See recipe below for optional mint filling for Double Chocolate Snow Mint Sandwich Cookies

Recipe for Mint Frosting Filling for Double Chocolate Snow Cookies (optional)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or coconut oil, softened
  • 1 cup packed confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 1 tsp creme de menthe or mint oil/essence/extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
-Mix all ingredients well. 
-Taste and add a bit of milk/water if mix is too dry
-Spread a thick layer on cookies and sandwich them together

Easy recipe......awesomely delicious results. Enjoy the pictures!!

Flour Power

Local, organic eggs from free-range chickens!

The Dry Mix bowl

Step 1 of Tempering Chocolate

Step 2 of Tempering Chocolate

Step 3 of Tempering Chocolate.....almost all melted

The melted chocolate mixed with all the other wet ingredients

The dough!

Cookies before baking

Snowing the cookies

My beautiful babies!


Thin crunch on the outside, moist on the inside.....perfecto!

Double Chocolate Mint Snow Sandwich Cookies.....that's a mouthful!

A sea of cookies!!!!