Friday, August 04, 2023

A Healthier PB&J


Organic crunchy peanut butter on a
100% whole wheat English Muffin
topped with Fresh Mango

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a go-to lunch. It's quick, it's inexpensive and who doesn't love them? Even people allergic to peanuts indulge by easily substituting the peanut butter with any nut or seed butter. 

Sadly, growing up in an Italian household, I wasn't introduced to the PB&J until I went off to college. But now I eat them regularly, usually at breakfast time. 

The question remains, is it healthy? As a nutritionist, I would say that the typical peanut butter and jelly sandwich is not a healthy choice. First, it's typically made with white bread. Second, many peanut butters come in plastic containers and contain sugar, hydrogenated oils, and salt. And if you've ever made jelly, you know the most popular recipes contain more sugar than fruit.

Here are 4 easy things to do to make this iconic sandwich healthier:

#1 Start with a bread that is made from whole grains. It's easier to find a whole grain bread that contains wheat so if you are gluten free, you will have to carefully read the labels. There are some good ones out there but many of them are full of overly processed starches and gums to hold them together. So if you aren't allergic to wheat, a bread like Dave's Killer Bread with 21 Whole Grains and Seeds OrganicBread is a winner. Check out for more of their healthy breads. 

#2 Pick an organic nut butter that only contains the nuts and seeds. Just peanuts -  no oil, no sugar. Little or no salt. I like organic MaraNatha or Santa Cruz peanut butters.

#3 Only buy nut butters that are in glass jars. Peanut butter has a high fat content and the oils in the nut butter can absorb chemicals fro the plastic and become contaminated. The above peanut butters are both in glass jars.

#4 Substitute the jelly with fresh fruit! This will save you empty calories and needless sugar as well as adding healthful fiber to your sandwich. My favorite fruits to add are:

    *Sliced mangos, peaches, nectarines

    * Raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries

    * Sliced bananas, apples


Friday, July 17, 2020

Instant Pot Kale Gomae With Tahini

A room temperature summer salad
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One of the things I miss the most during this pandemic, besides seeing my children, grandchildren and friends, is eating out in restaurants. Sure, I have enough food in my veggie garden to feed the entire town, but it's nice to occasionally go out and have someone else do the cooking and cleaning up. For now, the most I will dare to do is takeout, but it's just not the same.

Recently, I was missing going to our favorite Japanese restaurant and eating their spinach gomae salad. Since I'm growing kale in two of my garden boxes this summer (see below), and not spinach, I thought I'd try making this salad at home using kale. Although most of the recipes I have found make the dressing by grinding sesame seeds, I took the easy way by starting with raw tahini.

Vegan, Dairy and Gluten Free
[makes 6 servings]

2 bunches kale
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon gluten free tamari soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sherry or miron
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon water if needed
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds

Prepare the kale: Wash the kale and remove the center stems. Roll up and cut in 1/2" slices. Place the sliced kale in an Instant Pot with 1/4 cup of water. Cook on high pressure for 4 minutes. When done, immediately release the pressure and drain the kale. If you do not have an Instant Pot, steam the kale on the stove top until tender.

Place the drained kale in a bowl and let cool to room temperature or place in the refrigerator if you prefer the salad slightly chilled.

Make the dressing: Place the tahini in a small bowl. Stir in the soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, miron and sugar. If the dressing is too thick, add a bit of water but that may not be necessary.

Toss the kale with the desired amount of dressing. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top and serve.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Zucchini And Corn Fritters With Fresh Basil
Vegetarian, Dairy And Gluten Free

A yummy recipe to use up your garden zucchini!

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Grow Your Own Food
We've had a veggie garden for decades but it's never been as important as now. With the pandemic, we try to avoid the grocery store as much as possible so we grew extra food this season.

Happily, the garden is flourishing! We are growing four types of tomatoes, two types of beans, corn, zucchini, cucumbers, several types of carrots, shishito, padrone, jalapeño and bell peppers, red and green lettuce, radishes, eggplant, kale and more. 

It's only been a few weeks since our first zucchini, and I'm already scrambling for ways to use it all. And I have several beds of corn too. This recipe uses both so I will be making it a lot. The corn gives these fritters a nice chewy texture and together with the shredded zucchini and fresh basil, presents a beautiful and colorful dish that can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And if you make smaller fritters, you can serve them as appetizers.

Serve with a dollop of non-dairy sour cream or top with guacamole and a handful of sunflower sprouts. Feel free to replace the basil with other seasonings, such as cilantro and cumin. 

This zucchini is called Pantheon, from Johnny's seeds. It's like classic Costata Romanesco but doesn't have those prickly hairs.
I have several beds of sweet corn, also from Johnny's.
This one is almost ready and I just planted another bed.
                          *                            *                             *                          

Zucchini and Corn Fritters with Fresh Basil
Vegetarian, Gluten and Dairy Free

[Makes 10 fritters]

3 cups grated zucchini, on a large grate
½ teaspoon salt plus some for sprinkling
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen and defrosted)
2 packed tablespoon fresh basil, thinly sliced
1/3 cup small diced onion or sliced scallions
Big pinch cayenne pepper (or black pepper to taste)
½ cup gluten free Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 baking flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 to 2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil

Place the shredded zucchini in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Set aside for 15 minutes while it sweats. Afterward, squeeze out the moisture as best you can. 

Place the beaten egg in a large bowl with the zucchini, corn, basil, onion, pepper, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Mix well.

Stir in the flour and baking powder until well combined. 

Heat a medium or large skillet with a thin layer of oil over medium heat and spoon the zucchini corn mixture into the skillet (about ¼ cup for each fritter.) Press down with a spatula to flatten. It will take two or more batches depending on the size of your skillet. 

Cook the fritters until they start to brown underneath, about 3 minutes. Turn over and cook another few minutes until brown. 

Serve immediately. If you have leftovers, it’s best to reheat them on a nonstick skillet so they remain crispy.

Served topped with guacamole
and sunflower sprouts

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Vegan And Gluten Free Banana Muffin Tops
With Blueberries And Walnuts
A Nice Surprise For Mother's Day Breakfast!

Muffin tops make a great breakfast or snack.

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Yes, we're still baking! You see, there was one overripe banana and a brand new muffin top pan that my friend Margarite introduced me to. Doug's vegan banana walnut bread is always amazing so we cut the ingredients in half (since muffin tops are smaller than muffins), added blueberries, and made these little gems. For more of a dessert muffin top, you can trade the blueberries for dark chocolate chips.

(Hey kids and dads, these would be a great treat for mom for Mother's day breakfast. They would be delightful with a mimosa!)

I heard about muffin tops last year when my sister-in-law Patti introduced me to ones made with zucchini but I didn't realize they actually had special pans for these things. But Margarite, who has every kitchen gadget known to man, of course had one. She uses it to make these delicious grain free muffins, which I will share with you at a later date, but after seeing this cool new pan, I had so many things I wanted to make in it. My first idea was to make corn muffins. Great idea but for some reason they came out like hockey pucks. I'll have to work on that one a bit more. But these banana muffin tops came out great! 

Wilton Muffin Top pan

                         *                                      *                                  *                                    

Banana Muffin Tops with Blueberries and Walnuts
Vegan, Dairy and Gluten Free
[makes 12 muffin tops]

Muffin Top Pan
Electric hand beater

1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds
3 tablespoons water
2 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil plus some for pan
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons applesauce
1 very ripe banana, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1 cup Bob's Red Mill 1:1 gluten free baking flour
1/2 teaspoon stevia powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup fresh blueberries
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease the pan with cooking spray, olive oil, non-dairy butter or coconut oil.

Make the flax egg. Combine the ground flax seeds and water in a small bowl. Beat vigorously with a fork until gooey. After a minute or so, beat again. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, stevia powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix well and set aside.

In a larger mixing bowl, combine the oil, sugar, applesauce, mashed banana, and vanilla. Beat with an electric beater until well blended. 

Beat in the flax egg.

Add the flour mixture and beat until incorporated. 

Using a spatula, fold in the blueberries and the walnuts.

Scoop the mixture into the prepared muffin top pan. Bake in the oven for 17 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the tops are slightly browned.

Cool the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes and serve warm with vegan cream cheese.

Before baking

We baked ours for about 18 minutes

Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there!

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Baking Brings Comfort
Applesauce Cake With Walnuts
Gluten Free and Vegan

This yummy cake is vegan and gluten free!

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While people are sheltering in place during this pandemic, many have turned to baking. What's more comforting than the the smell of cinnamon wafting throughout the house? But as comforting as baking is, it can definitely contribute to the "quarantine 15", the expression referring to the pounds we are putting on. So this recipe uses far less sugar and fat than most. It's also gluten free.

Egg Shortages
First it was toilet paper, now it's eggs! With all the home meals and baking, people are now hoarding eggs, if they can find them. Well, you don't need eggs to bake a cake. Flax eggs work just as well (actually better) in this recipe while providing a nice boost of Omega-3 fatty acids. 

Miyoko did it Again!
I also am happy to report that Miyoko's new vegan butter made with oat milk is absolutely delicious. I also love her original stick vegan butter but had to give this one a try. Either one works well in this recipe.

My favorite dairy-free butter

              *                                 *                                *                                  *
Applesauce Cake with Walnuts
Gluten and Dairy Free, Vegan
[makes 12 servings]

Electric beater
8" x 8" baking pan

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds *
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons water *
2½ cups Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 gluten free baking flour
1½ teapoons baking soda
¾ teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
1 scant teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon stevia powder **
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon softened vegan butter or coconut oil
½ cup light brown sugar
1½ cups applesauce
½ cup non-dairy milk or orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped raw walnuts

* Ground flax seeds and water can be replaced with 2 large eggs.
** I add the stevia for extra sweetness without the calories but you can omit and increase the brown sugar to ¾ cup.

Bob's Red Mill 1:1 already contains xanthan gum.
If you use regular GF flour, you will need to add
a teaspoon of xanthan gum to this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease the pan with cooking spray, non-dairy butter or coconut oil.

Make the flax egg. Combine the ground flax seeds and water in a small bowl. Beat vigorously with a fork until gooey and set aside. After a minute or so, beat again.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and stevia powder. Mix well and set aside.

In a larger mixing bowl, combine the softened butter, sugar, applesauce, non-dairy milk and vanilla. Beat with an electric beater until well blended. 

Beat in the flax egg (or regular eggs.)

Add the flour mixture and beat until incorporated. 

Using a spatula, fold in the walnuts.

Pour into the prepared baking pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool the pan on a rack and serve. 

Gluten Free recipes with less oil tend to crack.
No worries, they are still delicious!
I was inspired to make this so that I could use up some of
the applesauce that we canned from our apple tree.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Natural Approaches to COVID-19
From Dr. Andrew Weil
And Center For Integrative Medicine

Supplements are part of a regimen to boost your immune system.

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Last Tuesday I listened to a live lecture with Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Randy Horwitz, Dr. Lise Alschuler and Dr. Esther Sternberg on Integrative Approaches to Covid-19. Let me try to summarize some of the knowledge they shared. The key theme was how to build your own immune system and strengthen your body's nature forces to fight off this deadly virus.

Dr. Andrew Weil 
Dr. Weil introduced the speakers and offered several suggestions of his own:

* Good nutrition, plenty of rest and sleep, and a positive mental state all contribute to building a strong immune system.

* Too much stress lowers your immunity and makes you more vulnerable to disease. One way to lower your stress is to do breathing exercises. He recommends the 4-7-8 breath.
Here's a link on how to perform his famous breathing technique. 

* Dr. Weil also highly recommends laughter. I know, it's hard to laugh during times like this but there are plenty of jokes flying around the internet these days so enjoy them!

Dr. Randy Horwitz
Dr. Horwitz explained a bit about the virus and the mechanisms of infection: 

* Although you can fit 700-1000 Covid-19 viruses across a human hair, it is considered rather large for a virus.  It is moderately highly infectious and virulent. The virus has one goal and that is REPRODUCTION and to take over the world. 

* The Achilles heal of the virus is its envelope. Made up of fats and proteins, it can be dissolved by soap. This is why we are being told to wash our hands with soap and water as it is very effective in destroying the virus.

Pre-Infection Stage
* The best thing to do to reduce the chances of being infected is to limit exposure. So sheltering in place and social distancing is very effective. 

* Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also key - get plenty of sleep as sleep deprived people are more susceptible to the virus. Good nutrition, lowering stress, and taking selected supplements are also very important (we will talk more about supplements later.)

Viral Infection Stage
Here's what happens during the infection stage:

* The Covid-19 virus sneaks inside your cell and shoots in the virus's blueprint. Each of your cells has its own blueprint of what it is supposed to be replicating but the virus hijacks your cell's factory to copy its blueprint and now has changed the instructions. 

* The virus infects the cells of the upper respiratory system. The hijacked cells of your upper respiratory system releases new virus and destroys the ciliary cells. This is what causes the cough associated with Covid-19. 

* There are several things that can happen from here: One, your strong immune system could stop it or a weakened immune system may not be able to stop it and the virus could enter the lungs, replicate, and lead to pneumonia.

* Once this happens, the immune cells in the lungs become activated and go into overdrive. Fluid fills the alveoli (the little sacs that that line the lungs that allow the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules to and from the bloodstream) and this prevents adequate gas exchange. 

* Now all hell is breaking lose. The macrophages in the lungs grab the virus and send out help signals to the body to send cytokines to help. 

* When the cytokines that increase immune activity become too abundant, the immune system goes into overdrive and starts to attack heathy cells. This is called a cytokine storm. The blood vessel walls get leaky and the lungs fill with fluid. Blood clots can also form throughout the body, further reducing blood flow. This leads to decreased oxygen and respiratory failure. 

* There is a fine balance to prevent a cytokine storm without inhibiting viral immunity.

Dr. Lise Alschuler
Dr. Alschuler discussed supplements. Although none of these recommendations are proven with respect to Covid-19, she recommended those with the highest likelihood of benefit and the lowest possible risk.

She discussed the 3 components to prevention. 1. Block viral docking, 2. Inhibit viral replications, and 3. Increase innate immunity.

Prevent Viral Entry and Docking
* The Covid-19 virus gets into human cells by targeting a specific receptor called ACE2 found on certain cells. Certain vitamins and supplements may be able to block ACE2 receptor binding:
    - Astragulus may be helpful in decreasing ACE2 receptor activity.
    - Quercetin binds to ACE2 receptors, taking the space that the virus is targeting.
    - Vitamin D3 reduces ACE2 activation
    - Elderberry inhibits viral attachment in a different corona virus and may do the same thing with Covid-19.

Reducing Viral Replication
    - Zinc reduces viral replication.
    - Quercetin acts as a zinc chelator and helps facilitate bringing zinc into the cells.
    - EGCG, found in green tea, also acts as a zinc chelator.
    - Elderberry inhibits replication of a different corona virus and may do the same thing with Covid-19.

Improving Innate Immunity
    - Vitamin D activates innate immune cells but too much can cause an overactive inflammatory response (or a cytokine storm) and cause a damaging response in the lungs. (Test for 25-hydroxy vitamin D. Deficiency is less than 30 nmol/L. Potential deficiency is between 30 and 50 nmol/L and normal levels are between 50 and 100 nmol/L.)
    - Vitamin C regulates pro-inflammatory cytokines.
    - Curcumin can also help surpress a cytokine storm.
    - Melatonin may reduce lung damage during the viral infection.
    - 7 to 10 servings of vegetables a day provides immunity boosting flavonoids.
    - Other supplements that help boost immunity include garlic, ECGC from green tea, quercetin, and mycelium extract.
Dr. Esther Sternberg 
Dr. Sternberg discussed the impact of stress and making your home a healing place.

A certain amount of brain stress is necessary and beneficial for peak performance but excess stress can lead to disease. The stress response strongly effects the immune system and chronic stress increases the frequency of viral infections and accelerates aging.

Reducing Stress
Dr. Sternberg's suggestions on reducing stress:
* Take control as best you can even though we are in a situation where many people feel out of control.   

* Focus on your own expertise and take that stress energy and turn it into something to help others. For example, today, instead of freaking myself out watching the news, I'm spending time sharing this good information with you!

*  Have virtual social gatherings. The other night we had a virtual cocktail hour with some friends that we hadn't seen in a while and it was really fun catching up. And we didn't have to drive across town, clean up the house or dress up. This might become a thing!

* Get a good night's sleep. EVERY speaker discussed this so it's super important. Increased activity helps improve your sleep. Circadian lighting where you expose yourself to bright sun light sometime between 8am and noon and reduce exposure to light in the evening, helps the body produce melatonin and enhances good sleep. 

* Exercise is a great stress reducer. So if it's allowed, get out of the house for a walk or run while remaining socially distanced. I myself dance to zumba tapes.

* Do Mind Body activities such as meditation, yoga, and breath exercises like the 4-7-8 breath Dr. Weil suggested above.

* Maintain a healthy diet. I have over 600 posts of healthy recipes in this blog so you can start here.

* Spiritual activities can greatly help stress. These are not always tied to religion - mine involve plants and gardening and appreciating the beauties of the universe and each other.

I hope this summary helps you understand more about Covid-19 and ways to strengthen your body to help prevent and fight this deadly virus.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

How To Make Your Own Muesli

Use as a topping for fruit, yogurt and ice cream
or eat as a cereal

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As millions shelter in place  during this horrible pandemic, many people have returned to their kitchens. I've always thought that cooking is the single best thing you can do for your health and hopefully, when this passes, people will continue to prepare their own meals.

Here's a simple recipe that we make all the time. 

This Muesli is a mixture of rolled oats and lots of my favorite nuts and seeds. It makes 7 cups so there's plenty to refrigerate and enjoy for many weeks, although it doesn't last too long in our home. You can also freeze it and it will keep for months. 

I have been trying to avoid going to the grocery store, or at least limiting my trips as best I can, so I have been buying lots of my ingredients on the internet. I figure most of the virus has lost its potency during the transit time so I only have to worry about the UPS or postman who carried the box to my door. has a great selection of nuts, seeds, grains, dried fruits and more so I bought most of the ingredients for this muesli from them. has a great selection of nuts, seeds, grains and more.
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Vegan, Dairy and Gluten Free
[makes 7 cups]

Large rimmed cookie sheet or shallow baking pan

4 cups gluten free rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup hemp seeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 scant teaspoon iodized salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 or 2 packets of stevia (optional)
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 

Place the oats, coconut, almonds, sunflower and hemp seeds, walnuts, salt, cinnamon and stevia in a large rimmed cookie sheet or shallow baking pan. Carefully mix up the ingredients with a large spatula. 

Drizzle the vanilla, maple syrup and melted coconut oil over the oat mixture. Mix together with the spatula until the oats are well coated.

Some people do this first step of mixing all the ingredients in a large bowl and then pouring them onto a pan lined with parchment paper but I'm too lazy to wash the extra bowl and I find that the muesli doesn't stick all that much to the pan.

Place in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring half way through, until the oat mixture is lighted toasted. Don't overcook. 

Let cool completely before storing.

Enjoy as a cereal or a topping for fruit, ice cream, yogurt, applesauce, and more. As a treat for your kids (or yourself), place some in a small bowl and dip a peeled banana in the muesli between each bite! 

Bake until lightly toasted and fragrant