Friday, June 26, 2015

How Floaters Can Turn Into A Torn Retina
You Need To Act Fast!

The appearance of unusual floaters
was a sign that my retina was tearing. 

Unusual Floaters
Monday, the night before our 25th anniversary, a very unusual floater appeared in my eye. I've always had floaters. Little guys that look like space ships that float across my field of vision. They were a bit annoying but not enough to make me crazy.

But the other night this massive Pac-man looking floater appeared. It didn't just float across my vision, it aggressively whipped around like those bumper car rides. I was also seeing flashes of light when I moved my eye. I knew something was really wrong. 

PVD
We spent the morning of our big day in my eye doctor's office. After examining me he said that I had posterior vitreous detachment, not uncommon for someone my age or someone who just had cataract surgery. PVD is a condition where the vitreous, the clear gel-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye, starts to collapse and shrink away from the retina. When it does this, clumps or strands can form in the eye which are the floaters that you see when these objects cast a shadow on the retina.

PVD is more common in people who are nearsighted, have had cataract surgery or YAG laser surgery, or have had inflammation inside the eye. 

I was somewhat relieved that it wasn't as serious as I thought although I wasn't happy that I was going to have to learn to coexist with Pac-man for a long time. Maybe forever. So we went out for a fabulous 25th anniversary dinner and, after a few sake's, I didn't notice the massive floater.

But the Next Day Things Got Much Worse
The next day Pac-man brought out his friends. They looked more like spider webs than floaters. Then the spider webs were joined with a jello-like substance and my vision looked like someone had just faux painted my retina. 

It turns out that when the vitreous moves away from the retina, it sometimes pulls hard enough to tear it in one or more places. If fluid passes through the tear, it can lift the retina off off the back of the eye causing retinal detachment. If not treated, this can lead to blindness.

My Torn Retina
I ran back to my eye clinic. My PVD had progressed to a retinal tear so they immediately sent me to the North Bay Vitreoretinal Surgery Center. After hours of tests and pictures and blinding lights flashing in my eye, they observed two horseshoe retinal tears and some hemorrhaging. This was very serious and I was pretty fortunate to live 30 minutes away from one of the best vitreoretinal surgery centers in the area.

After dilating the pupil to the size of a quarter and giving me numbing drops, they shot my retinal tears with, what seemed like, a hundred laser beams. This welds the retina back together and hopefully will prevent most vision loss. Fortunately, it may have prevented me from going blind. Unfortunately, it didn't get rid of Pac-man and his spidery friends and the beautiful vision that I was enjoying after my cataract surgery is probably gone forever. I keep reminding myself, "I'm not blind."

Act Fast
There was a very high probability that we would have been traveling for our 25th anniversary. It was just a stroke of luck that we decided to stay close to home. The difference between having to deal with a retinal tear and a retinal detachment and face much more serious surgery and possibly blindness, is just a matter of how fast you make it to the doctor. Bottom line, if you see unusual floaters, cobwebs, or flashes of light in your eyes, RUN to a good ophthalmologist. Time is of the essence.





Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Zucchini Miso Soup With Mushrooms And Kale
Less Than 150 Calories
Miso - A Good Source Of Microbes

You can add microbe-rich miso to any brothy soup.

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Today is our Anniversary 
Twenty six years ago today my wonderful husband and I went on our first date and 25 years ago today we were married! I am the luckiest woman in the world to find a man who has provided love and kindness to me and the children, gave me endless encouragement in my many ambitious endeavors, and shared my obsession for living a healthy lifestyle. We worked well together as engineers in Silicon Valley and now we work just as well together as organic farmers, bloggers, and wine makers. 

Today is our 25th Wedding Anniversary

So yesterday when I felt like my allergies were getting the best of me and were possibly turning into a cold, it was time to make a pot of soup despite the warm temperature outside. We have big plans for our anniversary dinner and I want to feel my best. 

Goals for this Soup
This soup will hopefully accomplish three important goals.
#1 - Help me feel better for my anniversary.
#2 - Give me a source of more microbes from the fermented, unpasteurized miso.
#3 - Help me use up the zucchini in my garden!


Romanesco zucchini are taking over my yard!

Powerful and Delicious Ingredients
Whenever I feel like a cold is coming on, I rely on garlic, onions, ginger, mushrooms and fermented foods to build up my immune system. This soup has it all. But to get the most out of these ingredients remember two things:
#1 - Let the garlic sit for 10 minutes after mincing it to enhance its health-promoting properties.
#2 - Don't boil the miso or it will kill the live beneficial bacteria. Once it's added to the soup, warm it gently over a low flame.

                     *                               *                              *

Zucchini Miso Soup with Mushrooms and Kale
Vegan, Dairy Free, Gluten Free
[makes 4 first-course servings or 2 meal-size servings]

Ingredients
2 or 3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
8 ounces brown clamshell or other mushrooms
1 1/2 pounds small to medium-size zucchini, halved and thinly sliced
4 cups low sodium veggie broth
1 packed cup thinly sliced kale
2 tablespoons (or more) unpasteurized white miso 
Black pepper to taste




For my veggie broth, I like to use a large low sodium vegetable bouillon cube with 4 cups of boiling water. 

Directions
Finely mince the garlic and set aside while you are preparing the remaining ingredients. Let the garlic rest for at least 10 minutes so that it develops its health-promoting properties.

Heat the olive oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven. Cook the onion for 5 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and ginger, stirring until fragrant, about one minute. 

Separate the clamshell mushrooms. If you are using shiitake mushrooms, remove their stems and slice. Add the mushrooms to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until they release their liquid, about 3 minutes.

Add the zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, until it cooks down a bit and gets a little starchy, about 3 to 5 minutes.




Add the broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer, cover, and cook until the soup thickens and the zucchini begins to soften. 

Throw in the kale and cook another 5 or so minutes until all the veggies are cooked. I like the zucchini soft in a soup like this but you may prefer them to be a bit firmer.  

Remove a cup of broth from the pot and place in a small bowl. Stir in the miso paste until all the lumps are gone. 




Stir the miso broth mixture back into the pot. Simmer for a few minutes but DO NOT BOIL as excessive heat will kill the beneficial microbes. 

Add freshly ground black pepper to taste and serve immediately.

This soup is less than 150 calories per serving

Nutrition
Per serving (4): 148 calories, 5 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 105 mg omega-3 and 661 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 0 mg cholesterol, 8 g protein, 21 carbohydrates, 5 g dietary fiber, and 394 mg sodium. 





Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Don't Throw Out The Artichoke Water
Detox, Lose Water Weight, And More!

Artichoke tea, hot or cold, can provide health benefits.

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My Garden
I am having so much fun in my garden this year. The most exciting veggie I tried growing is the artichoke which happens to be one of my absolute favorite foods. They grow really well in Northern California so I guess I shouldn't have been shocked when they started popping up only weeks after planting pretty mature plants (I bought the ones in 1 gallon containers).




They've been coming up pretty regularly now and this morning I had two of them along with my usually zucchini and my first two tomatoes!


This morning's haul!

My favorite way to eat artichokes is to stuff them with breadcrumbs but that takes some work. So lately I've just been boiling them and dipping them in hummus or miso tahini dressing. One day when I was boiling the the artichokes, I noticed that the cooking water turned into a beautiful, fragrant broth so I drank it. It was delicious. I shouldn't have been surprised because I've been drinking Vietnamese artichoke tea for years.  


Save the water after boiling your artichokes.
I generally use 5 cups of water for 2 medium artichokes and cook them until tender, around 45 to 60 minutes.


You can strain it but you don't have to.

Benefits of Artichoke Tea
Artichoke leaves contain some powerful phytonutrients - cynarin, silymarin, quercetin, rutin, and gallic acid, which can help protect us against liver disease, cancer, and heart disease. 

Artichokes are rich in vitamin C, K, folate, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese, much of which ends up in the water when you cook the artichoke.

The cynarin in artichokes helps stimulate bile production and is beneficial for your liver. Silymarin is also a very good liver protectant so artichoke tea and broth are excellent for helping you detox.

Lose Water Weight
Artichokes are a natural diuretic and can help prevent water retention and allow you to shed some water weight. And when you eat the artichoke, with all its wonderful fiber, it will act as a natural laxative and remove additional waste and toxins. Just one medium artichoke has a whopping 7 grams of fiber. And your gut microbes will have a feast too!

Hot or Cold
So enjoy the hot broth as a tea or use it to cook dried beans or as a broth for soup. But since it's hot out, I've been enjoying it as an iced tea with a few drops of stevia.




Is Artichoke Water the Latest Rage?
As I was writing this, I noticed a new beverage on the market called Arty Water. Ha! I guess I wasn't the first person to think of drinking their artichoke water but I'm glad I started doing it and stopped throwing this amazing elixir down the drain.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Enter To Win The Cookbook, "Preserving With Pomona's Pectin", A Box Of Pectin, and Jelly Jars


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Pomona's Universal Pectin
You know how much I LOVE Pomona's Universal Pectin. Every jam recipe in this blog uses it and I even dedicated an entire chapter in my eBook, Health Begins in the Kitchen, to making healthy jam using this wonderful product. What makes Pomona's Universal pectin so great is that it allows you to make jelly and jam with little or no sugar! 

Pomona Pectin Giveaway
My friends at Pomona wanted me to tell you all about this year's exciting giveaway that will run from June 10th through June 17th, 2015.
All you need to do to win is enter the Giveaway - and everyone gets 2 FREE ENTRIES.

Here's What You'll Win!

* Cookbook: Preserving with Pomona's Pectin by Allison Carroll Duffy
* A Box of Pomona's Pectin
* A case of 6 Orchard Road Jelly Jars from Filmore Container

The Cookbook
Preserving with Pomona's Pectin (Fair Winds Press, June 2013) teaches you how to make jam using sugar-free and preservative-free Pomona's Universal Pectin. 

Here are some examples of the wonderful recipes in this book:
* Maple-Vanilla-Peach Jam
* Chocolate-Cherry Preserves
* Margarita Marmalade
* Nana's Favorite Dandelion Jelly
* Savory Blueberry-Ginger Conserve
* All-Fruit Strawberry Jam

This is the perfect book for both beginning and experienced preservers, and everyone in between. The more than 70 recipes are organized by type—jams, jellies, preserves, conserves, and marmalades—and there are simple classics as well as new twists with exciting ingredients. And, most importantly, all of the recipes use low amounts of sugar or alternative sweeteners, such as honey, maple syrup, or fruit juice.

How to Enter
To enter to win, go to the Pomona Website. There will be TWO winners and each winner will win three prizes!

Good Luck!

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Compare These Vegan Dark Chocolate Bars
Endangered Species & Jcoco

I compared these two 72% dark chocolate bars with cocoa nibs.

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Where Health and Flavor Intersect
We all have heard by now that chocolate is good for us. Good news like that travels fast! But many chocolate products are packed with sugar, fat and dairy. So Doug and I tend to buy the darkest chocolate we can find that still tastes good. For us, the point where bliss crosses optimal health is 72% dark. We find anything higher than that distasteful. For good measure, we also get chocolate that contains cacao nibs, which are bits of the cacao bean itself. The nibs give the chocolate a lovely crunch that takes chocolate goodness, as well as healthfulness, to the next level. 

Our Microbes are at it again
Many of chocolates health benefits come from its anti-inflammatory properties. Scientists are now discovering that inflammation is the root of all evil and can cause cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and many other degenerative disorders. As you know, I've been obsessed with microbes lately, and it turns out that our gut microbes break down and ferment the large polyphenols in chocolate and turn them into smaller, more absorbable molecules that have anti-inflammatory properties. So our bugs love chocolate too and turn it into a superfood for us.

Selecting our Favorite Chocolate Bar
Today I'm comparing two 72% dark chocolate bars (both vegan, gluten free and non-GMO.) One is by Endangered Species and the other is Noble Dark by Jcoco. We have been taste testing them both for months (it's tough work but these are the sacrifices we have to make for you) and we have done blind taste tests with our friends. Our original assumption was that Noble Dark by Jcoco, at $7.95 per 3 ounce bar, had to be superior to Endangered Species 72% dark chocolate with cacao nibs which is around $3.00 per 3 ounce bar - less than half the price.

The Noble Dark is thinner, chalky looking, and has a tiny bit more crunch (perhaps a few more nibs.) The Endangered Species is thicker and has a nice sheen and texture. Almost everyone who tasted both bars preferred Endangered Species. So you don't always get what you pay for. But I will say, the Jcoco Noble Dark packaging is adorable and a few bars would make a beautiful gift.

Both companies are very generous. Jcoco provides a serving of fresh and healthy food to someone in need every time you purchase their product. They support Northwest Harvest, the food bank for New York City, the San Francisco-Marin food bank, and the greater Boston food bank. 

The Endangered Species company donates 10% of their net profits from the sale of their chocolate to the African Wildlife Foundation and the Xerces Society for invertebrate conservation. 


Beautiful packaging, lots of nibs. Each sale provides fresh meals to local food banks.
Great price, thick and rich tasting, lovely sheen.
Some profits support endangered species.

Where to Buy
These are just two brands that we enjoy. But most 72% dark chocolates are pretty yummy and good for you too so I'm sure you'll find other brands that fit the bill. You can buy Jcoco Noble Dark on their website.  Endangered Species is found in many grocery stores and also on Amazon in packs of 12


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Make Your Own Sauerkraut
Latin American Curtido Kraut
Recipe By Cynthia Lair

Cynthia Lair taught us how to make our own fermented foods.

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Making Your Own Fermented Foods
Last week I wrote about the 5 Changes I Made Immediately After Attending the 2015 Health and Nutrition Conference.  The first one was to eat and make more fermented foods as it is one of the most important things you can do for your health.

Hands down, the most fun and entertaining presentation at the conference was by Cynthia Lair. I had never made sauerkraut before and, quite honestly, I was intimidated by the entire process. I pictured big ceramic crocks filled with smelly cabbage being pressed down with plates weighed down with rocks. But Cynthia's process was so easy I couldn't wait to try it.

Cynthia Lair
Watch her web cooking show,
cookusinterruptus.com

Latin American Curtido Kraut
by Cynthia Lair
Raw Vegan, Gluten and Dairy Free
Makes 4 to 6 cups

Requires 2 wide-mouth quart jars and 2 (1/2-pint) jars with lids.

Ingredients
1 (2-lb) head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced*
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 medium white onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 large or 2 medium carrots, grated on large holes
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon fresh oregano (optional)
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed, chopped finely

Note: The weight of the cabbage will determine the amount of salt. Cynthia recommends using 1 teaspoon of kosher salt for every 1/2 pound of whole cabbage. I love this recipe because it uses much less salt than other sauerkraut recipes.

Directions
Place the cabbage in a large bowl and toss with the salt. Set aside to "weep" while preparing the other vegetables. Do not add the other vegetables yet.

The salt will cause the cabbage to "weep" or release water.

With clean hands, begin massaging the cabbage with a firm grip. Continue for at least 3 minutes, working your way through all the cabbage. You will notice that the cabbage will already begin wilting and shrinking.

Cabbage after massage.

Now add the onion, carrot, and oregano and massage the vegetables together until they are well combined. Mix in the jalapeƱo with a large spoon.

Cabbage with other ingredients mixed in.

Divide the mixed vegetables among two wide-mouth quart jars, adding a little at a time and pushing down hard after each handful of vegetables goes in. You can push down with your fist or something like the pushing device of your Vitamix (that's what I used.) You can't hurt the vegetables with the forceful pressing. It will help them release water.

Push down the veggies hard.
  
Keep pushing down until the vegetables are submerged in their own brine. Add additional compression to the top of the mixture by placing a sealed 1/2-pint jar filled with water on top of the vegetables. I actually used 33 3/4 ounce Fido Jars as the fermentation vessel and sealed pint jars for additional compression. These Fido Jars have wider mouths to accommodate pint jars and they are great for storing the kraut when it's done.

Filled and capped jars add extra compression to the kraut.

Cover with a clean dish cloth to keep out the dust but allow in air. Keep the jars visible so that you visit them a few times the first day. It's important to keep the vegetables submerged in their brine so push down if they are not. Within 8 to 10 hours, there should be enough extracted liquid in the container to cover the veggies completely. After that, they'll only need a daily greeting and push.

Cover with a clean dish towel and visit each day.

Let the kraut percolate on the counter for at least 7 days to two weeks or more, depending on how tangy you like your kraut. When done, seal in a Fido jar and place in the refrigerator.
I placed my jars in shallow bowls since they will keep fermenting.

For those of you who think sauerkraut is only for topping hotdogs, you are in for a treat. I have been topping just about everything I eat with this wonderful Curtido. I especially like it on top of Beans and Greens.

Curtido Kraut on top of beans and kale.

A BIG thank you to Cynthia Lair for allowing me to share her wonderful recipe with you. Don't forget to check out her website and cookus*interruptus web cooking show.






Tuesday, May 26, 2015

5 Changes I Made Immediately After Attending The 2015 Annual Nutrition And Health Conference

Dr. Christine Gallagher and I at the 2015 Annual Nutritional and Health Conference in Phoenix, Arizona

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Health and Nutrition Conference 
Dr. Christine Gallagher and I became good friends while getting our doctorates; her in Natural Health and me in Holistic Nutrition. Although she lives and practices in Grand Junction, Colorado and I live in Sebastopol, California, we make it a point to attend a conference together as often as we can. This year we headed to Phoenix to attend the 2015 Nutrition and Health Conference hosted by the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. 

As always, I came away inspired to share the latest nutrition research with my readers but I also came home with a list of things I wanted to immediately change in my life. In the weeks to come, I will write more about the details of the conference and post a few recipes from the classes I took there, but today I am going to share 5 important changes I made in my own life upon returning from the conference.

#1 - Make and Eat More Fermented Foods
There are trillions of microbes living in our bodies and they have a profound effect on our health and well being. To continue to introduce and replenish these important little bugs into our system, we should eat fermented foods every day. Examples of these are yogurt, kefir, miso, the sauerkraut and pickles you find in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, kimchi, and kombucha tea. Prior to the conference, I took the same probiotic supplement every day but I will now reduce my supplementation and get my microbes from a variety of fermented foods which should provide more microbial diversity. 

What to do now:
* I eat home-made soy yogurt every morning with fruit or blended into a smoothie.
* I buy raw sauerkraut and serve it with lunch and/or dinner. 
* I just made my first batch of sauerkraut from a recipe I learned at the conference. (I'll be sharing that soon).
* I've been enjoying kombucha tea that I bought at my local market.
* I loaded up on all the ingredients to make miso soup which I plan to perfect!


Load up on fermented foods

#2 - Feed your Bugs
The trillions of microbes that are colonized in your gut need to eat. Don't forget, 90% of the cells and 99% of the genetic material in your body are made up of these little guys so you have to feed them. They feast on microbiota accessible carbohydrates (MACs) or foods with high amounts of dietary fiber. Although I already have a pretty high fiber diet, I am paying more attention to every meal. You should aim for 25 to 35 g of dietary fiber a day or 14 grams for every 1,000 calories consumed.

Oh, and by the way, if you don't feed them, they will eat the mucosal lining of your intestines which cannot lead to anything good. So feed them or they will eat you!

What to Do Now:
* I am journaling my dietary fiber to make sure I'm getting about 30 g per day.
* I am making sure to eat lots of high fiber foods like whole grains, beans, fruits and veggie and to avoid all unprocessed carbohydrates like white rice, pasta or bread.

Note: If you are not used to eating this much fiber, introduce it slowly into your diet or you will explode!


Bugs LOVE beans and my pantry is full of them!

#3 - Get Moving
Sitting is the new "smoking" and can kill you. It is critical to do some form of exercise for 30 minutes a day. You don't have to run a marathon but even a 30 minute brisk walk can do the world of good. After my recent foot surgery, I was immobile for 6 weeks. In just that short period of time, I gained some weight and my energy level and mental clarity declined. 

What to Do Now
* I'm wearing my Fitbit and working myself back up to 10,000 steps a day.
* I use my recumbent bike or elliptical when watching TV.
* As soon as I my foot is completely recovered, I will get back to my Zumba classes.


You can buy fancier ones to wear on your wrist,
but I like this small fitbit that clips on my pocket.

#4 - Reduce Exposure to Environmental Toxins 
Dr. Victoria Maizes gave a presentation on "Eating Green and Clean". She pointed out that there are over 85,000 industrial chemicals on the market yet only 200 of them have been tested for safety with respect to human health. These chemicals are on our food, in our personal care products, in the lining of our food cans, in plastic containers, in our cleaning products, and in our drinking water. Many of the chemicals we are exposed to every day can cause unexpected health problems

What to Do Now
* I'm in the process of going through my medicine cabinet and discarding makeup, shampoo, lotion, sunscreen and any personal care products with questionable ingredients. Check out the EWG's Skin Deep website to see if your personal care products are safe.
* I'm attempting to get rid of all plastic in my kitchen (boy, is that hard).
* I'm not buying any cans with BPA linings. Check out Tree Hugger to see a list of BPA-free cans.  I avoid buying a lot of canned food by making my own beans from scratch.
* I'm trying to grow most of my food this summer but when I shop, I try to only buy organic food, especially if it is on EWG's "Dirty Dozen" List
* I am looking at my cleaning products and checking EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning.
* I'm checking all food products and vitamin supplements for food additives, like carrageenan.
* I'm trying to avoid my non-stick pans when possible even though I love them.

This is a big list and the hardest endeavor of all but I'll take it one step at a time.

#5 - Consume Turmeric with Black Pepper
Omega-3 fatty acids are very important in our diet as they reduce inflammation and the many degenerative diseases that are associated with inflammation. Vegetarians only get ALA from sources like hemp, chia, and flax seeds and other plant sources. EPA and DHA, the more important form of omega-3, are found in algae and animal sources like fish and grass fed meats. Vegans and vegetarians are often deficient in EPA and DHA - this deficiency can lead to a host of cognitive problems and other health issues.

The body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA but it's not very efficient and not much of it gets absorbed in the body. The good news for vegans and vegetarians is this:

* Eating sources of ALA together with Turmeric (curcumin being the main active compound) improves the conversion of rate of ALA to DHA, increases the absorption of DHA in the liver, and increases the levels of DHA in the brain.

* Consuming black pepper (piperine being the main active compound) with turmeric increases the bioavailability of turmeric by 2,000%. 

What to Do Now

* Although I am a pesca-vegan and get some of my DHA and EPA omega-3 from local salmon, I will also plan meals that include turmeric, black pepper, and sources of ALA omega-3. For example: Make a tasty curry (with both turmeric and black pepper) followed by a refreshing chia seed pudding. 
* I presently take Meriva SR from Thorne for my allergies. It is a time-released curcumin product. I noticed that there are a number of curcumin supplements on the market today that include black pepper extracts. This may be a better choice, especially for vegans trying to enhance the conversion of ALA omega-3 fatty acids to EPA and DHA.




I have a lot more to share with you about the conference but these 5 areas inspired me the most. More to come............