Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Had Many Challenges But I End The Year With Joy And Gratitude

Me with two of my grand boys at Christmas.

Boy, What a Year
Ah, the last day of the year. A month ago I would have said, “hooray, let’s get this one over with.” But I end the year with joy and gratitude. Let me explain.

I started the year learning the tango in Buenos Aires and cooking in Rio de Janeiro. What a wonderful beginning to the year. I then returned in February to do several medical procedures that were going to improve my life.

No matter how many vitamins we take, no matter how much we exercise, no matter how good a diet we have – shit happens. In my case, I had a surgery to fix a Morton’s neuroma in my foot so that I could run again. It didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, to put it mildly (but that’s an entire blog post in itself). Then I had 2 cataract surgeries that gave me excellent vision until one of my retina’s tore which required a fun laser procedure to tack it back up. Finally, several mysterious freckles showed up which required skin biopsies.

By now I’m thinking that 2015 is not a banner year. How embarrassing for someone who writes a health blog. How did this happen to me? I eat well, work out regularly, take healthful tinctures and critical supplements every day. I was feeling pretty down - thinking that perhaps at 67 you are just supposed to fall apart no matter what. But something interesting happened to me.

While I was waiting for my biopsy results, I had this very long discussion with the universe. At the end, I made a promise that if the results were negative, I would stop sweating the small stuff. I would be more positive about life and not let things upset me. I would spend more of my time doing things that fed my soul. In short, I made the decision to be happier and more joyful.

Now you have to understand a little about me to know what a big deal this was. My mother, bless her soul, was extremely accomplished and I have the utmost respect for her. But she was not often joyful. She worried about and anticipated a negative outcome for just about everything. Were she alive today, she would be worried that ISIS would invade New Rochelle. A lifetime of these negative tapes are hard to erase and many of them rubbed off on me. Not that I was a grumpy bear, but I was quick to dwell a bit on the negative. But after getting the negative biopsy report I was hoping for, I decided to erase those tapes, as best I could. 

I made the decision to choose joy and to embrace gratitude. Yes, it turns out, it’s a decision. I’m not saying that it always works but it works a lot more when you’ve made the decision. Try it!

I am Filled with Joy and Gratitude
So as I sit here today, the last day of the year, soaking my New Year’s black-eyed peas, reflecting back on 2015, I am filled with joy and gratitude. 

I am grateful that I survived my health issues and I end the year healthy and fit.

I am grateful that I will continue my journey to discover how food, herbs, and lifestyle can lead to a healthier life and that I get to share what I learn with you.

I am grateful that I have a wonderful husband, family and good friends.

I am grateful that I live in California (I need not explain.)

I am grateful that I got to spend the holidays with my kids, grandkids, and got to watch Star Wars in 3D at an IMAX theatre. 

I’m grateful that I could fly in and out of Minneapolis at Christmas without having my flights cancelled or delayed due to snow.

I am grateful for you and your interest in my work. This provides me the inspiration to continue.

My Best Wishes to You
As you reflect the past year, I hope you celebrate the good things that have happened in your life. And I hope the challenging things you may have experienced have made you stronger. Most of all, I hope you have many interesting and joyful things to look forward to in 2016 and people you love to share them with. 

Happy New Year and I’ll see you next year!


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Make Organic Pain Relief Salve In Your Instant Pot
Makes A Great Holiday Gift!

Homemade salves make a great gift,
especially when they are in Infinity Jars.

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My latest passion is working with herbs. I especially enjoy making salves using the highest quality ingredients I can find. My next step will be to grow some of these flowers myself but today I'm going to show you how to make a simple salve that you can use on sore or spastic muscles, nerve pain, arthritic pain, and more. 

The most important thing is to use organic ingredients. Even though it is not to be used internally or on broken skin, this salve will be absorbed through the skin. I buy all certified organic herbs from Mountain Rose. I also like using organic extra virgin olive oil instead of coconut oil, probably because I'm Italian and I use olive oil for everything, and because it's easier to get consistent firmness. I also throw in a little jojoba oil (it's actually a wax) for added moisturizing and vitamin E as a preservative.

Arnica can help treat physical trauma, bruises, strains,muscle pain and can reduce swelling.

Calendula flowers are useful for skin irritations.

Comfrey relieves pain, swelling, supporting muscle, cartilage and bone.

St. John's Wort is used for bruises and nerve support.

Instant Pot Does It Again
Just when I am convinced that I've discovered all the things my Instant Pot Electric Pressure cooker can do, I discover another one. It turns out that the yogurt setting and the slow cooker setting are perfect in the salve-making process! 

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Organic Pain Relief Salve
Do not use internally or on broken skin
[makes 8 ounces]

Requires a pint jar and top, an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker, a scale, cheese cloth, small cosmetic jars, a pint or quart pyrex with pour spout (one that fits inside your Instant Pot).

1/4 ounce organic calendula flowers
1/4 ounce organic comfrey
1/4 ounce organic arnica flowers
1/4 ounce organic St. John's Wort
Everclear or vodka in a small spray bottle
1 1/4 cups organic extra virgin olive oil or more to cover
1 ounce beeswax*
1 tablespoon organic jojoba oil 
1/4 teaspoon vitamin E
40 to 50 drops organic essential oils

* For a vegan salve, substitute carnauba wax


Clean the cosmetic jars thoroughly and dry completely. Set aside.

Carefully measure out your herbs. Break the flowers up with your hands (don't grind or they will be hard to strain out later). 

Place the broken up herbs in a shallow pan and spray with Everclear or Vodka to open up the herbs. Let sit for 5 to10 minutes.

Place in a jar and cover with olive oil.

You want to make sure that you end up with 1 cup after straining so you must allow some of the oil to be absorbed by the herbs.

Some people let this mixture sit for weeks, but you can reduce that time dramatically if you heat the herbs at 100 degrees for 48 to 72 hours, stirring a few times a day. The yogurt setting on the  instant pot is about 104 degrees so it's pretty perfect! I just set the jar of infused herbs directly on the bottom of the pot, hit YOGURT and set the timer for 72 hours (I didn't realize the pot timer went up that high!) Make sure you use a canning jar that can take the heat. 

When it's done, lay several layers of sterile cheese cloth in a strainer and strain your herbs.

Now it's time to squeeze as much out of the herbs as possible into your pint or quart pyrex.

Just squeeze the balled up cheese cloth with your hand. As a little trick, I pulled out my potato ricer, which I never use for potato ricing, and put the ball of herbs in there for a good press.

Place an inch or two of water in the bottom of the Instant Pot and hit SLOW COOK. The water should get to around 220 degrees F. This beats having to mess with a double boiler.

Line up your cosmetic jars. When everything is ready to pour, you'll have no time to do this so do it now.

While the water is heating, measure out the beeswax. One ounce will make a firm salve. Use less if you want a looser salve. If you want a vegan salve, use carnauba wax. I have no personal experience with carnauba wax but I assume the amount needed is similar.

Place the beeswax in the pyrex of herb oil and place the pyrex into the pot of hot water being very careful not to get any moisture into the oil. The wax will slowly melt. Stir occasionally until all the wax is melted into the oil. 

Quickly stir in the jojoba oil and remove from the heat. But before you remove it from the heat, you can drop a bit onto a piece of parchment to see if you like the hardness of the salve. If it's too stiff, add more oil. If it's too soft, add more beeswax. Throwing the sample in the freezer for a few minutes will speed up this test.

If you are happy with the firmness, remove from heat and quickly stir in the vitamin E oil and whatever essential oil drops you desire. I used a mixture of lavender, peppermint, and DoTerra Aroma Touch which all have relaxing properties and are good for sore muscles.

Once everything is mixed, quickly pour your mixture into the cosmetic jars before the salve starts to harden. Let the jars cool completely before you cover them.

Well, there you have it. Instant Pot Salve! Who knew?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

10 Holiday Gift Ideas Under $25

You'll find some great affordable gifts
in your local neighborhood stores.

Still Shopping?
If you are still looking for some thoughtful yet inexpensive gifts for Chanukah or Christmas, you may only need to look as far as your local bookstore, hardware store or food coop. Here are 10 gift ideas under $25 for people who love to eat, cook, learn and garden.

#1 Locally Roasted Coffee
I was in Oliver's market yesterday and noticed their lovely coffee selection. Most food coops and high-end grocery stores have a nice selection too. There's been lots of press lately touting coffee's health benefits. Coffee has an extremely high antioxidant content and is linked to reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's and more. So if you are buying a gift for someone who enjoys a cup of Joe, pick out a nice pound of coffee. Make sure to find out if they enjoy caffeinated or decaf.

Finding locally roasted coffee is a nice touch.

#2 A Selection of Teas
There are so many delicious teas available. And tea, like coffee, contain substances linked to a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer - especially green tea. Although loose leaf tea is a nice gift, most people would rather use a tea bag for convenience. There are some products that come in impressive little fabric tea pouches that make a great gift. Mighty Leaf is one to consider and is available in markets such as Whole Foods and in many food coops. Find out if your tea drinker prefers herbal, non-caffeinated teas or those that contain caffeine, such as black or green tea preparations. 

Notice the cute fabric pouch!

#3 Gourmet Vinegars and Oils
My mother used to make a salad every night with a red wine vinegar and olive oil. Nothing fancy. But today their are too many types of exotic vinegars and oils to count - each with their own unique flavors and health benefits. They make wonderful gifts and there's a huge selection under $25.

#4 Beans and a Recipe
Many years ago someone gave me a beautiful jar layered with different beans and a recipe for Harvest Bean Soup. It was one of the coolest gifts I ever received. You may not be inclined to go through the trouble of layering different beans in a jar, but you can go pick up a few pounds of different beans and print out your favorite recipes to go along with them. This is a fun and very affordable gift, especially for your friends that have Instant Pot Pressure cookers!

#5 Chocolate
Why did I wait so long to mention chocolate? Yes, we now all know how good dark chocolate is for us but most of all, it's delicious! And don't feel like you have to go out and buy a box of expensive, gourmet chocolates. It's fun to buy an assortment of bars and wrap them with holiday tissue paper and tie them in a bow. Or jus drop them in Christmas stockings!

# 6 Heirloom Seeds
For the gardener on your list, go to your hardware or garden shop and pick out a nice assortment of organic, heirloom seeds. Pay attention to the size of the garden these are going into. For example, don't buy corn seeds if the person has a tiny garden. An heirloom lettuce or some herbs would be more appropriate. Select a few packets of seeds and a garden trowel. Place the seeds in the base of the trowel and hold them in place with ribbon and a bow. 

#7 Gardening Gloves
All gardeners can use a new pair of gardening gloves and you can get a really nice pair for under $25 in your local hardware store. Longer ones are needed for roses, but most gardeners just need the kind that come an inch or so above your wrist. Washable ones are a big plus!

#8 "How To" Books
What's more fun than learning a new hobby or perfecting your skills even further! I have a few books on my own wish list this year that will teach me how to work with medicinal herbs, and one on how to make soap, and another on how to make my own herbal shampoos and cleansers. Just think about a topic that will interest the person you are buying a gift for and find a well-rated book on the subject. Perhaps they want to learn how to make a quilt, refinish furniture, play the ukulele, or how to paint.  Read through the reviews on Amazon and you'll get first-hand feedback.

#9 Assortment of Raw Nuts
Over a 30 year period, 119,000 men and women were tracked. People who ate a handful of nuts each day were 20% less likely to die from any cause, had a 29% reduction in deaths from heart disease and had an 11% reduction in deaths from cancer. So why not give someone this wonderful longevity food, assuming they don't have a nut allergy. Go to your local coop or health food store and buy a nice assortment of raw nuts - walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, etc. Throw in some dark chocolate covered raisins for good measure and fill up a pretty glass quart jar. Top with a bow and you're all set! 

#10 Bath Soap
A nice bath soap is a real treat. Especially when it is natural and contains lovely essential oils. I particularly like exfoliating soaps with oatmeal like the one from my daughter's company, Lulu Organics.  The reason bath soaps are a real treat is that most people won't spend $5 or $6 on a bar of soap for themselves but getting a few bars as a gift is a real luxury. 

I hope I've given you some ideas. For more posts on this topic, see my 2013 Great Christmas Gifts for Healthy Cooking or my 2014 Gift Ideas for Health-Conscious Cooks.
Happy shopping!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Mashed Vegan Yukon Gold Potatoes And Cauliflower Using Your Instant Pot Pressure Cooker

Add nutrients and fiber to your mashed potatoes.
This is my FAVORITE way to make mashed potatoes!

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A Healthier Mashed Potato
Who doesn't love mashed potatoes? And there are plenty of tasty dairy-free products available like Earth Balance Buttery Spread and a number of vegan sour cream products that you can whip into your dish so that vegans and those allergic to dairy can enjoy them. But these products can add a lot of calories and not provide all that much nutritional benefit.

Adding cauliflower to your mashed potatoes, while limiting the amount of vegan margarine and sour cream, can not only reduce the calorie count but can also add fiber, protein, vitamin C, K, and B6, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium and potassium. One large head of cauliflower has a whopping 17 grams of high quality protein and 21 grams of dietary fiber!

Instant Pot Pressure Cooker
This dish is quite easy to make in your Instant Pot Pressure Cooker. The only tricky thing is to determine the correct amount of water to add to the pot. I used one half cup and it was a bit dry so I'm suggesting 2/3 cup for this recipe. If it seems like it's too much, you can always drain some out (reserving the water just in case). Different potatoes will vary in the amount of water they absorb. This recipe calls for Yukon gold, my absolute favorite potato to mash.

If you don't have an Instant Pot Pressure cooker, just peel, dice, and cook your potatoes together with cauliflower florets in a 5-quart Dutch oven or medium pot. Since cauliflower cooks faster than potatoes, cut the potatoes up smaller than the cauliflower.

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Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes and Cauliflower
Vegan, Dairy Free, Gluten Free
[makes 8 servings]

Requires an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
1 large head cauliflower (~ 1.5 pounds)
2/3 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon Earth Balance Buttery Spread
2 tablespoons Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream 
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and dice the potatoes. Remove the large bottom leaves of the cauliflower. Cut into pieces using the stems and flowerets. Place potatoes and cauliflower in the pressure cooker along with the water.

Secure the pressure cooker top making sure that the quick release switch is in the closed position. Push the manual button and set it for 4 minutes at high pressure.

When it's done, hit the off button on the lower right and then do a quick release. Open the cover and tilt it so that the steam comes out the back away from your face.

There should be a small amount of cooking liquid on the bottom which you will mash into the potato-cauliflower mix. If you think it is excessive, drain some out but save the liquid just in case.

Place the nutritional yeast, Earth Balance, and vegan sour cream into the pot and mash everything together until it reaches the desired consistency. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. If it seems too dry, add more Earth Balance, sour cream, or a bit of hot almond or soy milk or, if you drained out some cooking liquid, you can add that back in.

Serve immediately or place in a casserole dish and heat in the stove or microwave oven to reheat.

Per serving: 135 calories, 2 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 50 mg omega-3 and 48 mg omega-6 fatty acids*, 0 mg cholesterol, 6 g protein, 27 g carbohydrates, 5 g dietary fiber, and 65 mg sodium (plus whatever you added to taste).

*Fatty acid amounts do not include any contribution from Earth Balance, Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream, or nutritional yeast since the manufacturer does not provide that information.