Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hats Off To Earth Day!

  We celebrated Earth Day on Tuesday by enjoying a great bike ride to picnic and climb (hug) trees by our local pond, then to the library to borrow books.  We've been making some earthy-crunchy snacks lately, full of veggies, fruits and other nutritious ingredients.  I love packing up our vintage picnic basket for impromptu meals, as it lends to eating fresh, easy, clean food.  My daughter found some logs to sit on and as she walked toward a tree at the park, she said, "I'll give you hugs tree, so you'll grow leaves!", then proceeded to hug and sing a song about it to the tree ~ I have a genuine tree-hugger on my hands folks!  It's fun watching kids express their oneness with nature.

  Our food growing has been a challenge so far this year, with quite erratic weather patterns here, from very warm to snowing in April, but we press on and are seeing our sprouts and seedlings display a strong will to survive, despite a few casualties.  The living planet has so much to teach us, and nurturing tiny seeds that grow into strong plants providing real, pure, whole, nutrient-rich food has been such a privilege and educational journey for me.  It teaches patience, acceptance of uncontrollable circumstances, and perseverance when things seem difficult or impossible.  So much growth may come about from waiting and watching, allowing life to unfold in its' own time and way.  Taking time with my family to breathe it all in and enjoy the moments, each one a new joy to be had, has been a calming and satisfying personal shift for me recently.

For the picnic, we packed up some mason jars with two different salads to share, along with a banana, raisins, almonds and Purity Organic Coconut Water.
Jar 1 contents:
Red Organic Quinoa
Lemon Juice
Grated Carrot 

Jar 2 contents:
Red Bell Pepper
Manchego Cheese
Lemon Juice

Monday, April 21, 2014

Involving Kids In Their Own Nutrition

  My girl planting tomatoes last year

Our friend's farm party in Santa Cruz, California a few years ago

Picking pumpkins at a California patch- my first year using non-canned for a pie

Butternut Squash Gluten-free pancakes she helped make

 Picking apples in California

 Brooklyn, New York rooftop farm, chicken coop
 Brooklyn Rooftop Farm
 Friend's chicken coop, collecting eggs in Berkshire Mountains, Massachusetts
 My gal's favorite Hot Gluten-free Cereal & herbal tea (tisane)
 Prepping our new garden in Boston with a friend

 Homemade Avocado Banana Organic Chocolate Mousse - with no refined sugar or sweetener added, topped with bee pollen, cashews & coconut
 Dipping cashews in it 

 Child labor ;)
 Pulling her first carrots in Athens, Georgia at a friend's garden

 Farm event in California, potato and fruit stamping- art
 Churning beet ice cream in Santa Cruz

 Family gardening day last year

farm day
 Helping prepare dinner, cutting organic sprouted tofu

  Looking back, watching my child grow and learn about food has been such a fun adventure to share. As parents, finding ways to engage children in making their own healthful choices can seem like a huge task at times.  It can also make a world of difference in how they learn to develop, nourish and nurture themselves and others.  I have been thankful that my 5 year old daughter has remained so pliable, agreeable and open to hearing the reasons that we eat the way we do, although at times it has proved difficult to explain to a young one, when many people around us do not share our path.  I've always known that, as my child grows, someday I would forfeit the full responsibility that I have for her health and food choices, while she develops her own taste, personality, likes / dislikes, and becomes less dependent and reliant on my guidance.  I decided, when she was in my body, that until that time comes, it would be my responsibility to offer, teach and share with her all of the knowledge that I may have about health, nutrition and nourishment, so that she would at least have a healthy foundation to build upon as she grew.  Now that she is 5 and I see her making a slew of new choices daily, asserting herself, expressing her opinions and asking multitudes of questions -- the "WHY?" has become a large part of our daily conversation, and this has caused me to question my choices in life much more as well.

  What I have learned from experience, I try to pass along to my daughter and others if they so desire.    I try to emphasize that everyone is different and chooses various paths in life and diet, and that no one is better than anyone else... but even this can be confusing to her.  She asks, "but if it's not good for you, why do they eat it?" and the answer is different for each person.  Food is a touchy subject for many people, as so many emotions can be involved with diet, health and weight issues from a very young age.  Most of us have certain attachments or happy, comforting memories of foods from our youth or family home-cooked meals/ recipes that tug at our senses and heart-strings.  Biologically, certain foods, ingredients, sights or smells may trigger hormones and emotions that involuntarily bring us deeper into our past, without us even realizing it.  Being aware of why we crave specific tastes at certain times, can help us to curb less healthful choices and to guide our kids toward a healthy relationship with food.

Some Tips For Helping Kids Eat Clean:

1. Mix fruits and veggies into the foods you make regularly.
There will be times that kids just don't want to try new foods, picky eaters may need some extra nutritious ingredients mixed (or hidden) in some of their favorite staple meals.
For example:
~Make pasta sauce with lots of veggies pureed / blended into it, or just blend into store-bought.
~Make smoothies / juices- it's a great way to add fruits and veggies they may not like much- greens like spinach/ broccoli / kale if you just put a little to start- it won't change the taste or texture much at all.
~Mac & Cheese -We add spinach at the end to quickly steam, turmeric, raw shredded carrots, shredded zucchini, chopped mushrooms, flax seed, chickpeas, and smoked wild salmon.
~Make popsicles at home with smoothies in freezer molds, to avoid high fructose corn syrup & food coloring.
~If you eat meatballs / or veggieballs - mix a lot of veggies into them that they may not eat otherwise.

2. Offer healthy options & give them choices.
They may not like it at first, but having a wide variety of nutrient-dense fresh fruit, veggies, dried fruit and nuts around at all times keeps it in their eye-line so that they become more accustomed to seeing it available.  These can begin to replace the more processed, sugar-filled, packaged kid snacks that are marketed to catch their eye with bright wrappers, colors or characters.  Food is not a toy, though of course it can be enjoyable, it is sustenance to nourish our growing bodies and cells. I usually keep raw almonds & raisins in my bag- which help with glucose/ blood sugar regulation/ moods / meltdowns.  If there are always healthy options to grab quickly, it wards off grabbing fast food or processed products.  I often ask my gal which of two healthy options she would like to eat, so that she may practice taking control of her decisions.

3.  Start young...
but if you didn't, don't fret, it's never too late, it just may take a little more work & nudging.  People often ask how I got my girl to eat the way she does (for example, she loves salad & raw fish) and the answer is she's just always eaten this way. Whatever we eat, we offer her and she tries it.  I tried to keep her off of refined sugars, salt, preservatives and flavor enhancing additives (like MSG) in processed foods for as long as I could, so that her tastebuds wouldn't become desensitized to the subtle nuances of flavor and spice in more natural, pure foods. Like an apple, for instance, doesn't need sugar to taste good or sweet, yet applesauce or apple muffin may have it added, so allowing them to taste things as they are in pure form, helps them to not need so much of the stronger flavor or sweetness to be satiated, or enjoy the taste.  The strong salts, sugars or flavor additives can cause cravings to spike if we become used to them.  Some of this can go back to when children are developing inside their mothers- they actually get used to what we eat when we are pregnant- their DNA changes according to these tastes, setting them up genetically for life to be pre-disposed to certain foods and allergies.  But we can always change our lives and tastes at any age, it just takes more consciously focusing on it as we age, to break habits set in place earlier.

4.  Think of how it will effect their moods. 
High fat / sugar content or artificial sweeteners, certain chemicals, preservatives & food coloring have been studied and known to cause behavioral / health issues for some kids.  Many of the food products marketed toward children have loads of these.  Read labels, and choose the ones with the least ingredients and ones you can pronounce and know the origins of.  My gal eats about 6 times a day, it keeps her blood sugar regulated- low blood sugar / glucose can cause increased anger and bad moods.

5.  Discuss and explain the benefits of foods they are eating. 
I count nutrients and colors, not calories.  I often look up benefits online so that I can plan meals / smoothies according to any health issues or needs we may have at the time.  We make it a game at some meals, to name all the good, healthy reasons for eating certain items.  We talk about the specific vitamins, antioxidants, proteins, fats, phytonutrients, fiber, cancer-fighting, anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antibacterial properties and what they do in our bodies; and mostly, we have always emphasized that "this food will help you to grow stronger and healthier, and help you to not get sick"... because what kid wants to be sick constantly? Teaching prevention of illness through nutrition, rather than having to take medication often, helps strengthen the immune system.  Knowing what food is made of and why it may be better for you than something else, may help to guide their choices.

6.  Teach the origins of food & let them help prepare, cook, and grow it, if possible. 
Getting children involved in the whole process that food takes to get to our plates, helps them to feel a sense of ownership, accomplishment and responsibility for what they eat and how it effects health.  We visit farms, farmers markets & gardens often, to see how food grows, or bee keeping is done.  A lesson in sustainability-- we play a game at meals by listing all of the people, vehicles and work it took to get the food we eat; how & where it grew- on trees, plants, roots underground, farms, tropical islands etc... This is fun for my daughter and helps us all to be thankful and conscious of the world at large, our global economy and the environmental impact of our consumption.  Our garden has been so exciting for our gal, to watch a tiny seed grow into juicy, nourishing food, then harvest and eat it, is such a neat experience for a young one or anyone!  Raising awareness / consciousness of how food, or other objects we use, are produced and transported, may help children to develop into individuals who nurture and preserve the environment and the world they are becoming citizens of.

7.  Have fun! 
The world of food is spectacular, fabulous, bright and scrumptious. Visiting farms and allowing my gal to taste a bit of everything (minus the chemicals) gets her excited to keep testing her tastebuds and trying new foods.  Today she said, "I miss the restaurants in New York."  I told her there are great ones here too, and we will keep trying food from various cultures.  She is eager and open to trying new things, which hopefully will help her to be open to many ideas and people throughout her life.

  Through parenting, I am learning that accepting myself as I am, and not judging myself or others when a not-so-healthy day comes or a misstep is taken, can make such a great difference in how I perceive health and wellness, whether physical or mental.  Each misstep or "wrong turn" is an opportunity for learning something more about myself or the world, a chance to become healthier and more knowledgable, through experience.  No one has all of the answers all of the time, and accepting that, helps me to better trust the process of growth and change and to continue trying to eat and live more cleanly and consciously.

 Bee Keeping/ Honey collecting demo in California

 Green Smoothie Bowl with mango, bee pollen, raw soaked almonds, chia, flax & coconut

Cleansing Raw Vegan Breakfast -fruit with chia, flax, almonds, cashews, walnuts & coconut cream with shredded carrots & zucchini, for dipping

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Smoothie Collaboration <> With Purity Organic Coconut Water

Smoothie below contains: Chocolate Coconut Water, Banana, Mango, Spinach, Raw Unsalted Almond Butter, Soaked Raw Almonds, Dried Apricots, Chia Seed Gel, Ground Flax Seeds // Topped with Unsweetened Coconut 

2 Layer Smoothie contains: Organic Mango Coconut Water, kale, strawberry, banana, mango, blueberry, avocado, flax seed // Green layer:  mango coconut water, coconut cream, pineapple, kale, banana // Topped with bee pollen, chia seed, coconut & cayenne pepper

  I was recently asked by Purity Organic to create some smoothie recipes using their Organic Coconut Water as an ingredient. I received a nice load of various flavors and they are delicious and come from organic coconuts sourced in the Philippines - where my mom's from.  I have loved coconut water since I first went to the Philippines 12 years ago.  I drank so much of it straight out of the fresh, young coconuts, called macapuno, then scraped out the soft flesh to eat.  I still vividly recall my trip there when I was 19, with my mom, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins. There we met many more family members and visited the house my mom grew up in and where my grandmother still lived.  It was right by the ocean- the water lapped the side of the house.  It was so great to see all of the old family photos on the walls, and to walk around her village and through the tropical forest, to see bananas and coconuts growing everywhere.  There's nothing like picking fresh fruit and eating it on the spot. We'd watch these men climb the tall trees and throw coconuts down, then hack them in half with big knives- delicious water splashing everywhere.  Yum.

  Now my daughter and husband love drinking coconut water as well, and I make smoothies with it and with coconut milk.  Coconuts contain so many health benefits, whether you use their water, oil, milk or flesh.  I use it in some form every day.  Here are a few reasons:

1.  Their saturated fat- lauric acid- helps increase good, heart-healthy HDL cholesterol.
2.  Helps fight viruses, bacteria, fungal infection, candida, yeast
3.  Can effect hormones positively for thyroid & blood-sugar control- helps insulin levels
4.  Speed Metabolism- helps if these good fats (Medium Chain Triglycerides) are in the liver
5.  Strong antioxidant- To fight off illness // Oxidation is considered a major contributor to cardiovascular problems & skin aging.
6. Their oil is great for hair and skin moisture & hydration.
7.  Their water contains electrolytes for re-hydrating & replacing the mineral-rich fluids lost when ill or exercising-- potassium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus, calcium & natural sugars, instead of processed sugars found in sports drinks.
8. Fiber in the water helps with digestion and acid reflux.
9.  Coconut water is used in some countries intravenously in emergencies to replace blood, as it is isotonic to human plasma. 

Enjoy the incredible benefits & naturally delicious taste of coconuts! 

Friday, April 4, 2014

New Recipe <> Wheat-free Vegan Banana Avocado Walnut Rye & Millet Waffles

I just made this up the other day and was so excited that they came out so well, first try- lucky day!

Makes about 6 small waffles

1/4 cup rye flour
1/4 cup millet flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 dashes salt
2/3 of a banana
2 tablespoons avocado
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon coconut oil
Add nuts, dashes of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves & turmeric- depending on your flavor tastes

I also add chia or ground flax seeds at times for extra protein & omegas.

First mash banana and avocado in bowl, then mix everything else together and pour in waffle maker!


(NOTE: Rye contains Gluten so this is not a recipe for gluten-free celiacs)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Finding Balance : Tips for Cleaner Eating

Organic food we grew last year
A farm we like to visit in Massachusetts

A meal from food we grew

A 2.5 acre rooftop farm by our home in Brooklyn, New York. - "Brooklyn Grange"

 Farmhouse my mother-in-law was raised in
 My in-laws' old family barn and farmland
 My grandmother-in-law's old horse stables 
My daughter picking our Brooklyn-grown window tomatoes

 Our first family garden last year at my husband's childhood home
Our friends DH & Caylin's garden in Athens, Georgia last summer

  Our family goal in eating cleaner is health, energy, vitality, and prevention of illness or inflammation, as well as curbing our environmental impact and carbon emissions, while connecting more deeply with the Earth.  As mentioned in my previous post, I've never been on a "diet," and I have a few guidelines for the way I eat and feed my family.  My goal has never been weight loss, yet it has been a nice side effect of eating cleaner.  As about 75% of the human immune system lies in the gut (digestive tract) we aim to keep these organs clean and flowing smoothly.  Human food choices also effect the environmental health of the planet immensely and we try to remember this as we decide what to eat and where to get it.  Understanding the origins of what we consume helps us to make informed decisions.   I am by no means a nutrition expert, I just try to be conscious of what I ingest and how it may effect my health.  On my family's side there is a history of diabetes, cancer, anemia, heart problems, and ALS; while my husband's side has stroke and heart problems, so we aim to understand these diseases and learn preventative measures against them.

  While we eat a mainly plant-based diet + fish and eggs, we don't exclusively put ourselves in any specific category like vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, paleo, raw foodist, or gluten-free, but I pull and create recipes from each of these paths as I find benefits in all of them.  Keeping an open mind to the plethora of changing diets and scientific research, helps us to grow in knowledge and understanding of human health and how food effects us.  I hold a holistic view that everything I put into and on-to my body effects my cells and the environment in some way, although the impacts may not be noticed for many years.

  We have found these guidelines to be helpful for our family health and so far (5 years) they have kept us out of hospitals and off of antibiotics: 

1.  Eat lots of natural color ~ Count colors not calories
The more varied colors of vegetables and fruits eaten, the more different nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and benefits you receive. Avoid food coloring, as it contains chemicals and can worsen allergies and behavioral issues.

2.  We don't order anything from children's menus. 
Offering kids more whole food and fresher options from a young age may help them to start off on a healthier foot or at least to understand what is going into their bodies so that they can make educated decisions later. Our 5 year old daughter has always eaten whatever we eat, we don't cook or buy special "kid food" for her. She eats our menu and eats out with adults often.  This has helped her to have a broad palate since she began eating solid foods, and a desire for varied foods from many cultures, as her tastebuds adapt to and explore the variety of flavors in the world of food.  Her favorites are sushi (she only likes raw fish now), Indian, and Thai. Most kids' menus at restaurants contain the same things. I know that many kids like these foods and that they are easy and convenient, but they have very little nutrient value and contain lots of refined, bleached white flour / sugar, chemical preservatives, food coloring, meat bi-products, and are often fried at high temperatures which can cause inflammation and high cholesterol. Kids can only eat what adults keep in stock, which gives me motivation to stock our home with healthy food for all of us. 

3.  Raw fruits, veggies, herbs & spices heal.
They work as well, if not better, than medicine. I've seen that strong, raw juice can help knock out the onset of an illness which just goes to show how much healing & preventative power is in raw food.  Prevent illness and increase energy with the foods you eat and avoid eating. Food can heal or hurt our immune systems.

4. Take probiotics and drink lots of water.
Probiotics (in pill form or in yogurt/kefir) help to maintain the natural balance of organisms- microflora- in the intestines that make digestion go smoothly.  Basically they are "good bacteria" that help to rid the intestines of "bad bacteria" which can come from too much sugar.  Drink water all day to cleanse toxins and keep the digestive tract hydrated for easy elimination of waste.  Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your body, inside and out- your skin will thank you too! 

5.  I don't cut anything out completely (except soda- which I did in 2000)
because I've found that deprivation can lead to binge eating and cause cravings to spike if trying to cut things out cold turkey.  My only exception is if we are sick- we totally cut out white, refined sugars, wheat flour (gluten), dairy and fried food as they can cause inflammation and weaken the immune system.  I try to keep our daily intake of these items rather low and monitor this by balancing with plenty of whole, nutrient-rich foods.

6.  Replace white, bleached, processed, refined sugar & wheat flour with whole grain or wheat-free  flour like coconut flour, barley, amaranth, quinoa, brown rice flour, buckwheat flour, teff, oat meal, almond meal, non-gmo corn meal, or millet flour.  These flours or cereals were once staples in our ancestors' diets and held much more nutrients, vitamins, minerals, proteins and fiber than modern processed wheat, soy or corn which is often genetically modified and used as filler in so many packaged products. We are not gluten-intolerant / celiac but we find that our guts bloat less when we decrease our gluten intake.  Also having at least one meal a day containing no grains at all is a good way to balance the immune system. I replace refined sugar with raw honey, pure maple syrup & dates, as they have some nutritional benefits, while sugar actually depletes the body's nutrients.  Most sugar used to be derived from sugar cane plants, but is now mostly processed from sugar beets which are very often genetically modified. 

7.  Variety and balance are key. 
Eating a wide variety of foods from various cultures with many spices and herbs helps keep metabolism rates up by switching it up and not allowing the body to get too used to one type of food.  Not getting stuck in a food rut and trying new things, keeps the digestive tract running smoothly and tastebuds excited! 

8. When buying packaged, processed foods ALWAYS READ LABELS
We try to keep these to a minimum as they often contain far too many chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, coloring, and hidden fillers or man-made ingredients that just aren't natural and have not been proven safe for long-term health.  If we do buy packaged foods, we make sure that they have the least amount of ingredients possible and that we know the origin and can pronounce each word on the labels.

9. Avoid genetically modified / genetically engineered food (GMO, GM, GE) if possible. 
Look for NON-GMO labelled products, if you eat packaged foods at all. Genetically Modified Organisms are products that have been engineered in a lab by scientists by changing natural DNA and injecting chemicals, herbicides and pesticides to make food last longer, grow faster, fight weeds, and breed new varieties.  This hasn't been proven completely safe for long-term health and may be harming biodiversity, animals, plants and the environment as well as farmers' livelihoods.  There are bans against it in many countries and some US states, as more people are now fighting to have laws passed to end it and for mandatory GMO labeling on products. Many still debate GMO safety, but I'd just rather decrease their levels in my body. To learn more:

10. Eat Local
As much as possible, within budget, we try to support local, organic farms, shops and eateries that use locally sourced, in-season products.  This makes a difference in our local and global economy and environment, and helps support the hard-working farmers who make a living by providing us with fresh, sustainable, whole, real food.  Food is fresher when grown nearby, or by you!  I worked on an organic, hydroponic farm in Florida for a bit and my husband worked on an apple orchard in Massachusetts years ago, which is where we had our wedding. We make a point of visiting farms and gardens often and grow our own food as well. My husband comes from a family line of farmers and Native Americans, so connection to the native land in Northeast USA is important to us and we hope to pass this appreciation along to our daughter.
Rooftop garden at Rosemary's restaurant in New York City
(Thank you stranger for photographing us:)

(All photos taken by me. Please do not use without permission. ~Tina Picz-Devoe)