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Today I am grateful for the American innovation, the muffin: a heart-warming, semi-sweet, quick bread for one.

Perfect for breakfast, dessert, a snack, or sometimes even a meal replacement on the go, I do love a good muffin pretty much any time of day!

Well, at least I used to …  months ago, on a quest to resolve some health issues, I eliminated dairy, eggs, and wheat from my diet. I am, in fact, feeling better, but ohhhhh, the cravings!

I’m happy to report that I’m finally over my cheese-and-creamy-foods cravings (I ate a whole avocado a day for weeks, to help fill the creamy void!), and could quite easily walk by a fragrant loaf of crusty French bread without blinking an eye.

But lately I’ve really been craving an earthy, wholesome muffin, chock full of good and healthy ingredients. And so my research for “gluten-free” and “vegan” baked goods began.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no vegan! Omnivore all the way! But I’ve learned that if you want a baked treat with no eggs or dairy in it, “vegan” is the buzzword to look for.

A few substitutions and additions to this recipe resulted in muffins that were moist and delicious.  And despite NO refined sugar whatsoever, the dates and raisins contribute enough sweetness to please even little taste buds.

I held my breath when my oh-so-finicky Little Ecogirl took the first bite. Her wrinkled nose and frownie mouth turned into a big crumby smile, and she promptly gobbled down the rest and asked for more!

almond flax muffins

Gluten-free Almond Flax Muffins

  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 4 Tbsp plus 1/4 cup ground flax seeds, separated
  • 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 7 dates, pits and “crown” removed
  • 3/4 cup plus 1/8 cup water, separated
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  1. In a small bowl, whisk 4 Tbsp ground flax with 3/4 cup water and set aside for at least ten minutes. (This is your egg replacer.)
  2. In a large bowl combine almond flour, 1/4 cup flax, coconutbaking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
  3. In a Vitamix or other high powered blender, blend dates, flax and water egg replacer, 1/8 cup water, oil, and vanilla on high speed until very smooth
  4. Mix wet ingredients into dry, then stir in sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and raisins.
  5. Spoon batter into lined muffin pan. These don’t rise much, so fill right up to the top of the liner.
  6. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes.
  7. Cool and serve.

Tonight’s dinner was a successful cornucopia of veggies in disguise, and a quick and easy one at that!

By now, Ecogirl is four and a half, and Ecobaby isn’t such a baby anymore … two months past her second birthday already! How time flies! They are (mostly) adventurous eaters, but I sometimes still get stubborn resistance to eating vegetables.

So what do I do? I don’t bother with a fight. I just pull the veggie bait-and-switch, and dupe them into eating something delicious and nutritious that they weren’t expecting.

Who doesn’t like pasta?!?! That one always goes over well at our house, and likely at yours too. Cries of “Yay, fettuccine!” filled my ears, while they hadn’t the foggiest notion I’d be hiding several servings of veggies amidst the twirling mass of tasty noodles.

I’ve been trying to stay (somewhat) gluten-free while I’m exploring my newest diet to increase alkalinity. I’m not religious about it, but I do find I feel better when I reduce, or better yet eliminate, processed wheat products. Ecodaddy is mostly onboard with my unconventional dietary choices, but he is not a big fan of rice pasta, instead ever-loyal to those amber waves of grain that are a staple of the standard American diet (aka wheat).

But since he’s at work tonight and it’s just us girls having dinner at home, I took the opportunity to let my beloved rice pasta take center stage. You, however, are more than welcome to use any type of pasta you darned please.

veggie fettuccine

While I chose not to, feel free to top with a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if you are so inspired!

Quick and Easy Veggie Fettuccine

While the water boiled for the pasta, I warmed up a cast-iron pan and poured in a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil. When it had that glisten that told me it was just right for sizzling veggies, I added about 1/4 cup diced onions. I let the onions sauté for a few minutes til they softened and browned a bit, then added 1/4 cup chopped broccoli florets, 1/4 cup chopped cauliflower florets, about 1/4 cup vegetable broth and a few hefty pinches of sea salt. I put a lid on it and let it simmer over medium-low heat a few minutes, then took the lid off and let the cooking liquid evaporate. In went a couple of minced garlic cloves. Just another minute or two of sautéing so the garlic wouldn’t burn, and I then dumped in half a jar of store-bought tomato sauce (hey, even Ecomamas take short cuts sometimes!). Warmed it all up and voila: fast and easy veggie tomato sauce!

By this time, I had put a glug of extra virgin olive oil and a few hefty pinches of sea salt into the boiling water, and in went the rice fettuccine. Rice pasta is terribly gummy if overcooked, so you really need to keep a close eye (and taste) on it. It keeps cooking in the colander, so after straining it, I ran some cold water over the noodles to halt the cooking process.

Meanwhile, the now-empty pasta pot went back on the stove on medium-low heat with a glug of extra virgin olive oil (if you are not on a dairy-free diet like I am, I encourage you to use a few tablespoons of butter instead!), and the rinsed pasta went back in the pot and tossed with a few pinches of sea salt and a few turns of the black pepper mill.

I served the veggie-laden sauce over a bed of the well-seasoned fettuccine, and topped the girls’ bowls with grated parmesan cheese (parmigiano reggiano is our personal fave). Alas, no cheese for me, but still very tasty.

The girls both gobbled it up … I was thrilled when they asked for seconds, and simply floored when they asked for thirds!

Sidenote: several years ago, my sister gave me one of the greatest pieces of kitchen advice EVER. She said, whenever you have only a short amount of free time, like the five minutes you’re waiting for your kid to go potty before you head out of the house for an excursion, and there’s no other real project or task you can get done in this short time, do this: grab something out of the fridge, chop it, put it in a lidded container, and place back in the fridge.

Thanks to her, and all these little segmented five-minute periods of time throughout my day, I have nicely organized containers of just about every vegetable and fruit chopped and ready to use at a moment’s notice! Thanks sis!

What are some of your favorite ways to disguise veggies or your favorite time-saving kitchen tips?

I discovered virgin organic rosehip oil from Chile when trying it out as a facial moisturizer. I knew very little about it, but it was on sale through my wholesale buying club/co-op one month so I bought it. After a few weeks of use, I noticed the splotchiness of my face was greatly diminished, and my skin tone seemed more evened out. I was amazed!!! I did some online research and was impressed to learn the following about rosehip oil:

Native to South America, rosehip oil is made by cold-pressing the seeds of the fruit of the rose plant (the little red bulbs that appears after the flowers fall off). It is rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals, and natural anti-oxidant properties that help improve the elasticity of the skin, regenerate skin cells, slow down premature aging, and reduce the formation of wrinkles and scarring.

Rosehip oil is extremely high in Vitamin C, in the form of essential fatty acids, which retain and attract moisture for healthier skin. Vitamin C is also necessary for the production of collagen, one of the main proteins in the skin.

It is great for mature or damaged skin and can be used to fade blemishes such as pigmentation spots, acne scars, stretch marks and sun-damage. Just a few drops go a looong way, especially on damp skin. Face, neck, decolletage, and tops of hands are the main anti-aging spots you want to hit. But really, use it anywhere. Rough elbows, dry feet … it feels very luxurious on the skin.

Rosehip oil helps regenerate tissue, and is excellent for treating burns immediately after they happen. Apply multiple times daily to affected area; heals skin quickly and vastly reduces visibility of scars.

The only thing for which it seems to be contraindicated is active acne. It’s good for diminishing the appearance of acne scars, but not for use when acne is active.

It is a nongreasy carrier oil which absorbs quickly into the skin without leaving behind shiny residue. It has a light, nutty aroma which can easily be enhanced with a variety of essential oils. The color is a beautiful and surprising deep amber.

Here’s another personal testimonial from the perpetual clutz. yours truly: I burned myself not long ago when the lid of the wafflemaker fell on my hand and left me with a nice little grid pattern on it

Ouch! *sob* Keep going. Must. Feed. Children. Breakfast.

After the little creatures were held at bay with healthy whole-grain waffles and nitrite-free turkey bacon, I started treating my tic-tac-toe-board-for-a-hand with a few drops of rosehip oil every day. A few weeks later, my hand had NO gridmarks, NO scar, NO sign of damage to the skin whatsoever!!!

I sort of feel like a born-again because I’m so convinced of and vocal about the magical properties of this oil. So much so that I even went out and bought a gallon of virgin organic cold-pressed rosehip oil from Chile and separated into 2-oz amber glass bottles with glass dropper in lid to distribute amongst my friends and loved ones. I want the world to enjoy the benefits of this oil, and I still have a good number of bottles left.

If you are interested, send me an email at ecomamasays at gmail dot com

My favorite thing about rosehip oil: How it evens out my splotchy skin tone, flattens my keloid scars, and plumps up my skin in general.

Tell me and our other readers below what you like best about what rosehip oil is doing for your skin. Good things, no doubt!

Have you heard of the Chinese five elements theory?

In traditional Chinese medicine, five elements of nature (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) represent different attributes of human health. Ideally we should have a balance of all five, but most of us are predisposed toward one element in excess of the others, causing an imbalance in the body with negative physical manifestations.

Check out this quiz to determine what element is most prevalent for you, and then read about your element’s characteristics and how to help yourself get back into balance.

A few months ago, my latest step in my journey to heal myself naturally of the curious skin rashes that seem to come and go, brought me to a new health practitioner: an acupuncturist and doctor of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) who assessed me based on the Chinese five elements theory. She asked me a few questions, looked at my tongue, eyes, and overall frame, then said my elemental type was Metal. She said that my big problem is that the pH balance in my body is off, and leaning too far in the direction of acidity.

Don’t know much about pH balance and the acid-alkaline balance in the body? Check out this nice little article to learn more, and then come on back to me and read on.

Surprisingly, one of the ways this over-acidity was manifesting, she said, was that my stomach contained too little digestive acid to properly digest my food. As such, I wasn’t getting enough nutrition from the foods I eat because my stomach wasn’t able to break everything down as it should.

She gave me nutritional counseling based on my Metal type and the over-acidity in my body, and designed a healing, pH balancing food protocol to increase my alkalinity. The new diet included the following dietary changes:

  • no beef
  • no eggs
  • no dairy
  • no bananas
  • no “vegetation” (that is, anything leafy or green, which was a pretty darned big part of my diet before)
  • more alkaline fruits and vegetables, especially with seeds (think cucumbers, eggplant, avocados, zucchini, butternut squash, tomatoes, yellow squash, etc.)
  • 90% of my diet as soups or stews (a bit labor intensive so I find I’m not doing quite as well on this one)
  • all grains pre-soaked before cooking

She also said to make broth to extract the nutrients of various foods into a form that can be consumed without digestion from the stomach. According to her assessment, I lack the requisite amounts of stomach acid to properly digest certain foods. I sat up straighter when she said this, because I already make a ton of broth and drink it every day, sometimes in the morning in a mug instead of coffee or tea.

You’re probably thinking to yourself Yes, yes Ecomama, this is all fine and good, five elements, mm hmm, interesting, but what about the coconut cream you mentioned in your title?

Well, the new diet means I’m now I’m officially dairy-free, and even though I didn’t eat a lot of dairy before, butter remains one of my true gustatory pleasures. Eliminating butter is, for me, the most excruciating part of giving up dairy. I don’t drink milk, I hardly eat cheese, I’ve gotten over the loss of yogurt, but oh … butter. How I miss you so.

Needless to say, since this diagnosis, I’ve been exploring lots of non-dairy alternatives to dairy foods. I tried some almond cheese that didn’t exactly taste like cheddar as the wrapper implied, but it melted well enough in a quesadilla to suit me.

I already make my own rice milk and almond milk, but there are certain recipes calling for cow’s milk, like my favorite healthy pancake/waffle batter or creamy oatmeal cooked on the stove, that need a little more fat to give them the fluffiness or richness they need.

One morning, as I was getting my ingredients out to make steel cut oatmeal on the stove, I found myself completely out of both rice and almond milk. I rifled through the pantry and spotted a can of coconut milk that had been waiting to be transformed into an amazing Thai curry dish that never quite materialized.

I dumped it all in a small storage container. The liquid poured out easily, and then I scraped out the thick solids that had risen to the top of the can and stuck to the lid. I topped the storage container with its own lid and with one hand, shook the container intensely to break up the solids and mix them into the liquid. With the other hand, I licked the silicone spoon I had used to scrape the can clean.

As soon as I licked, I had the flash realization that the texture of that coconut “cream” was very similar to butter, my long lost love! Be still my beating heart!

I immediately stopped shaking, but alas, the solids were already all mixed in. I vowed I wouldn’t shake the next can I opened, so that I could keep the buttery coconut cream intact.

Fast forward a couple of days, and another can of coconut milk was purchased and opened. This time, I didn’t mix the solids in with the liquid, but rather left it all separate. I toasted some whole wheat bread, and spread the coconut cream on it like butter.

I swear it spread the same way, glistened the same way, even melted slowly into the bread the same way. I sprinkled it with a generous pinch of sea salt, and while it didn’t taste exactly like butter, the fatty creaminess did hit the spot juuuuuust right.

Thank you, coconut cream. You have saved me from plummeting to the dangerous depths of severe butter withdrawal.

coconut cream toast

Nooks and crannies. I just love them.

I must have been a squirrel or a chipmunk or something in a previous life. I love storing things away in little spaces. I love when everything is tucked away in it’s own special place.

Now mind you, my things may not actually stay in their places for very long (or at all, for that matter) but at least I have identified those places where they should be, so I’m halfway there, right?

As you can imagine, I have a penchant for food storage containers with sections. Yes, seriously. I love nooks and crannies in my food storage, so the wet things can be separate from the crunchy things and the raw things are far away from the creamy things, and so on and so forth.

Of course you can imagine how absolutely tickled I was to receive from Laptop Lunches a sample bento-style lunchbox for review here on my blog. Red on the outside, multicolored on the inside … the lunchbox just shouts “Happy day!” no matter what you put in it!

Red star stickers on the orange container furnished by Ecogirl

Don’t worry, I don’t really hear lunchboxes shouting. Though sometimes I do hear muffled whispering amongst the cutlery …

So anyway, the exterior lunchbox and all its individual compartments are made in the good ol’ U S of A. Yes, they’re plastic, but some of that is recycled content. And they’re safer than other plastics, with no lead, phthalates, BPA, or PVC (vinyl). They can take a beating (one of mine flew off the car roof and a good portion of it survived!), and the colors are just plain fun.

There are five interior containers that hold everything from sandwiches to fruit salad to dips, whatever your imagination and knife skills can fit in there. One day, I used cookie cutters to shape bread for toast pieces which I served with egg salad. Another day, I cut celery the short way to make “celery bridges” (waaaaay less stringy, according to Ecogirl), served with Caesar dressing for dipping.

One day Ecogirl implored, “Mom, I want Dora yogurt” which she’s never had in her life but sees at the grocery store and at the homes of some of her friends. I was unwilling to buy it, but sympathetic to a three year old’s desire for the latest and greatest character-branded merchandise. So what did we do?

We decorated one of our small interior bento containers with our own Dora stickers, and now she has Dora yogurt any time she wants (our version made with organic plain yogurt and local raw honey). If the mood strikes one day, then we are more than ready to change it out for a Disney princess yogurt container, or a celestial container covered with star stickers … one’s imagination is only limited to one’s access to good stickers.

Yoplait ain’t got nothing on us!

All compartments and lids are dishwasher safe, including the exterior lunchbox itself. I love that the compartments are all separate, so if there’s only a bit of one food leftover from lunch, you can just take out that one container and put in the fridge.

If you’re not sold yet, why don’t you check out this great link featuring 365 lunch ideas for fall, with beautiful, colorful images?

Ok then.

Now that I’ve got you excited to ride the bento bandwagon, let’s talk GIVEAWAY!

Laptop Lunches has generously furnished a $25 gift certificate to give to one lucky Ecomama Says reader. That will get you one super-duper, handy-dandy bento lunchbox, or some other fun items like an insulated soup container or a decorative lunchbag.

Here’s what you need to do to enter to win:

  1. “Like” Laptop Lunches on Facebook and Twitter (yes, both of them)
  2. “Like” Ecomama Says on Facebook and Twitter (yep, both again)
  3. Post a comment below, here on the Ecomama Says blog, letting us know what you would purchase with your $25 gift certificate

One lucky winner will be selected by the end of the day on September 3, 2012, Labor Day, just in time to go back to school!

So, tell us, dear readers: What would you buy with $25 from Laptop Lunches?

 

Update: We have a winner! Monica D., have fun shopping through all the fun colors!

Thanks to all for participating, and thanks again to Laptop Lunches for furnishing this great giveaway!

Cold Sore Remedy

Since Ecobaby was born, my immune system just hasn’t been the same. I appear to be plagued by a variety of autoimmune disorders that manifest with a variety of symptoms that are entirely new to me.

I hate to say that cold sore outbreaks are among the list of unpleasantries.

Throughout my life, I had occasionally gotten what I referred to as an “itchy bump” on my lip, but it never turned into anything more. I’d chew on it a bit to relieve the itch, it would get all big and puffy that day, and then it would shrink down and disappear overnight.

After a horrible case of strep throat last year that left my weak immune system even weaker, now when I get an itchy bump on my lip, it is the precursor to something much worse.

It starts as a burning, raw, chapped feeling, and is usually preceded by a lot of time in the sun without protecting my lips, more stress than usual, and not drinking enough water.

Then, the itchy bump appears, grows, and slowly turns into a blister. The blister grows and ultimately erupts, oozing contagion and forcing me to wash my hands like a hospital employee, and endlessly dab, dab, dab with tissues.

Worse still, it forces me to avoid kissing my precious Ecofamily til it clears up.

Sniff, sniff … *sob*

Anyway, it gets worse.

A misguided attempt last year to treat a cold sore topically with tea tree oil (combined with the lack of knowledge that the oozing sore is VERY contagious) resulted in my entire upper lip reinfecting itself and crusting over for nearly two weeks. Ecobaby was just a few months old, and it was absolute torture not to be able to kiss her.

I consulted my holistic parenting group for natural remedies, and I kept getting the same answer over and over again.

L-lysine. L-lysine. L-lysine.

Before we talk about the amino acid L-lysine, which is naturally present in the body, let’s briefly touch on another amino acid, L-arginine.

An abundance of L-arginine in the body creates a hospitable environment for the herpes simplex virus (ie, cold sores) to run rampant. Foods that are naturally high in L-arginine include chocolate (guilty) and nuts (guilty again).

L-lysine on the other hand represses the metabolism of L-arginine. Dairy products are very high in L-lysine, and I didn’t eat any for a year, and still don’t eat much of it now. In high enough doses, L-lysine reverses the visible symptom of cold sores.

How high? Opinions differed, but I went with the suggestion of one mama friend I trust who said, “Pop ‘em like candy.”

I began my attack with 1000 milligrams of L-lysine every few hours that night, and all day the next day. By the second night, it had already started drying up and shrinking.

When I woke up the next morning, the top layer had dried up and fallen off, and I was on my way to a normal looking lip once again.

Now when I get an itchy bump on my lip, and recognize those other signs like tingly lips, too much sun, not enough water, etc., I immediately start taking loads of L-lysine. Bump never materializes into anything more, and is usually entirely gone the next day.

L-lysine. Stops cold sores in their tracks.

I was the happy recipient of some coconuts from a friend’s yard last week. I’m a big fan of coconut water, and buy it by the case. I love shredded dried coconut in my oatmeal and my granola. But I haven’t had a slab of real coconut meat in years and years.

As a child, I spent the summers in Italy. My family would spend several weeks at the beach in Riccione on the Adriatic coast. Among the many tasty treats the tanned vendors would sell were pieces of raw coconut, soaking in big buckets of water. Coco! Coco bello! they’d cry, as they walked up and down the beach, heavy buckets splashing with every step.

I admit: I’ve seen plenty of whole fuzzy coconuts with their funny O-mouthed faces, but never actually opened one up to get to the tasty meat inside. Watching friends go at it, it always seemed like quite a production. Messy and a little violent, what with the whacking with a hammer and all.

So when my friend gave me these coconuts, I was a little intimidated. Luckily, she shared with me her favorite way to open them easily.

Phew. Whacking averted for now.

How to Open a Coconut the Easy Way

First, drill a hole in one of the three black spots, stick a straw in there and drink up all the delicious, mineral-rich coconut water. Did you know that coconut water replaces electrolytes in your body efficiently and naturally? It’s like the original Gatorade with none of the yukky artificial colors! When you can’t get any more through the straw, just invert the coconut over a glass so the rest of the coconut water can drain out of the drill hole.

Next pop the coconut in the oven and set to 300. Bake it for an hour. The coconut should crack naturally around the middle, making it easy to pry open with a knife.

Once you’ve got your two halves separated, carefully pry the meat away from the shell. This takes a little while so settle in and be patient. It’s worth it.

Discard the shell. There will be a thin layer of shell attached to the white meat, which you can cut away if you choose. Personally, I just eat it. More fiber. Less work.

Rinse the creamy white coconut pieces in water to remove any debris and enjoy  just like that. Or shred them and dehydrate.

Mmmmm … Coco bello!

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