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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.

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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?

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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

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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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Kale is coming up in my spring garden, and it is one of my all-time favorite green veggies, any time of year. I started my seeds a little early this winter, and with the mild weather we had, it worked out perfectly.

Well, perfectly except for the squirrels, who have a penchant for digging out the acorns from the soil around the plants, and nibbling the tender kale leaves before I can get to them. Ecodaddy makes them an “offering” of sunflower seeds every morning, but I’m not so generous. I think he’s caving and paying off mafia rodents. Little pests.

The grey, rainy day today made me crave something warm and nourishing for dinner, like a soup or a stew. With an abundance of kale from my last coop order, plus the bounty that’s been coming up in my garden, I was looking for a way to use it, quick.

A few small adjustments to this recipe, a couple of extra hours to cook the dried beans, and voila: I had a healthy, delicious, soul-warming soup that used up my kale and pleased the masses!

White Bean and Kale Soup

  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cups chopped raw kale, packed tightly
  • 6 cups broth, chicken or vegetable
  • 16 ounce bag dried white beans like cannellini or navy (or two 15 oz cans, undrained)
  • 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian herb seasoning
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Rinse and pick over white beans; place in pot and cover with water by several inches. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat. Allow beans to sit for one hour, then discard soaking water.
  2. Return beans to pot, add 1 tsp sea salt and stir. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and place lid half on. Stir every 10-15 minutes, and let simmer for 1.5-2 hours until desired tenderness.
  3. In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil, then sauté onion til translucent. Add garlic and sauté for one more minute.
  4. Add kale, toss to coat with oil, and sauté, stirring, until leaves are fairly wilted, 5-10 minutes. Add a tiny bit of broth as you stir, to keep onions and garlic from burning.
  5. Add 4 cups of broth, 2 cups (or one can) of cooked beans, tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper. Simmer 10-15 minutes.
  6. In a blender or food processor, combine remaining 2 cups broth with 2 cups beans (or one can) and blend to an even consistency. Stir into soup and simmer 15-20 minutes more.
  7. Ladle into bowls and top with grated parmesan cheese, if you so choose.

For the kids, I poured the chunky soup back into the blender and pureed it. While it wasn’t the most appealing shade of green, it was quite delicious, especially topped with parmesan.

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We don’t drink cow’s milk in our house. I didn’t grow up on the stuff, and just never liked it. Plus it makes everybody phlegmy around here … who needs that?

I’m also not convinced it’s all that cool that ours is the only species on this planet that a) drinks milk beyond childhood, and b) drinks milk from a different species than our own. (Remember how it was so shocking to the general public when Salma Hayek breastfed another woman’s baby in Africa? Yet nobody gives a second thought to the fact that cow’s milk is collected from many, many different cows to be consumed by humans. I’m just sayin’…)

It’s easy to have a dairy-free diet nowadays, as there are lots of milk alternatives out there: soy, almond, rice, oat, and hemp for example. I’m a big fan of almond milk, and make it frequently. But Ecodaddy isn’t so fond of it (unless it’s warmed up with a splash of maple syrup, which is super-delish!), and so we still spend a chunk of change on store-bought rice milk.

Compared to nut milks like almond, rice milk lacks beneficial protein and fats and is quite a bit higher in carbohydrates. However, many like it because it is a low fat choice, and hey: sometimes you just need some cold, yummy white stuff to moisten your bowl of cereal, ya know?

Lucky for me, a few weeks ago a friend posted her rice milk recipe on Facebook, and I was ready for a new kitchen project. I am happy to report it was easy and cheap to make, and totally delicious to drink!

I’ve since tested this recipe twice using two different types of rice. I got 3 quarts of rice milk from the first batch and 4 quarts from the second. I had coupons for Lundberg organic brown rice that I held onto until it was on sale, making my final rice cost a mere $.50 a cup.

Tweaking my friend’s recipe, I added some vanilla extract to the final product, but didn’t like it because I could taste the alcohol from the extract. In batch two, I added half a vanilla bean during the cooking time instead, with much better results.

I also found that the type of rice you use determines whether you really need to add a sweetener or not. I used a sweeter type of rice the second time (Lundberg Golden Rose). Flavored with just the vanilla bean, it didn’t need any sweetener at all.

Homemade Rice Milk

  • 1 cup uncooked organic long or medium grain brown rice
  • 8 cups water for cooking
  • More water for diluting
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Glass jars or bottles with lids for storage
  • Blender
  • Fine mesh strainer
  1. Thoroughly wash the rice.
  2. Put 8 cups of water in a big pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour in rice and stir.
  3. Cover the pot and lower the heat to let the water simmer.
  4. Cook for 3 hours stirring occasionally, til it looks like very soupy rice pudding. Turn off heat and stir in salt.
  5. In batches, fill your blender halfway with cooked rice mixture and halfway with water. Blend until very smooth. Strain twice through a fine mesh strainer, collecting rice milk in mason jars.
  6. Continue on with remaining cooked rice mixture until you’re finished, filling jars with rice milk and screwing on lids tightly.
Even with the extra water, this rice milk can end up thicker than the product you find in the store, almost like a rice cream. My second batch was thicker than the first and required another whirl in the blender with more water: 3 cups rice cream to 1 cup water made it perfect.

Since it doesn’t have preservatives, presumably it won’t last too long in the fridge. I’ve kept mine in there a little over a week and it was just fine.

Make sure to shake before serving, as there is some separation, plus the tiny black vanilla specks settle to the bottom.

Enjoy!

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This is how I’m squashing my chocolate craving tonight.

photo credit Oh She Glows

While this recipe considers the buckwheat optional, I chose to add it as a tribute to my partly Russian roots, and to give a little extra crunch. My Russian acupuncturist once bought me a bag, telling me it is high in iron and B vitamins, and iz gooood toooo noooorish blaaaahd.

And by now you already know how much I love the humble chia seed, bursting with fiber and omega goodness.

Need I even say anything at all on how I feel about chocolate? It borders on obsession. The darker the better, like 70% or higher.

Here I used the standard 60% bittersweet chips, a la Nestle. Because they have some sugar, I do not use any additional sweetener. If you choose to use darker chocolate, feel free to add a squirt of raw honey or agave.

Chocolate Oatmeal Freezer Cookies

  • 1.25 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips, melted
  • 2 medium bananas
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp chia seeds
  • 3 tbsp buckwheat groats
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • Squirt of honey or agave (optional)
  1. Line a muffin pan with muffin liners and set aside.
  2. Roughly chop banana and mash into melted chips.
  3. Stir remaining ingredients into chocolate banana mixture and stir well until oats are coated with chocolate.
  4. Spoon mixture evenly into twelve muffin liners and freeze for about an hour, or until firm.

You can leave these in the freezer and they will stay somewhat chewy, not freezing up to a completely solid state. They definitely squash my chocolate fix any time of day or night. Usually night. Late at night. Like now.

Excuse me, I think I hear the freezer calling my name …

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