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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

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!

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.

Homemade Rice Milk

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!

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 …