Thursday, January 28, 2010

Food And Inflammation; Dairy's Dirty Little Secret

Inflammation. It can show itself in forms as obvious as joint pain, acne, and asthma , to forms less obvious and often silent, like heart disease.

In the last few years there have been more studies on how diet has a direct affect on the inflammation in your body. In other words, certain foods we eat have shown to increase inflammation therefore triggering pain and discomfort.

Among those common food related pain triggers (or common allergens) are meat, dairy, eggs, wheat, soy and certain citrus fruits. Many of these foods play major roles in issues such as joint pain, migraine headaches, asthma, digestive problems, and may be the triggering factor of many autoimmune diseases.

Interestingly enough, a large part of your immune system actually hangs out in your intestines and GI tract. When your body is intolerant to a certain food, your immune system kicks in which creates inflammation.

For example. As we age, we loose the enzyme to digest dairy. When our bodies can't digest something, it can cause our immune system to recognize that food source as trouble and may trigger an inflammatory response.

Lactose intolerant? You see commercials and advertisements for over the counter remedies everywhere. We are all lactose intolerant to some extent.

If you really stop to think about it, we are the only species that drinks milk from another species. Does it really "do a body good?"

When I stopped eating all dairy over three years ago, one of the first things I noticed (besides a significant decrease in joint pain) was that my nails weren't as brittle and were much stronger.

But more interesting than my finger nails, is that when you look at the countries that have the highest consumption of dairy (sourced form the cow) per capita, they also have the highest rate of osteoporosis per capita.

Food for thought, no?

So what can you do to fight inflammation?

You can start with eating a mostly plant based diet made up of real food. In other words, get rid of that processed crap.

A few years ago I read Michael Pollan's book "In Defense of Food" where he outlined a few simple rules that I always stick to when grocery shopping. A few of them being;

1). Shop the perimeter of the grocery store (or better yet, your local farmers market, when you can.). It's where all the healthy stuff is.
2). If it has more than five ingredients, don't buy it.
2). Make sure those five ingredients can be pronounced by your average third grader.
3). If your great great grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, don't buy it.

Eat foods like leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, whole grains like brown rice and quinoa (that is not only hight in protein but also in fiber). Beans, nuts, seeds and legumes are also another excellent source of protein and high in dietary fiber.

Foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids have been proven to lower inflammation, aide in cancer prevention, increase immune function, and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. It was also shown that Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferrers who took Omega 3 supplements had benefits comparable to those taking NSAIDS (Non-sterodial-anti-inflammatory-drugs.)

Foods that contain high amounts of Omega 3's are flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and pecans, or if you're into fish choose cold water oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies and sardines.

The most important thing is to realize that you don't have to sacrifice taste in order to be healthy. It wasn't until I went mostly vegan (with the occasional exception of fish...Escolar you complete me) that I realized how much I had been missing, and how much flavor and depth are in the foods that we often ignore.

Keep your eyes open for more recipes...Coming soon!

Happy eating!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rosemary Socca

For those of you who aren't particularly familiar with French cuisine, the Socca is a flat cake made up primarily of chickpea flour and olive oil, baked in an oven in a cast iron pan and served warm.

Great for gluten free folk, socca is an excellent addition to salads or served as an appetizer with a tapanade or topped with vegetarian antipasto such as marinated artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and or roasted red peppers.

I was first introduced to socca while visiting L'Etoile, a fine dining restaurant in the heart of downtown Madison, WI. One of the many great things about this restaurant is that their menu is inspired by local, sustainable farms and therefore changes regularly.

When my brother-in-law's girlfriend made reservations, she informed the manager that a gluten free vegan would be in tow. Their response? No problem! We'll have a dish prepared especially for her.

And what a dish it was!

Savory chickpea pancakes (socca) with steamed baby bok choy and a wild mushroom ragout. The flavors were exceptional and I was absolutely amazed at the socca. I knew the moment I tasted it I had to go home and figure out how to make it myself to share with as many people as possible.

So, I did, and they're fabulous!

You can thank me later.

Recipe in-part from RecipeZaar

1 cup chickpea flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 green onions, both green and white parts sliced thin
1 large clove garlic, pressed
1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaf, minced

Place heavy (preferably cast-iron) skillet in oven and preheat to 450.

In a large bowl, sift chickpea flour, pepper and salt together. After sifting, add rosemary leaves.

Whisk in warm water and 2 tbsp olive oil.

Cover the bowl and allow the batter set for at least 30 minutes, which should have the consistency of thick cream. Stir sliced onion and pressed garlic into the batter.

Remove skillet from oven. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the hot pan, pour batter into pan and bake for 12-15 minutes or until the pancake is firm and the edges are set (top may not be browned).

Set socca a few inches below your broiler for 1-2 minutes, just long enough to brown it in spots. Cut into wedges and serve hot, with toppings of your choice.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Skinny on Sulfates

I love me some wine.

And lately you have more than likely heard or read about the benefits of drinking wine in moderation.

(Key word being moderation, for an example of drinking wine in excess, see the above photo of my husband.)

These benefits range from lowering the risks of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer, to actually decreasing the decline of brain function (Above photo possible evidence in that particular study).

First of all, there are many different theories on whether or not people with RA or other autoimmune diseases should be drinking any alcohol, period. For me, it's (again) all about balance.

So, if we're going to be drinking wine, what kind of wine should we be drinking?

Through my expertise (ahem) on wine consumption, I have found that I react to wine containing added sulfites.

Almost all wines contain natural sulfites, however many wine makers add sulfites to stop fermentation, and also to act as a preservative. Although all forms of sulfites can cause reactions, I found that drinking wine with added sulfites raises the chances of having an adverse reaction to the wine.

When picking up a bottle of wine I always look for the organic wines that contain "no added sulfites." Wines bottled after 1987 must provide notice on the label that they contain sulfites.

My favorite wine comes from the Orleans Hill Winery. Not only are they sulfite free, but also vegan, organic, and mighty tasty.

If you're going to get all fancy and pair a wine with a meal, the general rule of thumb is to pair lighter wines with lighter meals such as a Chardonnay with a salad, or a Pinot Grigio with a grilled fish, whereas red wines go with heavier dishes such as pastas and Tater Tot Hotdish...

...Just seeing if you were paying attention...

We all know that Tater Tot Hotdish goes best with Boone's Farm straight out of a paper bag.

But that's an entirely different post.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Apricot Glazed Salmon with Butternut Squash Risotto and Roasted Asparagus

First off, you may be wondering where salmon comes into play in a food blog that is primarily vegan. I say, it's all about balance.

Awhile ago I discussed my occasional love for seafood. I've been known to grill up a salmon fillet or two, bake some cod, stir fry some shrimp, or belly up to the sushi bar with a few friends and a black lacquered boat full of raw goodness.

The one thing I do make certain of when buying seafood is that it's fresh and it's caught as sustainably as possible. The good folks at Whole Foods do an excellent job at making sure their fish meets these standards, and that is why I buy all of my seafood from them.

Simply put, if you're going to eat fish (or any type of meat for that matter) know where it's coming from and how it got from it's home to your plate.

Moving on.

One of my favorite things to do is to watch Rachel Ray and find a way to rip off her recipes and make them something that I can eat.

A few months ago Rachel made Apricot Glazed Chicken with Butternut Squash Risotto and Roasted Broccolini. Being that I am not a fan of eating chicken, and I don't use any butter or cheese in my cooking you would think this recipe would be a challenge.


As we learned earlier, the natural creaminess of risotto makes it easy to skip all the unnecessary butter and cheese that many recipes call for. So, while Rachel was busy loading on the artery clogging cholesterol, I was busy imagining myself bathing in a silken pool of butternut squash and sage.

Also, being I am not a fan of vegetable hybrids, I chose instead to serve this dish with grilled asparagus drizzled with olive oil and a touch of salt, pepper, and lemon zest.

About the glaze, if I remember right Rachel's recipe seemed a bit boring, so I decided to add a little kick to my glaze and chose to make one with a bit of ginger, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and a little honey. The sweetness of the glaze is a great compliment to the salmon and lets the flavor of the fish shine without being too heavy or overpowering.

All in all, my version of Rachel's meal turned out to not only be healthier, but also just as, if not more "delish" than the original.


Apricot Glazed Salmon
1 1/2 cups apricot nectar (juice)
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Lowfat cooking spray

1 12-ounce fresh skinless salmon fillet, about an inch thick

1. In a small saucepan, stir in all ingredients for the glaze then bring to boiling at medium-high. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly oil your baking dish. Generously coat the salmon with some of the glaze and cook the fish 15-20 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. For the last five minutes place the fish under the broiler, turn on high and use a pastry brush to baste the fish with some of the apricot glaze every few minutes.
3. Serve salmon with glaze.

Butternut Squash Risotto
One 32-ounce container (4 cups) vegetable broth
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
One 12-ounce box frozen butternut squash puree, thawed
Salt and pepper
10 leaves fresh sage, slivered

1.In a large saucepan, bring the veggie broth and 1 cup water to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn the heat to low.

2.In a large skillet, heat the olive oil 2 turns of the pan, over medium-high heat. When the oil is rippling, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 2 minutes. Add the rice and toast for 3 minutes. Stir in the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until mostly evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes.

3.Add 2 ladlefuls of the warm veggie broth to the rice and stir until the liquid evaporates. Repeat with the remaining broth, cooking the risotto until creamy, about 18 minutes. During the last 3 minutes of cooking, stir in the squash; season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Top with the sage.

**NOTE** This recipe makes a VERY large batch of risotto that is supposed to serve 6, so if you don't want to be eating risotto into 2011 you can halve this batch and it will be more than enough for two or even four people.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Squash and Chickpea Moroccan Stew

Being that the weather here in Minneapolis is barely making it out of the negative digits these days, I decided to make this dish last night to warm myself up. Good news. It worked.

Butternut squash, red potatoes, cumin and saffron cooked together in a stew complimented with crisp preserved lemons and green olives....Mmmmmm...And you know what the best part about this dish is?

The leftovers.

Well, the leftovers and it's simple to make.

The only issue I came across was locating the preserved lemons which I ended up finding at Cooks of Crocus Hill (for you Twin Cities folk). However, they also can be found at Sur La Table. If you don't have either of those stores nearby, you can simply substitute some lemon zest and call it a day.

Now on to the green olives. I don't think they're entirely necessary for this dish to be good, in fact, the next time I make this dish I will more than likely either omit them, or just use a half a cup instead of the whole shebang. Either way, it's your choice...If you love green olives, then knock yourself out!

Squash and Chickpea Moroccan Stew
Recipe courtesy Aida Mollenkamp
1 tablespoon Earth Balance vegan margarine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, small dice
4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound butternut squash, large dice
3/4 pound red potatoes, large dice
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juices
Pinch saffron threads, optional, but I HIGHLY recommend them
1/2 preserved lemon, finely chopped
1 cup brined green olives (recommend: Cerignola)
Basmati rice, prepared for serving
Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, for garnish
Toasted slivered almonds, for garnish

Heat butter and olive oil in a 3- to 4-quart Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan with a tight fitting lid over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add onion, garlic, cumin, and cinnamon, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until spices are aromatic and onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add squash and potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir to coat, and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add broth, chickpeas, tomatoes and their juices, and saffron, if using. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until squash is fork tender, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in preserved lemon and olives. Serve over basmati rice garnished with cilantro and almonds.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Listen To Your Body

The human body is a miraculous instrument. Taking into consideration everything we do in a given day from something as simple as getting out of bed, to something more complicated like driving a vehicle, to a completely automatic response such as breathing, we do almost ALL of it without even a thought.

And that's the thing, how much do we really think about our bodies and are we listening to them when they are talking to us?

I didn't consider the complexities of my body nearly as much as when I started noticing the symptoms of RA. At that point it was hard not to listen because my joints were literally SCREAMING at me, which made it difficult to ignore.

Our bodies tell us things every day, and we do a pretty good job of ignoring them. We're tired, we drink caffeine, we have a headache we take pain pills, we have acne, we spend billions of dollars trying to clear it up. But have we ever stopped to consider that there may be underlying causes to our ailments?

Recent studies, along with my own personal experience, have shown that there is a link between diet and auto immune diseases and the food that we put in our bodies has a direct effect on our overall wellness. In other words, you eat like crap, you feel like crap. Plain and simple.

Or is it?

Eating is an automatic response to our bodies telling us that we're hungry, but it is also an emotional process that incorporates feelings such as comfort, joy and pleasure.

At my last check-up my doctor asked me why I thought more people who have similar health issues don't take a proactive approach and try eating more healthy. My response was that many people don't know that the food they're eating may be the cause of their problems, and also that food is such an emotional subject that it takes time for people to not only come to terms with it, but also to adjust to a new way of doing things.

With that being said, there needs to be better education on holistic alternatives for the general medical community and less emphasis on "there's a pill for every problem." Not saying that I don't believe in modern medicine, I do however believe that our bodies have the remarkable capabilities of healing themselves and not only are we not always listening to them, we're not giving them enough credit.

It's time we make a conscious effort to listen more to our bodies and what they're telling us, and to take the time to figure out what we can do to live more happily and healthfully. After all, it's the least we can do.