The holidays are upon us. Thanksgiving is next week! Even though I love this magical time of year, I can’t help but feel my anxiety level rise as my to-do list grows. And when my anxiety increases, my sleep decreases. For whatever reason, my body likes to deal with anxiety at night in the form of insomnia.
Until several years ago, I have not been a good sleeper. I have been tortured with insomnia on and off my whole life. And torture is a pretty accurate word to use when it’s 2am in the middle of your umpteenth sleepless night, and your mind is still on that hamster wheel. I used to describe the feeling in my brain as having a light switch on that I just couldn’t flip off. Insomnia is MISERABLE!
About ten years ago, when I was also going through the worst of my years of sickness, I was driven into such a craze from yet another night of no sleep, that I decided I needed a little help in the form of a pill to get some relief. My doctor did not immediately jump to Ambien (which is what I was hoping he’d prescribe me for a quick fix) but instead looked for the source of my night time wired mind. He explained that when a person is experiencing anxiety, it is common to motor through your day pretty unaffected and coping just fine, but the second your head hits the pillow, that switch in your mind flips on and your body deals with the anxiety at night. I left his office without a prescription for Ambien and instead began a three year relationship with Lexapro, a serotonin re-uptake drug. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in your brain that promotes a good mood and relaxation.
At first, I was so happy to be sleeping like a baby, that I was perfectly content taking my one little “sanity” pill each day. But after I had several months of better than average sleep under my belt, I was thinking a whole lot more clearly and became much less enthused about my magic fix. I loved how Lexapro took away any anxiety and insomnia I had been experiencing, but that’s not all it took away. I had no feelings. I had to force myself to do what I had previously been motivated to do during my days. I would be perfectly content sitting on the couch watching life happen around me with no care in the world. I didn’t like the feeling of not caring and not having an emotional attachment to pretty much anything. And then there’s the weight gain. I felt puffy and carried around an extra five pounds the three years the drug was in my system.
I made the decision to stop taking Lexapro after less than a year of starting it. Then began my two year yo-yo experience, as I tried to wean from myself from it. I began to research natural ways to boost my serotonin level because I believed that the cause of my chronic anxiety and insomnia was a chemical problem within my brain. I found that the body makes serotonin using the amino acid tryptophan. Eating a well balanced diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, eggs, fish, and meat is the best way to ensure I’m getting enough tryptophan. But some people can still come up short and need a little boost. I decided to supplement with additional tryptophan. Except I didn’t start with tryptophan, I started with something called 5-HTP, which is what the body converts tryptophan into before making serotonin. I started off very slowly and worked up to several capsules per day until I started to feel relief. I was able to ditch Lexapro for good with the help of 5-HTP.
But to be honest, I wasn’t completely satisfied with my sleep. I still lay in bed awake for at least an hour trying to shut off my overactive mind. I went back to researching and even met with a holistic specialist who suggested I try L-tryptophan instead of 5-HTP because it works better for some people. And guess what, I was one of those people. For the last several years, I have experienced amazing sleep. I feel like a new person!!
A few other supplements that have also helped improve my sleep are GABA, melatonin, and liquid calcium and magnesium. GABA is also a neurotransmitter in your brain that calms you down for sleep at night. I’ve found that GABA wipes out my anxiety, so my mind can turn off. Melatonin is a hormone that helps you fall and stay asleep through the night. Magnesium is also needed for your body to relax, and because magnesium and calcium need to be taken together for both to absorb properly, I take a liquid calcium and magnesium supplement by Bluebonnet each night. I have found all three of these supplements have further helped improve my sleep quality, especially during stressful or hormonal times when I’m prone to anxiety.
The holidays are a busy and crazy time of year. If you aren’t sleeping well or are suffering from anxiety or insomnia, don’t let that sabotage the merriment and celebration of the season. I encourage you to ask your doctor or other professional about these natural supplements that have helped me sleep.
My favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is the side dishes. I plan to make this bacon and butternut squash “risotto” for my family this year.
I am open to any shortcuts I can find to save myself a little time in the kitchen on Thanksgiving. To make this side dish, I bought my butternut squash pre-chopped. I have found organic pre-chopped butternut squash at both Costco and Whole Foods. If you prefer to chop your own, here is a great tutorial on how to do it.
Next, I “riced” the cauliflower by putting the florets in my food processor and pulsing until they are pieces the size of rice. A head of cauliflower yields quite a few florets, so I processed several batches before finishing the entire head. Here is another method to “rice” cauliflower. I also diced a couple stalks of celery and about a fourth of a purple onion and set them aside.
I then chopped five pieces of uncured bacon and cooked them in a large pan over medium-high heat for about five minutes.
Next, I added the diced celery and onion and a half teaspoon of both salt and pepper to the pan and cooked it for another five minutes.
I added the butternut squash to the pan and cooked it for about seven minutes or until the cubes of squash became tender.
I added the “riced” cauliflower to the pan and cooked it for another seven minutes. And lastly, I stirred in chopped sage, pine nuts, and a little ghee for additional flavor. Ghee is clarified butter that is a casein-free and lactose-free substitute for butter.
- 1 butternut squash
- 1 head cauliflower
- 2 stalks celery
- ¼ purple onion
- 5 pieces of bacon
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- handful of chopped fresh sage
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- Peel and cut up the butternut squash, or buy it pre-chopped. Set aside.
- "Rice" the cauliflower in a food processor and set aside.
- Dice the celery and onion and set aside.
- Cut up the bacon, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes in a large pan.
- Add the celery, onion, salt and pepper to the pan, and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Add the butternut squash to the pan, and cook for 7 more minutes or until the squash is tender.
- Add the "riced" cauliflower to the pan, and cook for 7 more minutes.
- Stir in the the sage, pine nuts, and ghee.
- Serve warm.
Summer means stone fruit season – peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, and cherries. Is there anything more satisfying than biting into a juicy nectarine during the summer? I will be sad to see them leave, as I am every year; the season only lasts from June to September. Probably the most coveted of all the stone fruits in my house is the cherry. I can only find them in the grocery store for a few weeks of the summer, so a bowl of freshly washed cherries lasts no more than a couple days with my crew.
So what a better way to get in the healthy stuff…like those GREEN foods…than to pair them with sweet cherries that everyone enjoys. Kind of makes this dish taste a little bit like dessert rather than Brussels sprouts, at least that was my intention even though I’m not sure my kids were quite sold (it’s really hard to hide Brussels sprouts from kids!). But I’m sold! The juicy sweetness of the cherries cuts right through any bitterness of the greens. I could make a whole meal out of this recipe.
I started with a bag of Brussels sprouts – washed em and quartered em.
Then I washed and pitted two cups of fresh cherries. This was probably the most time consuming part of preparing this recipe, but I became more efficient at it once I got started.
Cherries are only available for a few weeks out of the year at our local Whole Foods, so I buy at LOT during those weeks. When I’m shopping for produce, often times I have a list based on recipes I want to make that week or I have a list of wants and favorites from my family. But mostly, I look for those red “Local” signs and plan meals around what’s fresh and in season.
Three reasons I try to eat local seasonal produce:
- Eating foods that are fresh ensures your body is getting food with the most potent nutrients. Nutrients are quite sensitive, especially to time and heat. So buying local produce means you feed your body food that hasn’t had to travel from the other side of the globe. I also try to eat a good portion of my fruits and vegetables raw because those precious nutrients and enzymes are also heat sensitive.
- Our bodies need different things during different seasons of the year, and nature provides the nutrients and types of foods we need to stay strong, energized, and healthy year round. In the cold winter, we need heavier foods with fat and protein, so we crave warm stews and meats. As the earth thaws and comes to life during spring, our bodies crave to cleanse and renew, and we desire all those bitter leafy greens, salads, and lighter, brothy soups. Summer comes and it’s hot; we need energy to endure the long days, and we crave those cooling and refreshing fruits and vegetables that grow so abundantly this time of year.
- Food that has been grown out of season or travels a long way uses more valuable energy than food that is grown in season and has traveled from a local farm. Plus, what a better way to support local farmers than to buy what they grow!
The third step is to stir together the melted coconut oil, cherry balsamic vinegar (plain balsamic vinegar will do), sea salt, pepper, and thyme in a small bowl or pitcher.
I spread out the Brussels sprouts and cherries on a parchment lined baking sheet and drizzled the coconut oil mixture over them. Using my hands, I tossed the Brussels sprouts and cherries in the mixture.
I roasted them for about 30 minutes at 425 degrees, removing them from the oven halfway through to toss them.
Lastly, I sprinkled some toasted chopped pecans on the top.
- 1 bag Brussels sprouts, quartered
- 2 cups cherries, halved and pitted
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons cherry balsamic vinegar (or plain balsamic vinegar)
- 2 tablespoons thyme
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup chopped toasted pecans
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Spread out Brussels sprouts and cherries on a parchment lined baking sheet.
- In a small bowl or pitcher, stir together coconut oil, vinegar, thyme, sea salt, and pepper.
- Drizzle coconut oil mixture over Brussels sprouts and cherries, and toss with your hands to coat evenly.
- Roast for 30 minutes or until Brussels sprouts are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Remove halfway through cooking time and toss.
- Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with pecans, and toss before serving.
As far as I know, fried okra is mostly a Southern thing. And since I do live in Texas, I happen to like it. Okra comes in season right about now, so cartons of local organic okra are on display at the grocery store. But I’m not big into frying my foods, which other than pickled is the only way I’ve eaten okra. I don’t even own a fryer, and I don’t pan fry much either. So I decide to give baking okra a try – and turns out it’s pretty darn good!!
Okra is a green pod of a vegetable with lots of little white seeds tucked inside. Also known as gumbo pods, okra is a very low calorie vegetable at 30 calories per serving and contains lots of fiber and vitamin A, actually the highest amount of the antioxidants beta-carotene, xanthin and lutein. Okra also provides vitamins B, C, and K and minerals like iron, magnesium, calcium, and manganese. Honestly, I was surprised to learn how healthy these little green pods are – I’d kind of written them off as a pretty empty food. I’m happy to report that is not the case.
The first step in baking okra is to get the pecan crust ready. I combined a cup of toasted pecans, a cup of coconut flour, salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne in the food processor and processed until a homogenous grainy mixture formed.
I transferred the pecan mixture to a large plate, and dredged each whole okra in the mixture, pressing down on each piece so as much coating as possible would stick. I then placed the coated pieces of okra in a greased baking pan.
I baked the okra for about 30 – 35 minutes, until they were good and crispy, and then let them cool before removing from the pan, so the pecan crust wouldn’t fall off immediately. These passed the taste test – in fact, I think they turned out delicious! I have to say I am surprised at how much I like them! Pecan crusted baked okra makes an easy, healthy, and tasty appetizer, snack, or side dish for the summer.
- 1 pound okra
- 1 cup toasted pecans
- 1 cup coconut flour
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- pinch of cayenne
- coconut oil
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine pecans, coconut flour, sea salt, pepper, and cayenne in a food processor, and process together until an even grainy mixture forms.
- Transfer pecan mixture to a plate, and roll each piece of okra in the mixture, pressing the mixture into each piece of okra to coat.
- Grease a baking pan with coconut oil, and place each coated piece of okra in the baking pan.
- Bake for 30 - 35 minutes or until crispy.
- Cool slightly before removing from the pan and serving.
Memorial Day is our opportunity to set aside time to honor and thank all of those who died protecting and serving our country. What a sacrifice! I am truly grateful and honor you today.
In addition to remembering our military personnel that gave their lives, Memorial Day marks the beginning of SUMMER! No school…sunshine…swimming…barbeque! We’re officially opening our grill for the season, and we’ll be having this sweet potato salad, a paleo alternative to traditional potato salad, with our meal tonight.
Sweet potatoes are a super nutritious, starchy carbohydrate that are a welcome part of my diet. I’m pretty active, and since I don’t really eat any grains, I need another good source of carbs, and my preference is to get them through a variety of veggies. The great thing about sweet potatoes is that they satisfy your sweet tooth, but the natural sugars they contain are wrapped up in a nice fibrous package, so the sugars are slowly released into your blood stream rather than quickly spiking your blood sugar like sweeteners and grains do. Sweet potatoes can be added to so many things – I like to throw a cooked sweet potato in when making bread. Most sweet potatoes are a rich orange color, which is your clue that they contain a good source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that is the precursor to vitamin A. Sweet potatoes also offer plenty of B and C vitamins and lots of minerals like iron, magnesium, and potassium.
The first step in making sweet potato salad is to peel and cube the sweet potatoes and then boil the cubes until they are tender when pricked with a fork. I let them drain and cool on a paper towel lined plate before adding them to a medium sized bowl.
In addition to sweet potatoes, I added some soaked raisins, diced celery, and diced purple onion to this salad.
I’m big into using nuts as a dairy free and vegan way to achieve a creamy texture for soups, sauces, and dressings. To get the creamy texture without the mayonnaise used in traditional potato salad, I combined Marcona almonds, honey, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar in the food processor and processed them with spices until creamy. I went for a Moroccan flavor in the dressing for this sweet potato salad by choosing the spices ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper.
My mouth is watering looking at this sweet potato salad! I am even happier than expected with this recipe! So flavorful and different and delicious! I’ve got a few salmon fillets marinating to throw on the grill later on, and the sweet potato salad is chilling in the fridge to go with. Now to figure out something green to round out the meal. And then of course there’s dessert…hmmm…
- 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- ½ purple onion, diced
- 3 stalks celery, diced
- ½ cup raisins, soaked in warm water and soaking water discarded
- 2 tablespoons Marcona almonds
- ½ tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- Boil cubes of sweet potato until tender when pricked with a fork.
- Drain on a paper towel until cool.
- Combine sweet potato, onion, celery, and raisins in a medium bowl.
- In a food processor, combine almonds, honey, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, water, and spices, and process until smooth and creamy.
- Pour dressing over sweet potato mixture and gently fold into the salad until the ingredients are coated with the dressing.
- Refrigerate before serving.
I think one of the most frustrating things about meal time with my children is getting them to eat their vegetables, especially green ones, beyond the obligatory two bites. Vegetables taste and look exactly the opposite of anything that is remotely appetizing to a child thanks to all of the fun, colorful, sweet, and flavorful packaged convenience foods they like so much. But these perfectly crunchy asparagus fries are ready to take on the kid taste test challenge, as they combine two aspects in food that at least opens the door for kids to try and maybe even like (?) a green vegetable.
First, asparagus fries are a finger food! All kids (even big ones) like foods they can eat with their hands. Any time you can package a food in a way that looks less intimidating is a step in the right direction. The thin green stalks of asparagus, when hidden by a little gluten free breading and spices, make a decent attempt at mimicking an all time kid favorite – the French fry.
Second, asparagus fries can be dipped. Condiments work miracles on any food. To a kid, ketchup makes everything taste better. Plus, dipping his or her food in the condiment of choice allows a kid to personalize the taste and have a say in how he or she is going to enjoy the food. Every parent knows that kids love have a say in just about everything, including what and how they want to eat their food.
Asparagus is one of the many green vegetables that comes in season during spring, and like other green vegetables, asparagus is loaded with all kinds of nutrients like vitamins A, C, E, and K and folate plus some trace minerals like chromium, which helps regulate blood sugar. Asparagus is also particularly rich in the “mother of all antioxidants” – glutathione – a strong detoxifier and immune system booster. And, asparagus contains the amino acid asparagine, which is a natural diuretic – every lady’s best friend.
To make asparagus fries, I first dusted some clean asparagus stalks with a couple tablespoons of almond flour.
Next, I prepared a breading for the fries by combining almond flour, flax seed meal, and homemade vegan parmesan cheese. To make my parmesan cheese imitation, I processed together some pine nuts, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper.
I cracked an egg into a long enough bowl to fit the asparagus and dredged the stalks in the beaten egg until they were completely coated.
I then rolled the egg-coated asparagus in the breading and placed the stalks in a single layer in a greased baking dish. Another option would be to lay them out flat on a parchment lined baking sheet.
I baked the asparagus fries for about 22 minutes and made sure to taste test for desired crunchiness before turning off my oven. Although my kids prefer to dip theirs in ketchup, my dip of choice is a lemon hummus I picked up at Whole Foods.
- 1 bunch asparagus, washed and ends removed
- 1 egg
- ½ cup almond flour, plus 2 tablespoons
- ¼ cup flax seed meal or finely ground flax seed
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- On a large dish, lay out asparagus and dust with 2 tablespoons almond flour.
- In a food processor, process together pine nuts, onion powder, garlic powder, sea salt, and pepper to make a vegan parmesan cheese.
- In a small bowl, combine this vegan parmesan cheese, almond flour, and flax seed meal to make the breading for the fries.
- Transfer the breading to a large plate.
- Crack the egg into a long bowl, and whisk with a fork until beaten.
- Dredge asparagus stalks through the beaten egg.
- Then roll each egg-coated stalk in the breading mixture.
- Lay the breaded asparagus stalks in a single layer in a greased baking pan or parchment lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until desired crunchiness is achieved.
- Enjoy with your favorite condiment.
This weekend, my daughter has a 3-day volleyball tournament. It will be a busy weekend, but one I am looking forward to. It’s been a fun season getting to know all of the parents, watching the girls come together as a team, and being initiated into the club volleyball scene. The only thing I really don’t like about these weekends is the lack of access to descent food or any food with even a sliver of nutritional value. Before the weekend, I decided to make up a few easily transportable salads to sneak in my tote of a purse each day. This Brussels sprout Bok Choy slaw is one of those salads.
Since all the leafy greens are in season and look so fresh, I try to pick up several different varieties each week when I’m at Whole Foods. Bitter greens are a great alkalinizing food. Our bodies are constantly striving to maintain homeostasis, and part of that is keeping our bodies in a slightly alkaline state, so we can function like the well-oiled machine we were intended to. The Standard American Diet can be quiet acid forming and therefore make it quite a chore to keep a body pH of slightly above 7. To achieve an alkaline state when acid forming foods are repeatedly eaten, our bodies pull calcium from the best resource we have – our bones. Leafy greens, especially in the raw form, are an alkaline promoting food, so eating them assists our bodies in achieving that necessary slightly alkaline pH. Leafy greens are also great bone builders, as they have more vitamin K than any other food, which is crucial for the bone building proteins to function properly.
Today, I decided to make a slaw. Slaws keep and travel well, they’re raw, and they’re speedy to prepare. Any leafy green can be made into a slaw, but I chose Brussels sprouts and Bok choy both because I have them on hand and because they’re two shades of green, so I thought the result would look pretty and appetizing.
Making any leafy green into a slaw is as simple as pressing the “on” button on your food processor. I just tossed the Brussels sprouts in the food processor bowl, and pulsed until they were thoroughly shredded. Then I repeated with the Bok choy.
To make the walnut fig vinaigrette, I combined all of the ingredients in the Magic Bullet and blended them together. I chose Lucini fig balsamic vinegar, which I love. Over time, I’ve built up a variety of infused vinegars and oils as well as other interesting condiments in my pantry. Every time I go to the grocery store, I try to throw a new one in my cart. I think it’s the easiest way to prepare and cook different tastes with little effort.
I also added some walnuts (I slightly toasted mine for extra flavor) and dried figs to the Magic Bullet, which ended up contributing a lot of taste and a creamy texture. The figs with the help of a little maple syrup are also the perfect amount of sweet to combat the bitter taste of the leafy greens.
After whipping up the vinaigrette, I just tossed and refrigerated the slaw, so the flavors could marinate a little. Slaws are a sweet and crunchy way to eat your leafy greens. You can easily store or transport them for busy lifestyles. Even though I used Bok Choy to go with the Brussels sprouts, any dark leafy green would work – try kale or collard greens too.
- 1 bag or 1 pound Brussels sprouts
- 1 head Bok choy, stalks removed
- ⅓ cup fig balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2-3 dried figs, chopped
- ¼ cup walnuts, slightly toasted
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
- Wash Brussels sprouts, and transfer to food processor bowl. Process until finely shredded.
- Wash Bok Choy, remove stalks, and transfer to food processor bowl. Process until finely shredded.
- In a magic bullet, combine vinegar, olive oil, maple syrup, figs, walnuts, thyme, and salt and pepper. Puree until smooth and creamy. Add a little water if you need to thin out the dressing.
- Pour dressing over greens and toss to coat.