Four Cookbooks That Helped Me Survive the Holidays

During the holidays we all become obsessed with food. But if you’re vegetarian or have special dietary needs, this can make the season stressful. But it doesn’t have to. Here are a few cookbooks that help me make it through:

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food

Exactly what it says: everything vegetarian. This book is a must-have for any serious vegetarian.

The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook

Almond flour is the secret to making amazing and tasty gluten free treats.

La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life

More than just a cookbook, this guide shows you an entire lifestyle of great living and great eating.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

This book has lots of special holiday treats.

Chia Seed Pudding

Chia seeds are relatively new on the health food market, and I’ve been experimenting with them in a lot of my baked goods. They are a complete protein, and are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. They also have a decent amount of vitamins and minerals. They also pack a good amount of fiber, too. Click here for the nutrition data breakdown.

Chia seeds have a unique ability to absorb large amounts of liquids, opening interesting possibilities for consumption. They become thick and gelatinous when soaked in liquid, and can be consumed as a beverage (a chunky beverage, which is better than it sounds), or made into a nutrious gel that you can eat with a spoon. I have been using ground chia seeds in all of my gluten-free baking because they help things stick together.

It’s a nice travel food for those with food sensitivities–easy to pack, and when mixed with any liquid it becomes a nourishing and filling food source. I’ve been seeing juices on the market with chia seeds floating in them–just make your own by adding some to your favorite juice.

One of the tastiest ways I’ve been enjoying them is as a pudding. It’s easy and fast, involves no cooking (and few dishes), and is open to infinite variables. I don’t have a picture of it for you, though, but at the request of my patients I wanted to get the recipe up (and maybe I’ll add a picture later). It’s a bit like tapioca pudding, but it’s healthy instead of starchy.

I enjoy it both as a post dinner snack (it’s a great ice cream substitute). Depending on how much sweetener (and what type) you use, it can be a nice breakfast too (maybe with some granola or nuts stirred in).

It’s hard to call this a recipe, it’s really a ratio: 1/2 cup chia seeds to roughly 2-3 cups of liquid. I used coconut milk the last time I made it, but you can use any tasty, creamy base that you like.

The infinite variety come in with how you choose to flavor the liquid. Vanilla or almond extract? Chocolate? Warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves? All are nice, so it’s up to you. If you are using whole spices like cinnamon stick, cardamom pods or cloves, you’ll get a richer flavor if you gently heat the base for a few minutes, and then leave the spices to steep (and then remove before you add the chia seeds).

Here is a rough sketch for a vanilla pudding and a chocolate:

Chia Seed Pudding

1/2 cp Chia seeds
2-3 cups coconut milk, soy milk, rice milk or whole milk
2 tsp vanilla
2-4 tbsp of your favorite sweetner (I use 1/2 palm sugar, 1/2 maple syrup)

Combine all ingredients and stir with a wire whisk. Let chia seeds soak for at least 10 minutes, whisking occasionally to prevent clumping. Start with less liquid, adding more to achieve your desired consistency. You can also add more chia seeds if it’s too liquid-y

It’s ready to eat as is, or you can chill it for a while.

To make this chocolate, add 2 tbsp. cocoa powder, and maybe use the larger amount of sugar.

Taste for sweetner, add a bit more if you need it.

A quick-and-dirty chocolate chia pudding can be had by mixing your chia seeds into chocolate soy milk (or whatever chocolate milk makes you happy).

Eggs poached in stock with spinach and buckwheat

I made a lot of soup this winter and came to appreciate the joy of home-made stock. With just a little extra work, you can get a stock pot going and then forget about it for at least 45 minutes. Strain it and you have a flexible base for a lot of good meals. It freezes beautifully, so make more than you need and bank some in the freezer for a future meal.

Spring allergy season has begun early in Boston. It’s predicted to be an especially bad year because of our mild winter. It’s also several weeks early.

We felt particularly under the weather last weekend, so I decided to cash in two jars of stock from the freezer stash. A quick and healthy meal can be had with two eggs, some pre-made stock, some leftover cooked grains and a handful of something leafy and green. Enhance the flavor as you time an inclination permits. If we’re feeling really under the weather, I add a few cloves of garlic to the stock and boil for at least 15-20 minutes. This time I sauteed some sliced garlic in olive oil and added it at the end, along with some chopped green onions. I had leftover cooked buckwheat in the fridge, but really any grain would do. I especially enjoy small round grains like quinoa and millet.

Eggs poached in stock with spinach and buckwheat

3 cups stock
4 eggs
1 cup cooked grains (give or take), preheated
a few handfuls of baby spinach
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced
2-3 green onions, sliced

Bring stock to a boil, taste for seasoning. Crack eggs into 4 small bowls (like ramekins). To poach eggs, bring bowl very close to the boiling stock and gently tip in. Repeat with other 3 eggs, giving each egg a little room. Gently boil for about 3 minutes.

While eggs are cooking, saute garlic in some olive oil, taking care not to let it brown.

Divid preheated grains between two large soup bowls. Top with a generous handful of baby spinach (you can use a lot here–it will reduce down to nothing once the soup hits it.

Stir sauteed garlic into broth, taking care not to break the eggs. Gently spoon 2 eggs into each bowl and divide the stock evenly between the two bowls. Top with sliced green onions.

Serves 2.

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Great Way Wellness Center – Great Way Wellness Center is a whole-health clinic offering Traditional Chinese Medicine and therapeutic massage.

Healthy Snack Tips from Dr. Weil

Dr. Weil has some great suggestions for some easy, healthy snacks here. I personally try to snack on as much dark chocolate as I can!”

Dark chocolate. An ounce of dark chocolate now and then will satisfy a sweet tooth while providing antioxidant polyphenols. Choose high quality dark chocolate with at least 70 percent pure cocoa, and enjoy the rich flavor.

Read more snack suggestions at DrWeil.com.

Some like it hot

We love spicy foods in our household. Not the so-absurdly-spicy-that-it-causes-pain type of spicy, but spicy enough to give you a little kick. As a Southerner living in New England, I find it challenging to find spicy food, and often a request for Tabasco results in a server searching the restaurant for the one bottle the restaurant has on hand. Shocking!
So, I get my fix at home. Sriracha is one of our favorite hot sauces. Itís pretty spicy, but also contains garlic, so it has a bigger flavor than just heat. I put it on everything (like pizza and eggs dishes), and in lots of things (various sauces, including peanut sauce and puttanesca). It is inexpensive, and comes in 2 forms: conveniently pureed and in a squirt bottle, or chunky in a jar.
The New York Times recently did a story on it, and it turns out that itís made in America, and was originally intended for Asian-Americans (who, like a Southerner in New England, have a hard time getting spicy enough food in America). Apparently it has a growing, cult-like following. I guess you can count me as a member!

Anti-inflammatory Foods

You hear a lot these days about inflammation.  In the past, inflammation was viewed as an unfortunate byproduct of disease.  It made a lot of trouble for the patient, but the thing to do was to bring it down with things like steroids and non-steroidal anti inflammatories (NSAIDS–like Advil).

These days, inflammation is seen as a cause of illness, an integral part of the disease process. It’s something to be avoided as best you can, but how?

One of the best things you can do to protect your health in both the short and long term is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. You hear that all the time,  but what does it mean in practical terms?

The very best diet for minimizing inflammation in the body is primarily vegetarian + fish/seafood, with a little bit of lean meat on occasion.  Whole grains, lots of veggies, extra-virgin olive oil–these foods deeply nourish the body and help it make qi (or vital energy). My husband and I have been lacto-ovo vegetarians (meaning we eat eggs and milk) for over 15 years.  We also recently decided to add some seafood to our diets.  We feel great on this diet, and are the thinnest members of our families.

In Chinese medicine, we believe that food is a type of medicine.  You must be mindful of what you are eating at all times, and do your best to eat foods that give your body something to work with.  Refined, packaged and fast foods are convenient, and in a pinch, are fine to consume occasionally, but they should the the exception and not the norm.  Take the time to prepare healthy meals for yourself and the dividends will be tremendous.

Dr. Andrew Weil has redone the food pyramid to reflect our understanding of what to eat to minimize inflammation in the whole body.  Following this type of diet should pay off in more energy now, and some protection from bigger health problems in the long run.

Dr. Weils Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid

One thing about this pyramid that I disagree with is the notion that you need to eat chocolate “sparingly.”  I think that so long as you eat dark chocolate, you can (and should) eat a little every day.  I see dark chocolate as a special “vitamin” that we need regularly.  So indulge, but don’t over do it.