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Archive for January, 2009

the scoop on rice

Wheat, the staff of life?

Uh, I don’t think so.

Although there are lots of exotic and nutrient-dense alternatives to wheat, for those of us with gluten issues, rice seems to take center stage as our go-to, gluten-free grain. I often have a batch of cooked rice in the fridge to use in everything from soups to salads to hot cereal. When you can’t eat certain foods and grabbing something on the go is difficult, having already-cooked staples available makes life much easier, don’t you agree?

I’ve been thinking of doing a series of posts on alternative grains and I figured I might as well start at the beginning — with rice. Once you realize that wheat is off your menu forEVER (as in the rest of your life and into the hereafter), you wander into this wonderful parallel universe of alternatives grains. Seriously, it’s so much more fun over here.

Think about it, would you be baking with montina, mesquite or chestnut flour if you weren’t forced away from wheat? Or experimenting with teff, job’s tears, amaranth, or black japonica rice?

No, probably not.

So, let’s get on with life and enjoy the abundance; and I’m here to help you learn how to do that. We’ll start with rice.

Hey, all you glutenized wheat-eaters, you can join us, too. This is a bipartisan blog, we’re an inclusive bunch.

The basics
First off, the “minute” versions, the trolley car versions, the stripped white versions don’t count in my mind, so we’re sticking with whole grain rice, meaning the germ and bran are intact. When rice is milled it goes from brown to white. The outer bran layer of the rice is removed in a process called “whitening” leaving it much lower in nutritional value. Almost all the fiber and most of the B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, selenium, and zinc are washed down the drain (or wherever the “waste” goes). Ugh, why do we do stuff like that?! Fiber is our gastrointestinal hazmat team so we want more of it, not less. For a detailed post on fiber, check here. The bran layer is also what gives those lovely brown, red, and black colors to the different varieties of rice.

Rice is categorized by the length of the grains — long, medium, and short. The shorter the rice is, the more chubby it becomes. Bummer, sounds a bit like a girlie trait.

Types of rice

Short & medium grain brown (Golden Rose, Arborio, Brown Sweet, Sushi)
Rice contains two types of starch; amylopectin (sticky, gooey starch) and amylose (non-sticky starch). The short and medium grain rices contain more of the sticky amylopectin so they cook up differently. When the rice cooks, the amylopectin is released causing the rice to stick together. The solid brown rice in the picture above is “Golden Rose Brown” which is one of my favorites for making hot rice cereal (I’ll do a post on that). Think of it this way, the shorter and chunkier the rice, the more amylopectin and therefore the stickier the outcome.

Long grain brown rice (Brown Basmati, Brown Jasmine)
Long grain varieties have less amylopectin and far more amylose, so the grains don’t stick together. They cook up light and fluffy. Each grain is 3 to 5 times longer than it is wide. These are the super-models, tall and skinny.

Wild rice
I love wild rice, partly because it’s so delicate and exotic and partly because of its nutty, savory flavor. Most of the “wild” rice I use comes from Lundberg Farms in California. The real thing grows wild in the Great Lakes, but that’s only a small percentage of the wild rice sold in stores. It’s actually an aquatic grass rather than a true grain. Rich in high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber it’s not only pretty to look at, it’s packed with health-promoting goodness as well.

Bhutanese red rice
Lotus Foods has several varieties of exotic rices. Short-grained Red Bhutanese is one of them. Grown at 8,000 feet in the Himalayans and irrigated with mineral-rich glacier water, this definitely qualifies for exotic. It has a beautiful red color and a mild sweet taste.

Forbidden rice
Deep, dark purple, this rice was once grown exclusively for Chinese Emperors, hence the name. According to Chinese legend, Forbidden rice increases longevity and stimulates the flow of chi (energy). It has a nutty flavor and fragrant aroma.

Black Japonica
A blend of short grain black and medium grain mahogany, this rice is a Lundberg exclusive. It has a nutty, mushroom-like taste and looks beautiful next to a nice grilled salmon filet. Yum!

Rice cooking tips
• Never lift the lid while the rice is cooking or you’ll lose the steam necessary for tenderizing the rice.
• It helps (but is not necessary) to soak the brown, red, black and wild rice varieties and hour or so before cooking.
• The rice to water (or broth) ratio is dependent on the variety of rice used and where you live. I normally go with 1 cup rice to 2 cups liquid, but that’s because I’m doing high-altitude cooking. If you live at sea level you’ll use less water – maybe 1 and 3/4 cup per cup of rice. Water boils at a lower temperature the higher you go, so you have to use more water and cook it longer. Does that make sense? By the way, it’s a drag when you’re out backpacking at 10,000 feet, in a hurry to eat and low on fuel. Glad I have my MSR Reactor Stove. I love that thing. But I digress…

Go forth and rice up your life! (bad pun, I know)

rethink your peanut butter treats

I eat an apple with almond butter almost every day. It’s my pre-yoga breakfast. Every so often I switch it up with fresh ground peanut butter, although not often. I create nut butters by grinding whole nuts, so I’m not too concerned about food safety. But as a “food” person, I thought I’d throw out some information on the current recall of peanut butter from the Peanut Corp of America (PCA) due to a salmonella outbreak. The FDA has confirmed that the outbreak resulted from products originating at the PCA plant in Georgia. At this point, 486 people from 43 states have become ill. It’s serious — with over 100 hospitalizations and 6 deaths. We have 12 reported cases here in Colorado. Ohio has the most at 65. For a state by state list, consumer recommendations, and information about salmonella, check this site at the Center for Disease Control.

PCA doesn’t sell peanut butter directly to the consumer, so jars of major national brands aren’t affected. It’s the processed foods you need to worry about. Some manufactures use peanut butter or peanut paste to make cookies, crackers, bars, cakes, etc. Keep in mind that peanut butter is also used in making dog treats, so it’s not only people food we need to be concerned about with the recall, but dog food as well.

While there are lots of what I’d call junk foods on the recall list, two good ones jumped out at me — Clif and Luna Bars. I occasionally eat Clif Organic Nectar Bars, which don’t come in peanut butter flavor, but you might want to check this list if you buy Clif products. For a current (as of today) list of all recalled products, check here. The list is long and some foods have been exported to other countries, so if you eat peanut butter treats, make sure they aren’t part of the recall.

It’s not always easy to do, but eating local food and knowing where your food comes from helps diminish food safety issues.

In good health,

spinach, potato and raw cheese soup

People with celiac disease often have secondary issues with dairy products. That’s a long and convoluted story, but I’ve had some trouble with dairy in the past, so for the most part I avoid it. For information on milk and a basic glossary, check here for a past post I did on the subject.

Last Saturday I attended a membership gathering of the Raw Milk Association of Colorado and the local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation. Pete Kennedy, lawyer and VP for the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund was the keynote speaker and did a presentation on raw milk trends and food politics. (I’m such a geek, I absolutely love this stuff.) David Lynch, founder and director of Guidestone, a non-profit dedicated to sustainable development and conserving regional agricultural resources, gave a historical perspective of how the raw milk movement has taken hold in Colorado and the legal aspects of buying and consuming it. David also owns Cottonwood Creek Dairy, which provides local folks in the Arkansas Valley of central Colorado an opportunity to share in the joys of raw milk from his Jersey milking herd. Dianne, a friend of mine from the holistic nutrition world did a short presentation on the benefits CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) in meat and milk from 100% grass fed animals. Not only were the speakers good, the local product exhibits were great as well. It was a day of nourishing food, good information, lively conversation, and food politics. I learned more about local grass-roots organizations that promote healthy living, sustainability, and ethical food production, which is something I’m very interested in.

Meg and Arden, owners of Windsor Dairy, sold me on trying some raw cheese from their certified organic dairy farm (I bought two types seen in the photo above). Both Meg and Arden are veterinarians and together have developed a system of dairy farming suited to Colorado’s altitude and growing conditions. They have cows derived from Brown Swiss and Tartentaise breeds from the Alps — perfect for our climate (not that I know anything at all about dairy cows). Arden gave me a quick info session on why some people with celiac disease and a casein intolerance might do okay on raw milk and cheese. He’s a vet and I don’t have a “regular” doctor, so I decided to take Arden’s advice and give it a try, starting with the most mouth watering cheese you’ve ever tasted. Here’s how I used their Nakhu cheese, which is a medium flavored raw cheese, reminiscent of traditional farmhouse English Cheddar. And that’s from a Swiss cow in the Colorado Rockies. A delightful taste of cultural diversity, wouldn’t you agree?

Spinach & potato soup with Nakhu cheese
what you need

1 large bunch of spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, diced
4 or 5 cloves garlic, minced
4 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes, washed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (I don’t peel them)
1 can cannellini beans, drained
1 tomato, diced
1/2 pound chorizo sausage (make sure it’s gluten-free, ask the butcher)
6-8 cups chicken broth (I used Imagine Organic Free Range Chicken Broth, it’s GF)
olive oil
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
cheese (in this case raw Nakhu cheese)

what you do
• Brown the sausage in a small amount of oil, drain and set aside.
• Using a heavy soup pot, heat a glug of olive oil and brown the onion over medium-low heat until soft.
• Add garlic to the onion mix and sauté for a few minutes, stirring often.
• Add the potatoes, some salt and pepper, stir and sauté for a few more minutes (3 to 5).
• Add the sausage and the chicken broth, bring soup almost to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 45 minute or so.
• Add beans, spinach, and tomato about 10 minutes before serving.
• Salt and pepper as needed.

I added slices of the raw Nakhu cheese after I served it into the bowls. Let it melt a little bit and enjoy. If you don’t have access to raw cheese from a nearby dairy farm, grated parmesan would be nice.

Makes about 6 servings.

I’ll let you know how I do with my reintroduction of dairy products. Maybe sticking with raw, unpasteurized, organic cheeses and milk will be okay. Arden, my new vet, might be right. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Go forth and support your local farmers,

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.

gone fishin’

Did your grandmother ever tell you that fish was brain food? Once again, grandma was right. About 60% of your brain (mine too) is made up of fat — essential fatty acids (EFA). In fact, some evolutionary biologists attribute the fact that humans are at the top of the food chain to one specific food. That food is fish, which is full of healthy EFAs (the good fats).

I’ll give you a brief run-down of what EFAs are, how they enhance our health, and where you can get them, but first, just for fun, please check out this post on EFAs. It will give you a little background and a humorous take on omega fats and why we need them to survive, thrive, and carry on. It will also enlighten you as to one of the reasons men are attracted to J-Lo.

EFAs (essential fatty acids)
• EFAs are building blocks and are a necessary components for all body cells
• required for good health, can’t be produced by our bodies (hence, essential)
• they are the “good” polyunsaturated fats
• research shows they should be consumed daily
• two important families of EFAs include omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids
• both are necessary, but balanced intake is important
• studies show that the omega-3s, EPA and DHA, are the most beneficial
• GLA is a beneficial omega-6 fat
• unhealthy omega-6 fats can be found in refined vegetable oils and processed foods
• too many omega-6s and too few omega-3s can contribute to chronic disease, depression, and an assortment of behavioral disorders
• in the right combination, EFAs can decrease inflammation and support good health
• omega-3s (EPA and DHA) can be found in cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies and in 100% grass fed beef
• omega-6 (GLA, the good one) is found in borage, black current, and evening primrose oil
• plant sources* of omega-3s include flax, chia, camolina, purslane, lingonberry, kiwi, and some nuts

Benefits of DHA (omega-3)
• important to nervous system function
• research shows DHA may improve cognitive function, memory, and learning capacity
• DHA is important to mental well-being and stability
• deficiencies may cause depression, bipolar disorder, aggression, and increased suicide risk
• DHA is necessary for maintaining healthy brain function and cognitive ability as we age
• essential during pregnancy and lactation
• research also suggests DHA may reduce postpartum depression

Benefits of EPA (omega-3)
• boosts immune function
• beneficial for autoimmune and inflammatory conditions
• helpful for inflammatory bowel diseases (celiac, crohn’s, IBS)
• supports healthy cardiac function (the American Heart Association recommends omega-3s)
• helps control blood pressure
• may reduce joint pain and swelling and help with arthritis
• beneficial for asthma patients

Benefits of GLA (a good type of omega-6)
• supports skin and hair health
• may reduce eczema and psoriasis
• reduces inflammation
• beneficial in reducing the symptoms of arthritis
• may help alleviate PMS and symptoms of menopause

* Omega-3s fall into two categories — plant-based and fish-based. You also get omega-3s from 100% grass-fed meat. While the plant-based sources are healthy additions to the diet for many reasons, EPA and DHA derived from fish and meat are more bio-available. The body has to convert the shorter chain fatty acid, ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) from the plant source, into EPA and DHA and studies show we aren’t very efficient in doing so. Fish appears to be the the best source.

* There are some conditions in which these oils may have a negative impact on the body, so it is important to consult your doctor before taking EFAs in the form of supplements. It is also important to avoid low-quality fish oil supplements as they may contain some icky stuff (heavy metals, toxins, etc.).

Tamari Salmon

what you need
1 cup sake (Japanese rice wine)
1/2 cup gluten-free tamari
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
12-ounce salmon filet, cut in two 6-ounce pieces (or something similar)

preheat oven to 425
cover a cookie sheet with tin foil and oil lightly

what you do
1. mix first 5 ingredients together in small bowl; reserve 1/4 cup of the marinade for later
2. rinse salmon under cold water, pat dry with a paper towel and place in glass baking dish
3. pour marinade (remember to reserve 1/4 cup for later) over salmon
4. cover and put in refrigerator for an hour or so (occasionally spoon liquid over exposed parts of the fish)
5. place fish on prepared baking sheet and put on middle rack in oven
6. bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork (it depends on how thick your filets are, you may need less time; don’t overcook)
7. pour reserved marinade over fish and serve immediately

Serve with yukon gold roasted potatoes or wild rice. Yum!

So, the bottom line is — ladies, celebrate your curves, and men, if we call you a fat head, take it as a compliment.


Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.

I’m ready for my close-up

Is this pup cute, or what?! Seriously, have you ever seen a more adorable face? I don’t think so. This is my guy, Fairbanks. Actually, this is his “before” picture. See below for his “after” picture (after adding over 100 pounds). First cute, then handsome — what a guy.

Fairbanks is an Alaskan Malamute, a breed evolved as freighting dogs among the native Alaskan Eskimos, the Mahlemut tribe (hence the name). Because of the harsh winter conditions, these people depended on the dogs for their very survival. As hunting partners, they were able to help take down large game, often located far from home, and then haul it back over the frozen tundra. They had to be strong, powerful and able to withstand long days of hard work in frigid temperatures with little fuel. These dogs aren’t built for speed, they’re built for stamina and endurance. Their efficient metabolisms require far less food than you’d expect from an animal this big.

Descendant from the northern wolf, Malamutes are rugged dogs who thrive on hard work. In 1984 at the Winter Ski and Sports Show in Portland, Oregon, a big Malamute named Mack pulled record weights of 3570 pounds on snow and 6900 pounds on wheels. You can understand how the native Eskimos needed these dogs to survive. Hauling a caribou back home over harsh terrain for days on end couldn’t be done without them. Having said that, Fairbanks prefers hanging out, doing his dog thing, going for his daily walk, and enjoying a rather cushy life compared to his ancestors. He does sleep outside though and had no problem with our recent record cold nights (19 below zero). It’s where he wants to be, but he does have a well-built dog house with a nice fleecy bed inside. Aaah, and he deserves it.

One more thing and I’ll get on with the food part to this post (yes, there is a food connection). My dad was an Arctic Survival Specialist for the Air Force and spent time during WWII in Alaska and Canada teaching potentially “downed” pilots survival skills. He traveled by dog team and his favorite buddy and lead dog was named Fairbanks. I named my guy after my dad’s dog. See Fairbanks #1 and Fairbanks #2. (This brings tears to my eyes. I’m such a sap.)

Okay on to the food part. My last post with the companion dog doing his job (sleeping while officially off-duty) inspired me to do this one. I’m always ranting about people food (what to eat, what not to eat, what to eat in moderation — blah, blah, blah). I decided I needed to do a “what NOT to feed your dog” post. Some of these foods might surprise you. I tried to get Fairbanks to eat a grape one time and he gummed it up and spit it out, hilariously so. I had no idea grapes were toxic to dogs. Yikes! Thank goodness he did. He’s not only handsome, he’s smart.

The following information came directly from my vet. Some of these foods are so toxic to dogs, they not only endanger their health, they may cause death.

Harmful foods (don’t feed these to your dog and store them where the dog can’t get to them)
• avocados
• chocolate (all forms)
• coffee (all forms), tea, energy drinks
• onions and onion powder
• garlic and garlic powder
• grapes
• raisins
• macadamia nuts
• all alcoholic beverages
• moldy/spoiled foods
• salt
• gum, candies, and other foods sweetened with xylitol
• tea leaves
• raw yeast dough

Good treats for dogs are baked potatoes and green beans (see, I told you Fairbanks had a cushy life). He also has a taste for wild-caught salmon.

Go forth and scratch some tummies!
P.S. Check out Liz and Henry for another food and dog blogger.

no excuses

I took these photos at the base of Winter Park Ski Area in the mountains of Colorado. No thought went into it, no positioning myself for optimal light, no effort to get the right angle. I had my little point and shoot camera in my jacket pocket and as I was taking my skis off to go inside and eat lunch, I saw this wonderful dog on duty. Although he was doing his dog job, he was also taking full measure of the fact that his owner was off tearing up the slopes and he could take a break and relax in the sunshine.

Whoever owns this dog skis at Winter Park and if his (or her) wheelchair is any indication, he (or she) is out and about regardless of what some might call a “limitation.” Winter Park is home to the National Sports Center for the Disabled and is known internationally for the caliber and dedication of its athletes and participants. That includes the hundreds of volunteers who are committed to helping people with disabilities learn to ski, snowboard, snowshoe, climb and enjoy the outdoors. The program also includes the Disabled Competition Center and the NSCD Alpine Ski Team. The Competition Program has placed dozens of racers on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. At the 2006 Paralympics in Turin, Italy, NSCD worked and trained 16 of the athletes who were representing the USDST.

Miles from England and Xenny from South Africa inspired me to do this post (although they don’t know it). Long story, but Xenny is an amputee and plays on the beaches in South Africa. When I saw a photo of “Xenny’s Beach” on Miles’ blog and read how newly installed stairs gave Xenny access to the beach, it made me smile and think of my own stomping grounds. I’ve spent my life skiing at Winter Park (and Mary Jane) and the base area is home to wheelchairs, artificial limbs, and the occasional dog companion. The scene always inspires me.

Do you ever talk yourself out of doing something because you think it will be too much effort? Convince yourself you don’t quite feel good enough? No real reason, you just can’t seem to muster up what it takes to get off your bum and go move about? We all do that on occasion. I did it yesterday and skipped one of my favorite yoga classes because I was — lazy?

Okay, no excuses.

Imagine what it must take for this guy (or girl) to get up skiing. Or the access needed for Xenny to get to the beach and have fun. I’m grateful to have these folks around for inspiration and I thank them from the bottom of my whiny (occasionally) little heart.

If you need more inspiration in the coming year to celebrate life and movement, check out this video of one of my all-time yoga heros, Matthew Sanford.

Go forth and play. No excuses!

jalapeño poppers

Beware, as I’m going to launch into all kinds of healthy living posts for 2009, but I’ve decided to hold off until the holiday weekend is officially over. It’s hard enough to think in terms of starting in on New Year’s resolutions, no point in doing it prematurely. Not that I made any to begin with. I believe it’s better to have “intentions” rather than deal with full-on resolutions.

This recipe has become one of my favorite party food staples. Hot, spicy and easy (indecent little things), these poppers are always a huge hit. Sorry I don’t have a picture of the finished product, but I’m not one to take food pictures while I have guests waiting to be served.

what you need
• jalapeño peppers (at least 2-3 per person)
• cream cheese
• bacon

I normally make about 25 or 30 poppers at a time and use 2 blocks of cream cheese and 2 packages of bacon.

what you do
• wash jalapeños
• cut lengthwise (I don’t cut them all the way in half. I cut from the bottom all the way up to the stem, but I leave the stem in place so you have a little handle.)
• remove seeds and clean out the fibrous veins *
• fill each pepper with cream cheese
• wrap 1/2 to 1 full slice of bacon around the pepper to close it up

* It’s fun to play popper roulette and leave some seeds in one of them. Just one, and don’t identify it. The seeds make it MUCH hotter. Snicker, snicker.

You can either put them on a baking sheet and place in a 425-450 degree oven for about 10 to 15 minutes until the bacon is fully cooked, or put them on a skewer and cook them out on the grill. I always grill them, as I like the taste and I can usually get someone else to “man” the grill.

P.S. If you’re having a party, take your shower before you handle hot jalapeño peppers. Wash your hands thoroughly and don’t rub your eyes, touch your lips, or any other delicate parts of your body. YIKES! Just trust me — be very careful as the bite of the capsaicin is very hard to wash off and can linger for hours.

Go forth and pop some jalapeños!

goodbye 2008, hello 2009

Rather than obsess about health, resolutions, clean living, nutrition, exercise, or food, I’m just going to send you my warmest wishes from colorful Colorado. There will be enough time for all the other stuff later.

Thank you, everyone. It’s been a good year, despite this mean spirited economy. I appreciate your comments, support, good humor and knowledge and am grateful to all of you for being such an important part of my little blogging world. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and adventure-filled new year.

Onward and love to you all,
Melissa & Fairbanks

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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