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Archive for October, 2009

dia de los muertos

Day of the Dead Dancers

Keep reading. This is not spooky, it’s a celebration of life.

I have a huge “Day of the Dead” collection, which includes pottery, dishes, carved wooden boxes, ornaments, dancing skeletons and an assortment of other oddities. Add that to my cactus obsession, mountain lodge look, ski memorabilia, antique furniture, massive book collection and you have an interesting, albeit a bit strange, decorating theme.

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican spiritual celebration connecting souls of the living and dead. Unlike our Halloween celebration, Dia de los Muertos is observed on November 1st (all saints day) and November 2nd (all souls day) and is a tribute to departed loved ones. Celebrated in Mexico, Central America and certain parts of the U.S. southwest, it’s a ritualistic way in which people honor the dead by decorating gravesites with flowers, candles, toys, food and even tequila. They celebrate, eat, drink, party and converse with their loved ones. Others set up similar festive alters in their homes and play music and cook the favorite foods of the deceased.


It’s interesting how celebrations of all kinds revolve around food, even celebrations for those who are only here in spirit. I love that!

Rather than attempt making sugar skulls (no thanks), which is a typical Dia de los Muertos treat, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite recipe offerings.

Chicken and green chile soup (“launching pad” recipe, adjust to your liking)
what you need
1 32 ounce box Imagine Chicken Broth
2 cups water
a bunch of roasted, peeled and chopped green chiles (about a dozen)
2 russet potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 small onion, chopped
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 can corn, rinsed and drained
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 2 tablespoons ground New Mexico chile powder (I use Fernandez, medium hot)
1 teaspoon cumin
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

* This is a guideline, you might want to add a little fresh lime juice, some chopped cilantro, diced tomatoes, a pinch of brown sugar or a teaspoon of agave. I have also added about a half a can of Eden Organic Pizza/Pasta sauce before and it was wonderful in the mix.

what you do
1. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized soup pot. Sauté the onion for about 5 minutes and then add the garlic. Continue cooking for another minute or two.
2. Add the broth and water to the pot and reduce heat to low. If using, add the pizza/pasta sauce. Stir well to blend liquids.
3. Add potatoes, green chiles and chile powder.
4. Simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, until potatoes are tender. Add beans, corn and other seasonings. Heat and serve topped with shredded cheese and diced avocado.

Go forth, celebrate with good food and share it with your loved ones!

maple syrup snob

maple sugaring

If I had an addiction, hypothetically speaking of course, it would have something to do with pure, organic maple syrup.

That’s if I had an addiction, which I don’t. The intervention thing that happened last spring was entirely misguided. So was that fretful and unfortunate Dr. Oz interview I did about the pitfalls of excessive sugar consumption.

Okay, maybe I have a mild dependency. But that’s simply because I have a snobbish and discriminating taste for high-quality sweeteners. That’s totally different from an addiction. Contrary to what Dr. Oz said in that contentious exchange we had about drinking maple syrup, I do NOT need to join a 12-step recovery program.

And no, I don’t think it’s weird to have 3 Sugar Maple trees in my front yard with tap buckets attached (see above). And one Silver Maple. And two Red Maples. I gave up on the Box Elder; the sap wasn’t dark, rich or sweet enough.

Kind of like light beer verses dark lager. No comparison. Right, GDave?

Not that I would know.

Which brings me to the point of this post. GDave, my favorite Glaswegian cooking, blogging beer-maker (among other things), recently asked about the variations and grades of maple syrup. Stephanie, of the lovely blog, Gluten Free By Nature, was kind enough to respond briefly to his question. Thank you, Stephanie!

I’ve decided to take it a step further and do a detailed post on maple syrup, my absolute favorite sweetener. Have I mentioned that before?

According to the Cornell University Sugar Maple Research & Extension Program (yes, that’s for real), there are around 300 different flavor compounds in pure maple syrup. The complex flavor chemistry varies depending on the soil, the tree genetics, the weather, when the sap is collected and the processing technique. High-quality, organic, pure maple syrup is like fine wine. There are different varieties, tasting notes, aromas, finishes and aftertastes. That’s what I love about it.

The American Maple Syrup Producers Manual (also for real) states that chemical composition analyses show that all the different grades have similar health benefits. One grade really isn’t any better than another. But, compared to refined cane sugar, pure maple syrup is higher in mineral content, especially calcium, and also contains various antioxidants. Refined cane sugar contains nothing but calories.

Nonetheless, I will admit, it’s still sugar and should be consumed in moderation and as an occasional treat. But, as far as sweeteners go, maple syrup is at the top of my list, especially for baking. Not only does it impart wonderful flavor subtleties, it adds a moist texture to gluten-free baked goods. While I can’t claim to be eating local when it comes to maple syrup, Vermont (the largest producer of pure maple syrup in the US) is a lot closer to Colorado than Brazil, where most of our cane sugar comes from. Yes, I’m willing to compromise on the local thing once in awhile. Avocados, maple syrup, coffee beans, sockeye salmon and kiwis come to mind.


There are four basic classification systems when it comes to pure maple syrup (see above from left to right). US Grade A light amber (fancy), US Grade A medium amber, US Grade A dark amber and US Grade B. In each case, the grading system is primarily one based on transmission of light through a sample of the syrup, as you can see in the photo above. The differences have to do with various factors, but when the sap is collected is the major one. The richness and sugar content of the sap is higher in late winter.

The Vermont Maple Foundation states that the best grade of maple syrup is the one you like the most. I like Grade B – the rich, dark, thick stuff. Plus, it’s often less expensive. Here’s some basic information to help you determine which choice might be best, and why.

Grade A Light Amber (fancy)
• Delicate, mild maple bouquet (wine snob talk). Excellent drizzled on ice cream.

Grade A Medium Amber
• Pronounced characteristic maple bouquet. Good pancake and all-around table syrup.

Grade A Dark Amber
• Heartier and more robust maple bouquet. A bit richer, but another good all-around choice.

Grade B
• Darkest color and strongest maple flavor. This is the best grade to cook and bake with as the rich flavor isn’t overwhelmed by the other ingredients in your recipe. Wonderful on hot cereals.

One final thought (as bossy as it may be) – do not use FAKE maple syrup! Blech, eeww and ick! It’s usually made with sugar and chemical thickeners. Avoid at all costs.

For more about maple syrup, pancakes, cowboys, books and music, check out this post. It’s short, I promise.

Go forth and celebrate maple syrup snobbery!
P.S. I found out after publishing this post that I had a maple syrup expert right here within my grasp. Sheila, my friend and wonderful CSA contact at Grant Family Farms, grew up on a farm that has produced award-winning maple syrup since 1796. Wow, that means Sheila has maple syrup in her blood. No wonder she’s such a sweetie (I couldn’t resist). For more information and facts about maple syrup, check Sheila’s family website, Endless Mts. Cabin Maple Syrup.

gluten-free pumpkin coconut custard


This time last year, I was a make your own pumpkin puree from scratch virgin. Aaah, but I was seduced by a Grant Farms sugar pumpkin and have never looked back.

Canned pumpkin? No way.

Well, maybe, but only in out-of-season desperation.

I received two small sugar pumpkins in last Monday’s CSA box and I’m guessing I’ll probably get more in today’s delivery, so I decided to make a batch of puréed pumpkin last night and see what I could come up with. Oh my gosh, this maple pumpkin coconut custard was so good that I ate a whole ramekin of it at 6:45 AM this morning after my early morning yoga class.

Yes! I love breakfast custard. Okay, as a nutritionist, I’m not suggesting you eat dessert for breakfast, but I must admit, it was a rather nice way to start the week.

gluten-free maple pumpkin coconut custard
(adapted from a maple pumpkin recipe from Eating Well)
what you need

1-1/3 cup light coconut milk
1 cup puréed pumpkin, no sugar or spices added *
3/4 cup maple syrup (I used organic, grade B)
3 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dash salt
whipped cream (if you want, but not necesary)
crystallized ginger and chopped pecans for topping
6 small ramekin or custard cups


what you do
1. Either make your puréed pumpkin from scratch or use canned (no sugar, no seasoning). Cut and clean out the pumpkin seeds and messy pulp, leaving the meat. Put the pumpkin in a roasting pan (I use glass) skin side down, fill with about an inch of water and cover with foil. Place in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 40-50 minutes or until the meat of the pumpkin is tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven being very careful not to spill the hot water on yourself. Cool and purée in a blender.

2. To make the custard, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place a kettle of water on the stove and heat it up for the water bath. Line a roasting pan (I use a 9 x 13 inch glass pan) with a folded kitchen towel to prevent the ramekins from clanking around on the glass pan while cooking.

3. Heat the coconut milk over low heat in a small saucepan until barely steaming, but not boiling.

4. Whisk the syrup, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Slowly blend in the warm coconut milk, a little at a time so the eggs don’t cook.

5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin purée, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Blend well.

6. Add the pumpkin purée to the liquid mixture and whisk until blended.

7. Spoon the mixture into 6 small ramekin cups (about 3/4 cup each). Skim the foam from the top and place ramekins in the prepared roasting pan. Pour the boiling water into the pan about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Avoid splashing any water into the ramekins. Carefully place the pan in the oven and bake for 45 to 50 minutes until custard is just set, but still a touch jiggly in the center when shaken. Do not cover while baking.

8. Transfer ramekins to a wire rack and let cool for about 45 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until fully chilled (at least an hour).

9. To serve, top with a dollop of real whipped cream if desired. Sprinkle with crystallized ginger and chopped pecans. These steps are optional, but they sure do add to the custard. I love the crystallized ginger!


You might also like . . .
Nutrition tips and roasted pumpkin chunks
Gluten-free buckwheat pumpkin pancakes

Go forth and let yourself be seduced by a sugar pumpkin!

gluten-free apple crumble


It’s apple harvest time in Colorado.

I’ve got a big jug of Ela Farms organic, sugar-free apple cider in the fridge and I’ve been busy making apple sauce, dehydrated apples, apple porridge, apple bars and apple muffins. Not that I’m complaining. But, after picking up my CSA box yesterday and finding another zillion honey-crisp apples in the fruit basket, I had no choice but to expand on my healthy options and make a full-on, traditional, sugar-laden, butter-filled apple crumble.

Seriously, I had no choice. None.

There are a handful of desserts that insist on being made with the real thing. This is one of them.

Melissa’s GF apple crumble
what you need for the apple filling

6 to 8 apples, depending on size
1/2 cup organic sugar
2 tablespoons GF flour * (I used Pamela’s GF Baking Mix, but any GF mix or regular flour will work)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
dash of salt

what you need for the crumble topping
3/4 cup GF flour * (I used Pamela’s GF Baking Mix, but any GF mix or regular flour will work)
1/3 cup organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup butter *
1 cup chopped pecans (or less – I love pecans in this, so I use a lot)

1. Wash, core and slice apples in thin sections and place in a large bowl. Depending on your preference and time, you can either peel them or not. I’ve done it both ways, but it does change the texture a bit if they are unpeeled (the photo below shows them peeled, but unpeeled is more-often my choice).

2. Using a whisk and a medium sized bowl, mix the remaining ingredients on the apple filling list.

3. Pour mixed dry ingredients over the apples and gently stir to cover all the pieces with filling ingredients. Place in greased pie plate and arrange to fit. If you feel as though there’s not enough coverage, mix up a small amount of extra filling mix and add that. I have a fairly large-sized pie plate so depending on my apple sizes, sometimes I end up making a touch extra. I’ve also increased all the measurements and made a big apple crumble during special occasions. Adjust as you see fit.


4. Whisk together flour, sugar and cinnamon from the crumble ingredient list. Add butter as indicated below (*) and mix well. Add the pecans, stir and cover pie with crumble mixture. Press down to cover all the area. The photo below is an example of the pre-baked crumble, but in a much larger baking dish. This version was half-again bigger than the recipe calls for (I wanted to show you some options).


5. Place in pre-heated 400 degree oven for about 45-50 minutes. Check after about 30 minutes and cover loosely with foil if it starts to burn (it may, so watch it closely). Quick clean-up tip: you might also want to put a piece of foil on the floor of your oven in case the filling boils over and makes a mess of your oven.

6. Remove from oven, serve with vanilla ice cream and swoon over your creation. No one (NO ONE) will care that this is gluten-free. Don’t even tell them. On second thought, tell them and then don’t give them the recipe. Just explain that this is what is served in our wheat-free parallel universe that they aren’t part of. Be totally snooty about it. So there, you wheat-eaters!

Of course, I’m kidding.

Sort of.


* Butter, here’s the deal – if I’m going to use butter, I’m going to use the best available source. My choice is Organic Valley Pastured Butter for a variety of reasons. The real thing is much healthier for you than all those nasty “I thought it was real, but it’s really a bunch of icky fake crap” butters. Plus, how the animals are treated makes a big difference in my food choices. This is a good, healthy option for me.

* Butter-using tip: I buy the big chunk of butter and store it in the freezer. Then when I need butter for pie crusts and crumbles, I take it out of the freezer and shred it with a cheese grater. That is much easier than doing that double-knife-ninja-crossover-thing to mix up butter. Then I put the butter back in the freezer for next time. Very easy and there’s less chance of a serious, pastry-mixing injury. Are you listening, GDave?

Go forth and enjoy the apple harvest!

the business of staying healthy

Exercise regularly . . .

. . . and eat right!

Laugh and be serious about the business of staying healthy (yes, you can do both at the same time).
P.S. Thanks for the inspiration, Kylie!

hemp protein smoothie

hemp seeds

I know, it’s fall and there’s a distinct chill in the air. If you live in the high country, you might even have a skiff of snow on the ground. Not exactly smoothie weather, but my detox buddy and I have been doing a fall cleanse for the past three weeks and smoothies have been a major part of our diet. Although I didn’t have the time this fall to document our progress like I did last spring, the results have been the same. I’ve lost a few pounds and feel light, healthy, energetic and rejuvenated. In fact, even though I do this every spring and fall, I’m always struck by how good I can feel. It’s a twice-yearly reminder to reset my health goals and pay attention to how I treat myself. Everything we eat, drink, breathe and absorb through our skin must be dealt with by the body. We’re exposed to a long list of icky environmental toxins on a daily basis. Periodic cleansing gives the body a chance to sort through the muck and unload some of that toxic burden that has accumulated over time. Every system and organ in the body is impacted by what we eat, but the liver is the workhorse. Periodic cleansing gives it a chance to catch up on its workload and regenerate, which is vital to overall wellness. 

This smoothie is filled with antioxidant goodness, high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids to boost health and combat free-radical damage. Hemp is one of nature’s best plant-based protein sources, containing all the essential amino acids the body needs. And no, you won’t flunk a drug test if you’ve had a hemp smoothie for breakfast. I’m a product of the sixties, a hippie-girl at heart, so the word “hemp” brings to mind marijuana, peace, love and tie-dyes. Having said that, I never inhaled. 

Marijuana and hemp both come from the same species of plant, Cannabis sativa L., but from different varieties. There are different breeds of dogs in the Canis familiari group – think Chihuahuas and my guy, Fairbanks. This is no different. Hemp protein powder and marijuana are not the same, so don’t worry that you’ll start wearing bell bottoms and sporting flowers in your hair. Or singing old Janis Joplin or Jefferson Airplane songs. Not that that’s a bad thing. “Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know.”

Quick, what’s that song?

the word 'hemp' isolated on white

hemp protein smoothie
what you need

2 ripe pears *
2 cups Romaine lettuce or spinach
1 ripe banana *
1 cup goat kefir or goat yogurt
1 cup coconut water
1/4 cup shredded raw zucchini
1/4 cup berries (any kind, organic preferred, frozen is fine)
3 tablespoons hemp protein powder
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon

what you do
Wash and cut fruit, throw it in the blender with the rest of the ingredients and blend well. Makes 2 BIG servings or 4 small ones. If you don’t have this mix of ingredients, make up your own. Color outside the lines! Some of these ingredients were from my weekly CSA share. This is a great way to use fruit that is on the far-side of mid-life.

* Overly-ripe fruit is actually better in some ways, especially in smoothies. Ripe bananas are more alkalizing, green bananas are more acidic. Which foods give you the best chance for a healthy pH balance is for another post, but this is a good way to add alkalizing foods to the diet (that’s a good thing), so don’t toss overly ripe bananas. Use them in smoothies. 

A sampling of nutritional highlights
Pears are in season now and full of vitamin C and copper, both of these nutrients help protect cells from free-radical damage. High in fiber and considered a “hypoallergenic” fruit, pears are not only healthy, but creamy and delicious as well.
Romaine lettuce is packed with nutrient goodness and contain only 7 or 8 calories per cup. You get a lot of bang for your buck with Romaine, but make it organic as the Environmental Working Group lists lettuce as one of the “dirty dozen” on their shopper’s guide to pesticides
Pumpkin seeds are rich in anti-inflammatory properties, which may be protective against arthritis and joint inflammation. Guys – pumpkin seeds contain a rich blend of health-promoting minerals, including zinc which helps protect your “boy” parts and your bones. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found a connection between low zinc levels and osteoporosis of the hip and spine. We always think of osteoporosis as a female condition, but it can be a problem for older men as well. 
Cinnamon contains unique essential oils that are anti-microbial and help balance yeast and bacteria in the intestinal tract. In addition, cinnamon helps balance blood sugar levels and is rich in fiber, iron, manganese and even calcium. Plus, cinnamon is sweet and tasty. I add it to everything I can think of.

For more cleansing information, check these posts from last spring; cleanse introduction, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, and a cleanse wrap-up

Go forth and power up your smoothies! Singing songs from the sixties is optional. 

watermelon chia seed smoothie


I’d like to say it’s a lazy, hot summer day in Golden, Colorado, perfect for ripe, juicy seasonal watermelon. But no, it’s cold, windy and the low last night was 28 degrees. Not exactly picnic weather. More like hot chocolate, flannel jammies and furry slippers weather. 

But, when you eat local and seasonal food, you go with the plant flow and it’s watermelon time, so put on a down parka and dig in!

I have been eating watermelon daily for the past three weeks. I’m really not complaining as you all know how much I love my weekly CSA share from Grant Family Farms. Yes, I’ll admit it – I love my farmers up the road in Wellington. Head over heels, stalkingly in love. But in a good veggie-fruit kind of way. Yes, Andy Grant is my version of Sting, a total rock star. Or rather a dirt star. 

This smoothie was created using fruits and veggies from my recent share box. Mix and match according to what you have on hand, but this made for a perfect breakfast shake. While sitting by the fire, wrapped in a wool blankie, wearing mittens. Hey, nobody promised that eating seasonal in Colorado would always make sense. 

watermelon chia seed smoothie (this is a winner)
2 cups watermelon chunks, seeds removed
2 cups mixed lettuce greens (the good stuff, not iceberg lettuce)
1 small apple, unpeeled and chopped
1/2 cup diced cucumber
1/2 cup Redwood Hill Farms vanilla goat yogurt
1/2 to 1 scoop Chia Seeds (this is what I use
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Place all ingredients in the blender and mix well. If your watermelon is juicy enough, you’ll have a perfect smoothie without adding any liquid. This was absolutely delicious and something even picky kids will love (or you green-food-avoiding grownups – you know who you are). The green, leafy stuff is practically unnoticeable. 

Chia (chee-ah) is an edible seed from a desert plant that is a member of the mint family. Like quinoa was to the Inca Indians, chia was warrior food for the Aztecs and Mayans.

Total Zena, Warrior Princess food. 

Chia is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, niacin, zinc and blah, blah, blah. These little nutty-tasting seeds truly are power-packed. The high fiber content makes them perfect for slowing down the process by which carbs are converted to sugar, so energy levels are more balanced. Chia is great mixed into trail bars, granola, muffins and hot cereal. 

Go forth and thrive!
Zena, Warrior Princess

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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