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Archive for November, 2012

gluten-free pumpkin pie coffee cake

I had a post on anemia in the works, complete with details on the structure, function, and production of red blood cells, but I got sidetracked by coffee cake. Iron-poor blood will have to wait. This cake is that good. Plus, it fits in with a study I read this morning.

It’s the holidays and this time of year often triggers an uptick in anxiety-related behavior. Cake is comfort food. Did you go to Target or Best Buy on Black Friday? Did your Thanksgiving dinner look more like a Woody Allen movie than a Norman Rockwell painting? Are you stressed about work, money, politics, the weather?

Here, have a piece of cake.

And guess what? A bunch of researchers (17 scientists) put together a collective study and concluded that, “…the hedonic and rewarding properties of palatable foods have stress-buffering actions across numerous effector pathways (neuroendocrine, behavioral, and the sympathetic nervous system).”


Apparently our HPA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenocortical) axis and the sympathetic branch of our autonomic nervous system lights up (neuro-nirvana) with the intake of “hedonic” food (i.e. cake). We’re being rewarded for eating fat and sugar. The study states that, “Indeed, comfort food intake in humans is linked with improved emotional states….”

Really? It took 17 scientists to confirm that we want cake, cookies, and ice cream when we’re stressed?

Since I’m in the Christmas spirit and this coffee cake is so divine, I won’t belabor the unintended consequences of overeating hedonic (sorry, that word is just too much fun) food for stress relief.

Yes, we know that binging on sweets is not a good idea. But who reaches for bok choy or burdock root when they’re stressed?  And, yes, we know that eating high fat, high carb food can lead to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and blah-blah-blah.

Let’s put all that aside for now, take this one bite at a time, and enjoy the holidays responsibly. I’m for baking an occasional treat, sharing it with friends and family, and not over-indulging. I created this coffee cake recipe for a holiday brunch I’m having on Christmas day. When I perfected the recipe on my third try, I gave half of it to my neighbors (reluctantly). When I make it next time, I’ll have lots of people to share it with. I’m taking protective measures, but I still plan to enjoy a little hedonic buzz now and then.

Gluten-free pumpkin pie coffee cake
What you need

Coffee Cake
2 – 1/2 cups Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix
1 cup pumpkin pie mix (I used Farmer’s Market Organic Pumpkin Pie Mix)
1/2 cup light coconut milk (I used Native Forest Organic Light Coconut Milk)
2 large eggs (these were my CSA pastured eggs from Grant Farms)
1/4 cup organic turbinado sugar *
1/4 cup organic butter, melted
1 – 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (I used Savory Spice Shop’s salt-free pumpkin pie spice)
1 teaspoon vanilla (I used Madagascar vanilla)

Streusel Topping
1/2 cup Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter, chilled

What you do
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 9 x 9 inch square baking pan (I used a dark 9 x 9 inch square baking pan).
2. Place Pamela’s mix and the pumpkin pie spice in a medium bowl. Whisk to blend the two dry ingredients.
3. Beat butter and sugar together on medium speed, about 30 seconds, until creamy. Add eggs, vanilla, coconut milk, and pumpkin pie mix and continue mixing on low, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
4. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix on low until well blended.
5. Spoon into baking pan and spread evenly. You may need to use a wet knife to spread the batter.
6. To prepare the streusel topping: Place Pamela’s mix, turbinado sugar, and chopped pecans in a medium bowl. Stir to mix. Cut in chilled butter (I use a cheese grater) and mix well. Sprinkle over batter.
7. Place coffee cake on center rack of oven and bake for 45 minutes. Check after 20 to 30 minutes and cover loosely with foil if the streusel starts over-browning (it will, so watch it). You want it nicely browned, not burned.
8. Cool slightly and serve. You can make this a day ahead if you’d like. It’s almost better the next day.

* Organic Turbinado sugar, also called raw cane sugar, is made by the first crushing of freshly-cut sugar cane. It’s still sugar, but less refined and grown organically. The crystals are larger and crunchier and have a molasses flavor to them. Molasses is a byproduct of the process and retained in Turbinado sugar. It’s perfect for streusel topping.

Peace, love, and hedonic food (in small doses on special occasions).


You know how bloggers have those long titles that indicate everything that’s missing from a recipe?

“Gluten-free, grain-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free, nut-free, nightshade-free, pesticide-free, GMO-free gingersnaps.”

I’m not criticizing, as I’ve been guilty of my own version of this, I’m just pointing out how “free-from” obsessed we’ve become.

Or, maybe I’m just preparing you for — cue scary music — sugar-full, egg-full, dairy-megeddon cheesecake.

But first, this is my mom, back in her “salad days.” She had unusual and clever terms for everything from being young and beautiful (salad days) to dying (stepping off). She was funny, brilliant, beautiful, and feisty—right up to the moment she stepped off, which she did in typical fashion (full of grace and humor) last month. Margaret was 96-plus years old when she died. Hers was definitely a life well-lived.

I grew up eating whole foods. My mom was an amazing cook. She never relied on processed food, TV dinners, or store-bought cookies. Ever. She made everything from scratch and didn’t shy away from butter, bacon fat, eggs, cream, or sugar. We also ate fresh beets, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, beans, quinoa (where she found quinoa all those years ago, I have no idea), wild and brown rice, and a host of other fresh vegetables and whole grains. We didn’t eat much meat because she was frugal, but the meat she did buy was the good stuff and she made it last by using a small amount to make a big meal. Ham and lima bean soup that lasted for days. Beef stew with a ton of vegetables. Brown rice, vegetable, and chicken soup. She made bread and biscuits from scratch and delighted in serving over-the-top desserts when we had guests. Margaret was famous for her creme brulée, cheesecake, chocolate peanut butter cake, brownies, and lemon meringue pie, but she refused to share recipes. Absolutely refused.

When my mom stepped off, the first thing I put “dibs” on was her recipe box, which I found tucked away in the back corner of a rarely-used cabinet. Along with her recipes were several vintage cookbooks and old kitchen utensils. I sat on her kitchen floor for at least an hour, thumbing through recipes, flipping through cookbooks, playing with utensils. Tears running down my face.

I have a sign in my kitchen: Love people. Cook them good food.

I’m blessed to have been taught that. Thank you, mom.

And now (drum roll, please) I’m sharing Margaret’s cheesecake recipe, of which, we served at her “stepping off party.” Please bake it with joy and share it with love. This cheesecake is a Thanksgiving tradition at our house, but this year I’ll be making it instead of my mom. Sniff, sniff. But life goes on, so let’s be thankful for family, friends, and cheesecake.

Margaret’s Cheesecake (gluten-free, but full of dairy, fat, and sugar)

What you need
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup, plus 3 tablespoons sugar
3 extra large eggs
1 & 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 carton (8 ounces) sour cream

What you do
Beat together until smooth — cream cheese, 2/3 cup of the sugar, eggs, and 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla. pour the mixture into a buttered 9 & 1/2 inch glass pie plate. (This Pyrex pie plate works the best. It’s a touch bigger than traditional pie plates.) Bake in preheated, 350° oven for 25 to 35 minutes, or until puffy and lightly brown around the edges. When done, it should spring back when lightly touched in the center. Cool cheesecake at room temperature (will sink slightly). Whisk together sour cream, remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, and remaining 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Spread over cheesecake 1/2 inch from edges. Continue to bake at 350° for an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate. Top with fresh fruit or fruit compote if desired (optional, it’s just as good plain).

Several people from the assisted living home where my mom lived came to her “celebration” service. An elderly man came up to me after the service, took both my hands in his, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Your mother really liked me. She brought me the best homemade cookies and brownies.”

I love the fact that this elderly, hunched over, little gentleman said, “Your mother really liked me.” What a gift to give someone. Good food and a warm heart.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I’m grateful for all of you.

Now, go, cook good food for those you love and be thankful for the fact that you can.

Peace, love, and cheesecake.
PS If you’re worried about the fat and sugar content in this cheesecake, keep in mind that my mom lived to be 96-plus years old and she often ate cheesecake for breakfast. Nourishment is about more than just food.

Take the inner space test (dare you)

Heart anatomy

Gil Hedley calls himself a somanaut. Like an astronaut who navigates outer space, a somanaut is dedicated to exploring the inner space that makes us the magical human beings that we are. I’ve taken workshops from Gil in the past and he’s an off-beat, charming, and brilliant anatomist. Check out “fuzz, food, inflammation, and movement” for a blog post I did on Gil, inflammation, and inner space several years ago. That post includes his famous Fuzz Video, which is definitely worth watching.

My last two posts were on bacterial inner space (see links below) and this post tops off the series with a test to see how good your interoceptive skills are. In other words, how well you know your inner space.


Grab yourself a stopwatch and a calculator (unless you’re a math wizard and can do this in your head). Sit quietly in a comfortable chair with your hands resting in your lap or on your thighs. Don’t cross your legs. Take a few deep breaths and relax. Start the stopwatch and count your heartbeats by feeling your heart’s rhythm for one minute. Don’t touch your neck (carotid artery), your wrist (radial artery), or your heart—just sense when your heart beats and keep track of the number. Write the number down.

Now, using your fingers (preferably your index and middle finger), find your pulse on the inside of your wrist. Don’t use your thumb, as it has its own pulse. You can also find your pulse on either side of your neck. Use whichever one works best for you and count the beats for one minute in the normal way (using your fingers). Wait a couple of minutes and do it again for one minute using your fingers. Average the two measurements in which you used your fingers to monitor your pulse.

Calculate the difference between your heartbeat estimate and the average of your two pulse counts using your fingers. Take the absolute value of the difference—you don’t need to know whether you overshot or undercounted, just the amount by which you missed the mark. Then divide by your average pulse and subtract that result from 1. Here’s the formula.

Interpreting your score:

If your result was 0.80 or higher, your interoceptive abilities are awesome. A score of 0.60 to 0.79 means you have a moderately good sense of your inner space. A result below 0.59 indicates that you need to work on getting to know yourself a little better.

I say this often, but the more you understand what’s going on inside, the more likely you are to take good care of your inner space. Your body is a temple, go inside and check it out. It’s magical.

You might also like:
How much of you is really you
Talking bacteria and disease fighting veggies

Peace, love, and inner space.

• Use of the above You Are Here letterpress print by Roll & Tumble Press courtesy of Street Anatomy (Anatomy & Pop Culture Gallery Store). Print available here.
• Interoceptive testing formula found in Scientific American MIND, May/June 2012.

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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