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bi•month•ly (adjective) – occurring or produced twice a month or every two months: a bimonthly blog post.

pot•luck (noun) – used in reference to a situation in which one must take a chance that whatever is available will prove to be acceptable: melissa’s bimonthly potluck picks.

Rather than a single-subject blog post, how about a few short, random samplings arbitrarily chosen depending on my mood? Instead of foto-Friday or meatless-Monday, I’ll do bimonthly potluck picks. That way I’m not committed to anything specific. Or often, for that matter. There’s no way I could commit to a weekly feature.

Every other week? Maybe. Every other month? Probably.

I love the ambiguous dictionary description of bimonthly. The indefinite and broad interpretation is perfect for someone like me who has no idea when my next blog post will occur or what it will be about.

Here we go — my first bimonthly potluck picks blog post. Hang on, I might wander into weird and icky territory.

Pick #1
advanced placement label reading

Castoreum extract is a food additive found in some processed foods. It’s been used as a flavor ingredient for the past 80 years and both FEMA (Flavor and Extract Manufacturer’s Association) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regard castoreum as “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS). I avoid processed foods, but I imagine I’ve probably eaten castoreum at some point in my life. Here’s the truth behind the label. According to Webster’s Dictionary, castoreum is (cue retching sounds) a peculiar bitter orange-brown substance, with strong, penetrating odor, found in two sacs between the anus and external genitals of the beaver.

Enough said. Avoid processed foods.

Pick #2
Celiac Awareness Month

Last year the House of Representatives, with the Senate concurring, named May as National Celiac Awareness Month. Hmmm? And all these years I’ve been throwing my celiac soirées in October (former National Celiac Awareness Month). Increased awareness and Congressional support for advocacy and education regarding celiac disease is good, the month really doesn’t matter.

On second thought, I have celiac disease and May is my birthday month (emphasis on the whole month). Perfect reason for a May Congressional declaration and a gluten-free party. Or gala. I prefer birthday galas. Big, glittery galas with lots of presents.

Pick #3
Misnamed solar plexus

Following up on Celiac Awareness Month, I’d like to share something I learned many years ago in my cadaver lab. You’ve heard the term solar plexus, right? Well, it’s not called the solar plexus, it’s the CELIAC plexus. A plexus is a intricate network of nerves or vessels in the body. The following was taken directly from my Principles of Anatomy and Physiology textbook: The celiac plexus is found at the last thoracic and first lumbar vertebrae. It is the largest autonomic plexus and surrounds the celiac and superior mesenteric arteries. It contains two large celiac ganglia and a dense network of autonomic axons. Secondary plexuses that arise from the celiac plexus are distributed to the liver, gallbladder, stomach, pancreas, spleen, kidneys, medulla (inner region) of the adrenal gland, testes, and ovaries.

Doesn’t that sound like this celiac plexus thingy-ma-bob has an important role? Like maybe keeping us alive?

Then how come so many people in the healthcare profession (including doctors) have never even heard of the word celiac? Just wondering.

Pick #4
Best plant-based sources of calcium

Those of us who don’t eat dairy products (or in limited amounts) can get our calcium from plant-based sources. Here are some of my favorite high-calcium, non-dairy foods.
pinto beans (1 cup cooked), 82 mg calcium
chickpeas (1 cup cooked), 77 mg
sesame seeds (2 tablespoons), 176 mg
bok choy (1/2 cup cooked), 79 mg
collard greens (1/2 cup cooked), 178 mg
kale (1/2 cup cooked), 90 mg
dried figs (5 figs), 137 mg
blackstrap molasses (1 tablespoon), 172 mg

How was that? Is this worth repeating on a bimonthly (whatever that might mean) basis?

Peace, love and potluck picks!
P.S. As for pick #1, I’ll be sure to include something equally disgusting next time.

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24 Responses to “melissa’s bimonthly potluck picks”

  1. Alta says:

    Ew on Pick #1. And I didn’t know molasses was a good source of calcium! Yay for molasses!

  2. Theresa says:

    Haha! Love it!
    Funny how it’s called ‘celiac plexus’ huh! Here in New Zealand and in the UK we spell it coeliac [the gluten kind] so I’m wondering what the “official” spelling is internationally?

  3. I love the solar/celiac plexus. I am a healing touch person and now I will call it celiac plexus when work on people or animals. I love this. Celiac plexus. YEA

  4. Love the bimonthly potluck!
    Too funny-I know cadaver lab was a long time ago, but I don’t remember the “celiac” plexus at all.

  5. Melissa says:


    Eeewww is right! You can’t even believe some of the weird and rather icky ingredients we find in processed foods. The cryptic words on the labels don’t tell the “real” story.

    Yes, molasses is a good one. It’s also high in iron.

  6. Melissa says:


    Welcome! Yes, Europe, Australia, New Zealand all spell celiac as coeliac. Doubt there is an “officially” correct way of spelling it. If so, I’d say your way wins since the rest of the world is so much further ahead of us regarding understanding and awareness of celiac.

    Where in NZ do you live? My son spent a lot of time in Wanaka. Beautiful country!

  7. Melissa says:


    My anatomy & physiology teacher (many, many years ago) referred to the solar plexus as the celiac plexus. I think that might have been the first time I heard the word used. Interesting, isn’t it?!

  8. Melissa says:


    Thanks! As I said to Kathy, I think A&P class was the first time I heard the word celiac and it wasn’t used in a “disease” context. The meaning of the word celiac actually relates to the abdominal cavity, hence the reference to “celiac disease.” Disease of the abdominal cavity.

  9. i still don’t know where the solar plexus is, lol! a diagram would help. gotta go google.

    thx for calcium sources pick. nice how hummus packs a double whammy!

  10. Hey, this reminds me of one of my “here and there” type roundups. 😉 Maybe that’s way I love it so much! You always have so much good info to share, Melissa, os sometimes bad, as in the case of the castoreum extract. I thought Michael Pollan did an excellent job sharing how the rules about what can go in foods and how they can be labeled in his “In Defense of Food.” Of course, you stated this has been used for 80 years. That’s about when we went to industrialization and the mega wheat consumption with loaves of bread, etc. happened, right? Absolutely disgusting. When you eat real food, a dictionary is not needed, right?

    On a more positive note, I love that some of my favorite plant-based ingredients are giving me calcium–woohoo! I might have to roast some chickpeas right now as my afternoon snack. 😉 I love the kale in my green smoothies each morning, and I just made some molasses banana bread. Blackstrap molasses really offers an amazing amount of nutrition in just a tbsp a day.

    Thanks for the heads up, Melissa! I’ll be greatly looking forward to these bi-monthly info sessions. 🙂


  11. Cid says:


    I’m happy to read whatever you decide to post… so yes keep it going.

    Some very interesting facts here and I’ve already homed in on the sesame seeds because I love them. Sprinkled on Asian food or on savoury biscuits and slabs of halva, their delicious nuttiness is irresistible.


  12. MJ says:

    Thanks for the plant-based sources of calcium! I’m gluten-sensitive and very lactose-intolerant, with low calcium due to some medical conditions. I can only take so much in the way of supplements, so finding ways to add a bit more to my diet is helpful.

  13. Melissa says:


    I would have added a graphic, but didn’t want to mess with copyright stuff. I figured it would be easy for people to check with Mr. Google. Hummus is perfect, especially in a collard green wrap!


  14. Melissa says:


    Thanks! I appreciate the nice comment, my far-off-friend. I always learn something new and “cultural” when you leave a comment. I had to look up halva, which I had never heard of. It’s made from semolina, so some recipe revamping would be necessary, but it does sound delicious. It’s amazing the wonderful nutritional value in some of these tiny little seeds (sesame, chia, sunflower, hemp, etc.). Because they provide the nutrient energy for the plant to grow, they’re often power-packed with goodness.

  15. Melissa says:


    You’re welcome! And thanks for leaving a comment. Yes, it’s amazing the nutritional value we can get from whole foods. And when we get our vitamins and minerals from high quality food sources, they’re often more bio-available to our bodies.

  16. Melissa says:


    Great comment from you! Yes, similar to your “roundups.” It’s a great way to throw several random thoughts together and call it a blog post!


    By the way, I absolutely love your roasted chickpea recipe! It’s one of my all-time favorites of yours. What a great idea. Thanks for the reminder!

  17. Cid says:


    Halva is made in the Middle East and in places like Greece and India. The one I like most is the sesame seed sweet. It’s like pounded seeds mixed with a syrup of sorts or honey to hold the whole thing together. Some people don’t like the rather sandy dry texture but I love it. Comes in blocks that can be sliced and cubed…. can also be crushed and sprinkled onto desserts and cake. There are chocolate swirly versions, vanilla and my favourite, pistachio. Big on calories no doubt but delicious. My customers fall into two camps, those who can’t resist it and those who hate the texture. Good news is it’s gf but never seems to state that… perhaps it’s made in places where there are other products which do contain gluten?


  18. Melissa says:


    Thank you! This actually sounds wonderful to me. Sliced and cubed? Interesting. I’ve never heard of halva. Could you grind it up in a food processor and use it for a cheesecake crust? Add a little butter and press the ground halva into the pie plate? Top with cheesecake mixture and bake? What do you think? I’m always looking for good gluten-free ingredients for pie crusts.

    I always appreciate your wordly culinary talents!


  19. Cid says:


    The only thing with this type of halva is that it is extremely sweet so I don’t know how useful it may be for a pie crust. If the cheesecake base is the crushed biscuity type then a little of this mixed in might be nice. I made some Turkish delight recently and it occurred to me to roll it in crushed halve instead of icing sugar. I think from the comments I’ve had over the years that this is a sweet you absolutely love or really dislike, nothing much in between. See if your local deli can get you some Greek halva which is definitely gf…. if not then we’ll just have to wait until you visit when we’ll gorge ourselves on the stuff 🙂


  20. Kelly says:

    Here in Sydney, Australia we can always find Halva tucked away in a deli fridge. Look for one of those fabulous ethnic delis where they have lots of interesting foods and spices and ask at counter as not always visible. When I was studying nutrition it was mentioned that to actually get the benefit of the calcium from the sesame seeds they needed to be crushed otherwise the sesame’s would mostly pass through as fibre and miss the benefit of calcium absorption. Therefore tahini or homous always a good and easy way of enjoying a tasty healthy food. I loved pick 1 please dig up more!

  21. Hi Melissa,

    So sorry I have been absent lately. I see I have been missing all sorts of good stuff over here!

    The potluck is such a brilliant idea. Perfect way for you to share all the good informative stuff always found here. Although, frankly, I could have seriously gone without the information in #1. That is nasty! Sadly, I find the more information I read about processed food the more affirmation I receive that maintaining a seasonal plant based diet is the absolute right thing to do.

    Btw – halva is big in South Africa too. One of my brother in law’s favorite snacks. But, he loves sweets so all that honey is right up his alley 🙂

    Best wishes for a fantastic first week of summer!

    all the best

  22. Melissa says:


    Although I read your report on halva some time ago, I’m just now getting around to responding. I’m always a few steps behind! Thank you for the information. I’m definitely going to check in on Greek halva. Must try some before my visit so I can compare American Greek halva to British Greek halva. A touch ironic, but fun nonetheless!


  23. Melissa says:


    We’re on the same page as Cid (see comment above) is the expert in the cheese and deli shop that you’re referring to. She’s in England though. And you’re so right about the nutrition of sesame seeds. I grind mine in a coffee grinder. Same with flax and chia seeds.

    Thanks for your comments! I really appreciate your input.

  24. Melissa says:


    Boy, this halva comment of Cid’s brought lots of discussion! Interesting about the South Africa connection. This is what I love about blogging! All this great information. I am so appreciative of this lively group I have here.

    Yeah, I know — #1 is pretty disgusting, but that’s the kind of icky stuff we’re getting in processed food.

    Hope all is well with you and your family!

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