strawberry cardamom lassi

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The dining room in our house is in a large room off the kitchen with taller, exposed beam ceilings in what is the converted garage.  Being on the south side of the house, all the plants grow prolifically here and this time of year, that combined with the shrubs and trees outside make the room private and my own personal plant sanctuary. In this room being surrounded by soothing, green life, I can palpably feel all my routinely wound up nerves and muscles relax.

With each passing term in my nutrition program, the interlink between stress and dis-ease comes up. In this last week, like so many others, my digestive health professor discussed a recommendation for a client with many digestive imbalances to take at least an hour of complete downtime twice each day, during daylight. With something like every other post here relating to my own stress in some way, I guess you can say each term, these sorts of recommendations hit home.

Beyond plants or downtime, technology breaks and soothing music, there’s a lot to do with food and nutrition that can reset our symptoms (whether physical or mental), since so much of the body’s mood-regulating transmitters like serotonin are manufactured and reside in our gut. The Recipe Redux theme this month calls for Probiotic Cocktails and Gut-Health Mocktails since they’re apparently popping up on trendy drink menus. I’m not particularly up on or following trends at this point in my life, but I do appreciate that I can request locally brewed kombucha in lieu of alcohol at basically every drinking establishment here in Eugene, and drinking that instead of alcohol helps me feel a lot better afterwards since the over-stimulation of going out, eating perhaps a little too much, and socializing for hours can definitely distress my system, even before sugary and alcoholic drinks are involved.

And beyond the sometimes necessity and enjoyment of going out to do all the above, often I simply would rather invite friends over for an intimate tea or lassi party in my plant room. I just need slightly cushier chairs and a gauzy curtain transitioning it to the main house and the space will be ready. For sure, I’ve got the gut-health friendly drinks all prepped.

 

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For the occasion, I’ve made strawberry lassi, amped up with hints of cardamom. Lassi is a traditionally Indian drink, and though I can’t say for sure, it’s base of yogurt makes me believe it originated to soothe and balance the digestive system. Beyond yogurt, foods with probiotics — those that contain live beneficial microbes — and prebiotics — those that feed those beneficial microbes, can do so much for our health including enhancing how we utilize nutrients, preventing infections and regulating the immune system, balancing or modulating metabolism,  regulating inflammation, appetite, cravings, mood, and bowel movement, and much, much more. Basically all the things that are off in us in our modern society can be significantly restored by rebalancing and feeding our beneficial gut bacteria.

In this drink, I started with a base of plain, unsweetened coconut yogurt. Cultured non-dairy yogurt is not only a live, fermented food which directly contributes healthy bacteria to our gut ecosystem, but it is also an exceptional alternative to dairy yogurt for those of us that have digestive health complaints, since both dairy’s protein and sugar (lactose) are highly problematic and inflammatory for large populations of individuals. It’s important to start with unsweetened yogurt too, since refined sugar is one of the best foods to enhance all the problematic microbes that also live in our systems.

Then I added cardamom, because it’s been calling my name, and cardamom is a spice that acts in many ways similar to ginger. It is mildly pungent and anti-inflammatory and in addition to adding a lovely taste to these lassi, it can help the digestion wake up, utilize digestive enzymes better, and combat bloat and nausea. Whereas ginger is a very heating spice, cardamom is more cooling for this warmer season we’re transitioning into.

Lastly, chia seeds and honey both contain non-digestible carbohydrates which serve as food for our gut bacteria, i.e. they’re known as pre-biotics. And raw unheated honey, used in small amounts, can be dually beneficial, since it contains over 1 billion colony forming units of 13 unique strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species, making it both a probiotic and prebiotic, and containing nearly as many beneficial microbes as commercial yogurt!

 

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If you’re in the neighborhood and can use a little reprieve in my plant room with a glass of strawberry lassi in hand, let me know. I might just let you in. Or perhaps, I’ve given you food for thought on creating your own gut-healthy drink and sipping sanctuary situation.

 

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strawberry cardamom lassi
, makes 4 small glasses
1 pint whole strawberries, rinsed and halved
2 cups unsweetened plain coconut yogurt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground cardamom
1 Tbs. chia seeds
2 tsp. honey, use more or less to taste
a good squeeze from about 1/4 of a fresh lime

  • Combine all ingredients in a high speed blender and puree until evenly mixed. Start with a little less honey and add to taste.
  • Pour into glasses and enjoy right away. The longer it sits, the thicker it will get due to the chia, making it a little more spoonable rather than sippable.

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cardamom + vanilla birthday cake

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I’ve noticed the last few months have brought little breakthroughs in my baking experiments, perhaps because I have not been practicing. I finally made a truly good gluten-free soda bread on my first attempt of the season. I wowed friends with this chocolate hazelnut cake. I made animal crackers that tasted better than any we’ve had before on the first try. Holiday pie crust and sourdough pizza, and likely more that I’m forgetting.

And without too much thought, after years of attempting and tossing out countless recipes and versions of gluten-free, dairy-free vanilla cake, I opted back to my very own chocolate recipe, transitioned it to vanilla and somehow topped it off with a truly amazing caramel-esque non-dairy “cream cheese” frosting to boot.

I’m not bragging by mentioning this so much as reflecting on this last year, my 30th, and reflecting on what it is I put my effort, intention, and attachment into. For sure it has not been baking, or recipe creation in general.

But I wonder sometimes what I have to show for that which I have put my focus towards? To hint, it’s been a lot of nutrition grad school, delving deeply into mindfulness and the often invisible soulwork, and running, always running. I wrote down three big goals for the year in early January and I’ve stuck them in a place where I see them regularly. Each time I’m reminded of the process, how it’s slowly unfolding, how I fail routinely and try again. My goals are process goals, not dependent on the outcome I’d like. But I’m coming to value the day in and day out of quietly working in the trenches, unknowing whether there’ll be a big payout.

In meditation lately, I’ve been envisioning myself sitting, floating on nothing, nothing above or below, nothing to grasp on to. This experience of complete lack, control over nothing, is absolutely uncomfortable even in a visualization exercise. And as I seamlessly transitioned into 31 the other day without much fanfare and devoid of celebrations minus a lovely cake in the flavors I craved that finally and unexpectedly worked out, I think I’ve come to understand a little more: the intentions I set, the high intentions, stories in my head and visions of “glory,” the culmination of work and work and work, on whatever it is I’m working on, very rarely pan out the way I envisioned. And that’s okay.

Because the real magic, I think, is in learning to become more comfortable in the floating, in the space between, in the process, in the unknowing.

Welcome to another rebirth-year. For sure, there’s at least really good cake.

 

Cardamom and Vanilla Birthday Cake, makes a 6-inch two-layer cake
Cardamom is a strong spice, one I love as an adult but was turned off by when younger. Add the amount you desire, starting with less, tasting, and adding more as needed. The frosting amount is intended to just slightly enhance the cake. Double or triple the amount for a fully frosted version.

120 grams / 3/4 cup brown rice flour
30 grams / 1/4 cup almond meal
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 – 1 teaspoon. ground cardamom
3/4 cup sugar (I used the slightly less processed organic cane sugar)
1/4 cup coconut oil, soft, but not melted
2 tablespoons ground flax with 6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk

  • Preheat the oven to 350° F and line the bottoms of each cake pan with parchment paper.  Then rub a little coconut oil up the sides of the pans and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the ground flax and warm water to form a slurry.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and spices and then set aside.  In another large bowl, combine the sugar and coconut oil and whisk until it’s light and fluffy. Add the flax slurry and then the vanilla and milk; mix again until it is combined. Next, a bit at a time, stir in the dry ingredients and combine.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes. Check after out 20 minutes so as not to over bake.
  • Transfer the layers to a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 20 minutes; then remove layers and rest them until completely cool.

 

Cream Cheese Frosting
4 oz. or about half a cup of non-dairy cream cheese (I used a 1/2 batch of this recipe)
3 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
3 Tbs. brown rice syrup
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  • While the cake is baking, make the frosting. If you want to make your own cashew cream cheese, you’ll want to start ahead to allow time to “culture.”
  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until creamy smooth.
  • Transfer to a bowl and place in the fridge for at least an hour to allow it to set up before frosting the cake.

getaway run + picnic muffins and a few good things

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When the weather turns nice and the days grow longer, I start to get real antsy feet and a desire to go adventuring on the weekends. One of my favorite things is to plan weekend “getaway run + picnics” with William, which often include a long trail run adventure out of town, followed by a post run laugh-stretch session, and then a picnic complete with picnic basket, real plates and silverware, and a post-feast laze in the grass. The juxtaposition between a dirty trail run and a much fancier presented post-run meal makes these occasions feel particularly special. They are the ultimate one-day treat and if I’m lucky, we incorporate many such weekends over the long-day season.

When it comes to the food, I often don’t plan much ahead and throw together something quick from the fridge since really, anything we’re okay with eating at room temperature can be picnic food. One time last year, however, I came up with the idea to make savory muffins for one of these adventures and they went down a real treat. I’ve made them a few more times since and found the ingredients to be fairly interchangeable, but the novelty of a special post-adventure savory muffin has yet to wear off.

 

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On the other hand, on weekends when we’re not adventuring, or on the weekend mornings when I plan to be especially indulgent for hours before venturing out, I love to clear out my inbox, read all the things online and off, journal, and generally laze about with tea in hand. With a whole new getway run and picnic season ahead of us, and longer mornings to indulge in the sun’s early glow, I’m leaving you the option to either make these muffins and go for an adventure, or settle in to a cozy morning of reading/inspiration. Or perhaps you’ll plan, like me, to do both!

  1. Since I love all things reading, books, libraries and lists, I recently created a recommended reading area on the blog to share all my favorite cookbooks, nutrition and related topics reads, and a few others.
  2. Speaking of cookbooks, I’ve been a little obsessed lately with the Banana and Cacao Granola from David and Luise’s latest cookbook. I put my own personal spin on it with toasted local hazelnuts, puffed rice, and other seeds, and find it it simply outstanding.
  3. If you haven’t discovered or read Gena’s Weekend Reading posts over on The Full Helping, I highly recommend. While she routinely shares articles and recipes she’s enjoying, I like Gena’s weekly commentary the most, where she shares about her own journey years beyond initial eating disorder recovery, but still adapting through life’s trials of depression, anxiety, relationships, and simply being human.
  4. Relatedly, one of my favorite recipes inspired one of Gena’s, which she shared about in her new cookbook, Power Plates. By now, I’ve cooked my way through a substantial amount of the book’s recipes and can’t recommend it enough!
  5. Rather than create a long list of all the good things I’ve enjoyed reading online, I’ve been creating a pinterest board for the last year and more, which is also a fun way to put it all up visually. Check it out, if you’re interested in more.
  6. Lastly, I found the news about how much gluten those that follow a strict gluten-free diet are actually ingesting really interesting and not at all surprising, given my own ongoing phases where I have glutened-symptoms almost every time I eat food prepared outside my home. Now, I can’t wait for what to do about this problem and how to best ‘live normally’ despite these obstacles. Fortunately, progress continues to be made in the realm of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity research!

 

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savory getaway run + picnic muffins, makes 6 jumbo size muffins
The vegetables in these can be easily changed up depending on what you have, but I find that adding just a little sweet apple really rounds out the savory flavors.

1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 large apple, diced
1 large bunch kale, diced
3/4 cup cooked white beans
9 Tbs. aquafaba or 3 flax eggs
1 Tbs. canola oil
1 Tbs. honey
2/3 cup / 160 ml non-dairy milk
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
2 cups / 210 grams chickpea flour
1 tsp. mustard powder or 1 Tbs. dijon mustard
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sea salt, divided

  • Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC ), oil a jumbo 6-hole muffin tin or line with paper cup liners.
  • Heat a little oil of your choice in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, black pepper, and 1/2 tsp. salt and sauté for a further 5 minutes. Then, add the apple and the kale and sauté until the apple is just barely beginning to soften and the kale has wilted. Remove from the heat and set aside while preparing the other ingredients.
  • In a food processor or blender, puree the cooked beans until they form a smooth paste. You might need to add a little water to them. Once pureed, they should measure out to about a 1/2 cup. Add them along with the other liquids to a small bowl and then set aside.
  • In another medium mixing bowl, measure out and mix the flour, baking powder, and remaining spices.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and using a spatula, start folding them together, along with the onion, kale, and apple. Mix just until combined.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the cups of the muffin tin and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean.
  • Remove the muffins from the oven and set aside to cool slightly in their pan before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • They will keep for a few days if stored in an airtight container either at room temperature or in the fridge, and they also freeze well.

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