Sweet Beet + Elderberry Oatmeal

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Happy Easter Friends!

Today I have a recipe I’ve been making on repeat for the last couple months, and one I’ve been meaning to share for weeks. But in truth, I’ve been busy. And stressed.

In what I knew would be a packed late-winter season, my class schedule was on overload for what ended up being six weeks. When I signed up for them, I thought it would be three to four, and knew I could get through for one jam-packed month. But then a job opportunity landed that I decided to take, my running coach decided I could handle more miles (and thus time), and one of those classes was taught by a professor that was amazing, but intense. Even for grad school.

So in light of all the action happening at once, I took a class extension. I dropped creative projects and unproductive activities like social media, I spent all my waking hours working or running save a precious few in the early mornings and evenings, and I just got through.

I’m still recovering, trying to prioritize down time, read some good books, bake (currently experimenting with gluten-free/vegan hot cross buns!!), and run with joy and gratitude. And also, feed myself well.

And while it’s spring break for many, I’ve a couple more weeks before I get there.

 

So today, let’s talk a little more about stress, overwork, and the nutrients that are necessary always, but even more so when we’re trying to bulldoze forward at full speed. The first are the entire friendly group of B Vitamins. 

The essential B vitamins are necessary in every step along the pathway of converting food into energy. When the body undergoes any kind of stress, whether it is physical or emotional, and feels depleted, the B vitamins are likely needed to restore balance and energy. In addition to converting food into energy and helping to cope with stress, many of the B vitamins can also help alleviate symptoms of insomnia, nervousness, PMS, and mood swings.

Each of the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, and their friend Choline) have their own specific roles, but they function quite well as a group. They are found abundantly in whole foods, particularly in whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, fruits, and vegetables–except for B12 and Choline, which each deserve their own discussion another day. In order to incorporate the spectrum of all of these essential nutrients into your diet, it is important to eat a wide variety of fresh, colorful, whole foods.

Most of us are actually getting sub-optimal levels of these nutrients, especially when we are overworked and very active.

 

Next up in importance in times of stress is Magnesium

Magnesium is a key player in over 300 biochemical reactions and is essential for creating and maintaining healthy bones, energy production, nervous system balance, and blood sugar control. And it is anti-inflammatory. Magnesium is required for DNA and RNA synthesis as well as the synthesis of glutathione, which is a powerhouse antioxidant that combats free radicals and cellular damage.

Like the B-vitamins, Magnesium is often lacking in the modern diet, our needs are more when we are stressed either physically or mentally, and it’s abundant in whole foods like leafy greens, beans, nuts, and seeds, and whole grains.

 

Finally, when we are overworked, our immune system takes a hit, and it’s during these times that we often fall victim to colds and flus. While winter flu season theoretically should be winding down, the mega virus(s) that’s been hitting hard these past few months is still going strong. Enter my favorite immune booster, elderberries.

Elderberries have strong antiviral properties and have been shown to shorten the duration of cold and flu outbreaks in research. They also have a very long history of use in traditional medicine. Made into a delicious syrup and combined with anti-inflammatory ginger (which I’m now making and selling in my shop), a daily small dose during times of increased stress gives a good immune boost*. I’ve been taking it all winter and especially these last few weeks, and even with exposure to a whole lot of sick kids, have been staying healthy.

 

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Sweet Beet + Elderberry Oatmeal, serves 1-2
Due to all the aforementioned whole foods I’ve packed into this delicious breakfast bowl including oats, beets, flax seeds, sunflower seed butter, as well as a little drizzle of elderberry syrup, this makes for a really nice start to the day. It’s one of my favorite breakfasts lately, and definitely feels like a meal that brings to life the meaning of self-care and stress reduction. For busy mornings, I like to prep all the ingredients, save the oatmeal and toppings in a saucepan the night before, and then store it in the fridge. In the morning, bring the pan to a boil, add the oats, cook until done, and then add toppings and serve. 

1 1/2 cups water
1 medium-ish beet, finely grated
3/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1-2 Tbs. raisins
1/2 Tbs. sunflower butter
1 tsp. elderberry syrup
a dash of cinnamon, optional
1 tsp. ground flax seed, optional
additional sunflower seeds to top

  • Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the finely grated beet, salt, raisins, and oatmeal. Turn down to medium-low and cook until soft and to desired consistency, about 8-10 minutes. You might need to add more water, as needed.
  • Then stir through the sunflower butter, remove from heat, and add the syrup and any additional desired toppings. Enjoy, ideally in a non-distracted setting for the ultimate self-care.

 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product does not intend to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

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Gluten Free + Vegan Irish Soda Bread

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For a few weeks in the late winter or early spring, I inevitably begin cooking more simply, or more simply than I usually do, and turn my meat and potatoes-snubbing nose towards the flavors of home, or of home in the old country. It’s been nearly nine years now since I lived in Ireland, a place that some deep ancestral vein in me recognized as home from the first moment I stepped out for an exceptionally early morning run there, in the late summer of 2008. I rarely talk so much about my time in Ireland any longer, but on rare days I find myself especially longing for that feeling I recognized there immediately, that of truly having an origin and belonging to a place in a way that goes beyond this lifetime.

Rather than dwell on the past, I instead tend to celebrate the memories I have. And just when I especially long for spring, it comes, and I invite it in all the more because the earliest spring vegetables here are the exact same as from the Irish countryside and farms, what with nettles, watercress, overwintered cabbage, sprouting kale, parsnips, potatoes, and the like. And then of course, I bake brown bread.

I read recently that Myrtle Allen of the esteemed Ballymaloe House in County Cork once said, I was many years married before I first triumphantly put a really good brown soda loaf on the tea table. I smiled when I read it because Myrtle’s Brown Soda Bread recipe was the one I baked on repeat before making major dietary changes. And it just so happens that six years after I first began experimenting with a gluten and dairy-free version, and incidentally nearly six years married, I baked a really, really good loaf.

 

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Gluten-Free + Vegan Brown Soda Bread
Brown bread is dense, craggy, and in the traditional recipes, contains no more than wholemeal flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. It’s the best bread for afternoon tea, with thick vegetable-heavy chowders, or simply to provide some extra nourishment to your Irish-themed march meal(s). When I lived in Ireland, it’s the item I’d always order when out for a midday meal, along with whatever pureed vegetable soup was on for the day. If you choose to make this, know that I’ve begun baking almost exclusively by weight these days, which makes the flours a little more interchangeable, if you’ve a kitchen scale. Amaranth and/or teff provide a good dose of nutrition and hearty flavor while the millet and brown rice flours lighten it up a little. I milled my own millet flour from fresh, as it’s a grain that tends to go rancid fairly quickly, but feel free to substitute with store bought millet flour. 

1 cup amaranth or teff flour (120 g)
1 cup millet (140 g), milled into a course flour
2/3 cup brown rice flour (110 g)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 Tbs. ground flax seed + 3 Tbs. warm water
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) plain non-dairy milk
A splash of apple cider vinegar

  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and prepare a baking pan with a piece of parchment paper on top; set aside.
  • Combine the ground flax with water to form a slurry, and then measure out the milk and add a splash of cider vinegar in a separate dish and allow it to thicken a little. Set aside.
  • In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
  • Pour the flax slurry and milk into the bowl with the flours, and then mix, stirring gently until the ingredients come together and form a ball (sticky but not too wet). Work quickly and do not overwork the dough as it will make the end result more dense.
  • Flour your hands and work the dough gently to shape it into a round. Using a sharp knife or a pair of scissors, make a cross on top of the bread. (This as you may know, lets the fairies out). Transfer the round to the baking pan and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top of the bread is golden in color and a thermometer comes out at 190-200 degrees F.
  • Let cool on a rack. Like all true soda breads, this bread is dense, and it’s best eaten within a day or so.

 

 

Post-Run Pancakes, and creating a food community

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Over the past few months, William and I have been hosting, or being treated to, many shared meals with friends. We’ve been living in Eugene for over two years now, and though we still don’t love the city or consider it our long-term home, we’re slowly finding ways to make a community while we’re here. In almost every way, that developing of community centers around food.

We have a couple friends here that, unlike virtually any others so far, I trust can cook for me. I won’t be unknowingly eating gluten and getting cross contaminated, and I’ll enjoy the food and company. I won’t stress about what will be on the menu beforehand and if I’ll have to miss out on half the spread, or need to plan to take a side dish just in case. I can go about the whole experience being totally relaxed and spontaneous. This experience, though I know is the norm for those who don’t have food allergies and/or a history of disordered eating, feels like the biggest of victories for me, and one I don’t take lightly.

Like many people who have struggled with an eating disorder, I’ve always been drawn to food. I grew up just completely fascinated with it, always experimenting and exploring, always wanting to know more. Nothing about that has changed but the sharing of it, either at a friend or relatives’, or just spontaneously going out to eat, has shifted dramatically in the last decade as I began to develop more tactics for avoiding eating with others, or later, when I realized many of my health problems were attributed to food intolerances, and most friends and family no longer knew how to prepare food that was gluten, dairy, and for the most part meat-free.

That left me (and still leaves me), generally really stressed and anxious about gatherings that involve food. I don’t like to be the center of attention. I don’t enjoy having to make special requests. But I also don’t enjoy going to meals knowing I won’t really get to participate in them. As much as many of us have heard the advice to just focus on the people rather than the food, there’s something about the food that draws us together and opting out of that aspect is to me, a little like trying to arrive at a complete and finished puzzle, without having half the puzzle pieces.

Related to this, I like what Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle et Vanille said recently in an interview on the emotion of food:

I think my eating disorder and having left my roots really left me in limbo for many years. I stripped myself of identity so I could know who I am inside and what my purpose is while I am here. I have realized that the vulnerability I have felt the last few years by sharing a bit more of my true story of anxiety and depression have connected me to people and myself in ways I didn’t think were possible. And it’s interesting that I did this through cooking and sharing food, which for many years had such an emotional weight attached to it. It’s through the act of cooking for others and sharing a table that we can make time to connect at deeper levels. We can access levels of empathy and intimacy that are hard to feel in other ways. Also let’s not forget that food has tremendous healing energy. It can ground us and make us stronger or totally mess us up both physically and emotionally.

Other than being really grateful for friends that love to eat and cook similarly to me, and for those that go out of their way to accommodate my gluten and dairy-free needs by learning how to cook and/or bake in this way just so I can be included, I’m learning that being more assertive, giving, and willing to educate others, both about food intolerances and allergies, and about the mental health aspects that some of us bring to eating, are really important. Both of these often parallel topics are ones that I feel a little more called to having a conversation about with friends over a good meal, rather than brushing them under the table and pretending everything is just okay.

With that, The Recipe Redux invited us to to make and share bread this month. Though I’ve alluded to my current sourdough fixation here and on instagram many times over the last year, I’m still in the experimenting stage — because the art and perfection of slow bread is something I’ve long been called to and having a finished recipe that is ready to share still feels a long way off. I do have a really decent sourdough pizza crust going lately but given this dreary, cold, late winter season, my own personal need for comfort foods in the way of pancakes, and past history of pancakes making quite the meal to share with others, this quick little bread-based meal is one I hope you get the time to make. It makes my favorite gluten-free and vegan pancakes so far, is 100% whole-grain, and with the help of a coffee/spice grinder, most of the flour is fresh milled so it’s really quite nutrient-packed. I’ve also taken out all the oil and added in antioxidant-rich sunflower seed butter which gives it a really nice rich flavor. And because I’m still working my way through the last of the season’s winter squash, I find a really nice topping is a spiced squash and sunflower butter puree.

All together, both because these are comforting yet wholesome, and packed full of all the antioxidant nutrients (vitamins A, E, selenium, zinc), B-vitamins, magnesium, and iron that athletes need, I think these are great with the winter squash topping for after workout meals (that’s running for me), or perhaps just to share with a friend or loved one when you both need good conversation and lots of late-winter nourishment.

Enjoy!

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Post Run Pancakes, serves about 2
These make nice, fluffy, whole-grain pancakes. If you’re without or adverse to a little xanthan gum, either leave out or add a little more ground flax. They won’t be quite as fluffy, but still really good!
 
1/3 cup / 60 grams millet
1/4 cup / 40 grams buckwheat
1/4 cup / 20 grams chickpea flour
1/4 tsp. xanthan gum
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbs. ground flax mixed with 3 Tbs. warm water
3/4-1 cup non-dairy milk
1 Tbs. raw apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. sunflower seed butter
coconut oil, for cooking
  • Whisk the vinegar into 3/4 cup of non-dairy milk and set aside for a few minutes.
  • Heat your skillet or griddle where you will be cooking the pancakes. They’ll cook over medium-high heat.
  • In a coffee/spice grinder or food processor, add buckwheat and millet grains and grind until they reach a smooth flour consistency. Then, mix them in a medium bowl with the chickpea flour, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the flax-water mixture, milk, and sunflower butter. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and whisk lightly until combined. Add more milk as needed.
  • Lightly oil the skillet with coconut oil, and use about 1/3 cup of batter per pancake. Flip the pancakes when the bubbles appear on top and the bottoms are browned.
  • Cook on the second side until cooked through and browned on the bottom.

Spiced Winter Squash Puree
1-2 cups mashed/pureed winter squash
2 Tbs. sunflower seed butter
a few dashes each of cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cloves, and black pepper
a pinch of sea salt

  • In a little dish, mash together all the ingredients and season to taste with sweetener, as desired. Serve over the pancakes.

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