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Better than the Bakery GF/DF Blackberry Muffins

During my senior year of high school, my agricultural science class focused on business and economics principles, and in one unit on our future in the workforce, I did some business planning on starting a cake bakery. I don’t know if we were focusing on entrepreneurship specifically, or if I’ve always had a streak of planning to run my own business, but to my way of thinking, I was owning, managing, baking, selling, etc. The whole dang thing. Never mind that I was in agricultural class, not growing or milling wheat or other grains, or just using an example from the then business I had at the time of raising and selling club lambs. Nope. Instead I did an abrupt turn and planned for baking artistic cakes in my future.

To this day, I often joke that if the pay were better and other things didn’t work out, I’d be baking and handing over the goods to other happy people instead. Oh and starting a porridge and brunch restaurant. Which is where my love for baking muffins comes in. If you go ahead and browse the recipe section, you’ll see I’ve published more than a handful of muffin recipes over the years. Along with cake, muffins are one of my favorite baked foods to experiment with.

When it’s up to me, I often tend to go for the heavily spiced, oat-rich, morning glory-type muffins that are stuffed with ingredients like raisins, shredded zucchini or carrots, mashed pumpkin, or other fruit. But not everyone favors that kind of porridge reincarnation. William, for instance, is a plain vanilla cake / vanilla frosting person, and likewise prefers simple berry muffins without the frills and extra ingredients. Since he’s been stopping by a local bakery before work many mornings for exactly that type of muffin, we settled on me making him some that are a little more wholesome and he can grab and take instead.

That’s where these come in. These are blackberry muffins made from milling oats, buckwheat, and almonds in my spice / coffee grinder. But they can easily become blueberry or raspberry-flavored instead, and if you have more of the flours than I do, start with oat, buckwheat, and almond flours for one less step. Either way, they’re an early morning treat that stands up to the bakery muffins with more whole foods, and especially whole-grains and reduced sugar. A big win and less of the side effects of refined sugars and flours, etc.

Blackberry Muffins, makes 6

65 grams / ¾ cup gf-certified oatmeal
65 grams / a little less than 1/2 cup raw buckwheat groats
60 grams / ½ cup raw almonds
8 grams / 1 Tbs. arrowroot flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. sea salt
70 grams / 6 Tbs. organic cane sugar
25 grams / 2 Tbs. coconut oil
1 large egg or a vegan alternative (1 Tbs. ground flax mixed with 3 Tbs. water)
½ tsp. grated lemon zest, optional
1 tsp. lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
170 grams / ¾ cup plain non-dairy yogurt (unsweetened coconut yogurt is best)
150 grams / 1 cup fresh or frozen blackberries

  1. Begin by weighing or measuring out the oats, buckwheat and almonds, and then finely grind them to a flour mixture in a spice / coffee grinder. Alternatively, if you already have light buckwheat flour, oat flour and almond meal, you can skip this step.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and prepare a muffin pan by adding the paper liners, or lightly wipe the insides with oil and dust with flour. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the flours, baking powder and soda, and salt. Then set it aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix the coconut oil and sugar with a spoon until light and fluffy. Then beat in the egg, lemon zest and juice, and vanilla.
  5. Add in about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the sugar and oil and stir. Then add in ¼ cup of yogurt. Stir in another third of flour and another ¼ cup of yogurt, and then add the rest of the flour and the final ¼ cup of yogurt. The batter should be slightly fluffy. Don’t overmix.
  6. Gently stir in the blackberries, and then evenly divide the batter into the six muffins cups.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool them slightly in the pan, before tipping out and eating

Fire and Battle in the Gut – the immune response and your long list of foods that cause reactions

It seems like every year around this time, I find myself in a phase of asking myself, “what food am I reacting to?”. After half a decade or more of asking this question annually, and over the years slowly pin-pointing it down, I’ve gotten a little wiser.

William and I have grown a fairly substantial garden every year since 2016, and I’ve had some version of one in community garden plots, on balconies or patios, college rental backyards, and even dorm room windowsills since I left home as a teenager. Even before that, my mom has always grown a large garden, so having super-fresh summer produce has literally been a happening my whole life. My mom’s favorite thing to grow, from my perspective anyway, has always been heirloom tomatoes, so all the big, fat, juicy tomatoes have also been a long-time staple of summer and early fall. Yum.

But for the last several years, it has become apparent that I may like tomatoes, but they don’t quite like me—in the amounts that any tomato-growing person would need to consume them anyway.

So each year I’ve slowly reduced how many tomato plants I’ve grown. This year, instead of pulling the plants after two solid months of heavy tomato production, the thick smoke and hazardous air days earlier this month had me pulling the one plant we grew early. So there was only one month of tomato production, and I gave a bunch away just to keep up.

And yet still, by the time I pulled the plant and sent it to the compost, every time I had a tomato-based meal I was getting itchy ears and hot, flushing of my face within minutes. At the point where these symptoms were the worst, we were also in extremely hazardous air quality—likely even with the blessed indoor air purifiers—and I had been eating other nightshades regularly too; we also grow a few peppers, eggplant, and this year, potatoes—William’s pride and joy.

And while the itchy ears and facial flushing are classic allergic reactions, every year before this, I react later, after many more weeks of eating tomatoes and other nightshades, and with my more consistent go-to digestive symptom: a dully, achy, distracting pain.

Why am I sharing all this? Well, because I know many of you can relate to having various food sensitivities or allergies and not always knowing what you’re reacting to or how to deal with it—and because let’s be clear, eliminating one food after another until you’re down to a handful of “safe” foods is not the best long-term answer.  

For anyone that read my last digestion-focused article, you’ll remember part of the nervous system traverses through the gut. You may have also read that about 70 percent of our immune system is located in or around the digestive system. This is why when our digestive barriers or defenses are worn down, the immune system, whose very job is to determine what is you and what is not—and to attack what’s not—begins to take on substances that ordinarily it shouldn’t, like foods or substances from the environment.

The reason for this is partly because the lining of the gut is only one cell thick. If that sounds especially thin, it is. Just below the gut lining lies a part of the immune system called the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), whose job is to help absorb nutrients. We also have a part of the immune system called the mucous-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) which resides in the mucosal lining, as well as in other mucousy tissues (nose, bronchia, etc.). When the gut and mucous-associated lymphoid tissues’ membranes are structurally strong, then we have more ability to withstand ‘stressors,’ both actual stress and substances that might stress the body internally. When these lymphoid tissues are structurally compromised, then bacteria, food particles that cause a negative reaction, and other inappropriate pathogenic molecules get into our blood. And the cellular version of battle ensues.

Cue reactions to tomatoes, other nightshades, wheat and gluten, dairy, corn, peanuts, soy, and on and on. The immune system turns on against otherwise harmless foods.

One more thing to know before I get into what we can control about this immune response:

There are layers to the immune system with first line defense, second, what follows, etc. Likewise, when we do blood or skin tests for food sensitivities and allergies, there are different substances to test for.
Secretory IgA (sIgA), is the main way that the mucous-associated lymphoid tissue gives the message to the immune system to initiate battle. Secretory IgA are antibodies in the gut mucosa that are on constant alert for foreign substances—think of them as guards for the castle walls of your mucous-immune tissue. They initiate a non-specific response. When the secretory IgA antibodies aren’t showing up to the job or are overwhelmed, the IgG antibodies next kick in. They are what we’ll call a second line of defense and cause reactions to specific foods or substances, but perhaps not immediately. That’s why in the past, I could eat tomatoes for weeks before having any reactions and when those reactions occurred, they were hours or even days after the ‘enemy’ tomato made its appearance at the castle walls.

When IgG antibodies get overwhelmed, it is time for the IgE antibodies. These are what we consider true allergies. That’s the classic itchy throat, swelling, mucous and nasal drip, hives, itchy ears and/or eyes, flushing, and anaphylaxis symptoms. Not what any of us want to experience.

Of what we currently know of the immune system, people don’t develop true IgE allergies until all the other systems have broken down—and when food sensitivities are cleared up—that’s the IgG response—the true IgE allergy response can either partially or fully resolve. Good news when I want to eat a tomato symptom-free, or when you want to go back to enjoying any of the various foods you’ve thought you’d have to avoid forever.

So going back to factors that we can control and/or play a role. They include:

– Genetics. Many conditions such as celiac, inflammatory bowel diseases (crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, etc.), and most other autoimmune conditions have a genetic component. While that can seem discouraging, we are learning more about how to modify gene expression through what’s known as epigenetics—using food, nutrients, and environment (like stress reduction), to help us overcome otherwise ‘risky’ genetics.

– Gut bacteria and dysbiosis. Both “good” gut bacteria in the wrong place, and an imbalance between the amount of beneficial and disease-producing microbes are factors we can control. Examples include bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections. They are far more common than most of us think.

– What we eat on a daily basis. The diet of most individuals is high in refined carbohydrates and poor-quality fats and meats, and too low in fiber, vegetables, whole-grains, beans and legumes, fruit, and nuts and seeds—the very foods that are rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients and feed good gut bacteria.

– Leaky gut. When we get “holes” in that one-cell-thick gut lining, we’re going to experience increased inflammation and breakdowns/battle in the immune system. Stress, of all causes, plays a huge role in this.

Now that you know a little more about the immune system, let me know if you have questions, or if this helped clarify why with healing the gut and turning off the immune system response, you might be able to eat some of the foods you’ve thought you’d have to always avoid.

The immune response and subsequent inflammation is one of the five primary categories of digestive imbalances I look for when working with individuals clinically. Often when we’re experiencing chronic GI distress, there will be imbalances in several categories, and we begin working on the areas that appear most pertinent. I shared about the nervous system’s role here, and I’ll explain the other three categories of digestive imbalance in future articles.

And If you’re tired of dealing with your wonky GI, I invite you to reach out to me for more personalized support.

References:
1: Lipski, L. (2012). Digestive Wellness (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Garlic-Orange Tofu and Peanut Cucumbers with Rice

When I glance out the window this morning, it looks like it’s raining. But I look again and it’s still ash. We’ve been raining ash for the last couple days as the air quality went from clear blue skies over Labor Day weekend to a dramatic sweep of heavy smoke on Monday evening as several fast-moving forest fires have been burning in the cascade mountains and now closer near the edge of town to our east. Our hens have been out foraging as usual but I worry about their little lungs. Our teenage kitten, a truly needed and lovely new addition this summer, has been upset at the eery light the last couple of days.

I’ve been back to morning meditation lately first thing before I get out of bed or turn on the light, and this morning’s had me expressing gratitude for our air purifiers, those ‘noise machines’ that I have routinely tsk-tsked since William insisted on them in the last couple years. And also gratitude for a safe home. The alarm of LEVEL 3–GET OUT NOW evacuation alerts going off on my phone throughout yesterday afternoon for the northeast edge of the city, truly a ways off from us but too close for comfort, brought that gratitude home.

Today at least we got a sunrise, smoky as it was. Yesterday was just a dark red Apocalyptic haze, which is becoming the norm in Western Oregon in the last 36 hours.

We can still smell the smoke inside even with a couple good air purifiers so I’ve been adding turmeric to all my meals, taking or eating extra vitamin C and vitamin E-rich foods (hazelnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, leafy greens), and adding tulsi / holy basil, and licorice and marshmallow roots to my tea blend. The first three are taken with the idea of combatting the oxidative stress that comes with particularly toxic wildfire smoke particles. If I had a particularly vitamin-C rich food or herb on hand such as amla fruit powder, camu camu powder, or rose hips, I’d use that instead of just plain supplemental vitamin C. The last two roots of marshmallow and licorice are for soothing irritated internal tissues, such as the lungs and digestive lining. Even though I’m staying inside and out of the terrible air, this stuff is incredibly potent. Turmeric particularly helps my smoke headaches.

—–

While I’ve been meaning to share more about digestive health in this space over the next few days—since this is an area that my previous survey indicated is definitely a need. But first, I think we can all use a really good meal that’s refreshing, comforting, and enjoyable while summer is still here.

I know many individuals avoid tofu because they’re unsure of how to prepare it, or when they’ve tried to in the past the texture is all wrong. I was there for a long time (probably 10 years since I first attempted tofu until I was comfortable cooking / eating it). So I’ve outlined a little more detailed way to prepare it. This is my go-to method and yields the texture we prefer.

Then the tofu is paired with finely chopped cucumbers tossed and marinated in the same dressing as the tofu is marinated and cooked in, and enjoyed with simple brown rice. The result is a simple concept but the taste is truly rich and incredible. Hope you’re staying safe in whatever way where you are, and if you tend to avoid tofu because you’re unsure how to cook it, give this recipe a try.

Garlic-Orange Tofu and Cucumbers with Rice, serves 4
inspired by Anna Jones in the The Modern Cook’s Year

16 oz. / 453 grams firm tofu, drained

dressing:
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tbs. reduced-sodium tamari
2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar or raw apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
1 Tbs. honey or maple syrup
a pinch of red pepper flakes
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. ground coriander
the zest and juice of 1 unwaxed/organic orange

1 cup / 190 grams brown rice
2 cups / 470 ml water
1 ¼ lb. / 600 grams / ~4 cucumbers
a few pinches of salt
¼ cup /35 grams peanuts, toasted
a small handful of fresh basil, minced

  • Slice the block of tofu in half lengthwise, wrap in paper towels like a birthday gift, and then stack the wrapped tofu between two cutting boards. If you have something heavy in your kitchen, put it on top of your cutting board as a weight. (I use my giant Shakespeare textbook). Leave to press out the liquid for about 30 minutes.
  • While the tofu is pressing, whisk together the dressing ingredients.
  • When the 30 minutes is up, unwrap the tofu and slice it into equal size cubes (I get about 48), and combine it with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the dressing in a container with a leak-proof lid. With the lid on, give it a few shakes to immerse in the dressing and then chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to a day. More time will allow for more flavor to develop.
  • Once the tofu has marinated, turn it and its dressing onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees F for about 40 minutes, flipping it over halfway through.
  • After the tofu goes in the oven, cook the rice in a medium pot on the stovetop. Add 2 cups of water, 1 cup of brown rice (ideally pre-soaked but simply rinsed and drained if not), and bring the pot to a boil. Once it boils, turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook undisturbed for 40 minutes.
  • While the rice and tofu are cooking away, dice the cucumbers into small (~1-cm) pieces. Place the slices in a colander that’s over a sink or another bowl, and sprinkle and toss through a few pinches of salt. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes to release some of their liquid.
  • Then take your (clean) hands or a clean kitchen towel and press the cucumbers to remove any extra liquid that may have been released. Put the cucumber in a bowl and add ¼ to 1/3 cup of the remaining dressing. Add more to taste. Scatter over and stir through the toasted peanuts.
  • Once the tofu and rice timers are done, remove them both from the heat and serve with the marinated cucumbers. Sprinkle atop some fresh minced basil leaves if desired.