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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vibrant winter dal with roasted cauliflower + toasted seeds

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I took a real slow down in the days after Christmas and into the first part of the new year and in that time I gave this space a little update. With it, I also set the intention to align the content a little more towards what has been calling to me these last few months.

Like the couple years before it, 2017 was a particularly challenging year. Even as I was in it, I knew it was a year of lessons and great strides were being made, even as it was difficult to see through the moment. Out of it, or out of those years I should say, I’ve developed a fairly different relationship with myself, one where the person before writing this blog post is like a long-ago friend I no longer know well. I spent a lot of the past couple years delving into the silence, watching the chaos in my brain, going far back into memories of my childhood, seeking to understand what and where I lost myself. I wouldn’t say I’m done with all that necessarily, (because are we ever?), but I do believe I’ve forgiven, learned about, and let go of the events and traumas that were keeping me stuck between being the person I am and the one I thought others wanted me to be.

I feel a lot more like me these days. And more free.

Because I’m drawn to the concept of food as medicine, slightly shifting my eating habits, not just the food but the way in which I try to eat it, has been a big component of the shift. I’ve taken to noticing how I feel, whether it’s cold, anxious or ungrounded, hot and fiery-tempered, or calm and assured, and then adjusting my meals to accommodate. I learned this method of tuning in and then adjusting from Ayurveda, and though to explain it, the idea sounds trite, I’ve noticed improvements in my digestion and mental health from the subtle change in how I season foods, the mindset I prepare them in, and how much attention I give while eating. Ayurveda, like other ancient medical systems, puts digestion as the foundation of health since what and how we eat, so we become.

The biggest difference? There’s rarely mind chatter in the line of “diet culture” thinking, i.e. too much, guilt about eating this or that, wanting a different body or trying to control the one I have, etc. If food is medicine and food is fuel, it’s also nourishment, and nourishment for more than just the physical self.

So to get me through the cold and dark of winter, I’ve been making routine bowls of creamy dal, sometimes simple with a few random root vegetables and greens thrown in, and sometimes fancied up with a quick puree, roasted cauliflower and toasted seeds. Either way, after trying a couple dozen different versions of dal these past few years, I’ve come to this recipe. I’ve taken many concepts from Divya Alter’s What to Eat for How You Feel in making it, and compared to many dal recipes, this one tones down the spices and keeps them to those that gently warm and ground “airy” mind and digestion in this cold season.

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Part of the process in making this is preparing your own grounding spice blend to season the roasted cauliflower and dal. It’s a quick extra step but definitely worth it–I tend to add the blend as a quick sprinkle to many meals that need a little extra something, or on days I feel particularly all over the place. My spice grinder is a favored and frequently used kitchen implement, but if you’re without one or prefer to skip this step, using your favorite curry powder will work as a substitute–however, I tend to think a lot of the magic here is in using tailored spices.

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The spices in this blend are ones that particularly help with digestion and tend to be warming and pungent without being outright hot (like cayenne or chili). This results in open circulatory channels and the ability to warm up and eliminate toxins and congestion. It is especially helpful in the cold season or for the cold person. Specifically,

Coriander improves digestion, calms the mind, and binds toxins in the blood.
Fennel regulates and improves digestion, and is a cooling spice in smaller amounts. It balances the warming spices in this blend.
Cumin stimulates digestion, eliminates toxins, and helps with the absorption of nutrients.
Cloves improves digestion, reduces toxins, and opens circulatory channels.
Black pepper improves digestion, opens circulatory channels, eliminates toxins, and enhances oxygenation in the brain.
Turmeric cleanses the liver and helps break down fats, improves digestion, and is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

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Vibrant Winter Dal, serves 4
1 cup split mung dal (split mung beans) or red lentils, or a combination of both
1 Tbs. coconut oil
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 Tbs. minced ginger
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. grounding masala (see recipe below) or ground coriander
3-4 cups water
1 cup frozen peas
a couple large handfuls diced greens (spinach, kale, etc.)
1 tsp. sea salt, plus more as needed
cilantro and fresh lime slices, to serve

  • Soak the mung dal or red lentils for 30 minutes. Then drain and rinse well.
  • Heat the coconut oil in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add in the turmeric and toast for about 10 seconds. Then add in the minced ginger and bay leaves. Cook for about 30 seconds more and then add in the masala or coriander and mung dal. Stir and cook until the beans are almost dry.
  • Add 3 cups of water and bring the soup to a boil. Then cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the beans have become tender and begin to disintegrate. Stir in the frozen peas and greens and cook a few minutes more, just until they are warm and wilted. Add the salt and more water as needed.
  • Then, transfer the dal to a blender and puree, working in batches. Add back to the saucepan and gently warm. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Serve bowls of dal topped with roasted cauliflower, toasted seeds, cilantro and freshly squeezed lime, as desired.


Roasted Cauliflower
1 large cauliflower, outer leaves removed and cut into small florets
coconut oil, as needed
1 Tbs. grounding masala
sea salt and black pepper

  • Line a large baking pan with parchment and toss the cauliflower, spices, and oil to coat. Roast in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes, or until fork tender.
  • Remove from the oven and spoon atop individual bowls of dal.


Toasted Seeds
1 tsp. olive oil
1/4 cup hemp seeds
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

  • Heat the oil in a small pan over medium-low heat and add in the hemp and cumin seeds. Toast them until they begin to turn golden brown and release their aroma.
  • Divide among bowls to top finished soup.


Grounding Masala Spice Blend
, adapted from What to Eat for How you Feel
2 Tbs. coriander seeds
2 Tbs. fennel seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. whole cloves
3/4 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. ground turmeric

  • Add all the spices to a coffee or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Put into a labeled container and store away from light.

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summer calm herbal latte

summer calm herbal latte

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Did I tell you my summer term was a real whopper? I probably did because I complained and/or used it as a (valid) reason to opt out of a whole host of summer social activities that I wanted to partake in on many an occasion these past weeks. If I’m remembering correctly, I was singing the same tune last summer too so clearly I need to learn how to say no more to heavy lifting during the long seasons when I want to relax, socialize, and travel more. I somehow ended up taking three of the best but most time-intensive classes and most of my weekends for May/June/July were spent polishing off weekly deadlines and term checkpoints.

Realistically though, it wasn’t all bad. My herbal class textbook went along well with both my pathophysiology and personal life learnings, and I found myself scribbling this recipe for a summer calm herbal tea blend and latte in my notebook while reading the nervous system chapter on herbs on a day that I was also laying on the grass under the tree in our backyard, listening to the buzz of insects and children playing nearby, and feeling generally rather chill. So yeah, it wasn’t all tough going. I had a lot of relaxing afternoons where I could read or study from anywhere as long as I got it done. Many days, I chose outside in the backyard or the local forest.

And then it got hot and term project deadlines brought me indoors and reliant on the internet. And I forgot all about my recipe that includes a few nice herbs to infuse calm.

 

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Since we’re now closing in on just a few last weeks of summer and the back to school or work frenzy has got some of us a little higher strung, it’s definitely time to bring out this recipe. I might just be sipping on it a ways into the next season as well as it will be perfect for those cool, dark afternoons and evenings that are sadly coming our way. It’s got a few perhaps new-to-you herbs that are really good ones too.

 

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Skullcap, Scutellaria lateriflora // One of the best anxiolytic/nervine herbs for calming a racing mind, or at least I think so! Skullcap is one of the original herbs used in herbal medicine in the United States, and has a rich history of use here since at least the early 1800’s. In addition to being useful for anxious, nervous, and stressed mindsets, it is also a great anti-spasmodic for tight, painful muscles–both of these reasons are why I love it so much! Personally, however, I think its flavor is one that “grows on you.” When I first began working with skullcap, I found its stronger flavor slightly off-putting, but now I use it so much I tend to really favor it.

Holy Basil/Tulsi, Ocimum sanctum // With a very long history of use as a revered herb in India, and used there as a rasayana or rejuvenative, Holy Basil brings about health and long life. It is known as an adaptogen, meaning it will restore stress levels back to a balanced state, and also has antioxidant and neuroprotective qualities.

Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis // In the springtime on my trail runs, I often stop along the way and rub my hands in the lemon balm, especially if I’m in need of a mood lift. The fresh herb smells and tastes very lemony, but in the dried form, it is much more subtle, and acts like a gentle mood elevator. Some studies also show it enhances cognitive function, and may even relieve some symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease like forgetfulness and irritability. It’s also great for stress headaches and improving focus.

Lavender, Lavendula angustifolia // Lavender is a mild nootropic herb, which means it “acts on the mind,” helping cognitive function. Additionally, it is good for nervous headaches, exhaustion, or anxiety. The essential oils in the flowers have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well, and I find their aroma just lovely.

 

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Summer Calm Herbal Latte, makes 1 large drink (18-ounces)
In the last step, I like to combine the steeped tea and warm milk in a liquid measuring cup and then have about a mug and a half of latte, as it tends to be the perfect amount for me. 

1 Tbs. summer calm herb blend (below, or herbal tea of choice)
3/4 cup nut milk
1 tsp. coconut butter
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  • Add herb blend to a tea ball or basket and then pour 12 ounces freshly boiled water over the herbs, cover or cap the mug or pot to capture all the beneficial essential oils, and allow to infuse for at least 10-20 minutes.
  • While the herbs are steeping, gently warm the nut milk, coconut butter, and vanilla extract on the stovetop or in a microwave safe dish.
  • Remove the tea ball or basket and carefully combine the tea and nut milk blend.


Summer Calm Herbal Blend

Dried herbs are best purchased in small quantities in bulk from a natural foods store, if you have access. Alternatively, an excellent place to source them online is from Mountain Rose Herbs.

2 parts skullcap
2 parts holy basil
2 parts lemon balm
1 part lavender flowers

  • In a jar, or other glass container, combine the dried herbs in parts, either by volume using tablespoons or measuring cups, or by weight. Then gently shake or stir the herbs, cap, and label with ingredients and amounts for future reference.