pumpkin ginger bran muffins

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I’ve just made it past the halfway point of my last fall term in nutrition grad school. I’ve been working with clients in clinic these past few weeks, experiencing all that I’ve learned in the last couple years come together in practice, and enjoying it so incredibly much. Getting to the clinical work has reinforced why I’ve spent so much of my energy on this career shift endeavor when I get to sit with someone and offer even a little bit of individualized support.

In addition to nutritional recommendations, I also give interventions that address balance from a whole systems perspective which is in line with the integrative and holistic approach to my program. This often means I try to emphasize stress reduction and relaxation practices. On the closer to home front, I’ve been trying to take some of my own advice and incorporate downtime each day for relaxing my system, an intention I constantly struggle with. Inevitably I often forego the rest I need and end up in the kitchen instead. My only excuse is it’s pumpkin season– and I find baking quite restorative!

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Since it is pumpkin and winter squash season, The Recipe Redux theme this month is Fresh from the Pumpkin Patch. We’ve had a string of mostly gorgeous days so far but once this fall season finally and truly sunk in, I began cooking lots of very autumn appropriate Ayurvedic recipes from Kate O’Donnell’s Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind. Nutritionally, the recipes are helping rebalance my system after a rough end-of-summer transition. The first portion of the book is all about the Sattvic lifestyle in Ayurveda–a way of life I’ve been gleaning more from as time goes on and I notice how I fare better with less stimulating foods, practices, and experiences.

These muffins are a deviation from a recipe in the cookbook. If you’re a runner and a fan of the Run Fast Eat Slow superhero muffins, they’re also quite similar, but I’ve upped the emphasis on using walnuts and chia since they both are rich in omega 3’s which are an essential fatty acid that most of us need more of.

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Pumpkin Ginger Bran Muffins, makes 4 large muffins or 6 regular size
Even though I adapted these fairly dramatically, they do stay true to their ayurvedic roots. They are delicious as is but there are also many variations depending on what you’ve got on hand:
1) instead of ground walnuts, use almond flour 2) instead of bran, use 3/4 cup oatmeal 3) instead of pumpkin, use 1/2 cup applesauce and 1 medium chopped apple or other fruit and flavor combos. 4) instead of coconut sugar use pure maple syrup or honey

1 Tbs. ground chia seeds
3 Tbs. water
3/4 cup / 60 g raw walnuts, ground
1/2 cup / 50 g oat bran
1/4 cup / 20 g oatmeal
1/4 cup / 30 g coconut sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch of ground black pepper
2 Tbs. / 25 g coconut oil, melted
1 cup / 220 g pumpkin, pureed or mashed
1 Tbs. / 3 g minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup raisins
1/4-1/2 cup water or nut milk, as needed.

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tins with baking cups or oil and flour them.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground chia seeds and water. Let this stand for 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix the ground walnuts, oat bran and oats, salt, turmeric, baking soda, and baking powder.
  • Add the coconut sugar, pumpkin puree, and coconut oil to the chia seed mixture and stir until well combined. Stir in the ginger and the raisins.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until it just comes together. If the batter seems a touch dry, add water or nut milk just until it becomes a touch looser, but only add up to 1/2 cup, as they won’t need much. This step largely depends on how much moisture content your pumpkin puree has in it.
  • Divide into the muffin cups and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they are golden brown and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.

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Whole Grain Gluten-Free Sourdough Bread

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This summer, myself and a group of fellow nutrition students and alums are reading Deep Nutrition for a book club we’ve started. The theme of the book is about the benefits of traditional diets, somewhat in the Weston Price tradition, for optimal health. I cannot yet comment on what I think of the book as I haven’t read enough to have a strong opinion, but the idea of eating more in the traditional style with its emphasis on whole foods as close to the source and as untouched as possible from chemicals and the like has been a major theme in my nutritional courses over the past two years. It is also a viewpoint I adopted years ago when figuring out how to truly recover from the diet culture I was immersed in and which was contributing to my eating disorder behaviors around foods. In my classes, we’ve also delved a lot into the need for promoting gut health, since a healthy, happily functioning gut can be thought of as the foundation to health in the body and mind far beyond our digestive region. This also happens to be a topic that is near and dear to me because it’s one of my main health struggles.

As I’ve mentioned before, The three major nutritional practices that promote gut health are eating more fiber, eating more fermented foods, and reducing sugar and refined carbohydrate intake.

 

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Last summer, after a particularly rocky winter and an autoimmune lab marker coming back positive, I began a very focused fine-tuning of my diet and lifestyle, in relation to improving gut health and my reaction to stress, since both strongly contribute to autoimmune conditions. As part of that process, I began a return to making sourdough.

Sourdough, as the name suggests, is a traditional fermentation process where wild yeasts ferment the flours, making them easier to digest because the yeasts create lactic acid, and which then break down anti-nutrients that plants make to protect themselves, such as phytates and lectins. These anti-nutrients block mineral absorption and the resulting sourdough can contain a lot more readily absorbable nutrients than the original unfermented flours or grains. Additionally, the process of fermentation more generally makes all the proteins in the bread easier to digest, and it is the protein that is usually causing an inflammatory reaction for those with GI issues like intestinal permeability, malabsorption, celiac disease, and other autoimmune conditions. Due to our hectic lifestyles and often very non-whole-foods diets, many, many of us have at least some of these symptoms and/or diagnoses that could be improved by adding more fermented foods, in addition to the other two gut health promoting practices of eating more fiber and reducing sugar and refined carbohydrates.

 

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For someone that is very sensitive to gluten like me, there’s also good news from eating gluten-free sourdough, as there are research indications that the fermentation process involved in making traditionally fermented gluten-free bread reduces the release of inflammatory compounds within the gut for someone who has recently adopted a gluten-free diet due to a celiac diagnosis, whereas consuming other types of gluten-free bread did not reduce these inflammatory responses1.

 

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Maybe it’s the tea-drinking, sweater-garbed, sourdough-baking wise grandmother in me, but I can’t help but think, of course, to that news. It simply seems that our systems recognize and respond better to the more traditionally made foods like sourdough. Whenever I have a GI flare-up these days, I definitely try to put extra focus on avoiding those refined gluten-free products and even whole grains that weren’t cooked really well, and emphasize sourdough for my grain consumption. I’m finding this helps me return to balance more quickly. For someone that doesn’t react so strongly to gluten, consuming sourdough instead of regularly-baked bread still contributes all the positive benefits I mentioned above about keeping the gut happy and increasing nutrient absorption.

So now, after more than a year of refining my gluten-free sourdough method, I have a recipe I feel good about sharing!

 

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Whole Grain Gluten Free Sourdough Bread, makes 1 sandwich/toast loaf
– Adapted from Baking MagiqueWholehearted Eats, and with tips from Bad Hunter Stories.
– I have a 100% buckwheat starter that I began using this formula. I did not add any outside culture, but simply created it from the wild yeasts in my home. This meant it took a little longer for the starter to get good and active initially.
– For the buckwheat and oats, I often start with whole grains which I grind in my coffee/spice grinder each time I bake and feed the starter.
– I only make this using a kitchen scale rather than measuring cups, and I’ve found I can interchange the flours, by weight, using this method.
– Using slightly different flours along with the the outside weather will result in needing to change the amount of water. Err on the side of having a fairly moist dough that still comes together. 

80 g brown rice flour
140 g cold buckwheat sourdough starter
110 g water
————–
350 g water at room temperature + more as necessary to reach the desired consistency
20 g psyllium husk
10 g ground flax seeds
————–
60 g of each
– sorghum flour
– oat flour
– buckwheat flour
– millet flour
– teff flour
24 g / 2 Tbs. sugar or honey
1 tsp. sea salt

  • In the evening: Mix brown rice flour, sourdough starter and water in a bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let sit overnight (about 8-12 hours) in a warm and non-drafty place.
  • In the morning: Mix water, psyllium husk and ground flaxseeds in a bowl and whisk until a thick gel forms. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl mix all of the dry ingredients.
  • Add the sourdough starter that you made the night before to the wet ingredients and mix.
  • Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is fully incorporated. Add a small amount of filtered water, if needed, to arrive at a moist ball of dough.
  • Line a loaf pan with parchment and dump the dough into the pan, smoothing it out into a loaf shape and leveling it into all the corners. Cover with the clean kitchen towel or plastic bag and put in a warm place away from drafts. Allow to rise for 4-6 hours. This will depend on your kitchen warmth. Mine tends to stay cool so I err on the side of 6 to even 6 1/2 hours usually.
  • Preheat the oven to 500°F/260°C. Once the oven’s hot, remove the towel or bag from the loaf, and score the top with one or two good slashes with a sharp knife.
  • Put the loaf in the oven and turn the temperature down to 450°F/230°C. Bake for 50 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches a little over 200°F/90°C.
  • Let the loaf cool on a wire rack for at least an hour, before slicing.

 

1. Calasso, M., Vincentini, O., Valitutti, F., Felli, C., Gobbetti, M., and Di Cagno, R. (2012). The sourdough fermentation may enhance the recovery from intestinal inflammation of coeliac patients at the early stage of the gluten-free diet. European Journal of Nutrition,51(4). 507-12. doi: 10.1007/s00394-012-0303-y.

Blueberry Lavender Smoothie Bowls

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I have a big race planned for the morning of the 4th and am now in full on taper mode for the next few days. As anyone who has raced the marathon distance or longer knows, the taper period can be full of anxiety, pre-race nerves, last minute poor decisions, and all around stir-crazy-ness. This time around I haven’t had a big taper due to some training adjustments a few weeks back. It has also become my norm now to fit in my summer classes around the rest of my life so a lot of my otherwise “free” mornings, early evenings, and weekends are spent with my head in a gazillion research papers or on clinical nutrition cases. So all in all, I can’t complain about the current taper.

Even so, as is maybe obvious, I’m definitely prone to anxiety as my emotional go-to, and as the day grows nearer, I’m starting to have a little of that prickly circular overthinking creep in.

 

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At this point in my nutrition program, I’m close to being done on paper, but I’ve returned to taking minimal classes each term to retain some semblance of work-school-life balance so it will still be another year or so to finish. The classes I do have left are also the most intensive because we’re starting to pull all the pieces together and use them in clinical work. Lately, we’re focusing on nutrition for mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, and I was glad to see some good solid research supporting the use of lavender for anxiety symptoms.

 

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I created a lavender tincture for one of my herbal classes last year for this very reason and on certain days, nothing is so wonderful as opening the top just to let it’s floral aroma infuse into and calm my system. I also created a tincture formula that uses lavender for just this calming and grounding purpose, and there’s one more left in my online shop, if you’ve the mind.

Lavender, in addition to its ability to relieve nervous tension and anxiety, also helps with cognitive function and exhaustion. Its essential oils in the flowers have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well, and I find their aroma just lovely. The recipe below is one of my favorites for a mid-afternoon snack and it ups those anti-inflammatory abilities by packing in lots of blueberries, greens, and healthy nuts and seeds. The lavender really rounds out all the flavors and adds that calming touch.

 

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Blueberry Lavender Smoothie Bowl, makes 1
– Add culinary-grade lavender flowers or if available, 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. lavender extract/tincture.
– I’ve experimented with lots of plant-based protein powders and currently enjoy PlantFusion brand for its easy digestibility and fermented ingredients. Vega Sport and Garden of Life Sport are also good.
– If you make smoothies or smoothie bowls on the regular, keep in mind it’s wise to change up your choice of greens on the regular to get in all the good nutrients each type has to offer. 

1 1/2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup spinach or kale
20 grams/ half scoop vanilla plant-based protein, optional
3/4 – 1 tsp. dried lavender flowers
2 tsp. chia seeds
1 tsp. almond or sunflower butter
1/3 cup almond milk, or as needed to reach desired consistency
1 – 1 1/2 tsp. adaptogen powder of choice, optional

  • Combine all ingredients in a high speed blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add additional liquid to reach your desired consistency. I prefer mine spoon-able.