A little extra TLC

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Today started out a little rough. My two-year-old was having trouble sleeping starting at about 5am. Between trips to his room and a meowing cat around the same time, I didn't get much sleep after that early hour.

Today was a normal Monday. I was planning to go to the gym after taking my older son to preschool. I had a little bit of a sinus headache but felt pretty good anyway. After I had a green smoothie and gave the kids breakfast, I decided I needed a break today. I've been feeling burned out and I needed a little TLC. Today quickly turned into an exfoliate-and-deep-condition kind of day. I even took a 20 minute nap (I'm usually a militant non-napper) and woke up feeling a thousand times better.

Do you ever have mini spa days at home? What are your favorite things to do to nurture yourself when you need a little extra TLC?

"Panade" or baked soup

It just started raining here and it is cold in a way that will require hunkering down and hot soup tonight. My slippers are on and the fireplace is soon to be lit. I'm trying to distract myself with coziness to drown out the whiny little voice that is yammering on about a trip to Cancun inside my head.

A panade (or baked soup) is a super comforting way to warm up your belly on a night such as this. It reminds me of a pot pie without the crust. This idea was inspired by Deborah Madison's Vegetable Soups cookbook.

This recipe works well with a hearty soup such as these:

Hearty and Warming Cabbage Soup

Something-Out-of-Nothing Broccoli Soup

Potato, Leek, and Cauliflower Chowder


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Panade or Baked Soup
  • 3-4 cups of hearty or creamy soup of choice (ideas above)
  • About 1/2 pound sliced stale bread (sourdough is great)
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half
  • Olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Brush the bread with olive oil and place it on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and rub each piece with the garlic clove.
  2. Lightly oil a gratin dish or Dutch oven. Break the bread into pieces and scatter them over the bottom of the pan. Pour or ladle the soup over the top of the bread. Place the pan on a baking sheet (to catch any overflow) and bake for about 45 minutes or until the top is golden and bubbling. Let cool for about five minutes before serving.
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Crockpot oatmeal

I've mentioned my love of hot cereals before. I'm loving oatmeal even more now that winter has returned to Northern California after our brush with spring. I have been putting oats in the crockpot at night before I go to bed so that I have a hot and delicious breakfast waiting for me when I wake up.

Whether you like the texture of rolled (old fashioned) oats or steel cut, the nutritional value is about the same (more info on that here). I have been using oat groats (aka whole oats) because I really like their hearty texture but any kind of oats (except for instant) will work well in this recipe.

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Crockpot Oatmeal
Makes about 4 servings
  • 1 cup oats of choice (I like oat groats)
  • 3 cups of water (or recommended ratio of water +1 cup)
  • Optional mix-ins: chopped apples, raisins, dried, cranberries, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, etc.
  1. Put oats, water, and mix-ins in crockpot and turn on low overnight*.
  2. To serve, I stir in 2 tablespoons of raw almond butter and top with a bit of unsweetened vanilla almond milk.
*Tip: If you find that your oats are sticking to the crockpot, try adding a bit more water the next time or use a holiday light timer to turn your crockpot off for you while you're still getting your beauty sleep!

Leftovers can be refrigerated and re-heated in the microwave with a little non-dairy milk. Feel free to get creative with the optional mix-ins!

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Kid-Proof Meals



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I am a contributing author for a website and newsletter called Yoga Mint. This is an article that I wrote recently that contains some tips for creating healthy kid-friendly meals. Enjoy!

Cherry vanilla muffins with pecan streusel

Spring seemed to be on its way last week with warm temperatures, tweeting birds, and sunshine. The trees in my neighborhood even started to show their pink blossoms here and there. I love this time of year and, for some reason, always start craving cherries when I see those blossoms.

Today, though, was blustery and cold. It was dark and raining sideways. I had a little extra time this morning along with a craving for something baked and loaded with cherries. Given my huge love of all things muffiny, these were a natural choice!

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Cherry Vanilla Muffins With Pecan Streusel
Makes 9-11 muffins

1 1/2 cups frozen cherries
1⁄3 cup flax meal (ground flaxseeds)
1 cup non-dairy milk
1⁄3 cup sugar
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour (or more whole wheat)
1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (or more vanilla)

Streusel topping:
1⁄3 cup pecans
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 margarine (preferably Earth Balance)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Coat a muffin pan with cooking spray.
  2. Pulse cherries in a food processor until coarsely chopped.
  3. In a small bowl, add the milk, flax meal, sugar, oil, vanilla, and almond extract. Combine well. Add the cherries and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the wet mixture and combine with a rubber spatula just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
  5. Pulse the pecans, brown sugar, and margarine in the food processor to make the streusel. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and top the muffins with the streusel. Bake until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 26-28 minutes. Let cool for about 5 minutes in the pan before moving to a cooling rack.
You didn't hear this from me, but I think dark chocolate chips would make an excellent addition to these muffins! You're welcome.

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For some extra cherry goodness, I'm in love with the Snow Geisha tea from Teavana. It is a loose leaf white tea that smells like cherry lollipops (it has a light cherry flavor when brewed). Awesome.

Eating healthy doesn't have to cost a fortune- Coscto finds

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We visit our Costco warehouse store about once every month or two. Lately I have been really happy with some of the new things that I've been finding there. They are carrying more and more organic products and some new things that I haven't seen in other stores.

Here are a few of my recent favorite Costco finds:
  • Organic spinach
  • Organic apples
  • truRoots organic products- beans, lentils, rice, quinoa
  • Hannah organic hummus, single serving packs
  • Hadley pitted dates
  • Farro (a hearty Italian grain)
  • Garofalo organic whole wheat spaghetti
  • Organic Sunmaid raisins
  • Organic applesauce
  • Organic soymilk
  • Nature's Path organic Ancient Grains cereal
  • Ecover automatic dishwasher tablets
  • Kirkland enviromentally friendly liquid dish soap
  • Real maple syrup
  • Veggie Patch falafel chickpea balls (for quick lunches)
  • Marcona almonds- yummy salty/crunchy snack!
Do you shop in bulk or at a warehouse store? If so, what's on your shopping list?

Hearty and warming cabbage soup

My last couple of CSA boxes have contained different kinds of cabbage and, while I like cabbage, I don't eat it as often as I do other things. With a small Savoy cabbage threatening to go south in my fridge, I decided to throw together some soup. This was one of those "something-out-of-nothing" kind of nights for dinner because I didn't have much else to work with. This soup turned out great- hearty enough for a meal and really tasty too.

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Hearty and Warming Cabbage Soup

1 small green cabbage (Savoy works well), thinly sliced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 large potato, chopped (leave the peel on for extra fiber and iron)
1 cup French green lentils (I used truRoots sprouted green lentils which I found at Costco), rinsed
1/2 cup brown rice or other hearty grain (I used truRoots germinated Gaba rice from Costco), uncooked and rinsed  
1 cube of Rapunzel vegetable bouillon with sea salt and herbs (optional)
6-8 cups of water
Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the onion and potato and cook for a few minutes. Add the cabbage, water, bouillon cube (or 1 tsp sea salt), lentils, and rice. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer until the lentils and rice are fully cooked*. Taste for salt and season with pepper.
*If you use the sprouted lentils and germinated rice, this soup should be ready in about 30 minutes. Other grains or regular rice will take a little longer.

This soup is loaded with protein, iron, vitamin C, and fiber courtesy of the lentils. Serve it with warm bread to make your mouth extra happy on a cold night!

Eating vegetables gives you a healthier glow than the sun

I posted an article that contained a clip about this on my Get Natured Facebook page (and Twitter) yesterday and I think it is worth a full post. This is just fascinating to me!

New research suggests that eating a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables actually gives you a healthier glow than the sun. In the photo below, the middle image shows the woman's natural skin tone. The image on the left shows the effects of the sun and the image on the right shows the results of a diet rich in fruits and veggies (specifically those high in carotenoids like carrots and tomatoes). Participants in the study thought that the fruit and veggie glow looked healthier.

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Photo credit
I definitely notice a difference in my own skin when I'm eating lots of fruits and veggies- especially greens. When I regularly have a green smoothie and a giant salad each day, I love the way that my skin glows.

Don't forget to get some sun too, though- you need your vitamin D!

The full article, here, is worth a read.

Oprah and 378 Staffers Take a Vegan Challenge

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Did you see the episode of Oprah last week about her vegan challenge? What did you think?

Oprah and 378 of her staff elected to participate in a challenge to eat vegan for one week. I have had a little time to reflect on the show and I wanted to share my thoughts.

My thoughts on the show:

First, I applaud Oprah for bringing attention to this subject. I also commend her and her staff for stepping out of their comfort zones to try out vegan eating. I think Kathy Freston did a good job of mentoring Oprah's staff through their food challenges. She helped to demystify "vegan food" just a little bit by gracefully answering the ubiquitous "where do you get your protein" question. I would have liked more focus on whole foods and less emphasis on meat substitutes (more on that below). Oprah did not take a pro-vegan or non-vegan stance and the staffer interviews were reflective of their individual experiences with this challenge (some loved it, some did not).
  • Michael Pollan: I love Michael Pollan. His "Food Rules" are so accessible and non-radical and everything that he recommends makes sense. He is not vegetarian but consumes animal products in an informed way. His desire is to reform rather than eliminate the meat industry. I hope that, by his being on this episode, people will begin to think about where their food comes from and give some consideration to the chain of events in which they are participating by purchasing and eating these foods.
  • Slaughterhouse footage: I loved that Oprah shared Lisa Ling's story on the Cargill slaughter house. It is important for people to know how their food gets to their grocery store so that they can make intelligent choices about what they eat. Whether you were horrified or undeterred by this footage, your choice to act on or not act on this information, in my opinion, is very personal.
  • "Fake meat": People who eat a "Standard American Diet" (as well as many vegetarians) are skeptical of meat and dairy substitutes. These products offer a similar look and feel to their animal-derived counterparts, but they really don't taste the same and they can be highly processed. I don't use many of these products at home because I prefer to eat whole and unprocessed foods. Some people may recommend them as "transition foods" for people making the switch to a vegetarian diet. I hesitate to agree with this because it sets the expectation that they will taste like the meat that people are used to. These products are not representative of what a vegetarian or vegan diet can be. Eating a diet of whole and unprocessed foods is far more delicious and satisfying than simply replacing the animal-based ingredients of a non-veg meal with something that looks (but doesn't taste) like the "real" thing.
  • The mystery of "vegan food": I liked that this show brought to light the need to make conscious choices about what we put into our meals. From the comments and discussions that I've seen, though, there is still a misconception that "vegan food" is mysterious, complicated, and expensive. By sharing recipes, tips, and information, I hope that this is something that I and my fellow vegan/vegetarian/healthy living bloggers can help to make less bewildering. I love that this is getting more mainstream media attention- let's keep it up!
Why I've chosen to be vegan:
I don't eat meat but I don't think that makes me special. It is what I have chosen for myself. Based on everything that I know, this is the healthiest way for me to live. I eat this way for my health, for how I feel- like I'm burning clean fuel, and because I don't want to participate in the business of factory farming by consuming animal products. I'm in it for me, for the animals, and for the environment. I am 100% convinced that I am drastically reducing my risk for heart disease and cancer. I have great energy and my skin glows. My body agrees with my mind and my heart on this choice.

Some advice for those considering the switch:
Changing your diet does not have to be all or nothing or "cold turkey". Eat what feels right to you. Honor your own values and needs. Try Meatless Mondays or challenge yourself to try a new vegan recipe once a week. Focus on all of the wonderful abundance of whole foods that you can add to your weekly meals and not on what you are removing.

A resource:
Kathy Freston did a great job of putting together some vegan FAQs, here and a Vegan Starter Kit, here.

Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

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Crocus in my yard
As the weather is warming up just a bit and the sun it staying up a little later, it is beginning to feel like spring here in Northern California. It has finally been warm enough to spend a few minutes outside in the sunshine. Sunlight and fresh air are nourishing in so many ways. Not only does spending time outside help me to fight off the blahs, but soaking up a little sun is actually really healthy for my body as well.

The best way to get vitamin D

When your skin is exposed to sunlight (without sunscreen), your body produces vitamin D. Just 10-15 minutes of exposure to sunlight on your face and arms each day should be adequate to ensure that you are not deficient in this essential vitamin. Keep in mind that sunscreen blocks UV rays and thus this process of vitamin D creation. So wait 10-15 minutes to apply your sunscreen if you are planning to spend more time outside. This short amount of non-blocked and non-burning time in the sun is not damaging to the skin- it is actually very healthy!

Why do we need vitamin D?

Vitamin D plays many different roles in our health, including:
  • Greatly improving absorption of calcium for strong bones
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Protecting agains some forms of cancer (colon, prostate, and breast)
Vitamin D-rich foods

If you live in a northern area or the weather is not currently conducive to catching a few rays, you can get vitamin D from dietary sources. The best food sources of vitamin D include fortified foods such as non-dairy milk products and cereals (non-vegan: dairy products, salmon, mackerel, egg yolks, and fish liver oils).

Try these combos for a vitamin D-rich breakfast or snack:
  • Yogurt (dairy or fortified non-dairy) sprinkled with a fortified cereal, walnuts, and fresh fruit
  • Fortified cereal with milk (dairy or fortified non-dairy) topped with fruit and slivered almonds