Friday Favorite: Almond Milk

My name is Hilary and I am lactose intolerant. Ugh. The first step is admitting your stomach can’t handle it.  For a long time, I was in denial about this fact despite feeling awful after consuming some of my favorite treats like fettuccine alfredo, milkshakes and macaroni and cheese for the first few decades of my life. It was only a couple of years ago that I started listening more to my body and realizing that I had control over feeling satisfied versus miserable after a meal.  There are lactose aid pills available and I do keep them at home and in my purses for eating meals out.  But it’s not very hard to avoid milk products when there are so many alternatives available.   There is lactose free milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and others. For a while, I tried Silk, the soy milk brand but I found it to be too sweet with the added sugar. I also wasn’t crazy about the idea of so much soy in my diet because some scientific research links it to breast cancer.  Then I discovered unsweetened almond milk and decided to try it.  I never looked back.  I like the Blue Diamond brand because their unsweetened almond milk comes in small, individual-use containers so I don’t have to come up with ways to use a half gallon of it before it goes bad.  I use it in smoothies, chai tea lattes, baking recipes, and even recipes like macaroni and cheese in a pinch.  It works very well as a milk-alternative and I encourage you to try it out, even if you aren’t lactose-challenged (although 30 million American adults are!).  Almond milk has no saturated fat, and is low in calories.  But keep in mind that unlike whole nuts, it does not contain a lot of protein, nor a lot of calcium like cow’s milk.  So drink up, but don’t forget your leafy vegetables and lean protein on the side!Almond Milk Text-pic

Recipe: Homemade Chocolate Candies

Valentine’s day is on Saturday and Russell Stover is hoping that you stock up on its candies made with corn syrup and “natural flavor.”  But why not give your special someone a homemade treat that says ‘I made an effort for you and here’s something homemade without questionable ingredients’?  Man, I should be a greeting card author…

I came up with this recipe for chocolate candies because every day after lunch at work I crave a little something sweet. A palette cleanser if you will. And yeah, I will, because I like to be fancy. But seriously, if I don’t bring a little sweet treat with me I end up going to CVS and buying those little homemade chocolate candies text graphicHershey’s nuggets and 3 other things I really didn’t need. So one day I thought, why not make my own chocolate candies?  I like dark chocolate, but most “dark” chocolate is still so sugary sweet, ick.  On the other side of the spectrum, unsweetened chocolate is also pretty gross.  It’s a bit of a Goldilocks dilemma.  I figured if I made my own candies, I could combine the two to make the chocolate as semisweet/dark as I want.  (Hint: look at the percentage of cacao in your chocolate.  If it’s less than 65-70%, it’s going to  be pretty sweet and sugary.)  And let’s face it sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you feel like 3 nuts and Almond Joy isn’t almond-y enough.  With my own candies, I can choose the filling I want and make them extra nutty and crunchy.

When you make these, you can use whatever filling you like best! Try: pecans, peanuts, pistachios, almonds, cashews, coconut flakes, dried apricots, dried cranberries, dried pineapple, or any other fruit or nut. It’s pretty much as easy as melt, drop, harden, and eat.  Have a happy Valentine’s Day!


Ingredients:

6 oz. unsweetened chocolate (easiest to buy a bar of this kind of chocolate)
1 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips (semi-sweet has more sugar than bittersweet)
1 cup filling (nut, dried fruits or both) 

Recipe:

Fit a baking sheet with a Silpat liner or wax paper.  Fill the bottom of a double boiler* with water and bring to a boil.  In the top part of the double boiler, melt both the semi-sweet and unsweetened chocolate together, stirring constantly until smooth.  In the meantime, on the lined baking sheet,  form small clusters of nuts/dried fruits 2 inches apart.  For a 12 x 16 baking sheet, I can fit 24 clusters.  With a spoon or small spatula, drop about a tablespoon of melted chocolate on each cluster, being careful to let the melted chocolate get in all the nooks and crannies to bind the filling together. With any extra melted chocolate, add an additional drizzle to each cluster so that all the nuts and fruits are fully encased in the chocolate.  Put the baking sheet in the fridge for 2 hours or until the chocolate is hard.  Transfer the candies to an airtight container. Enjoy for many weeks!


*I WISH I had a double boiler.  For now in my tiny apartment, I boil water in a large saucepan, with a glass mixing bowl settled on top. Tiny kitchens require creativity!

Field Trip: “Food: Our Global Kitchen” Exhibit

For months, I’ve been seeing ads on Metro trains for an exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC called “Food: Our Global Kitchen.”  The posters described it as a farm to table experience which really piqued my interest.  Learning more about non-toxic food ingredients has made me more interested in where my food comes from and how it is grown, and I try to be a locavore whenever possible.

I had a great experience at NatGeo (despite a handful of rambunctious kids running around wiping their germy hands on all the interactive buttons, ick).  I thought the layout of the exhibit was really clever.  The “farm to table” effect involved taking the museum-goer through the full experience of food, winding us through displays on history and development of agriculture, to facts about food production and trade, to global cooking techniques.

The exhibit was sponsored by Whole Foods so I was curious how topics like organic produce, raising of livestock, and GMOs would be presented.  I assumed that it might be very biased but while all of these issues were mentioned throughout the exhibit, but I never felt it was one-sided or forced.  Because they are all issues that affect food production and consumption, it is important they are mentioned. But the visitor was left to draw his/her own conclusions.  Some highlights of the exhibit were:

  • Learning about cassavas — who knew they were such a staple of the human diet, or that they could grow to be as large as a person!  I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten one, but now it’s on my to-do list
  • A scale of heat rankings for peppers — I’ve seen comparisons like this before, but it was interesting to see it in person and see all the kinds I’ve tried (my experience stopped at about the third from the bottom with the jalapeno.  No thank-you, ghost pepper!)
  • A model scene of a historical food market in South America — very cool to see a life size re-creation of a market and all the different types of animals and produce considered exotic to me, but normal to a person in that time and place
  • A display of cookbooks from around the world, in all different languages — really makes you think that food is one of the few things that all humans have in common as a need.  We’re not so different after all!

One theme reiterated throughout the exhibit is the fact that humans are using more food resources that ever, and growing the food to feed all of us has very real environmental and health consequences for us.  The main take-away is that it is so important for each of us to understand where our food is coming from, and what exactly is in it.  In most cases, ignorance is bliss but with food, increased knowledge of what we eat, how and where it was grown, and how it was prepared, makes it more enjoyable and healthful in the end.


The exhibit is open until February 22 and tickets are $11 — well worth the price.  Hope you can check it out!

Recipe: Crock-Pot Granola

Who knew that you could make granola in the crockpot?  Well, you can and it’s changed my breakfast routine.   I used to buy granola in the health food section of the grocery store, but there is so much sugar in most store-bought granola.  And a box of organic granola is not cheap.  Also, how frustrating is it to buy some “nutty crunch” cereal that has maybe one measly nut per every few spoonfuls?  Lame.  The best part of making granola at home, besides how easy and inexpensive it is, is that you can add as many nuts or fruits as you want.  Me, I like a little oats with my nuts and dried fruit but you can customize this recipe to your tastes by eliminating or reducing some off the add-ons.  This original recipe came from my sister on a trusty little 3×5 card that I’ve lovingly spilled on and wrinkled over the years.  That recipe only specified “oil” so canola oil or most others will work.  But I like coconut oil because of the taste and the great health benefits.  You have to be close by to stir it often so it doesn’t burn, so it’s a good recipe for a Sunday afternoon, or when you work from home.  Your kitchen will smell delicious while it cooks.

Ingredients

6 cups rolled oats
½ cup coconut oil
½ cup honey
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger

 

Add-ons

½ cup each of the following — feel free to substitute and be creative:
dried cranberries
raisins
golden raisins
dried apple pieces
coconut flakes
pecan pieces
walnut pieces
pumpkin seeds

Put the first seven ingredients is a crock-pot and stir together.  Set the crock-pot on low for 2 hours.  Stir after the first 30 minutes, and then stir every 15 minutes after that, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot.  Cool completely, then stir in the add-on ingredients.  Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for several weeks.

 

 

The Sweetest Thing

A few months ago in an ongoing quest for perfect, supermodel skin I tried cutting sugar from my diet.  I did some research which showed that the androgen hormone, which is linked to insulin, can cause breakouts.

Unfortunately, the only true fact I’ve learned in my 15+ year quest for skin like the Noxema girl’s  is that apparentlysugar me being me is what causes breakouts and no limitation of sugar is going to be a magic cure. However, giving up sugar for about 8 weeks did open my eyes to how much of it was in the foods I was regularly eating, from fruit to processed foods and everything in between.  And after eliminating it I felt more energetic and less thirsty.  My clothes fit better and I didn’t crave sweet foods the way I once had.  So while I don’t avoid it entirely anymore, I am much more discerning about the sugar I do eat.  For example, I’m just gonna say it…once in a while I like to eat a whole bag of Twizzlers.  Or a doughnut. Like a frosting-drenched, sprinkle-topped doughnut.  So to balance out those sporadic cravings, and because those foods have approximately 0 health benefits, I avoid sugar in other ways that aren’t as much of a sacrifice for me like:

  • Reading the ingredients of my groceries and avoiding foods with added sugar, corn syrup, sucralose, etc.  Even “savory” foods like crackers and chips sometimes contain sugar.  So sneaky!
  • Making my own granola. Cereal is often very high in sugar, even most granolas which are marketed as “healthy”, “natural” or “with a HINT of sweetness”.  When I make my own, I add just a small amount of honey and lots of dried fruits.  If i’m going to consume sugar, I want it to be from natural sweeteners as much as possible! Here’s my recipe!
  • Making my own salad dressing.  Most bottled dressings from the grocery store have really nasty ingredients like corn syrup.  Have you ever seen a yummy homemade dressing recipe say, “slowly whisk in the high fructose corn syrup and xanthum gum”? Ew.
  • Making my own chocolate candies.  Many popular candy bars are overloaded with high fructose corn syrup or sugar.  I like making my own dark chocolate that’s actually dark and bittersweet. Here’s my recipe!
  • Fulfilling my ice cream cravings with coconut or almond milk ice cream with no added sugar.  Don’t be weirded out!  There are some delicious brands and flavors and they still taste sweet while eliminating the processed sugars.
  • Using agave syrup as an alternative to processed, white sugar when baking.  It has a lower glycemic index and you only need about half the amount when compared to sugar.

I’m always looking for other ways to eliminate processed sugar from my diet.  But for now, I think this is a good start!