Monday, October 21, 2013

Muffins, muffins and more muffins

I don't know the muffin man, but I know the muffin toddler and her name is Olivia - she's OBSESSED. The only tantrums she's ever thrown in her short 14 months involve muffins, she doesn't mess around... I always sing "the muffin man" nursery rhyme before I give her one and she starts waving her arms and squeals, very cute. These are three of our favorites - vegan, very low in sugar, easy and DELICIOUS!!!!
Banana wheat germ muffin

My friend Cassie is my partner in crime against toxic living and gave me this awesome recipe that her little boys gobble up. They have lots of big banana flavor and the wheat germs gives a little bit of crunch - they taste so good its hard to believe they're so healthy. As soon as bananas start to get brown spots they make me gag, and I end up wasting lots of ripe ones - not anymore!

1 cup plain soy milk (almond milk works great too)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 very ripe bananas
1/3 cup canola oil (I always buy from Trader Joe's to ensure non-GMO)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour or spelt flour
3/4 cup wheat germ (Whole Foods or any store with bulk bins)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
 2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Pour the soy milk into a measuring cup and add the vinegar to it - set aside to curdle.

Meanwhile, mash the bananas in a large mixing bowl. Add the soy milk mixture to the bowl along with the oil, sugar, and vanilla and mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, wheat germ, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Add this to the banana mixture and use a wooden spoon to gently stir the ingredients, until all the dry ingredients are just moistened.

Fill the muffin cups three-quarters full and bake for 22 minutes. Yields one dozen muffins.

Spiced Apple Crumb Muffins

Ed begs me to make my Spiced Apple Crumb Muffins and Olivia tears them up - everyone loves them is shocked to learn they're dairy free. The recipe is from Gwyneth Paltrow's "My Father's Daughter" cookbook, which I use all the time (also love her zucchini spaghetti, all her soups, and blueberry muffins). Her healthy lifestyle was prompted by her father's cancer, which I relate to completely. I kinda love all things Gwyneth Paltrow and have learned a lot from following her GOOP blog and great wellness tips, just wish I had her deep pockets to buy everything she recommends!!!

For the crumb topping:
1/2 cup spelt flour (buy at Whole Foods or anywhere that sells bulk flours)
1/4 cup whole rolled oats (not instant or steel-cut)
1/4 cup unrefined dark brown sugar (Trader Joe's has a great organic brown sugar that is perfect for this recipe because its not sticky)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I only buy mine from Trader Joe's because it is GMO free)
1 tablespoon soy milk (I usually use almond milk, either works)

For the muffins:
1 tablespoon cornstarch (also buy at Trader Joe's, GMO free)
1 cup finely diced peeled apple (about 2 small apples)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons real Vermont maple syrup (Costco is best place to buy, great price)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoon soy milk (or milk substitute of your choice)
2 cups of spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup lightly toasted walnuts, roughly chopped 

Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin tins with paper - I usually get 15 muffins from this recipe.
For the crumb topping, combine all the dry ingredients in a small gown.  Add the vegetable oil and soy milk and rub everything together with your fingers - the mixture should be pebbly.  Set aside.

For the muffins, in a small bowl, toss the cornstarch with the apples. In another large bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of vegetable oil and all of the syrup and soy milk (I use a large Pyrex glass measuring cup). Sift the remaining ingredients (except for walnuts) and fold in the apples and walnuts. Fill the muffin cups and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick tests clean. My oven cooks them perfectly at 25 minutes - any longer and they're a little too dry.

SO GOOD!!! I keep 6 out and freeze the rest (they freeze beautifully). This is a top five favorite recipe for me - LOVE.....

Blythe's Blueberry muffins

This recipe is also from Gwyneth's cook book and are delicious! They are sugar free (use maple syrup and agave nectar instead) and vegan. Miss Gwyneth says "They rock the house."


1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup soy milk (or almond milk)
1/2 cup real Vermont maple syrup
1/4 cup agave nectar
2 cups spelt flour (Whole Foods or any store that has bulk bins)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 1/2 cups fresh organic blueberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix wet ingredients together, stir in the dry ingredients, and fold in the blueberries. Divide among the muffin cups and bake until a toothpick tests clean and the muffins are golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Let cool before eating (if you can...).

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sesame kale recipe

Kale is a nutritional powerhouse. It leads the pack of dark green leafy vegetables due to it's high levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Just one chopped cup contains 33 calories, 9% of daily value of calcium, 206% of Vitamin A, 134% of Vitamin C, and a whopping 684% of Vitamin K. It is also a great source of the minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus. Kale is one of the best sources of beta-carotene, an antioxidant believed to be a major player in the battle against cancer, heart disease and chronic diseases. It's a gift from nature!

Perfect food, right? Here's the has a bitter taste that some people don't like (including myself...). I hide it in my smoothies and have struggled to find different ways to prepare it that my family will eat. Last week I attended a food demonstration by Johnson & Wales instructor Stacy Kolbash and finally found a recipe my tastebuds love! I'm so excited about this find and have used up two pounds of kale this week alone. Enjoy :)

Sesame Kale


1 T white sesame seeds
1 pound kale
1 t olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 T rice vinegar
1 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
crushed red pepper flakes, salt to taste


1. Wash kale and remove the stem (I like to hold the stem and pull the leaves off in one swipe). Tear into pieces.

2. In a small skillet, toast sesame seeds over medium-high heat. Toast until brown - this will happen VERY quickly, so be sure to pay close attention that they don't burn. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, cover the kale with the olive oil and gently rub it into the leaves to soften. Add a pinch of salt.

4. In a small bowl, whisk garlic, vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil.

5. Pour the dressing over kale and toss. Season lightly with crushed red pepper flakes (a little bit goes a long way!) and salt to taste. Top with sesame seeds.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The China Study, cliff notes with a little opinion

The China Study can easily be summarized in one sentence: The more plant based foods you eat, the healthier you'll be. Reading this book made an immediate impact on my food choices - it just made sense and science backs it. For the past two years I have followed the China Study Diet of eating plant based foods for 90% of my caloric intake and I'll never go back. The allergies that I suffered with for 35 years have disappeared, my energy levels have increased and my hair and nails are stronger. I feel confident that I am following the best possible diet for my overall health and disease prevention - plus it's a great way to stay skinny! The transition to a plant based diet was not difficult and the 10% animal based protein allowance makes it very doable. I hope this summary will peak your interest enough to read the whole book - each page is full of valuable, life changing information. Don't be fooled by the boring title, it will be one of the most important books you ever read!

In the early 1970s, the premier of China was dying of cancer and wanted to learn more about this misunderstood disease. He initiated a massive survey to determine the death rates for twelve different kinds of cancer in more than 2,400 Chinese counties and 880 million (96% of population) citizens. 650,000 people worked on this project - I can't even imagine the logistics involved and this was before computers!! 87% of the Chinese population is of the same ethnic group, the Han people, so they have similar genetic backgrounds and are perfect for comparison. The results showed that certain types of cancers were high in parts of the country and in other parts they were almost nonexistent. Cancer rates were dependent on where in China they lived and were not genetically based. The data from this "cancer atlas" would be used a few years later to make statistical correlations in what became the China-Oxford-Cornell Diet and Health Project, aka "the China Study."

The author, Dr. T. Colin Campbell has a seriously impressive resume. He has received more than 70 grant years of peer-reviewed research (the majority from the National Institute of Health) and has authored more than 300 research papers. Campbell grew up on a dairy farm believing in the great health value of animal protein in the American diet. He trained at Cornell and MIT in nutrition, biochemistry and toxicology and spent 10 years on the faculty of Virginia Tech's Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition. He then returned to the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell in 1975 where he currently holds his Endowed Chair (now Emeritus). Campbell set out in his career to investigate how to produce more and better animal protein, which we considered to be "the cornerstone of good nutrition." 

While at Virginia Tech he assisted on a project in the Philippines working with malnourished children. They were investigating the unusually high prevalence of liver cancer in Filipino children, which is usually an adult disease. Aflatoxin is a mold toxin found in peanuts and corn and was thought to be the root of the problem - it is one of the most potent carcinogens ever discovered. The US Agency for International Development funded the project and they focused on making sure these children got as much protein as possible, especially from animal-based foods. The results were not what they expected and Campbell was shocked to discover that the children who ate the highest-protein diets where the ones most likely to get liver cancer (which were the children of the wealthiest families). This went against everything he had ever been taught and Campbell initiated additional studies to try to understand these crazy results. 

In one particular study with rats he was able to show that with a diet of 20% casein (a protein in milk) rats developed carcinogenic tumors. Switching the rats to a plant based diet resulted in a decrease in tumor growth. Switching back to the casein diet brought a renewed tumor growth. He concluded that animal based foods increased tumors while plant based foods decreased tumor development. The implications of controlling tumor development with diet were huge!

Dr. Campbell needed to determine if the results from the experimental rat study also applied to humans - could they control cancer growth with diet in people also? He joined with researcher Dr. Junshi Chen and embarked on the most comprehensive study of nutrition in history. They gathered blood work on 6,500 adults from 65 different counties in China to gather data on 367 variables. They measured everything the families ate over a three day period and analyzed food samples from markets across the country.  The 65 counties in rural areas were carefully selected because they wanted to find people who mostly lived and ate food in the same area for most of their lives. Using the data from the Premier's survey they had more than 8,000 statistically significant associations between lifestyle, diet and the disease variables they selected. The New York Times called it "the Grand Prix of epidemiology."

The people of rural China eat a mostly plant based diet and do not have access to dairy or meat - only 9-10% of their total calories come from protein and only 10% of the protein comes from animal based foods. Compare that to the typical American diet which consists of 15-16% total calories from protein with 80% from animal based foods. The majority of Americans eat this way, but there are major differences between diets in rural China and developed China. The developed, industrialized parts of China eat more Americanized diets because they have access to meat and dairy.

This is where the book gets REAL interesting to me.... different diets = different diseases according to Campbell's research. He was able to cross link the mortality rates from the Premier's study combined with his blood work research to determine that there are two separate disease groups: diseases of poverty, which are typically found in rural agricultural areas and diseases of affluences found in more economically developed areas.

Diseases of Affluence (Nutritional Extravagance):

  • Cancer (colon, lung, breast, leukemia, childhood brain, stomach, liver)
  • Diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
Diseases of Poverty (Nutritional inadequacy and poor sanitation)
  • Pneumonia
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Digestive disease
  • Pulmonary tuberculosis
  • Diseases of pregnancy
  • Rheumatic heart disease
  • Parasitic disease
People living in rural China do not have access to proper medical care to treat diseases which are usually not fatal outside of third world nations, so they die of "diseases of poverty." Campbell determined that as a developing population accumulates wealth their eating habits and lifestyles change and sanitation systems improve. People begin shifting away from a plant-based diet toward eating more meat and dairy, which they did not previously have access to. This change of diet results in people dying of diseases of affluence rather than the "poor" diseases of poverty. Campbell states "As soon as they start putting small amounts of animal food in their diet, basically blood cholesterol levels...start to go up...cancer starts to emerge, heart disease starts to appear." People living in rural China rarely die of diseases of affluence. Cancer, diabetes and coronary heart disease are almost nonexistent. In many cases, the differences were extremely large. For example, in one part of China where people eat more meat, the rate of esophageal cancer for men is 435 times greater than the rate for men in the rural areas that eat a plant-based diet. In one county that had high meat consumption the breast cancer rate was twenty times greater than the counties that ate a plant-based diet.

Campbell's research further indicts dairy products showing they are linked to Type 1 diabetes, and breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. The countries with the lowest consumption of dairy products have significantly lower incidences of these diseases. He states "There is enough evidence now that doctors should be discussing the option of pursuing dietary change as a potential path to cancer prevention and treatment. There is enough evidence now that local breast cancer alliances, and prostate cancer institutions should be discussing the possibility of providing information to Americans everywhere on how a whole foods, plant-based diet may be incredibly effective anti-cancer medicine."

In The China Study's "Good Nutrition Guide", Campbell offers advice on how to transition to a healthy plant-based diet. "Eat a whole foods, plant-based diet, while minimizing the consumption of refined foods, added salt and added fats. Eliminate all animal-based products, but don't obsess over it. If a dish contains a small amount of meat, the quantity very likely will be nutritionally unimportant. Benefits were shown to increase as meat consumption decreased, even when the percentage declined from 10% to 0%." He emphasizes his "Eight Principles of Food and Health":

  • Nutrition represents the combined activities of countless food substances. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Vitamin supplements are not a panacea for good health.
  • There are no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.
  • Genes do not determine diseases on their own. Genes function only by being activated, or expressed, and nutrition plays a critical role in determining which genes, good and bad, are expressed.
  • Nutrition can substantially control the adverse effects of noxious chemicals.
  • The same nutrition that prevents disease in its early stages (before diagnosis) can also halt or reverse disease in its later stages (after diagnosis).
  • Nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board.
  • Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts are interconnected.

A plant-based diet can also help protect you against diabetes, obesity, autoimmune diseases, bone, kidney, eye and brain diseases. The animal protein you ate in your past can be forgotten, all the damage can be reversed by switching to a diet of fruits, veggies and grains (which is a relief because I ate a LOT of bacon back in the day!).

The book concludes with a very frustrating chapter showing how government, science, medicine, business and the media have concentrated on profits over health. Together they attempt to destroy viewpoints that challenge the status quo. The food industry claim questionable nutritional benefits and lobby hard against labels warning of health concerns. Our government continues to fail us as they support special interest that push dairy, meat, refined sugar and fat into our cupboards - in the meantime America's health continues to decline as the population gets fatter and sicker.  Campbell was almost expelled from a committee of scientists because he dared to suggest a link between diet and cancer. He states "In the world of nutrition and health, scientists are not free to pursue their research wherever it leads. Coming to the 'wrong conclusions,' even through first-rate science, can damage your career." Big medicine is also a problem. The medical industry does not focus nearly enough on the role that poor nutrition plays in the prevalence of chronic disease despite research. Medical school training includes one 3 hour course on nutrition and the majority of doctors rely on nutritionists to be the experts on the subject. Campbell sites the work of Drs. Caldwell Esselstyn and John McDougall who have both had successful results in treating patients through nutrition. President Bill Clinton is a patient of Dr. Esselstyn and has completely reversed his heart disease by switching to a plant-based diet (remember how he used to chow down on McDonald's?!). Both men have experienced rejection from the medical establishment that is so focused on surgery and drugs. Nutrition should be the standard of care for treatment of chronic diseases - nature made it best.

Campbell's finding prove to me that diet is our best weapon against sickness and disease. America is in a severe health crisis and the mainstream way of eating clearly isn't working. Our children's generation is the first in US history expected to live shorter lives than their parents. According to Jeffrey Levi, Executive director of The Trust for American Health (TFAH) if current rates of obesity, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease continue, our children's average life span is thought to be only 75 which is 5 to 11 years lost. To quote Campbell in conclusion "These issues all come down to three things: breakfast, lunch and dinner."

Additional information:

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts = DELICIOUS recipe

This recipe takes about 8 minutes to make, maybe less depending on how fast you can boil water... I discovered it a few months ago and it's my new go-to when I need a quick, tasty dinner. My family gobbles it up! You can load it with extra spinach for bonus iron - it always shocks me how much spinach wilts down....My sister added roasted butternut squash and said it was amazing - perfect meal for Fall!


1 (16 oz) package gnocchi (I buy mine at Pasta & Provisions in Charlotte, black pepper)

1 tablespoon butter (for all dairy products I make sure they are free of rBGH- hormones)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (10 oz) package fresh organic spinach, torn
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


1. Cook gnocchi according to package directions, drain.

2. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts to pan and cook for 3 minutes or until butter and nuts are lightly brown, stirring constantly (these can burn real fast, so watch the heat...). Add garlic to pan and cook for 1 minute. Add the gnocchi and spinach to pan and cook an additional minute or until the spinach is wilted, stirring constantly. Stir in salt and pepper.

So easy and so delicious - ENJOY!!!

This recipe originally appeared in Cooking Light, January 2009