Friday, December 26, 2014

If you don't know, now you know…how to make easy zucchini noodles

Raw zucchini noodles with herbed avocado pesto
I know it's not right to love or need an object, but when it comes to some things in my kitchen, there are a few items that I would really not like to live without :) Right after my first two children: my chef knife and Vitamix, I have a new baby that I am so so glad my friend Laura turned me onto last year: the Spirooli™or Spiralizer™.  These bad ass slicers can turn vegetables into tasty noodles in seconds.  Let's be honest, slurping your vegetables in noodle form is probably the most fun way to eat vegetables.  Yes turning zucchini, squash, beets, and sweet potatoes into noodles is fun for me.

You can get these popular tools at any kitchen supply store.  I bought the Spirooli™for less than $20 at Bed Bath & Beyond.  

Even if you don't like zucchini, I would highly recommend trying them out on one of these great kitchen tools.  Once the zucchini turns into noodles, it has a mild taste and slightly crunchy consistency.    It does a seriously great job of absorbing liquids you choose to add to it.  I will usually cook my noodles by lightly sautéing them in olive oil or unrefined coconut oil for just a minute or two. I'll season them with salt and pepper to taste.  The cooked noodles shrink down quite a bit, so say you are cooking zucchini pasta for four people, you would probably want to buy five or six zucchini.  

Autoimmune-friendly Thai shrimp with zucchini noodles

Yield: 2 servings 
12-16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 Tbs coconut oil
2 large zucchini or squash, peeled
3 drops fish sauce
1 large clove of garlic, minced or grated
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, minced or grated
juice of 1/2 a lime
optional: green onion, thinly sliced, for garnish

(If you do not have an autoimmune condition and your body tolerates seeds and nightshades well, sprinkle 1/4 tsp red chili flakes and 1/2 tsp Eden Shake or white sesame seeds over finished product. Mix to combine.)

  1. In a medium sauté pan, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Once oil starts bubbling, add shrimp and cook for two minutes per side.  Immediately remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Make noodles using Spirooli™or Spiralizer™.  Cut them using kitchen shears so you do not wind up with foot-long noodles dangling from your mouth (unless you want to get adventurous re-inacting that Lady and the Tramp scene).  Set aside.
  3. In small mixing bowl, combine coconut aminos, fish sauce, garlic, ginger and lime.  Mix to combine.
  4. In a medium sauté pan over medium high heat, combine noodles and sauce.  Once noodles have softened and absorbed most liquid, approximately two minutes, toss in cooked shrimp.  Top with green onion and a lime wedge. Serve. 
Adapted from Diane Sanfilippo, "shrimp pad thai"

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reduce anxiety by offering ourselves "me" time

I consider myself a very easy-going person but for some reason, lately I have been letting stress get to me easily.  Maybe I let the stress of others rub off on me a little more, or I'm bumming over the short days and cooler weather.  This winter I'm not in the Rockies so I can't cruise on over to the mountain to decompress with a few runs.  The things we need to keep us going every day might not be simple or accessible, but if we value ourselves, we will make time to show self-love.

To relieve my holiday anxiety, I'm making an effort to take better care of myself.  During the summer I automatically play outdoors with friends and eat energizing, cooling meals.  However this time of year I need to force myself to sit down and relax, knowing that I will benefit tremendously if I take that extra time to look after my well-being.  Here are some things I try to do regularly to feel my best.

  • start my day with a warm drink
  • eat nourishing meals
  • get outside
  • exercise
  • listen to music
  • meditate
  • socialize
  • hugs
  • read
  • sometimes pretending to be cheerful on my off days can actually make me feel better
  • organize my to-do list
  • practice yoga
  • journal
  • treat my skin to a "spa day" or take a bath with epsom salts and essential oils
  • catch up with friends and family I haven't talked to in a while
  • go on a walk or hike
  • play with my friends' pets
  • watch a movie or tv show
  • shop local at the farmer's market
  • clean/de-clutter something in my room or house
  • plan a day trip/weekend adventure 
  • go out to dinner
  • see live music
  • Plan some epic trips with friends, family, or to do solo
  • go abroad :)
  • move to a new city
  • get a new job
  • get acupuncture or a deep tissue massage
  • do a couple detoxes/cleanses

All of this does take time, so you have to be wiling to give yourself that in order to decompress and feel your best, through the holidays and the rest of the year.  Now I challenge you to make a list of things you want to do regularly to show yourself some love and gratitude.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hearty Lentil Soup

This bone-broth based soup is rich in minerals, soothing to the digestive tract and supports the immune system. Make a big pot of this to have all week or freeze for those nights you don't feel like cooking.  Yield: 4 servings


1.5 cups lentils, soaked overnight
3 Tbs olive oil
2 medium carrots, small dice
2 medium celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 small onion, small dice
2 quarts bone broth
1-inch piece Kombu
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
2 spring fresh oregano, chopped
2 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped and divided
1 bay leaf
1 cup fresh greens, chopped and loosely packed
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
fresh squeeze of lemon juice

  1. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil on medium.  Add onions with a pinch of salt and sauté for 3 minutes.  Add carrots and celery and sauté for 5 minutes. 
  2. Stir in lentils, broth, Kombu, and herbs, only adding half the parsley.  Bring to boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer with lid on for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  3.  Just before serving, stir in greens and vinegar. Remove kombu and bay leaf, if desired.  Season with salt and pepper. 
  4. Sprinkle with remaining parsley and a squeeze of lemon. Serve.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Immune supportive chai tea

While everyone is pumpkin-crazed this time of year, I choose to obsess over everything chai-spiced. My chai tea recipe is amazingly healing: it kickstarts the immune system, aids digestion, reduces inflammation, improves circulation, has anti-cancer properties, regulates blood sugar, is high in antioxidants,  and boosts metabolism.  Coconut milk will keep you satiated longer and reduce food cravings.  If you don't have all these deliciously warming baking spices in your kitchen, you can always purchase a quality chai spice blend.  One of my favorite blends is through Savory Spice and can be found here.  I prefer a spicier, cinnamon-y chai, but you can always add more honey or coconut sugar for extra sweetness.

Immune Supportive Chai Tea

It is really tough to mess this recipe up, so don't worry if your spices are not exact measurements.  I like to store some fresh ginger root in the freezer because it keeps longer and it makes grating the ginger much easier.  You may use a microplane or cheese grater to do this.  Lightly crush the tough pods with the back of a chef's knife.  This will release more flavor and nutrients into the tea.

6 whole cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
2-inch piece of ginger root, grated
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise pod
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole black pepper corns
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup coconut milk (try my easy homemade coconut milk recipe)
1 tbsp loose Darjeeling black tea or 3 tea bags
2 Tbsp honey or coconut sugar

  1. In a 2-quart saucepan, add all spices to 3 cups of water.  Bring to gentle boil then reduce to simmer and cover for 10 minutes.  Add coconut milk and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  2. Turn off heat.  Add black tea and let steep for 5 minutes.  Add honey or sugar.  
  3. Strain out the spices, pour into mugs and serve.
Yield: 4 small mugs or 3 generous servings


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Your gut issues (and mine!) might be the result of a degenerative brain

What is the brain-gut axis?

I recently watched a fascinating interview on The Digestive Session Series that Sean Croxton had with Dr. Datiz Kharrazian entitled “The Brain-Gut Axis: How to Train your Brain for Better Bowel Movements.” I highly recommend watching this interview if you have any gut issues.   While I do know that our psychological state plays an important role on our physical health, I had no idea how closely tied our gut and brain are.  In the western world, we have been conditioned to believe that “x causes y.” We treat the symptom with a pill, hoping we will feel better.  This however is only a short-term solution.  To fully heal oneself, you need to get to the root of the problem, and usually there is more than just one problem.

Is it legitimate?

Eastern medicine, which has been in existence for 3,000 years, is based on a true holistic approach, where our systems are interconnected.  Chris Kresser, M.S. explains that Chinese medicine looks at each system in the body on a physical, emotional, psychological, and psycho-spiritual level.  Many recognized leaders in the functional medical world are diving into the root causes of gut issues and brain degenerative diseases.  The data they are coming up with is really mind blowing.  I am particularly fascinated by the brain-gut axis.  Bowel control is neurologically based; our brains consciously have to move our nutrients through our gastrointestinal tract.  This means when the brain is not functioning normally, our body can’t function properly either.

My personal struggles

In my previous post, I wrote about my own struggles with poor gut health and terrible abdominal pain.  When I first started having this pain, I also began taking Xanax for my anxiety that suddenly surfaced.  I kept a food diary where I would take notes about what I ate 72 hours before having a painful “gut episode.” I noticed a connection.  While certain foods did inflame my body and cause pain, my anxiety due to stressful events often sparked these painful, stomach-wrenching outbreaks.  After I completed a strict sugar detox a couple months ago, I realized that my pain was not aggravated by food, but rather a failure in my brain-gut feedback! 

The facts

Dr. Kharrazian explains that if brain function is not firing properly, brain control for mobility (including digestion) will degenerate.  Chris Kresser talks all about the science behind this in a very insightful podcast here. Below, I will discuss the positive correlation between brain degeneration and gut inflammation and give some diet and lifestyle tips to help prevent this! Did you know the brain degenerative Parkinson’s disease begins in the gut? Protein builds up between the nerves in the gut, leading to the nerves inability to communicate with one another.  When they can’t communicate, they die off.  When this brain-gut feedback is disturbed, we’ve created an environment for autoimmunity.

There have been numerous brain-gut studies on football players who have experienced brain trauma.  Within only 3 hours of brain injury, these athletes have some degree of intestinal permeability, which is the fancy name for leaky gut.  The only time these players did not have leaky gut after brain trauma was when their vagas nerve, the part of the brain that activates gut motility, was stimulated.  Many football players who have experienced traumatic brain injury often develop autoimmune diseases. 

How to prevent brain-gut failure

You might be wondering how can promote optimal brain-gut feedback? According to Dr. Kharrazian and Dr. Kresser, there are several ways:

1.     Stress management
·      Make time for yourself! Meditate, take a bath, do yoga, go on a hike, read, watch a funny movie, go out with friends, dance!
2.     Educate yourself
·      Constantly challenge your brain! The more you practice developing a skill, the more efficient you become at it, and the less neurotransmitters your brains needs to use to learn that skill.
3.     Work out
·      Working out gets your blood pumping, and the brain needs oxygen to function. Exercise also helps reduce stress!
4.     Avoid inflammatory foods
·      Consume foods that improve brain function. This means eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, monounsaturated fats, high quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid processed junk and high-carb foods like bread and pasta.
·      Eating foods that will increase blood flow to the brain are beneficial as well.  Think pink and red fruits and vegetables, including cayenne, dark chocolate, ginkgo, and ginger. When we create a healthy environment for our brain, our neurotransmitter function can work the way it was created to, rather than having to repair inflammation (which is caused by sugar) and degeneration. 
5.     Avoid gluten
·      Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut and oats, has been hybridized and processed to make it highly inflammatory to our bodies.  It produces an immune response in the brain and within our nervous system.
6.     Sing your heart out!
·      When you sing loudly, the vagal motor nuclei are activated, and will then aid the intestinal immune system.
7.     Gargling and gagging
·      Induce the gag reflex using a tongue depressor, so your eyes tear.  This will fire signals to the vagas nerve (mentioned above), which sends feedback to the intestinal immune system, among other systems, and promotes brain-gut connectivity, according to Dr. Kharrazian.


Monday, December 1, 2014

What drove me to pursue a career in holistic health

Growing up with a single working mother, I quickly learned how to be independent and took on a lot of chores from a very young age.  One of these responsibilities involved helping my mom cook dinner.  She knew the importance of never skimping on organic produce, so she made an effort to spend the money on clean ingredients.  No matter how busy my mom was, she always packed me healthy lunches (at the time, all I really wanted were the HoHos and Lunchables my friends had).  Looking back, I am grateful she showed me the importance eating nourishing food.

As soon as I went off to college, I developed some seriously bad eating and drinking habits.  I discovered tater tots and Sailor Jerry's.  At some point during my freshman year of college, I starting having terrible abdominal pain.  It wasn't until my junior year when I moved off campus and began cooking healthy meals for myself again that I realized all these bad habits were taking a toll on my health.  After I graduated, I moved to Wyoming and Vail, working at the resorts there.  I am fortunate that we were given staff meals at these jobs, but the food always made my coworkers and I feel lethargic.  We would make double and triple shot espresso drinks to compensate for our lack of energy, which was only a temporary remedy.

I took charge of my health and started packing my own meals to take into work. How is it that our country's largest ski resort owner and operator can't afford to feed its employees nutrient-rich food to sustain us through our shifts? This really pissed me off.  People from all over the country and South America drop serious cash on expensive ski vacations in the Rockies, only to be served expensive meat-heavy, carb-loaded brain fogging dishes that weigh you down.  In reality, these restaurants should be serving up healthy, warming meals that will give you the energy to cruise the mountain all day long. How do you enjoy life fully if you can't feel your best?!  These were some of the driving forces for my decision to become a holistic chef.

Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, has implemented some health-minded changes into the Colorado Resorts and for that I am thankful.  His children have celiacs disease, so his family cannot have gluten.  All the resorts in Colorado have gluten free options at the on-mountain dining locations. The company actually saved a local bakery in the front range by placing large orders of gluten free buns for Vail Resorts' restaurants. Katz's wife, Elana of Elana's Pantry, is a Paleo chef who has some really wonderful recipes. Maybe VR can start using her recipes in some of their restaurants!  This entire shift is a process, but it needs to be a higher priority.  If you take care of your employees first, the consumers will follow. I would like to help with this shift towards health awareness in the future, but right now, I need to be working in a field where I can make more of a visible difference.  Who wants to join me?!