Superfood Truffle Balls

I love Larabars. I used to buy them all the time because they are so satisfying.  Of course, they are expensive.  And honestly, easy to make. Once I realized that I could not only make a larabar, but make something even healthier, with chi seeds, goji berries, etc., I got cooking.  My earlier recipe of chocolate truffles was just the tip of the iceberg.  Now I add many more ingredients for their nutrients. I’ve found that chia seeds add a satisfying texture that larabars do not contain. 

The dates I used are Medjool dates.  They were VERY fresh.  So soft, they mushed easily in my hands for pitting, and were extremely moist.  You MUST use Medjool dates.  If your dates do not say “Medjool”, they aren’t.  Also, if they are pitted, they probably are not Medjool.  If your dates are not quite as soft and fresh as mine, you may need to use a Tbs. of water or so.  Add very little at first, you do not want to end up with a wet, sticky mess on your hands.

It is important to follow the recipe as written.  There is a reason I grind the nuts first, then add goji berries, then add the rest of the ingredients.  If you want to know the reason, just add the ingredients in a different order, and you will see whySmile!  Those dates are sticky and do not process smoothly if the nuts are not already processed and mixed with them.

Once you’ve tried these, feel free to play with the seeds and try different mixtures—hemp seeds, for instance, or maybe try using less dates and a few raisins instead.  These substitutions have all worked well for us!

For those who are fans of the cinnamon-chocolate combination, try adding 1/2 tsp cinnamon to the dough (along with the cocoa).  I am NOT a fan of cinnamon and chocolate together, so I will not try it!

Ingredients:

1 1/4 c raw almonds

1 c raw walnuts

2 T brown (unhulled) or black sesame seeds

2T raw pumpkin seeds

1/3 c goji berries

1/2 c natural cocoa powder (I suggest Penzey’s)

1/4 c chia seeds

1 lb very fresh Medjool dates (this is the un-pitted weight, pit them after weighing—I think it was about 24 dates, but I’m not sure)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

In a large food processor (mine is 11 cup), pulse almonds, walnuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds until they are very well chopped, but not so chopped that they are flour.  Add goji berries, pule a couple times to roughly chop.  Then add dates, cocoa powder, and vanilla. Process until mixture forms a dough ball.  Break up dough ball, add chi seeds, and pulse a couple times until dough ball is reformed.  This is just to make sure that there are no large date pieces. 

Using a cookie scoop, scoop balls of dough and roll between your hands lightly to smooth.

If you so desire, roll dough balls in crushed nuts or cocoa powder.  I prefer mine plain, though.

The Importance of the Deep Core: Spotlight on the Diaphragm

Everyone talks about the importance of the core muscles, but few people seem to understand exactly what muscles they are talking about, how to strengthen them or what all the hoopla is actually about.

The “inner core” musculature is made up of the diaphragm at the top, the pelvic floor at the bottom, the transversus abdominis at the front (wrapping around the sides and attaching into the fascia at the back) and the multifidi, which run up and down the back of the spine.  Together, when contracted, these muscles create intra-abdominal pressure and work together to stabilize your spine. These amazing muscles function like a whisper.  They contract softly, they do not actually move anything, but stabilize.  They must be strong enough to remain on all day long, all workout long, because, if working correctly, these muscles fire on just in anticipation of movement, milliseconds before actual movement occurs. 

Have you ever seen a person wearing a lumbar support belt at the gym, noisily hoisting weights that are actually too heavy for them?  They are wearing a belt because their inner core muscles are not strong enough to lift the weight.  Support must come from the inside, otherwise we are vulnerable to injury.

Although the pelvic floor and transversus are talked about often enough, breathing is sometimes glazed over.  Breathing is often considered a rudimentary task and many people balk at the idea of spending time working on relearning and retraining how to breath.   In fact, I am guilty of not always realizing how important it is to spend time with clients—and myself–on breathing appropriately.

For people with back, neck, or shoulder pain, it is important to realize that other movement patterns cannot be normalized until breathing is addressed (Idea Fitness Journal, March 2012).  This does not mean that someone with, say, thoracic outlet syndrome or a bulging disk does not have other movement impairments.  Certainly, they do.  But corrective exercises must be done along with relearning and retraining breathing techniques and relearning how to fire on the entire core.

Most people breathe with their chest muscles.  These muscles were never meant to be used so heavily for the task.  The scalenes often become short due to the increased stress placed upon them and this can lead to nerve entrapment.  Thoracic outlet syndrome, paresthesia, etc. are related nerve issues.

So now that you have been scared into wanting to breathe properly, how does one actually do it? 

In Pilates, we cue breathing 3-dimensionally through the rib cage.  We talk about drawing the breath down into the lower lobes of the lungs, where oxygenation best occurs. Most people, if they breathe through their ribs, breathe pretty well through the front of their ribs, but not so well through the sides and especially back if their ribs.

One tactile cue I like to use for myself and my clients is to wrap an exercise band around the rib cage (just below the bra line), cross it in front, and breath.  I imagine my ribs opening like an umbrella, and I feel the theraband stretching, letting me know where I am expanding and where I am not.  I especially like to do this laying down so that I have the most feedback, then I move to sitting up where I have less feedback as to where my body is in space.

When breathing through the ribs, it is important to keep the shoulders and chest relaxed.  If you feel like you are tensing your shoulders, raising them up to your ears and hunching them forward, you are not breathing through your ribs, but your chest!

Once you try this exercise, you will see why breathing, all by itself, is actually an exercise!

If you feel like your ribs are “stuck” and you just can’t get proper movement, you may like my favorite breathing exercise.  I use this all the time to help open the sides and especially back of my ribs.

CAUTION: This exercise contains spinal flexion, lateral flextion and extenstion.  In fact, it contains flextion and rotation together.  So, if you have back problems, this may not be safe.  Please ask your doctor, PT, or local STOTT Pilates instructor to be sure.  This exercise is contraindicated for bulging or herniated disks, osteoporosis, etc. 

Sit to one side of a BOSU, arc barrel or spine corrector, in mermaid position, feet and shins opposite side of body that BOSU is on (one leg tailor style—as if you were cross legged, and the other, W-sitting style).  Sit tall on your sit bones in a neutral spine.  You can always grab a pillow to sit on if you are tight and have trouble finding neutral. Then, sidebend over the BOSU, bottom arm long under head, top arm long over head.  Take a couple big breaths.  Then rotate and flex your spine on an exhale so that your chest is facing the BOSU, hands holding the sides of the BOSU, helping you rotate. Breathe here, really concentrating on expanding through the backs of the ribs.  Abdominals stay on, you are not draped over BOSU, you are actively flexing and rotating. On an exhale, move back to the sidebend, then take a careful rotation away from the BOSU along with extension by placing hand furthest from BOSU behind head, hand closest to BOSU in front of the BOSU to help you rotate, and rotate away from the bosu and extend back, breathing a couple breaths before finding the sidebend again.  On an exhale, use your obliques to bring you back up to sitting and repeat on the other side.

I highly suggest practicing proper diaphragmic breathing prior to whatever exercise you are doing.  Then, during the exercise, work hard to remind yourself of the same breathing.  When I run, I constantly cue myself to relax my shoulders, breathe deeply through my ribs, and really feel the backs of my ribs expand into the band of my sportsbra, as I have most trouble with that. 

Remember,the diaphragm is one of the four components of the inner core, so be sure to practice proper diaphragmic breathing and breathe appropriately throughout your day and your exercise session in order to reap the most benefit.  The inner core muscles are the base of support and without them working properly, no matter how strong the rest of your muscles, you are still at risk of pain and dysfunction.

Chocolate Raspberry Green Smoothie

This is my son’s favorite smoothie.  He loves berries, and he loves chocolate.  Put them together and he is in heaven.  We make our smoothies extra big on “chocolate” days because he drinks as much as we do! Honestly, I’d say this serves one because we make double the size for our family of 2 and a baby!

Ingredients:

2 frozen bananas

1 pint raspberries

4 oz spinach

2 Tbs. cacao nibs

2 Tbs. flax seeds, chia seeds, or hemp seeds

1 cup (add as much as you like/need) nondairy milk (we use almond)

dash of vanilla

Method:

Blend ingredients until smooth and processed. Enjoy!

Chocolate Mint Green Smoothie

I think this is my favorite smoothie yet…well, this or the raspberry version, which I’ll post tomorrow.

Makes enough for a very, very large glassSmile

Ingredients:

3 frozen bananas

4 oz spinach

2 Tbs flax, chia or hemp seeds

1 cup almond/nondairy milk (use more or less depending on desired consistency and blender abilities)

2 T cocoa nibs

1/2 package of mint

dash vanilla extract

Method:

Add ingredients to blender and blend for a minute until the greens are fully processed and smoothie is smooth.  Enjoy!

Hungry For Change

Sorry, I’m not home so I’m not cooking, which means no recipes for a few more days. However, I did manage to watch “Hungry For Change” and I really enjoyed it!  I was not a fan of the other Food Matters film, but this one was great.  The take home message is that we need to clean up inside out with the foods we eat, outside in with the chemicals we cover ourselves in, and we need to love and accept ourselves.  The last part of this message was actually news to me and I found the argument intriguing.  Basically, without love, we feel stressed, and this goes back thousands of years, to our hunter-gatherer days, where not belonging to our group would cause us to die. 

This video is free to watch online for the next couple days (until March 31, 2012).  WATCH IT!  It really is worth your time.  I don’t say this all that often but I do think this was really well done. 

Here is the link in case you want to watch it now: http://www.hungryforchange.tv/online-premiere

Enjoy!

Broccoli Daal

This is a delicious dish that I got the inspiration for from this blog:  http://ohsheglows.com/2011/01/06/energizing-spicy-broccoli-dal/.  I made quite a few changes to the recipe, just a couple changes to the method, a couple changes to ingredients, in order to make it nutritarian.  I love, love, love that this recipe uses a lot of broccoli!  I would not have thought of adding broccoli into my daal before—spinach, kale, green peas, sure.  But broccoli?  Nope.

Serve simply as a soup, or over a bed of quinoa or rice.  I made quinoa for my son so that the dish wouldn’t be too spicy for his two year old self. 

Enjoy!

Ingredients:

2 cups lentils, washed

1 very large onion, chopped finely

2 tsp cumin

4 tsp mustard seeds

9 c broccoli florets.  Process in food processor until fine “breadcrumbs” size

1 cup broccoli florets, left as florets

8 cups broth plus 4 cups broth (divided)

1 cup cashews (use more for creamier consistancy

4 Tbs lemon juice

2 tsp red pepper flakes (this is hot!  use less if you do not like your food hot)

2 1/2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp turmeric

paprika, for garnish

Method:

Add a couple tablespoons of water to bottom of large pot, heat over medium heat.  Add onions and add cumin, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, and turmeric.  Sautee until onion is soft and seeds are popping.  add lentils and 8 cups broth.  Bring to high heat, cover, until reaches boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, simmer 15 minutes.  Add whole florets, simmer 5 more minutes.  Add processed broccoli.  Simmer until lentils are soft and broccoli is done, about 5 more minutes.  Blend the cashews with the 4 remaining cups of broth.  Add to the lentil mixture along with the garam masala and lemon juice.  Simmer another minute, and serve.

Pasta with many vegetable sauce

This is one of my favorite pasta recipes…or should I say vegetable recipes?  It is mostly vegetables, a little whole wheat pasta, but mostly vegetables.  This dish is Nutritarian friendly and kid friendly, too!  Sam loves it.

If you wish, beans would taste great in this recipe.  Add an extra clove of garlic and 2 cups or so of cooked canellini or kidney beans—mmm:)

Makes 4-6 servings (we eat a lot!)

Ingredients:

2 onions, diced

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium eggplant, chopped into 1/2 inch dice or smaller

2 red peppers, chopped

1.25 pound zucchini, chopped

8 oz sliced white or cremini mushrooms

2 28 oz cans of chopped tomatoes (no salt added)

2 Tbs tomato paste

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less to taste, I use 3/4 tsp, but then add a few peas to Sam’s bowl so he doesn’t’ taste as much heat)

A few handfuls of baby spinach, baby kale, or  beet greens

freshly ground pepper

12 oz “hardy” (because the sauce is thick and chunky) whole wheat pasta shapes such as penne (cook to package directions)

Method:

Sautee the onion in a little water or broth in a large pot over medium heat until translucent.  Add garlic, saute 1 minute more.  Add eggplant, stir 1 minute.  Add zucchini, peppers, and mushrooms, cook 5 more minutes or so.  Pour in tomatoes, paste, broth, and red pepper flakes.  Bring to simmer, simmer about 20 minutes to allow flavors to marry.  Add spinach, stir until wilted (about 1 minute).  Season with pepper to taste and toss with pasta.  If you desire, sprinkle a little fresh chopped basil, cilantro or parsley on top of each serving.

Vanilla Chai Cupcakes! Chocolate Cupcakes!

One of my good friends (and fellow nutritarian!) is celebrating her birthday this month.  I want to make something special for her and keep it as close to perfect nutrition as possible.  But, come on, it’s her birthday, I want the final product to taste good!

Although these cupcakes are not completely nutritarian (they do include some sugar, but at about 30kcals of sugar per cupcake, they are very close to nutritarian). 

I used my favorite silicon cupcake cups so that I wouldn’t need to oil a muffin tin (or even use a muffin tin!).  Check out Le Creuset’s muffin liners

I made two recipes from a new book I bought, The Happy Herbivore Cookbook .

I have not tried the other recipes yet, but I assure you, I will be soon!  Many look amazing.

One note of caution: I made the first recipe exactly as written.  For the second recipe, I used 1/3 cup sugar instead of the 1/2 because I thought the first recipe was sweet enough.  BAM!  Instantly I knew I was eating whole grain health food.  I could taste the whole wheat above all else and the cupcakes lacked the appropriate texture and taste profile.  So, just trust me, this recipe has been tested, and cutting the sugar is a poor, poor idea.

One note: 24 cupcakes divided by two adults and one child in one evening: NOT nutritarian. Ugh, I feel sick.  Good gracious, these cakes are that good! (okay, we have a few left.  Only a few!)

Vanilla Chai Cupcake Ingredients:

Wet Ingredients:

1 c. vanilla non-dairy milk (I used homemade vanilla almond milk), heated to just below boiling, add 3 Chai teabags, steep 6 minutes, remove bags.

1/4 c applesauce

1/2 c raw sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients:

1 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt (I used 1/8 tsp, did not really compromise the rise)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground cardamom

Chocolate Cupcake Ingredients:

Wet Ingredients:

1 c non dairy chocolate milk (I used home made vanilla almond milk)

1/4 c unsweetened applesauce

1/2 c raw sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients:

1 1/4 c whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 c unsweetened cocoa

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt (again, I used only 1/8 tsp)

1/2 c vegan chocolate chips (I used none, the cupcakes were good without, but I can imagine how decadent they would be with the chips!)

Method:

Combine wet ingredients in medium bowl.  Combine dry ingredients in another medium bowl and whisk together to incorporate.  Slowly pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, mix until incorporated.  (Here is where you will add the chocolate chips or if you are in the mood, nuts, etc).  Pour batter between 12 muffin cups.  If you are not using silicon muffin liners, you will need to spray the cups so the cupcakes won’t stick.

Watermelon Slushee

It is the wrong season for a watermelon slushee, isn’t it?  No matter, I made one anyway because I had a watermelon sitting on my counter, begging to be enjoyed.

If, for some reason, this is not sweet enough for you, go ahead and add a date to the mix, but I thought this was plenty sweet—actually, too sweet!  I think I’ve been drinking too many green smoothies latelySmile

Ingredients:

1 small (such as pureheart) watermelon

2-3 cups ice (judge by the size of your melon!)

juice from half a lemon or lime

a few mint leaves plus more to garnish (optional)

Method:

Add watermelon to blender first, then add ice and other ingredients.  Blend a few seconds until smooth.  Enjoy!

Vegan Avocado (no)-Tortilla Soup

This recipe owes its inspiration to Vita-Mix’s book, Create Recipes for Professional 500.  I omitted the tortillas, photo (7)added more beans, avocado and corn in place of the tortillas.  I’ve also changed the directions so that this will work for any blender, as I myself am not lucky enough to own a new vita-mix (mine is about 15 years old! darn thing will never break, so I guess I’ll never have a new one!). 

Ingredients:

2 cups low sodium vegetable broth

5 Roma tomatoes, quartered

1/3 bunch cilantro, stemmed

1 garlic clove

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 avocado, pitted and peeled

1/2 lime, peeled

1/2 c black beans

1/2 c corn

jalapeno to taste

Garnish:

1/2 avocado, chopped (optional, could increase corn and beans instead so as to keep fat at a lower level depending on your personal needs)

few sprigs cilantro

1/4 c corn

1/4 c black beans

Method:

Heat broth and tomatoes in medium pan.  Add beans and corn to heat through.  Pour into blender, add the rest of the soup ingredients.  You may want to remove the hole in the lid of your blender and cover with a folded towel to blend (this is supposed to be the safe way to blend hot liquids.  I don’t do this, but I don’t want anyone else burned!).  Blend until smooth.  Pour into bowls and garnish. 

Serves 2