Thursday, March 27, 2014

In the Swing of things: Perfect Health Diet and an Activity Challenge

Gnomes make me happy 
Since going all in with the Perfect Health Diet, I've set up a few guidelines that are keeping me feeling good:

  • Refined Sugar is out (except small amounts of dark chocolate).
  • Fruit is OK and I'm not limiting it at all (I wind up having 2-4 pieces a day). Knowing that this is always a sweet option makes me feel less panicy and restricted. 
  • Starch comes mostly from things that contain resistant starch -- cooked cooled potatoes/rice, green bananas but also from sweet potatoes. I am limiting processed starches like rice noodles, etc. to roughly 1 x per week.
  • Non-starchy veggies fill half my plate at every meal with the other half split between meat and starch. I have to purposely focus on this and it has led me to eating much less meat overall since my appetite has gone down.
  • Mindful activity is a part of each day. I printed out a full year calendar and hung it on the fridge. Every day that I do at least 20 minutes of purposeful activity, I put and X over the date. I'm over 3 weeks in and haven't broken the chain. Yay! Sometimes I do more (like an hour yoga class), but keeping the goal manageable has been key to attaining consistency, which is what I was after. 
  • Almond milk is a daily addition to my morning smoothie, in which I get to dump all my food-based supplements like collagen, probiotics, prebiotics, green bananas for RS, fiber, and even liver powder sometimes! Since the store-bought variety comes with additives and stabilizers, I decided to try my hand at making my own. I used this method (I just use the almonds, water, and vanilla) and bought this nut milk bag to strain it. Making homemade almond milk is way easier than I imagined and turns out delicious. It smells amazing whirring in my Vitamix - fresh almonds and vanilla - yum! 
  • Almond meal is a lucky side benefit of making homemade almond milk. Who knew? When you strain the milk, you're left with very finely ground almond meal, which you can use to bake cookies. The milk recipe I linked to suggests drying it out in the oven, sending it through the blender again, etc. I am way too lazy. I just save it in the fridge and then make some cookies when I get enough of it. Since it's still damp, not at all like my beloved blanched almond flour, it's a whole different animal. I found I had to turn the oven temp down and bake them longer than usual, but they come out moist, chewy, and more like oatmeal cookies. I love the idea of using one raw ingredient to get so many yummy things! Talk about being thrifty. My Grampy would be proud. 

I am off to go try my hand at baking my low sugar (fruit sweetened) chocolate chip cookies. I'm going to refine the recipe a bit then come back and post an official version with pictures. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mint Chip Super Food Ice Cream

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I decided to churn up some creamy green goodness. I'm trying to avoid refined sugar so I used a combo of medjool dates and stevia to sweeten it. I added some avocado and spinach for the green as well as collagen, probiotics, and some green banana for the resistant starch. That's a lot of nutrition packed into a tasty frozen treat!

Mint Chip Super Food Ice Cream

2 Medjool dates (take out the pit first!)
1 very small avocado (half of a medium or large one)
1/4 cup frozen spinach*
1/2 frozen green banana*
1/2 contents of one probiotic capsule
1 Tbs collagen
1 tsp powdered stevia
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1/4 tsp real salt
1/2 cup enjoy life chips

Blend all ingredients (except chocolate chips) -- I used my Vitamix. I blended it for quite some time because I wanted to make sure that everything was completely incorporated. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before churning it in an ice cream maker until it reaches the consistency of soft serve. Empty into a quart sized Tupperware container and mix in chocolate chips. Dish out a nice scoop into a chilled bowl and enjoy! Stick the rest in the freezer and get your super foods in each day for the rest of the week.

I prefer to make my ice cream really rich and creamy as opposed to lighter and less filling. I tend to only eat a tiny bowl of it at a time and really savor it. I find it's much more satisfying than something that I can eat and eat without getting full.

*You can use fresh/not frozen spinach and banana - just chill the mixture longer before churning.  

Friday, March 7, 2014

New Discoveries and a Shift in Focus

For the past three years, I’ve been focusing pretty fiercely on my attempt to lose weight. I’ve tried to keep a good, body positive perspective but have never lost sight of that end goal. Since my experience with Intuitive Eating prior to discovering Paleo, I’ve been pretty fearful of letting go and losing control. I did not trust myself to make good decisions for my health so I settled on the prize of weight loss to keep me on the straight and narrow. I also harbored a secret fear that no one would ever take me seriously in the Paleo community if I was still fat.

I don’t know if there is something physically, psychologically, or otherwise holding me back from achieving my desired body composition, but any which way, I’m over it. I am over actively trying to change my body. Here’s a little recap of what I’ve been working on lately to take the very best care of myself without the express goal of weight loss:

I’m in love with this program. I look and feel better than ever and haven’t lost a pound (not that I’ve weighed myself!) I cannot recommend it highly enough for promoting great self-care and expression true to yourself. Life changing.

I’d heard of this before but never thought it would be for me. It was mentioned in one of the DYT videos and I decided to give it a whirl. I feel more toned, energetic, and have gotten lots of compliments from Cute Man since doing this 2-5 times per week. The basic workout takes less than 20 min. Score.

Yes, that again. I’m just eating real, normal food while avoiding nasty oils, processed food, added sugar, and wheat products. The biggest difference is that I’m not doing it to try to diet or lose weight. My only goal is to promote overall health and avoid the acid reflux, psoriasis, headaches and other health problems I dealt with pre-Paleo. I’ve also started incorporating resistant starch, which blunts blood sugar spikes and promotes gut health. It just means that I cook my potatoes and rice a day in advance to allow them to cool down after cooking in order to allow the RS to be formed. My appetite is WAY down and my sugar cravings have diminished a lot. I feel almost incapable of overeating. When I’ve had enough, I have to stop right in my tracks with a feeling of not being able to take even one more bite. I can’t eat even half what I used to for dinner. Very interesting. I am not eating any rice noodles or other gluten free processed foods – those seemed to set me off and gave me acid reflux. I started with the RS after listening to this Latest inPaleo Podcast. More info on Free the Animal (warning – he is very unpolitically correct, so if you’re easily offended, please avoid).

Friday, December 20, 2013

Gluten Free Baking

Gingerbread Cookies
Maybe it’s just the time of the year (the Holidays!) but I’ve gotten into several discussions about baking lately. It’s no secret that I’m gluten free and people are often shocked that what I offer doesn’t wind up tasting like a door-stop. Part of what works for me is using good ingredients and making things fresh. I also do a crazy amount of research and am always trying out new things. In an effort to share what I’ve learned, particularly what works and what doesn’t as well as where to get specialty ingredients, I’m putting together this post for reference.

One of the biggest obstacles people face when going gluten-free is getting used to new ingredients and their often higher prices. They are also sometimes harder to find. However, once you get the hang of it, baking is just as easy (or difficult) as it always has been.

Mint Milanos
A note about the expense: going gluten free is like any other kind of dietary change. It’s very easy to get caught up in the one-to-one replacements and wind up with an even less nutrient dense (and more expensive) diet. It’s important to note that most wheat products like bread, pasta, etc. are all fortified with vitamins and minerals – this minimum dosage is just enough to keep us from severe diseases of deficiency, but are in no way the optimal way to get these nutrients. That being said, switching from wheat-based processed food to gluten free processed food, which is not usually fortified, can lead to disaster. If, instead, you choose to switch the base of your diet away from grains in general in favor of fruits, vegetables, and high quality proteins and fats, you’ll be significantly improving your overall nutrient intake. This way of eating is also much cheaper than buying all the gluten free packaged food available these days.

All of this is to say that baking is not the answer to changing your diet and not noticing a difference. There should be a difference. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to say goodbye to age old traditions like baking cookies on Christmas. There is just something lovely about making and sharing yummy treats with friends and family.

Since this particular brand of oven-baked joy is my cup of tea, I’d like to share my go-to ingredients and favorite recipes (found for free online!) I buy quite a bit online, mostly on Amazon, but some things can be bought in stores. I will include affiliate links where applicable, but also mention when you can probably get items locally.


Almond Flour
This is my preferred brand for a fine, light texture perfect for cookies and cakes.
Almond Meal
I buy this at my local Trader Joes and it includes the almond skins and is very course – cookies baked with this come out more like oatmeal cookies than regular chocolate chip. It’s also good for making buns or “bread” for a more whole grain texture.
Coconut Flour
This can also be found at my local Wegmans, Whole Foods, etc. I’m not as picky about brand with this stuff. I haven’t tried one that didn’t work as of yet. 
Grade B Maple Syrup
This has to be my secret weapon ingredient. Using this recreates the right flavor profile for chocolate chip cookies, which traditionally would use white and brown sugar. I buy it at Trader Joes and find the Grade B is way better than the thinner, less rich Grade A.
Coconut Oil
This can also be bought in most stores and is great for replacing butter, if you are very dairy intolerant. It works surprisingly well.
Palm Shortening aka Vegan Shortening
Somehow this isn’t a trans-fat nightmare and is considered a safe alternative. I don’t use it much, but have on occasion when you need a completely neutral flavor. You can also use this as a sub for things like butter or lard.
Swerve Confectioner’s
This is a low carb product that I use in icings and as the sweetener in homemade ice cream (it keeps it from getting rock hard). I use this powdered version in all applications, sometimes cutting the suggested amount (the granular version doesn’t taste as sweet to me and I get more bang for the buck with this).
This brand is great in my coffee and I can sometimes get away with using a little bit in place of caloric sweeteners but doesn’t generally work that well in baked goods all by itself. You only need the tiniest bit of this – I use the undiluted version so it doesn’t measure like sugar at all. I prefer not to pay for the bulking agents.


Choc Chip Macaroons
I am an avid collector of online recipes and you can follow me on Pinterest, if you want to keep up to date with stuff I’m trying. However, I think it’s important to start with the tried and true, especially when you are just starting to buy new ingredients. There is nothing worse than throwing out a whole batch of something that just didn’t work. It’s also important to follow the instructions carefully – the ingredients and method are what the recipe writer used and found to work. Changing it up is fun, but can result in flops. I recommend finding something that appeals to you, you have or can get ALL the required ingredients, and then follow it exactly the first time. Not every suggestion is going to meet that set of criteria, so I say skip the ones that aren’t a perfect match for your needs and abilities and just try something you can do as described. I cannot stress this enough – you cannot determine if a recipe works unless you actually follow it! That being said, I DO sometimes tweak things (I’ve been at this for some time) and I will note things that I’ve tried successfully along with the links, in case those alterations appeal to you, too. I mostly just want you to have a good experience out of the gate!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
I should also mention that gluten free baking IS different from its wheat-laden, more ubiquitous pastry-cousins. You cannot simply swap out the regular flour in a beloved recipe with a gluten free alternative and get the same result. When starting out, choose a recipe already developed and tested by someone else before trying to adapt old favorites. There is a learning curve and it takes a bit of experience to get a feel for how different flours behave.

All the recipes are Paleo-friendly, but not necessarily Low Carb (LC). I’ve noted the ones that use non-caloric sweeteners as LC, in case you want to especially use those to avoid as many carbs as possible or avoid them due to the questionable ingredients. For me, I’ve determined that Swerve and Stevia are within my comfort zone of safety, but I do not use or advocate the use of aspartame, Splenda, or other more widely available artificial sweeteners. I also avoid Truvia, which is neither True, nor Stevia. And, it tastes bad. BAD.

On to the links!!!!
The Wonder Bun

My version of the Wonder Bun
I don't eat a lot of bread-like things anymore. They simply aren't worth the time or energy, most of the time. But when I just need something, this does the trick! I use these mostly for open faced melted cheese to go with Tomato Soup and as croutons in French Onion Soup. I don't usually bother for burgers anymore, but it works well for those, too.
The Food Lovers
Chocolate Chip Cookies
I often use melted butter in place of the coconut oil (both work well!) and sometimes swap white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts for the chocolate chips. If you use chocolate chips, any brand will work. They just list the allergy-friendly type for sensitive folks. The Enjoy Life ones are awesome, just a bit pricier, if that’s not a concern for you.
Pumpkin Cookies
These are a huge hit every fall and have the added benefit of being vegan - everybody can enjoy them!
Gingerbread Men or their Updated Version
I’ve made the original version as instructed with cookie cutters, but also made them without rolling them out, using my cookie-disher, and smooshing them down before baking. I make royal icing either with organic powdered sugar or powdered Swerve. I either pipe it on all fancy-like when using the cookie cutters or just slather it on when doing the regular cookies. Both ways taste incredible. I haven't tried their updated version, but I'm sure that's wonderful, too. Maybe better since they revised it? Hard to imagine since I LOVE the original.
Sticky Bun Cake
Comfy Belly
Cinnamon Bun Muffins (almond flour)
Cinnamon Bun Muffins (coconut flour)
Sticky Bun Cake (my adapted version of the above) (LC)
I make some version of the above three recipes quite often. So easy and delicious!
The Paleo Parents
Chocolate Chip Macaroons
The salty-sweet combo of these is off the charts good. If you use dairy free chocolate chips, these are completely vegan (and autoimmune Paleo compatible without the chips).
The Urban Poser
These are incredible. That is all.
All Day I Dream About Food
Cinnamon Rolls
Nutella Loaf (LC)
This has to be hands-down the best completely low carb cake I've ever made. It tastes a lot how I remember those marble poundcakes at Starbucks.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins (LC)
Also Starbucks-inspired. Hmm...
Maria Emmerich
Cinnamon Rolls (LC)
This recipe uses a somewhat controversial ingredient called Psyllium Husk Powder. Please read this post about its safety – this is why I use it. It makes gluten free baked goods have the right doughy texture for things like this recipe. Just don’t buy a huge thing of it, like I did! You need very little per recipe. I also generally just use royal icing made with Swerve on these, too (like the gingerbread cookies). This Brown Butter Icing recipe is also amazing, though.
My Mint Milano Creations
This recreation went amazingly well and hit on some deep childhood memories. The originals were always my favorite cookies and I could easily eat a whole box of them all at once. Making them from scratch with better ingredients staves off the urge to binge on them.

There are so many great recipes out there but these are my favorites that I go back to over and over. I hope this helps you get started and have some success right away. I would also recommend browsing the websites I linked to above for more recipes – they are generally trusted sites with great content. For more recipe ideas, follow me on Pinterest!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Paleo Sweets and Treats Book Review

Today, I'm over at the Paleo Parents' site, reviewing a new cookbook all about treats: Paleo Sweets and Treats. I had fun with this one, folks :)

I was a bit hesitant to pick this book up due to my uncertain relationship with treats these days. I’ve been struggling to define their place in my diet. Should I get rid of anything resembling the old standbys that got me to such an unhealthy place? Only indulge on special occasions outside the house? Or would it be better to incorporate some special foods that I make myself and have control over? It is a quandary many Paleo enthusiasts address at some point. For the sake of this review, I dove in with option #3: use this very credible source to guide me in my attempts to figure out what works best for me... (Continue reading at The Paleo Parents).

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sticky Bun Cake

I have been in love with these Cinnamon Bun Muffins since the day I discovered them a couple years ago. I have made them countless times to rave reviews. Over time, I've tweaked the recipe several different ways but often following mostly as-is, using maple syrup and no nuts to make a straight-up cinnamon bun taste sensation. Lately, since I'm doing my Keto experiment, I have been playing around with using only just enough caloric sweetener to get the flavor profile, while filling out the sweetness with either Swerve or Stevia. Cute man hates this but tolerates it in some recipes but not others. When making this one, he did not notice so score one for the home team! All in all, the fewer baked things I eat, the better for my fat loss goals, but I enjoy being able to live a little without completely blowing it.

As for the caloric sweeteners, after reading about the GAPS Diet, I'm doing my best to avoid maple syrup in favor of honey. It has to do with the former being a disaccharide made out of two bonded sugar molecules, which are harder to digest, thus making it further down the digestive process to then be food for the "bad" bacteria in our guts (aka nasty beasties). Honey is considered a monosaccharide, which digests more quickly and is bio-available to us as opposed to the nasty beasties. This doesn't make 100% sense to me, because doesn't honey have both fructose and glucose aka two different sugars? Maybe they're not bonded or something; I don't really know and can't seem to find a satisfactory explanation anywhere. So, if you understand, please explain it to me. I am missing my maple syrup like crazy!

Moving on... I knew honey tasted differently, but I'm finding that it's usually not the flavor profile I'm looking for. As a result, I started looking for things in which I would purposely use honey... When I looked at this recipe again, I realized I could use the honey option and add pecans for more of a sticky bun as opposed to cinnamon bun flavor. I also adjusted it to be a cake, not muffins and changed the liquid measurements to compensate for not using the full amount of honey. I normally don't reprint others' recipes unless there is a significant change. I think I've met that threshold here, but please visit the original recipe for more inspiration and to support the author's work. I've also reviewed her cookbook on the Paleo Parents' site.  

Here is how it shaped up for me:

Sticky Bun Cake
Makes 8 servings

For the Cake
1/2 cup of coconut flour
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 cup of Swerve (can use 1 teaspoon of Stevia)
4 eggs

For the Sticky Topping
2 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter (can use ghee or coconut oil)
4 tablespoons of honey
1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 cup of chopped pecans

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Mix all the cake's dry ingredients together.
  • Add the egg and coconut milk, mixing to combine.
  • Pour into a greased baking pan (like from this set or an 8 inch round)
  • For the topping, melt butter in a 2 cup glass measuring cup in the microwave or on the stove.
  • Add remaining ingredients and stir.
  • Pour over the cake batter and swirl the surface with a knife.
  • Pop the cake into the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until a knife comes out cleanly when you poke it.
  • Let cool a bit (if you can) and enjoy :)
  • To store, you can leave it out, covered, at room temperature for a few days or put it in the fridge to extend it to a week (I hear, but never experienced it lasting that long!

Healthy Amelia

Friday, December 6, 2013

Loving Leftovers

I know I've mentioned this a bunch of times already, but I am really having fun with my Spiral Slicer. As a result, I've been noodling up a bunch of zucchini each week and then mixing and matching them with Italian, Asian, and other miscellaneous types of sauces with various veggies and proteins. I have yet to get bored! 

Between all the noodling and my other cooking exploits, my fridge has been quite stocked lately. I've taken to using these BPA-free, freezer-safe containers in addition to my regular Rubbermaid Set (although, if I were to buy these again now, I'd go with the glass version). I keep a little Sharpie and these awesome Post-it Label Pads in a drawer in the kitchen so I can easily mark the food and date on each container. This cuts way down on the mystery food phenomenon in which the food just sits there and I'm never sure if it's still good. There's something about these bright cheery labels identifying the contents that makes me actually eat pretty much everything before it goes bad. It takes just an extra few seconds to mark the container and it's working like a charm. 

At the risk of looking like a crazy person, here is a shot of my fridge from a little while ago. It's almost empty now, due to having gobbled these contents!