Christmas Quinoa

In the mountains of Western Pennsylvania it gets cold. I mean, really cold. This past weekend was no exception. It was cold, blustery, snowy, and icy. Did I mention that the day before was sunny and 70? At any rate, it’s good weather (the cold stuff) to have the church Thanksgiving dinner because it gets you in the mood for the warmth and comfort Thanksgiving brings. It is one of my very favorite holidays where friends and family can gather, talk, eat a meal, and enjoy one another. The time spent with loved ones is a treasure to be held and cared for. Do me a favor, don’t talk politics or other controversial topics…just be in the moment and enjoy the company of those around you.

At any rate, our church’s Thanksgiving dinner is a wonderful time of feasting, fun, and fellowship. Many bring a covered dish and the church provides turkey, ham, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. This year I decided to bring quinoa salad. I have a few favorite quinoa recipes in my holster and this may be one of the best! It is fresh and light while bringing in some holiday flavors.

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Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a whole grain packed with nutrients. It is best known for having tons of protein and even more than that it is a complete protein meaning it has all of the amino acids (what makes up protein) that you need! Cool huh?! Besides protein, quinoa also contains fiber, iron, omega-3’s, and many vitamins and minerals. It’s fairly flavorless unless toasted which helps it to pair well with most food. Because it is gluten free, you can substitute quinoa for pasta, barley, bulgur, or farro in other dishes.

This ancient grain is one of my favorites to make and as a bonus, it only takes about 15-20 minutes to cook. Warm or cold quinoa can be eaten warm with a meal or as a cold salad. Like this recipe, it goes well with fruit or can be part of a tangy or savory side dish.

One of the most important steps to this dish is super simple but adds so much flavor. Toasting the quinoa. I was told by a seasoned chef that you can toast any grain to bring out a nutty, more flavorful version of that grain. There are a few things you should know about toasting any grain; first you need to warm the pan over medium high heat. After the pan is warm simply add the grain, in our case quinoa. The grain will warm up and start to smell nutty. Quinoa will let you know when it’s toasting by hearing “pops”. Simply let it pop for a minute and then add broth or water (see instructions on the back), turn the heat on high, and allow the water to boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and let the quinoa cook and soak in all of the liquid which takes about 15-20 minutes.

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The rest of the recipe is chopping, mixing, and pouring. Easy peasy and tastes amazing!

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Christmas Quinoa (keen-wah)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups red quinoa (if you can’t find red, white is fine)
  • 5 stalks celery chopped (cut up the leaves as well)
  • 8 green onions chopped (if you can’t find them use 1/2 red onion)
  • 1 cup parsley finely chopped (flat leaf or curly)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup chopped dried cranberries

Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing (use this on everything…it’s sooo good!)

  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup canola or olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 2 lemons

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Directions:

  1. Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl. Whisk together and set aside until the quinoa salad is ready. This marries all of the flavors together. Yum!
  2. Toast the quinoa. Place a large pan over medium high heat until the pan is warm (not hot). Place quinoa in warmed pan and wait until the quinoa starts popping. Stir continuously until the quinoa pops for a minute or it starts to smell nutty. Do not leave the quinoa during this point or you will burn it!
  3. Once the quinoa is popping and nutty add 4 cups of water, turn the heat to high, and allow the quinoa to boil. Once it starts boiling turn down the heat and let the quinoa simmer for 15-20 minutes until the quinoa soaks up the water. (follow the package directions minus the toasting and letting the water boil before putting the quinoa into it)
  4. Let the quinoa cool for a few minutes and then place in a large bowl. Add the celery, onions, parsley, walnuts, and cranberries.
  5. Pour the dressing over the mixture and toss lightly until the dressing is distributed evenly.
  6. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

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NOTES:

  • This is definitely a good make ahead dish. You can make it ahead the day before and the flavors will marry and become irresistible!
  • You can make this salad with any number of grains including (but not limited to) brown rice, wild rice, barley, bulgur, wheat berries, and farro.
  • Nut allergy? Not to worry! Try sunflower seeds or shelled pumpkin seeds instead for an added crunch.
  • Like a little more dressing? Just double the batch and save excess for salads later on!

FOOD ALERTS: Contains nuts. Gluten free, dairy free, egg free, soy free.

Try it. Let me know how you like it or if you did something to make it your own!

Food For Your Face

One of my readers asked a question that many of us have either thought of, googled, or tried…can I eat differently to help my complexion? The answer is…possibly! What we eat feeds every cell in our body. We are either eating to help our cells or what we are eating may actually be hurting our cells. There are a few questions we need to be asking: what should I eat to help my complexion and what foods could I be using topically (meaning on your face) to help my complexion?

Let’s start with what to eat. Here’s a list of the top 5 things you should be eating to help you complexion:

  1. Fats…but not just any fats! UNSATURATED fats, especially omega-3 fats. Unsaturated fats are found mostly in plant sources (olive oil, canola oil, olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin, sunflower). Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in plants as well as cold water fish. High sources of omega-3 fats are found in canola oil, walnuts, pecans, GROUND (and then refrigerated) flax seeds, chia seeds, salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines. Eat up!
  2. Foods with vitamin C: citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli/cauliflower, and leafy greens. Vitamin C is one of the building blocks for skin cells and it also helps to protect yourself from sun damage when you eat it.
  3. Foods with vitamin E: this wonder vitamin works similar to vitamin C in protecting your skin cells from damage. Nuts, seeds, oils, greens, and asparagus are all great sources of vitamin E.
  4. Foods with Biotin: Biotin is a B-vitamin and just like C and E is used as a building block of skin cells. Fun fact: your body makes a small amount of biotin! Cool right? But we still need more through our diet so shoot for foods like bananas, oatmeal, eggs, almonds, and peanuts/peanut butter.
  5. Foods with zinc: just like the rest of them we need zinc for upkeep on those skin cells. Research also shows that people who have a zinc deficiency are also more prone to acne. Zinc is found in animal sources like shell fish, red meat, and poultry.

IMPORTANT: I do not recommend taking a supplement for these vitamins or minerals unless you talk to your doctor or a dietitian. It is much better to get these vitamins and minerals through food because your body uses them more effectively. Remember that vitamins and minerals in supplement form are usually made in a laboratory with synthetic material not food.

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Top 5 things you may want to limit to help your complexion:

  1. Processed foods: boxed, highly processed foods have less nutrients than whole foods like grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, meats, and oils. Although it may fill your belly it may be emptying your nutrient reserves.
  2. Sugar: diets high in sugar and too high in carbohydrates may bring blood sugars up which releases insulin. Studies have shown that the more insulin released the more prone people may be to acne. Cut back on sugar (flavored creamer, candy, cookies, cakes pies, sodas) and eat carbohydrates in moderation (because they are definitely good to eat but eating too much of anything isn’t a good thing).
  3. Saturated fats: fats found in animal meats, butter, sour cream, cream cheese, and other animal products have saturated fats. These fats are what we call “inflammatory” fats meaning that they cause inflammation in the body. Too much inflammation can cause skin issues as well as other problems inside the body. Get more “good fats” and less saturated fats.
  4. Food irritants: some foods like strawberries, oranges, tomatoes, vinegar, avocado, some pit fruits, and others have been known to cause topical dermatitis meaning that if these foods touch the skin it can irritate it. If you think you may be affected by different foods it may be worth a trip to a dermatologist or an allergist just to make sure.
  5. Food allergens: shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and gluten can all cause skin irritations. If you feel you have a food allergy please contact your doctor immediately to get tested.

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Feel like a spa retreat right in your own home? Here are some foods that you can actually put on skin to help improve your complexion.

  1. Apple cider vinegar: some people think this magical wonder is a cure all. The jury is still out for me but I use it every single day and it does have anti-bacterial/viral/fungal properties. I think it is important to use the apple cider vinegar with “mother” which is a film of good bacteria that helps in digestion and may help topically on your face. Mix the vinegar with water (1:3 vinegar to water ratio) and apply to your face as a cleanser.
  2. Lemons with oil: mix freshly squeezed lemons with your favorite oil (canola, almond, even coconut) and place on your face. You’ll be getting both vitamin C and vitamin E directly on to your skin which has shown to be beneficial.
  3. Avocado: this wonderful fruit is great for eating and for wearing! Smash up the avocado and apply it directly to your face. It helps if you puree it (add some lemon juice too).
  4. Anti-microbial foods: yogurt, honey, cinnamon, garlic, tea tree oil (not a food but a super anti-microbial) are all good for your face. One note about garlic and tea tree oil is they need diluted or they may cause more irritation on your skin. You can dilute them with an oil.
  5. Baking soda: it is a natural antiseptic meaning it can clean skin of bacteria. Mix a little baking soda with water, apple cider vinegar, or lemon and go to town. This will also help to exfoliate dead skin cells which could help to clear pores.

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The take away from this post is that yes, some food can help your complexion while some foods can potentially hurt it. Eating better is always the best recommendation I can make to anyone. Start where you are and make it better step by step. The facial masks are fun but you’ll be better off helping your skin from the inside out!

Calories don’t exist on your birthday and other things I want you to know

With all the fixes and diets and guilt about food there are some things I want you to know about eating to simplify your life. These are just a few things I’ve picked out from a list a mile long, but are my favorite. Enjoy!

  1. Calories do not count on your birthday. It’s your birthday! Just celebrate another year of life that God gave you! Go out to eat, get what you want most (not what has the least amount of calories), and for the love of food, eat cake or pie or ice cream or whatever gets you going for your birthday. Celebrate! Now, the days before and the days after should be like any other day but on your day, stop worrying and seize the moment!
  2. Be picky about what you eat. Listen, if you don’t like something don’t waste your calories on it. Seriously. There’s nothing less satisfying than eating a dull rendition of food just to eat it. Yuck. I don’t care if that bran cereal has 25% of your daily fiber needs if it is gross, get your fiber from somewhere else throughout your day. Similarly if its really high in calories but tastes bad, don’t waste those calories!
  3. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If the diets you’ve been on in the past do not lead to life long weight loss THEY DON’T WORK. Sure they help you lose weight temporarily but if it is not feasible enough for you to stick with it for the rest of your life, it wasn’t a good diet and it didn’t work. An overall healthy diet, that is feasible for you to do for the rest of your life, is the secret to well-being.
  4. Choose one thing about your diet to change at a time. Instead of saying “I’m starting my healthy diet today” and doing a complete 180 revamp, just choose one change to focus on and stick with it. Once you have that down, move on to your next goal. Work on each goal for about 1 week until you feel confident that you can put something else on your plate. Having 3-4 changes in a month instead of 10 changes all at once is a lot easier to chew on. I call that the diet snowball or the nutrition snow ball. I don’t take all the credit, my husband coined the term 🙂
  5. Find what is motivating you from the inside. So you want to eat better. So what? What are you wanting from your diet? What about a better diet is important to you? It probably has nothing to do with diet and everything to do with what you find important in your life. THAT will keep you motivated. Write it down and put it in places where you will see it. Refrigerator, dashboard, computer at work, bathroom mirror, or make it the wallpaper on your phone.

A healthy diet or lifestyle isn’t about a bunch of rules, it’s about what works for you for the rest of your life. Change should be gradual. Start with what you want, make small changes to get to your goals, make sure your changes are feasible to continue for the rest of your life, don’t eat just to eat, and for the love of food just enjoy your birthday without worrying about calories!

Final thoughts: fad diets, exercise programs that “sell” nutrition, and people who claim to be experts are the quint-essential food rule makers. RED FLAGS!

Challenge – set a small goal for yourself this week. Want to drink more water? Pick an amount to strive towards. Want to eat breakfast instead of skipping it? Find something you enjoy eating (my personal favorite is hard boiled eggs!). Want to fit in more veggies? Start by having a serving for lunch and for dinner. Before you know it you’ll be a master at the change you’ve made and can start making more!