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Garcinia Cambogia, The New Super food Wave Hitting Singapore?

Green Garcinia cambogia

This new found fruit has seen a rise in consumption in Singapore. It is mostly ingested in a pill form and is said to have many different benefits, including weight loss.

What is it?

Garcinia cambogia is a tropical fruit native to South and South-east Asia that is very commonly used in Asian recipes. It is green, rather small (the size of an apple), and is pumpkin shaped. It is well known for its sour taste. In the late 1960s, an acid (hydroxycitric acid) has been discovered in the fruit’s rind, which has been found to provide many benefits, such as appetite reduction, improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels, increased weight loss, and mood enhancement.

How does hydroxycitric acid work?

Hydroxycitric acid (HCA) was discovered over four decades ago, and since then studies have shown that it provides many benefits for humans. HCA seems to inhibit citrate lyase, an enzyme that is used by the body to produce fat out of carbohydrates. HCA blocks a portion of this enzyme, making it more difficult for the body to turn starches and sugars into fat. This means that rather than be accumulated as fat, carbohydrates are diverted into energy production.

What are the benefits of garcinia cambogia?

As discussed above, one of the benefits of garcinia cambogia is less energy being stored as fat, which means that it should (and does) aid weight loss. One recent study by Dr. Harry Preuss of Georgetown University Medical Center showed that participants HCAHCA lost significantly more weight than those using placebo. In another study, also by Dr. Preuss, those not supplementing HCA lost an average of 3.5 pounds, whereas those that did supplement HCA, lost an average of 10.5 pounds.

Maple Vanilla Quinoa Porridge with Fresh Figs

Maple Vanilla Quinoa Porridge with Fresh Figs

Porridges are my go-to breakfast all year round, so it seems a little silly for me to make a special to-do about them as we head into September. But I think there’s something special about a bowl of warm cereal on a cool, crisp autumn morning–a particular kind of comfort and satisfaction.

New York was hot and muggy at the start of this week, but when I woke up and stepped outside this morning it was dry and cool and brightly sunny. In spite of the fact that there are plenty more hot days in store, I can’t help feeling fall in the air. This makes it a particularly appropriate day to be sharing the delicious vanilla maple quinoa porridge you see above. And it’s a great day to be telling you all about the decadent maple cream that makes this recipe special–courtesy of Roxbury Mountain Maple.

Maple Vanilla Quinoa Porridge with Fresh Figs

Early this summer, the Holscher family, who owns Roxbury Mountain Maple in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, reached out to me. As it turns out, they’ve been reading Choosing Raw for a while, and they have a special interest in vegan blogs generally, since many of their maple products are particularly well suited to vegan diets.

Maple Vanilla Quinoa Porridge with Fresh Figs

Conventional sugar isn’t part of a vegan diet because it’s typically bleached and refined with bone char. Among unrefined sweeteners, honey, which is featured in many health foods and products, is also not vegan. Vegans have plenty of alternative sweetening options, including organic cane or demerara sugar, coconut syrup and sugar, brown rice syrup, pitted medjool dates, and agave.

Among syrup sweeteners, maple syrup is most definitely my personal favorite; I love its characteristic flavor and versatility. Roxbury Mountain Maple sells plenty of maple syrup, but it’s also famous for it’s remarkable maple cream.

Maple Vanilla Quinoa Porridge with Fresh Figs

I was first introduced to maple cream by Angela, who brought me a Canadian sample when we met up for coffee at Vida Vegan II. In spite of the fact that I spent chunks of my childhood in New Hampshire, I had never tasted maple cream before, and I was instantly hooked on its incredible sweetness and rich texture.

Maple cream is actually a form of maple syrup–maple syrup that’s been boiled down and reduced into a spreadable, pale colored cream. It’s so much more delectable than the regular syrup, if you ask me, and it’s ideal for spreading on toast, drizzling onto fresh granola and fruit, whipping into frosting, or–best of all–spooning into warm oatmeal or other porridge. The Roxbury brand is great, and you’ll have a chance to win some for yourself in my giveaway below. But you can try your hand at making maple cream, too, using Food52’s tutorial.

 Maple Vanilla Quinoa Porridge with Fresh Figs

In this recipe, I’ve chosen to pair the flavor of maple syrup and cream with vanilla and one of the season’s most wonderful treats: figs.

Maple Vanilla Quinoa Porridge with Fresh Figs

I’ve only recently come to relish fresh figs (I’ve loved the dry ones for a good long time), and right now, while they’re abundant, I’m taking any opportunity to make them the shining ingredient in salads, toast, and breakfast bowls. It’s hard not to love the subtle sweetness and the bright, beautiful color they add to recipes. I used brown Turkish figs in this recipe because they’re what I found, but you could certainly use black mission figs or Calimyrna figs instead–whatever you can get your hands on locally.

Maple Vanilla Quinoa Porridge with Fresh Figs

I love this recipe because it’s easy, but it feels like a special treat. Quinoa is such a nutrient dense and satisfying grain to eat in the morning, and it cooks up quickly. I also like this porridge because the quinoa and figs give it a light, bright touch–it’s a perfect hot cereal to transition with as we move from warm to cooler weather. Sweet vanilla and maple flavors, coupled with some optional crunchy toppings (like toasted coconut flakes or nuts) seal the deal. Here’s the recipe.

Maple Vanilla Quinoa Porridge with Fresh Figs

Maple Vanilla Quinoa Porridge with Fresh Figs (gluten free)

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups almond milk, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Tiny pinch salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 4 heaping teaspoons maple cream (substitute additional maple syrup)
  • 4 figs, quartered or sliced lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, almonds, or coconut flakes (optional)

Instructions

  1. Rinse the quinoa through a fine sieve for about a minute. Place the quinoa, almond milk, water, salt, cinnamon stick, vanilla, and maple syrup in a medium sized pot. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the quinoa from heat and allow it to rest for about ten minutes.
  2. Transfer the quinoa into four serving bowls. Top each with an extra splash of almond milk, along with a heaping teaspoon of maple cream, a sliced fig, and a tablespoon of toasted nuts or coconut. Serve, topped with extra cinnamon if desired. Leftover porridge will keep for up to three days in an airtight container in the fridge.
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http://www.choosingraw.com/maple-vanilla-quinoa-porridge-with-fresh-figs/

The recipe is easy to adapt with other fruits–and I’m sure I’ll be doing that when figs are out of season. Try using chopped pear or apple, fresh citrus sections, berries, or sliced banana. You can also vary the spices a little–both cardamom and ginger would be nice additions!

Maple Vanilla Quinoa Porridge with Fresh Figs

The porridge is fairly filling on its own, but to make this an even more substantial breakfast or brunch option you could pear it with a light green smoothie or additional fresh fruit.

Maple Vanilla Quinoa Porridge with Fresh Figs

Now for the fun part of this post: the folks at Roxbury Mountain Maple have been kind enough to offer an awesome sweetener giveaway package to one Choosing Raw reader! The company is really trying to get the word about their maple products out to vegans and other folks who are trying to focus more on natural sweeteners. A few more facts about Roxbury Mountain Maple:

•Set in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, Roxbury Mountain Maple has been providing the region’s finest, purest maple syrup since March 2011.
•Roxbury Mountain Maple is a new adventure on an old farm—an old farm with fifty acres of sugar maples. Years ago, some of the trees were tapped by hand and the sap was boiled down in an old sugarhouse that now serves as a bicycle shed.
•Roxbury Mountain Maple is a family operation. From the owner, Dave Holscher, to the youngest of his eight children, Joel, nearly everyone in the Holscher family is involved, either in the preparation of the facility or the production of the syrup.

In addition to the heavenly maple cream and several varieties of maple syrup, the company also produces granulated maple sugar. This product is brand new product to me, and I think you guys will love it–sprinkling it lightly on any food imparts a distinct maple syrup and light sweetness, and it’s perfect as a baking substitute.

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If you want to read more about Roxbury Mountain Maple and what the company’s up to, you can check out the Roxbury Mountain Maple website. If you’re ready to check out some maple cream and sugar for yourself, the easiest place to find Roxbury Mountain Maple products is the company’s convenient Amazon store. There, you’ll find the maple cream, the maple sugar, and the company’s stellar grade B maple syrup. If you’re in the New York area, you can also find Roxbury Mountain Maple at the Union Square Farmer’s market, or you can visit the sugarhouse and farm in Hobart, NY.

Want to try Roxbury maple cream and maple sugar for yourself? Enter below to win:

•One container of pure, Grade B maple syrup
•Two 16 ounce and one eight ounce tubs of pure maple cream
•One large shaker of maple sugar

The giveaway is open to US residents only, and it’ll run for two weeks. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And in the meantime, I hope you’ll all soon be digging your spoons into this nutritious and wonderfully sweet breakfast bowl. A note to fellow students and all of you who bring breakfast to work: leftovers of the quinoa porridge keep really nicely. Just store your toppings separately, warm it, and put it all together when you’re ready to dig in!

Maple Vanilla Quinoa Porridge with Fresh Figs

Have a wonderful end of the week, and I’ll see you all on Sunday for weekend reading.

xo

This post is generously sponsored by Roxbury Mountain Maple. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Totally Addictive Creamy Cashew Carrot Dressing

Totally addictive creamy cashew carrot dressing

Last summer and this summer, my boyfriend and I made a journey to Provincetown, to visit his family. Among P-Town’s many charms–long stretches of beach, restaurants and shops aplenty, a cluster of fantastic coffee shops, bustling nightlife–is 141 Market on Bradford Street, a small but richly stocked market that features organic produce, foods prepared by local artisans, and a huge array of fresh, in-house made salads, soups, and hot bar items. Steven and I love stopping by for casual lunches; the food is reliably delicious.

A few weeks ago, I picked up a beet, carrot and kale salad at 141 that featured a creamy cashew carrot dressing. I’m pretty fanatical about dressings, and I tend to have high standards, so it’s no small matter to say that I couldn’t stop raving about how tasty this dressing was. When Steven tried it, he was equally impressed, and we said that I’d have to try my hand at recreating it at home.

Totally addictive creamy cashew carrot dressing

While the dressing I’m sharing today isn’t an exact replica of the 141 concoction, it’s similar. At the least, it captures that dressing’s creamy texture and wonderfully sweet/salty flavor. Sweet and salty tends to be my salad dressing default, so forgive me if this recipe feels overly familiar. But it’s really wonderful, and I hope I can entice you to give it a try.

Totally addictive creamy cashew carrot dressing

Beneath every great salad dressing is a great salad, of course, and so I wanted to share a new salad bowl recipe along with the carrot cashew mixture that inspired this post. I settled on a nutrient dense combination of cooked quinoa and chickpeas, baby kale, carrots, beets, raisins, and green onions. It’s colorful, full of texture, and satisfying–everything I love for a salad to be!

Totally addictive creamy cashew carrot dressing

Totally Addictive Creamy Cashew Carrot Dressing and Quinoa Bowl (gluten free)

Yield: 2 salad bowls; 1 1/2 cups dressing

Ingredients

    For the Salad Bowl:
  • 3-4 cups baby kale (or baby spinach, arugula, or any other type of dark salad green)
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 cup shredded beet
  • 2 tablespoons raisins or currants
  • 2/3 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa (I used a combination of red and white)
  • 1 green onion, tops only, chopped
  • For the Creamy Cashew Carrot Dressing:
  • 3/4 cup cashews, soaked for at least two hours and up to overnight, drained
  • 3/4 cup carrot juice (any organic brand, such as Odwalla, is great, or if you can get fresh carrot juice at a juice bar or make it at home, go for it!)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons low sodium tamari
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (optional; will create a silkier texture)
  • 1 pitted medjool date (substitute 1 tablespoon agave or maple syrup)
  • 1 small clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 inch piece ginger, roughly chopped

Instructions

  1. To prepare the dressing, put all ingredients into a powerful blender and blend until smooth. Dressing will make about 1 1/2 cups.
  2. To prepare the salad, divide all ingredients into two bowls. Drizzle with dressing (about 3 tablespoons each). Serve. Dressing will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.
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http://www.choosingraw.com/totally-addictive-creamy-cashew-carrot-dressing/

Of course, this bowl is only a suggestion. The carrot cashew dressing will work wonderfully as a dip or a dressing for any salad that you love. You’ll taste the ginger, but the amount I used was relatively moderate, so that other flavors could shine through.

Totally addictive creamy cashew carrot dressing

I have a feeling that this bowl is going to be a new staple for me, and I’m glad I made a lot of quinoa and chickpeas this week while I was testing the recipe, because it means that I get to enjoy leftovers all week long.

As for the dressing…well, there’s a reason I titled this post the way I did. Just try not to drink this stuff by the spoonful when it’s fresh from the blender.

Totally addictive creamy cashew carrot dressing

Enjoy the salad and the dressing, separately or together. If you use the dressing on another salad bowl, I’d love to hear about it. And I’ll be back on Thursday with a sweet new giveaway (literally!). Till soon!

xo

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Biotin

We’ve just updated our page on Biotin, an essential vitamin, also known as vitamin B7. It was discovered in a yeast culture at the same time as several other B-vitamins.

Biotin was initially researched in the context of skin and hair health, and today it is almost exclusively sold as a dietary supplement marketed to improve skin, nail, and hair quality. However, biotin is plentiful in food and rarely needs to be supplemented.

Apart from removing all food containing biotin from your diet (which makes it nigh impossible to maintain a healthy diet) the only way to cause a biotin deficiency is by eating excessive raw egg whites. Egg whites contain a protein called avidin, which is destroyed when the egg is cooked. Avidin binds to biotin and eliminates it from the intestines before it is absorbed.

At the moment, biotin does not have much evidence to support its use as an aesthetics supplement. Though it is biologically possible that increasing biotin intake or normalizing a deficiency could improve nail, hair, and skin quality, there is only one study to date to support this claim. This study found that women supplementing 2.5 mg of biotin over six months experienced improved nail health, as they were suffering from brittle and splitting nails. There are no strong studies to suggest healthy people supplementing biotin would experience any benefits.

There is preliminary evidence to suggest biotin could have a mild anti-diabetic effect. Much more research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

Biotin is an essential vitamin, but it’s an underwhelming dietary supplement. There is very little evidence to support its use as a health and beauty supplement.

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Weekend Reading, 8.23.15

Choosing-Raw-Weekend-Reading-

Happy Sunday, everyone. It’s so hard to believe that we’re headed into the last days of August–the summer months always seem to fly by. I’m gearing up for my first full semester of my R.D. program, which means reconfiguring my work/client schedule, and also trying to keep up with publication of Food52 Vegan. September will be busy, but full of exciting things!

Here are the recipes and reads that I’ve been digging into this weekend.

vegan-9-2015_08_17_avocado-toast-chickpeas_9999_75avo-toast-chickpeas

First up, comfort food snacking, courtesy of my friend Kathy. Her avocado toast with spiced chickpeas is something I could eat just about every day, morning, noon, or night!

Hummus_Pizza_Tartletts_3

On the topic of chickpeas, I love these hummus pizza tartlets from Florian of Contentedness Cooking. They look super fancy, but the recipe is actually really simple.

warm+fingerling+potatoes+w-+garlic-turmeric+sauce+-+dolly+and+oatmeal

A beautiful and hearty side dish from Dolly and Oatmeal: warm fingerling potatoes with garlic turmeric sauce. I love the splash of color from chives, black sesame seeds, and red cabbage. This would pair so well with grilled veggies, massaged kale, or perhaps some barbecue tofu!

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A super vibrant and flavorful meal from Sobremesa: carrot coconut curry with crispy tofu. A perfect dinner for any time of year.

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Finally, a decadent chocolate dessert, courtesy of Jodi of What’s Cooking Good Looking. The cupcakes are stuffed with a spiced cherry filling and topped with a rich chocolate ganache–all 100% vegan. Need I say more?

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The first read is a cardiology fellow’s perspective on failures in care for patients with heart disease. I was interested to read his thoughts on the gaps between palliative care offered to cancer patients and palliative care offered to those with cardiovascular disease, who very seldom are given a chance to spend their final days at home.

mesh_brain_primary

On a slightly more hopeful note, a cool article about four new advances in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease. These are still novel approaches, but their discovery points to a bright horizon for Alzheimer’s patients and their families.

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Many studies have demonstrated that animal agriculture has a grave impact on the environment. I was interested to read about a new study examining the relationship between animal farming and loss of the Earth’s biodiversity. The article, published in Science of the Total Environment, suggests that animal agriculture is “the single biggest threat to much of the world’s flora and fauna.”

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The Atlantic featured an interesting article this week with Siobhan Mor, who is the co-author of a new study underscoring the potential benefits of studying wildlife health as a means of preventing pandemics in the human population. Mor’s assertion is that a huge number of infectious diseases originate among cattle, livestock, or wild animals, and yet we rarely study or investigate them until there is a human outbreak. Observing/studying diseases that are transmitted between animal populations may help to prevent outbreaks before they happen–and help animals, too. I was concerned that the article might prevent destruction of animal populations as a form of preventive control, but Rom is actually subtly critical of human behaviors regarding animal life. She says,

[T]he reality is, we need to realign our goals. It’s not about eradicating the animals that have the disease; it’s about managing our behaviors and our interactions with those animals. A lot of human diseases that originated in wildlife have actually stemmed from human activity. We’ve cleared [much of] the earth’s surface in order to make way for our domestic animals and urban environments, and to produce our food supplies. So that obviously had a massive impact on wild species that have lost their habitats, and that means two things. It means domestic animals are in closer contact with the wildlife species, because they’re effectively moving into the wild habitats. But also, for displaced wildlife, it means that they’re in search of other areas to find food and shelter. It means that wildlife are now potentially in urban environments as well…it’s not about necessarily controlling a disease in wildlife. It’s about being more conscientious about our impact on wildlife and when we’re encroaching on their habitats, and modifying our behaviors around them.”

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Finally, an interesting article in Aeon about the idea of introducing food/cuisine into the cultural canon. Traditionally, certain genres of visual and performing art have been considered “canonical,” whereas food has been considered part of a folk or pop tradition. This article asks,

[C]an we have a canon of taste? Can we approach cuisine as we do architectural restoration, classical music or great masterworks of art? Above all, can they bring lost flavors to people who consider the culinary pursuit an art?”

The author of the article, Jill Neimark, seems to think so, and she profiles a number of chefs and gastronomes who are on a mission to introduce artisanal techniques and recipes and heirloom seeds–foods that capture terroir–into our cultural canon. One needn’t be a professional foodie for this cause to resonate. I like Neimark’s thoughts on eating an heirloom apple variety near her home, in Georgia:

Last summer, I stopped by a white-frame house on a curving, shady lane by Lake Allatoona in Georgia. A stately apple tree stood out front. The owner had set out a roadside stand with baskets of fresh Granny Smith apples laid upon white towels. I took 10 scarred, unpolished, unshining, lopsided green apples and left a dollar. I ate them all in a single day and went back for 10 more. Those apples were like the famed wrinkle in time that lets you step instantly across light years. I merged with my child self, tasting a tart and succulent fruit with indescribable base notes and top notes that I could never put into words. My apple. My childhood. My forgotten self.

All commercial apples, including Granny Smiths, have been hybridised to a sugary monotone that has turned them into an Andy Warhol version of themselves, without the artist’s clever humour. I hate today’s apples. I am not a chef. I am not a curator of cuisines. I don’t read cookbooks. And yet I know exactly what Shields, Roberts, Barber and Adrià are after. I think we all do.”

Enjoy the articles, everyone. Also, if you’re looking for more health/food/environment/science reads, check out Wired‘s list of the 27 best science feeds (Twitter, blogs, etc.). It’s a wonderful roundup of a lot of great voices–I can’t wait to explore them in detail.

Happy Sunday, and I’ll return soon, with food :-)

xo

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Creamy Polenta with Barbecue Tofu and Mango and Heirloom Tomato Salsa

Creamy Polenta with Barbecue Tofu and Mango and Heirloom Tomato Salsa

This is a copycat version of a dinner I made last summer, right before Steven and I moved home to New York. It was barbecue tofu served over a creamy bed of polenta. I’d glazed the tofu in a thick, sweet mango barbecue sauce (something I’d found at the local farmer’s market). Steven was enchanted with it, and even though I resolved to make it again the following summer, I’ve forgotten about it until just recently. Finding some sweet, ataulfo mangos this week reminded me.

Creamy Polenta with Barbecue Tofu and Mango and Heirloom Tomato Salsa

As is often the case when I repeat a recipe (especially when I never wrote them down in the first place), I made some tweaks when I repeated this dish yesterday evening. Rather than using a mango barbecue sauce, I used a half batch of the simple (and delicious) barbecue sauce that I used last week in my barbecue zucchini and chickpea tacos.

Creamy Polenta with Barbecue Tofu and Mango and Heirloom Tomato Salsa

The sauce turned out to be a perfect marinade for barbecue baked tofu. Regardless of whether I serve it over polenta, in a wrap, or as a side dish, I’ll definitely be preparing tofu this way again. It’s firm, yet tender, and bursting with flavor–a really great staple vegan protein to have in your back pocket!

Creamy Polenta with Barbecue Tofu and Mango and Heirloom Tomato Salsa

And I let fresh mango shine through by creating a quick, no fuss mango and heirloom tomato salsa. It’s perfect to serve as an accompaniment for any sort of grilling/barbecue get together: the flavors, which include not only the fruits but also basil and mint, are super light and summery. They help to brighten up an otherwise hearty meal in this particular recipe, but they’d do the same for any potluck or seasonal dinner.

Creamy Polenta with Barbecue Tofu and Mango and Heirloom Tomato Salsa

Creamy Polenta with Barbecue Tofu and Mango and Heirloom Tomato Salsa (gluten free)

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

    For the Barbecue Tofu:
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
  • 1 tablespoon low sodium tamari
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard (or 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 14 or 15-ounce block extra firm tofu
  • For the Mango and Heirloom Tomato Salsa:
  • 1 1/2 cups diced mango (1-2 mangos, pitted–I like using the small, golden ataulfo mangos for their incredible sweetness)
  • 2 cups diced heirloom or Jersey tomato
  • 1/3 cup finely diced poblano pepper (about 1 regular sized pepper)
  • 1/3 cup finely diced red onion
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon agave or maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
  • For the Creamy Polenta:
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Earth Balance or olive oil (optional)

Instructions

  1. Press the tofu between two plates or clean baking sheets for about an hour, to remove excess liquid and help it to firm up. Cut it into four pieces. Whisk together the tomato paste, 1/2 cup water, maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, tamari, vinegar, mustard, chili powder, garlic powder, and smoked paprika. Pour the barbecue sauce over the tofu, covering each piece well. Allow it to marinate for an hour, or overnight in the fridge.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Remove the four pieces of tofu from the barbecue sauce, reserving all of the sauce, and place them on the parchment. Use a brush to glaze each piece with extra barbecue sauce. Place the tofu in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Flip the pieces, brush the other side with extra sauce, and then bake for another 10 minutes (20 minutes total). Remove the tofu from the oven.
  3. To prepare the salsa, mix together the mango, tomato, pepper, onion, vinegar, maple syrup or agave, salt, basil, and mint in a mixing bowl. It can be served right away or allowed to marinate for several hours before serving (it’s easy to prepare this a day in advance of the recipe).
  4. To prepare the polenta, bring the 4 cups of water to boil in a medium sized pot. Add the polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly as you go along, as well as the salt. Reduce the heat to a very low simmer and simmer the polenta, stirring constantly, for 10-20 minutes, or until it’s thick and creamy and pulling away from the edges of the pot. Stir in the pepper and Earth Balance or olive oil, if using.
  5. To serve, divide the polenta into four bowls. Top each with a scoop (about 1/3-1/2 cup) of salsa and a piece of tofu. Leftovers will keep for up to two days in the fridge.
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http://www.choosingraw.com/creamy-polenta-with-barbecue-tofu-and-mango-and-heirloom-tomato-salsa/

As you can see, both the tofu and the salsa can be prepared in advance to streamline the process of making the recipe. When you’re ready to go, just whip up the polenta and heat up the tofu. It’s also worth saying that heirloom tomatoes aren’t necessary for the salsa — I just like working with them because they’ve got less seeds than other varieties, and they’re so flavorful.

Creamy Polenta with Barbecue Tofu and Mango and Heirloom Tomato Salsa

I’ve been hit with a little summer cold this week, so I’m busy trying to catch up on work and get rid of the sniffles. I’ll be back on Sunday for weekend reading, as always. In the meantime, enjoy the recipe!

xo

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Comfort Food: Quinoa with Garlic Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Chickpeas

Quinoa with Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Chickpeas 10

To some extent, I think of the food that I post on this blog as “comfort food,” in the sense that my recipes always grow out of personal likes and dislikes, food that feeds my spirit and makes me happy. A lot of the recipes I share these days are meals that Steven and I have enjoyed enough to repeat a few times, which means that they’re familiar and comforting to us.

But today’s recipe deserves a special “comfort food” designation, because it’s such a perfect expression of flavors and ingredients that I love and return to, again and again. I also tend to think of comfort foods as being relatively simple, or at least easy enough to prepare that we can learn the process by heart and replicate it often. In that sense, this recipe fits the bill, too.

Quinoa with Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Chickpeas 2

Ever since I made my polenta tart with garlicky white bean spread and roasted cherry tomatoes earlier this summer, I’ve been on a tomato roasting kick. It’s so easy to roast a pan of them at the start of a week and put them in various recipes, from pasta dishes to salads to grain salads. They’re also great on toast, with either homemade hummus or herbed cashew cheese as a bottom layer. And they’re wonderful, apparently, with quinoa.

Quinoa with Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Chickpeas 12

The nice thing about this recipe is that very little seasoning or fuss is needed once the tomatoes and chickpeas are roasted. They’ll absorb rich, roasted garlic flavor as they cook, and as you mix the tomatoes into the quinoa, they’ll be a little sweet and juicy, providing the grain with plenty of moisture and flavor. After that, a simple drizzle of balsamic vinegar, salt, and a sprinkle of chives is all it takes to create a vibrant, satisfying, simple bowl of whole grain goodness.

Quinoa with Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Chickpeas 11

Quinoa with Garlic Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Chickpeas (Gluten Free)

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved (about 1 1/2 pounds, or 3-4 cups)
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed well)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 head garlic
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375F. Toss all of the tomatoes and the chickpeas (it’s fine to mix them all together) in the olive oil and a generous sprinkle of salt and black pepper.
  2. Transfer the tomatoes and the chickpeas to one or two parchment-lined baking sheets (big enough to hold them all in a single layer). Break the head of garlic into cloves. Without peeling the cloves, nestle them in between the tomatoes and chickpeas on the baking sheets. Use all of the cloves. Roast the tomatoes and chickpeas for 15-25 minutes, or until the tomatoes are browning and collapsing and the chickpeas are crispy. Check them once, halfway through, gently nudging them around if they’re sticking to the parchment.
  3. While the tomatoes and chickpeas roast, rinse the quinoa through a fine sieve for about a minute. Drain the quinoa and then place it in a medium sized saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring the quinoa to a boil and reduce it to a simmer. Cover the quinoa and simmer for 15 minutes, or until all of the water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Cover it again and allow it to rest for ten minutes.
  4. Remove the garlic cloves from the roasted tomatoes and chickpeas. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked quinoa with the tomatoes, chickpeas, balsamic vinegar, and chives. Mix it all well, and then season to taste with additional salt and pepper and an extra drizzle of olive oil, as well as any additional dried or fresh herbs you like (oregano and thyme would be lovely). Serve. Quinoa will keep for up to three days in an airtight container in the fridge.
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http://www.choosingraw.com/comfort-food-quinoa-with-garlic-roasted-cherry-tomatoes-and-chickpeas/

I love it when a recipe is so simple, and yet so delicious.

Quinoa with Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Chickpeas 6

This is a perfect grain to serve to friends–you can prepare it in advance and then pair it with a summery soup, or you can use it as a side dish for grilling and barbecues. It goes really nicely with marinated, grilled tofu.

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Other vegetables would work well in the recipe, including roasted eggplant, roasted zucchini, and roasted asparagus. If balsamic isn’t your favorite flavor, fresh lemon juice or sherry vinegar also work nicely to give the grain salad a little acid.

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I should also mention that the quinoa works well either hot or cold: piping hot if you’re looking for extra comfort and warmth, chilled for a refreshing lunch or dinner side.

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Hope you’ll enjoy this recipe at some point before tomato season is behind us. I’m clinging to august produce right now, and have no intention of stopping until I have to, which means another summery recipe is on its way later this week. For now, I wish you a happy Tuesday!

xo

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Really-low-fat vs somewhat-lower-carb – a nuanced analysis

Introduction

With so many low-carb trial results rolling in each year, you might think that it’s case closed: everything there is to know is known. But there are still a few key pieces missing, and one of those pieces has just been released in the form of a six-day feeding study. Why only six days? That can’t tell us anything, right? Read on to see how revealing this study actually was, as well as what it can’t show (and likely wasn’t designed to show).

Low-carbohydrate diets have become even more popular in the past few years, bolstered by the so-called “carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis of obesity”. This hypothesis suggests that carbohydrates are the main culprit of weight gain. Things get complicated here, because there are both practical factors (e.g. going low-carb means limiting your food options, which typically makes snacking on junk food more difficult) and physiological factors at play. For the latter category, advocates claim that you can harness the power of decreased insulin levels (from carb restriction) and lose more fat due to factors such as elevated free fatty acid release from fat cells and increased fat oxidation.

Some low-carb advocates believe that carbohydrates are uniquely fattening, due to the effects of insulin. Despite a plethora of studies on low carb effects, there is still important areas left to research.

Lo and behold, both meta-analyses and long-term trials often show low carb diets to be as good or better than other diets for weight loss. However, participants usually self-report their food intake, and the longer the trial, the more likely life will get in the way. It’s a catch-22 of sorts: you want long trials to make sure the diet is sustainable, but the longer the trial the more likely there will be unwanted variations in diet.

Despite all the low-carb trials of recent years, there was still a lack of highly-controlled studies that solely altered carbs and fat in participants living in (aka stuck in) a metabolic ward. To address this issue, Kevin Hall’s team at the National Institutes of Health designed a short-term study to isolate the different effects of a restricted-fat diet versus restricted-carb diet on body weight, energy expenditure, and fat balance.

Low-carb performs fairly well for weight loss in trials over the course of months. A recent short-term study controlled several extra variables to isolate the effects of carb reduction on fat loss.

The Study

Methods

The participants were 19 obese volunteers (ten males and nine females) with no apparent disease.

All participants were required to reside within a metabolic unit, where they …

  • First received a baseline weight maintenance diet for five days before being randomized to either ….
  • The Restricted Fat group or Restricted Carbohydrate group, where caloric intake was reduced by 30% from baseline for six days, by either fat or carb reduction.

The carb levels ended up being 352 grams for Restricted Fat versus 140 for Restricted Carb, and the fat levels 17 versus 108. In other words, (moderately lower carb than typical diets) versus (oh my goodness I can count my fat gram intake on my fingers and toes!).

This trial wasn’t designed to explore a real-life 100-gram-and-under low carb diet and especially not a ketogenic diet. Rather, it was a mechanistic study designed so that they could reduce energy substantially and equally from fat or carbs, but without changing more than one macronutrient. If they lowered carbs much more in the Restricted Carb group (like under 100 grams), they’d then have to go into negative fat intake for the Restricted Fat group. And negative fat intake is impossible (*except for in quantum parallel universes). One more note: all participants kept dietary protein constant and exercised on a treadmill for an hour a day.

19 study participants spent six days in a metabolic unit, eating either a moderately low-carb diet (140 grams) or a really darn low-fat diet (17 grams). The trial used these specific levels in order to achieve isocaloric diets with large carb/fat reductions, without having to alter more than one macronutrient.

After the completion of this first phase, subjects went home for a two to four week washout period where they resumed their normal eating habits. Participants then returned to the study center to undertake the same protocol except with switched intervention groups. So those formerly in the restricted carbohydrate group would now be in the restricted fat group, and vice-versa.

This crossover design was one of the many ways in which this trial was more stringent than most previous studies (other reasons are shown in the above graphic), since crossing over eliminates much of the variability that normal randomized trials have. Randomized trials may be considered the gold standard, but this trial was a mix between gold, platinum, and titanium. Very strong, very valuable. They even had participants wear accelerometers on their hips to measure physical activity.

The crossover design was one of many rigorous aspects of the study, along with a relatively large sample size for a metabolic ward study, highly controlled variables, and multiple accurate measurement techniques.

Why not use just DXA for measuring body composition?

The primary method used to measure body composition was to calculate the difference between dietary fat intake and fat oxidation, as measured in a metabolic chamber by indirect calorimetry, which estimates the heat released by a person based on the amount of O2 they consumed and CO2 they produced over a specific period of time. While indirect calorimetry isn’t perfect, it’s accurate and reliable enough to be the standard method used to measure energy expenditure in these types of studies.

Body weight and a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scanner were also used, but the former
can’t calculate body fat, and the latter isn’t sensitive enough to detect the minute difference in body fat loss that usually occurs between eucaloric diet interventions of different macronutrients.

DXA is quite accurate for changes over the long term, but indirect calorimetry is needed for a study of this nature.

Results, limitations, and other considerations

As expected, the researchers found that the Restricted Carb diet resulted in a decrease in daily insulin secretion (by 22%) and a sustained increase in fat oxidation, whereas the Restricted Fat diet resulted in no significant change of either. Despite this, by the end of the six-day period, the Restricted Fat diet resulted in greater fat loss than did the Restricted Carb group (463g vs. 245g).

The Restricted Carb dieters also had lower energy expenditure, to the tune of 98 fewer kcal/d compared to only 50 fewer in the Restricted Fat group. This isn’t enough calories to account for the difference in fat loss though. So why exactly did the Restricted Fat group lose that much more fat than the Restricted Carb group? The paper doesn’t get into this much, but gives some hints:

“Model simulations suggest that the differences in fat loss were due to transient differences in carbohydrate balance along with persistent differences in energy and fat balance. The model
also implicated small persistent changes in protein balance resulting from the fact that dietary carbohydrates preserve nitrogen balance to a greater degree than fat”

… so their mathematical model points to a few possible minor factors, including a possible small benefit from dietary carbs benefiting protein balance. The use of this complex model to extend the results out further is interesting, as it partly compensates for having a six-day-only study (which is normal in the world of metabolic ward studies), but on the other hand the model isn’t something that is easily understandable by people other than the study authors. Maybe it’s really accurate, maybe it’s not.

“Very low carbohydrate diets were predicted to result in fat losses comparable to low fat diets. Indeed, the model simulations suggest that isocaloric reduced-energy diets over a wide range of carbohydrate and fat content would lead to only small differences in body fat and energy expenditure over extended durations.”

… ah, so if the researchers were able to reduce carbs to a much lower level (which they couldn’t, due to the study design factors described earlier), the diets would have actually led to similar weight loss. That makes those “New Study Shows Low-Carb Failure!” headlines sound a bit silly. If you take a really-darn-low-fat diet like the Restricted Fat diet, and compare it to a very-low-carb diet, you’re comparing two extreme diets and are more likely to get some metabolic advantage. Our bodies are typically accustomed to a somewhat balanced mix of fuel, and extreme macronutrient diets can probably game the system a bit for a modicum of extra fat loss.

More importantly, the authors put the results really important context: the differences in body fat loss between a wide range of different carb intakes are predicted to be very small (although the Restricted Fat diet was predicted to sustain its slight advantage over the course of months). This study wasn’t meant to demonstrate that low(ish) carbs are bad or low-fat is good, it was simply testing the hypothesis that carb reduction provides some secret sauce for fat loss in highly controlled conditions.

Surprisingly, the paper doesn’t mention the term “glycogen” even once. The study participants did an hour of incline treadmill a day, and since they had an average BMI around 36, that could mean a decent amount of glycogen burn with prolonged activity at a high body weight. So if liver and muscle glycogen happened to be relatively more depleted in the Restricted Carb group (since they replenished glycogen less by fewer dietary carbs), that might mean less fat loss in the short run, which may not apply as much to the long run when glycogen is in a steady-state.

Although the Restricted Fat group lost a bit more fat, fat loss over time was predicted to be similar over a range of carb intakes based on a mathematical model of metabolism. The main application of the study may be that despite a reduction in insulin, there was no extra fat loss advantage for the Restricted Fat diet … which more so argues against the “Carbohydrate-Insulin Theory of Obesity” rather than denying the efficacy of low-carb diets.

As always, there are a few more limitations to consider.

Due to the sample population chosen, the results of this study only apply to obese adults who are otherwise healthy. Further limiting the generalizability of the results, the tightly-controlled study design does not accurately represent the free-living world, as most of us do not have strict external controls on our food choices.

And to repeat a very important point: this study was not meant to inform long-run dietary choices. In the long-run, the choice between restricting fat or restricting carbs to achieve a caloric deficit may come down to one thing: diet adherence.

While preference for certain foods may dictate which diet is easier to adhere to, this isn’t always the case. For instance, it seems that insulin-resistant individuals have an easier time adhering to a low-carbohydrate diet. Nowadays, new dieters often pair low-carb with higher protein, the latter of which can boost weight loss. And since there are plenty of high-sugar but low-fat junk foods (see Mike and Ike, et al.) but not so many high-fat but low-carb junk foods, low carb intakes can sometimes mean an easier time staying away from junk food when compared to low fat diets.

What about the six day trial duration? Does that mean the results are less valid? Well, it depends on the question you want answered. There aren’t any six-month-long metabolic chamber studies because they would both be ludicrously expensive and turn into studies of hospital patients rather than free-living people. So the researchers chose to shed light onto this question:

“Could the metabolic and endocrine adaptations to carbohydrate restriction result in augmented body fat loss compared to an equal calorie reduction of dietary fat?”

Quite clearly, the answer was no in this study. Many in the low-carb blogosphere have argued that six days was too short for fat-adaptation. Maybe, but the paper also said:

“Net fat oxidation increased substantially during the RC (restricted carbohydrate) diet and reached a plateau after several days, whereas the RF (restricted fat) diet appeared to have little effect.”

So restricting fat didn’t change metabolism much, while restricting carbs increased fat oxidation at first but not after a few days. It’s possible that other physiological mechanisms (e.g. mitochondria-related factors) may take longer to adapt (especially in very low carb / keto diets), but this wasn’t a study of keto diets, it was a study testing whether carb restriction leads to extra fat loss compared with fat restriction.

And while not without their limitations, free-living studies have generally shown the that the low-carb groups tend to lose a bit more fat mass by the six month mark (even when controlling for energy intake), but weight loss at the end of the trial tends to be similar. A big part of that is likely the increased protein that is typically coupled with lower carb. Those are things that media reports won’t mention when covering the current study — context matters, and the totality of research suggests that media harping on each low-carb trial in isolation is dumb.

Summary

As usual, don’t bother with media headlines — this study is NOT a blow to low-carb dieting, which can be quite effective due to factors such as typically higher protein and more limited junk food options. Rather, this study shows that a low-carb diet isn’t necessary for fat loss and that lowering carbs and insulin doesn’t provide a magical metabolic advantage.

It bears repeating: if you even try to apply this study to the real world of dieting choices, you will be frowned upon strongly. Even the lead author writes:

“Translation of our results to real-world weight-loss diets for treatment of obesity is limited since the experimental design and model simulations relied on strict control of food intake, which is unrealistic in free-living individuals”.

This study was strictly meant to fill in a gap in the knowledge base of diet physiology. Got it?

If you need a broad and simple takeaway from this study, here is one: weight loss does not rely on certain carb levels or manipulation of insulin, it relies on eating less. Don’t be scared that eating carbs will cause insulin to trap fat inside your fat cells.

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Weekend Reading, 8.16.15

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Happy Sunday, and happy weekend. I hope this edition of weekend reading finds everyone well! I’m on my back from a weekend with family, and enjoying these reads and food photos along the way.

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This chickpea and rice pilaf with fresh herbs from Kraut|Kopf looks phenomenal — so simple, yet so hearty and satisfying.

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I’m totally smitten with Andrea Bemis’ recipes lately (she’s the mastermind behind Dishing Up the Dirt) and this roasted eggplant and summer squash salad with tangy miso dressing is a perfect example of her seasonal, rustic style.

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Renee Byrd’s tahini pad Thai is also calling my name. It’s packed with flavorful seasonings, but I bet the tahini gives the dish a slightly lighter and more subtle touch.

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Amazing vegan dessert #1: Maya’s lemon curd. I didn’t think vegan lemon curd was possible, but here it is.

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Amazing vegan dessert #2: vegan peach galette with coconut pastry. The recipe is really user-friendly, but the results are impressive. It would be perfect to serve to guests.

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1. For those of you who are interested in sleep an sleep patterns, a quick bit of reporting into new research on different types of sleep schedules.

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2. I know, I know, I’ve posted a lot of stuff on the microbiome already. But the topic just doesn’t stop being fascinating! Here’s a cool new article, via University of Chicago Magazine.

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3. I was really interested to read this article in Aeon about childhood trauma, epigenetics (changes to DNA brought about by lifestyle–everything from emotional stress to diet), and the likelihood of autoimmune disease and other chronic health conditions. As I started reading, I found the article a bit discouraging, because the implications are clear: neglect, trauma, abandonment, emotional abuse, and experiences with parents who struggle with addiction can create changes in the way we respond to stress, setting us up for anxiety, digestive disorders, autoimmune disease, and other health problems down the line. Because these adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are so commonplace, one might well wonder whether a good many of us are simply doomed to have impaired stress responses for life.

But the article has a hopeful angle, too. The author, Donna Nakazawa, argues that understanding the longterm impact of childhood trauma can allow us to intervene earlier in the lives of individuals who may be at risk for stress disorders and chronic health issues. And epigenetics needn’t always refer to deleterious genetic changes; it can also refer to positive changes that result from stress reduction, therapy, and other forms of treatment for trauma. In short, more awareness about the lifelong impact of childhood adversity can help us to combat it effectively.

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4. Great news this week in Iowa, where the state’s ag-gag law was declared unconstitutional. Hopefully, this will create a meaningful precedent in other states as well. Read about the federal District Court’s ruling here, and then you may want to take a moment to read this powerful op-ed in The New York Times, which calls for an end to ag-gag laws nationwide.

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5. I love this profile of two award-winning goat cheese makers who have transformed their lives and their business by going vegan. Julian and Carol Pearce have gone vegan and taken their cheeses with them. From now on, the couple will be making 100% plant-based cheeses from nuts and nut milks, using the same artisanal techniques they’ve been using for decades. Flavors will include garlic and herb, lemon and lavender with bee-free honey, sweet pepper and shallots, jalapeno habanero, cucumber and onion, tomato and basil, and garlic and dill. There will also be a spreadable cheddar and a sliceable cheddar. On top of all this, they’ve started an animal sanctuary, Sanctuary Soledad, that houses abused, abandoned and neglected goats, cows, horses, pigs, chickens, ducks and dogs along with the former dairy goats.

MFA interviewed the couple recently, and I thought I’d share the interview, along with the following quotation, which stood out to me. It was offered in response to the question of why the Pearces have chosen to transition over to plant-based cheeses:

The reason we have become vegan is being around our animals, knowing they have feelings; they love, have friends and family… how can you eat them? We look into the eyes of Juliet and Cleopatra, or Emma and the rest of the family, and you start to put their faces on the meat. The number of people who no longer eat pork after meeting Emma at the Hollywood farmers market is unbelievable. They no longer think of pork as something in a grocery store; it has a face and once had a life. We also can’t stand how animals are raised now. Factory farms have to end. The only way is to stop putting money in their pockets.

Dairy is no better. Even now, when we go to other dairies and see the goats wanting attention and getting none, just hit with sticks to get in to be milked, it tears my heart out. We have always treated our animals with love and gentleness. Anybody who visits the farm can see that. But being a dairy farm at all is still adding to the problem. We don’t want to be part of the problem, we want to be part of the solution.

So inspiring. I hope that foodies everywhere will soon have a chance to sample the cheeses!

On that note, I’m gathering up my stuff to get home. I’ll be back this week with some new recipes. In the meantime, if you missed Friday’s post about protein-rich plant foods and combinations of plant foods, you may want to check it out! Lot’s of simple information on a topic that often seems really complex.

xo

 

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