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The month of anticipation, excitement, parties, feasts, celebrations and family is upon us!  This time of year you need all the energy you can get so you can feel your best for the festivities, but staying healthy amidst the late nights, cold weather, sweets, drinks and stress can be a difficult feat.

I hope to help you power through the month healthily and happily with a December series on kitchen substitutions.  Learning how to substitute healthy foods for the less healthy counterparts in your favorite recipe is a great way to keep your body feeling good without missing out on the treats.  This week I am starting with an introduction to baking substitutions, to be followed by more in depth tips and recipes in the following weeks.  Please leave a comment and let me know what substitutions you want to learn about or post a recipe that you would like to see transformed!

In baking, when you look for ingredients to substitute, pick out just a couple that are the highest priorities for you.  Trying to change too many variables in a recipe can lead to disaster.  For me the type of flour and amount of sugar are big ones.  Substituting whole grains and natural sugar works well and creates a product that I feel much better about putting into my body.

To get more whole grains in your baked goods, try substituting half the amount called for with whole wheat flour.  Some recipes hold up better to whole wheat and I have had great luck using all whole wheat flour in many of my banana, zucchini and pumpkin bread recipes.  Paired with the fruit or vegetable base in breads or muffins the whole wheat does not make as dense and dry a product.  You can also substitute half the amount of flour with other whole grains such as cooked quinoa, amaranth or spelt.

For sugar, I find it best to cut the amount called for almost in half.  Most recipes are designed to call out to our sweet tooth but work well and taste great with much less sugar.  If you want to completely replace the sugar, raw honey, agave nectar and brown rice syrup are good options. These substitutes are not low calorie foods, they are healthier alternatives that burn slower and provide more nutrients for your body.

Low calorie sugar alternatives are not high on my list for many reasons including their level of processing, link to life threatening diseases and detrimental impact on the body. However, because healthy sugar substitutions are liquid you will have to reduce the liquid content of your baked good by ¼ cup for every cup of the liquid sweetener that you use.  For instance, if the recipe calls for 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk you would reduce the milk to ¾ cup.

In almost every baked good I make, I also try to include some sort of whole fruit or vegetable.  This not only adds nutrients, but also adds flavor and texture often in the place of sugar or oils.  Check back next week for lots of great information on cooking with whole fruits and vegetables.

Don’t be intimidated to start experimenting with your favorite recipes and give your body a healthy gift this holiday season. Here is one of my favorite healthy holiday breakfast bread recipes to get you started.  It also makes a great housewarming gift!

Banana Spice Bread

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

½ tsp nutmeg

½ tsp allspice

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup mashed ripe bananas

2 large eggs

1/2 cup applesauce

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup water

2 tbsp brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.

Whisk flour sugar, spices, baking soda and salt in a medium sized mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl whisk eggs, applesauce, honey, water and brown sugar.  Mix dry and wet ingredients until just combined.  Pour into greased loaf pan and bake 50-60 minutes or until tester inserted comes out clean. Cool for 30 minutes before turning bread out of pan.  Cool completely before wrapping.



Last thanksgiving, before putting on my apron and diving into the intricate meal I had planned for months, I took my dog for a run.  When I was growing up, getting outside to exercise before the feast was a family tradition.  My mother, father, two border collies and I would pile into the truck and head out for the first cross country ski of the season.  While running, for the first time surrounded by a big city and hundreds of people doing the same thing, I was intrigued by the conversations that wisped by.  Quips of sentences pieced together in my head beneath the heavy breathing and visions of other people’s thanksgiving traditions flickered through my head.  Diet, stuffed, gross, so much food, hectic, disaster; people’s words were frequently disheartening.  I have definitely had my fair share of thanksgiving disasters and oh so stuffed moments on the couch, so this year I have decided to change gears and focus on the word thanks, which I hope to bring more of to the table, to the food I eat, to the nourishment I give my body and to the people I share it with.

Thinking about thanks was spurred, not just by last years run, but also by a sentence that I came across that read, “Think of bringing nourishment into our bodies rather than just feeding ourselves.”  I realized, while reading this, that the stressing, organizing, feeding and rushing that is so commonly associated with Thanksgiving is not making for a nourishing tradition but a frenzied feeding one.  We rush around trying to time everything in the oven just right.  The television is often blaring in the background, the table needs to be set, guests need to be organized and people swarm the kitchen looking for something to do.

In a technical sense, all of this sends the nervous system into the sympathetic state of alert.  The natural reaction to stress puts an emphasis on all systems in your body used to fight or flight in reaction to stimulus.  Your heart rate and air intake increase and other systems, especially your digestion are put on hold.  When we sit down to eat a meal in this state it is difficult to truly receive what you are putting in; you feed yourself, but do not nourish your body.  In the sympathetic state that our nervous systems are too frequently in, the body pushes food through but does not absorb nutrients.  Hormones that are essential to the digestion, absorption and use of nutrients are not secreted and the body’s sense of satiation in diminished.  We can simultaneously stuff ourselves silly and malnourish our bodies.

In a relaxed or parasympathetic state, on the other hand, breathing and heart rate slow, muscles relax, and the digestive process revs up.  We are more inclined to chew slowly, think about the food going in, appreciate the flavors and receive the nourishment.  These are the qualities that bring thanks.  The physical body thanks you for providing it with the necessary sustenance it needs, every organ and system thanks you for giving them the energy and time they need to catch up and work efficiently, the mind thanks you for letting it rest and have time to think about the present, your emotions thank you for the peace and quiet, your friends and family thank you for a wonderful meal and you can step back and be thankful for it all.

This thanksgiving, wherever you are going and whatever traditions you have, take a moment to give thanks.  As you sit down at the table take a deep breath and bring your mind and body to the present.  Open your senses and take in all that is around you.  Give yourself time to appreciate what you have and those you share it with.  Let not just the food and flavors of each bite, but also the family, community, rest and celebration nourish your body. Your body, mind and everyone you share your day with will be thankful.

Every Sunday I cook a big meal to share with friends and family.  Taking the time to shuffle through a pile of recipes, warm up the kitchen and gather around the table creates a foundation for my week.  I cook, not just to feed, but also to nurture the people and relationships I care about.  I look forward to gathering ingredients from my garden, farm box and market to create a healthy meal that nourishes and brings people together.

To my excitement, this weekend I discovered a community-sized version of my kitchen tradition just up the street from my home.  At the Wallingford Community kitchen, chef and nutritional therapist Rachel Duboff, brings community members, neighbors, friends and family together for monthly cooking classes and shared meals.  Eager to learn more about the program, I spoke with Duboff, who replied with an audible passion that inspired me to RSVP immediately.

Each class has a theme that the instruction and meal are based on and people of all skill levels attend. “Last month we had a presentation about the energy consumption of a meal,” said Duboff.  “Before that we had a naturopath come to speak about the nutrient breakdown of foods.” Classes respect their mission to follow the seasons and use local produce in every possible way while teaching individuals to buy and eat foods that will nurture their health, environment, animals, friends and neighbors.  “Building an opportunity for people to interact, learn, and acquire skills to use at home is what we are really excited about,” Duboff explained.
It was obvious that teaching health and sustainability through cooking is a passion for Duboff as she spoke about incorporating awareness in every class.  Ingredients are always donated or bought from local farms and purveyors, she explained. “I urge people to shop consciously and locally.”  By raising awareness for how food choices impact your body and your community Duboff hopes people will get more comfortable with cooking healthy whole foods at home.  “We are taking down barriers people have with food,” she said.  “After the class people are no longer intimidated.”

This month is a special holiday event where everyone brings an ingredient for soup and a freeform meal is created on the spot.  As I spoke with her I thought about the carrots I needed to dig out of the garden and could bring to share with everyone.  “I just published a list of suggested ingredients and when people arrive we will figure out what we can put together,” Duboff said casually. “It’s a really neat experience to be in an environment with people where it is not about any one person or recipe but about the community and being together to learn.”

As a newbie to the neighborhood I am excited to have an opportunity to get involved with my community. As our conversation came to an end, something Duboff said really stuck with me.  “The most exciting thing,” she said, “is that the people are participating and are excited about food. You can walk out with a full belly, a little bit of leftovers and the skills to feed yourself, your family and your community well.”

Have no fear friends and family; my Sunday tradition will not be replaced.  Taking part to nourish and build health in the community is something I am excited to add to my traditions.  I look forward to returning to my kitchen with more food, ideas and community to share with you.

Please visit for more information, including class times and location.

It all starts with Halloween – Sugar buzzes through your body and the night culminates in a candy-induced crash. Suddenly it’s November 1st, the stores are decorated for Christmas, and you are worrying about where the in-laws are going to stay for Thanksgiving and how much you are going to spend on a monstrous grocery list.  Christmas lists, cocktail parties and making New Year’s resolutions; the onslaught has begun.

This year, don’t let the stress boil over.  By supporting one of your most important energy and stress management sources, your adrenal glands, you can help your mind and body plow through the holidays.  Taking care of your adrenal system will help you balance external stresses with internal strengths and start the New Year with health and happiness.

The adrenal glands enable you to deal with all of life’s stresses by secreting hormones that keep major systems in your body balanced. Hormones help regulate nutrients, energy, blood sugar, muscles, stamina, immunity, inflammation and anti-oxidants.  Precise secretion of hormones prevents you from feeling the roller-coaster effect that stressors such as food, environment and emotion may otherwise cause. However, a chaotic lifestyle and periods of prolonged stress can weaken adrenal function, causing hormone imbalances and feelings of fatigue, anxiousness, fuzziness in the head, and decreased productivity.

Over the holidays these stress-induced symptoms are the last thing you need.  Preventing a crash and supporting your body when headed towards exhaustion can be as simple as eating the right foods, getting enough sleep and helping out your system with a few natural tricks:

  • As your family and friends bustle around you, take a few minutes each day for yourself.  Even ten minutes of deep breathing in a quiet room will give your adrenal glands a moment of rest and the time they need to catch up with your busy body.
  • Get adequate sleep.  Your adrenals need the time to restore efficient function.  If you stay up late, let yourself sleep in; some of the most restorative sleep time for the adrenals is between six and nine am.
  • Eat a good meal of whole, unprocessed, foods on a regular schedule and always eat breakfast.  Excess artificial, processed, sugary and caffeinated foods and drinks will just add strain to your already fatigued body.
  • Eat as many vegetables as possible.  Organic, nutrient-rich vegetables are the best source of nutrients for healthy and prolonged energy production.
  • A few natural aids to give you adrenal system an extra boost this holiday season include; vitamins C and E, magnesium, calcium, licorice root, ginger and ginko.  Healthy whole foods are always the best sources of these nutrients.

This holiday season nurture your body first.  Your adrenal glands are an amazing source of energy and balance for stress.  When nurtured, your adrenals will help you prevail through the buzzing world around you.  Embrace the holidays with a smile and don’t forget to sit back, relax and enjoy the bounty of the season!

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