Friday, June 28, 2013

Gluten Free....what does that mean exactly

We are by no means experts in the study of what gluten free means.  However, we are often asked if our products have gluten in them.  When we started making our products several years ago, it was clear we needed to learn a thing or two about gluten so we could give good information to those who are gluten sensitive, gluten-free, and those who suffer from celiac disease. 

To begin with, it is an oversimplification to say that gluten is found in wheat.  While that is true, the whole truth is that gluten is a protein and is found in wheat, barley, rye, kamut, spelt, couscous, triticale, and bulgur.  Those are the most obvious of the glutens.  

You might have noticed that oats are not on the list.  Turns out that oats do not naturally have gluten.  However, be aware that often oats get cross contaminated with the other grains listed.  Those who are celiac would not consume oats at all.

It turns out there is a whole host of what might be considered "hidden" glutens that I didn't even know existed. 

Here's what I learned:

*Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein has gluten, unless made from soy or corn flour. (often found in processed food)
*Cereal products have gluten, unless made from pure rice flour, corn flour, or soy flour (boxed cereal)
*Malt or malt flavoring has gluten, unless derived from corn. (often found in beer, baked goods, breads, breakfast cereal, milkshakes and candies)
*Vegetable protein has gluten, unless made from soy or corn. (often found in processed foods as a thickener or stabilizer)
*Modified starch or modified food starch has gluten, unless made from arrowroot, corn, potatoes, tapioca, maize. (often found in salad dressings, powdered mixes to help them dissolve and be smooth)
*Vegetable Gum has gluten, unless made from carob bean gum, locust bean gum, cellulose gum, guar gum, xanthan gaum or vegetable gum. (often found in processed food as a stabilizer)
*Soy sauce or soy sauce solids, unless you know they do not contain wheat. (often found in nut snacks, dairy free cheese, packaged side dishes)
*Anything on a food label using the terms stabilizer, starch, flavouring, emulsifier or hydrolyzed protein has gluten. (found in almost everything processed)

WOW!  That's a lot to know.  If you are gluten-free, I'm sure you have become a label reader. We write often about shopping for natural and organic products that will do your body good.  It seems that once again we learn that processed foods can be quite a problem, in this case regarding the types of gluten used there.  

Our good friend, Hanakia*, is allergic to quite a few things, including all glutens, rice, corn, yeast, name a few.  He loves to make and eat fried chicken.  So what does he do to replace the flour in the coating?  He found a solution.  He agreed to give us his personal recipe for his fried chicken wings.  We've had them and they are wonderful!  Here it is for you to try:

Healthy Portion of Bean Flour** in Large Ziplock Bag........Sprinkle in Seasoned Salt,
Louisiana Seasoning, and Cajun Seasoning to taste...yes taste it.
Throw in chicken wings, 3 or 4 at a time, shake and completely cover 
and sit on a large plate.
Fire up canola or non allergen vegetable or flower oil.
 Flip frequently until golden brown
and never forget to thank Hana for the yummy chicken every time! HZ
*A teacher/poet/all around good guy, and one heck of a kid brother. :)
**You can find bean flour along with organic seasonings in many grocery stores and all co-ops.
Here are a few suggestions of replacements for wheat flour:

Flour Alternatives
1 cup wheat flour =    1 cup millet flour, or:
1 cup cassava flour
3/4 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup chickpea flour or other bean flour
1 cup quinoa or amaranth flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1 cup almond flour
For gluten free baking you can use a combination of chickpea flour and brown rice flour.

1 tbsp flour = 1 ½ tbsp arrowroot, or:
½ tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp tapioca flour
1 tbsp potato starch

For a more extensive look at gluten-free options take a look here.

As with all foods, know what you are eating, read the labels of everything in a box, bag, or can.  Be healthy and enjoy your meals!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shungite + Water = Healing? Believe it!

In my exploration of crystals and their beneficial properties, I have come across one that definitely needs to be in everyone's home: Shungite. Many "rock shop" owners and crystal healers I've come across have been raving about the positive benefits of this stone that hails from Russia and is finally becoming more widely available in the United States. After hearing a lot about Shungite's antioxident and antibacterial properties, I decided to do my own personal research on this stone. I have been using it in my own life for about two months now, and I must say I am impressed. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first, here's a little background on it according to Wikipedia:

What is Shungite
Shungite is a black, lustrous, non-crystalline mineraloid consisting of more than 98 weight percent of carbon. Shungite has to date mainly been found in Russia. The main deposit is in the Lake Onega area of Karelia, at Zazhoginskoye, near Shun'ga, with another occurrence at Vozhmozero…

Shungite has been used in medical treatment since the early 18th-century. Peter the Great set up Russia's first spa in Karelia to make use of the water purifying properties of shungite, which he had himself experienced. He also instigated its use in providing purified water for the Russian army. The anti-bacterial properties of shungite have been confirmed by modern testing.

According to metaphysical sources, Shungite is sometimes called the "Stone of Life" due to its healing and antibacterial properties. It is estimated by scientists that Shungite is almost 2 billion years old. It is found in very ancient layers of the Earth’s crust that were formed before life forms existed on Earth. Shungite (especially when used in water) purifies, protects, normalizes, induces recovery and promotes growth in living organisms. Healers use shungite to alleviate a wide variety of physical complaints such as heart difficulty, allergies, skin diseases, arthritis, hair and skin rejuvenation.
As a former sandblaster and bridge worker for the railroad, I spent many years in water, dirt, grime, bird droppings and specialized metallic and non metallic paint, in addition to being surrounded by the abrasive sand. Over time, my skin was thoroughly abused, always dry, and constantly itchy. I always seemed to be predisposed to getting skin rashes at the drop of a hat. Most creams and lotions gave me little relief. (In fact the only one that actually worked for me was this one.) I was constantly fighting a defensive struggle dealing with the annoyances of my skin.

Now I realize that most of you will be skeptical regarding so called metaphysical benefits and claims, especially when they are regarding a rock! I would expect that you would feel even more so, when the remedy is one that seems so simple. I don’t blame you. I was initially skeptical myself. However, my nature is to be open to all possibilities, and I believe that the earth is filled with a multitude of plants, foods and “others” that are designed to work for our benefit. With that mindset, I decided to give this stone a try.
What I did was simply place a piece of Shungite in a bottle of clean water and let it sit overnight. The next day I poured off the water and drank it, placing more water in the bottle with the stone to repeat the process. After several days of this, I suddenly realized that somehow I just "felt better." Then I noticed that my problem skin areas were smoothing out, and that the itchiness had disappeared. One week after drinking the Shungite infused water, the rash on my arm was gone!
While I appreciate the metaphysical benefits from the use of this wonderful crystal, I am gratified to know that there was a scientific basis behind them as well. Even better, I now have my own personal experience.

Where to find Shungite:

Shungite can be found at local specialty “rock shops” or “crystal stores.” It comes in a variety of forms including fancy polished pyramids and spheres. A two inch piece of tumbled stone can be purchased for anywhere between $3 and $10 depending on the store, but there are deals to be found, including bags of small rough unpolished specimines at reasonable prices. You can also find it on the internet, but as with everything on the web, make sure you find a reputable dealer.

Whether or not you believe in the metaphysical “science” of crystal use is irrelevant. However I 

How to make a Shungite gem elixir: 
Since Shungite is non toxic, the "direct method" of immersion can be used. Before doing anything else, once you get your very own piece of Shungite home, use a mild detergent and make sure you wash and rinse the stone thoroughly (remember many people have handled it before you got it). Once you have cleaned it, place your stone in a glass or plastic bottle and fill it with 32 ounces of fresh water. Place the bottle in a window to catch the sunlight, and leave it undisturbed the rest of the day. In the morning, pour off the water into another container and drink it throughout the day. If you prefer, you can also refrigerate the water to make it more palatable and refreshing. Refill the bottle with the Shungite with more water and repeat the process.
Many people use Shungite to create a healing spa in the home by placing it in bath or wash water. To make larger quantities of the Shungite gem elixir, get a larger container and add more (or larger) stones and water. For more information on how to make gem elixirs, including use of the "Indirect method" for friable stones and those containing heavy metals, click here. 
This amazing stone is very promising, and I plan to continue my regiment of drinking Shungite water to see what else it can do for my body. Perhaps it truly can help with my arthritis. I invite you to do the same. It certainly can't hurt.
Besides, if it’s good enough for Peter the Great, wouldn't it be good enough for us?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sugar is Sweet, but so are the Syrups

Previously we talked about sugar as a sweetener.  Today we will talk about the sweeteners that come in a liquid or syrup form. Nature provide us with several ways beside sugar to sweeten our tea and coffee.

Let's start with probably to mose well known....honey.  Simply put, raw honey is a sweet liquid produce by honeybees from the nectar of flowers.  Most of the honey found in the grocery store is not raw honey.  It has been heated and pasteurized.  Such honey looks clean and clear in the bottles on the store shelf. The process robs the honey of it's nutritional significance and destroys the aromas, yeasts and enzymes which are necessary to activate vitamins and minerals in the body.

Heated & Pasteurized Honey
Raw, unheated and unpasteurized honey looks cloudier and contains particles and flecks made of  bee pollen, bits of honeycomb and broken bee wing fragments. Raw and unfiltered honey will usually granulate and crystallize to a thick consistency after a few months. Mix with lemon juice and ginger to relieve nausea and give your body energy.  Raw honey also aids in digestion.

Raw Honey
Have you ever heard of the agave plant?  For the longest time it was known for its part in making tequila.  But more recently agave nectar has found its way into the popular culture of natural sweeteners.  Don't be mistaken.  Just because it seems new to some, agave was prized by the Aztecs as a gift from the gods.  The nectar was used to flavor foods and sweeten drinks.  

Agave nectar looks like honey but tastes much different.  It has become the preferred sweetener of health conscious consumers and natural food cooks alike.

Agave Nectar
Maple syrup is a long standing sweetener when it comes to flavoring your pancakes and making candy.  We can thank the North American Indians for discovering this natural, earthy, flavorful sweetener.  Not only is it perfect for pancakes, but it also has great nutrtional value.  It containas the trace minerals of manganese and zinc.  Manganese is an essential element in energy production and antioxidant defenses.  Along with manganese, zinc is a neccesary element that stimulates our immune system.

Maple Syrup

And last we will take a look at brown rice syrup. Brown rice syrup or rice syrup is derived directly from the grains of rice that are steeped in an enzyme preparation.  The mixture is broken down and converted into a smooth, pleasantly sweet liquid.  It can be used as any other syrup is used.  Because of its delicate flavor it is a great choice for baking and desserts.  Besides being tasty, brown rice syrup also offers magnesium, manganese and zinc as nutrients.  All of which are important to the body.

Brown Rice Syrup

When it is time for you to decide on what sweetener is most satisfying, take a minute and consider all the alternatives available to you.  There is more to being sweet than just granulated sugar.  There is a whole array of interesting and tasty sweeteners for you to try.

Remember, enjoy your sweet treats in moderation....Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Making a Difference

I'm often asked about my journey into becoming an organic foods purveyor.  When that happens, I oftentimes pause before answering, because so many things entered into this decision.  It encompasses so much, including support of my wife Terry who founded Winter Goddess Foods, my own physical disability, the need to find an alternative to traditional employment, and my own personal disgust toward corporate America's devaluing of the meaningful contribution of individual workers.  It also includes my own growth in discovering how to listen to my body, and the importance of recognizing what is good for it as well as what is not.

Suffice it to say it is very complicated.

The pinnacle reason why I enjoy doing what I do stems from a meeting I attended back in 2008, when I worked for the Behavior Health arm of a major medical insurance company.  I was charged with providing coverage information to providers and to our subscribers, as well as alternatives in the case of non coverage scenarios.  Typically I would be assisting family members, caregivers, and the patients themselves, and since it was the Behavioral Health branch, at times I found myself enmeshed in crisis situations (suicide threats). At that time there was a real push toward being "customer oriented" and actually caring for the person on the other end of the phone line, as opposed to spouting information, and terminating the call.   

As a relatively new hire, I listened intently to the long tenured director of our department, as he discussed his mindset regarding how he approached our job.  He said to us:

"After I finish my work day, I go home, step into my office and I get real quiet.  I review the events of my day, and then ask myself, 'Did you make a difference in someone's life today?'"

My mind was completely blown when I heard him say this!  I thought to myself, "Wow! What a wonderful way to live and think.   Instead of clocking in to get a paycheck, I can choose to adopt a lifestyle of service to others."

Now whether this was his heartfelt belief and practice, or just a bold strategy from management 101 to re-direct our attitudes towards the job, I will never know. Frankly it was irrelevant.  For my entire life, all I ever wanted to do was something that mattered, and to be of help to people.  I immediately bought into this idea, and went all in.  I don't even remember the rest of the meeting.  All I focused on was the revelation that yes, my job IS to help people.  Even more importantly, I have the opportunity to actually make a difference in someone's life on a daily basis.  I was ecstatic, and from that day forward entered each work day with thankfulness and renewed vigor.  From that day forward I loved my job!

With renewed focus, I did everything I could to help my callers, and  in the days that followed, management began to take notice, and in time I gained a reputation for displaying exemplary customer service, and received a number of accolades and citations for my hard work.   Unfortunately, several months later, the director who inspired me was transferred into a new position, and I never saw him again.  After he left, the corporate philosophy changed, and I was heartbroken.

Fortunately for me (and for you!) I have never forgotten this man's words.

Making a difference...what a wonderful way to approach life in all aspects!  It is a phenomenal thing to know
that in everything we do, we all have
an opportunity to make a difference in someone's life. Now to be sure, saving someone from committing suicide, or rescuing a child from a burning building are certainly worthy of note.  But you don't necessarily have to be a First Responder in order to help someone.  There are certainly less dramatic ways to make a difference, which are just as important.  Getting involved in your community can be of great benefit to the neighborhood.  Supporting a cause dear to your heart, performing volunteer work for a charity, or helping a child to learn to read are all worthwhile endeavors, and there are so many other things that can be done.  Not only do you help others, but you also gain that good feeling of knowing you are doing good.  Even a simple smile or kind word to a stranger can have far reaching effects on their lives, far beyond what we could ever know.     

To this day, I do everything I can to adhere to this simple message, and incorporate it in all aspects of my life, including when I am preparing our Winter Goddess products.  Since there is power in food, I believe that my good intent and positive energy translates into food and drink that are "Made with Love for your well-being," and can in some small way make a difference in your life as well.  I gain great satisfaction from living this way, and I highly recommend that you give it a try.  Remember, you don't have to save the whole world,  but maybe, just maybe you can effect one person in a positive way. 

Have you made a difference in someone's life today?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Sweet but not so natural....the story of artificial sweeteners

Do you recognize any of the following words:
  • Acesuflame K
  • Aspartame
  • Neotame 
  • Saccharin
  • Sucralose

Maybe you know them better by the name used in the food you eat and beverages you drink:
  • Acesuflame K - sold as Sunett, Sweet One, and Sweet & Safe
  • Aspartame - sold as Nutrasweet, Equal, and Sugar Twin
  • Neotame - not marketed under any brand name yet.  It is new.
  • Saccharin - sold as Splenda
  • Sucralose - sold as Splenda
In doing my research to better understand sweeteners I learned that there is a great deal of controversy around the topic of artificial sweeteners.  But there are some irrefrutable facts.  To begin with all artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than natural sweeteners.  The comparison is usually made with sugar.  If we look at aspartame for example, we find out that it is 200 times sweeter than sugar.  Aspartame does have calories, as do all the artificial sweeteners, but because it is so sweet, very little is needed.  Consequently that can of diet soda has no calorie count.    

Here's the break down of how much sweeter artifical sweeteners are than sugar:
  • Acesuflame K = 200X 
  • Aspartame = 200X
  • Neotame = 7,000 - 13,000X
  •  Sucralose/Saccharin = 200X                                                                                                    
The human body does not metabolize artificial sweeteners, so no calories are absorbed when consumed.  This brings us to the question of whether or not artificial sweeteners are harmful to the human body.  There is no conclusive information availabe on the side effects to human by artificial sweeteners.  While studies on animals indicate negative side effects, these don't show up in humans.  Individual complaints are anecdotal, and include headache, fatique, rashes, weight gain, nausea, to name a few. has more information on the pros and cons of artificial sweeteners.

Like anything else that we consume, it is best to let moderation be your watch word.  In the end, natural is always better.  So be mindful, and remember, there are many ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How Sweet It Is!

Let's talk sweeteners, okay?  Since the time of the cave people, humans had a natural sweet tooth.  We love our sweets.  Whether it is from fruit to chewing on a stalk of cane, people turned to sugar for a treat.  And there are so many ways to make life sweet, especially in our food and beverages. 

We'll take a minute here and breakdown some common sweeteners that are readily available.

We'll start with probably the most common and recognizable sugars.  When you go to the grocery store and walk down the baking section you will see bags and bags of refined white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, maple sugar, and raw sugar. Where does all that sugar come from?  

The answer is, primarily cane sugar and beet sugar. To the left is sugar cane.  This plant is of the leafy variety and grows in limited areas with the US.  To the right is the sugar beet.  It is a root vegetable and grows in many areas around the US.  Both plants are processed to produce sugar.  Sugar producers are not required to specifically identify which sugar they are packaging.

The contravery of beet versus cane sugar is, for some, splitting hairs.  Both produce molasses, but the molasses from the beet (not to be confused with the beets we serve for dinner) is essentially inedible.  Professional cooks perfer cane sugar as it carmalizes better.  There is a minor difference in the chemical elements of the cane and beet sugar.  Most people in the know find that difference significant when using sugar in their baking.  Here's more information on cane vs beet sugar.

Most sugars have essentially the same nutritional value, which is really rather limited.  Refined white sugar simply has all the pulp or molasses processed out.  Even sugar in the raw is not truly raw.  The fact of the matter is that truly raw sugar is illegal to sell, mainly because of all the impurities it contains like sand, soil, bugs, etc.  All sugar sold to consumers has been processed to one degree or another.

Have you heard of Turbinado sugar?  It is raw sugar cleaned just enough to meet legal standards, but might still have impurities.  Raw sugar is often simply white sugar with cane or beet pulp/molasses added back in.

Brown Sugar has been refined for a shorter period of time, leaving some molasses in for color and flavor.  Sometimes brown sugar made from beet sugar is simply white sugar with animal bone charcoal added to make it look brown.

Maple sugar is made from the sap of the maple tree.  The sap is boiled down past the syrup stage and all the water has been removed.  What is left has crystallized and is now a sugar.  It can be found in ground form, but also can be found in small blocks.  It has a strong maple flavor and can be used just the same as any other sugar.  Remember that it will add a maple flavor to your coffee or cookies.
Powdered sugar is often called confectioner sugar.  This is because it is used in icings and frosting because it dissolves quickly without cooking.  It is very finely ground white sugar and includes corn starch so it doesn't clump up.  There are vary degrees of grind on powdered sugar ranging from 10X all the way to 14X, which is the finest grind.  The average person doesn't really care about that when shopping for powdered sugar.  That is more important to professional bakers.

There are a plethora of sweeteners available.  Within the sweetener category are all kinds of syrups and artificial sweeteners, as well.  But that's for another blog.  So stay tuned.

Stay sweet and enjoy your sweet treats in moderation!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Clove, it's not just for pumpkin pie!

Although most spices are an excellent source of antioxidants, cloves rank as the richest source of them all. The abundant health benefits of cloves have been well known for centuries. Antioxidants protect your cells against oxidative stress from free radical damage. Free radicals are highly-reactive oxygen molecules in your cells, created as a byproduct of your metabolism; a surplus of free radicals is considered to be the primary cause of the aging process.

Protecting yourself against free radicals with antioxidants is the most effective way to reduce the risk of many health problems associated with aging. Antioxidants are known to provide powerful protection against all types of degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, macular degeneration, Alzheimer's disease, and many more.

Antioxidants work together, synergistically, and each one has its own specific characteristics and benefits. One antioxidant may work in places in the body where another one can't go, and neutralize free radicals that other antioxidants miss.  Because of this, it is very important to get the widest variety of antioxidants into your system.  In this case variety really is the spice of life!

In addition to clove's benefit as an antioxident, it also works quite well as a curative for a variety of conditions.  Cloves can effectively cure many digestive problems like stomach ulcers, flatulence and dyspepsia, since they stimulate your body's enzymes and boost digestion.  Cloves are useful in relieving the symptoms of indigestion and nausea, diarrhea, loose stools, gastric irritability and vomiting.

Because of the antiseptic and germicidal benefits of cloves, Aromatherapists often use clove oil to treat the symptoms of rheumatism and arthritis. The aromatic clove oil, when inhaled, can help relieve certain respiratory conditions like coughs, colds, asthma, bronchitis and sinusitis.
The analgesic property of clove oil can be used for treatment of various dental problems like tooth aches. Clove oil is also used to relieve pain from sore gums and improves overall dental health. The antiseptic properties of clove oil are why it's a common ingredient in various dental creams, toothpastes, mouth wash, and throat sprays.

Cloves also contain a variety of flavonoids which contribute to clove's anti-inflammatory properties. Clove and clove oil are antiseptic in nature and work as an effective remedy for some common problems such as cuts, fungal infections, burns, wounds, athlete's foot and bruises.

Finally, clove and clove oil boost the immune system by acting as a natural blood purifier. 
Clove truly is an antioxidant powerhouse!

So whether you put a drop of clove oil in your tea or use clove in your favorite pumpkin pie, know that you are doing your body well!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

RHUBARB....tis the season!

To begin with, did you know that rhubarb is a vegetable?  Did you also know that it dates back to ancient China where it is was and is still used for its medicinal purposes?  It's true!

Rhubarb has a very long history as being used for healing usage.  In fact, Rhubarb is one of the most widely used herbs in all of Chinese medicine.  Most notably, rhubarb's most powerful effect is on the digestive system.  This wonder root is used in all kinds of helpful remedies, including as a diuretic, a laxative, and an astringent. But it does a whole lot more.  Here's more information on Rhubarb's beneficial propoerties.

As mentioned already, rhubarb is a vegetable, but oddly enough it is more commonly used in desserts.  That's what were talking about today.

I love rhubarb and I wait patiently each spring for the first of the cherry rhubarb to show up at the farmers' market.  I just bought some last Saturday and made Rhubarb Strawberry Custard Pie.   This is a family favorite.  Keep reading for the recipe below.

But first a few important points about the beloved rhubarb:

·         Rhubarb is a perennial, so plant it once and each year it will grow.

·         Do not harvest your rhubarb the first year of growth.  The plant needs to develop a strong root system and is best when harvested beginning the second year of growth. (If you can't wait, go to your local farmers' market come June and you will find it there.) The stalks can be pulled (it is best not to cut the stalks) when they are 10-15 inches in length. 

·         Rhubarb likes a cool climate and grows well in the northern states of the US.  It struggles with the heat and doesn't like to grow in the hot climate of the southern states.

·         Never eat the leaves of the rhubarb plant.  They have high amounts of oxalates and when consumed in large quantities, poisoning can happen.  The stalks of the plant have very low levels of oxalates and so are not poisonous.

Here's my recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Custard Pie:

1 1/2 cups rhubarb, cut in 1 " pieces
1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
1 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 egg beaten
2 tablespoons ground, instant tapioca
1 tablespoon flour
Pie crust for top and bottom
Egg wash (one egg and 1 tablespoon water)

Mix rhubarb, strawberries and sugar is large bowl.  Add egg and combine. Now add the tapioca and flour and combine. Pour mixture into a uncooked pie shell.  Dot top of mixture with the butter.  Cover pie with second pie crust.  Crimp the edges of the crust.  Using pastry brush, paint a layer of egg was over the top of crust.  Cut openings in crust to allow stem to escape during baking.

Bake at 375 for 50 minutes.  Servie it warm and cold.  Enjoy!