Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book Review and Easiest Pumpkin Pie-Chia Pudding Recipe: Supermarket Healthy by Melissa d'Arabian

I have been eyeing this cookbook for a few weeks on Blogging for Books. For some reason or another, I chose a few other books (which were all quite excellent in their own right), but this one kept catching my eye, time after time.

I finally ordered a copy. And it was worth the wait.

This is a really fun, simple, yet delicious cookbook. The concept comes from cheap-eats-become-gourmet genius, Melissa d'Arabian. Winner of The Next Food Network Star and host of the ever-popular Ten Dollar Dinners, Melissa has a knack for bringing delicious food to your table that anyone can afford - all it takes is a little creativity, some simple staples, and a meager budget.

According to her new book, Melissa d'Arabian regularly feeds her family of six on a modest budget, something she did long before she became a Food Network star. And since moving from Seattle to California, she has discovered a gluten-intolerance in one of her children and regularly feeds vegetarians and those with lactose-intolerance in her extended family - so all of her new recipes include easy adaptations or come naturally free of whatever allergen. Bonus for those of us already eating this way!

Supermarket Healthy is a complexly simple book that guides you through the supermarket with tips, advice, and know-how to feed yourself and your family wisely. It's chock-full of recipes that focus on healthy, lean cuts of meat and fish, tons and tons of vegetables, and a few modest desserts. Even though she is the queen of cheap-eating, she is a major front-runner for healthful eating too (her book could almost be the poster child for any ailment that would benefit from healthy eating - diabetes, heart conditions, adrenal overload, etc.). I could eat very well if I spent a year just eating from her book alone.

The book has all sorts of smart-tips for substitutions and easy shopping ideas, but what surprised me the most by her healthy cookbook is that it didn't completely feel like a healthy cookbook. You know what I mean. The ones that say only eat boiled chicken, steamed veggies with a small side of brown rice. No butter, faux or otherwise, maybe a drizzle of olive oil. Melissa doesn't put this into her book at all. She just makes you feel like it's a cookbook by an adorable mom who wants to feed you as well as she feeds her own family. I think that's her genius. It's like eating with your adorable mom, if your adorable mom looks like Melissa d'Arabian.

There are a lot of interesting recipes like Cinnamon Popovers with Cream Cheese Glaze (a healthier version of a cinnamon roll), Kale and White Bean Caesar (that's dairy-free and vegetarian), Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad with Smoked Trout and Olives (which sounds complicated, but it's super easy), Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Pine Nuts, and Penne, and Flatiron Steaks with Quick Cauliflower Kimchi. All of these are intriguing, simple to make, with easy ingredients to find, and won't take forever to prepare. That's what makes this cookbook so fun.

The downside of any cookbook is that oftentimes, they don't add enough pictures of the finished dish. This is a big thing for most of us that love cookbooks. This one does not have enough. I love the ones they do include, even the few of Melissa staring off at things in the distance as she makes her dishes, but more of the end product would be so much better. On the other hand, with the size of her cookbook and the places the editors did add photos, if they added more, the book would have been a lot thicker. There are a lot of recipes in this book. And if they all had a coinciding picture, it would be about a third bigger. I suppose all cookbook editors must make choices. However, I am still a fan of lots of dish pictures.

Another gripe I have is the name choices for the dishes. One dish is called Almost Raw Asparagus Soup. There is really nothing raw about this soup, except maybe the salt. The asparagus is roasted, the almonds are toasted, and the finishing touches include chicken broth (which better not be raw) and yogurt (which you can find raw, but the recipe requires the soup to be heated). I'm not sure why they called it almost raw at all. Does this make it sound healthier? It's asparagus soup! It's already healthy and looks delicious.

The only other weird thing for me was the blueprints they included. The blueprints are a DIY guideline included next to certain recipes that can be made as you would like them. So, for instance, there is a trail mix blueprint that gives you the baseline options for making your own trail mix (and a recipe that Melissa made, as well) with steps to achieving whatever version of trail mix you might like. Clever idea, but they aren't consistent throughout the book. They all look the same, but I found some of them to be kind of confusing and the details didn't always match Melissa's complimentary recipe. The frittata blueprint had different instructions than the recipe. The recipe and the blueprint called for exactly the same amount of ingredients, however, in the recipe, Melissa tells the reader to cook the eggs on the stovetop for 3-4 minutes until set, then bake in the oven at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes until finished. The blueprint skips the stovetop cooking and goes right to baking at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. I wouldn't have minded the skipping of the stovetop, nor the temperature change, except that 10 minutes will more than likely not be long enough if you don't set the eggs first on the stovetop.

The Salad In A Jar blueprint was equally perplexing. I've made a few jar salads and they are an awesome way to take salad with you, but you have to do things in a certain way (dressing must be on the bottom) or you'll get a soggy salad for lunch. The blueprint had all the ingredients, but I didn't think they made it clear in what order to put them in your jar. Melissa's recipe does, but the blueprint just has arrows pointing from one set of ingredients to the next with no mention of which way to put the ingredients into the jar. When I read it, I sort of thought it was a blueprint like the rest (all the other blueprints have arrows that point from the first ingredient to the last, as you cook along). These arrows point from the toppings to the greens to the veggies/meat/beans/grains to the dressing, so it looks like you are making a salad, just like any other. However, if it is going in a jar, the dressing goes in first, next to the meat/veggies/pasta/beans, so it doesn't wilt or soggy up the greens. I just think that if you are going to include a blueprint, they should be consistent. First ingredient first, etc. The blueprints were lacking for me.

However, overall, I love this book. I want to spend everyday eating from here. I feel healthier just thinking about it. It's smart, it's clever, and some of the recipes are just a really healthful approach to a classic dish. She doesn't try to showcase some sort of culinary expertise, as much as offer the reader a way to make delicious food that's healthy, just like your mom. Only these are beautiful, easy, and elegant dishes that require nothing more than a willing to try something new.

Happy Eating! 


Here's the recipe I tried and I would highly recommend it to you. It's a great starter for the day or as a snack, which is my preference. Lots of fiber, protein (those chia seeds are packed with protein, vitamins and minerals), and it's simple, fast and easy. You can even make it the night before, so it's ready for breakfast or to take with you. Or great for a dessert-time snack.



From Supermarket Healthy by Melissa d'Arabian

Serves 4
Preparation time: 35 minutes (plus 1 hour to set)
Cooking time: none


1/2 cup chia seeds
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 cup pumpkin puree (not sweetened pie filling)
2/3 cup light coconut milk (canned or carton)
2 cups unsweetened almond milk or soy milk
1 tbsp maple syrup or honey, plus more for serving (optional)
1/4 cup raw pecan halves, roughly chopped (almonds and cashews work, too!)
1 medium banana, peeled and thinly sliced


1. Place the chia seeds and pumpkin pie spice in medium container with lid. Cover and shake to distribute the powder among the seeds. 

2. Whisk the pumpkin puree with the coconut milk in a separate small bowl, until smooth. Pour over the chia seeds and add the almond milk and maple syrup. Cover and shake vigorously. Place the pudding in the refrigerator to thicken, shaking it after 30 minutes, and letting it set up for at least 1 hour, or up to several days. 

3. Divide the pudding among bowls and serve sprinkled with pecans, bananas, and a drizzle of maple syrup (if using). 

Per serving: 255 calories / Protein 8g / Dietary Fiber 14g / Sugars 12g / Total Fat 16g

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Book Review: The Adrenal Reset Diet by Alan Christianson, NMD

My latest choice from Blogging for Books is a bit outside of my normal cookbook routine. However, I have a love of non-fiction self-help books from long ago, particularly ones that are inspirational or about understanding the body. I debated about this one for quite some time because I am not a diet book fan. I don't like the latest crazes, easy fixes or some book that is going to fix everything and everyone in your life with three simple steps.

Do you know why I don't like these books? Because I've used them and they don't work. There is no easy fix. In fact, I'm convinced now, more than ever, that no fix is ever needed. And really, that comes from my presumption that we are truly whole already, we just don't always know it and we don't always practice the walk that creates the experience of that wholeness. Thus, I'm not really a lover of self-help fix-it books, but I do like books that provide introspection and a new perspective on who we are, why we choose what we do, and how we can alter those choices.

This is one of those books.

In the world of diet and self-help books, fix-it sells. So, there's a small amount of that present in this book - in the marketing. By reading it thoroughly and at a leisurely pace, I can clearly see and feel that the author has the best intentions. The marketers scream, "Lose weight!" But the naturopathic physician - the true identity of this author - is all about health, wellness, and resetting the many premises that have lead us to feeling overwhelmed, frazzled, overweight, and overdone. That is clarity I can appreciate.

I chose this book for a few reasons, mostly personal, but for some time, I have known that my adrenals are incredibly sensitive to many things and a few times in the past, I have overworked them. However, after reading his book, I realize that most of us have overworked adrenals just from the lives we live that include daily stress and pressures, poor food choices that include processed foods or even home-baked goods, and eating either too much of the wrong kinds of proteins or not enough.

I have read many of the slightly-scientific health books like the Zone Diet, the Genotype Diet, the Blood Type diet, the Hormone cure, all with a grain of salt. What I wanted was a more in-depth analysis of how our bodies work and what we can do to make all of that function at its peak. I'm not interested in the drop-ten-pounds diet, the look-great-naked diet, or the stop-eating-this-eat-that diet. However, they all sort of coincide. It just depends on what you are looking for, what your body might need, and if you like the science of symptoms. I do. I follow Dr. Sara Gottfried for this reason. She's an MD that writes extensively about the co-mersion of Western medicine and Eastern philosophies, as well as hormonal balancing. In truth, after having read many, many books about health and wellness, they all pretty much say the same thing, but with slightly different premises (and I'm not talking about the quick-fix diet books here): eat whole foods, primarily vegetables and some fruits, eat whole grains, listen to your body, eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full, avoid allergens. And sometimes, they include breathing exercises, meditation, journaling, affirmations, etc. To me, our food and body issues have arisen because we stopped listening to ourselves and our bodies. My interest has always been about understanding the body better and the choices that I make that either feed its brilliant ability to self-heal or prevent that. The Adrenal Reset Diet is just another piece of that.

The book's premise lies in an easy set-up: understand what the adrenals do for your body, figure out where you are on the adrenal spectrum (Thriving, Stressed, Wired and Tired, Crashed), then understand how to reset yourself back to a state of Thriving where your body's cortisol levels, adrenal function and overall hormonal balance come back into a balanced state. Dr. Christianson's concept comes from years of being an adrenal and thyroid specialist. His practice led him to question how we could reset adrenal function to a point where the body can do all that it needs to do in order to maintain harmony. He experimented on himself first, then a few willing and aware patients. From there, he expanded out to more clients willing to try simple and easy things that might reset their adrenal overload. He met with great success. When he started with personal experimentation, he tried the opposite of his diet strategy plan and found that it created an increase in cortisol and adrenal production (which he tested at specific intervals), as well as weight gain, sleep issues, and a myriad of other problems. This, along with patient trials, convinced him of the overall effectiveness of his Adrenal Reset Diet (ARD) plan.

The basics of the ARD premise is simple: eat more protein, choose healthy fats, and cycle your carbs throughout the day in a specific way.

Simple. Basic. Yet, with the interesting science behind this theory, intriguing.

(The complexities of each level of adrenal function and the coinciding chapter offer many more ways to reset your adrenals including herbs, breathing exercises, light therapy, outdoor/nature experiences, sleep patterns, specific foods, etc. It's up to you how in-depth or how simplistic you want the ARD to be. And that's all laid out in the book.)

I took this book with me on a recent vacation back to see my family. I wanted to do a little experiment of my own. If we made just a couple of changes, would we see or feel anything akin to what he describes? Would our adrenals become more supported and thus, decrease our cortisol levels and all the problems that go with high cortisol? Well, there's no way to fully know the latter of these two without adrenal and cortisol testing. We didn't do that, like Dr. Christianson does with patients. Instead, we went solely on sleep and feel, as well as potential body aches, pains, blood sugar, brain fog, and other assorted adrenal spectrum ailments. In fact, this is how Dr. Christianson suggests readers accomplish this. Follow the ARD, then retake the ARD test every few weeks or monthly until you are Thriving.

Here's what we did: we added the protein shake or a protein-based breakfast with organic veggies and minimal carbs for breakfast (according to the ARD). We added more carbs as the day went on, as per the ARD suggestions. We did nothing else because it was too hard to coordinate three people and their light needs, their sleep patterns, etc. I just wanted to see if what Dr. Christianson suggested to one of his patients would really make a difference - three simple changes: add 25 mg of protein to breakfast, diffuse some of the stress patterns, and turn off all artificial light, except a reading light, by 9pm. It's all about changing the circadian rhythms to balance the adrenals. I was able to consistently make meals that increased the protein and vegetables, as well as the fiber content, while cycling the carbs (less in the morning, more in the evening) and for myself, I increased the natural light exposure early in the morning. We also made sure to eat within one hour of waking. And for one week, we followed those simple parts of the ARD.

What came of it all?

I noticed I slept better, as did my family members. One family member in his 70's wakes up repeatedly at night. He tends to be a night owl and late riser, as well as a restless sleeper - which remained the same - but during nearly the entire week, he stayed asleep throughout the night. And he didn't nod off as much throughout the day. I also noticed the emotional energy was softer. We have a lot of big personalities in my family and oftentimes, when the stress gets high, the emotions grow too. They feed each other. This seemed more minimal overall, as though everyone was better able to deal with any stressful situations. The situations didn't really change, but our response to them did, for the most part. (A definite cortisol reaction.) I also noticed that my mind felt clearer most of the day. We all noticed we wanted to eat less (felt full more of the day), craved carbs and sugar less, and everything we ate tasted really good. We still ate sugar and treats, and went to bed late, but I did see changes. And incorporating more veggies and proteins into our meals turned out to be rather easy.

The tiny experiment makes me want to know more and go a little deeper into the ARD suggestions. Dr.Christianson has more specifics for each adrenal level and I am planning on incorporating more into my day. Long before I knew about the Adrenal Reset Diet book, I started to make some of the changes he suggests because I could feel how they changed my body's response to certain experiences - shut off computers and tablets a few hours before bedtime (turns out they speed up brainwaves and trigger cortisol); eat carbs in the evening (turns out slow-release carbs raise blood sugar slowly which makes us sleep better, but cortisol should be low in the evening or we get too ramped up to sleep well);  licorice root tea  in the morning and chamomile at night (supports the adrenals in the a.m. and calms them at night); rely on whole foods (self-explanatory). He has a lot of other suggestions to support the body and the hormones that it uses to maintain itself. I found this book intriguing, not too overly wordy or science-y for those who aren't looking to become doctors, and a good source of information to understand the delicate endocrine system. By reading the book, I can tell he isn't a strong-and-fast stickler about all that he suggests. It's about balance, not discipline. And maybe the very things that are haunting us can be balanced with much greater ease than we think.

Author's note: There's a lot more to this book than in this review. He has some pretty great insight into what makes us gain weight, unable to lose weight, hormonal imbalances, etc. For me, these books are best reviewed based on personal experience because there are tons of books out there with the same sort of information. That's why I just chose to dive right in. I want to see if this works for me or if I can incorporate pieces into my life that make sense. If you feel stressed, frazzled, overwhelmed, overworked, tired, worn out, angry, emotional all the time, or can't seem to lose weight, I would suggest you at least take a look into this book to see if it fits for you. Talk to your doctor or naturopath. There are no prescriptions in here or huge life changes - it's about listening to yourself, hearing your body, eating foods that make sense, and learning to simplify so you can feel better. There's nothing radical here. Just a return to simplicity in our world of overexposure to pretty much everything. Some things are going to resonate; some are not. It's not a quick-fix because whatever life-long patterns you have built that created where you are will continue to create where you are until you change them. Starvation doesn't work; extreme diets don't work; life changes do. And it's not about giving up everything. It's about finding peace in yourself and finding out who you truly are.

This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.