Spoonable Vegan Caramel (a recipe you’ll want to save)

As a Functional Nutritionist, you may be wondering why I’m sharing a recipe for sweets… for an amazing spoonable vegan caramel, in fact!

Everyday, I work with people who are trying to figure out what foods they can eat to support their health. What foods trigger symptoms? Which ones enhance energy and reduce pain? The relationship with food becomes challenging. It becomes confusing.

When you follow an anti-inflammatory diet or most any dietary approach, you may come to categorize foods as good and bad. The “food as fuel” mentality may feel like a mantra. Being mindful of what you eat is good practice, but there is always room for balance. Food is social. It is comfort and pleasure. Eating is sensual and tactile. Fuel alone, it is not… and buying into that is buying into imbalance and denying yourself the primal human experience and relationship with food. With the holiday season upon us and New Year’s a breath away, remember that it is normal to enjoy food. Even on the strictest diet, pleasure can be part of the plan.

This spoonable vegan caramel is a recipe you’ll want to save. It keeps in the fridge and freezes well so you can make a batch and enjoy it when you desire something sweet.

 

Spoonable Vegan Caramel

⅓ cup coconut sugar (light brown sugar can be substituted but is more processed)
½ cup pitted dates
½ cup unsweetened plain non-dairy creamer
¼ cup vegan butter (Forager is my favorite brand)*
¾ teaspoon salt

1. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine sugar, creamer, and butter. Whisk until combined and bring the mixture to a boil. Once sugar dissolves, reduce the heat to medium.

2. Simmer mixture for 7 minutes, whisk every 2 minutes. Once caramel is bubbling, check temperature with candy thermometer until it reaches between 225 to 230 degrees. Add salt.

3. Carefully transfer the sauce to a food processor or high-powered blender. Add the pitted dates one at a time and blend until smooth with desired consistency. You may not need all of the dates.

4. Scrape into a pyrex container or freezer safe mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 3 months.

*Alternative – substitute the vegan butter with sunflower seed butter, cashew butter or macadamia nut butter

 

5 Ways to Enjoy Your Caramel

There are a million ways to use this caramel sauce, but here are some of my favorites:

  1. Dip slices on fresh apple.
  2. Drizzle it over thick yogurt and granola.
  3. Stir a spoonful into a latte (Coffee, Dandy Blend and Chaga lattes all feel more decadent with this addition)!
  4. Mix equal portions caramel and unsweetened nut butter. Use this as a dip for fruit. The fat from the nut butter helps lower the glycemic impact.
  5. Use as a topping for raw vegan cheesecake filling. Make my favorite raw cheesecake by soaking 1 cup of raw cashews in boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain the cashews and blend them with ¼ cup water, ¼ cup plain unsweetened vegan yogurt, 10 drops plain liquid stevia, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and ⅛ teaspoon salt. Blend until smooth. Pour into cups or ramekins and chill in fridge or freezer for 30 minutes to firm up. Top with caramel and dust with cocoa powder or graham cracker crumbs (use gluten free vegan ones if you are gluten free!)

Great Gluten Free Dinner Rolls

Sometimes a good, carby, crusty roll is the perfect addition to a meal. For me, the Thanksgiving table is a place where dinner rolls are needed. If you need a good gluten free, dairy free and an egg-free option – try these great gluten free dinner rolls. They’re so good, you may find yourself enjoying them with breakfast or lunch too! Double the recipe (you’ll thank me!)

 

Great Gluten Free Dinner Rolls

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar (I like coconut sugar)
  • approx. 1 cup brown rice flour or your favorite gluten free blend (add a little more if dough is too sticky)
  • 1/4 cup tapioca starch
  • 1/4 cup potato starch (not potato flour)
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil, ghee or butter (based on your preference and any allergy needs)
  • 2 eggs OR 2 flax eggs (2 Tbsp flax meal combined with 6 Tbsp hot water)
  • 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  1. Prepare a 12-cup muffin tin by lightly oiling each muffin cup.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the warm water, yeast and sugar. Stir until the yeast and sugar dissolve. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside for 10 minutes. The mixture should get foamy as the yeast activates.
  3. Place flour, starches, xanthan gum and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with the paddle attachment.
  4. Whisk the oil, egg or flax egg and vinegar into the water/yeast  mixture. Then add this mixture to the stand mixer with the flour.
  5. Mix with the paddle attachment until the dough comes together and forms a sticky, soft texture.
  6. Use an ice cream scoop or spoon to portion the dough into each of the 12 muffin cups. Set the pan aside and allow the dough to double in size. If you use flax egg, the dough may take up to 45 minutes to rise.
  7. Preheat the oven to 375*
  8. Bake the rolls in the hot oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and crusty

Tasty 10-minute Meals That Are Healthy Too

Even if you’re a meal-planning pro, everyone has those days when being able to have a meal on the table in a snap is a relief.  Enter some tasty 10-minute meals that are healthy too!  When you see how easy and fast it can be to get healthy food on the table, you’ll understand why I feel like your fairy Godmother sprinkling the glitter of happiness and health your way!

Fresh, seasonal veg, canned beans, tomato sauce, herbs… wait til you see the magic that can happen with simple, fresh ingredients and a smidgeon of time.

Zucchini Pizzas with Veg and Greens: 

Zucchini PizzaPlace 1/4 inch thick slices of zucchini on a large baking sheet. Brush each lightly with olive oil. Layer with thinly sliced tomato.  Sprinkle with dairy-free cheese shreds (or your favorite mozzarella).  Scatter chopped veggies (onion, bell pepper, mushroom, olive). Broil 5-7 minutes or until top is hot, edges crispy, cheese melted. Remove from oven, top with arugula. Note: slice zucchini in rounds for pizza circles or lengthwise for a flatbread feel.  Alternatively, slice zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out the seedy bits.  Then stuff the hollow with your pizza ingredients and broil to warm through.

 

Veg Skillet:

bean and veg skilletToss 2 cups pre-sliced mushrooms in a large skillet, season with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano to taste. Add 28 oz. diced tomatoes (with their liquid) + 1 cup chunky Salsa + 1 can steamed lentils or black beans (rinsed, drained).  Stir in 10 oz. frozen corn + 1 cup sliced zucchini or bell pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 8 minutes. Serve with a generous amount of minced cilantro or parsley.  Note: Easily turn this into a delicious soup by adding a carton of organic broth — a cup of cooked quinoa and a handful of chopped spinach or kale makes this a hearty and nutritious soup.

 

Herbed Chickpea Salad:

chickpea salad on greensDrain 1 can (28 oz) garbanzo beans/chickpeas (reserve liquid for another use).  Toss the chickpeas in a large bowl with the juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper to taste, 2 Tablespoons olive oil, 1 clove of garlic (peeled and minced).  Mix ingredients together and adjust seasoning if needed.  Serve on a bed of mixed greens.  Sprinkle the top with 2-3 Tablespoons of hemp seeds.  Here’s another version that is a favorite in my house!

 

Quick Fresh Rolls: 

fresh veg in chard leavesWash 1-2 leaves of purple or green cabbage or swiss chard (per serving).  Slice out the thick part of the stem if needed.  Mash the flesh of 1/2 an avocado per serving — season with salt, pepper, garlic, lemon or lime juice.  Lay out the cabbage leaves and spread some avo mash on each one.  Top with sliced baked tofu, tempeh or roasted chicken or salmon (or your favorite clean protein).  Add a slice of pickle or fresh cucumber and roll the contents up in the leaf.  Eat!  Note: prepared hummus can be used in place or mashed avocado or in addition to it!  Broccoli slaw mix is another great filler.

To make this meal without cabbage or chard leaves, try it with rice paper wrappers.  Quickly rehydrate one wrapper at a time in a shallow pan of warm water.  Remove promptly and lay the wet wrapper on a clean kitchen towel.  Fill per directions above and wrap up like a burrito or an egg roll.  Rice paper wrappers are shelf stable and make a great addition to any pantry for quick, healthy fresh rolls!

 

Noodle Bowl: 

noodle bowl with vegCook soba noodles in boiling water for 8 minutes — or soak thin rice noodles in hot water until pliable — drain and set aside.  Meantime, whisk together 2 Tablespoons each miso paste, lime juice, water, sriracha (optional). Put cooked noodles in serving bowls.  Add shredded carrots, sliced cucumber, grape tomatoes, snap peas.  Add cubes of cooked protein like tofu, tempeh, chicken, fish, beef, etc if desired. Top with a drizzle of the dressing and fresh minced cilantro, green onion, jalapeno or sprouts if desired.  Note: A little natural peanut/almond or sunflower butter added to the dressing can make for a delightful Thai inspired flavor.  Some minced ginger or ginger juice also tastes nice.

 

More tasty 10-minute meals that are healthy too… What is your go-to creation?  Comment below!

How to Apply a Castor Oil Pack (and why you’d want to)

Castor oil comes from Ricinus communis, the castor plant. Castor oil has many health benefits.  It can be applied topically or taken internally (in this post we will not be covering internal use). The main active component in castor oil is RA (ricinoleic acid).  RA relieves pain and inflammation. Because it is inexpensive, widely available, generally regarded as safe and effective, let’s talk about how to apply a castor oil pack (and why you’d want to)!

 

BENEFITS OF TOPICAL CASTOR OIL PACKS

 

HOW TO APPLY A SIMPLE CASTOR OIL PACK

  • Rub 1 tsp-1 Tbsp castor oil into the skin in your area of interest (liver, abdomen, lungs, joints, etc) or Saturate a small piece of cloth with castor oil and place over your liver or area of interest
  • Cover the area with an old towel or wrap the area comfortably with an ace bandage.
  • Throw on an old t-shirt (castor oil stains fabric, so wear something that is not precious to you)
  • Apply hot water bottle or a heating pad to the pack area
  • Sit or lay down, relaxing for 45 minutes to 1 hour (safe to wear for a few hours or overnight as well — NOT with the heating pad)

 

WHEN AND HOW OFTEN TO APPLY A CASTOR OIL PACK

Apply castor oil packs 2-3 times per week for general detoxification.  A castor oil pack can also be beneficial:

  • before an enema, colonic, or liver/gallbladder flush;
  • during chelation treatment;
  • for abdominal pain;
  • in addition to abdominal visceral massage.

DO NOT APPLY CASTOR OIL PACKS IN THESE INSTANCES

  • over an open wound
  • on abdomen when menstruating
  • on abdomen during pregnancy (castor oil can induce labor and should only be used during pregnancy if indicated by your physician or doula.)
  • if you are currently being treated for any medical condition, it’s best to check with your doctor before using castor oil.

BONUS USES

Castor oil can be very nourishing for the hair and scalp.  It is used as a serum to promote hair growth.  Eye lashes can grow in stronger, thicker and longer!  Ricinoleic acid is the compound in castor oil that may cause this benefit!  Ricinoleic acid can increases PGE2 in the scalp (and on other skin). PGE2 is a fatty acid, which seems to be vital for follicle health and hair growth.

When applied to the skin, castor oil is known to increase penetration of topicals and make it easier for things applied next to be absorbed. This is one of the reasons I love pairing castor oil with essential oils!  Interested in my favorite combinations?  Email me (sarah at yourholistichealthcoach dot com) if you’d like my Castor Oil Pack cheat sheet with essential oil blend bonus — and let me know where to email your copy!

Here’s my favorite hexane-free castor oil:

Two Surprising Reasons Behind Belly Bloat

Belly bloat is uncomfortable and, often, embarrassing.  While some common causes of bloating can be obvious (overeating, drinking carbonated beverages, constipation), others may be more elusive. Whether it’s acute or chronic, it is good to know why bloat is happening. Let’s look at two surprising reasons behind belly bloat that you may not have explored yet.  We’ll also cover a few of my best tips for dealing with bloat (no matter what’s the cause.)

Surprising Reason #1:

SIBO.  Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth.  It sounds complicated… and it is!  So often, we hear about using probiotics as a way to ease belly bloat and digestive issues.  In SIBO, too much bacteria ends up colonizing the small intestine.  Common symptoms include INTENSE bloating after any meal (even water).  Nausea, constipation or diarrhea can also occur.

If you’ve ruled out common causes of bloating, see your doctor to check for SIBO.  Testing involves a breath test that measures the amounts of hydrogen and methane in your breath over the course of a few hours.  Treatment can include dietary modifications and/or a short course of antibiotics.

 

Surprising Reason #2:

Endometriosis!  Persistent gas and bloating is one of the most common things women with Endometriosis encounter.  Because these symptoms are commonly caused by other issues, women are often dismissed and given antacids.  When the pain and bloating persist or worsen over time, doctors may begin to look for other causes of inflammation in the gut.  Still, SIBO and IBS diagnoses are common among women with Endometriosis.  If a gastroenterologist has diagnosed you with SIBO or IBS and treatment including specialized diet or antibiotics and it is not working, it may be time to see an endometriosis specialist.

 

Figuring Out What is Causing Your Bloat

Figuring out what is actually causing you to be bloated can be harder than a 10,000 piece puzzle. While it may seem overwhelming, there are a few things to look at first.

 

Where is your bloat?

You may think that it’s your stomach causing issues, when the bloating may be coming from your intestines.  Take a look at the images below to see if you can determine the location of your bloating or gas pains. 

Notice that the stomach is positioned low in the chest cavity or at the very top of the abdominal cavity.  In women, the stomach is basically just under your ribcage below your breasts.  The small intestine is the next stop after the stomach.  If you pain and bloating happens shortly after meals, it may be in your stomach or small intestine.  Several hours after a meal may indicate the lower part of your small intestine or the start of the large intestine.  Where most people hold low on the abdomen for gas pain is actually intestinal pain rather than stomach!

 

Digestion begins in the mouth.  After chewing, the food bolus travels down the espohagus (long blue tube) and enters the stomach (kidney bean shaped blue pouch under the breasts)

In the stomach, food continues to be broken down by digestive juices.  When it leaves the stomach, ideally, food is liquified and considered “chyme” as it enters the small intestine.

Chyme travels into the large intestine.  Water is reabsorbed through the colon wall.  Bacteria continue to break down food particles and form stool that is excreted through the anus.

 

Think about your diet.

Are you eating anything new?  Is there anything different about when, where or how you eat?  Sometimes a new food or a food cooked in a different way can be the culprit.  If you normally sit to eat and find symptoms happen when you’re eating on the go or when you’re rushing, then you can likely make simple modifications and ease your symptoms.

 

Get to know your response.

Do you know how you feel after you eat eggs?  How about caffeine, gluten, dairy, sugar, etc?  Do certain foods increase your bloating response?  Do certain foods increase constipation?  Are your symptoms different at various times of the month (hormonal cycles, moon phases, deadlines, etc)? By recording your symptoms along with your intake (food, drink, stress, work, exercise, etc) and output (bowel movements, emotions, energy level, etc) you can begin to assess your body’s response.  You can use a notebook or use a form like this one that I use in my practice

Whether you figure out what’s causing your bloat or need to take the next step and see your doctor, 5-10 days of journaling can provide some insight for your clinician.

 

Seek support

If your bloating doesn’t ease after some simple shifts then you may want to seek the support of your doctor.  A general practitioner can assess your overall health and guide you to a specialist if needed.

 

Tips for Relieving Bloat

If you’re tired of being bloated all the time, here are a few things that may help:

Chew — Chewing food until it’s liquid is needed for proper digestion.  Chew smoothies and soups so your stomach gets the signal that food is coming and so digestive juices are stimulated.  Simply slowing down and chewing can drastically help digestion!

Sip still water – Still water (rather than carbonated) may relieve bloat.  Avoid drinking too much with meals.  Instead, sip during meals.

Get regular exercise – Walking is one of the best exercises to help relieve bloating, but there are also some yoga poses that can be great.  Child’s pose, gentle torso twists, etc.

Try peppermint or ginger teaPeppermint and ginger do wonders for bloating and the gut in general. Try drinking 1-2 cups of either tea each day and see if it helps.  Fennel tea can be another ally for gas and bloating.  This blend from Traditional Medicinals can be helpful: https://amzn.to/3yKwTGu

Address your medical conditions – Of course, if your bloating is from medical conditions like SIBO, Endometriosis, IBS, Crohn’s or Celiac, then you need to address those before your bloating will ease.

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