Monday, February 15, 2010

An Afternoon Tea Featuring Buckwheat Shortbread

I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine's Day! And... continuing in the spirit of a holiday whose celebration reached its height in the Victorian age, I thought a post on another Victorian tradition, afternoon tea, would be fun.

I started subscribing to Tea Time magazine several month ago, after being introduced to it through my favorite, Victoria magazine. Tea Time has articles on tea shoppes around the country, different kinds of tea, tea etiquette... and recipes for afternoon tea. I noticed, however, that recipes that accompany tea are usually full of white flour and white sugar, and not exactly conducive to living a healthy lifestyle. Since I am eating gluten-free, sugar-free, caffeine-free, and eating mostly raw food, the typical teatime menu needs a major make-over.

The setting above includes Organic white tea, raw (dehydrated) Buckwheat Shortbread , and raw, sugar-free Blackberry jam!

The recipe for the Buckwheat Shortbread follows. If you don't have a dehydrator, use a preheated 325 degree oven, and bake for 22-28 minutes. For the original recipe, and some additional tips, see the original recipe (Buckwheat Graham Crackers) at (My substitution of carob for the mequite powder makes them seem more like shortbread to me).

Buckwheat Shortbread
2 cups buckwheat flour
¼ cup roasted carob powder (easily found at natural food stores)
¼ cup ground flax seeds (freshly ground in coffee grinder)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
½ cup date sugar (easily found at natural food stores)
1/3 cup diluted coconut milk
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup coconut oil
2 Tbsp vanilla extract


In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients with a spoon until combined. Stir in the wet ingredients, and knead with hands until a dough has formed. If dough is too dry, add additional coconut milk, a little at a time. Dough will be firm. Place one chilled dough half on a Teflex-lined dehydrator tray and use a rolling pin to roll very flat – about 1/8 inch thick. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut the dough into squares. Use a fork to score the crackers with decorative dots. Repeat with second dough half and place on a second Teflex-lined tray. Dehydrate crackers at 105-115 degrees for 4-5 hours or so, or until dried out and crisp. (They become crisper even as they sit out). Makes about 5 dozen 2” crackers, and will keep in an airtight container for about 2 weeks.

The Blackberry Jam was really easy. I just thawed out some wild blackberries from the freezer (I picked them last summer) and mashed them really well with a fork till they became a liquidy sauce. I think I used 1 cup. Then I stirred in some chia seeds (2 Tbsp), which are a natural thickener. They come from South America and have been called a "superfood" of the Incas. They are becoming more and more popular and available. The white variety is called "Salba." I also used a packet of Stevia, which is a powder made from the stevia plant, another product of South America. I used Stevia to sweeten tea, and all kinds of things. After stirring the ingredients together, you just let the mixed sit and thicken. --and that's all there is to it!

If you don't have chia and stevia just sitting around, try blending some frozen berries with some unsulfured dried fruit (especially dates, prunes, figs, or dried apricots) that has been soaking in hot water (toss the water). It will make a nice thick "jam" without any sugar or gelatin... or hassle! (I think strawberries would be especially good with this shortbread).

Enjoy a nice afternoon tea on a cold February day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Who Needs Valentines? I Got Bread in the Mail!

It came! My bread!!! I even walked down the long driveway in sub-zero temperatures just to get it!

I had been eagerly anticipating the arrival of my bread order from Grindstone Bakery ever since I placed the order a week and a half ago. (They only ship on Tuesdays to make sure you get it fresh, and I had ordered too late in the day, the Monday before). How exciting to be able to eat bread again! Okay, I know that sounds a little enthusiastic about mere bread, but hey-- when you're eating mostly raw food, gluten free, and vegan, bread is an anomaly, and the idea of eating a sandwich is really quite exciting!

Besides that, this bread is special. Not only is it gluten-free (made with quinoa and millet), but it is also vegan (no eggs, butter, milk), yeast-free, sugar-free, whole grain, organic, naturally fermented sourdough bread, which is baked at low temperatures in a brick oven by an Italian-born baker. It is truly artisan bread. I ordered four different kinds, and split them with a friend, so we could get a good sampling of their gluten-free breads (They also have just wheat-free breads, made with low-gluten grains, such as oat, rye, spelt, and barley). We got a Plain loaf, a Sprouted Seeds loaf, a Cinnamon & Raisins loaf, and a High-Fiber Flax loaf.

See? Now aren't you excited? Wait till you see my first sandwhich in 6 months:

Now that's something to perk up a cold February day! Mmmmm.... Wanna know what's on it???
Mixed greens, tomato, sunflower seed sprouts (which I sprouted on our downstairs windowsill), homemade guacamole, Italian herb seasoning, and garlic salt. So good... I think I'll be dreaming about it tonight!

Check out Grindstone bakery's website: to read about their philosophy on bread-making (I recommend reading the "Health Benefits" section) and to see what other goodies they have available. (The cookies look pretty good!)

Clockwise starting at "noon": QM Cinnamon & Raisin, Quinoa-Millet w/Sprouted Seeds loaf, High Flax Loaf, Quinoa-Millet Plain loaf

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Grapefruit Diet... Might Seem a Little Severe"

Well, I'm definitely not going to discourse upon Weird Al's parody on Zut Suit Riot, but the song does seem to come in mind when discussing the benefits of grapefruit in one's diet. : )

We are nearing the end of grapefruit season, so get some while you can! Grapefruit really do have some wonderful assets to promote wellness... not to mention flavor!

Why eat Grapefruit?
  • Great source of Vitamin C
  • Has an enzyme which burns body fat (hence, "Grapefruit diet")
  • Rich in antioxidant lycopene
  • Anti-cancer fruit
  • Alkalizes the body (disease cannot thrive in an alkaline environment)
  • Great liver detoxer
  • Adds a wonderful fresh flavor in the winter, when we crave anything that tastes like sunshine. : )
Ways to enjoy grapefruit:
  • Cut in half, and eat with a spoon for breakfast
  • Peel like an orange to retain the most of its white pith, which is teeming with benefits in its bioflavonoids (also called Rutin or Vitamin P), which help you to absorb the Vitamin C, strengthen blood vessels, and provide general anti-inflammatory activity.   
  • A glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • Grapefruit juice in a salad dressing (mix with olive oil, salt, and honey)
  • Grapefruit sections on a salad
  • Make a citrus salad, mixing grapefruit with orange and pomelo sections, and tossing with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup and some mint chiffonnade.
  • Use organic grapefruit to make a honey-candied citrus peel, and coat in ginger powder or fine coconut powder (instead of sugar) to keep it from sticking.
For more info, see Grapefruit on the World's Healthiest Foods page.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Disconnect to Recharge

It's now 6 weeks after Christmas!

How goes it? Have you recovered yet, or are you still suffering the effects of weeks and weeks of busyness and very little rest?

The winter months are supposed to be a time for us to sleep more (hence the shorter daylight hours), and rest our bodies, so that we'll be ready for the longer, activity-filled days of spring, summer, and fall. There is, after all, a time for everything. Springtime is the time for planting gardens, summer for tending them, fall for harvesting. Winter is provided to prepare us to do all those things.

The problem is... well, technology. We now have electricity, so that we no longer get up with the sun and go to bed when it sets. In fact, we have all kinds of distractions to keep us up late at night, stressed, and unable to get that much-needed rest and relaxation. The television, the telephone, the computer/internet, cell phones --text messaging, kitchen appliances... there's something interesting on T.V., someone's on the phone, gotta catch up on e-mails, someone's on AIM, there are cookies to bake, projects online...  It's no wonder everyone is over-worked, stressed out, over-tired, and can't relax! What did people used to do before electricity anyway? What would you do if there was no T.V., no computer, no phone... nothing electronic... to capture your attention? Does that concept seem scary, or more like a welcome relief? If you could just take a break from some of those things for a while, think of all the possibilities!

You could:
  • Watch the animals outside your window: birds, squirrels, deer... they provide some great entertainment.
  • Read: Catch up on some classic literature
  • Improve your mind and dexterity with some knitting or juggling
  • Have a meaningful conversation with someone who is actually sitting with you in the same room!
  • Play a board game -- It's good for creative thinking and problem-solving... and it's FUN! Try Scattergories, Balderdash, Loaded Questions, Imaginiff, Chess, Uno, Phase 10... the possibilities are endless.
  • Go to bed early. ("Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise," according to Benjamin Franklin)
Try recreating a time before all these distractions came into existence... even just for a weekend. For some inspiration, or if you really need some specific guidelines, try Eras of Elegance website's "Victorian weekend." Here's their introduction with the "rules":  (Enjoy!)
Victorian Weekend Retreat

Too often our modern conveniences and daily routines can create the emotional and spiritual clamor and clutter that snuff out our peace and joy. Every once in a while, try spending one weekend--just two days--enjoying the simple pastimes of 19th century life! Unplug your television, turn off your telephone ringer, and even say goodbye to your computer for a few days! And get your family and friends involved; ask your best friend or dearest sister to try out our weekend schedule with you, and let your children in on the fun! So if you're up for a weekend that will rejuventate the soul and refresh the spirit, keep reading.

Here are the ground rules. First, no television, computer, stereo, Sony playstation, etc. Remember, there were no televisions or computers during the 19th century! Commit yourself for two days not to flip on the tube, check your email, or surf the Web. Hey, at least you can still use electricity. Second, limit your telephone use. Okay, so a few Victorian families had a telephone, but they certainly didn't have their cell phones glued to their ears as they walked through the cobbled streets or picked berries in the field. Of course, we wouldn't want you to miss out on truly important news. So turn off your ringer and the volume of your answering machine, and only check your messages and return crucial phone calls after 9 p.m. (see our schedule). Third, no processed, pre-packaged or microwaved foods. Part of the fun (and perhaps the challenge) this weekend is to try your hand and preparing fresh meals from scratch. Remember, a hundred years ago there were no fast food drive-ins, Chinese takeouts, microwaves, food processors, and the like!

So if you're still game to try our weekend challenge, find a free weekend in the next few weeks (and keep it free). Browse our schedule beforehand, and collect all the items (if any) you will need. At a minimum, find a novel written by your favorite Victorian author; stock up on tea, fresh fruits and vegetables; and find materials for your Victorian craft project. We invite you to make modifications of our schedule and to add your own special touches. For example, if you can find a few couples to join in on the fun, consider spending Saturday evening recreating a Victorian ball or getting together for a 19th century game of cards. Then make sure that you take care of any pressing business on Friday night. If you have bills to pay, or a major project at the office that needs to be finished, do your best to get it done before your weekend starts so you won't have the unnecessary stress.

To see the rest, including a "schedule" for a relaxing weekend, go to

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    A Breath of Fresh Air

    Did you know that February is National "Care About Your Indoor Air" Month?

    The picture above is of the lake across the road from our house... last summer. Doesn't it look pristine? It doesn't quite look like that now! Nope-- It's all ice and snow. We've had a lot of sub-zero days this winter, which has unfortunately kept me indoors most of the time. I know, I really ought to brave the cold weather and be a real northern Minnesota girl. Well, maybe tomorrow. :)

    When I do go for a walk outside, I love to breathe in the crisp air. It really feels like you're getting more oxygen per breath in the winter. The contrast between the fresh outdoor air and the air that we breathe inside our house each day is quite noticeable. It really makes a person long for warm weather and the opportunity to spend full days outside. But... it's just the beginning of February, so that means we have a couple months to go yet. In the meantime, we'll have to settle for braving the chilly weather outside or doing our best to improve the air we breathe indoors.

    What's wrong with the air in our homes? Well... here are some facts for you:
    • Studies show (and the EPA states) that indoor air pollution can be 2 to 5, and even up to 100 times as bad as outdoor air pollution.
    • One of these pollutants may be Formaldehyde, present in most buildings, which can leach into the air.
    • Polluted air can lead to heart diseaserespiratory problems, asthma, and even cancer
    • If health problems have not progressed to the point of serious disease, one may still experience something called "Sick Building Syndrome," which is characterized by chronic nasal congestion, fatigue, reduced cognitive functioning, headaches, dizziness, and an increased sensitivity to odors.
    Most people spend 80-90% of their time indoors.

    Where does this air pollution come from?
    (These are just a few sources)
    • Outgassing from paints & stains, furniture, carpet, other building materials
    • Biological pollutants (mold, bacteria, viruses, dust mites, animal dander, etc.)
    • Household cleaning products
    • Cosmetics (think nail polish), Hair-care products (hair sprays), Body care products (scented lotions & potions)
    • Candles and Air fresheners
    • Office machines and tools (copy machines, computers, printers, correction fluid, permanent markers, etc)
    • Second-hand smoke

    What can you do?
    • Paint over your existing paint or stain with a low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint like SafeCoat to keep the VOCs out of the air you breathe
    • Practice regular surface cleaning
    • Purchase a good quality air cleaner
    • Burn pure beeswax candles or soy candles naturally scented with essential oils instead of artificially scented and/or parrafin candles. (Beeswax candles actually help purify your air!) Make sure they have cotton wicks. Other wicks have been known to contain lead!
    • Use only non-toxic cleaning products. Look at your local natural foods store or make your own!
    • Choose safer cosmetics, hair care, and body care products. Here's a great resource.  
    • Open the windows on warmer days
    • Add some detoxifying plants to your home decor. NASA studies have proven that house plants can reduce toxins in the home by up to 85%. Some of the best are palms, ferns, English Ivy... and even Gerbera daisies!
    • Don't smoke! (Just say no to drugs)
    • Take the Indoor Air Quality Quiz and learn about the air you breathe.

    Sources/Additional Reading:

    Natural News:
    The Daily Green: How to Purify the Air in Your Home

    The Environmental Protection Agency: Indoor Air Pollution: An Introduction for Health Professionals

    The Ontario Lung Association "Your Healthy Home: Tips for Improving Air Quality In and Around Your Home"