Spiced Date Syrup

Yields 1-1 1/2C (about)spiced date syrup

Happy Anniversary Guaya Gourmet!

Somehow we are at our first year anniversary!  Last year when I began blogging here, Claire was 5 months old and spent most of her time in the kitchen with me in her carrier.  Now, she spends her time climbing on and off the footstool, opening drawers and cabinets and subsequently hiding my measuring cups and spoons, and helping me by mixing or adding ingredients.  Oh, and we also live in a foreign country.  A lot has changed.

Other surprises over the past year include; gathering quite a following (THANK YOU for reading and following!), developing relationships with other bloggers via social media networks, learning a ton about social media and how useful it is, learning and working with the developing taste buds and moods of a baby foodie, and being consistently amazed about the people I meet as a result of the food that inspires and delights me.

It has been a fruitful and eventful year.  And with every meal that has made it to these pages and all the meals that haven’t, we have been grateful.

That was my toast.  Now on to the real reason you’re here.

For our anniversary blog post, Claire and I thought it would be most logical to write about a local ingredient.  We miss maple syrup (along with kale) and while it is available here, it is prohibitively expensive and well, not very local.  Enter dates!

Dates are incredibly nutritious and the best part about this syrup is that it is a whole food.  You are getting the sweetener without any of the fiber removed so it is much easier assimilated and processed by the body and your body doesn’t get a shock from the sugar.

What makes dates special?  FIBER, POTASSIUM, B-COMPLEX VITAMINS, and ANTIOXIDANTS do!  Let’s do a quick recap on why we should care about these characteristics.

Fiber:  Soluble fiber (remember the peas?) dissolves and becomes gel-like traveling slowly through your digestive tract, makes you feel fuller and longer and it binds to cholesterol lingering around your body and escorts it out.

Potassium:  A mineral that is critical for muscle contraction.  So, dates are especially good if you’ve got an exercise regime you adhere to.  But, even if you don’t, you know what else is a muscle…your heart!  “A critical electrolyte, potassium allows our muscles to move, our nerves to fire, and our kidneys to filter blood. The right balance of potassium literally allows the heart to beat.”¹

B-Complex Vitamins:  This is a team of vitamins that are essential for many bodily functions such as making blood cells, maintaining blood glucose levels and they are also key for mind-related health such as mood, memory and stress.  Click here for more detailed and fascinating info.

Antioxidants:  I love these.  Dates have polyphenols which are particularly effective at protecting the body, destroying free radicals roaming around.  We’re all vulnerable to oxidative stress so you can’t ever really get too many antioxidants!

You can use this syrup in your baking, as a topping on pancakes, waffles, granola, oatmeal, yogurt, in your smoothies or even as a sweetener for your morning coffee.  However you use it, enjoy every delicious minute of it!

You’ll need:

12-15 pitted dates, Medjool or Halawii

1-1 1/2 C water- I had some coconut water so I added that, too.

3-4 (slightly crushed) cardamom pods

To make:

1.  Place pitted dates and cardamom in a bowl or jar and add just enough water to cover dates.  Let sit for at least 4 hours or as in my case, overnight.

2.  Remove cardamom pods and blend water and dates until syrup forms.  If you want, you could run it through a sieve or cheesecloth for a finer consistency.

3.  That’s it!  It will keep refrigerated for 2-3 weeks.

4.  Enjoy!



Avocado Mango Mint Smoothie

Makes 4 C

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write about the amazing avocado.  I’ve alluded to it here and there, but finally it’ll get the attention it deserves.  Before I go on however, a little note of encouragement for all of you who don’t love avocados.  There was a time when I was with you.  I didn’t appreciate it, I didn’t get it.  It’s a fruit but it isn’t sweet or tart or refreshing, in the way you normally think of refreshing.  No, it’s creamy, rich, buttery even, and it’s subtle earthy flavor has been described as creamy pistachio.  Not sure I would agree actually, because the sublimity of its flavor is truly unique.  But one day I decided to give it another try and well, there was no turning back.  It’s been a love affair ever since.  I could write avocados a love letter, a poem or even an avocado song.  I want to, but I won’t.  Let’s get down to why avocados are so good and good for you.

HOLY FAT!  Literally and figuratively.  Avocados are super fatty and it may as well be holy.  In fact, 85% of its calories are fat derived and all of it contributes to anti-inflammatory properties.  (Remember that most illnesses begin as some form of inflammation, so this is important to remember!)  Half of that fat comes in the form of oleic acid and this goody helps our digestive tract produce transport molecules that helps increase absorption of fat soluble nutrients like carotenoids.¹  Good news indeed!  Avocados are involved in benefiting our hearts and cardiovascular systems.  They play a role in fighting cancer, too.  According to Rebecca Katz, glutathione, a combo of amino acids, acts as “an internal vacuum cleaner” escorting carcinogens away from healthy cells and out of the body.   The most interesting thing I’ve read is that avocados actually increase oxidative stress in cancer cells and prepares them for apoptosis, or cellular death.¹  So, they nurture our healthy cells by improving inflammation and oxidative stress while at the same time killing off cancer cells?!  Good job, avocados!  Oh, they also regulate blood sugar levels (another benefit of the holy fat) and they are great for the skin.  Added bonus, I’d say!

No wonder I eat 1-2 avocados weekly.  They’re delicious in salads, in sandwiches, over rice and beans, with eggs, in smoothies!  (I LOVE smoothies especially during these hot months.)  Even Claire has joined in on the avocado obsession.  Like mother, like daughter!

You’ll need:

1/2 hass avocado

2 1/2 C frozen mango

10-15 largish mint leaves, chopped (I like the smoothie on the minty side so I went with 15)

1 C water

1/2 C coconut milk

1 T ground flax seeds

1 T agave nectar

1 T coconut oil

1 t freshly squeezed lime juice

To make:

1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until blissfully smooth.  You won’t need ice unless you use fresh fruit, in which case, add 4 ice cubes.

2. Enjoy!

¹http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=5 (There’s thorough info here on the fats in avocados that is very interesting!)

Blueberry Sunflower Smoothie

Makes 4C

Sunflower milk?  Once upon a time I might have been skeptical of this, almond milk, hemp milk, etc.  I had already had my prejudices against soy milk and it extended to all milk “substitutes”.  Then I got educated.  It’s amazing how it often takes the smallest things to open your mind and your world.

So, when I ran into Steve at Whole Foods with Claire in tow, I was excited.  He was giving samples of Sunsational sunflower seed milk.  (I was so intrigued by this non-dairy beverage that I failed to notice that Steve was both the founder and creator of this milk.)  It was tasty and creamy.  It reminded me a bit of cashew milk because it was quite rich.  Both the original and vanilla flavor were good.  Unfortunately, they both contain evaporated cane juice.  Steve told me that they are working on a non-sweetened version as well as an organic option.  I’m looking forward to both!

Seeds and nuts are little, nutrient dense wonders.  Sunflower seeds are full of health-supportive goodies, starting with anti-oxidants.  Steve boasted that one serving of this milk contains more anti-oxidants than the same serving size of green tea.  Bad news for free radicals, good news for us.  They’re a great source of fiber, which does wonders for our digestive system.  According to Rebecca Wood, sunflower seeds have more protein than beef!¹  Great for vegetarians to know and to use when questioned about their protein intake!  These little sun seeds (don’t they look like they come from the sun!) are a good source of Vitamin D, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium and several of the B-complex.  The last bit is about phytosterols which are compounds found in plants that are of similar chemical structure to cholesterol.  High enough consumption of this goody reduces blood levels of cholesterol, boosts immunity and plays a preventative role in some cancers.²

These are pretty good reasons to get sunflower seeds into your diet.  Throw some onto your salads, in your trail mixes or better yet, whip up this smoothie.  Your taste buds thank you in advance.

You’ll need:

1.5 C Sunflower milk

2 dates, chopped

1 T cashew butter

2 C + 2-3 T blueberries (fresh or frozen are ok, though I only had fresh ones)

1 T chia seeds

1 T fresh squeezed orange juice

4-5 ice cubes (if using fresh fruit only)

To make:

1. Place chopped dates and sunflower milk in a blender and blend until dates are broken up pretty well.  Add the cashew butter and blend again until smooth-ish.

2. Add remaining ingredients (reserve the 2-3T of blueberries) and blend away until you’re left with smooth deliciousness.

3. Garnish with remaining blueberries to add a touch of gourmet to this nutritious and delicious smoothie.

4. Enjoy

¹ Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

² http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=57 (There is also great info on the role Vitamin E plays in the body.)

Frozen Hot Chocolate

Makes 4 C

Frozen hot chocolate, like fried ice cream, really does a number on us left brainers.  We analyze and over-analyze to make sense of this apparent contradiction.  Not until we let our tastebuds take over do we then realize such analyses are unnecessary.  It’s decadent, it’s rich, it’s delicious.  Who cares if it’s an anomaly.

Chocolate is a gift from the gods.  No, really, it is a gift from Central and South America and was regarded by the great Maya and Aztec as a favored bitter drink valuable enough to be their currency.  It was the Swedes who coined it “theobroma”, food of the gods, in Greek.¹  There are many wonderful things about cacao or cocoa.  It is anti-inflammatory and it’s got delicious flavonoids that  seem to have chemo-protective effects.²  It’s also high on the anti-oxidant list, boasting around 3-4 more times than green tea.  (The darker the chocolate, the better!)  As for minerals, chocolate grants us copper (important for heart health and iron absorption), magnesium, potassium, and iron.³ All these goodies contribute to cardiovascular health, lowered hypertension, and increased blood flow (read, lowered risk of plaque build-up).  Oh, it was also widely considered an aphrodisiac and overall makes us feel good, happy, giddy even.  Good thing chocolate got around!

The caveat is, don’t OD on it!  Quantity destroys quality in anything!  There is still theobromine (caffeine relative) in chocolate which can be irritating to the GI tract, cause anxiety or insomnia and hyperactivity in kiddies.

One last note; spontaneous acts of love have been known to occur after consumption of this elixir.  Have fun with that!

You’ll need:

1 can organic coconut milk (whole fat)

1 cinnamon stick

2 T organic (fair trade preferable) cacao powder

2 T agave nectar

1 bar (approx 3 oz.) organic, fair trade dark chocolate (I had 73%), roughly broken

5-6 ice cubes

Ground cinnamon, for garnish

To make:

1. Heat coconut milk and cinnamon stick in a saucepan over low heat until the edges start to bubble.  Stir in cacao powder and agave nectar and let the edges begin to bubble again.  Remove cinnamon stick.

2. Place dark chocolate bar in a separate bowl and pour hot coconut/cacao mix over chocolate to melt.  Stir well.  Let cool.  (Or if you have time, you can let it cool and then refrigerate for up to 1 day.)*

3. In a blender, add hot chocolate and ice cubes and blend until frothy.  Serve with coconut cream and some ground cinnamon.

4. Enjoy!

*If you put hot chocolate in the fridge, it will thicken quite a bit.  It’s like a ganache.  Simply scrape into the blender and add water (coconut water would be ideal) to the consistency you want.  Go slow so that it doesn’t become too thin.

¹ Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

² Rebecca Katz, The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen

³ http://www.allchocolate.com/health/basics/

Berry Herbed Smoothie

Yields 4 Cups

I don’t have a juicer.  I know, I know, but my kitchen is small and space is quite limited.  So since I don’t have one, I have to find other ways of getting a variety of good greens into my blended smoothies.  (I also don’t yet have a vita-mix and since I don’t love chunky bits in my SMOOTHies, it’s sometimes a challenge.)  This one however is a home run.  The tartness of the berries and the hint of sweetness of the banana play off the slight bitterness of the parsley in a wonderful dance that ends with the pleasantly warm and sweet flavor of the mint.  Your tastebuds will be very happy with this one, as will the rest of your beautiful body!

The stars of this smoothie for me are the herbs.  Parsley is, perhaps surprisingly, such a powerhouse of nutrition!  It is special because of its volatile oils.  Myristicin is particularly valued for its anti-carcinogenic properties.  This oil has been shown to inhibit growth in tumors, particularly in the lungs.  Myristicin seems to also help neutralize certain types of carcinogens such as benzopyrene which comes from cigarette smoke and charcoal grill smoke.  If that were all parsley did, it would already be super-parsley, but there’s more.  Anti-oxidant rich parsley has an abundance of (water-soluble) Vitamin C and (fat soluble) beta-carotene, both of which play key roles in heart health and immune function.  It is high in folic acid, a critical B vitamin, and not just for pregnant women either.  Finally it’s an anti-inflammatory and a digestive aid.  Super-parsley or what?  For more info, click here.

Mint is also a digestive aid, is an anti-microbial and has its own anti-carcinogenic properties to boast.  It has perillyl alcohol which, in animal studies, has been shown to inhibit growth of liver, breast and pancreatic tumors.  It’s also a good source of more of those goodies, Vitamin C and beta-carotene.

Cheers to that!

You’ll need:

1/2 C parsley leaves and stems

7-8 largish mint leaves

2 C water

1 banana

1 T ground flax seeds

1 T coconut oil

1/2 t vanilla extract, optional

2-3 C mixed berries (I used blueberries, blackberries and strawberries*, but any combo of 2 or 3 would work well!)

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

4-5 ice cubes (if using frozen fruit, you don’t need ice cubes)

To make:

1. Place 1/2 C water in blender with parsley and mint and blend until herbs are finely chopped and you’ve got a deliciously fragrant green juice.  (You could add a bit of lemon juice here and take shots of this, too;)

2. Add banana, flax seeds, coconut oil and vanilla extract and blend until all well incorporated.  Lastly, add berries, the rest of the water, lemon juice and ice, if using, and blend thoroughly.

3. Serve with a sprig of mint.  Smoothies look great in small mason jars and add a bit of uniqueness when serving.

4. Enjoy!

P.S. For you non-vegans, a half cup of plain yogurt is a great way to get some protein and fat into this smoothie;)

Banana Coconut Smoothie

Serves 4

Smoothies are a delicious way to get some nutrients in a hurry.  They work with fresh fruit, dried fruit, veggies, dairy and non-dairy milks.  They’re wonderful for kids, too.  I’ve always loved smoothies but only really started making them (religiously) a couple of years ago for one of my clients during chemo treatments. They worked like a charm when the appetite waned!

Coconut milk is not only delicious, it is incredibly nutritious.  Coconut milk and oil contain lauric acid (which is also present in Mother’s milk) and has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.  Coconut contains saturated fat but it is assimilated into the body better because it is veggie derived.  Saturated fats feed the brain and are necessary for hormone production.  They deliver calcium to our bones, actually protect our cardiovascular health and are important for our immunity.  I know that’s not what we grew up believing but it’s true!  (Check out Weston A. Price for more info on fats.) 

I practically lived on these for most of my pregnancy (and one with a cacao variation).  They’re also great for kids! 

You’ll need:
2-3 Medjool dates
1 C coconut milk
1 C coconut water (or plain water works well, too)
2-3 ripe bananas
1 T ground flax seeds
1 T almond butter
1 T coconut oil
1 t vanilla extract
6 ice cubes
ground cinnamon, optional (for garnish)

To make:

1. Add dates and coconut milk to blender and blend thoroughly to break up dates as much as possible.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend well.  For a thicker consistency, add more ice.
3. Serve with a pinch of cinnamon on top.
4. Enjoy!