What’s better than a perfect summer cocktail? A healthy summer cocktail of course!  Fresh young Thai coconut is a delicious treat, with the coconut water supplying natural electrolytes to help us replace fluids, salts and minerals lost during the heat of summer – especially after an intense day of exercise or time in the sun.  Coconut water is very high in potassium, low in sugars, has a modest amount of sodium and a light, nutty flavor.  Blended with the young flesh, it makes a deliciously creamy drink for summer.  The coconut flesh is rich in protein, fiber and medium chain fatty acids, including lauric acid which is naturally antiviral and antifungal, helping to prevent yeast overgrowth, and supplies a quickly digested source of energy for an improved metabolic burn. Fresh lime juice supplies Vitamin C, and using maple syrup as a natural sweetener provides B-vitamins and minerals.  Pineapple is of course a delicious and nutrient-packed fruit, high in the antioxident Vitamin C and the mineral manganese. The core of a pineapple contains the enzyme called bromelain, a natural anti-inflammatory enzyme which contributes to healthy joints and can ease symptoms of arthritis by reducing inflammation.  Smoothies (or coladas!) are a great way to use the tougher core that is sometimes less desirable to munch. I love it when there is a great reason to make a summer drink!

Before whipping up your frosty summer cooler, learn how to open a young Thai coconut, by watching this video.

Perfect Piña Colada

1 young Thai coconut, top cracked open (or substitute 1/2 can Thai Kitchen organic coconut milk and 4-6 oz water)
1/2 organic pineapple, core and flesh, cut into large chunks*
juice of 1 organic lime
1 tablespoon maple syrup
ice

Carefully pour coconut water into a blender jar and scrape out all of the coconut meat, adding to the coconut water in the blender. Add pineapple chunks, lime juice, maple syrup and ice and blend to a frosty smooth drink. Add extra lime juice or maple syrup if necessary. Spike with dark Jamaican or Barbadian rum if desired.

Makes 2 large piña coladas

*organic pineapple is also available frozen in natural food stores and co-op groceries – making this even easier!

Enjoy!

When it gets hot in Minnesota, you can’t miss it. First of all, it feels so darn good after all those months of hunching shoulders against the cold to feel a warm breeze.  Then it quickly becomes oppressive because our bodies hardly know what to do after the rapid temperature swing that has switched from cold to hot in just a week.

If you typically live in a climate-controlled environment, then eating choices might not seem so variable when the temps swing from cool to hot.  But if you don’t use air conditioning – whether by choice or by circumstance –  then days like this might mean something entirely different appeals to the palate than the usual supper fare.

I like main dish salads this time of year (disclosure: I like main dish salads most times of the year, with the exception of November–January) that deliver a good balance of nutrition with easy to digest proteins, light grains, and plenty of vegetables with a modest amount of healthy fats.

Tonight my plan is based on what I have in my refrigerator: super fresh locally-grown organic spinach from Uptown Farmers (my ultra-local custom “CSA”), regionally local Living Waters hydroponic vine-ripened tomatoes, Kalamata olives (from the Wedge…..via Greece!), and a local feta from Singing Hills Goat Dairy that I picked up at the Mill City Farmer’s Market.  From this, I’ll make a Spinach Greek Salad, serve it with a Quinoa Tabbouli plus a little Chickpea-Tomato Salad with Mint. The tabbouli will be just like a regular tabbouli, only it will be gluten-free and protein-rich by using quinoa instead of bulgur, the spinach salad will be just like a regular Greek salad except I’ll be using spinach because it is in season and so wonderful right now, and the chickpea salad is just a quick way to pull together a good plant-based protein with tomatoes and fresh herbs.  It is a good idea anytime to try and eat a greater proportion of plant-based meals: the protein in beans and lentils is easily digested and assimilated, as well as providing fiber and important vitamins while naturally aligning with an eco-conscious decision to tread more lightly on the planet.

Tonight, our supper will not be too heavy, but not too dainty either – perfect for a hot summer night.

Chickpea Tomato Salad with Mint

2 fat cloves garlic, peeled and pressed or chopped
4 small tomatoes, diced
large pinch sea salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I love Kritiko or Diamond Brand Greek olive oil from Bill’s Imported Foods)
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained (drained and rinsed, if canned)
2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped

Combine garlic, tomatoes, salt and olive oil together in a small bowl and let marinate for 10-15 minutes.  Add drained chickpeas and chopped mint, season to taste with additional salt, if necessary, and freshly ground pepper, and serve immediately.  Store leftovers in a glass container and eat within 3 days.

Serves 2

a lovely bunch of beets

A blog on beets from my StarTrib blog – and a modern borscht for spring!

A friend of mine who is living in Mexico shared this tip with me from the ladies in her town: store your unripe avocados in a kitchen drawer (any kitchen drawer where you have space and will remember them) and they’ll ripen perfectly.  Guess what – it works!  Once they’re ripe, eat them right away or extend their life for a day or two by transferring to the refrigerator.  Store cut avocados with their pit to prevent browning.

I love avocados – and they’re especially great this time of year. You can find lesser known varieties in local co-op groceries right now that are even better than the standard Hass or Fuerte – Pinkerton is deliciously sweet, creamy and good for eating right out of the shell.  I squeeze a little fresh lime onto a freshly cut avocado half and sprinkle a little sea salt for a satisfying snack.

Avocados are good for us in so many ways.  They may be high in fat, but it’s a GOOD fat that you actually want in your diet.  Avocados are high in monounsaturated  fatty acids, including oleic acid and linoleic acid which can help with balancing cholesterol levels.  They are loaded with potassium – even more than bananas – and high in Vitamin E, B vitamins, Vitamin C and Vitamin K – a vitamin that is important for bone health, calcium metabolism and healthy arteries.  Great for our skin, metabolism, and muscles, avocados are what I like to think of as a “healthy operating system” food for our bodies.  Eat them on salads, in sandwiches, in a green smoothie, or even out of the shell.

A recent visit to a fabulous restaurant – Gracias Madre – in the Mission district of San Francisco inspired this salad. Easy, creamy and delicious – enjoy!

Avocado Caesar Salad

1 avocado, pit removed

1 /2 fresh organic lime

large pinch sea salt

1 large garlic clove, pressed

1 small bunch romaine lettuce, washed, dried and chopped into bite-sized pieces

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (freshly grated will taste the best)

cherry tomatoes, optional

In the bottom of a large heavy salad bowl, mash the flesh of your perfectly ripe avocado along with the lime, salt and garlic clove.  Toss with chopped romaine and finish by tossing with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, cherry tomatoes, if using, and serve immediately.

It happens EVERY week, doesn’t it?  We all have one of those days when we get to the fridge and we can’t figure out what to eat.  I’m a big fan of planning ahead, so what I try and do is keep a well-stocked pantry, and a fairly well-stocked fridge so that I can almost always put something together that is delicious, easy and nutritious.  I have staple items that go into my shopping basket each week so that I have good “colors” around:  organic red bell pepper, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale/chard/collards, romaine, a bunch of herbs – usually parsley or cilantro, and red onions and garlic.   I also keep my pantry stocked with bulk items like quinoa, millet, brown rice (basmati, sweet brown, and a brown rice mix), wild rice, and amaranth, plus raw seeds and nuts: sunflower, pepita (pumpkin), sesame, walnuts, almonds and cashews.  For canned goods, it’s always helpful to have a few cans of beans on hand – garbanzo beans (chickpeas), black beans, and white beans. When it comes time to needing quick food, I know that I have the foundation for a healthful meal – good carbohydrates, healthful proteins, good fats, and loads of minerals and vitamins plus all the extras – think antioxident-rich phytonutrients.

This recipe is one of my favorites. Chock full of vitamins, minerals, protein, folate and antioxidents, this easy recipe makes a great, quick weeknight meal and converts to a perfect, packable lunch.

Lemony Quinoa and Chickpea Pilaf

Serves 4 – 6

1 cup quinoa (white, red or black – it doesn’t matter)
2 cups vegetable stock or bouillon (veggie or chicken)
1 teaspoon cumin, ground or whole seed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
1 small organic red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 bunch kale, ribs removed and finely chopped
2 to 3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 14-oz. can, drained
1/3 cup freshly squeezed organic lemon juice
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Rinse quinoa several times in a bowl of cold water.*  Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan and add the bouillon or stock and the quinoa.  Lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the spiral of the quinoa germ is visible, about 15 minutes.  Let stand for 5 minutes or until ready to serve.

Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat.  When it is hot, add the olive oil and then the onion, garlic, red pepper, and kale.  Sauté, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes, and then add the cumin.  Sauté for about 30 seconds, then stir in the quinoa and chickpeas.  Stir together for a few minutes, then add the lemon juice and parsley. Combine well, add salt and pepper to taste, and remove from heat. Serve hot or at room temperature.  Tastes great cold the next day.

*Rinsing removes the saponin – a protective coating that naturally coats the grains of quinoa as it grows. If not rinsed, the saponin leaves a bitter or soapy taste on the grain.

I’d like to share something I’m really excited about!   Last month I did a three hour Intentional Living Consultation with Space Guru Susan Shehata.  It was fantastic – at the end of the session I felt optimistic and energized about the guidance she’d given me on making changes to my home that would more accurately reflect the intentions and energy of how we hope to live in our space.  The changes that she proposed for us aren’t radical – they are practical changes to use of space, organization, and intention.  I’m gradually applying the changes and I can’t wait to live in the results!

Here is how Susan describes what she does:

Intentional Living Consultation:
Are you ready for your life to shift in a positive direction?  Do you want to move forward, but know that there are subtle or strong blocks holding you back?  Your home is a mirror of your life. All your goals and obstacles are reflected in your space.
Susan Shehata, Space Guru, will gently and effectively assist you in creating positive and long lasting results in your home that will enhance the way you live.  These sessions are designed to bring you more awareness with life issues such as relationships, career and personal wellness; guiding you towards simplification and intentional choices.  Sessions are customized to your needs and include feng shui, the psychology of your space, organization & clutter control, design and coaching.

Initial Consultation: 60 minutes; $100
An initial assessment of your home, which will give you an overview of how your space is currently reflecting your life.  We will identify key issues and discuss a game plan to begin achieving results.  The session also includes an educational packet, as well as email correspondence, prior to the session, to help you better understand your home and prepare you for our time together.
Follow Up Sessions: $30/hour; 2-3 hour minimum depending on location
These sessions are customized depending on your needs.  Sessions may include optimizing flow, clutter clearing, tackling emotional blockages, furniture layout, color selection and design, simplifying, creating effective organizational systems for active areas in your home, room makeovers and more extensive coaching and guidance for a specific problem area.
Package prices are also negotiated based on your needs.  To schedule an appointment contact Susan by phone 612-710-7040 or by email

Susan Shehata, Space Guru, assists clients in transforming the space around and the space within, through feng shui, music, holistic healing and spiritual coaching. She is the co-owner of Sacred Rearrangements, a lifestyle transformation business.  Her radio show, Raising the Consciousness, which aired weekly on AM950 for over two years and will be moving in May to Contact Talk Radio, inspires global change through individual action by providing simple solutions for conscious living. Susan is also a writer whose column, Space Guru, appears in the Edge Magazine and Southwest Journal. Susan has worked as a holistic health practitioner for nearly a decade, assisting people in transforming their homes and their lives.

How about a little spring treat for your body?  Try these fizzy bath bombs when you need to relax – or even in a footbath.  Simple and decadent – my favorite way.

Fizzy Spring Bath Cubes

1 cup baking soda
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup Epsom salts
1/2 cup citric acid
1/2 cup filtered water
5 drops ylang-ylang essential oil
5 drops frankincense essential oil

Combine all of the ingredients in a glass mixing bowl.  Pack the mixture into clean ice cube trays and let dry.  (You can also form into balls, but the ice cube tray is easier.)  Use 2-3 cubes for a bath and store the remainder in a glass jar.  Doubles easily – and makes a great gift!

You can find Epsom salts in the Health and Beauty section of any grocery store or pharmacy.  Citric acid is available at local co-op groceries in the bulk tea and spices aisle.  My favorite source for essential oils is Veriditas Botanicals, a locally-owned (and woman-owned!) company based in Bloomington, Minnesota. You can find them at metro area co-ops.

I’ll be teaching a couple of great classes next month at Kitchen Window in Minneapolis.  The menus are really fresh for spring and feature some exciting flavors with easy preparations.  All of the things I’m craving right now!

Fundamentals of Gluten-Free Cooking
Kitchen Window  
Wed, May 4  6–9:00 pm
Living without gluten can be delicious and pain-free – using creative ideas inspired from traditional diets around the globe. I’ll be making Homemade Crackers with White Beans, Smoked Trout and Radishes; Caribbean Coconut-Lentil Curry over Quinoa-Amaranth Pilaf; Crepes with Shrimp, Asparagus and Spring Herbs; Okonomiyaki
(Japanese Vegetable Pancakes) with Wasabi Äioli and finishing with a Provençal Apple Cake.
$65 includes recipes & tasting
Register at Kitchen Window: 612-824-4417 or online

Fundamentals of Plant-Based Cooking
Kitchen Window
Wed, May 18  6–9:30pm
Whole, unprocessed, organic foods and fresh seasonal produce can give you more energy, strengthen your immune system and improve your sense of well being. I will discuss how to combine fresh seasonal vegetables, nutrient-rich whole grains, high-protein beans and nuts into balanced and satisfying meals that are perfect for any dinner party or weeknight meal. I’ll be making Pasta with White Beans, Escarole and Tomatoes; Peanut Soba Noodles with Tiny Vegetables; Lentil, Chickpea and Wild Rice Pilaf with Spring Herbs; Spring Vegetable Risotto; and Chop Salad with Black Beans, Avocado and Salsa Fresca.
$65 includes recipes & tasting
Register at Kitchen Window: 612-824-4417 or online

I’ve decided to start a second blog.  (My first is still going at startribune.com/yourvoices.)  Basically, I set out to design a new newsletter with all of the things I was hoping to include after hearing great feedback from women – and it was all great, but it was much too long.  All of the new additions felt like they needed a new home, so on the advice of a trusted advisor (thanks, Rachel!) I’ve started this new blog as a way to share information, recipes, ideas and tips and to keep it all in one tidy place.

To make posts easier to search, I’ll keep them short and catagorize them on the side.  Check back often for new recipes (for skin and cooking),  class listings, upcoming retreats, and other healthy living tips.  I’m also excited to be featuring a new section called Things I Like.

I’ll also be making more frequent use of my Anna Dvorak Classes and Retreats Facebook  page, so if you want to follow my updates there, check that out.

What ideas do you have for making this a useful resource for you and your healthy life?  I’d love to know!

~ Anna