Grow Your Health Festival on 3/23 – Learn About Nutrition + Gardening

March 19, 2014 in Social Event

This Sunday, I will be teaching a class at the 2nd Annual Grow Your Health Festival in Fairfax, Virginia called “What Organic Really Means.” That caught your attention, didn’t it!? I don’t know about you, but I’ve been confused in the past about all the different food labels out there: Certified organic. Naturally grown. Non-GMO Project verified. Locally-sourced. Free-range. Grass-fed. And the list goes on … How’s a conscientious food shopper to know what to buy? I’ll be going over all of these and more, giving tips on how to identify greenwashing and “industrial organic” food, and busting some of the myths that persist regarding organic food and agriculture.

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If you live in Northern Virginia, come join us on Sunday! Tickets are $10/adult when bought ahead of time and all proceeds go to the Weston A. Price Foundation, the nutrition education non-profit that has helped open my eyes to real food and the importance of traditional food preparation and cooking. Besides the class I’m teaching there are also 17 other classes that cover a wide range of topics including starting a garden, small space gardening, managing pests without chemicals, gut health and chronic ailments, how I healed myself through nutrition, and the health properties of common kitchen herbs — just to name a few! Check out the bios of the talented speakers and a listing of all the interesting classes, with descriptions.

Besides classes, there will be all kinds of food and wellness exhibitors (including my startup, so look for me there!) and local, healthy lunch options from Nourish Market and New Family Naturals.

I’m stoked for the festival and hope to see you there! If you’re a local blogger interested in exhibiting your site at the Bloggers’ Alley at the festival, there’s a special deal of $25 for the entire day (includes admission for two adults). Feel free to comment below or connect with me for more details, or you can simply secure your spot online here.

Cheers!

Grain-Free Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Whipped Cream

February 28, 2014 in Dessert

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Can you believe this winter that doesn’t want to end? I won’t call it global warming because, well, lots of not-so-smart people retort with “hmm, shouldn’t global warming lead to more warm weather all the time?!). This winter, I kind of wish they were right about that.  A much more accurate term to describe our crazy weather changes is simply “climate change” — that’s the term everyone should adopt. It’s mind-blowing how much our planet is quickly changing in response to all the weird stuff humans are doing to the environment.

Just yesterday, I came across a Salon article titled “America is poisonous to your health.”  As dramatic as that sounds, it’s not that far from the truth. With all the plastic waste, PCBs, flame retardants, pesticides, lead, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals … it’s no wonder that the climate is wacky (and that many people are ill with autoimmune diseases, allergies, obesity, etc). And who knows how far-reaching and unpredictable some of these effects are — another article my mom shared with me details how the melting ice caps have enabled a certain feline-specific pathogen to spread to Arctic Beluga whales … which are the mainstay of the diet of modern-day Inuit populations. Say whaaat…? Yeah, we’re ALL connected on this earth, so we really ought to take better care of it. One of my new year’s resolutions this year was to start my own little garden and to also use as little plastic as humanly possible for a suburban dweller. I can claim some headway on both goals so far with being signed up for the online Food Growing Summit next week and hoarding every reusable bag I’ve ever been gifted.

So, I didn’t actually mean to start a tirade about climate change in this post. What I meant to do was to get you salivating in excitement about a recipe I am going to share with you that is super duper fantastic: a moist (yah, had to use that word), gluten-free (actually, also grain-free) chocolate cake! Who doesn’t love chocolate cake? If it’s you, you’re strange, but it’s okay because that actually means more chocolate cake for me in the world!

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This is when I tried to make it 6 layers and it wouldn’t stand up straight.

After my transition to a gluten-free lifestyle about three years ago, I shed my relationship with baked goods. Weight loss naturally followed, and I found it much easier to maintain a steadier, healthier weight that way. Since I am not gluten-intolerant (as far as I know), I can occasionally have half a croissant or a little sourdough bread with butter. But I can probably count on two hands the number of times I did that in the past couple of years. It’s not because I’m afraid of gluten (though I am still suspecting it’s responsible for a bout of migraines I had in my teenage and college years). I avoid it  because almost all bread and pastries in the U.S. of A officially SUCK. They taste like cardboard and the ingredients are almost always very disappointing. So, it’s not worth it! Happiness really IS homemade … check out the plaque:

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Made this for my parents’ anniversary. They liked it :)

One time I recently strayed from my gluten-free streak was when I went to Paris. It was only for two days but the experience left such an impression on me so it feels like we were there for longer. What a romantic city! And the baguettes, éclairs, mille-feuille, and all the other doughy goodies are absolutely delicious when bought fresh in the morning from an authentic French bakery. Yah, so aside from that 2-day binge, I haven’t really dabbled with wheat-based baking or desserts.

And since we’ve still celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and have had to satisfy our collective sweet tooth over the past three years, I’ve gotten quite comfortable with grain-free baking. Maybe not as comfortable as the baking geniuses behind Elana’s Pantry or PaleOMG, but I’m getting better by the day. I hit it out of the ballpark a couple of times, and because I’m kind of an impatient klutz in the kitchen sometimes, I didn’t really keep track of those recipes. I mean, I have pictures to prove that I baked a bunch of yummy-looking things, but I can’t tell you what the ingredients are. All real food in there. Just a little iffy on the proportions and stuff. But not to worry, I like to cook, so I’ll try my luck again and share the perfected recipes with you when I have them. Can’t promise it’ll be soon though ;)

But let’s focus on the positives. Today I am sharing with you a recipe that I’ve actually written down and have successfully replicated three times. It’s a winner, and I’m glad I kept track of this one. It’s a rich and super flavorful chocolate cake made with almond flour (for those of you new at this, this essentially means blanched and ground up almonds), a little bit of arrowroot powder (a gluten-free starch obtained from a tropical plant), and some coconut flour. Well, also eggs and raw cacao and maple syrup and vanilla and ghee. And chocolate — it has a decent amount of chocolate. I like to use Enjoy Life chocolate chips for this since they have very good ingredients, without all the main allergens including soy lecithin and milk powder that are typically found in chocolate chips.

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The sweetest slow-dancing figurine. Willow Tree is my fave.

Notice the sweet dancing figurine! It’s a Willow Tree piece called “Promise” if you’re curious. This picture was taken for my parents’ anniversary so we got creative with the setup.

I made this cake a bunch of times, experimenting with the proportions and also trying to figure out the optimal layering arrangement. I first did two layers, which was denser than I’d like it to be and also not that interesting in terms of shape. Then I did four layers, which was awesome: the texture was moist and the layering gave it a good look. Finally, I tried six layers because I’m greedy like that, and that was like a tower. Slices couldn’t stand up because they had to lie down. The pictures of the whole cake in this post are of the four-layer cake. The pictures of the slices were when I tried to make the six-layer monster.

As for ingredients and substitutions, I am not a baking expert (I consider myself a self-taught cook but a novice baker), so I can’t tell you with any certainty what’s going to happen if you decide to use another gluten-free flour if you need it to be nut-free, or if you use coconut oil instead of butter/ghee, etc. You are most welcome to try, but I can’t promise the end result will be as amazing as this cake.

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Grain-Free Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Whipped Cream

by Heba Saleh

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 30-40 minutes

Keywords: bake dessert gluten-free low-sodium soy-free vegetarian almond flour eggs arrowroot powder ghee birthday cake

Ingredients (4 layer, 6-inch diameter cake)

    For the Cake:

    • 1.5 cups blanched almond flour
    • 4 tablespoons arrowroot powder
    • 2 tablespoons coconut flour
    • 4 tablespoons raw cacao powder (unsweetened)
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • pinch unrefined salt
    • 5 large eggs, beaten
    • 3oz (~6 tablespoons) bittersweet chocolate, melted
    • 1/4 cup ghee or melted butter
    • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup (Grade B is best)
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

    For the Chocolate Whipped Cream:

    • 1 cup grass-fed cream, cold from the fridge
    • 2oz (~4 tablespoons) bittersweet chocolate, melted
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • Optional: slivered almonds for decoration. I used 2/3 cup of almonds to decorate this cake.

    Instructions

    For the Cake:

    (1) Preheat your oven to 350F and grease your pans. I actually didn’t have spring form pans on hand, which would have been perfect for this. I used two 6-inch round Pyrex containers with a lining of unbleached parchment paper that I added to make it nonstick. I didn’t need to add butter since the parchment paper works well on its own to stop the batter from sticking to the sides.

    (2) Combine the dry ingredients: In a large mixing bowl, add the almond flour, arrowroot powder, coconut flour, raw cacao powderbaking soda and pinch of salt.

    (3) Combine the wet ingredients: Break the eggs into another large bowl and beat until well combined. Pour in the maple syrup, ghee or melted butter, 3 oz of melted bittersweet chocolate, and vanilla extract. Mix until everything is well integrated.

    (4) Combine the dry and wet ingredients: Using a large fork or whisk, stir the dry ingredients into the wet, making sure no clumps are left.

    (5) Pour the batter into your pans. You can make it in one, two, or three pans. I found the ideal setup is to bake it over two pans, and split each cake into two horizontally to get four layers.

    (6) Bake for about 30 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

    (7) Leave out to cool for about 10 minutes, then flip over the cakes on a baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, slice through each of the cakes horizontally to separate into four layers.

    (8) Once the cake has cooled a bit, smooth cream {recipe below} in between the layers and stack the layers of the cake. Make sure to leave enough cream to cover the top of the cake and sides once it’s stacked. You may wish to add slivered almonds on the sides for decoration and to cover any blemishes or areas a little thin on the cream.

    (9) Decorate the top of the cake with anything you’d like. Fresh berries work well as do cacao nibs.

    (10) Store at room temperature for a few hours till ready to eat, or stick in the fridge if you’re eating the next day. It stays delicious for at least 5 days, but it hasn’t lasted in our home much longer than that …

    For the Chocolate Whipped Cream:

    (1) Melt 2 oz bittersweet chocolate.

    (2) In a mixing bowl, pour in a cup of cold cream. Using an electric hand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the cream, going in circles. The cream should start to thicken after about 1-2 minutes of whipping.

    (3) Add the melted chocolate and the vanilla extract and use the hand mixer to incorporate. Don’t over-whip the cream so it doesn’t get too sticky and lose it’s whipped airy texture.

    (4) Refrigerate the chocolate whipped cream until ready to use. {See above for directions on how to add the cream to the cake}

    Have your cake and enjoy it too!

    Idea for the best kitchen gift this Christmas!

    December 24, 2013 in Infographic, Review

    To say it’s been a long time is an understatement. I haven’t really posted on My Life in a Pyramid for many many months, and I haven’t posted consistently for more than a year. I really miss updating you and sharing my findings on health and fitness with you! I have been updating social media quite frequently though, so you’ll find me fairly active on Facebook, Pinterest and Google Plus. Instead of trying to explain myself and bore you with the details of my life, I will just say that I plan to post here more regularly but I will make no promises about frequency. With all the stuff on my plate nowadays, I won’t be able to “commit” too diligently to things outside work, but since I really do love posting here and sharing my personal health journey, I will continue posting on occasion.

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    In the meantime, since it’s almost Christmas (merry Christmas, dear readers and friends!), I want to share with you a helpful infographic about an idea for the best kitchen gift you can get someone. Well, as a kitchen person who loves to cook there are a bazillion kitchen gadgets and cookware that would melt the hearts of people like me … but really the best thing you can get for a novice or a pro in the kitchen is a BLENDER! This is my dream blender, but this is a close second and a fraction of the cost.

    No, they’re not only for smoothies (though now I use my blender at least once, sometimes twice a day since I got into making kefir — watch for a post about that in the near future!)… Blenders are also super economical because as you’ll see below, you can use them to replace about 40 kitchen appliances (well, not quite, but close!) The infographic below shows some great ideas for what to use blenders for in the kitchen — check it out below and share on Pinterest here. I’ll definitely be making guac with the blender from now on!

    This post is sponsored by Macy’s. I was invited to this opportunity by Blue Polo Interactive and received a Macy’s gift card for my time. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.