What Are Nourishing Desserts? + An Interview with Robin Shirley of the Take Back Your Health Conference

April 10, 2013 in Interview by Heba

A couple of months ago when attending a meeting to plan the Grow Your Health event in Fairfax, VA, I met the lovely Robin Shirley, and I found out from her that she is the mastermind behind the magnificent, life-changing health and wellness conference called the Take Back Your Health Conference in Northern Virginia. Not only is she managing all the operations to pull off a conference twice a year, but she’s also a certified health coach and she does frequent cooking demonstrations and tastings in the Fairfax area!

Here is a video below of Robin inviting you, yes YOU, personally to the Take Back Your Health Conference this month on April 26-28! And actually … I have an exciting surprise for you in the coming few days regarding this conference. Stay tuned and you’ll find out really soon … {sheepish smile}

Robin_Shirley_1I remember the very first cooking demo with Robin was one I attended on my birthday weekend this March with my hubby.  Coincidentally, Robin was teaching us how to make “nourishing desserts.” As someone who has been hanging out in the real food community for a while, I’ve known that desserts can actually be healthy and delicious, if we use REAL FOOD unprocessed ingredients. I had made a handful of yummy desserts and blogged about them (and many many more that I’ve snapped pretty pictures of and stored on my hard drive to blog about … hopefully sometime in this lifetime!). I love eating homemade desserts (as evidenced by my huge “Homemade Desserts” board on Pinterest), but don’t have much time these days to try new recipes. Robin’s class on nourishing desserts brought to my attention to something I hadn’t really considered till then though … that desserts can actually be NOURISHING! Yeah, now that’s a good reason to indulge, hah.

I later went to a few other classes on “superfood hydration” (learned a lot there) and on “nutrient-dense smoothies.” If you’re in the Northern VA area, I highly recommend that you come to the classes. Check the Take Back Your Health Meetup for the schedule.

In the class on nourishing desserts, she demonstrated how to make 3 delicious treats: fudgy brownies, vanilla blueberry sorbet, and cinnamon apple pecan torte. They all were gluten-free and dairy-free, so they work for individuals with those allergies or food sensitivities. Also, the blueberry sorbet was ready in about 5 minutes. Amazing. Best thing about the class (besides the delicious samples), was that I was struck by this revelation that desserts can indeed be nourishing. How? Glad you asked! Here are some of the points I synthesized from Robin’s demonstration. If you have other ideas, feel free to leave a comment.


What are Nourishing Desserts?

Nourishing desserts are ones that are made from scratch, using completely unprocessed real food ingredients that are nutrient-dense, like pastured eggs, coconuts, raw honey, organic spices, raw nuts (preferably soaked and dehydrated), grass-fed butter and fresh organic fruits. Yeah, we totally get jipped with those processed sugary $30 fancy cakes from the store — nothing nutrient-dense in there, and all that white sugar and white flour will probably not sit well with your body (whether in the short-run or long-run … or both!) Here are some tips from the class on how to make your desserts more nutrient dense:

1. For desserts that call for eggs, buy quality eggs, from a local farmer. I have personally seen and tasted the difference between organic store-bought eggs and locally-sourced pastured eggs. Bigger, orange yolk on the latter is a sign that just screams “nutrient-dense”. I think it’s important to remember that “we are what we eat EATS”, so hens that are fed an unnatural diet will produce inferior eggs than happy hens eating worms, weeds and non-GMO grain. Of course, if you’re in a pinch and can’t get any from a local source, organic is better than battery-raised conventional eggs.

2. Use only completely natural sweeteners. I know the word “natural” has been used and abused, but here’s what I mean when I say natural sweeteners: a sweetener that exists in nature and is unprocessed. Sweeteners I use on a regular basis are: raw honey (you can get organic honey if you can’t find raw local source), dried fruits, fresh organic fruits, 100% pure Grade B maple syrup, unsulphured blackstrap molasses, and on the very rare occasion – Rapadura (which is dehydrated unprocessed cane sugar NOT stripped from the mineral-rich molasses). You can find Rapadura on Amazon. I personally don’t use stevia because it’s too sweet and most of the kinds out there are processed (don’t even get me started on the scam that is “Truvia”). I guess if you really want to use stevia, you should use the actual green stevia leaf. Also, I would stay away from “agave syrup” – most brands are a sham … and it’s over 90% fructose due to processing. This goes without staying, but you’ll ruin your dessert and your health if you use any artificial sweeteners.

3. Use only completely natural unprocessed fats. Again, when I say “natural” I mean not only “extracted from nature”, but also unprocessed. Nourishing fats I use in desserts include coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and grass-fed ghee. Other fats to use for baking include pastured lard and tallow, but I haven’t tried those in desserts yet. Fats to stay away from include genetically-modified vegetable oils that promote inflammation when consumed, such as like sunflower, canola, corn, soy, and other processed oils. In Robin’s class, she used my beloved coconut oil quite a bit, which is always delicious in desserts!

4. Use only freshly-milled flours or unprocessed nut and seed flours. I have been avoiding gluten for close to two years now, and I’ve lost weight effortlessly after cutting it out. That’s not for everyone however, and some people do alright keeping unprocessed and homemade breads in their diets. However, it’s important to use freshly-milled flours that have not gone rancid, and hopefully soaking the flours ahead of time to release the phytic acid and other anti-nutrients therein. For nut flours, the best case scenario is making the nut flour yourself (pulsing in the food processor for a few minutes) after you have soaked and dehydrated the nuts, also to release phytic acid and make them more digestible. But I am usually too lazy to do the latter, so on the rare occasion I am making something with a nut-base, I either just grind the raw nuts and use immediately, or if the nuts can be wet in the recipe, I soak and do not dehydrate. And sometimes, I buy the packaged organic nut flour (this is especially true for coconut flour which is quite time-consuming to make).

5. Use seasonal, organic fruit when available. This goes without saying, but there’s nothing like a seasonal fruit made into dessert. Apples made into my almost-raw apple pie don’t even come close to mushy, shelf-stable apple sauce. Make desserts based on the season, and your taste buds will be eternally grateful!

What do you think of these tips to make your desserts more nutrient-dense?

I managed to ask Robin a few questions about food and health, what prompted her to start the TBYH Conference, what’s special about this year’s conference, and what she recommends for autoimmune disease in terms of food and diet. Check out the interview, and stay tuned for a follow-up surprise, coming soon!

An Interview with Robin Shirley of the Take Back Your Health Conference

1. I love your energy and enthusiasm for sharing valuable info with others, about food and healthy living. Please share a bit about your health journey as I think it can inspire many others.

Well, it began when I was about 12 years old. I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The pain and inflammation kept me from doing a lot of things that other kids my age were doing. It was difficult, but it forced me to reflect on where my life was headed and what was important to me. When your life is compromised that much, you start looking for answers. So I came across some nutrition and health information. I started the allergy elimination diet in my second year of college. All of my symptoms left. Within minutes of eating chocolate, eggs and beer, my inflammation came raging back. After that moment I knew that there was something to this healthy lifestyle.

2. Through your research and education in natural healing, surely you’ve come across information on how to eat to reduce inflammation in the body. What are 5 of your favorite anti-inflammatory foods or considerations?

The five lifestyle changes that have helped me the most are an elimination diet, plenty of sleep, spending my time doing fun things that make me forget about time (which stimulates anti-inflammatory hormones), including superfoods in my diet and guided meditation.

3. When I found out you were the force behind the Take Back Your Health Conference, I was so impressed! What inspired you to start the conference?

The pain and depression that I experienced inspired me to start the conference. I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through that. Now I have learned that I am not here to prevent others from experiencing disease, but to guide them through it so that they don’t get lost in the pain of illness, whether physical or mental. The Take Back Your Health Conference is a place for us to gather, learn and get inspired to live a healthy lifestyle together.

4. What are your favorite things about the TBYH Conference? What can people expect at this year’s conference on the last weekend in April?

This is going to sound a like I’m tooting my own horn! My favorite thing about the conference is having so many people come up to me and thank me for organizing the conference. It really is an inspiring and energizing event for those who come. And I love seeing everyone come back year after year. I’ve made some good friends! Other than that, the speakers are always  outstanding. They spend every day researching and living these healthy lifestyles and they have great wisdom and fun stories to share. This spring we are opening a Take Back Your Health Cafe at the conference where we are going to serve up delicious, super food for the attendees!

5. The cooking demos you offer for free ($5 suggested donation) in Fairfax, Virginia are amazing. I’ve attended two so far – one on “nourishing desserts” and another on “superfood hydration” and in each, I’ve learned something new. What are some basic cooking and food preparation tips you have for the uninitiated in the kitchen?

Number one, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And number two, don’t be afraid to get your kitchen dirty! It’s hard for me to relate to those who aren’t comfortable in the kitchen because I’ve been cooking since I was a toddler. But, whatever has kept you out of the kitchen until now is not as important as your own health. All of our ancestors cooked their own food. If they could do it, so can you!

6. What are some of your go-to recipes when you’re feeling under the weather?

As soon as I feel sick, I immediately stop everything, make hot amazon herb tea, take camu camu powder and cod liver oil and get into bed. I don’t get out of bed except for water, hot tea and to use the bathroom. I sleep and get in the sauna. If I feel up for it I will do an enema. I keep myself very warm and I read or watch fun movies. As for food, I always make chicken soup with bone broth. And I will hydrate with some of my favorite superfood drinks.

7. As a certified health coach, you can help people looking to improve their health in different ways. How do you usually work with clients, and what can someone expect if s/he is interested in a coaching engagement?

Since launching the International Health Coach Association LLC about a year ago, I don’t have much time to consult. When I do nutrition education it is mostly to groups: speaking, blogging and cooking demonstrations. I will do some consulting here or there, but I am dedicated right now to educating other health coaches so that they can continue to do the good work they are doing!

8. As a foodie, I have a special appreciation for kitchen tools and appliances. I imagine you are probably similar! What are 5 kitchen appliances/tools you use frequently and recommend?

Gosh, I use a blender and a food processor a lot. I also use a paring knife, a big wood cutting board and a casserole dish. I think those are the 5 must-haves for a kitchen. As far as fun gadgets go, I would have to say that I love my garlic press.

9. In addition to coaching, planning the conferences, doing cooking demos, and blogging, you also have a podcast – Take Back Your Health radio. My first question is: how do you have time for it all? And my second question is: why did you decide to start a podcast?

Well, I don’t have time for it all! I have a lot of people helping me, thank goodness. But running a business isn’t just something you can do without great care. To do it successfully, it requires a person to keep a regular schedule so that when it is time to do work, you can focus on it, knowing that the house is kept up, you are well fed and exercised and your social and family life is strong.

I decided to start a radio show to get comfortable talking to others about my personal life experiences. I only do the show once a month right now on the first Tuesdays. It’s on blogtalkradio.com and they make it really easy to run a show.

10. Your journey with autoimmune disease is inspiring and helpful for many people you meet. What are some resources you recommend for those suffering from autoimmune conditions?

For autoimmune disease in particular, I would recommend researching common allergen elimination diets and trying those out. I would also recommend reading any book published by HayHouse. Autoimmune disease is damaging not only physically, but emotionally, and you need to take care of your soul, not just your body.

Who is Robin Shirley?

Robin Shirley is the President and founder of the International Health Coach Association LLC and the Take Back Your Health Conference. She speaks, consults and writes on the topics of holistic health care and online business strategies.

Robin grew up with out-of-control systemic inflammation, which her doctors labeled as Systemic Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and chronic Lyme disease. She has spent over 10 years on her own studying and experimenting with nutrition, herbs, movement and various alternative therapies. Robin has personally experienced the power of holistic nutrition and lifestyle adjustments on reducing pain and inflammation and increasing joy and pleasure, which is her inspiration to serve and support others with health challenges. Her mission is to bring together people and health information in an inspirational atmosphere so that healthy lifestyles will spread like wildfire. For more information, check out her site at http://robinshirley.com/.