Mushrooms 101: A Closer Look at Chaga Thanks to FourSigmatic

Mushrooms tend to be one of those fruits of nature that people either love or hate. Whether it’s their texture or the idea that there are countless mushroom species that make you chat with the smoking caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland or take you to the hospital – there are plenty of mushrooms that are magic without those ill side effects.

Mix of forest mushroomsOne such mushroom happens to be Chaga (aka Inonotus Obliquus) that can typically be found in the Northern Hemisphere handing out on birch trees. This powerful mushroom may not even look like a mushroom to you – check out that picture! Known for being a healthy addition to tea in the East for centuries, this ugly (is that mean?) mushroom has made its debut in the U.S. bringing with it all of its health benefits.

So what does it do? Well, according to Dr. Edward Group, chaga is “a highly-concentrated black mass of mycelium that protrudes from birth trees infected with parasitic – but non-toxic- fungus Inonotus Obliquus.”

four sigmatic
Chaga (Picture Courtesy Mother Earth News)

Ok… before you get all grossed out. Remember that to grow mushrooms, you must inject the corresponding tree (usually a dried log) with the fungus of whichever mushroom you want. Where do you think the term “fungi” came from! (The mushroom walks into the bar and the bartender says, ‘we don’t allow your type in here,’ and the mushroom says, ‘why not… I’m a fun guy!’ – Ok, I’ll stop with the corny jokes now.)

So back to this non-toxic fungus. Chaga is recognized from its dark, hard and cracked exterior which resembles “burnt charcoal” and if you crack it open, it boasts a rusty yellow brown interior. Yum! (Yes, I’m being sarcastic). Even though it sounds horrid, by consuming chaga, you’ll be supporting your immune system thanks to its abundance of Beta-D-Glucans, which gives your system a boost or slows it down when its in hyper drive. In addition, it supports your blood vessels, soothing irritation, normalizes blood pressure and cholesterol levels thanks to its betulinic acid, which helps break down LDL cholesterol (aka “bad cholesterol”), and can even assist in supporting your gastrointestinal health.

All of this from one little mushroom? Yes! Thanks to its high levels of polysaccharides (which can help improve your mood), phytosterols, Super Oxide Dismutase enzymes, and a large amount of antioxidants including melanin (actually, chaga has the highest ORAC score which measures the amount of antioxidant potency of any superfood!) Take that kale!

Now that you know the health benefits, I’m sure you want to figure out where you can get some chaga of your own. Don’t worry, I’m not sending you out into the forests of New Hampshire. Thanks to Four Sigmatic, a cup of chaga is a click away.

cordyceps-mushrooms
Cordyceps (Photo Courtesy The Chalkboard Magazine)

The geniuses of Four Sigmatic have turned this powerhouse into a “Mushroom Elixir” and have also added it in their “Mushroom Coffee” that in addition to Chaga includes Cordyceps, another mushroom that’s traditionally grown on the bodies of caterpillars (I’m not making this up!) Don’t worry, Cordyceps doesn’t include any caterpillars, but it is believed to enhance athletic performance and improve aerobic capacity. Dr. Weil even recommends it as a “natural energy boost” which has helped people with “low mood and compromised overall vitality.”

img_3252Back to the Mushroom Elixir – I’m in love! This little power packet as I’ve come to call it is the perfect addition to my morning smoothie routine. It adds a little pep to my step (I’m not a coffee drinker) without the caffeine, while giving me the immune boosting properties my body is craving (especially during the winter, when I’m running on no sleep thanks to my little six month old). It really doesn’t change the taste of my smoothie so you don’t even realize this little mushroom that could is hiding in the depths of your raspberries and peanut butter.

So go ahead, try it in your next morning smoothie and see how you feel. Getting back to the dirt never tasted so good and you don’t even have to “know a gal” who shares the location of that log on that trail in those woods that grows the goods. Four Sigmatic took care of that for you.

Check out my next post on their Mushroom Hot Cocoa with Reishi… yes, they made hot chocolate a health food – FINALLY!

Entering the Year of the Fire Monkey

year of the fire monkey

If you watched Superbowl 50 last night, you might have been weirdly intrigued by the “Puppy, monkey, baby” commercial. Honestly, I can’t remember what the commercial was actually selling, but the combination of the three very cute entities rolled up into one was disturbing, fascinating, and hilarious. However, that’s not my point.

year of fire monkeyToday, February 8, 2016 marks the Chinese Lunar New Year, moving from the year of the Sheep, a Yin and Wood year, to the year of the Monkey, which also happens to be a fire year. What does this all mean? Keep reading below and find out what all this “monkey business” is about!

 

Welcoming the Year of Fire

First, let’s get a little hold on what a “fire year” versus a “wood year” actually means. According to Chinese Astrologer and Doctor of Chinese Medicine Narrye Caldwell, a wood year focuses on growing your intuition, breaking through barriers, growing, and becoming enthused by new or old projects. We may have spent the past two years growing our vision, seeking our goals, but have been unable to move forward in an educated way. This is partly due to wood’s lack of wisdom and refinement, leading us to become unstable or reckless.

year of the fire monkey“Fire qi is the full expression of Wood’s vision. Fire brings forth the rose, lays the paint on the canvas, and gives voice to the song that’s been forming in the depths of your heart,” said Caldwell.

Feng Shui expert Karen Abler Carrasco also explains how wood is introspective, focusing on a vision that luckily for us, will now be put ablaze by the fire year!

Combined with the flaming intensity of fire and the foundation we set for our intention during the wood years, we will be able to manifest our dreams into reality. During this year, understand that fire, just like that in nature, is difficult to control, but when are able to allow the fire to burn bright while also keeping the flames from burning the edges, it will continue to burn brighter and brighter as the heat intensified.

year of fire monkey

The Explosive Energy of the Fire Monkey

year of fire monkeyNow what about the monkey? Known as being one of the most intelligent signs of the Chinese Zodiac, the monkey is clever, resourceful, and adventurous, but can also be selfish, unpredictable, and erratic. My favorite characteristic of the monkey is it’s magical qualities. It has a way of turning chaos into magic and transformation, testing your ability to stay calm during times of upheaval while you grab a hold of the possibilities that arise.

“But remember—on the other side of chaos is magic and transformation. Be brave and keep your sense of humor; never forget that there’s spiritual gold at the end of the tale,” said Shelly Wu.

During the year, make sure you engage your senses with creative energy both externally and internally. Nourish your body and mind with activities that both inspire you such as writing, drawing, dancing, singing, playing, and ground you such as practicing yoga, meditation, and gardening. It’s also important to balance your food, lowering the inflammation inducing ingredients because our fire energy is already strong. (Check out this recipe A Summer Grain Salad).

My Intentions For This Year

year of the fire monkeyNow that we understand a bit about what’s coming, it’s time to turn inward and see where we would like to go. This is the time to take charge, delve into your dreams and allow them to take shape. For me, I’m going to focus on what makes me happy: sharing my love and passion of yoga, meditation, healthy eating, nourishing the body and soul, and writing. One step in front of the other or as Dory in Finding Nemo said… “Just keep swimming.”

Use your intuition that you’ve nourished throughout 2014 and 2015 and allow them to take shape within the fire. We’ve come this far, we’ve created our vision, and now it’s time to take hold of it and move forward. Remember to use your intuition and knowledge and you step on the path towards illumination. It’s your time to shine and the best way to shine is when you’re being true to yourself while sharing it with others.

As always, “Bee” Well,

Melissa

Salmon – The Deliciously Fatty Fish

Raise your hand if you love salmon! I don’t know if it’s all the Omega 3s in salmon, but it’s one of my favorite dishes. Well, actually, it might be taking the top spot (along with scallops, but that’s not a fish.) Anyways, I digress.

seared-salmon-rawFirst, let me talk about how great salmon is for you! It contains a bunch of health benefits, supporting your heart with omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, which slow down plaque build-up in the arteries. Those same Omega-3s boost your brain power while also helping your eyes by protecting the eye cells from sunlight and free radicals. It also contains my favorite Vitamin, Vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium among countless other benefits! It also contains astaxanthin, a super antioxidant that helps protect your skin from UV-radiation while supporting eye and heart health. Yea, this beautiful fatty fish is loaded to the gills (pun intended) with positive health benefits. So let’s talk about why people may not cook it at home…

Many people reserve fish for ordering at a restaurant. I’ve heard every excuse from I hate the way it smells up my house to I have no idea how to cook it, to it tastes so much better at the restaurant. Well, I’m here to help you out because seriously, I love salmon, but I hate spending $30 on it at a restaurant when I can buy a quality piece of wild caught Alaskan salmon for around $7-10. Here are a few tips for all you lovely fish eaters out there!

Grizzly Bears Love Salmon Too
Grizzly Bears Love Salmon Too

1. Every salmon needs a good sear (well at least I think so). I love the crispy crust when it’s complemented by the tender inside. It’s so good, my mouth is watering right now. My favorite way to get that crust to to cook my salmon in a skillet on the stove. First, I get the pan searing hot, add a little olive oil, and the salmon, skin side down (if you have a skinless piece of salmon, don’t worry about it). Turn the heat to medium low. Cover the skillet and cook for 3-4 minutes. Then flip, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes more. What comes out is a perfectly cooked salmon. Seriously. Anyone can do that! Yes, even you!

IMG_15662. Ok so now you know how to cook the salmon. It won’t be fishy tasting (that only happens when you overcook it), but your house may smell a little fishy after cooking. I understand. No one likes that smell in their house, only on the docks. So what do you do about it? First shut your doors to the rest of your house. Try and confine the smell as much as possible. The be sure to open a window, put a fan on, just do something to kick the smell out. Once you’re finished cooking, clean up, right away. If it still smells like a dock, simmer your some cinnamon sticks, cloves and citrus peels on the stove for an all natural air freshener. And if you just can’t get the smell out, leave a small bowl on the counter filled with white vinegar, baking soda, or coffee grounds which will help naturally dissipate any remaining smells come morning.

3. Think you can’t cook as good as some restaurants? Think again. You may not be able to rival a 5 star establishment, you can still wow your guests and yourself, by cooking up a delicious seafood meal. The key is to cook it properly (see number 1) and then add some jazz to it! I love making a light dill sauce to go along with my salmon. Take 1 cup Greek Yogurt, 2 tablespoons white vinegar, 3 tablespoons freshly chopped dill, the juice and zest of one lemon, salt and pepper and BAM! – you’ve got yourself a fancy salmon sauce.

Are there any other hurdles that are stopping you from cooking up a seafood feast this evening? Let me know about them and I’ll see if I can help you!

Looking for healthy kitchen inspiration? Let me design a food plan that fits your budget, time constraints, and preferences while focusing on your health concerns! I’ll get you back on track for 2015 by eating delicious food that’s easy to make and good for your body and soul! Contact me at info@mbeewell.com for a free consultation!

Bee Well,

Melissa
info@mbeewell.com

 

Take the Leap

“The first step is a leap of faith, every leap after is one of knowing.”

I heard this today during yoga and felt the need to share. During that instant, it applied to the split I was attempting to do, but after class, it was the thought that I could continue to succeed, do what I love to do, and help others. It’s a saying that can really be applied to anything that you’re afraid of attempting, whether it’s applying for that job that you really want, telling someone you love them, or starting a new routine.

most+things+are+difficult+quoteThe steps and choices we make in life aren’t always easy. However, do we really want to be on our death bed and think of the “what ifs” or would we rather think of the “oh wells.” For me, I really would rather say oh well, I guess I really screwed up that time instead of asking myself what if I did that, what if I went there, WHAT IF?

Once you take the first (which is most of the time, absolutely frightening) step, you’re more comfortable moving forward because you’ve got “Mr. Momentum” on your side now. When we overcome our fears, we realize that there wasn’t that much to fear in the first place. The entire time that we were telling ourselves that we couldn’t do it, we can’t make it, we’re never going to succeed, was just our fear telling us that we couldn’t do it. It wasn’t reality. We had never tried it! How would we know if we could succeed? Even if we had tried it in the past… that was then, this is now. We’re different. The circumstances are different. The world is different.

Remember, Albert Edison made over 1,000 mistakes before he invented the light bulb.

Now that you’re following your dreams, it’s almost like a worn in pair of jeans that fit you so well. With every single step forward, you’re more comfortable in your actions, with who you are, what you do, and how you feel. It’s like you were meant to act this way and that’s because you were.

dont-give-upSince it’s the beginning of the New Year, I’m sure many of you are writing down resolutions to lose weight, eat well, and get healthy (and as we’ve seen from the past that many people often lose ground in February). The first act of getting healthy is difficult for many, but a lot of times it’s “staying on track” that becomes even more difficult for some people. You may know that you want to eat well, but those tray of french fries are just way too tempting. So maybe you did take a leap of faith in exercising and trying out new recipes, but was it for the right reason? We won’t be able to really realize our hopes and dreams if it doesn’t come from within instead of what we think others think.

A lot of the time, people tend to focus so much on how they want to change their look instead of thinking about how they want to FEEL. Looks are passing, how you feel on the inside is lasting. Do you want to feel vibrant, strong, energetic, smart, powerful, and full of life? Then think of that as your goal instead of losing 20 lbs which is far less satisfying in the long run.

Yoddler_297_LargeYou can do it. Write down how you want to FEEL in 2015 and make the leap of faith to get there. Once you start the journey towards following your heart, every step thereafter becomes one of knowing.

Bee Well,

Melissa

P.S. If you’re looking for someone to help you start your journey towards the REAL YOU, contact me below! I’d love to help you start (and end) the New Year in the best way possible – by following your heart!

 

A Cheesy Book Review and Giveaway!

Sometimes I get to do really cool things like meet Martha Stewart and attend events where Bobby Flay gets his culinary butt whooped by a local chef. Other times I get to review books, which is sometimes even more fun for me because a cookbook is like a gift that keeps on giving. There’s no way you can make all the recipes in a few days, weeks, or months. Yes, Julia did cook all of the recipes from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but that took her an entire year! I know I’m remaking some of my favorite dishes in a cookbook before I make every single recipe.

Anyway, back to my original point. I get to do cool stuff and the most recent project I was invited to contribute to was testing out Claudia Lucero’s book One-Hour Cheese: Ricotta, mozzarella, chevre, paneer – even burrata. Fresh and simple cheeses you can make in an hour or less. 

My little bundle of 'Fromage Facile' Joy
My little bundle of ‘Fromage Facile’ Joy

Now, when I first heard about this book I was a little skeptical as I had made some goat cheese before with horrible results. My ricotta was decent and my mozzarella alright. Let’s just say my cheese didn’t stop me from buying cheeses elsewhere. Maybe it was because I fidgeted over it too much or because after 30 minutes of not actively doing anything I had to do something. So, when I saw this book that promises foolproof results with cheeses that I can make in an hour or less, I had to try it.

Yes, Cheese!

First things first, I have to pick what cheese I’m going to attempt to make. Since I just got home from an amazing trip to Paris, I decided on the Fromage Facile or “easy cheese” in French (perfect for me!) which Lucero notes is a “mild, creamy, multiuse cheese that is simply great to have on hand.” Made of buttermilk and whole milk, the cheese is labeled as “easiest” and is ready to eat in 30 minutes. Seriously, this cheese was made for me.

My 'Fromage Facile' with Sage
My ‘Fromage Facile’ with Sage

After a run to the store to pick up some fine cheese cloth, whole milk, buttermilk, lemons, and a thermometer, I was all set. Lucero’s instructions even let you know what will be your biggest obstacle during the process with her “How Easy Is It?” bar. For Fromage Facile it was squeezing and straining fresh lemon juice (can you see why I picked this cheese first?) The instructions are simple and come with pictures for every step so you can easily follow along. It even comes with suggestions for variations such as rolling it in fresh herbs or pickled jalapenos to make a bagel spread (delicious) and a recipe for each cheese.

After tasty success with the Fromage Facile, I’m ready to try making Paneer (page 67), a farmer’s cheese used extensively in Indian cuisine) and when I feel really brave the Chipolte-Lime Oaxaca (page 161.) The best part of this book is that not all of the cheeses require you to use vegetable rennet, which allows you to play around with ingredients found in your house already. Really, this book just showcases how easy and enjoyable (really, I promise) making your own cheese can be whether you’re a beginner cook or a seasoned pro.

 

300x250 7Enter for a Chance to Win

If you’re like me, then you are probably hoping to get your hands on a copy of this book. Well, you’re in luck because my friends at Workman Publishing are giving away One-Hour Cheese and also The 12 Bottle Bar book which my husband has been hoarding since he’s the bartender of the house. In addition to the book giveaways, the DIY Cocktail Hour Sweepstakes will be awarding one lucky winner with a $500 shopping spree from Villeroy & Boch for all your barware and tableware needs and an Urban Cheesecraft DIY cheese kit.

Enter at DIY Cocktail Hour Sweepstakes before it’s too late! And if you win, you owe me a cocktail and some cheese.

A ‘Creamy’ and Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

quinoa stew

Are you sick of soups yet? Well, I’m not! There’s nothing I love more than a hot bowl of soup on a cold night to warm you up. This soup is creamy, spicy, and healthy. Yes, creamy AND healthy! It’s a combination that you may not believe, but it’s true. Instead of using cream, I just blend it all together which makes it super rich with absolutely no guilt. So you can fill up with that second serving with no worries about fitting into your jeans tomorrow morning.

Because this soup is so creamy, I like to pair it with a crunchy side dish – roasted brussel sprouts with a fresno pepper and a drizzle of honey before serving. Here are some other ideas for other types of side dishes starring brussel sprouts. It’s the perfect pairing that packs an additional punch!

Just a note, when buying sweet potatoes, pay the extra money and buy organic. Sweet potatoes, actually all potatoes, absorb many of the harmful pesticides. Conventional potato farmers have even been quoted as saying they won’t eat the potatoes they grow to sell, only the ones in their separate garden. The Environmental Working Group designated the potato as one of their Dirty Dozen. They’ve found over 37 pesticides on sweet potatoes. If you want to learn more, visit my friend’s website. It’s worth it to spend the few extra dollars to safeguard you and your family’s health!

An Organic ‘Creamy’ and Spicy Sweet Potato SoupSweet and Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 red onion roughly chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove smashed and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 bunch scallions chopped for garnish

Heat a dutch oven and add the coconut oil. Once melted, add the onions and cook until translucent (about 3-5 minutes). Then add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Once you can smell the spices, add the chopped sweet potatoes. Let the sweet potatoes brown a bit over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Then add enough water to come up to just below the top of the sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until the sweet potatoes are fork tender. Use an immersion blender until the soup is creamy. You can top with chopped scallions, a drizzle of maple syrup or even goat cheese.

Seriously, this soup is amazing. I amazed myself after marking it and couldn’t wait to share with all of you! oh and guess what, it’s vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free (as long as you don’t add the goat cheese!)

Until next time

‘Bee’ Well,

Melissa

MBeeWell

If you’re interested in learning more about how I can help you in the kitchen, with your health, or in your garden, contact me at info@mbeewell.com.

FoodBank’s Culinary Classic

If you’re a foodie, whether you love to eat or love to cook (or both!), I have a great event that you don’t want to miss.

Food Bank Culinary Classic 2013A month ago, I had the chance to take a tour of The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Jersey Bites, one of the blogs I regularly write for, is a huge supporter of The FoodBank and they were looking for help in promoting their largest fundraiser event all year. It didn’t take me long to know I would help out in whatever way I could to spread that word. So, for the next two months leading up to the event, I will be posting details about the restaurants participating and the programs that they will be benefiting at The FoodBank. I hope you’ll join me.

The FoodBank’s 22nd Annual Culinary Classic

On Monday, September 23, 2013 from 5:00 – 9:00 pm, The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties will be hosting their 22nd Annual Culinary Classic at The Mill at Spring Lake Heights. The event is sure to wow you and your taste buds. Celebrity Chef David Burke will be there to showcase his culinary skills while you rock out to Brian Kirk & The Jirks. Some of my favorite restaurants on the Jersey shore are participating including Good Karma Cafe, Yvonne’s Cafe, and Chef Mike’s ABG. Guests will have an array of food to taste from over 30 restaurants, many accompanied by wine and beer pairings.

But, before we speak about the food, I want to share with you some of the amazing things that The FoodBank is doing in the area.

About 1.2 million people live in Monmouth and Ocean Counties, with about 1 in 10 needing emergency food. If all the people The FoodBank fed last year joined hands, they would reach from Belmar to Trenton – three times. 

This past year has seen an 84% increase in individuals receiving emergency food compared to 5 years ago and don’t think that children are immune. The number of children has increased by 150% with 14,000 of those children being under the age of 5. The FoodBank has distributed over 7.1 million pounds of food through a network of over 260 programs feeding programs including food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, senior housing, and day care centers.

foodbankWe all know that Superstorm Sandy was devastating, but did you know that in the first 4 weeks after the storm, The FoodBank distributed over 1 million meals for emergency feeding programs across both Monmouth and Ocean Counties? Luckily, they had just installed a generator that saved all of the turkeys that were donated for Thanksgiving.

Oh and did I mention, for every $1 that’s donated to The FoodBank, 94 cents goes to buying food for the people in your community. And for every $1 donation, The FoodBank is able to provide 3 meals. Talk about getting more bang for your buck!

So be sure to join me on September 23rd to support The FoodBank’s Culinary Classic. Bring your family, friends, and colleagues so we can all help support our neighbors (oh and taste amazing food and wine all while you’re giving back!)

Click here to purchase your tickets!