One Healthy Gingerbread Recipe

All I have been wanting to eat lately is food that tastes like Christmas…anyone else?! Spices like cinnamon, clove, ginger, and foods like citrus fruits, pomegranates, and cranberries are lighting up my life. Homemade gingerbread, however, is brand new to me…until now!

Growing up, we always had gingerbread in the house this time of year, but I don’t even know what was in it. After looking at several gingerbread recipes online, I decided to create my own version with more spices and less sugar. Just one taste of this healthy homemade gingerbread and I know it will be a new holiday tradition. I love it THAT much and you will too!

The best part is that this gingerbread contains no granular sugar, just honey, maple syrup, and molasses. (To be honest, I don’t even think I own sugar. There’s just no need for it when there are delicious natural substitutions out there.)

It’s also dairy free and can be made gluten-free as well! Let’s get started, shall we?!

One Healthy Gingerbread Recipe:

Dry Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2  cups healthy flour of choice (I used spelt)
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tbsp grated fresh ginger

Toppings:

  • Pomegranate seeds
  • canned full fat coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients, mix wet ingredients, then mix together. You don’t need a fancy mixer, a regular old fork will do. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and fill the pan with batter, leaving a few inches at the top (this stuff rises!) Bake for 45-50 minutes.

To make the frosting, skim the top half of the coconut milk from the can (be sure not to shake it as to only get the thick paste on top). Add in honey, (or maple syrup if you prefer) vanilla extract, and whip it together. This will make a thicker frosting. If you prefer a thinner frosting to drizzle on the bread instead, you can water it down with the thinner coconut milk from the can (or a little bit of water) use 1-2 tablespoons at a time until you get the right consistency.

Once the bread is cool, frost and top with pomegranate seeds, which are equally nutritious, delicious, and festive. Feel free to get creative and try different toppings, like chopped nuts, red and green sprinkles, crushed candy canes, or cinnamon. Make one loaf to have at home and others as gifts. The perfect Christmas breakfast or healthy dessert this time of year!

One Healthy Breakdown: Happy holidays and happy baking!

*Caroline O’Neill is a year round Hamptons resident and health and wellness lifestyle blogger of Bloom & Spark with a passion for nutrition, yoga, food, spirituality and personal development.

Deepening Your Meditation Practice

Meditation can be a tricky business. You sit down, get situated, scratch your nose…now what? On the one hand you feel like you should be putting in some effort in order to get something out of it in return, and on the other hand, we expect to sit there and let the wisdom of the ages flood into our being and bring us to enlightenment. When in reality it’s not that simple.

meditation

Many of us enter into a meditation practice with expectations like “I want to increase my happiness” or “I’m going to reduce my anxiety” or “I will quiet my anger and jealousy.” While these are all great intentions, they’re more like happy bi-products from your meditation practice.

Without having a clear understanding of what you’re doing you may end up day dreaming, kicking yourself every time a thought pops into your head, or becoming disappointed when you don’t feel anything happening.

So, the most important thing is that you understand the ultimate goal of meditation.

The ultimate goal of meditation is to immerse yourself in, and fully experience your own consciousness and awareness, or your True Self.

Say what now?

I believe that your True Self, is who you are without the labels of time and space (gender, weight, occupation, race, social status). Ask yourself who you are at your core, without the stuff that can be written down on paper. Your unique you-ness. The part of you that doesn’t change or grow like age, intellect, and height. That is your awareness.

It’s the same right now as it was when you were three years old, and the same as when you’re 90.

It’s the constant backdrop on which the moments of your life are experienced. Like beads on a string. So really, the Self is not some far deep down place we need to journey to, requiring hours of meditation. It’s always there, and all we need to do is recognize it.

As Sally Kempton says in her book Meditation for the Love of It, “The work of meditation is to coax the mind into letting go of the perceptions and ideas that keep it stuck, so it can expand and reveal itself as it really is.”

Here are some tips to deepen your meditation practice without feeling confused or discouraged:

  • Do not freak out when you have a thought, try to push away thoughts, judge yourself as a failure for having thoughts, or get fixed on the contents of a thought.
  • Perceive with loving tenderness the energy that comes up for you during meditation.  Notice each thought or feeling, say hi to it, and let it keep on going. When you find yourself getting too caught up in thoughts, come back to your breath and start again. The practice is really about learning how to starting again when you drift off, not staying fully centered.
  • Don’t challenge your “Self” to show up in a big way. “Ok, I’m meditating now, show me what ya got!” You’ll ultimately be let down. Instead, just sit and observe with no expectations.
  • Bring forth an attitude of love, gentleness, and trust. The Self is love, and it will draw closer to an attitude of love.
  • Don’t force yourself into meditation with a feeling of strict inflexibility. “UGH, I don’t have time for this but I know I HAVE to meditate.” Nope. Not happening.
  • Treat your practice as sacred. Create a beautiful space that invites you in. Set it up in a way that makes you yearn for the time you spend in meditation. Many people like to set up an altar, but I find that word can be a bit religious and scare people off. Use another word or phrase if it feels better, like “my happy corner.” See it as a gift from yourself, to yourself so you’ll want to say “Thanks, me!” In time, the good energy you bring to this place will come to evoke feelings of relaxation, happiness, stillness and clarity, every time you go to it.
  • Don’t feel Isolated or alone. Cuz you’re not.
  • Trust that there is a greater power beyond you that connects all things. I know, just go there with me. There is a grace, a spirit that you connect with during meditation, that will support and guide you. If you prefer to connect to something tangible, go right ahead. Some people like to evoke the energy of a religious figure or maybe an ancient master. You may even want to call forth something more personal like your inner-guide or guardian angels if you so choose.
  • Don’t try to stifle your emotions that are going on for you in that moment.
  • Ask for help. If you are feeling restless, anxious, skeptical, bored, or anything that is going to take away from your stillness, offer it up to the universe, or your chosen inner guide, and ask for help. If you are struggling with a problem, offer it up at the beginning of your practice: “I offer these feelings so they can be transformed, and I may see this situation differently.”

You may find that when learning to trust your inner experiences you may be guided by your intuition toward a clearer course of action in your outer life. When gaining a deeper understanding of the true self, the fears, negative thoughts and suffering (which are merely products of our own misunderstanding of our ego) may be released. Happy happy, joy joy!

One Healthy Breakdown: meditation is a gift accessible to all, take advantage!

*Caroline O’Neill is a year round Hamptons resident and health and wellness lifestyle blogger of Bloom & Spark with a passion for nutrition, yoga, food, spirituality and personal development.

Healthy Holiday Eating with Bloom & Spark

Aside from cozy fires, warm sweaters, and time with family, the holidays are often full of endless parties and copious amounts of food. There’s no need to deprive ourselves; it goes against the abundance and gratitude that the season brings. Here’s how staying present at the party can help you to in maneuver tricky situations and feel your best:

food-sweet-cookies-christmasBefore the party, make a plan and stick to it. Think ahead what you will eat and what you won’t eat to feel good about yourself. By planning ahead, you can have what you like without going overboard. Maybe you skip fried food, minimize sweets, or limit drinks. Maybe you make a compromise with yourself – have the dessert but skip the appetizers. You could stay near the veggie plate while you chat to avoid mindlessly devouring the plate of pigs in a blanket. You could bring your own homemade dish to ensure that you at least have something healthy to eat. Whatever your game plan is, decide ahead of time and stick to your plan! Eating a light meal or healthy snack at home before you go to the party will ensure that you don’t grab whatever is in front of you out of hunger. These superfood balls may be just the trick to your nutritious and delicious pre-party plan.

IMG_5792Bloom & Spark’s Superfood Balls:

Superfood balls are really popular right now for good reason! The great thing about them is that once you have the base, you can really add anything you want to make them your own. Start with dates and nuts in the food processor and feel free to add coconut flakes, cinnamon, vanilla extract, maca, goji berries, chocolate, even essential oils like peppermint and cinnamon. You could even roll them in ground up candy canes for a festive and tasty holiday touch! These are also the perfect thing to bring to a party if you want to avoid sugary desserts.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup almonds
  • 10 dates
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp maca powder
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup ground flax
  • 1-2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions: Mix everything (except the cocoa powder) in a food processor. Once all ingredients are incorporated, take out half of the mixture and set it aside in a bowl (if you want to make half of the batch chocolate like I did.) Add the cocoa powder to the mixture that’s still in the processor. (If the mixture is a little dry you can add 1-2 tsp of water while it’s still in the food processor to moisten.) Roll both mixtures into bite size balls and let them cool in the refrigerator before serving/eating. Yum!

IMG_5800*Caroline O’Neill is a year round Hamptons resident and health and wellness lifestyle blogger of Bloom & Spark with a passion for nutrition, yoga, food, spirituality and personal development.

 

PH 101: Alkaline Eating for Overall Wellness

While learning about pH in high school chemistry class may not have seemed like anything worth knowing back then, it’s actually vital in understanding our body’s reaction to certain foods and what will promote ultimate health. This is an area of health that is grossly overlooked! So many of our modern health problems can be linked back to an overly acidic diet. Let’s explore!

screen-shot-2015-05-25-at-6-41-03-pmWhat is pH?

pH value determines how many hydrogen ions are in a given solution (in this case your blood). It is measured on a scale of 0-14. Everything below 6.9 is more acidic, and everything above 7.1 is more alkaline, with increasing value the higher or lower it is on the scale, and 7.0 being neutral.

How does it affect my health?

Different parts of our bodies require different levels of acidity or alkalinity. Your stomach needs to be more acidic to break down food, but your blood needs to be slightly more alkaline. Without the correct pH, your cells won’t do their job which is to keep your body alive. Kinda important! Because your body wants to stay alive, healthy and in balance it will do everything possible to maintain the proper pH if it ever gets out of balance.

When we eat large amounts of acidic foods it causes inflammation in our bodies which is a gateway to all sorts of health problems (overgrowth of bad bacteria like yeast and fungus, heart disease, arthritis, allergies, skin problems etc.). In addition to being anti-inflammatory, alkaline foods are easier to digest which impacts our immune system, as well as reducing yucky bloat.

If your blood is overly acidic due to the food you eat or environmental conditions such as chemicals and toxins, your body needs to find reserves of more alkaline minerals (magnesium, potassium and calcium) from your bones, tissues and organs to get back to its happy place of balance. Which can be a bad thing if it happens all the time, because your bones and organs need those minerals too. And it’s just taxing on your system to constantly be fighting to maintain homeostasis.

Think about it this way: The body needs to remain at 98.6 degrees. Any higher or lower and your body goes into certain processes to get back to that temperature or else bad stuff happens. On a hot day you sweat to cool off, on a very cold day your blood will leave the extremities and go to the most vital internal organs to keep them warm.

Your body does the same thing to keep itself at that perfect pH which is around 7.35-7.45. If you eat too much acid forming foods, your body will pull vitamins and minerals out of your own tissues and send them to the blood to get that pH back down.

Fun fact: Everyone knows that dairy products contain calcium. So a direct line of thinking would assume that if I drink more milk I will be putting more calcium in my body and therefore have stronger bones. Not exactly. Once in our bodies dairy becomes an acidic food, so your bones will actually lose some calcium in your body’s effort to balance the pH after eating something as acidic as dairy. Scary right? You’re better off getting calcium from a plant-based source so you can utilize that calcium without losing any from your bones.

So which foods are acidic and which are alkaline?

I’m not going to list the pH value of every food here (trusty ol’ google will help with that if you really want to know). But it’s important to know which foods to eat more of, and which to eat less of.

More acidic foods:

alcohol
meat
dairy
coffee
eggs
sugar
wheat
processed foods

More alkaline foods:

fruits
veggies
nuts
beans
some grains are slightly alkaline like buckwheat, quinoa, brown rice, millet, oats, barley and spelt.

Since balance is key, it is not recommended to eat a 100% alkaline diet. Our bodies are slightly more alkaline, therefore respond best to a slightly more alkaline diet. My favorite book on alkaline eating (Honestly Healthy for Life) recommends 70% alkaline to 30% acid foods. So you don’t have to give up all acidic foods forever.

3 easy ways to begin to eat a more alkaline diet:

1. Make the veggie the main and the meat the side. You don’t have to change what you eat as much as the portion size. Instead of 8 oz of steak with a side of rice, carrots or broccoli, make a 3-4 oz portion of meat as your “side” then make a huge salad with lots of veggies in it as your main. No need to become a vegan if you don’t want to.

2. Warm Lemon Water. I know this is totally ubiquitous on the internet right now. I realize it’s beginning to sound like a broken record. Everywhere I turn there’s another site touting the benefits of drinking warm water with lemon in it first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything else. But it’s only because it’s true! This is an easy habit to get into and you don’t have to deprive yourself of anything.

3. Ditch the sugar and processed shit. Pretty self-explanatory. Everyone knows sugar and processed foods are the devil. But let’s be real, I don’t expect myself to give it up for good, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make good choices and substitutions whenever possible.

My 2 cents: This is not an all or nothing strict diet. Just because a food is on the acidic list, doesn’t mean I have to give it up completely. While meat is on the acidic list, I personally don’t believe giving up meat entirely is healthy either. The amount and quality of the meat is most important. I try to get grass-fed beef whenever possible. It contains far more nutrients than conventional beef does. The best thing to do is just be aware and if you tend to experience inflammatory symptoms it may be worth switching up your diet to include more alkaline foods.

One Healthy Breakdown: awareness is key…in alkalinity!

 

*Caroline O’Neill is a year round Hamptons resident and passionate wellness warrior. By day she is a Speech-Language Pathologist and spends her free time learning everything she can about nutrition, yoga, food, spirituality and personal development along with creating her blog www.bloomandspark.com.