Power Foods: Walnuts

Artists used to rely on walnut oil as a drying agent for paint because its slow drying time allowed for even application over a broad surface. The oil would form a solid film after long exposure to air, rendering colors rich and luminous with its translucency. In fact, Michelangelo even used walnut oil while painting the Sistine Chapel.

Walnut Date Muffins
Spiced Walnuts

Depending on how you split a walnut in its shell, the nut resembles either a heart or a brain -- and how apt, since these nuts do wonders for both.

Although walnuts boast heart-healthy oil like most nuts, they have an added edge. Most nut oil is monounsaturated, but walnuts primarily contain the polyunsaturated variety. In fact, they're the only nuts -- and one of the few foods -- that offer appreciable amounts of a crucial type of polyunsaturated fat called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, which is an omega-3 fatty acid. ALA protects the heart in several ways: It improves your ratio of HDL (good) to LDL (bad) cholesterol, and it reduces inflammation, helping to block the conversion of cholesterol into harmful, artery-clogging plaque. ALA also plays a significant role in the development of the brain and cognitive function; low levels of ALA have been associated with depression and other mood disorders.

Since your body can't manufacture ALA, you need to eat foods that contain it. Studies show that most people consume less than the recommended daily amount (1.1 g to 1.6 g). Walnuts fit the bill, but they're also high in calories, so don't go overboard. Think in terms of a handful: An ounce of walnuts, or about one-quarter cup, provides 2.6 g of ALA (and 185 calories).

The benefits of eating walnuts extend even beyond the good fat. They provide a concentrated source of disease-fighting antioxidants, including gammatocopherol, a type of vitamin E. They also have ellagic acid, a compound with anticancer properties, and melatonin, which helps regulate sleep patterns and delay age-associated diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The protein in walnuts contains the amino acid arginine, which relaxes blood vessels (good for high-blood pressure), helps inhibit tumor growth, and boosts immunity.

Two main types of walnuts grow in the United States: the pungent, tough-to-crack black walnut and the Persian (often called English) walnut that you'll encounter in most supermarkets. Because of their high polyunsaturated fat content, walnuts are more perishable than other nuts. Buy from sources with a good product turnover, and choose nuts that are still in the shell if possible. If you do buy shelled walnuts, go for the halves rather than the pieces (more cut surfaces encourage oxidation). Store them in the refrigerator or freezer to maximize freshness. Spread walnuts on a baking sheet and toast them for 8 to 10 minutes in an oven heated to 350 degrees just before using to bring out their flavor.

Looking for another way to get more walnuts into your diet? Try walnut oil, available as either refined or unrefined. Oil that is cleaned after pressing to remove any unwanted odors and flavors is refined. Its unassuming taste -- and the fact that it can be heated up to 400 degrees -- make it an excellent oil for sauteing. Unrefined walnut oil is more expensive, more perishable, and more susceptible to heat than refined walnut oil. Made from nuts roasted at a moderate temperature before pressing, it has a nutty taste and a light brown color. Because unrefined oil has a lower smoke point of 320 degrees, you shouldn't heat it. Instead, use it in salad dressings or baked goods, or drizzle it on finished dishes.

Text by Cheryl Redmond; recipes by Sandra Gluck

DIY Weekend Spa Treatments

Simple, natural beauty treatments using Ayurvedic ingredients will promote balance and serenity during your retreat. Each morning after breakfast, spend some time caring for your skin and body. You may choose to do all of these treatments, or just one or two.

Face and Body Ubtan Scrub
This invigorating "ubtan" ("cleansing paste") scrub improves circulation and help tone slack muscles. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup oat or chickpea (garbanzo) flour, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, 2 tablespoons each ground mustard and crushed fresh coriander leaves, 3 tablespoons rose water, 1 cup orange juice, and 1/2 cup water; stir to blend. Work the scrub all over your face and body. Rinse with warm water.

Herbal Steam
This is a great treatment to eliminate toxins. Steam your face over a bowl of hot water combined with a handful each of fresh cilantro and basil leaves, steaming for about 10 minutes. Hold your face at least 12 inches above the water and tent your head and the bowl with a towel to prevent the steam from escaping. Pat your face dry and splash with tepid water to refresh the skin. Discard the herbs. To purify the rest of the body, run a hot shower to fill the room with steam, and relax in the steam for seven to 10 minutes.

Lepa Mask
"Lepa" translates as "medicinal plaster." This mask absorbs impurities. In a large bowl, combine 2 teaspoons each sandalwood powder, natural clay powder (available at natural-foods stores), a pinch of ground turmeric, 1 teaspoon neem oil, and 1/4 cup fresh orange juice. Mix thoroughly and apply all over the face and neck, avoiding the eyes. Leave the mask on for about 15 minutes. Rinse with warm water.

Aloe is an ideal ingredient in pitta-balancing skin treatments because it provides light moisture and creates a wonderful soothing sensation. Massage your face and body with aloe vera gel to soften and refresh your skin.

Coconut and Flower Hair Oil
Oiling your hair is the most important part of Ayurvedic hair care. It conditions the hair and scalp and promotes relaxation. Prepare the oil the night before by bringing 1/2 cup coconut oil to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons rose water and 1/2 cup mixed fresh flower petals such as rose or jasmine. Return to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Let the flowers steep in the oil overnight, then strain the oil through a coffee filter or double layer of cheesecloth into an airtight container. To oil your hair, gently massage four to five tablespoons of the oil onto the crown of your head and into your scalp. Wrap hair in a towel and allow the oils to penetrate for at least 20 minutes. Shampoo and rinse as usual.

Nourishing Hair Mask
A protein-rich mask helps to strengthen hair. In a medium-sized bowl, thoroughly combine 1/2 cup yogurt, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1 egg. Apply the mixture to your scalp after oiling and cleansing. Leave the mask on for about 20 minutes, then rinse thoroughly with warm water.

Hand and Foot Treatment
To soften rough hands and feet, start by gently massaging them with a loofah or rough hand towel. Next, soak them in a tub of warm water infused with a few drops of sandalwood, rose, neem, or jasmine oils. Use a pumice stone to soften rough areas on the feet. To moisturize, make a solution of 1 teaspoon neem oil and 2 tablespoons coconut oil and massage into both hands and feet, focusing on the heels, soles, ankles, between the toes and fingers, wrists, and palms. Rinse with the juice of one lemon diluted in 1 cup warm water. Dry off with a soft, fluffy towel.


Wake-Up Scrub

Nothing rouses you in the morning quite like the smell of coffee, so go ahead -- slather some on. A skin-softening body scrub made from coffee grounds and aromatic plant essences is a traditional treatment that's used in Thai and Balinese spas, and it's a luxurious way to start the day.

This recipe couples a rich, smoky coffee aroma with the sweet scent of peppermint -- known in aromatherapy for its mentally stimulating, energizing properties. Thanks to raw sugar crystals and olive oil, which exfoliate and moisturize, your body gets a pick-me-up, too. It makes enough for two to three applications.

Tools and Materials
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup pure turbinado sugar
15 drops peppermint essential oil (Mentha piperita)
1/2 cup used coffee grounds from a freshly brewed pot

Wake-Up Scrub How-To
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl; using a fork, thoroughly blend. Transfer the scrub to a wide mouthed jar, and store in a cool place until ready to use. The scrub will keep for one to two weeks, longer if refrigerated.

2. While showering, apply handfuls of the coffee scrub to wet skin in circular motions, starting at the feet and working up. The scrub contains oil, so it's best to do this over a rubber mat to avoid slipping. Pay particular attention to rough spots such as heels, ankles, knees, and elbows.

3. After scrubbing, cleanse skin as usual using a mild natural soap or body wash. Pat skin dry with a fluffy towel, and follow with lotion to seal in the moisture.


Root Vegetables and Leafy Greens

Sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage and collard greens! Are you excited? Why not? These winter vegetables are delicious and nutritious. We all know how important it is to eat vegetables, and we all know that fresh tastes better. In the winter, produce becomes more scarce or more expensive as it is flown and trucked in from far away. Many people cut back on eating vegetables because of the expense, or switch to canned or frozen vegetables and fruits. Today we will explore two types of winter vegetables - dark leafy greens and root vegetables to keep you supplied with fresh food. Explore here

Honey and Oatmeal Face Mask

Oatmeal and honey are natural products that are good for your skin and probably sitting in your cupboard. By mixing up a batch of oatmeal and stirring in some honey, you can create a face mask that works as well as any commercial product

Step 1

Mix oatmeal with water and cook it according to the directions on the package.

Step 2

Allow the oatmeal to cool to room temperature.
Step 3

Stir two teaspoons of honey. Honey is an excellent treatment for acne, as it removes bacteria that accumulates on your skin.

Step 4

Apply this mixture to your face and allow it to dry. Remove the mixture with warm water. The oatmeal and the honey will soothe and moisturize your skin.