28 February, 2012

Results of the Anja's Food 4 Thought Survey

It's been a while since I asked you to answer a few questions of my questionnaire. The one and only copy of my cookbook that I designed in the dark hours of the day was the prize to be won amongst those who did the questionnaire. The response has been great. The cookbook is on its way to Naomi Joffe who is still waiting for it, while Emirates Post and affiliates are handling the delivery (obviously very slowly).
The questions that I asked came out of curiosity, to learn more about my regular readers and fans. On purpose, I did not include a recipe into this post. On purpose, I did not try and connect the questionnaire post to Foodgawker, Tastespotting, etc. I didn't want to advertise the giveaway as this usually draws a lot of random traffic too. I wanted to talk to mainly those of you who come to my site regularly, to see what you guys are about.
Now here are the results:

Question 1: Where do you find your recipes?
Where do you find your recipes? Click to enlarge.
Food blogs might be the obvious answer (especially when asked in a food blog), but I also wanted to see how the proportions are to other sources. You were given the choice to specify other sources too. Many of you commented that they would have liked to click all of the above. A few of you mentioned that they do their own creations. 

Question 2: How many cookbooks do you own?
How many cookbooks do you own? Click to enlarge.
You might want to know how many cookbooks I own? Not that many actually. Just went to count them. I've got 15 cookbooks, of which I use only 2 or 3 regularly.

Question 3 : How often do you cook?
How often do you cook? Click to enlarge.
I wanted to see how many and to what extent the readers of Anja's Food 4 Thought rely on homemade food, an idea that I support with the recipes of my blog. I agree with the majority here: I pretty much cook all meals everyday.

Question 4: What meals do you cook the most?
What meals do you cook the most? Click to enlarge.
In other words, which meal is most often homemade in your house? Not surprisingly dinner, with breakfast and lunch far behind. What's surprising here, is that sweet recipes are the most popular ones on my blog. I guess, that most people have a certain range of reliable dinner recipes that they cook regularly, whereas breakfast, dessert and snack recipes can be more of an experiment or are being bought from outside.

Question 5: What kind of recipes are you MOST interested in?
What kind of recipes are you most interested in? Click to enlarge.
These are the answers of the readers of Anja's Food 4 Thought. It makes sense, as most of my recipes are generally wholesome, but don't necessarily follow a more specific diet. Readers could specify other recipes too, here is what was mentioned: ayurvedic recipes, spicy foods, raw foods, seafood, frugal eats, seasonal, eggless, low calorie, soy free.

Question 6: Which of the following recipes are you the LEAST interested in?
Which of the following recipes are you the LEAST interested in? Click to enlarge.
It surprised me a little that meat dishes (no surprise really) was followed by gluten-free, dairy free, vegan and sugar-free dishes. Anyway, readers could specify other recipes too, here is what was mentioned as the least interesting recipes: red meat, wheat, gluten, time consuming, white sugar, white flours, box mixes, butter, fried foods, high fat, high sugar, beverages.

 Question 7: How long have you known Anja's Food 4 Thought?
How long have you known Anja's Food 4 Thought? Click to enlarge.
Almost 50% of you guys have known me for more than 6 months. That makes me very proud. Thanks for your faith.

Question 8: What do you like the most about Anja's Food 4 Thought?
That's pretty clear. Amongst the other answers that could be specified were: 
beautiful photography, the running section, use of fresh ingredients, whole foods, creative ways of transforming recipes into something healthy, and recipes that work/turn out as expected.

Question 9: How many recipes have you cooked from Anja's Food 4 Thought?
How many recipes have you cooked from Anja's Food 4 Thought? Click to enlarge.
These results make me very proud. I couldn't name many blogs from which I have cooked 2-5 recipes. Thank you, guys. And more than 10% have tried more than 10 recipes? Unbelievable. 

Question 10: In which part of the world do you live?
In which part of the world do you live? Click to enlarge.
It may have seemed obvious, as I see most of my traffic coming from North America. I just wanted to check again with the faithful/regular ones. The answers here mirror where my overall traffic usually comes from.
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24 February, 2012

Gluten Free Spinach Goat Cheese Tart

I survived my daughter's 4th birthday. It may not sound like a big deal, but to me it is. Dubai is a place where everything can be bought for a party, be it decoration, photographer, entertainment, food, or a whole place to avoid a bunch of children + parent and/or nanny invade your place. Apart from the (very unhealthy) cake which I buy from outside and usually just gets slaughtered and not eaten (as kids just love the bright colors and parents are on a diet), we choose to do everything ourselves.

Yesterday's party was not in any way different from the previous parties that we threw for our two kids. We dished up tested and approved music, games, foods for the kids. I managed to wow some of the accompanying adults with some Crispy Chocolate Walnut Cookies and Spicy Cocktail Nuts.
My daughter, however, decided, that she had enough of the party after 45 minutes and rather wanted to play with her gifts upstairs in her room than spending time with the guests. Oh well. It was a roller coaster ride, and in the end, everyone had a good time. At some stage. I guess.

Today I can still feel the party in my bones. It takes a lot out of me to try and make everyone happy while chatting nicely to the parents. I tried to fix myself with good food: lots of green stuff, fresh fruit, and nuts, no gluten, no grains, no sugar. Those are my recovery foods for whatever has to be recovered from.

However, this spinach tart I made and ate sometime last week, to probably (unconsciously) prepare me for (the hardships of) the party. I finally managed to get the gluten-free pie/tart crust right. That had been the missing piece in this spinach tart for a quite some time. My daughter managed to eat a piece of this tart by gobbling up all of the tart crust, but left all the spinach filling on the plate. Husband took one bite and said it was too spinach-y.  He prefers the Bacon Leek Tart. Oh well, one can't have everything... more for me then.

I absolutely loved every single bite of it. And I am very proud to share this recipe with you now. I hope you will like it as much. Bon appetit!

(Print Recipe)

3/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup almond meal
3 tablespoons gluten free flour mix
1/2 teaspoon salt

100g/4oz cold butter, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon ice cold water
1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red onion, finely chopped
6 cups fresh spinach, rough stems removed and chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Serves 2-4
In a food processor, combine buckwheat flour, almond meal, GF flour mix and salt. Add butter cubes and pulse until mixture becomes crumbly. Add water and egg, and process until it forms a ball. Form a disc out of the dough and wrap tightly with cling wrap. Keep in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 190C/375F. Lightly grease a 8-inch tart pan.

Between two sheets of wax/parchment paper, roll out the dough in the shape of your tart pan. Remove the top sheet of waxed paper and take the remaining sheet with the dough and gently turn upside down onto the tart pan. Peel off the wax paper and gently press the crust dough into the pan and up the sides. If the dough tears, patch it back together by using small pieces of dough. Remove excess dough. Prebake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute chopped onions for a few minutes, then add minced garlic. Stir in spinach and cook until just wilted. Season with salt. Set aside.

Lightly beat the eggs. Add goats cheese and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.

Transfer spinach into prebaked tart crust. Pour over the egg cheese mixture. Make sure the spinach is evenly covered. Sprinkle walnuts on top and bake for 20 minutes at 180C/350F, or until egg has set. Take out of the pan. Cut into wedges. Serve warm.
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19 February, 2012

Roasted Beetroot Salad with Herbs and Walnuts

My last weekend wasn't the most successful. I was signed up for a Half Marathon on Friday, on which I wanted to do really well: not only getting a new PB, but also trying to run it in under 1:40:00. I thought I would be flying on a Half, three weeks after the Full Marathon. I had run very little after the full marathon to give my legs enough rest. And then comes..... a sandstorm. Temperatures were already unusually high the day before the race, and on race day it got really windy. The sandstorm wasn't there yet (I guess the race would have been cancelled then), but is was very obviously on its way. I struggled right from the beginning. No matter how much effort I put into my running, I could not increase the pace. During the race, I could see in the other runners' faces that it didn't come easy to most of them on that day. Talking to them after crossing the finish line I learned, that many finished several minutes slower than they'd expected. On the drive home (100km away from Dubai), the sandstorm hit the highway. At times it was like driving in deep fog. Quite scary, but there was also something beautiful to it with hundreds of waves of sand swirling over the tarmac.

I felt I needed to run off some steam/frustration after that unfortunate race. But luck was not on my side. Before I was to head out, I tried to catch a glass vase that my husband knocked over. The vase broke before I grabbed it and I cut myself badly, to an extent that I couldn't go running as I was scared it would start bleeding again when I got my blood pumping.

So here I am, sitting at home, with only one working hand (thank God, the cut is on the left hand). My house is covered in dust from the sandstorm. I have to organize my daughter's 4th birthday. I have neither bought gifts nor did I do any party preparation. I am feeling totally disorganized. What do I do about? Nothing. I am sitting here writing a blog post instead of trying to get organized.

Now here comes the weirdest part: in order to get all these bad feelings and frustrations out of my system, I am craving veggie salads for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It feels like I need to detox the bad weekend out of me. Will you laugh if I tell you that I had a bowl of steamed  broccoli with tahini dressing for breakfast? I hope my husband doesn't read this, he'd think I lost it.

I am roasting beets as I am writing this to make this simple roasted beetroot salad which will be my lunch.
I grew up on pickled beetroot from the jar, drowned in vinegar. I admit, I liked it. Obviously I had no idea what freshly cooked beetroot would taste like. I don't remember ever seeing raw beets on the shelves in the vegetable sections as a kid back in Germany. Perhaps that's because I only had eyes for the chocolate shelves.

Freshly cooked beets beat the pickled ones by far. It takes a while to roast them, but it's well worth it. By roasting they maintain most of their flavor, and it doesn't need much more than a little lemon vinaigrette, some fresh chopped herbs and roasted walnuts for texture to have an utterly delicious and healthy winter salad.

2 medium beetroot bulbs

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 lemon, juice of
1/4 cup parsley and/or cilantro leaves, chopped
1/4 cup walnuts

salt and pepper to taste

Serves 2-4
Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Wash the beetroots. Wrap in silver foil and place on a baking tray. Roast in the oven for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the beetroots. Check with a fork if they are tender and cooked through. Take out of the oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, roast the walnuts in a dry pan over medium heat for a few minutes. Chop and set aside.
Whisk together olive oil and lemon juice. Set aside.

Once the beetroots have cooled, peel them and cut them into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes. Pour over the dressing and stir in the herbs. Keep in the fridge until thoroughly cooled. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts before serving.
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13 February, 2012

Sesame & Soba Noodle Salad with Spinach

As much as I love cooking, I often don't have time to assemble a whole meal. On days, when everyday life with job/s, errands, kids, family and grocery shopping take over I realize that I cannot live on nuts, seeds, raisins and apples (all of which I consume in huge amounts) alone. I hit a stage when I need a proper meal. In those moments I like to just open my fridge door and find something. Ten years ago, it would have been a sandwich with ham or cheese.

But now that I got used to eating much healthier, a sandwich usually doesn't do it anymore.  These days, I usually have cooked rice and pesto in the fridge. That with some finely chopped cucumbers and sprinkled with some toasted nuts or seeds on top has been my favorite lunch recently.
But now I have a new kid on the block. Inspired by lots of salads with tahini dressing that I have seen during a food styling job, I started experimenting with it at home. Now here is the result: gluten-free soba noodles in tahini dressing with wilted spinach. I am in love with this dish and cook huge batches that I eat all by myself over several days, as this dish can be eaten warm or cold.
It tick all the boxes for me: it;s gluten free, it has nuts or seeds in it, it has green leafy veggies in it, it's vegan, it's filling, it's delicious and it can be made in advance. The perfect lunchbox salad for busy people. Bon appetit!


4oz/100g soba noodles, uncooked

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bunch/2 cups spinach leaves, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
hot water

1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds, black and/or white
2 tablespoons scallions, finely chopped

Serves 2
Cook soba noodles according to instructions.

In the meantime, heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add spinach and cook until just wilted. Take off the heat and set aside.

For the dressing, whisk together tahini, sesame oil, soy sauce and vinegar. Stir in hot water until the dressing gets a thick but runny consistency. Set aside.

Drain soba noodles when cooked. Stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons of dressing for each one cup of noodles. Fold in wilted spinach. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chopped scallions. Can be eaten warm, at room temperature or cold.
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08 February, 2012

Lemon Zucchini Cake

Spring is always near when I find myself using a lot of lemon in the kitchen.  Anything yellow or lemon-shaped catches my eye. Any recipe that has lemon on the ingredients list looks very appealing to me. I figure the freshness and zyng speaks to me. Or maybe it's just the New Year that has really kick-started for me this year. I am full of energy, plans, dreams, projects.

About a year ago, I baked some really nice Lemon Zucchini Muffins. They were so good that I even took pictures of them. I stacked them away into my recipe drafts archive, to be used on rainy days. For some reason I never go to post the recipe. When I dug it out again a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to make them gluten free, as the original recipe used whole wheat or spelt flour.

You may have noticed that I am not big into the traditional GF flour mixes. Most of the flours used have a very high glycemic index which I prefer not to have in my diet. I got stuck with buckwheat flour and almond meal and had a few baking successes with them.

I played around a bit with the proportions of buckwheat flour and almond meal and found a 50:50 proportion brought the moistest result. The only difference to glutenous flours is that the GF-free version doesn't rise as much. Therefore the change from muffins to bundt cake. Now here is the final result, finally published and shared with the world: my gluten-free lemon zucchini bundt cake. Full of goodness and with that invigorating zyng of the lemons.

1 egg
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 lemon, juice of
1 lemon, zest of

1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup zucchini, grated
1 tablespoon lemon thyme leaves (optional)

Yields 1
Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Grease bundt tin.
In a medium bowl, lightly beat the egg. Whisk in honey, oil, lemon juice and lemon zest. Set aside.

In another bowl, sift together flour, almond meal, salt and baking soda. Add wet to dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in grated zucchini and lemon thyme leaves. Fill batter into prepared bundt tin Bake for 35-40 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Let cool completely. 
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07 February, 2012

Dubai Marathon 27 January 2012 Race Report

The leading group, incl. the winner who finished in 2:04
I did it again. I ran another marathon. 42k. I still can't believe it. One week after the marathon I am still over the moon, and give anyone willing or too weak to stop me a comprehensive report. Now it's your turn :-)

It was supposed to be my second ever marathon. I dug out last year's training program which was a 12-week program from Runners World. It suited me well to prepare for the Dubai Marathon 2011 where I finished in 3:58:01. I was very proud about the sub 4h in my first marathon. In fact, it almost went too well, as I didn't really know where to set my new goals for the next marathon. I didn't hit the wall at 30k. I had negative splits (running the first half slower than the second half). I was already under 4h. Going down to 3:30 sounded a tad too ambitious.

But then back in October, most of my running friends started training for the Dubai marathon, were talking about their long runs and increase of their mileage. It's contagious, and I didn't want to feel left out. So I jumped on the bandwagon.

My weekly mileage was not much more than 20-25k when I started the program, as it was still pretty hot in Dubai. I jumped right into it and increased the mileage by more than 100% which is not advisable. But I was ready to slow down a little by giving myself 13 weeks for the 12 week program. I kept a weekly journal of my training. You can read here of my weekly ups and downs of the training.

All in all, the training went really well. I didn't have any setbacks by falling sick or getting injured. For the suggested speed training sessions, we set up a running group on Sunday nights where everyone training for a marathon could come and do those (sometimes quite grueling) long intervals together with other people. It definitely helped a lot to train with a group, seeing each other's progress and also hearing other people's concerns, motivational ups and downs or injury problems. A sense of being part of a marathon community set in and made me feel very good. We'd question each other about previously run marathon, race tactics, goal times, running equipment, nutrition, etc. The usual runners talk.

The goal I set myself was running the marathon in 3:45. The pace at the speed training as well as the long runs was laid out to prepare me for a 3:45 finish time. I had a couple of  Half Marathon and 10k races while training for the marathon, and my PBs were already tumbling. Surely a confidence booster, but only after the longest long run of 36k, about 4 weeks before the marathon I felt I could do it.

I have always believed in rested legs. From about two weeks before the race, I didn't run much. Mainly, because I was scared to get injured. My last run was 5 days before the marathon, a 12k run at marathon pace. During that run I knew I was not injured and unless I would be catching flu or some other nasty infection, I'd be running that marathon.

My kit laid out the night before
I focused on eating well the last 4 days before the race, making sure I am taking in a good amount of carbs. Here is what I had:

3 days before:  
Breakfast: apple, kiwi, goats yogurt, paleo granola
Lunch: brown rice with basil pesto, seeds and oven-roasted okra
Snack: 2 banana molasses muffins
Dinner: gnocchi with chicken, green beans and pine nuts

2 days before:
Breakfast: apple, kiwi, goats yogurt, paleo granola
Lunch: zucchini chickpea fritters
Snack: apple and nuts
Dinner: buckwheat pasta with mushroom bacon cream sauce

1 day before:
Breakfast: apple, strawberries, goats yogurt, paleo granola
brown rice with basil pesto, seeds and oven-roasted okra
Snack: 2 lemon zucchini muffins
Dinner: salad of raw veggies with roasted nuts and seeds and balsamic dressing

You can see that on day 2 I was already slowing down with the carbs, as I just couldn't eat any more.
After the 2 muffins on the last day before the race, I thought I could never eat another single carb in my life ever again. I felt full to the brim. The light salad in the evening was all I needed.

I went to bed by 10pm. My alarm was set for 4:40am. I expected to be up all night with excitement and nervousness. But I slept well and actually needed the alarm clock to get up. After a bowl of porridge with banana I went to the race site. I arrived with plenty of time to take in the atmosphere, drop off my bag, visit the loo, chat to friends and finally line up at the start line.

Before the race - ready to rock n' roll
It was quite cool, around 15C. I felt excited in a good way, and at the same time pretty calm. I was wearing pace bands for a 3:45:00 finish time around my wrist. An average pace of 5:20min/km would get me there. I wanted to run the race with negative splits (e.g. running the first half slower than the second half), as I believe that this is a crucial point in having a good and successful race (especially those long ones).
The gun went off and and I was in no hurry. I went off with the flow and did the first km in about 5:38min. By the 3rd or 4th km I was up to the time that would bring me home in 3:45:00. By km 8-10 I realized that I was running at an average pace of 5:15min, faster than my goal pace. I wanted to do negative splits, really reserve my energy for the second half of the race. But then I told myself, that I was feeling very comfortable at the 5:15min pace. I was certain I could still increase my pace. On the course were a few U-turns where I could see who was in front of me and how far they were away from me. I saw a few familiar faces, and was hoping to catch up with them in the second half of the race.

Seeing my family at the roadside
My family and a friend were at the roadside at 16k, cheering me on as loud as they could. About 100 other people standing there now knew my name :-) It felt good to see them, I grabbed a banana from my sister and ate half of it. Just a few kilometers earlier, at about 12-13k, I had my first GU gel. But once I had the banana in my hands, I realized that this is my favorite food during running.

I crossed the halfway mark at 1:50:31. With a 3:45 time in mind I was about 2-3 minutes faster than planned. I felt confident and good and was joking to myself, that i should speed up a  bit during the second half because I needed to go to the loo which I only wanted to do after the race.
My kids waiting for me at the roadside
My average pace went up on the second half. I didn't quite check my pace per km, I was just making sure that I would finish under 3:45:00. I grabbed every piece of banana that was offered by onlookers, and just kept running. At times, I felt a little bored, as there was no-one to talk to. I was also waiting for a friend to come by who promised to cheer on the runners on her bike. She ran the 10k race that started 15 minutes after the marathon and would jump on her bike to support us marathon people after her race. From about 29k on I kept on overtaking the people that I saw so far in front of me at the beginning. That gave me a huge confidence and motivation booster which was much needed. From about 34k on, each single kilometer felt like three times the length. I didn't take in much of the people or scenery on those last 8k. I was just looking for the next big blue pillar on the roadside which would mark that I completed yet another kilometer.
Still smiling - the photo must have been taken early in the race then
I saw my friend on the bike at 35k, and remember telling her that I would finish in under 3:40 if I was able to keep up the pace. She said that I looked much fresher than anyone around me; another booster that kept me going on the last stretch. I put it as my task to overtake other runners, one by one, to give me something to do. I checked my pace at around 38k, and realized that I ran at 5min/k.  However, each kilometer still felt like three times the distance.
30 metres to the finish line -smiling again
Only on the last few hundred meters, I was able to get the last reserves out of me and sprinted down to the finish line. I saw fellow runners and my sister at the roadside cheering me on. We high-fived each other as I ran past them. They could see the clock at the finish line and knew my time when I  crossed the finish line in 3:35:40. I was over the moon, to say the least. I would have never thought, I was able to run that fast. 

Gross Finish Time 3:36:08 - Net Finish Time 3:35:40
Everything worked out just beautifully: the systematic training with the slow long runs and the speed training, the amount of training, and my race tactics by running the race with negative splits of 1:50 and 1:45. That translates into a average pace of 5:15min/k in the first half, and 5min/k in the second half.
Delirious and happy as can be
I finished 36th woman (out of 337 and that includes 16 Kenyans and Ethiopians who took the first 16 places), and 7th in my age group. I am so proud.
The official figures - click to enlarge
I am writing the last sentences of this report two weeks after the marathon. I have calmed down now, the adrenaline levels are down to normal. But for about 10 days I had the biggest smile on my face. I bet I even smiled in my sleep.
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03 February, 2012

Savory Zucchini Sage Muffins

I never used to like savory muffins. I could never explain why until I ate one that was utterly delicious. Only then I realized that all previous ones were simply tasteless.

That particular one that got me hooked on savory muffins was baked by fellow Dubai food blogger Angela who specializes in gluten-free and low carb cooking and baking. I met her for the first time in person on a little market where she was selling her muffins, tartlets and other goodies. We bought our entire lunch at her stall. Afterwards I got orders from my family to make savory muffins at home.

The original recipe calls for parmesan and grated cheese topping. I wanted to cut those out (although I enjoyed them a lot when I ate Angela's muffins) and make them dairy free without loosing flavor. At this stage I realized I have to season my muffins in exactly the same way you season all savory main dishes: bring on the salt and pepper, garlic, herbs and spices.

The result: the most flavorful savory muffins I have ever had. Full of flavor, and very filling. All you need if you crave something savory as mid afternoon snack. And surely good as a portable lunch. But let me tell you a secret: they are actually best to have straight from the oven. Whenever I make batch, they are usually gone before completely cooled.
inspired by Divalicious in Dubai

1/4 cup Brazil nuts
10-12 fresh sage leaves
1 garlic clove
1/2 tablespoon olive oil

2 eggs
2 tablespoon coconut oil
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons coconut flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup zucchini, coarsely grated

coarse sea salt to sprinkle

Yields 4-6
Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Grease or line muffin tin.

In a food processor, combine Brazil nuts, sage, garlic and olive oil. Blend until it has become a meal. Set aside.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs. Stir in coconut oil, water and salt. In another small bowl, combine coconut flour and baking soda. Blend flour mixture into egg mixture until well combined. Stir in grated zucchini and 1/4 cup of the Brazil nut sage mixture. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin. Sprinkle with some coarse sea salt.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until top are golden brown.
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