Kids Cook Monday: Homemade Dressing

pouring dressing

A good dressing can be the difference between timid vegetable nibbling and eager vegetable consumption.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of bottled dressings are best left on supermarket shelves due to the added sugars, preservatives and genetically modified vegetable, soybean or canola oils they contain.  The good news is it is very easy to make your own with fresh, high quality, healthy ingredients. With plenty of room for flavor experimentation and personalizing, this is a great recipe for the kids around your dinner table.

An unofficial (and not particularly scientific) study I recently conducted, confirmed that ranch is America’s favorite dressing. It was comforting to then come across this article on the NPR food blog, The Salt, supporting my findings. With that settled, here’s our version of the American favorite, buttermilk ranch dressing, made from real ingredients, at home, in just a few easy steps:

  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (if you are a child like Julia Child, you can make your own using this recipe).
  • 6 tablespoons buttermilk (staying in the do-it-yourself mood, you can make this yourself too, using this recipe).
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (possibly more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder or a fresh clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • some fresh herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, chives, tarragon, etc. finely chopped.
  • several grinds of black pepper

Parsley close-upMethod:

Add all ingredients to a mason jar (or other container with a well-fitting lid), tighten lid and shake. You can add more mayonnaise to create a dip, or more buttermilk to adjust the consistency in the other direction. Serve with any vegetable or salad and enjoy!

parsley with dressing

 

 

Kids Cook Monday: Very Veggie Lasagna

kcm lasagna

A vegetarian lasagna is often not much more than many layers of pasta and cheese. Tasty as that can be, it strikes me as a lot of work for essentially a variation on stove-top mac and cheese, and a missed opportunity to add color, texture and nutritional excitement in the form of vegetables. Therefore, for our most recent Kids Cook Monday cooking class* (in which my daughter and I cook a full meal with a class of adult-child cooking pairs), we made this lasagna which uses two sauces, one with greens and one with red and orange vegetables.

Preparation takes about 45 minutes, followed by a little over an hour of baking, making it a great family dinner project. Many hands make the chopping, stirring and assembly fun and easy, and the hour of oven time can be filled with salad and dessert making (those recipe posts coming up shortly).

Very Veggie Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, chopped and divided
  • 1 leek, washed and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced and divided
  • 1 tablespoon butter, divided
  • 1 sweet potato, grated
  • 1 jar basic tomato sauce (24 oz)
  • several hardy pinches of Italian spices
  • 16 oz frozen greens (or 1 lb fresh greens, such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, etc)
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • several grinds black pepper and nutmeg
  • 9 pieces oven-ready lasagna noodles
  • 3 cups grated mozzarella cheese

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚.
  2. Place ½ tablespoon of butter in each of two skillets or sauce pans.
  3. Divide onions evenly between two pans, and sauté until soft and translucent.
  4. Add chopped leeks to one skillet (this will be the greens-ricotta pan).
  5. Divide minced garlic between two pans.kcm adding garlic
  6. Add sweet potato and ¼ cup of water to other pan (this will be the red sauce pan) and cook until soft.
  7. Drain the greens and squeeze out any excess liquid over the sink. Add greens to greens-ricotta pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, and turn heat off.
  8. Empty jar of tomato sauce into sweet potato mixture for the red sauce.  Add ¼ cup of water to jar, close lid, shake to combine with remaining sauce, and empty jar into pan again. Add Italian spices, and salt and pepper to taste.kcm red sauce
  9. Beat 2 eggs in medium-sized bowl, mix in ricotta cheese.  Pour into greens-ricotta pan.  Add salt, and several grinds of black pepper and nutmeg.kcm ricotta
  10.  Assembly:  In a 9×13 (or similar-sized) baking pan, layer:
  • ¾ cup red sauce
  • single layer of lasagna pasta (3 pieces)
  • ½ of greens-ricotta mixture
  • ¾ cup red sauce
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • single layer of lasagna pasta (3 pieces)
  • remaining greens-ricotta mixture
  • ¾ cup red sauce
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • single layer of lasagna pasta (3 pieces)
  • remaining red sauce
  • remaining shredded mozzarella cheesekcm assembly

11. Cover with aluminum foil and place in preheated oven. After 1 hour, remove foil to allow cheese on top to brown.  Bake for another 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

kcm lasagna 1

 

* For more on the Kids Cook Monday movement, be sure to visit the campaign’s website, pledge to enjoy dinner together as a family at least once a week, and enjoy the recipes posted on this site as part of the “Kids Cook Monday” series.

Kids Cook Monday: Rice Noodles with Tofu & Veg

Pad Thai top view

The second recipe in the series from our “Kids Cook Monday” cooking classes, in which we invite child-parent cooking teams to join us (ten-year old daughter and her mother) to create a healthy, whole foods dinner full of color, flavor and fun is an Asian-style noodles and vegetable dish.

As my cooking partner, my daughter is as involved in the menu planning as in the preparation. Her pick for the main dish was a home-cooked version of a restaurant favorite, Pad Thai.  We added more vegetables and tofu than your typical take-out, and skipped the shrimp (for Meatless Monday and sustainability reasons).

Pad Thai vegetables

Pad Thai-Inspired Rice Noodle Stir-Fry with Tofu and Vegetables

      • 3 tablespoons grape seed oilcoconut oil or peanut oil, divided
      • 1 package of tofu (use pressed tofu, if you can find it, or press yourself for best results)
      • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
      • 1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
      • 3 tablespoons warm water
      • juice of 1 lime
      • ¼ cup tamari soy sauce
      • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
      • several grinds of black pepper
      • 1 onion, finely chopped
      • 2 carrots, cut into small pieces
      • 1/2 head of broccoli, cut into small pieces
      • 1 bell pepper, cut into pieces
      • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
      • 4 eggs
      • 8 oz rice stick noodles (can substitute with spaghetti if hard to find)

Nice additions and garnishes include (all optional):

      • 1 bunch scallions, cut into small rounds
      • 8 oz bean sprouts, rinsed
      • 1/3 cup peanuts, roughly chopped, if you like
      • 1/3 cup cilantro, roughly cut and some leaves reserved for garnish
      • 1 lime, cut into wedges
      • sriracha sauce

Frying Tofu:

      1. Dry and/or press tofu – either place tofu between two plates in the sink, with something heavy on top (such as a large can) and let sit for several hours, or cut into slices, lay them on a kitchen towel, place another towel on top and gentle press to pull the moisture out of the tofu. Cut into cubes. 
      2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil and let warm.
      3. Once first piece of tofu sizzles in the pan, place all cubes in a single layer making sure not to overcrowd them.
      4. Shake pan gently to make sure tofu isn’t sticking, and allow to cook for 5-8 minutes or until a golden crust starts to creep up the sides.  Turn tofu and give the other side a few minutes to brown.
      5. Remove from heat, and place tofu on paper towels to drain.

Making the Sauce:

      1. In a small bowl, dissolve tamarind paste and sugar in warm water (take the time to fully dissolve them).
      2. Add lime juice, soy sauce, chili flakes and pepper and mix.

Softening the Noodles:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook noodles for 5-6 minutes, removing from heat and draining just before being fully cooked.

Preparing Vegetables & Assembly:

    1. Chop vegetables into small pieces and mince or press garlic. There is plenty of room for flexibility in this recipe.  For flavor and appearance, it is nice to use three vegetables of different colors, but they don’t need to be carrots, a red pepper and broccoli.
    2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet on medium heat, and sauté onions, carrots and broccoli, add garlic and peppers a few minutes later and sauté another minute or two.
    3. Beat eggs in a small bowl, pour into vegetables, cook for a moment, then stir.
    4. Add tofu, cook for another 1-2 minutes.
    5. Add noodles and pour in the sauce.  Gently combine all.
    6. Add half the scallions, bean sprouts and peanuts (if using).
    7. Place remaining scallions, bean sprouts, peanuts in bowls along with cilantro and lime wedges as garnishes for personalizing plates.

Pad Thai noodles

Kids Cook Monday: Kale & Collard Chips

kaleAt a recent “Kids Cook Monday” cooking class, my daughter and I were joined by a room full of parent and child(ren) cooking teams. We had a great time and cooked a fabulous meal together.  At the end of the class, the tables in the back of the cooking classroom were pushed together, and were beautifully set by a group of children complete with improvised folded napkins, and the nineteen of us sat down to a nourishing meal of kale and collard chips, Pad Thai-inspired rice noodles with tofu and vegetables*, followed by a dessert of fried bananas with shaved chocolate and shredded coconut*.

Initiatives such as The Family Dinner Project and The Kids Cook Monday Campaign are actively promoting eating (and cooking) meals together as a family for a list of results which resemble a parent’s dream come true (from life-long healthy eating habits, to an expanded vocabulary, improved conversation skills, boosted self-esteem and better grades in school).  Studies have also shown that children are more likely to try new foods, expand their palate and choose healthier options when they have been involved in the growing, selection and/or preparation of a meal.

So today, we’re skipping the more familiar frozen peas and corn, and giving our young cooks large dark green kale and collard leaves to make an appetizer (fancy word for after school snack).  Some were familiar with kale chips, and all had the chance to build on the basic recipe and adapt it to other greens.

Collard greens photo thanks to Indiana Public Media

Vermont Maple-Mustard Kale/Collard Chips

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½  tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½  tablespoon maple syrup
  • ½ tablespoon mustard
  • 1 large bunch of fresh kale or collard greens
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • red pepper flakes (optional)

Kale

Basic Kale/Collard Chips

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 bunch greens
  • salt to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚.
  2. Wash and dry green leaves with kitchen towel or a salad spinner.
  3. Cut or rip leaves into chip size pieces.
  4. Mix oil, vinegar, maple syrup and mustard in a large bowl.
  5. Add leaves to bowl and coat thoroughly (using hands works well).
  6. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (not necessary but makes for an easy clean-up), and arrange leaves in a single layer.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and/or Parmesan or chili flakes.
  7. Bake in oven for 8-12 minutes, watching them closely since they go from perfect to burned quickly.

kale chip

Serving ideas:

  • in place of packaged chips
  • as a garnish on soups, such as potato-leek or squash soups
  • as a topping on mashed potatoes
  • grind several chips as a popcorn topping
  • create hors d’oeuvre in kale chips used as edible serving cups
  • experiment with any greens you have.

For additional recipes for green leafy vegetables, I recommend the following excellent vegetable cookbooks:

Deborah Madison’s new Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom, with over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes, and

Greens Glorious Greens: More than 140 Ways to Prepare All Those Great-Tasting, Super-Healthy, Beautiful Leafy Greens.

For more ideas, inspiration and multi-generational cooking tips, you’ll find plenty of food for thought on The Kids Cook Monday site.

If you would like to join us for our next “Kids Cook Monday” cooking class, click here for more information and to register.  Classes are held at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, Vermont.

* These recipes coming soon in the “Kids Cook Monday” series.

Switching to Switchel

Switchel with lemon

It’s time to bring in the hay.  Not something I am directly involved in, but see happening all around me and am impressed by the long days the haymakers put in.  Something exceptionally energizing must be fueling this operation…

Making hay

As it turns out, haymaking has its own energy drink, or at least, traditionally it did. Switchel has been reached for on hot August afternoons for more than a hundred years in these parts. It is possible that this undeniably refreshing drink made from cold well water, sweet maple syrup, electrolyte-filled molasses and energizing apple cider vinegar, traces its roots back to a similar drink enjoyed in Hippocrates’ day. Oxymel was a medicinal mixture of water, honey and vinegar.  Apparently, we’ve been drinking vinegar for a good long time.

A few years ago my daughter attended a summer camp at Shelburne Museum, called “A week in 1795.” She introduced me to Switchel with the following recipe:

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • water, to taste

Combine the vinegar, molasses, maple syrup and ginger in a bowl. Vinegar mixture serves as a concentrate. Combine with water in a glass or pitcher to taste.

I like to make it with seltzer water (store-bought, or made from tap water with the help of a counter-top SodaStream soda maker) for an sparkly effervescent libation.  For the highest nutritional value, I would recommend using raw apple cider vinegar, blackstrap molasses, and grade B maple syrup.  If you want to substitute honey for maple syrup, look for raw (unfiltered and unheated) locally harvested honey as your healthiest option.

switchel front

With an interest in keeping traditional foods alive, the Vermont Switchel Co has emerged on the real food scene. If you are Vermont, make sure to look for her ready-made bottles of switchel on more and more grocery and general store shelves, and on YourFarmstand.com. Her website includes in-depth nutritional information as well as recipes in which to use switchel.

Switchel above

If you’re inspired to mix up a batch of your own, I’ll leave you with another recipe. Today, on a glorious August day, I’ll raise a glass to Scott Nearing (who would have been 130 years old!), and all the back-to-the-land, homesteading, traditional customs and foodways he honored, practiced and wrote about.  Therefore, from his wife’s cookbook Simple Food for the Good Life: Random Acts of Cooking and Pithy Quotations (Good Life Series) here is the Nearing’s Switchel Recipe:

  • 1 quart cold water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger

Stir up together and dilute to taste with more cold water. A pinch of baking soda will make it foam up like beer or ginger ale.

Either recipe can be tailored to taste (more or less ginger, maybe a slice of lemon, or a pinch of nutmeg, etc) without skimping on the real food refreshment.  It’s an easy-to-make replacement for expensive, mass-produced and increasingly worrisome (including, – yikes! – death!!) commercial “energy drinks.”

Keep it simple and safe, staying cool and hydrated with real food and water.

Focusing on the Light

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”   – Martin Luther King, Jr.

From time to time life spins out of our control, whether it is a terrorist attack, a terrible accident, a diagnosis, or an “act of God”, and our bodies automatically react with stress. Our nervous system responds with a hormonal release of adrenaline.

Adrenaline works on muscle and liver cells and causes the quick release of glucose into the blood stream as an extra energy source.  It also prioritizes the major organs (the heart, lungs and brain) and sends blood there at the expense of the digestive system.  You may notice a tightening of the stomach and a lack of appetite, heartburn or nausea.

As tempting as it is, try to avoid the adrenaline diet: coffee, cola, energy drinks, until it’s time to try to wind down with alcohol. This liquid diet is often accompanied by quickly metabolized foods such as cookies, donuts, candy, ice cream alternated with chips, fries and other salty snacks.  The body is already revved up, and so for those of us who do not have to jump into the fire to save the victims, we can serve ourselves and others best by staying calm, and not further ramping up our systems with dietary stimulants.

Tip 1- water

Hydration is more important than ever.  Drink plenty of water; sip warm water if you like. Comforting drinks include the well-known chamomile tea, also lavender, valerian, and herbal blends as “Sleepytime” or “Tension Tamer”. Warm milk is known to be soothing.  For a bit of caffeine but without the jitters, turn to green tea, which combines valuable antioxidants with a boost to alertness.

Tip 4- green tea

Since your stressed digestive system can not do its job as well as you might like, choose easy-to-digest foods, such as smoothies and pureed soups.  Create low-glycemic meals (of slowly metabolizing foods), with plenty of protein, fiber and healthy fats such as avocado and coconut.  Sit down, breathe before eating, eat slowly, chewing as thoroughly as you can.  Digestion begins in the mouth, and with a compromised digestive system, use this first portion as well as you can.

maple-squash soup side

As is frequently recommended for all types of stress, breathe deeply, mediate if you can, practice yoga or even simple stretching exercises to help relax your muscles.  Go outside, enjoy a walk or other light exercise.  A full night’s sleep can change everything.  If nothing else, spend time resting while horizontal and without the stimulation of tv, news, messaging, etc.

Aromatherapy and homeopathic remedies can be effective in acute situations. Bach Flower Rescue Remedy is the first to go to. Essential oils of geranium, peppermint, lavender, jasmine, chamomile and lemongrass are comforting.  Additionally, from Holistic Online, “for short-term relief from stress and anxiety: Aconite is the medication (homeopathic remedy) of choice if your anxiety is the result of a sudden fright or shock. If you are grief stricken (such as when one of your loved ones die), the homeopath may give you ignatia. In situations such as stage fright and other anticipatory and performance anxiety, gelsemium is recommended. If you have anxiety accompanied by diarrhea, gelsemium is the preferred choice.”

What to say (or not) to your children? Storytelling friends have started a wonderful subscription story service called “Sparkle Stories.”  Here are their storytelling suggestions to help comfort yourself and your children with a focus on the abundant helpers, goodness and light.

Sharing Flu-free Tips (with Dr Susan Rubin)

Dr. Susan Rubin recently wrote a two part post about staying healthy despite what is being called a particularly bad flu season.  She has kindly allowed me to post them here (as one post).  I’ve added a few additional tips, just to make sure you have plenty of options.

The news media and the CDC are at it again. They are saying that this year is a bad one for the flu (here’s a map of current outbreak levels in the US). Hurry hurry, go and get your flu shot!  I’m not here to convince you one way or the other on flu shots, the choice is yours to make. (For a more international perspective on flu vaccination, see CNN article here). Shot or no shot, there is plenty you can do to help avoid the flu. More than washing your hands and sneezing into your elbow as the CDC keeps telling us to do.

Here are a few things that can be done for little or no cost.

SLEEP I consider sleep to be a nutrient that we need every day. Scientists have shown that sleep is when we grow and when we heal. Parents know this first hand with their kids. When you’re sick, you sleep! Well, why not make sure you get adequate sleep BEFORE you get sick? This is one reason I have a zero sleepover policy, I want my kids home to sleep in their own beds at a reasonable time. Regular sleep hours are shown to be helpful in boosting immunity, and also in better brain function: retaining what you learn. Make regular, restful sleep a priority in your home and you’ll have happier healthier kids to show for it.  

DARKNESS We are supposed to be in the dark in the winter. The more you can align with the rhythms of Mother Nature, they better off you’ll be health wise. Stay away from your computer and TV screens at night, turn down the lights, and get serious about getting to bed a little earlier. Start with 10 minutes earlier, build up to 30. It will make a huge difference in your energy level, your outlook on life and your resistance to illness.

SUGAR We all love sugar, and the holidays are full of it. Now that the holidays are behind us, it’s time to face the not so popular truth: refined sugar can deplete your immunity and can drain the body of much needed nutrients. I could show you all sorts of articles and studies to prove this point. The bottom line is, we all need to look at decreasing our consumption of refined sugar. Replace juices and other sugary drinks with water, preferably filtered, from the tap and you’ll be saving loads of money and helping the planet. Take a good long look at how much refined sugar you and your kids eat over the course of a day or a week. Get conscious and cut back on the white stuff!

GOOD BUGS One thing that many non-science people might not realize is that our bodies consist of all sorts of microorganisms living together in harmony. Bacterial cells outnumber human cells by a factor of 10 to 1. One group of bacteria that I’m particularly fond of is the Lactobacillis family of bacteria that lives in your gut. You can add to this happy family of bugs that helps your digestive and immune systems to work optimally by enjoying foods that naturally contain these beneficial bacteria. Miso soup, Kim Chee, Sauerkraut, Kefir and Yogurt come to mind. You can also take probiotic supplements. This is one thing I get my family going on when there is a flu bug going around. I think of it as a tonic, a small action taken once a day that will make a big difference over time.

DE-STRESS  You absolutely must find ways to decrease your stress level. This is a big ask in these trying times but it is essential.  Meditation, taking a regular walk, doing daily yoga, remembering to plant your feet on the ground and breathe. Reducing stress levels will help build up your resistance to illness and can also help you let go of unwanted weight.

LAUGH I heard a physician speak about this just last week when I was at a comedy show, of all places. Laughter lowers blood pressure, improves blood flow to the heart and other organs, and has shown to help improve resistance to disease. I set time aside every day for chuckles watching The Daily Show and Colbert Report.

GET OUTSIDE We weren’t meant to be indoor creatures. Acclimate to the colder weather by making an  extra effort to get outside a little every day. Talk a walk, go sit in the park, enjoy a little fresh air. This will help your body make gradual adjustments rather than be stressed by a sudden change.  Wear a scarf and protect your neck and upper back against the wind.

SOUP is a magical food during this time of year, it’s the best thing to be eating when its cold outside. I’m playing the soup for dinner game this month, I think you should too!  I have too many soup recipes to count on my blog page. You can browse through them by visiting my blog, www.DrSusanRubin.com/blog, on the lower right side of that page, you’ll find a list of categories. Simply click on SOUP and you’ll find pages and pages of recipes. Here are my top 3 soup recommendations full of warming herbs and spices:

1. Magical Miso Onion Soup this combination of onions, garlic and ginger will help fight off bug that might be coming your way. The miso helps support your gut flora which is also essential to good immunity.

2. Thai Chicken Soup the Asian spices in this soup, turmeric, garlic, chili pepper make it spicy but not too hot. Mung beans add crunch, peanuts and cilantro help to transport your taste buds to Southeast Asia.

3. Curried Squash Soup curry powder, turmeric, ginger and garlic combined with roasted winter squash make this soup very nourishing and digestible.

COOK Not everyone can afford to take a sick day when they’re not feeling well. This is one of the ways that colds and flu spread. If you cook for yourself, you won’t have to wonder whether your take out, your frozen processed packaged food or even your high-end restaurant food was made by someone who was sick.  If you make your own meals, you’ll know that the ingredients are good and you’ll be putting your own good energy into the food. There is nothing better than that. Cooking from scratch is the most effective investment of time and money you can make to ensure your own health.

IN YOUR KITCHEN Once in your kitchen cooking up flu protection for your family, let me (Deirdre, from Plan It Healthier) reiterate and highlight a few key ingredients for a preventive approach:

  • fresh water, drunk at room temperature or warm, or brewed as green or herbal tea
  • raw garlic
  • raw honey
  • onions (and other members of the allium family: leeks, chives, scallions, garlic etc.)
  • ginger (ideally fresh)
  • turmeric
  • elderberries
  • vitamin D (both from foods and supplements….or, if you can manage it, a vacation to the sun)
  • vitamin C (from vitamin-rich foods, including squeezing fresh lemon juice in water and/or tea and supplements)
  • vegetables – fresh, ideally organic vegetables with a good portion eaten raw
  • herbal teas (peppermint, chamomile, cat’s claw, mullein, elderflower, echinacea and more). An extensive list with particular applications and herbal tea recipes available from Mountain Rose Herbs, also a good place to order high quality herbs.

Be well!

Brush, Floss and Pull?

Empty coconut oil jar

Oil pulling, that is.  Since my husband’s last dentist appointment, I’ve noticed my coveted jar of coconut oil is almost empty!  I’ve been using coconut oil for cooking and baking (and sometimes for snacking) for several years.  A pure, unrefined, raw product, coconut oil is a nourishing real food with an impressive array of health benefits from skin care to improved immunity to heart health.

If the fact that coconut is a saturated oil has you avoiding it, know that the world of saturated fats consists of various molecule lengths.  The vast majority of the oils we consume (and with which the saturated fat health concerns are connected) are long-chain fatty acids (LCFA).  Coconut oil, however, contains mostly medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA).  MCFA do not contribute to cholesterol concerns and have been shown to protect against heart disease.

Coconut oil consists of 50% lauric acid, the highest concentration of any food. Lauric acid is an important type of fat, not found in many foods, with commonly needed anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal power.  In lesser amounts, it contains capric acid, also with antimicrobial properties, making coconut oil a valuable medicinal food.

Now, in addition to consuming it, my husband is swishing a tablespoon of coconut oil in his mouth for 15-20 minutes a day.  The new Ayurvedic dental hygienist suggested this for the antibacterial and detoxification benefits.  He claims his teeth are whiter and cleaner already.

Optimal Oil Pulling:

  1. Pick the same time everyday to work up to 20 minutes of “pulling” or swishing.
  2. Do not swallow the oil, and spit it out in the trash when you are done.
  3. Brush and floss your teeth afterwards to remove the toxins the oil pulled out.
  4. Scrape or brush your tongue to completed rid your mouth of any remaining toxins.
  5. Enjoy a super clean and healthy day!

Toothbrushes

coconut oil brushingI won’t be surprised to find Coconut Colgate and Coconut Crest in the drugstore in the near future, but like most “new” health findings, there is usually a long history of use in traditional cultures.  Throughout the tropics, coconuts have been used successfully for many culinary and medicinal uses for thousands of years. Therefore, I’ve stocked up on organic, unrefined coconut oil and made room for a jar next to the toothbrushes as well as in the kitchen.

In addition to replacing your mouthwash with coconut oil, if you also like the idea of eating it, here is a very simple recipe to get more coconut in your life.

Coconut Toast: Spread coconut oil or coconut manna (a spread made from the whole coconut) as you would butter on a slice of toast and cover with unsweetened coconut flakes.  Add a sprinkling of cinnamon if this reminds you of cinnamon toast. There’s no need to sweeten, as coconut comes with a naturally sweet flavor.

Coconut Toast

Sharing a Superfood Breakfast

I love getting new ideas, great recipes and most importantly inspiration from blogs. Nourishing Words is one of those.  I’ve been a subscriber for some time, and always look forward to a new post.  On this snowy, icy morning without power or internet, Eleanor’s post on her Super Superfood Breakfast seems like just the thing to keep me going today and throughout the winter months to come.  I hope it inspires (and nourishes) you as well.

A Super Superfood Breakfast

Originally published on December 3, 2012 by Eleanor Baron of Nourishing Words.

Superfood Breakfast Ingredients

When is good good enough? When it comes to nourishing our bodies, it makes sense to eat high-quality food—the best. Nutritionists agree that skimping on breakfast is a bad thing. When we rush out the door without breakfast, by mid-morning, we’re hungry, cranky, light-headed or worse. Developing a reliable breakfast routine is one of the basic building blocks of a healthy day.

I’ve long been fascinated by the so-called “superfoods.” Foods that pack so much nutrition that they’re set apart from other foods, by virtue of having something special to contribute to building health. The term itself has no legal meaning, and some say it’s become a useless marketing term. I use it here to loosely refer to any densely nutritious food that contributes to building health or preventing illness. No matter which foods are on the list or not on the list (there are many lists), it’s a challenge to figure out how to fit more healthy foods into the day.

Breakfast is the perfect opportunity to load up.

In warmer weather, I whiz up a remarkably good green or fruit smoothie, loaded with kale, fresh berries, flax seed, hemp seed and more to get me off to a good start. Come autumn, my tolerance for holding an ice-cold smoothie drops in direct proportion to the outside temperature.

Frosty Oak Leaf

It’s time to turn to something more warming. Something aromatic and comforting. Something hearty. Something with a good amount of protein and that will sustain me into the early afternoon.

Here’s a peek at my go-to winter breakfast routine.

Imagine me, in my fluffy sheepskin slippers, flannel pajamas, a fleece (or two) and a thick wool cap. I’ve made my way down the stairs, with a clatter of eight paws behind me, around me and in front of me. Out to the back porch I go, freeing the dogs for their morning constitutional and other wake-up routines—all of which, I must say, they embrace with more gleeful enthusiasm than I’ve ever been known to muster first thing in the morning. This gives me a few moments to breathe in the cold air, greeting the day with my sleepy version of a sun salutation—at least the part of it that keeps me upright.

Inside again, where the previously chilly-feeling house now feels toasty, I feed the dogs while water boils for a cup of green tea, which is to be my first superfood of the day.

The night before, if I remembered, I would have soaked a quarter cup of steel cut oats in warm water, covering it with a dish towel and tucking it away on top of the fridge. Soaking softens the oats up for cooking and removes the phytic acid, which inhibits mineral absorption in the body. It’s an easy step, well worth taking, that potentially doubles the minerals my body absorbs from that one serving of oatmeal. (Soaking grains in general is a good thing, but more on that, later.)

Oats are available in at least three different forms, from thick and chunky to thin and flaky. Steel cut oats are whole oats (known as groats), just cracked up into little chunks. They’re very hard and would be impossible to chew uncooked. Rolled oats are simply flattened groats, and they also retain all the goodness of the original grain. Quick oats are further processed and lack the bran portion of the grain. And the stuff that comes in little sweetened packets? Quick oats with flavors and plenty of sugar added.

Steel cut oats take about 30 minutes to cook. Some people cook them overnight in a crockpot, but I’m cooking for one and have an aversion to electrical gadgets, rendering the crockpot option clearly overkill. Because I mostly avoid dairy products, I cook my oats with a lot of extra water, making the finished product super soupy. (Soupy is necessary to handle the ground flax seed and chia seeds that will come later. Such thirsty ingredients will greedily pull water from my body if I don’t offer it to them first.)

I prefer steel cut oats because of their flavor, chewiness and the way they sustain me through the morning, but they’re also a healthy choice, although not a true super food. They’re rich in soluble fiber and have been proven to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure. They take a little longer to digest than rolled oats (which take just ten minutes or so to cook), but are otherwise about the same nutritionally. Steel cut oats have a considerably lower glycemic index than quick (instant) oats, however (42 versus 65), helping to avoid an early morning spike in blood sugar. One quarter cup serving of steel cut oats (dry) is worth 5 grams of protein—but that amount increases with all the ingredients I stir in later.

The Bowl

By the time I’ve finished my tea and checked my morning email, my oats are close to cooked. Now comes the fun part, creating a veritable compost heap of superfoods. To start, I grind up a couple of tablespoons of golden flax seed in the blender and pop it into my beautiful blue hand-thrown bowl that, to most people, looks way too big for a breakfast bowl. It may indeed be too big, but it gives me pleasure to hold it, and sensual pleasure is an important aspect of eating.

This is my current favorite heap of ingredients, some of which pack enough nutritional punch to qualify them as superfoods:

  1. 2 tablespoons of ground golden flax seeds (an excellent source of fiber as well as the short chain omega-3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid, plus 3 more grams of protein) Read this post if you want to learn more about why flax seed is a true superfood.
  2. 2 teaspoons of chia seeds (adds fiber, healthy omega-3 fatty acids and 1 more gram of protein)
  3. 1 rounded tablespoon of hemp seeds (fiber, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, including alpha linoleic acid and 4 grams of additional protein)
  4. shredded coconut (high in vitamins, potassium, magnesium and antioxidants; rich in fiber)
  5. 1 tablespoon of fresh virgin coconut oil (a healthy fat with easy to metabolize medium-chain fatty acids; coconut oil’s lauric acid converts to monolaurin in the body, a powerful antiviral, antibacterial compound)
  6. a few almonds (cholesterol lowering, heart-healthy fats and another 2 or so grams of protein)
  7. two pieces of fresh fruit, chopped (sometimes just one)
  8. a few fresh cranberries, because they’re in season locally at this time of year (cranberries are loaded with antioxidants, making them the most powerful fruit at scavenging free radicals in the body, protecting cells against cancerous changes)
  9. lots of cinnamon (lots!—it lowers bad cholesterol and blood sugar, soothes arthritis pain—just smelling it boosts memory and cognitive function)
  10. a splash of maple syrup, if the fruits were tart ones or I need a little sweetening up.

Stirring in the soupy oats, the coconut oil (solid at room temperature) melts, the cinnamon releases its fragrance, the flax seed and chia seeds soak in the extra liquid, and it all generally mixes together to perfect porridge. If including coconut oil in the mix seems strange to you, I can assure you that it disappears beautifully, leaving just an additional hint of coconut flavor and, more importantly, a bit of healthy fat that makes this a filling, sustaining breakfast.

Oatmeal with Superfoods

The combination of soft and crunchy textures, along with contrasting sweet and tart flavors, makes it all more interesting than the average bowl of oatmeal. The combined nutritional power of so many superfoods in one bowl makes me feel like I’m giving my body the very best start to the day. I’m a lifelong oatmeal lover; this blend is delicious and keeps me going for hours. It’s a good breakfast.

It’s fun to shake things up now and then with other breakfast choices, but this is my reliable routine during the colder months. It’s plenty flexible to accommodate any ingredients I have on hand, and it always satisfies.

I’ll keep working on that sun salutation. Who knows, there might even be a downward dog in my future, if I can squeeze a few more superfoods into my diet.

Ginnie

Confetti Frittata

confetti frittata slice

The following recipe was developed for the Hunger Free Vermont Learning Kitchen.  A fantastic program which not only provides education and advocacy around the issues of hunger and food insecurity, but also offers hands-on cooking classes to help support the health and nutrition of families in the program.

This frittata was created with my children, as a quick, colorful and healthful meal, with plenty of room for flexibility. There is no need to make a special grocery store trip (or purchase) if you don’t have a carrot, a zucchini, or a particular type of cheese. The bright, healthy and tasty result can be created with just about any combination of differently colored vegetables (which are grated for maximum enjoyment by most children, and for the “confetti” effect), and can gracefully host left-overs as well.

Confetti Frittata

  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 zucchini, grated
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 (or more) garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pepper and/or nutmeg to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese
  • a sprinkling of fresh or dried herbs (optional)

Method:

  1. Grate vegetables and set aside (or gather up some youthful help and a box grater).
  2. Warm skillet and melt 1 tablespoon butter.
  3. Sauté onion unit soft; add carrot, zucchini and garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a med-sized bowl, beat eggs, add milk, salt, pepper and/or nutmeg.
  5. Pour egg mixture over sautéed vegetables, turn the heat to low and cover to allow to cook. When top is almost set, sprinkle on herbs (if using) and grated cheese and cover until melted.
  6. Cut into wedges and serve with a fresh salad and/or toast, pasta, potatoes, etc.

If you are interested in more simple, healthy, affordable recipes, Hunger Free Vermont has a recipe section, and the Facebook It’s a SNAP community page is a good place for sharing recipes and planning healthy meals using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.