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.

Reboot with Joe: From Pharmacy to Farmacy

On Thanksgiving Day, with a freshly made vegetable juice in hand, Joe Cross gratefully declares, “I’m thankful that I got sick, because, if I hadn’t gotten sick, I would have had a heart attack and died.  It was my body’s way of telling me to slow down and get well.”

Now, two years later, Joe is not only fit, healthy and very much alive, but encouraging others (perhaps you too) to join him and get healthy.  His Reboot with Joe program provides free tools, inspiration, recipes and a community of film viewers who are inspired to follow in his footsteps. On the new site, you’ll find these impressive statistics.

As a result of seeing the documentary, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead”:

  • 93 million glasses of fresh juice have been consumed,
  • 93,000 US tons of produce have been consumed,
  • More than 6.2 million pounds of weight have been lost,
  • And over 55,000 people are now medication free.
  • Furthermore, the film has been credited with driving the explosive growth in juicing in the past two years. In January 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that, “Appliance retailers say it has been hard to keep up with demand for juicers since (the film) hit Netflix, in July 2011.”

If you have not already seen the full movie, you can do so here.  The documentary quickly draws you into Joe’s juicy life-changing road trip.  A hundred pounds overweight, loaded up on steroids and suffering from a debilitating autoimmune disease, Joe had been a patient of six different doctors, to no avail, when he decided to resort to a healthy diet. To jump start a dramatic lifestyle change, he took himself out of his regular routine in Australia, and spent two months in the US drinking nothing by freshly squeezed juice, and getting better.

Juicing – not to be confused with mixing up orange juice from concentrate or any of the many juice drinks on supermarket shelves – super concentrates the nutrients of more fruits and vegetables than one could consume in a sitting by chewing. This type of cleanse gives the body a break from heavy digesting and metabolizing, while offering easily absorbable micronutrients and plenty of water for flushing and rehydrating. Looking back to our Paleolithic ancestors who often fasted as food was not always and everywhere available, it’s likely a routine to which we are well-suited. Nonetheless, in our modern lives, most of us have taken up fast food eating fast (as in quickly) instead.  And we have a health crisis to show for it.

Joe starts his healing journey with Dr Joel Fuhrman, who explains that “you don’t get permanently well, if you don’t permanently change your habits.”  With 61% of the American diet being processed, 30% animal products, 5% a white starch and only 5% fruits and vegetables, trading that in for quality time with fresh produce is a drastic change in the right direction.  One from which the less drastic, longer term lifestyle changes will follow.

Along the way, he meets a few people willing to give juicing a try.  One woman, who suffers from migraines, commits to a 10-day fast and enjoys headache-free living.  Joe also meets a truck driver with the same rare autoimmune condition he has. What starts as a chance meeting at a truck stop in Arizona, turns into a beautiful ripple effect story.  After this own healing in well under way, Joe returns to the US to become Phil’s (the truck driver) personal juice-maker and health coach.  Without spoiling too much, Phil, weighing in at 430 lbs and suffering from several painful chronic conditions, commits to vegetables and a juicer and comes out a clear winner.

Both Joe and Phil have powerful personal stories to tell, in which they were able to trade in their costly pharmaceutical prescriptions for farm-aceutical fruits and vegetables and go on to inspire countless others to do the same.  They later attended the same holistic nutrition program I did (Institute of Integrative Nutrition) and through health coaching and the Reboot with Joe program are now supporting many more to get healthy and enjoy life.

Have you tried a juice fast? How was your experience? We’d love to hear your stories and any juice recipes you would like to share. A randomly selected commenter will receive a Reboot with Joe bundle (The Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead DVDcompanion book and Reboot Nutrition Guide with recipes to help you get started juicing!).

Have a Beet in Your Roots?

Beets- farmers marketTo eat locally and seasonally, it is often assumed that making it through the winter is challenging.  True, fresh tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers are missing, but they are easily replaced by pantry shelves full of canned tomatoes, sauces, ketchup, chutneys and pickles while the freezer holds, among many things, frozen whole tomatoes, and all produce which stores well is comfortably tucked away.  It is spring that is sparse. Yesterday I used my last two pie pumpkins and butternut squash from last summer and made a note to grow more this season in an effort to make it through not just the cold seasons, but all the way to the following harvest.

Fortunately, my root drawers are not yet empty.  So beets, turnips, carrots, kohlrabi, celeriac, rutabaga, etc, often associated with fall cuisine, are actually common ingredients in our spring and early summer meals, increasingly paired with fresh new greenery.

Growing beet

Today, we’re having beets.  According to The Secret Life of Food, the name “beet” comes from the French bête, meaning beast.  Apparently, early cooks, alarmed at the bright red color beets turn their cooking water, were reminded of bleeding animals, and labeled these roots “beasts”.

Beets, which come in shades from the common deep red to golden yellow and even white, are full of valuable nutrition.  They are often used for blood cleansing, liver and kidney support (commonly included in juice fasts).  They are great sources of vitamins A, C and B-complex, folate (particularly in raw beets), manganese, iron, potassium and antioxidants polyphenol and betalain (a powerful, recently recognized nutrient, prevalent in red beets).  Additionally, they exhibit an enviable combination of low calorie, high sweet and very low glycemic index.

With all of this going for them, it’s hard to believe that beets used to be relegated to animal feed. Originally they grew wild in North Africa and in coastal areas in Europe and Asia. People first became interested in their nutritious greens. Early Romans started cultivating the full plant and prepared the roots by cooking them in honey and wine (which I had to try, recipe below) and today cooks worldwide prepare them in many different ways.

roasted beets

roasted beets 2

Roasted Beets: my favorite way to prepare beets. With very little prep work, you fill your 400˚ oven, and let the beets cook themselves until done (45 minutes or so).  The flavor is rich using this cooking method and nutrients are better preserved than when cooking beets in water.  Once roasted, they peel easily, and quickly become salads, soups and stew additions, can be puréed and even incorporated into baked goods.

Drinkable Beets. Beet juice is often used in cleanses for its ability to nourish the blood.  You can add digestive and immune support by fermenting the juice into beet kvass.  Or enjoy a quick smoothie by adding milk to a puréed beet soup, such as Red Velvet Borscht.

Red Velvet Soup

Baked Beets, either as a purée of roasted beets or grated raw ones, they can easily be included in baked goods. This is not an original idea, but deserves as much publicity as it can get.  They combine particularly well with chocolate, and add a bit of natural sweetness, rich color and antioxidants to your treats, such as in Choco-Beet Muffins. Or whirl a beet into hot chocolate (mix puréed beet into your warming mixture on the stove or if making Mexican-style cocoa, toss a roasted beet into the jar of the blender or vitamix).

Roman beetsRoman beets 4

Ancient Roman Recipe. Absolutely delicious!

  • 1 bunch red beets
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Cook unpeeled beets in a sauce pan with enough water to cover them, bring to a boil and cook until soft. Allow to cool and peel. Cut into small pieces.

Melt butter in the sauce pan, add wine and honey and allow to warm while mixing.  Add beets and keep on a low simmer until about half the liquid has evaporated.  Beets in this sauce are simply heavenly.

Color it red:  The deep pigments of beets are related to their antioxidant health benefits, and they generously share their beautiful hue with just about anything in their vicinity such as pasta, mashed potatoes, pancakes, smoothies, etc… and your hands.

If you have fresh beets with the greens attached, you have the makings of a complete package. The colors and nutrients of the greens compliment those of the roots, so whenever possible use both ends in a the same recipe (in salads, pasta dishes, a vegetable side dish) or in the same meal.

Speaking of both ends, should beet’s red color pass through your system and out the other side, don’t be alarmed – remember that you recently ate beets, and that you have a common condition called “beeturia.”

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 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

Making Room for Sunchokes

Sunchokes

Often called Jerusalem artichokes, Sunchokes are unusually nutritious tubers which have nothing to do with either Jerusalem or artichokes.  They grow vigorously to over ten feet tall and burst into abundant sunflower-like blooms in the fall. That would be reason enough to grow them, but after the plant has gone, and the first frost has touched the ground, the tubers multiplying under the ground become sweet, delicious and extraordinarily nutritious. Resembling a ginger-potato merger in appearance and a water chestnut-jicama-potato (maybe with a hint of artichoke heart?) blend in flavor, they make a fresh addition to fall and winter cooking.

A North American native plant, these edible tubers were a common food for several Native American tribes. They are still eaten both raw and cooked, and are increasingly appreciated for their high inulin content, a sweet fiber used medicinally to balance blood sugar and support healthy gut bacteria. With a flavor similar to cooked potatoes, they make a good substitute for those wanting to reduce their starch consumption, increase their fiber intake and eat a low glycemic diet. They are also an excellent source of iron and a good one of thiamine, niacin, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

I planted several last fall and did close to nothing to care for them besides eagerly await harvest time.  Last weekend, I dug up one plant. Did I happen to pick the plant sitting on the mother load or are all of these blooming beauties harboring bucket loads of sunchokes?!  I dug up another to find…. more bounty!  I had to stop since I didn’t have the storage space worked out for quantities at this scale.  Fortunately, until the ground freezes, they store well right where they are.

P1010367-002

P1010372-001

A few Sunchoke recipe ideas:

Sunchoke Slices on a Salad:  scrub and thinly slice several sunchokes and add them to your favorite green salad.  They offer a nice crunch with an earthy flavor making a fresh salad a more grounding food in fall and winter.  Dress with a light vinaigrette.

Sunchoke & Cheddar Soup (from The Victory Garden Cookbook):

  • 1 pound sunchokes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 celeriac bulb or 2 stalks celery
  • 1 medium onion
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • salt & cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Wash, peel (optional) and roughly chop sunchokes and keep in water to which lemon juice has been added until ready to use. Chop celery and onion and cook in 2 tablespoons butter until slightly wilted, approximately 10 minutes. Add sunchokes and 1 1/2 cups of broth, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are cooked through. Purée in a blender or food processor.

In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter, add flour, and cook for 2 minutes without browning. Remove from heat and whisk in 1 cup of broth and cook 5 minutes. Add cheese and mustard, and stir until blended. Stir in sunchoke mixture and cream, and cook until soup is heated through. Season with salt, cayenne pepper and Worcestershire sauce.

Sunchoke Mash: Cook or roast cubes of root vegetables and tubers, such as potatoes, turnips, rutabaga, carrots, celeriac, etc with a couple of cloves of garlic. Add cubed sunchokes and cook until tender. Mash with a bit of butter or olive oil and some milk or cream, depending on desired consistency.

Vegetable Sauté with Sunchokes: Prepare and sauté any vegetables (such as red onion, garlic and celery stalks) in a skillet, and add scrubbed and sliced sunchokes toward the end of the cooking time.  Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley.

Sunchokes Sauteed

 

Looking for more recipes? Thankfully, there is a blog devoted entirely to the sunchoke and its recipes.

How Rhubarb Shines Sans Strawberries

Rhubarb, with its edible stalks starting in May, perfecting bridges the locally harvestable dessert gap between maple syrup in April and strawberries in June.

The rhubarb plant is a persistent perennial, growing back with gusto year after year. Sometimes to the point of overload for some home gardeners.  This year I was on the lucky receiving end of such overload. I happily created garden space for a separated rhubarb plant, and immediately picked a beautiful late May bouquet.

With strawberries in the backyard and now rhubarb in the front, I thought my yard was ready to provide the tried and true late spring combo, but with most of the berries still unripe, I had to let the rhubarb fly solo for now.  It did very well on its own.

Rhubarb Yogurt Cups

  • 1 ball jar full of rhubarb stalks, washed and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 tablespoon beet powder
  • 1 cup of whole milk yogurt (ideally from organic, grass-fed cows)
  • generous sprinkling of cacao nibs

Method:

  1. Warm skillet and melt butter.
  2. Add rhubarb pieces, orange juice, half the maple syrup and beet powder and allow to cook down to a sauce (a downside of cooking rhubarb is that it loses its color and turns grey. The beet powder, which does not affect the taste, tints the sauce a deep shade of pink).
  3. Mix the remaining maple syrup with yogurt, and divide among serving bowls or cups. Top with rhubarb sauce and sprinkle with cacao nibs (which on their own can be rather bitter, however combine them with fat such as in whole milk yogurt and they taste like pure chocolate without any added sugar. Cocoa nibs are full of fiber and a good source of potassium, chromium, copper, calcium, zinc, vitamin C and a rich source of magnesium).
  4. Jar up any remaining rhubarb sauce for on biscuits, pancakes, oatmeal or toast instead of jam.
This will help pass the time while I wait for the strawberries to ripen….. and the many recipes featuring the classic pair.

Kombucha: My New Bubbly

On Mothers Day, I was blessed with another “daughter”: a perfectly slimy, thoroughly unappealing looking, squishy, whitish patty. She won’t be winning any beauty contests, but she is teaming with life, and healthy energy!  Earlier than I had expected, the “mother” kombucha “SCOBY” (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) from which I brewed my first batch, had already grown a mini version of herself.  I was delighted!

As a follow-up to a recent post about probiotics, here’s more about what has become one of my favorite food forms (well drink, actually) of naturally occurring probiotic bacteria: Kombucha.

When first introduced to the supposed elixir, it was described to me as an effervescent fermented tea made from a mushroom.  Though I am (for the most part) open-minded and eager to try new foods (particularly ones surrounded by information about their numerous health benefits), fermented mushroom tea was a stretch.  As it turns out, it is not made from a mushroom, but a “SCOBY” which resembles a mushroom (or rather a pancake, I think) in appearance.

Kombucha traces its history back to Russian as well as ancient Japan and China, often in a context of profound health and healing.  Although conclusive scientific studies have yet to be completed in the US, centuries of anecdotal evidence have convinced many to add this beverage to their diet, and some have used it as a successful healing therapy.

The drink’s naturally occurring bacteria serve to replenish our internal gut flora, which improves our digestion and boosts immunity. It contains glucuronic acid, which is effective in cleansing the body of toxins.  In addition, the tea provides a worthwhile amount of vitamin B complex, antioxidants and minerals.  It appeals to health-seekers, do-it-yourselfers, low-carb dieters and foodies in numbers large enough to have caught the attention of beverage makers such as Red Bull, Coca-Cola, and Celestial Seasonings (all of whom have leapt on board the kombucha train).  Being more of the DIY persuasion, I gave it a try.

How to make kombucha home-brew:

When the much anticipated SCOBY (which can be ordered online) arrives in the mail:

Brew strong black tea (ideally organic) with organic sugar:

Remove tea bags or leaves, add SCOBY and fill jar with additional cool water.  Allow to sit, covered with a cloth, in a warm place:

After one-two weeks, start to taste your brew.  It will continue to ferment (as the bacteria will continue to eat the sugar), making the flavor stronger and less sweet the longer you wait.

Save the SCOBY (which may already be growing a “daughter” so that you can start making twice as much) and serve your refreshing home brew.

Curious to know more? Various websites, such as kombucha camp, and these books can help.

Cheers!

Making Springtime Brunch Eggs-actly Right

The first signs of spring, both actual and symbolic, quickly bring us to Easter, Passover and all versions of celebrating the longer days, the thawing out and the renewing of life. Picture any springtime brunch, and eggs are likely to make an appearance, if not find themselves in the spotlight. The quintessential symbol of new life, the egg also happens to be delicious, nutritious and very versatile.  Having survived years of undeserved critique as a food to be eaten only infrequently, it is back and bigger than ever.  Click here to read the Huffington Post’s 8 health reasons to eat eggs.  If you enjoy eggs, opt for fresh, free-range, organically-fed ones.

Hard or soft boil eggs and prop each up in a bagel.  Serve with butter (click here for easy DIY how-to), cheese, smoked fish, avocado, sliced vegetables, and fresh salad greens, and you’ve got a simple to prepare, lovely to look at and fun to eat brunch meal for any size group.

Like bagels, avocados also present themselves as natural egg cups:

If you prefer eggs fried, consider a colorful, vegetably variation on the popular (in my early morning kitchen, at least) egg-in-a-hole.  My children often ask for an egg baked right into a slice of bread for breakfast, so for a special brunch I make eggs in a pepper ring with added color, crunch and nutrition.  I made some with grated cheddar melted onto the top, and some without. To preserve the yellow-orange sunshine of the yoke, skip the cheese, otherwise sprinkle it on.

If you are not intimidated by the poached egg (an art I am still practicing), here’s a fun edible nest for your springtime table: lettuce leaves, Asian-style bean thread vermicelli, topped with a poached egg.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper and salt, and dig in.

These can be enjoyed by a variety of eaters from vegetarian to paleo/primal, unleavened, wheat- and gluten-free diners (with the exception of the bagel) for a fresh, bright, celebration of spring.

Planting a Protein Garden

Life Cycle of Bean Plant

For the past five years, I have expanded my vegetable garden by as much as my spade could turn over. I’m now bringing in a decent amount of fresh produce in the summer, with more ripening in early fall, giving me enough to put some away for the first few colder months.  There’s nothing quite as satisfying and nourishing as feeding your family what you’ve grown just steps from your kitchen table. But, I thought, I’m only making a dent in one food group. I wanted to be able to grow a complete meal.

I adopted a small flock of hens. Within no time, we had a lovely mutually beneficial relationship going: I fed them, and they fed us. Perfect farmhouse symbiosis: organic feed and kitchen scraps for them; incredibly rich, yellow yoked eggs for us.  But huevoes rancheros, one of my favorite breakfasts, also calls for beans.  So, I planted black turtle beans.

Copying a gardening technique practiced by Native Americans, I planted a “three sisters” garden. Beans went around the base of the developing corn stalks, which wound their way up as the stalks grew. The cornstalks offered a convenient trellis for the beans, while the beans provided nitrogen for the corn. Encircling the duo, I planted squash, whose course, prickly vines helped deter animals from snacking on the corn and beans.

Beans, best known for their notable fiber content (one cup provides between 9 to 13 grams), are also a great source of plant protein, complex carbohydrates, folate and iron, as well as at least eight different phytonutrients which contribute to their dark color (in the case of black beans), and indicate the presence of valuable antioxidants.

By the end of the summer, my bean plants were mature, the pods were full-grown and starting to dry, and I crawled in to harvest the beautiful, garden-grown black beans.  I had grown my own protein.

As thoroughly satisfying as that was, I was disappointed to see that my numerous rows of black bean plants amounted to merely a pint-sized jar of dried beans – hardly enough to feed a mostly vegetarian family of four until next year at this time.

I’ll have to grow many more next summer and look into growing grains, but for now we’re digging into a hot bowl of home-grown sweet potato and black bean soup.