Weekend Drive in the Country, Preserving the Bounty, and How to Find Local Foods. May has Arrived

KohlrabiLasparagus

We’ve had glorious weather recently in Southern New Jersey and I definitely caught a case of Spring Fever!  This weekend I picked up my sister from play practice and headed out through beautiful Eastern PA, on back country roads, to my favorite farm for my weekly purchase of raw, un-pasteurized, fresh milk.  When I called them earlier in the week to reserve my weekly milk (yes, it is so popular you have to reserve it) I was told they were already out of eggs for the weekend.  Since I pass a couple of other farms selling eggs along the way I decided we would meander the way to our destination and hit up some of those farms.  Let me just paint this scene for a moment; The weather is 70 degrees, the sun is shining, the car windows are open, and *EEK* Top 40 is on the radio (not my music of choice but hey, my sister is 10).  Ignoring the wailing of “insert popular songstress here”  I turn to my other senses and view the beautiful countryside and hills surrounding the base of Buckingham Mountain.  Spring is in full force and the are trees bursting with pink and white flowers,  the smell of the Earth awakening is in the air.  Everywhere I look I see beauty.  As we drive my sister turns to me and asks “Why do you drive 45 minutes away just for milk and eggs when you can go to the grocery store in 5 minutes?” Very good question.  I answered “Because the eggs we are about to buy were laid by chickens less than 4 days ago, the milk was in the cow less than 2 days ago. They are the freshest they can get and I know the farmers who sell them to me.  I’ve seen the chickens and cows in the pasture, I know they are well cared for.  That is really important to me.”  Her response “Eww!”.  Oh well, she’ll appreciate it when she gets older.

The farm I decided to stop at is Milk House Farm Market.  They are located in a beautiful old farmhouse with a big red barn in back.  I have always wanted to stop, it just calls to me, but have never been in the position to do so.  When we pulled up there were chickens scratching around the yard and a little old lady filling egg cartons from a large basket of freshly pulled eggs.  I have died and gone to heaven!  When we walked into the small market room in front I was greeted by baskets of radishes, beets, a few small tomatoes, herbs, jars of honey, and a refrigeration case filled with eggs, milk, yogurt, and butter.  Oh my gosh, I have died because this is definitely heaven!  The little old lady came through from the back and greeted me, arms full of egg cartons.  “Honey, you arrived just at the right time, we’ve just pulled fresh eggs and a few of the cartons even have our famous blue ones.  We’re known around here for them.”  she brightly said to me “Well that is just what I am here for.” I responded with a huge smile.  We chatted for a moment or two, I learned that they keep a variety of laying hens, they are open 7 days a week, and only stock vegetables, fruits, and herbs they can bring in from their fields and surrounding farmers.  I also learned their strawberry plants are bursting with fruit and that I MUST come back at the end of the month, but make sure I arrive early in the day.  She was so sweet and the energy was so welcoming, I will most certainly be back later this month to stock up on strawberries.

Fresh eggs in hand we piled back into the car and travelled the 5 minutes to Birchwood Farm and Dairy.  I love pulling into this tucked away farm, as soon as you come up the short driveway the land just opens onto beautiful pasture.  I walked in and the young lady greeted me by name,  I guess I go often enough now.  They carry fresh raw milk, homemade yogurt, ice cream, eggs, organic fresh orange juice and a wide variety of pastured, grass-fed meats.  A few weeks ago I purchased a chuck roast from them and it was so tender and delicious.  Their spicy Italian sausage is wonderful (although very spicy) and the short ribs are to die for!  I cannot wait until later in the season and they have bacon, nitrate free and salt-cured.  I like to buy a large cut of meat when I am there, they raise all the livestock and use a local butcher to process the meat.  Talk about getting to know your community.  Its really important to me that I know my farmers and they know me.  I’d never be greeted by name at the grocery store and who knows when the eggs were laid or how the chickens were kept.  This relationship makes food that much more nourishing and meaningful.  After securing my purchases in the back seat we started our drive home.  Feeling happy and content I settled back in the driver’s seat, gazed again at the pastures, and quite honestly didn’t even notice that “insert popular songstress here” was continuing to wail on the radio.

Eggs

There are many things I love about May, planting season is fully upon us, everything is blooming and the Earth is alive again, and Farmer’s Markets re-open for the season.  Being avid gardeners, the hubinator and I grow a large variety of vegetables that we both enjoy during the season and preserve for eating over winter however, we can’t grow every single thing we might want.  Enter Farmer’s Market.  I love waking up Saturday morning, preparing breakfast, and filling up my tea cup to take with me to my local Farmer’s Market.  Feeling the warm sun on my shoulders I walk through the local agriculture center and take in the heaps of produce brought in by the farmers in the surrounding area.  My first stop is always the mushroom man, he hails from Kennet Square, PA (mushroom capitol of the US, ya know) he has the most beautiful shitakes, portobellos, and interesting varieties like Hen of the Woods.  Next stop is Busy Bee Farm, she carries pesticide free lavender and a variety of local honeys, did you know eating honey from local bees can help reduce allergies?  Yup, it builds up a kind of immunity to the flora in your area!  After picking up some fruits and veggies I end my rounds with Made in the Shade Lemonade, the cucumber-mint is to die for.  I like to supplement my home grown veggies with veggies from the market but my favorite aspect is that I can buy bulk amounts that I wouldn’t be able to grow at home and stock up my cupboards for winter.  This month I will stock up on strawberries over at Milk House.

There are a few great resources on the web for locating Farmer’s Markets and pastured grass-fed meats and eggs in your area.  I keep an eye out for local magazines that are often offered for free at your *OOF* grocery store (we all need toilet paper every once in awhile).  Or contact your local extension service, they can point you in the right direction.  Here are a few of my favorite websites:

If you don’t have the space or desire to grow your own fruits and vegetables then Farmer’s markets are definitely the way to go.  Not only are you getting the freshest organic produce but you are also supporting your local farmer, I am sure you have seen the bumper stickers “No Farms No Food”, well it’s true.  Let’s bring our dollars back to our communities and support local agriculture.

I’ve touched on preserving your bounty a few times.  Its quite easy to do and really there is nothing like making salsa in December from tomatoes that actually taste and smell like tomatoes.  Each month during the summer season I will bring you recipes for preserving fruits and vegetables that are coming in during each month.  I may even throw in a recipe you can enjoy with out preserving!  I am not here to teach you how to can, I don’t dare proclaim myself an expert, I have done a lot of reading on the subject and I know what has worked for me.  I urge you to read up on canning basics before you try to do it for the first time.  It’s really not hard but there are a few things you should know, I still check the internet or my books for processing times everytime I make a new batch.  I will provide canning times in the recipes I use but please, do some research and use your personal best judgement.  A few websites I hands down trust are:

Now that I’ve gotten the fine print out of the way……

Preserving the Bounty: Strawberriesstrawberries

Freezing is a great way to preserve your berries.  Fill your sink with water and add 1/4 cup Raw Apple Cider Vinegar.  Submerge the berries gently, swishing around to remove any dirt.  Drain and place between two kitchen towels to dry.  Place on baking trays that fit in your freezer, the idea here is to freeze them separately so they don’t freeze into a big clump, you can skip this but it will be harder to use them in the future.  Once frozen, place in a freezer storage bag.  Voila!

Oven drying or dehydrating strawberries is another wonderful way to preserve them.  Clean your berries and slice them.  Very lightly grease a baking sheet and spread the berries in one even layer.  Bake in an oven set at 150 degrees or the lowest setting you have.  Check your berries every few hours, once they begin to shrivel flip and continue to check.  They are fully dehydrated when they have shrivelled quite a bit and are no longer sticky to the touch.  Store in an airtight container 6 months to a year.  With a dehydrator set to 125 allow to dry for 8-10 hours or until fully dried.

These are delicious as a snack right out of the jar, sprinkled over cereal, or mixed into your favorite granola or trail mix.

Strawberry Preserves

  • 4 Cups Strawberries, crushed
  • 2/3 Cup Unsweeted Fruit Juice -If I am feeling industrious I will crush & strain a few extra berries, otherwise apple juice or even water work well here
  • 3 Tbsp Low/No sugar Pectin -I use Ball RealFruit Brand
  • 1/2 Cup Honey or Organic Sugar -Optional, I do not use sweeteners

Prepare water bath, jars, and lids.

Combine all the ingredients except sweetener (if using) in a saucepan. Bring to a hard boil stirring continuously. If you are using a sweetener, add it now and return to a boil for a full minute. Remove from heat, occasionally some scum will rise to the top, this is absolutely normal and should be skimmed.

Fill ½ pint jars to ¼ of an inch from the top. Wipe the rim with a clean cloth to remove any spills. Place lid on top and screw on rim until finger tight. Gently place in water bath making sure the jars are covered by 2 inches of water. Bring water to a steady boil and process jars for 20 minutes.

Remove jars from water bath and place on a dish towel on the counter to cool. Sit back and enjoy “pop pop pop” sound of your jars sealing. After Preserves have cooled check to make sure all of them sealed, fully tighten the rim, and put away in a cool dark place to enjoy over the winter! If any have not sealed then place them in the fridge and enjoy within 3 weeks.

Variation: Add ½ tsp cracked black pepper for a spicy twist

Coconut Oil; Beware, it’s an Obsession!

coco_oil1

Coconut oil has become wildly popular in recent years, so much so that since I began research for this post last week, 4 of my favorite blogs posted about it’s benefits! It has been a well kept secret for ages in coastal areas and warm climate countries. Predominately used for cooking, the flavor is most often associated with Asian style curries or many of those fruity drinks folks purchase on beach vacations. It is high in saturated fat but due to it’s chemical make-up it breaks down in your system quickly before it can be converted to fat leaving it immediately available as energy.

There are so many uses for coconut oil apart from cooking. First the obvious, it is highly moisturizing, leaving your skin feeling supple and replenished.  It has a warm scent that is gentle and does not linger.  It is both anti-microbial and anti-fungal so when used topically it will promote healthy skin regeneration, not pimples!  It works wonders on the under eye and chest areas where skin is more delicate and prone to wrinkling.  Lastly and my favorite, it actually can help you lose weight and feel more energetic, this comes back to it’s chemical make-up because it is a saturated fat you feel fuller for longer but it doesn’t turn into fat easily in your body.  Some women have claimed that their cellulite disappeared when they started taking 1-2 teaspoons a day orally (WOW)!  What is not to love about this wonderful oil?

I first picked up a large container of coconut oil after reading of the health benefits of cooking with it.  One fact that really got me was that since it is solid at room temperature it is less susceptible to becoming rancid, lasting often up to two years.  Also it is not a highly processed or refined oil such as our supermarket canola or vegetable oils and won’t break down and oxidize when heat is applied aka. cooking.  Nor is it GM which cannot be said for many of the “cooking” oils out there.  Here is a great description of when and how to use fats from one of my favorite bloggers over at Empowered Sustenance.Hers was the first blog I ever read when I first started my real food journey.  She has a great little print out for quick reference.  While you are there you should definitely browse her blog, she is chock full of information!

Currently I purchase Carrington Farms brand Coconut oil in my local club store but there are many varieties available in smaller quantities so you don’t have to commit right away (remember this stuff practically never goes bad).  Tropical Traditions is a well loved company, and Spectrum and Nutiva brands are available in most health or whole food markets.  I quickly found the amount I am using on a daily basis it is best for me to go with larger containers. coco-oil2

Coconut Oil Recipes

Coco-Coffee Sugar (or salt) Scrub

This moisturizing and exfoliating scrub can be used daily however, if you have sensitive skin, use it 1-2 times a week to keep your skin smooth and soft. If you choose to use salt rather than sugar make sure you use the scrub before shaving as the salt can irritate freshly shaved skin. This is a great use for those coffee grounds that would normally be trash.

  • 1 Cup Coffee Grounds
  • 1 Cup Organic Coarse Sugar or Coarse Sea Salt
  • 1 Cup Coconut Oil

Slowly melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan over low flame. Pour into a pint size mason jar or other airtight container and mix in the coffee grounds and sugar or salt.

Skin Smoothing Deodorant

This deodorant passed the workout test! Mind you, I did sweat, and you are supposed to, but I did not stink. Commercial products contain many harmful chemicals that are absorbed through your sweat glands and into your system. This will keep you smelling fresh and your body will begin to heal from the chemicals in commercial products and you will begin to sweat less! This is a small recipe that can be doubled when you decide to switch over completely.

  • ¼ Cup Coconut Oil
  • ¼ Cup Arrowroot Powder -cornstarch may be used
  • 1 ½ tsp Baking Soda
  • 5 drops Tea Tree, Rose Absolute, Lavender, or Essential Oil of your choice

Cream the first 3 ingredients together in a bowl. Add the essential oil and mix until combined. Store in ½ pint mason jar or other airtight container. Apply a small amount with your fingers or a make-up sponge as you would commercial deodorant.

Coconut Oil Face Cleansing

You won’t believe me until you try it but your skin will be clearer and cleaner by using this method. As with most new and healing regimes, sometimes your skin gets a little worse before it gets better. There will be a short grace period before you see the major results but, please, stick with it. I promise you will be so happy you did!

  • 3 Tbsp Coconut Oil
  • 3 Tbsp Jojoba Oil

Slowly melt the coconut oil in a small sauce pan over low heat. Add the jojoba oil and pour into a small glass airtight container.

I learned about this method of cleansing from Thank Your Body and decided to try it with coconut oil.  I have been very happy with the results.

To Use:

Pour a ½ tsp amount into your hands, rubbing together to warm, if the coconut oil has resolidified make sure you get a bit of both oils in your hands, they will recombine. Begin rubbing into your face using slow, massaging circles. Take your time with this, relax and enjoy the facial massage. Turn on the hot water and heat until it’s the warmest you can take but not enough to burn. Wet a soft cloth and hold to your face for 10-15 seconds then wipe your face gently to remove the oil. Repeat a few times until the oil is removed. Apply a very small amount of oil under your eyes and if needed to dry points on your face.

Grain-free Banana Pancakes

  • 1 Banana, mashed
  • 2 Eggs
  • Sprinkle of warming spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 tsp Coconut oil
  • ¼ Cup Homemade or Greek Yogurt
  • Handful Berries

Whisk together Banana and Eggs in a bowl. Heat Coconut Oil over medium heat, preferably in non-stick skillet. Pour in Banana mixture and cook for 2-3 minutes. Flip and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 5-7 more minutes. Remove to a plate, top with the yogurt and berries. Enjoy!

Coconut Oil Mayo

This may be for a real die hard coconut oil fan. I made it the other day replacing the oil called for with coconut oil. The hubinator did not notice, simply thought it was a bit tart I however, enjoyed it immensely but would not use it to replace mayo in a ham sandwich for instance. It would be great for a tropical coleslaw, as a dip for battered fish (fried in coconut oil of course) or for a curried chicken salad. You can substitute half the coconut oil for olive oil if desired. This mayo can be fermented as well for a longer lasting fridge life, simply add 1 Tbsp of Whey and leave out for 7-10 hrs for the bacteria to do their job.

  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp Dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp table salt
  • Ground Pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 Cup Coconut Oil

Gently melt Coconut oil in small sauce pan, set aside to cool slightly. In food processor, combine yolks, lemon juice, mustard, salt, and pepper until combined, about 10 seconds. With machine running, gradually add oil in slow steady stream, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula and process 5 seconds longer. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper if needed.

Quick and Easy Everyday uses for Coconut Oil

Apply a small amount to cuticles and callouses before bed.

Dab a bit under and around your eyes to soften skin and reduce wrinkles.

Add a teaspoon to your morning coffee to help moisturize from within.

For Curly Hair: Apply a small amount to your hair and comb through after conditioning to help tame frizz.

For Straight Hair: Apply a small amount to your ends after towel drying and let hair air dry or heat style as usual.

Use a thin layer of coconut oil instead of shaving cream.

Apply a small amount to your body before you towel off, while you are still wet from the shower and your pores are good and open from the heat.  Towel off and go about your usual routine.  Great for winter when your skin is extra dry.

*Many of the recipes used here are adaptations of recipes I have found on the internet.  I have played around with them until I found what worked best or tasted best to me.  I urge you to experiment with the quantities, making small batches at first to find what suits your skin best.  As with most new things, test it out before slathering your body with it!  If you are concerned about any essential oils mentioned, please use the best quality available and definitely test on your skin!

Soak Your Nuts!

Soak_ur_nutsNow that I have your attention, I want to talk a little bit about how to properly prepare grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts for optimal digestion. Properly prepare? What the heck does that mean? Properly or, traditionally prepared foods are foods that have been treated in a way to maximize their nutritional availability and digestibility. Grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds contain a toxic compound that not only makes them hard for us to digest but also binds to minerals rendering them useless and unavailable to our bodies. This compound is phytic acid, an anti-nutrient and general malcontent, a selfish little compound that does not want to share the healthy magnesium, calcium, iron, or zinc that is present in the foods we consume. Not only are these minerals from the grains, legumes, nuts, or seeds not bio-available but also from the other foods we are consuming along side. The other problem with these foods are the short-chain carbohydrates, also known as sugar, that are hard for our bodies to digest and tend to stick around in our guts and ferment. As opposed to good fermenting, in jars, outside our bodies, growing good bacteria, this fermenting in your intestines causes gas, bloating, and inflammation.

I am sure at this point you probably are thinking “Why in the world would I continue to eat these foods if they do all that to my body?” Well, there are many camps that agree and won’t touch the stuff. Paleo and Primal ways of eating do not include grains and legumes and do not see the point of eating food that is so disruptive to the digestive system. Here is a good description of Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo over at www.balancedbites.com. I follow a different theory of healthy ways to eat. As opposed to Paleo, my diet includes Properly Prepared grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. This follows the Weston A. Price Foundation, or WAPF way of eating. You can learn more about that here, www.westonaprice.org.

Properly preparing foods cuts down on the level of phytic acid present and performs a sort of “pre-digestion” if you will, making these foods much easier on your digestive system and allowing the minerals to be more bio-available. There are 3 methods of proper preparation: Soaking, Sprouting, and Fermenting.

Soaking and Fermenting: Essentially Soaking leads to Fermenting however a short 24-48 hr soak does not necessarily mean your food is fermented, the process has only just begun. Typically a good soak is all you need for proper digestion of legumes and grains. You want to combine filtered, un-chlorinated water in a ration of 2:1 of your legumes or grain. Some believe that heating the water is necessary but I think that making sure you allow for a good long soak is all that is needed.

whitebeans_w_kombuGive your legumes (or grains) a good rinse then place in a large bowl and cover with filtered water. Allow to soak for 24-48 hours. After soaking, rinse again, discarding the soaking liquid, and cook as you normally would. It is also believed that the addition of an acid such as lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar with further break down the phytic acid, as well as the addition of a piece of Kombu, an edible kelp. You will want to add a tablespoon of the acid or two 2 inch pieces of kombu. You can change the water a few times over the two days if you are soaking but do not if you are fermenting.

Fermenting will lead to the growth of beneficial bacteria and fall into the realm of sourdough, Indian snacks such as dosa and idli, and soured porridge. This is a whole other post all together as there is a lot to cover on the topic of fermented grains and legumes.

Sprouting: Sprouting is the initiation of the lifecycle of the seed. Grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts are all seed of a plant therefore, once soaked they begin the process of growing into a plant. This process diminishes the phytic acid and anti-nutrients making them much more healthful. Sprouting is very simple to do:

Place 1 cup of grain, legume, nut, or seed into a quart size mason jar. Cover with 2 cups filtered water. Allow to soak over night in a warm spot. The next day, pour out the water and rinse well. Cover the opening of the jar with a bit of cheese cloth and let sit overnight again. Rinse and repeat a few times a day until you see little sprouts shooting out. Your sprouts are ready once they are approximately the length of the seed.

From here you can dry them for cooking later or grinding into flour. You can also eat them raw in salads or on sandwiches. The sprouts can be dried in the oven at 150° for anywhere from 10-24 hrs. Allow too cool and store up to 6 months. I always have mason jars full of sprouted and dried grains and legumes in my pantry so that I don’t have to prepare 4 days in advance if I want sprouted quinoa for dinner on Wednesday.sprouted_grains

A few recipes for your hard work. Sit back and reap the benefits of Properly Prepared Foods!!!

 Essene Bread from the Sprout People

 Sprouted Lentil Recipes from Gnowfglins.com

Creamy Grits, Two Ways

Soak your grits for a few days before cooking to yield a creamier consistency. Cook them as you would normally and enjoy with a pinch of salt and butter. Then with the leftovers, stir in a chopped garlic clove and some cheddar and pour into a casserole or bread pan. Chill in the refrigerator then slice and fry in butter for a tasty second round.

Crispy Nuts

Combine 4 cups nuts with 1 tablespoon of sea salt and cover with filtered water. Allow to sit in a warm spot over night. Drain and spread on a baking sheet and dry in the oven at 150° for 12-24 hours. Store in an airtight container for up to 3-4 months.

My Indian Kitchen: More Recipes

***I am greatly saddened by the events of yesterday in the beautiful city of Boston. Actions like this make me question my belief in the inherent goodness of humanity. I truly believe that people, at heart, are good and kind. However, when an event like this occurs, I feel lost and scared. I am scared for the families of those injured or dead, I am scared for the children present who will now grow up with this as a prevalent memory of their past, and I am scared for the repercussions towards people who were not involved but may simply be of the same race or creed of the people or person behind this horrible action. The sad fact of humanity is that we often are afraid of what we don’t understand and lash out in poor ways in the guise of strength.

During this time of mourning and loss, please remember that the human next to you is simply trying to live their life as best they can, the same as you are. Their beliefs or skin color do not mean they are going to bomb you, fly a plane into a building, or open fire in a public place.

We should not take away with us hate, but compassion and love, as we are a nation built on the differences and beauty of the cultures that comprise our country.

This is what the Boston Marathon and Boston’s Patriot Day truly stand for.

“You must not lose faith in Humanity. Humanity is like an ocean: if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty”

-Mahatma Ghandi***

SAMSUNG

This past Sunday was the celebration of the Tamil New Year. Tamil Nadu is located in the south of India and is where my husband’s family, on his father’s side, is from. The New Year, like our December celebration, is a time for prosperity and growth. This is the time of year it is believed, that the creator of the world, Lord Brahma, began creation. This is a time of rebirth and rejuvenation. Just like our New Year, it is time to make resolutions and changes towards a better life. Happy Vishu!!!

My Indian Kitchen returns this week with a few new recipes. This first recipe, Upma, is one of my husband’s favorites. I make it often for breakfast or lunch and it can be served with Sambar and Vegetable for a filling dinner. I also have a recipe for another Indian soup called Rasam. This soup is a favorite around here. Lighter than Sambar but with a similar tang from the tamarind, and heavily laced with cilantro, it is delicious served over rice with some yogurt.

Upma is similar in consistency to thick Cream of Wheat or Polenta.  Cream of Wheat can be substituted if Sooji cannot be found.  Simply roast it in a dry skillet for a few minutes, being careful not to burn it.  Water can be used for the Yogurt portion and Oil for the Ghee to make this dish vegan.

Upmaupma

  • 1 Cup Roasted Sooji -similar to Cream of Wheat, available in most Indian markets
  • 2 Tbsp. Ghee
  • 1 ½ Cups filtered Water mixed with
  • ½ Cup Yogurt -homemade is best, not greek
  • 1 tsp Urad Dal
  • 2 small Green Chilis -stem removed and broken in half
  • 1 tsp grated Ginger
  • ½ tsp Cumin Seed
  • ½ tsp Black Mustard Seed
  • 4-5 Kari Leaves
  • Raw Cashew Nuts, small handful, chopped in large pieces
  • Salt to taste

Heat Ghee in a sauce pot over medium flame. When hot add your Mustard Seed and cover with splatter screen. When they are popped add in your Urad Dal, Cumin Seed, Kari Leaves, and Cashews. Fry briefly then add the Green Chilis, and Ginger. Turn heat down to low and pour in your Water/Yogurt Mixture. Add a bit of Salt to taste. Then slowly whisk in your Roasted Sooji, stirring constantly until thickened. Off heat and cover. Let sit 5 minutes then serve. It should be the texture of a dry Cream of Wheat, slightly sticky but a bit crumbly.

Serve with Coconut Chutney or Pachadi

Coconut Chutney

  • ½ grated Coconut
  • 1/3 Cup Roasted Chana Dal -available in most Indian markets
  • ½ Cup filtered Water
  • 2-3 Green Chilis -stem removed and broken in half
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • 2 Tbsp. Yogurt -homemade is best, not greek
  • 2 tsp Black Mustard Seed
  • 1 tsp Urad Dal
  • 2 tsp Ghee

Blend the Coconut, Roasted Chana, and Water until a smooth consistency is reached. Add your Green Chilis, Salt, and Yogurt. Heat Ghee and add Mustard Seed and Urad dal. Fry until Seeds pop, add to the Coconut mixture. Taste for salt and serve as a condiment for Upma, Idlis, or Dosa.  Replace the yogurt with lemon juice and the Ghee with Oil to make this vegan.

Pachadi

  • 1 large Tomato, cut into wedges
  • 1 Cup Yogurt
  • 1 tsp Black Mustard Seed
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tsp Ghee

Heat Ghee in small saucepan. Add Mustard Seed and pop. Add in your Tomato and fry a few minutes until cooked down a bit. Combine Yogurt and Salt in a bowl and mix in the fried Tomatoes.

Rasam

  • ½ Cup Toor Dal
  • Small Lime sized ball of Tamarind Paste
  • 2 medium Tomatoes, chopped -reserve a few pieces, chopped smaller
  • 2 Tbsp Rasam Powder (recipe follows)
  • 1 Tbsp Salt
  • ¼ tsp Asafoetida
  • 3 Green Chilis -broken in half and stems removed
  • Small bunch Cilantro
  • 20 Kari Leaves
  • 1 tsp Mustard Seed
  • 1 tsp Cumin Seed
  • Ghee or Oil

Soak Toor Dal in water for ½ hour. Drain and add to a pot with 2 cups fresh water. Bring to a boil then lower heat. Cook partially covered until cooked through, approx 1 hour. Mash and add 1 ½ cups more water. Set aside. Meanwhile, soak Tamarind in 2 ½ cups hot water. Strain, squeezing as much liquid out of the pulp as possible. Set aside.

In a large pot combine Rasam Powder, Salt, and Asafoetida. Add tamarind water, green chilis, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes, stirring often.

Add cleaned Cilantro, Kari leaves, Toor Dal, and reserved Tomatoes. Cook for 10 minutes more. In a separate skillet, heat 3 tsp Ghee or Oil. When hot add Mustard Seed and pop, add Cumin Seed and fry for a few seconds. Add this to the Liquid, off heat and let sit 10 minutes before serving.

rasam_powderRasam Powder

 Fry separately without oil and with low heat:

  • ½ Cup Coriander Seed
  • ½ Cup Cumin Seed
  • 1 Tbsp Black Peppercorn
  • 2 red Chili Peppers
  • 1 tbs. Chana Dal

Add ½ tsp Asafoetida and blend to a coarse grind. Store in airtight container for up to 6 months.

The Early Arrival of Spring

SAMSUNG

Spring starts in December in my house.  When the seed catalogs arrive I get the same excited feeling that kids have on Christmas Eve.  I immediately begin planning, I pull out my charts and lists from previous years, my highlighter to daydream in the catalogs, graph paper, pencils, and my seed box.  I LOVE when the catalogs arrive, they are a beacon in the dreary cold that springtime is around the corner.

This year we needed to order a lot of seeds as many of ours are now a few years old.  The older the seed the lower the germination rate, so it’s best to replenish your stock every few years.  We order our seeds from Gourmet Seed International.They are a small, family owned company that offers high quality, non GMO seeds, supplies, and has always been knowledgeable in answering our questions.  And now the fun starts!  I clean off my dining room table, make a cup of tea, and spread out my charts.  I begin by referencing my notes from the years before.  I know this year I need to order tomato seeds so I check my notes from last year, we weren’t happy with the plum variety we planted and missed not having cherry tomatoes.  From here I go to the catalog and research the best tomatoes for my growing conditions.  This continues with each type of seed we want to plant until I have a completed seed list and can place my order.

Seed List

The next step is to come up with my planting schedule.  The majority of this is based on the last spring frost.  I like to use online almanacs and planting guides, I can also refer back to when we planted the year before and how it went.  For instance, two years ago we planted too late so were not able to fully utilize the growing months, and last year we over compensated and planted too early so when it came time to transplant , they were leggy and overgrown.  I think we are pretty well on schedule this year if the weather doesn’t get too crazy.

Planting Schedule

seedlings seedlings2

My okra was the first to raise it’s head, then the tomatoes and cukes.  I get so excited and run to check on them every morning!

The time between planting my seeds and transplanting outdoors is an antsy one.  To keep my self from going nuts, I use this time to plan the layout of the garden.  As I mentioned, we use the Square Foot gardening method.  The theory behind this is that you can grow more in a smaller amount of space.  In one square foot of space you can grow 16 carrots or 9 beets, where as in traditional gardening (in rows) you would need a 5 ft row.  Now imagine if you took my seed list and needed a 5 ft row for each type of vegetable, my whole backyard would be taken up!  This method also allows you to place plants strategically reducing pests and disease, and maximizing plant health by utilizing companion planting.

I plan my layout starting with the plants that take up the most space, cucumbers, tomatoes, and husk cherries.  They get rotated yearly so they are never in the same place 2 years in a row.  This practice helps avoid blight and nutrient deficiency.  We had a hard time with cucumber beetles last year and I found, through research, that nasturtium repel them therefore, I placed nasturtium near all the plants that cucumber beetles are attracted to (it’s also very tasty in salads).  You can stretch the growing season of your lettuce if you plant it near taller plants that offer shade through the hotter months.  Peas and carrots don’t just go well together on the plate, the carrots boost pod production in the peas.  Potatoes will inhibit the growth of your tomatoes, don’t plant them near eachother!  Companion planting is an integral part of organic gardening, plan your garden wisely.  This part of the process takes a long time, it’s like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the picture is.

Garden Layout 2013

Garden Layout 2013

So that’s it, that’s how spring arrives in December for me.  Now that it’s April I can get out in the yard and clean up our boxes and get everything ready for the gardening season.   I can’t wait to share with you our garden as it grows through the summer!

Stuffed Zucchini Cups

20130220_175846_HDR
I have a love/ hate relationship with Zucchini. I love it when it is lightly grilled or fried in delicious little coins, I hate it most other ways. Zucchini is high in Vitamin A, great for eyes and skin, and Vitamin C which supports your immune system. My favorite attribute of Zucchini is that it is high in Fiber so you feel fuller for longer after eating it. Thus, I was determined to figure out a healthy way to cook up this veggie without having to light the grill in 30º weather.

I decided to hit up some of my favorite food blogs and came across a recipe for Zucchini Boats. What a great way to serve up Zucchini as a main dish and not just a side! The recipe looked interesting to me but it was filled with white breadcrumbs, red peppers, and onions (none of which the hubs and I eat). However, it gave me a great starting place to concoct my own little creation.

I used Sprouted Quinoa, I have been really into sprouted grains lately as I seem to be able to digest them better, but you can use rice, wheat berries, couscous, or any grain you like. This recipe would also adapt well for vegetarians or vegans. In place of the Ground Meat, I would process up ¼ head of cauliflower until it resembles rice, and steam for 5-7 minutes. Or chop up some Mushrooms and saute them with the Zucchini and Garlic. Use your favorite vegan cheese on top. It can easily be doubled or quadrupled too, the measurements given will serve 2 people generously. This recipe is so versatile and so forgiving and soooo delicious. I may even stop saying I have a love/hate relationship with Zucchini!

1 Large Zucchini + ¼ Medium Zucchini
¼ lb. Ground Meat, I used Chicken
¼ cup Sprouted Quinoa + ½ Cup Filtered Water *you may use any grain of your choice
1 tsp. Dried Oregano
2 cloves Garlic, minced
Pinch of Cayenne
Salt and Pepper to taste
Provolone, Mozzarella, or Parmesan
1 cup homemade or store-bought Marinara

Preheat oven to 350º

Rinse Quinoa well in a few changes of water and add along with ½ cup of Water to a pan. Set over medium flame, when it comes to a boil turn the heat to low and cover. Cook 10 minutes and keep to the side.

Brown your Meat of Choice in a skillet and pour off any excess grease. Place Meat in a bowl and add the cooked Quinoa.

Cut Zucchini into 1 ½ – 2 inch portions making sure at least one side is flat (to rest in your pan). With a small spoon or apple corer remove the inside of the Zucchini leaving about a quarter-inch around the sides and at the bottom. *I needed one more Zucchini cup so I used a portion of another Zucchini and saved the rest for later use. Chop the insides as well as the 2 cloves of Garlic. Re-heat the pan you used for the meat, adding a little olive oil if necessary. Saute until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add this to the bowl with the Meat and the Quinoa. Combine with the Oregano, Cayenne, and Salt and Pepper to taste. Grate Parmesan to taste, I used about ¼ cup.

Spoon the mixture into the Zucchini cups, pressing down to fill as much as possible, mounding up slightly on top. Spoon about a tablespoon of Marinara over top of each cup. Place in the oven and cook for 25 minutes.

When timer goes off, remove from oven and place a small slice of Provolone or Mozzarella on top of each cup. Cook for 15 minutes more until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serve with a bit more Marinara spooned around the base of each Zucchini cup.

Add Cheesy Garlic Flatbread (preferably sprouted wheat) and a Big Salad and you’ve got a filling and easy meal.

Easy Fermented Veggies

ImageFermented vegetables taste so darn good and are just as good for you.  I spent my morning whipping up a few batches and thought I’d share a quick post on how I did it.  They just looked too pretty all lined up, not to share would be a crime!

A few words on how fermented foods are good for you.  We all know we should eat yogurt cause of the good bacteria and “regulative” properties of it.  I mean a certain, will remain un-named, brand has built a whole campaign on how great you will feel after over indulging, if only you eat their yogurt.  Fermented vegetables work in a lot of the same ways

  • Aid in digestion
  • Re-balance the good bacteria in your gut; Many people who suffer from issues like Irritable Bowl Syndrome or Candida, or even Allergies, have an imbalance of beneficial bacteria.  Including home-made probiotic foods in their diet often alleviates the symptoms.
  • Fermentation increases the nutrients, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, of the food.  It also allows your body to more readily access these nutrients.

I could go on and on about the science behind it or the benefits of it but I did say this would be a quick post.  There is so much information out there, it is definitely worth a web search to read more extensively.

You only need a few items to get started: Wide mouth quart size Mason Jars, Sea or Kosher Salt, Vegetables, and a Culture Starter Get it Here  

Shred, chop, cube, or slice your vegetable, enough to fill the Mason jar almost to the top.  Example: 2 Large Beets, sliced to 1/4 in, 1/2 small head of Cabbage, shredded as if for coleslaw, 4-5 Large Carrots, cut into matchsticks.  Experiment to see what ends up working for you with the size and shapes of the veggies you choose.

Boil 1 Quart Filtered Water.  When boiling add 2 tablespoons Sea or Kosher Salt and stir to dissolve.  Let sit until it reaches room temperature.  I often do this the night before and will usually make a few quart at a time since I like to do batches of veggies every few weeks (sometimes days when I get a good haul from the garden or farmer’s market).  Remember 2 Tbsp Salt per Quart of Water.

Once your water is cooled and your veggies are chopped, begin packing them into the jars.  Pack them pretty tightly. Here is where you can get funky with flavorings. I like to add a few chunks of ginger and a grating of orange zest to my beets. I use cumin seed or ginger with my carrots and pickling spice with cucumbers. Pictured below, I added 2 Tbsp of Sambar Powder (see previous post) to chopped Cauliflower. Play around with spices and fresh herbs to change up the flavors.
Once you reach about 1 -1 1/2 inch from the top, sprinkle in about 1/8 tsp. of your starter culture.

Pour your salt water over the veggies, pressing down with your hand occasionally to really get them jammed in there.  Fill to the shoulder of the jar making sure none of the veggies rise above the water level.  I found that pressing a clean glass tea light holder onto the top of the veggies holds them nicely under water.

Cap and leave for 3-5 days, even up to a week.  You should start to see bubbles running through the ferment.  When it stops bubbling it is likely done.  Uncap and taste, if they taste too salty then let them go for a few more days.

ImageHeartier veggies like cauliflower or brussel sprouts may need up to a few weeks to fully develop their flavor.  I left my Saurkraut out for 3 weeks then 2 more in the fridge before uncapping and eating.

Just one note:  unless you purchase special fermenting lids like Pickle-Pro Lids  you will want to uncap every few days to relieve the pressure.

Fermented foods keep months in the fridge, that is if you don’t eat them within days.

Happy Fermenting!