Monday, December 12, 2011

Hot and Sour Seafood Soup

This recipe comes from a la Bangkok, a little Thai restaurant in Ellsworth, Maine. A friend asked for it while she was there; the owner generously obliging. The perfect recipe for those seeking a respite from traditional wintertime fare.
Fresh lime brightly punches through briny fish sauce, while shitakiis, dulce, and chicken broth boost your immunity with rich vitamins and minerals. Add fresh cilantro and sliced scallions to cap it all off.
A simple, yet deeply satisfying bowlful.

Hot and Sour Seafood Soup: (serves 2)
*2 cups chicken broth
*1/2 tsp. sea salt
*1 tsp. raw cane sugar
*4 tsp. high quality fish sauce
*2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
*white pepper to taste
*1 Tbsp. organic cornstarch or arrowroot dissolved in a small amount of water (to slightly thicken broth)
*1 small white fish fillet, cubed or 1 cup peeled & deveined fresh shrimp
*1/2 small onion, sliced
*1 cup sliced shitakii mushrooms
*2 tsp. sesame oil
*1/2 block firm sprouted tofu, cubed
*1-2 Tbsp. dried dulce
*fresh cilantro
*2 scallions, sliced

In a large soup pot, combine first five ingredients over medium high heat. Meanwhile, brown sliced shitakii mushrooms and sliced onion in a cast iron skillet coated in butter over medium high heat. Remove and add to pot. Season with white pepper. Once liquid reaches a simmer, stir in cornstarch water. Add fish pieces or shrimp. Allow to simmer 2 minutes (or until seafood is just cooked through) before removing pot from heat.
Add sesame oil, tofu pieces and dulce. Stir.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro and sliced scallions. Serve with jasmine rice.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lemon Turkey and Rice Soup

I look forward to this post-Thanksgiving soup almost as much as all the special dishes prepared for the holiday itself. I have fond memories of my mother picking all the leftover meat off the turkey and starting the bones to simmer in a large pot on the stove, while the last dishes were washed and second rounds of pumpkin pie were lazily served.
This soup also reminds me of my favorite Greek restaurant in Vienna, Virginia called Scorpios. We were devout customers originally introduced to the authentic fare by my Aunt Charlene who seemed to have an uncanny knowledge of where to take her hungry nieces and nephews when visiting. Scorpios' lemon chicken and orzo soup could bring one back from the dead. Its broth was rich and bright with citrus and herbs, and gently filling with the tender chicken and orzo. I will never forget it.
What I like most about this soup is how easy it is to throw together after the sweat and tears of Thanksgiving prep. After the bones simmer all day, producing the gelatin rich stock, just add turkey scraps, celery, carrots, herbs, lots of lemon and cooked brown rice. A bowlful soothes and satisfies without the heaviness of days prior. And it freezes well too, allowing you to thaw, sip, and reminisce on another blessed holiday past.

Lemon Turkey and Rice Soup: (serves 8-10)
*1 turkey carcass (preferably free-range/grass fed. This one came from East Fork Farm)
*2 lemons
*4 celery stalks, sliced
*5 carrots, sliced
*2 bay leaves
*1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
*sea salt and pepper
*leftover roasted turkey meat, shredded (white and dark)
*1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
*3 cups soaked and cooked brown rice
*3 Tbsp unsalted butter

Place turkey carcass and stray bones in a very large soup pot filled 3/4 full with cool water. Add 2 Tbsp white vinegar and 1 lemon cut into wedges.
Simmer for 4-6 hours. Strain into a large bowl. Cool and/or refrigerate. Skim most fat from top of stock.

Return the stock to the washed soup pot. Add carrots, celery, bay leaves, and turkey. Season with sea salt and pepper. Simmer until vegetables are tender. Add oregano. Continue to cook until broth reaches desired depth. Adjust seasonings to taste. Add juice and zest from half of second lemon, parsley and rice. Add more lemon and zest to taste. Remove from heat. Add butter and stir until melted. Allow to cool slightly before ladling into bowls and serving.

*This post was graciously featured in the December 2010 issue of Plant Healer Magazine, a journal of traditional Western Herbalism.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Garlic Planting

Send out your autumn roots little cloves.
Anchor yourselves and slumber deep
like a stealthy fleet on quiet seas.
When your bed warms in months to come,
shake off your dreamy cloak.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mercury Reaches High Levels in Fish and a List of Safest Choices

This article comes from John Douillard's (Ayurvedic physician and one of my acclaimed teachers in nutrition school) most recent news letter. View entire article by following this link.

Did you know that a recent US geological survey found mercury in every fish sampled from 300 small streams? Two-thirds of these fish exceeded safe consumption levels established by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Fish sampled from lakes and reservoirs had an even more appalling turnout: more than half exceeded acceptable mercury levels.

The mercury levels gave gotten so high that 15% of all newborns in the US have dangerous levels of mercury in their blood, putting them at risk for neurological defects, according to the EPA in February of 2004. In that same year the FDA put out a Public Health Advisory stating that women of reproductive age should not consume swordfish, shark, mackerel, or tilefish due to levels of mercury deemed unsafe for human consumption.

Article at a glance:
  • Which fish are safe to eat?
  • What should you do if you love to eat fish?
  • What are the symptoms of mercury toxicity?
  • How can you find out if you have mercury toxicity?
  • Can mercury be cleaned out of the body?

Mercury in history
The term “Mad Hatter” was used to describe the behavior of hat-makers contaminated with mercury in the 19th century. At the time, a mercury solution was used in the curing of animal pelts. Poor ventilation meant the hatters were breathing in the fumes, and residues of this highly toxic metal accumulated in their bodies.

Mercury accumulates in the liver, kidneys, brain, and blood. Even very low levels can affect the development of a fetus or infant.* At high levels, it may cause kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, and genetic damage.*

Where is it coming from?

Nowadays, coal mine clouds blanket most of the United States. Seeping from coal and oil-fired electric plants, their smoke infiltrates the air, as well as our streams, lakes and rivers. Thus, humans and other living beings are exposed to mercury through the air we breathe and the water we drink—it even laces the best organic foods. We really cannot avoid this exposure. Amalgams and vaccinations are also sources of mercury exposure that need to be evaluated. The major source of contamination for humans, however, is the consumption of mercury-laden fish and seafood.

Some statistics

Are you a sushi lover? In 2010 the New York Times tested 44 pieces of sushi: they found 8 pieces that exceeded the legal action limit set by the FDA of 1.0 parts per million (ppm)—meaning they were not safe for consumption. That same year, did an undercover survey of fish being sold in sushi bars, supermarkets and farmers’ markets. The results were unsettling:
  • 1 in 3 fish purchased in supermarkets exceeded the legal action limit set by the FDA.
  • Almost 20% of tuna sold in sushi bars were over the legal action limit.
  • Almost 20% of all sushi sold was over the legal action limit.
  • Out of 184 samples of fish taken, all had detectable levels of mercury averaging 0.5 ppm.

Mercury toxicity in humans

Symptoms of low-level mercury poisoning can include:
  • Hair loss.*
  • Memory loss.*
  • Mental instability.*
  • Compromised immunity.*
  • Numbness in arms and legs.*
  • Learning disabilities.*
  • Central Nervous System Damage.*
  • Reduced motor skills.*
  • Depression, anxiety, and other psychological effects.*

How do you determine your mercury levels?

If you are an avid fish eater and have any of the symptoms mentioned above, get a blood test to confirm your mercury levels. Also, has a mercury finder that can help determine your potential risk according to your fish consumption (note this is not an accurate alternative to a blood test). It is also a great website to learn about the impact of mercury on wildlife and the environment.

Can mercury be removed?

If you have mercury poisoning, stop eating fish! Studies show that once we stop eating fish the mercury levels in the blood come down on their own. But mercury has a proclivity to store in the fat cells and in the brain, liver, and kidneys. So while the blood might show reducing levels it may still be hiding out in the fat cells. Thus, it is important to help chelate this stored mercury out of the fat cells and out of the body.*

Chelation: the process of removing heavy metals from the bloodstream by means of a chelate: a food or nutritional agent that attaches and removes heavy metals from the body.*

The best food-based chelators for mercury and other toxic metals are garlic, cilantro, andchlorella*. If you insist on eating fish or are concerned about mercury toxicity, include these foods regularly in your diet.

  • Garlic has been shown by researchers to be beneficial in the management of heavy metal toxicity—especially lead, cadmium, and mercury.*
  • Cilantro suppresses the deposition of lead and appears to aid in removing mercury from aqueous solutions.*
  • Chlorella is a green algae that has demonstrated the ability to uptake toxic metals and thereby decrease their re-absorption in the gut.*
Sometimes it is difficult to eat these foods consistently enough to reduce your heavy metal load. Oral chelators such as EDTA, DMSA, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) are effective natural chelators of heavy metals.*

Protect yourself and your family: A consumer guide to mercury levels in fish
The list below details the amount of various types of fish that a woman who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant can safely eat, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. People with small children who want to use the list as a guide should reduce portion sizes. Adult men and women who are not planning to become pregnant are less at risk for mercury exposure but may wish to refer to the list for low-mercury options.

Protect Yourself… and the Fish!

Certain fish, even some that are low in mercury, are poor choices for other reasons, most often because they have been fished so extensively that their numbers are perilously low. These fish are marked with an asterisk.
This list applies to fish caught and sold commercially. For more information about fish you catch yourself, check for advisories in your state.

Least mercury—Enjoy these fish:

Crab (Domestic)
Croaker (Atlantic)
Haddock (Atlantic)**
Mackerel (N. Atlantic, Chub)
Perch (Ocean)
Salmon (Canned)***
Salmon (Fresh)***
Shad (American)
Sole (Pacific)
Squid (Calamari)
Trout (Freshwater)

Moderate mercury
—Eat six servings or less per month:
Bass (Striped, Black)
Cod (Alaskan)**
Croaker (White Pacific)
Halibut (Atlantic)**
Halibut (Pacific)
Mahi Mahi
Perch (freshwater)
Tuna (canned chunk light)
Tuna (Skipjack)**
Weakfish (Sea Trout)

High mercury
—Eat three servings or less per month:
Mackerel (Spanish, Gulf)
Sea Bass (Chilean)**
Tuna (canned Albacore)
Tuna (Yellowfin)**

Highest mercury—Avoid Eating:
Mackerel (King)
Orange Roughy**
(Bigeye, Ahi)**

**Fish in trouble! These fish are perilously low in numbers or are caught using environmentally destructive methods. To learn more, see the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Blue Ocean Institute, both of which provide guides of fish to enjoy or avoid based on environmental factors.

***Farmed Salmon may contain PCB’s, chemicals with serious long-term health effects.

The data for this consumer guide comes from two federal agencies: the Food and Drug Administration, which tests fish for mercury—and the Environmental Protection Agency, which determines safety of mercury levels for women of childbearing age.

The consumer guide is categorized according to the following mercury levels in the flesh of tested fish:
Least mercury= Less than 0.09 parts per million.
Moderate mercury=From 0.09 to 0.29 parts per million.
High mercury=From 0.3 to 0.49 parts per million.
Highest mercury=More than .5 parts per million.

Sea Turtle Restoration Project:
Natural Resources Defense Council:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Black Mountain Chocolate

In-laws can be tricky. (A brief pause for you to laugh at my over simplification on the matter).
Thankfully, my best friend was born to my mother two years before I came along. This is enough luck to be satisfied with. Yet the the sister-in-law gods have also smiled upon me. Out of all the prospective women swimming around on the planet, my brother and brother-in-law happened to find two of the finest among them.

My western dwelling sister-in-law has influenced these pages before with her savory corn pudding (now a household staple recipe). And my local inherited sibling is not only inventive in the kitchen, but knows how to bring a gal the perfect treat right when she could use it most. Within her town of Black Mountain, special things are taking place, namely: artisan chocolatiering. Thanks to her I was recently introduced to Black Mountain Chocolate and their perfectly executed dark chocolate bars (made with ancient tradition in mind, bean roasting and all) dusted with local Celtic sea salt. This is as good of a marriage as those which additionally brought such special women into my life.

I couldn't photograph the lovely bar in its entirety due to a chocolate-eating thief who quietly crept into my home and devoured most of it before I could snap a shot. I swear it wasn't me. But it's not the image on the bar I'm impressed with. Reading more about how the company was founded couldn't have been more of a surprise. Visit their homepage to learn how a private golf club manager from Charleston became master of the chocolate making trade.

In the meantime, do yourself a favor and gift some local chocolate to the fabulous women in your life. I guarantee such offerings to be well received.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Jerky Man

Look it's Davy Crockett! Oh no wait, that's just my brother in a coon skin cap. Okay, he hasn't donned the coon hat since childhood (that I know of), but he is inching mighty close to owning the title "King of the wild frontier." After recently killing, field dressing and butchering a few antelope, Ben discovered the art of jerky. I might say he's become obsessed. As with anything this raw and pure in its interconnection to survival based on the rugged offerings of mother nature, Ben has rekindled the primal delights of intimately knowing his food. And it hasn't stopped at antelope. He has since dry rubbed and cured thin slices of all types of wild flesh, including goose and turkey.
I was lucky enough to see him for a brief visit recently, and like a fine guest, he came bearing gifts in the form of dried and perfectly spiced wild game taken down with his own hands from the plentiful mountains of Colorado's remaining wilderness. I was proud and utterly impressed with his new found culinary arousal. The jerky is good. Real good. Presented with three types: antelope two ways and goose, I honestly cannot figure out which is my favorite. The antelope has a grassy undertone due to a strict diet of prairie grasses. The goose is dark in color and has a hint of iron. Delicious.
Rehydrating the strips with eager mouth juices reconnects us with kin of centuries past. This type of food sustained humans from the earliest times, and continues to do so today thanks to the efforts and unearthed passion of someone whom I am honored to call blood as we chew on tradition, food obsession and sense-of-place in each flavorful, leathery strip.

Ben enjoying a piece of his goose jerky

Napping babies like jerky too.

Ben talking about jerky and his smokehouse construction plans

The End.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wild Alaskan Salmon

Those with a taste for wild salmon consider farm raised versions a gastronomic joke. This may be because it is. If you place a fillet pulled from brisk Alaskan waters next to a fat marbled farm raised version, it would be hard to visualize that the two are cut from the same biological cloth. In essence, they couldn't be more different.
Wild salmon swim free in cold ocean waters. Farm raised do not. A species meant for the wild is susceptible to various complications when taken out of its natural habitat. Farm raising salmon produces a fattier fish, one higher in the inflammatory omega-6 and lower in the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids than wild versions. Salmon farms are also responsible for breeding parasitic salmon lice which now threaten wild species. This requires farms to use antibiotics and chemicals to treat parasites which inevitably end up stored in the fish's fat. Oh, and there is the artificial pigment added to fish feed to turn farmed salmon pink. Without it, your farm raised fillet would be an appetizing shade of grey. I could go on and on. All of this unpleasantness on salmon aquaculture really is just a tiny glimpse of its un-sustainability.
As for the good news: Alaska is home to some of the healthiest wild salmon populations due to stringent conservation efforts. Even more good news: because of some burly, hard working bad-asses (please excuse my language, there is no substitute on this one), some of the freshest wild Alaskan salmon is available to me, here in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
For a true salmon lover, this is pretty much as good as it gets. I didn't even come close to wetting a line, yet I have 1o pounds of bright pink, firm, highly flavorful fillets nestled in my chest freezer. And I got a discount for buying in bulk. This is money well spent. My dollars go straight to those who deserve it most (no greedy middle-man) and I gain a product far superior to any other version; nutritionally, environmentally, and gastronomically.
Last night, fillets were simply seared and served over freshly harvested mesculn topped with avocado, sesame oil and tamari. Honestly, meals like this do not get much better. I could taste the vigor unique only to wild flesh swaddled in the sweetness only the ocean can deliver. A sincere thanks to Captian Heidi and the crew for their hard work and integrity. Visit The Wild Salmon Company to read more and make an order before it's all gone.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tom Kha Gai

Tom Kha Gai may very well be my favorite way to make chicken soup. Red chili for spice, fish sauce for brine, tender chicken and slippery udon noodles to satisfy hungry bellies, and nourishing coconut milk blended with chicken stock to fortify even the weariest eater.
You can easily alter this recipe to include your favorite additions. I like it teeming with mushrooms, sauteed onion, fresh spinach and cilantro. Other favorites include bamboo shoots, shrimp, chili peppers, sprouts, sweet peppers or snow peas. If you keep the basics on hand, this soup can be prepared, ladled into bowls and blissfully spooned into ready mouths in under 20 minutes. Not bad for fast food.

Thai Tom Kha Gai: (moderately spicy)
*1 small sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
*1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
*2 cups favorite mushroom, rinsed and quartered
*4 cups high quality chicken broth
*2 teaspoons red chili paste (decrease for less heat)
*1 tablespoon fish sauce
*1 whole chicken breast cubed or 2 cups roasted chicken
*1/2 package high quality udon noodles (I used Eden Organic's Kamut Udon)
*1 15oz can high quality coconut milk
*fresh spinach and cilantro
*fresh lime wedges

For a gluten-free version, omit udon and serve with steamed rice.

Place a large soup pot over medium heat. Add olive oil or butter and saute onion. Stir. Add mushrooms. Cook briefly before adding chicken broth. Whisk in the chili paste and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer. Add chicken pieces and udon noodles. Reduce heat to medium low. When chicken is mostly cooked through and udon noodles swell, add coconut milk. Stir.
Allow chicken to fully cook before removing from heat.
Gently stir in spinach. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with cilantro and fresh lime wedges.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Autumn Greens

Our Fall greens are cranking and have never tasted better. Cooler evening temps have crisped and sweetened the tender leaves.
Bright green spinach, arugula, mesclun, cilantro, parsley and asian mix became the foundation for todays picnic lunch. I'm getting it while I can before deep frosts soon make such a pleasant bowlful nothing more than a tasty memory.
Eventually I will brush up on Elliot Colman's Four Season Harvest, and enjoy such meals throughout wood stove season. Until then, salads will be savored while they naturally last. Soon it will be time to say goodnight to the garden soil when a clear, starry sky drops a heavy blanket of ice crystals, sweeping away all that remains.
Sleep ground.
Sweet dreams.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Since becoming a mother, I have been working on stocking the fridge with foods I can pre-prepare and have on hand throughout the week that are relatively easy to grab and shove in my mouth. I know this is not the way to "savor", believe me, but I figure it's better than most all other alternatives.
Hummus is awesome for this reason. It doesn't need to be warmed up (and without a microwave, warming food these days does not happen on the fly...I've eaten every type of leftover cold for this reason. If you're hungry enough, it really doesn't matter what temperature your food is). Hunger truly is the best sauce.
Another great reason to keep this spread on hand: it takes very little time to prepare. Just whirl everything in the Cuisinart and you're done. The key is to use good ingredients. Then just plunge some raw veggies into it, or scoop some onto a heap of garden greens and you're all set for the next round of diaper changing or whatever thrilling task is calling your name.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus: (Makes a good amount)
*4 cups cooked and drained organic chickpeas or 2 15oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
*3 large garlic cloves
*1/4 cup tahini
*juice from one lemon
*1/2 cup roasted red peppers (you can find these in the pickle section of most grocery stores or place 2 red bell peppers under broiler, rotating often until skin blisters. Allow to cool and slip off skins)
*1 teaspoon sea salt
*black pepper to taste
*1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Blend all ingredients in a food processor. Adjust seasonings to taste. Store in an air tight container in the fridge.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Vegetable Quinoa Soup with Black Beans and Spinach

Today was one of those gorgeous Autumn days perfect for pairing outdoor time with kitchen dealings. I put the chicken bones on to simmer, pulled a bunch of our garden veggies from the chest freezer then set out for a hike.
Swaths of withered leaves now crunched underfoot. Crows cawed and the Pileated's insect search echoed throughout the woodland's withering canopy. I returned to a house infused with the smell of broth.

What I love about soup is its versatility. You can add just about anything you have on hand and it always turns out to be a perfectly warming meal for a brisk Autumn evening. The homemade chicken broth makes this particular batch both silky and hearty. All other additions came from this year's harvest with the exception of the black beans and quinoa (I leave that one up to the Peruvians). Buttered sourdough toasts make a great companion for mopping up the rich broth.

Slow simmer and let the aromatics draw everyone to the table.

Vegetable Quinoa Soup with Black Beans and Spinach: (all ingredients are flexible)
*4 tablespoons unsalted butter
*1 medium onion, chopped
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*2 stalks celery, chopped
*2 sweet potatoes, cubed
*2-3 gold potatoes, cubed
*sea salt
*black pepper
*2 bay leaves
*2-3 cups stewed tomatoes
*1 cup green beans, cut into bite sized pieces
*2 cups soaked and cooked black beans
*1 head broccoli cut into pieces
*5-6 cups homemade chicken broth (see broth making post)
*2 cups cooked quinoa
*3 cups fresh spinach leaves

In a heavy soup pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, celery and potatoes. Season with bay leaves sea salt and pepper. Cook stirring often until onion is translucent.

Add tomatoes, green beans, black beans, broccoli and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer before reducing heat to medium low. Season to taste. Allow to simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove soup from heat and discard bay leaves. Add the quinoa and spinach. Stir.
Once spinach is wilted, ladle into bowls and serve with buttered sourdough toasts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Whose Success?

As I strap my baby daughter to me and fit her with a hat, I snap the leash on the dog and set out for our late-morning walk. Today is recycling day I notice as I walk up the street which was once nothing more than a narrow dirt road lined with white pines. I can't help but peer into the blue boxes perched on each side of the smooth pavement as we stroll by. It happens this way every other Tuesday; I casually glance at what each household has consumed over the last two weeks and inevitably end up pondering our food system.
Unlike other weeks, the persimmon tree we pass along the way is dropping its fruit onto the same pavement lined with blue boxes. Most of the fruit has been squished by the unforgiving tread of vehicle's tires. Some I'm sure has been carried off by squirrels and other furry creatures. I usually give the trunk a hearty pull or two in hopes a few persimmons will fall on the nearby grass. This is when my thoughts of the food industry's success in getting us to purchase the majority of our food from grocery store shelves or from the windows of fast food joints turns to the success of nature's bounty. Here in the middle of a suburban neighborhood this humble looking persimmon tree is throwing its harvest at no one in particular, but doing so dutifully.
Other fruit trees across the region are doing the same while weighty butternuts fall from their vines, the pumpkins and hubbards following suite. This is a time of year to reap from a season of growth while storing the excess for months ahead. But most of us won't. Most of us will go on having our pizza delivered or microwaving a frozen puck of nonsense for our nightly meals. We will go on purchasing our own demise from grocery shelves, claiming we just can't get through the day without "treating ourselves" to a diet coke.
Someone close to me recently took on a pizza delivery job while finishing his degree. He drove twenty miles to deliver a pizza to a man in a mobile home who answered the door in a wheelchair and was clearly missing one leg. This saddened me as I reflected that this man could have enjoyed a simple nourishing meal on half of what he spent on the pizza. The issue here was means. Maybe he is unable to maneuver around his kitchen. Perhaps he needs assistance grocery shopping? Maybe he is unfamiliar with cooking a pot of beans and steaming some rice? But what is the excuse for the rest of us? Why is it so difficult to eat simple food intended to nourish us? Part of the answer goes back to the success of our food system. We have somehow allowed it to answer the question "what's for dinner?" when in actuality, the seasons, region we dwell in and our relationship to our garden or closest food producer should be telling us such.
I am baffled by a whole recycling box filled with empty bottles of water. Have we been so successfully campaigned to that we prefer to not only pay our household water bill but also buy single servings of bottled water distributed by soda companies and packaged in a petroleum by-product?
How far do we have to fall down the rabbit hole before we are able to lift the veil from our eyes?
I may be an optimist, but perhaps it could begin with getting a household water filter and gathering ripe persimmons.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Top Ten Guide To Creating A Healthier Kitchen

Last Spring, a fellow blogger graciously asked me to guest blog on the topic of creating a healthier kitchen. Since its content is helpful for the goal setting nature common to the changing of seasons, I have reposted the article below.

What goes on in the home kitchen is truly the foundation of personal health. My friend Kelly likes to say, “What we eat in private shows in public.” Now, as we are all sheepishly picturing the large bowl of ice cream we made-out with last night before bed, this phrase can go the other way as well. When we treat ourselves to satisfying food that nurtures us and keeps us healthy, this shows too.

I like to approach this topic by leaving guilt at the door. In my practice as a Personal Health and Nutrition Coach, I have seen how culturally acceptable it has become to beat yourself up in hopes of becoming the person you desire. To be honest, I have never witnessed a more counter productive way to create healthy change. Guess what? It’s okay to like your thighs. Yes, your thighs as they are right at the moment, not your thighs six months from now. Let’s get real for a sec: aren’t you glad you have them?

The kitchen is a powerful place, as the home cook is a powerful person. The moment we begin cooking more for ourselves at home, we take the reigns. Regardless of where you live, or however many options there are in your city for eating out, a home cooked meal trumps all. Here’s why: the ingredients used in restaurants need to meet many goals before nourishing your health. Restaurants are businesses, kept in business by turning cheap product into something that tastes good to the unsuspecting eater. Same is true for packaged products. “Cheez Its” are not sitting on the shelf to keep you feeling your best. They are there because they are convenient, crunchy, salty and thus can turn a profit.

By contrast, the ingredients we choose to stock our home pantry can be chosen with greater things in mind.

Following is a top ten guide to help you transform your kitchen into an oasis where healthy meals are born. When I say healthy, I am not suggesting you eat soy noodles and steamed broccoli three nights a week. No. I encourage you to eat foods that satisfy you. That speak to who you are. That are colorful. Honor your heritage. Make your family draw in a deep breath when they walk into the house.

You can begin by nixing the nutritionally faulty fat-free trend. Use high quality olive oil and butter. Explore new foods. Have fun. Include the family. This is the beginning of a true love affair with flavor, sitting down to savor, and leaving the table feeling fulfilled in every sense of the word.

1. Put It In A Ball Jar:

This may seem strange as the number one suggestion, yet storing most of my pantry items in half gallon ball jars encourages me to buy in bulk. Packaged items such as crackers, chips, cereals and cookies essentially are not food, they are just crunchy filler. By foregoing these items and their nutritionally empty profiles, you can make space for whole grains, dried beans, nuts, a variety of flours, seeds and spices. Storing food in jars also helps you see what you have at a glance while keeping the shelves organized.

2. What Goes In Your Cart Goes In Your Mouth:

As mentioned before, packaged items represent quick and easy nibbling. If such convenience items are in the house, they will get eaten, regardless of all the promising you’ve made to abstain. If an item goes into the grocery cart, it will eventually make it into your mouth. This brings me to my next tip. . .

3. Make A Grocery List and Stick To It:

Before shopping for groceries, make a list to help keep you on track with your intentions. It is a good idea to think about what items you want in your home, write them down and stick to it. Grocery store marketing is a slick device designed to encourage impulse buying. A list will help guide you beyond these hurdles.

4. Eat Before You Shop:

As with making a list, shopping on a full stomach will help you make wiser choices. I remember when I was a little girl grocery shopping with my Aunt one day after church. We were both hungry, and somehow came home with a whole chocolate cake amongst our other items. Had we taken the time to eat lunch before cruising through the aisles, that cake wouldn’t have made it into our cart.

5. Linger In The Produce Section:

It is so easy for us to fall into the habit of buying the same produce week after week. Carrots, celery, onions, etc. Yet, as the seasons change so does variety. It is wise to think about what is fresh and locally available. Take time to explore new foods, this will help you grow as a cook.

6. Find Your local Farmer’s Market:

Farmer’s markets are the key to reclaiming your health. Locally and seasonally grown/produced foods are far superior to anything you can find in the grocery store. Granted, not all foods found at all farmer’s markets mean they are healthy, but the chances are greater. Get to know your local producers. They will become the backbone of your health. Knowing who grows your food will create more meaning and community behind the meals you prepare. Fresher food means more flavor too, making your job in the kitchen almost effortless.

You can find your local market with a simple google search. Bring cash (not all vendors are set up to accept credit cards) and canvas bags to haul your tasty loot.

7. Enjoy The Process:

Cooking can be a chore for some and a creative outlet for others. Whichever category you fall under, we’ve all got to eat. Try reshaping the way you look at cooking. Turn on some music, maybe sip a little wine and enjoy yourself. The more you do, the better your food will taste.

8. Invest In A Good Knife:

Part of enjoying the cooking process is having the right tools to make the job successful. Contrary to what many may think, one good kitchen knife is all you need to begin. I highly recommend Global, Wusthof, or Henckel brands.

9. Stock Up On Fermented Foods

Almost every culture across the globe historically enjoyed a variety of fermented foods from kim chi to sauerkraut. Fermented foods are not only some of the most nutrient packed foods out there, they are wonderful accompaniments to home cooked meals. Look for locally made fermented items such as lacto-fermented pickles, kraut, miso, or kefir. You will learn to crave the briny, sour taste of such beneficial foods.

10. Quality Is Key:

I often hear how expensive organic or high quality foods tend to be. Here is the thing: organic foods or foods produced using ethical/quality methods are not expensive, it’s that the rest of the food out there is artificially cheap. The food industry has done an excellent job filling foods with chemicals, fillers and colorings which make the final product unrealistically inexpensive, and very dangerous to our health. Remember, most products are sold to make a profit, not to help us maintain our health.

By investing in high quality food, we are single handedly doing the most to invest in our long term health. Cheap processed food makes us feel cheap and processed. Eating this way will land us in the doctor’s office where we will have to pay for medical care. So think of it this way: you can spend your dollar on flavorful food or pills. It’s that simple.

Bonus tip:

11. Turn Off The Food Network.

I love Top Chef as much as the next person but this is not real life. Home cooks need not be discouraged by flashy food challenges and glossy editing. Real cooking is messy. It has mistakes. Rice will occasionally burn. It’s okay. Go easy on yourself.

Cooking shows can inspire, but they can also make us feel under qualified to cook. Cooking is for anyone and everyone. For kids, for elders and everybody in between.

Make your kitchen a place where you want to be. Spend time there and watch your health transform.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, September 17, 2011


This bowl of freshly harvested blueberries will be the last of the season. I polish them off with a pang of sadness as the pregnancy of late summer comes to a close. Though I get a little bummed watching another season come to pass, this is a time to recognize abundance.
Apple trees are raining their ripe fruit on fading grasses, persimmons are begining to blush, paw paws generously offer their tropical-like flesh to mountain passers-by, and concord grapes have never tasted so sweet, bursting from their sour skins with nothing more than a whisper of encouragement. Oh, and then there are the pears, their antiqued skins barely holding back ample juice suspended in supple flesh. It is the grand finale before the end of the show.
In the blink of an eye, the unharvested gifts will be teaming with winged insects, looking for a good drunk in the warmth of late afternoon sun. Then the worms, ants, and potato bugs will take their turn, leaving sweet smelling decay to season the ground for the next year of growth.
Breaking bread this time of year becomes a meditation on the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. As sweet as it tastes, it always makes me feel a little blue. There is something special about pleasures that are made all the more so simply because they are fleeting.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Benne Seed Cookies

My mother-in-law grew up in Orangeburg, South Carolina, naturally taking advantage of the nearby Charleston beaches for every vacation. She raised her family doing the same, exposing her sons to Sullivan's Island every summer throughout their boyhood.
Since moving to the mountains of North Carolina, my husband and I have followed suite, enjoying a relatively short drive to one of my favorite cities of all time.

Charleston itself is a city all too easy to fall in love with: great restaurants, salt-air, massive history captured in the grand architecture, live oaks sprinkled everywhere, incredible fresh sea food, all surrounded by some of my favorite beaches.

Also a professional bookworm, my mother-in-law recently handed me Pat Conroy's South of Broad, a book which takes place in the heart of Charleston. Within the first few pages, the notorious junior league cookbook: Charleston Receipts is mentioned with sovereign affection. The main character refers to his favorite go-to recipe for benne seed cookies.
After finishing the book, I pulled my copy of Charleston Receipts from the shelf (a gift also given to me by my mother-in-law).

As is reads at the top of the recipe's page; "According to legend among descendants of negro slaves along the coast of Charleston, benne is a good luck plant for those who eat thereof or plant in their gardens. It was originally brought in by the slaves from West Africa to this Coastal region."

The benne seed (or sesame seed) cookies lived up to my expectations. Yes, they are sweet and undoubtedly apt to break even the most resistant Weight Watchers dieter, but I have a soft spot for the occasional "dirty" cookie as much as I do for regional tradition and history. If that's wrong. . . I don't want to be right.

Benne Seed Cookies from Charleston Receipts:
*3/4 cup butter, softened
*1 1/2 cups brown sugar
*2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cup high quality AP flour
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds (you can toast them stirring often in a cast iron skillet over med heat, allow to cool)
*1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter and sugar together and mix with other ingredients, in the order given. Drop with a teaspoon on parchment paper lined baking sheet leaving space for cookies to spread. Bake at 325 for 25 minutes. Makes 7 dozen. Can be stored in an airtight container and frozen.
Cookies will be crunchy.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Painted Mountain

Most likely the prettiest crop to leap from the garden this year:
Painted Mountain flour corn.
Feast your eyes....

Click here to read about this variety of corn.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

An Onion A Day . . .

The perfect activity while the baby sleeps, the onions are cleaned (stalks and roots removed) and ready for the fry pan. Last season I posted on the health benefits of onions, re-posted below.

~Onions, (Allium cepa) are widely recognized as medicinal. Chemical compounds such as quercetin, provide anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antioxidant, and cholesterol lowering benefits. Across the globe, onions are used topically to relieve stings, blisters, and sea urchin wounds. Onions break down osteoclasts, helping to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Pielomeric chemicals in onions reduce symptoms of sore throat. Onions have also been widely used to treat asthma, bronchial infections, lower blood pressure, and provide a balance of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract.
Not to mention how onions pick up a wide array of minerals from the soil and provide high amounts of vitamin C. They contain antimicrobial traits, reduce infection and blood clots, and embody a very high concentration of beneficial phytochemicals. The endless varieties add tremendous flavor to any dish.~

Looks like apples may have a bit of competition when it comes to keeping the doctor away. Another potent example on the healing potential of real food.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Girl In An Apron Update

Recent events (the birth of our first child) has launched me into a blogging hiatus. Spending time with our sweet bundle has left my beautiful Mac (and the lovely Henckels) cold and lonely I'm afraid.
So, until I am back in the kitchen full force, please browse the recipe index and archives for plenty of seasonal recipes to keep you inspired throughout the summer season.
Stick around, I look forward to posting more soon. Happy cooking!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lavender Lemonade

While harvesting this year's lavender blossoms, I came across a song sparrow's nest filled with speckled eggs. I left a large swath of flowers so the nest would remain camouflaged, and kept tabs on the eggs as the days passed. Two days ago the first chick hatched, suspended in a heady lavender cloud. Along came the second chick- followed by the rest. They are the tiniest, most humble little creatures, barley covered in grey down, yet their entry into this world was a poetic one. Their mother chose a hedge of the most fragrant of herbs to rear her young; mother nature's finest nursery.

I have since dried and stored all of the harvested blooms while the remaining flowers continue to perfume the first days of the baby song sparrow's lives, and completely intoxicate passing butterflies and honey bees.

I've been a devout fan of lavender since I can remember, having some sort of indescribable attraction to every application of it. I use my dried blooms in eye pillows or sachets, the rest I reserve for salve. Occasionally lavender will appear on the table as well.
When I spotted mention of lavender lemonade on a fellow food blogger's site, I knew it was the perfect tonic for this unseasonable mountain heat wave.

Here's an icy toast to my favorite herb, to newly hatched chicks, and to summer's sippable pleasures.

Lavender Lemonade (Serves 2)
*15 sprigs fresh lavender flowers
*2 cups boiling water
*3 Tablespoons local honey
*6 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

Place lavender sprigs in a bowl. Pour boiling water over lavender. Allow to steep for 30 minutes. Strain blooms from infused water. Mix honey with lavender water while still warm, stirring to dissolve.
Fill two cocktail glasses with ice. Place 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice in each glass. Add 3/4 cup honey lavender water to each glass. Gently stir. Garnish with a lemon wedge or lavender sprig. Serve immediately.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Garlic Scape Pesto and Thoughts on Food Independence

I figured there are enough red, white, and blue recipes floating around foodie cyberspace today, so at risk of being taken as unpatriotic (quite the opposite is true, I will be playing with sparklers and barbecuing this evening like most my fellow Americans) here is a simple recipe to compliment your festivities, along with a few thoughts:

When I think of the Declaration of Independence and its goal to protect equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I can't help but reflect on what those sentiments mean in terms of eating. Ideally, we should all have equal rights/access to nourishing food despite our differences in class or heritage. Our food supply should sustainably support human and environmental life. We should have gastronomic liberty (liberty by definition: The sate of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life), and be free to pursue happiness through unadulterated food pleasures and by being healthy.

Well, we have some work to do before seeing such a reality, but at times I catch glimpses. Farmers markets are rebounding across the nation. Individuals are starting to take their health into their own hands, and gardening is enjoying an immense modern comeback. "Grass-fed" is the hottest food trend of late, while chefs and home cooks are realizing the importance of local, fresh, real food, grown in good soil. CSA's are thriving. Food bloggers have awesome and devout readers (thanks all). We're making progress.

As I spent the morning in the garden, trimming the scapes from our rows of garlic, I imagined all the old-timers of generations passed, bent over tending the rows of their own gardens, eating well and preserving their yields for later months, and how this agricultural history demonstrates true patriotism and independence. It is a beautiful thing to feed yourself from the soil you live on, or to be fed by the abundance of a neighbor's. In the modern age, I would even say it has become a luxury. But if we keep our eye on its importance, and support agriculture which clearly relies on integrity, I think we will continue to see the pendulum swing.

I know many of us live in cities and have careers which keep us from tending a rooftop garden or pot of basil, but given the renaissance of young farmers returning to the fields to make a living at tending them, most of us can reach out and find a CSA or little market where these folks gather to offer the fruits of their labors. Just google, you will be surprised.

So, happy Independence Day fellow eaters. May we keep free the things which were meant to be, and relish all of our blessings.

Garlic Scape Pesto:

This recipe lacks parmigiano reggiano, which you can easily add at any time.

*2-3 cups chopped garlic scapes
*1/2 cup toasted almonds
*1 teaspoon sea salt
*1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
*1 cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley
*zest from 1 lemon
*1/4- 1/2 cup olive oil (amount will vary depending on amount of scapes)

Trim away the top flowering portion and bottom woody portion of each scape. Place all ingredients except for the olive oil in a food processor. Blend. With blade running, slowly pour in olive oil until contents turn into a spreadable paste.

Place pesto in a jar fitted with a lid and store in the refrigerator.
Great on sandwiches, smeared over your next grilled piece of grass-fed meat or tossed with roasted new potatoes. Try as a dip for fresh and roasted veggies too.

Monday, June 27, 2011


The hottest item to hit the farmer's market scene: Poussins. About as large as your hand, these young pasture raised chickens from local East Fork Farm yield tender, dark, succulent meat with gelatin rich bones. One bird is ideal for a single serving and best eaten with your hands, a delicacy well suited for a lively dinner party. A perfect match for roasted early potatoes and braised garden greens. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fresh Raspberry Coconut Milk Ice Cream (Dairy-Free)

I can't think of a better way to celebrate the first day of summer than by making a batch of ice cream. The raspberry canes in the garden are completely doubled over with the weight of this year's crop. Already filling their own corner of the freezer, we are struggling to keep up with picking as they ripen. A fine problem to have.
Abundance is such a common occurrence this time of year, it becomes almost easy to take it for granted. I am literally throwing salad greens at the neighbors, meanwhile, I've eaten so many salads myself I'm in danger of getting bored. Yet here lies the loveliness of nature: it is continuously changing. Right when you think you can't eat another snap pea or bowl of spinach, another crop feverishly comes on. This continues throughout the growing season, with yields robust enough to effortlessly put by for later months. A true treat when you are enjoying a peach smoothie in October.
But I have not tired of raspberries yet, although I've eaten without abandon. Whirled with creamy coconut milk and maple syrup, this raspberry ice cream is sheer frozen summertime bliss; just in time for the blueberries to arrive. Oh the possibilities. . .

Fresh Raspberry Coconut Milk Ice Cream: (Requires an electric ice cream machine)
*1 can (or 13.5 oz) high quality full fat coconut milk
*scant 1/2 cup real maple syrup
*3 heaping handfuls fresh ultra-ripe raspberries (about 2 cups)

Prepare ice cream machine (I recommend Cuisinart's model, about $45) by freezing mixing vessel for 8 hours prior to ice cream making.
Whisk coconut milk and maple syrup together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Pour into ice cream maker. Add raspberries after churning has begun. Once contents freeze to desired consistency, (about 20 minutes) immediately scoop into bowls and serve. Leftovers (if there are any) can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer.