Archive for Good Eats

The Secret to Storing Soulful Tomatoes

Off season, store bought toms scare me!

Say goodbye to bland tomato sauce and store bought zombie toms…Tomatoes that have no soul.  Now you can have year round tomato taste with maximum nutrition with minimal space.  

Tomato Powder: the super space-saving, nutrient dense method of preserving the tide of tomato abundance

 

Garden Tomatoes

I didn’t edit this photo at all…you just can’t capture the brightness of homegrown tomatoes!

I grow lots of tomatoes.  Why? Because there is nothing like biting into a garden fresh, vine ripened tomato.  You can’t buy that taste in any store. Okay that is part of it. The other reason? They are easy to grow.  I have so many failed garden attempts withering in my garden beds, that I cover my blunders with gnarly unstoppable vines of tomatoes. If you think I am exaggerating, ask me how many I planted this last year. Go ahead, ask……28.  Yes, twenty-eight plants for a family of six.  Considering each plant yields roughly one bzillion toms, that left me with a few leftover to store.

I used to can tomatoes. They are perhaps the easiest fruit to can and can be used in so many ways; you can’t go wrong with a shelf of home canned tomatoes. Then I embarked on my raw food adventure.  Though I am not close to a 100% raw foodist, it did wake me up to the nutrient value of raw foods. Suddenly I found myself unable to plunge my beautiful, fresh lovelies into boiling water.  Processing, even on a home level, seemed so tragic.  What’s a raw loving girl to do in a crimson tide of toms?  After my first growing season on our “farm” I froze a lot of tomato puree.  But let’s face it, how often do I plan a meal far enough in advance to thaw out a tub of tomato goop? Not often. Not to mention I only have a finite amount of freezer space.

You know what they say about necessity mothering invention? Well, I “invented” something amazing.  Out of desperation, I began stuffing tomatoes into my dehydrator.  Then to save space, I began powdering them in my blender.  Turns out, almost a bushel of tomatoes will fit in one mason jar!  I did it! I found the space saver secret to tomato storage!  Evil laughter filled my kitchen.  And what a bonus it was not to be stuck in a hot, steamy kitchen!  But….what to do with powdered tomatoes?

tompowderThat is the beautiful genius of it all…it is delicious!  Tomato powder can go in pretty much everything short of a cheesecake.  Need more specifics?

 

  • Tomato paste
  • Ketchup
  • Tomato sauce
  • Enchilada Sauce
  • Chili

 

Use it as a thickener. (I especially like this feature when making my raw marinara!)

Create illusions: a spoonful of tom powder in canned soup or sauce just brightens it up, making it taste fresher and, dare I say it, homemade!  (I am all for easy dishes that get you homemade credit!!)

Summer-ize: during the sad winter season when tomatoes only come in pale pink frankenfruit varieties at the grocery store, use this powder to pack a REAL punch of summer into whatever you are serving. For a tasty twist of irony, sprinkle it on your winter-shipped-pathetic-store-bought-frankenmaters!

As for inventing it, I totally did.  The people who market it in stores on the Internet surely gleaned it from my consciousness magically, you know, before I found it in there myself.  Yes, you can buy it.  But I figure I saved myself the cost of a new minivan by making it myself.

Note: it does clump a bit.  You could add cornstarch or something like that to declump, but I would rather use a fork to break it up than defile my lovelies with additives.  Shaking and patting the jar is usually enough to do the job. If you do live somewhere with humidity, try storing with a little pouch of dry rice.  Rice is an excellent natural moisture absorber!

Store in a cool, dry place.  You know, the usual food storage advice.  How long you ask? Well, I had one pint jar leftover from my first season and, one full year later, it still tasted bright and tommy.   I am sure you could add an oxygen absorber to extend its shelf life, but really it is so versatile, you will rotate through it quickly.

 Did I mention it is easy?

dry tomsWash and de-core your tomatoes.  Then, simply slice thin and arrange in your dehydrator. If you have a temperature control feature, keep the heat low, under 118 degrees to preserve the enzymes and “raw” quality.  Dry overnight or until crisp.  Then simply blend in your food processor or high powered blender until you have a fine powder.  Fill your jars and there you go!

 

blend tomsEXPRESS method:

After my first 5 million tomatoes, I was so sick of slicing I moved to this method…puree.  Wash and de-core your tomatoes.  Then toss into your high powered blender and puree.  Pour on teflex sheets (or whatever mats you use to make fruit leathers in your dehydrator).   Dry until brittle…dryer than fruit leather but not burned!  Then break off pieces and powder.

tomatoe powder jarstomatoe powder

 

That is all there is to it!

The Brilliance of Bone Broth

DIY bone brothLet’s talk about a nutritional powerhouse that costs mere pennies per serving, that tastes great and that is so versatile you can use it daily. Did I mention it is nearly fool-proof to make, takes little effort, and stores well?  Interested?  Meet Bone Broth, a pantry staple at my house.

The definitive link to learn about bone broth comes from one of my favorite sites, Nourished Kitchen.  I am just giving a general overview here. But trust me…all the good stuff, none of the bad, and minimal effort…you will want to jump on this train!

cup of bone brothBenefits of Broth

It is hard to overstate the benefits of bone broth.  It is an incredible source of minerals and amino acids that absorb easily into the body.

Sally Fallon of the Weston Price Foundation says: Science validates what our grandmothers knew. Rich homemade chicken broths help cure colds. Stock contains minerals in a form the body can absorb easily—not just calcium but also magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. It contains the broken down material from cartilage and tendons–stuff like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain.

Bone broth (also called stock) is nutritive, boosts the immune system, lubricates joints, reduces inflammation, and contains gelatin, which has healing and soothing properties.

Cooking BrothMy Method

I am not much of a recipe person so much as a “throw it together” person.  You can google broth recipe and come up with hundreds of variations if you prefer specifics.  I will just list some of the basic components.

Ingredients

  • Filtered Water
  • Bones: Grass fed and free range!  They can have meat or no meat on them. Roast them briefly in the oven for maximum flavor, but I often skip this step.  I like to mix different varieties.  This last week, I had chicken, rabbit, goat, and duck all brewing in the same pot. Though I am usually not so exotic, I like the flavor complexity of different varieties. Plus, it is more cost efficient to save up bones and bits and throw them in a big pot all at once.
  • apple cider vinegarAdd a little vinegar. I like Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar.  Vinegar helps break down the bones more completely, making minerals such as calcium more available. I add roughly a Tablespoon for every gallon or so of water.
  • Veggies/Herbs: Whatever you have.  I always add onion. You can even throw the skin in! If I have celery I will throw a couple of stalks in.  Carrots* are good, I often rotate through my food storage and add dehydrated carrots.  Garlic, minced or whole heads work.  Add any of your favorite herbs, dried or fresh.
  • Salt.  This is totally optional. I like to leave it relatively bland knowing I will salt the finished product in whatever dish I use the broth in.

*Tips: If you are going for a clear broth, you need to be pickier about the veggies you add.  Carrots, for example, will cause the color to darken significantly.

Big Batches of Broth

For big batches, I use my roaster oven like a crock pot and set it on low, about 250.

Guidelines:

Again, this is not an exact science. I am just sharing the easy way to get tasty broth.

  1. Put water, bones, and vinegar in a crock pot.  I like to use my 22 qt roaster oven once every month or so.  I am all about making giant batches. Use whatever size you want, the method is the same. Cover the bones/meat in cold water. Put your cooker on a low setting and then walk away. It’s that easy.
  2. Add veggies/herbs. You can add them at the beginning, but I find the flavor is a little cleaner if I add the veggies a couple of hours before I unplug the crock pot.
  3. Monitor your water. Make sure your water level never goes so low you can dry out.  Add a pitcher of water when you notice it getting low. Check on it when you happen to pass through the kitchen, right before bed, and right when you wake up.  You do NOT want to run out of water!
  4. Be Patient. This can also be read as “low maintenance.” You want to give your broth at least overnight to cook.  Broth is so forgiving though, I have left it on for as long as 3 days, until I had time to deal with it.
  5. Test doneness.  Easiest way is to taste it! When you like the flavor, drain the broth through a fine sieve. (Picky chefs will use a coffee filter for a clear broth, but I don’t mind a rougher product.)  DO NOT THROW AWAY the bones and stuff!  There is

    Test for doneness with a bone

    If you can crush bone with your fingers, the broth is done.

    a test you can do to see if the bones are done “giving.”  Pick up a piece of bone and apply pressure. If it easily crumbles inbetween your thumb and forefingers, you have leached all the minerals out and they are done. If the bones are still strong, fill your crock up with water and start all over again!  You may want to add fresh veggies.

  6. Skim and Store.  Some people like a low-fat broth. If this is you, simply chill your strained broth for a couple of hours and you will see the fat all float to the surface and harden.  If your broth cooked long enough, it will probably gel over in the fridge (if it was over diluted, you may get less of a gel, but it will at least thicken.)  With a simple spoon, skim the fat off the top and discard or use in other ways.  I like the fat and don’t bother with this step.  Store as desired (see below.)

In my experience there are only a couple of things you can do to ruin broth.

  1. Let the water cook out. Sounds like a no brainer but I have left the broth on too long and been welcomed by the smell of scorch.  You have to virtually leave town or completely forget you are brewing broth for this to happen. Luckily, the smell permeating through your kitchen is usually enough to keep you from forgetting about it.  If your broth has boiled down considerably and you are heading to bed, top it off with fresh water!
  2. Undercooking your bones.  You want to extract as much of the nutrition and flavor as possible.  Cook your pot overnight at least. A simple broth cooks for 2-3 hours with lots of meaty pieces, but we are going for an economical, nutritive bone broth. That takes time.  If it tastes weak, keep it simmering!

Culinary uses

Oh the fun of always having broth on hand! Most often, I use it for the liquid when cooking grains. Check out any of these uses for broth…

  • Rice, Quinoa, Couscous
  • Sauces, Gravies
  • Soup base
  • Braising veggies
  • Basting meat
  • Mashed potatoes/root vegetables
  • Sip straight on a cold day

Savings: Buying it vs Making it

 

spend money

$ Buy IT $ For organic broth, you can pay anywhere from $1.99 to $4.99 for 32 oz.  Sometimes it includes the taste of tin can for free.  They are often over processed, and even organic brands can contain additives or undesirable ingredients.

For example, here are the ingredients right off the label of Swanson’s certified organic chicken broth.  Which of these would not appear in your home cooked version?

INGREDIENTS

ORGANIC CHICKEN BROTH (WATER, ORGANIC FREE RANGE CHICKEN), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2 % OF THE FOLLOWING: SEA SALT, ORGANIC CHICKEN FLAVOR (NATURAL FLAVOR*, SEA SALT, XANTHAN GUM), CHICKEN FAT*, COOKED ORGANIC VEGETABLES (CARROT*, ONION*, CELERY*), VEGETABLE FLAVOR (SPINACH PUREE, CARROT PUREE, CELERY PUREE, SALT, ONION PUREE, CITRIC ACID), ORGANIC YEAST EXTRACT (ORGANIC YEAST EXTRACT, SALT, WHEAT*), ONION POWDER*, SUGAR*, CANE JUICE*, MOLASSES*, YEAST EXTRACT*, CANOLA OIL*, FLAVORING, CARROT POWDER*, POTATO FLOUR*, SPICE EXTRACT*, TURMERIC*, BLACK PEPPER*. *CERTIFIED ORGANIC

You can make it yourself!* Make It * You make gallons of broth using scraps you would have thrown away! (incidentally, I also believe you honor the animal by making the most use of it as possible, rather than being wasteful with it.) Theoretically, you could save on supplements, like the ever expensive glucosamine and chondroitin, by making bone broth a daily addition to your diet.

Here are a few tips for pinching more pennies:

Be Resourceful

I claim the carcasses of turkeys and chickens I eat at family parties.  I may be weird, but even my dad knows to bag those bones rather than throw them away.

Ask.

Ask your local butcher if he will sell you bones at a low price.  Most people are paying to have bones removed from their cuts. He may thank you for taking them off his hands! I love my local meat source, Utah Natural Meat.  They sell bundles of beef, goat, pork, and chicken bones.

Chicken feet

Chicken feet are the best for broth and can be purchased cheaply.

Happy feet

I used to be repulsed by the thought of chicken feet, but now I love them.  They are the highest source you can find for collagen, which any woman with a drop of vanity knows is the secret to youthful skin!  I suppose you could rub collagen on your face, but I prefer to drink the benefits in broth.  Try it before you dis, it adds a great flavor and quality to your bone broth.  Here is a link on how to clean chicken feet yourself.  Or you can buy them cheap at oriental markets, or local meat markets.

On a related note, necks are also great for brothing.

Save your scraps
  • When you eat meat, save the bones in a bag in the freezer until you are ready to broth.  After a significant meal, like roast chicken or turkey, I just plan on brothing that night. It is so easy, why not?
  • The same goes for veggie scraps. Onion skins? Celery bulbs? Carrot peels? Throw them all in a scrap bag!

Storing Broth

Chill: Keep sealed in the fridge for about a week.

Freeze: Pour into an airtight container or a ziplock bag and store in your freezer indefinitely. Freeze in ice-cube trays for small portions you can use for liquid in sauteing or to add a little flavor to dishes.

can can dancersCan Can: You can also pressure can and store for about a year.  I’ve included a link on how to can broth.

I like to keep some of all methods on hand.  I rotate through pretty quickly.

There is something supremely satisfying about starting a recipe with homemade broth.  The flavor is better, the nutritional value higher, you know what’s in it and you did it yourself!

Go ahead, Turn your house into a Brothel.

Hmmm…you know what I mean.  You can’t beat the cost, taste, versatility, and nutrition of homemade broth.

 

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies with perfect texture!

gluten free cookies with soft texture, easy to makeWhat is missing from so many gluten-free cookies? The soft texture. And taste. And ease.  Finally, I found the gooey right-out-of-the-oven goodness I thought forever destined to be on my no-no list.

I am not gluten-intolerant (no more so than the average human, anyway) but am coming around more and more to the idea of cutting out wheat, especially white flour.  I lamented the memories of cookie-making as a kid with my sweet grandma. Eating the dough. Smelling the wafting warm scent of heaven filling the kitchen.  Eating cookies before they were cool.  Here we go…Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies that deliver so I can make new tasty memories with my kids.

My undying thanks goes to the “Just Eat Real Food” Facebook page who posted a link to this blog post, “paleo chocolate chip cookies.” The picture didn’t snag me so much as the ingredient list. She boasted 6 simple ingredients (not exotic, hard-to-find, expensive items like so many other “healthy” desserts.)  She hit me on a day I was desperate for dessert so I bit.

Upon investigating, there are lots of versions of these recipes, so I apologize for posting yet another one, but I had to share the love. I made some notable changes, and doubled the recipe, because who only makes one pan of cookies? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Love

almonds, star ingredient

Almonds star in this dish. You can make your own nut butter if, like me, you don’t have any on hand when the craving hits.

(titled because there isn’t anything in there that doesn’t love you back!*)
  • 2 1/2 cups almonds (preferably raw, unpasteurized, but use what you have.)
  • 2 Tbs coconut oil (or oil of preference. Add a bit more as needed to blend the almonds)

OR Substitute 2 cups almond butter for the first 2 ingredients (cuts on time and won’t need a blender if you go this route!)

  • 1/2 cup raw honey or agave (add more or less to your sweetness preference)
  • 2 eggs (free range, if you can!)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt (Himalayan is my preference)
  • chocolate chips* I never measure these. Just put in as many as you’re craving.

*Obviously, chocolate chips contain sugar and fats, depending on the kind you buy.  I for one feel okay eating a few of these when the rest of the cookie is healthy. This time around, I used a handful of dark chocolate chips. In the future I plan on using cacao nibs for a completely guilt free cookie.

Preheat oven to 350°
  1. In a Blendtec or high-powered blender (a food processor would probably also work), grind the almonds as fine as possible.  Melt the coconut oil and drizzle in (or just add, the Blendtec will heat it enough to melt.)  It may take a few rounds to get it creamy like nut butter. Don’t worry about getting it perfect, it will smooth out more with the other liquids, and a few chunks are actually tasty in the final cookie!
  2. Pour in the sweet stuff and pulse a bit. Then add the eggs and vanilla and pulse until combined.
  3. Add the salt and baking soda. With a spoon or spatula, stir until the dough is uniform. It will be pretty wet compared to regular cookie dough.  Throw in the chocolate chips. Stir.
  4. Scoop onto a greased cookie sheet.  About 2 Tbs each cookie, slightly flattened. They don’t spread much so you don’t want them piled too high.
  5. Bake 8-10 minutes. You want them just starting to brown on edges and dry to the touch on the outside.  Carefully remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack for at least 5 minutes, 10 preferably. They set up more as they cool.

before and after baking cookiesThe verdict?

Passed the hubby test. Shea stole one off the cooling rack. I don’t think he realized I was cooking “healthy.” He was soon back for more.  He ate more cookies than he has fingers!

Passed the kid check. They all scarfed. Even Zaida ate one, my four-year-old who won’t touch anything that doesn’t look processed without a fight.

And me? 2 thumbs way up! I loved them! True, I am hard up for healthy treats, but I don’t just pledge my allegiance to any old cookie that claims to kill me slower than the traditional goody. These chocolate chippers are cakier than traditional cookies, but still hit the spot.  These are not just “good for gluten-free” or “good for healthy snacks”…they are plain good! An instant classic welcomed with wide arms, and wider mouths!

Everyone clamored for seconds, thirds, eighths…even the cookie dough was tasty! So glad to have the homemade cookie experience back at my house!

VARIATIONS:

  • If you have almond butter, all the better. These will mix up much faster. I was thrilled to find I didn’t need to abandon my cookie dreams just because I was missing the main ingredient.  You could also use peanut butter, sun butter, or a blend of any other nuts and seeds you have on hand.
  • For a completely guiltless version, use cacao nibs instead of chocolate chips. I plan on trying nibs with dried cherries in my next version. You could also get your chocolate fix by blending cocoa powder in the dough and omitting the chips altogether.
  • I plan on playing with mashed banana in place of some of the nut butter. I also think coconut flakes would be fun. Oh, my mind is spinning with cookie dreams!

Let me know what you do with these.  Do you have a favorite cookie recipe? Share it on our Facebook page! Wishing you cookie dreams! mmmmm…..

Gluten free cookies worth making

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healthy Chocolate Syrup Recipe Perfected

Homemade Hershey's syrupOur transition to healthy, whole foods has been grand, but hard. We went from fruit snack and pop tart noshers to whole fruit and quinoa consumers. Most of the bad habits are rarely missed but one threatened to tear our house apart at the seams…Chocolate Milk.
Our kids are such chocolate-milk-aholics that I seriously bought “chocolate milk colored sheets” for my bed, to camouflage their morning chocolate-milk-on-mom’s-bed-with-PBS-kids drinking habit. Not kidding. Our youngest, Zaida, is so insistent (to put it nicely) on her chocolate milk that we live in fear of running out. What is a whole food mama to do? We needed a chocolate syrup recipe that wouldn’t derail us.

Have you looked at the labels on chocolate syrup or powder? We used to drink Nesquik and thought we were doing okay because at least it doesn’t contain High Fructose Corn Syrup. Check it out:

Nesquik Ingredients

Regular Nesquik. Don’t be fooled and by their “No Sugar added” brand, it has artificial sweeteners in it that are much worse!

According to the whole food test, how many of those do you keep in your kitchen? Do you know what they all do in your body? Are all those ingredients really necessary?

So it was time to find a solution.  Hope came when I ran across a chocolate syrup recipe post on Deliciously Organic, one of my favorite blogs. She is a genius! And her food pictures are beautiful (one reason I will never be a food blog!)

Her syrup is great, but it still wasn’t exactly right for our tastes (we like less sweet, and richer!) After tweaking it a bit (most notably increasing the chocolate, switching sweeteners, and decreasing the use of heat) we came up with our chocolate syrup standard.  Everyone I have tested it on has conceded its tastiness and sworn allegiance.  It takes me less than 5 minutes to make, and I have to stop myself from sucking down the entire bottle! Check out our chocolate syrup recipe…

Chocolate Syrup Perfection

Healthy Chocolate SyrupIngredients

  • 1 1/2 cup filtered water
  • 1 cup agave*
  • 2 cup cocoa**
  • 1 Tbs vanilla
  • dash salt (I use Himalayan)

Directions:

  1. Bring water to a simmer and remove from heat.
  2. Whisk in the agave.
  3. Vigorously whisk in the cocoa, vanilla and salt.
  4. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and pour into a bottle for storage in the fridge. (you can skip this step, but your bottle might get clogged on occasion)
  5. Enjoy! Use over desserts, or stir into milk (dairy, almond, coconut, rice, soy…whatever you prefer!) for guilt free chocolate milk.

*You can also use maple syrup (like in the original recipe) or honey but I find the flavor overpowering.  If you are using a reputable brand that is minimally processed, I think agave is a great substitute. See my post on healthy sugar substitutes for more info.

healthy chocolate syrup, express recipe**I used raw cocoa powder in this picture because I happened to have some.  Use what you have, I’ve even tried Hersey’s Special Dark. You don’t have to break the bank for this recipe (especially if you plan on consuming mass quantities!)

Express Method

While water is coming to a simmer in the stove, measure agave into your high powered blender.  Pour hot water in and blend until smooth. Then add remaining ingredients and blend for about 60 seconds. Pour directly into a bottle.  No straining needed, and only 1 dirty dish!

Healthy Chocolate Syrup

Finally, Chocolate Syrup has earned a place on my healthy shelf in the fridge (and it tastes so much better than flax oil!!)

Hershey syrup knock off

Finally, a chocolate syrup kid tested and mother approved!

The Ultimate Taste Test

A healthy chocolate syrup recipe sounds too good to be true.  Did it pass the kids’ test? It took a few rounds of testing before I got it right but now even our pickiest palette prefers it!  Two thumbs up from our whole household.  Alas, Zaida sips serenely and one more whole food battle is won.

So Raise your glass!

Today’s Query: We are seriously pining for our farm fresh goat milk in the off season, but still like to use raw dairy to make our mix.  I also like it in almond milk.  What kind of milk do you take your chocolate in?

 

Sweet Spot: Healthy Sugar Alternatives

Give and Take

Sweeteners are like boyfriends, you want one that gives more than they take.

One of the major issues with sugar is that it is a nutrient ZERO. It offers nothing nourishing, only fleeting pleasure. How shallow! Without addressing the adverse effects (not the least of which is the addictive qualities), I encourage you to try sweeteners that nourish your body! Below, I’ve listed healthy sugar alternatives and a few substitutes that are marketed as healthy but that may not be so. I try to stock as many healthy sweeteners as I can. When the sweet tooth demands attention, it is good to have options!  Try them out and find your favorites. I would love to hear what they are!

Sweet leafStevia:

Stevia Rebaudiana is an herb in the Chrysanthemum family which grows wild as a small shrub in parts of Paraguay and Brazil. It is 30 times sweeter than sugar. I have been trying to grow it at home and it does well as a house plant, but I always kill it when I move it outside.  Try it, you put one of the little green leaves in your mouth and chew and suddenly it goes from a green flavor to an explosion of sweet on your tongue!

Processed Stevia can be 70-400 times sweeter than sugar, and yet Stevia contains no calories or actual sugars. It will not spike your blood sugar.  It boasts a spectrum of micronutrients and is even thought to help with blood pressure and digestion. Stevia is helpful in weightless because it cuts cravings and sends signals to the brain that you are satiated (sugar, on the other hand, tells your brain you want more and more!)

Most of you are familiar with granular stevia, like Truvia. I am suspicious because they are mostly fillers and who knows what they are filled with! You can buy liquid stevia at health food stores that are less processed, but beware. Some have bitter aftertastes and some are okay when added to things. I like the Sweet Leaf brand.  They are expensive, but take heart, a little goes a long way so it is a better value than it seems.

I have not baked with stevia, although I have read it is more heat stable than most herbs, retaining its nutrient properties even when cooked.  I have used it in liquids, like drinks, salad dressings or whole fruit slushes. As far as I am aware, Stevia is the more highly recommended in the whole food world.

HoneyHoney:

the original sweetener! Honey is so much better than sugar! From a diabetic standpoint, sugar and honey aren’t too much different; honey still impacts your blood sugar, causing spikes and drops just as sugar, so it should still be used in moderation. But from a nutritional standpoint, honey has a variety of benefits including trace minerals, vitamins, live enzymes, antibacterial properties, and it boosts immunity and builds resistance to local allergies. Studies show that bee keepers live longer because honey (and other bee products) fosters longevity.  The more you read about honey, the more amazed you will be, it is liquid gold and one of Mother Nature’s miracles.  I hope one day to get my own hive!  Buy local raw honey if at all possible.

Read more about honey benefits.

Black Strap MolassesBlack Strap Molasses:

If you can handle the strong flavor of it, black strap has a myriad of health benefits to offer. Chief among them is its high iron content, making it ideal for anemics, pregnant and nursing mommies, and anyone experiencing fatigue associated with iron deficiency. It can also be helpful during your period. It is a highly absorbable iron that won’t plug you up. In addition to iron, it is an excellent source of calcium (more than dairy!), magnesium, manganese, chromium and other trace minerals, a range of B vitamins, and vitamin E. It is inexpensive and a little goes a long way. I like to add black strap molasses to a quart jar of fresh milk and shake to blend. Then I have a caramelly tasting healthy drink that is great before a workout! And by the way, caramelly is now a word.

Coconut Sugar or coconut palm sugar:

I know people bake with this because it substitutes 1 to 1 for white sugar. It has a light taste, more complex than sugar but with no aftertaste, just the sweet you expect. It looks like brown sugar but has a texture more like white, as it doesn’t clump or compact like brown sugar does. Coconut sugar has a low glycemic index and has lots of trace minerals in it. It also includes 16 of 20 amino acids and 12 B vitamins. Besides being nutrient dense, coconut sugar is good for the environment as it is highly sustainable, easier and faster to grow than sugar cane. Coconut sugar is relatively expensive, but can be purchased at reasonable prices if you keep your eyes open for sales and specials. Hopefully the price will go down as demands go up!

Note: not all Palm sugar is coconut sugar, make sure the ingredients list 100% coconut palm or coconut sap!

Agave nectarAgave:

Agave is sweeter than sugar, mild tasting, and easy to use in recipes. It comes as a syrup and can be used as such. Here at the purple barn, we put it straight on pancakes and oatmeal, or we might mix a little real maple syrup in it for flavor. I have used it in preserves and baking. Agave has a bad rap lately because it has caught on commercially and gone the way of corn syrup….becoming highly processed. Once cooked and refined, it has none of the health benefits originally credited to the cactus. BUT I still firmly stand by it! Do your homework, I found a brand independently tested to show it has no effect on blood glucose and processes the whole cactus at less than 118 degrees so it still retains trace nutrients and enzymes. Try it yourself. I haven’t noticed any detrimental effects. Some people may disagree, but I think it is good stuff!!

Here is the agave I like to order. For a bonus, check my post on agave chocolate syrup.

Real SyrupMaple Syrup:

You can’t beat the full flavor of maple syrup.  Keep in mind I mean the real deal, not the nasty artificially flavored High Fructose Corn Syrup you find at the store! Like honey and sugar, it has a high GI but has nutrients in it, like zinc, manganese, iron, calcium and potassium. Maple contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  It has a settling effect on the stomach.  Real maple syrup is even thought to support reproductive health in men. In addition, it doesn’t have the allergen concerns that some people encounter with honey.  Buy it the least refined you can and use it sparingly. Look for 100% real maple syrup and remember to refrigerate after opening. As an alternative, you can buy maple sugar, simply a crystallized form of the syrup.  It is usually higher priced, but really tasty…especially on oatmeal!

Xylitol:

The jury is still out on this one for me.  I like the taste of xylitol a lot, but I have read about as many reports for it as against it, with credible experts on both sides. For example, Robyn Openshaw the “Green Smoothie Girl” pans it because it is a highly refined corn product, but the dental community hails it as the best thing on the planet! If you look on Mike Adam’s website, naturalnews.com, and search xylitol, you can find articles about its medicinal value and articles condemning it as toxic.  Confusing!  In my own home, I use a toothpaste that contains xylitol, but stopped buying it to cook with.

Sucanat:

This is a name for dehydrated cane juice. A lot of organic food companies are using it in products they call all natural. It really is sugar, just less refined. There are traces of nutrients, but nothing compared to coconut sugar or honey.

Turbinado Sugar:

aka raw sugar. Similar to sucanat, it is made from sugar cane, but from the first pressing so it is less refined. It tastes and feels similar to brown sugar, and is low on the list of healthy options.

Did you know brown sugar is just processed white sugar that had molasses added back into it? It isn’t any healthier than white and has slightly more calories!

Fruit standFruit:

Does it strike you as funny that now when you buy dried fruit or canned fruit they have sweeteners in them?  Once upon a time fruit was considered sweet by itself! Start thinking of fruit as a sweetener.  Use it on pancakes or toast; you don’t need jam if you slice fruit thin or mash some berries. Use berries to cut the tart in your smoothies. I blend raisins or dates into batters, breads, or smoothies to sweeten them up. I shred apples or mash bananas into my oatmeal. Eat a slice of fruit when a sweet craving hits.  At the grocery store, when the kids hit me up for candy, I often times will go to the produce aisle and let them pick a fruit instead. There are ways to get nutritious sweets…they’re called fruit! :)

A note on fruit juice: while they can be used sparingly as sweeteners, refrain from drinking them straight wherever possible.  Fructose in concentrated doses is harmful to the body. Fiber negates the effects, but is completely removed in the form of juices.  

 

Life is sweet. Play with these sweeteners, and you will find you don’t have to live without your favorite desserts.  What do you crave when your sweet tooth calls?

25 Healthy Gifts under $25

25 healthy Stocking Stuffer ideas25 Stocking Stuffers for the Health Nut on Your Christmas List

If you are like me, you work for Santa. And as an employee of the big man, you take stocking stuffing seriously. You keep your eye open all year for small novelties that won’t break “Santa’s” bank. And when it comes to your own stocking…well someone has to fill it! So here is a list of healthy and novel Christmas ideas for the health nut in your house. And if you do have to buy your own stocking stuffers, then hey, cite the Santa Self-Help Clause if you need to…it’s totally legal.Stuff your own stocking!

Under $5

chicken poop chapstickChicken Poop lip balm: made with all natural ingredients, this is a great conversation starter. Does not contain poop (says so on the package!) I sometimes pick this up at the register at Cal Ranch when I am buying feed as a way to treat myself to something soft and quirky.

Sprouting Lids: These turn a modest mason jar into a sprout house! I use them all the time. For an even cheaper alternative (I mean for homespun charm) trace Mason jar lids and cut fine mesh screen into circles that will fit the canning rings.  Who wouldn’t swoon for homemade sprouting lids?

Flavor to go: These little containers are perfect to pack in lunch sacks, bento boxes, picnic baskets, or even just in your purse. They allow you to tote your favorite healthy sauce or dressing anywhere. I have attended luncheons at salad bars and brought one along so I knew my salad wouldn’t be ruined by a processed mystery dressing.  Perfect when packing a meal that would absolutely light up with a touch of tamari or some lemon juice.  Or hey, maybe fill it with chocolate syrup when you need a shot of “therapy” on the road!  Won’t leak, reusable, and they come in fun shapes and sizes.

Under $10

Pineapple Jerky: What? You heard me. Yummy, all natural, super sweet. Perfect to tuck away in your secret treat stash. You know you have one. And no, you don’t have to share. While we are at it, if you are a jerky fan with exotic tastes, check out jerky.com for more unique stocking stuffer ideas.

silicone Ice Pop Maker set: think homemade frozen Gogurts or real fruit slushies. Less mess than popsicles, you can even fill them with yogurt and pack them in lunches! These are versatile, reusable, and just plain awesome.

 

Bitchin Kitchen SoapBitchin’ Kitchen soap: I hate when you have permanent garlic smelling hands. This soap is guaranteed to get rid of any kitchen smells on your fingertips. Plus, it is all natural and comes in a reusable tin. Once again, quirky and functional…you can see my appeal.

Food Rules: An Eater's ManualFood Rules: An Eater’s Manual This book by Michael Pollan is like a whole foodist’s articles of faith.  Everyone should own a copy.  It is a quick read and great to have on hand for motivational reference.  Simple and straightforward, it just makes sense.  If you want to get fancy, you can shell out a little extra for this adorable illustrated version.

The Old Farmers Almanac 2013 Gardening CalendarFarmer’s Almanac Gardening Calendar: A full year of gardening advice, with the country charm and wit of Old Farmers.  Helpful and good-looking?  I’ll bite. (incidentally, you can order the 2012 calendar much cheaper. heh heh)

 

Zyliss herb snippersHerb Snippers: Sharp, easy to use, clean. These are great to have in the kitchen, the garden, or even on foraging walks. As with any scissors, don’t run unless wearing the appropriate safety gear. 😉

 

 

Sleep Mask with Cool PackSleep Mask with Cool Pack: I know these aren’t for the kitchen, but what chef/domestic goddess couldn’t use some extra pampering when it’s time to sleep off the vegan baby shower she just catered?  The cooling pack is removable but feels heavenly after a hot steamy day in the kitchen.  For a little extra, get the green one with aloe. Why? Because it sounds cool.

 

Under $15

Julienne cutter and peelerHandheld Peeler and Slicer: I can’t tell you how often I use this! I don’t have a spiralizer, so this is my go-to tool for zucchini noodles. It cuts veggies into thin ribbons…perfect for healthy pasta alternatives!  I will admit, the slicer is a pain to clean. But overall, you can’t beat the value of this handheld wonder.

Make your own cookbookCreate your own Cookbook: though I do most of my recipe compiling on the computer, I still like the idea of a tangible book to collect my favorites in.  As another fun alternative, you can visit zazzle.com and get a book personalized with your name on it. Of course, to save money you could also create one with a binder and pages that fit notecards. How fun for the recipe collector on your list! Great gift for a daughter/son just learning to cook, or for a mom/dad trying out healthy recipes after a lifetime of not so healthy ones. Hmmm…that doesn’t describe anyone I know!

Fresh the movieMake it a Movie Night: Fresh is one of my favorite food documentaries and would be a great gift for any whole food enthusiast, or anyone who needs to learn what whole food is. (umm, that is everyone!)  More great films: Food Matters, Food Inc, Hungry for Change, and others.  As an even cheaper alternative, check out the wide selection of food documentaries on Netflix. Print a “Coupon” for a healthy movie night, with one of these movies and the promise of healthy snacks.  I would LOVE a note like that in my stocking!

silicone ice cube traysSilicone Ice cube trays: Versatile for the healthy chef. Use these to freeze and save perfect portions of fresh herbs, pestos, baby food, citrus juice…anything you can think of! Silicone makes the ice cubes easier to remove. Simply repackage the cubes in freezer bags and refill trays with your next must-have ingredient. These come in all shapes and sizes, but I recommend you avoid the heart-shaped or novelty ones, they are a pain in the butt.

OXO salad dressing shakerSalad Dressing Shaker: Forget shake weights, your loved one will look hot shaking up a sexy salad dressing for dinner.  This makes it easy to create, pour, and store. Dishwasher safe and BPA free…bonus! Throw in a few recipes and this is an awesome gift.

Flavored balsamic glazeFlavored Balsamic Glaze: I love adventures in flavor.  My sis in law introduced me to Balsamic Glazes. She was introduced by her sister in Italy. So this must be legit. With so many flavors to pick from–chocolate, blueberry, garlic, raspberry, cinnamon and more–you could really go crazy. All natural ingredients, no added sugars. Glazes are great for grilling or cooking, but surprise everyone and try it over ice cream! (Maybe not the garlic one.) The intense pairing of sweet and tangy will surprise and delight.  Wow, I sound like a gelato menu.  Sweet!

Guide to ForagingForager’s Guide: Another hobbyist suggestion, this is a great book to get you started exploring wild edibles. It’s educational and promotes healthy eating, sustainable practices, and long romantic walks through the woods…or your neighbor’s yard.

Under $20

Mushroom Kit:May I pause to quote my favorite line from the movie, Dutch “Frankly, I don’t care if you live, die, or grow mushrooms in your crack.” That said, you don’t have to be content to grow mushrooms in your gym shoes…you can cultivate gourmet ‘shrooms in your own pantry! There are many varieties to try, but oyster mushrooms are inexpensive and prolific.  This is a fun gift that just keeps on giving.  Perfect for the “Fun Guy” on your list!  I know, I have some growing in my office as we speak!

Sassy ApronsSassy Aprons:  This is only one example of an apron, but I have always liked the ideas of aprons I would actually enjoy wearing. Must be functional, easy to wash, and oh…a smart aleck comment doesn’t hurt. This one pays tribute to the ultimate power of the chef: “Be nice to me or I’ll poison your food.” Works for me.

ricotta and mozzarella kitCheese making kit: Doesn’t it just sound fun to make your own cheese? (And I don’t mean the kind you make accidentally in the back of your fridge or your kid’s unwashed lunchbox!) This gift can lead to a hobby, or a great snack with bragging rights. Either way, it’s fun and novel!

Make your own OnigiriOnigiri rice ball wrappers and mold: I love gifts that introduce me to new foods, methods, and tastes. I will have a post on this later, but trust me…these are fun.  A unique alternative to the boring old sandwich. These pack well for the road or a great make-ahead meal.  Until I get to writing my post, check out Food Babe’s post on what onigiri actually is. Oh and yes, they are wrapped in seaweed. Sushi lovers will rejoice, picky eaters will not.

snooty popcornSnooty Popcorn: I tried this Cheddar and White Truffel popcorn on a whim one day and soon found myself with my head in the empty bag, huffing the fumes. It was so delicious I didn’t want to let it go. I adore flavors I can’t make on my own.  If you have a popcorn lover with refined tastes in your house, this will win them over.  Caution, if you have a popper with simpler tastes, don’t bother. Not to name names, but Shea was thoroughly unimpressed.  Fine hubby, you eat your microwave cancer corn while I make out with my organic goodness! This would surely be in a cheaper category if I could find it in a single package, but really…why would you only want one?

Under $25-ish

onion goggles

onion goggles

Fume free onion chopping? Tears of Joy! Not to mention the fashion statement they make!

Onion Goggles. Oh onion goggles, where have you been all my life?!!  These are must-haves for any serious chef, or serious mascara maven.  I don’t know how I lived without them. Yes I do, I just didn’t chop onions.  Sadly, I only have a borrowed pair so I need to buy new ones for my generous friend (Becky, do you want them in pink or tortoise?) Yes, I think they are worth the price. Especially if you are a salsa fan.  Coming from a cheapskate like myself, that should mean something. This gift will bring tears to her eyes, or actually, not.

Crio beansCrio Beans:Super nutrition meets super decadence. I love these things!  You get all the super power properties of organic cacao beans dipped in high quality dark chocolate.  This is as deep and dark as you get, with just enough sweetness.  And hold on, no bitterness!…just a long lingering chocolate afterglow. ahhh….

 

Kiva, the perfect gift

Kiva: The gift of giving. I love love love giving Kiva loans to loved ones.  The micro loan concept just resonates with me.  Participating in this program makes the world seem a little smaller, allowing you to reach someone on the other side of the globe and have a powerful impact on their daily life!  I have gifted Shea Kiva cards so he could loan to people in his mission field, the Ukraine.  I have enjoyed sharing emails with my kids as we receive repayments from people in Central and South America.  They see the faces and read the stories and we locate them on maps.  Tuck one of these in someone’s stocking and you are truly giving a good gift…empowerment and human connectedness.

 

These are just a few suggestions. I’d love to hear your ideas for healthy gifts!  And as you navigate the holidays, may you enjoy what matters most and strive to spread Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men!

Merry Christmas from the Little Purple Barn!

 

 
Just a quick note, if you shop online at Amazon.com this season, think of us and enter their site through ours! You will still shop from your account, and Little Purple Barn makes a tiny commission. Hey, every bale of hay helps! Cheers!

Catching Crawdads: Foraging gets Frisky

You may have noticed we Whitakers like to eat.  A lot. So much, we started a mini farm in our back yard to keep the food flowing. In addition to our home goat dairy, rabbitry for meat, and our 22 egg layers, I have started researching foraging.  It started with greens.  At first, eating dandelions was both for health benefits and also for spite, as if eating them would scare them out of our yard.  But then I began seeing more and more possibilities.  There are people out there who literally get all their greens on their morning stroll.  People that forage fruit from front lawns and call it a “clean up service.”  Apparently, if you look around, there is enough free food available to keep our paleolithic ancestors smacking their lips.

If you have fished, you have foraged. Nothing better than lake trout grilled over the fire! If you have gone mushrooming, you are a pro at foraging. (That is on my bucket list, by the way.)  If you are a hunter–not just a trophy hunter, but a freezer full of venison hunter–I salute you.   Damon has explored the culinary possibilities of worms and said he is not opposed to raising other bugs.  We ate a “wild” rabbit we caught in the process of obliterating our garden. On a similar note, I might be persuaded to eat gopher, if we could ever catch one of the evil critters.  Foraging intrigues me (and not just flora and fauna I am mad at.)

So when my hubby came home from an evening in the canyon with a surprise for me, I was elated.  No, he didn’t pick wildflowers.  I had stayed home with a sick kid while Shea ventured up East canyon for a family party.  It was late when Shea came trudging in with 3 worn out and mud covered children.  Usually, he would be exhausted too from a night outnumbered by kids, but the mud couldn’t hide the boyish grin on his face as he held up a plastic bucket like a trophy.  I noticed the peculiar movement of the mass right away.  Then the swampy smell hit me. They were beautiful.  Crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs…a rose by any other name. 

I was seriously thrilled on a late Saturday night to realize that I would not have to worry about Sunday dinner. Shea, the formidable forager, had brought home a feast!

Well, one of these critters is cute.

If you have never caught crawdads, grab a bucket and enlist your little ones; it is an adventure.  They thrive in still water, like a slow moving stream or the edge of a reservoir or lake.  Find a comfortable spot on a shoreline, you may be there awhile.  You have to wait till dusk, when crawdads are most active.  You need some premium bait. Hot dogs, for example, will not do the trick. But chicken necks…irresistible!   The easiest way is to tie your bait to a long string and throw it from shore as far as you can. Then you wait. Pull your string in slowly, inch at a time with long pauses in between.  The little buggers will clamp onto the meat, and hang on tight right up to the point where you can bend down and scoop them up.  Slow and steady is the key.  Grab them by the thorax and you will be most likely to avoid a pinch (there has to be some risk involved or where is the fun?) Put them in a bucket of water and go get some more!

Anyway, this was by far the biggest haul ever made by my tribe.  There were easily 75 or so of them. The largest crawdad filled my whole hand.

Cooking them is really a breeze. I was wishing I had corn on the cob and some kielbasa so we could do it Southern style.  But you make do. We whipped up some garlic butter and got the pot boiling.

Bring salt water to a rolling boil. Gently drop crawdads in, 5 or 6 at a time. Boil 12-14 minutes. Repeat with next batch.

The kids were so proud and excited, like warriors after a hunt. They have always wanted to do a lobster boil. This is probably as close as we will get. Damon wanted to see if they really turned red. They do. Becca wondered if the crawdads would scream.  They didn’t.  Even Tayler, our princess, was captivated.  I have never had so many helpers at dinner time.

Here’s a diet plan for you…each bite is a workout!

Half the fun of eating is the process of cracking into them.  The kids felt as though they had license to play with their food. There were lots of laughs and jokes as we tried to demonstrate the best way to open the claws and tails.  And did they eat them? Yes!  You probably aren’t surprised that Damon and Shea, my “garbagemen,” devoured their dinners.  But even my girls were eager to try it. All but Zaida, who refuses anything that didn’t come in a box.  Sigh.  But she enjoyed opening them up and handing her spoils over to daddy.  All in all, it was a fun, different dinner.  The kids felt like mighty adventurers and crawdads taste infinitely better than dandelions.

A couple of our dinner guests.

We enjoyed ourselves so much, I read up on crawdad farming.  No, it won’t be added to the purple barn lineup anytime soon, but we do dream of an aquatic addition sometime in the future.  Some of you will think this is interesting, some of you have done this before as kids, and others will be horrified.  I am getting used to the mixed responses. But even as I write this, I am bracing for our next adventure in eating….goat.  See you next time!

By Request: Chia Recipes

I don’t mean to turn into a food blog, but this is a long overdue followup to the post “Using Chia Seeds to Cure Heartburn.” I have had several people ask for chia recipes. Instead of emailing every time, I thought I would post some. Give the people what they want!!! Oh sorry, the power went to my head for a minute.

For those of you who haven’t read every word I’ve written (what?!) here is a quick review of chia seeds

You know them from the pets, but these babies do more than adorn cheap terra-cotta sculptures, they can transform your body by boosting your energy levels and providing a myriad of other health benefits.  If I had to designate one food as a miracle food this is it.  I give this three thumbs up! Before you read on about the health benefits, here is why:

  • cheap! (a wholesome, “miracle” food I can actually afford!!)
  • all natural (what you see is what you get! No fancy brands or schemes)
  • versatile (you can do a billion different things with it)
  • no dosage (eat as much as you need to feel your best)
  • kid friendly, even hubby friendly! (they can’t tell what I hide it in)
  • No aftertaste or even much of a taste at all.

I can’t list all the benefits of chia without sounding too good to be true, but here are a few: High in protein and Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.  Chia slows the metabolism of sugar, so it is a great tool for people struggling with their blood sugar.  Easy to digest.  Supports your thyroid. Rich in antioxidants.  Chia has 6 times the iron of spinach! Helps in weight loss because it fills you up.  Dense nutrition, it is known as the running food, its use as a high-energy endurance food has been recorded as far back as the ancient Aztecs.  In fact, chia is the Mayan word for “strength.” Seriously, awesome stuff.

How do you use it? Well, here are a few concepts and a few recipes.  Just remember, with chia you can’t go wrong. Throw it in anything. Play around with it. Even try it plain.

Basic Gel:

I add about 1/3 cup seeds to 2 cups water in a jar. Let sit for about 10 minutes. Shake about 2 times while waiting, to prevent clumps.  Stores in fridge for 2 weeks. I will make a mason jarful and keep it handy to throw in smoothies or even eat a spoonful on the run. Amaze your friends. Well, amaze might not be the right word for their reactions when they see this slime in your fridge.

Substitutions:

1/4 cup chia gel = 1 egg; suitable for baking!

If your soup or sauce is too runny, try stirring in some chia to thicken it up instead of flour or cornstarch.

Baking

Bread: Google chia bread for all sorts of recipes. I like to use a magic bullet or vitamin to grind chia seeds into chia flour and then replace maybe 1/3 cup of the flour in any bread recipe I am baking.

Chia Seed Muffins:
1/2 cup butter, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 3/4 cup sour cream 1 1/2 tsp vanilla, 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, 1/3 chia seeds, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda;  cinnamon sugar for the top (or go fancy and make strudel topping!)

Preheat oven to 375º. Cream butter and sugar, blend in eggs, sour cream and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, dry chia seeds, salt and baking soda, then add the dry mixture to the creamed mixture. Fill greased muffin tins two-thirds full. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. Makes 12 muffins.

**This is a great basic recipe. Feel free to throw in blueberries or chocolate chips, banana and nut, whatever.

But you don’t have to take my word for it…

If you want to go crazy with the super food, check out Dr. Oz’s Chia Pumpkin Muffins. Dr Oz told Oprah that 1 muffin has more magnesium than 10 heads of broccoli and as much calcium as 2 cups of milk.

Cookies: I will replace one of the eggs with chia gel.

No bake-cookies: 2 cups rolled oats, 1/4 cup chia seeds, 3 Tbs cocoa powder, 2 Tbs agave or sweetener of choice, 1/2 cup water**Optional, stir in some chocolate chips, dried cherries, chopped nuts, and/or coconut for variety.

Combine everything together and roll into balls, about 1 Tbs each. Place on waxed paper (layer if you need to) and chill.

Cocoa-Chia Brownies:  2 cups sugar, 1 cup flour, ½ cup cocoa, 1 cup walnuts or pecans, 1 ½ cups Chia Seeds, 4 eggs, 1 cup butter, melted and cooled; 2 tsp vanilla

Mix dry ingredients in one bowl and stir well. Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl and mix well. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients bowl and gently mix until flour is well incorporated. Pour into greased 9×13 inch pan.

Bake at 325°F for approx. 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cooking:

Egg Batter: Add chia gel to anything that you dip in egg before cooking, French toast, fried chicken, zucchini sticks, anything

Soups and Sauces: I throw it into every soup or sauce I fix. If you need to hide it in a smoother recipe, grind it into chia flour first, or blend the gel until smooth in a vitamix or magic bullet.

Chia Herb Couscous:  4 tsps butter, 2 medium green onion chopped (white and green part), 2 cups chicken broth, 4 tsps chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoon dried basil, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 Tablespoons chia seed, 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 1 1/3 cups uncooked couscous, salt to taste

Melt butter over medium high heat. Cook the garlic and white part of the onions in the butter until the onions are crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Add the chia seeds and lightly toast for about 30 seconds. Stir in the couscous, salt, and dried basil (if fresh, hold off for later).  Add the broth to the saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove from the heat. Cover and let stand about 5 minutes. When ready to serve, take a fork and fluff the couscous. Stir in the fresh basil (if fresh is used), green onion, and the Parmesan cheese.

Puddings

This is probably the fastest way to enjoy a healthy dessert, it sets almost as fast as Instant Pudding Mix!

Banana Pudding:

One of my favorite treats since starting the 30 Day Raw Food Challenge; I swear it tastes like the filling from Banana Cream Pie, if you keep your eyes closed.  

Blend two very ripe bananas in a blender or magic bullet with maybe a cup of water, 1/4 cup chia seeds, a tsp or two of vanilla, and your sweetener of choice, to taste (I like agave or honey for this recipe.)  Blend till smooth.  Place in fridge to gel. Alternatively, you could make the gel ahead of time and omit the water in the recipe.  This will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Other Puddings:

Make chia gel with chocolate syrup instead of water and you have a healthy treats your kids will eat.  Seriously, mine fight over it.

Mix with fruit juices and agave or stevia for a sweet treat. You can also blend the “pudding” till smooth if the texture bothers you and then put it in a cuisinart ice-cream maker for a frozen dessert.

For a tapioca-type effect, blend chia gel with raw cashews, vanilla, and agave.

Funny to find this product, I almost started my own chia biz called “Chia Mama.” I had contact with a grower in South America and everything. Then we moved and I was on to other projects. But that is how passionate I am about chia.

Drinks

You may have noticed a lot of pricey chia drinks at the health food stores; a few are even popping up in mainstream grocery stores.  It makes sense.  Chia is excellent in promoting hydration in the body.  You can make chia drinks at home easily for a fraction of the price.

Chia Lemonade:

1 Tbs chia seeds, 1 cup natural apple juice, 2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice. Ice.

Add seeds to apple and let soak at least 30 minutes so it makes a really soft jelly.  Add lemon and ice and blend for a refreshing slushy. Or, don’t blend, and add filtered water until you reach the consistency you like.

Agua Fresca de chía (Chilled chia water)

Best prepared just before serving. The longer the chia seeds are in the water, the thicker and more gel-like the beverage becomes.

½ cup lime juice, 1 cup sugar OR 1/4 to 1/3 cup  Agave to taste, 10 cups water, 1/3 – ½ cup Chia Seeds;  several sprigs fresh sage or mint for garnish

Pour lime juice and sugar into the water and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the chia seeds and shake or stir vigorously.

Garnish with the sprigs. Serve in tall glasses over ice.

I hope these recipes help get you started with chia!  Chia has made my life better and my family loves it too.

FYI: Chia has 137 calories in 1 oz of dry seed.

 

Rawktoberfest: 30 Days of Going Raw

I believe I mentioned in a previous post, “confessions of food obsessions” that I would never do another extreme diet again. So would you consider eating only raw food (essentially becoming vegan in the process) an extreme diet?

Yes, I bought this book because she has awesome hair. So?

Those who embrace this culinary path call it a lifestyle, not a diet.  Those who embrace a chocolate-covered-bacon lifestyle, would call it crazy (yes, I have had that; yes, it is incredible!)

You all know I am on a quest for nutrition info.  A crusade even, without the bloodshed.  I have been loving my whole foods regimen and never planned on going Vegan. (Hello! I have a freezer full of bunny and chee chees!) It all started with this movie:

I purchased it for a close friend struggling to get his blood sugar under control. After watching it, he went raw and saw amazing results within days.  I casually mentioned this to another friend of mine in conversation and before I knew it, she called a friend and within about 5 minutes, I was signed up to ride shotgun on a raw food runway.

It would be my luck that the day we started was the day summer gave its notice and autumn with its runny-nosed, soggy chill stepped in.  Not a big deal…unless you can’t cook up a bowl of chicken corn chowder or sip a sensuous mug of hot cocoa. Curses!!

Raw Foodies are fascinating.  I have peeked into their world. They are creative folk. They spend as much time with presentation as they do flavor: maybe more!  If I had a bone to pick with them (and you can’t pick a bone with a vegan) it would be the names of dishes they have in their cookbooks.   They have ways of making sprouts and nuts look like nachos or chili or even a knock-off pizza.  If I had it my way, they would not attempt to imitate, but would call those crunchy flax crackers with yellow hummus “goo n’crunch” instead of nachos.  You wouldn’t expect cheesy melty goodness from the goo, and so might be more likely to enjoy them.

That aside, I am enjoying raw. I can do anything for 30 days.  It was hard tonight, on day 11, as I pulled fresh baked cookies out of the oven for my kids (mentally arguing with myself “cookie dough is raw, go ahead!”).  But overall, I am enjoying the challenge.

Eating raw takes a lot of preparation and a lot of ingredients. It is pretty expensive and time consuming…but fun!

I meet weekly with Brittany, the friend my friend called, and we are learning together. Here was yesterday’s self-taught cooking lesson, er, preparation lesson: Nori Rolls.

The first surprise: we can’t have rice (it’s cooked). So how do you make sushi with no rice?!  Did I mention I love, no, ADORE sushi. I would send it Valentines if I had an address. I wondered how those Raw Foodies would take on this genre without the signature sticky rice. Here is how those they get around it: jicama (the brown root veggie on the right side of the pic) diced into teeny tiny, well, rice-sized pieces. Clever.

Seriously, with Brittany, even chopping veggies is fun.

We made 2 kinds of rolls. Sweet and savory. The savory was loaded with all kinds of veggies: asparagus, carrot, cukes, bell pepper, mushroom, sprouts, and also avocado and sesame seeds.  The sweet was our own invention: cucumbers, tomatillo, crisp pear, grapes, and a light drizzle of Agave.

And the verdict? They were no Vegas rolls, but mmmmmmmmm. We were seriously braced for mediocrity; we were pleasantly amazed.  It could be because we were both starving, but we devoured our plates in milliseconds and then rolled some more.  It was a symphony of textures and flavors.  Somehow, the taste of each component blended into something much better than mere crudité rolled in seaweed.  We loved it.  I would make these next month–which is an ultimate stamp of approval.

I also enjoy smoothies, juicing, a “meatless meat sauce” my mom made me and a dreamy creamy white sauce which would be heaven, if the Raw Foodies didn’t call it “alfredo.” (I love alfredo so much, I would have named a kid after it if we’d had another son.) Sauces are served over a bed of zucchini, shaved into ribbons to resemble spaghetti noodles. They took a little getting used to, but now I enjoy them.

So will I settle raw? No. It is hard work, pricy, and I never truly feel full.  The health benefits are amazing, so I will try to go mostly raw.  I could live “raw til dinner” pretty easily, munching on a bounty of uncooked goodness until the evening meal.

There are benefits.  I dropped 5 pounds I wasn’t looking to drop. My daughter asked “where did the smooshy stuff on your tummy go?” Happy day.  I also enjoy awesome energy.  Lately, I have been working crazy hours, flitting from project to project and getting very little sleep.  For the pace I’m keeping I know I should be laid up in bed with the flu by now.  Yet, still I run around, keep up with my kids, work out and juggle a million balls.  Guess that is worth laying off the chocolate covered bacon  for a while.

 

Rabbit: Its What’s for Dinner

For a book nerd like me, it has been a rush to read about things and then see them in action.  Reading is how I learned to cook, can, sprout, garden, decorate, build websites, raise worms, coupon shop, even palm read. Lavar Burton was right, “take a look, it’s in a book.”   This “farm” has been like an over elaborate book report!  But the shift from black and white to live action was never so dramatic as it was last weekend.  You’ll recall my post on our rabbit operation; I was full of plans and theories and even jokes (me? never!)  I lightly posted our visions of home meat production and wholesome values.  Well here I sit on the other end, the cycle complete….I don’t know what to say.

Here is a short pictorial account of the journey:

Becca holding the Mack Daddy of the bunny operation

Insert magic wand sound and sparkles here.

Voila! neatly turned into meat!

Brined, Braised, and Bon Appetit!

I swear, that is exactly how it happened.  And we all live happily ever after.

If you are still reading, then maybe you don’t believe me.

I have pondered the “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and Shea and I both agree that if you don’t want to be a vegetarian, then you should be respectful, ethical, and conservative in your meat consumption.  We figured raising our own meat, eggs, and milk was a cost-effective alternative to purchasing the more expensive free-range, natural products.  The rabbit enterprise seemed perfect.

You may have noticed that when I posted in JUNE that I mentioned our first round of babies would be ready in 4 weeks.  Nearly twice that time has elapsed, partly because we have been really busy, and partly because, when it came time to butcher the rabbits we were, well, chicken.  So, 2 weeks ago Shea finally “processed” the first 2 bunnies.  The plan was for me to help, but when it came down to it, he locked me out and forbade anyone coming in the garage to help.  Shea was very white-faced and sullen when he emerged with two Ziplocks of meat.  He could hardly talk about it.

The following Saturday, he prepared to finish the job: 6 more rabbits.  I insisted on helping because I didn’t want him going through that again by himself.  I reasoned that Shea is a sensitive soul, and I could be strong (code for insensitive.)  All the reading I did was not enough to prepare me.  I will spare you too many details.  Books don’t tell you that bunnies scream.  Articles don’t tell you that their eyes don’t close and they stare at you.  And no one writes what it feels like to take a life.

I dealt pretty well with skinning and cleaning them. I was even a little proud of my cave girl skills.  I was faster than Shea (he points out we weren’t racing.)  All that was okay.  It is the brief moment between when the rabbit is breathing and when it is not that things get difficult.  You can use words like “fast” or “humane,” but killing something…that is the traumatic part.

I can see why people go vegetarian.

Shea and I have discussed this at great length, and we are going to stick with the plan.  If we are going to consume meat, we both feel we should assume the responsibility, the burden, attached with that.  This whole experience was educational and sobering for me, much more so than reading a book.  I still can’t figure how to convey it.

We resolved not to waste a scrap of food.  I researched how to cook rabbit (reading again!), and fumbled my way through the prep.  I brined and then braised our first meal and served it with steamed veggies and fresh fruit. It was like our version of the first thanksgiving.  Even the kids were reverent as we blessed the food and gave thanks.  For the record it does taste like chicken…dark meat.  Damon says it is much better than eating worms.

We probably sound melodramatic to hunters who have done this a hundred times, or to those who’ve only seen their meat faceless between two sesame buns.  We probably are.  But I think being connected to our food supply has benefits that surpass monetary value or even health.  This blog post was probably a bit dry (though thankfully, the meat wasn’t!!) but the experience really knocked the jokes right out of me.  I am hoping we will get faster and perhaps less introspective as we repeat the process in the future.  I can say I am thankful my family has never gone hungry, thankful I don’t rely on my hunting skills to live, and thankful I married a guy who will go through the trenches with me…even if we created those trenches ourselves.

Fast Food: These nuggets can run!

Now, cross your fingers.  We have 12 meat chickens running around–they graduated from Damon’s windowsill–and they are a getting pretty big.  Gulp.

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