Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ginger Ale

This is a delicious and refreshing drink with a spicy-warm flavor. I adapted the recipe from Nourishing Traditions and like the results very much! It's not too sweet and quite gingery.

You will need plenty of fresh ginger root (about the equivalent of 6 inches), one lime, Celtic sea salt, whey, and evaporated cane sugar juice (Succanat and Rapadura are two kinds - this is basically a type of healthier, unrefined form of sugar). You will also need one glass quart jar or bottle with a screw-on lid and, a little later, some high-quality sparkling water and a second quart-size jar.

Combine the following in a quart-size jar:
  • 1/3 cup fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 6 tbsp. Succanat (dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water)
  • 1/4 tsp. Celtic sea salt
  • 2 tbsp. whey
  • enough water to fill the rest of the jar
Stir all ingredients well and cover tightly. Leave at room temperature for three days, then strain the liquid through a small mesh strainer (such as a tea strainer or cheesecloth), and mix with one quart of your favorite sparkling water. Refrigerate in two glass quart-size jars or bottles and enjoy in small amounts as a "pick-me-up" after being in the sun, or with meals. This is great for reviving your electrolyte balance; it is also a lacto-fermented beverage and very good for your digestive system! Plus it's yummy and a satisfying substitute for so-called sports drinks, lemonade, and soda. Sally Fallon writes in Nourishing Traditions that lacto-fermented beverages "give a lift to the tired body by supplying mineral ions depleted through perspiration and contribute to easy and thorough assimilation of our food by supplying lactobacilli, lactic-acid, and enzymes." (page 584)

*Note: there will be some cloudy sediment in the ginger ale; just allow it to settle to the bottom of the jar and pour carefully to get only the clear liquid. Or you can shake it up and let it be cloudy if you aren't too finicky. Enjoy!

How to Make the Best Vinaigrette

Spring and summer are fabulous seasons for fresh green salads from your local farmers' market. Let's be realistic here, though: your family (and you) probably won't eat salad unless it tastes really good. The first trick for making a good salad is, of course, getting the delicious greens (baby or otherwise) at the farmers' market - I've already written about this in my entry on Gorgeous Greens, and I've even told you how to ensure you actually get around to EATING them, which is key. The second trick to a mouthwatering salad is making a great dressing, and that's what I'm going to teach you how to do right now.

This is not a difficult recipe, and no I didn't come up with this method myself (though I wish I could say I did). I perfected this method for my own use after reading about it in Alice Waters's The Art of Simple Food. You will need only four ingredients:
  1. a good extra-virgin olive oil - buy the best you can afford; it really doesn't pay to buy the Walmart brand, for example. You want an olive oil that tastes great all by itself, which will ensure it will taste great on your lettuce. I have been loyal to Olio Beato organic extra-virgin olive oil for some time now; it's certified unrefined, first cold-pressed, all Italian olives, comes in an opaque bottle, etc. - all the things you want from a good olive oil (though if you prefer American or Spanish or Moroccan olives that's fine, too! The point is to get what you're paying for; many brands will claim to be 100% Italian, but really they contain a lot of inferior oil from other countries).
  2. vinegar - I use raw apple cider vinegar which is yummy; red wine vinegar is great, too. Raw, unpasteurized vinegar is best as it contains lots of beneficial enzymes and good bacteria. I have made a great dressing with a fairly cheap white wine vinegar from the local grocery store, though. So just use what you have.
  3. sea salt - I always recommend Celtic sea salt which is delicious, unrefined, unbleached, and full of trace minerals. Please throw away your canister of Morton's or other similar refined synthetic table salt; that stuff is garbage and very bad for your health (causing all sorts of problems including hypertension), whereas Celtic sea salt is actually GOOD for you.
  4. fresh-ground black pepper
In a small bowl whisk together 2 tbsp. vinegar and a pinch of sea salt. When the salt dissolves, taste the vinegar and see if you like the flavor. Continue adding pinches of salt and whisking until the sourness of the vinegar is perfectly balanced by the salt; you will be amazed at the flavor when you reach this point - it is nothing short of remarkable!

Next whisk in about 4-6 tbsp. of olive oil. Pause after the fourth tbsp. and taste, then add more oil if you like. When you have again reached the balance you like grind in plenty of fresh black pepper...and voila! your perfect vinaigrette has been created. Now, some people like to get fancy and add all sorts of other ingredients, which is fine - but if you just want to stick with this simple dressing rest assured it will make any salad fabulous!

This makes enough for 6-8 servings.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Strawberry Thief!

Lately Oliver has become a very sneaky strawberry thief. He had a few seconds of open-refrigerator time this afternoon and quickly darted in and snatched a plump strawberry from its bowl -- all without the benefit of being able to walk! Here he is enjoying the loot.

At the last dairy pick-up day Ollie managed to scoot under the checkout table and steal two strawberries from a carton that had been tucked away there. The strawberries' owner was not very happy with him, but really how can you blame someone this cute, especially when he has such good taste?!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Better than Mylanta

Last week I ate a meal that didn't agree with my stomach and wound up having upper-stomach cramps for several hours. I had no other symptoms but the cramps went on and on, getting worse and worse, coming in progressively more painful waves. Finally I bought Mylanta (we don't even have over-the-counter remedies like this in the house, that's how healthy we usually are!) and took 2 tsp. I thought at least the magnesium would help a little if nothing else, but the pain actually seemed to get worse. I kept trying to think of what else might work, like some lacto-fermented veggies or kefir (I should have remembered to eat sauerkraut with the offending meal--oops!). Finally I remembered I had kombucha in the fridge! Within thirty minutes the pain was 90% gone, and I had only had a small glass. Hooray for kombucha!

In case you don't know, kombucha is a centuries-old beverage dating back over 2000 years, and is made by fermenting tea and sugar using a kombucha culture (a large mushroom is involved in this which is why it's also sometimes called "mushroom tea"). This is probably the only time you will hear me advocating the use of tea and sugar, so drink up!

Kombucha is not only delicious (with a bubbly sweet-sour taste) it also is a great source of digestive-friendly bacteria and I've heard it has antimicrobial properties (which is why you wouldn't actually want to drink it excessively). I like to have kombucha when I'm in the mood for something a little sweet and refreshing, or when I am having any sort of stomach pain (including cramps, bloating, gas pain, anything of the sort), which is pretty rare for me now. Using plenty of lacto-fermented foods and fermented & cultured beverages on a daily basis really helps prevent any sort of digestive trouble.

If you want to buy kombucha in NYC and/or learn more about why it's so healthful and delicious you can visit You can also purchase kombucha in health food stores, at Whole Foods, and even at many chain drug stores (but for a hefty price). You can also make your own if you have a kombucha culture which is even better.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Scrumptious Nut Butter

This recipe will make a nut-lover out of anyone. Better yet, it's also very healthy! This is a delayed gratification recipe, but the results are outstanding and the nutritional value of this nut butter is higher than anything on the market.

The first way to make nuts completely nutritious (and delicious!) is to soak them overnight in water and a little sea salt. This neutralizes the phytic acid and breaks down enzyme inhibitors that are naturally present in all forms of seeds (including whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans/legumes). This is a very important first step, whether you are making a butter from the nuts, or just plan to enjoy them whole as a snack or a salad topping.

I used about 2 cups of shelled, skinless peanut halves, and 2 cups of pecan halves but you could use any type of nut (such as cashews, almonds, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, or walnuts). [Keep in mind that this makes quite a lot of nut butter, so you may want to halve the recipe the first time you make it if you're not sure you will like the results. I think you will, though!]

First, place the nuts in a bowl and cover with water; add 1 tbsp. sea salt to each bowl (use one soaking bowl for each type of nut to keep them separate) and cover with plastic wrap. Leave the bowls in a warm place for about 12-24 hours.

Next, drain the nuts, spread them on a baking sheet (again keeping the different kinds on separate sheets), and slowly dry them out in a warm oven set no higher than 150 degrees. You can turn them occasionally, but otherwise you don't need to supervise them much. There is no possibility of burning so you can pretty much leave them on their own, just checking every few hours. You will need to bake them in this way for about 7-15 hours until they are completely dry and crisp. I left mine in the oven overnight which was very convenient. You really don't have to worry about them too much as the temperature is set so low; they just need a good amount of time to dry out completely. This picture is of the "crispy" pecans - the soaking and drying really brings out the buttery flavor.

The last step is creating the nut butter! Pour the nuts into a food processor with a pinch of salt and blend into a thick powder. Then add 1/3 cup (5 tbsp.) unrefined coconut oil and raw honey to taste (I used about 3-4 tbsp.). You may also add a little more sea salt to taste. This recipe, adapted slightly from Nourishing Traditions, says to store the nut butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator, but I found it got too hard that way. I suggest refrigerating it at first if it's too liquidy, but then letting it warm up before serving. I leave mine in the pantry in a glass Pyrex container and just mix it a little before serving as the oil separates somewhat. The final product will be fluffy and slightly granulated, and delicious enough for dessert! Try it spread on Carr's whole wheat crackers (which are slightly sweet), or as a gourmet sandwich on thin slices of toasted whole wheat sourdough with sliced apple and a little cinnamon.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What's in the ground beef?

Usually an entry with this title would give the reader an anticipatory shudder, right? Well, provided you aren't an ardent vegetarian this should prove interesting, not disgusting. I just spoke with Ed of Central Valley Farm in Asbury, NJ and asked him to set aside a few packages of ground beef and some raw milk cheddar for me to pick up this afternoon at the Union Square Greenmarket. I posted a comment recently on another entry about how delicious their ground beef is, and I have been wondering for some time why this is the case. This meat - which makes great stroganoff or burgers - is truly unusually flavorful and delicious. I recently made burgers that had a strong musky repulsive flavor/smell which I bought through another farm (they weren't spoiled or anything, and were from pastured cattle, which just goes to show all grass-fed ground beef is not created equal). I asked Ed about the beef and why it tastes so good, and he said that the breed of cattle is special (to the chagrin of Ed's wife -- apparently she complains about how he always has to buy the most expensive cows), plus they graze on a wonderful variety of native grasses (on which he uses no chemicals of any kind). AND to top it all off he doesn't sell any cuts of meat, only ground beef. So this means all the more expensive parts of the animal are being used, not just the leftover scraps, tough parts, and fat. If you are a meat-eater and looking for a great source of ground beef it would be worth checking out the Central Valley Farm tent at the Union Square Greenmarket. They are there every Monday from 8-6; they sometimes sell out of beef so it's worth getting there early. Be sure to try the raw milk cheddar and the homemade vegetarian pasta sauce, too! Each item is about $5 (1 lb. ground beef, 8 oz. cheddar, or one large jar of sauce).

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Feast for the Soul

A recent trip to the Union Square Greenmarket afforded me the following goodies: fresh spring strawberries, spring onions & garlic, a loaf of organic whole wheat sourdough, raw milk cheddar, the best grass-fed ground beef around (from Central Valley farm), a bag full of beautiful baby lettuce, fresh rosemary (a gift from the CV farmers!), and a jar of hot "frying" peppers. Of course I enjoy anticipating all the delicious meals I will make using these ingredients, but first I like to "feast my eyes" (as my mother used to say) on these beautiful things that have been given to me from the earth, from healthy happy cows, and from farmers, bakers, and cheesemakers. Even more than a feast for the eyes, this is also a feast for the soul.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Breakfast muffins

Since there still isn't a lot of seasonal fruit available yet I like to put plenty of chopped apple in my muffins, along with a little cinnamon. You can also use about 1/2 cup of chopped spring strawberries if you like, but make sure they are very well-drained. This recipe (adapted slightly from my cooking bible, Nourishing Traditions) will make about 8 good-sized muffins; the original recipe is twice this big, but if you don't plan on eating 16 muffins in one week you should probably make it the way I write here. Also it's okay to leave the muffins out on the countertop, provided they are in an airtight container; however, make sure they are completely cooled before storing, and transfer to the refrigerator after 2-3 days to avoid spoilage.

**Mix these first two ingredients together in a big bowl, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave out on the counter overnight (this step is important--don't skip it!):
-1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (they sell this @ Whole Foods and other places)
-1 cup buttermilk or soured milk
**The next morning add:
-1 egg
-1/4 tsp. sea salt
-2 tbsp. maple syrup
-1 tsp. baking soda
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-1.5 tbsp. melted butter OR coconut oil (also sold @ Whole Foods and health food stores)
-1/2 apple, cored & chopped small (or 1/2 cup chopped strawberries, well-drained)
-1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Pour into buttered muffin tin (8 muffins in all). Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when you insert it in the center of one muffin. Muffins should be golden brown on top. Let them cool a moment, then pop out of tin using a knife and cool on a plate or wire rack. Reheat in the oven by slicing, spreading butter on (always eat flour products with plenty of butter to slow the breakdown of carbs in your body!), then wrapping in tinfoil and baking at 200-250 degrees for about 10-20 minutes, just to warm them up. Be sure to eat them with something high in protein, like a serving of yogurt, hard cheese, or a handful of nuts. Also, be forewarned that these muffins are not very sweet; if you're used to really sweet stuff then you might want to try doubling the maple syrup first, and gradually decrease it each time you make the recipe.

Keep in mind that the first step of combining the flour and buttermilk/soured milk and leaving it to sit overnight is very important. This allows the time and necessary bacteria to begin the process of breaking down and neutralizing the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors present in all whole grains (including their flour form). If you include this step you will be rewarded with an exceptionally fluffy, light muffin (especially since whole wheat pastry flour tastes nearly identical to white flour). Furthermore, "soaking" the flour this way creates an end result that is far more filling and nourishing than muffins prepared the typical way -- it's as if your body is finally really extracting the nourishment from your food. See my entry on "Waffles with Staying Power".

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gorgeous Greens

Really, what could be more beautiful than spring greens? The yellow swiss chard is a vibrant green with lovely yellow stems, and all the baby greens are so delicate and delicious! (All available at your local farmers' market...spring is the time for greens, so get out there and get some!) Greens are purifying and uplifting - great for detoxifying after a long winter.

If you tend to leave bags of produce at the back of the fridge and forget about them (as I used to do) you might want to try these tips for ensuring you actually eat your greens in a timely manner:

1) invest in a good salad spinner - get a big one, and make it the best quality you can afford; it really makes cleaning & storing your greens easy and enjoyable. If you eat a LOT of greens like I do you may want a spinner and a crisper so you can keep your spinach separate from your salad greens, for example.
2) make a habit of washing & drying your greens soon after buying them, then store them conveniently in the salad spinner, crisper, or a large airtight container in the fridge - this way you can just reach into your spinner or crisper and pull out enough lettuce or spinach for your salad or other dish
3) look for delicate baby greens that are pre-washed or so small and clean they don't need to be chopped or washed, then just store them in a crisper or other large airtight container. Be sure to use them before a week is up (baby greens are delicate and don't last as well as larger leaf lettuces or hardier greens like chard and spinach).
4) for bunches of greens or heads of lettuce, simply chop off the stems or core, remove wilted or unhealthy leaves, then chop the remaining leaves coarsely (for example, at 3" intervals). Soak in a big bowl of cold water, swishing around to remove the dirt, then finish with a thorough spin in the salad spinner. (Ollie now does my spinning for me!)
5) remember to always cook your spinach before eating (steaming, sauteeing, and braising are 3 great ways to enjoy fresh spring spinach). Raw spinach is high in oxalic acid which can cause mineral deficiencies if eaten in large quantities (don't worry about the occasional leaf tossed into a salad).