Real Green Food for St. Patrick or Every Day

I love my twins’ teacher. I really do. She’s smart, organized, thoughtful, compassionate, and inspiring. She has been super helpful with out big transition to first grade. In addition to all her other fine qualities, my favorite first grade teacher LOVES holidays. She loves all of them. She knows all the traditions, all the stories, all the everything about every holiday anyone might celebrate EVER.

My daughter knows more about St. Patrick’s day than Tommy O’Shaunassy in County Cork. Somehow in sharing these stories about St. Patrick’s Day, my daughter received the impression that EVERYONE experiences all the possible traditions and myths all day long. I know I sound like a killjoy, but frankly St. Patrick’s Day has had pretty limited implications for me in the past – a few jigs and reels, a green shirt, perhaps a green beer. I had no idea I would be expected to produce big green messes and pretend a leprechaun made them. If I’m forced to make a mess intentionally, I WILL be building a leprechaun trap and it will work – I don’t need help with messes in my house, thank you. I also had no idea of the variety of food to which green food coloring could be applied in celebration of good old St. Pat.

In order to satisfy my daughter’s rapidly increasing expectations where St. Patrick’s Day was concerned I confess that I did a little reel around Pinterest and I had a revelation. Here’s the thing to remember about St. Patrick’s Day – leprechaun aside, a great deal of the focus is on green food.  Guess what I try to get my VERY picky daughter to eat every other freaking day of the year? You guessed it, green food.  I had already decided not to apply green food coloring to anything (see yuckies about food coloring here), it was just a short step to decide to simply make green food – perhaps not the dishes we eat regularly – it need only seem unusual and green to be passable as a special St. Patrick’s Day meal. And a healthy day of eating ensued.

St. Patrick’s Smoothie (or We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Shamrock Shake)

  • 2 c fresh pineappleIMG_0274
  • 4 medium frozen bananas
  • 4 c spinach or other deep greens
  • 1/2 rolled oats
  • 1/2 c unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 c coconut milk
  • 1/2 large avocado
  • 1 T honey or maple syrup

If you have a power blender, load it up and let her rip as you usually do. If you have a standard blender, I would start with the milk and frozen bananas and add the other elements when possible. The result? Super creamy, super green, fantastic and delicious way to start a happy St. Paddy’s Day. And not a pinch in sight.

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While I’d hoped to pack lunch for the kids today, it snowed here in the Mid-Atlantic last night and so we had yet another Monday at home. Our lunch at home consisted of some Japanese style noodles. Know what goes great on top of Japanese noodles? Green things: dried seaweed, peas, and cucumbers. Yep, she did it. Ms. Picky Pants gladly took all those bits in celebration of St. Pat.

Dinner was a little trickier… we had a green salad because we often do and everyone enjoys it.  I figured why stop doing something that works.  The trick was to make the rest of the meal different enough. I had cauliflower I really wanted to use, but the only way that’s green is in spirit, and I knew that wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted to make cauliflower steaks – but what to sever them with that would be green enough? Time to get clever.

Savory Green Quinoa

  • 2 c quinoa
  • about 4 c water, divided
  • 2 c spinach or other deep greens
  • 1/2 t salt
  • Shake of nutritional yeast (opt)

Combine 2 c water and greens in blender and blitz the mess out of it. Add enough water to get 4 c liquid. Move the 4 c to a large saucepan. Add salt and bring to boil. While water is warming, rinse quinoa at least twice. When water boils, add quinoa, lower heat and cover. Cook for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork. Add a shake of nutritional yeast if desired. Delish.

Having found a strategy that I can really get down with, I admit to having warmed to St. Patrick’s Day this year. I remind myself as I check the calendar for the next holiday my daughter will be excited about that which stories we tell, which traditions we follow, and what that looks like in our house is up to us. Green food doesn’t have to mean green cotton candy or even green beer, it can mean a day of eating the healthiest real foods we can find and enjoying them as we celebrate with family. Okay Easter, I’m ready now.

Breakfast Ice Cream OR Creamy Smoothies For All

IMG_0214If you’ve been playing a long for a while, you know that here at the pantry we simply LOVE smoothies, especially those that allow us to hide some super nutritious deep greens from our children…. Yeah, it’s probably dirty pool, but you only have to really hide them a couple of times before they no longer care what’s in there and will eat it up regardless.

We’ve had many, many a smoothie over the last few years, but I have to IMG_0205confess that my recent favorites include a decadent ingredient: avocado. In our recent smoothies, I’ve been adding the flesh from 1/2 and avocado, and it gives the smoothie (or breakfast ice cream if you use a little less liquid and don’t blend QUITE so vigorously) a distinctly ice cream-y quality.  Who wouldn’t want ice cream for breakfast?

Our recent formula goes a bit like this…

IMG_0212Breakfast Ice Cream

  • 3-4 frozen bananas
  • 1/2 ripe avocado
  • 3 cups deep greens (or more if you can get away with it)
  • frozen berries to top of blender container
  • 1 soup spoon honey (opt – we use if the berries are tart, i.e. raspberries)
  • non-dairy milk (we used coconut) until blend ability (usually 1.5 cups for us) or some other liquid of your choosing

IMG_0219We have a power blender, which makes all of this very easy.  If you have a standard blender, I would recommend starting with the liquid and the non-frozen ingredients, and then add the frozen ingredients slowly.  This makes a lot of breakfast ice cream, which is awesome, because if you have leftovers you can freeze and pack in a lunch or serve with a grapefruit spoon to someone with a sore throat.  Breakfast ice cream.  THAT’s living.

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To Juice or Not to Juice

That is not THE question, but it is ‘A’ question.

One that I’ve struggled with for several reasons.

1) It’s yet another gadget to buy that sits on the counter and must be cleaned after use

2) It’s expensive to buy the gadget and the requisite pile of fresh fruits and veggies required to produce the Juice.

3) Isn’t it better to get the nutrients from the whole plant rather than just the juice?
Honestly, we have never been fruit juice drinkers perhaps due in part to the gallons of nasty frozen concentrated orange juice forced on me as a child.  (I know most people like OJ – I never really did).   Perhaps the orange juice tasted so bitter to me because I had placed 3 Tablespoons (an approximation) of sugar on my cold cereal and so ANYthing tasted bitter.  At any rate, fruit juice in my adult household has been used as an occasional treat or purely as a source of calories and taste when someone can’t keep any solid food down.  It seemed to me that smoothies made much more nutritional sense as they deliver the benefit of the whole plant.

So why am I now juicing?

Several things have changed my mind on this point but due to my stubborn-ness, or my increasingly inflexible knees that only allow me to bend so far… I found a compromise in the juicing that helped resolve objection #3.

The first thing that changed my mind was the film “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.”  This is a charming film that portrays the power of vegetable nutrition to change health in a big way.  The center of the film is a man who is not only overweight but struggles with an autoimmune skin disorder.  We’ve got skin stuff goin’ on in this house, so I was interested that he stopped suffering from this problem after changing his diet so dramatically, including juicing.

The second thing was that since we have been juicing I don’t need as much sleep and my skin looks brighter.

The third thing that happened was the realization that my vitamins may not be all they’re cracked up to be.  I mean, I read labels on everything else I buy but my tendency when purchasing supplements has been to read the nutritional content but not the source.  I had some chosen brands that I trusted to ‘do the right thing’ – will I never learn?  See post on Breyer’s frozen dairy dessert and decide that apparently it will take me a long time to learn!!   I want food not chemicals.  So shouldn’t I want food-based vitamins and not chemicals as well?

So in not reading or investigating the actual ingredients in my vitamins I have been consuming things that are probably better not consumed.  This is the article that got me feeling stupid about not reading the labels.  Now to be fair, I don’t know how good the science is behind their claims but they make too much sense for me to ignore.  When it comes to food I like to say, “If it wasn’t grown, raised and/or harvested from clean, natural conditions….  Don’t eat it!”  The same should go for my vitamins.  And do I really need vitamins if I am juicing?  (Still working on that but certainly I don’t need TOXIC vitamins.)

So enough about why I have begun… here’s my knee-saving compromise.

I juice and then use the juice to combine with some kale or spinach and berries and a little banana and make a powerful smoothie.  Jam packin’ the nutrients in there Baby!  You got your nutrient dense juice and you got your fiber-rich smoothie with even more nutrients.  Never thought I wanted to be dense (see above article about Breyer’s again), but in this case dense is great.

Here’s this morning’s pile of produce:

P1000698  There’s a lot of vitamins in that pile.   Have to throw in one apple to ease the bitter for my son.  He still doesn’t like the juice, but hey – health doesn’t always taste good goin’ down.

So, since my son prefers his juice naked – no extra kale.  I pour his glass off:

P1000702 Kapow!  One beet with greens is a whole lot of color going on.

Then I put 2 large handfuls of kale, some berries and 1 frozen banana in the blender.  Add the rest of the juice…

P1000700

P1000705And blend it into a powerful purple purveyor of plenitude.  Abbondanza!  Future supplements will be plant based – and most of them will be pourable as well.

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Most people juice tons of greens and I am looking forward to having lots of swiss chard from the garden to boost the amount of greens in the juice.  Guess that’ll combine with beets to make brown juice.  I will have to start working on alliterations with the letter ‘B’.

Healthy bechamel sauce with mushrooms and kale

Bechamel is a French word for yummy, creamy sauce.

Not really.  I made that up.

I don’t know what the literal translation is, but bechamel, according to Wikipedia, is a butter and flour based white sauce and is the ‘Mother Sauce’ of French cuisine.  Oooh la la!  We have lots of mothers of things and now we have the mother sauce.  Well!

Too bad we don’t eat butter (dairy) or flour (gluten) over here at this house due to medical advice for hubby and honestly we all feel pretty swell since we stopped.

So what to do when one needs a yummy, creamy sauce? Continue reading

Pumpkin Pudding for the Peeps! GF, DF, Fast and healthy!

Surely, this should be a post of a strawberry dessert for the holiday, but my goodness it is cold here in Middle TN!  We escaped the snow but it is cold enough for snow and very windy and this weather is making me think of the last of the winter-time foods.  Easter provides SOOOOO many opportunities to over-indulge in nasty high-sugar and fat treats, why not indulge in something that tastes great, is very easy and will win fans among guests and family alike?

We don’t need dairy or gluten for this fine recipe.  Grab that remaining can of pumpkin and some cashews and let’s go!! Continue reading

SOTW: Crock Pot Creamed Lentil Soup

Yeah, I know we have lentil problems.  A lentil fixation.  A lentil leaning, as it were.  The truth is that lentils may well be the perfect legume, hearty full of all the goodness that the legume family can bring, but so very forgiving because they are so small.  Didn’t soak?  Bah.  Running out of time?  Never fear.  Lentils are the home cook’s best friend.   Lentils are easy, cheap, delicious, nutritious, and friendly to those of us who are a little lacking in the planning department.  If you haven’t drunk the kool-aid (and I am speaking purely figuratively here because I really, really don’t want you to drink kool-aid) on lentils with us before, it is high time that you did. Continue reading

Oh Those Tasty Sneaky Greens

As Little Sis so eloquently pointed out in “It’s Not You, It’s Them”, just because it’s in the grocery store, doesn’t make it safe to eat.  The safest foods in the grocery store are the whole, unprocessed foods: fruits and vegetables!  And of course it is an age old battle to get children to eat more vegetables.  Our culture’s diet is not based on fruits and vegetables, it’s based on bread and meat and potatoes and meat and lots and lots of sugar.

Although the popular notion that children have different taste buds or stronger taste buds than adults is difficult to tease out scientifically, due to many other factors affecting perceptions of taste, children do seem to have a higher density of ‘sweet’ taste receptors which is offset when puberty increases the ability to differentiate between tastes and the preference for sweet declines.

There’s no denying most children love sweet and most seem to like bland.  Maybe that’s because they can’t differentiate and so complex flavors seem strong.  But let’s get back to the basic problem.  How to get more vegetables into your children, and into you and your adults as well?!  We adults also exist in this culture and have also been inundated with bread, sugar, meat, sugar, potatoes, sugar, meat, and sugar as well!  I am not looking to engage people in a discussion about the relative merits of meat here, but it’s simple math.  If your plate is full of bread and meat – where are the vegetables?  Vegetables are key to good health!

We have lots of vegetable based recipes on board here, but I wanted to share a vegetable-increasing-money-saving-technique especially for the vegetable impaired. Continue reading

Amazing Apple Sauce

This is so easy, and so amazingly better than what you get in the store that I can hardly believe it.  I have always thought I should make my own apple sauce and apple butter as with apples in particular, I prefer organic and it’s HUGELY expensive.  Commercial applesauce also doesn’t taste all that great in my opinion.

It was a staple on my plate as a child and I was very adept at spreading it out enough that it looked as though I’d actually eaten a good portion of it.  Blecch.  To be honest, it made me gag.  But, homemade is another story.  So when I found an Oh She Glows recipe for apple butter in the crock pot, and too many apples after both my husband and I bought apples on the same day, I thought I’d try apple butter.  I ended up with amazing applesauce.

apple in corer
For this recipe I got to whip out the old apple corer.  Gear enhances the experience, don’t you think? ;-)

After roughing up a mixture of the apples I had on hand (just Fuji and Gala – all getting a little old).  Note the peels are still on.  I hate extra work that reduces the nutritional value of the end product.  (Great excuse, huh?)

evidence of slaughter

I filled the crock pot with a splash of apple juice at the bottom to prevent sticking.  I think water would be fine.  Angela Liddon recommends apple juice and I had some, so that’s what I did, and left them to cook for about 6 hours.  I turned my old crock pot from high to low and back several times, but it is a pre-historic crock pot.  You might have a more medium temp that will cook without burning.

mashing

Once your apples are very tender.  Smush, bash, mash, pulverize and otherwise maul your nice complacent, soft apples into something resembling chunky apple sauce.  Here is where the departure takes place.  You can thin your mixture by letting it continue to cook for awhile with the lid off, or you can just go with this stage, which is what I did.  It will depend on what kind of apples you used and how juicy they were.  At this point, also add some spices.  I added cinnamon.  No sugar, no salt, just a little cinnamon and a pinch of cloves.  Probably about 1 tsp of cinnamon.  You could add a touch of ginger or nutmeg or allspice if you like.  Just start low and add if you need more.  Again, the line between apple sauce and apple butter may be one of sweetness for you, or of consistency, but either way, you are in the drivers seat of this baby, so just make it how you like it Sister!

Once you’ve mashed and are pleased with the consistency, you can whiz it up in the blender.  (Depending on the thickness you could probably do it in a food processor as well – but I haven’t tried that yet.

applesauce in vita mix

I just love the cosmic Vita Mix shots.  Looks like a geothermal pool of bubbling calcium salts, or a galaxy spinning off into the Vita-Verse…  Or like really smooth and creamy apple sauce.

Place this delicious concoction in a mason jar and it’s worthy of the county fair!

in jar

Kudos to those of you who thought of this a long time ago.  It was an AHA, followed by DUH! moment for me to give this a whirl.  And I am so glad I did.  Just the kind of simple, yet special preparation to dress up a holiday feast or a regular meal!

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Miz Helen’s Country Cottage

Spicy Sweeties – My New Favorite Cookie

While growing up, my sister my mother and I would all gather in the weeks before Christmas and produce cookies… loads and loads of cookies.  As we got older and moved out of the house, we still often found time to perform our ritual cookie fest.  In more recent years, driven in part by the distance between us and in part by a lack of interest on Mom’s part in making any more cookies (ever, thank you very much), my sister and I have satisfied our pre-holiday baking ritual in our own homes, with sporadic help from those around us, then sharing our holiday booty (er, cookies).  And so, for me (and my chief beneficiaries) Christmas has become inextricably tied to little baked yummies.

Having been pounding on the Sugar Busting drum for nearly a year now, this season of warm gooey sweetness brings a sense of disorientation and a little culinary dread.  What will I do about the cookie situation?  Will I renounce all the traditional goodies I’ve been making my entire life? Will I deny my family ALL the pleasure that a holiday tray of sweets can bring?  Will I hand out cookies in my annual gesture of neighborly goodwill?  Yes, probably; no, definitely not; and, we’ll see how much time I have.

In my desire to still have a treat-y Christmas, I’ve doubled down on my efforts to find baked goodies that I can feel good about giving my little people.  Turns out there’s a lot out there, including Big Sis’ fabulous fudge, but you know me, I can’t simply follow a recipe.  I tend to be inspired by a recipe rather than instructed by it, and this time inspiration was glorious. And so without further ado (because how much more rambling can you really take), I give you…

Spicy Sweeties (GF, V) - inspired by oatmeal and chickpea flour cookies on Taste of Beirut.

  • 3 1/2 c oatmeal
  • 1 c chickpea flour
  • 1/2 t salt, baking soda, baking powder
  • 2 medium bananas (very ripe)
  • 1 egg ( I used flax)
  • 1/4 c + 1 T maple syrup
  • 1 t + a dash garam masala (or to taste)
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/8 c sunflower oil (or other oil)
  • 3 T tahini (or other nut butter, but the tahini is more delicate than most)
  • 1/4 c chocolate chips or chunks or however you like it
  • 1/4 c chopped pecans
  • 1/4 c shredded unsweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350.  Grind 2 c oatmeal in food processor or heavy duty blender to make oat flour.  Add chickpea flour and salt, baking soda, baking powder and pulse to combine.  Transfer to bowl and stir in remaining 1 1/2 c oats.  Combine bananas, egg, maple syrup, garam masala, vanilla, oil and tahini either in bowl of standing mixer or in food processor.  (You can, of course also mix these things by hand – I am lazy and have angry finger joints).  The rest of the procedure here is pretty typical cookie stuff.  Add the wet to the dry and mix in whatever way you like to mix cookie dough.  When the dough is fully incorporated, add in the mixy bits and stir to combine.

Drop onto lined or oiled baking sheet with a scoop or tablespoon.  I put my usual dozen on a pan with no drama.  When the pan is full, use a fork (honestly my finger worked better) to flatten the cookies out.  Because there is no butter, they will not melt down the way many butter based cookies do.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until bottoms are brown and there is some browning around the edges.  Cool for a couple of minutes on cookie sheet and transfer to wire racks.  While they are delicious warm because ANY cookie with chocolate in it is yummy warm, the real fabulous complexity of these babies is best appreciated after cooling, when the garam masala shines through.  Delish.

Want to know what else to do with that garam masala? Try warming up with a great big bowl of spicy yum – mulligatawny soup for all!

Leftovers and Spooky Desserts

Once a month my father-in-law joins us for one of our Sunday homemade pasta extravaganzas (and yes, I count myself very fortunate to have Sunday homemade pasta extravaganzas). We always have dessert on Sunday night, but when Poppa comes, we try to make it a little more special in some way. Needless to say the kids have caught on to this particular trend and thus their expectations are always pretty high on Sundays, all day, in anticipation of football, homemade pasta, and some special dessert.

This past Sunday, my husband and I were pretty spent. We used the better part of our weekend preparing for Hurricane Sandy (who I shall now be referring to as the blowy b*&^%) and while my husband trudged valiantly on and made his homemade pasta (green no less, with chard from my garden, yes he is awesome), I was rather unmotivated as regards dessert. And then I realized that I had a secret weapon. In my freezer I had leftover ChocoNana Pancakes. I also had an ample supply of frozen bananas. You see where this is going, right? I warmed up the pancakes. Then I threw frozen bananas, coconut milk, and a splash of vanilla in the Vita-Mix and blitzed the stuffing out of it. I got the ratio a little on the too liquidy side, so I added a fresh banana and some ice cubes. While I blended, the kids used a nifty new cookie cutter to cut out ChocoNana bats. And so a seasonally appropriate, reasonably healthy and super yummy dessert was born. All were happy and satisfied and the kids REALLY enjoyed the chocolate bats. The grown ups enjoyed dipping their bats in their shakes, following the kids’ extremely wise example. Delish… and Boo!