Sneakin’ It In

“I don’t care for that.”

Most of you probably realize that a good part of my motivation in experimenting with healthier food comes from the little people in our house.  Mine are still at home and so aren’t exposed to much in the way of outside influences where food is concerned.  My food battles with kids, therefore, rarely have to focus on undoing impressions garnered from advertising or eating with friends.  Over here we’re still about trying to help them 1) understand what healthy food is; 2) develop an appreciation for the full range of flavors from REAL food; and 3) experience the well-being that accompanies wise dietary choices.  We talk about all of these things and so far my five year olds do a pretty good job of sorting out what’s what and bearing up under demands to eat the green thing on the plate first or take two bites before you write something off.  With that said, I must admit that it can be tiring.  Some days I don’t want to tell them they have to eat the vegetable.  Some days I don’t want to hear what their preferences are (and frankly, on occasion I share this feeling in the form of an edict).  From time to time, in the interest of family harmony (peace for Momma) and in the interest of fun food experiments, we sneak things in as a way to boost nutritional value without having to talk about it.  I thought I’d share a few of our most recent experiments in this department.  After all, you don’t have to be five to benefit from a few hidden veggies, right?

Today’s Big Share:  Green Waffles.  Yes, that’s what I said.  Those of you who prefer lower fat baking have undoubtedly already used applesauce as a substitute in baking adventures.  Well, the other day I had a weird idea.  Why not other pulverized fruity concoctions?  Inspired by the remainder of a kale smoothie, I decided to attempt to make my children eat kale as part of their beloved waffles. So I did a straight swap from this recipe.  I used kale smoothie in place of applesauce.  Mixing the smoothie with the oil and almond milk looked a bit, well, too tame.  So I decided to add some spirulina powder.  Yes, I realize I’m demented.  I figured if I was going to try to get the kids to eat green waffles, they might as well be REALLY green (nutritionally speaking).

At any rate, I mixed it up and it wasn’t all that green visually.  I thought I’d just pass them off as regular waffles, but the kids saw them while cooking and the picky one said “ARE THOSE GREEN WAFFLES?!”  I replied:  “Not just plain ol’ green waffles, sweetie, they are brave smoothie [a very clever name Big Sis came up with for super green smoothies] green waffles.”  This answer got a VERY positive response.  The waffles cooked up pretty much as they have for me in the past.  On the next go-round I will use a little less smoothie as I think they were a little wet – took a little longer to cook and were a little heavier than I’ve had with that recipe before.  But, guess what?  They were great.  Topped with a little plain almond yogurt and some fresh fruit…. absolutely delish.  I will DEFINITELY be doing more experimenting with kale smoothie baking.  And my kids will eat those veggies right on up…

Dairy-Free version of Tomatoes with Mozzarella

I wish I could take the credit for how pleased I am with myself, but in truth I am very pleased with Angela Liddon… and with gardens, and summertime, and the smell of tomato leaves, and, and, and … Sorry, I’ll try and calm down.  Creating something tasty and healthy that includes things from one’s own garden grew is just so exciting!

We haven’t had a speck of rain in 2 weeks, which is great for playing kickball in the back yard but obviously not so great for the garden.  However, shower water, dishwater and lots of love have allowed some lovely tomatoes and basil to come our way.

One of my favorite things to do with tomatoes is slice them, add a slice of fresh mozzarella (you know the soft kind that comes in a tub with liquid) a leaf or two of fresh basil and maybe a drizzle of olive oil.  Truly a summertime treat!  However, as my husband can’t have dairy right now, I did not want to eat this in front of him.

Certainly one solution would be to eat it in the closet or in the basement, but I don’t have to stoop that low anymore!  Angela Liddon has a delightful recipe for cashew/basil cream cheese that fit the bill.

Here is the recipe:
Vegan Cashew Basil Cheese Sauce (she calls it sauce but it is pretty firm)
1 cup raw cashews
1/3 – 1/2 tsp. Himalayan sea salt -not sure the geography of my salt but it worked 😉
1/2 tsp. cold-pressed sunflower oil – I used safflower oil
1 fresh basil leaf
1 small clove garlic
1.5 Tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Place 1 cup of raw cashews in a blowl of water, cover, and asd soak overnight in the fridge.  When cashews are ready, drain and place all ingredients (cashews, salt, oil, basil, garlic, yeast, and lemon juice) into a food processor and process until smooth, stopping to scrape sides of processor as necessary.  Keep refrigerated.

Squeezing in the lemon juice.

Then, place a dollop, or a slicey kind of scrape off the top of your wonderful cashew cheese onto a slice of fresh tomato, top with another basil leaf if you desire, and enjoy.


Now, if you don’t have any tomato plants of your own, acquire some tomatoes from a farmer’s market, or better yet from a neighbor so you can pick it yourself in the wonderful summertime heat and make sure to smell the leaves as well.

Pickle Power

Okay you fabulous people.  I had no idea that so many others had experienced the pain of my pickle …. perplexity…. ok, that’s not a word, but it just had to be a “p” word (and the pre-K crowd goes wild….).  I have learned a great deal since posting about my frustration with standard pickles bought from an above average American grocery store.  My key conclusion: I will not likely be buying pickles again, and if I do, it will be something like Bubbie’s fermented pickles.  The price of these all natural probiotic beauties, however, makes them a candidate for a special treat rather than everyday lunch purchasing.  Other conclusions I’ve drawn: pickles are both a flavor and a process, and it is useful to figure out what you’re after if you want to satisfy your most dear pickle cravings.  I’ve realized that most of my pickle cravings are flavor rather than process or probiotic related, and so I am particularly interested in fresh and refrigerator pickles at the moment.  But WOW! did I get some great suggestions.

A quick gleaning of your wisdom (and an overwhelming craving for BBQ – which I satisfied with seitan, something we’ll discuss when I get it down) led me to put together what I can only humbly and realistically call a sweet and sour pickle salad.  The children were unimpressed, but I can’t say I’m surprised.  Frankly after giving them the equivalent of Lucky Charms pickles, I’m not sure I’ll ever get them to eat the real deal.  My husband and I enjoyed them immensely, eating them as a side dish, layering them on top of our BBQ, eating them straight out of the bowl, yes it was a bit of a fresh pickle orgy.  So, while simple, I thought I’d share with you my quick not quite pickle recipe in case you, too, are reeling from my pickle revelations.  These still have more sugar than I would like, but I guess I need a little weaning where my pickle expectations are concerned as well.

Chemical Free Simply Fabu Sweet and Sour Pickles

  • 1 large English style or 2 medium whatever you have on hand pickles (this is still me – please don’t get stuck on the type of cuke for pity’s sake)
  • 1/4 onion cut into slices (or however your crew will eat them)
  • 2 c water
  • 4T sugar
  • 1/2 c apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2t celery seeds
  • 3t salt
  • 1t mustard seeds

Slice cucumber however you like.  Put cukes and onions in bowl that will hold your cukes and some liquid – ideally to cover cukes.  Bring water just to a boil and add sugar – take off heat to avoid scalding sugar and stir to dissolve sugar.  Add other ingredients and stir.  Allow to cool for a few minutes.  Pour over cukes and allow to sit for at least half an hour.  Longer would be better and a chill would be nice too.  We ate ours at room temp and straight out of the bowl until all that was left was the brine.  De-lish and no HFCS or Yellow 5 in sight.  The cucumber plants that are growing like crazy are all the more lovely to me now.  Soon we shall be drowning in cukes for me to experiment with.  And thanks to your generosity I have many options to choose from.  Can’t wait.

Teaching Nutrition from mouth to… other end

A very dear friend of mine… A very dear – diet soda drinkin’, junk food eatin’ – friend of mine, is quite sure that the reason I became a nurse is so that I could advise people about their diet.  Heck, it’s part of my job as they go out the door to make sure they follow the doctor’s diet orders… which are usually lacking.  Hence, I tack on my own 2 or 25 cents – whichever I can get away with.  So the opportunity to have a booth at a festival where we could present nutritional info to kids and parents along with some of our kids health songs was too great to pass up!

We practiced our songs and joined the fun at The Blackberry Jam – a music fest that takes place on a blackberry farm here in middle TN.  Here’s what we did….

Whoops – we forgot a sign and came up with one double quick!

We had several activities including a marble run to represent the digestive system.  Pick a marble and find that marble color on a chart which told you what nutrient that color represents, what it does for you and what foods contain that nutrient.  Drop the marble into the mouth of the marble run and watch it run it’s way through the twists, turns, wheels and vortices of the digestive system.

Let her rip!

The marble would then be extracted from the run at an opportune moment to signify that it was absorbed by the body.  The only marbles allowed to pass all the way through were the brown ones (actually large brown glass beads as I didn’t have any brown marbles) which represented fiber.  They were allowed to pass all the way through from mouth to toilet or potty depending on the age of the participant 🙂

We also had a couple of inflatable skeletons which could be taken apart and put back together….

I also like lots of exercise. It makes me stronger.

As far as exercise goes, my son decided to run an ‘Exercise Station.’  He gave the child a choice between crunches, jumping jacks or push ups.  Then the child picked a number from a hat (my son wanted the numbers to go from 1 – 25, but I thought 1 – 15 to be enough for the little folks) and he would do that exercise with the child that many times.  This was a very big hit, and in fact a little girl who stated that she didn’t know how to do those exercises was later seen doing crunches somewhere else at the festival 🙂

And down and up and down and up…… Yes Sir!

One of our children’s health songs – we did bring our guitars as well 🙂 – is about exercise and is called Built For Motion.  The link will take you to a free download of the song.

We provided a puzzle of the digestive system for those not turned off by the little brown marbles…

Really? All that stuff is inside of me?

My favorite part was the ‘Soda is Evil’ notebook (I didn’t call it that – no name – just an interesting array of see through pages to turn with facts about soda) – each page turn reducing the color in the glass until you are left with a glass of water.  One of the songs we sing is called “Water is Oh So H2O” about the wonders of water.

Read me if you dare…

And 2 colored page turns later….

And 2 colored page turns later….

Water is Oh So H-2-O

We offered a posterboard where kids could record their favorite fruits and vegetables… Here it is early in the festival…

If you’d like to hear our song called Real Food – it is a free download here:

And finally, to keep the little boogers busy, we had 2 building stations.  Lincoln Logs represented REAL FOOD – which is nutrient dense and builds strong bodies and immune systems.  The other station was FAKE FOOD and had styrofoam blocks which built much wobblier structures that didn’t last as long.

She even chose the right building material!!

We had a lot of fun and hope that a few kids and parents came away with a determination to eat FOOD – REAL FOOD.

C’mon, Really?

So one of the things Big Sis and I talk about a lot (at least to each other when everyone else has tuned out) is the various forms that sugar takes and how much of it hides in unexpected places.  Having eliminated most processed foods from our diet, the whole question of hidden sugar is not something I pay that much attention to anymore.  And it is at that moment, isn’t it, when we realize our vulnerability.

I’ve mentioned (once or twice only, I’m sure) that my daughter is a pretty picky eater.  We struggle to find foods that she enjoys that are also healthful and that I am willing to provide her with.  Recently we discovered that she truly enjoys pickles.  She is CRAZY for pickles.  Now, she will try any pickle, but (no shocker here) she is particularly fond of bread and butter pickles.  I know, I know.  They are sweeter pickles, Little Sis, duh.  Did you really think they didn’t have any sugar?  No, I just didn’t check to see how MUCH sugar.  Nor did I read the list of ingredients…. Shame on me.  Buyer be-freaking-ware all the time.  After I watched my daughter scooping handfuls of these pickles into her mouth, I became quite suspicious….  Turned the jar to read the label, and promptly put the lid back on the jar, moving it to the far end of the table.  With just 8 of these delicious little pickle chips my sweetie pie had eaten the equivalent of half a snicker’s bar worth of sugar, or in this case, high fructose corn syrup.  Swell.  The real kicker was the discovery of Yellow 5 in the ingredient list.  What’s that you say?  Yellow 5?  You mean the one on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s list of foods everyone should avoid?  Yes, that Yellow 5 (which is found in countless other processed foods, by the way).  Super Swell.

So I put on my detective cap…  Next trip to Wegman’s (where I purchased the relatively affordable and inedible in my home pickles) and discovered that in the “regular” food aisle they only carry their own bread and butter pickles.  No choice.  There are bread and butter pickles that use regular sugar in place of HFCS, and also those who use turmeric in place of Yellow 5 (all of this to keep the pickles from being bluish instead of creepy greenish).  None of these options were available to me.  Bummer.   On my next trip, I remembered to look at pickles in the “natural foods” section – the weird store within a store that Wegman’s has (that I think is really annoying and confusing, but maybe that’s just me).  In this section, Wegman’s offered it’s store brand organic bread and butter pickles which contain sugar (rather than HFCS), and were noticeably less creepy green because of the lack of Yellow 5, or any other coloring agent, in the jar.  These pickles were significantly more expensive, and the sugar count (albeit a sugar I preferred) was still shockingly high.  My children were with me for this investigation and I allowed them to bully me into buying these organic wonder pickles on the condition that we would also buy dills and they would give them a shot and that their bread and butter intake would be limited at my discretion with no complaining (yes, I had them sign a contract).

I was kind of stunned by this whole thing, which may be silly.  It reminded me of a few simple rules that I tend to get lazy about since I make most of my own food.

1) Most food manufacturers produce the food that profits them the most.  Period.  That means high fructose corn syrup and toxic dye so the pickles don’t look blue.

2) With processed foods if it doesn’t taste sweet or salty, it only has some sugars and salts; if it does taste sweet or salty, it has an enormous amount of sugars and or salts.

3) There are prices that are too high when it comes to getting a vegetable into picky daughter’s  (or anyone else’s) belly.  Yellow 5 and HFCS are on that list for me.

4) While Wegman’s has gone to great lengths to label their store brand foods as being gluten-free, vegan, food allergy problem, whatever when appropriate (and I applaud them for this, really) none of these things mean a food is good for you.  Potato chips should be the big tip-off.  What?  They’re vegan, right?  I bought them the fancy grocery store – they must be good for you….

5) More often than not, the processed food that I’m buying (with guilt and trepidation) is only a shadowy substitute for a real food that I could make in my own kitchen without an enormous amount of time or energy expended.

On that note, I am taking up the great pickle research project.  I have canned pickles before and frankly, I wasn’t thrilled with the result.  I will look for recipes for this again, but will only undertake that task if my cucumber plants go INSANE.  Instead, I believe I will opt for fresh pickles.  I’ve found a few recipes, but most of them go something like this: cucumbers, onions, salt, celery seed, white vinegar, and sugar.  Dissolve dry into wet, pour over veggies.  Let sit overnight in fridge – done.  But will they last?  Doesn’t matter over here.  What about the sugar?  See that’s the beauty of doing it at home; I can cut it and then reduce it more over time to fool the little stinker into liking them that way.  What if they’re blue?  Frankly my dear…..

The Boy Enjoyed His Mushrooms

Alternate titles: Raw and Restaurant Ready
Love the Loaf
Who Needs the Beef?

Tonight we experienced a Gena’s Raw Nutloaf a la Gena from Choosing Raw – who is a total genius.   Her recipes sound so wonderful that they have me lusting after new kitchen equipment, despite a desire to get rid of, not acquire, new things.  I recently gave in and got a food processor.  I would still like a juicer and a dehydrator but decided to TRY one of her recipes that calls for a food processor and a dehydrator and use the oven on low.  The result was spectacular.  Truly.

Back to the winning title… Although my son was dubious as he helped me grind everything up this morning, he really enjoyed this entree which is mostly baby portabella mushrooms and nuts.  It makes me wonder.  Does he not like mushrooms?  Or does he not want to SEE mushrooms…. or FEEL that rubbery consistency?  Apparently it is one of the latter because he relished this fabulous ‘meat’loaf… as did I!  Whizzed into textural oblivion, the mushrooms with all their nutrients and ability to satisfy became innocuous and found their way into his belly.

Here is the recipe with a few tips and pointers.  I doubled the recipe because dinner without leftovers is time half wasted!

Gena’s Raw Nutloaf :
2 cups portabello or baby bella mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 tbsp bragg’s liquid aminos
2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup almonds
1 cup walnuts
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried sage
Dash onion powder (I left this out – don’t have it and didn’t want to add more moisture with fresh)

2 dates
1/2 red bell pepper (I used green because it was all I had)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Place the mushrooms in the Bragg’s and olive oil and store in an airtight container overnight.

mushrooms marinated overnight in Bragg’s and olive oil

Grind the nuts, salt, thyme, sage, and onion powder in a food processor till very processed: it should be starting to look like a coarse nut butter. Add the pepper, lemon, dates, and Bragg’s. Process again till the mixture is even. Set aside in a mixing bowl.

Remove the mushrooms from the marinade, reserving a few tablespoons of it. Put the mushrooms, celery, and tomatoes in the food processor (no need to wash after you remove the nuts!), and process till the mixture is finely chopped.

mushrooms and celery about to get very well acquainted in the food processor

Add the mushroom/celery/tomato mixture to the nut mixture, throw in the parsley, and knead well with your hands, just as you would mix regular meatloaf!

When it’s all well mixed, place into a small loaf pan (I used one that was about 5-3/4″ x 3″ x 2-1/8″). Place in a dehydrator at 115 degrees for eight hours (you can also place in an oven at 150 with the door slightly ajar).

Side by side but the light is uneven – they actually looked the same

The lowest my oven goes is 170 degrees.  So I turned it off and then back on again at several points during the 8 hours.  My oven will also not stay slightly ajar so I propped it open with a remnant of the dark side of Easter…

It’s a sugar wide instead of a sugar high : )

When the loaf is done, slice into twelve slices. (One twelfth was not enough for any of us.  Good thing I made 2!)

The completed but not burned loaves

The loaves became very dark – almost black on top.  My husband thought they were brownies!  Only the top 1/8th of an inch was dark with a lighter brown color underneath.  The marks in my loaves were made about halfway through the cooking with a fork as I thought that might assist the loaf in drying a bit.

The final result was slightly mushy and in fact could be used as a patee, but however you eat it, I think you will be very pleased with the results!!

A truly delicious and satisfying loaf. Love the Loaf!

Some of My Good Days Look Like This… And Fabu Asian Peanut Sauce

We had a super busy day yesterday in mid-Maryland.  Evening plans and Father’s Day/my birthday on Sunday meant garden obligations had to be met in short order to allow festivities to be truly festive and to allow my neurotic soul to breathe easy and enjoy.  So as soon as breakfast was done (a big honkin’ kale smoothie made into a parfait with overnight oats – cause that’s just how I roll), I grabbed the lawn mower and got a move on.  The great thing about mowing around the garden is that it allows me to peek in and re-evaluate my plan of action.  I had originally planned to leave my broccoli and cauliflower alone as I wasn’t convinced they were done.  I had tomatoes to plant, preferably in the ground as my container tomatoes just don’t seem to do well.  I had basil to pot and various other things to plant, water, weed all in time for my 25th high school reunion (gulp, that sounds like a long time ago).

I quickly discerned that most of the broc and cauliflower were either spent or not budding (with 100 degree heat in the forecast, it seemed like time to give up).  I cleared those puppies out, planted a few new cucumbers and a tomato.  Dug up my ornamental fennel that a dear friend sent me seeds for from her plant in Michigan (i had thought it was edible so put it in the veggie garden – that’s a big plant for no eating in the veggie garden, but lovely and so yum smelling). “Mom…. a snake!”  Ran to children.  Observed large rat snake leaving patio, down retaining wall into woods.  Back to garden.  In went the watermelon.  Husband (pack mule) brought soil and compost to required location and did the part of the mowing that makes my knees go all wing-wangy.  Soil and compost piled in sunny spot, tomato planted.  Carrots pulled, beets pulled, raspberries picked (and eaten –  who could resist?!).  Dig, dig, dig, Hunh?

 Turtle in garden.  Shell completely closed.  Husband transported turtle to patio for warming.  Turtle slowly gained courage and eventually crawled away.  Weeds removed, basil planted, zucchini checked for mildew.  Japanese beetles on raspberry canes squished (without remorse).  Garden haul gathered and taken to kitchen.  Fresh carrot munched while removing leaves from 8 broc/cauliflower plants (rinse, wrap in cool wet and slip in plastic bag then fridge), beets same, carrots same.  Second fridge full.  Warmed leftover bulgur and added freshly harvested (raw) broccoli so it warmed and got the tiniest bit tender.  Stirred in homemade Asian peanut sauce from container in fridge.  Deeeeelish.  Shower.  Actually used a blowdryer – yes, a special occasion indeed.  Met friends, dropped off kids.

Reunion.  Such fun.  Hugs.  Fabulous old (and by that I mean young, vibrant, and absolutely wonderful) friends.  Stories.  Hugs.  Dinner. Cake. Wine. Bed.

Just about perfect.  Hope you are all enjoying a fabulous weekend.

Fabu Asian Peanut Sauce

  • Two large glops of peanut butter
  • A few shakes of soy or Bragg’s (to taste)
  • red chili flakes (or chili paste)
  • crushed garlic
  • minced/crushed/or powdered ginger
  • chopped cilantro
  • water

This is a wonderful sauce in that it is highly adaptable and easy to adjust for different tastes and uses.  I usually don’t measure (shocker, I know), start with the PB, and add the other ingredients to taste (which means I get to eat it while I’m making it, which is obviously a good thing).  Most of the ingredients are optional or could be changed out, but I find this combo to be the most yum.  When I’ve mixed everything but the water to taste, I add enough water to make it suit my needs.  If it’s a drizzling sauce I add more water.  If I want to dip veggies in it, less water.  It keeps beautifully and adds a lovely Asian peanut vibe to just about anything you might want to eat.  Great on noodles, fabulous on broccoli…. especially broccoli you’ve just brought in from the garden.

Singapore Fling

I imagined that a recipe called Singapore Noodles would have garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions…. you know the usual cast of characters in Asian food.  Not to mention the usual cast of characters in my kitchen.  So how nice to discover that although I was drawn to this recipe by anticipating familiar ingredients, there were some uninvited guests who made the party refreshing and interesting.  Clearly I’d never heard of Singapore Noodles before and didn’t know that curry is a prominent flavor.

So, with a head of Napa cabbage that my husband bought (don’t know what possessed him, but there it was!), a lime, and some tofu, and the very last leek from the garden until Fall – I decided to use them all up.

The tofu I used was “pre-squeezed.’  Easy now… that sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?!!

I got it at Trader Joe’s and it is very firm and has already had the extra moisture squeezed out, leaving it ready for baking.  It does not state this on the label but they nicely had an explanation by the product that caught my eye.

It slices very thinly and easily and has a lovely firm texture…

I made a marinade as follows:

1.5  Tbsp roasted sesame oil
2 Tbsp. Bragg’s liquid aminos
juice from 1 lime
1/8 tsp. chili powder (I used chipotle which is strong – you might
like more if using standard chili powder)
I had leftover which I saved and added to the whole dish at the end.

To bake the tofu:
Put parchment paper on a baking sheet
Slice your tofu about 1/4″ thick and lay the slices on the tray.
Brush the marinade on the top of the slices and bake at 375
for 10 minutes.
Flip the slices and re-apply marinade
Put back in oven for 5 – 10 minutes and flip again if you like.
Keep in oven until you reach desired toughness / chewiness.
I cut some up to top the noodles and am saving some for sandwiches.

Here is my twist on a recipe for Singapore Noodles:

Singapore Noodles

1 pack thin rice stick noodles (rice vermicelli)

Then, thinly slice up:
1 red or green bell pepper  ( or half of each)
1 carrot into match stick size bits
3 cups Napa cabbage
3 teaspoons minced ginger
2 green onions (I used one small leek)

Then for the sauce mix together:
1/8 – 1/4 cup water or broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar  ( or favorite sweetener)
1/2 teaspoon salt  ( or 1 tsp soy sauce )
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder, or to taste (I used 1 Tbsp.)
Prepare noodles according to package directions, drain and set aside.
Then in a skillet or a wok, heat some oil then add, scallions, sugar, ginger – then peppers, carrots and lastly cabbage

Add a little water to help cook down the cabbage.

Drain the noodles and chop

Mix with veggies and then add the remainder of the tofu marinade and taste.  I added another Tbsp or so of Bragg’s at this point.  Top each serving with some of the tofu pieces.

I also thought this would be yummy with some fresh fruit on it, so I added a few fresh pineapple chunks.  No picture with pineapple.  I ate it : )

My 11 year old in particular enjoyed our Singapore Fling.

No, I Don’t Live in the Country

We had some big doin’s here over the weekend, and while it may be a stretch to relate it all back to food, I’m going to take a leap of faith and write about the most interesting thing that’s happened recently and trust my powers of obsession to bring it back to how we eat.  I can do it, at least I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

So on Saturday morning I was the first to rise (unusual) and I quietly made my way downstairs hoping to steal a few moments alone before starting a batch of pancakes.  I could already smell the cast iron warming in the oven.  The dog joined me and I opened the back door (as usual) to let him take his morning constitutional.  He took off like a shot, barking his head off.  He returned quickly and demanded to be let in.  As I opened the door to let him in, I saw the top of the head of a presumed stray dog making its way through the yard.  I hustled my guy in, closed the door and attempted to get a better look.  I didn’t have to work at it for long.  The dog rounded the corner, came up on the patio, and sat down at the bird feeder that he had already dismantled and began to eat.  This is apparently what black bears do.  Yes, my stray dog was in fact a black bear.  Being the coward and poor picture taker that I am, I quickly went upstairs to get my husband out of bed.  We watched (and our children joined us) for about 40 minutes as this adolescent bear silently climbed, maneuvered, explored, and bent our bird feeders to his will so that he could have a breakfast feast of sunflower seeds.  My husband opened the door a couple of times; the bear looked up but was largely unimpressed with us.  When he had enough and was tired of wondering what we were doing, he got up, shambled off with a snort at us, walked across the yard, and climbed the fence into the woods.

After freaking out in a variety of ways and splashing our encounter all over Facebook, I called animal control and got educated on our local black bear population.  We were instructed to get rid of bird feeders.  Sunflower seeds are, according to my friend at the Frederick County Animal Control office, “crack” for bears.  We had become the new dealer.  And so we painstakingly removed the source of the bear’s delight from our patio (which made sense since we couldn’t hang anything on the poles he bent with no apparent effort).  We swept up the remnants so he wouldn’t be attracted to the smell of them.  We secured the grill just in case it had any remnant anything on it that he might be interested in.  As we finished these tasks I heard some deer just outside the fence line, looked over to see them, and there was our giant friend, standing on his hind legs, checking on our progress.  I hustled the children inside, ran to close the shed so he wouldn’t hang out and stay a while.  We barely closed the back door before he climbed the fence again and returned to the patio only to find that his next meal had been removed.  I felt a little sorry for him as he looked genuinely confused.  I then realized I’d left the garden gate opened.  We watched in horror as he made his way over there.

I have never been so glad that strawberry season is over.  He looked around, but not apparently favoring broccoli, beets, celery, carrots, or pubescent cucumbers and beans, he snuffled , left the garden without so much as bending a leaf and climbed over the other fence, crossed the neighbor’s driveway and wandered off toward another part of our neighborhood.  Wow.

I’m still a bit in awe.  This was not an adult bear, but not a baby either.  He was probably 200 pounds and had to have been over 5 feet when standing upright to see me over the fence in back.  And yet he was so quiet, so calm, so steady, and so single minded.  He wanted seeds; he would climb any fences in front of him to get to them.  This giant creature, who may apparently walk 100 to 150 miles before he chooses a new territory, wanted to chow down on sunflower seeds.  There’s something kind of amazing about that.  So simple, so plain, so nourishing and so direct.  I’m hungry, I need food, it needs to help me walk a long way and I don’t want to chase anything… So there you are.

Because I like to cook and I’m susceptible to a bit of food porn now and then, I have a great deal of fun looking at recipes and pictures of recipes, and descriptions of meals and how people made their version of those recipes, and it becomes easy to get lost in the hullaballoo that food can be (and that can be delightful).  This bear looked like his Mom told him: “Just eat it.  It’s good for you and we’ve got stuff to do.”  I am reminded that feeding the hunger in a healthy way is as close as the pantry, the garden, or the fridge, and that often all I need to do by way of preparation is take out a handful, rinse something off, or pick the ripest one.  I shall strive to remind myself to keep it simple at least part of the time.  And in the meantime, a salute to our new friend with two sunflowery good  dishes…

Bear-y Good Oats 

  • 2 c rolled oats
  • 2 c almond milk (or whatever kind you like)
  • zest of one lemon
  • raw sunflower seeds
  • berries

Place oats, milk, and zest in bowl or jar overnight to soak (the lemon zest was Big Sis’ idea).  In the morning, spoon out some of that deliciousness in a bowl and top with sunflower seeds and berries of your choosing.  Bear-y Good!

Dilly Sunflower Cheez Spread – adapted from Janet L. Doone’s sprouted sunflower cheese

  • 1 c soaked sunflower seeds (soak them in water overnight and rinse well)
  • 1/4 c water
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar
  • juice from 1/2 to 1 lemon
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1 T chopped fresh dill (or herb of your choice)

The original recipe suggests rubbing the hulls off of the soaked sunflower seeds to ensure that the spread is more white than grey colored.  I tried this for about a minute and found it tedious in the extreme.  I decided instead to place the rinsed seeds on a paper towel and then place a second towel on top, rubbed a bit and then picked off the hulls that were identifiable.  Not as thorough, but apparently it was enough.  If you’re okay with grey, I’d suggest skipping the hull concern altogether.  Place all ingredients but water and dill in food processor.  Add one half of the water and process.  Add more water (by a few drops or a glug at a time) as needed to achieve good blending and a smooth texture.  This can take some time – just let the thing grind away.  The longer you let it go, the smoother your spread will be.  When you’ve achieved the texture you like, scrape into bowl and mix in your dill.  Serve on bread or crackers.  Bear-y delish.

I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could…

Food Glorious, Nourishing, Emotional Food

There’s sprouts on them there Brussels!!

One of the gifts of gardening is a new perspective on food.  When you grow something, you are bound to find a way to eat it!  All that work is not to be wasted – whether you are thrilled to eat it or not.  There is a new appreciation for any bit of produce as it is tended from seed to harvest.  I know that prior to gardening, and even now during tough times it is easy for me to lose sight of the main purpose of food and to use it for comfort, reward and pleasure.  Nothing wrong with that to a degree.  However, I know both my attitude and my emotions are in danger when I consistently look forward to what I’m going to eat at my next meal.  It is a bad sign when for hours or days on end, I either can’t, or am too lazy to try to, think of anything more positive in my future than what is going to stimulate the gustatory pleasure center in my brain.  When I fall into this trap (often lined with sweets, even those such as I indulge in these days), I am missing plenty of incredible things taking place right under my nose.  Thinking that every meal should be Ka-Pow tasty and that I deserve to have something yummy to eat is really a wake up call to pay a little more attention to the full experience of being a sentient being.

Of course, even in moments of being very present or ‘in the now,’ I might think about what I’m going to cook and that I will enjoy eating that at my next meal…. Or I might look forward to a night with friends or loved ones that involves food that I will enjoy… Or I might be in the garden admiring the beans that will be ready in a few days (Oh boy Oh boy)… But when
my solace,
my motivation and,
the only power I can find to get through a difficult now is what I’m going to eat later,
continues for more than a few meals, I know my priorities are screwed up and that I am no longer awake, alert and experiencing life to its fullest.

But how can one not focus on food?  The most important part of survival is having food right?  And isn’t food what allows my body to function well?   A functioning body further allowing my mind, soul, spirit, spark, whatever you want to call what makes me a little different from a snail to also function and to experience, analyze, synthesize and share this incredible journey that is life?  Forgive me for waxing a little metaphysical today, but I have been thinking about the evolution of my own eating habits since anunrefined vegan printed an evolution of her eating history.  So many of my eating experiences are a reflection of my mental state and also of any purpose/ lack of purpose at that particular time.

I notice as I look back on my life of eating that the least grounded times in my life include a lot of sugar ingestion.  I now know that I can more easily see my positive options when I cut back on sugar.  Between the jangly sugar-jag periods it is easier for me to remember that food doesn’t have to taste good or be special to nourish me.

Maintaining a healthy body feels more important when I feel I have a purpose.  Eating nourishing food as a means to an end fuels my purposes to be a respectful, tolerant, positive example; to encourage others to know that they are worthwhile and have something to offer; and to laugh a lot.  I love it when I manage to nourish my body AND the spark by being awake and alert to the needs of others and myself.

Time to get back out in the garden and watch the beauty of unfolding leaves, buds and burgeoning nourishment.  I will try to listen to my own motherly advice that is so often given to my son in response to protests that something is ‘not his favorite.’

“Just eat it.  It’s good for you and we have stuff to do.”