Saturday, November 22, 2014

Kale Chips in the Dehydrator

Ever since my new dehydrator arrived in its gigantic box, I've kept it running practically nonstop. I've dried pears and apples, then sage from my garden, then more pears and apples, and now: kale chips.

I've been a fan of the kale chips from Trader Joe's ever since I did the Whole 30. The kale chips were one of the very few snack foods that were compliant. They are hearty, covered with a delicious mixture of carrot powder, cashews, and nutritional yeast. (Maybe this doesn't sound as good as it tastes...)

I've been growing my own kale in my garden every year for probably at least 20 years now. The bugs love it. Sometimes they share with me. I usually have to pull off a few wriggly green caterpillars, but it's worth it. I always grow Red Russian Kale (soft, tender leaves) and Black Tuscan kale (tall, dark, handsome leaves). Both are yummy and tolerate a bit of frost before keeling over in the late fall, early winter.

So I harvested a large bunch of kale to make these chips. If you don't grow your own, I'm sure you can find kale at your local Whole Foods, Wegman's, or other grocery. Wash your kale leaves before using. Pat dry or use your salad spinner. Then tear the leaves into medium-sized pieces, removing as much stem as possible.

Ingredients:

One large bunch kale, washed, dried and torn into pieces
4 TB avocado oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
1-2 TB tahini (or tahini sauce from Trader Joe's)
1-2 teas. tamari (or low sodium soy sauce)
1-2 teas. balsamic vinegar
sprinkle of granulated garlic
dash of salt and pepper (optional; soy sauce is already salty)

Blend liquids in large mixing bowl. Add seasonings and stir well. Toss in kale leaves and stir until all leaves are evenly coated with mixture. Arrange the leaves on the dehydrator trays without overlapping. (I filled all 8 trays.) Set temperature for 135F and dry for 3 hours. Test to make sure all moisture has evaporated. Store chips in sealed container.

#hocofood

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Thanksgiving in a Muffin

Perhaps you have yet to be convinced that a turkey muffin can be a wonderful breakfast treat? If so, then feast your eyes upon my latest creation: Thanksgiving dinner in a muffin.


No, your eyes do not deceive you. This hearty yet scrumptious muffin contains everything except the pumpkin pie with whipped cream. (Hmmm, that gives me an idea...)

I also wanted to take this opportunity to introduce you to my new muffin tin. This gorgeous beauty was purchased from King Arthur Flour baking products. This company designs their own bakeware and I can attest to the quality. The muffin tin is hefty, solid, and extremely non-stick. You do not need to grease this baby at all. My turkey muffins slip right out. I also tried baking some coconut banana muffins (not made of meat) and they came out equally well. Highly recommended.

On to the recipe.

Ingredients:

1 pound ground turkey
1 red pepper, seeded
3 small jalapenos, seeded
1 large sweet potato, roasted and cooled
10 beet green leaves
3 leaves of dried sage, crumbled
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 TB chia seeds
2 slices sprouted wheat bread
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 apple, chopped
1/2 pear, chopped
1/2 cup pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350F.
Mix eggs in large bowl with salt, pepper, and chia seeds.
In food processor, pulse red pepper, jalapenos, beet greens, and sweet potato until finely chopped. Add bread and pulse some more until bread crumbs are mixed with veggies. Dump veggie mixture into eggs and mix well. Add the rest of the ingredients, except pecans. Spoon mixture into muffin tins. Top each muffin with 3-4 pecan halves. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown at the edges and firm to the touch. Let cool in tin for 10 minutes before removing. Serve warm. Makes 12 muffins.
 Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dried Pears

Do you see a theme in my last two posts? Yup, it's pears. (Well, there was also a recent apple post...)

We planted a pear tree so long ago I don't even remember what variety. It grew like a weed and starting producing many years ago. Every year the tree is so heavily laden with fruit that branches bend to their breaking point. The tree is not lovely, has never been properly pruned, but does it's job relentlessly without complaint.

Just like me. (HA HA HA!!!!!)

Anyway. If you've been reading my blogs this year, you know I am on a roll. I finally harvested massive amounts of concord grapes, and thanks to my workaholic friends Michelle and Patti, the grapes were transformed into batches of preserves and pie filling.

Now I've moved on to attacking the pear situation. I've harvested several bushels worth of fruit. First I made the pear ginger apple sauce which I used in the Roasted Pumpkin and Pear Soup. (See my blog of the same name.)

This past week I had the brain storm of drying the pears. I needed a method of preserving that wouldn't take up precious space in the fridge. So I borrowed an enormous dehydrator from Michelle. It is called a Nesco Gardenmaster and it is not kidding around. It contains eight large trays. In one week, I dried 5 and a half loads. Each load takes 10 hours of drying time, so it is only possible to do one load per day. Thankfully Michelle has been incredibly generous and let me have the contraption for a full week.



The process is fairly time consuming. It involves peeling, coring, and slicing the pears. The instructions recommend removing the peel. Because my pears have never been sprayed, there is some minor insect damage under the skin which must also be removed. Then the slices (about 3/8" thick) are soaked for 10 minutes in a solution of lemon juice and water. (About 1 cup lemon juice to 1 quart water.) After soaking, the slices are arranged (not touching!) on the trays, the temperature is set to 140F, and the dehydrator does its magic for 10 hours.


The dried pears come out slightly leathery, and super sweet, with a nice chewy bite. My teenaged daughter (who refuses to eat anything I cook) gobbled down an entire tray before they even began to cool.

The dried pears can be stored in ziplock baggies in the fridge or freezer for longer storage. Or at room temperature as long as all the moisture has been removed. I'm doubting they will last long enough to go bad, though.

While I had this massive contraption in my home, I also dried a couple dozen apples from Larriland. This is a fabulous way of storing an abundance of apples. After only 8 hours, the quarter inch slices were crisp, almost like an apple chip.

I am completely sold on the idea of dehydrating EVERYTHING now, so watch out for more posts when I get my own giant machine.

#hocofood

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Picking Apples for Howard County Food Bank

My friend Patti had the brilliant idea that we should ask Lynn Moore, the proprietor of Larriland Farms, if we could come to the farm after the last day of operations and pick fruit or veggies for those in need. Patti figured this was a win-win-win (and possibly even more wins than that!) for everyone involved.




First win: we got an extra day to spend on this beautiful piece of land. An enormous treat in and of itself. We had the entire farm practically to ourselves! And when we chose the day, we didn't know it was going to be a day in the mid-60's, sunny, and perfect. Another gift.



Second win: Larriland gets rid of a very small portion of the extra produce left over at the end of very abundant season. The trees we picked from were still heavily laden with fruit. At least a portion of this fruit will not go to waste now.



Third win: low income residents of Howard County receive freshly picked, delicious, local apples!
Patti, Alice, Sophie, and I would like to thank Larriland and Lynn Moore for allowing us to pick apples for the food bank. I like to imagine the happy faces of all the children who will be crunching into fresh, juicy apples this week!

And thanks to my daughter Sophie for the photography!

#hocofood
#hocofoodbank

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Roasted Pumpkin and Pear Soup

This is a very simple soup you can whip up on a weekday evening after work or anytime you want a rich, thick, comforting, and delicious meal. If you do a few of the steps ahead of time, you can throw everything together at the last minute and have dinner on the table in only thirty minutes.

Ingredients:

1 small sugar pumpkin
1 quart homemade chicken stock (or store bought)
4 ripe pears
2 tart apples
1 teaspoon grated ginger root
salt and pepper to taste
cayenne pepper (optional)
Whole milk yogurt or sour cream (optional)

A day or more ahead of time:
Preheat oven to 400F. Place whole pumpkin on a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour. Poke pumpkin with a fork to test for doneness. Remove when soft. Allow to cool. Cut pumpkin in half to remove seeds and peel. Store in fridge.

Cut up pears and apples, removing seeds and core. (I like to leave skin on, but you can remove this, too, if you wish.) Place apples and pears in saucepan with ginger. Add a small amount of water to keep the fruit from sticking to pan. Cook on low heat for about 30-40 minutes or until everything is soft. Mash fruit to create a thick sauce. You can blend with an immersion blender to make smooth. Or leave it chunky, if you prefer.

To assemble the soup:
 Place pumpkin and stock in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Add pear/apple sauce. Continue to simmer for about 30 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne if desired. Blend the whole thing with an immersion blender if you prefer smooth soup to chunky. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

To serve:
Spoon yogurt or sour cream into serving bowl. Ladle soup on top. Stir well and enjoy!


Monday, October 20, 2014

Supplement Update

In preparing to discuss supplements, I scrolled back through the blogs I have written previously to make sure I don't repeat myself. I already posted (back in 2012) two blogs specifically focused on the supplements I take. However, neither of those was exhaustive, meaning I didn't actually list every single pill that I pop.

And I believe people like popping pills.

I'll be the first to admit, I enjoy pill-popping.

Not the physical act of swallowing a pill; I actually have to force myself to do that part. I mean, I like the IDEA of downing a capsule to create (seemingly by magic) a desired effect. Every time I hear about a new supplement that does something extraordinary for the body, mind, or soul, my ears perk right up. I've tried PLENTY of those "weight loss" supplements, like green coffee bean (did nothing as far as I could see) and green tea extract (no noticeable benefits). Based on my research and personal experience, I do NOT recommend any type of pill or product designed to promote weight loss. I believe the dangers associated with many of these products FAR outweigh any possible benefit.

My husband is like my dealer when it comes to supplements. He is often the one who first reads about a new vitamin, mineral, or compound that seems to be exhibiting miraculous results and then goes about finding and trying the newest pills or powders. I take some of what he brings home, but not everything.

Here's a list of my current supplements:

Vitamin D (most of us are deficient and it is very unlikely you're getting enough from food/sun)
Vitamin E (make sure yours is NATURAL as studies show this helps prevent breast cancer)
Vitamin B complex (Important for nerve health. Take it if you are stressed out or have PMS.)
Qunol (for heart health and also for the gums)
Blue Ice Fermented cod liver oil (Natural source of Vitamin A and D, plus Omega 3's)
Move Free (made by Schiff for joint health)
Magnesium Citrate (for muscles and better sleep; helps with relaxation!)
Turmeric (a powerful antioxidant proven to prevent cancer)

At various times in my life I've taken additional supplements such as SAM-E (for joint health and mood) as well as a women's multivitamin.

I cannot guarantee that any of these supplements are doing what they purport, with the exception of the magnesium citrate which has a definite effect on my muscles. I am experiencing MUCH less cramping now that I'm using the correct form of magnesium. As for the rest of the bunch, I can only hope that I'm preventing various forms of cancer and receiving all the nutrients my body desperately needs. Overall, I'd say that my moods are fairly stable these days, but that is probably due more to my diet (no sugar!) than my supplements.

And my joints seems to be holding up under a heavy load of dance-based aerobics. Can I say for sure this is because I take Move Free? Or does my diet play a bigger role? Or is it mostly genetic? Who really knows? I plan to continue supplementing as I don't think any of my pills are harmful and it's quite possible they're helpful.

If you're considering adding any supplements to your daily regimen, I recommend you consult your doctor first. You can get tested to see whether or not you're deficient before you begin. It's possible your doctor will recommend something specific for your particular situation. My GYN recommended Vitamin D, as I'm sure she does for all her patients. It is generally considered beneficial for everyone these days.

If you've discovered a supplement that has made a difference to your own health, please share your findings with us!


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Above and Beyond the Basics

Yesterday I blogged about daily self-care. The stuff you need to do each day to stay healthy. Not just physically, but holistically.

Today I want to go a step further: what are the things you need to do (maybe not each and every day, but frequently) to live a full, healthy, vibrant, and rewarding life?

Ready? Yes? Here comes another list!

1) Nurture someone else. I'm putting this at the top of my list because I think I tend to be just a wee tad bit selfish. Until I had children, I was pretty much insufferable. These days I'm sure I'm still obnoxiously annoying, but at least I've learned that I don't always come first. Caring for others, whether those others are your own children, your foster children, your students, your neighbors, your aging parents, your pets, the homeless, or your community as a whole, will help to stretch and open your heart, develop compassion, and help you understand exactly how we are all connected. It can be a lonely world out there with those connections.

2) Challenge yourself. I strongly believe this is what life is all about. Try something new, something you enjoy but do not excel at (yet!), something outside your wheelhouse. For about 25 years, I studied, performed, choreographed and taught modern dance but at the age of 45, I began working on my first novel. It sucked, for sure, but then I chucked that one on the trash heap and wrote another. I now have 3 novels in a series of murder mysteries; the first (titled Blind Angel) will be published soon. I plan to begin writing the fourth this November during National Novel Writing Month. What have you always wanted to try? Skydiving? Caving? Ice carving? Crochet? Get started now.

3) Push yourself physically. There is an athlete inside you. Don't shake your head no! No matter how long you've been ignoring that side of yourself, that athlete is still in there, lying dormant, just waiting for you to awaken your true potential. We are physical creatures and we have been given these amazing bodies to use for a short amount of time. Don't waste your physicality! Explore the huge potential of your body: try lifting heavier weights, or running faster up a hill, or training for a marathon, or swimming a mile, or climbing a mountain. Without a doubt, no matter who you are, you can become stronger, faster, more agile, more flexible, or longer lasting. (I couldn't figure out how to say having more endurance!)

4) Get creative. Innovation can take a billion different forms. You can express your creative side by rearranging your furniture. Or baking and decorating a cake. You don't have to win an award or sell your work to be successful as an artist. You just need to allow that side of your nature to come out and play. Everyone owns a camera these days, since everyone carries a phone. Try taking photographs and posting them on your Facebook page. Or write a poem. One of my Facebook friends has been hand-dying old sheets and clothing, then weaving the strips into beautiful rugs. Explore and have fun without putting any pressure on yourself to produce anything perfect. Keep in mind that the process is more important than the product.

5) Dream. I think this one goes hand in hand with creativity. I encourage you to spend some time being idle. Hammocks are great for this, but you can also day dream while you're walking your dog or swimming laps or climbing a mountain. Instead of focusing your energy on the tasks you have to accomplish or your next big project at work, let your mind wander. Let new ideas pop into your brain and explore the possibilities. When you get a good one, write it down. You might also want to keep a journal by your bed and track your nighttime dreams. Sometimes the images imbedded in our dreams reveal subconscious desires or solutions to problems we've been trying to solve.

These are just a few more of the activities I hope we can all make time for in our busy lives. Some of these might involve getting out of your comfort zone, but that is a great thing! Take a risk and see what happens. You might just end up happier than you've ever been before.