Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What I know about food

It’s that time of year when the lists begin for all of those improvements we want to make in our lives when everything starts anew. This year I’m going to take a different approach this year. Rather than listing what I want to do, I’m going to make lists that reminds me of what I already know. If I can remember my lessons learned and add to that list at the end of the year, it’s bound to put me on a better path. So here’s what I know about food:

1) Refined sugar is addictive and does little more for me than offer a temporarily tasty treat. I doubt I’ll ever cut sugar out of my diet totally, but I do want to remember that once I eat it two or three days in a row, I’ll begin to crave it. When I go without it for a week or so, that craving disappears.

2) Naturally sweet alternatives make me happy. I can make zucchini bread (with chocolate chips to get my chocolate fix) and one slice will satisfy that urge I might otherwise fill with ice cream or a candy bar. I’ve uncovered several recipes this year that work for me and incorporate some of the garden’s goodness, like sweet potato cake, pumpkin bread and butternut squash muffins.

3) Eating regularly fends off headaches and lethargy for me. I also feel better when I eat small portions rather than one huge plate of food.

4) Waiting before piling up a second helping works best for me. If I take seconds immediately after finishing one plate, I inevitably feel overfilled 20 minutes later. I do better if I wait that 20 minutes, ask myself if I still feel hungry then, eat just a little bit more if the answer is yes.

5) Growing the food I eat and being in the garden is refreshing for my body and soul. Every year I learn more about gardening and I don’t plan to stop.

6) Cooking gives me joy and a creative outlet. If I need to focus my creativity elsewhere temporarily, then I might want to plan ahead with leftovers so I don’t zap the creative well in the kitchen.

I’m game for sharing lessons with anyone who wants to contribute what you know about food. If you have a food lesson learned this year, post it as a comment and it might help us all become healthier in 2001.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

This week’s mealtime garden goodness: potatoes, broccoli and cabbage

I haven’t had much reason to cook recently since we’ve been out of the house so often during meal time. Last night, however, we invited a friend to join us and I drew from our store of garden goodies for the meal.

Our main course was braised paprika chicken with broccoli, prepared with one of our frozen bags of broccoli. Braising a meat helps to keep it moist and flavorful which definitely was the case with this recipe.

The side dishes were a potato cake made from a combination of our red and white potatoes and cole slaw, which I had made this summer and frozen. The only vegetable for the meal that I had bought at the store was onions.

The taste? The veggies were all great, although the chicken dish was a little over-salted, which Jim must have commented on at least three times. He’s usually the one adding salt to the meal. The next time if I dredge the chicken in a mixture that contains salt, I’ll be sure to also use a low-sodium broth so it doesn’t overpower us.

Christmas blessings to you all!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gifts near completion

I put the top, protective, clear coat on the gourd birdhouses today. Tomorrow I plan to wrap them. Here are photos of three of these fun creations.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Garden gifts

The garden isn’t good only for the weekly menu; it can also be a great source of gifts. I’ve created gifts from my garden for the past few years. When I do this, I can be sure the recipient will not have received another gift like it!

Here are a few gift ideas:

1. Herb butter. One year when my herbs were still fresh and prolific in December, I set out butter to soften then mixed in the chopped herbs. I made homemade bread and packaged it all to give as gifts.

2. Sun-dried tomatoes. I like growing Principe Borghese tomatoes, which make wonderfully flavorful sun-dried tomatoes you can store for months. These I’ve packaged two different ways: one is to keep them dry and put them in a nice, air-tight storage jar with instructions to rehydrate before using; the second is to rehydrate them and place them in a jar with olive oil and perhaps some herbs. (I confess, I once forgot to rehydrate before filling the jar; I’m sure the recipients wondered why I thought I had given her a nice gift!) Because a lot of people haven’t cooked with sun-dried tomatoes, you might also want to include a recipe to use them in.

3. This year, I’m making gourd birdhouses. My cousin Harry prompted this idea when he gave me a gourd earlier this year. I turned it into a birdhouse that now hangs on our front porch. So when I saw gourds at the farmer’s market this summer, I thought that would be a good gift to make for some family and friends. I’m in the midst of painting them now, so when they are complete I’ll take some pictures to post. I’m following these instructions.

Next year, I might plant my own gourds now that I have saved some seeds. Or perhaps I’ll find another gift idea that warrants its own corner of the garden.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Giving the gift of diminishing food waste

The holiday season is all about food—food at parties, dinners, leftovers. There are the favorite casseroles and desserts, the scrumptious homemade rolls, the fun holiday season drinks and appetizers. For those of us who like to cook, it’s like a little taste of heaven to have a day to cook at our leisure and loving friends or family to enjoy the result of our hard work. Because of that, we sometimes go overboard and fix far more than we truly need.

Don’t get me wrong, I like leftovers. But they can get old if you have to eat them daily for more than a week to use them up. There’s also the possibility they could go bad before you do use them all.

That’s what I thought about today after listening to a radio story on the BBC about wasted food. In London’s Trafalgar Square, author Tristram Stuart organized a free lunch to feed five thousand people to draw attention to the problem of food waste. He prepared the dishes with produce that was rejected by the supermarkets for superficial imperfections and was destined for the landfill.

In an article for Prospect Magazine, Stuart quoted Save the Children as saying the amount the average British household spends on wasted food a year would be enough to lift three malnourished children out of hunger. UK households reportedly waste 25 percent of all the food they buy.

So what about food waste in the United States? A 2008 report by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Water Management Institute says as much as 30 percent of food in the United States is thrown out each year.

While we might not be able to pack up our leftovers and send them off to hungry children, there are repercussions of food waste that influence the ability of the world to feed its people. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency has raised concerns about the phenomenon because of the environmental consequences. There’s also the impact waste has on prices on the world food market. And think about the energy the entire food production and preparation process uses on food that doesn’t get eaten.

One of the good things about being a gardener is that when my vegetables don’t look great, I eat them anyway. I know they’ll still taste good. Yet, there is food waste in our household.

There are more than one billion people in the world who are hungry right now. Working toward eliminating food waste in our home might be just a small gift that won’t reach those hungry people today, but I can also add my prayers that one day it will make a big difference.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rating the tomato salmon

When I had accumulated about five slowly-ripened-in-the-windowsill tomatoes, the last from this year’s garden, I decided to try a new recipe. Jim, who is my harshest critic since he lives with me and knows if he gives something a good rating he’ll have to eat it again. This time around?
Jim’s salmon rating: 9+
Beth’s salmon rating: 9

Jim said he might have given it a 10 if the salmon had been fried instead of baked. The recipe is below so you can try it for yourself. My guess is that it would work with any kind of fresh tomato that you like.

Tomato Salmon

Olive oil
½ onion, diced
1 garlic clove
4-5 San Marzano tomatoes
Small bunch fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
2 6-ounce salmon fillets

Warm olive oil in small skillet. Dice onion and cook on medium until soft. Add chopped garlic. Add chopped tomatoes. Cook until soft. Stir in chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

Put the salmon fillets on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle sparsely with salt. Pile cooked tomato mixture on top, covering every bit of the salmon flesh.

Bake at 400 degrees 12 – 15 minutes.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rating the butternut squash cupcake muffins

I teach a creative writing class at the local elementary school and at the end of each grading period, we have an American Idol-like writing celebration. When I asked my most recent class how they wanted to celebrate, they suggested cupcakes and popcorn. Being the softie that I am, I said yes. Then I was faced with the fact that I had agreed to feed them sugar, something I was pretty sure they didn’t need more of in their diet.

So I decided a compromise was in order. I had printed out a Jamie Oliver recipe for butternut squash muffins that he said were similar to carrot cake. I decided to try them and top them with a light, cream cheese icing. (I didn’t think the kids would go for his “frosty top” suggestion. I also left out the nuts since I was trying to pass these off as cupcakes.) Keeping in mind Oliver’s recent work in West Virginia where he’s trying to help people learn to cook and eat with good health in mind, I cut down on the amount of sugar in the muffin recipe by nearly half. I probably made up the amount of sugar in the icing I used.

The result? I liked them, although they definitely were a muffin texture rather than that of a cupcake. My husband, Jim, isn’t a huge dessert fan, but I asked him for a rating.

Jim’s rating: 9
Beth’s rating: 9
Fifth-grader rating:???

I took the experiments into school this morning for our writing celebration. After hearing the students read several exceptional stories for our guest judges, I uncovered the snacks for the day. I must admit that I cannot claim a roaring success with the muffin cupcakes. Only two students even picked up one to eat. (I was right about the nuts; they didn’t choose the ones with nuts on top.) They did eat the whole thing, but I didn’t hear any rave reviews except from the adults who assisted me with the celebration.

Would I do it again? I would definitely make this recipe again. But before I tried to pass it off as a cupcake, I would like to learn more about the different between creating a cake-like texture and a bread-like texture. In the meantime, I still have a couple of leftovers to enjoy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Using the last tomatoes

Yes, it’s December, far too late to be using fresh tomatoes, yet I am. Our weather this fall was a little bit different than usual and I picked my final red tomatoes from the vine last week. Today it’s snowing.

I’ll be using those final tomatoes this evening, with some onion, garlic and parsley, as a topping for baked salmon. I’m also experimenting today with butternut squash cupcakes. Just don’t tell my students, who asked for cupcakes for their writing celebration, what the secret ingredient is. I’ll let you know tomorrow if they pass the fifth-grader taste test.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Books to help with good eating

Since it’s the season of giving, I thought I would share some of the books I’ve read and used in the past five years that have helped guide me to this path of more extensive gardening and better eating. If you’re buying for someone with these same interests, consider one of the following.

Simply in Season—a wonderful resource for using seasonal produce. Not only does this book include good recipes, it also talks about when to harvest and how to store fresh produce.

Extending the Table . . . A World Community Cookbook—includes a wide variety of international recipes. There’s always something new and fun to try in here.

Moosewood Cookbook—a classic of vegetarian cooking. After 20 years of using this book, I still return to my favorite recipes in it.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day—I love this easy way of baking bread! I almost always have something I’ve made from it in my kitchen.

One Bite at a Time—specifically written for those dealing with cancer. Although I didn’t find a lot of the recipes to be extremely flavorful (but think about it, I mostly used it when going through chemo) I still value the health and ingredient information it includes.

Chef MD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine—will get you thinking more deeply about what our food can do for us. It includes interesting research about food and how it relates to our health, as well as some fun recipes.

What books do you recommend? Jim keeps asking me what I want for Christmas, so I’m open to suggestions!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Easy cooking for a Friday evening

I’m at another writing retreat so once again I chose the easy way to feed myself and my writer friends. Last night we ate two of my favorite dishes—Swiss chard lasagna and winter cole slaw.

The Swiss chard lasagna recipe originated with the Moosewood Cookbook that a friend gave to me 20 years ago. Their recipe is for spinach lasagna. I substituted my garden chard (my chard is even more beautiful in the cold weather; its flesh is sturdier and ribbons of yellow, white and red wind vibrantly through the green), my own preserved tomato sauce and added more parmesan cheese than they called for. This is one of those dishes you can assemble in a baking dish the day before so it’s simple to cook when you’re hungry. The results? Here’s what my friends rated it:
Lin: 10
Mary: 10

Since I ate the last of my garden lettuce this week, I pulled some winter cole slaw out of the freezer for the salad. It’s one of those vinegar recipes my mom gave me a couple of years ago when I told her I had more cabbage than I could eat. I think it’s quite tasty and I know it’s healthy since cabbage is in the cruciferous vegetable family, that gang of cancer fighters that I go to for support. Cabbage is also a great supplier of Vitamin C, folate, manganese, potassium and dietary fiber. My husband prefers creamy cole slaw, so instead of subjecting him to my freezer slaw, I brought it to a more appreciative crowd. Here’s what the writers rated it:

Lin: 10
Mary: 10

And yes, we did have dessert. I had Cushaw left from Thanksgiving week since that’s what I used to make our pumpkin pie. My husband clued me in that this southern heirloom squash actually makes tastier pie than pumpkin; he was right. So I made the leftover puree into pumpkin bread, or in this case, Cushaw bread. Topped with a little cream cheese, it’s an excellently moist and slightly sweet dessert. It’s not bad for breakfast either. Here are the ratings:

Lin: 10+
Mary: 10+

Okay, maybe I should have asked Lin and Mary separately for more honest ratings, but I think it’s safe to say from their reactions they really did enjoy the food.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The hard frost arrives

I picked my final four raspberries yesterday morning with icicle fingers. A month later than usual, we got our first hard frost. I plucked a few ripening tomatoes from the now brown vines and cut some beautifully sturdy Swiss chard and arugula, then welcomed the warmth of my house when I brought it all inside. A cup of tea does wonders to warm the fingers!

So does a bowl of soup. I tried an experiment over the weekend and admired the unexpectedly pretty results. I made soup stock from our leftover turkey bones and plucked then shredded the meat from it. I sautéed onions, celery and carrots in olive oil then added the stock, meat, white beans and chunks of butternut squash. The squash added a pleasant yellow-orange tint to the broth. I cooked until the beans and squash were soft then seasoned with cumin, oregano, red pepper, black pepper and salt. We’re still savoring the results.

As the weather gets colder this week, I’m sure I’ll continue to look for foods that bring welcome warmth.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Cooking the heritage turkey

Like many other families around the country, we enjoyed quite a feast yesterday. It’s actually the first time Jim and I have cooked the entire Thanksgiving dinner; we usually go to someone else’s house and take a dish or two. This year we puttered in the kitchen throughout the day, making stewed tomatoes, green bean casserole, beet risotto, cloverleaf rolls, cushaw pie and, of course, turkey. We prepared a Bourbon Red heritage breed turkey.

Rachel from St. Asaph farm was kind of enough to send us heritage turkey preparation information and a recipe she found at http://www.localharvest.org/. I started with the turkey by rubbing it with salt and pepper the day before and letting it sit in the refrigerator. Then yesterday, we did everything it suggested—rubbed it with a rosemary maple butter mixture between the skin and flesh and in the cavity, made a giblet broth to put in the bottom of the pan, stuffed the bird with apples then cooked for a couple of hours at 425F. The moist flesh fell from the bone and we enjoyed it immensely.

Check out the Local Harvest website for producers near you where you can purchase locally raised foods even through the winter months. Your taste buds will thank you for the effort.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The cost of eating locally

This is the week I pick up my locally-raised Bourbon Red Turkey for Thanksgiving from St. Asaph Farm in Stanford. I’m fully aware that I’ll be paying significantly more for this turkey than I would if I purchased one from the sale bin at the grocery store. To me, it’s worth the cost for a number of reasons.

Over the weekend I had conversations with friends on two different occasions about the cost of eating locally. It seems to me that it should be cheaper. Packaging and transportation costs are eliminated or limited. Yet, the cost for eating locally (if you measure cost solely according to what leaves your wallet) are generally higher.

I made the decision several years ago that my health, as well as the health of my family and friends (influenced not only by our food but by our environment) is worth the extra expense. It was relatively easy to begin purchasing the local and organic fruits and vegetables since I grow many of my own. I had a more difficult time with the meat, but I’ve slowly acclimated myself to its cost, also.

And what does it truly cost us to eat like this? My husband and I discussed it this weekend and realized we spend between $1.00 and $1.50 per meal for each one of us. It sure is a whole lot less than we would spend if we drove through at a fast food restaurant for a quick something to fill our stomachs. If we added in the cost of garden seed, which are minimal, it would increase our cost slightly, but still not to an unreasonable level.

When I go to pick up my turkey tomorrow, I’ll gladly open my wallet to pay for what I know is a healthy bird. I’ll also be thankful to the people who have decided to make raising healthy animals for local consumption their vocation.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Creamy potato soup

Yesterday I enjoyed an energizing lunch with fellow writer Patsi Trollinger. We both needed some encouragement and found it helps to speak aloud those writerly concerns and dreams that can bounce around in our heads like a pinball.

Even writers need good food so I prepared potato soup, apple salad with fresh garden greens and onion rosemary focaccia bread. In the spirit of fall soups, check out the recipe below.

Beth’s Creamy Potato Soup

A few nutrition specifics:

Miso provides manganese, zinc, phosphorus, copper, protein and fiber to a meal. It originated in Japan and is typically made from soybean paste.

Parsley is packed with Vitamin K; just two tablespoons of the fresh herb have more than 150% of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin K. It also has properties that have been shown to inhibit tumor formation and further protect the body from carcinogens.

For more information on both, check out World’s Healthiest Foods.

red and white potatoes (enough for 3 cups cubed)
1 medium onion
2 Tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic
2 cups miso soup + 2 cups seaweed broth (or 4 cups chicken broth)
2 carrots
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. flour
1 cup sour cream
1 ½ cups finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

Make soup broth by putting 4 cups water on the stove to boil. When water boils, add the miso soup mix (comes in a packet) and 1 five inch strip of dried seaweed. You can find both of these in a health food store or you can use chicken broth, preferably low-sodium. Let the seaweed sit in the hot water for 20 minutes then discard it.

In the meantime, wash and cube potatoes to bite size. Chop onion. Melt butter in soup pot. Sauté onions 3 – 4 minutes. Peel and dice garlic cloves. Add to onions. Add potatoes to soup pot. Add broth, including the seaweed if it hasn’t been stewing in the hot water for about 20 minutes.

Peel and chop carrots. When the soup has cooked 20 minutes, add the carrots and a few sprinkles of salt and pepper. Continue to boil very gently for 20 minutes with lid on pot, just cracked open. You’ll have to turn down the temperature to remain at a gentle boil.

Test potatoes and carrots with a fork to see if they are soft. When they are, add the flour. Remove lid and turn heat to about medium to return to a boil for just about five minutes. Back off heat just a bit so no longer boiling and add parsley then sour cream. Stir in sour cream until melted. Stir in cheese and taste for seasoning. Add more salt or pepper if you need to. Total time: 1 ½ hours

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eating a healthy breakfast

I attend a church that is blessed by the presence of a number of caring nurses who have recently started a health ministry program. Like many churches, we typically follow our Sunday morning service with coffee and doughnuts. Of course, doughnuts aren’t the healthiest choice so this past Sunday, our health ministers offered us something different.

What was on that menu? We enjoyed plain and vanilla yogurt to which we could add blueberries, raspberries, bananas, raisins or granola; turkey sausage links; nutty pumpkin bread (with pumpkin from my garden); and two juices (one with pomegranate) that didn’t have sweetener added. Oh yes, we also had chocolate chips to put into the yogurt—an attempt to interest the children in actually trying it.

The positive reactions from those present demonstrated that sometimes it just takes a taste or two of something healthy to introduce someone to a new, more positive, habit.

Thank you Cindy, Theresa and Lu!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Beth’s Easy Vegetable Soup

This past weekend I participated in the Garrard County Arts Council’s first “Autumn Affair with the Arts.” The room where we all exhibited our work (I took my two books) was filled with color, creativity and good energy on a beautifully sunny fall day.

I took a pot of vegetable soup to feed the exhibiting artists and received top ratings on it. Here is the recipe. It looks long, but that’s just because I included a little commentary about it.

I created this soup at the end of winter when I realized we still had a lot of frozen vegetables from our garden. It’s easy, fast, cheap and healthy!

If we have a good gardening season (or I buy food from farmer’s markets to preserve), I need to buy few vegetables during the winter. The only vegetables I bought for this soup were the celery and onion. We also used our home-canned tomatoes and tomato juice. Since we freeze a lot of our vegetables (much faster than canning) soup is a great way to use them because they need to be soft, rather than crispy. This combination of vegetables gives you the colors of the rainbow, attesting to its multi-faceted nutritional benefits.

A few nutrition specifics:

Garlic contains allicin, which is a powerful anti-bacterial agent, that are released only when you crush or slice it, so always be sure to take that extra step. Studies have also shown that garlic consumption has reduced the risk of various cancers.

Kombu is seaweed that is dried, sold in sheets and used in many Asian dishes. It includes a lot of trace minerals and is high in potassium, iodine, calcium and vitamins A and C.

Quinoa is a high-energy protein that can ease digestion. It has more calcium than milk and is rich in minerals.


½ cup quinoa
2 cups water
dash of salt

Combine and cook until quinoa is soft, about 15 minutes. You can also substitute another grain of your choice.

3 celeries
2 carrots
1 onion
2 TBSP olive oil

Chop into bite size pieces. Warm about olive oil in the soup pot. Add chopped veggies and sauté 5 – 7 minutes, until onions are nearly translucent.

½ cup chicken broth
1 pint tomato juice
2 cups water
1 small piece of dried kombu
Two cloves of garlic

Add liquids and kombu to pot. Smash and peel the garlic and throw them into the pot. Bring to boil then simmer lightly, covered, 10 minutes or so.

1 ½ cups frozen green beans
1 ½ cups frozen corn
2 cups frozen broccoli
1 ½ cups frozen greens
1 quart jar of tomatoes

If any of the vegetables are frozen together in a glob, put them in the microwave for a minute or two to separate. If any of them are not chopped, chop into bite-size pieces. Add vegetables to the pot. You can substitute whatever vegetables you have in the freezer or that you prefer. Depending on how much broth you like (I prefer a more stew-like consistency with less broth), you might find that you need to add more liquid.

1 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp Italian seasonings – such as basil, parley, oregano

Season the pot and simmer, covered, until all vegetables are done. You can substitute your favorite seasonings. You might also need to add salt, depending on how much was in the liquids and tomatoes you used. The kombu does add some salt, so wait until that has been in the pot 30 minutes or so until tasting.

When vegetables are finished, remove the garlic cloves and kombu then add your grain. If the grain isn’t soft, continue cooking until it is. Enjoy!

Friday, November 13, 2009

The multi-faceted sweet potato

Who knew the sweet potato could have so many personalities? I grew up eating sweet potatoes once, maybe twice a year. Mom always “candied” them with butter and brown sugar for Thanksgivine. I loved them. In the past few years, however, I’ve been learning that the sweet potato has many sides to its personality.

I like sweet potatoes as fries (especially with avocado dip), baked, in cake and now, as hash. I tried a sweet potato hash recipe this week that combined some savory spices with onions and sausage, plus homemade salsa, for a unique taste that was easy to pull together. To go with it, I made caramelized onions with garden-fresh kale topped with a drizzle of maple syrup and dried cranberries. The green next to the orange on my plate made a very eye-pleasing plate and if I hadn’t been so excited about tasting it, I would have taken a picture first!

We still have lots more sweet potatoes to play with. If you have suggestions for cooking sweet potatoes, send them my way!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Guest column: The Wonder of Life Farm

From time-to-time, I’ll publish guest columns on this blog. Today, meet Maria Turner, from whom I’ve been buying eggs for more than a year. Those eggs have definitely spoiled me!

This morning I got my horse out of my neighbor's pasture. Blue, a Saddlebred, had decided to visit the Stumps by knocking down a fence and walking on the road to their home. That began my day. There is always an adventure or a treat waiting on the farm.

We are a small farm. Our name, Wonder of Life farm, describes how we feel about animals and life itself. Our goal (dream) is to be sustainable in all sense of the word. We are far from that now but we are learning much about life along the way. We want our farm not only to sustain us, but be a place of joy, peace, and harmony for humans, animals and nature.

The ducks and geese have been laying tons of eggs. No mating from what I observe, so no babies but plenty of backing. The roosters are crowing, alpacas playing, chickens and horse visiting friends.

We had homeschoolers visited the farm last week. It was fun to see the children feed and love the animals. Our little store is doing well. We sell chicken eggs and local arts and crafts and "stuff". To be truly sustainable we must depend on each other to help and encourage each person's talents and dreams.

I write how I am "bouncing" from here to there. We encourage visitors, friends. Check us out at our website http://www.wonderoflifefarm.com/ or give us a call at 859-792-8923. As the turkeys say, "Gobble, gobble."

If you would like to send in a guest column, contact me at writerbeth@windstream.net.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Basic eating tips

Last week I was reminded of what encouraged me to more deeply understand what healthy eating truly is. The impetus was cancer.

There’s an entire array of reasons people get cancer. There’s also a plethora of mystery that still surrounds the causes. However, scientific research tells us that a healthy diet and good exercise habits can help us build our defenses against cancer. The basics are easy to remember.

1) Eat foods from every color on the rainbow. This is an easy way to ensure you’re getting a wide range of nutrients.

2) Prepare meals using fresh fruits and vegetables rather than processed foods. Processing foods adds preservatives, like salt, that might not benefit you. The process of commercially packaging foods can also remove nutrients.

3) When possible, eat locally raised foods and organic foods. Foods grow and develop thanks to the soil that feeds them. Because organic soils are high in nutrients, their plants are, also.

4) Eat whole grains, like oats and whole wheat flour. When buying bread in the store, look to see if the package says, “Whole” wheat, not just “wheat.”

5) Diminish refined sugar in your diet. Studies have shown that eating refined sugar immediately diminishes the immune system’s abilities. Most recipes that call for a significant amount of sugar will still be good with a little less. And you can try substitutes, like organic grade B maple syrup, unrefined sugar, honey or blue agave nectar.

Of course, even if you do all of this, there’s no guarantee cancer or another devastating disease won’t hit, but you will be preparing your body to ward off harmful invaders.

My friend Carrie embraces these ideas, but she’s still been diagnosed with cancer a second time. If you are a person of prayer, please remember her.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Healthy meeting food

I had an assignment yesterday to cover a health care summit and as I drove to Lexington I wondered what kind of food they would feed us for lunch. No, I wasn’t particularly hungry as it was still morning; it was just a curiosity. I would like to think that when administrators, lobbyists and concerned citizens gather to discuss caring for the health of Americans, they would be concerned enough about their own wellness to eat nutritious food.

That can only happen when the meeting organizers consider that fact ahead of time. This time around, I have to give kudos to Karen Chambers at the Catholic Conference of Kentucky for looking out for our health and our taste buds.

The spread offered a beautiful array of sandwiches, some vegetarian and many on whole wheat bread. Instead of the typical bags of chips that often accompany deli sandwiches, we had herbed potato salad and fruit. And there were delicious desserts cut into perfect, small triangles to satisfy the sweet tooth without putting on the pounds. Plus, most people (at least at my table) were drinking water rather than soda pop.

We must think about the examples we set when it comes to taking care of ourselves. Thank you, Karen, for providing food that helped us do that.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Leftover greens make for a quick quesadilla lunch

The crisp kiss of autumn welcomed me this morning when I went out to check the garden faithfuls. I found a handful of raspberries, a few tomatoes that didn’t get bitten by the frost and are trying their best to ripen on the vine, and the happy greens—arugula, kale and Swiss chard. There’s something so substantial and reliable about Swiss chard. The green leaves are sturdy without being tough. When you grow a variety, you can also discover beauty in the combination of orange, red and white stems with the green leaves. Once I brought it in, even storing it was a pleasure.

Greens can also provide a quick lunch. I had leftover kale and onions in the fridge, so I put a whole-wheat tortilla on the griddle to warm and crisp up while I heated the kale and leftover chicken in the microwave. I shredded cheese and put it on half of the tortilla, added the warmed food, folded half of the tortilla on top of all that goodness, and continued cooking until the outside was nicely crisped. It didn’t take more than five minutes, honest. I find quesadillas especially tasty when I eat them with salsa, guacamole or sour cream.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sugar Rush Day

Since I've already confessed one food weakness this week, here goes another. Sometimes I make dessert that includes no local ingredients, no fruit, no vegetables. Yes, I have a weak day now and then. Halloween seems like the ideal time to give into that urge.

I can blame it on the Food Network if I want a scapegoat. This past Saturday I watched Giada make turtles from homemade caramel and I knew I had to try it. So with my prayer group coming over last night for dessert, I decided we should have our own sort of grown-up Halloween sugar celebration. We had sweet potatoe cake (which seems to get moister and better every day) with homemade turtles. Without a candy thermometer, it was hard for me to get the caramel just perfect (it was a tad runny) but it didn't matter because it was still delicious.

Now that I've gotten the dessert-making out of my system, it's onto healthier fare for the beginning of the new month tomorrow. Watch out canned and frozen food from the Brown garden--I'll be coming in for sustenance.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Rating the Cake

My friend Rebecca laughed last night when she saw the cake with the missing piece. However, when she tasted the cake, she understood. That led me to play the rating game again.

Rebecca's cake rating: 10!
Jim's cake rating: 7

Jim says his lower score isn't due to his harshness as a critic, but rather because men and women like different sorts of desserts. The chocolate ice cream he added to his plate made his almost a 10.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Making cake for company

Have you ever made a new dessert recipe for company then been so excited about tasting it that you did, before the guest even arrived?
I plead guilty. Earlier this week I heard a story on All Things Considered about a sweet potato cake recipe. Since Jim recently dug two healthy boxes of sweet potatoes, I decided I wanted to try it.

Yesterday I found the recipe on the NPR website and began following the directions. It seemed like a lengthy process for making a cake, but the batter tasted good (of course I had to taste it!) and the faint orange color was appealing. (Because I used a bundt cake pan, I put the topping in the bottom of the pan, as opposed to what the recipe tells you, so it would be on the top.) Then I baked it and the smell lured me in like scent of honeysuckle in the spring. I so wanted to try a piece.

So I did. I waited until this morning and my husband teased me about not leaving the cake whole and beautiful for tonight, but it was worth the slight marring of its appearing. It was delicious. I have to say that I had my doubts because it felt so heavy that I feared it would be like a rock in my stomach. It wasn’t. Actually, it was so good that I wanted another piece, but I did refrain from that.

By the way, it is possible to make desserts a little bit healthier. As the holistic nurse I worked with, Hunter Purdy, told me a few years ago, most recipes are just as good with less sugar. You can also substitute some of the white flour with whole wheat. Combine that with the nutrition of sweet potatoes and dessert is practically a vegetable side dish.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Don’t Give Up on the Kale

As the end of October nears, I feel like every growing thing I still find in my garden is a gift. Last night we feasted on salmon, roasted vegetables (butternut squash, beets, sweet potatoes, white potatoes and onions) and kale. Since I had neglected it, the kale was surely a gift.
I had planted it in the corner of the garden in the spring. I didn’t realize that corner of the garden was prone to takeover by grass and no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to keep it clear enough for the kale to grow uninhibited. So I gave up on it, assuming I wouldn’t get kale this year.

This summer, I broke my ankle and couldn’t get into my garden for about seven weeks. When I returned, I saw the kale had grown into enormous leaves that actually overshadowed the grass! Knowing that kale so large would likely be bitter, I cut it anyway reasoning I could season it to get rid of the bitterness. That’s exactly what I did last night and it worked. I first caramelized onions then added the chopped kale, layering it with salt. I then put in a little sugar, lemon juice and chicken broth, topped it with toasted pumpkin seeds, and there wasn’t a bit of bitterness in that powerful load of vitamins K, A and C. I’ll never give up on my kale again!

For more information about the powerful nutrition you get from kale, go to http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=38.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Easy Stuffed Peppers

At this time of year, our green peppers are their largest and we run out of things to do with them. That’s when it’s time to make stuffed peppers.

I’ve used a recipe from my mom for ages, but recently altered it to utilize some of the homemade tomato sauce from my shelf. That makes it super simple.

Stuffed Green Peppers
Cut off the tops of 12 peppers or so. Take out the insides. Boil in water for 5 minutes.
Brown 1 pound hamburger.
Cook 1 cup rice.
Combine hamburger, rice and as much of your preserved tomato sauce as you like.
If the sauce isn’t already seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper, etc., add seasonings.
Stuff peppers. Pour more sauce over the top.
Bake covered for 45 minutes.
Remove lid, put a slice of cheese on top of each and bake 15 more minutes.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October’s Gift

October has given those of us in Central Kentucky it’s most sought after gift this week—those few, precious days of a return to summer. Yesterday the afternoon temperatures reached the 70s and when I met a friend in Lexington for lunch, we were able to sit outside and eat. As soon as I returned home, I finished some desk work then took a pile of editing into my back yard “office.” I pulled a chair from under a tree to a sunny spot next to the still-growing garden greens and I edited as the sun warmed me. When I finished, I perused the faithful tomatoes and onions as well as the still ripening pumpkins.

With the few garden vegetables still coming in and those stores in the refrigerator, I’ve cooked very little this week with truly preserved foods. I made fajitas last night. The fresh peppers softened nicely in the skillet as they danced with the onions, then I threw in some fresh corn and tomatoes to make a flavorful dish. Jim likes the kind of spice that chars my mouth, so he dressed his with hot sauce is son Neal made. That was the perfect addition for him.

What are you cooking this week?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Ravioli Experiment

I had loads of fun over the weekend making pumpkin-filled and butternut squash-filled raviolis. There’s something about mixing up homemade pasta dough and running it through a pasta machine until it’s thin enough for raviolis that is quite satisfying, especially when you realize that the more you run in through the machine (which further kneads it) the more tender the dough gets.

Unfortunately, I’m not yet a ravioli maker supreme. My early raviolis are likely to fall apart when boiled because I didn’t get the dough wide enough so a little filling is poking out here and there. My later raviolis, however, look good enough to serve for company. I’ll have to try another batch soon to see if I can move a step closer to perfecting that art.

In the meantime, I had roasted pumpkin left over that I didn’t use in the filling, so I made pumpkin dip with it. Yum! It’s great for dipping fruit or cookies into. The recipe, along with the two others I tried recently, came from “Simply in Season” by Mary Beth Lind. Besides the good recipes, the beginning of the book also lists fruits and vegetables by seasonal availability with storage, preparation and serving suggestions, plus nutrient information. Plus, they post some of their recipes online.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Feeling Wealthy

It’s uncomfortably cold and wet outside, but I wandered into the garden anyway to rescue the vegetables that are still faithfully growing—greens, a couple of tomatoes, green peppers, ancho peppers, lettuce and arugula. I even found two deep pink zinnias still adding their beauty to the garden, as well as a number of nasturtiums that continue to bloom on the pea trellis.

Our garden is about to go to sleep for the season, so I was surprised when a friend brought us a bucket of corn and a bag of pears this week from his farm. Having so much fresh food makes me feel like a wealthy woman! I immediately searched for recipes to use the corn, which will get starchy if I don’t cook it up. I already have frozen plenty, so I’ll use some of it to make vegetable soup and corn bread for friends tonight. On this chilly October day, the warm soup will be a welcome comfort.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Two successes equal a first

I grew small, sugar pumpkins for the first time this year, intending to use them for a variety of things. The truth is I don’t even know if I’ll like eating them; I’ve never been a pumpkin pie fan. My guess, however, is that the only pumpkin pie I’ve tasted was made with canned pumpkin. Since pumpkins provide so much beta-carotene, as well as other nutrients and fiber, I decided to give them another try.

I also had great success with butternut squash this year, which I know I like quite well. I have more than a dozen of them stored so I can afford to be creative in experimenting with them.

For me, pumpkin success plus butternut squash success is leading to a day of making pumpkin ravioli and butternut squash ravioli to store in the freezer for winter. Jim gave me a pasta maker a few years ago and I initially enjoyed it, then lost my fascination. That was partially because I could never get my pasta to be as silky and tender as the good homemade pasta I ate when I lived in New York. So this week I’ve been reading up on pasta making in hopes that with more practice, I can have more success.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Visit your local orchard!

One of my biggest challenges in trying to eat primarily local food is locating fruit. Some fruits do grow here in Kentucky; we have plenty of raspberries right here on our property. I also love pears, apples, peaches, blueberries, strawberries and some fruits, like kiwi, oranges and bananas, that I certainly won’t find locally grown.

When a fruit is in season, I enjoy it to the fullest. Fall, of course, is apple season. So yesterday we drove to Boyd’s Orchard in Versailles and bought nearly 30 pounds of apples. Why so many? Because we love apple pie. When the apples are local and freshly picked, it’s the ideal time to make apple pie filling and freeze it. That turns apple pie baking into a welcome, aromatic activity on even the dreariest of winter days.

My friend Joni gave me this recipe several years ago. The most time consuming part of it, as I was reminded yesterday, is peeling and slicing the apples. However, it’s worth the effort and if you have the right crust to go with it, your pie will get a top rating.

Freezer Apple Pie Filling
6 pounds apples
1 ½ cups to 2 cups sugar
¼ cup flour
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Rinse apples.
Peel and slice into a big pot with lemon juice.
Stir in other ingredients. Let stand 30 minutes until juicy.
Cook over medium heat until it thickens.
Cool 1 – 2 hours. Put 6 cups in each container (freezer bags work well) for one pie.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Creativity and Cooking

One of the reasons I like to cook is that it’s a tasty outlet for my creativity. But when I need to channel that creativity in another direction, I have to quiet the urge to cook so I’ll have the energy I need for my words.
That’s what I did this week. I’ve spent Monday through Friday at a beautiful retreat house for women artists. I came with two novels to revise so I spent hours researching, rereading, revising and reinventing scenes. With no cooking to do, no laundry calling, no dirty floor to vacuum, I was able to focus all of my energy on my goal. And I succeeded. What a gift!
When my brain called out for a break, I took a walk or warmed up some of those leftovers I prepared on Sunday. Last night I had the pasta with butternut squash that I had prepared. Pastas prepared with something other than a red sauce tend to suck up the sauce, leaving dry leftovers. To remedy that, I added a little chicken broth to my pasta bowl when warming it up.

For the delicious recipe, go to The Splendid Table site. (I substituted Swiss chard for the greens recommended.) And if you’ve never heard the show, tune in. It’s an hour of fun for anyone who loves food.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Broccoli, broccoli and more broccoli

I harvested broccoli far into the summer this year, a first for me since it usually gets too bitter soon after spring. But our weather was different and I liked the idea of having bags of it in the freezer for winter so I kept harvesting.

Health Note: Broccoli is another one of those great cancer-fighting vegetables. As a breast cancer survivor, I try to get cruciferous vegetables and tomatoes into my diet daily, along with a “rainbow colored” diet that will provide the variety of nutrients that I need. Cruciferous vegetables are an important part of a cancer-prevention diet because they provide a cancer-fighting compound, indole-3-carbinole, as well as good dietary fiber and nutrients. Other vegetables in the cruciferous family are cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, etc.

One way I like to use any preserved vegetable is in soup. Because of freezing or canning, vegetables lose their initial crispness. That makes them perfect for soups in which they are supposed to be soft. So last night I made broccoli and cheese soup with croutons. I used broccoli from the freezer and leftover, homemade bread. From the store, I bought: chicken broth, butter, cheddar cheese, onion. Mix all of that with some seasoning, and a tasty supper, along with your daily dose of cruciferous cancer-fighters, is served.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Monday’s leftovers: Jim’s Chili

It does take time to preserve fresh vegetables and cook from scratch, but one way to free up your week is to cook batches of foods on the weekend that you can munch on all week. That approach can save time and money while still providing nutrients you need.

With that in mind, I enjoyed the chili Jim made on Sunday for supper last night. For him to prepare the chili, I bought from the grocery canned kidney beans, chili seasoning and onions (unfortunately we used the last of our garden onions last week). From the freezer, he pulled packages of ground beef we had bought with our portion of a local, grassfed cow. Then he gathered tomato juice and whole tomatoes we had canned.
Last night, his tasty combination satisfied my hunger and warmed me from the inside out! It took only a few minutes to warm it up and to wash the dishes afterwards.
Health note: Tomatoes provide lycopene, an important cancer preventing phytochemical. Although many people enjoy tomatoes fresh from the summer garden, studies have shown that people who eat cooked tomatoes actually absorb more lycopene. So add chili to your list of health-supporting dishes.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Preparing for a week of creativity

I’ve learned that when I channel my creativity into cooking, I direct it less toward my writing. Since this will be a week of finishing revisions on one novel and making progress on revisions of a second, I won’t be able to spare creativity for cooking. In preparation to be able to easily nourish my body, mind and soul, I spent yesterday cooking.

Our kitchen did smell good! First, I baked bread and raspberry muffins, using more raspberries from the garden. Next, I tried a new recipe for pasta and salmon with two garden vegetables—butternut squash and Swiss chard. Finally, Jim made a big pot of chili using our canned tomatoes.

Butternut squash is one of my favorite vegetables. It’s relatively easy to grown and tastes almost like dessert while delivering important nutrients. It’s also easy to preserve. If you cut it from the vine with a small stem still intact, or buy it from the farmer’s market in that way, then you can store it in a cool corner of your house that doesn’t get a lot of light and it will stay good until spring. My winter squash vines gave generously this year so I look forward to eating it throughout the winter.

Swiss chard is also one of the easiest greens to grow and has a fabulous nutritional profile. Check it out at World’s Healthiest Foods, a site my holistic nurse recommended to me for good nutritional profiles of food.

I’ll check in this week with short updates about how our Sunday preparations fared for the taste buds throughout the week. For now, I’m off to let those nutrients that are feeding my brain and energizing my fingers show off their ability to also inspire my creativity.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Learning from the two Marias

I like to experiment with a couple of new vegetables in the garden every year. Last year I tried jalapeno peppers and couldn’t use them all. This year I experimented with ancho peppers. My understanding was that they aren’t one of the hottest peppers but are commonly used in Mexican cooking. When I asked my friend Maria Turner, she said her mother always used them to make chili relleno.

Since Maria’s suggestion is to stuff the chili relleno with Mexican cheese, I thought it would be an ideal time to also try Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda’s Cuban Black Bean Soup. Or rather, her mother’s. I grew black turtle beans a couple of years ago to dry and use in black bean soup. I found the beans so tedious to hull after drying that I haven’t grown them again since, but I still have some stored in a glass jar, then the main ingredient is already in the kitchen.

I figured out I didn’t have an innate Latina cook skill when the black beans didn’t get soft. I failed at the very first step! But I proceeded anyway, trying everything I could think of to soften them and when I could finally bite in without chipping the enamel on my teeth, I added seasoning.

The chili relleno began with roasting the peppers and taking the skin off. That was new to me and also tedious, but I’ll try it a different way next time to see if it’s easier. Here’s the basic recipe I used after listening to Maria and reading a few recipes online when I realized I had more questions. We used one of the many jars of salsa we canned a couple of months ago for the last step.

Chili relleno
Roast and skin peppers.
Combine Mexican cheese with salt, pepper, thyme and garlic.
Whip two egg whites to soft peaks (this was a good amount for seven peppers).
Roll stuffed peppers in whipped eggs.
Roll in corn meal.
Fry in a skillet with enough oil to do cook one side at a time. Turn until each side is completely browned.
Put them in a serving dish then top with your favorite salsa.
Jim’s soup rating: 7, with expectations that the leftovers will improve to 9 as the seasonings continue to go through the soup.
Beth’s soup rating: 7

Jim’s chili relleno rating: 10
Beth’s chili relleno rating: 10 (when I added sour cream to calm the spiciness of the peppers)
Thanks to the Marias and their mothers for the lesson!
This week: Butternut squash and greens pasta

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why the challenge?

Good health. Budget savings. Good taste. And let’s not forget—creativity. Somehow I don’t feel as wasteful if I ruin a dish I’m making with my preserved food!

Since I discovered the Food Network three years ago, I’ve expanded my culinary knowledge. I’ve long enjoyed cooking but with lessons from the chefs I understand more of the whys and hows. That’s helping me find the courage to create my own recipes.

Sometimes they fail miserably, but when they succeed, I feel like I should have my own television show.

Today my friend Rebecca Ryland (http://www.heartlandplays.com/) came over for lunch. We talked about writing as we munched on recently harvested food. I had leftover butternut squash/pear soup in the refrigerator, so I needed something to go with it. I decided on pesto pizza.

My friend Lin introduced me to pesto pizza a few years ago. It’s easy and quick. For the crust, I use whatever bread dough I have in the refrigerator. A year ago I began baking most of my own bread with guidance from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. (Baking your own eliminate the high-fructose corn syrup that most prepared breads contain.) It really does only take about five minutes, so if you’re short on time, check out this book. The olive oil dough recipe makes great pizza crust, but I had whole wheat sandwich bread dough in the fridge so I used it. It was good, too.

Foods I used that we had preserved: pesto (made with the fresh garden basil earlier this week as well as almonds, which are quite nutritious) and sun dried tomatoes stored in olive oil with fresh basil. This was the first time I had tried to use the olive oil and basil storage method for the tomatoes so my taste buds danced with anticipation. I also put kalamata olives and feta cheese on the pizza.

To round out the meal, I adapted a recipe for peach-berry crisp to combine raspberries from our garden with apples from a friend’s farm that I had dried. On a rainy day like this, I thought a warm fruit dessert make our stomachs smile.

Rebecca’s pizza rating: Tops!
My pizza rating: Almost tops.

In truth, I think Rebecca was being kind overlook the tomatoes, some of which had burned although everything else was perfect. I’ve had that problem with sun-dried tomatoes on pizza before so I need to find out how to avoid it the next time. Lin makes hers with red peppers so that, or fresh tomatoes, would be other options.

Rebecca’s fruit crisp rating: Tops!
My fruit crisp rating: Tops!

This is one of the tastiest ways I’ve found to used dried apples. It definitely helped that I let them rehydrate in hot water until they were soft, which is a must for many dehydrated foods.

Next: I’m going to use the Ancho peppers I picked from the garden earlier in the week to experiment with chili rellenos, a favorite of my husband’s at authentic Mexican restaurants. Let’s see if this gringo can pull it off!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Launching: The Goodness of the Garden . . . All Year Round

I love to cook. I love to garden. I strive to be healthy. So today I’m beginning a seven-month challenge for myself. It’s time to begin cooking from all the vegetables we’ve preserved this summer.

People have been preserving food for far longer than I’ve been alive, but it’s relatively new to me. It wasn’t until I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that I felt truly motivated to do more than throw a few vegetables into the freezer for storage. With just my husband, Jim, and I to feed, the work that preservation takes didn’t seem like it was worth it.

However, as a breast cancer survivor who constantly seeks ways to stay healthy, I have learned about the nutritional value of the food grown in my garden compared to what I buy in the grocery store. As my holistic nurse advised, I typically buy local first then organic, then I work my way through the fresh, frozen and canned goods in the grocery. I had never thought about the vitamins that foods lose when they are harvested early to allow for transport before they go bad. Neither had I given much thought to what is used to preserve foods I buy in the store. As my awareness grew, so did my enthusiasm for preserving our harvest.

We bought a small, chest freezer last year. We began stocking up on locally raised organic chicken and beef during the summer season. I bought a book on the easiest ways to preserve food and we invested in freezer bags, jars and lids. Then we borrowed a pressure cooker. Luckily for me, Jim knew more about canning that I did so he took the lead on that. (That was especially crucial this summer when I broke my ankle and was very little help to him for a month or so!)

Now we have a shelf of salsa, tomato sauce, whole tomatoes, tomato juice (yes, we had a bountiful tomato harvest this year!), beets, carrots, okra and green beans. Plus there’s plenty of broccoli, corn, greens, berries and more in the freezer. And we have dehydrated tomatoes, apples and beets.

While Jim is the primary canner, I am the primary cook. Earlier this week I wandered through the garden to see what fresh choices remained. I filled my basket with what’s still in the garden—a few tomatoes, butternut squash, pumpkins, Swiss chard, lettuce, arugula, raspberries and herbs. I left the walnuts for the squirrels since we still have plenty left over from last year. If it doesn’t freeze soon, some of the garden will continue to grow until November.

With fewer fresh vegetables to choose from, it’s time to beginning cooking from what we’ve preserved. I’ll be experimenting with recipes and sharing what I’m learning. And I hope you’ll share your knowledge and experience with me. There are lots of green beans on our shelf and only so many ways I know how to cook them!

Tomorrow: Pesto pizza with sun-dried tomatoes.