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Its the first day of spring!  Hooray!

In celebration of that fact and to offset the grim, gray skies and threat of snow outside, I made this smoothie to start my day and boy, was it good!

No specific quantities, but this is kinda how it went:

1 cup coconut water with pineapple juice

a handful of blackberries

1 apple cored and sliced

a teaspoon of fresh ginger, minced

1 lime, without rind

a tablespoonful of coconut manna (or coconut butter or oil)

1 teaspoonful of Hanah One* (more about that below and totally optional)

Blend it up in your vitamin or Nutribullet and enjoy the goodness.

 

*Hanah One is an ayuervedic supplement that I’ve just stumbled upon.  I’m a long time coffee lover, addict, connoiseur, drinking 2-3 cups each morning – and sometimes more throughout the day.  Recently it has not set well on my stomach so I’ve been trying to depend on it less for my morning wake-up call.  In addition, the cold of winter, inactivity, family stresses, and I don’t even know what, have left me feeling sluggish, drained, and generally achey.

Hanah One is an Ayurvedic ‘superfood’ made up of 30 wild harvested botanicals in an organic honey, ghee, and sesame-oil base that’s reported to increase energy, focus, and stamina as well as combat inflammation in the body. So, though it’s a bit pricey, I purchased a one month supply.  The taste is different…not unpleasant, but definitely different and though I’ve only tried it twice, I will say that I’m not missing my coffee this morning.  It’s worth a try, right?

More on that in future posts.

Meanwhile…..WELCOME SPRING!  And why not whip up a delicious and nutritious smoothie to start the season?  Just do it.

 

 

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Num Num Crispy Tofu

I don’t know why food figures so much in this blog…It didn’t start out that way but somehow it keeps creeping in.  Probably because I love to cook and eat good food.

This is an adaptation of a recipe sent to me by my brother-in-law. Originally it was written as ‘tofu for meat eaters’ but the other day I roasted a turkey breast and somehow it totally turned me off to meat in any form so I’ve adapted it to this vegetarian/vegan version. The chorizo in it could be meaty chorizo if you prefer but it is super tasty-deeee-licious with the vegan sausage I used! Give it a shot.

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Ingredients:

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
1 lb extra firm tofu
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced shitake mushroom caps
4 oz vegan (or not) chorizo sausage, diced – I used “Field Roast Mexican Chipotle” artisan vegan sausage -see pic above
2-3 scallions thinly sliced -save dark parts for garnish
1 cup thinly sliced greens (chard, spinach, dandelion, kale or whatever) if desired
1/4 vegetable broth
3-4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tsp dark sesame oil
2-3 tablespoons dry white wine or sherry

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Here we go…

Cut tofu into 3/4 inch slabs and set them on paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, cover with another and allow to drain about 15 minutes.  Placing a heavy plate or skillet over it will help it drain which seems to be the key to perfection in crispiness.

Meanwhile heat a cast iron skillet or non stick pan with peanut or canola oil over medium-high heat.

When hot, place tofu slabs in pan and cook until golden brown on bottom – about 3-4 minutes per side. Try to avoid lifting and peeking unless you sense it’s burning. Not messing with it is part of the process.  Trust the process .

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Set aside to drain on paper towels and turn heat to high.

Add mushrooms, sausage,  scallions, and greens and drizzle with sesame oil.   I used dandelion greens from the farmers market and their touch of bitterness was excellent here but any green will do. Cook, tossing occasionally, until mushrooms are golden – abut 3 minutes. Stir in broth, wine or sherry, and soy sauce and cook, with a few stirs as needed, for about 1 minute or until reduced by about half.  Things get pretty steamy and it cooks down very quickly.

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Serve over rice or grain of choice (I had brown rice/quinoa on hand) and garnish with remaining scallion greens.

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Tasty cakes!

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A Little Heat for Autumn Days

It’s cold and rainy out today  – perfect weather for making Harissa.  This Tunisian condiment made of sweet and hot peppers and spices can be found in some grocers but usually at a pretty  high price for something you can easily make at home (and make better) in less than an hour.  It’s a fantastic addition to stews, roasted vegetables, eggs, rice and grain dishes, and a dollop on a burger of any kind raises the bar so high you’ll wonder why you’ve never heard of it before, much less tried it.  Try it anywhere you’d use Sriracha or hot sauce and see what I mean.

This is what you’ll need:

1 sweet red pepper

1 small red onion

3 cloves of garlic

3 fresh hot red peppers

cumin seed

coriander seed

caraway seed

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

salt

a small jar, sterilized (I submerge a jar in boiling water and let it cool while I cook)

Directions:

Broil one sweet red pepper under high heat, turning often until blackened.  This will take about 20-30 min.  Once done, remove from heat, place in a bowl and cover with a plate or plastic wrap and allow to cool.

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While this is going on, throw 1/2 tsp each coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds in a dry frying pan and toast over low heat for about 2 min, until fragrant but not burned.  Grind to a fairly fine powder with mortar and pestle and set aside.

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Coarsely chop 3 cloves of garlic, 3 hot peppers, 1 small red onion (about 2/3 cup or so) and sauté with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened and dark – about 10-15 minutes.

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Depending on how hot your chiles are, you may want to open windows and turn on your exhaust fan!  Mine were habaneros and believe me, the airborne oils were intense.  You can vary the heat by the number or heat of chiles you use.  This batch is HOT!

You’re nearly done!  Throw the spices, sautéed peppers, the broiled red pepper (skinned and seeded) into a small food processor or blender.  I use my Nutri Bullet and it worked great.

Add 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1/2 tsp of salt, give the whole batch a good whir in the blender and spoon into a sterilized jar.  If it seems too thick, add a little more olive oil, but a paste-like consistency somewhere between tomato paste and ketchup is about right.  Will last at least 2 weeks or more in the refrigerator.  Makes about 1/2 cup.  You can vary the seasoning as you like, use sun dried tomatoes in place of tomato paste, or add fresh or dried mint.

Deliciousness!  You’ll want to have it on hand forever.

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Gettin’ all Figgy With It

Summer seems to be drawing to a close and gathering speed as it flings itself towards fall. It has been a gorgeously mild summer here.  The farmers markets are overflowing with peaches, plums, and nectarines which have followed an incredibly productive berry season here in Jersey.  Soon pears and apples will follow.  Hooray!!!

I happened on Marisa McClellan’s “Food in Jars:  Preserving in Small Batches Year Round” at just the right time – but the way thing are going I may need an intervention soon.

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Marisa is a Philadelphian – almost a neighbor-  and her book, which I found at the local library and have since bought,  is all about small scale canning of seasonal produce.  The recipes are written for the canning naive among us while the photos grab you with proof that it’s worth the effort…

…and it is.

Given my usual MO of diving in and immersing myself in anything interesting…. let’s say that ever since our family drove an hour to pick plums, peaches, and nectarines at Strawberry Hill Farm  last weekend I have been happily up to my ears in Ball jars and fruit every free moment.

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It’s a clearly addictive and a lot of fun.

After cooking up about three quarters of the seventeen pounds  I picked (yes, just for me, what was I thinking?) (canning, obviously), which yielded four pints of ginger plum jam, four of nectarine/peach/plum, and a gallon of plum brandy which is brewing for the holidays, I’ve been a regular at the local produce market snapping up whatever I can find to experiment with.

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So far I’ve made blueberry jam, cherry blue-raspberry, raspberry with ginger and chipotle, cherry-plum, and today finished it up with six half pints of fig preserves.  I’m pretty sure there’s something else besides.

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This by a woman who has probably not bought jam of any kind for more than a decade.  I’ve worked through fifteen pounds of sugar in the process (which kind of makes me cringe) and I now have a stockpile of preserves that could last me to the end of time if I weren’t planning to give most of it away.

MOST…not all.

I can see fig preserves with goat cheese in my future – or maybe raspberry jam in Greek yogurt with my homemade granola – or that plum and ginger concoction in a stir fry or (sorry veg and vegan friends) glazed on spareribs or a roast chicken.  The possibilities are many.

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Though I intend to take a break for a while,( let’s say a week or so),  I’m just gathering energy for the next wave of produce and watching the pickling cucumbers in my garden closely…

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Yarrow, My First Herbal Love

Yarrow is my favorite, most used, and greatly loved medicinal herb. It is easily identifiable by its flat white flower cap and feathery leaves and grows pretty much coast to coast – in your yard if you’re lucky, or in the wild where it can be found in places as diverse as roadsides, the shores of  lakes and rivers, or mountain meadows.  I first found Yarrow in the Sangre de Christo mountains of New Mexico where it grew abundantly on sunny meadows and along forest roads, flowering from late spring to fall.  After five years  the last of this batch of tincture  was nearly gone.

Oh no!  I didn’t know where to find it here.

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The ingredients were gathered on a magical spring day several years ago when I was invited to join a group of women herbalists who met up to share our knowledge (or lack thereof) in the village of Llano, NM.   We wandered over farm and fields, along dirt roads and narrow mountain paths where I gathered yarrow and wild rose blossoms and combined them in this tincture. It has become my favorite go-to remedy for stomach upset, nervous tension,cuts, scrapes,  bug bites and more.  I’m not sure how much of its efficacy is due to the actual ingredients and how much from the day itself, but the two together make good medicine!

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I’ve been in NJ for almost a year and I’d kept any eye out on my daily walks along the river and in parks but never saw yarrow at all until a week or so ago when I veered off the sidewalk (ie: was pulled by my dogs) and noticed a little patch near a telephone pole on the roadside just two blocks from home.   A week later it was knee high and flowering profusely.  Yayyyyy!  I picked a couple handsful and headed home to make tincture –  and this is how you do it:

First identify the plant:

Feathery dark green leaves starting from different places along the stem – check.

Stem long and straight (dried and used by the Chinese as divination sticks for I Ching readings, btw) – check.

Flat heads of white or pink flowers – check check!

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You’re ready to go.  Rinse and allow to dry on a towel.  At this point you probably should also hang some upside down and allow to dry in a cool, dark place for use as tea later, but if you’re making tincture you will chop it up and pack loosely into a glass jar.

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Cover with 80-100 proof vodka or grain neutral spirits such as Everclear.  Let it rest in a cool, dark place and shake occasionally.  After four or more weeks it is ready to strain out the plant matter and pour the liquid into amber or blue bottles with medicine droppers (or just in a small jar, preferably with dark glass).  it’s totally ok to wait longer than 4 weeks.

Label it.  I label with the date and also note what it is preserved in and where I harvested the plant.

Uses of Yarrow are many and various and I can’t begin to cover it all in this post, but:

fresh plant matter chopped (or in an emergency chewed) and applied to a wound will help stop bleeding, or relieve the sting of an insect bite or toothache

– dried herb used in or as a tea is helpful in relieving indigestion or slow digestion, is an aide to liver health,  reduces fever in colds or flu – due to its astringent and toning properties it may also be helpful in colitis or diverticulitis, in a bath for skin rashes, in a tea to balance menstrual flow and cycles

– the same tea, cooled and applied externally is disinfectant/antibacterial, can be used as an astringent or toner for oily skin, applied with cotton pads to relieve hemorrhoids, and is said to help hair grow when used as a hair rinse

 tincture can be diluted and used in much the same way as tea, or directly applied to bug bites to relieve itch or sting

– added to a salve will aid healing, as an ingredient in lotion is helpful in reducing varicose veins

…and this is just a beginning

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*****Yarrow should not be used when pregnant or nursing, before surgery (as it may affect clotting), or if allergic to ragweed*****

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More Fun in the Garden

Here’s a quick look at a recent attempt at eco printing. First I arranged red maple leaves on a rectangle of white cotton I found in the closet, folded the other half over and hammered the leaves into the cloth.

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Then I carefully folded the fabric with the leaves still in place and bound it gently with large rubber bands.

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Being in a hurry and this being an experiment, I simply boiled water with alum in it, dropped the bundle into the water and after making sure that it was totally submerged, turned the heat off and left it to cool until morning. The initial results were surprisingly vibrant and the exchange of color was unexpected.  I want to play more.

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However, as the fabric wasn’t prepared properly and is cotton rather than a protein based fiber, the colors are beginning to fade after just a few weeks.  I think it’s worth another try on wool or silk if I can find something to practice on at the thrift shop.  I am wondering, too, if there is some kind of fixative I could spray on it to hold the color.  Hmmmm….more research needed.

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Florida, oh Florida

I am in Florida visiting my mom.  Though a big fan of my 96 year old mother, I am less enthusiastic about South Florida which is only about twice as old, at least as far as modern settlement goes.  Why?  Well, it’s become far too crowded and  a wee bit too manicured for me.  Wide sweeps of mown grass and sculpted plantings line double wide highways that carve their way through shopping centers and endless housing developments. Pretty? Yes, indeed, it truly is a paradise in many ways but…I grew up here in the days when there was more of nature and less of the man-made:  forests of slash pine and palmetto scrub, wide grasslands, slow water, stands of live oak and banyans draped with Spanish moss, ferns, air plants, and soft, aromatic paths of fallen pine needles.  In comparison the new Florida feels sort of like J. Lo to my Caddie Woodlawn.

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So, when I stepped out of the Boca Raton library (which from the outside could easily pass for a Palm Beach mansion) and saw a sign for the Pondhawk natural area, I paused. Despite my totally unsuitable footwear and the searing late afternoon heat, mom’s audio books were unceremoniously dropped in my rental car and drawn like a magnet, I headed down a winding concrete walkway towards a tangle of scrubland and sawgrass, delighted eventually to see a pine-needled path that led straight back to childhood.

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From age 8 to puberty, the woods around our developing town were my playground. Hours were spent with my brothers  making ‘forts’ of fallen tree limbs padded with arms full of long pine needles.  Here we valiantly defended our turf with volleys of pine cones, deadly painful missiles with their spiked flanges, against opposing gangs of neighborhood children.

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Walking down that fragrant path, pine needles underfoot, I paused to scratch and sniff the cinnamon scent of pine bark and,  passing a stand of palmetto trees, remembered one that was my ten year old self’s special hideout. Fronds hanging down to the ground, it was my private sweet spot to get away from it all (yes, I felt that need even then).  I remember reading all of Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” there over several rainy days.  My found treasures:  flowers,  wild huckleberries,  and such, collected on an afternoon in the woods were stored on the broken fronds jutting from its trunk while I read and listened to the sounds of wind and rain on the blades overhead.

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Back then our neighbor, Mary Lou,  paid us 10¢ for a pound of huckleberries.  That’s a whole coffee can full of tiny berries but picking them was just another chance to spend an afternoon in the woods AND we got to eat the pie she made. I looked in vain for huckleberries today.  Its too early in the season for the berries but I recognized the blossoms and I’m happy to see they still grow wild.

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Our old neighborhood was cut here and there by man made canals. The main canals were dredged in the 1800s for transportation, flood control, and irrigation though I think the smaller ones in our area probably only dated to the 40s or 50s.  They were and are still are populated by turtles, snowy egrets, herons, bass, and more. Gators were always near, either lying unseen in the deeps, or sunning on the banks and the surrounding woods were home to diamond back rattlers that grew as long as we were tall. These we respected but didn’t fear because, well,  because we were kids and we were immortal.  The canals held clear clean water in those days over which we had dirt ball fights, fished with home made poles, and floated rafts  built of wood scavenged from nearby building sites with dreams of floating them all the way to the ocean..

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To me, the gnarly, messy, wild old Florida was a magical place.  It remains here and there,  pockets of nature appearing at random between shopping malls and beach condos.  They are pretty  few and far between and it seems not many take the time to stop and explore them and that’s a shame.   And I  am sorry that so few children have the chance to spend days exploring and playing at Huck Finn as I was fortunate to do.  Truly, it was the life.

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Here’s a tiny bit of what I’ve been up to lately. The book was delivered and I tried my hand at eco printing but it didn’t go well, most likely because I was working with cotton (protein/animal fibers take the dye more easily).

A few days later I found myself at the farmer’s market where a woman (I wish I had her card so I could share her name here!) was selling some sweet tie-dyed children’s clothing.  Hmmm…. inspiration strikes!  I had pre-mordanted some cloth from a set of old curtains in both alum and tannins (to improve the dye uptake) a week so so before.  I did some semi- random stitching

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then drew the threads and wrapped the bunched fabric and tied it loosely with thread.

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I’d been collecting onion skins and marigolds from the garden for a while so while I got the fabric ready they warmed up.  The wetted fabric was  dropped in and stirred regularly while it simmered for an hour or so.

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After cooling in the dye bath, it was rinsed, unrolled and allowed to dry.

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Fun for a first try.

Of course I was hooked, and went to work with Rit blue jean dye I had on hand over the onionskin-dyed cloth. I love the color and contrast, not to mention the weird, random and somehow appealing patterns.

Here I rolled and wrapped and scrunched the fabric,

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dropped it in the dye bath for a good long while…

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At this point I thought it would be totally blue … until I moved the threads binding the roll and saw the yellow peeking through.

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I do love the patterns – they make me want to embellish the fabric somehow.IMG_5873

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This was a double row of double hand stitching with a few rubber band knots.
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I don’t even remember how this came about (note to self, take notes next time)

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Now hanging on the studio wall while I think of what to do with them and what’s next.

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Meanwhile I’m eyeing the red maple next door and thinking about imprinting the leaves in a dye bath…

I can’t say that there is any coherent theme here

other than my ongoing love affair with spring.

This was two weeks ago…

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then yesterday

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this crazy spring energy

-which feels very much like a really good roller coaster but without the engineering safeguards –

combined with the exhilarating freedom

of  having recently stepped out of the ‘9 to 5’;

well that, plus some free time

keeps the juices flowing in other ways

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and I have to say,

I couldn’t be happier

“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” 
― Rainer Maria Rilke

One day I went out to the back yard and found these:

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Though they are quickly out-numbering the clumps of actual grass in my ‘lawn’ I wouldn’t dream of pulling them up.

Why?  Because they make me smile every time I see them.

“You can cut all the flowers, but you can’t keep spring from coming.”  – Pablo Neruda

However I did try my hand at making crystalized violets, a sweet little project for a spring day.

First pick a bunch of violets, leaving the stems.

Or you can use pansies – just not the yellow or orange variety.

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Mix an egg white with a tablespoon of water and beat until frothy and thin.

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(for my vegan friends, you can make a sugar and water syrup with 3 parts water to 2 parts sugar, boil until all sugar is dissolved, and cool)

Take your gently rinsed and air dried violets and dip them in the eggwhite  or sugar syrup or, better yet,  paint each flower with the mixture with a small paintbrush.   I dipped some but found that the egg white leaves too thick a coat which makes the petals stick together and then form clumpy lumps when dusted with sugar, so I would advise the  paintbrush for best results.  Or a gentle fingertip.

Dust with superfine sugar.  I used regular granulated sugar and it turned out ok, but the fine sugar gives a prettier, more delicate result. You can pulse regular granulated sugar a couple of times in a clean coffee grinder if you don’t want to go out and buy superfine sugar.

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Allow to dry thoroughly.  I actually used my dehydrator at a low setting of about 95 degrees and it worked perfectly.

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Store in an airtight glass container and use to decorate cakes or add to a special salad for a visual treat.

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