Because of upcoming exams, presentations, and papers, I will not be writing anything here for about a week. You can expect a new post on Monday, May 5. Thanks!
Archive for April, 2008
Before I get back to talking about buying non-toxic mattresses, I thought I’d pass on another favorite recipe. We can’t get enough of this Middle-Eastern dip around our house. Even though the recipe makes a big batch, the two of us usually polish it off within 48 hours. It’s really, truly delightful. The lemon juice and garlic give this version extra zip.
Since I’m allergic to gluten, I eat my hummus on all kinds of vegetables–carrot and celery sticks, cucumber slices, wide strips of red and yellow bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and even giant black olives. I’ve also seen hummus served with corn chips before. That can be fun too, for a change. Or, if you aren’t cursed with a gluten allergy, feel free to indulge in soft, warm pitas or crunchy pita chips.
I think a platter of hummus and fresh veggies makes a great welcome snack for guests arriving from out of town. After dropping off their bags, they can sit down with a drink and munch a bit while I work on dinner. I also like to take the hummus and veggies combo when asked to bring an appetizer to parties where I know there won’t be much I can eat. The veggies provide me that nice crunching, munching sensation, while the garbanzo beans offer protein, and the tahini and olive oil give me heart-healthy fat. Besides, the other guests love it too.
[Edited: By the way, this recipe, when served with vegetables, makes a great snack for those with blood sugar issues or for people battling Candida.]
( from Gourmet magazine, August 1998 )
2 cans (15 oz each) chick-peas, rinsed and drained (also known as garbanzo beans)
4 large garlic cloves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup well-stirred tahini, toasted or raw (also known as sesame seed butter)
2/3 cup water
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1. In a food processor, puree 1/2 cup of the chick-peas with the garlic cloves until the garlic is finely minced.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until very smooth. That’s it! The hummus can be served right away or refrigerated for up to 3 days and served chilled.
If you’re preparing the dip for a special occasion or if you simply want a lovely presentation, consider adding the following garnishes. I especially love the pine nuts and cumin seeds.
1. In a blender or small food processor, puree 1/4 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley with 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Pour mixture through a fine sieve set over a bowl, pressing hard on solids. Discard solids. Set the parsley oil aside and do not refrigerate. (Olive oil solidifies in the refrigerator.)
2. In an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, toast 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds and 3 tablespoons raw pine nuts, stirring occasionally, until nuts are golden (about 10 minutes). Remove from oven and allow to cool.
3. Before serving the hummus, drizzle the parsley oil over the top, then sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts and cumin seeds. Finish with a few springs of parsley. Beautiful!
After suffering for many months with daily pain and intense trouble sleeping, my husband and I finally made the plunge and bought a new bed. It was a difficult decision for us, considering the expense, but we are so thankful now. It has made a huge difference. Our back pain has declined to almost nothing, we sleep more soundly, and when we lie down at night, we don’t groan in agony. We actually feel comfortable as we drift off to sleep. What a relief!
I’m writing about this here because we made some unusual choices in buying our mattress. My parents have had a Tempurpedic for years, and since I’ve always slept really well on it, that was the first direction we went. I started doing research and calculations. My MD/ND, however, suggested that we consider an alternative to memory foam. As it turns out, memory foam is a petroleum product with tons of side effects. Who knew?
Many people experience headaches because of Tempurpedic and similar products’ fumes, and the compounds in these mattresses can cause birth defects, sexual malformation (in infants), and all kinds of neurological and immune system issues. Since I already have some chemical sensitivities and lots of headaches, and since we’d like to co-sleep with our infants when we have kids, we decided that memory foam simply wasn’t worth the risk.
Next, we looked into “normal” mattresses. Unfortunately, the same issues appeared, partly because many mattresses now combine inner springs with memory foam, and partly because of the chemicals used as flame retardants. Mattresses are required by law to be flame retardant, and boric acid, a known reproductive and developmental toxin, is the chemical of choice for this purpose.
So what are the alternatives?
Fortunately, an organic, non-toxic mattress market does exist. It’s important to do your research and be sure you’re buying from a reputable company, but if you’re careful, you can find a truly superior product that’s better for your body and the environment. When going organic or nontoxic, you have a few choices:
1. Futon-style mattress: This is a simple, pallet-style mattress consisting only of organic cotton or wool stuffing and an untreated wool casing. There are no springs in this kind of mattress. This is, obviously, the cheapest option.
2. Traditional inner-spring mattress: These are just like the ones you’ve slept on all your life, except that they’re padded with organic cotton and cased in wool.
3. Organic latex mattress: Our personal pick, this is the closest natural equivalent to memory foam. These mattresses are made of latex foam from rubber trees and cased in wool. Incidentally, these are extremely popular in Europe.
You may have noticed that all of these mattresses are cased in wool. That’s because wool is naturally fire-resistant. By using untreated wool, organic manufacturers can avoid the nasty flame retardant chemicals, while still meeting the government’s safety requirements.
In all cases, you simply must ask lots of questions and do your research to be sure that you are truly buying a toxin-free mattress. Buying a latex mattress, in particular, can be problematic. Mainstream manufacturers are starting to pick up on the latex trend, and they sell “natural” ones in major stores. Don’t fall for it. These are not natural mattresses. Ask where the company gets its rubber. Ask exactly how it’s prepared. Ask what’s in the casing (fibers and chemicals). Ask whether they use any glue and, if so, exactly what kind. Sure it’s a headache up front, but it sure beats 10 years of headaches from a toxic product.
I’ll post more tomorrow on our final decision–which companies and products we chose and why. Stay tuned!
[Edited: To read the follow-up post, go here.]
Have you ever seen an apron this cute?
My mother-in-law gave this apron to me a couple of weeks ago during her visit. With no provocation whatsoever. No birthday. No holiday. No anniversary. No reasons for apology or making up.
She did it just because.
And that makes me feel really special.
Besides, I have a secret penchant for aprons. I don’t know why, but I just adore cute aprons! I never actually buy them for myself. What, after all, could possibly be my justification? That I need yet another piece of pretty cloth to absorb splatters and spills? What could be more superfluous? Fortunately, none of that matters when someone else buys one for you. Then you simply get to enjoy yourself, free of guilt.
Now I find myself making excuses to put it on. Yesterday, for example, I slipped into it before…folding clothes and dusting. No, my clothes don’t generally get too dirty doing those kinds of chores, but darn it if that apron didn’t make me feel better! I felt downright chipper.
Hmmm…I think I’ll go put it on again, seeing as I’m a little sidetracked from this afternoon’s goal of tidying up our home.
As much as I enjoy cooking, I have those days when I’m just too tired or too busy to put much time into dinner. If I’m not prepared for these occasions, this can mean a trip to a restaurant. That gets expensive in a hurry, especially if I still attempt to eat healthfully. Or, I might scrounge around the house for something…shall we say…less than ideal nutritionally.
It is so much more realistic when I have a plan for these inevitable occasions. No, this recipe might not have a perfect nutrtional profile, but it’s not too shabby. And it’s a heck of a lot better than just throwing my hands into the air and giving in to whatever. The ingredients are common and can be kept in the house at all times. Better still, it’s SO fast and SO easy, it almost doesn’t count as cooking at all.
Oh, it happens to be tasty too. Very, very tasty. I’ve been making some version of this soup for years, and I still love it. My husband really enjoys it too. I just give myself all the broth and make his bowl more chunky (like stew). That way he gets full, even though it’s soup. Another filling option would be to serve it over brown rice, but that would add to the prep time.
Busy Day Mexican Chicken Soup
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and chopped (other colors work too)
1 can Rotel tomatoes (diced tomatoes with green chilies)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans chunk chicken breast (use cooked fresh chicken breasts if you have more time)
2 to 3 cans chicken broth, depending on how soupy you like your soup
1 teaspoon chili powder, or more to taste (I like more)
1 teaspoon cumin, or more to taste (I like more of this too)
Step 1: Put all ingredients into a pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until veggies are tender. This won’t take long at all–just a few minutes.
Step 2: Uh, that’s it! Serve with chopped fresh cilantro. (Tortilla chips and cheese are good too, though not at all healthy.)
Note: If canned chicken breast creeps you out, just keep some cubed cooked chicken breast in your freezer and throw some into the soup as needed.
I’m sorry I didn’t post on Sunday or Monday, but I promise to roll one out today. So please do check back later. Also, I have very good news: my digital SLR is on its way! That means the addition of photographs to the website very soon. I’m so excited!
I arrived home from school today with no ideas for dinner. I’ve been recovering from a visit from my mother-in-law (which was great, by the way), studying for 3 exams, and revising a paper this week. As you can imagine, menu planning has been low on my list of priorities. Fortunately, after poking around in the pantry for a while and visiting my recipe box at www.allrecipes.com, I decided to give a particular recipe for lentil soup another try. The first time around, I wasn’t very impressed. Tonight, though, dinner was great! I made a lot of modifications, so I think it’s fair to say that what I’ve written below is “my” recipe.
It’s a great way to sneak in those amazingly healthy dark, leafy greens, while also benefiting from the protein and fiber in red lentils. If you’ve peeked at my other red lentil recipes, you already know that they are the easiest kind of lentil to digest, and with these spices, they are even kinder to the tummy. As always, if you are especially sensitive, consider soaking your lentils for at least 12 hours, then dramatically reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe. Diabetics, hypoglycemics, vegans, and health-conscious people, this recipe is for you!
Spicy Red Lentil and Kale Stew
1 to 2 tablespoons virgin, unrefined coconut oil (or ghee or extra virgin olive oil)
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 cups red lentils, rinsed and drained
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
6 cups water
2 teaspoons dried basil
1.5 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, according to your heat preference
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
3 to 5 cups chopped kale
1 tablespoon high-quality sea salt
In a Dutch oven or a wide and deep saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until very tender.
Stir in the lentils, tomatoes, water, and all the seasonings. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 35 minutes.
Toss in the kale and salt, combine thoroughly, and cook for 10 more minutes.
Adjust seasonings and serve.
NOTE: If you do not have kale, I’m sure that other dark, leafy greens would be delicious as well. Collard greens, Swiss chard, and spinach would probably make good substitutions. Also, canned diced tomatoes work just fine in place of the fresh ones.
Looking for a way to enliven steamed broccoli? This recipe might be just the ticket. When you’re trying to eat as many vegetables as possible, it helps a lot to find new ways to prepare them. The flavors in this recipe are bright and refreshing–never boring. I find this dish particularly useful when I need to bring a side to a potluck or dinner party. It goes with almost anything, it’s pretty to look at, and it’s allergy-friendly (no dairy, gluten, etc).
Broccoli with Lemon and Olive Oil
(from Vegetables, published by Williams-Sonoma)
1.5 pounds broccoli, washed, trimmed, and cut into large bite-size pieces
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion, white and tender green parts only
1/2 teaspoon high-quality sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
While bringing water to a boil (for steaming the broccoli), mix together all the seasonings, including the olive oil, in a large bowl and set aside.
Steam the broccoli for about 4 minutes until bright green and just tender (not wilted, pale, and sad).
Remove the broccoli from the steam basket and add to the large bowl with the olive oil and seasonings. Toss gently to coat. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve immediately.
I know the word ‘cauliflower’ will send children across America scrambling for the door, but I have a secret: they don’t ever have to know about the cauliflower lurking in this delightful soup. Chances are, even you won’t be able to detect it. The cauliflower simply adds creaminess, body, and lots of nutritional value (especially vitamin C, folate, and fiber). The carrots and tarragon take care of the flavor and appearance departments.
Please do give this soup a try. It’s simple, creamy, and so good for you. Appropriate for almost every occasion–whether it’s a casual, family-style meal or a dinner party–this soup is sure to please. When I’m not feeling like eating meat, I serve this soup alongside my favorite Kale and Aduki Beans recipe. Other times, I just grill some chicken and prepare veggies to go with it. Dark, leafy greens, cabbage, or brussel sprouts are good choices. I even eat leftover soup for breakfast with my eggs or home-made Turkey Breakfast Sausage, since hydration is so important in the mornings.
For more information on the health benefits of cauliflower, go here. For info on carrots, check out this link. This recipe is generally appropriate for those with blood sugar problems or Candida issues, although some experts recommend avoiding carrots in the early stages of stamping out a severe Candida infestation.
Tarragon Carrot-Cauliflower Soup
(slightly adapted from a recipe in The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates)
1 tablespoon virgin, unrefined coconut oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups coarsely chopped carrots (I generally cut my carrots into 2-inch segments)
1 medium to large head of cauliflower, washed, trimmed, and chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon or 4 teaspoons dried tarragon
Herbamare or sea salt to taste
Begin by heating a dutch oven or other large soup pot over medium-high heat. Warm the oil, then add the onion and saute until tender.
Add the carrot pieces and cauliflower chunks to the pot and add enough water to just cover the vegetables. Also toss in the tarragon.
Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the vegetables are very soft (cooking time will depend on the size of the vegetable pieces).
In batches, puree the soup in a blender and return to the pot. Season to taste with Herbamare or sea salt (and extra tarragon, if you wish). If the soup is too thick for your taste, you can also add a little water at this point.
It’s very important to use only a standing blender or a very good immersion blender. Most immersion blenders will not puree this soup sufficiently, so you’ll end up with a grainy texture. Not good! The texture should be perfectly velvety and smooth.
Also, although you’re welcome to use chicken or vegetable stock, in my opinion, it does not add much to the soup’s flavor. This is one instance where plain water is just fine.
Finally, if you have an exceptionally large head of cauliflower, just add a few more carrots to keep the flavors balanced. This is not a precise endeavor.
Clever girl that I am, I finally figured out how to access the marinara-style cultured veggie recipe again.
Actually, my cleverness has nothing to do with you now having access to this delicious recipe. My darling husband revealed to me the wonders of viewing a “cached” version of GoHealthGirl’s currently non-functioning blog. Exactly what “cached” means, I don’t know. But it works! So thank you, honey.
Anyway, I have tried three kinds of cultured vegetables so far. I bought kimchi at my local farmers’ market, and that was pretty awesome. At home, I prepared a cabbage-carrot-ginger variety and the following marinara style veggies. All have been delicious, but I think that if you’re new to cultured veggies, the marinara style ones would be a good first choice. The flavors are more familiar to most of us, and the sweetness of the carrots and beets helps to mellow the sourness of the fermentation process.
So, if you’re ready for more vibrant health, go buy yourself a set of quart-sized mason jars, pull out your food processor, and let’s get started. Cultured vegetables will add valuable probiotics and enzymes to your body, which will improve your digestion and absorption, help stamp out Candida, and boost your immune system. In addition, these fermented foods curb cravings for sweets. Do you really need any more incentives to give this superfood a try?
For your first foray into cultured veggies, you should probably plan to spend 2 to 2.5 hours on the project, although the process goes much faster with practice. Also consider doubling or tripling the recipe below. As long as you’re at it, you might as well make a big batch.
Marinara Style Cultured Vegetables
(slightly adapted from GoHealthGirl’s version)
2 pounds organic carrots, scrubbed and trimmed
1 pound organic beets (weighed without the stems and leaves), peeled and trimmed
2 medium onions, peeled
1 head of garlic, all cloves peeled
2 shallots, peeled
1 or 2 handfuls fresh basil, washed and drained
1 large handful fresh oregano, washed and drained
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
several leaves of cabbage, washed
Body Ecology culture starter (optional)
3 or 4 mason jars (1 quart each)
good vegetables knives
1 very large stainless steel bowl
1 small bowl and some honey for the culture starter, if using
1 large pot of boiling water, optional (for sterilizing all equipment)
1 apron (trust me on this!)
several clean kitchen towels
Step 1: Gather all equipment and vegetables before starting the process. This will save you a lot of time, as well as red and orange vegetable juice dribbled all over your kitchen floor.
Step 2: If you wish, sterilize your equipment (not the food) by bringing water to a boil in a large pot, then using long tongs to dip each piece into the water. Set aside everything on a clean towel for the water to evaporate. (I’m not sure how necessary this step is. Although the Body Ecology group insists it’s important, people have been culturing vegetables and other foods all over the world for centuries without sterilization. The last time I made cultured veggies, I didn’t observe this practice, and nobody died. Nevertheless, it’s probably a good idea. If you choose to include this step, start heating the water before you begin gathering everything else, because it can take a long time to bring water to a boil.)
Step 3: If you wish, add a packet of the Body Ecology culture starter to tepid water and a little bit of honey in the small bowl, following package directions. Set aside while the bacteria begin to multiply. This step is optional but highly recommended, particularly if this is your first time preparing cultured vegetables.
Step 4: Cut the carrots and beets into large pieces and feed into your food processor with the grater/shredder attachment. Put the shredded veggies in the stainless steel bowl.
Step 5: Switch the food processor attachment to a normal rotating blade and, in batches, finely mince the onions, garlic cloves, shallots, basil, and oregano. Add to the shredded veggies, toss in the dried marjoram, and combine well.
Step 6: Take out a couple of handfuls of the veggie mixture and put it in the blender with some distilled water. Puree the mixture to form a brine. Add the culture starter, if using, to the brine and mix well. Pour into the bowl of vegetables and combine.
Step 7: Tightly pack the vegetables into the mason jars, leaving at least 2 inches of space at the top of the jars. Dip the cabbage leaves into some brine, roll them, and wedge them into the jars to force the shredded veggies below the surface of the brine. Twist the lids onto the jars very tightly.
Step 8: Set the jars in a dark place at room temperature for 7 days, undisturbed. At the end of this time, wipe off the jars (some seepage or foaming may have occurred) and place in the refrigerator. The vegetables are ready for eating at this point, although they will continue to improve over time. They will keep for many, many months.
That’s it! Now all you have to do is eat them every day–hopefully 2 or 3 times a day.
NOTE: If you choose to double, triple, or even quadruple this recipe, you do NOT need to use multiple packets of the Body Ecology culture starter. Just one will suffice.