Wednesday, August 26, 2009

green tomatoes

I was recently visiting family in the Northeast where they have been hit badly by the tomato blight. All over the area farmers and home growers are ripping out plants and throwing them away because of the blight. Although cherry tomatoes and plum tomatoes seem to hold up better they are certainly not immune.

When I went with my sister-in-law to her beautiful community garden plot everything appeared to be growing well. The garden was lush, greenly fragrant and productive, even the tomatoes looked good at first glance. But the blight had obviously damaged the plants and the fruit. As she began to pull out the plants I realized that many of the fruits were still unscathed. Remembering the years we lived in Vermont (which Shep Ogden, owner of Cook's Garden, jokingly says should be referred to as the Green Tomato State) I knew that there was a lot we could do with the fruit. My sister-in-law agreed to give it a whirl and we began to hunt for all of the un-blighted fruit we could find.

After the patch was cleared and we headed back to the house with bags full of green tomatoes we began to search for recipes. There are so many things you can make with green tomatoes; more than just the familiar fried green tomatoes. We usually don't use them because we are so conditioned to eating them when they are fully ripe. According to the USDA the nutritional profile of green and red tomatoes is almost the same. Green tomatoes have twice the vitamin C, more vitamin K, and more calcium. Red tomatoes have more vitamin A, E, and potassium. Apparently they have the same amount of lycopene and it is believed that the chlorophyll in the green tomatoes hides the red pigment which indicates a lycopene-rich food.

Our cooking and canning foray took two days (in part because we also canned zucchini, but that's another story) and we made green tomato cake, green tomato pickles, green tomato salsa, and some really fabulous green tomato relish. Now when their family sits down in the middle of those cold New England winters they'll still be able to have a jar of summer goodness on the table to enjoy.

Green tomatoes are versatile and can be made into pie (it's delicious, trust me), pasta sauce, and all manner of preserved goods. While I'm not sure if the farmers in those states affected by the blight will be able to harvest and sell their green tomatoes I sure hope they do. And I hope that people realize just how tasty green tomatoes are. Who knows, it might start a new demand for green tomatoes.

photo courtesy of

Monday, August 24, 2009

natural icing

A recent question on a forum that I belong to concerned what to use for icing/frosting colors so as to avoid artificial colors which are not good for you.

We use India Tree natural vegetable coloring. According to the website it's a concentrated vegetable liquid colorant. I do know that it only takes a tiny bit to color a bowl of frosting. The set is sold in a three pack of primary colors which can be combined to make any color you want.

If you want to switch away from petrochemical colorants this is a good alternative.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

carbonated water

In response to a recent post my Aunt wrote and asked, "What do you advise about carbonated water? I prepare a drink for treats--carbonated water over ice cubes topped off with a splash of home brewed mint extract (made by filling a bottle with sprigs of fresh mint, filling with boiling water, letting it stand until it all cools down, fishing out the then wilted mint leaves, topping off the extract bottle with cool water, covering and keeping it refrigerated), a splash of apple juice and a wedge of sliced lemon."

This sounds like a really tasty treat and a very healthy beverage choice as long as the apple juice is 100% juice with no high fructose corn syrup. I remember drinking a mint water/water/lemon concoction when I visited which was delicious and the apple juice sounds like a really nice touch. As soon as my mint, currently struggling in the Texas heat, gets big enough I'll have to start making my own mint extract to have on hand.

I did want to take this opportunity to explain the differences between the different types of carbonated waters out there. This explanation assumes that these are plain, unflavored versions of the different waters.

Seltzer water is simply water to which carbonation has been added. The carbonation is caused by adding pressurized carbon dioxide gas to the water. You can make your own seltzer water, very inexpensively, at home using a
soda maker.

Club soda, sometimes also called soda water, is very similar to seltzer but frequently contains added sodium, either in the form of table salt, sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate, potassium bicarbonate, potassium sulfate, or disodium phosphate. Sodium levels vary depending on the manufacturer. For anyone watching sodium intake it is important to read the label when purchasing this product.

Tonic water is also a carbonated beverage and usually has a slightly bitter taste. This is from the quinine used to flavor it. Quinine was believed to to be helpful in treating malaria but was so bitter that it could not be drunk by itself and was put into a "tonic". Apparently there is not enough quinine in tonic water to be medicinally effective. Most tonic waters are flavored with either lemon or lime and have sugar in them. The labels I saw indicated 80 calories and 21.6 g of sugar per 8 ounces making this not a good beverage choice for regular consumption.

If you have a healthy beverage recipe that you'd like to share please leave a message in the comments. It's always nice to try new flavors.

photo courtesy of

Friday, August 21, 2009

there is a season

As the song goes, "To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn." I was reminded of that this week when I was in the stores buying back-to-school supplies. I was horrified to see that Christmas stuff is on display. Folks, we haven't even hit Labor Day yet. Of course the Halloween stuff was prettily arranged in the aisles and who knows how early that had been set out. This just goes to show how infreqently I shop at those kinds of stores.

I believe that a large part of the stress that many of my clients complain about is due to this marketing push for ever longer sales seasons. We should enjoy the fullness of each season while it is here instead of frantically racing toward the next season. Truth be told we should enjoy the fullness of each season and what it truly means instead of focusing on the material aspects that marketers have tried to convince us is necessary to each season. That applies to any season, the beginning of the seasons, a month with a special birthday, a life event, all of these are seasons and reasons to celebrate. But we should celebrate mindfully and lovingly instead of being corralled toward the store to buy, buy, buy.

Summer isn't over yet and although where I live the kids go back to school in just three short days we are trying to enjoy those last precious moments of unscheduled time. To spend more time just being, to celebrate the end of summer. I do not want to even think about Halloween, much less Christmas. I choose not to race through these days frantically worrying about whether or not I have the latest fashionable ornaments, wondering if I have enough 'stuff' to celebrate whatever season it isn't-quite-yet.

One of the biggest things we need to remember is to take time to breathe. To avoid the hurry-scurry madness that modern life seems to promote.

So turn a blind eye to those gaudy aisle displays and bring your earplugs to turn down the sound on the holidays-not-yet-here. And if you want to learn how to tone down your Christmas, get started now with this free e-book from the New American Dream.

Live life at your own pace, remember to breathe, and be well.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

windows and weeds

My friend Tracy asks, "I'm looking for a natural window cleaner as well as a natural weedkiller. Do you have any proven concoctions you would like to share? I'd love to give up the Windex and pulling weeds around the pool patio -- well, let's just say there must be a better way!!" There is a better way, and believe it or not you use the same thing for both (with some disclaimers).

Windows first. That good old standby vinegar and water works great. I use 1/4 C. white vinegar and 2 C. water in a spray bottle. Mirrors, glass and chrome come out streak-free and clean. There are a lot of wonderful household cleaners that you can easily make yourself with common ingredients. To get some good recipes visit Women's Voices for the Earth. You'll find recipes for all-purpose cleaner, drain opener, and more.

Weeds are a little more difficult. There was a study done by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Horticulture that showed that vinegar (acetic acid) works well as a weed killer. But what worked the best was a 20% solution (the stuff we buy for home use is typically only 5%) which is not easy to purchase for household use. I have successfully used vinegar mixed with liquid soap and water as a weed killer but only in areas such as a brick path because the spray will affect almost any plant that it touches. A single application will kill the plant; the exception seems to be plants with fuzzy leaves, for some reason they are not as affected by the solution. Plants with thick roots, like dandelions, usually have regrowth, however multiple applications appear to weaken the plant and, in some cases, completely kill it. I use a formula of 1 part dish soap, 2 parts vinegar, 2 parts water. So for a small batch you would make up a solution of 1/2 C. dish soap, 1 C. vinegar and 1 C. water.

It's a good thing to be able to use ingredients that do the job without relying on harsh chemicals that aren't good for you or for the environment.

Monday, August 10, 2009

fizzy milk? one has to ask...why?

Apparently Coke is at it again. Not content to try to convince the public that their product is an herbal drink or pushing yet another fake chemical sweetener, they have now developed a new drink...fizzy milk. A combination of skim milk, sparkling water, fruit flavor and sugar. I haven't seen it but supposedly the milk will not curdle even though the product sits on the shelf unrefrigerated. I have to imagine that there are chemicals in there to keep it from spoiling. Add in 26g of sugar per 8oz bottle and it's not something that anyone should be drinking.

If you want to drink milk, drink milk, not an over-sugared, chemical-laden soft drink. Your best choices for drinks are, as always, water, water with lemon or lime, herbal teas, green tea, and nourishing broths.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

how to eat beans

My friend Sam writes, "Do you have some tricks to help me to eat beans? Me who HATES the texture of beans or anything remotely chalky. We do like Mexican but I won’t touch re-fried unless they are buried under cheese. I don’t like lentils in any way, shape or form."

Beans are a great; high in fiber, B vitamins and protein they are an excellent food to add to the diet. Different beans have different micronutrients so varying the types of beans that you eat is a good nutritional choice. Right now beans are available fresh from the farmer's markets. They are very tasty, not chalky and make a great addition to a lot of different dishes such as my peas-y peas and celery.

Another great way to eat beans is to use them to make a spread like hummus. Hummus is made from chickpeas, but you can make something similar with other beans. Add spices and herbs to flavor it anyway you want; this makes a great dip for veggies, pita bread, or crackers.

One of my favorite ways to eat beans is to take cooked beans (although canned beans are fine too), mash them up with sauteed minced onion and garlic, add some chopped parsley and curry powder and make patties out of it. Pan fry the patties, stuff them into a pita with frisee lettuce, chopped tomato, and a delicious sauce (suggestions include tahini, spicy yogurt, or a falafel sauce) and you've got a great meal with beans.

A third suggestion would be to take dried beans, grind them into a flour (a grain mill works best for this although there is a KitchenAid attachment that will also do the job) and then add that to a tomato sauce for casserole dishes or put the flour into baked goods. You'll still get the protein and nutrients from the beans but they won't be so obvious in your food.

As the saying goes, beans are good for your heart. Eat some today.

photo courtesy of