Saturday, October 29, 2011

pc curried rice and beans

pressure cooker curried chickpeas and rice
I have a confession to make.  I've always been a little afraid of pressure cookers.  When I was growing up my mother didn't use one.  By the time I was exposed to them as a young adult the concept seemed a little scary.

Fast forward many friend Emily at The Kindred Kitchen recently had me over for dinner.  She made an amazing dinner in her pressure cooker.  She was so confident, so calm, and it was all so delicious!  I was hooked and got my own.

When I talked to my mother about it she told me that her mother, my Grandma Katzy, had used a pressure cooker when she was growing up.  I asked my mother why she never used one.  She replied by sharing a story about my Nana, my father's mother, involving a pressure cooker.  Apparently in the middle of cooking dinner with the pressure cooker something went wrong and the lid blew off.  There was so much force involved that the lid embedded itself in the ceiling of Nana's apartment.  One can only imagine the horror and disbelief ... and what the kitchen must have looked like.  Mom wasn't exactly sure how Nana managed to get the lid out of the ceiling.  That was the end of pressure cooking as far as Nana was concerned.

Needless to say it was enough to convince my mother that she did not want to use a pressure cooker.  Ever.  Not having grown up around one neither did I.  Until now.  I've been experimenting with it and have discovered that I absolutely love it; it is rapidly becoming one of my favorite kitchen appliances.  Meats and vegetables are delicious, colorful, flavorful, and oh so tender.  The real prize-winning use however is for rice and beans, of all different flavor profiles.  It is so quick, so easy, and it comes out just right.  I absolutely love my pressure cooker and owe Emily a debt of gratitude for helping me to change my mind.  This recipe is based on one that she shared with me.

PC Curried Rice and Beans

1 cup chickpeas, picked over and rinsed
1 cup brown rice
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 cups vegetable broth
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

In the morning set the chickpeas to soak in a pot of hot water

In the evening assemble your meal:

Drain and rinse the chickpeas
Heat the olive oil in the pressure cooker
Saute the onions and garlic for a few minutes until soft
Add the curry powder and stir for a moment
Add the rice and stir until the rice is coated
Add the broth, chickpeas, salt and pepper

Lock the lid in place and bring to high pressure
Reduce the heat but still maintain high pressure
Cook for 9 minutes and remove from heat
Let pressure drop naturally for another 5 minutes
Quick release and then remove the lid

Stir in the chopped cilantro and serve

Note:  This was very tasty but needed a little something more. I think next time I will add some diced tomatoes and perhaps a little more spice.  I'll keep you posted.

Monday, October 24, 2011

food day

Our food system in this country is broken.  Many people don't have access to real food, often eating highly processed, low nutrition food; they live in what are called food desserts.  Much of our food supply is not raised in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner.  Many of our food animals are raised in confined quarters making their lives less humane.  And Big Ag receives massive subsidies from the government, our tax dollars paying for processing instead of supporting wholesome, whole foods and the farmers who raise them.  This in turn often leads to more ill health and more tax dollars supporting a sick-care system.

Food Day is an organization that is lobbying Congress to make changes to our system.  To help bring real food back to our schools and our neighborhoods.  To help educate people about what truly constitutes a healthy diet.  To bring real food back into our homes.  This issue is more than just me or you.  It's our neighbors, our community, it spreads outwards and I believe it is a vital part of our future.

With more and more food recalls happening, with the shrinking of the American family farm, with the aggressive advertising that junk food producers create, our health as a nation is rapidly declining.  We need to turn this cycle around.  I believe one way to do this is to speak up, to tell your elected representatives how you feel.

I rarely publicize campaigns on this blog but in this particular instance I feel moved to do so because this one issue encompasses so many of the challenges facing our food supply.  I have signed the petition and I encourage you to visit Food Day, learn more about the issues, and sign.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

national nut day

mixed nuts | photo: melchoir
Nuts are a great heart healthy food.  They shouldn't need a special day, October 22, for you to consider adding them to your diet.  It goes without saying that raw nuts are best for you as the roasting process may make them tastier but the oils may not be the best and the heat destroys some of the nutrients.  If you want to boost the nutrition you can do this by soaking them.  This breaks down some of the enzymes making the nutrition more bioavailable.

Nuts are highly antioxidant and heart healthy.  There is even some evidence that eating nuts can be healthy for maintaining weight.  They can be added to salads, cooked dishes, eaten as a snack, sprinkled into breakfast cereal, there are any number of ways to eat them.

Different nuts have different nutrients making it a good idea to snack on a variety rather than just one or two.  I find that a quick and easy trail mix is 3 parts nuts, 2 parts seeds, 1 part dried fruit.  Mixing different nuts and seeds gives you a tasty treat and a nutritional boost.

For those who really want to know:

Acorns - highest in manganese
Almonds - highest in manganese and vitamin E
Beechnuts - highest in manganese
Brazil nuts - extremely high in selenium, also a great source of manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium
Cashews - highest in copper, but also a good source of magnesium and tryptophan
Chestnuts - (Eurpean) highest in manganese
Hazelnuts - (also called filberts) very high in vitamin E and a good source of B vitamins
Hickory nuts - very high in selenium, also high in magnesium, thiamin, and copper
Macadamia nuts - very high in selenium and thiamin, also high in copper and magnesium
Peanuts - not a nut, they're actually a legume, a good source of manganese and tryptophan
Pecans - very high in manganese, also high in copper and thiamin
Pistachio - very high in B6, a good source of manganese, copper, phosphorus and thiamin
Walnuts - very high in omega 3 fatty acids and a great source of manganese

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Pacific threadfins in cage | photo: Haplochromis
A recent article on NPR spoke about some of the challenges facing the idea of acquaculture - in other words, farming fish.  As our appetite for fish grows it creates a market for those who want to sell it.  However producers want to sell their product the fastest, most efficient way possible at the highest possible profit.  That means starting to tinker with the food chain.

Leaving aside the issue of the horror of GMO fish here are some objections to what appears to be happening in aquaculture.  It is important to start by pointing out that this is not to oppose sustainable aquaculture;  where fish are grown in an environment that allows them to flourish symbiotically with plants, insects, other fish and aquatic life.  The objection is to the concept of huge aqua-farms; the marine equivalent of confined feedlot operations for meat animals.  The animals are fed the cheapest, most efficient product to make them get fat faster so they can be sold quickly thereby increasing profit.  No real effort is made to raise the animal humanely or sustainably, just profitably.
  1. A direct quote from the article says, "A salmon gets more nutrients from a fish in the wild than it would eating something else."  Well that certainly makes sense.  So why would we want to feed them anything else?
  2. "[Scientists] are looking into new fish feed using renewable sources, such as biofuel co-products, poultry by-products, soybeans and so on."  Excuse me?  First, go back and read statement one above.  Then stop and think about what this says.  Biofuel co-products?  These are already fed to cattle contributing to their ill health.  And when they try to feed it to pigs the pigs don't like it.  Poultry by-products?  As far as I know poultry is not fish and I do not believe that fish should eat poultry guts, bones, skin, and feathers all mulched up into some sort of gloppy muck and then dried into pellets.  And the concept of feeding animals not fit for human consumption to other animals makes no sense either if the animal you are feeding it to will eventually be consumed. Soybeans?  We eat too many of them as it is in this country and the vast majority of what we eat is contaminated by GMO.  This doesn't even begin to take into consideration those people who are allergic to soy.  They may quite possibly now be allergic to farmed fish which I'm sure is not going to be labeled 'this fish was fed soy.'  And so on is another statement that bothers me; it is such a blanket, open ended concept that there's no telling what they'll decide to feed the fish.  As long as it's cheap and makes profit I am sure it will somehow be deemed appropriate to feed to the fish.
  3. "One of the challenges [they] face is getting a fish to eat something unfamiliar." Then why do it?  I don't think it's healthy for the fish.  And if it's not healthy for the fish, ultimately it will not be healthy for us.  There is lots of evidence showing that grass fed is healthier both for cows that are raised that way and for those who eat those cows.  But in this country we persist in raising corn-fed beef, creating unhealthy fatty cows that we then slaughter and eat.  Now we want to do this with fish which is touted as a heart-healthy food?  I do not believe it will be as healthy a food after it has been force fed an unnatural diet.
If you eat seafood you want to print out a copy of the Seafood Watch created by the Monterey Bay Aquarium; it lets you know which fish were raised in an environmentally friendly manner.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

world food day

genetically modified food
Today, October 16, is World Food Day.  There are many issues that can be related to our food and it's relationship to our health.  The biggest one at the moment is that of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).

For many years a controversy has raged about GMO.  I will admit that I am not impartial on this issue and I stand firmly opposed to the idea of GMO foods.  I do not believe we need them, I do not believe they are harmless to the environment, and I do not believe they are healthy for us.

However, leaving all of that aside, what I want to bring to your attention on World Food Day is that, for those of us living in the United States, we do not know if our food contains GMOs.  The only way to avoid them is to purchase organic products for those items that are most likely to be contaminated.  Currently the most likely contaminated foods are corn, canola, soy, cotton, alfalfa, papaya, sugar (both cane and beet sugars), and zucchini.  Currently coming to market are GMO rice, and sweet peppers.  There is also serious talk about a GMO fish and GMO apples.  Purchasing organic varieties of these foods is currently the only way to avoid GMO products.  But it extends beyond those products.  Any animal that is fed corn or alfalfa, unless it is organically raised, is in all likelihood being feed GMO versions.  That would include beef, chicken, and pork.  Any products that come from GMO-fed animals is contaminated with GMO, such as milk and eggs.  It can get very difficult to stay on top of what is being added to our food chain without our permission.

At the very least I believe we all have a right to know what is in our food.  For companies to be required to disclose the presence of GMO in their products.  At the present time there is no such requirement.  Many other countries around the world prohibit or label GMO foods, and I feel that the US should do the same. There is currently a petition circulating to let the FDA know that people want this label.  It's an important step toward preserving control over our food and our food choices.  I've signed it and I hope you will consider doing the same

Saturday, October 15, 2011

garden update

I woke up this morning to a deliciously cool morning, breezy, sunny, birds singing, perfect garden weather.    So I took myself out into the garden for a little early morning weeding and puttering around in the dirt.  

This has been a horrible year for vegetable gardening for me.  I confess I'm a wimp.  If it's raining or over 90 degrees I don't like to be out there.  We didn't get rain but we certainly had more than our fair share of extraordinarily hot days.  And we had a drought.  The end result of which is that we got peas, beans, tomatoes and hot peppers.  But the zucchini didn't grow (I had always thought it was impossible to NOT grow zucchini -- shows what an expert I am), the broccoli and sweet peppers were stunted and bitter, and many of my herbs grew so poorly that I was unable to harvest anything.  I'm afraid to try to dig the potatoes, I don't think anything is there.

This morning however I was thrilled to see some things survived and are actually doing well.  Here in East Texas our Fall weather is mild enough that many folks refer to it as a second spring.  We are fortunate enough to have an extended mild season that allows us to grow another set of crops.  Given the hope that follows the soaking rain we had a week ago I'm recharged and ready to get back into the garden.

the cabbage is starting to recover
a baseball sized lemon - the only one on the tree

our eggplants are starting to fruit
the harrdier herbs survived: oregano, sage, chives, pepper basil, a curry plant and yarrow
our fig tree is producing a bumper second crop

Being outside made me realize how much I have been shut inside during the heat of our summer.  Yes, I went for walks and bike rides, but to just spend extended amounts of time outdoors enjoying the yard and my surroundings -- didn't happen.  I'm grateful for the cooler weather, the opportunity to be back outside and the resiliency of mother nature.

Friday, October 14, 2011

national salsa month

salsa ingredients | photo:  webaware
Salsa is rapidly becoming a favorite condiment for many people.  After all there's nothing else that goes quite so well with nachos and I'm fairly certain that's a popular snack at home or when eating out.  The great thing about salsa is that it can be made so many different ways, with fruit, spicy, mild, any way you like.  Defined as a fresh relish it's readily available on grocery store shelves.  However it's so easy to make at home, and so much tastier, that I prefer to make it myself.

One of the great things about salsa is the way the flavors can be combined to make a condiment to accompany just about any dish.  Fruit flavors, such as peach, pineapple, mango, and many more.  The heat can be adjusted depending on how many chilis you do (or don't) use.

Don't just serve it with chips, depending on the flavor profile you can pair salsa with many different foods:

  • on top of baked potatoes
  • mixed with brown rice and beans
  • as a salad dressing
  • on top of meatloaf
  • with scrambled eggs in a taquito
  • with baked chicken
  • in a TexMex lettuce wrap
  • poured over cream cheese for a dip
  • with baked fish
  • use your imagination.....the possibilities are endless
Here's a basic salsa recipe for you, play with it and make changes however you like, there's really no right or wrong with salsa.

Basic Salsa

8 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 medium red onion, diced
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch cilantro, minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon lime juice

Mix all ingredients together and serve.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

sprouted flours

sprouted spelt and chia bread | photo:  wattle12
I recently received a question from Hope who wanted to know about sprouted flours (specifically spelt) and how to use them.

Sprouted flours are a very healthy way to go.  Sprouting essentially deactivates some of the enzymes that can interfere with nutrient absorption.  The grains are sprouted, dried at very low heat, and then ground into flour.  If you do not own a mill (I like both the Blendtec and WonderMill) you can purchase sprouted flours from a number of different sources.

Sprouted flours can be easily interchanged with traditional flours one for one.  There is a difference between the fiber content so if you are switching it for all-purpose flour you'll need to make some adjustments to the moisture content as well as to how long it may take to rise.

Regarding her question about spelt specifically, it is a grain similar to wheat but lower in gluten content.  Some people who do not digest wheat well find spelt to be an acceptable alternative.  For those who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, spelt still needs to be avoided as it does contain gluten.

To Your Health Sprouted Flour Company has some delicious looking recipes on their website which specifically call for sprouted flours.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

grocery savings

This is a picture from my local grocery store.  I'm posting it as a public service so I can help you save money.

Grocers and producers have learned that the public is becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of paying more for organic food.  If they think you'll buy it, they'll make it and sell it to you.  The challenge is to be a smart shopper and know when you should and shouldn't spend those extra dollars.

The Environmental Working Group has put together this handy little list that you can download to paper, ipod, iphone, whatever to take to the grocery store with you.  It lists the Dirty Dozen, those foods most highly contaminated by pesticides and therefore worth spending extra money on to purchase organic.  This is because organic standards do not allow the use of chemical pesticides.

There's another side to the list though, it's call the Clean Fifteen.  These are the foods least likely to be contaminated by pesticides and therefore not worth shelling out extra dollars for.  My only change to this list would be corn which is often genetically modified, so I'd still buy that either organic or if you know the farmer and can ask them if it's non-GMO.  Essentially foods with a shell or outer covering are good choices to not have to purchase organic.  That would include bananas.

So save your money on the organic bananas (20 cents per pound at my grocery store) and put that money toward those foods that are important to purchase organically.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

world egg day

free range eggs | photo: Fir0002
October 8 is World Egg Day.  Over the years eggs have gotten a bad rap.  We've been told that we shouldn't eat them, or we should eat them but throw out the yolks, now they're okay to eat (avoiding problems with suppliers that is).  I think a lot of people are still very confused about eggs and whether they are okay to eat.

Eggs are a great food.  Yes they have cholesterol in them, but it's a healthy cholesterol and something that our body knows how to process.  A single egg also contains six grams of protein for only about 70 calories.  That's quite a nutritional package.  They also provide brain boosting choline as well as lutein which can be helpful in protecting against cataracts and macular degeneration.

Just as important, eggs are delicious, versatile, and easy to prepare.  In honor of World Egg Day here's a recipe for a Breakfast Quiche Muffins modified from the excellent Crustless Quiche recipe by Jeffrey Smith.

Breakfast Quiche Muffins

4 slices preservative free bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup mushrooms, diced and sauteed
2 spring onions, diced
4 eggs
1 cup organic cottage cheese
1 cup shredded organic cheddar cheese
1/4 cup brown rice flour (can use whole wheat if GF is not a concern)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
generous pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
Grease two muffin tins and set aside
Beat together eggs, cottage cheese and 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
blend in bacon, mushrooms, and spring onions
In a separate bowl whisk together dry ingredients before adding to mixture
Spoon mixture into muffin cups
Top with remaining shredded cheese
Bake until tops are golden and quiches are slightly firm when touched 15-20 mins
Remove from oven and cool in the tins for 5 minutes before serving


  • These can be frozen and reheated at 400 degrees F for 5-7 minutes
  • It is possible to use other vegetables
  • Add 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs for added flavor

Thursday, October 6, 2011

juice smoothie

juice smoothie
I have just found a new favorite place to stop for a cool drink when I am out running errands.  For years I have been unhappy with the smoothie places that offer various fruit concoctions claiming that they are a healthy drink.  Often these come from containers not from fresh fruit and there are added sugars.  Fruit is so sweet by itself that I've never understood the need to add other sweeteners.

And I've often wondered, where are the vegetables?  100% fruit isn't so healthy either.

My new favorite place?  New York Smoothie.  A friend told me about it and I went to check it out today.  I ordered  and then watched as the owner Mr. Hosaini juiced up (in a juicer) carrots, celery, parsley, beets, and a few other veggies, all 100% fresh.  He then transferred the juice to a blender, added some ice and created this delicious smoothie.  I'm hooked and I'm definitely going back.*

If you want to pay him a visit he's located at:
127 Sawdust Road
Spring, TX  77384

*In the spirit of full disclosure, I paid for my juice smoothie and was not asked or induced in any way to write this, I just love the product.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

healthy halloween

Halloween jack o'lantern | photo: Cindy H Photography
It was another great, fun-filled twitter party over at the Holistic Mom's Network where it happens to be Holistic Living Month (and for a limited time there's a discount on membership, use the code HMN11).

The theme of the evening was the upcoming Halloween festivities; the tweets and links were flying fast and furious.  Here's the roundup:

For those who are looking for Halloween candy choices that are not loaded with artificial colors, HFCS, or other nasty ingredients consider getting yours from the Natural Candy Store, as they put it, "all of the fun, without any of the funny stuff."  Another company, Yummy Earth, also sells organic candy.  Here's an article I wrote about healthier choices for Halloween.  It turns out some families don't give candy but give gifts instead such as Smencils, healthy juice boxes, or stickers.  And a small, free, e-book is available to help you understand some of the ways to have an earth-friendly Halloween.

For those who are more interested in the fun of dressing up and socializing but don't want their children to eat the candy they receive there were a lot of suggestions about what to do with all of it:
  • The Switch Witch book seemed to be a popular suggestion
  • Reverse Trick-or-Treating was another popular idea and one that I wish I had known about when my kids were young
  • The idea of Candy Experiments looked interesting although I'm sure a fair amount gets eaten on the way to the laboratory 
  • Donating the candy is one way to get it out of the house
  • Saving the candy and using it to decorate gingerbread houses for the winter holidays is another idea to use it up

The topic of holistically eco-friendly decorations came up.  Of course decorating with gourds, branches, and leaves is one idea but there were some other ideas mentioned that tied in to this theme as well.  The use of eco felt is something that I had not been aware of, what a great product and one that can be used anytime, not just for Halloween.  One mom mentioned saving all the handouts and fliers from the beginning of the school year and using the backs to make shapes and decorations.  I can see that this would be great for paper chains, paper lanterns, and other paper crafts.  

And, of course, it wouldn't be Halloween without the costumes:
It turns out that October is also Fair Trade Month so there was a fair amount of information about that as well:
However you choose to celebrate the holidays make it fun, happy, and healthy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I've just gotten back from a vacation to Laramie, Wyoming.  I was looking forward to the trip as I've never been to Wyoming and we were going to visit one of my husband's friends.  In truth I got far more than I bargained for.  It was a wonderful trip, the effects of which are still resonating in my spirit.

The scenery was absolutely amazing.  Broad swaths of prairie land over what once was the bottom of a prehistoric ocean, bordered on all sides by majestic looking mountains.  The scenery had a wild sort of beauty, desolate and yet attractive at the same time.

The altitude took a little getting used to; we live at 64 feet above sea-level and here we were walking around at a base of 7,200 climbing up at times over 12,000.  It literally took our breath away.

While we were adjusting to the altitude and spaciousness of Wyoming we quickly came to realize that we had virtually no cell service and the internet was very spotty.  After one abortive attempt to check email I gave up.

In retrospect that was one of the biggest gifts of the trip.  Completely disconnecting from personal technology allowed me to focus more on the beauty surrounding me.  Hiking through varied terrain, enjoying the glorious color of the aspen groves, and spotting unusual-to-me animals was a treat beyond words.

The night-time was just as much of a treat as the day.  With virtually no light pollution I had the best view of the night-time skies since we went camping years ago in the California desert.  I could see the Milky Way in all of it's glory, brilliant diamond-light stars that are invisible from my home in Texas, and the vastness of a sharp, clear, dark sky.

The nights were deliciously cold and we slept with the porch door open to allow the breezes in.  One evening I woke up in the middle of the night to the chorus of coyotes calling across the valley. It was a shivery-delightful moment.

On our next to last day on vacation as we were hiking I realized I felt more relaxed than I had for a long time.  I also realized that for the first time in a long time I was simply doing one thing, enjoying the moment.  I've come to realize that I need to work a little harder to hold on to that moment and to seek similar opportunities within my day-to-day life.  Often we become so overwhelmed by the requirements of our modern lives that we forget to slow down, disconnect from technology, and reconnect with our surroundings.  To stop multi-tasking and recharge by finding that quiet spark within each of us that simply is.

I plan to make it a regular part of my day to spend some time sitting quietly and letting go.  Getting rid of the stress and tension that builds up all to quickly when we push ourselves to be uber-productive.  Remembering that feeling of calm that came with disconnecting has gotten me to recommit to at least one day a week when I can repeat the experience.  I think I'll feel better for it and I'm guessing I'll be happier too.