Ramp Salad and Rhubarb Crunch

This week at the first of the season local Farmer’s Markets–
Ramps

Ramps are related to leeks and here in the Midwest they’re the very first thing that pops out of the ground and are usually sold at Farmer’s Markets from late April to very early May (about three weeks) and then gone. It’s hard to define what a ramp tastes like. They taste both sweet and strong- maybe slightly like a sweet earthy garlic. A popular way to enjoy them is in a salad. We spent Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market in Madison WI and brought two bunches of ramps home with us. I made a ramp salad with lemon vinaigrette dressing– the recipe is here .  It was fabulous, you will love it. Give it a try. Next week, perhaps two weeks from now, rhubarb will be available for sale.  I’ve included a favorite family recipe for rhubarb crunch.

Ingredients
3 cups diced rhubarb
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup quick cooking oats
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup & 2 pats of butter
Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
Lightly grease a 9×13 inch baking dish.
In a large mixing bowl combine rhubarb, granulated sugar, and 3 tablespoons flour. Stir well and spread evenly into baking dish. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl combine brown sugar, oats, and 1 1/2 cups flour. Stir well then cut in butter or margarine until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle mixture over rhubarb layer.
Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

I’m joining Marty over at A Stroll Thru Life for her 373rd Inspire Me Tuesday!  Until next time be well!

Vegetables that grow well together–interplanting and trellising.

Hello, April!

We’re just now starting to figure out what we’ll be planting this year in our container garden.  One thing for sure, I’m going to try and grow a container of potatoes this year. We have seeds and plants started for pumpkins, tomatoes, lettuce and peppers so far.

I ran across an article about pairing up the plants in the garden. Like for instance –plant basil or parsley around the edge of your garden where your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants grow. All of these plants must wait until frost is out of the ground and the consistently warm weather is here for good. You can plant potatoes in the ground, after you’re sure the frost is out, and then plant pole beans or some ornamental gourds above them on a trellis to utilize that space.  Something that I cannot wait to try when we get our new place is interplanting carrots and radishes. Try it, I hear it works great. Something else I saw recently in a food documentary is planting pole beans with your sweet corn and the pole beans end up using the sweet corn as its pole. Be sure to leave room for lovely nasturtiums, an edible flower that looks great in salads.

Some wonderful things to think about if you are short on space. Definitely always consider the vertical as you are planting your gardening–peas work great on a trellis overhead. You can start your sweet peas inside and trellis them up your curtains and across your curtain rods until it’s safe to take them outside. I did this two years ago and loved it. This year we have two grow lights so we’re going to have several plants started in the next three or so weeks. Our greatest hope is to learn how to start most things on our own vs. running to the nursery and buying their 4-6″ veggie plants and flowers.

Until next time be well!

Kombucha

Kombucha Recipe

One of the most important things you can do for you and your family’s health is to improve your gut health. Most people are under the impression things like that take care of themselves. They don’t. They probably did take care of themselves fairly well many years back before our food contained large amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, GMO’s and preservatives. At one time most of the people in this country preserved their food. Most people’s diets contained several pickled and fermented foods. Pickles of all kinds, coleslaw, and sauerkraut were table staples.  These foodstuffs helped keep human guts balanced with the proper bacteria. Bacteria and enzymes in our gut help to break down our food.  The food we eat, once broken down, travels off to different parts of our body to nourish us. We need to stay well nourished to stay healthy.

My experience with gut problems began about thirteen years ago as I detoxed from years of smoking and not so smart eating habits. First came the transition to a healthier diet, then came transitioning to organic foods, and then came my intolerance to everything gluten.  After suffering for about 5 years with gluten issues I read an article about gut health. Before I get started let me show you where your gut is and what parts of your body make up your digestive system.

The gut, otherwise known as your digestive track,  has many components– it starts with your mouth and teeth and technically ends where your waste exits. The stomach is one of three parts of your gut that absorbs and digests food, with the small and large intestine being the other two parts that break down, digest, and absorb nutrients. The linings of our small and large intestines are the largest part of our immune system. Now, this was a big find for me. Not only did I not have a clue our immune system is in our gut, but I was simply blown away discovering the largest part of it is the mucosal lining of our intestines. Nutrients enter the blood stream, once broken down, from our small intestines. There are tiny villi all along our intestinal wall. These villi are how nutrients enter our bloodstream.  The intestinal wall is permeable to some extent so that these nutrients can pass through. In a normal, healthy gut the good stuff passes through and the bad stuff does not. But sometimes bad things start passing through, and sometimes the intestines become damaged and the lining develops holes allowing undigested food to pass through.

Learning all of this information made me wonder- was there a way I could heal my gut lining if in fact it was damaged or malfunctioning? So  I began reading about the gut lining and found that there were other people, just like me, experiencing issues with “out of the blue” food allergies and/ or intolerances who were using probiotics as a way to improve their overall gut health. Probiotics as we know help to maintain the good bacteria in our digestive tract. That good bacteria is part of a large ecosystem of bacterial flora that lives mainly in the large intestine.

Gut flora is the complex community of microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts of humans and other animals, including insects. The gut metagenome is the aggregate of all the genomes of gut microbiota. (Wikipedia)

So I made an appointment with our family physician and asked for his opinion on whether or not starting on a probiotic would be a good thing or bad. He didn’t see how taking one could hurt and so I began using a probiotic about two years ago. Of course, I should note before I forget– a steady diet of kombucha and other fermented food in your diet would alleviate your need(most likely) to have to depend on a store bought probiotic. A lot of my gluten intolerance issues went away about one year after I started using probiotics. I still have problems with food that contain a lot of additives, preservatives and maybe GMO’s? Corn still bothers me, as does soybeans and oats.  Although I check labels and watch what I eat, sometimes things are hidden or ? and I experience pain, pressure, a lot of bloating and usually diarrhea.

A lot of my gluten intolerance issues went away about one year after I started using probiotics. I still have problems with food that contain a lot of additives, preservatives and maybe GMO’s? Corn still bothers me, as does soybeans and oats.  Although I check labels and watch what I eat, sometimes things are hidden or ? and I experience pain, pressure, a lot of bloating and usually diarrhea. I currently take a probiotic daily, but I’ve also incorporated fermented foods and kombucha into my diet as well.

Other than those very rare occasions I am presently symptom-free from issues associated with gluten intolerance. I believe the probiotic healed my gut to some degree by restoring the healthy bacteria I needed to process and digest my food. Some of the ways you can contribute to having unhealthy gut flora — a diet high in sugar (which I had for years) and low in fiber (that too).  Chronic stress(yes!) and chronic use of NSAIDs (yes to that too). Also if you are a person that has a lot of infections and relies heavily on antibiotics (thank goodness I can say nope to this one) you are at risk for having an unhealthy gut.

http://www.loveyourgut.com/what-does-the-gut-do/the-digestive-system/

http://www.enzymestuff.com/conditionleakygut.htm

I hope you’ve enjoyed my post about Kombucha, probiotics and gut health as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Until next time–be well!

Naturally Fermented Probiotic Lemonade

Christmas time brought me two new cookbooks-

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I haven’t had much of a chance to go through each one of them yet, but I did find an interesting recipe in Nourishing Traditions that I wanted to try right away.

Naturally Fermented Probiotic Lemonade- this drink is very very good for your gut.

Ingredients

  • 5-6 Lemons,  juiced
  • 1/3 Cup Lightly refined sugar
  • 6 Cups of Water (not boiled)
  • 1/2 Cup of  Basic Whey

Dissolve sugar in water in a large glass container with an air-tight lid.
Allow the mixture to become room temperate before stirring in the lemon juice and whey.
Leave at room temperature for 2-3 days.
Once done I transfer the lemonade into 2 Weck Jars for Juice for easy storage and serving.
Refrigerate. It will continue to ferment but at a much slower pace.

My journey to becoming a foodie!@

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Before I was introduced to all the wonderful chefs of Food Network back in 1999 there was Jamie Oliver–the Naked Chef. I admit that the first time I heard the title of his show on BBC I thought “I wonder if they’ll show it here on American TV seeing as how he is naked”.  Much to my surprise the title of his show was just that and not to be taken quite so literally. Previous to my love for American chefs, and American cooking I was also highly influenced, and still am, by these British chefs also- Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay, and Delia Smith. Of course before Jamie there were the fabulous French chefs on PBS every afternoon at 4pm. Now those chefs have been in my life for many years starting with Julia Child (American chef) whom I still watch today (dvd collection). I love the cooking shows and documentaries on PBS – to this day PBS is still my favorite television station. Some of the very first blogs I read, way back in the late 90s, were foodie blogs. My favorite to this day, that I’ve followed for twelve years, is Sarah Cooks .

So to continue my journey’s beginning- my favorite cookbook of Jamie’s is Jamie at Home. My favorite recipe is Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad. I love that Jamie was one of the first chefs to create and promote healthy recipes/living. At the same time I was watching Jamie’s show I was also watching the first of Martha Stewart’s cooking shows.

From Jamie the Naked Chef and Martha Stewart’s food segment’s on the Martha Stewart Living shows in the early nineties to Ina Garten, Tyler Florence, Mario Batali and Paula Deen. I became utterly and completely smitten with Food Network and its cooking shows. Eventually I began collecting cookbooks and instead of just watching the chefs cook or bake something– I began cooking or baking their dishes . From that came wanting to source the best ingredients and the beginnings of a love affair of ordering exotic ingredients or hard to find ingredients online. From that came my passion for building a beautifully stocked pantry and purchasing the best pots and pans and cooking gadgets available on the market. Finally all of it led to my ambition in 2004  to cook and bake with whole foods, whole food ingredients- which is were chef Alice Waters and documentarian Michael Pollan come in. From this ambition and life changing way of living came this blog which started in 2008.

After having sourced most of our food from farmer’s markets for so many years, I eventually became quite interested in homesteading. Which is were following blogs like The Elliott Homestead and so many others has come in to play. From my absolute love of farming, growing my own and living a more sustainable life has come the desire to buy land and grow my own food.

Relocating has been something we’ve talked about for quite some time. It was always going to be something we did by our retirements. Finally the stars have all come into alignment and we’ve decided to return back to the country I was born and raised for some time in and buy a piece of land. I am still a citizen of that country so our relocating there is a lot easier for me (and my family) to do than it might be for others. Our plan is to purchase the land very soon and then start the moving process shortly after. We hope to be settled by this time next year.

I hope you have enjoyed my journey on becoming a foodie. Until next time–do your body a big favor and choose to eat good food!

Pantry Essentials for Whole Food Living

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When I think of pantry essentials I think of two things right away- homemade bread and homemade pizza or pie dough.

The essentials needed for those homemade goodies are- flour, salt, baking powder, or soda and yeast packets. So just those few things, plus butter or shortening or lard, will get you homemade bread, and pizza or pie dough.

To start stocking your own pantry start with the simple and fairly affordable items like- flour, white sugar, brown sugar, baking soda and baking powder, sea salt or kosher salt, and yeast in packets. To bake cookies you’ll need to stock things like raisins, or currants, chocolate chips, oatmeal, peanut butter, honey and jam. Homemade icing can be made with powdered sugar or cream cheese and butter, vanilla and milk to thin the icing. Homemade brownies require you to have cocoa powder on hand. By now your pantry is starting to look stocked.

A well stocked pantry is overflowing with inspiration. You can see all the possibilities in one place- homemade baked beans, pies, pasta, cakes and soups. It’s essentially a mini version of a grocery store- all the staples for good whole food in one place. I began stocking my pantry from a list I found on Food Network some years back and still use this list today. It’s easy to see when I’m out of something, and all I have to do is take a look at what I have and my mind begins to construct the day’s dinner meal, dessert and sometimes the next days set of meals. Here’s the Food Network Pantry Essentials List .

Cooking meals from your pantry helps you in the best possible way to learn how to make whole foods meals for your family. A well- stocked pantry means skipping the processed box and jar ingredients and taking control of the ingredients you want in the meals and desserts you make for your family. No more list of ingredients 20 ingredients long. Soon you won’t remember what it was like to not make your own healthier home-cooked meals.  I’ll be honest the convenience of meal making and meal time for awhile will be gone. But the pride you will feel and the money you will save, not to mention the healthier lives you and your family will live will more than make up for the time you spend preparing them. Get the family involved in meal time and then it won’t be just you in the kitchen. Kids can learn too!

That’s it for now. I have a great recipe for Roasted Tomato Basil soup coming up and  a new recipe for Pumpkin Cheesecake. Have a great weekend!

Happy Fall!

Just hours before the first day of fall I kept busy baking up squash to freeze for over winter and peeling and slicing apples for applesauce. Ragweed has been kicking my butt these past few days, and I didn’t really feel like doing anything. Yet, these things needed to be done today and so they were. Three pounds of Macintosh apples yielded just a cup and a half of homemade applesauce. Thank goodness we bought more this past weekend, although those are slowly being eaten each day. I heart Macintosh apples.

I also had four squash to bake which made five packages of baked squash- five sides for a meal. The total cost of the squash and apples was $12.00 (roughly 2 dollars a side).

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I’ve managed to find several great pumpkin recipes I will be sharing this week or next as well as a recipe for Apple Fritter bread. I love fall for many reasons, but the food of fall is number one for me. I love pumpkin and apples and squash and warm cider. The post I promised with pantry essentials is almost done. Until next time ~Happy Fall~ ! Get outside if you can and enjoy the last bits of great weather if you live in an area that will see snow before long. Yes, I said it lol. Right now areas all over Wisconsin and Minnesota are flooding, stay safe if you’re out in it.

Fall food goodness

The last of the local zucchini is available this week, so I made sure to grate a bunch and freeze for pasta dishes this winter. Local apple orchards are announcing new varieties of apples every week. The first week we tried some new varieties and this week we bought Macintosh, Honey Crisp and Ginger Golds. Pears were plentiful too and ripened nicely next to our apples and bananas on the counter. A tomato plant I bought late at Bauer’s Market in La Crescent Mn. still producing. All total for a $9.00 plant, sold towards the end of planting season, it produced 17 tomatoes for me. To save seeds from tomatoes you cut the tomato in half and squeeze its pulp out into a small dish or container and cover for three days. The pulp ferments, allowing the covering that the seeds are encapsulated in to disintegrate. Each day you must stir the pulp and on day four rinse the pulpy seeds in a sieve careful not to allow seeds to sift through sieve (just the pulp) and then place on a piece of dry paper towel. As the seeds dry on the paper towel remove them from clumps to separate and allow to dry. You should store these dried seeds in a cool dry place, even the refrigerator- do not freeze them.  Coming up in future posts- seed saving, freezing vegetables, pumpkin recipes and pantry staples. Until then be well and always remember to eat good food!

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Eating Whole Foods

Hello friends and welcome to my blog. In my last post I defined the term whole foods. In this post I am going to blog about how I started my family on the road to a healthier whole foods diet. Our first conversion was drinking organic milk after either not drinking milk or drinking non-organic milk very little life long. The first part of the change in our diet came from switching what we could that was non-organic in our diet to organic (milk, eggs, butter and produce). When we couldn’t find organic (way back in 2004) then we purchased things like produce from friends that hadn’t been sprayed, but that also hadn’t been through the certification process of being able to be called organic. From there I began to make foods we ate from scratch rather than buy boxed or canned or frozen.

The first thing I began to make homemade from scratch was applesauce. The reason why I chose applesauce was because it is part of the packed lunch I made/make for my husband every week. Our goal here was to remove as much high fructose syrup from our lives as possible, thus helping to pave the way to consuming more whole foods. The applesauce recipe posted above, in the applesauce link, has eight ingredients, but I make it without using salt, lemon juice or cinnamon. The second product that we use a lot is spaghetti sauce. We eat something every week, sometimes two dishes, with sauce.  The third ingredient in store bought pasta sauce is high fructose syrup. My husband and I were so over high fructose syrup by this time. Virtually everything we were eating had high fructose syrup in it. Here we were riding our bikes all over Wisconsin trying to get and stay in shape and our diet, high in fructose syrups, was sabotaging us. Here is the recipe I use for homemade pasta sauce (roma tomatoes work best for homemade pasta sauce).

Before long I was making homemade applesauce and pasta sauce like a pro. Each time we were going to have a dish that required pasta I would pull out the roma tomatoes I’d frozen for just such an occasion and use them to make the sauce. Prep time for sauce is about 5 minutes and cook time is 30 before your sauce is ready to eat. Double the batch if you are going to be having a pasta dish later in the week. This sauce will keep for 5 days in your refrigerator.

So let’s do a run down of the things changed so far in my family’s diet at this time. First off non-organic milk to organic milk and other organic dairy products, second- produce from farmer’s markets, our own gardens or other people’s gardens vs. canned store bought fruits and vegetables and last but never least the elimination of foods heavily preserved, or containing high fructose syrup.

I would be lying to you if I told you the transition doesn’t take time. It does. You will meet resistance from your family and there will be a lot of times that you’ll want to do what you perceive everyone around you is doing and that’s buy everything pre-made or frozen pre-made or microwaveable and throw in the towel. Time constraints will cause you to cheat, it happens. There have been a few times I didn’t have enough tomatoes or I had something else to do after dinner and I just went out and bought a jar of Ragu. But the good news is as time goes on and you grow more confident in your ability to provide good, safe, nutritious food for your family -you will feel empowered. If the grocery stores ran out of food (temporarily) tomorrow, I’ve got enough tomatoes and frozen vegetables put by to feed my family for at least 2  possibly three weeks. I’ve also got enough flour to make homemade bread, homemade pasta noodles and pie crusts galore. As long as power isn’t lost. Because we buy a lot of produce every week, even in the winter, we’ve always got fresh food on hand no power required. But a generator is definitely on our wish list.

Every time you go to a farmer’s market buy a couple ears of sweet corn, or 2-3 roma tomatoes or 2 or more squash and take them home and process them. I have a new blog post almost ready on freezing roma tomatoes. As far as corn- just cut it off the cob, toss in a freezer bag and freeze. I use the corn for soups and stews all winter. With squash I line a cookie sheet with halved squash brushed with butter and bake until tender. I let cool once out of the oven, then scoop out the shells, and put 2 halves worth of squash in each freezer bag and tuck them away in the freezer. I roast peppers for homemade pizza, which both my husband and I love, and love having a taste of summer on a pizza mid-January. Don’t let the process of the transition to whole food living overwhelm you, take it a day at a time and you will be there in no time.

I’ve included some pictures of what I’ve been cooking- fried zucchini, kale and red potatoes in olive oil and real butter ; homemade pumpkin bread made from all freshly grown/produced ingredients; small farmer’s market haul-mid week ; everything put away- yes I refrigerate potatoes ; much requested picture of my refrigerator (notice not everything I use is homemade or organic-it all takes time), kale and homemade chili tucked away ; roasted peppers and roma for sauce.  Later this week I will post about freezing roma tomatoes for sauce and also talk about using a real pumpkin for pumpkin bread vs. canned pumpkin along with a whole foods menu and cooking times. Until next time always remember to eat good food!

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What Are Whole Foods?

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In the simplest of terms, whole foods are foods without additives and preservatives. It’s food as close to its natural state as possible.  I first heard the term whole food in 2004 right before my family began transitioning to a diet that would contain more whole foods. Our diet previous to a diet of whole foods looked like most people’s diets. Our vegetables were canned store-bought vegetables, bought by the case, and 100% of what we ate was processed including our meat and dairy.

I don’t think I’d ever heard the word organic before 2004 either, but soon learned what it meant after traveling to a bigger city and spotting organic milk in the dairy department.  That milk, which we have now drunk for some sixteen years, was Organic Valley milk. At this time in my life, I’d also just quit smoking. One of the things I learned about smoking, that helped my cessation go a little bit smoother, was that cigarettes had over 600 ingredients in them. It’s a real eye-opener when you learn, for the first time in your life (thanks to the computer era), that cigarettes contain formaldehyde, lead, and arsenic to name just three of a very long list of scary things. Once I quit smoking I felt I owed it to my body, after having abused it to the point of death for so long, to eat food without chemicals. How to start? That was a good question considering I’d never made anything from scratch before and I wasn’t sure how we would afford to transition our kitchen supplies and lifestyle into exactly how kitchen supplies were during my grandparent’s life.

The first thing we made a change to was dairy. We stopped buying conventional milk and began buying Organic Valley milk. Within a year our milk consumption went up 80%. None of our local grocery stores, including Wal-Mart, stocked Organic Valley milk so we had to make a two-hour commute to buy it. That may sound extreme to some people, but for us, it was only the beginning of the long journeys we would have to make to transition to a whole foods diet.  Nowadays organic products, whole food products are available in almost every store. There are also many sites that one can order whole foods from in bulk. Eventually, we were able to buy Organic Valley eggs, milk and butter when we made our two-hour commute.

Our next challenge was to go from canned vegetables and fruit to locally grown vegetables and fruit. Unfortunately, the farmer’s markets around the area we lived in were nil, so again we had to make a two-hour commute to purchase fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers.  Twice a month we would make the drive on Saturday mornings, at the crack of dawn, to get to the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison, WI. There we would walk around the Capitol Square with hundreds of other foodies and buy fresh produce.

Transitioning to a whole food diet means in the long-term not eating any food that is processed. Processed food is almost all the food in the supermarket except the produce. And as far as the produce goes, the produce in most grocery stores that we shop in, in this part of the country, are not local and most of the produce sold is not even grown in the U.S.A. Eating local means eating food within 100 miles of its production. Because we were having to travel so far to purchase whole food we began to really look at what eating locally would look like to us. What if we couldn’t drive to purchase our whole foods? We weren’t in the position to garden and grow it ourselves and we definitely did not have a farm close by where we could buy organic milk.

Without our car and our $ability to drive to purchase whole foods we would not have been able to change our diet, unless we moved, until closer to 2010.

By 2010 a couple of farms in our community began having CSA’s and our local grocery store began selling Organic Valley dairy products.

One of the first steps we took in our transition, once we made decisions about produce and dairy, was the elimination processed boxed, canned and frozen food. That means no mixes, no boxed dinners, no frozen pizzas, no tv dinners. Anything in jars or bottles had to have less than five ingredients in them. No more Kool-aid, soda, juices or fountain drinks. Cookies are homemade, snacks are popcorn bought at a farmer’s market, sauces, cakes, crusts, and bread all homemade. If we wanted applesauce we had to go buy a 10# bag of apples and make homemade applesauce.

To give you a good idea of what a whole food diet looks like this: you go grocery shopping and when you get home all the food you bought is stored either in the refrigerator, freezer or pantry shelf (bulk baking stuff for making things from scratch). You won’t have anything but baking products in cans or jars and they will either be organic or will have less than 5 ingredients in them. Soups and stews are homemade; no more Campbell’s soup. Produce will line your counters and you’ll invest in at least two crock pots.

It sounds like a lot of work, and a lot of sacrifices, but I promise you the rewards are priceless and long lasting and you will never ever want to go back to eating processed food again. In my next post, I will explain the time involved in the transition along with how to set your pantry up and what to buy to get you started.