Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spring Suprise

"You have to be humble. Confident, but not cocky. You cannot expect to find them or they will not reveal themselves," says my friend Amy, as we plow up a hillside of thicket, after sliding through a muddy creek, slipping through a barbed wire fence, and climbing over fallen trees wider than we could straddle. Our pants are tucked in our socks against ticks and poison ivy, we grasp knives and paper lunch bags.

She is talking about mushrooms. We are mothers, writers, gardeners and daughters. But today, we are singing to the morels, hoping for a glimpse.

I cannot tell you where we were. We swore each other to secrecy. I can only tell you, there was a stand of poplar, and fragrant spicebush in the under story. Poison ivy, spring beauty, dead elms, may apple and fiddle heads are other clues. Oh, and an east facing slope, with a good shade canopy. Too rocky, or too much dead wood is a non-starter. As we climbed Amy sang -- "Morels, reveal your selves...."

It was a labor of love for two of us, and for me, a journalistic opportunity. But it didn't stay that way for long. As we trudged through the mud, spotting one morel, then another (they appear in twos, as if finding one makes you worthy to find another. Boy, was I drinking the Kool Aid). I began to crave sighting the small, fragile, brainlike fungus. We left reluctantly that day, hoping that the mother lode was just coming in. Plus, the mother in us was needed -- it was school pick up time.

Can you see it?
So we went home with our mushrooms. I cooked them, with asparagus from my garden, salt and fresh butter. I was positively besotted. I don't use that word lightly.

When we were on our honeymoon, we drove from the Amalfi Coast, in Italy, to Umbria, arriving at our hotel just before midnight. (One cannot, after all, drive by the sea without climbing into it). They served us dinner in a marble courtyard lined with olive trees, and despite the fact that it was Italy, we were all alone due to the time. In the candlelight we ordered dinner, and when it came there was a predominant taste I struggled to identify. 

Over the next few days I found out it was truffle. In the vegetables, on the meat, in eggs, cheese, even gelato. Everything that said tartufi, I ordered. On our last weekend, we dined at Taverna del Lupo, in Gubbio, because we had heard everything was infused with truffle. When we came back, I was desperate for it. So desperate we flew to the restaurant Sistina, in New York, near my parents apartment, because I knew they had the whole truffle to shave over my pasta.

But nothing quite measured up to those local truffles. Until these morels.

the bigfoot morel

After that dinner I started thinking about the hillside. About the delicate mushrooms poking themselves through the leaf blanket. Later that night it rained, and I wondered if they enjoyed it or not. I dreamt about their earthy taste, sauteed in butter.

Morels sauteed in butter

one tablespoon butter
one dozen small morels
one garlic, peeled and sliced
slivered parmesan cheese
sea salt

Heat butter in skillet. add salt to sizzle. toast garlic until softening and golden. Add morels and stir two minutes -- then off the heat.

Boil the asparagus until tender, about ten minutes depending on the thickness of it -- test doneness by poking with a knife -- it should give softly.

Pour morels and butter over asparagus.

Prepare to swoon.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tip 13: Drink your veggies, part 2

Maybe green drinks aren't your thing, or you just can't give up eggs -- it's all good. But if you like the idea of pre-pulverized veggies down the hatch, there's another way.


Soup is good food. Whether you heard it from Campbell's or the Dead Kennedy's first, you heard it here. Cooking vegetables into soup retains more nutrients than baking or sauteeing, and if you puree them, you're helping your body to digest more of them as well.

There is something about drinking soup that is healing. And there is something about making soup that is calming too -- first, you can use all the odds and ends in your fridge up; second, you can make it while you are doing other things; third, it makes your house smell like a home; fourth, it is just plain tasty. Satisfying but not weighty. Healthy, but not austere.

There is a soup for all seasons, and this one is perfect for warm days that turn cool at night, for the time of year you want to shed the hibernating ways but still crave an extra dose of comfort. Carrots provide an of the charts dose of vitamin A, night vision enhancing beta-carotene and help regulate blood sugar. Tests show that a diet containing as little as one carrot a day can cut the rate of lung cancer in half.

Combine them with curry, celeriac for an anchoring smoothness and ginger for kick, and this is a spring palate in a bowl. Ginger gives it an anti-inflammatory benefit, while aiding digestion. Garlic is a natural antibiotic. Top the whole thing with mint -- another tummy soother -- and you've got a dish beautiful enough for a black tie luncheon date with Bugs Bunny.

Sound too good to be true?

Wait until you taste it.

Curried Carrot Soup

2 Tablespoons grapeseed oil or olive oil
1 lb  carrots, preferably organic
1 head of garlic, peeled
1 small onion, peeled and rough chopped
1/2 celeriac root, peeled and rough chopped
1 2-inch knob of ginger, peeled
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cornstarch
coarse salt

Heat oil in heavy stock pan over medium high heat. Add garlic and onions and saute until translucent and beginning to soften. Add a pinch of salt and the curry powder (my favorite is Dean and Deluca blend, I buy it by the tub full). Stir to combine then add ginger, celeriac and carrots, cornstarch and stir again. Roast about 4 minutes to sweat the vegetables and ignite the curry. Add vegetable broth and water if needed to cover vegetables.

Simmer gently until vegetables are soft, then use an immersion blender or food processor to puree. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if you wish, and top with chopped mint.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kitchen Reform Week 12: Drink Your Veggies

We are a nation of carnivores. And corn-ivores -- being that much of the diet we exist on (snack foods, colas, sweets) is derived somehow from corn.

I have news for you, however: corn that has been smashed into syrup doesn't count as a vegetable. Besides, there's more than corn in High Fructose Corn Syrup (so ubiquitous we've given it a monogram, HFCS): Yellow Dent #2, a corn that yields a lot of starch, sulphuric acid (a corrosive whose principle uses are lead-acid batteries for cars, mineral and wastewater processing), and three ingredients that end in -ase and come in bottles with large Xs on them. I found this out by watching a couple of dudes try to make it at home: check it out.

HFCS is not our BFF.

The statistics on consumption of fruits and vegetables in this country are astounding. Less than a third of us are eating  fruit daily, and that has actually decreased in this century. And only about a quarter of us eat vegetables daily. New England, Florida, the West Coast and Colorado top the list -- but that means that upwards of 15 % of the population consume fruits and veg. In Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina less than 5 % of people consume fruits and veg daily. The rest fall somewhere in the middle. That means 10-14% of people are eating F&V daily. This can only end poorly, with a crushing health care crisis our children will have to clean up -- that is, if they aren't too sick themselves.

So if there is one thing you can do today to up your health quotient, it is eat more vegetables. Better yet, drink them.

Green drinks are simply the best way to get the nutrients without the work of digestion, the calories used to prepare them, and the time it takes to eat them. Zip 'em in a blender, down them and go. You can tailor them to your energy needs, your mood, the weather -- your options are endless.

The basic recipe for a smoothie includes protein, fruit (for sweetness), vegetable, nutrient additives, liquid and ice, if you wish -- just a handful of cubes can really thicken it up. Here are a few of my favorite ingredients for smoothies:

Vegetables: Ginger, spinach, cucumber, fennel, kale (not too much, it can be stringy) (about two cups)

Nutrient additives: maca powder (no more than 1 Tablespoon a day), ginseng (a few drops), hemp seed, (about a teaspoon), cinnamon, chia seeds, raw cocoa powder, nutmeg, honey, agave.

Liquids: almond milk, coconut water, tap water. (about a cup total)

Fruits: Whole if you have a blender that can take it, like a Vita-Mix; I do not so I chunk and freeze fruit to make the smoothie thick and creamy. Frozen banana chunks, frozen pear chunks, frozen pineapple chunks, any berries or melon. Anything goes. (about a 1/2 cup serving)

Fats: Avocado, almond butter, hemp -- and the last two also add protein.

I also sometimes cheat and use prepared powders to add protein and vegetables, my favorite for protein is Wegmans vanilla whey powder, and the green powder I like now is Amazing Grass.

So do anything you like with it -- here's what I do in the mornings, more or less.

Green Breakfast Smoothie

1 cup almond milk
2 handfuls baby spinach
1 knob ginger root, peeled
squirt of ginseng
fennel, about 1/3 of a bulb
cucumber, a few inches
scoop green powder
scoop whey powder
1 teaspoon hemp seed
1/2 banana frozen
1 cup water
6 ice cubes

Blend until smooth. Serves two.

If you don't want green, skip the powder and the spinach, add a frozen mango and go with the vanilla shake. Or a chocolate (which is my lunch, so excuse me while I go make it.)


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Poached Cauliflower

So halfway through this mini-cleanse and I have to say, it's really a breeze. Lots of water with lemon, miso and fruit when desperate; brown rice cooked with vegetable broth for body and veggies. Mounds of veggies. Steamed, for the most part, but tonight I got out a cauliflower, and it was just lovely. White as the caps of waves, and with just as much lovely texture.

Its beauty seduced me. I decided to cheat, just a little bit. After all, today I went to a luncheon and sat for two hours eating only a glass of water, two slices of steamed zucchini, and a leaf of lettuce. That is to say, all the food in three courses that was not either breaded or sauced. (Disclaimer: it was fun. Had it been a snoozer I would have been eating my own arm. Or the pound cake.)

It just reminds me how utterly hard it is to eat completely clean, unless you are at home with total control of your own menu destiny. A bit of oil for sauteeing, a pinch of sugar to mask tartness, a smidge of butter for finishing -- these add up. Mostly on our hearts, and our hips.

Anyway, when I got home I was ravenous. So I set to making a feast that would stay within my bounds -- a clean feast. I cooked brown rice (I love the Lundberg Farms short grain organic brown rice) in vegetable broth, adding water when the pot dried up before the rice was done. The result was a nutty, fat kernel that stuck close to its buddies for a dense spoonful. And for the cauliflower, well, steaming seemed a little boring. Granted, the cauliflower is a complacent vegetable. Which is not to say it can't be coaxed, dressed up into a silky swirl. But it is also happy to sit plainly on the couch. It doesn't mind a bit what people think of it -- I guess it's the years of being underrated and misunderstood. I, however, wasn't brooking boring. Not today.

I know, I know. It's supposed to be austere. I stink at this. But listen. It's not so bad as you think.

I didn't saute. I didn't even reach for the spray oil. Instead, I poached the cauliflower in vegetable broth and a wee pinch of curry. I added a handful of peeled garlic cloves, which I mashed when soft to bind the cauliflower. For salt I substituted lemon zest.

So I live to notch another day CLEAN -- though I will totally make this when not. And the whole family ate it, which means it gets bonus points.

Poached Cauliflower

One head of cauliflower, separated
1 cup vegetable broth
dash of curry
dash of lemon zest
handful of peeled garlic cloves

In a small stock pan, combine broth and curry; whisk to mix well. Add cauliflower and garlic. Simmer over low heat until cauliflower falls apart, about 30 minutes. Garlic will be smooth enough to smash with the back of a spoon; do so. Stir lemon zest into smashed garlic and cauliflower, which should cause it to fall to bits.

Serve over brown rice with bits of fresh pineapple, making your plate oddly yellow in its entirety. For taste as well as zip, if you like, a spoonful of plain yogurt and a sprinkle of cilantro wouldn't be amiss. Nor would a few cashews, though I can't put as much as a toe on that slippery slope.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tip Eleven: Go with your Gut

This week, my child's school is having "No TV Week." Each child that eschews the electronic monster, writes a statement to that effect and turns it into the powers that be will get an ice cream cone.
My child doesn't watch TV during the week anyway (he has boundary issues, so we just don't deal with it), so for him this is a no-brainer. I'd love it if it the reward were something more healthy, but I guess carrots might not incite the same level of participation.

But it got me thinking. We've been concentrating here on adding -- fish, water, vegetables, what have you -- and yet being virtuous nearly always means you have to give something up. And generally something you care deeply about.

For me this would be cashews. I've admitted that before. And lately I've taken to roasting them with Macadamia nuts and walnuts, which makes them three times as addictive. But cashews aren't technically bad for you --  just not so easy to digest. Then I thought -- a whole week of easy on the tummy. How would that look? So I am going to give up meat this week.  And sugar, which I am stretching to involve dairy, and wine.

This will be a week of whole foods, water and rest. Green smoothies for breakfast. Salads and soups for later. And at the end, I will get an ice cream cone. Just kidding. (Though I am going to a camp out and steak dinner this weekend. By then, I either shouldn't care too much about meat, or I will eat a whole cow solo. I'll let you know.)

For now, though, this tasted good. I substituted thick, juicy chunks of pineapple for meat over a base of watercress and arugula, chip chopped vegetables (asparagus, cucumber, tomato) and herbs (mint, cilantro), and squirted it with tangerine-fig balsamic, which was syrupy smooth without the added sugar of dressing. Vinegar also has the benefit of aiding in digestion -- its acid binds to toxins and help eliminate them more efficiently.

Happy Monday, gut.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Salmon and Socca

Yesterday, just as I was thinking that I was totally uninspired to make dinner, I got a call from a friend asking for chickpea flour.

I just happened to have some.

Socca, she said. Have you made it?

And why else would I have chickpea flour?

Socca is a pancake, nutty, thicker than a crepe and yet somehow more delicate. Gluten free, egg free, dairy free, it is an allergists dream. It's also easy, once you have the chickpea flour, and quick. The batter is more forgiving than crepe batter, and the pancake -- it's traditional street food in Southern France and Italy -- meant to be cut in triangles and eaten scattered with pepper.

As someone who rarely gets pasta, or bread, or a pizza, however, I tend to use food of this nature as a conveyance. It's highly personal. When I first read a recipe for it, by Mark Bittman, I topped it with everything. Shrimp, rosemary, a drizzle of walnut tastebuds remembered.

I just happened to have some leftover salmon, and made a bit of saag with broccoli rabe and spinach. It all married quite well. In fact, it marched down the aisle on its own.


1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Mix ingredients and let sit at least 30 minutes. Heat a griddle or medium skillet until hot and swipe with ghee or butter. Pour in a half cup of batter and swirl until it covers the bottom, pouring out the excess. Cook over medium high heat until light gold, about 3 minutes, then flip and brown the other side. Keep warm until done. Load with salmon, tomato and asparagus, drizzle with sea salt and asparagus and broil for five minutes, until warm.

Or, cut in triangles and dip into green saag, below.

Green Saag

4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 inch knob of ginger. peeled
1 bunch broccoli rabe
2 handfuls of spinach
sea salt
olive oil

Finely chop garlic and ginger in a food processor and set aside. Boil water with salt sprinkled in, add broccoli rabe and boil two minutes. Add spinach and wilt an additional 30 seconds. Drain in a colander and then process in food processor. Heat a tablespoon of oil and saute ginger and garlic until limp. Add the processed broccoli rabe and spinach and stir until heated through. Serve warm.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tip Ten: Go Fish

As the fields green up, there's an accompanying feeling of lightening. Moods, attitudes, and schedules stretch out their kinks and flex to accommodate a smile, or a bike ride instead of a nap.

For me, that has somewhat mystifyingly left me at odds with my usual diet. I eschew meat in favor of an orange, or asparagus. I load up on apples and cashews for snacks. I reach for Vino Verde, or Pellegrino, instead of Cabernet.

Fish jumps into this gap nicely. While it may be lighter it is a solid healthy choice, for fish is also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, now the poster child for good fats.

According to a study from the Mayo Clinic: "Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, boost immunity and improve arthritis symptoms, and in children may improve learning ability. Eating one to two servings a week of fish, particularly fish that's rich in omega-3 fatty acids, appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, particularly sudden cardiac death."

Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and herring, seem to have the highest amounts of omega-3s. Saltwater fish in general have higher levels than freshwater fish, but some varieties of trout have relatively high levels as well. Wild fish have been shown to have higher levels of healthy Omega-3s than farmed fish, which have been shown to have higher levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats.

It's not just heart health that benefits. By strengthening insulin sensitivity, omega 3 fatty acids can decrease belly fat and build muscle, which in turn burns more calories. The US Army is currently studying whether supplementing soldiers' diets with fish oil capsules will improve their health, cognitive function and mood.

Of course, there is a downside to eating fish: industrial pollution in oceans, lakes and streams can infiltrate their food, causing toxins such as mercury, dioxins and PCBs to build up in the fish. The toxins are heat-stable, which means that no amount of cooking can decrease levels of toxicity. In fact, some preparations, such as frying, can make fish unhealthy.

To reap the benefits without the troubles, choose wild fish, when you can. And if you can't get fresh, well, don't fret. My friend Sharon, a writer, motorcycle mama and one of the most holistic people I know, once opened a can of salmon when a bunch of us were at her apartment talking writing. She mashed it with lemon and a dollop of mayonnaise, then hit it with salt and pepper. We ate it with forks. I recently opened a can of  Whole Foods brand wild red Alaskan salmon, and it was delicious -- rich, oily and not at all fishy. It was a great counterpoint to a citrusy salad, an easy lunch.

Canned salmon with arugula and red pepper

1/2 can wild salmon
1 T rice vinegar
wasabi (if you can't get fresh, load up on packets that come with sushi -- just one is generally enough to spice a dressing)
2 T orange juice
two handfuls of arugula
1/2 a red pepper
sea salt

Thinly slice red pepper and put over arugula on a plate. Toss OJ, wasabi and vinegar, add a sprinkle of brown sugar if you prefer sweet to tart. Add salmon to plate and douse all with dressing, season with salt to taste.