a book review + watercress pluot salad with lime-nutmeg vinaigrette

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In one of my recent weekly visits to the blog Gluten Free Girl and the Chef I stumbled across an excellent review of a new book, Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson. Shauna writes about Robinson’s dedication, research and passion for both wild plants and modern cultivars, and discusses the connection between plants of the past and our diets of the present. That was enough to pique my interest, and as soon as I could get to the library I picked up my own copy.

Early into the first chapter I knew this was going to be a great read. I started keeping a pen and a notebook with me while I read it to jot down interesting tidbits about vegetable varieties and how to make them more nutritious. With recipes, historical anecdotes (with one involving the nuclear bomb tests on Bikini Atoll, no less!), gardening advice and shopping tips, Robinson combines all of her knowledge, in a pleasant way, her gentle voice shining through the academic citations.

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Robinson breaks the book down into two parts – fruits and vegetables – and from there divides the categories into chapters for individual varieties. There is a chapter devoted to lettuces, to berries, to apples, to corn. She describes to history of each plant, tracing the modern lineage back to its ancient ancestor, and details how the varieties have developed through science or by accident.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is how Robinson ensures the reader comes away with an appreciation for a plant’s nutrition – it’s not all about color and flavor, although these usually play a key role in tapping into the nutrients. From this she offers ingenious ideas on ensuring we as consumers can choose the most nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, and then learn how to enhance those nutrients through cooking and storage techniques.

The tip I’ve been remembering the most has to do with garlic. Studies crop up like weeds about the anti-cancer properties of garlic nowadays, and traditional remedies recommend choking down pungent concoctions with the stuff to stave off colds and the flu. Robinson reveals, however, that the disease-fighting properties of garlic are not so easily accessed as to swallow a clove whole. There are two enzymes contained in a clove of garlic, and it is only after the whole garlic has been processed somehow – by chopping, pressing, smashing – that the two enzymes can combine to create the cancer-fighting enzyme that is so often lauded in scientific studies. It is important, as Robinson reveals, to process the garlic and let it rest for 10 minutes to activate the production of the helpful and healthful enzyme before cooking. Through this, and only through this, will you extract the most nutrition and the most disease-fighting properties from your common garlic clove.

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This is just one of many amazing kitchen-nutrition tips that Robinson offers, like the fact that cooking beets with the skins on retains more of the nutrients, or cooking and then chilling potatoes overnight before serving reduces the glycemic load of the starchy tuber. Fascinating!

I kept a running list of interesting varieties of fruits and vegetables to plant in my someday garden, thanks to Robinson’s recommendations at the end of each chapter. From Carolina Ruby Sweet Potatoes to Brigadier broccoli, to Tuscan Kale and Hawaiian Currant Tomatoes, to French Gray Shallots and Merlot lettuce, to Spanish Roja Garlic and Detroit Dark Red Beets, I am inspired to reap the benefits of nutrition and flavor in my own plot of land someday.

Eating on the Wild Side also inspired me to try some new produce at the grocery store. Instead of my typical kale and spinach, I purchased two bundles of delicate watercress. Instead of apples or berries, I chose a handful of translucent-skinned pluots. With a homemade vinaigrette and some gently toasted pistachios, all I needed was that new and vibrant produce to create a new salad. I made this twice I liked it so much – something about the bitter greens, the sweet fruit, the crunch of the nuts and the acidic spice of the vinaigrette combined perfectly.

Truly, as Robinson writes, when the fruits and vegetables are fresh and nutritious, they need but a little dressing up to turn them into a good meal.

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Watercress Salad with Pluots, Toasted Pistachios and Lime-Nutmeg Vinaigrette

1 bunch fresh watercress, washed and trimmed

2 pluots

1 c. raw pistachios

1 lime, juiced

1/4 c. olive oil

1 egg yolk

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. sea salt

Arrange the washed and trimmed watercress in a large salad bowl, Slice and pit the pluots and arrange on the greens. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and toast pistachios with a pinch of sea salt and a splash of olive oil until fragrant, about 5 minutes, before sprinkling over salad.

Meanwhile, whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a bowl or in a food processor. Combine the lime juice with the olive oil, salt and nutmeg, and briskly stir in the egg yolk until the dressing emulsifies. Drizzle over salad and serve immediately.

The salad does not keep well dressed — if you are making this ahead of time or in a large batch, dress only what you’ll be eating immediately, and store the greens, fruit, nuts and vinaigrette in separate containers in the refrigerator to keep everything crisp.

whole30, round two

Yes, I am here again proclaiming my intentions to complete a Whole30. You may remember how I stopped mid-way through the challenge this past January, learned a lot, and continued to implement paleo/primal details into my diet and lifestyle. Welp, I’m at it again. I’m declaring this to you, anonymous internet, for a little bit of accountability and for record-keeping benefits.

One of my goals for this month was to complete a Whole30, modified to match my schedule for the month. Instead of starting on August 1, I started on Monday and will go through the end of the month into September. What is the Whole30, you may ask? This is a great resource, but you can also do a quick web search and come up with a ton of results based on individuals’ experiences.

Over the weekend I prepped some meals to make weeknight cooking a little easier — I hardboiled half a dozen eggs, roasted up a couple of sweet potatoes, washed and chopped raw veggies, set some chicken thighs in a brine and some beef in to marinate. I made a big batch of Mel’s yummy Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup, and I put on a pot of bone broth to simmer overnight. Plus, I’ve got activated almonds, plenty of farmers market melon and a jar full of EPIC bars. I think I’m going to be fine.

Here’s my progress so far:

BREAKFAST  1/30: egg and veggie scramble with cilantro pistou. Coffee.

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LUNCH 1/30: salad with veggies and leftover beef kabobs, zucchini soup.

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SNACK 1/30: Israeli melon from our farmers market.

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DINNER 1/30: coriander chicken thigh, garlic roasted cauliflower, side salad.

BREAKFAST 2/30: kale and roasted sweet potato with two fried eggs, PG Tips tea.

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LUNCH 2/30: leftover coriander chicken thigh, salad with 1/4 avocado, zucchini soup.

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SNACK 2/30: “apple pie a la mode” pudding.

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DINNER 2/30: beef liver fajita salad with bell peppers and onions, avocado and cilantro pistou.

DESSERT/SNACK 2/30: blended frozen banana with coconut milk and cacao.

SONY DSCBREAKFAST 3/30: cashew cookie Lara bar, leftover broccoli sauteed in ghee, deli turkey. Coffee with coconut milk and grass-fed gelatin.

SONY DSCLUNCH 3/30: zucchini soup, deli turkey, sliced radishes and cucumbers.

SONY DSCDINNER 3/30: shiitake shrimp stir fry with baby bok choy.

DESSERT/SNACK 3/30: “apple pie a la mode” pudding with ground flax.

BREAKFAST 4/30: kale and sweet potato hash with two fried eggs. Coffee.

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LUNCH 4/30: remaining zucchini soup, salad with smoked mackerel and fresh dill.

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SNACK 4/30: CocomoJoe “baby bar” and remaining Israeli melon.

DINNER 4/30: coriander chicken thigh with peach-cherry tomato salsa, kale salad with avocado dressing, smoky spiced sweet potato fries.SONY DSCI’ll be keeping track of my progress throughout the month and will report back regularly on how I’m feeling and what I’m eating. This time around I have a better mindset, and have approached the guidelines with less of a sense of duty and perfection and as more of an investment in my health. Plus I’ve been really busy lately with new projects and moving preparations, and eating this way dramatically simplifies my day-to-day. I’m feeling light, energetic, positive and nourished — not deprived.

Across the weekend I’ll be working on incorporating more fermented foods, homemade bone broth, seaweed and fresh vegetables into my meals. My snacks have been a little heavy on the fruit, and as I’m trying to curb sugar cravings I’m going to pay more attention to how I snack from now on.

Meanwhile, I’m going to continue to pretend that red wine and gin and tonics do not exist. It’s just a little bit easier that way.

to market

SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSCYesterday I walked downtown to the farmers market. I wanted fresh air and a good stretch of my legs; the bounty of summer for a dollar a pound was plenty to draw me out.

Made by the sun and wind and soil here, the tomatoes are radiant. The figs smell of honey. The funny little cucumbers taste like sweet cream and the elephant garlic never ceases to surprise me with its hearty cloves, its mellow flavor.

Call me inspired. I went to the market for some vegetables and came back with a  renewed appreciation for those who grow and tend and cultivate — both plants and people.

banana peach baked steel cut oatmeal

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Stashed in the deep recesses of my pantry are dusty mason jars of dried goods: cannelini beans, a few cups of quinoa, some buckwheat groats, a pound of steel-cut oats from the Amish deli. Most of these ingredients have been ignored since we moved — they’re still in useful, edible condition, but in my pursuit of a grain-free paleo lifestyle I’ve shunned most of these in favor of meats, fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds.

But I still have a husband who eats whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and doesn’t subscribe to the same nutritional philosophy as I do. Thus, a frugal recipe for baked steel-cut oats.

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I’m trying to minimize waste and save a little cash on our grocery bill by eating out of our freezer and pantry in the coming weeks. In the past few times that I’ve moved I have made the mistake of waiting until the last week of life in my old place to start eating whatever is left over in my pantry. This time, I know better and I’m paying more attention to ways I can make this move more graceful, gentle and efficient.

Plus, when it’s 5 a.m. and someone needs breakfast, this lady does not always have the mental capacity to make eggs and bacon in a timely fashion. These baked oats are easy to reheat in portions, and also proved to be handy to pack for a breakfast on the go.

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Simply spoon out the desired amount, splash with a little coconut milk or heavy cream, heat in a small saucepan or in the microwave, and top with flax before serving. Easy, delicious, and when prepared the traditional way, it’s pretty darn nourishing too. There’s something about steel-cut oatmeal that sticks to your ribs in a hearty, warming way, especially when paired with cinnamon and roasted fruit.

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Banana-Peach Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal

2 c. dry steel cut oats (gluten-free if you can find them)

water

dash of salt, splash of ACV

1 c. coconut cream

1/2 c. lite coconut milk

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

1 tsp. baking soda

pinch of salt

2 bananas, sliced

4 peaches, sliced

Soak the dry oat groats in a large container, covered in water and with apple cider vinegar and sea salt, overnight. Drain and rinse.

Combine soaked oats with coconut milk, coconut cream, spices, baking soda and sliced fruit in a bowl. Gently pour into a greased 9×11″ baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Yields about 8 servings.

This would be really good with fresh (or frozen) berries and some chopped, toasted walnuts on top. Or add some fresh sliced banana and shredded unsweetened coconut on top before serving for more of a tropical twist.

dreams, reality, and fruity cocktails

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My mind has been going every-which-way for the past few days. I’ll start making a to do list and then remember that I need to switch the calendar over to July in the kitchen, and on my way there I pick up some shoes to put away and decide I’m thirsty, so I’ll stop for some water at the fridge. Then I’ll remember to take my vitamins, and before I know it I’m at the table cutting up an apple for a snack. Sometime later I’ll remember my original task — lately, I’m in more of a “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” mood than anything else. 

You see, the reality of this life as a military spouse has finally hit me. Last week we found out our next assignment will be in Hawaii, and we’ll move there — from Texas, across the ocean, with all our belongings — in the fall. Isn’t that crazy? Isn’t that amazing? How is it even possible?? Those are some of the things my mind has been turning over and over. Moving to Hawaii is not “normal” or “common,” but hell if I want that kind of life anyway (see this beautiful reminder of the possibility that life affords). Right now I’m probably a little too focused on the little things, like how to even begin this process of shipping a car, storing our winter coats, scheduling a move and a flight or two. Sure, I’ve done a move before, but never like this. It all becomes a bit overwhelming once the details and the big picture intermingle.

A little over a year ago my husband and I were in Hawaii for our honeymoon. We visited Volcano National Park, toured Pearl Harbor on Memorial Day, cruised Waikiki beach with fruity cocktails and wore nothing but bathing suits and sandals. Had you asked me then to think about returning to live on the islands I would have brushed the suggestion off as an inconceivable dream.

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But it’s here — it is my new reality. And it’s fitting that the Equals Record published this essay of mine this week, even though I submitted it months ago. As with all things, the timing is perfect.

In the midst of all of this thinking and wondering and questioning, I’ve let go of my original sense of euphoria. I’m here to bring back the dreaming and keep the excitement for this next adventure alive, starting with a cocktail and a list — my two favorite forms of celebration.

Here are some things I’m looking forward to about island life:

learning to surf and paddleboard

hiking every weekend, to waterfalls and through rainforests and along towering cliffs overlooking the ocean

learning about a traditional culture and the amazing foods that go along with it

eating fresh coconut and pineapple

perfecting beach hair

hosting family vacations

running on the sand

making new friends

settling into a new house

dancing the hula and playing the ukelele

I’m excited to soak up every new flavor and texture, to embrace this new reality with an attitude of adventure and celebration. Another aspect of military life is what I like to call reinvention — every few years I get to pick up my roots with my family, clean out our belongings and start afresh somewhere new. I can inject a fresh perspective into myself, my home, my work, my experience.

So instead of getting bogged down in the minutiae of my to do lists, I’m trying to remember that although small accomplishments like organizing one closet or taking a load to the thrift store can make me feel like I have control, truthfully I am not one step closer to controlling things than I was a few months ago. But, thankfully, what has turned into my reality is better than any dream I’ve had yet. Keep it coming, world.

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Watermelon Mint Mojito

flesh of half a small watermelon, seeds removed

handful of fresh mint, washed

4-8 oz. dark rum

6 ice cubes

Place all ingredients in a blender and combine until smooth and frothy. Serve with a watermelon wedge and a sprig of fresh mint to garnish.

I used a small “personal watermelon” but any kind will do. Play with the proportions to make a stronger drink or to increase the volume.This makes enough for 2 delicious drinks. I’m planning on triple-ing the recipe to make enough for the weekend — this will be perfect for watching fireworks with friends.

P.S. Happy Independence Day!