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.

baklava ice cream pie

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This is not a typical Monday morning recipe. This is not a typical October recipe (no pumpkin — sorry folks!). This really isn’t a “typical” anything, but I like it and I’m feeling celebratory, so here goes.

Last week was one hell of a week. I’m currently recovering from some hybrid cold thing, brought on by lack of sleep and traveling and a couple gluten bombs that threw my immune system out of whack, but so many wonderful things happened that I have to do what I normally don’t do: a diary-esque, recap post. Welcome to a little peek into my life!

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On Monday we had our first round of movers come. I wasn’t sure when exactly they were going to arrive, so I spent all day on alert, doing last-minute packing and waiting for that big truck to pull into my driveway. Eventually two nice guys started packing up a third of our belongings and I mainly tried to stay out of their way as they assembled boxes, wrapped dishes, and hauled bikes and vacuum cleaners out the front door. We later heard that our shipment weighed 888 lbs. WHOA.

After the movers left, Andrew and I cleaned up and went over to our friends’ house for an extraordinary dinner and a screening of the series finale of Breaking Bad. Grace and Tom have been wonderful friends to host us every week for the last season of our favorite show — together, we’d all hunker down in the living room with snacks and drinks and collectively gasp at Walter White’s latest schemes. This time was a little more special, as it was not only the last episode ever but also our last day to spend with our friends. They were leaving the next day to move to Alaska, and so we combined all sorts of endings and goodbyes into one evening, complete with a 12-boy chicken curry dinner that was out of this world. A bittersweet night.

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On Tuesday morning I packed a little bag and drove my Honda Civic to Dallas, where I met my parents for lunch. They had agreed to bring their truck to the city to haul a few Ikea items I wanted to purchase, plus drive me back home after I left my car at the shipping facility. We are one month out from our Hawaiian move, and we want our car to arrive about the same time that we do. Interestingly enough, they put the vehicles on a semi, drive it to LA, and then scoot the cars across the ocean to a port in Honolulu. Wicked.

Lunch with my parents was wonderful. I hadn’t seen them for a couple of months, and as always it was a blast spending time with them and catching up in person. We navigated Ikea for the perfect bed frame and a new bookshelf, then lugged the boxes back to the suburbs to our cousins’ house for dinner and beer and conversation and a good night’s rest.

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We were up early the next morning. I needed to vacuum out the interior of my car, wipe down the surfaces and give it a good scrub on the outside before I dropped it off at the shipment center. In addition to having miles and miles of paperwork, your car has to be empty, pristine, and with no more than a quarter tank of gas. I was a little stress ball all the way up until they took my keys, nervous that I was missing something or that I had left a crucial piece of the puzzle back at home, four hours away.

Thankfully, everything went off without a hitch and — bonus! — I even saw our friends Grace and Tom as they were dropping off their car to get shipped, mere hours before they flew out to the Great White North! It was so sweet to get to hug them one last time.

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From there the Robertson clan loaded up into the truck and began our trek back to my house, making only one pit stop at World Market for some goodies — chocolate, a couple make-your-own six-packs, and some perfect floor cushions. The drive was long and flat and boring, and my dad was a trooper to drive us the whole way. We made it back in the early evening, got everyone’s stuff unloaded, and commenced dinner plans.

Instead of staying in our small, partially disassembled home, my parents found a little condo to rent for the duration of their stay — it was definitely the MVP of the trip. With a couple extra bedrooms, comfy couches and ESPN2, a kitchen and a grill, we spent most of our time relaxing there. On Wednesday night we grilled steaks and watched a movie, and on their last night there we had our own little tailgate party to watch the Razorbacks play Florida State over a meal of homemade pork ribs.

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On Thursday, my parents and I bopped around town while Andrew was at work, visiting some little shops, the local water lily garden and running a few errands. Eventually my mom and I dropped my dad back off at the house so we could go for mani/pedis — what a treat! When we returned, my sleepy dad was in the same place we had left him, watching Despicable Me on television. That’s when you know you’re on a vacation!

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On Friday I dropped Andrew off at work early in the morning and headed straight to a friend’s apartment to meet their movers. Said friend had to move to his next assignment before he could get his packers schedules, and so I was filling in for him to supervise, sign papers, and generally get in the movers’ way while they did their jobs. It was a long day, to say the least, and at the end I was wiped. But I had some incredible events to look forward to — that evening Andrew and I took my parents out to our favorite (and the nicest, by far) restaurant in town for a four-course meal and a bottle of wine. From the amuse bouche right down the decadent desserts, we enjoyed gourmet food and great conversation, basically like we always do but in a fancy setting. Afterwards we went out to see a late movie, and decided on GRAVITY, shown in 3D. It was intense. This movie is less of an action flick and more of a psychological thriller, with little dialogue but amazing special effects. Sandra Bullock shone in her role as the survivor struggling to hold on to hope, and through it all the audience was privy to staggering views of Earth from space. I recommend it.

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Saturday morning was brunch by me — we had cherry-tarragon sausages, scrambled eggs, chocolate zucchini bread, coffee and OJ — followed by a field trip out to the Eola Schoolhouse Restaurant & Brewery.   This is one of those quirky places that we like to take all of our friends, and my parents in particular were no exception. They loved it. We sampled craft beers and greasy onion rings, listened to a couple of old guys play Merle Haggard songs on the guitar, and took in the vast expanse of farmland plains around us.

We got home in time to put in a batch of pork ribs and settle down for the pre-game show. While we waited for the game to start, my mom and I took a field trip to Ulta for new mascara and to Sam’s Club for a temporary military membership for me. Did you know that Sam’s Club is offering free membership to military members during the government shutdown? It’s a wonderful gift they’re offering while most commissaries are closed to ensure service members and their families have access to quality groceries at good prices. I for one am thankful for it. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks put up a good fight in the first half, but the last half was disappointing. I don’t want to talk about it.

So I had an amazing, exhausting, stressful, relaxing, full and precious week.

What have you been up to lately? If you haven’t already, I suggest you celebrate the big and the little things with some pie or some ice cream or — better yet — an ice cream pie. Yeah, sure, maybe it’s starting to get cool around your parts, and the leaves are turning and the days are getting shorter, and you might say that this isn’t an appropriate time for ice cream. To which I would reply: It is always an appropriate time for ice cream.

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Baklava Ice Cream Pie

Crust:

1 c. medjool dates, chopped

½ c. raw pistachios

3 Tbsp. olive oil

½ c. chopped assorted nuts (I used Nutcase Crunch)

¼ tsp. sea salt

Remove pits from 10-12 dates and pulse into a fine paste in a food processor, adding a little olive oil to keep things moist. Combine with nuts, salt and remaining olive oil in food processor and blend until uniform. Press the mixture into a pie pan greased with olive oil, and reserve in the freezer until ice cream is finished.

Ice cream:

50 oz. (4 cans) coconut milk

3 Tbsp. grass-fed gelatin

6 eggs, divided

1 c. honey

2 tsp. orange blossom water

2 Tbsp. amaretto

1 c. raw cashews

8 oz. water

In a saucepan, whisk together coconut milk, egg yolks, gelatin, honey and bring to a low boil, stirring continuously. Remove from heat to cool. Meanwhile, whip egg whites to stiff peaks, adding orange blossom water. Fold gently into custard mixture and remove to fridge to cool, overnight if possible.

Soak cashews in water for at least 30 minutes before blending in a high-speed blender with the cooled custard mixture. Add the amaretto before pouring into ice cream maker. (I used some of the tips Zenbelly offered in her recent post on making dairy-free gelato. Genius!)

Once ice cream has thickened, spread a layer evenly into the prepared crust and reserve to the freezer to harden. Drizzle with honey and toasted pistachios before serving.