Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What To Do With Garden Cucumbers And Veggies
Make Probiotic-Rich Fermented Pickles

Living, probiotic-rich pickles.

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My New Crock
I received a beautiful fermentation crock from Ogusky Ceramics for my birthday (thanks Matthew, Alina and Sammy!) and I couldn't wait to try it. I know I mention this ever chance I get but consuming lots of probiotic-rich fermented foods is one of the most important things you can do for your health. One of the many ways to do that is to make your own pickles. I don't mean the kind that you find on the store shelves pickled in vinegar. Those pickles do not have any probiotic value. I mean the kind that are made from the simple process of fermenting your veggies in brine and spices. You won't believe how easy it is!

And you don't need a fancy crock like this to ferment foods. You can use a big glass jar like I did when I shared the Curtido Kraut recipe in June. But I must say, I've been really enjoying this crock.

Fermentation crocks handcrafted by
Boston potter Jeremy Ogusky

Cucumbers plus....
Today I'm pickling cucumbers with some padron peppers (for some zing) since I have tons of them in my garden. But you can pickle any vegetable using this technique. You also don't have to use "picking cucumbers" and can use any cucumber you want. Just pick them early and don't let them get too fat and full of seeds. The dull skin varieties with thin skins are probably a better choice than those with shiny thick skins. Never use cucumbers that have been waxed.

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Spicy Fermented Cucumbers
Raw Vegan, Dairy and Gluten Free

Requires a glass or ceramic containment vessel

Brine (2 tablespoons of pickling salt to 4 cups water)
10 peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, skin removed
Other pickling spices and herbs (optional)
2 fresh grape leaves or other tannin source
Enough cucumbers for your vessel
Handful padron peppers, several jalapeños cut in half, or small amount of crushed red pepper to taste (optional)

Make the brine by adding 2 tablespoons of pickling salt to a quart of spring, distilled, or filtered water. (Chlorinated water can inhibit fermentation). Stir until completely dissolved and set aside.

I learned the hard way that all salt is not equal when it comes to pickling. You can use other types of salt but make sure that they do not have anti-caking agents or your brine will end up cloudy. I also avoid iodized and sea salt. If you use kosher salt, you also may have to change the amount of salt you use per quart of water. 

A note about Kosher salt. Morton's uses anti-caking agents so avoid using that brand. Diamond Crystal is good but it's less dense than pickling salt so you have to use more of it. Some people weigh the various salts, but when I try to decide how much to use, I compare their sodium content. For example:

Table salt has 2,325 mg of sodium per teaspoon.
Pickling salt has 2,360 mg per teaspoon (about equal).
Diamond Crystal Kosher salt only has 1,120 mg per teaspoon.

So if you were using Diamond Crystal Kosher salt instead of pickling salt, you would need 4 tablespoons per quart of water versus 2 tablespoons of pickling salt.

Pickling salt is also very fine and it dissolves much more easily than Diamond Crystal kosher salt so from now on I'm just going to use pickling salt.

Once you've made the brine, place your spices in the bottom of the crock. Ironically my husband and I are not big pickle fans so we avoid the usual pickling spices like mustard, coriander, and dill. But we love the subtle taste of garlic, pepper, and bay leaves and the zing of spicy peppers so that's enough for us. So select the pickle spices that you enjoy.

Cover the spices with a fresh grape leave or another source of tannin like oak leaves. You can even add a teaspoon of loose tea to a half-gallon jar. See the Cultures for Health website for other tips to keep you pickles crunchy. Since we have a vineyard, we have plenty of fresh grape leaves so that's what we use.

Slice the cucumbers in half inch slices and cut the tops off of the padron peppers. If using jalapeños, slice them in half lengthwise. Now place your cut up veggies on top of the leaves. Leave 2 to 4 inches of headroom.

Pour enough brine to cover your veggies by at least 1 or 2 inches.

Place something over the veggies to keep them submerged in the brine during fermentation. My crock came with a top but you can use a small plate. If you are fermenting in a quart jar, you can weigh down the veggies with a smaller jar filled with water and capped (like I did in the Curtido Kraut recipe.)

Cover the fermentation crock with a small dish towel or dinner napkin and set in a quiet corner of your kitchen. Peek in once a day to see if it's bubbling. If mold forms, just scoop it out. It's best if the temperature is between 65 and 85 degrees. 

Let fermentation progress for one or two weeks. The best way to see if the pickles are done is to taste them. 

When completed, place the pickles and the juice in a Fido jar or a capped mason jar and store in the refrigerator. If you live in a cool climate, you can store them in a cool root cellar. They should stay crisp for several months. 


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Fig Carpaccio With Balsamic Reduction

A simple and delicious way to enjoy fresh figs.

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Fresh Figs
What's better than a fresh fig? My wonderful neighbors surprised me with a basket of large, juicy, fresh figs for my birthday. I'm in heaven! Of course my favorite way to eat a fig is to just stuff one in my mouth but if you want to serve them as an elegant dessert with a fancy, schmancy name, here's a simple preparation.

Fig Carpaccio with Balsamic Reduction
Carpaccio is the name of pretty much any raw meat, fish, vegetable or fruit with a drizzle of vinegar, oil, pepper, and/or other seasonings. Sweet figs go very well with the complex flavor of balsamic vinegar, especially when it's reduced.

Pretty Simple Preparation
Start with some big, juicy figs - one large or two small figs per person.

This large fig weighed in at nearly 3 ounces.

Thinly slice each fig and place on a small plate.

Prepare the balsamic reduction.
You don't need much so you can start with as little as 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar in a very small saucepan. That's more than enough to drizzle over 4 dessert plates. You can reduce it as is or stir in a tablespoon of honey, agave, or maple syrup as well as a tiny pinch of salt and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until it reduces to about 1/2 the volume. Don't overdo or it will get too thick when it cools.

Let cool and drizzle over the sliced figs and serve immediately.

A large, fresh fig provides 47 calories, 0.2 g of total fat, zero cholesterol, 0.5 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, and 0 mg sodium. 

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Move Over Kale
Turnip Greens Are A Nutrient Powerhouse!
Easy Instant Pot Recipe

I'll share a secret ingredient that cuts the bitterness!

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Just a Few Seeds
After I planted one of my raised beds, I had some room between rows of bell peppers and eggplants. Since they tend to grow straight up and not spread out too much, I thought I'd throw a couple of turnip seeds here and there. I noticed that the top of the greens were growing nicely and weren't getting burned like chard usually does or attacked by aphids like my kale. Before I knew it, the turnips were ready to harvest and the greens were enormous. I was really surprised because the last time I planted turnips, I didn't have this kind of success.

Do Not Fear the Bitter Greens
I rarely go buy turnip greens because I love kale and always have tons of kale growing year-round in my garden. Also, turnip greens can sometimes be a bit too bitter. But with just a little balsamic vinegar, you can cut the bitterness of these nutritious greens and enjoy their wonderful and unique flavor. 

A touch of balsamic vinegar cuts the bitterness.

Move Over Kale
As far as nutrition goes, turnip greens can stand up to kale, the gold standard of nutrition. And in many areas, they outperform kale. Let's compare:

Turnip greens and kale are both low in calories, 29 calories vs. 36 calories per boiled cup and both have .5 grams or less of fat.

They are both very good sources vitamin A, C, K and B6 but turnip greens also provide 42% of the daily requirement of folic acid, 10 times the amount you get from kale.

In the mineral category, turnip greens and kale are both very good sources of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese. However, turnip greens have more than twice the calcium as kale providing 197 mg per cooked cup vs. 94 mg from kale. 

Turnip greens also have more than twice the vitamin E as kale, with turnip greens providing 14% of the daily requirement in one cooked cup. 

When selecting any nutritious food, I look to see its fiber content. Both greens have a very high fiber per calorie content but turnip greens have twice the fiber as kale with a whopping 5 grams per cooked cup versus 2.6 grams in a cooked cup of kale. 

Although kale has more protein than turnip greens, (2.5 g per cooked cup versus 1.6 g), turnip greens have higher protein quality. In fact, they contain all the essential amino acids and are a complete protein

I'll always love kale and I find it more versatile (I'm not inclined to throw turnip greens in my smoothie yet) but after looking deeper into the relative nutrition, I will seek out my bitter friend more often.

What About the Turnips
Today I'm cooking the greens with you but I am making a big pot of Zucchini and Turnip Soup with the turnips.

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Instant Pot Turnip Greens with Garlic and Onions
Vegan, Dairy Free, Gluten Free
[makes 6 servings]

Requires Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker. 

1 1/2 pound turnip greens
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup veggie broth
Salt and black pepper to taste

Prepare the greens by washing and removing the stems.

Roll the leaves and cut into 1/2 inch slices. Set aside.

Set the Instant Pot on sauté. After it heats, add the olive oil, onion and garlic. Cook until the onion softens, several minutes. 

Stir in a large handful of greens. As they quickly wilt, stir in another handful. 

Stir in the balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

Turn the Instant Pot off. Secure the lid making sure that the top vent of the pot is closed and hit the "manual" button. Set the pressure cooker time for 3 minutes at high pressure. 

When complete, hit the "off" button and do a quick release of the pressure. Open the lid carefully. Stir the greens and onions, adjust salt and pepper if needed, and serve immediately.

Per serving: 60 calories, 1 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 101 mg omega-3 and 119 omega-6 fatty acids, 2 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 4 g dietary fiber, 47 mg sodium (not including added salt and sodium from veggie broth).


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Zucchini Tomato Casserole With Garlic And Basil
Easy To Make - Vegan And Gluten Free

Makes a great side dish for the 4th of July!

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Garden Goodies
My tomatoes are starting to come in. I'm buried in zucchini. I just harvested and cured more than 40 heads of garlic and I have some lovely fresh basil too. It all ended up in this simple and super tasty casserole. I honestly think it's one of the yummiest things you can do with these ingredients.

Like a Lasagna but without the Carbs and Cheese
This dish is like making a lasagna but so much easier because you don't precook noodles or have 3 different cheeses to mess with. But the pesto-like sauce gives it so much flavor, it doesn't need anything else.

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Zucchini Tomato Casserole with Garlic and Fresh Basil
Vegan, Dairy Free, Gluten Free
[makes 4 servings]

Requires 9" x 11" casserole dish with cover. If you do not have a cover, you can tent with aluminum foil but make sure not to allow the foil to touch the tomatoes.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus some for the pan
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 cloves garlic, pressed
3 tablespoons vegetable broth
3 medium (fat) zucchini (2 lbs)
2 to 3 large tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Make the pesto-like sauce by mixing 3 tablespoons of the olive oil with the basil, pressed garlic, and broth. Stir until well combined and set aside.

For the nicest presentation and easy serving, use zucchini that is the width of the pan. So if you are using a 9 by 11 inch pan, use a zucchini that, once cleaned and trimmed, will be 9 inches long.

Slice the zucchini in 1/4 inch slices. Slice the tomatoes thin also.

Coat the bottom of the pan with a little olive oil. Place a layer of zucchini on the bottom of the pan. Spread about 1/3rd of the basil garlic mixture over the zucchini.  Cover with a layer of tomatoes. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the tomatoes (not too much because there will be other layers.)

Repeat with another layer of zucchini, another 1/3rd of the basil garlic mixture, another layer of tomatoes, salt and pepper.

Repeat with the last layer of zucchini, some but not all of the remaining basil garlic mixture, and the rest of the tomatoes. Spoon the rest of the basil garlic mixture over the top layer of tomatoes. Salt and pepper the tomatoes if needed.

Ready to bake.

Cover and place in the preheated oven until the zucchini is fork tender, about 35 minutes. Remove the cover and bake another 10 minutes.

Serve as a side dish or over a grain as a light meal.

Friday, June 26, 2015

How Floaters Can Turn Into A Torn Retina
You Need To Act Fast!

The appearance of unusual floaters
was a sign that my retina was tearing. 

Unusual Floaters
Monday, the night before our 25th anniversary, a very unusual floater appeared in my eye. I've always had floaters. Little guys that look like space ships that float across my field of vision. They were a bit annoying but not enough to make me crazy.

But the other night this massive Pac-man looking floater appeared. It didn't just float across my vision, it aggressively whipped around like those bumper car rides. I was also seeing flashes of light when I moved my eye. I knew something was really wrong. 

We spent the morning of our big day in my eye doctor's office. After examining me he said that I had posterior vitreous detachment, not uncommon for someone my age or someone who just had cataract surgery. PVD is a condition where the vitreous, the clear gel-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye, starts to collapse and shrink away from the retina. When it does this, clumps or strands can form in the eye which are the floaters that you see when these objects cast a shadow on the retina.

PVD is more common in people who are nearsighted, have had cataract surgery or YAG laser surgery, or have had inflammation inside the eye. 

I was somewhat relieved that it wasn't as serious as I thought although I wasn't happy that I was going to have to learn to coexist with Pac-man for a long time. Maybe forever. So we went out for a fabulous 25th anniversary dinner and, after a few sake's, I didn't notice the massive floater.

But the Next Day Things Got Much Worse
The next day Pac-man brought out his friends. They looked more like spider webs than floaters. Then the spider webs were joined with a jello-like substance and my vision looked like someone had just faux painted my retina. 

It turns out that when the vitreous moves away from the retina, it sometimes pulls hard enough to tear it in one or more places. If fluid passes through the tear, it can lift the retina off off the back of the eye causing retinal detachment. If not treated, this can lead to blindness.

My Torn Retina
I ran back to my eye clinic. My PVD had progressed to a retinal tear so they immediately sent me to the North Bay Vitreoretinal Surgery Center. After hours of tests and pictures and blinding lights flashing in my eye, they observed two horseshoe retinal tears and some hemorrhaging. This was very serious and I was pretty fortunate to live 30 minutes away from one of the best vitreoretinal surgery centers in the area.

After dilating the pupil to the size of a quarter and giving me numbing drops, they shot my retinal tears with, what seemed like, a hundred laser beams. This welds the retina back together and hopefully will prevent most vision loss. Fortunately, it may have prevented me from going blind. Unfortunately, it didn't get rid of Pac-man and his spidery friends and the beautiful vision that I was enjoying after my cataract surgery is probably gone forever. I keep reminding myself, "I'm not blind."

Act Fast
There was a very high probability that we would have been traveling for our 25th anniversary. It was just a stroke of luck that we decided to stay close to home. The difference between having to deal with a retinal tear and a retinal detachment and face much more serious surgery and possibly blindness, is just a matter of how fast you make it to the doctor. Bottom line, if you see unusual floaters, cobwebs, or flashes of light in your eyes, RUN to a good ophthalmologist. Time is of the essence.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Zucchini Miso Soup With Mushrooms And Kale
Less Than 150 Calories
Miso - A Good Source Of Microbes

You can add microbe-rich miso to any brothy soup.

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Today is our Anniversary 
Twenty six years ago today my wonderful husband and I went on our first date and 25 years ago today we were married! I am the luckiest woman in the world to find a man who has provided love and kindness to me and the children, gave me endless encouragement in my many ambitious endeavors, and shared my obsession for living a healthy lifestyle. We worked well together as engineers in Silicon Valley and now we work just as well together as organic farmers, bloggers, and wine makers. 

Today is our 25th Wedding Anniversary

So yesterday when I felt like my allergies were getting the best of me and were possibly turning into a cold, it was time to make a pot of soup despite the warm temperature outside. We have big plans for our anniversary dinner and I want to feel my best. 

Goals for this Soup
This soup will hopefully accomplish three important goals.
#1 - Help me feel better for my anniversary.
#2 - Give me a source of more microbes from the fermented, unpasteurized miso.
#3 - Help me use up the zucchini in my garden!

Romanesco zucchini are taking over my yard!

Powerful and Delicious Ingredients
Whenever I feel like a cold is coming on, I rely on garlic, onions, ginger, mushrooms and fermented foods to build up my immune system. This soup has it all. But to get the most out of these ingredients remember two things:
#1 - Let the garlic sit for 10 minutes after mincing it to enhance its health-promoting properties.
#2 - Don't boil the miso or it will kill the live beneficial bacteria. Once it's added to the soup, warm it gently over a low flame.

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Zucchini Miso Soup with Mushrooms and Kale
Vegan, Dairy Free, Gluten Free
[makes 4 first-course servings or 2 meal-size servings]

2 or 3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
8 ounces brown clamshell or other mushrooms
1 1/2 pounds small to medium-size zucchini, halved and thinly sliced
4 cups low sodium veggie broth
1 packed cup thinly sliced kale
2 tablespoons (or more) unpasteurized white miso 
Black pepper to taste

For my veggie broth, I like to use a large low sodium vegetable bouillon cube with 4 cups of boiling water. 

Finely mince the garlic and set aside while you are preparing the remaining ingredients. Let the garlic rest for at least 10 minutes so that it develops its health-promoting properties.

Heat the olive oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven. Cook the onion for 5 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and ginger, stirring until fragrant, about one minute. 

Separate the clamshell mushrooms. If you are using shiitake mushrooms, remove their stems and slice. Add the mushrooms to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until they release their liquid, about 3 minutes.

Add the zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, until it cooks down a bit and gets a little starchy, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer, cover, and cook until the soup thickens and the zucchini begins to soften. 

Throw in the kale and cook another 5 or so minutes until all the veggies are cooked. I like the zucchini soft in a soup like this but you may prefer them to be a bit firmer.  

Remove a cup of broth from the pot and place in a small bowl. Stir in the miso paste until all the lumps are gone. 

Stir the miso broth mixture back into the pot. Simmer for a few minutes but DO NOT BOIL as excessive heat will kill the beneficial microbes. 

Add freshly ground black pepper to taste and serve immediately.

This soup is less than 150 calories per serving

Per serving (4): 148 calories, 5 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 105 mg omega-3 and 661 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 0 mg cholesterol, 8 g protein, 21 carbohydrates, 5 g dietary fiber, and 394 mg sodium. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Don't Throw Out The Artichoke Water
Detox, Lose Water Weight, And More!

Artichoke tea, hot or cold, can provide health benefits.

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My Garden
I am having so much fun in my garden this year. The most exciting veggie I tried growing is the artichoke which happens to be one of my absolute favorite foods. They grow really well in Northern California so I guess I shouldn't have been shocked when they started popping up only weeks after planting pretty mature plants (I bought the ones in 1 gallon containers).

They've been coming up pretty regularly now and this morning I had two of them along with my usually zucchini and my first two tomatoes!

This morning's haul!

My favorite way to eat artichokes is to stuff them with breadcrumbs but that takes some work. So lately I've just been boiling them and dipping them in hummus or miso tahini dressing. One day when I was boiling the the artichokes, I noticed that the cooking water turned into a beautiful, fragrant broth so I drank it. It was delicious. I shouldn't have been surprised because I've been drinking Vietnamese artichoke tea for years.  

Save the water after boiling your artichokes.
I generally use 5 cups of water for 2 medium artichokes and cook them until tender, around 45 to 60 minutes.

You can strain it but you don't have to.

Benefits of Artichoke Tea
Artichoke leaves contain some powerful phytonutrients - cynarin, silymarin, quercetin, rutin, and gallic acid, which can help protect us against liver disease, cancer, and heart disease. 

Artichokes are rich in vitamin C, K, folate, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese, much of which ends up in the water when you cook the artichoke.

The cynarin in artichokes helps stimulate bile production and is beneficial for your liver. Silymarin is also a very good liver protectant so artichoke tea and broth are excellent for helping you detox.

Lose Water Weight
Artichokes are a natural diuretic and can help prevent water retention and allow you to shed some water weight. And when you eat the artichoke, with all its wonderful fiber, it will act as a natural laxative and remove additional waste and toxins. Just one medium artichoke has a whopping 7 grams of fiber. And your gut microbes will have a feast too!

Hot or Cold
So enjoy the hot broth as a tea or use it to cook dried beans or as a broth for soup. But since it's hot out, I've been enjoying it as an iced tea with a few drops of stevia.

Is Artichoke Water the Latest Rage?
As I was writing this, I noticed a new beverage on the market called Arty Water. Ha! I guess I wasn't the first person to think of drinking their artichoke water but I'm glad I started doing it and stopped throwing this amazing elixir down the drain.