My kitchen may be small, but it does big things

my kitchen my homemy kitchen2

Over the past few years, I have really grown to absolutely love cooking and cooking real, whole foods.  People talk to me and ask where this love came from, and they want to know how I do it and how they can do it too.  I would always say I had no idea where it came from…but it’s probably one of the best things to have ever happened to me.

I was always fascinated by cooking. I even came very close to going to culinary school instead of a traditional college after high school.  However it wasn’t until later, into my early 20’s that I really started to experiment in the kitchen.  I watched a lot of food network, always captivated by the beautiful dishes that these hosts created and the ease in which they manipulated the food into something delicious.  So of course, I wanted to do it too. However, I have always had a passion for information and learning, not just doing.  Alton Brown quickly became a favorite of mine, feeding not only my interest in making foods but my hunger for knowledge too.  Over the years, my food idols have expanded to people like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, diving deeper into topics surrounding our culture and food.

I have always attributed the start of my interest in health and healthy living to the foods themselves.  While it is absolutely accurate to do so, there is also another component to the process that I hadn’t really given its due credit, and that is cooking.  I can’t pin-point where, what, or even really when I started to cook a lot; it was a gradual process.  The more I cooked, the more I wanted to learn about different foods.  The more I learned about different foods, the more I learned about health, and wellness.  Cooking became a catalyst for me to begin a path of health and nutrition self-education.  The more I learned, and the more I experimented, the better I felt and the more I wanted to continue to cook and learn.

When I really stop and break it down, cooking saved me.  Now, I know that sounds a bit dramatic.  It didn’t cure me from any terminal disease, or clean me up from a debilitating addiction; but it did turn my life around.  When someone asks, “What are you passionate about?” cooking and leading a healthy lifestyle are always my top answers.  I found a passion that is bigger than a hobby; I found a way to heal myself, physically and mentally.

Cooking has really given me the opportunity to get in touch with who I am. Because it’s something that you have to set time aside for, and make it a priority, you’re really making yourself a priority.  It allows you to say, I want to do this for me and put the effort in to nourish and treat myself better.  I’ve learned a lot about myself, my likes, my dislikes, I’ve developed my palate and have experimented with foods I never would have thought to try before.  It takes me out of my comfort zone and pushes me to think outside of the box.  I’ve also developed my skills of patience, and acceptance.  I don’t always make homerun dishes the first time, but I know and accept that and I figure out what went wrong and try it again.  My kitchen has also taught me to slow down.  My time there is a time to focus on what I’m doing in the here and now and not on all of the other things going on in my life at that time.  It’s my escape and peace in a busy day.  Cooking has become something very important and personal to me.  I create in the kitchen; I put my whole effort and self into my dishes and I love the food I make.  I completely believe the emotions and feeling you put into your food is translated into the foods themselves. The foods I make are a part of who I am, and when you love the food you create, the food just tastes better.  Fact.

Cooking has also allowed me to heal myself physically.  I spent many years of my life dealing with a lot of stomach issues.  I would frequently get sick after meals, feeling nauseous or have stomach pains.  I was on at least 4 different medications over the years because maybe I had acid reflux? I had an upper endoscopy performed so they could scope my esophagus and stomach to try and find out the cause.  I had scarring but it wasn’t cancerous (thank goodness).  I even ended up in the hospital with a diagnosis of gastritis and a peptic ulcer (oooo…dry toast for 3 weeks, yay).  Nothing made me feel better until I started to play around with my diet.  I now know what foods make me feel sick, and what foods make me feel energized.  A big thing for me was cutting out dairy.  But probably the most important step I took was a basic one, adding in more home cooked, whole foods.  Doing this left little to no room for the processed crap that I ate far too often earlier in life with who knows what in it.

The difference is notable.  The recipe is simple. Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated.  Make time for yourself and your health.  Eat real, whole, organic foods.  Prepare and cook them with love.  Enjoy the process; you will taste and feel the difference.

Chilled ginger-citrus carrot and beet soup

Soup in the summertime seems like a ridiculous idea.  It’s already hot out; you don’t need your dinner to warm you up even more.  A chilled soup on the other hand, can end up being exactly what you might be looking for.  Last summer I had my first experience with chilled soups one Saturday afternoon while perusing the farmers market.  A woman was giving samples of her homemade cold soups, and after trying one I promptly bought 3 containers, it was that good.  The best one that I had was by far her chilled beet soup.  Beets are one of my favorite vegetables, I eat them hot AND cold so it makes perfect sense that a chilled beet soup would be a home run.  I wanted to see if I could do it.

Luckily, I got beets in my CSA this week! How convenient.  What makes this even better is that I have also been getting the most delicious Napoli carrots for the past few weeks too.  They are just the right amount of sweet with a clean crisp finish to them.   I can almost eat the whole pound raw in one sitting.  Good thing I refrained this week, because into my soup they will go!

organic beets

As with almost everything I make, I pretty much made it up as I went along.  I immediately knew the flavor profile that I wanted.  A bright note of citrus and a zip of ginger would definitely compliment the sweet carrots and earthy beets.  I thought back to my basic soup making knowledge and went at it.

Ingredients:

4 medium sized beets – cut into small chunks (the smaller the pieces the faster it cooks!)

About ½ pound of carrots (I just couldn’t part with them all!) – also cut into small chunks

About 4 ½ cups of organic vegetable stock – low sodium

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 spring onion bulb, diced – I also received these in my CSA, they have a light, sweet, onion flavor that I knew wouldn’t be too overpowering.  If you can’t find them, try using a shallot.

1 TBS olive oil

Juice of ½ lemon

Juice of ½ orange

1 TBS grated ginger – As I’ve noted in other recipes, a good tip is to keep your ginger in the freezer.  It stays fresh longer and you don’t have to worry about peeling it, you just use a microplane and grate what you need!

 

Making this was pretty simple, here’s what I did:

  • Sautee the garlic and onion in the olive oil (you want to cook out the raw flavor)
  • Add the stock and bring to a boil
  • Add the beets and carrots and cook until they are fork tender
  • Add the lemon juice, orange juice, and the grated ginger to the pot, stir, and take it off of the heat. *The last thing you want to be doing is adding a hot liquid to your blender, so make sure you let it cool down!!*
  • Once it’s cool, pour it all into the blender and blend!
  • Chill in the fridge for about an hour and EAT!!

chilled ginger citrus carrot beet soup in blender

 

I garnished mine with some pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and it tasted great!!

chilled ginger citrus carrot and beet soup

You can definitely eat this soup hot too, so keep it in mind during the fall and winter months.  Just reheat it on the stove after you blend it and enjoy.

I can do anything for 3 days…my juice cleanse experience

If there’s one time of year to indulge, it’s certainly on your birthday.  I like to say that I have a birthday “season” as opposed to restricting myself to just one day for celebrations.  And boy did I have a lot of celebrations this year in which I indulged in pretty much whatever I wanted. While I’m completely okay with this on a mental level, because I’m only human, and I mean, it’s my birthday, my body on the other hand, was not too happy with me.  To go from having eliminated dairy for a while now, and having cut out 99% of processed foods and sugars to eating a ton of cheese, sugary desserts and overall not-good-for-you foods, definitely took a toll on me.  I felt sluggish, sick, down and depressed and basically just pretty awful.

I made the decision to do a 3 day juice cleanse once I was done celebrating.  I wanted to reset my body and get back on track with my healthy eating and great feelings.  When I told people I was going to do this, I of course got a lot of mixed responses.  Some just don’t get it and think it’s a waste of money, while others were excited for me and wanted to hear how it went.  While it’s certainly not for everyone, I can honestly say having now completed it, that I am overwhelmingly glad I did this and I’m sure I will continue to feel even better.  I will give you some of the “listed” benefits of doing something like this, however I also think that hearing about my personal experience can be far more meaningful to those who are considering something like this for themselves or are skeptical.

Juice cleanse - detox

First let me start with the basic jist of what this particular cleanse I chose is all about.  It was created by Ami Beach, co-owner of G-Zen in Branford, CT (named one of the top 10 upscale vegan restaurants in America by Shape magazine).  Her list of credentials in holistic practices and years of experience speaks for itself.  If you’re interested in reading up on her or the cleanse more, the website is: http://www.g-glow.blogspot.com/ and the information below is taken directly from there.

The juices are made from over 80 lbs of fresh 100% organic produce.  They are fresh pressed using a state-of the-art Walker hydraulic juicer that leaves the juices in the most nutrient dense state. The Fresh pressed Organic juices are custom mixed with medicinal enhancers ie: (collodial silver, oxygen, aloe vera, cell food ect) and blended in such as way to stabilize your blood sugar level and allow you to get through the cleanse with ease & grace. 

Benefits include:

* Reboot metabolism & immune system

* Lose weight and stimulation of better digestion

* Increases Energy

* Mental clarity

* Cellular detoxification of blood & organs

* Improve skin clarity and complexion

* Improved assimilation and elimination

By giving your digestive system a much needed rest from the processed, acidic foods you consume on a daily basis, you will feel the amazing benefits of a regulated and nourished colon. Experience increased energy, stamina, and mental clarity. Embrace your new radiant complexion and healthy hair and nails!

The benefits of juice cleanses will vary by person, as do many things having to do with our bodies and diet, because we’re all different.  For me, despite the things that I found difficult (which I will get into after), I found the whole process extremely positive.

The first thing that I noticed, and continue to feel, is an overall sensation of feeling lighter: lighter heart, lighter mind, and lighter body.  On top of that I felt a distinct calm and ease about myself.  As I said before, I was feeling listless and depressed, and even after the first day, I woke up with a brightness and clarity that is similar to how I feel after my yoga classes.  All of this is contrary to how I was afraid I would feel.  Usually, if I don’t get something to eat every few hours, I feel sluggish and I’m a snappy, crabby brat.  MANY can attest to that haha. Yet, my mood never dropped once and my energy levels were heightened throughout the day, all because the juices are designed to keep your blood sugar stable.

Another benefit I found in just these 3 short days is my skin is glowing.  I don’t have troublesome skin so I never even thought of this as a benefit, but I truly do notice that my face and complexion has brightened and is softer and clearer.

Another aspect that was a great surprise to me was how amazingly I slept.  I have terrible sleep habits, bouts of insomnia, and don’t allow my body the rest it needs a lot of the time.  I have slept the best, most restorative, baby-like sleep I have had in a LONG time.  I fell asleep easily, I woke up feeling rested and refreshed and if nothing else, this whole cleanse was worth it just for that!!

The most important thing to me though, is how much better I feel.  Clearing out my system from the foods I don’t typically eat and giving my body time to re-set has made a world of difference in the way I feel physically.

Now on to the things I had difficulty with, since I know that’s the juicy gossip everyone really wants to know about.  Well, get this…I missed eating! Surprise, surprise.  I wasn’t hungry per-se, it was more the act of eating that I missed.  What I found was that it was mainly in situations where I was bored, or at work where I’m always mindlessly snacking (on healthy things like celery, but still, I’m constantly eating).  But finding things to keep me from getting bored, like spending time with my friends, reading, and writing this blog, kept me from having to fill that boredom void with munching on something.  The other thing I found really difficult was not being able to cook.  Now I know this is something that is probably specific to me, but I realized just how much I love being in the kitchen and cooking with fresh, healthy foods.  I actually ended up cooking last night, my final night of the cleanse, because, 1) I just couldn’t take not cooking anymore, and 2) I wanted to have an amazing lunch for my first day back to eating.

Overall, this was an extremely wonderful experience for me.  I feel great about myself having gotten though it and I feel physically rejuvenated.  Every one of the juices tasted fantastic, the instructions were thorough and clear and there was support available if I needed it.  This is definitely something I will recommend to anyone who is interested in trying it, and something I will absolutely do again myself in the future.

My first CSA share of the year!! I love local, organic food <3

So yesterday I picked up my first share of produce from the certified organic farm that I am doing a CSA with this year!! I cannot explain how excited I am to finally be able to participate in something like this.  If you want to know more about what a CSA is, and its benefits, I spelled it all out HERE!  I love the idea of getting fresh, local, organic produce every week.  Also, what excites me is getting to try new vegetables!! As you may know, I’m an experimenter with my food, so not knowing each week what I will be getting, and sometimes getting things I don’t normally use, will really push me to expand on my cooking and be able to share new and exciting things with all of you guys, my readers!!

It’s pretty early in the growing season, but I still got a bunch of AMAZING things this week! Here’s what I got!!

First CSA share

A Genevese basil plant (so I will be able to grow and have my own basil all year long!)

Baby mixed salad greens (so tender and delicious!!)

Mixed braising greens (I’m thinking braised with cider vinegar…can you say YUM?!)

Rainbow Swiss Chard (will make for some beautiful food pictures!!)

Napoli carrots (they raved about their carrots; I can’t wait to try them!)

Haukeri Turnips (something new for me…he said they’re tender; you can eat them raw or roast them)

Radishes (he said they’re especially spicy ;)…I say: good!)

Spicy white bean, sweet potato and kale soup

“Well the weather outside is frightful”….ok ok I won’t start singing winter wonderland songs but it’s really quite true lately.  It’s been chilly and rainy for days with the exception of one nice day…where is the nice weather?!! So I decided to give in and cook myself something warm and comforting to cozy up on my couch with and embrace this crappy weather….and what’s better than soup?!! I wasn’t planning on posting this recipe on the blog, because for me, soup is EXTRA hard to pay attention to what I’m putting in it.  It gets a little of this and a little of that, and oh, no wait, a little more of that…soup is about tasting as you go and tweaking it to perfection by building the flavors.  But this was so simply delicious, I will do my best to explain it all 😉 and please, tweak as you go too! Start with little dashes and add more if you like the way it’s going, it’s a great way to introduce new flavors to your palate.

Spicy white bean, sweet potato, and kale soup

The basic ingredients:

2 TBS EVOO

½ white onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 can of organic cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

About 2 cups of organic kale

1 medium sweet potato, diced into small cubes (I like to leave the skins on)

Organic vegetable broth, low sodium (I used about 3/4 of a quart container)

Seasonings:

Salt and pepper

Cardamom

Cinnamon

Ground cayenne red pepper

 

Instructions:

  • Heat the oil in a large pot over medium and cook the onion until translucent
  • Add the garlic and cook another minute, then add the kale and sautee until wilted
  • Add the beans and sweet potato and stir to combine
  • Pour the vegetable broth over everything until you have a little more broth than you would want if you want it soupy, or a little less if you want it thicker.  The broth will cook down and thicken up some so keep that in mind.
  •  Now I add my seasonings.  Like I said, dash and taste and figure out what works for you.  With the cayenne I started out with just a little bit and built it up to make sure it wasn’t too hot.  The cardamom and cinnamon, I did a couple dashes of each since I love those flavors together, especially with sweet potatoes! And as always, season with salt and pepper.
  • Bring up to a boil, cover and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender.
  • Once the sweet potatoes are fork tender, check your seasonings again.  You want a balance between the sweetness of the potatoes and cinnamon and the heat from the cayenne.  Adjust as needed and ENJOY!!

Daily Don’t Forget: More Bananas!

organic fair trade bananas

Bananas are a staple fruit in my diet and they have a ton of health benefits.  Here’s a few of my faves!

  • Not only do bananas give you energy because they are loaded with vitamins and minerals, but studies have shown that eating a banana can actually lift your mood!!
  • They are also a fantastic source of potassium which is great for an active person like me because it can prevent muscle cramps after working out.   It also regulates your circulatory system and helps keep a proper balance of fluids in your system.
  • They’re a good source of iron, vitamin C and B6
  • They’re easy to digest and their fiber content (about 3g in one banana) can help regulate your digestive system.

BUT! I have a bit of a reputation for being a banana snob…I’m super picky about what degree of ripeness I will eat a banana.  Not too green, bright yellow, very little brown spots, if any…it’s a little neurotic haha

What this means is that a lot of the bunch gets too brown before I can devour them!

While making banana bread with your over ripe bananas can be one good way to utilize them, there’s no way I can make, let alone eat, an entire banana bread each week.

MY Solution: Freeze them!

Once the bananas start getting too ripe for my taste, I peel them (<– important step), cut them in half or thirds depending on the size, and just toss the pieces into a Tupperware container to be frozen.  It’s that simple.

My favorite way to use a frozen banana is in my morning green smoothie.  By adding a frozen banana to the mix, the smoothie instantly gets that thick, creamy, frozen texture that is hard to get by using ice cubes.  It’s delicious.

Another simple way to use a frozen banana is to make banana ice cream!!  You just blend the banana with some almond milk and literally…..voila!  You can jazz it up too by adding dark chocolate chunks and/or peanut butter, or by adding different berries, whatever your imagination brings!

So next time you’re at the grocery store, be sure to pick up some bananas, and don’t hunt for the small bunch! Because don’t forget! you now have a quick simple solution for the ones that get too ripe!!

Breakfast fail to fix — Busy Morning’s Peanut Butter Banana Nut Oatmeal

Busy happens.  In my life busy is what I love and what I thrive off of, but even for me occasionally there ends up being too many things to do in a day.  For instance, I haven’t put a blog post up in about a week.  I’ve started writing many posts but haven’t been able to complete them because I have too much going on and they get pushed aside.  However, one thing that doesn’t get pushed aside is my health.  It’s so easy to think in terms of the present and instant gratification.  Yet, I make a conscious effort to stay aware of my food and health decisions in the now because I know they will affect me later too. Busy or not, I still cook for myself and eat well and maintain my active lifestyle, because I make it a priority.  But! Like I said, I understand busy.  My dishes haven’t been creative, and certainly nothing special enough to be picture worthy in my eyes.  But I stick with it and I plan ahead and even if my food isn’t pretty, it’s delicious and healthy and I feel great after eating it, and that’s what matters most.

I wanted to share my breakfast from this morning because it was almost an epic “too busy” fail moment.  Oatmeal is something that’s quick and easy to make for breakfast, and filling and nutritious too, so I turn to it a lot on hectic mornings.  I boil 2/3 cup of water, add 1/3 cup of old fashioned oats, and simmer on medium for about 5 minutes.  This morning I let the time get away from me and I came back to over-cooked oats! But instead of getting frustrated, I improvised.  I added a little bit more water, a bunch of cinnamon and mashed an entire banana into the mixture and let it heat through.  Tasted like banana muffins so I kept going…crumbled some walnuts on top and a big spoonful of natural peanut butter and it was amazing!  I will definitely make this again, and not just the days I mess up my regular oatmeal haha.  It’s just another simple breakfast idea, or fix in my case, to keep on hand for those busy, hectic mornings when you just don’t think you have time to eat healthy.

peanut butter banana nut oatmeal

peanut butter banana nut oatmeal close up