Marshmallow

I am in New York visiting my mom for a few days. Today, I was helping her with some yard work while she mowed the lawn, and I came across a plant I recognized: marshmallow!

No, the plant does not even remotely resemble the sugary confection that no campfire should be without. Marshmallow is a plant that has been used for ages medicinally in either poultices for cuts and burns, or as a throat soother when someone has a couch or a core throat due to cold or seasonal allergies. Marshmallow leaves look like fans. I have never seen the flowers, but they are either purple or white. You can use the whole plant. You can eat the leaves like salad greens or dry them (which is what I opted for), and you can either extract the sap from the tuberous root or dry it in order to preserve it longer (also what I opted to do).

The sweet marshmallows of modern times were originally invented as throat lozenges for sore throats. The sap from the root can be blended into a thick paste-like substance and honey and other flavors added to it to make a hard candy to suck on. People still make them–although, I don’t know how I feel about adding slippery elm bark to anything. Just the name sounds unappealing.

I chose to dry both the leaves and the roots, for preservation sake. I will be returning to Virginia in a few days, and I want to take it all with me without risk of it spoiling. I will probably leave some for my mom to use as well.

Common mallow looks very similar to marshmallow and can be used in the same fashion. It’s a bit smaller, but it can be found anywhere along rivers, near ponds and lakes–anywhere the ground is constantly damp. Look for a leaf that looks similar to an open fan. The roots are long, slender and pale. They smell to me almost like celery.

I hung the leaves to dry in a place with plenty of circulation, and the roots, which I cut into pieces about one inch long, were dried in the oven for about an hour on very low heat.

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The thicker pieces are still a little spongy to the touch, but I will just let them dry completely in the open air on the counter. Once the leaves are completely dried, I will crumble them and use them in tea. I will have to look up a good recipe for marshmallow root salve. If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to share!

I am so proud of myself for recognizing such a useful plant! I can’t wait to do more foraging! Goldenrod is past its peak here, but I hope there is still some blooming when I return to Virginia. That is another very useful plant to have for cold and flu season.

Until next time!

Remembered Always

This is my memory–as far as I can remember it–of September 11, 2001. Every year at this time, I feel strongly pressed to remember what happened that day. For me, it’s a form of catharsis. The events of that day sixteen years ago I am not likely to ever forget.

A normal Tuesday morning in a sleepy commuter town in Connecticut, I rose groggily from the comfort of my bed to get dressed for school. I was looking forward (not really) to another long day of monotony and boredom, with not much else in the way of excitement, or even enthusiasm. The only cloud with a silver lining on the horizon was my first period English class with the teacher I harbored a crush for.  Other than that, a big fat yawn.

My class had a way of getting loud and obnoxious by the end of the period. The teacher always had a difficult time getting us to quiet down as he tried to explain the assignment he had for us to complete. He was young (and cute), and very wet-behind-the-ears. He was trying to shout over the raucous voices in the back of the classroom, while I stared dutifully towards the white board at the front of the room (while surreptitiously peeking at the teacher) when the intercom crackled. There was a collective “Shhh!” and a few, “Shut ups” as the principal’s voice traveled through the now-dead-silent room. “There has been an accident at the World Trade Center in New York City”.

Every breath in the room stopped.

And then the bell rang.

There was an explosion of movement. I made a mad dash across the instantly packed hallway, as everyone else seemed to be doing the same thing in every other direction. There were television monitors in every room, including the cafeteria, and everyone moved ten times faster than their usual lethargic, I-am-in-school-and-I-wish-I-was-anywhere-else pace to get somewhere where they could view what was happening in New York.  My next class–ironic as it was–was Middle East History, which was right around the corner from where I had been.

I walked in, mildly breathless, and the teacher had the TV already turned to CNN. The image that met my eyes was one for the movies. Billows of smoke were coming from one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. I barely remember sitting down. I hardly noticed the other students filling in around me. And we all just sat or stood and stared at the screen as history and horror unfolded right in front of us.

As the news rolled, we learned about the Pentagon and Pennsylvania as well. By then we knew this was definitely no accident. There was no definition for this in our adolescent minds at the time. We all gasped as we watched the second plane hit the South Tower. We saw people leap for their lives, choosing to take their final moments into their own hands, rather than be choked and burned alive. We watched in horrified silence, dotted here and there with moans and muffled screams, as first one tower, and then the other fell. Many were crying. Others were inconsolable. There are no words to describe the utter shock and trepidation we all felt that day.

There was a lot of shaking heads and utterances of “Oh, my God”, “What the *bleep* is going on”, “My (fill in the blank) works there. I hope they’re alright”. There was a flurry of cell phones as those who had them dialed home, demanding answers about relatives’ or friends’ whereabouts, or begging for a parent to come pick them up from school. Phones were shared, and all the pay phones were in constant use–yes, pay phones were a thing if you didn’t own a cell phone–like me.

All I kept thinking was, My Aunt works there. Where is she? I don’t remember if I borrowed someone’s phone or used the pay phone, but I did call home and ask what was happening. I was told to stay put and come home at the regular time. My parents encouraged me to stay with my friends and stay together. So I did. One teacher tried to get us to do actual work, but that didn’t last long. No one could escape what was happening.

Meanwhile, my mom had gone to pick up my sisters at their school. The pick-up line was a mess. One little girl was in hysterics asking where her dad was–he was a pilot. He was not, as it turns out, one of the pilots killed that day. But in that moment, no one knew anything beyond the fact that something major, completely unprecedented, and absolutely terrifying was happening in our country, no more than a two-hour train ride from us, in one of the most powerful cities in the world.

A family we knew had been flying back from Germany, from a world-class German Shepherd dog show, and when the order came to land all the planes, they were faced with a huge problem of how to get their dogs the care they needed while stranded in a field in the middle of nowhere. Cell phones were not what they are now. The reception was spotty at best and there were very few available social media outlets to speak of. They were barely able to call home and inform their loved ones that they were safe–stranded, but alive.

I was in complete and utter shock the entire day. It felt surreal. My fourteen-year-old brain couldn’t, or wouldn’t fully comprehend what was happening. My thoughts kept coming back to my aunt and her unknown whereabouts.

My aunt had been a school teacher when I was younger. She got into the world of finance later on. I remember when I was young she would talk about her students quite a lot. She absolutely loved teaching. We have a shared love of books–a common theme in our family–and she has a wonderful, bubbly personality. Not knowing where she was for an entire day, not knowing if she was alive or dead, was one of the worst feelings I have ever had in my entire life.

It wasn’t until I finally got home that day that I learned about what had happened to my aunt. My dad had been at work, and a co-worker of his alerted him to something happening in New York. My dad immediately phoned his sister’s office at the World Trade Center. She answered. She told him that the building was being evacuated (the South Tower) and that she would call him if she could, later. And that was the last time they spoke that day–until almost midnight that night.

I spoke to my aunt either that night or the day after. She hadn’t seen what we had seen all day until she got home that night. There are no words for the relief I felt–the relief we all felt–when we knew that she was alright. I won’t even begin to imagine the relief that my grandmother felt when my aunt walked through that door, alive and safe. I won’t begin to know the intense shock my aunt felt when she realized her office–the whole building–was just–

Gone.

The days following 9/11/2001 were some of the most difficult we have ever faced. My parents made me go back to school and back to a regular schedule. Everyone in the community made a concerted effort to make sure that everything remained virtually the same. Bullies only react to strength, and strength is exactly what we gave them in the days that followed. Charities were donated to. Volunteers went down to Ground Zero to help with search and rescue. Firefighters collected money in their boots at intersections to help fund the first responders in New York City. Candle-lit vigils were held for the fallen victims in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. Prayers were sung. Hands were held. Shoulders were offered. We all stuck together.

It has been sixteen years to the day, and the shock and veritable grief I still feel to this day for all those who died, who lost loved ones–it lingers on, as does the fierce pride for those heroes who rose up to the ultimate challenge and did their ultimate best to save innocent lives. The names of the fallen are emblazoned on the wall of Ground Zero Memorial, remembered always. ♥♥♥

(I own neither of these pictures.)

 

 

 

Making Grandma Proud and Making Things Fizz

Hello! It’s me again! Fall is on the horizon. I hope everyone has their apple cider or pumpkin spice latte at the ready. I prefer cider myself. Pumpkin spice was a novelty when it first became a fad. Now it’s too hyped up. Try chai tea and hot cider. The chai tastes like mulled spices (essentially, that’s what it actually is), and it’s delicious! A splash of whiskey wouldn’t hurt, either.

I decided to make homemade gnocchi last night! No, sorry, I don’t have any pictures. But click the Pinterest link below to find the method I used. I’m a visual person, so videos and such are super helpful for me. I was a little concerned about making this pasta–last time I tried making gnocchi a few years ago, the pasta turned out more like potato mush, and I ended up turning the clumps into pancakes instead. It turned out to be an ok compromise, but it made me shy to try again. But I did! And what a success!

I sauteed my gnocchi in butter with garlic, sage, fresh thyme, and threw in a diced tomato for color. Very tasty! My Italian grandmother would be extremely proud! Both of my grandmothers would be proud, truth be known, but since this pasta is Italian in origin, I thought it a tribute to mia famiglia.

If one were so inclined, gnocchi could probably be used as the dumpling part in chicken and dumplings, depending on the recipe. They’re about the same size. It is that time of year when all of the heartier foods like stews come out. Guiness stew will most certainly be gracing my stove sometime in the not-too-distant future. I will definitely be sharing that recipe.

In other news, I have decided to give home brewing a try! I got a mead brewing kit from a vendor on Etsy. So far, so good! But now I’ve got the bug! I want to try cider next! Yes, you heard me. Hard cider is wonderful this time of year. It will be a couple more weeks until the mead is finished, and I cannot wait to try it!

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Etsy kit I used.

Also, Christmas is coming. Giving people homemade gifts is always great, especially if it makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

My herbs are beginning to turn themselves in for hibernation. It may also be because the weather has been so damp lately, but the mint especially is becoming limp and brown. So sad. I did take clippings of most of my plants to propagate in water so I can grow them indoors during the winter. There are some plants that will regrow roots after being cut if they are placed in water for 2-3 weeks: thyme, mint, lavender, rosemary, and sage are a few. So, fingers crossed. It’s only day two, but I really hope this works. If not, I will simply have to start over from seeds next year.

That is all that I have for you at the moment! Stay tuned for further adventures! Until next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backyard Pharmacy

Hello All! Long time! I wish I had a good excuse, but I don’t. I will say that writer’s block combined with procrastination is never a good mix. But all that aside, who is excited about viewing the solar eclipse in the northern hemisphere today? I certainly am! I have my pinhole camera all set and ready to go! The last time I remember there was a solar eclipse, I was in kindergarten, and I didn’t get to see it. Bummer. But as long as the clouds stay out of the way, we will be good to go! Remember, DO NOT look directly at the sun, unless you want to go partially or even permanently blind.

I have been recovering from a summer cold–ick. I don’t get sick very often, or for very long, but being any kind of sick makes me feel miserable. Colds always like to settle in my chest and sinuses, and so decongestant and expectorants are my go-to. I go with the cheaper version of Robitussin, and that sees to the expulsion of mucus (ick) from my lungs.

During this last bout, however, I supplemented my medicine with some yarrow tea brewed from my fresh fern growing on my deck. I added dried lemon balm and spearmint to the tea as well. It was amazing how well it worked to alleviate the symptoms of my cold! Not only did it soothe my sore throat, but it also helped me breathe a little easier.

There are plenty of herbs that assist in boosting your immune system response when you’re sick. Dandelions–yes, those pesky, fuzzy yellow flowers sprouting up all over your yard–are used to treat everything from gas and indigestion to the common cold, to warding off cancer. The whole plant, from root to stem to flower, can be used either topically or ingested. Plantains–not the cousin of bananas, but the green weeds that are also growing in your yard–can be used to stop bleeding from minor cuts, can be used in salves and poultices, or brewed in tea and eaten in salads. Plantain has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

One herb that I have not managed to try yet is marshmallow–not to be confused with the puffy, sugary, s’mores-building confection sporting summer campfires. Marshmallow plants can be found in damp areas such as near marshes (hence the name) and along river banks. Common mallow is within the same family. The confectioner’s version of the marshmallow got its start medicinally. The sap from the root of the plant can be whipped until it’s stiff, and sugar and other ingredients added to it, making it a lozenge of sorts for sore throats. The leaves and stems of the plant can be eaten as well.

Nature’s abundance is truly unlimited. Plants that we take absolutely for granted are the ones we ought to pay more attention to. I know I am gaining a much higher respect for what are known as common weeds, and learning to put them to their proper uses.

That’s all that I have for you today. I hope you all enjoy your day! Until next time!

 

Deep Soil

Brown. Black. Rich. Earth. This is where life begins. Life emerges from beneath the surface to sustain the world. Wet. Crumbly. Loamy. Volcanic. These geological phenomena occurred over hundreds of thousands of years. They burned, they cooled. They flooded, they dried. They thrived, they starved. All of these events created the soil of which we so often take advantage.

We don’t need to travel to a museum to see history. History is right under our feet. The earth we stand on tells more stories than a tour guide.

In wine, the French call it terroir, the essence that the environment gives to a wine. Wine grapes absorb the nature of the soil their roots live in, and that in turn lends itself to the finished product. That aroma of fresh rain, or minerals, or the hint of fresh herbs–that is the soil talking, of the work it did to create the perfected silvery-white to purple-red liquid in your glass.

Soil is the ingredient that gets the least recognition in any recipe. The dirt that we plant our edible plants in is the reason why we have plants in the first place. We live off of it. Animals live off of it. Soil is the most necessary tool in the earth’s design. Without it, roots would have no place to anchor themselves. Without plants, animals (and us) have no food source.

Granted, this is all a little deep, but it’s nevertheless true. And also, I am about half a bottle in to some very nice sauvignon blanc. So I will leave it there. Until next time.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Liquid Sunshine

Happy Bastille Day! A good day to drink good wine, eat good food, and celebrate freedom in all its forms. What is Bastille Day? It is a national holiday in France commemorating the storming of the prison known as the Bastille on July 14, 1789. The French citizens were fed up their government, their king, and their queen; Marie Antoinette had haughtily told her citizens who could not afford to buy flour for making bread to eat cake instead. Say Whaaat??!! Off with her head!!!!!! (Next time you make a cake, be thankful you have eggs–and flour. People died for those luxuries.)

The French citizens decided to take matters into their own hands, and quite literally, too. Women and men, about 1,000 strong, assaulted the Bastille. And so began the French Revolution. Vive la France!

I am not French, not even a little bit. C’est triste. But I am American, and the French did help us win the American Revolution (which, apart from the lavish lifestyle of King Louis XVI and Marie Antionette, was a reason why their finances were in such dire straits by 1789…je suis désolé). Remember Yorktown, VA. The French and the Americans are kindred spirits, as remembered by our Lady Liberty, who has stood in New York Harbor since 1886. I know my own ancestors peered at that statue as they disembarked on Ellis Island from Italy and Ireland, over a century ago. They hoped against hope that this country would be their salvation. I am a third generation citizen on my father’s mother’s side. I’d say they did pretty well for themselves.

The French and the Americans are kindred spirits, as remembered by our Lady Liberty, who has stood in New York Harbor since 1886, and was placed there by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. I know that my own ancestors peered at that statue as they disembarked on Ellis Island from Italy and possibly Irelandé, over a century ago. They hoped against hope that this country would be their salvation. I am a third generation citizen on my father’s mother’s side. I’d say they did pretty well for themselves, all alternatives considered.

So raise a toast to our French compatriots! Santé! Merci un million!

So how do you toast the French? With wine of course! Wine is a generally accepted beverage in France, non? Wine is a tremendous gift to us from the crafters of vines and vintages. The ancient Italian stargazer, physicist, and astronomer, Galileo Galilei, once said, “Wine is sunlight held together by water”. Wow. How incredibly poetic. And so true.

Good wines are like good music. Good wine will make you go WOW! This is amazing! And What Victor Hugo once said about music can also be attributed to wine, “Music expresses that which cannot be said, and on which it is impossible to be silent”. In Latin, in vino veritas. Wine does not lie. It only speaks truth. And if you drink enough of it, you will speak truth, too!

I am going to say something risky, and take this with a grain of salt, because I am only just learning about tasting wines. Forget all those posh (British word) wine tasters who can smell bouquets of this and that, and floral notes and vanilla (oak is always a dead giveaway for me), and all the rest. Your sense of taste is mostly olfactory and memory–what something reminds you of when you smell it. If a wine’s flavor reminds you of a food you’ve eaten or a berry you’ve tasted, or the smell of rubber (strange, but some wines do smell like rubber, apparently), then that is your memory working to figure out what in your past to which you can relate this flavor.

So if a wine’s flavor reminds you of a certain memory or food flavor, don’t discount it because a sommelier says that flavor profile doesn’t exist. Your palate is your palate; your memories are your memories, and only your palate can taste and smell what you have experienced.

At present, I am drinking a Portuguese wine (pardonne-moi, mes amies), by Seaside Cellars.

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If you like white wines that are light and crispy (this means a higher acid content), this is an excellent wine for you.

This wine does remind me of being by the ocean, whether the label is playing subliminally to my subconscious or not. It reminds me of what you would picture as a tropical vacation–white sandy beaches, crystal blue Mediterranean or Caribbean waters, palm trees swaying to the playing of a xylophone and bongos. The wine has a lot of citrus flavor to it–I would say more lemon and lime flavors. It kind of makes me want to grab some salt, tequila, and limes. Margaritas, anyone?

As I said earlier, I am still learning how to taste wine like a pro. But, here is one tool that is helping me fulfill that dream: 20170714_222731

Laugh all you want, it actually helps. Also, going around sniffing items helps too. Here is one tip–albeit a weird one–that I got from watching the documentary Somm (https://www.amazon.com/Somm-Brian-McClintic/dp/B01M27DQH2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1500086352&sr=8-1&keywords=somm): Go around smelling and tasting EVERYTHING! Even the weird things. If you want to know what a wet rock tastes like, embrace your inner three-year-old and lick a wet rock! Like I said, weird–but oddly helpful.

That is all I have for you today. I hope you are all enjoying your summer! A bientôt! Until next time!

 

“Little Miss Muffett” Makes Curds and Whey!

How’s it going out there? I hope no one has a case of the Mondays. My Monday is tomorrow. Yaaayyy. One thing that gets weird about working retail or in a non-typical 9-5 job is that days off tend to change from week to week, and are not always consecutive. Actually, if you do get two days off in a row, celebrate!

Anyway, today I decided to make cheese! No whey! That was a pun by the way. I decided to do this with milk that had just expired in my fridge, and I didn’t want to just pour it down the drain. I don’t like wasting things, and I always feel especially bad about spoiled milk. I always buy milk for a recipe and try to make an effort to use the rest of it somehow–and end up keeping it for far too long. I don’t put milk in my coffee…bleh. I like my coffee hot, strong, and straight up. No sugar either. Just pure brain juice.

The two by-products of cheesemaking are curds and whey. The curds are the milk solids that will be turned into cheese. This is where the lactose resides.

Whey protein is very healthy. It is considered a complete protein, as it contains all nine amino acids–don’t make me recite them all. Whey protein is used in exercise drinks and smoothies. Some people use it as an alternative to milk if they are lactose intolerant, and it can also be used as a dietary supplement.

A quick Google search for whey protein will bring up sites that sell huge jars of this dehydrated, synthesized powder for $30 or more (plus shipping and handling)! What?! Why buy it when you can make it at home for whey cheaper! (See what I did there? Puns are fun!) The organic whole milk I had bought was $3.99. A large jug of white vinegar is $2.99. It takes nothing to store the liquid form in your fridge. It will last for months!

So here is what you need:

1 Gallon Milk–any milk, but whole milk will give you more flavor

1/2 Cup White Vinegar, Apple Cider Vinegar, or Lemon Juice

1 T Salt

1 T Chopped Herbs of your choice–optional

Cheesecloth

Something Heavy to weigh the cheese down

  1. If you are going to be saving the whey protein, place a large bowl in the sink. Set a strainer or colander over the bowl, and drape the cheesecloth over the strainer.
  2. In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the milk over medium heat. Stir the milk often to keep it from burning or scalding, until it starts to boil.
  3. Take the pot off of the heat. Add the vinegar or lemon juice. The curds and whey will separate almost immediately.
  4. Pour the curds and whey into the strainer with the cheesecloth.
  5. The curds will be hot, so be careful. Carefully, squeeze out most of the remaining liquid from the cheese. Add in your salt and chopped herbs and stir around using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon.
  6. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth, twist them together, and knot them. Place your “something heavy” on top of the ball of cheese to weigh it down as it cools. Leave the cheese like this for about an hour to an hour and a half.
  7. Unwrap the cheese from the cheesecloth. The cheese will still have a crumbly texture, but it’s yummy! Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

So that is a basic cheese recipe. There are other more elaborate recipes and methods out there, but this is great for beginners, or for those looking to save money rather than throwing old food out. And as I said before, it’s so much more economical to make whey protein yourself rather than buying a pricey commercialized product.

Also, a shout out to Colleen, writer of the blog Lean Cuisine! I used her recipe Spanish Chicken and Potato Roast today, and it came out amazing! I added rosemary to the potatoes, but other than that, it was entirely hers. Great job! Here is the link to her post:  https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/48447071/posts/1506553659

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Inspiration comes from everywhere! Enjoy, everyone! Until next time!

 

 

Stuffed Pepper Adventures and Shampoo Trials

Hi, everyone! Hope everything is going well with you all!

I decided to make stuffed peppers the other day. They’re super easy to make, and yes, they are healthy. Most importantly though, they’re delicious! What is the point of eating healthy if it doesn’t taste good, right? And excuse my lack of images of the finished product. I got too carried away with eating them that I forgot to take a picture first.

There are hundreds of variations of the recipe for stuffed peppers; I decided to go slightly TexMex on this one. I used ground turkey meat instead of ground beef, but either one works just fine.

You need:

6 Bell Peppers (color doesn’t matter, I just like red ones because they’re sweeter)      Note: make sure that the bottom of each pepper is level so it can stand on its own.

Note: make sure that the bottom of each pepper is level so it can stand on its own.

1-2 Pounds ground turkey or beef

2 Cups Brown Rice

1 8 oz Can Black Beans

1 6 oz Can Tomato Paste

Spices: Cumin, Paprika, Cayenne Pepper, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Chili Powder and Salt, all to taste

Cheddar, Pepperjack, or Monterey Jack Cheese for the topping

  1. Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Slice the tops of the peppers off and scoop out the seeds. Place the cleaned peppers upright in an oven-safe pan.
  3. Cook the rice according to the package directions.
  4. In a separate pot, cook the meat with the spices for about 5-8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Stir in the black beans. Add rice to the meat and mix together well.
  5. Portion out the meat and rice mixture into each hollowed-out pepper using a spoon. Fill each pepper to the top. Don’t put the cheese on yet.
  6. Place the pan of peppers in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Add cheese to the top of the peppers and place back in the oven for  more minutes, or until the cheese bubbles and turns slightly brown. Serve hot.

You probably won’t use all the meat and rice filling, so keep it as leftovers–or get more peppers and fill them.

I am not a huge fan of beans, I must confess. I’ve never really liked them–any of them. They have a gritty texture that I just don’t find appealing. But I have learned to tolerate them, because they are wonderfully good at assisting good health, as they help prevent against inflammation, diabetes, and certain cancers–colorectal cancer among them.

I do love sweet bell peppers! They are sweet and crunchy and refreshing! They are high in vitamin C and fiber, and like carrots, are very good for eye health.

In the news of DIY, I attempted to make my own shampoo. I used a little of the soap that I made the other day along with a few teaspoons of olive oil and some castile soap. I used it the other day and although my hair felt clean afterward, there was very little lather.  20170704_203734

It is an experiment in progress. I will be attempting to make my own conditioner next–my hair feels like it needs it. You would think that with all the humidity in the air lately, my hair would be soaking that moisture right up! Oh well.

Stay tuned for further adventures! Until next time!

 

Between the Orange and the Green

Hi, guys! Hope you all are enjoying your Fourth of July plans, whatever they may be. I’m working tomorrow (waaaaaahhhh!!!), but some of us must keep the store open, am I right?

I am off today, however, and I took the opportunity to make a big pot of Colcannon! What is colcannon, you ask? Colcannon is a happy, magical combination of two foods that have become stereotypically Irish–potatoes and cabbage. I love potatoes in general. Is there nothing more comforting than mashed potatoes? That is my go-to comfort food.

It’s healthy, too! It does have butter and milk (and bacon, if so desired) in it, but let’s not get carried away here. Potatoes are excellent sources of vitamin C, potassium (more so than bananas), and iron. Cabbage is jam-packed with antioxidants and fiber. What’s not to love?

Colcannon is so terrifically simple! I became inspired after reading Mimi Sheraton’s 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die, and even more so after taking a trip to Ireland last October. It’s such a beautiful country, and the people are lovely! I’m dying to go back!

There must be a wee drop of green in me genes! I am 30% Irish, and 48% British (no one is perfect). My Irish Catholic grandmother married my White Anglo-Saxon Protestant grandfather. My grandmother’s father was not too happy about it at first, but he warmed up to the prospect–or just realized he couldn’t do much about it. So you see, I’m caught between the orange and the green (but the green wins out more often).

I know I probably should be celebrating with burgers and fries and beer–I am drinking Yeungling–but what is more American than celebrating your roots? And today, Ireland be the theme.

A fun fact: potatoes are NOT native to Ireland! They originated in Peru and were introduced to Ireland and England by none other than Sir Walter Raleigh, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, founder of the Lost Colony of North Carolina. Literally, it’s lost. No one knows what happened to the colonists after Sir Walter Raleigh returned to England for supplies. There is a multitude of theories out there–disease, hurricane, ransacked by the indigenous neighbors–but no real proof has been found as to what really happened to them.

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Here is what it is:

6 Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 Quarts Chicken stock, or bouillon

1 Head green cabbage, sliced thinly

1/2 Package bacon

2 Tablespoons butter, unsalted

2-3 Tablespoons milk

Garlic powder, to taste

Onion powder, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

  1. Boil the potatoes in chicken stock or water with bouillon for 8 to 10 minutes, or until soft. Pour out the boiling liquid.
  2.  Add butter, milk, garlic and onion powders, and pepper to the potatoes. Mash the mixture with a masher or whip with an electric mixer. Set aside.
  3. Place a heavy-bottomed pot on medium-high heat. Cook the bacon until crispy. Set the bacon aside, and reserve most of the fat from cooking, keeping it in the same pot you cooked in. If you prefer not having bacon, use olive or vegetable oil.
  4.  Place cabbage in the same pot as the bacon fat. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the cabbage is limp but still crunchy.
  5. Take the cabbage off of the heat. Add the mashed potatoes to the cabbage. Mix thoroughly. Serve hot.

Note: The bacon fat adds salt to the dish. If you use oil instead, add salt to taste.

What I made today looks nowhere near what it would have looked like if this were the mid-1800s in a tiny stone cottage in County Cork. Hardly any of the poorer people of Ireland could afford to grow cabbage during that time, let alone having butter or milk, or for heaven’s sake, bacon. It was potatoes and potatoes alone that these people lived on. You’d be lucky if you had salt, which was also a sought-after commodity in those days.

When the potato blight hit in 1845, these people lost their only source of food–at least the only source of food that they were allowed to have. Any other vegetables or animals were used as payment to the landlords. They were too poor to afford such luxuries as pork or chicken.

What makes the Potato Famine so devastating was that there was plenty of food for rations–all packed up on ships bound for Liverpool, England. And nary a one in England blinked an eye at the widespread starvation occurring across the narrow channel from them (a good reason to kick them out–eventually–mostly). Which is also why people decided to abandon their homes and head across the Atlantic–to a land of opportunity, a land of hope. By the time it was over, Ireland’s population had fallen to nearly half of what it had been in 1845.

 

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Mass Grave for all those that starved to death during the Potato Famine of 1845-1849

Food is another medium through which one can honor the past, and celebrate the present. Like many immigrants past and present, the Irish immigrants sought refuge and freedom from the hardships and devastation of what used to be home. It’s easy to take our way of life for granted if we don’t take the time to reflect on what got us here in the first place.

So on that sentimental note, I am going to go watch a movie–Independence Day is calling my name! Enjoy, everyone, and stay safe! Until next time!

With a Grain of Salt

Disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor or a health food specialist. This is strictly opinion.

Yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine at work before I began my shift. She mentioned seeing a rerun of a Frontline documentary on PBS about dietary supplements, and how some are coming under scrutiny by the FDA and other parties due to having customer complaints about deteriorating health after taking these supplements.

I told my friend that there is a lot to be cautious about before taking any kind of capsule, whether it’s purely for health enhancement, or requested by a medical specialist. I am not a doctor, nor a food health specialist, but I like to be well informed about what I put into my body, and whether it truly helps versus hinders my personal well-being.

Here is what I know:

Before the vitamins and supplements are put on the market, the FDA does NO testing of the product to make sure it’s safe. It’s only after the fact if a problem arises, that testing may happen, and that depends upon how many consumers complain and seek medical and legal action. Manufacturers of these vitamins have to stick to good manufacturing practices, but as far as the content of the capsules goes, that is all up to the integrity of the people producing them. So those fish oil vitamins or those B12 capsules do contain those ingredients–but what else?

I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. As part of the curriculum, we have a Nutrition 101 class, along with Food Safety. It’s what any aspiring chef ought to know–what you’re cooking, good cooking and ordering practices, and what benefits these foods provide for your body’s function. For at least a week after that class, everyone was eating more fiber and vegetables–until beer and pizza reclaimed their rightful places in the dorms.

My other wealth of knowledge comes from somewhere a little closer to home–my mother. My mother had ambitions as a younger woman to be a medical professional. While her intentions changed and altered after becoming a mom (hello, world), the information I grew up learning and understanding about food has become an intrinsic part of my life. My mom is one of the healthiest people I know–mind, body, and spirit–and life has thrown her quite a few curveballs.

Because of my upbringing, and other influences that have come through my life, I made a promise to myself once I moved away from home–I make most of my meals from scratch from ingredients whose names I can pronounce–chicken, beef, pork, fish, rice, beans, olive oil, pasta, spinach, garlic, potatoes, asparagus, yogurt, eggs, flour, sugar. It’s not always easy cooking with the schedule I have, but I make time every week to make food–preferably something that can last a few days in the fridge. It’s good for the budget, too. Eating out can get expensive.

I don’t take any prescriptions or supplements. I drink teas, coffee, wine and beer (both, in moderation, have excellent health benefits). The closest I get to taking drugs is cold medicine if I have a cold, Ibuprofen if I have an ache, and allergy medicine if my nose decides to get itchy from pollen falling from trees. To date, I enjoy perfect health with some minor colds or allergy issues once in a while. My immune system is healthy and my body is in good shape.

Back to the conversation with my friend at work. My co-worker is from Japan, where soy is widely used for quite a lot of things. Soy has become all the rage here in the States in the last ten years or so for its ever-growing list of health benefits. I have family that uses soy products as an alternative milk and other foods. Sadly though, there is research emerging about some not-so-great health problems that may arise with a high consumption of soy products. It has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer and may increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

I don’t believe that soy is inherently bad for you. I believe that eating in moderation and having a balanced diet is really the endgame. Soy can be consumed in smaller proportions which will help you reap all the good benefits. It seems to me (after reading some of the research) that it’s the people who eat tofu and other soy products with a high regularity that may have a problem. Eating some edamame at a sushi restaurant is not going to cause an issue.

I like growing my pharmaceuticals in the pots on my deck and fueling my body with the vitamins, protein, calories (yes, we do need some of those to function), and antioxidants through the food I cook and eat. Mediterranean style foods that are rich in plant-based items (salad, leafy greens, vegetables, etc) and paired with a protein are best. And don’t forget the “E” word–exercise.

So yes, I say pasta to all you gluten nay-sayers (except for those suffering from Celiac, or a true wheat allergy)! Pasta, rice, beans (beans are excellent for cleaning out your digestion), olives, olive oil, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, fish. Throw some parsley on top of your pasta! Parsley has antioxidants, is a diuretic, and antirheumatic. Basil is another antioxidant, an antidepressant, and a carminative–relieves gas and bloating. If you want the benefits of fish oil, cook some fish. Fish also have iodine, which is necessary for a healthy thyroid. Olive oil promotes healthy cardiovascular function and can help to reduce inflammation. And these all taste WAY better than those capsules!

Going natural seems to be a much better alternative to man-made. After all, why try to duplicate something that had already been perfected over thousands, millions, billions of years?

So that’s my shtick for this post. I hope this is helpful to anyone seeking a healthy lifestyle. My intention for all of you is to live the lives you truly desire, unencumbered by health issues. Here are some sites that I found helpful, and I hope they will be helpful for you too!

Until next time!