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!

Trails

Whenever I would go hiking with my mom and my sisters growing up, we would each have our own sandwich bag of trail mix in our backpacks, next to our ever-available water bottles. This mix always consisted of nuts, peanuts, M&Ms, and raisins–except for my younger sister who hated raisins (why do raisins get such a bad rep?). This little bag was the powerhouse that kept our little legs trudging on– that and our mom coaxing us along with, “Just a little further”.

Now, whenever I decide to hit the trails, I always bring with me a bag of trail mix as a snack. I rarely bring any other food with me. Some things are not likely to change.

via Daily Prompt: Snack

Suds

Hi, Everyone! It’s been over a month since I started writing my blog, and I just wanted to say thank you to all my followers, and those who liked my posts! You’re all awesome!

I made handsoap! Once again, I sought out Pinterest for the recipe, and while there were a plethora to choose from, I used this: http://bbatemanmissions.blogspot.com/2011/11/homemade-liquid-handsoap.html. It is an excellent reference!

I followed the recipe almost to the letter, except I added a few leaves of aloe to my soapy mixture. There are recipes out there that use liquid castile soap as the base (which is probably more authentic), but I could only find the solid bars. I’ll have to try that at some other point.

I had to keep my soap waiting longer than ten hours since I had to work early (meh), but it was none the worse for the longer period of time. Once it was cooled and I had to stir it up again (I used a whisk to break it up), the soap took on a mucilaginous look and feel. It smells great, though! I used Tom’s brand soap, and it is scented with lavender and tea tree oil. Lavender is one of my favorite herbs!

I emptied out the remaining drips of my soap bottle from the bathroom and filled it about a quarter of the way up with my homemade soap, and then added more water to it, and gave it a mix. It works just as good thinned out. I’m also using it as my body wash! A little goes a long way. I’m pretty sure I will have soap for at least the next six months without breaking a sweat! What next? Shampoo?? Lotion?? Eek, I’m excited for this!

I would love to get more into the world of soaping. Right now, I don’t have the space for making a soap lab, and I have my roommates and my roommates’ pets to worry about. So strictly melt-and-pour recipes, or something along those lines. But if anyone has any recommendations as to what I should try next, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

Until next time!

Dessert Improvisation

I decided to make ice cream today. Everything is going according to plan, except that my ice cream maker keeps thawing too fast, so the freezing process is taking a tad longer than I expected it to. No matter.

I made mint ice cream (surprise, surprise) since mint is a surplus at the moment. I found a chocolate syrup recipe on Pinterest http://goodiegodmother.com/easy-chocolate-syrup/. Upon looking in the cabinets, I didn’t have enough cocoa powder for the recipe, but I had a couple squares of baking chocolate. So I combined the cocoa powder and the chocolate instead of giving up–why not, right? Improvise!

Also, it was too sweet (since the amount of chocolate I had was still not enough for the recipe) so I added a little more salt (flavor enhancer) and what was left at the bottom of a bottle of Jameson–barely a shot’s worth. It turned out not-so-bad for an improvised chocolate syrup! Now, if only the ice cream would freeze! I really need to update some of my equipment.

Also, I’m keeping the Jameson bottle for another DIY. Stay tuned!

Local

I love the phrase, “Think global, go local”. I’m not sure if that’s been coined or trademarked, but those four words speak volumes about how much our world has changed in only a matter of decades.

I am only thirty-years-old. My dad got his first cell phone–more like a paperweight–when I was maybe twelve. The internet? What was that? If you wanted to order something, there was a thing called a catalog mailed to your house. You had to use–wait for it–a phone to call in your order or mail in a pamphlet with your information on it. It took weeks to receive said order. Doing school projects involved going to the public library to use their computer to look up–wait for it–books that had the information you required.

Everything we could ever possibly want is at our fingertips with a mere press of a button–it’s not even a real button! Technology has become so advanced that it recognizes heat and pressure from your hand to activate that particular picture on your phone or your computer. One press of your finger brings you across town, across the country, across continents! It’s incredible! Amazing! to be able to interact with other people in other countries from your own living room is a modern marvel. And while it’s so wonderful, we tend to forget what is in our own backyards, particularly when it comes to food.

Getting into foraging has made me much more aware of what the local flora and fauna have to offer. I haven’t delved in too deep yet, for the sake of being extremely thorough in my knowledge of what is edible and what isn’t. I am excited about late summer and fall. I had no idea that you can use acorn flour as a gluten-free substitute for wheat flour! I got this idea from the book Southeast Foraging by Chris Bennett. It’s a great reference! I am definitely going to have to try that! Those with a tree nut allergy probably shouldn’t try it, but there are other alternatives out there.

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There is a walnut tree nearby that is already dropping green walnuts, and I am totally gathering some of those to use for baking! It’s best to wait until the shells are brown, so hopefully, patience will win out.

Supporting local farmers is important too. I have found that food I buy directly from the grower is much more flavorful and truer to its variety than were I to buy the same item at the grocery store. I only wish there were more local farmer’s markets open during the week since, like most food industry professionals, I work most weekends.

Supporting other local artisans and businesses is important as well. Local businesses give an area its own unique vibe, its own personality. The places I have come to visit most in Virginia are downtown Charlottesville and downtown Manassas.

Downtown Manassas has some incredible local restaurants–Okra and Zandras are my favorites–and an amazing bookstore called Prospero’s Books whose rows of tomes I could peruse all day long.

Charlottesville has a bit of a funkytown vibe to it, and plenty of bookstores and restaurants too. Citizen Burger boasts of all local ingredients, in-house baked burger buns, and locally crafted brews. Their burgers are amazing! Jeez, now I need to plan another trip there.

That’s all I have for you today! Enjoy the lovely weather wherever you are, and eat some good food! Until next time!

 

Man Cannot Live by Bread Alone…Except I’m a Woman

Bread has been undergoing a revolution, one I am so happy about! Going are the days that everyone is eating that pale white, flat, tasteless packaged stuff that can barely be called bread, and coming are the days of true knowledge and enjoyment of the crusty, warm, savory and sweet creations that artisans craft with their own hands.

I was at a farmer’s market today at the Government Center in Fairfax, Virginia, and Great Harvest was there, selling breads of all shapes, sizes, and flavors. Great Harvest is a chain known in a few places in Virginia that make their own breads in-house. They even grind their own wheat, which is an amazing feat for any bakery. If you love bread and other baked goods and you have one of these places near you, go visit. I promise you won’t be sorry!

This was my very late lunch today, along with an herbal tea made with dried peppermint and lemon balm leaves!

The lemon balm was a bit overshadowed by the peppermint, but the tea was nonetheless refreshing. It’s wonderful to reap the benefits of one’s labor!

I asked the farmer from whom I bought the cheese and a dozen eggs at the farmer’s market about how they’re faring with the weather being so hot. He plainly stated that rain is needed. There’s a tropical storm brewing, so I believe that he’ll get his wish.

So many people complain about it being too hot, and then complain again when it rains. I only ask for balance between wet and dry weather, for the sake of those that grow our food. If it’s too hot and no rain, everything withers, and dies. If it’s too wet, plants can become moldy or even drown. It is a very delicate relationship between farmer and crop and livestock.

So the other reason why I went to the farmer’s market was for fresh eggs. I’ve been dying to make pasta lately (I love my carbs!). I bought a pasta maker, and I went to work this afternoon.

Pasta is pretty easy to make. The basic recipe is flour, salt, eggs (there are eggless recipes out there too), water, and olive oil (I added a little fresh parsley and basil to my recipe). Mix all those together, then knead the dough on a floured surface for four to five minutes. Let it rest in the refrigerator for about one hour.

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Take it out and cut the dough into quarters. Flour the pasta machine, then roll your first dough quarter through it. Start on the largest setting, and work your way down from that until the dough is the consistency you are looking for. Then run the flattened dough through the pasta cutting side.

You can put the fresh pasta right into a pot of boiling water and cook it immediately, or dry it on a rack and save for later.

My drying rack is a pants hanger and each bar I covered in plastic wrap (less cleaning). I added roasted tomatoes and parmesan cheese to the pasta I cooked. It was simple but delicious! The rest of the pasta will be stored for later use. Self-sufficiency, here I come!

So, that’s all I have for you tonight! Enjoy the rest of your evening! Until next time!

 

 

Woodland Friends and Finished Projects

Today was a great day for a meandering hike on the Occoquan Trail. Yesterday’s thunderstorms cut some of the humidity, so the air isn’t so oppressively dense with moisture today. I saw so many animals too, all out doing what animals do. I saw two turtles, a raccoon (a bit disturbing, given that it was after ten in the morning), a deer, a blue heron, and a toad–not to mention the many birds singing to one another in the trees above me. Such happy music!

The deer refused to stand still for a photo op, and the blue heron kept flying off (I saw him three times!) It was a great day for stumbling upon wildlife.

I love saying hi to any wildlife I see. Literally! I say, “Hi! How are you?” They usually look at me like, “What, are you talking to me, human? You are weird,” and then they walk off. Deer are especially known for this. They can’t be bothered.

I love when I see animals on my walks. It’s a reminder that not all the world is in a manic panic and rushing to the rhythm of the hurry-up-and-wait mentality. It’s nice to see that not all the world is tamed and that the wild heart still beats strong. To quote Henry David Thoreau, “Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence”. If you haven’t read Walden, I very much recommend it to anyone who has an inclination toward nature.

And now, to totally flip to the other side of that, the limoncello is finished and bottled! It is delightful, too! I sampled a little bit before putting the bottle in the fridge. It tastes exactly how limoncello should–lemony, smooth, and sweet.

Time for another batch! Or maybe, another infused alcohol flavor…I still have plenty of mint!

 

More Plants, and Food!

Hi, everyone! A quick shout out to all my new followers! Thanks for reading, and thanks for deciding to follow me! I am honored!

I have added a few new plants to my collection. I was killing time yesterday at a nursery before joining my friends somewhere, and I bought peppermint, yellow yarrow, and rosemary. I am super excited! Yarrow is supposed to be very good for you and has the capability of healing cuts and sores. I took a couple small samples from the plant that I bought, and I’m drying them so I can add the cuttings to oil for another essential oil. I’m drying some more spearmint as well, and I will store that in an airtight container once it’s completely dry.

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Health is a major reason why I am doing what I’m doing. I am actually in amazing health (aside from the cold I just finished getting over), and I intend to remain healthy throughout my life. My family has a history of heart issues, diabetes, and colon cancer. No thanks, I say to that! When I die, it won’t be because of any of these problems.

My mom has always been a major advocate for healthy eating and living a healthy lifestyle. The other day, we were talking about how we both discovered that a more alkaline blood pH is less likely to become cancerous.

What is pH you ask? It’s a scale which determines how alkaline or acidic something is. The scale goes from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Anything with a pH higher than 7 is acidic. Anything with a pH lower than 7 is alkaline. Examples of food with high acid would be carbonated water, wine, chocolate, and vinegar. Examples of food with more alkalinity would be broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach.

According to what both my mom and I were reading, carboniferous vegetables like spinach and cauliflower will help your system maintain a healthy blood pH. Blood that is too acidic can cause many problems. Her explanation of Diabetic Ketoacidosis was more than a little disturbing. This is where the blood has become so acidic due to having too many ketones in the blood (which are released to counteract too much glucose in the blood) that the blood literally boils. Yuck! No thanks! I will eat the leafy greens to keep that from happening. Cancer can take a hike too.

So my mom shared a fantastic recipe with me for broccoli rabe. I have never cooked broccoli rabe before, but I’m always game for experimenting with food. So here is what it is:

1-2 Pounds chicken thighs

1 bunch broccoli rabe

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 package rice and red beans (I used Zataran’s)

1 bell pepper, chopped

Olive Oil (use the one specifically for sauteeing, it will say so on the bottle)

Salt (I used Kosher salt, but it’s up to you)

Pepper

For Marinade:

5 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 lemon, juiced and zested

1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 Teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. In a resealable bag, add chicken and all marinade ingredients. Seal the bag and mix everything around until the chicken is well coated. Allow the chicken to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour in the refrigerator.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare rice according to the package directions. Add bell pepper to the rice 5-8 minutes before it is finished cooking. Pour rice mixture into a rectangular pan to cool. Set aside.
  3. Prepare an ice bath for the broccoli rabe (this stops the cooking process). Add salt to the ice bath (salt lowers the temperature of the ice).
  4. Cut one inch off the bottom of the broccoli rabe. Divide the rabe into 2 portions. Set a large pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Pour in a generous amount of olive oil (the broccoli rabe absorbs a lot of it, so don’t be shy). Once it’s hot, add garlic to the oil.
  5. Add the broccoli rabe to the pot. Add salt. Use tongs to stir it around. Add more oil if needed. Cover and cook for about 1-2 minutes.
  6. Using tongs, put the broccoli rabe into the ice bath. Once cooled, transfer it out to either a colander or a plate with a paper towel to dry.
  7. Replenish ice and salt in the ice bath and repeat steps 4-6 with the second batch.
  8. Using the same pot, add the marinated chicken thighs two at a time. Cook for about 7 minutes on each side, or until the meat is white all the way through and the outside is browned. Let the meat rest on a plate for 10 minutes.
  9. Place broccoli rabe over top of the rice. Add chicken over the top of the broccoli rabe. Pour remaining pan juices from the pot over the top of everything. Serve warm.

It’s so good! Adding more olive oil takes out some of the bitterness from the broccoli rabe, and it is absolutely delicious! Come one, don’t tell me you don’t want to try this!

20170615_122635 That’s all that I have for you today! Enjoy the rest of your day, stay cool! Until next time!