Seasonal Eating is a Way to Good Health

colorful paint I love the berries, peaches and plums of summer. I eagerly await and devour local strawberries as they appear at our farmstand. My ‘fridge fills with blueberries and raspberries, then with luscious cherries, peaches and plums as they ripen. Of course I enjoy our special local corn, which reaches it peak as summer wanes. The foods of the local farms are my favorite aspect of summer. What I don’t like about summer is the heat. It discourages my consumption of food and causes me to do as little cooking as possible.

I look forward to asparagus in the spring yet find I don’t wish to eat it at other times. Just so, I prefer to eat what grows in the summer, especially the variety of summer squashes. These have dwindled now locally. Due to our ability to transport food they can be bought all year round from the supermarket, however I feel much less inclined to include them in my diet now that they are out of season for this area.

In the fall is as the weather cools, I regain my appetite as well as my enjoyment of cooking. Today I got out lentils to make a hearty soup and thought about what vegetables I wanted to put in with them. I had bought one of the winter squashes just coming into season. That struck me as a welcome inclusion. For the same reason I have begun to avoid summer squashes I do not eat winter squashes in the summer. They do not taste the same to me then as they do in the fall.

There are many ways to prepare delicious orange winter squash. While I enjoy acorn squash the most, I also like butternut squash for the variety of ways it can be prepared. Acorn squash is simple. Split and baked face down, it can be turned over when done and enhanced with butter and brown sugar or maple syrup. I usually give the baked squash another 5 minutes in the oven until these are melted together in the cavities. When I take the squash from the oven I scrape the soft centers with a fork to distribute the sweetness throughout it.

Butternut squash however can be used in a variety of ways. Sometimes I bake it whole on a cookie sheet for an hour or until the thickest part pierces easily with a fork. I remove it, cool it slightly and remove the seeds, then take off the peel and refrigerate the flesh. When I want to serve it, I reheat it with butter in a cast iron frying pan. This is very helpful when I want to fix a quick meal. Sometimes I blend it with some grated ginger, some cranberry sauce and some grated cheese, turn it into a casserole and bake at 350 for around 20 minutes.

When I peel it and include it in a hearty lentil or other vegetable or even meat based stew, butternut squash provides color as well as good nutrition. It is a fine source of vitamin A, potassium, fiber and healthy carbohydrates. Doubtless you have had squash pie. It is an easy substitute for pumpkin in pies as well as in many other dishes. Eating with the seasons not only provides good nutrition, it also brings our bodies in line with the changes that occur as the seasons revolve, a win/win situation for good health.

The Mystical, Delicious Peach

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The peach has wonderful mythic associations. It is a Chinese symbol of immortality, and it is often prominently displayed in depictions of the sage Lao Tzu. There is also a legend that a famous Chinese heroine Ho Hsien-Ku who lived in 7th century BC was transformed into a fairy by eating a supernatural peach. They said ever after that she lived on a diet of moonbeams and powdered mother-of-pearl.

According to Paul Beyerl in A Compendium of Herbal Magick, in Shinto legend, Iznagi, a primary male deity, visits the Underworld where he defeats demons pursuing him by throwing peaches from the land of Light and the Land of Darkness at them. Beyerl adds that the peach is considered by the Taoists to be a sacred food.

I have a lovely amethyst carved pendant from China termed a “peach stone.” According to The Magic in Food, by Scott Cunningham carved peach pits are given to Chinese children as amulets against death. Sprays of peach-blossoms are placed over the front door during the Chinese New Year to guard Chinese homes against negativity. Symbolically they bring the blessings of longevity or perhaps confer immortality. He also suggests that as they have been in China for centuries, with appropriate visualization, peaches may be eaten to induce health, happiness and wisdom.

Every Summer I buy my peaches from a nearby farm stand. The owner always has local ones, ripened on the tree in the sun. They taste like heaven to me, and I understand why they might be considered the fruit of immortality. When I feel ambitious, I buy more than I can eat right away, peel and cut them, add a few drops of lemon juice or a sprinkle or two of sugar, and put them in bags in the freezer so we can enjoy them during the winter.

Versatile peaches can be eaten raw or cooked, as a condiment with meat or chicken or as a sauce over muffins or plain cake. Peaches in cobblers or pies, jams, muffins or even peach shortcake are all wonderful ways to enjoy this delicious fruit. Personally I like them best ripe and unadorned with anything more than the sunlight that warms their lovely plumpness.

I can remember my mother putting them up in canning jars. She would pour sugar syrup over them, then lower them into a big kettle of boiling water. Stored in the basement pantry closet, how good those peaches tasted during the long winters of my childhood. They were such a treat, especially when they were served for Sunday dinner over vanilla ice cream

Try this simple peach sorbet. Fill a plastic baggie or pint container with peeled chunked peaches sprinkled with lemon juice or a bit of sugar. Freeze them until solidly frozen. Have ready a simple syrup using two cups of sugar to one cup of water, stirred until melted, cooled and refrigerated. To serve two combine 2 cups frozen peaches with ¼ cup simple syrup, and 1 Tbs lemon juice. Process until you have soft serve ice cream and serve right away.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Pay attention to the Message

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I well remember trips as a young child to the A&P. The smells of the small supermarket in our town intrigued me. The fresh food in bins from which my mother would carefully select her vegetables and fruits gleamed with an allure that reflected my curiosity. In addition, the workings of the body have always interested me. As a child I used to mix up the medicines in my parents’ bathroom cabinet and feed them to my teddy bears. Beginning with my childhood I have had a lifelong fascination with food in general, our needs for it, and how we nourish ourselves or don’t, depending on what we eat and how.

So many of the ads I see on TV are for medicine, both prescription and over the counter. It makes me wonder if we are all really that ill or in need of fixing? Perhaps we are, yet I wonder too whether if instead of trying to alleviate symptoms with medicine, we might do better were we to pay more attention to how and why the symptoms have arisen we might do better were we to pay more attention to how and why they have arisen. I am speaking about digestive issues in particular, though others are equally as important.

Of course there are serious illnesses that require intervention and the use of various prescribed medicines. However there are other conditions that will respond well to changes in lifestyle and most especially to changes in dietary habits. I well remember how when I was only in my forties, someone a decade older told me how important it had been for her to reduce food intake as she aged. She told me she got by on two meals a day. Different people will do better with different plans, however reducing intake is key to helping us be healthier.

The symptoms of the acid reflux so many experience are often a result of overeating, eating foods we do not digest well, or eating poor food combinations. As we age, the production of our digestive enzymes diminishes. Many comfort foods we once enjoyed become at best indigestible or at worst dangerous to our health. Yet many of us continue to eat as though we were in our twenties and still growing. While trends in eating come and go, for instance (carbohydrates good, fats bad now reversed), one truth remains: what and how we eat are irrevocably connected to our physical, mental and emotional health and well-being, not to mention our weight.

What can we do? Chewing is vital. Busy with our lives and impatient of meals perceived as mere interruptions in our busy lives, many of us swallow food half chewed, washing it down with liquid. This does not allow for the incorporation of digestive enzymes, not to mention roiling the stomach with acid from feelings of haste. Instead we could slow down and taste the food as we chew. TV ads counsel taking this or that medicine. By so doing we are effectively killing the messenger: the symptoms that tell us we are doing something harmful to ourselves. When we pay attention to the message we can learn how better to treat our bodies and prolong our good health.

Lose Weight Gently the Three Bite Way

Orange squash 2When my children were small I used to insist they eat at least three bites of anything they thought they didn’t want to eat at all. My theory was that by my having them do that, they would grow up to eat a broad variety of foods. I was even bold enough to insist that any visiting friends do the same. No one ever seemed to make too much of a fuss over this, nor did I get any bad feedback from my children for doing that either. They did grow up to be adventurous eaters and to enjoy trying new foods.

Some children use food as a kind of bargaining chip or power play. Mine didn’t thank goodness. Nor did I tell them what my mother used to say to me: Eat your (beans, eggs, etc.) there are little children starving in China who would love to have what you have on your plate. I wasn’t allowed to get up from the table until I had finished whatever it was I was supposed to eat. No three bite rule for me! When it was liver, which I hated with a passion, I cut it up in small pieces and swallowed them whole with my milk.

Working with a limited budget, my well-intentioned mother tried her best to make nourishing meals. I did grow up to be healthy, so it must have worked. However when I was eight I became chubby and stayed that way. Like many I have tried a number of different ways to slim down, slenderize, or otherwise lose weight. Some methods were more successful than others. However in my opinion calories in, calories out is the key. Less consumed equals more taken from what is stored in the body:portion control works.

In my search for dietary strategy I came across another very good suggestion. It’s called the Three Bite Rule. You can have three bites of anything highly caloric you want to eat, and you can eat anything highly caloric you wish to as long as those three bites are all you eat. It’s also true that after three bites you really do not get the same taste experience as you do from your first three. This is especially true of anything cold like ice cream, but also of sweet things. The real test though is to be able to put down your fork or spoon after the third bite and count yourself satisfied. When you do this, you’re creating a habit that allow for both pleasure and discipline, an excellent combination.

To be successful with this strategy it is important to allow yourself to really taste whatever you are eating. You can roll it around in your mouth and take your time chewing it slowly and thoroughly. Even liquids can be “chewed.” It is also true that when you eat anything slowly and chew it thoroughly you are satisfied sooner, and that applies to meat, vegetables and grains as well as anything on your three bite list. Taste buds get “tired.” The appetite, however keeps us munching away even when we are not getting the most out of what we are eating. Portion control, as well as the three bite strategy is much more successful if you eat what you put on you plate slowly and with attention.

A Simple Meal for a Hot Day

Daisies (shasta) Hi resI remember my mother on a hot summer day wiping the sweat from her brow as she prepared the vegetables and fruit she canned for us to eat in the Winter. We lived on the property of my great aunt Alice whose gardener grew planted, harvested and shared lots of good food from her extensive garden. My mother was frugal and to her mind saving money in the winter was worth her efforts in the summer. In her mind nothing was ever to be wasted. While I feel the same way, I don’t have a garden to draw upon, however I do have a wonderful local farm stand that supplies me with fine food.

I tend to lose my appetite in the heat, thus I don’t much like cooking in the summer. Autumn is my favorite season because when the weather cools I feel much more like cooking as well as like eating. However it’s not then now, so I need to be in the present moment in the kitchen. Simple recipes are my go to solution for eating healthy food in this hot weather. I find it’s easier to motivate myself to cook when I don’t have to spend a lot of time doing it.

Salads are all very well in hot weather, however I do get tired of them and I actually prefer a hot meal even when it is warm outside. One of my favorite easy summer recipes combines freshly available local greens and pasta. It really doesn’t matter what greens you use. Personally I like the combination of spinach and Swiss chard, however, kale with spinach or chard is good too, and so are collard greens, broccoli rabe, or other potential ingredients you can use singly or in combination.

I prefer using my food processor to mix the greens together, adding good olive oil and some fresh garlic as well. Using a blender, while doable would be tedious however lacking a food processor you could use a food mill to grind and blend the cooked greens. My food processor is a very useful tool and one that even though I like to cut my vegetables by hand, I have come to rely on for certain kinds of food preparation. I treasure my kitchen tools. Some of them date back more years than I prefer to count. I have a wooden cutting board I received at a shower for my first child; she is now a grandmother too.

The recipe itself is very simple. Ingredients are: a pound or so of spinach, the same of Swiss chard, or use other greens as suggested above. Cook them separately in as little water as possible. Drain well and turn together into the food processor bowl. Add 3 or 4 tablespoons good olive oil, 2 medium cloves chopped or sliced garlic or 1 large one, and a pinch or two of salt. Process until everything is nicely blended. Meanwhile, cook pasta of your choice to serve your diners. When done, drain, put in a serving bowl and pour the mingled greens over it. Stir well and serve with freshly grated Parmesan. Simple, tasty, and good for you as well! Finish the meal with some fresh watermelon and enjoy.

A Spring Recipe to Try

dandilionforwishingThe Joy of Cooking is a popular cookbook. I have a well-thumbed copy, which along with my ancient Fanny Farmer’s form the lynchpin of my collection. Cooking has been my joy since I can remember being allowed to do it. My mother was born in Germany at the onset of WWI and the resultant lack of food she endured as a child made a lasting impression. She was reluctant to let me make main dishes–I was assigned to salads and desserts, so I had to learn how to make meals for myself. My cookbooks were and still are a great help.

I enjoy reading cookbooks as well as checking the recipes in newspapers, magazines and on line. It’s fun to see what’s trendy. Some fashions I don’t care for—roasted broccoli, for instance. I also favor eating with the seasons; now that we are coming into spring it’s time for spring vegetables like asparagus and dandelion greens. Some think of dandelions as weeds, however they are beneficial in a variety of ways and good in salads as well as steamed or stir fried with other greens and/or vegetables. Their slightly bitter taste is diminished when they are combined with other vegetables.

Try this recipe for yourself, either digging the dandelion greens from your garden or purchasing them from a market. The purchased ones are milder and easier to use, yet the harvest of garden and lawn weeds can be seen as a bonus. Ingredients: ½ cup chopped onion

4 cloves of garlic minced or chopped fine

1 small to medium summer squash chopped small or 1 pound of aspargus

4 cups dandelion greens

olive oil as needed.

Method: Gardeners, remove dandelion roots and tough bottom stems. Wash them in several waters. Purchasers can skip this step. Rough chop or cut up with scissors. Steam greens briefly in a small amount of water until they have wilted down. Strain water into a cup and set aside. While you are preparing the dandelion greens, sauté chopped onion, garlic and summer squash in a olive oil, stirring occasionally, or steam asparagus. Add chopped steamed greens to sautéed vegetables. Cook until stems are relatively tender. You can stop here and serve squash as is or put into your food processor and pulse a few times to create more of a mash. Pulse steamed asparagus with dandelion greens and olive oil to taste. Delicious! Use salt and pepper as desired.

Many children and even adults are fussy about what they will and will not eat. I was brought up to finish what was on my plate or else, however I made my children consume only three bites of any food they thought they might not enjoy. They did grow up to be able to eat a good variety of foods. However, in the process I learned to be detached about any response to my cooking. Today this has made it easy for me to be a happy cook in a peaceful kitchen.

 

Everything’s better with Parsley on it

Parsley“Remember the parsley,” Stephen said as I got out the eggs to make scrambled eggs for supper.

I nodded and smiled. “I have some in the ‘Fridge, already cut up.”

He smiled back. “Everything’s better with parsley on it. I love the way it tastes.”

“You’re right,” I said. “And that sounds like a good title for my next column. I put a little coconut oil for the sausages in a small frying pan, broke the eggs into a bowl, and beat them up. I’m always happy to use it in any recipe because in addition to tasting good, parsley is very good for you.

I’ve read and researched many recipes for scrambled eggs; they all suggest adding a small amount of liquid before cooking. I no longer do. A friend of ours once made us scrambled eggs and they were excellent. I asked him his recipe. “Lots of butter in the pan and nothing in the eggs,” he told me. I had for years made them using water, a couple of tablespoons or so depending on how many eggs–advice from a French friend. Before that I used milk, and even tomato juice. Now I prefer the eggs by themselves, especially the cage free ones with a chunk of butter.

I got out the container of chopped parsley from the ‘Fridge and added some to the eggs. When I lecture on herbs I often speak about how healthy parsley is for you. It has lots of vitamin A and C, iron and many other minerals. It is a mild diuretic, and also is good for the liver. I make a parsley tonic by soaking fresh parsley in cold water in the ‘Fridge for twenty-four hours, overnight. Then I pour it off and drink it during the next 24, while making a new batch. It is both refreshing and energizing, without a caffeine high. Helps with joint pain too. I reuse the parsley a couple of times, then snip it into soup.

I put a chunk of butter—about a tablespoon per egg into the warming frying pan and waited for it to melt over moderate heat. Then I poured in the parsleyed eggs and turned them a couple of times. The sausages were ready as were the salad and the toasted gluten free English muffins. What a tasty supper!

Many chew parsley for sweeter breath after a meal, especially one with garlic, giving themselves a health boost as well. The list of benefits to be gained from consuming parsley are numerous. It is a mild diuretic, however any potassium lost is replaced by it. Calcium and iron are two more beneficial ingredients. When you brew it cold as I do, none of the vitamins are lost to heat, and you get all the benefits of both vitamins and minerals. It is used by herbalists to help remove gall stones and kidney stones. Hippocrates said, “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine your food. Parsley is both. In ancient Greece, athletes wore wreaths made from it to signify their strength and endurance. Parsley is a real winner.

 

 

Are you a parsley lover? Write me and tell me how you like it. I love hearing from my readers. Suggestions and comments are welcome.