Autumn officially begins tomorrow (Sept. 22) and we can feel it in the cooler mornings and the less hot afternoons. Maybe I am fooling myself but it seems the weather is easing up on us a bit sooner than in previous years. And most everyone I speak with is ready for cooler weather. And some autumn cooking!

With cooler weather comes heartier meals. When it’s 112 degrees, light and cool foods are preferred. Since I am tired of coming up with fresh ideas for “light and cool” I am ready for soups and chili and casseroles. And since I’ve decided to adopt a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) way of eating I have some recipe ideas I’d like to share. (Yes, I’m doing this again, if you read previous posts [here, here, and here] from March, but for longer than the one month trial.) Even if you aren’t eating WFPB, these are good for your meatless Mondays, or Tuesdays, or Fridays…

I love a Tamale Pie! With that yummy cornbread topping, what’s not to like? There are probably as many versions of this dish as there are recipes for chili. Here’s the one I made this week; pretty doggone good!

First I sautéed some chopped onion, about ½ cup, for 4-5 minutes, just starting to brown a bit. Then I added about ½ cup each red and green bell pepper, chopped. Sauté a few minutes. Next added fresh corn cut from two smallish cobs, but you could use frozen corn. Gave that a few minutes in the pan. I had some roasted jalapenos and roasted Anaheim peppers. I chopped one of each and added to the pan. (Raw peppers could be used, just need longer in the pan so I would add with the bells in that case.) Then I added about 1 cup cooked quinoa, 1 ½ cups cooked pinto beans, and a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes. Finally, some chili powder, salt, and pepper to taste. The jalapenos I had were hotter than some I’ve bought so the heat was just right for me. But a milder pepper or your personal taste might call for more spice. I let that mixture simmer on low while I prepared the topping.

I did not want a thick cornbread topping so I reduced my usual recipe by 1/2. I also modified it to be WFPB, or vegan.

Mix ½ cup cornmeal and ½ cup flour (unbleached white or whole wheat), 1 T. sugar, 2 t. baking powder, and ~1/2 t. salt together in a bowl. Separately, mix ½ cup plant milk, 1 T. ground flaxseed mixed with 2 ½ T. water (and allowed to stand about 15 minutes), and 2 T. neutral oil or melted vegan ‘butter’. Stir into dry mix just to blend.

I used an about 8×8” ceramic casserole dish that is maybe 2.5” tall. Poured the sautéed mixture into the dish and then spread the cornbread mix on top, spread to cover all the filling. Place in a 375° oven for about 30 minutes, until knife or toothpick inserted into crust comes out clean and edges of cornbread just start to pull away from sides. This provides four very generous servings, or six smaller servings.

 

Lasagna is next. WFPB lasagna? You bet! This dish is also great because I know it is too much for the two of us for dinner, so I know we will get 2-3 lunches from it too. Or, if company comes for dinner, this dish has us covered.

You will need – lasagna noodles, sauce, one package firm tofu (12-14 oz.), vegan ‘mozzarella’, spinach, kale, and/or Swiss chard. I have used both ‘no-cook’ lasagna noodles and regular cook-before-using lasagna noodles. I have used homemade sauce and carefully selected store-bought sauce. I have used fresh greens and frozen spinach.

I mix the tofu up until it is mostly smooth and added some salt and ground pepper. (I used to make this with an egg but no longer see the need for the egg.) This is the ‘ricotta’. If I have any I might add vegan ‘parmesan’ to this.

If using frozen spinach, I thaw it first and squeeze as much water from it as I can. You would need 2 10oz. packages. Fresh spinach or greens really shrink down so today I am using a large bag of spinach, plus one bunch of kale. I will wash and chop them a bit, then steam until limp. Drain and squeeze.

My homemade batch of sauce makes enough for this dish, maybe 2.5-3 cups. Or use your favorite prepared sauce that you have carefully vetted for ingredients. J

Now, I use a 2 qt., oblong glass baking dish, about 7×11”. Pour a bit of sauce in the bottom, enough to cover it well, and lay two noodles side-by-side. Spread ½ the tofu ‘ricotta’ over the noodles, then ½ the cooked, squeezed greens over that. I sometimes will add thinly sliced zucchini if I have a piece to use up. Sprinkle on some grated ‘mozzarella’. Pour about ½ cup sauce over top. Repeat this layer, starting with more noodles. Top the second layer with two more noodles and the rest of the sauce, and more shredded ‘cheese’. Bake at 350° for about 30-35 minutes or until sauce bubbles around edges. You could assemble the lasagna ahead of time and refrigerate, but it will take 45-50 minutes or longer in the oven to get hot through. Serve with some lightly steamed fresh veggies. Yum!

 

Potato Leek Soup is delicious and easy to make. Toss together a simple salad while this simmers and you’ll have a satisfying meal, in about 30 minutes.

Wash and slice two leeks. Chop 2-3 cloves of garlic. Cube 4 medium size Yukon Gold or red potatoes.

You’ll also need 4 cups vegetable broth, 1.5 cups cooked white beans, rosemary, oregano, salt, and pepper.

Heat a few tablespoons of broth in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the leeks in the broth until softened. Add the garlic and sauté a few more minutes. Add a bit more broth if necessary to prevent sticking. Then add the potato cubes, the beans, the rest of the broth, and the spices. You will need 1 t. each of rosemary and oregano if dried, or about 1 T. of each if fresh. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook about 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are cooked through.

Carefully pour into a blender jar and puree until smooth, or use an immersion blender if you have one. Add small quantity broth or water if needed to thin to preferred consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning.

 

If you try these, I hope you enjoy and let me know how they turned out!

 

Image courtesy of atibodyphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last year about this time I offered a few salad recipes as a way to beat the hot, dog days of summer. That phrase, by the way, while it has come to mean the hottest, most humid part of summer in the northern hemisphere, actually originated with the ancient Greeks who saw the star Sirius (the dog star) rise around late July, at which point their summer was moving into its hottest phase. Nothing to do with dogs! Anyway, maybe I’ll make this an annual post, since salads seem to be the most popular dinner at my house this month. So here goes – some Cool Salads For Hot Days!

 

Quinoa Super Salad

My new favorite!

4-6 c. torn or chopped lettuce of your choice
3/4 cup dry white or red quinoa
1 15-ounce can black beans or 1 ½ c. cooked black beans
1-2 ears fresh corn, removed from cob, or 1 c. frozen corn, thawed
1 small zucchini or 3-4” of a medium zucchini
1 avocado
1 red bell pepper, roasted or raw

½ c. prepared salsa
½ c. mayonnaise (I use Just Mayo)
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, seeded and chopped
½ t. ground black pepper

Mix together last four ingredients for dressing, set aside.
Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer. Bring 1½ c. water to a boil, add the quinoa and stir. Bring back to boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 15 minutes. Stir, cover, set aside. Any remaining water will be absorbed; plus the quinoa should be room temperature for the salad.
If using canned beans, drain them. Steam the corn very lightly, allow to cool. Cube the avocado. Slice the bell pepper thinly lengthwise, then cut the strips into 1” or so pieces.
When all this is ready, place ¼ of the lettuce on each of four plates. Top with ¼ of the quinoa, the beans, the corn, the avocado, and then the peppers. Drizzle each with the dressing. Serves 4. Enjoy!

 

Kale Salad with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds

This is a simple salad, a good one to accompany a simple pasta dish or light fish entrée. And it needs no cooking!

 1 large bunch kale, Tuscan or curly
1/3 c. raw pumpkin seeds
1/3 c. dried cranberries (I found apple juice sweetened at Natural Grocers)
1 lemon
¼ c. olive oil
1-2 t. honey
1 t. Dijon mustard
Pinch salt, dash black pepper
Remove large stems from kale, chop the leaves, and place in large bowl. Squeeze one half the lemon over the kale and massage it into the kale to soften the leaves. Allow to rest about 10 minutes.
Mix the oil with the juice from the other half lemon, the honey, mustard, and salt and pepper.
After the kale is relaxed, toss in the cranberries and pumpkin seeds. Pour the dressing over and mix well. Serves 4.

 

Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts and Cheese

3 medium beets, washed and trimmed
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 T. sherry vinegar
1 T. honey
1 T. minced onions
1/2 t. Dijon mustard
4-6 c. baby spinach
1/2 c. crumbled goat cheese or bleu cheese
3/4 c. chopped walnuts, or halves

Preheat the oven to 400° F.
In a lidded jar add the olive oil, vinegar, honey, onions and Dijon and shake well.
I prefer to cube the beets and roast the chunks – doesn’t take as long. Peel the beets and cut into 3/4” cubes. (Yes, this can be messy!) Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and shake to lightly coat. Place on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Bake about 15 minutes, then remove from oven and turn them over. Return to oven another 15 minutes and check for doneness. When a knife slips in easily, remove the beets from the oven to cool.
Place the spinach in a bowl, add the beets and dressing and toss to coat. Top with the cheese and walnuts. Serves 4.

Adapted from http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/nancy-fuller/roasted-beet-salad-with-walnuts-and-goat-cheese-2383008

 

Chicken Fajita Salad

This salad does require a bit more cooking. If you use forethought and are grilling on a weekend, you could grill some extra chicken and grill the onion and peppers in a grill basket at the same time. I use the stove because I don’t usually think about it when grilling something else!

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken, or equivalent cooked chicken of your choice
1 med-large sweet onion, sliced 1/4” thick and into half circles
1 medium red bell pepper
1 medium green bell pepper
1 medium yellow or orange bell pepper
2 jalapeno peppers
20 or so grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
6-8 c. torn or chopped lettuce of your choice
2 T. chopped cilantro
Oil for sautéing

2 T. organic canola oil or EVOO
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. balsamic vinegar
2 T. prepared salsa

Mix the last four ingredients together for the dressing. Set aside.
Slice the onion into 1/4” thick slices and then cut slices into quarters. Remove tops of bell peppers, remove seeds and membranes, slice about ¼” thick, and cut slices into quarters. Remove seeds and membranes from the jalapenos (unless you like it hot!) and slice thinly. Slice chicken thinly.
Put a small amount of oil in a skillet large enough to cook the onion and peppers, not all at once unless you have a really large skillet. Heat the oil over medium-high heat, then add the onion quarters, spread them out and sauté until translucent and a little browned. Remove from skillet to a dish to cool. Repeat with the bell peppers, I usually do one color at a time, adding the jalapeno slices near the end of the last batch. Last, add the chicken to the skillet if not using already-cooked chicken. Cook thoroughly, set aside to cool. Add more oil as needed as you go through this process.
Place the prepared lettuce and the tomatoes in a salad bowl. When onions, peppers, and chicken are warm but no longer hot, add to bowl and toss with dressing to coat. Serves 4.

 

I would love to know if you try any of these, and what you think of them!  Post a comment!

Summertime! For those of us who don’t get to spend the whole summer on a beach being lazy, especially those who have kiddos who are bored even though they don’t want to be in school, I’d thought I’d write about cool things to make for lunches. It’s too hot to eat heavy and who wants to heat up the kitchen with a lot of stove use? But, we also don’t want to eat out all the time – at least, I hope you don’t! And, getting the kids involved is a good way to teach them about where food comes from and how it gets from farms to your table, not to mention instilling a practical skill they will have for life.

Moving past PB&J or cheese sandwiches or hotdogs, what are some interesting and fun lunch ideas that don’t need a lot of heat? Wraps. Rollups. Pasta salads. Sloppy Joes. Kabobs. Tostadas. Salad-in-a-jar. Tacos. Zucchini pizzas. Panini. Keeping in mind what foods your kids like and what you think they might try if presented with a fun chance, all of these ideas could work well. You’ll want to keep these ideas in mind as you prepare for other meals and shop for ingredients. I also will make lunch out of unexpected leftover bits and bites, and many of these ideas lend themselves well to that. Will some of the lunches for the week need beans? Cook extra or make sure to have canned ones on hand. Making mini-pizzas? Be sure you have extra of your favorite marinara – homemade or bought – and cheese. Tortillas? Check. Fresh carrots and cucumbers and lettuce and other veggies? Check. Cooked chicken, either leftover from a dinner or rotisserie chicken from the store makes it easy? Check. As with planning dinner menus, it helps to have all the ingredients available. Then all ya gotta do is prep and eat!

Depending on the ages of the children, if you have any around, they can be assigned various tasks to help. Older kids may want to help plan or even dream up their own ideas, and certainly help with prep and any cooking. Younger kids can help assemble and even chop and slice – good way to teach safe knife handling. Little ones can help add ingredients you have prepped and measured, stir, and help assemble. The results may not be as pretty as the pictures but will taste just as good!

Most kids like pasta, and a cold pasta salad can be a fun dish to prepare, and a good way to get some veggies in their mouth they may think they don’t like. It seems raw veggies, especially cut into fun shapes, are more tolerable to reluctant tasters. Italian-style dressing is common but may not be to kids’ tastes – maybe a creamy, ranch type dressing would be better liked. Sure, pasta has to be cooked but it’s minimal and if you plan extra when making another meal, you’ll have it ready to mix.

Skewers (cold kabobs) of favorite and not so familiar items are fun. Roll up sliced turkey or ham and cut into 1” pieces, do the same with soft cheese slices like provolone or cut small cubes of some cheddar or Monterey jack. Prep items the eaters will like or you think they might like, such as cucumber or zucchini slices, grape tomatoes, folded up lettuce leaves, pitted olives, and even grapes or strawberries. Choose foods that will slide onto a wooden skewer easily. Put these in small bowls and let the kids build-your-own-kabob, no cooking needed! You can turn wraps into rollups if you layer the contents well, using hummus or similar consistency spread as first layer. Once you’ve layered the wrap, roll it tightly, and then cut into 1” wide slices. So maybe hummus, slice of turkey or ham, slice of cheese or shredded cheese, maybe young spinach leaves or some shredded lettuce, a bit of shredded carrot or other veg. Just don’t use large chunks – they don’t roll well or stay rolled up well.

Tacos and pizzas don’t have to be hot, or have meat that requires cooking. These pizzas will be a little messy to eat but fun. Slice a day-old, whole-grain baguette or a medium zucchini into 1/4-3/8” slices. Top each slice with a bit of marinara, a bit of shredded cheese, and maybe an olive or halved cherry tomato. You could add some finely chopped herbs, like basil or oregano too. Pizza! Tacos could be fresh (less crumbly) or dried small tortillas, with maybe some cold leftover chicken or leftover beans and rice, some salsa, and other taco toppings of diner’s choice. Again, put the toppings in small bowls and let the kids build-your-own-taco, no cooking needed!

If the children are salad eaters it can be fun to make a salad in a jar (or one pint translucent plastic tub for picnics). Put the dressing in first, then layer the preferred fixin’s in, with the first one being something that can touch the dressing without damage. (So I wouldn’t start with lettuce.) Use lots of colorful veggies is various shapes  – orange carrots cut in tiny cubes, purple cabbage thinly sliced to show off its curls, dark green spinach to contrast with lighter green lettuce, red bells in skinny strips, etc. Put the lid on, store in fridge until lunchtime. Shake the jar to mix the dressing around, and now all that’s needed is a fork.

Here’s a vegetarian ‘sloppy joe’ recipe. Requires little cooking, and does well in a crockpot. In addition to being different from what a sloppy joe usually consists of, serve this mix in a pita pocket to make it even more interesting. Also, it makes a lot as written, so maybe this helps out for a pool party.

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large white onion, sliced
2 medium carrots, or 1 large, shredded
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups cooked pinto beans
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 8-ounce can no-salt-added tomato sauce
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce or tamari, or Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2-1 cup water
2-3 cups very thinly sliced green or purple cabbage
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen (optional, I omit this)
3 tablespoons mustard of choice, or to taste
Salt, black pepper to taste

Preparation
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to
brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in carrots and garlic and chili powder; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 15-30 seconds. Remove from heat; stir in vinegar and scrape up any browned bits.
Coat a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray, if desired. Mix the tomato paste with 1/2 cup water until smooth; add remaining water a bit at a time if mixture is too thick. Add this mixture and the rest of the ingredients to the slow cooker. Stir to combine.
Cover and cook on High for 1 hour or Low for 2-3 hours. The cabbage should be well cooked. When done to your liking turn the cooker off. Check the seasoning, adjust to taste.
Serve on buns or in pita pocket bread.

Note: If you sauté the onion/carrot/garlic in a large stove top pot, you could add the rest of the ingredients to it instead of a crockpot. Heat to low simmer for 30-40 minutes and check for consistency. This method may require a little additional water.

[Modified from http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/vegetarian_pinto_bean_sloppy_joes.html]

 

Now I was saying how kids like pasta. Disclaimer here – I have not tried this! But it seems so easy I thought I’d add it.

5 Minute Homemade Mac and Cheese
1/2 pound cooked pasta of choice (we used small shells)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Place pasta, cheese, milk, salt and pepper into a microwave safe bowl. Stir to mix. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and microwave for 3 minutes. Stir and microwave for an additional 2 minutes. Stir until creamy and smooth. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings

[http://picky-palate.com/2012/02/20/5-minute-homemade-mac-and-cheese/]

 

Anyway, I hope this gave you some creative ideas for cool, easy lunches, whether you are feeding kids this summer or not!

Most of us shy away from discussing bowel habits outside the doctor’s office; for some people even inside the doctor’s office is off limits for this topic. Yet, we all poop and most people suffer from constipation at some time or another, so why all the secrecy and reluctance to talk about it? Not good dinner table conversation perhaps, but there’s no reason not to talk about a common problem with a natural function. There’d be less suffering if people shared tips on how to get past constipation.

What is constipation? It is when the solid waste material doesn’t move through and out of the body in a timely manner, or is dry and hard to excrete. Other symptoms include gas, painful bloating, and straining to go or feeling that the bowel movement is not complete. Constipation that lasts for an extended period may lead to hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, or impacted bowels among other risks. Obviously, sudden and severe onset of constipation, especially if blood is present in the stool, or constipation that is not relieved by the usual remedies should be discussed with your medical professional without delay.

I admit to suffering from occasional constipation throughout my life, sometimes worse than others. It can really make a person cranky, to just not feel tip-top because a function that should just happen isn’t working. Speaking of normal, we are unique individuals and our bodies work within the rhythm that is right for each. Other peoples’ natural schedule of bowel movements may not be your natural rhythm. There is no “right” timing or amount; you should respect the signals from your body. That said, not having a bowel movement for a week or even for 4-5 days is a concern and you should be looking into what is going on.

What are some of the causes of occasional episodes of constipation?

  • Overuse of antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
  • Changes in your usual diet or activities, like when on vacation or change in job
  • Consuming a lot of dairy products
  • Eating disorders
  • Not being active
  • Not enough water or fiber in your diet
  • Overuse of laxatives (creates a dependency)
  • Pregnancy
  • Too often ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Some medications (especially strong pain drugs, antidepressants, or iron pills)
  • Excess stress

To avoid occasional bout of constipation, the general recommendations are simple lifestyle changes:

  • Exercise daily, for about 30 minutes. Exercise is essential to regular bowel movements. I find Hatha yoga especially helpful as it massages your internal organs, but a good walk helps too.
  • Drink plenty of water – 1 ½ – 2 quarts per day.
  • Eat plenty of fiber from whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain bread and cereal.
  • Cut back on milk and cheeses. Dairy products are constipating for some people, maybe for you.
  • If you take calcium supplements, be sure to get half as much magnesium to counter the sometimes constipating effects of calcium.
  • To relieve stress use a relaxation technique daily, especially meditation or breathing exercises. Stress interferes with relaxation of the whole body, including the bowels.
  • Don’t ignore the urge to go. Peristalsis of the bowel is the movements that trigger a bowel movement. If you ignore the urge, the opportunity may pass and lead to stool backing up
  • Do not use caffeine as a laxative. While coffee and other forms of caffeine may work as laxatives when used occasionally, when used regularly for this purpose caffeine, like the constant use of laxatives, prevents the bowels from following their own natural rhythm.
  • Don’t smoke. Nicotine affects the bowel in the same manner as caffeine.
  • Avoid constipating drugs if you can. The most common are opiates, diuretics, anti-depressants, and anti-histamines, among others.

There now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Simple talk about what is often a simple problem with easy solutions. Hopefully you do not need this information often; if you do a health coach may be able to help reduce that need.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is there anything better than the smell of freshly baked bread? Ok, maybe freshly baked cinnamon rolls. But, even in your nearest shopping mall there’s the intoxicating smell of freshly baked dough, made into pretzel shapes. No matter how gluten-free some want to be, the fragrance of yeast-raised dough will make your mouth water, your tummy growl, and your memory recall Grandma’s baking. Well, maybe not the last – depends on your grandmother!

I grew up in an era when convenience foods were just popping up in the stores, and in an area where fast food was just a rumor. Even so, my mom did not bake bread. For sandwiches we had the white fluffy stuff hardly anyone wants to eat anymore, or at least won’t admit to eating. Mom even got to the point where biscuits were those pop out of the tube things. We loved ‘em! So novel, so easy, so cheap! Not that we didn’t have made-from-scratch desserts and meals, just that a few packaged items made their way into our kitchen, and bread and rolls were two of them.

So I surprised myself, and my mom, when I started to bake breads. I was married and had small children and was a stay-at-home mom, or homemaker as we were called. (Never ‘housewife’!) I had time and wanted to save money so I made a lot of our food from scratch; plus I started to look at the nutrition of our foods and wanted to avoid some of the additives. Not only were the homemade bread and rolls tastier, they were fresher and I knew what was in them. I made dinner rolls, breakfast rolls, bagels, doughnuts, French bread – all from yeast dough. And then there were the pies, the cakes, the cookies – I could go on. I was a happy baker!

For a long time after that baking did not fit into my life. Oh, an occasional foray into the baking pans, and certainly cookies at Christmas time. But not many breads or rolls. In the past few years I have rediscovered my baking passion. Mostly I bake our sandwich bread and buns, not very many sweet items. I am a simple baker, just want a quality loaf of bread for toast or a sandwich. It was challenging to find a simple, ‘clean’ loaf of bread in the stores, and the prices seemed outrageous for what was offered. There are bakers at the farmers market I go to but sandwich bread was too ordinary for these specialty bakers, who have some wonderful products but not what I sought.

I mentioned being a simple baker. For me, that means using store bought dry yeast to raise the dough. I know how to work with this type of dough, and at risk of jinxing myself, have always had success with it. What I am working on now is learning how to make bread from just flour, water, salt, and natural yeast. Natural yeast? Yes, the yeast that is in the air. I made a starter using just flour, water, and time – time to let it capture the yeast and develop. The starter is then combined with more flour and water and worked to develop the gluten (which gives it structure) and allowed to rise. This produces a much wetter dough than the more familiar method I have used for years. And that is where my problems start! I just haven’t figured out how to work with it, to get it from proved (fully risen) to baking pan without collapse. Hence, the loaves come out of the oven much flatter than they ought to be and very dense in texture, although the flavor is grand. Well, I do like a challenge and while it is frustrating to have such disappointing results, I will keep at it and find success!

In the meantime, if you are a bread baker and want a solid recipe for a good loaf of bread, here you are. (If you haven’t baked bread before, give it a try. Very rewarding. I recommend looking for a copy of The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown for detailed directions that are easy to follow.)

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Makes 2 loaves

Combine 2 cups (c.) whole wheat flour and 2 c. unbleached white flour (You can use all whole wheat flour but I like the texture when I use some white fl_our.)

Dissolve 1 package or 1 Tablespoon (T.) active dry yeast in 3 cups warm (~90°) water. Stir in 3 T. honey (or agave syrup or sugar). Stir in the flour, mix well, then beat about 100 strokes to develop gluten. Scrape down sides of bowl, cover with a clean towel, and set in warm place to rise for about an hour. This is the sponge and is quite wet.

After the sponge is risen, sprinkle 1 T. sea salt over the top, and drizzle 3 T. oil (organic canola, avocado, olive oil, or melted butter) over it. Gently fold these into the sponge. When incorporated, fold in 3-4 c. whole wheat flour, 1 cup at a time, until dough pulls together and comes away from sides of the bowl. (Optional: I also add 5-6 T. vital wheat gluten as I add the flour; this helps the rise as whole wheat flour has less gluten by volume than white flour. The ratio I use is 1 T. vital wheat gluten per cup whole wheat flour.)

Now knead the dough on a floured board, using more whole wheat flour but only enough to prevent it sticking. Knead about 10-15 minutes – I always do 15. Place in lightly oiled bowl, cover with towel, rise 50 minutes. Punch down, let rise 40 minutes. Cut dough in half; on floured surface roll each half to a rectangle, then tightly roll the rectangle like a jelly roll and pinch seal edges. Place in oiled bread pan and cover. Let rise about 30 minutes. Preheat oven during this final rise to 350°. Place pans in center of oven and bake 50-60 minutes. I always check at 50 minutes and find the loaves are done. If your oven has hot spots, you may need to turn the pans halfway through, etc. Let the bread cool in the pans only 5 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

I slice the bread when it is all the way cooled, pack loosely in a long, heavy plastic bag, and put in freezer. Once frozen, I can compact it a bit more but not squish it. This way I can take out just the number of slices I need and don’t have to thaw the whole loaf. There are only two of us and we don’t eat it fast enough to not store it in the freezer. It keeps a long time when frozen.

Recipe adapted from The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown

Image courtesy of phasinphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today I want to dive into Michael Pollan’s famous quote of “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” On the surface it is pretty simple, and I do like simple! But as I listened to some videos of Michael discussing food topics I realized I may not fully understand the depth of its wisdom.

Eat food. Sounds easy.  But by this he means actual food, not food processed into something else that resembles food but is very far removed from its origin. Would someone from 100 years ago recognize the food? “Food” means it is not full of hydrolyzed protein, mono-glycerides, natural flavoring, saccharine, etc. We should seek food items grown the way nature meant, not by using industrial methods that strip the earth of nutrients, pollute the ground and water with pesticides, degrade the lives of animals in feedlots and factory farms, and give cause for deforestation. “Pasteurized processed cheese food” is not food in the context of this quote, for instance. We should eat corn – fresh off the cob or frozen, or as cornmeal, perhaps – grown by a real farmer, not by a corporate conglomerate, and not turned into one of the hundreds of ingredients you would not suspect are derived from corn. Choose meat as close to how it came from the animal, like a steak or chicken breast and not the ground up bits mixed with cellulose to produce ‘lunchmeat’ or ‘chicken’ nuggets. Yogurt is milk cultured with specific strains of bacteria, that’s all – not necessary to include added sugar, fruit, gelatin, probiotics, and more. Oats are easy to cook – there’s no need to process oats to death so they can come in a little envelope with “real and artificial flavorings” added.

Mostly plants. Meaning the edible parts of vegetables, fruits, grains, mushrooms, and even flowers. Simply prepared fresh vegetables are most delightful. Eat whole grains like brown rice, farro, and wheat berries rather than grains ground into flour; although whole grain flour is more nutritious than bleached white flour it still impacts blood sugar and insulin levels. Enjoy all of the apple or an orange and not just the juice that can be extracted. Edible flowers add color and flavor to a lovely fresh salad. These foods provide us with almost all the nutrients we need for health, and with the variety of colors and textures to be found they are satisfying for our aesthetic taste buds as well. There are so many different plant foods and so many ways to combine them into delightful dishes, I think it would take a lot of years of cooking meals to ever repeat the same dish if you didn’t want to! Pollan stresses that humans are omnivores and some of us will not find satisfaction with a strictly plant-based diet. Yet if western cultures ate more plant foods and less animal foods, we’d have better health, our land would have better health, and the world would see less environmental damage.

Not too much. Don’t eat until you are stuffed, stop before you feel full. Many cultures, where food scarcity is not a problem, teach their young to eat only until they are 2/3 full or 4/5 full or until they no longer have hunger. Be mindful of portion size; many of us were taught to clean our plates, so when we overload it to start with, we are set up to overeat. Don’t feed your boredom, anxiety, or depression by mindlessly snacking or eating when you aren’t even hungry. Sit at a table when you eat and pay attention to what you are eating – you will derive more satisfaction from the meal and become more aware of how much you eat. It will help you learn when to say when. Consider sharing an entrée with your companion at restaurants, especially those whose portion sizes are large. Eventually they may get the idea of reducing portions to normal size. By eating this way, you not only help your own health, you help reduce food waste.

So, sound and simple advice. Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. Common sense, really. No need to count calories, fat grams, carbs. No need to worry about the next bad-for-you-food story, because you are eating a moderate amount of a variety of foods and skipping controversial additives. You are eating a balance of fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates. Add water and exercise and you’ll be in the pink!

I just got back from a visit “home” – to St. Louis where I had spent most of my life. It was mostly chilly, cloudy, and rainy. Brrrrr! But we had left cloudy days here in Arizona and returned to cloudy days, with cool temperatures. So I am feeling like I need soup and chili and other hot dishes. Not to mention my hostess and sister-in-law mentioned making some ham and bean soup… So here are a few recipes for soups we like in cool/cold weather.

Chili
I used to use ground beef in chili but mostly don’t anymore. You can certainly add some to your version of this, in addition to or in place of the grains. Also, I like a fair amount of spice but have been called wimpy, so adjust the spices according to your palate. Cornbread goes nicely with this!

About 2 cups cooked farro or barley or wheat berries
About 2 cups cooked beans (navy, black, pinto, cranberry, or combination)
1 15 oz. can fire roasted, diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 medium-large onion
1-2 T. chili powder
½ – 1 t. crushed dried red chilies
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the grains according to directions for the type you choose, but not quite as long – they should be par-cooked. Cook the beans the same way – according to type but remove from heat and drain when they are still quite firm. These will cook more in the chili mix.
Chop the onion and saute in water or bit of oil until softened. Stir in the spices and cook ~ one minute. Add the tomatoes with the juices. Add the grains and beans. Stir to combine, bring to a good simmer, then reduce the heat for a slow simmer. Cook about 45 minutes to an hour. Stir several times and check liquid level – if it’s getting too dry add a bit of water or if too wet for your taste turn the heat up a bit.

 

Juan’s Chicken Soup
I may have shared this one before. It’s a spicy soup, so if you are shy of heat you may want to skip it or tone it down with less Rotel style tomatoes. Quick to make, yummy to eat!

2 boneless chicken breasts without skin or 2-3 boneless chicken thighs without skin
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
2 10 oz. cans Rotel® tomatoes with green chilies
½ large onion, chopped
1 medium green or red bell pepper, chopped
4-5 oz. frozen sliced okra
1 T. Worchestershire® sauce
½ c. brown rice
Put all ingredients into large pot. Bring to a boil, stir. Turn heat to low and simmer 45 minutes (to cook rice). Simmer at least 30 if not adding rice. Remove chicken and cut into chunks then stir back in to the soup.

 

Ham & Bean Soup
What better use for the ham bone left from a holiday dinner? Soup! This is a classic and there are probably hundreds of ways to make it. But here is mine. I use a crock pot, start this in the morning, and it’s ready by dinner time.

1 pound split peas or small white beans
Large onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
Hot water
Ham bone, we prefer it with some meat still on
Black pepper
Salt*

If you use split peas, no need to soak. If you are using small white beans, you may want to refer to this page on how to cook them. (I have always soaked dried beans so have not tried not soaking them for this recipe. So I would soak them overnight and probably use the soaking water in the next steps.)
Put the peas/beans in the crock pot and add hot water to cover them about 2 inches. Add the ham bone and onion, bay leaves, and pepper. Stir. *Salt – I do not add salt until the soup is nearly done. Ham can have quite a bit of salt in it, so I prefer to let it flavor the soup and add salt if needed at the end.
Turn the crock pot on high to get it heated, if you have time before dashing off to work; then turn to low. If not, just start it on low. Stir a few times during the day, if you can. Check the peas/beans for doneness after 8-9 hours, they should be ready. Remove the ham bone and cut off any meat that didn’t fall off and add it back to the soup. Taste for salt, stir well, enjoy!

 

Coconut Curry Kale and Sweet Potato Soup
My variation of one I found in Vegetarian Times magazine. This soup has a lot going on! Don’t worry that it is hard just because there are a lot of ingredients.

Large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 medium head bok choy, chopped, and leafy parts separated from white parts
1 t. chili powder
1 t. curry powder
~ 1 t. cinnamon
~ 1 t. cumin
< 1 t. cayenne pepper, to taste
4-6 cups vegetable broth
1 14 oz. can coconut milk
1 14 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
1 cup dried lentils
1 large sweet potato, diced
~ ½ bunch kale, stemmed and chopped
Arrowroot powder or organic cornstarch, optional
Salt and black pepper to taste

Put ingredients onion through lentils into a large pot, using 4 cups broth and only the white parts of bok choy. Stir to blend. Bring to low boil then reduce heat to low simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally to check liquid level; add more broth if the soup is too thick. The lentils should be tender by now.
Add the diced sweet potato and cook 15 minutes more or until potato is tender. Add the kale and the bok choy leaves and cook another 8-10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
If the soup is too brothy, you can mix about 2 T. cornstarch or arrowroot into a little water and add to the soup, bring the heat up and stir until broth thickens a bit.

20161025_autumn-treeWe don’t really have four seasons here in the Valley of the Sun. We have two: nice weather and summer (which most people don’t consider “nice”, LOL!). It’s late October and our afternoons are still in the mid-90s although overnight lows are in the upper 60s to low 70s – nice and cool in the mornings! I spent the bulk of my life in the Midwest so I feel like I should be wearing jeans, sweaters, and boots this late in the year but I’m still wearing shorts and sandals during the days. I loved autumn in the Midwest and miss those crisp, fall days. What to do?

To start with, I follow my long-time fall routine, just maybe a month or so later than I used to. That means – heavy duty cleaning. True, the house was mostly closed up all summer with AC on so not much dust got in. It just seems the air must be stale, so I open the windows and clean! Once upon a time I was really ‘scrubby Dutch’ but that time is past and I really have to have a reason for this now. Like, company coming from out of town to stay a few days – that gets me moving! They will be here in two weeks so I better get rolling.

Heavy duty cleaning means I move a lot of things around to clean in, under, and closer, and that means I find things that really, we don’t need. “Why did we keep this?” I wonder. There’s not a lot of storage room in our condo so space for needless things just doesn’t exist, and have I ever mentioned that I don’t like clutter? Someday I will get up a lot of motivation and clear out the garage, but that day is not here yet! Still, I’ll end up with a bag or box or two to donate, and probably a fair amount to toss. So I find this a good time to de-clutter.

While I’m taking a break from all that cleaning I might browse a new magazine or the web and come across recipes for soups and stews and chilies that sound delicious and warm and cozy and cold-weather satisfying. But it’s still too hot for those dishes, I tell myself! That doesn’t stop me from saving the recipe for ‘later’ although by now I have dozens of these recipes saved and few of them actually tried. Still, a few will get tested, a few will get tossed without trying (why did I save this one??), and a few more will morph together into one brand-new recipe. I do make some soups in the summer but they tend to be lightweight, like a cool gazpacho or a nice, light cauliflower soup that is good hot or cold. My cool weather soups are heartier, with heavier flavors, bigger chunks of veggies, and more beans and/or grains. I also do more baking in our cooler season, for obvious reasons!

Another habit that came with me from my roots is stocking up the pantry as the weather changes to winter. Who wants to go out when it’s cold, windy, snowy, or icy? Not me! So I’d make sure I had plenty of ingredients on hand for the days I didn’t feel like getting out. Not that we encounter many of those days here in the valley; it’s just habit. And now that habit seems to last all year, because who wants to have to run to the store when it’s 114? I try to always have staples on hand – onions and garlic, dried and canned beans, plant-based milk, frozen veggies, canned tomatoes, spices, dried pasta, and nuts and seeds. Summer meals usually mean lots of fresh salad veggies and ingredients for dressings. Winter meals also have lots of fresh vegetables but I make fewer salads.

My last transition activity is shifting clothes. Like I mentioned, not a lot of storage here so sweaters, heavier pants, long sleeved items get packed in boxes in spring and brought out in fall; shorts and sleeveless tops and summery skirts go into the boxes. This year I need to take a really critical look at my wardrobe because really, I have too many clothes. Since I gave up corporate work, I don’t need all the clothes I did before but it’s been hard to get rid of perfectly good items. Now I think I’m ready to let some go to a better home. Still not time to pull out the heavier sweaters and switch to wearing boots, but it will be soon!

Living here has simplified my seasonal transitions for two reasons. One, I only have to switch twice, from hot to cool, and cool to hot. I used to have to adjust to four seasons. Two, no daylight savings time – that change always hit me hard and I love not messing with adjusting my internal clock to arbitrary clock changes.

What are your seasonal transitions like?