For CSA Members

Vegetable Wellington – spectacular!

I am making ONE exception to my rule about recipes being super-simple. This is not my usual super-simple recipe, but as holiday centerpiece dishes go, it’s simple compared to many, so once a year, maybe twice, won’t wreck anybody… but it’s glorious! Yummy, hearty, and beautiful on the table!

Ingredients:

4 Sheets of (vegan or gluten free – as suits your needs) puff pastry (or 2 large sheets) or 6-8 sheets phyllo

Olive oil or vegan butter, melted

Mushroom Duxelles
1 1/2 c finely chopped brown, mixed mushrooms
1 large shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp thyme
salt and pepper
white cooking wine (optional)
Olive oil or vegan butter, melted

Veggie Filling:
1/3 cup coarsley chopped/diced potato or sweet potato
1/3 cup coarsley chopped/diced carrots
1/3 cup coarsley chopped/diced turnip
1/3 cup coarsley chopped/diced leek
1/3 cup coarsley chopped/diced peas
1/3 cup coarsley chopped/diced spinach
1 tbsp minced parsley
Olive oil, salt and pepper

Prepare the fillings first, as you don’t want them soaking into the pastry while you put things together.

Sauté the mushrooms, garlic, and shallot in the butter or oil, and add a splash of wine (if you like), salt and pepper. Let this simmer down to be almost like a paste with not too much liquid. Set aside.

Lightly sauté the vegetables for about 5 minutes, just to tenderize and blend flavors. Set aside.

Preheat the over to 400 degrees.

On a baking sheet, on parchment paper, spread out a sheet of the puff pastry Join 2 if they are small) OR use several stacked layers of phyllo, brushing on a bit of melted butter or oil between layers. Spread the veggies on the pastry, leaving a 1” margin. Roll up the pastry to make a log-shaped roll, and set it aside for a minute.
Lay out the next layer of pastry on parchment and spread the mushroom mixture out the same way. Set the veggie roll (minus the parchment) in the center of this layer and then roll the mushroom layer around the “log”, leaving the seam underneath the large roll. Pinch the ends closed or tuck them under.
Brush the roll with oil or butter and lightly score the top lightly. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown and puffy.

Eating Well During the Holidays

The summer crops are all tilled under now with sparrows and finches pecking at leftover seeds and bugs. Winter crops are being planted as soil dries enough to allow walking between rows. Seedlings for greens, snow peas and sweet turnips are getting their starts under gray, fuzzy sky. This weather tells us that the season of comfort food and nostalgic indulgences has arrived.DSCF5204.JPG

But what if your health and/or sensitivities really need you to stay on track? Let’s have a few goals: Continue eating fresh produce; Limit sweets and processed foods; Savor every bite mindfully; Share; Love the nostalgia, but let’s avoid eating our feelings to the point we create new regrets.

I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 40 holiday seasons’ worth of social awkwardness, challenges and gotcha questions, lack of satisfying foods, etc. I have been at that party where dinner was hours behind schedule, and then the lone “vegetarian” dish had shrimp in it. (What tree do you suppose shrimp grow on!?!?) I’ll admit I was cranky, not the most gracious guest. Not proud of it.

So I have some suggestions to help things stay festive and friendly:

Let people know in advance about your limitations, and tell them, “Don’t to go to any trouble for me, but I don’t want to make you feel bad if I don’t eat something.” Don’t say I “don’t do” tomatoes. Explain allergies or long-term food practices (vegetarian, vegan etc.) clearly.

Bring a dish to share that makes you happy and full. Feeling hangry can spoil any event (see my bad example above). Hit the farmers’ market to see what is in season and what appeals to your senses. Save experimental, exotic dishes that scream “hippy health-nut!” for another time. Think “kid-friendly”, even among adults. Show-off casseroles like a veggie tamale pie or a vegetable Wellington will satisfy everyone My maple-coconut yams are picky kid-tested. Who needs sugary marshmallows?

Holiday Yams

Ingredients:

3 large sweet potatoes (mix purple and orange colors if you like), sliced into 1/4 inch rounds

1/2 c finely chopped walnuts

1/2 c shredded coconut

1/2 c butter (substitute), melted

1/2 c orange juice

1/2 c maple syrup

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Mix melted butter, orange juice and maple syrup and set aside.

In a casserole dish, layer slices of sweet potato to cover the bottom.

Sprinkle coconut and nuts over the slices, then add another layer of sweet potatoes, more coconut and nuts, etc until you fill the casserole dish.

Sprinkle nuts and coconut over the top, the pour the liquid evenly over the whole dish.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the liquid is bubbling, sweet potatoes are tender, and the top is a little browned.

 

Don’t throw the traditional baby out with the bath-water! Small adjustments can save the day! Wild rice blends can make a rice dish richer AND healthier. Green beans can be cooked with a homemade mushroom duxelle (sauté and make gravy-like) rather than canned soup. Pies can be more fruit than sugar and flour, and the crust and sweeteners can be healthier. Try an almond flour crust and maple syrup for sweetening. More cinnamon too!

Hold out for the tastiest indulgences with the most nostalgia-value. Candy canes can just be decorations, unless you wait all year for them. Remember the Seinfeld episode about eating a Snickers bar with a fork and knife? Elevate your treat! Savor slowly focusing on the exquisiteness of a treat. A small amount on a big plate – the way the French plate their restaurant food – can encourage mindfulness. Or just the opposite! Take a small plate and load it so it looks like a huge portion, putting healthy stuff on your plate first, the less nutritious stuff around that.

Find an ally! Don’t be marginalized in your own family. Invite co-conspirators into the kitchen while you are preparing food or sit with a health-conscious relative at the dinner table. Holidays are no time to feel lonely and left out, munching on twigs and leaves and resentment. Incidentally, celery may help lower blood pressure…not that the holidays are stressful!

Don’t apologize for your choices, and don’t debate. Tell people your food choices make you feel good physically and mentally. That’s all. And be grateful we can make such choices for ourselves. Gratitude = happiness.

Watch out for sugary drinks. Put sparkling water in any juice to reduce sugar and make it bubbly-special. Spicy chai or a low-sugar/non-dairy hot chocolate with a drop of peppermint extract can warm you up. Ginger or peppermint tea works if your stomach feels nasty from the hubbub. And try this fruit-filled Mexican-style punch:

Make 1 quart of strong hibiscus tea
Add it to 4 more quarts of water in a pot
Chop and add a couple of guavas, a pear, an apple, an orange and some prunes
Add 2 sticks of cinnamon and several 4 inch sticks of fresh sugar cane. Add a few slices of ginger and a pinch of clove if you like. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for an hour. Sweeten as needed. Strain and serve hot

Give yourself the gift of some space. Schedule regular walks for your “digestion”. A constitutional, as they used to be called. Take a breather from stuffy air, germs, and most of all people.  I’m going out to walk the dogs around the field right now.

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Soup vs Allostatic Load

I’m driving along on a smoky fall day, listening to the radio, and I hear Dr. Anthony Iton of the California Endowment, mention the term “allostatic load,” meaning the wear and tear that chronic stress produces in our bodies, an extra toxifying, acidifying burden. Imagine the biochemistry of the folks facing all the emergencies around the world, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, hurricanes, and fires? And those facing chronic illnesses such as diabetes or cancer who also feel that vulnerability and lack of agency.  Even watching all the disasters going on in the world will produce stress, and sitting, eating comfort food, glued to the screen to tracking friends’ status isn’t healthy either. I’m not saying, “All stress matters.” Just that all stress affects our bodies.

 

Our digestion is upset, our blood pressure, our hormones, cortisol and Ph balance are out of whack, and our inflamed joints cause pain, our breathing is less efficient, and …what a mess! And then we pass the stress on to our friends, family and even our pets.

 

“Allostasis” means adjusting to stress, rebalancing to stay well.  How can we re-start breathing fully, unclenching muscles, stop grinding teeth, chewing nails, and feeling that acid gurgling up in our throats? I recommend DOING something about the things that are stressful. I once was discussing with two colleagues the challenges of the South Sacramento food desert. We realized we’d surely be more depressed by the difficulties there, if we weren’t busy trying to do something, however imperfect,  about them. Of course, our frustration was infinitely smaller than that of the families struggling to keep their kids healthy with no affordable produce vendors in walking distance. But consider that being sympathetic may be harder on your body if you don’t act. Volunteer. Donate. Support or join an effective organization.

 

On my farm, in pursuit of allostasis, I can  dig in the dirt and connect with those microorganisms that make us feel good. Of course, the weeds aggravate me, but still… Planting anything at all is an act of optimism and care that takes our focus away from the daily disasters. I can take the dogs for a walk around the back field, and as long as 11-pound Ginger doesn’t take off chasing the jack-rabbit who is 3 times her size, it’s very relaxing.  Pruning trees seasonally is a pace-changer, shaping a tree or bush to bring about balance and beauty. I wish I felt the same way about tidying up my closet.  And cooking something special, simple and fresh that perfumes the house (if it doesn’t burn and smoke) is a soothing and rewarding process. There is a lot of allostasis on the farm, the garden, even the kitchen.

 

It’s not that on my grandma’s farm there was never stress. But on the farm, they had built-in allostasis-izers. Quality time with the sun and wind, the rhythm of the seasons, tasks to keep everyone busy and useful, social safety nets of the New Deal era,  quiet without the constant barrage of worrisome news… And comforting food made by hand from real stuff.

And speaking of comfort food… creamy soups just soothe the soul! Try this warming Pumpkin soup and this summer-into-fall, slightly sweet corn chowder. Turn off the noise and the news and all the stressors and let them warm you from the inside. Take THAT allostatic load!

 

Creamy Curried Pumpkin Soup

Why this is healthy: Pumpkins are loaded with carotene

Why this tastes great: Warm spices and creamy coconut milk

Why this is easy: Sauté, simmer, blend, serve

 

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter or substitute or oil
  • 1 cup shallots and/or onion, chopped
  •   one apple, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 cups veggie broth or 3 cups water and a veggie bullion cube
  • 1 roasted sugar-pie pumpkin (about 2 cups of cooked squash “flesh”)
  • 1  can light coconut milk

Directions

  1. Melt “butter” and saute shallots.
  2. Stir in the curry, salt, and pepper and cook for one minute.
  3. Add the pumpkin and stir to flavor, then broth and bring to a simmer, and cook uncovered for 20 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and use a stick blender to mix in coconut milk.
  5. Serve with a cilantro garnish (optional)

DSCF5191.JPGPoblano Pepper and Corn Chowder

Why this is healthy: Peppers have a load of vitamin A, and the bit of capsaicin is great for circulation.

Why this tastes great    : Comfort food without the heavy cream, and the sweetness of corn balanced with the zing of the pepper.

Why this is easy: Sauté veggies, add liquids, simmer. Boom.

 

Ingredients

1 medium yellow onion chopped

1 extra-large Poblano pepper, chopped

2 medium red potatoes, diced (cut into cubes approximately dice size)

2 cups fresh or frozen corn (cut off the cob)

Salt and pepper

2 cups Veggie broth

1 c thick cashew milk (unsweetened)

½ c parmesan cheese (vegan – I recommend Go Veggie)

 

Directions

Sauté onion, pepper and potatoes until glassy. Salt and pepper to taste.

Cover with broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Mix in corn.

After 5 minutes, remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Add cashew milk and “cheese”. Check salt and pepper for flavor and add if needed.

If you like you can top with a sprinkle fakin’-bacon or add a drop or two of liquid smoke.

The Corvid Clan

The crows, jays and magpies here get fed peanuts regularly. In exchange, they chase off hawks and other raptors that covet my tall trees and my chickens. They are a terrific alarm system, so when they call I pay attention. And they are just hilarious.

 

Hovering over the “children”…

A Hopi friend of mine tells me that in his culture, the crops are considered their children, someone to be nurtured and strengthened and brought to maturity with great care. Seeds are lovingly planted deep in the soil, where they will have enough moisture, and companion plants are grown together so they support each other’s resilience and wellness. Many Indigenous farmers sing to their plants and their seeds, to thank and encourage them. As I was planting seeds for fall veggies, I used bigger containers and soil with more nutrients, because I am feeling they need to mature more before being planted out, so they can withstand the extremes of our climate-change affected weather. As they sprout and grow, I fuss over them daily to make sure they have enough moisture and light, not too much. I realize I may have become a helicopter-parent to my plants! I hope I won’t make them fragile and over-sensitive.

 

I am trying to be more tuned-in to my “children”, not just the garden crops, but also the wild and volunteer plants and wildlife here. The goldfinches have come back early this 10687886_10152716485964690_7030006035977223479_oyear, for example, finishing off the sunflower seeds and confident I’ll fill the thistle feeder when other seeds’ season ends. The tiny frogs, who were here in biblical numbers this summer devouring insects around my porch lights, are fewer, though fatter now and soon will be hibernating under the roots of the mulberry tree. The bees have been sluggish but industrious in seeking out the last summer foods to tuck away in their pantries. I am not one of those legendary elders who expertly track the interlocking signs of the seasons, but I can guess we’ll have an early and cold winter this year. So it’s time to prepare row covers for tender greens and insulation for fruit trees, just as parents of small humans are getting sweaters, warm coats and mittens out of the storage bins for the winter.

 

Since the industrial revolution, it seems we have accepted the idea that impersonal, mass production is optimal, and, since the 1950s, that time and motion efficiency and economies of scale are unquestionable. Certainly tending to my hen’s sore foot with natural cures and soft words does nothing to maximize my profit margin. Though these ideas of scale and efficiency optimize short-term returns, we would do well to think about the long-term well-being of our planet, our home. As we face more weather-10838225_10152845284794690_8095399139621987739_orelated challenges to our food sources and systems —including extreme temperatures, fierce winds, droughts, storms, herbicide drift, super-pests and super-weeds, and more intense sunlight (high UV index) — perhaps a bit more nurturing, even hovering will be required to coax food from plants.

 

To feel this tenderness and affection for the world around us, this responsibility, requires intimacy and observation of details. Farmer-poet Wendell Berry once responded to increasing globalization by asking how a person in a far-away office could make any decision at all about an area of land, when after 40 years on his farm, he was learning new details every day. What if we each took a personal-sized chunk of the world — your back yard, local creek or fields for example — to really know, to care for, to sing to and listen to, to nurture as you would your child?

Saving Places

My uncle inquired recently whether, in the midst of farm chores, I ever stop to savor the beauty. I said, “Oh yes, and sometimes it’s not even because I forgot what I came out to do or where I left my pruners!”  He recalled milking the cows on my Grandma’s farm and then milking the neighbor’s cows, all at the crack of a cold, New England dawn. The mist would lift off the fields and let the sun radiate through. He said the feeling stopped him in his tracks, milk buckets in hand. I’m not a crack-of-dawn person but I remember that weathered wooden barn by the apple tree, the smells and sounds of the warm, steamy-breathed cows. I recall my other uncle amazing me by pitching a bale of hay from the truck up to the loft, where light filtered through the barn boards and the bits of hay and dust fluttered down like confetti.

11046305_10152912511524690_5591576372360550916_oI’m not always aware enough to stop and record that moment that will stir up good feelings again some day. Once, my three little terriers were romping in the spring grass on our walk around the meadow, bouncing for the pure joy of it, and I thought, “Geez, these dogs have it pretty good.” It took me a full minute to realize that I have it pretty good, crazy dogs included. I have, however, on my own farm, stood among the overgrown cosmos and zinnias facing a psychedelic sunset, closed my eyes to feel a coming rainstorm, and devoured slurpy plums right off the branch, then told the tree, “You are BRILLIANT!”august 81

These sensory imprints are rooted in a moment but also in a place, in a relationship to a place. When the whole world seems to be bonkers or worse, we have both memories and tangible places of beauty, joy, and peace to sustain us. Ancestral homes, childhood swimming-holes or wading streams, a first-job summer camp, a breezy meadow, a sheltering grove of trees, old barns, a certain kitchen… Places with smells and flavors and an identifiable feeling to the air. Building an underground bunker could save us physically from world events, but we need these places intact to sustain our spirit.

For such places to persist for us, we must sustain them too: leave open spaces undeveloped, keep pollutants out, keep water clean and flowing, protect soils from abuse, and support caretakers of the land. Most small produce farmers are judicious with water, disturb as little as possible, and avoid toxic amendments, because they farm where they live. They maintain large green spaces, hedgerows and wildlife habitat.  They work to keep soil from becoming lifeless and blowing or eroding away. They try to keep family farms in the family, but don’t always succeed.

Sustainable farming, large or small, aims to protect the environment, benefit society with healthy food and good jobs, and bolster the local economy. You can sustain these small businesses and lovingly-stewarded spaces by buying sustainably farmed foods, but also through farm tourism or classes, U-pick outings like that pumpkin patch in the crisp fall air, and farm celebrations, where perhaps you will make your own impressions of fresh flavors, sights and smells to sustain your spirit.

Real Tomatoes!

tomato varietyAt last, after weird weather delays, we reach the season of standing in the garden and sampling tomatoes right off the clean, astringent-scented plants that dye our skin chartreuse. Try it barefoot, touching the earth, eyes closed.  Banish the winter of picked-green, gas-ripened, crunchy disappointments. Each tomato variety now packs a unique, sweet-acid balance, full of vibrant solar energy.  Purple, pear-shaped Indigo Rose is sassy, while Black Cherry is practically savory, and the dense Italian varietal bursts with classic flavor that causes a flashback to childhood sandwiches eaten at picnic table by the lake. Some, like the tangy sungolds, rarely make it into the kitchen. I’ve been picking for a half hour, but my bowl is practically empty.sungolds

If you hate tomatoes, apply this scenario to plums, peaches or berries. But the bliss is genuine, exquisitely simple, and every cell in your body knows it is real, powerful food.

Lately, we live in a culture that devours the unreal, “alternative facts”, baseless opinions, and attention-hungry exaggerations. Politics aside, if you are trying to verify health food information, this environment boggles the mind. Rare Siberian frisée kale will save your life!!!! All protein diet reduces fat and cures cancer!!! You’ve been eating tofu all wrong!!! The excessive exclamation points and sensational claims are dizzying. And the more serious our health issues, the more these dubious promises make us vulnerable. How do we know what is REAL?

Firsttomato, who is your information source? Are they qualified experts or just selling you an exclusive and expensive new formula? Do they cite legitimate research? I’m not in the laboratory observing how anthocyanins and lycopene affect cancer cells, but when several researchers find cancer-fighting value in tomatoes, then I respectfully trust it is useful info.

Not all confirmation comes from a laboratory. Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and Traditional Indigenous Knowledge incorporate thousands of years of trial and error. In the ancient cities of Mexico such as Tenochtitlán, healers prescribed remedies with the condition that the patient had to report whether it worked. Results were recorded in Codices (that the Spanish tried to burn as witchcraft.) This is empirical study, science, not lore.

Many health-supporting foods that are tried and true traditions hold real value. Grandma eats nopal cactus for diabetes. Sounds weird. But probably her abuelita told her, because Mexican people have used this for centuries to counter the colonists’ diet. Does this guarantee it will work for you? Of course not.  But it has worked for generations.

We must also consider the risk of harm, even though whole foods retain nature’s buffers to mitigate side effects. For example, grapefruit can conflict with some medications. Red grapes and red wine have wonderful nutrients, but if you have diabetes, they aren’t really your friends. This is where it’s a good idea to ask your doctor and/or pharmacist.

My hope is that, when you come across super-foods and trendy diets, you suspend belief or disbelief and research them. Listen to your common sense and your body’s responses. Let’s be open to information that can help, enjoy the optimism boost from finding new options to try, but let’s also keep it as real as summer tomatoes.

Speaking of “tried and true” and keeping it real, I have THE gazpacho recipe from a friend from Seville in southern Spain, a flamboyant artist who is deeply attached to his hometown’s festivals, arts and food. He was adamant about the ingredients and the order of things required to make it authentic.  NO “inventing” other “new and improved” versions or vegetarian Gazpacho, because it already is.  The important thing, according to Nazario, is to add white stuff, green stuff, then red stuff.  So I’ve been faithfully following his instructions for the last 25 years, because, well, why mess with a classic from a land with sweltering summers? (Of course, you can adjust garlic, onion and vinegar amounts to your preferred taste.) It’s hard to improve on something simple and real, refreshing and energizing, that can awaken a heat-stifled appetite and doesn’t heat up the kitchen.

Gazpacho

Ingredients:

1 thick slice of day-old French bread, torn into chunks (folks with diabetes or gluten intolerance can skip this)

1-5 cloves garlic

1/4 cup minced onion

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 cups cold water

1 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

8 large tomatoes – peeled, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup wine vinegar

Instructions:

Put the bread, garlic, onion and salt in a blender and add a bit of water to wet the bread. Pulse the mixture so it chops, not too fine.

Add the cucumber, green pepper and olive oil. Pulse again.

Add tomatoes, and finally vinegar. Blend to desired consistency.

Adjust water, vinegar and salt to taste.

Summer Breezes

I know things are pretty crazy right now, so just take a deep breath, imagine you are in my garden, summer breeze blowing and afternoon sun on your face. Breathe! There is always beauty in the world somewhere…