Tag Archives: fellow adventurers

At The Beach

Just back from my beach vacation…boy was it great.  And a great opportunity to enjoy some light, refreshing meals, some new recipes from my “almost family” reunion!

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I have a close friend who invites me to her beach time share every summer in San Clemente.  Having lived for many years in San Diego…it is a great way to connect with some old friends nearby and to enjoy the laid back Southern Cali lifestyle for a few weeks!  Along with all the sun soaked Vitamin D I absorbed, we enjoyed barbeque on the San Clemente Pier’s famous Oyster Bar at Happy Hour, Giant Shrimp Shooters and Beet/Goat Cheese Salad at the Newport Beach Yacht club, salmon  and grilled corn on the cob on our own patio grill, papaya and pineapple smoothies, turkey avocado Panini, watermelon lemonade, peaches to die for from the farmers’ market, strawberry banana frozen yogurt, and a lot of liquid sunshine! Swimming everyday and all that wonderful food was a true taste of luscious summer.

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This year my friend had asked the members of her family living close by to come over for a big family barbeque at the beach!  They came from far and  near…two generations of them…all very healthy happy people.  They were kind enough to adopt me into their fold!  As with many reunions, everyone brought a dish to share, and, frankly, since it wasn’t MY family reunion…I didn’t experience the “same old” recipes.  So this was fun on many levels!

Several of Lucy’s family live on or near the beach, and many are life long surfers.  Healthy, fit, tanned and full of life.  There are several generations of surfers here from ones in their 60s to the youngest in their teens.  And they brought with them  healthy, mostly vegetarian dishes…except for our own BBQ ribs, and Shrimp on the Barbie. But the ubiquitous summer potato salad, hot dogs, and hamburgers was missing.  Instead they brought dishes like cous cous mango salad, black bean and corn salad, Chinese slaw with fresh ginger, lentil and celery salad, and my favorite….banana oatmeal cookies!

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We were treated to this banana delight from one of the 20 something surfing couples who raved about them.  They are simple, delicious, and good for you….yet will fulfill that sweet tooth!  I have affectionately named them “surfer cookies” considering their source.  So simple, and something that I am definitely planning to make with the grandkids!

These cookies could also be made in large batches and frozen.  They’re great for breakfast, pack your own lunches, as energy bars, and definitely after surfing!…or just about any time!  You only need 3 ingredients!  

SURFER COOKIES

2 Ripe (brown speckled) bananas

1 cup quick oats (must be the instant kind)

1/4 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds…all good)

Optional Additions:

cinnamon, raisins, craisins, blue berries, chocolate chips (this is particularly good)

Preheat Oven to 350.  Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray.

Mash the bananas with a fork (or a food processor), pour in oats and nuts.  Stir till well blended.  (Add any additions).  Scoop (I use a melon baller for small ones) by teaspoons onto cookie sheet.  Makes 8 cookies or 16 small ones.

Bake for 15 minutes or until slightly browned.

93 calories (for 2 small ones or one regular), fat 3.5 g, carbs 15 g., Protein 2 g, Sodium 0.4 mg.

Kowabunga, dude….surf’s up! Enjoy!

Coconut Craze

I have rediscovered coconuts!

While I have long used coconut milk in a lot of different recipes, including many curries, recently I was also introduced to coconut oil for higher temperature cooking.  For me this replaces olive oil for much of my sautéing and roasting, which looses many of its nutrients at high temperatures.  I  discovered that the oil is very good for my skin and hair taken internally, but  I now also use the oil as a skin lotion topically and it has worked wonders on my psoriasis!

Butcoconut water have you succumbed to the new coconut water craze yet?  I have!  I think I have found the fountain of youth!  Coconut water is starting to show up even in my local Fred Meyers!  I found it at my whole food store Chuck’s in Vancouver some months ago, but even Safeway and other local supermarket chains have picked up on the coconut water craze!  Make sure you look for 100% pure coconut water!

I had all but forgotten the benefits of coconut water which I was introduced to when we lived in Hawaii during the 80s.  My kids who hung out with all the locals (especially the surfers) drank it fresh from the green coconuts at the beach.  The surfers just husked one and chopped it in half with a machete and drank it right from the shell.  Great!

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I guess I figured once we moved away from Hawaii…I would be hard pressed to find it “on the half shell” any other place…so I was more than happy to find it here on mainland shelves and “rediscovered” as a health drink!  While the bottled and jarred juice is not quite as beneficial as drinking it raw, there are many types out now in stores that have little to no preservative in them.  Consequently, they have a short shelf life, but all the health benefits are still there.

Drinking coconut water is not only refreshing, but very beneficial to your health.  Raw fresh coconut water contains a whole range of vitamins and minerals and is 99% fat free….unlike it’s relative coconut milk.  Coconut water is high in potassium content and therefore balances electrolytes easily.  It also contains B vitamins, Vitamin C and calcium.  It is more nutritious than Orange Juice and has more protein than whole milk.  It can be given to babies and pregnant women with no fear of harm, and is often used as a remedy for bowel problems in the elderly.   It contains only 5 g of natural sugars and is naturally sterile.  It can be used to dress wounds, as a topical disinfectant and you can drink it!  How perfect! It is a staple plant in the Islands since every part of the plant is used.  Palm fronds are woven into baskets, canoes, and carriers of all kinds.  The husks are cut in half and used as bowls or other food containers, the meat is used to flavor savory and sweet dishes either raw or condensed into coconut milk.   Coconut milk is not the liquid in the center of a whole coconut. Coconut milk is actually made from extracting the juice from the coconut meat. Coconut milk is creamy and tastes nutty. When buying coconut milk, do not confuse it with coconut cream, which is a tasty sweetened beverage often used in desserts. Canned coconut milk is unsweetened and can be used in both sweet and savory recipes.

I like using it in recipes as well.  My favorite is what I am calling Pina Colada Punch.

1 quart  ppumphouse-rum-drinkineapple juice

1 quart coconut water

1 cup orange juice

mint leaves and lime slices for garnish

Just mix together and enjoy! The kids love it!  For a more grownup drink just add a jigger of spiced rum or flavored vodka to your 8 oz glass.  Yummmmy!   Enjoy!

Into the Souk!

I think I may have mentioned that my son-in-law spent 18 months in Qatar during his Reserve Duty recently. Randy is an adventurous eater, and he came home telling tales of visiting the wonderful baazars while stationed there.

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spices in the souk

Randy brought home some great spices for us all to try that he thought were “new”. He and my daughter don’t have time to cook a lot since they both work long hours, and Randy’s expertise mainly revolved around the grill. But he had enough wonderful “shish-ka-bobs” (as we call them) to want to try to re-create these dishes once he got home.

His favorite spices turned out to be ones readily found here as well. Turmeric, paprika, fennel seed, fenugreek, saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, ground ginger, etc. But the one spice that eluded him was “shakta”. After some investigation, my daughter found a Middle Eastern spice called “shatta”….and we decided this must be it and the pronunciation was different in various regions throughout Africa. Randy thought it was funny that when they asked what was in this spice (he had already determined it was a blend of spices…like curry is a blend of many spices)…they just said “shatta”. Finally one enterprising vendor who’d been to school in the US said, “It’s like our catsup”. Really?  More like hot sauce…since it’s full of hot peppers.  The vendors sold him a mix they called shatta…which was powder (probably a blend of chili powders) so he brought that home, but we did finally find a “recipe” for shatta sauce using local/available peppers.  Although I am sure that the local shatta was made with their peppers.  And we have used it in several things recently to try it out.  Like these lamb meatballs served over couscous.    I like it best with tomatoes and used like taco sauce or spaghetti sauce.

Here’s the recipe for “Mediterranean Catsup (hot sauce)”  or Shatta

Ingredients:

  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 3 red jalapeno peppers, stem removed
  • 15 Thai bird chilies, stems removed
  • 1 cup of fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 cup of fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 6 oz of tomato paste
  • 1 cup of water

If you try it, I sure would like to know how you did and whether you liked it as much as we do!

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Cooking with Friends

photoMy single friend Lucy does not like to cook much, but she and I both like to eat!  (Imagine)!  I do like to cook, and as we all know, cooking for one can be a real drag.  So this week we decided to have a “cooking day” and cook some larger batch items that we could share.  Lucy is trying to avoid gluten and we are both trying hard to eat healthier, so we tossed around some ideas of what to cook to put in our freezer for some meals-on-the go….or as she put it, “something I want to come home to instead of stopping for fast food!”  Great idea!

So what to cook?  I had several ideas…one of which is vegetable lasagna.  I knew Lucy 20120306_zucchini_lasagna_004didn’t eat much pasta now, but still loved the flavors.  So after talking about it, we decided to use my recipe for vegetarian lasagna with zucchini “noodles”.

 

This recipe makes a lot (too much for one person) so it is a great one to share.  We divided the ingredients list, and cooked together.  We ended up each having a square for our dinner, along with a mixed salad and a fruit desert (under 500 calories, by the way). and packaging up the rest of the squares individually for the freezer.  You can use small plastic containers, or wrap each square first in plastic wrap, then in freezer foil to protect them from freezer burn.  These will last for up to 3 months and can be reheated in the microwave or oven still frozen.  Obviously, take the foil off for the microwave, and the plastic off for the oven!

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We also talked about trying other things we could cook together and then freeze….like  individual pot pies (with mashed potato topping for her so they are gluten free) using puff pastry squares for me – easy and fun.  Individual berry crisps (oatmeal topping).  Bacon and Egg cups (in a muffin tin) and veggie pancakes (like potato pancakes) for a quick heat up in the skillet, pre-mixed and pre-seasoned “burgers” – I like Moroccan Lamb Burgers and Turkey Mustard burgers but you can also make up mini meatloaf and freeze them as well. Chicken or beef Tamale pie (with corn tortillas) freezes in squares like lasagna, and I also like to mix up ragus in large batches and then divide them into 1 cup servings and freeze for quick thawing sauces and additions to plain meat or over rice or pasta.  Like spaghetti sauce, putanesca, stuffing for peppers, mushroom sauces, and, of course, homemade soups.  I also make pesto and home-made hummus and freeze them in small batches for individual use.  It seems to work to keep me from ordering out or grabbing a handful of chips when I come home tired and not wanting to cook.

Here’s my Zucchini Lasagna recipe:

1 lb ground turkey (optional)
1 T Olive Oil
2 large or 4-5 small zucchini, sliced lengthwise (I do this on my mandolin if I want really thin “noodles”)
1 green or red pepper, diced
1 sweet onion, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 –  16 oz cans diced tomatoes – no salt added
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/8 cup chopped fresh oregano
salt and pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T fennel seeds (dry)
1 – 15 oz carton ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 – 16 oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
8 oz. fresh mozzarella in water
8 oz. block of Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Thaw spinach and squeeze out all excess moisture.  Chop.   Slice zucchini into thin slices.  chop remaining vegetables.  Saute turkey in olive oil( if desired), and add onion, fennel, carrots, peppers and mushrooms. Saute until vegetables are translucent.  Add in tomatoes, wine, garlic and fresh spices to taste. Cook until sauce is thickened.  Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix ricotta, egg, and squeezed out spinach together.

To begin the layering process.  Place a small amount of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 x 4 inch pan, follow with a layer of sliced zucchini, a layer of ricotta mixture, another tomato sauce layer, followed by a layer of sliced mozzarella and sprinkle 1/2 the parmesan over the top.  Repeat layers ending with cheese.   Bake at 350 for 50 minutes to an hour or until bubbly and browned on top.   Makes 8 large squares.  Freeze individual squares in plastic containers or foil wrapped packages after the lasagna has completely cooled.   Keeps in the freezer for 3 months if well wrapped.

Enjoy….and share!  Cook with a Friend!

Cooking with Herb and Spicy

Last week my Son-In-Law, Randy, asked me about cooking with herbs and spices. Since he was deployed to Qatar last year and visited the spice baazars, he has been fascinated with cooking with some of the great flavored spices he brought home with him.  We have tried Morrocan cooking, Arabic cooking, and Egyptian cooking with him.  Wonderful grilled rubs and marinades!  We have all benefitted from the wonderful tumeric, cinnamon, fennugreek, paprika, and curry that he has given us as gifts and the fabulous stews, couscous, and spice rubs that he is experimenting with!

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But he was unsure how to use fresh herbs, or how to pair them up with food.

I have a small raised bed outside my home that I use mostly for seasonal veggies and herbs.  A couple of years ago, I  planted one rosemary bush, a small thyme, some chives and a purple sage and garlic.  They have all wintered over nicely and are large enough now to provide all the herbs I could want!  I also grow mint in a pot (it is a notorious spreader), and every year I plant fresh basil, dill, and flat leaf parsley.  I’ve tried cilantro a few times, but with less success.  The gkids always enjoy the garden, clipping, pulling carrots, radishes, onions, garlic, and planting seeds.  It’s a great family activity!

herbsCooking with fresh herbs is also very good for our bodies.  They contain large amounts of anti-oxidants and vitamins.   Herbs strengthen the immune system, lower blood sugar and cholesterol; they have anti-inflammatory properties, and prevent Alzheimer’s diseases and cancers.  And they are easy to grow and cook with.

We talked about keeping an herb garden and he specifically asked me how to use them and what to use them with, so here are some pointers:

1. Never spray pesticide or herbicide near an organic garden.  By planting “companion” plants together, you can avoid damage naturally.  Planting garlic bulbs in your garden will help drive pests away.  Cabbage, lettuce, beets, and onions all love garlic and it will keep away aphids.  Garlic is also said to improve the flavor of neighboring plants and also improve your roses!  However pulses and legumes (beans, potatoes, peas) don’t seem to like to be near garlic (or onions). Cucumbers also don’t like aromatic herbs, but sage protects carrots, parsley protects asparagus and tomatoes, basil protects beans and peas.  So by planting carefully, you can have a pest free garden without sprays! (Please!)

You don’t need a big garden…you can grow things in buckets on the patio if that is the only space you have…just water them regularly.

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2.  Fresh Herbs are somewhat stronger than dried herbs, so you can use less.  I like to use herb bundles in soups and stews instead of trying to pick off all those tiny leaves, just tie a few compatible herbs together and then fish out the stems after cooking.  I will also often add a sprig of whatever I used in the dish to garnish the plate…very pretty!  Always wash the herbs first and store in a zippy bag with a damp paper towel inside.  They should keep for quite awhile this way.  But part of the joy of having a garden is being able to go out a just clip off some fresh herbs whenever you need them!

3.  Here’s my list of what to use in what.  It is by no means exhaustive! There are lots of other variations and everyone to their own taste…but it’s a start!

Garlic:  soups, stews, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, chicken, pork, lamb, beef, everything Italian, infused oils, almost anything tastes better with garlic!

Basil:  Eggs, Tomatoes, ratatouille, fish, pizza, pesto, soft cheeses, anything Italian, especially pasta or rice.  Cocktails (muddled basil to lemonade, bellinis, or gimlets)!  Soups and salads, also good in some desserts with lemon or orange.  Infused oil, vinegars, tea.

Rosemary:  Sausage, eggs, soup, stew, pork, lamb, poultry, fish, potatoes, again, anything Italian, oranges, infused oil, vinegar,  tea, meat marinades, bread (esp. foccacia), honey.

Thyme:  Eggs, soups, stews, gravy, meats, poultry, tomatoes, potatoes, asparagus, beans green and white, oils, vinegars, tea, marinades, broccoli, ratatouille, cucumber, onion, squash, honey, goat cheese.

Sage:  Poultry, flavored butters and oils, eggs, lamb, beans, pasta, rice, soups and stews, apples, pineapple, fish, pork, sausage, honey, asparagus, squash, goat cheese. Freeze in ice cubes for summer drinks.

Parsley:  tea, soups, eggs, gravy, cream sauces, tomato sauces, garden and potato salads, grilled fish, chicken, and  beef dishes, potatoes, stews, pasta, rice,  to top or garnish anything for a fresh grassy flavor.

Dill:  fish, shellfish, potatoes, yogurt, mayo, sour cream, cream sauce or gravies, beets, carrots, soups, stews, cucumbers, tomatoes, pickles.

Oregano:  tomatoes, potatoes, fish, poultry, fish, pasta, soups and stews, eggs, lamb, most vegetables, tea, oils and vinegars.

This may also help….it’s from About.com.

Beans (dried) cumin, cayenne, chili, parsley, pepper, sage, savory, thyme
Beef basil, bay, chili, cilantro, curry, cumin, garlic, marjoram, mustard, oregano, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme
Breads anise, basil, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, lemon peel, orange peel, oregano, poppy seeds, rosemary, saffron, sage, thyme
Cheese basil, caraway, celery seed, chervil, chili, chives, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, horseradish, lemon peel, marjoram, mint, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme
Chicken allspice, basil, bay, cinnamon, curry, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger lemongrass, mustard, paprika, rosemary, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme
Corn chili, curry, dill, marjoram, parsley, savory, thyme
Eggs basil, chervil, chili, chives, curry, dill, fennel, ginger, lemon peel, marjoram, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme
Fish anise, basil, bay, cayenne, celery seed, chives, curry, dill fennel, garlic, ginger, lemon peel, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, marjoram
Fruits allspice, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, mint
Lamb basil, bay, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, curry, dill, garlic, marjoram, mint, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme
Potatoes basil, caraway, celery seed, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, marjoram, oregano, paprika, parsley, poppy seed, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
Salad Dressings basil, celery seed, chives, dill, fennel, garlic, horseradish, marjoram, mustard, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, rosemary, saffron, tarragon, thyme
Salads basil, caraway, chives, dill, garlic, lemon peel, lovage, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
Soups basil, bay, chervil, chili, chives, cumin, dill, fennel, garlic, marjoram, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme
Sweets allspice, angelica, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, ginger, lemon peel,  mace, nutmeg, mint, orange peel, rosemary
Tomatoes basil, bay , celery seed, cinnamon, chili, curry, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, gumbo file, lemongrass, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme

Enjoy!

Pantry Paninis

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Yesterday was a beautiful bright day….the sun was out here in the Pacific Northwest for the first time in a while.  Temperatures rose to 65 and we all basked in the glorious sun like so many lizards on a rock.  When I picked the gkids up from school we decided to stay outside, take advantage of the sunshine, and work in my garden awhile.  As you can see, it has been neglected a bit over the winter.  With visions of carrots and green onions fresh from the soil, and future tomato sandwiches, we weeded a bit, checked to see if the volunteer 20130308_111614_resizedcarrot seeds had sprouted, picked out the dead herbs caught in the recent frost, raked a bit, and generally enjoyed being outside.  The garden is looking pretty good, but we were not fooled by this early rare Northwest sunshine, we ignored our urge to start planting….I know we have some cold, wet weather ahead. But it was pretty tempting!

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With the sage, rosemary, chives, and thyme looking pretty good, it was with some reluctance we came in, a bit muddy and hoping the sunny days would last a few more before the rain returned.

So cooking…hmm…what to fix in a hurry? After their garden exploits, the gkids were starving, so we began to rummage around in the pantry.   My answer for a quick meal is always sammies (sandwiches) as the kids call them.  But since the kids were there and available for a cooking lesson, I didn’t want to fall back on PB&Js or grilled cheese.   So we settled on making Paninis.  What are those?  Italian style sandwiches!  It so simple:  Stuff slices of mozzarella, tomatoes, prosciutto, fresh basil, roasted red peppers, and whatever else makes you happy between two slices of good Italian foccacia or ciabatta, brush with extra Virgin olive oil, and press between the hot plates of a panini grill.  Delicioso!

A look through the pantry told me I had none of the above! But if living in Italy taught me anything, it taught me to be inventive!  So, what was on hand?  I had  raisin nut bread, a few cold cuts, and left over Mascarpone cream (although cream cheese works great too!).  And no white potatoes, but I had just two big sweet potatoes left in the pantry. A banana, some blue berries and yogurt.  We were off to a good start!

20130308_111402_resizedI also owed my son-in-law a batch of his favorite peanut butter cookies for fixing the latch on my warped front door.  With all the rainy weather, my door had warped just enough to make the latch stick and not lock properly…it was Randy to the rescue, so I had promised him some cookies for his kindness.

OK…a menu!  Turkey and Roast Beef Mascarpone Panini with sweet potato fries, and fruit parfait with peanut butter cookies for dessert!  Not bad for a pantry raid on a late afternoon spent outside!

First the cookies.  Peanut Butter Cookies are not only Randy’s favorites…but my gkids also love them.  I always have the ingredients in the pantry, and they are really quick to stir up

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Making the criss-crosses with forks seem to be the most fun (next to eating them).  There were plenty for us for supper and plenty to take home to dad.

Next, since the oven was hot, we cut up the sweet potato fries, skins and all, sprinkled them with olive oil and salt, tossing them with our clean hands,  and put them in a hot oven – 450 degrees for about 20 minutes until they were tender crisp.

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Next, while those were cooking we built our Fruit parfait with chopped fruit, vanilla yogurt and the last few strawberries I had for the top.  These go great with cookies!

Then came assembling the paninis…raisin/walnut bread spread with Mascarpone (or cream cheese) and piled high with cold cuts from the deli.  In our case we had a combo of smoked, sliced turkey, and slivers of roast beef.  A bit of butter on the outside of the sammy and into the press!  These really take such a short amount of time, we waited til the potatoes were done before we started them.  Using unexpected ingredients in our paninis is what make them fun.  Cooper added some sliced apple to his, and Olivia opted for a slice of jicama!  Fun!  You can make panninis without a press by using a grill pan and weighting each sandwich with a dry skillet or heavy pot while they are cooking, Flip and do the same…just as good!  The kids like the panini press, it’s pretty inexpensive and I recommend one.  They also work great for quick grilling almost anything…including veggies!

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And finally, our plate looks pretty good for a quick “what’s in the pantry” meal!

20130307_183109_resized Such an enjoyable day with my gkids.  I am so lucky to live nearby, to get to spend time with them, watch them grow and join in the fun!  Take some time to enjoy your day too!

The Great Food Adventure

imarenegade_350In teaching my gkids how to cook some of my old favorite recipes…I’ve updated many of them to make them a bit more healthy but I am always up for a bit of adventure.  Having lots of recipes and cooking experience in my head helps me to keep things fresh, interesting, and challenges me to be more creative.  In my own food journey, I have embraced the buy local, organic, and sustainable food logic.  And this is an excellent thing to pass on to my gkids (and yours).

I have it easy because these kids have been eating healthy food since they were born.  Their mom and dad are both fans of whole, healthy food, and don’t indulge their every sweet tooth and fast food fantasy.  Not to say any of us are perfect, we all succumb to the occasional burger and/or pizza, but mostly, we try to keep things healthy.

So I was thrilled when I found Food Renegade.  This helpful website has a million ways to eat better with recipes, tips, and all around good food advice!  One of their features is Fight Back Fridays. What is that?  Well their description is: “bringing together another collection of recipes, tips, anecdotes, and testimonies from members of the Real Food Revolution”.  You will find a lot of fellow adventurers on this site.  Please go and check them out.  So many helpful hints!

veggies 6-7-2011   Early_Spring_Blossoms_lg

In that vein, I am in the process of converting lots of my family’s old favorite recipes into healthier versions.  As I’ve mentioned before, I learned a lot about down home cooking from my Grandma Ruby, and expanded my repertoire as I traveled throughout our time in the military. My own mother likes ready-made food and is good at shortcuts. For me, living in lots of different states and lots of different countries made me appreciate being adventurous with food, cooking local, growing your own, and applying what I learned to cook to what I find on the spot and trying to adapt to healthier alternatives to old favorites.

Central Market Florence  Ceramic olive oil bottles on display, Central Market, Florence, Italy

The best food tip I learned living in Italy is to buy what’s fresh that day and make a meal out of it.  I learned quickly not to decide on a recipe and then try to find ingredients.  It might not be in season, or in Italy, especially, I either didn’t know the word for what I wanted or it was hard to find.  Have you ever tried to make chocolate chip cookies in Italy without chocolate chips and without an oven?  Ha!   “Scuzi, hai pezzi di cioccolato per al forno?”  Blank look.  Pointing next door.  (Thus I discovered the local pastisseria – bakery).

20130214_155934_resizedI know most modern families just don’t have the time to shop every day and cook from scratch, but most of us grandparents have time to do that every now and then!  I also know that for many, finding a farmer’s market open in Kansas in the middle of winter is a pipe dream.  But there are lots of ways you can still cook fresh and buy local foods.  Following that example, one of my favorite things to do with my gkids is to visit the whole foods/organic store in the area (everywhere has at least one) on our special cooking day, and let them decide what to cook based on what we discover there.  It’s always an adventure, and we get a chance to talk about food, where it comes from, how and where it grows, and how it sustains us.

20130214_160100_resizedAND they come up with some pretty amazing ideas!  Our menus are very adventurous, depending on what we find, and it tugs at my creativity to see what we can come up with.

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It does take a bit of advance planning, but we try to be as spontaneous as possible. If we don’t have everything we need when we get home for our idea…we improvise with what’s on hand.  Improvising is something that is good for everyone to know and to practice.  We relax a little, and we remind ourselves we don’t have to be perfect.  Sometimes flops are the most fun. Figuring out substitutes and alternatives in a recipe is a good life-training skill and makes for some pretty interesting meals!

Here is what we found this week!

Free Range Chicken

Jicama

Beets (red, golden, candy striped, garnet)…what a choice!

Blood Oranges

Red Potatoes

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