Sharing a Superfood Breakfast

I love getting new ideas, great recipes and most importantly inspiration from blogs. Nourishing Words is one of those.  I’ve been a subscriber for some time, and always look forward to a new post.  On this snowy, icy morning without power or internet, Eleanor’s post on her Super Superfood Breakfast seems like just the thing to keep me going today and throughout the winter months to come.  I hope it inspires (and nourishes) you as well.

A Super Superfood Breakfast

Originally published on December 3, 2021 by Eleanor Baron of Nourishing Words.

Superfood Breakfast Ingredients

When is good good enough? When it comes to nourishing our bodies, it makes sense to eat high-quality food—the best. Nutritionists agree that skimping on breakfast is a bad thing. When we rush out the door without breakfast, by mid-morning, we’re hungry, cranky, light-headed or worse. Developing a reliable breakfast routine is one of the basic building blocks of a healthy day.

I’ve long been fascinated by the so-called “superfoods.” Foods that pack so much nutrition that they’re set apart from other foods, by virtue of having something special to contribute to building health. The term itself has no legal meaning, and some say it’s become a useless marketing term. I use it here to loosely refer to any densely nutritious food that contributes to building health or preventing illness. No matter which foods are on the list or not on the list (there are many lists), it’s a challenge to figure out how to fit more healthy foods into the day.

Breakfast is the perfect opportunity to load up.

In warmer weather, I whiz up a remarkably good green or fruit smoothie, loaded with kale, fresh berries, flax seed, hemp seed and more to get me off to a good start. Come autumn, my tolerance for holding an ice-cold smoothie drops in direct proportion to the outside temperature.

Frosty Oak Leaf

It’s time to turn to something more warming. Something aromatic and comforting. Something hearty. Something with a good amount of protein and that will sustain me into the early afternoon.

Here’s a peek at my go-to winter breakfast routine.

Imagine me, in my fluffy sheepskin slippers, flannel pajamas, a fleece (or two) and a thick wool cap. I’ve made my way down the stairs, with a clatter of eight paws behind me, around me and in front of me. Out to the back porch I go, freeing the dogs for their morning constitutional and other wake-up routines—all of which, I must say, they embrace with more gleeful enthusiasm than I’ve ever been known to muster first thing in the morning. This gives me a few moments to breathe in the cold air, greeting the day with my sleepy version of a sun salutation—at least the part of it that keeps me upright.

Inside again, where the previously chilly-feeling house now feels toasty, I feed the dogs while water boils for a cup of green tea, which is to be my first superfood of the day.

The night before, if I remembered, I would have soaked a quarter cup of steel cut oats in warm water, covering it with a dish towel and tucking it away on top of the fridge. Soaking softens the oats up for cooking and removes the phytic acid, which inhibits mineral absorption in the body. It’s an easy step, well worth taking, that potentially doubles the minerals my body absorbs from that one serving of oatmeal. (Soaking grains in general is a good thing, but more on that, later.)

Oats are available in at least three different forms, from thick and chunky to thin and flaky. Steel cut oats are whole oats (known as groats), just cracked up into little chunks. They’re very hard and would be impossible to chew uncooked. Rolled oats are simply flattened groats, and they also retain all the goodness of the original grain. Quick oats are further processed and lack the bran portion of the grain. And the stuff that comes in little sweetened packets? Quick oats with flavors and plenty of sugar added.

Steel cut oats take about 30 minutes to cook. Some people cook them overnight in a crockpot, but I’m cooking for one and have an aversion to electrical gadgets, rendering the crockpot option clearly overkill. Because I mostly avoid dairy products, I cook my oats with a lot of extra water, making the finished product super soupy. (Soupy is necessary to handle the ground flax seed and chia seeds that will come later. Such thirsty ingredients will greedily pull water from my body if I don’t offer it to them first.)

I prefer steel cut oats because of their flavor, chewiness and the way they sustain me through the morning, but they’re also a healthy choice, although not a true super food. They’re rich in soluble fiber and have been proven to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure. They take a little longer to digest than rolled oats (which take just ten minutes or so to cook), but are otherwise about the same nutritionally. Steel cut oats have a considerably lower glycemic index than quick (instant) oats, however (42 versus 65), helping to avoid an early morning spike in blood sugar. One quarter cup serving of steel cut oats (dry) is worth 5 grams of protein—but that amount increases with all the ingredients I stir in later.

The Bowl

By the time I’ve finished my tea and checked my morning email, my oats are close to cooked. Now comes the fun part, creating a veritable compost heap of superfoods. To start, I grind up a couple of tablespoons of golden flax seed in the blender and pop it into my beautiful blue hand-thrown bowl that, to most people, looks way too big for a breakfast bowl. It may indeed be too big, but it gives me pleasure to hold it, and sensual pleasure is an important aspect of eating.

This is my current favorite heap of ingredients, some of which pack enough nutritional punch to qualify them as superfoods:

  1. 2 tablespoons of ground golden flax seeds (an excellent source of fiber as well as the short chain omega-3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid, plus 3 more grams of protein) Read this post if you want to learn more about why flax seed is a true superfood.
  2. 2 teaspoons of chia seeds (adds fiber, healthy omega-3 fatty acids and 1 more gram of protein)
  3. 1 rounded tablespoon of hemp seeds (fiber, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, including alpha linoleic acid and 4 grams of additional protein)
  4. shredded coconut (high in vitamins, potassium, magnesium and antioxidants; rich in fiber)
  5. 1 tablespoon of fresh virgin coconut oil (a healthy fat with easy to metabolize medium-chain fatty acids; coconut oil’s lauric acid converts to monolaurin in the body, a powerful antiviral, antibacterial compound)
  6. a few almonds (cholesterol lowering, heart-healthy fats and another 2 or so grams of protein)
  7. two pieces of fresh fruit, chopped (sometimes just one)
  8. a few fresh cranberries, because they’re in season locally at this time of year (cranberries are loaded with antioxidants, making them the most powerful fruit at scavenging free radicals in the body, protecting cells against cancerous changes)
  9. lots of cinnamon (lots!—it lowers bad cholesterol and blood sugar, soothes arthritis pain—just smelling it boosts memory and cognitive function)
  10. a splash of maple syrup, if the fruits were tart ones or I need a little sweetening up.

Stirring in the soupy oats, the coconut oil (solid at room temperature) melts, the cinnamon releases its fragrance, the flax seed and chia seeds soak in the extra liquid, and it all generally mixes together to perfect porridge. If including coconut oil in the mix seems strange to you, I can assure you that it disappears beautifully, leaving just an additional hint of coconut flavor and, more importantly, a bit of healthy fat that makes this a filling, sustaining breakfast.

Oatmeal with Superfoods

The combination of soft and crunchy textures, along with contrasting sweet and tart flavors, makes it all more interesting than the average bowl of oatmeal. The combined nutritional power of so many superfoods in one bowl makes me feel like I’m giving my body the very best start to the day. I’m a lifelong oatmeal lover; this blend is delicious and keeps me going for hours. It’s a good breakfast.

It’s fun to shake things up now and then with other breakfast choices, but this is my reliable routine during the colder months. It’s plenty flexible to accommodate any ingredients I have on hand, and it always satisfies.

I’ll keep working on that sun salutation. Who knows, there might even be a downward dog in my future, if I can squeeze a few more superfoods into my diet.

Ginnie

Confetti Frittata

confetti frittata slice

The following recipe was developed for the Hunger Free Vermont Learning Kitchen.  A fantastic program which not only provides education and advocacy around the issues of hunger and food insecurity, but also offers hands-on cooking classes to help support the health and nutrition of families in the program.

This frittata was created with my children, as a quick, colorful and healthful meal, with plenty of room for flexibility. There is no need to make a special grocery store trip (or purchase) if you don’t have a carrot, a zucchini, or a particular type of cheese. The bright, healthy and tasty result can be created with just about any combination of different colored vegetables (which are grated for maximum enjoyment by most children, and the “confetti” effect), and can gracefully host left-overs as well.

Confetti Frittata

  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 zucchini, grated
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 (or more) garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pepper and/or nutmeg to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese
  • a sprinkling of fresh or dried herbs (optional)

Method:

  1. Grate vegetables and set aside (or gather up some youthful help and a box grater).
  2. Warm skillet and melt 1 tablespoon butter.
  3. Sauté onion unit soft; add carrot, zucchini and garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a med-sized bowl, beat eggs, add milk, salt, pepper and/or nutmeg.
  5. Pour egg mixture over sautéed vegetables, turn the heat to low and cover to allow to cook. When top is almost set, sprinkle on herbs (if using) and grated cheese and cover until melted.
  6. Cut into wedges and serve with a fresh salad and/or toast, pasta, potatoes, etc.

If you are interested in more simple, healthy, affordable recipes, Hunger Free Vermont has a recipe section, and the Facebook It’s a SNAP community page is a good place for sharing recipes and planning healthy meals using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.

Filling up on a New Experience: Hunger.

The week before Thanksgiving, I ate less than I usually do. It had nothing to do with saving my appetite for the upcoming feast. Instead, I was filling up on a life experience which is a common reality for as many as 13% of households in Vermont, and as many as 15% in the US.  In the spirit of walking a mile in another’s moccasins, I signed my family up for an eating challenge sponsored by Hunger Free Vermont. Scraping by for a week on another’s tight food budget, opened our eyes and heightened our awareness.

According to Hunger Free Vermont, as many as one in five Vermont children experiences hunger or food hardship.  In a country as well off as the United States, it seems unimaginable that so many people live with hunger and food insecurity on a regular basis. And yet, taking a three-year average from 2009-2011:

  • 27,000 Vermont children under 18 live in food insecure households (22%)
  • 85,000 Vermonters of all ages live in food insecure households (14%)
  • 32% of Vermonters cannot afford either enough food or enough nutritious food.

In 2008, the federal government renamed the Food Stamps program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP). In Vermont, the program is known as 3SquaresVT. The Challenge consisted of eating on a 3SquaresVT budget.  We are a family of four, but since my husband was traveling part of the week, I budgeted for a family of 3 1/2 people, or $91.  With careful planning, some stomach grumbling, and the benefit of two community dinners, we made it on $84.  Since Thanksgiving was the follow week, I thought it made sense to be extra thrifty so that I could put a few extra dollars toward the upcoming holiday meal.

In no particular order, some observations and realizations from this experience include:

* Feeling hungry and preoccupied.  Almost constantly thinking and calculating how long could I stretch the time between meals, could I skip snacks, and how could I get a next meal within (or below) my budget.

* Walking through a grocery store when you’re hungry and on a budget is no fun - you want all these delicious looking foods, but they are too expensive; you want to find the cheap aisle and not have to search so hard among all the things you can’t afford; you have to be a walking calculator (how much per serving, how can I stretch this ingredient and/or this dollar).  Add to that, your hungry children, to whom you’re trying to avoid repeating, “we can’t afford that, we can’t afford that, we can’t afford that…..”

* It was challenging to stay true to my food preferences: non-GMO, organic, fresh whole foods, mostly vegetables and fruits, local food.  I bought a bag of tortilla chips ($1.50) which I am sure were made from GM corn and GM soybean oil. They made a couple of bean meals more exciting, but didn’t taste very good, and really did not feel good.

* Having a fully functioning kitchen, a reliable car, buying bulk foods, being an experienced cook comfortable making up recipes all allowed for a lot of cost savings.

* When work threw a few unexpected meetings into my week, my budget-doable cooking/food prep plan got trumped.  Twice I needed to find some lunch out in the world.  This was expensive.  Trying to hide my financial situation from my co-workers, made things even more complicated.  I spent $10.72 on lunch on Monday.  My daughter (home from school) was at work with me, and I couldn’t ignore her requests for lunch: we ordered 1 large sandwich and a drink and shared it.  Even so, I didn’t really have $5.36 per person for a single meal.

* Living in a community which shares food, was a tremendous help.  As it turned out, this week included two evening meetings during which pizza was served.  I gladly accepted, and was able to take a few left over slices for my children’s lunches the following day. At the end of the week, a generous farmer friend gave me several heads of lettuce - enough for two large bowls full of fresh, organic greens. Yes!

* Struck a goldmine at Shaws. Roaming this enormous store, I chanced upon the reduced produce rack.  Since I was planning on eating what I bought on that same day, I was able to afford organic mushrooms, a slightly dented cucumber, 2 mature tomatoes and a package of sliced mango.  All greatly reduced as they were on a fast track to becoming compost.  On the day-old bakery rack, I found a roasted garlic ciabatta bread for $1.90.

* A vegetarian diet is cost-effective, but I wouldn’t want to be forced into it for financial reasons.

* I can’t remember ever appreciating a jar of peanut butter as much as I did that week (a spoonful calms a hungry stomach enough to be able to concentrate on something else for a while).

* A tea bag can make several of cups of hot tea when brewed in a pot instead of a mug.  Sipping tea feels more like eating than having nothing at all.

* Food is so much more than hunger suppression.  That week, I had both very stressful situations during which I wanted to comfort myself with food (or drink), and a long-anticipated victory which I wanted to celebrate with an edible treat.  After much back and forth, I decided to spend $7 on the occasion.

With a considerable amount of careful planning, calculating, driving out of my way to where the deals were and cooking at home, I was able to feed my family for $84.  We ate a lot of black beans (I soaked a large pot full on Saturday night, cooked them on Sunday and had soup, rice and beans, quesadillas and finally enchiladas to round out the week) and other groceries which I found in discount stores and on day-old shelves. Taking part in this challenge ranks high on the worthwhile life experiences list, but not because it was particularly fun. It was sobering, and on the other side of it I am left appreciative of my increased awareness and knowledge of how easy it can be to support those for whom food insecurity is an involuntary situation.

The challenge and the 3SquaresVT program is not limited to Vermont.  This week in New Jersey, Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, is taking part in a similar opportunity.  You can follow his experiences and learn more about the program, by clicking here.  And you can always visit the Hunger Free Vermont website, your local food bank, food shelf or soup kitchen, where you are welcome to make a donation of food, money and/or time.

Bringing it Home: Growing a Farm-to-School Program

In the hour before the rain, we met at Stony Loam Farm, an organic vegetable farm two miles down the road from our school. It was our first harvest & process day in what we hope will become a series, and develop into a full-sized farm-to-school program.  But like all crops, growing a new food program, starts with a sprout: a small group of families, an accommodating farmer, committed teachers and administrators and a passionate food service director. On day one, we picked green beans and cherry tomatoes.

Given an opportunity to pick, to squat between the plants, and to allow a hand to detour away from the bucket and up to the mouth, kids eat vegetables.  They really do. So much so, that we had to cut them off, as painful as it is to tell kids to stop eating delicious, organic vegetables, our task was to bring fresh produce back to school for the lunch program.  Creating the opportunity for kids to be a part of the growing, harvesting, and preparing of their food, cultivates a greater appreciation of freshness, local producers, and the time, work and energy required to grow it.  From this stems a willingness to try new things, to waste less, to feel a stronger connection to place and local community - all while enjoying fresher, healthier, tastier lunches.

We proudly met our school food director with 36 pounds of green beans and another 20 of cherry tomatoes at the school kitchen.  With crates flipped upside down to help the smallest children reach the sink, the green bean washing team was immediately in full swing.  Meanwhile, parents sorted the cherry tomatoes: some for fresh eating the coming week, others for freezing for use in polka dot soup in the winter.

For more than a week, the school lunch salad bar featured freshly picked organic cherry tomatoes and green beans.  And my daughter came home one day reporting how much fun she had walking through the cafeteria offering her classmates roasted green beans as a taste test. Having enthusiastic children (instead of adults) market foods which might be new to others is just one of our cook’s many effective ideas.

Looking ahead, we have plans to pick apples and make applesauce; to gather potatoes, walking behind the farmer pulling up spuds with his tractor; and to puree and freeze pumpkins and winter squashes for use in wintertime soups, casseroles, and baked goods.

To share the experience, the locally harvested crops are offered as taste tests to all students, and to track our sourcing, we’re planning a food mapping project.  Starting with the local, in-season foods on the menu this fall, and photographs of the farmers who grew them, we’re looking forward to Food Day, October 24, to launch our farm-to-school map on the cafeteria wall.  These are some initial steps in enhancing a school lunch program (a daily part of a child’s experience), which can simply feed, or can be cooked up as an opportunity to expand palates and extend learning.

Simple Recipes:

1. Our cafeteria roasted green beans:

  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans, washed and ends removed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚.
  2. Toss green beans with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  3. Roast, flipping beans once or twice, until lightly caramelized and starting to crisp, between 10-15 minutes.

2. For a main dish which uses both green beans and cherry tomatoes, try Beans, Toms and Tempeh for a colorful vegan meal or to participate in Meatless Monday, at home or at school.

Do Tofu? Try Crispy Patties

At my high school reunion, I learned that several classmates remembered me because I ate tofu (and other unheard of items thanks to my parents’ macrobiotic diet). Good news: in the years since graduation, tofu has steadily climbed the popularity ladder, making “tofu eater” a less effective descriptor.

Tofu is a now readily available in most grocery stores and on more and more restaurant menus.  Made from soybeans, it is eaten as a plant-based source of protein, which also offers a good amount of iron, manganese, trytophan, and depending on how it is produced, calcium.  In many Asian cuisines, it is eaten daily, often as a condiment.  In the west, it has grown to become a staple on vegetarian menus, taking on countless flavors and configurations depending on how and with what it is prepared.

Whether you are new to tofu or not, this easy way to prepare it, works well as a meat substitute, served with potatoes and a vegetable on Meatless Monday, in place of a fried egg for a vegan breakfast, instead of a burger at a BBQ, chicken nuggets or fish sticks, sandwiched between two slices of bread, with lettuce and tomato for a satisfying lunch, or with a fresh vegetable salad.

For the best flavor, press your soybean curd cake between two plates with some weight on top (a large can works well) for up to an hour. This squeezes out excess water and allows for improved flavor in your cooking.

If you’re of a diy mind, give making tofu a try.  It’s not particularly difficult and the results are unsurpassed! Click here for more information, instructions and additional recipes.

Crispy Tofu Patties

  • 1 package of tofu (organic*, ideally firm and pressed)
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (high in protein and vitamins, particularly the B complex)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs or panko (look for hydrogenated oil and preservative-free)
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • several grinds of black pepper
  • butter, coconut oil or grapeseed oil for frying

Method:

  1. Mix dry ingredients in a shallow bowl.
  2. Slice tofu in roughly 1/2″ slices, and roll in dry mix to thoroughly cover.
  3. Heat butter or oil in skillet until hot but not smoking.
  4. Fry tofu slices, several minutes on each side until brown and crispy.
  5. Serve immediately or keep warm in a low oven.

Another easy and healthy soy food is tempeh (some claim more so than tofu because it is made with fermented soybeans).  Here are two recipes to try: tempeh instead of bacon in a BLT, and in this colorful stir-fry.

* With more than 90% of soybeans grown from genetically modified seeds, I strongly recommend only eating tofu (and tempeh) made from organically grown soybeans.

Elderberry Muffins for Back-to-School

With school-age children heading back for another year, I suppose I should also be concerned about getting their hair cut, supplying them with new lunch boxes, backpacks, pencils, notebooks, and, of course, outfitting them in new school clothes, but I am much more interested in with what I will fill (last year’s, still mostly intact) lunch boxes.

Day one will include an elderberry muffin.  Elderberries are tiny berries exploding with nutritional power, rightly deserving the nickname “medicine chest.”  They are an unbeatable source of fiber, vitamin C and numerous powerful antioxidants, as well as a good source of vitamin A, vitamin B6, iron and potassium.  They are hanging heavy off their branches awaiting picking this time of year. And since their name suggests growing up and getting older, they are the perfect companion for the first day of a new school year.

Elderberry Muffins

  • 3 cups flour (divided between white and whole wheat as you like)
  • 1-2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds*
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2/3 cup raw honey
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 cup fresh elderberries

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚, and prepare muffin tins by greasing or filling with paper baking cups.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together.
  3. Cream together eggs, oil, honey and milk, and add to dry mixture.  Blend together, add lemon zest and gently fold in elderberries.
  4. Fill muffin tin and bake for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into middle comes out clean.
  5. Allow to cool slightly, and serve with butter and/or elder-blue superjam, if you like, and remember to set some aside for lunch boxes.

Welcome Probiotics!

You’ve probably heard that yogurt contains healthy bacteria, and have perhaps been swayed by recent ad campaigns treading dangerously close to “tmi”  bathroom talk. You may have tried one of the highly processed, packaged, flavored and sweetened yogurt products in an effort to improve your digestive situation. While it is true that real yogurt (as well as other naturally fermented foods) made with active cultures offer the body unique nutrition called “probiotics“, it is also true that Dannon was sued over unsubstantiated health claims made in their advertisements for “Activia” yogurt-like products and has been quietly reimbursing costumers. So beware of look-alikes.

With 100 trillion bacterial cells from 500 different species, your gut is a veritable microbial zoo teaming with critters, and that’s exactly the way you want it.  These bacteria, when healthy and plentiful, keep you healthy, digesting well, warding off “bad” bacteria, and may well also be the key to protecting yourself from more serious chronic illnesses, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  According to this month’s issue of the Life Extension Foundation‘s magazine, your gut contains 70-80% of your body’s immune system, where probiotics work at the molecular level to keep you well.

Their biggest enemy? Antibiotics. Not only are we being prescribed the antis more and more often, but most of our animal foods come from CAFO factory farms where animals are pumped full of antibiotics, and so by extension, so are you when you eat the meat, milk and other animal foods from these sources.  The artificial sweetener aspartame and oral contraceptives both interfere with healthy gut bacteria, and genetically modified foods and chlorinated water very well may too.

A good way to repopulation your gut bacteria, is to frequently eat fermented foods - those  sometimes called “traditional” or “live” which contain natural forms of probiotics. A quick tour around the world of traditional fermented foods include Japanese miso, tamari and natto, German sauerkraut, Bulgarian yogurt, Russian kefir, Ethiopian injera bread, Korean kimchi, Indian lassi drinks, Salvadoran curtido, etc.  For more information and simple recipes for these traditional foods, I highly recommend Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions and Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.  Though probiotics has been receiving well deserved media attention only recently, they are by no means a new method of maintaining good health.

Since the goal is a thriving community of probiotics in your gut, you have to be a good host. Keep them out of harms way (antibiotics) and nourish them with prebiotics.  Foods such as bananas, garlic, onions, raw honey, wheat, barley, and soybeans naturally contain prebiotics, or probiotic food. For additional support, or in times of therapeutic need (such as during and following a course of antibiotics), you may also want to consider a high quality probiotic and prebiotic supplement.

Since I’ve been focusing on probiotics, no meal feels quite complete without a generous scoop of kimchi or kraut.  A bowl of plain yogurt satisfies a snack or dessert desire, and when thirsty, I reach for kombucha (a fermented tea drink).  A few of my recent favorite “full of life” foods: kimchi in an avocado half; kimchi or kraut quesadilla; sourdough bread with cultured butter; yogurt with raw honey and ground flaxseeds, and miso broth and kombucha to drink. To satisfy my growing thirst, I ordered a scoby (a kombucha “mother”) and have started brewing my own kombucha (a post on that experiment is coming soon).

Hungry for more?  Let me recommend these articles on probiotics:

And if you’re as hooked as I am, you’ll be happy to know this great looking new book is coming out next month: The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Katz with a foreword by Michael Pollan.

But first, my bowl of yogurt:

Our Favorite “Stinking Rose”

Yes, GARLIC!  It can do a number on your breath, but compared to what it does for your health, that’s a small price to pay.

As winter approaches and we brace ourselves for cold and flu season, today is not a day too early to add this easy, and flavorful food to your meals.  Particularly when eaten raw, garlic has antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral properties.  A new study shows it to be 100 times more effective than two common antibiotic drugs!  According to Dr. Andrew Weil, garlic works well for the common cold, sore throat, ear infections, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and fungal, yeast and bacterial infections.  Garlic also gets credit for cancer prevention and treatment and for the removal of heavy metals.

When you feel something coming on, make yourself some nice garlic toast: a couple of slices of whole wheat bread, butter or olive oil and then crush a good sized clove of raw garlic on to it with a bit of salt to taste.

A simple all-purpose wellness measure is to add garlic at the end of the cooking time of recipes that call for it.  I used to start by sautéing onions and garlic, until I realized that the heat and cooking time greatly reduces the health benefits of garlic.  Now, I toss it in at the very end, keeping the garlic as raw as possible.

Salad dressings, sauces, spreads (such as pesto) and dips (such a hummus) present easy opportunities to consume additional raw garlic.  Using a garlic press or a sharp knife (chopping very fine), you can add garlic to just about any sauce or dressing.

If the fear of bad breath is keeping you from eating as much garlic as you would like, you can give this method a try.  Put a whole clove of garlic in a spoonful of applesauce and swallow whole.  As long as you don’t cut or chew raw garlic, you won’t have the smelly situation afterwards.

Garlic keeps well so you can stock up the next time you are at the market, but what is really fun and easy is to grow it yourself! Fall is the time to plant it, so don’t wait!  If you don’t already have a garden, you can start with a small patch of garlic this year.  This weekend, turn over a small piece of earth, and plant several cloves of garlic. They will settle in underground until spring, when they will greet warmer and longer days with fresh new shoots.  By early summer you will have interesting looking plants with a curlicue on the top. This is the garlic scape and should be cut off and used as you would garlic. Consider it your first harvest.  Later in the summer, the single cloves you planted in the fall, will have transformed into full bulbs of garlic.  Your second harvest.  A phenomenal rate of return!

Click here for Step-by-step directions for growing your own garlic.  If your ground is already frozen or you do not have garden space, you can grow garlic in containers.

As you watch fall take a few more degrees from the air and few more minutes of light from the day, enjoy one last round of spring-like planting.  You’ll be giving yourself the tasty and very healthy gift of fresh garlic next summer.  Enjoy!

Elder-Blue SuperJam

Four Simple, Nutrient-Dense Ingredients:

Elderberries, beautiful little bunches of dark, luscious berries, they have long been used medicinally, particularly in Europe for ailments including arthritis, colds, constipation and asthma.  So revered for their healthful benefits, elderberries were often referred to as the “medicine chest.”

Modern studies have shown that these berries do indeed contain significant antioxidants, blood-cleansing, immune-boosting and virus-fighting qualities, and components which may also assist in stress reduction. In 1995, elderberry juice was used to treat a flu epidemic in Panama.

Elderberries contain amino acids, carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamins A, B and an impressive amount of vitamin C. It is the flavonoids in particular, which are believed to account for the therapeutic qualities of elderberries.

Blueberries are packed with vitamin C (good for the formation of collagen, for healthy gums and capillaries, for iron absorption and a healthy immune system). They also contain vitamins A, E and a small amount of the B complex.

Blueberries are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, and have gained star status when it comes to antioxidants.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rates antioxidant activity per serving with ORAC values (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). Blueberries (particularly wild ones) sit near the top of the list, and so have become known as a “superfood.”  Antioxidants are credited with neutralizing free radicals - unstable molecules linked to premature aging and degenerative illness. Additionally, blueberries have been recognized for effective blood sugar regulation, making them a good choice for weight management, diabetes treatment and prevention.

Chia seeds are the edible seeds from a desert plant, appreciated for their medicinal and energy-giving properties since pre-Columbian times. They were a main component of the Aztec and Mayan diets and used for endurance, to relieve sore joints and protect the skin.

Chia seeds are very rich in omega-3 fatty acids (even more than flax seeds). They are also a good source of fiber, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, niacin, zinc and antioxidants and do not need to be ground (as flax seeds should be). They are so deeply appreciated for their nutritional value, they, too, are referred to as a “superfood“.

Maple syrup is enjoyed for its flavor, mineral content and its local availability here in Vermont. Nutritionally, it received additional recognition in a recent Canadian study. Maple syrup and local raw honey are my favorite sweeteners.

Several years ago I planted two small elderberry bushes.  They’re apparently happy, leaving me looking for good destinations for all these berries.  I wanted to make them easy to consume regularly in a quick recipe with a simple ingredient list.

Inspired by a jam recipe I saw in Peggy Kotsopoulos’s Must Have Been Something I Ate, I combined these four ingredients to make Elder-Blue SuperJam.

Peggy’s “Guilt-Free Blueberry Jam” recipe calls for:

She recommends serving this on sprouted grain toast or as a topping on her Lemon Berry Tart (recipes available in her book).

Elder-Blue Superjam

  • 2 cups raw blueberries (preferably wild, otherwise organically cultivated)
  • 1/2 cup raw elderberries (freshly picked or frozen)
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup (or more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon ground chia seeds
  1. Grind chia seeds in a designated nuts & seeds coffee grinder.
  2.  In a food processor, combine blueberries (minus a small handful), elderberries, maple syrup and the ground chia seeds until it is a gorgeous deep bluish purple mixture. Stir in the whole blueberries by hand.
  3. Spoon into jelly jars and store in the refrigerator.
Because this jam is made in a food processor (and not cooked), the raw berries’ nutrients are preserved (the heat from cooking berries to make conventional jam and jelly destroys important enzymes, and reduces the vitamin content). The chia seeds add a host of nutrients, and fill the role of pectin, since it helps the mixture thicken while it sits in the refrigerator.  It’s very easy to make and astonishingly healthy to eat.

Welcome Summer with this Super Seasonal Snack

How do a meatless monday, summer solstice eve, strawberry season, the first day of school vacation and healthy eating all come together? Over here: in a Strawberry-Ricotta Cone.

  1. Looks just like an ice cream cone
  2. Doesn’t melt and drip like ice cream does
  3. Is full of fruit, protein and calcium (6 grams of protein and 10% daily calcium)
  4. Has very little sugar (when compared to ice cream)
  5. Kids can make it themselves

Strawberrry-Ricotta Cones:

Method:
  1. In a medium-sized bowl, combine washed strawberries (cut into small pieces) and other fruit (cut into similar sized pieces) with chocolate chips, chopped nuts and/or shredded coconut.
  2. In another bowl gently combine the ricotta cheese with sweetener.  Do not over stir.
  3. Assemble the cones: fill cone to just below the top with fruit mixture, place an ice cream scoop-sized spoonful of the ricotta mixture on top, finish with sliced strawberries.
  4. Sit back and enjoy while you welcome the arrival of summer, festively and healthfully.
* Stevia is a natural sweetener, many times sweeter than sugar, but with zero calories and a negligible effect on blood sugar, making it an excellent choice for weight loss, diabetes prevention and control, and low carbohydrate diets.