Sunday, October 4, 2015

Keeping the Damp Out - Homemade Split Pea Soup

Last weekend, after a veritable drought this summer, my son was supposed to have his 6th birthday party outside at a putt putt park. We had a the first real rain we'd had since early July. And it was a cold, windy, rain-coming-sideways rain that eased up at times, but fell in absolute sheets moments later. Fiddlesticks.

One day of a break between that system and the next. And we got hit so hard with the second system that flooding became an issue. So much so that after school activities were cancelled several times, and we got out of school early on Friday. 

This second system was to blow through just as Hurricane Joaquin was then supposed to hit. Joaquin has not turned out to be the beast initially expected, but we're still recovering from floods and the skies have not cleared. It's dank, gloomy, and the perfect day for a bowl of soup.

Growing up, my Mother used to make split pea soup on a regular basis. As a child, I hated it. Something about the texture just turned my stomach. Or maybe it was because she blended everything and it had only one texture - I'm not entirely sure. But as an adult, I tried it again and fell in love with it. Thankfully, my husband enjoys it as much as I do. 

My recipe is very easy - it can effectively be made with nothing more than the peas, carrots, and ham. However, I also add onion, garlic, and basil. I use plain water, not stock, as the salt in the ham is usually enough to flavor the soup, and any added salt can make it too salty. It is very healthy and filling, too.

Homemade Split Pea Soup
Start with a bag of dried peas. Slowly pour the bag into your hand, allowing the loose peas to slide through your fingers, keeping watch for stones or clumps of dirt. The peas are sorted in the warehouses, but it never fails that the time I think I don't need to look through the peas are the times I later find a clump of dirt or a pebble the same shape as a pea.
Add about 6 cups of cold water and bring to a gentle boil. At this point, you want to get the peas to begin to open up.
When the peas look like this, turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for about an hour. The foam will dissipate somewhat, but after the hour passes, rinse the peas and drain, stirring up the peas to release the hidden gasses and the greenish foam. When the peas are relatively clear, add more cold water and put the pot back on the heat.
I add about a shot glass of flax seed - flax is very good for your health, but it is a hardy seed, not releasing the healthy oils unless chopped up or boiled for a long time to open the hull. Something like this soup is a perfect way to release healthy oils. I add about a cup of chopped carrots, 2-3 cloves of garlic, about a tablespoon of basil, and, in this case, about 1/4 of an onion. My husband doesn't care for the texture of onion but I love the flavor. I usually use dried onion for that reason, but my 1/4 onion was beginning to look a little sad, so I chopped it very finely.
Add the ingredients, and bring back up to a gentle boil. You may be tempted to taste the soup here. That's fine, but focus on the flavors of individual ingredients, not the need for salt. It will need salt, but the ham will add what you need.
While the soup warms up again, cut up the ham. I buy a single slice with center bone. Trim the fat, but make sure you put the bone in the soup. The marrow is very healthy and adds a nice richness to the soup.
Make sure you stir regularly. After the peas begin to thicken and break down, turn down the soup to low. I half cover the pot with the lid to allow it to cook down but also keeps it from splattering the stove. When your soup looks like this (see below)...
...begin to stir on a regular basis. This is where you have the possibility of the soup burning. The peas thicken up and clump on the bottom, and require diligent supervision. I don't mean that you're a slave to the stove, stirring constantly, I just mean that as you putter around, or, as I made drop biscuits to accompany dinner, I would pause every once in awhile to stir up the clumps.
The soup is ready when the peas show very little form individually. Taste it to make sure it suits your palate. The process takes some time, but I promise you won't be disappointed.
If you make this recipe, I'd love to hear whether you like it!

Homemade Split Pea Soup
1 bag of split peas, examined
 -Gently boil the peas for about 10 minutes, then cover and let sit for an hour. Rinse well and refresh     with cold water (about 6 cups).
1 cup of chopped carrots
1/2 an onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
 -Chop the vegetables and add to the peas. Bring it all to a gentle boil.
1 slice of ham, fat trimmed, chopped. 
  -Add the ham to the soup and let the entire mixture cook down

Low and slow is the way it goes from here on out. Stir frequently and turn down the heat. 

It is perfect on a day like today, dank and gloomy, or even better in mid-February when the wind is blustery and cold. Enjoy your soup!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Making My Witchy Brew - Homemade Elderberry Syrup

Approximately two years ago, trying desperately to find something that would help my son breathe better and survive seasonal allergies, I heard about elderberry syrup. Now, I was raised in a home that practiced some herbal homeopathy. My mother is a very good cook and she would not only make teas and poultices for illnesses and injuries, but would also use herbs in cooking that served many purposes. I have continued that tradition.

Elderberry syrup was something I had not heard of before, which surprised me, but I researched it and found quite a bit that seemed to validate the fact that elderberries had medicinal qualities. I then began to look for recipes, knowing I was merely gathering ideas and that the final result would be my own.

I found one that seemed to suit my wants and needs. I followed the recipe the first time, and found the result to be delicious. Consistent use while coming down with a cold, or after suffering from one also showed that it worked. And this past fall's horrendous ragweed season proved the point even further, when I made it and gave it to the entire family on a daily basis. Within two days, we were all breathing much easier.

Ironically, last November, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a talk at a local college to hear Dr. Michele Tarter, a professor at The College of New Jersey, speak about Witchcraze - the history of witches. Essentially, the original definition of 'witch,' prior to 1486, is something to be proud of - it is merely a wise woman who helps others - either medically, emotionally, etc. The original witches were doctors and teachers. They cooked and counseled. They used homeopathy and lent a shoulder to cry on and offered hugs and hot tea.

I am a witch. As a teacher, I counsel, I educate, I offer hugs with advice. And, some days, I even offer hot tea. And at home, I certainly use healthy cooking and lots of love, listening, and herbs to try to take care of my boys. I am proud to call myself witch, and found great delight in having my students who accompanied me to hear Dr. Tarter call me a hag - a wise woman who offers advice.

That being said, I am making use of my 'witchy wiles' to share my recipe for homemade elderberry syrup. It seems proper that my first blog in the month of October be about a brew that anyone can make, and that can help you survive the re-awakened ragweed after Hurricane Joaquin passes us.

You can buy elderberry syrup in your local health food store or co-op. But it is ridiculously expensive, and if I make it homemade, I can use local, raw honey, which  provides increased protection against our local pollens.

You first need to obtain elderberries. I did some research, and found these to be priced well, organic, and the customer service is consistent. I buy in bulk, which will last us a few months, depending on colds and viruses we bring home to each other.
Put about 1 cup dried berries into a large pot. I am really tempted to buy a cauldron to make my elderberry syrup, but haven't given in, yet. I add 2-3 cinnamon sticks, 2-4 pieces of ginger, and approximately 8-10 dried cloves. All these spices have known antimicrobial or antibiotic properties, which can help a great deal if you're drinking this to get over a cold or the flu.
Add about 6 cups of water and bring to a soft boil. Simmer for at least 40 minutes.
Here's where you need to take note - Elderberries naturally have cyanide in them. Boiling the berries for this length of time removes the cyanide present in the berries. Just make sure you keep away from the steam when the mixture first begins to boil.
I tilt the lid, leaving space at the back of the pot so the steam is never in my face. And I do not allow my 6 year old near the stove when I first start making the syrup. After it has boiled down, allow it to cool. I have begun boiling in the evening and letting the pot sit overnight with a lid. By day, it has fully cooled and any other nutrients have leached out of the spices and into the water. Then, use several layers of cheesecloth to strain the liquid. Squeeze the detritus to get as much "good stuff" as possible. The remains can either then be composted or put in the trash.
Rinse the pot to make sure no pieces of berry or cloves are left, and pour the liquid back into the pot. Add local, raw honey to taste - I used approximately 1/3 of a cup to sweeten the mixture. One would think the berries would add some sweetness, but it is actually quite bland until the honey is added.
Store in the refrigerator. I give everyone about 1 tsp (using the medicine cups that come with children's medicines) once a day when you're treating allergies or protecting everyone from illness. I usually give 1 tsp every 6 hours when I am actively treating a cold or viral infection.
If you'd rather not take a teaspoon directly, it can be used on ice cream, pancakes, within tea, etc.! Happy brewing, my little witchy friends. If you try this recipe, please let me know how it turns out!
Elderberry Syrup
1 cup dried elderberries
2-3 sticks of cinnamon
2-3 pieces of ginger
8-10 cloves
6 cups of water

***Update: I now also add dried Thyme and dried Hibiscus flowers - both are very good for upper respiratory infections. I also have begun to make honeysuckle syrup and can that, and I use the honeysuckle with the local honey to sweeten the elderberry concoction. Honeysuckle is also very good for upper respiratory infections. 

-Bring the ingredients to a boil, but stay away from the steam, as elderberries contain natural cyanide that will cook off.
-Allow the mixture to cool. 
-Strain the liquid through several layers of cheesecloth.
-Stir in local, raw honey to sweeten (about 1/3 cup)

Store in a large jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. And I still make ready use of western medicine when symptoms and common sense tell me it is time to go see a doctor. Use your head! Seek professional help for any questions to be safe!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Declining the Beauty Invitation

What is beauty?

I was raised to understand that beauty was internal - the light that shines from your eyes and the personality that draws others to you. Of course, that didn't stop me from, at one time or another, believing I wanted to be a model when I grew up - so glamorous - such an exciting lifestyle.

Years later, I have a much more mature outlook on beauty. Yes, there are times I wish I had been 'blessed' more, but I understand now that beauty is, first and foremost, subjective. What I find physically beautiful does not always register with what others believe to be physically beautiful. And what I deem beautiful in personality, in maturity, in mien does not always correlate to others' definition of beauty. And heaven forbid we forget just how much those magazine covers are touched-up before they go to print.

It has taken me a long time to understand and accept that, not only will certain things about myself, physically, never change to what the 'accepted' norm for beauty in our society is, but also that there is no real 'accepted' definition of beauty because it is, in fact, all subjective. And the stronger my voice is for acknowledging this absence of a steadfast norm, the more accepting of myself am I, as well as a good lesson and model for my students.

So, why the blog post on beauty?

Lately, on social media, there seems to have been a ridiculous surge in beauty products that 'will help me feel beautiful and reach the standard of beauty for which I've been striving' (my quotes are more sarcasm than any advertising). And it hasn't been just one or two independent sales reps who have been trying to make money on the side - I get that. I'm a public school teacher. There have been times I've considered becoming a consultant for one thing or another in order to make money, especially during the summer months.

But I've been included in, without permission requested, two groups for various wraps, groups for various beauty products, groups for exercise regimens, etc. I followed a woman on Instagram because we seemed to have the same interests. She has two young sons near the age of my son. She is active in her life and offers tips for the working Mom. It made sense that, considering all we had in common, I make that connection. But then she started pushing her private business more than posting her daily life. It began to feel like I was scanning through an online infomercial rather than seeing her life as a mother of boys. So, I unfollowed her. Why should I deliberately accost myself with her advertisements when I have the power to eliminate them?

I went on a 'cleaning spree' at that moment, and unfollowed another mother who was doing the same thing. And then I went to Facebook and disengaged myself from the various groups who had drafted me without my acknowledgment. Within 5 minutes, one of those groups added me back in, again without asking if I wanted to be part of it.

Here's the deal - I don't want to be part of it.

I am, by MY standards, not gorgeous. I am, however, beautiful. I am loving and accepting and loyal. I take care of myself as best I can with what I have and am determined not to live outside my means to suit what is currently in style just to fit in with society or to make myself more beautiful. I have a delightfully precocious and entertaining son, a loving husband, a job that keeps me on my toes and an active life that involves all of these aspects. I do not have extra time or money, or energy for that matter, to dedicate to wraps and creams and peels and anything else that makes me feel unworthy.

So, I'm fighting back. I am enough.

I applaud anyone who wishes to participate in any of these endeavors. But only if you're doing this for yourself and not because of peer pressure or guilt or generally feeling unworthy. Because you're not.

You're not unworthy. You're beautiful. It takes all kinds to make this world the glorious mix that it is. I felt that we were moving in the correct direction recently - that the airbrushing was being made known, and that body image issues were coming to light. And then this surge hit. And I want everyone to know that it matters not what you think is wrong, because you are right. You are beautiful.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Endometriosis Diet - Gluten-Free Spinach Quiche Casserole

I grew up with my mother making a quiche recipe that is very comforting - it was made often enough to reside in my memory and remind me of home, but not so often that it seemed overdone or too common for a weekly meal repertoire. I've made this often over the years for my girlfriends when they come over to talk over a pot of tea, and I've made it to take to school for pot luck lunches. And then I had a child, my endometriosis grew worse, and I wanted to determine a way to made the quiche gluten-free, after learning just how badly gluten affects my health.

In the course of trial-and-error, I can tell you, very easily, that I've found corn noodles to hold up better for hearty meals - spaghetti, a casserole such as this recipe, etc. Use rice noodles for lighter meals - ones that will not be subjected to heating and cooling - pasta salad, etc. The corn pasta needs to cook a little longer to soften more, but be watchful of both corn and rice noodles, as once they soften, they reeealllly soften and can easily become mush.

First things first - set a full package of frozen spinach to thaw. After it is completely thawed (I set it out overnight), I poke holes in the bag and set a heavy pot on it to help squeeze out the extra liquid. Let this drain until you're ready for it.

Here, I cooked 3/4 of a package of corn macaroni. Salt the water very well. I would usually prepare all the other ingredients while these cooked and toss them together as soon as draining the noodles, but my son needed some help and distracted me - it happens! So, I drained these and tossed them in olive oil, which I think actually helped keep them moist as the casserole baked.
I chopped up about 1/2 cup of onion and two cloves of garlic - normally, in other meals, I would prefer to saute the onions and garlic in oil and then toss them with the other ingredients, but I actually really like the extra texture the crunch from the onions brings to the dish.
In order to keep with my endo diet, I used non-dairy cheese. The non-dairy cheese melts just like real cheese - if you're testing which foods affect you, slowly weed out triggers - red meat, gluten, and dairy impact the way I feel the most, so I try to severely limit my intake on those. I do indulge every once in a while, but it has to be negligent quantities or I will feel it much sooner. Here, I used my kitchen shears to cut up already-cooked bacon, the shredded cheese, and the onions and garlic.

I've also added chopped bell peppers, quinoa, sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, etc. The leftovers in your refrigerator are a perfect way to make this yours! Or your imagination...
For a casserole this size, I use at least 6 eggs, but it honestly comes down to your preference for how moist you want your casserole to be. Whisk the eggs with about a cup of milk (I used rice milk, as my son has a nut allergy and I try to stay away from soy).

Add the drained spinach to the eggs and mix well. It is to this mixture that I also added some leftover brown rice. Make sure you salt and pepper the mixture well.
After mixing all the 'dry' ingredients together, and whisking all the wet ones, fold them together and pour over the noodles in a separate, large container. Mix well. Use nonstick spray on your baking dish, and spread the mixture evenly. Sprinkle more non-dairy cheese over the top.
Bake on 325* for about 30 minutes for this size of a pan. Keep an eye on it, though, as you don't want the noodles to dry out.
Doesn't it look delectable? Yum.
I've made this in a slow-cooker, too, so if you're thinking of a pot luck (I did last year just to make sure I had something I could eat at the luncheon), do not worry. Just watch the time and temperature it is cooking so you don't overdo it.

It is healthy. It is filling. And it keeps my blood sugar in check without exacerbating my endometriosis any worse. And I love the fact that I can toss in nearly any vegetables I currently have on hand with it.

Please let me know if you try this! I want to know how you liked it.

Gluten-Free Spinach Quiche Casserole

3/4 of a pound of corn noodles.
6 eggs
1 cup of milk (unsweetened soy, rice, cow's, or nut)
1 pound frozen spinach (thawed and drained)
2 cups of shredded cheese
1 package of already-cooked thick-cut bacon
1/2 a large onion
2 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the noodles (salt well) and drain
2. Whisk the eggs and milk together
3. Mix in the thawed and drained spinach (and any other vegetables you prefer)
4. Chop up the onion and garlic
5. Toss with 2 cups of cheese and chopped up package of bacon
6. Toss the 'dry' ingredients with the noodles in a large bowl
7. Add in the egg mixture and mix it all thoroughly
8. Use nonstick spray on your casserole dish
9. Spread the casserole mixture well, making the edges slightly thicker than the middle so it cooks evenly.
10. Bake at *325 for about 25-30 minutes.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Endometriosis Diet - Coconut Rice

I love to cook. I believe that anyone who stumbles upon my blog and spends any amount of time on here would agree. I also love to read, and I love to experiment - so it is natural that the two would go hand-in-hand at some point, right?
As a life-long survivor of endometriosis, I am ever on a quest to find ways to make my quality of life not merely bearable, but also enjoyable. You can actually begin reading my story here. And since endo is so closely placed to the digestive tract, I can't help but think that what my endo-sisters and I choose to eat has a huge impact on our symptoms.
So, long story short? I am now completely gluten-free, as I've tested it out and gluten definitely exacerbates my endo flares. I am also completely red meat free, and very limited in dairy products. And that limit in dairy means that one comfort component of food for me - the creaminess that comes with using butter and heavy cream and cheese is limited or eliminated.

So imagine my delight when I was reading Love in the Time of Cholera, in which they referenced Coconut Rice several times over, and I immediately went to my Pinterest board titled "Food from Lit" to look for recipes of coconut rice. I tried it, was mostly pleased, and have tweaked the recipe several times over since then only to find that:

  1. I love coconut rice (my version) AND
  2. It helps my endometriosis AND
  3. It is SO CREAMY!!!!
This makes me downright giddy! To have flavorful, creamy rice with no dairy in it! How fabulous is that?

Here's your ingredients: I go for the highest fat content I can find in whatever brands the stores have - and I never knew there were so many brands of coconut milk in our area. The "official" recipe called for jasmine rice, but I've also done this with long-grain, etc. It works with any white rice, but the jasmine helps with the pearly, creaminess of it all. Don't forget your sea salt - adds flavor without sodium, and fresh garlic.

Open the can of coconut milk - if the fat is coagulated on the top, be careful as you begin to scoop it out or it will cave in suddenly and splash everywhere. You want to save as much fat as possible from the can. I put it in a recycled Kool-Aid container and use the lid to measure. I used two lid-fuls, which is approximately 2 cups of rice.
Add about 2 teaspoons of salt and chop up your garlic. I love garlic, so I must have it strong enough to easily taste - I use at least 2 large cloves, or, as in today's case, 4 small cloves. If you're not a garlic person, reduce that amount. Stir all the ingredients together.

Here's the beauty of my method of cooking rice. Or rather, the Filipino method of cooking rice. I lived with a Filipino family for a summer one year when I was in college. They taught me that, regardless of what any recipe book says, if you're making white rice, it doesn't matter what measurement of rice you've used - you simply add water until, when you insert your finger into the pot, and you barely rest your tip on the top layer of rice, the water comes to your first knuckle.
Really. And I've tried to follow the recipes. It doesn't matter if I use my microwave rice cooker, my electric rice cooker, or cook rice on the stove, this methods works better than any recipe you can follow. You will not have dried out white rice if you follow this method.
I will say this - after you add water (rinsing the rest of the fat out of the can and into the pot!) and put the pot on the stove, stir everything really well - the grains stick to the bottom faster with the coconut fat. You want to loosen everything so that the rice doesn't burn. Turn the burner on medium high to get the water warm, stir again and cover. Reduce the heat to low and set a timer for 25 minutes.

You will be greeted with creamy, garlicky deliciousness when the timer goes off. Turn off the burner, stir, perhaps adding a splash more water, and set the lid back on so all moisture can be soaked up by the rice.
I know that coconut macaroons can be helpful for those who suffer from IBS. And since endo symptoms are so closely related to IBS, I tend to think this is a similar reaction. Every time I've eaten coconut rice, even if I've gorged myself on it, I do not feel ill the next day. The book, Love in the Time of Cholera, called for fried fish with coconut rice. I haven't made the fried part, but I have made baked fish and fish sticks with it, and it does go together very nicely.

Let me know if you try this! Happy Cooking!!

Coconut Rice

2 cups of white rice
1 can of (high fat) coconut milk
2 teaspoons of sea salt
2-3 cloves of garlic (to taste)
Water as needed

1. Chop the garlic, and add the garlic, salt, can of coconut milk and rice to a pot.
2. Stir the pot, and add water until, while inserting your finger, the tip of your finger touches the rice and water reaches your first knuckle.
3. Stir well and begin to heat.
4. When the water starts getting hot, cover and turn the burner to low. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
5. When the timer goes off, stir well and add a splash of water. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Return to Blogging, More Snow & Memories, And a King Cake Surprise

My goodness - I am rather embarrassed by the length of the break I took. It was, by no means, deliberate. I've been trying to handle a bit more this year and, though I've had quite a few posts that began in my head, they never quite made it to fruition on here. Please forgive me.

So, it was a year ago that we had our most recent snow day. A year ago on Valentine's that Syd and I baked a homemade heart shaped cake (one square and one round pan) and whipped up homemade buttercream frosting, dyed pink, for Daddy when he got home. A year ago that my then 4 year old discovered the joy that comes with playing in the clean snow, building forts, climbing piles and drifts, and throwing snowballs at Mommy as she shoveled.

And now, it is Fat Tuesday after Valentine weekend and we're home again, two days in a row (after shoveling, I am thinking it will be 3 - our roads still haven't been touched), thankful for Daddy and hoping he makes it home safely. He wasn't able to get the jeep this time, so I again went out to shovel as much of the driveway and street as possible so he could get in this evening. The biggest difference is that Syd has been ill with some weird virus - so, though I'm in better shape than I was last year, I'm a bit more worn out.

Regardless, a load of bed sheets and towels are now clean. And dishes are done. And shoveling is halfway finished. If we have another day off tomorrow, it will be completed then. It took me 2 days last year, too. And hopefully, one more day home will fully remedy Syd before we have to worry about school again.

So, what do you bake when the weather is/was nasty? Cookies? Brownies? We wanted something different, and since we've been home with a sick child and didn't make it to the grocery store this weekend, it needed to be something I could make with what I had. Enter, King Cake! It is, after all, Fat Tuesday! I found this recipe, which seemed easy enough. Aside from what the title says, though, it was not 'quick.'

Here, Syd is helping Mommy mix the dough. He's adding the eggs.

One of my favorite memories as a child was helping my mother knead the dough to her homemade wheat bread. Oh - so soft and warm. And I would always sneak a tiny piece. She let me have a tiny ball all to myself to knead, eat, bake - do with as I saw fit. I want Syd to have those feelings as he grows. and I want him to know some basics to cooking. Here, he's experiencing kneading for the first time. He loved getting flour everywhere and dusting off his hands like a master chef!
 My first attempt at a braid - I undid this, stretched the pieces out longer and tried to make a tighter braid. See below...
Leftover from Syd's Star Wars birthday (TRULY ashamed I didn't post any of those! I may do so retroactively...) I used blue edible glitter to help spruce up the King Cake - I don't know that I have enough powdered sugar to make the frosting, so I thought this would help. Here, the dough is rising for a second time.
Aaaand - baked. Now cooling on a rack. I can't wait to hide a little Lego guy inside and frost it, adding more sprinkles. I hope Steve is pleasantly surprised, and I hope he understands the true sentiments behind our little endeavor.
I put a movie on before heading out to shovel. I came in about an hour later and found this. Poor little guy. But, several hours later, he seems to be feeling much better, so let's hope that was the trick!
What have you gotten up to on your days off, if you were happily surprised by this storm (which was quite far reaching!)? How did you fill your days, or relax, or surprise family? Share below!

I hope you all stay safe and happy and warm as our Polar Vortex of 2015 continues. Happy Shoveling and Baking!