Health

Heavenly braised baby beets

Oh my, this dish is exquisitely delicious. How I love my CSA! Today’s box came with a recipe from the farmer. See my modifications below.

Braised Whole Baby Beets

1/4 cup butter (I used 2 Tbsp ghee)

whole baby beets and greens, washed well, trimmed and patted dry

2 cups fresh chicken or veggie broth/stock

2 Tbsp chopped mint (I sprinkled on herbs de Provence instead)

2 Tbsp cider vinegar

Lucky for me, I had just made chicken stock the night before. My bunch had four baby beets – perfect for two servings. The greens were so fresh and tender, and they held up well simmering with the beets.

Melt butter in skillet, then place beets on one side and greens on the other. When greens are wilted, add the broth, cover and simmer until beets are tender (about 10 minutes).

The recipe said to present on a platter with beet roots at one end and greens at the other. But I served myself a bowl and spooned on extra broth. The splash of cider vinegar is essential for bringing out the delectable flavors, as well as herbs, salt and pepper.

These beets are a joy to eat!

Castor Oil Challenge: Skin and Hair Review

I got an itchy armpit rash last week. A real doozy. I’ve had pit rashes before, but this time I suspected a yeast infection. Yuck!

I hated the thought of putting topical antibiotics on my precious pits. So I thought I’d try something new: castor oil. 

I have a big bottle sitting on my shelf. I bought it from Amazon months ago to help with red, itchy eyes. I’d also bought empty mascara tubes for applying the oil to lashes and brows. Castor oil did help soothe my eyes, but I never kept up with the application. 

I read so many glowing reviews about castor oil’s effect on hair and skin. Yet I resisted because it’s a sticky mess. Like honey without the smell. I put it all over my hair once, covered with a scarf on a lazy Sunday. My hair felt greasy for days. I wasn’t too into it, I must admit!

But with renewed (and rashy) fervor, I decided to go whole hog and take a 10-day castor oil challenge, addressing all problems skin/hair. Thus my nightly ritual of “lubing up” began:

  1. Armpits
  2. Chest/neck
  3. Hairline/part
  4. Lashes and brows (with mascara wand)
  5. Lips

My nightly “lubing up” ritual

The 10-Day Castor Oil Challenge

How I did it

I put 1-2 TBSP castor oil in a tiny bowl and added a couple of drops of tea tree (note: this amount lasted for several days/applications). Tea tree oil, like castor oil, is known for its skin-healing and hair-stimulating properties. For the first seven days, I applied this to pits, chest/neck, hairline/part by painting it on with a cotton swab. For the last three days, I massaged the oil in with my fingers instead. 

For lashes and brows, I used the mascara wand (tube contained castor oil, but not tea tree). For lips, I dabbed on a little plain castor oil with my finger. 

Let’s address these areas one at a time, shall we?

Armpits: I gave up my deodorant for the ten days since it exacerbated the rash. Every morning, I rubbed my pits with lemon. Most afternoons, I dabbed on apple cider vinegar. Then I applied the castor/tea tree oil at night. The rash cleared up in a week. Interestingly I had no body odor smell during this time. I think the castor oil had something to do with this. It felt very soothing to have the oil on overnight; my pits looked and felt better in the morning. 

Chest/neck: My chest and neck are always red, itchy and rough due to rosacea. Even though I’m very committed to my rosacea face regimen, my chest/neck never seem to get enough attention. So why not shellac on some castor oil? 

I’m very pleased with the results. I only wish I hadn’t been such a sissy at first – dabbing it on with a cotton swab left me very sticky and shiny. It worked much better once I tossed the swab and started working it into my skin with my fingers. Sure, my hands got sticky, but I could wash them!

My chest/neck area is soothed, much less red, hydrated and softer. And I do believe my neck looks less wrinkled- score! Castor oil has worked much better for me than other oils in regards to this area. Definitely worth the effort. 

Hair: A friend of mine (my same age) complained about her hair thinning. I told her I’d read all those reviews saying castor oil makes your hair thicker and darker. Yeah, because it’s got oil in it, right? True that – but there’s something to this growth stimulator. 

Darker hair and brows, longer lashes

I can tell you, for me, there is a noticeable difference. And I only applied a small amount around the hairline and down my part. That’s it. That’s all it took since the oil seeps and migrates. I didn’t want to wear a scarf to bed, didn’t want to worry about staining my pillow. I mainly wanted to see if it affected the hair around my face. 

It did. My hair looks darker. I’m strawberry blonde, and have seen a lot of fading in recent years. Castor oil made my reds look redder and my golds look golden. My greys are so less there with my darker hair. Yippee!

My hair is thicker, softer. Worth a little dab of sticky any day. 

Lashes and brows: Ditto on the darker/thicker. My brows had been getting so sparse. The mascara wand feels like nothing – I was suspicious at first, but then I could feel the oil by touching the wand with my fingers. It’s there, but not making a gloppy mess. Brilliant! Loving my longer lashes and darker, thicker brows. 

Lips: My lip problems are nothing new. Castor oil hasn’t improved the situation too much. Still so dry. Sigh. It might take a little while longer. I’ll keep experimenting. 

Castor Oil Conclusion

I want to keep going. With chest and neck on the daily, for sure. I might try every other day on the hairline (the night before I shampoo). And the lashes/brows application is so easy and quick – I can definitely stick to that!  Castor oil will remain my go-to product for any skin ailments that arise. It’s proven its worth! 

Way to Rutabaga

Farm box brought a bunch of rutabagas, which I intended to make into rutabaga-mashed potatoes. But I don’t really like mashed potatoes, so why bother?

Instead, I found an online recipe for pan-roasted rutabagas and then embellished with whatever I could find in the fridge. Leftover pho (for the chick stock flavor), leftover rice (well, why not – rutabagas aren’t nearly as starchy as potatoes). So after a 30-minute simmer, I had this lovely pan that resembled a Spanish paella of sorts.

How did it taste? Quite delicious! Rutabagas work well with the rice because they are similar in density and sweetness to other hearty root vegetables (such as carrots). And despite their unbecoming outward appearance, rutabagas turn such a beautiful golden hue with cooked (think butternut squash).

It did indeed remind me of paella, sans meat. This dish was perfectly filling. What a comforting meal on a cold winter’s night!

Here’s my makeshift recipe:

3 spring onions, chopped (white parts only)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP butter + 1 TBSP olive oil
1 lb rutabagas, peeled and chopped
Pinch thyme and rosemary
Salt and pepper (I used Herbs de Provence salt)
1-2 cups chicken broth
1-2 cups cooked rice

Sautée onions and garlic in butter/oil. Add rutabagas and seasoning, stir. Add broth and rice. Turn up the heat to boil, then lower heat to medium. Cover and simmer until liquid absorbs, about 15 minutes. Stir again and reduce heat to low. Cover for another 15 minutes, until rutabagas are soft.

About Face: Days of Wine and Rosacea Revisited

From Wax Figure to Glam Glow – Marie Veronique Review

No big cover up here, just healthy skin!

Last summer I wrote about my rosacea issues in Days of Wine and Rosacea, Parts 1 & 2 – tracking 30 days of facial crisis. I never published, however – it was a boring food/skin diary that didn’t have much conclusive evidence to share. Other than red wine did NOT always make my skin flush red (thank goodness)!

I have been struggling with rosacea for over four years now. I believe it is linked to age-related hormonal changes (perimenopause). Since the beginning I’ve been determined to “win the war” on redness. For over a year, I took a photo of my face every morning, searching for some sort of pattern.


On my worst days, I had extreme flushing (all over facial redness) and red bumps.  Sometimes referred to as “adult acne,” these bumps (papules) are not really acne at all. They certainly didn’t act like the zits of my youth. My stressed face was now a dry, flaky, bumpy red desert that I hid daily under a waxy cover up mask.

Turmeric honey oatmeal mask

I tried dermatological treatments. They didn’t work for me (and sometimes exacerbated my dryness). I tried all kinds of home remedies, some of which helped temporarily. But my face really was under duress, and I was running out of tactics.

My 30 day test had a “more is more” approach. Looking back on it now, I learned a bit about the foods I was eating. But my skincare routine was all over the place. I was desperate to find something that worked.

Lucky for me, I have found relief! Not a cure, mind you (there is no cure for rosacea). I still get red.  But my skin is so much happier and I am no longer at war with my face. The turning point came when I happened upon a lecture by Marie Veronique at a neighborhood skincare boutique.

Marie is a chemist, a grandmother, and has beautiful, healthy skin. Her staff was giving complimentary facials that day, so I sat down and let them take off a waxy layer of foundation to reveal my highly-stressed skin. In a few minutes, my face felt soothed and looked visibly hydrated. I took home some free samples and bought her book.

What I love about Marie’s book is that she never tries to push her products. In fact, she offers plenty of home remedies and less expensive product choices. For instance, putting yogurt on your face as a moisture mask really helps. I don’t always care for the sour smell or the “brain freeze” application (I try to warm it up in my hands first), but once it’s on there I’m a happy face. 🙂

I actually left the house one day with no makeup at all!

Marie Veronique’s line is expensive. I tried the other (cheaper) brands she mentioned in her book, but I didn’t like them as much. So last fall I took the plunge and bought a set of her products to use every day. To my pleasant surprise, I haven’t run out of anything yet (except for the face oil which I use twice daily). I am miserly with the products, only one pump gets the job done. No more bumps! In 8 months, I’ve had nothing but happy, glowy skin. I am no longer afraid to show my face.

This is my routine:

I never, ever wash my face in the morning. Just a splash of water.
Pre+Probiotic Daily Mist
Vitamins C+E+Ferulic Serum
Protective Day Oil
Everyday Coverage Tinted Sunscreen

In the evening, I use the Replenishing Oil Cleanser or organic greek yogurt
Pre+Probiotic Daily Mist
Gentle Retinol Night Serum
Protective Day Oil or Rejuvenating Night Oil

A word about the tinted sunscreen. At first I thought it was too sheer, but then I grew to love the look of my actual skin. The light tint balances out my redness just enough, but it certainly looks like I have on nothing at all. I’m free of the mask!

(top photo by Mike Lloyd)

Magic Stone Soup

I just made this gorgeous soup out of nothing. Or everything, rather. Maybe it should be called Kitchen Sink Soup – I used everything I could find in the kitchen. But with such a puny list of ingredients, I find myself circling back to that old folk story about stone soup.

One of my best friends from high school called me her “stone soup friend” because she said I always knew how to make something out of nothing. Tonight’s motivation: the weather is frightful (rainy and blustery) and the flu is rampant around here. So I decided to skip the store and see what I could cook up from my next-to-bare cupboards.

I can’t believe the magic: this flu-fighting bowl of goodness is one of the best soups I’ve ever made. Minestrone-like in taste and texture, with plenty of spicy flavor. Perhaps this will inspire you to make something out of nothing.

So here’s what I had staring me in the face: 3 small potatoes, fettuccine, and about half a cup of lentils. Oh, and half a bag of spring mix salad. That’s it. How did I pull it off, you ask?

I looked in my trusty pasta cookbook (with true Italian recipes, including ones with potatoes and pasta); then I compared notes with a couple of recipes online. From what I found, I knew the potatoes and lentils would give my soup richness and substance.

I was still missing a lot of ingredients, though, so I got creative with my substitutions. I used vegetable bouillon cubes to cover for the lack of celery and carrots. I used freeze-dried shallots instead of fresh onion. And an ample squirt of tomato paste and anchovy paste (from tubes I keep on hand in the fridge) to replace the can of tomatoes that I didn’t have.

Thankfully I did have fresh garlic and a knob of ginger. I pressed a couple of cloves and chopped ginger into a sauté pan and drizzled with olive oil – only to realize my drizzle was down to a drip. Are you kidding me? Out of olive oil, too? No problem, I added some coconut oil instead.

I sautéed the garlic/ginger/shallots in the oil, then added the tomato and anchovy paste. Meanwhile I simmered the lentils and diced potato in vegetable broth (two bouillon cubes and 5 cups water). I set the timer for 30 minutes.

After adding the garlic mixture to the soup pot, I added turmeric, cumin, coriander, herbs de Provence sea salt, black pepper, and a bay leaf. Did I mention I’m well stocked with spices? Whew, good thing!

After the timer went off, I broke half a handful of fettuccine into quarter pieces and threw them in the pot along with some minced spring mix (my substitute for parsley). Cooked another 8 minutes and turned off the heat.

No Parmesan here to top my soup, so I served my bowl with extra spring mix and – wait for it – turkey jerky that I found on the shelf. Man, those bits of jerky really satisfied!

So maybe I did have more than three ingredients after all, but certainly not ones that you’d normally see together on a recipe list. I’m so glad I got to stay home in my toasty apartment and make some Magic Stone Soup!

Sauerkraut Science Experiment – Ruby Kraut Success!

IMG_1454I’ve been on a bit of a homemade food jag lately, getting a little more adventurous with the offerings from the farm box. I’ve always been afraid to make sauerkraut – fermentation is a scary beast. But when life gives you big purple cabbage heads, something must be done.

I’m reporting after my second attempt as kraut-maker, but let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? On my first try, I followed a couple of online recipes and used what I had on hand: namely, cabbage and salt. I also bought juniper berries and caraway seeds for seasoning. The salt caused the cabbage to sweat; I squeezed out more juice then added additional water.

This fit nicely in a glass-lid casserole dish. I covered the cabbage/water with parchment paper, topped with a Ziploc bag filled with more water to weigh it down (keeping water level above cabbage level), then followed with the lid. The crock sat on my counter for over a week. I started noticing mold on one corner; I scraped it off but it returned in a few days. That’s when I got scared and put it in the fridge. Tasted fine; I ate the whole thing over several weeks.

IMG_1457Now that I had a little experience under my belt, I was ready to try again. This time I bought a large, wide-mouth canning jar by Weck. I also bought a smaller jar to fit inside for the weight. Somehow I had a better result with the sweating and didn’t have to add any extra water. I fit it all in the 1 liter jar (weighted with glass lid from smaller jar) and sealed the lid.

After a couple of days I could see a lot of bubbling action. So much so that I feared my jar would explode. Ack! I had failed to leave some room at the top of the jar for expansion during fermentation. I decided to remove the clips from the sealed lid and KABOOM – purple juice on the kitchen walls!

Dang, all that healthy probiotic juice wasted. I lost about a third of a cup and had to replace some of that with water so the kraut wouldn’t dry out. Pity. After 10 days (like last time), I put it in the fridge and ate it little by little. Despite my troubles, it was a delicious batch.

So now I’m ready to offer some words of advice: don’t be afraid of the kraut! The worst that can happen is you lose a head of cabbage (and maybe spray your walls with sour juice). After more investigation, I now know that my jar would not have exploded but simply bubbled over. I will be prepared next time!

Here’s a good recipe for your first-time sauerkraut science experiment:

One head of cabbage, finely chopped
1 TBSP Salt
1/2 TBSP Juniper berries
1/2 TBSP Caraway seeds

I highly recommend using a glass jar because you can see what’s going on. Leave about an inch at the top of the jar for expansion. Put the lid on but don’t clamp it down. Just let it rest there. It is likely to bubble over, so set the jar over a plate/bowl. Let the fermentation begin! Start tasting around ten days – when you get the perfect sourness it’s time to seal the lid and refrigerate. Just look at that gorgeous ruby hue.

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Today’s Juice: Funky Beets

IMG_7728Things were about to get funky. That’s sounds cool – but it really means I had some beets in my fridge that were reaching the end of their storage life. So I whipped out the juicer and started my mad science experiment:

4 beets
1 turnip
2 carrots
1 big romaine leaf
2 stalks of kale
1 radish
1/2 Meyer lemon
1/2 apple
handful of spinach

 

Though the beets and turnip had been around awhile, the rest of the ingredients arrived just yesterday in my CSA box. This juice was super funky fresh! Here’s a breakdown of some of the nutritional benefits (excerpted from The Juice Lady’s Guide to Juicing for Health):

  • Beet and carrot juice help with liver and gallbladder function.
  • Kale, spinach and romaine are good for cardiovascular and intestinal health.
  • Apple and lemon have antiviral properties.
  • Radish and turnip are both good for the lungs.

I drank down my magic elixir all at once (16 oz of juice). And now it’s time to do a little happy dance to the funky beets!

IMG_7729

Nut Milk Newbie – My First Homemade Batch

IMG_7672 I have been drinking almond milk for years now, mostly in my morning granola. Recently I read an article about a stabilizer that’s added to most commercial nut milks called carrageenan. A seaweed derivative, some animal studies have suggested a link between carrageenan and GI inflammation. While it’s currently deemed safe by the FDA, it got me thinking about what I put in my body on a daily basis and what control I have over ingesting unknown additives.

So today I took the plunge and made my very own nut milk! Encouraged by online tutorials and recipes, I assembled a very short list of ingredients: organic sprouted raw almonds and water. Last night I soaked the almonds in a glass bowl (1 cup almonds, 2 cups water and 1/2 tsp sea salt). I read to soak them 12 to 18 hours (preferably overnight) to help with digestibility and make them easier to blend.

IMG_7674This morning I drained and rinsed the almonds, then returned them to the bowl and added 4 cups of filtered water. I used my Cuisinart immersion blender to make frothy, creamy milk. (For me, an immersion blender is so much easier to use – and clean – than a regular blender.)

Next I set a colander over a larger bowl and strained the milk through cheesecloth. I squeezed out every last luscious drop. After the fact, I realized I should’ve used my mixing bowl with the spout instead; I transferred it here (from pink to white bowl) to make it easier to pour the milk into a 32 ounce mason jar. The white bowl would have been a better choice for blending, too (as it has a wider, flatter bottom than the glass one).

Welcome additions

Welcome additions to nut milk

Though I had no trouble using the cheesecloth, I have ordered a reusable nut milk bag online to make the process even easier. When it arrives, I’ll make another batch and report back. Update: The bag is definitely an improvement over cheesecloth; no need for colander (which I was only using as a second safety net); no mess, easy to clean. I’m sold! 🙂

This unsweetened, fresh almond milk tastes divine. I love it plain, but it’s also yummy with a few select additions: cinnamon, vanilla extract and maple syrup. I had these on hand; next time I may try actual vanilla bean and a couple of Meedjool dates.

Newbie success! Love when that happens. This is probably one of the easiest things I’ve ever made. Fresh nut milk can be stored in the fridge for up to a week – I’m sure I’ll have no problem using it up!

Here’s a review of helpful tools for making your own nut milk:

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A better bowl for blending and pouring

Best quality raw nuts, soaked overnight
Immersion blender
Nut milk bag
Wide mouth mason jar (I got mine at Whole Foods)
Large bowl with pour spout

And here are a couple of blog sites that helped me find my way: Wellness Mama and Oh She Glows

Hope I’ve encouraged you to give it a try. Go nuts!

Rainy Day Oatmeal

The sky is a misty white this morning; the streets are slick with rain. The perfect time for a comforting bowl of delicious oatmeal.

Forget instant – you really do have time to make the slow stuff, even on the busiest mornings. “Old fashioned” rolled oats cook up in just 10 minutes. No need to hover over the pot. Use that time to make your coffee or tea, feed the cat, scroll the news.

IMG_7634 (1)Oatmeal for one is easy. I use one cup of water and half a cup oats. Simmer uncovered 10 minutes; then remove from heat, cover and let stand a minute or so.

Prep a bowl of nourishing additions: mine has blackstrap molasses, flaked coconut, chia seeds, walnuts, raisins, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. Just a handful or a splash of each. I aim for the best quality ingredients. Even the spices are organic!

IMG_7629Bob’s Red Mill is my favorite brand of oats. I store the bag in the door of the refrigerator. Coconut flakes and chia seeds, too. Keep the pantry stocked with the rest and you will always be prepared for that perfect steaming bowl of goodness. For added extravagance, top it with sliced fruit and a little almond milk.

While I love my homemade granola for breakfast, something about the warmth of oatmeal feels more satisfying. A good reminder to not save this for a rainy day!

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