Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Adventures in Vegetables

I just ate a spinach salad and I loved it! ‘So what?’ you ask. Well don’t tell anyone, but I was not born a veggie girl, especially if ketchup and French fries don’t count. To be honest, there was canned corn, peas and green beans, but I only ate them to fulfill the clean plate requirement my parents set before the ice cream goal. I really couldn’t say I enjoyed them (and don’t even get me started on the step-monster’s frozen lima beans!)
So how did I come to eat raw spinach and thoroughly enjoy it? I had kids and I wanted them to be healthy. I had kids and my hypocrisy convicted me that I must change. How could I encourage them to eat a healthy diet if I was still gorging on chips and salsa? Everywhere I looked ‘healthy’ meant eating fruits and vegetables. I groaned inside. My stomach turned. I did not want to eat the way I knew would be healthy for my kids. Still, I was determined and I started by just making sure we all ate at least one fruit and one veggie a day, every day and built slowly from there – very slowly. I tried lots of different methods and still use these:
1 – INDULGE: If there happens to be a fruit or vegetable that you already like, eat it – A LOT! In fact, eat the heck out of it. Add it to everything you put in your mouth. Try preparing it in as many ways as you can. Eventually, you’re going to get bored and start yearning for another veggie to like.
2 – ADD: Gonna eat something? Sneak a veggie in it. If you’re having spaghetti, add a can of diced tomatoes or some diced onion or zucchini. Having a salad? Add another variety of lettuce or spinach! Think you won’t like it? Try the kid-tested baby bite – whatever you’re adding, chop it super small. Adding works for breakfast too, add some chopped or sliced fresh fruit to your cereal just like they show on the box.
3 – SWAP: Does your family have a favorite meal or dish that you make repeatedly? Try swapping ingredients to make it healthier. Our PB+J’s are now made on whole grain bread with natural peanut butter, low sugar jam and fresh or freeze-dried sliced fruit in the middle. Just don’t try to swap everything out all at once or you’ll have a mutiny on your hands – baby steps people, one ingredient at a time. I actually mixed real natural peanut butter with Skippy ‘natural’ for a couple months before switching to real alone (and I’m defining real as peanuts are the only ingredient.) Switching to fresh or frozen vegetables from canned requires some extra cooking, salt and butter, which can all be eased up on later once everyone gets acclimated.
4 – TRY, TRY AGAIN: If you have a child, I know you’ve asked, ‘How do you know you won’t like it unless you try it?’ at least once. When was the last time you asked yourself? Tastes change over time and the body has an amazing capacity to crave what’s good for it. Once you start giving your marvelous machine the nutrition it requires to run, you’ll be amazed at what starts tasting good to you. So try new veggies and fruits from time to time and try ones that you remember not liking as a child too. Fix them in an exciting recipe that looks good to you and you’ll be pre-motivated to like them. For kids they say it may take up to 15 exposures to a food before they enjoy it, so keep offering.
5 – GET HELP: Our help is a whole food supplement that fills the gap between our diet and the recommended 7 to 13 servings of fresh raw fruits and vegetables every day. I like having the assurance of knowing the nutrition is already there no matter what else we’re able to eat.
Remember though, that every healthy bite you take is a step towards your future health, so don’t give up. Just set your goal to try every day and give yourself a pat on the back for every serving you do get. You’re doing more than the majority of average Americans.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sultry Carmelized Tomato Salsa

"Roasting tomatoes concentrates their flavor to a rich dark essence that is a mystical experience for tomato addicts." ~ from The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas

My recipe is an adaptation of Thomas' 'Roasted Tomato Sauce' (mostly because I did it from memory, forgetting I had printed hers off the internet in 1998!) If you're not lucky enough to have a bumper crop of tomatoes in your backyard, check your local farm stand for bruised and reduced tomatoes. Klein's Farm Market (on Route 20 (72) two miles west of Randall Rd in Udina, IL) sells theirs for 99 cents a pound and some of them aren't even bruised, just ugly!

10 lbs. Very ripe (or over-ripe) tomatoes, any variety (I used beefsteaks + plums)
1 Sweet onion
1 Red or Yellow bell pepper
1 Tablespoon minced garlic (or more to taste)

Peel and chop the tomatoes into chunks about 1". For peeling, some recipes call for the blanching method (cutting a cross in the bottom of each tomato and submerging in boiling water for one minute, then into cold water to 'slip' the skins off.) My tomatoes were so ripe, once I started slicing them the skins peeled off pretty easily without all the mess of the water bath. Be sure to catch all the juice by chopping over a bowl or placing your cutting board in a tray. This is most labor intensive part of the recipe and I did it over two days, placing the first batch of chopped tomatoes in the fridge until the rest were ready.

Dice the onion and pepper to a small size, about 1/2" or so. The tomatoes will melt into a soft carmelized paste, leaving the onion and pepper to provide a bit of texture.

Toss all of the ingredients together, including the tomato juice and spread evenly over two large baking sheets with edges. I used my lasagna pan and it held all 10 lbs. nicely, but it may have increased the roasting time.

Carefully place in 350 degree oven and roast for 3 to 4 hours, stirring once after the first hour and then every 30 minutes or so. If you use two baking sheets, you'll need to transfer the salsa onto one sheet once the liquid starts to cook away and watch it carefully. The goal is carmelized not burnt. It's done once most of the liquid is gone and you're left with a soft thick paste.

Now what to do with it? Oh my! Thomas suggests to serve on pasta, with rice, on pizza, with polenta, in soups, in a quesadilla, in an omelet or alongside anything that goes well with tomatoes. I use mine on basically everything I eat until the sad, sad day it's all gone.
Here's yesterday:
Breakfast: soft boiled egg chopped and topped with sultry salsa. I think woke up in too much of a hurry to get to eating the salsa. I mean, it's good with eggs and it was good here - heck it's good with a spoon! But next time I'll try an omelet with a bit of cheese and maybe some basil.
Lunch: Salsa Roll-ups - tortilla spread with cream cheese, sultry salsa, bacon bits and a bit of shredded cheddar. The creaminess of the cheese played well off the savory salsa, leaving a very pleasant memory on the tongue. ...think I'll have another.
Dinner: Salsa Salad - baby spinach and romaine lettuces, chopped red pepper, 2 tablespoons of salsa and a teaspoon or so of ranch dressing (actually it was really good with just the salsa, I just wanted to see how it would combine with the ranch. So, viola, a fat-free dressing!)

One thing I purposely did this year, was to leave spices out of the recipe. Adding one slice (roughly half dollar size times 1/2") of Fresh Ginger Root gives carmelized tomatoes an aftertaste like the twang of barbeque sauce. My kids don't like that particular kick so I skipped it. I might try placing a small slice in a container of salsa in the fridge and see what happens. Same thing goes for basil and salt and pepper - I suppose you can add anything later.

Also, this does freeze quite well. I put it in those Ziplock plastic containers and hide it away in the bottom of the freezer. Sometimes I still have one left in October. Hmmm, maybe I'll make it again with the Ginger - I think I need a bigger freezer. If you try it, do let me know all the things you do with it. >^.^<

Friday, August 14, 2009

Blown Away

I was reading Job 38 this morning where God answers Job's 'why me' with a barrage of questions and I got to verse 31 -

31 “Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades,
Or loose the belt of Orion?

32 Can you bring out Mazzaroth in its season?
Or can you guide the Great Bear with its cubs?

33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you set their dominion over the earth?

(Job 38:31-33, New King James Version)

Wow! I had always thought that the Greeks named the constellations (probably from watching Harry Hamlin in Clash of The Titans one too many times). This is one of the many reasons I'm loving homeschooling - I get to reschool MYSELF! And evidently I have a great deal more to learn. I hope and pray that I am able to teach my children to consider and weigh facts and ideas - thinking for themselves, drawing conclusions in their own minds and not simply accepting what is presented.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Someone Stole my baby!!

I always kind of expected my baby image of my son would be gone with that first front tooth, but I never imagined being startled when I looked at him - filled with pride and love sure, but also surprised to see the boy he's become.
That dark little hole in his smile is the physical manifestation of his growing independence. He's got thoughts and feelings that are completely his own now - a total person in his own right.
Now what do I do with my little collection of spurned incisors? I suppose one goes in the scrapbook?