Morning Rush Hour

Morning is the toughest time for us to manage a decent breakfast. My Hubbin’ has to get up too darned early and get out the door and I get up early enough to take a morning walk and still be ready for work. There is barely enough time to cook food and pack lunches.

I usually heat up some miso soup and eat it and then take whole grain cereal and lightly steamed veggies to work with me for Second Breakfast.

Hubbin’s solution is to drop over to the local coffee shop and get his coffee and something to eat—NOT the best choice, no sireee. So I have endeavored to find sugar-free healthy grab n’ go foods for him to take along and eat with his coffee.

I’ve gone two ways with this. One is to make a whole grain treat that is slightly sweet (using whole grain sweeteners) for him to nosh with coffee. He really likes my oatmeal cookies. Cookies for breakfast?  Why not!!? It is whole grain, sweetened only with a little barley malt and a helluvalot better than some sugar-laden coffee cake or white flour bagel!

Another thing I’ve made is Blueberry Coffeecake using Christina Pirello’s recipe here.  That was pretty good, though it wasn’t exactly grab and go. It requires a utensil in order to eat it. This coffee cake was a bit too sweet but that didn’t stop us!.

Then last Saturday we both had to be someplace fairly early and I hadn’t thought ahead for breakfast and I found myself staring at a refrigerator filled mostly with containers of leftovers. What could I throw together from this that would be “breakfast?”

I grabbed a leftover quinoa dish. This happened to be quinoa with small pieces of roasted yams and some peas. It had dried out considerably and I knew I wouldn’t serve it again as is.

i brought out my awesome double-burner grill pan to make these grab-n-go croquettes.

I brought out my awesome double-burner grill pan to make these grab-n-go croquettes made from quinoa with corn,  red pepper and mexican spices.

So I quickly put together a little organic corn bread mix with some oil and almond milk. Skipped adding egg or any sweeteners at all. Instead I added minced onions leftover from making chilled cucumber fennel soup, some oregano and some celery seeds. I dumped in the quinoa and adjusted the dry cornbread mix so I ended up with a very thick batter. I spooned this onto a hot oiled cast iron pan and cooked the patties. I served them with slivered scallions and a dribble of shoyu (soy sauce).

We both loved them!! These savory little whole grain patties made great breakfast and we also ate them with a salad for lunch. They were perfect for grab n’ go because they held together just fine when you grabbed them!

Endless combinations of leftover whole grains could be used here along with various seasonings.. It would be so easy to make your own cornbread mix with whole wheat pastry flour, corn meal, a pinch of salt, baking soda and baking powder.

My quinoa patties were a big hit and they were gone in no time. So I made more for us and to photograph for you!

I like to serve these with thinly sliced scallion and a drizzle of shoyu.

I like to serve these with thinly sliced scallion and a drizzle of shoyu.

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Sweeten It Up Without Sugar

It is possible to make and eat desserts and other sweet treats without using sugar.  When I say “sugar,” I include honey, agave syrup, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, glucose . . . ALL the “ose’s,” molasses, brown sugar, raw sugar, turbinado sugar.  That’s right! Even if you see them in your health food store, that does not mean they aren’t sugar or at least they act like sugar in your body and wreak all kinds of havoc with your hormones, your blood sugar, your arteries, your digestion.  (You can read about this in my article “What Is Sugar?” on the Street Articles website.)

Some brands will do anything to make you think they are healthier for you including putting their product in a brown package or labeling it with an enticing buzz word.  Would you believe that when I went to my health food store today I saw a package of refined white sugar labeled “Vegan!”  Who do they think they’re kidding?  Vegan is getting to be very popular, so why not say that sugar is “vegan.”  It is true.  Sugar did come from a plant.  It was a plant a long, long time ago before it was mashed and stripped and chemically-treated and altered and granulated and bleached and who knows what else.

What you choose to use instead of sugar can be a difficult decision because it depends on how far you are willing to go to protect your health and how far you personally should go to improve any conditions you currently have that are sugar-related or sugar-aggravated.

My mantra is always the same:  pick the closest thing to whole food as possible.  I don’t actually know of any sweetener that is a complete whole food.  All of them, even the best choices, are processed and refined to some degree.  Probably some of you might say 100% raw honey right out of the honeycomb is an unrefined, whole sweetener.  And I’d have to agree with you on that.  The problem I have with honey is that it still consists of glucose and fructose just like table sugar.  However it has some other benefits and because it is so very sweet, you can use a lot less of it than you would sugar.  So maybe it is a good gradient choice if your system can tolerate honey.

I prefer not to use honey and instead I use whole grain sweeteners that have been naturally fermented.  I use organic barley malt and I use organic brown rice syrup.  I use these because they are not simple sugars and therefore do not rapidly spike your blood sugar level but instead they burn more slowly.

A good analogy would be to think of building a fire.  If you build a fire and used newspaper as fuel, it will burn up in a flash and then be gone.  That is like eating sugar.  It is a fast and furious fuel at first and then it’s gone, leaving the rest of your body in a state of chaos to keep up with the rapid change the sugar made.  If you build a fire with good, aged hard wood, you can keep that going for hours as it burns at a slow, steady rate providing light and heat.  That is like fueling your body with whole grains and whole grain sweeteners.  They are what is called, complex carbohydrates and do not produce the rocky ups and downs that sugar does.

Grains are naturally sweet.  Here’s a test you can try:  Make yourself some brown rice and take a mouthful, chewing it and chewing it but don’t swallow.  You will taste how your saliva breaks down the whole grain and produces a beautiful sweet taste.  (Okay, eventually you can swallow!)

Here are a few ways to use whole grain sweeteners in cooking:

FRUIT CRISP
This is made by putting barley malt into a heavy pan (cast iron works well) and heating it until it is bubbling like you would make a soft candy. By adding toasted oatmeal flakes and chopped nuts to it, and maybe a little whole wheat flour, you can get a nice mixture to put over sliced apples or other fruit. Bake it in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes and you’ve got yourself a nice apple crisp that won’t ruin your health.
BROWN RICE CRISPIES
  • 6 cups of brown rice crispy cereal (read the label and make sure there is no sugar or honey added)
  • handful of raisins
  • handful of peanuts
  • 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup of brown rice syrup

Mix the brown rice crispy cereal, raisins, peanuts and cinnamon in a bowl.  Pour the brown rice syrup into a heavy saucepan or skillet and bring it to a boil.  Simmer until the rice syrup is very bubbly and thick.  Add the rice crispy cereal mix and quickly stir it all up so the cereal mixture is coated.  Press the mixture into a 9X9 pan that is lightly oiled.  Let it cool, cut it into squares and serve!

When I make an apple pie, I drizzle a bit of brown rice syrup over my cut apples to sweeten them before baking the pie.  I also use whole grain sweeteners for puddings, and to create a sweet and savory sauce for an entree.

These are just some very simple, quick-to-make examples.  The possibilities are endless and the best way to learn how to do it is by getting yourself a couple of great cookbooks.  There are all kinds of fancy desserts without sugar.  Let me know which ones you like best!

The Pot Thickens

FOUR WAYS TO ENRICH YOUR MENU

Are you wishing you could eat a nice, thick, creamy bowl of soup without sacrificing your diet? Does your mouth water when you see smooth, rich desserts even though you know you shouldn’t indulge? Do you “pass” on the gravy?

Let me show you some ways to enjoy rich, thick textures in your meals that are guilt-free and nutritious without cramping your style. These methods can be used by anyone even though my particular recipes here are vegetarian.

1. Agar Flakes: You might recognize the name “agar agar” as something used in laboratory experiments and you’re right—it is used in petri dishes. Agar comes from seaweed. Food-quality agar is usually a blend of sea vegetables that have strong thickening properties. Agar is great for making gelatin-type dishes like aspics, desserts and pie fillings and it can be molded. It also comes in bars but I much prefer the flakes because they are so much faster and easier to use. To use agar flakes, add them to hot liquid and stir often until it is dissolved. Stirring helps prevent it from getting too thick and sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once the agar flakes are dissolved and have simmered about ten minutes, the mixture will thicken as it cools down. For the best taste and consistency, let your agar-gelled dish cool down outside of the refrigerator so it doesn’t get rubbery. After it is cooled, you can refrigerate it, covered. Like all sea vegetables, agar contains minerals–sodium, potassium, calcium, iodine, magnesium and iron are some. Agar is also considered to have medicinal properties and may relieve constipation if eaten several days in a row. Agar is good for vegetarians and vegans to know about as a replacement for gelatin which comes from pigs’ hooves or sometimes from other animals. If you are substituting agar flakes instead of gelatin in a recipe, you’ll need much less agar than you would gelatin.

One tablespoon of agar flakes has 10 mg of sodium, 10 mg of potassium, 1 gram of carbohydrate and 1 gram of dietary fiber. It has no calories, no fat and no cholesterol. Here is my favorite summer pie recipe using agar flakes:

Strawberry Blueberry Pie
(Given to me by Claire Kauffman from Meredith McCarty’s American Macrobiotic Cuisine with a few of my own notations)

• Single Pie Crust, baked and cooled. You can use pastry, graham cracker, etc.
• 2 Pints, Strawberries
• 1 Pint, Blueberries
• 1/2 tsp. sea salt
• 1/2 c cup rice syrup (you may substitute other sweeteners such as agave or honey and adjust for the right sweetness)
• 1/2 cup agar flakes

Wash all the fruit and remove the stems and leaves. Cut only the large strawberries in half and leave the rest whole. Put the strawberries in a pot, sprinkle them with sea salt and pour the syrup over them. Add the agar flakes. Cover and simmer until the agar flakes are dissolved.  This takes about 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally to gently combine the ingredients.  If necessary to get the agar fully dissolved, you may add a tablespoon or so of water.  No other liquid.  Add the blueberries for the last five minutes of cooking.  Pour the fruit mixture into the baked and cooled pie crust and let it set.

Strawberry Blueberry Pie

2. Kuzu: If you’ve ever been in the deep south of the U.S. you’ve probably seen these prolific vines with big leaves. They are so hardy and grow so fast they can take over an entire stand of trees in one season if they aren’t constantly cut back. The kind of kuzu (or kudzu) I use for cooking is a starch derived from the root of the plant. It comes from Japan in the form of white powdery lumps and is sometimes referred to as “wild arrowroot.” Kuzu can be used to thicken soups, sauces, desserts and even a hot drink. To use kuzu, crush the lumps up with the back of a spoon before measuring it and dissolve it in a little cool water or liquid first. You will need about a tablespoon of kuzu for every cup of liquid you want to thicken. When adding the dissolved kuzu into a hot liquid, stir constantly to prevent lumps. The dissolved kuzu will look cloudy at first, but as you stir and cook it will become clear. When it’s clear, it’s done. If the end result is not thick enough, add more kuzu. Add more liquid if your result is too thick. Kuzu does not have a strong flavor itself, so you can use it in many dishes without the kuzu interfering with the taste. Kuzu can be very soothing and is sometimes used in certain medicinal remedies for digestive troubles.

Српски / Srpski: Kuzu prah, koristi se u kuhin...

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 One tablespoon of kuzu has about 30 calories, 8 grams of carbohydrate and 2 mg. of calcium. It has no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and no sugars. Here is a very basic recipe for using kuzu to make a quick, soothing drink:

 Kuzu Apple Drink

Gently heat a cup of apple juice and a pinch of sea salt in a sauce pan. Bring this to just below a boil and take it off the burner. Dissolve about a teaspoon of kuzu powder in a quarter cup of water. Mix the kuzu and water into the apple juice while stirring constantly. Return the mixture to the stove and heat for a minute or so and serve. If you like, you can dress it up with a cinnamon stick.

3. Whole Grain Helper: We’ve all heard that eating whole grains is better for you. This is a great way to start incorporating them into your daily menu and introduce yourself and your family to the wide variety of types and uses for whole grains. I’m sure you aren’t new to the idea that cooking with grains can produce a thick and hearty soup or stew, such as a barley stew. Many grains can be used as thickeners including brown rice, oats, buckwheat and millet. Sometimes I use the whole grain and sometimes I use a milled or flaked version. An added plus is that when you use whole grains along with beans in a dish, you get what is known as a “complete protein.” In otherwords, a food that has all the needed requirements to provide good, useable protein to your body.

One of my favorite grains to thicken the pot with is millet. Millet is an ancient grain that comes from Africa and India. You might recognize the tiny yellow balls of millet in your favorite birdseed mix! Millet is an excellent grain for people to eat. To help you know more about millet, you can check out this information: http://chetday.com/millet.html .

One half cup of millet has approximately 378 calories, 4 grams fat, 8 grams fiber and 11 grams of protein. It has no sugars and is a decent source of iron. To demonstrate how grains can be used as a thickener, here is my recipe for hearty Navy Bean and Millet Soup:

Hearty Navy Bean and Millet Soup
Serves 6 – 8

Hearty Navy Bean and Millet Soup

• 2 cups of cooked or canned navy beans (If you use canned beans, I recommend organic ones that have been cooked with kombu seaweed. The seaweed makes the beans more digestible.)
• 1 quarter onion sliced ¼ inch thick
• 2 stalks of celery sliced
• 1 carrot cut in half moons. (Wash the carrot and slice it in half lengthwise. Then slice the halves on an angle, about ¼ inch thick.)
• 2 Tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 cup millet
• 2 cups spring water
• 2 cloves garlic
Sea salt (You can add other spices and herbs that you like. Last night I used black pepper and oregano)
• Naturally brewed soy sauce

Put the millet into a bowl and rinse with cold water, draining the water off and rinsing again. Use your hand or a sieve to keep from losing the millet when you drain the water. Put the millet in a small pot with 2 cups of water and a pinch of sea salt and bring it to a boil. Simmer the millet until it is soft, 20-25 minutes. If the water is gone and the millet needs more cooking, just add more water. You want your millet to be soft and somewhat wet.

While the millet’s cooking, begin sautéing the other vegetables in a 3-4 quart pot. Heat the olive oil and sauté the onions first. Put in a pinch of sea salt and sauté the onions until they are translucent and sweet-smelling, then add carrots and another pinch of sea salt and sauté them. Last, add the celery, another pinch of salt and sauté that. Add four cups of water, your cooked beans and any seasonings or herbs and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Blend the cooked millet until it is smooth and creamy. I like using an electric hand blender because you can blend right in the cooking pot and you’ll have less to clean up. Add the creamy millet and stir to incorporate it into the soup. If it is too thick, simply add a little bit more water. Season with a couple teaspoons of soy sauce. Voila! You have a thick, creamy protein-rich soup or stew. Serve with a garnish of parsley, sliced scallions or if you use dairy products, some grated parmesan cheese.

4. Reduction: Ooh La La! The very name “reduction sauce” sounds so haute cuisine! It is really very easy to make and can have a nearly unlimited variety of flavors. A reduction sauce is made by simmering liquids down in order to slightly thicken them and intensify their flavors. It is most often done after cooking meats by simmering the cooking juices with other things such as wine, vinegar, or cream and getting a very rich concentrated sauce. But reduction sauces are by no means limited to meat juices. You can reduce many kinds of liquids including fruit juice by simmering them in an open pan (no lid) and letting the liquid evaporate until you have the desired finished product.
Here is a recipe for Savory Mushroom Reduction Sauce:

 Savory Mushroom Reduction Sauce

• 6 medium portabella mushrooms, sliced
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 clove garlic, minced or crushed in a press
• Sea salt
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
• 1 tablespoon of barley malt syrup (or substitute a small quantity of a sweetener of your choice)
• 1/2 cup of water

Heat the olive oil up in a heavy skillet and add the garlic, quickly followed by the mushrooms and a pinch of sea salt. Sauté the mushrooms until they start to get tender. Add balsamic vinegar, water, soy sauce and syrup or sweetener and stir to combine them. Let the mushrooms and liquid simmer until the sauce has thickened to your liking and turn off the heat. Use this as a sauce for grain dishes, cooked tofu dishes or steamed or boiled vegetables. I like it on steamed fresh green beans or asparagus.  This makes about a half cup, enough for 2-3 servings.

Asparagus with Mushroom Balsamic Reduction Sauce

I think you can see that these methods and ingredients for adding texture, richness and of course thickness to your menu are healthy and nutritious. They are useful for any type of diet—omnivore, vegetarian or vegan. You don’t have to rely on heavy cream, flour and butter when you’ve got these alternatives.

Purchase items such as kuzu, agar flakes, naturally brewed soy sauce and whole grains at a natural foods store or order them online if you can’t find them locally.

I’d love to hear about your experimentation with these ingredients and methods and if you want to share your own recipes, that would be wonderful too!

NEW!!

For additional free recipes using these techniques, you are invited to join PATTY’S CLUB!  Just go to my new Patty’s Club Page http://mycookinglife.com/pattys-club/ and follow the directions.

How I fed Peepeye, Poopeye, Pupeye and Pipeye

As a child, I’m sure I was no easy ride for my mother when it came to feeding me. I heard the stories about how they tried all kinds of milk looking for one I was willing to drink. Apparently I didn’t like goat’s milk, cow’s milk or any other kind of milk.  Not sure what Mom ended up doing about that. Maybe I was just a naturally smart kid.  I am not lactose intolerant, though I don’t drink milk or milk products and haven’t for over thirty-five years.  I figured I was weaned a long time ago and didn’t need it anymore.

Popeye and his identical quadruplet nephews (P...

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I remember one or two evenings spent sitting at the dinner table by myself staring at some ice-cold food that had been served to me hours ago. I was destined to sit there until said food was consumed.  That happened once with spinach.  It was my own fault though, because I was crazy for the cartoon character, “Popeye,” and told my mother I wanted to be strong like him.  So she fed me canned spinach which had been simmered for, oh, maybe a half hour, and expected me to eat it.

Now I love all kinds of vegetables and usually prepare more than one vegetable side dish when I cook a meal.  I love so many vegetables and know so many ways to prepare them, I bet I could cook the rest of my life and not have the exact same meal twice!

The exception is beets.  I can’t stand beets.  I don’t even want to get close to a beet because I also can’t stand the smell of them.  Funny, because I love colorful food and red happens to be my favorite color!  I don’t know what it is about beets, but they are 100% exiled from my menu.  Just today, I saw a nice picture of a beet, blood orange and fennel salad on http://dailyamusebouche.com/2012/03/06/fennel-beet-and-blood-orange-salad/. So beautiful and yet, for me . . . ugh.  But maybe you love beets and so I’m generously showing you where to find a recipe (’cause you ain’t gettin’ it from me, no sir!).

I raised three children and I was thrilled about feeding them their first foods and cooking for them.  (Stopping here to chuckle over the picture of Popeye above with his nephews Peepeye, Poopeye and Pupeye.  These easily could have been nicknames for my three boys at one time or another!  I’ll leave it to them to work out who’s who. The fourth one, Pipeye, could be any one of their little friends who usually stuck around at mealtime.)

I made all their food myself right from the beginning.  Today, talking to young mothers, the idea of making all their own baby food seems overwhelmingly complicated and I don’t know too many who are willing to do it.  But I found it was very, very convenient and very, very worthwhile.

It was convenient because when I cooked for the adults, I could easily set aside a portion to prepare for the babies.  I did this because the children’s food would be simpler than ours and have much less salt than ours.  I cooked their food a little softer than ours so I could grind it up and/or they could manage to chew it with their little teeth.

Loved my “Happy Baby” baby food grinder!

Let me first say, that I am a proponent of breastfeeding.  That is surely baby’s best first food and that is what I did.  Interestingly, weaning was a pretty easy transition for my children.  As they grew and developed teeth, they naturally reached for solid foods and the breastfeeding gradually faded away by the time they were about two.  I attribute that to the fact that I did make their baby food and they had an excellent, wide range of organic whole foods in their young diets that satisfied their nutritional needs.

One exception was when one of them started eating dirt–I knew I needed to put more minerals in his diet and that put an end to the dirt diet.  Another was when one of them started developing slightly bowed legs.  This is not necessarily unusual in a toddler and you can observe that a young baby’s legs are definitely bowed before they start walking.  I immediately increased the variety of his foods and the condition was soon gone.  Food variety is extremely important for growing bodies!

As the children got older, my philosophy was to offer as wide a variety of foods as I could for them to try.   And they had so much energy!  [Comment received from one of them with the suggested blog topic:  “How to deal with three boys running around in circles between the living room, dining room and kitchen during meals slapping their stomachs”]

I also did a lot of decorative cutting (carrot flowers, radish roses, broccoli trees) and entertaining presentations (we’ve all seen smiley faces made of pancakes or eggs or whathaveyou).  Today, my grown children still enjoy a wide variety of vegetables and know many ways to prepare them.

It turned out that all three are really good cooks!  As a mom, I’m happy about that because anyone should know how to make an appealing, basic meal for themselves and hopefully know how to do it in such a way that they don’t get a serious nutritional deficiency.

I asked my son Dan how he learned so much about cooking.  He said, “Mom, you used to carry me on your back all the time while you were cooking so I saw how you did it!”  Yes, I did carry each of them on my back in one of those baby backpacks–especially when I was cooking.  I had no idea they were taking any of it in.

There’s quite a bit more to know about making baby food and how and when to introduce foods to your baby.  Here is how you can get started once your baby is ready to consume more than just breastmilk.

The first food for most babies is in the cereal category.  I recommend organically grown whole grains only. Start by making a whole grain milk that is just the consistency of your own breastmilk.  As the baby gets older and starts developing teeth, you can increase the thickness and increase the cooked grain solids.  This is the recipe I used:

Grain Milk

  • 4 parts organically grown short-grain brown rice
  • 3 parts organically grown sweet brown rice
  • 1 part organically grown barley
  • 1-inch piece of kombu seaweed*
  • Spring or filtered water
  • Brown rice syrup or barley malt**

Wash and soak the grains overnight in filtered or spring water.  Pressure cook the soaked grains with a 1-inch piece of kombu seaweed and five times more water (you may use the soaking water to cook the grains).  Bring the cereal up to pressure and cook for one and a half hours.  Remove the kombu.

For only liquid milk, strain the mixture in cheesecloth.  For cereal, include a little of the ground or mashed solids—more as the baby is older and can eat more solid food.  Sweeten the grain milk with rice syrup or barley malt to the approximate sweetness of breastmilk.  And if you aren’t sure what that would be, try a half teaspoon for each cup.

 *Kombu is a sea vegetable containing many minerals and trace minerals.  While I do not recommend giving young babies any salt in their food, a piece of this kombu is desirable for making the grain milk highly digestible and for providing minerals in an organic, plant-based form.

**Brown Rice Syrup or Barley Malt  are whole-grain sweeteners that are complex carbohydrates, not simple sugar.  In other words, they burn slowly and provide a steady source of fuel to the body.

You may have heard that Rice Syrup has gotten a very bad rap recently due to a study by researchers at Dartmouth College who have linked the presence of arsenic in certain organic products.  It is our responsibility to do our “due diligence” in monitoring the quality of the foods we eat–even those that come from the local health food store.  I also know that there has been a long-running attack against organic foods, vitamins and certain other healthful products that is nothing more than rumor-mongering by merchants of chaos.  In other words, I think you have to look behind the curtain and see who is backing (funding) such research and get all the data on it before deciding whether your information is valid or not.  You see vested interests in the pharmaceutical industry and in drug research all the time and it is present in food research as well.

Here is an excellent analysis of the recent organic food/arsenic “scare” by someone I respect.  http://www.christinacooks.com/_blog/Living_the_WELL_Life/post/Brown_Rice_Syrup_and_ArsenicThe_Truth_I_Discovered_-_by_Christina_Pirello/

Take a look and read all the way through it.  Do more homework if needed. Any mom would want to be sure.  My own conclusion is that a high-quality organic brown rice syrup from a reputable company is not only fine for consumption, but it wins hands-down compared with refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and any artificial sweeteners.

Here’s to happy, well-fed babies!  (And out of my deep respect and love for my children I am resisting the temptation to post photos of anyone eating dirt, falling asleep in their plate of food or running around slapping their stomach which might be considered embarrassing!)