Get Back on the Rails with Three Easy Tips

This holiday season I managed to NOT GAIN any weight from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Quite a good accomplishment I would say! And, it is a first! Yes, I indulged and enjoyed treats and special meals but I just didn’t make every moment of every day in December be an excuse to stuff my face with foods I normally don’t eat. In fact, I think this is the first year in a long time that I remained unstuffed and mostly uncompromised during the celebrations. (Patting myself on the back.)

Even so, I certainly did make and eat more than my share of  holiday indulgences. Did you?  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

“Time to clean up my act!”

What with the cookies, pies, stuffing stuffed in squashes, potatoes, and numerous other carb-loaded meals that seems like it would be the first place to cut back, doesn’t it?

Well . . . yes and no.

This is the traditional post-holiday season for joining weight-loss programs, making fitness resolutions and promising beneficial dietary changes. But that doesn’t mean we should go to the other extreme and attempt to cut out entire major food groups or set impossible and un-maintainable goals for ourselves.

Our bodies work on a basis of homeostasis. (I’m a poet and don’t know it,) The body likes to maintain the status quo. So if you want to make changes, you’ve got to train your body to be able to adjust the way you want it to.

Three easy tips to get back on the rails

1. Whole Grains.  My best advice after all those flour products and simple carbohydrates is NOT TO ELIMINATE CARBS!   Instead, consistently use whole grains and just cut out or cut back on the refined and processed grains.

Whole grains means the entire grain, unbroken and un-made-into-flour, not cracked, not rolled, not processed into any other format than just a grain. Included are things like brown rice, millet, quinoa (really a seed, but that’s okay), barley, buckwheat, wheat berries, whole oats—you get the idea.

HATO MUGI SPRING STEW

 

Pearl Barley with Black Beans and Carrots

Not included would be any breads, pastries, pastas, pizza dough, baked goods etc that are made with refined grains such as white flour. Check it out! “Rye bread” ingredients might say there’s rye flour but also it could say “wheat flour.,” That doesn’t mean whole wheat and probably means white wheat which has already been stripped down before it is even made into flour.  I think most of you know what the difference is between whole unrefined grains and the other stuff.

For the most part—at least for a while—I recommend avoiding or greatly reducing bread, cereal and flour products made from whole grains that were nonetheless cracked or floured, pasta, noodles. Also potatoes.

Some other foods that can help satisfy a craving for refined carbs are beans and squashes.

2. No sugar.   No sugar including honey, definitely no agave syrup (it is like high fructose corn syrup in how it affects your body), brown sugar, molasses, cane-anything and any products that contain these. But does that mean going from Sweets City to desolation? Absolutely not! You can get your whole grains and satisfy your sweet tooth by using whole grain sweeteners such as brown rice syrup and barely malt. These are complex carbohydrates and can be eaten in moderation without throwing your body off. See what I recommended in my top ten Christmas gift for cooks list.

FRESH COLLARDS

 

Collard Greens

3. Eat those veggies!   We all know we should eat veggies, but how much do we really need? I would say as much as you can manage but no less than 40-50% of your food volume. At least while you’re cleaning up your act. And every day this should include dark leafy greens like kale, collards, turnip greens, broccoli rabe, etc.

BEAUTIFUL WARM BRUSSELS SPROT SALAD

 

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad

Even if you get some of your veggies in a smoothie, that is better than nothing.

 

This is by no means a complete rundown on what to eat to be healthy. There is so much more and so many great books and advices that you can read and follow.

These are, however, my top three tips on getting back into balance after a month-long holiday season of indulgences. This is what I’m doing and I’ll let you know how it goes.,

I’d love to hear what you are doing and how it is working for you!

 

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This New Year is All Ours

I live one of those crowded, impromptu lives. It has many more things jammed into it than one imagines would fit into the small space of twenty-four hours a day. Lucky for me, time is only a consideration—not a steadfast rule.

Last year, in late 2013, I was entertaining the idea that I probably had too many pursuits, too many “hobbies,” too many unfinished projects.  But like the flu that descends upon us in an unkind surprise visit, that idea quickly wore out its welcome with me.

This was the oddest holiday season I can remember. Usually before Thanksgiving has even arrived I’m onto decorations, gifts, seasonal holiday dishes, special blog posts, and striving to make the most of one of my favorite times of the year. Not this time. One advent calendar went up in November and we fed on salted caramels for twenty-five days in December. Snow began falling on my blog (Love that!). A few gifts eventually got wrapped and exchanged. I wore my Christmas scarf at the Christmas party at work. It is bright red and says, “But Santa . . . I can explain!”

No Christmas recipes got posted. No December Chocolate Mousse. (It was going to be a Black Forest Cherry Chocolate Mousse Cake. I might resurrect this idea for Valentine’s Day.)

My Christmas dinner consisted of Lentil Soup, Roasted Vegetables and Salad. It was absolutely delicious but not fodder for a Christmas Eve cooking blog post. No.

A post title got written:  “Keeping Christmas.” But only the title. I’ll save it for next year.

I traveled to see family Christmas week but the main celebration was meeting my new daughter-in-law to be and celebrating my son’s engagement to her. That was wonderful and personal and better than any Christmas celebration.

I do like the idea of a “New Year!”  2014 promises to be the absolute best ever for me, my family and my friends. I’m certain of that! And I am happily carrying on the theme of this recent holiday season – take it as it comes, create it as I go. No resolutions, no pressure.

Thank you for reading my posts and for all your comments and acknowledgements! I am itching to return to my kitchen and pull out my camera and share my cooking life with you.

All the warmth and pleasure of loving friends and family to you in this New Year. And may you dream the best dreams and realize them in life. Whether your days fly by in a blur or meander along at an endless stretch, they are all yours to enjoy as you wish if you make it so.

Bringing the Family Home

When I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, Hoppin’ John was a very popular dish for New Year’s Day. Every year there would be a big Food section article about it in the Journal-Constitution.  I started making it not because I was a “Southern Girl” (I wasn’t) but because I loved making and serving beans and rice and wanted to try it.

Hoppin’ John is traditionally made from black-eyed peas and rice and is an extremely simple dish.  So why do people make it?  Is it because they drank so much champagne the night before on New Year’s Eve and need something plain to settle down with?  That seems sensible and valid. My own New Year’s Eve Garlic Habit is one reason I enjoy simple, uncomplicated Hoppin’ John the next day.  Just check out the roasted garlic post and you’ll see why!

Popular lore about Hoppin’ John varies but basically says serving this simple dish with collard greens and cornbread will bring prosperity in the new year. Dozens of websites repeat the story that the black-eyed peas represent coins and the collards are green like money, yada yada, yada.

I like the more historic explanation given last year in the Washington Post: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-12-27/lifestyle/35288087_1_black-eyed-peas-hoppin-slave-trade.

My own take on why Hoppin’ John is a New Year’s tradition is sort of coming together as I write. Yes, there is the fact that I eat a LOT of garlic for New Year’s Eve and the plainer fare of Hoppin’ John is a welcome simplicity after all that.

But I have also been waxing nostalgic during the holidays about the fact that Christmas is an international holiday–not just an American one like Thanksgiving or 4th of July.  People all over this planet celebrate it with special foods.  Recipes abound.  And, there are people who celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and other traditions each with their own culinary practices.

As a person who loves to cook, that concept really struck me this year .  All over the world special dishes have been cooked to celebrate the season.  People just like me who may speak another language, hold other beliefs than mine, but who love their families, their people and their faiths have expressed their devotion and desire to honor their traditions by cooking familiar and beloved special recipes.

This is the kind of food that brings family and friends home. Clumsy as I am writing about it, this is a beautiful thing that really moves me.

In the United States of America, Hoppin’ John seems like the ultimate comfort-homecoming-we-are-survivors food.  People make it for all kinds of reasons.

I just know that I like this dish and when I make it on New Year’s Day I am in the good company of the American South and all those who wish to express their hopes and postulates that we will all flourish and prosper in the New Year by preparing and serving this simple traditional food. Not only that, I am joining in the cultivation and continuation of culture and tradition–keeping those alive in my own kitchen as others do in theirs.

I’m headed into my kitchen now to start soaking my black-eyed peas.

Wishing you and yours a Happy New Year and may you indeed flourish and prosper in 2013!

HOPPIN’ JOHN

Serves 4-6

  • 2 cups dried black-eyed peas soaked in spring water for several hours or overnight
  • 3-inch piece of kombu seaweed
  • 4-6 more cups of spring water for cooking the beans
  • 1/2 cup of diced onions
  • 1/2 cup of diced carrots
  • 1/2 cup of diced celery
  • hair of the dog – um, I mean a little of that garlic!
  • 1 bay leaf
  • sea salt
  • soy sauce
  • olive oil
  • scallions sliced thin or flat-leaf Italian parsley roughly chopped or sprig of rosemary
  • Cooked rice of your choice

There are many variations for these black-eyed peas including adding some ham or pork.  I prefer this extremely simple vegetarian-style.  Kombu is a sea vegetable and is certainly not traditional to this dish.  I both soak and cook beans with kombu because the minerals help balance the fat and protein in the beans and make them easier to digest.  Nothing southern about soy sauce either but it’s what I use!

I recommend using organic beans and vegetables.  Organic and whole grain rice, too. This year I’m preparing aromatic, long-grain basmati brown rice.

Soak the black-eyed peas in spring water with a 3-inch piece of kombu.

Soak the black-eyed peas in spring water with a 3-inch piece of kombu.

Sort through the beans first to take out any stones or unwanted bits and rinse the beans in cold water a couple times.  Soak the beans in the kombu and enough water to cover them.  Get a heavy large pot and put the kombu in the bottom and layer the soaked beans on top. Cover the beans with fresh spring water.  Bring the beans to a boil then lower the heat so they simmer gently with the lid on.  Don’t add any salt yet. Adding salt at this point would make the beans stay hard.

Don’t stir the beans–just let them cook as they are.  Add cold water as needed to keep the beans covered.  The cold water will drive the heat into the beans so they cook on the inside without getting too mushy on the outside. The time these beans take to cook will vary depending on several factors but let’s estimate about an hour.

When the beans are 3/4 soft, you can add some sea salt and stir the beans.  Now the sea salt will help the beans finish cooking and will help them have a good flavor. Layer your onions, celery and carrots on top of the beans and a bit of sea salt on each layer of those.  Add some garlic and remove the bay leaf.

Cover again and let the beans and vegetables finish cooking.  The water should be just about cooked away at this point.  When the beans are done, season with some soy sauce and simmer just a few more minutes.

Serve your black-eyed peas over some rice and garnish with your favorite sprig such as parsley or scallion or rosemary.  I like a drizzle of olive oil on top. Don’t forget some collard greens and corn bread!  I will probably steam my collards and season them with salt and some slivers of preserved lemon rinds.  I’ll likely use a mix for my cornbread and add fresh non-GMO corn kernels to the batter.

There are endless variations such as using other hearty vegetables like fennel, parsnip, rutabaga or winter squash.  You can add protein into this dish.  You can add whatever herbs you love.  You can make it Cajun or Mediterranean with spices. Mainly I just want you to know how to handle these beans. Use this cooking method for any type of dried bean.

Roasted Garlic Trio

I’d like to share my family’s New Year’s Eve tradition with you.  It’s not an old tradition for us because I’m the one that started it. (And I am not old, I swear!) But it seems to have taken hold in our family circle and I certainly plan to continue making and eating it.

What can I say?  I make no excuses.  Some people jump into icy water with their Polar Bear Club every New Year’s Day–I eat garlic.

ROASTED GARLIC WITH BLACK OLIVE PASTE CANAPES (Serves 4-6)

  • Three whole bulbs of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Black olive paste or black olive tapenade (found in gourmet and specialty stores)
  • Crackers–your choice

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the top off the garlic and drizzle olive oil into the inside of the bulb.

Cut the top off the garlic and drizzle olive oil into the inside of the bulb. (Photo credit: Patty Allread)

Find well-shaped, full bulbs of garlic, and wipe the outside clean with a damp cloth.  You can remove any loose outer skin but we aren’t going to peel the garlic.  Make a horizontal cut across the top of the bulb so the tip of each clove is trimmed off 1/4 to 1/2 inch.  Place the garlic bulb root end down in a baking dish.  If they don’t stand up well, try using a muffin pan or individual ramekins.  The trimmed end will be face up.  Drizzle olive oil into the bulbs of garlic, getting the oil into the crevices of each clove – about 2 teaspoons per bulb of garlic.  Cover the bulbs tightly with aluminum foil and roast them for 40-60 or more minutes.  Start checking it after 45 minutes or so. Cooking time depends on the size of the garlic.

These bulbs were very “tight” so about half-way through the cooking when they had loosened up, I drizzled a little more olive oil into them.  They took one hour to finish cooking.

The cloves will be very soft when they are done.  Stick a fork or chopstick in it to test.  They are so soft, you can squeeze the roasted garlic paste right out clove by clove.  When the garlic is done roasting, let it cool off enough to handle without getting burnt fingers.

Spread some black olive paste on a cracker and squeeze a garlic clove onto it.  Voila!  This is a delicious treat and goes well with beer or champagne. (I will serve this with my favorite sparkling mocktail)  You could prepare the garlic ahead of time and assemble all the crackers with the toppings just before your guests arrive.  We just sit around the table, each with a bulb of roasted garlic and do it ourselves while we wait for the Times Square Ball to drop.

Midnight Snack (Photo credit:  Patty Allread)

Midnight Snack (Photo credit: Patty Allread)

Roasted garlic is quite sweet and nutty and rich.  This is very different from raw garlic that is minced or chopped because the more you chop or cut garlic, the more allicin is released. Allicin is what gives you bad garlic breath and when you cook the garlic cloves whole, there is much less allicin.

But I must say, if you eat enough of it (such as a whole bulb in one sitting) you may exude garlicky aroma from every pore of your body for a day or two. Remember–the best defense against having a garlicky odor is, after all, for everyone else to have it too! So invite (your friends, your neighbors, your boss, your customers, your spouse, your date, your Aunt Bessie) to join you!

The simple combination of roasted garlic and black olive paste on a cracker is absolutely divine.  You should try it! If you do object to smelling like a South Philly Neighborhood Italian Bistro, eat some parsley to help counteract the garlic. (Honestly, it would take a lot of parsley.)

If the idea of noshing on garlic cloves does not appeal to you at all, there are lots of other ways to use the roasted garlic such as roasting it and extracting the soft cloves to be added to mashed potatoes or to make a unique version of garlic bread or roasted garlic soup. (Now there’s an idea!)

ROASTED GARLIC SOUP (Serves 4)

  • 1 large onion, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 3-inch piece of dried kombu seaweed, wiped clean
  • 6 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 quarts of spring water
  • 1 head of escarole, cleaned and chopped into approx 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup of roasted red peppers, packed in water or homemade
  • 1 bulb of roasted garlic, extract each clove
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • traditionally brewed soy sauce if desired
  • parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon of olive oil

Broth:  I prefer to make my own vegetarian broth for this soup but you can use any broth you like.  I think many people would choose a chicken broth or broth made from their leftover turkey carcass.

For vegetable broth there are two ways to go–1) use the cooking water from whatever veggies you have steamed or boiled or 2) intentionally create a broth.  Mine is usually a combination depending on the flavor of the vegetable cooking water I have.

Today I had some boiled cauliflower and to that boiling stock I added a large sliced onion, several chopped stalks of celery and a three-inch piece of dried kombu seaweed.  I avoided anything that would color or darken the water too much such as carrots or winter squash because I want a clear(ish) broth. I also avoided any vegetable with a very strong character of its own, such as asparagus, because of how it would influence the taste of the stock.

I simmered the onions, celery and kombu for about a half hour and strained out the vegetables and seaweed.  The kombu, by the way, adds a great deal of minerals and flavor to the broth. The strained veggies and kombu can be used as a base for another soup or just the veggies–perhaps pureed–as a base for a sauce.

Note we are starting off with two quarts of spring water.  By the time you have made your broth and your soup you will have a little more than a quart left.  To get a deep enough flavor for this soup, do not add more water unless it becomes absolutely necessary.

Assemble the soup

Chop the red peppers into bite-size pieces.  Saute the escarole in olive oil and a pinch of salt until wilted.  Add the red peppers and saute a minute or two.  Add these to the soup stock.

Take the flat of your knife blade and crush each clove of roasted garlic.  You don’t have to do more than just crush each clove open.  Add the garlic to the soup.  Salt and pepper to taste and/or add a bit of soy sauce.  I usually don’t complicate the flavors further by adding herbs or spices to this soup, but you should feel free to experiment. (And let us all know if you find something you liked!) I could be convinced to add a little basil.

Simmer the soup a few minutes to let the flavors get to know each other.  Another good way to do this is to turn the heat off and just let the soup rest with the lid on, then gently reheat.

Serve with a garnish of parsley and maybe a chunk of crusty bread.  If you like to use cheese, try a sprinkle of parmesan.  There is nothing more warming on a cold winter’s eve than roasted garlic soup.  I will probably pair this with traditional Hoppin’ John, Collard Greens and some cornbread for New Year’s Day.

To finish off this Garlic Fest, here is something I created while writing this post.  That’s right! Many times when I cook I create blogs and when I blog, I create recipes.  The final recipe is for salad dressing.  I would use this on a green salad, on a warm wilted salad such as wilted spinach and mushrooms, or you can take leftover steamed or roasted veggies and dress them as a chilled salad.

ROASTED GARLIC DRESSING

  • 3 or more cloves of roasted garlic
  • oil of choice (I’m thinking avocado or extra-virgin olive oil)
  • fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • a touch of apple cider vinegar to brighten things up
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • celery seeds (just a pinch)

To start, you want 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar/lemon juice.  Volume depends on how much you want to make and as you may know if you’ve read my recipes before, I don’t measure, I “eyeball” it. Thoroughly crush your roasted garlic into the mixture and add the seasonings.  Whisk these together until they are emulsified*. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

This is a hearty enough dressing to use on a main course salad.  If you’d like to make it the centerpiece of the meal, try the wilted spinach and mushrooms mixed with cooked shell pasta and either cooked tempeh, soy-based sausage or (if you eat meat) cooked Italian sausage.  Top with toasted pine nuts.

* Emulsified:  When two liquids that would normally separate (like oil and vinegar) are mixed together in such a way that they don’t separate.  Some emulsions like this vinaigrette are temporary and some, like mayonnaise, are permanently mixed.

Here’s an additional blog post on garlic that I thought was excellent by fellow good blogger, Jovina.