Summer Dinner Salads

Let’s say you want to eat well—nutritionally speaking—and you are willing to put in some quality time in the kitchen. (That’s Great!!!!)  But you don’t feel you have enough time or know-how to make fresh, new, organic, whole-food meals every day.  To top it off, summer’s coming and the kids will be out of school and you have a gazillion things you also would like to do.

One way to handle that without feeling like you have to slave away in the kitchen in the heat of summer is to plan and make all-in-one-meals.  That’s not a new idea, of course.  But let’s make it into a new idea by creating some wonderful whole grain salad meals.  These will have your whole grains, protein and vegetables all in one dish.

Harvested Quinoa Seeds

Have you ever tried quinoa?  I was first introduced to it about 30 years ago and at that time I had never heard of it.  All of a sudden it appeared on the shelves and bulk bins of the natural food stores along with quinoa flour, bread and pastas.  I took a close look at some that was cooked for me and was fascinated by the fact that each cooked grain of quinoa looked like a little planet with a ring around it–like Saturn.  Far out!

Quinoa is referred to as an ancient grain.  Technically it is a seed but is considered a grain as far as its qualities and uses.  Quinoa was a staple food for thousands of years in the Andes region of South America as one of just a few crops the ancient Incas cultivated at such high altitude.  I suppose that’s why I’m attracted to eating it here in Albuquerque which is more than 5,000 feet above sea level.

[From Wikipedia:  The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to quinoa as chisaya mama or ‘mother of all grains’, and it was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using ‘golden implements’. During the European conquest of South America, the Spanish colonists scorned quinoa as ‘food for Indians’, and even actively suppressed its cultivation, due to its status within indigenous non-Christian ceremonies. In fact, the Conquistadores forbade quinoa cultivation for a time and the Incas were forced to grow wheat instead.]

Quinoa Salad - An all-in-one meal!

2013 has been declared UN International Year of Quinoa and I’m all for it!  Here is a recipe I recently developed for a summer dinner salad using quinoa.

Quinoa Salad

Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ tsp finely minced fresh turmeric root
  • 2 tbls currants
  • 1 two-finger pinch of sea salt
  • ½ cup diced red pepper
  • ½ cup diced celery
  • 1  cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1  cup black beans (cooked)  [For this I used Eden canned black beans.  I like this brand because they have cooked the beans with kombu seaweed.  The kombu provides minerals which balance the fat and protein in the beans and reduces the (ahem) “tooting.”
  • ¼ cup brown rice vinegar
  • 3 Tbls oil of your choice.  I used toasted pumpkin seed oil but you could also you toasted sesame seed oil or olive oil.
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbls barley malt
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • ½ cup chopped roasted almonds
  • thinly sliced scallion garnish

Wash the quinoa by placing it in a bowl and filling the bowl with cold water.  Make sure the water has mixed with the quinoa by gently stirring and then pour off the excess water.  Use a strainer to catch the small quinoa seeds so they don’t get wasted.  Repeat the washing process.

Bring the cup of quinoa and 2 cups of springwater plus a two-finger pinch of sea salt to a boil.  Add the currants and the tumeric.  Simmer or lightly boil for 10 to 15 minutes.  If you live at a higher altitude like I do, you may have to simmer the quinoa a bit longer.

While the quinoa is boiling, finely dice the peppers, celery and parsley.

When the quinoa is done cooking (it is tender and there is no more water in the pan) then turn it out onto a plate to cool.  When the quinoa is cool, mix in the red peppers, celery and parsley.  Add the cooked black beans.

Combine oil, vinegar, cinnamon, sea salt and barely malt.  Adjust to your preferred taste.  Pour the dressing over the quinoa mixture and mix it through.  Add the roasted chopped almond slivers*.  Garnish with thinly sliced scallions.

* I roast almonds by taking organic raw almonds and rinsing them off in cold water and draining them.  I spread them onto a baking pan and put that into the oven at 350 degrees until they start smelling aromatic and roasted and then take them out.  Let the roasted almonds cool off a bit before chopping them up.


Whole grain dinner salads can be made with infinite combinations of grains, vegetables, beans and other garnishes.  I suggest using recipes until you get the hang of it and  then just go for it!  No limitations.

Got Sugar?

Macro photograph of a pile of sugar (saccharose)

Macro photograph of a pile of sugar (saccharose) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My oh my!  This sugar topic is certainly a hot one!  I have gotten more responses, “likes,” and comments about my sugar posts than anything else I’ve done. Thanks to all for stopping by to read these and taking the time to comment.

And I plan to stir the pot further about sugar right now.

Since I’ve been writing about the evils of sugar, I was curious to see how many items in my natural food store had sugar in them that I would not have suspected.  I don’t know the exact number as there are so many, but here are some that are pretty obvious and some that are not so obvious. [When I say “obvious,” I mean that you probably already know or heard that it’s got sugar in it.]

Obvious:  Most fruit-flavored yogurts and vanilla yogurt have sugar in them.

Not-so-obvious:  “Made from real almonds non-dairy frozen dessert [I almost bought this today until I decided to check the ingredients.  Probably it was wishful thinking!]

Obvious:  Chocolate or vanilla soy milk.

Not-so-obvious:  Original, organic, plain soy milk found in cartons in the refrigerated section of the store.  This one truly surprised me.

Obvious:  Ketchup and cocktail sauce.

Not-so-obvious:  Organic low-fat mayonnaise.

Obvious:  Canned soups.

Not-so-obvious:  Most brands of organic and/or kosher chicken broth, beef broth and vegetable broth in the aseptic boxes list cane juice.

Not-so-obvious-and-just-plain sinful:  Organic miso soup in an aseptic box.  I was offended!

Kudos to IMAGINE FOODS brand of soup broths.  They do NOT have sugar!

Obvious:  Most barbecue sauces.

Not-so-obvious:  Organic lemon herb rub (for fish) with thyme. And sugar.

Obvious:  Many breads and flour products.

Not-so-obvious:  Organic, whole wheat panko bread crumbs.

Not obvious but for a different reason:  Salad dressings.  Some of the natural and/or organic brands have sugar in them and some don’t.  It’s about 50/50 so just check the labels because it’s a TOSS UP!  (Okay, okay. Bad pun.)

All I can really say is read every label no matter what store you are in.  I asked an employee at my natural food store what items had sugar in them that surprised her and she said, “Nothing surprises me here.  This isn’t a health food store.  Have you seen the bakery department?”

We can gripe about the natural food stores and what they decide to sell or not sell all we want.  They are there to make a profit and they have so much shelf space to designate for a product line.  What makes the most difference is what we decide to purchase.  They provide what we will purchase.  It’s as simple as that.

You can find some alternative suggestions below and I’m going to add one more treat to this list–it’s something I just discovered.  Suzanne’s Specialties Brown Rice Syrup products “Just Like Honey” and  “Ricemellow Creme” for a special treat.

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.

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 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.

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!)

Conveniently Impractical

Compared to some people, I just don’t keep up with high-tech gadgetry.  I do have an Android phone (but don’t know how to use most of the features yet – to me it’s a phone) and this past Christmas I got my first iPod which I do enjoy.  (Before that I was listening to music on a big boom box CD player that I’ve had for twenty years and I have to be in my kitchen to do so.)  I’ve barely managed to learn how to use my new toys with the help of my husband and advice from Joe, my “technology life coach.” (I keep telling him he could have a career being a technology life coach and charging people like me for his consultations!)

As for high-tech on the Internet, I’m certainly not against it.  I enjoy having multiple channels to rapidly communicate on.  After all, I’m blogging aren’t I?  But if I want to know how my friends and family are doing, I like visiting them.  And I still write real letters and mail them.  I refuse to use that snide term, “snail mail.”  Most people would love to get something in the mail besides bills and advertisements!  There is nothing like a handwritten letter or card.  (Please write to me if you know my address–a personal letter amongst those bills is so refreshing!)

My best friend from college, Martha, persistently begged me to get onto Facebook and finally I did.  I found out that even though there were “posts” to read nearly every day, this was by no means a way to truly catch up with her and her life except for photos when they’re posted.  It is too contrived or something.  And too public. So I traveled to Virginia to see her and then started writing her real letters.  So much better and much more personal and satisfying.

In my cooking life, I’m also not high-tech when it comes to kitchen gadgets and for much the same reasons, I think. Over the years I have seen new and improved kitchen and cooking gadgets come and go without even a thought of buying them.  Not that they’re all bad–I do have a few favorites–but really my basic cooking tools do the job and for the most part I don’t need choppers, grinders, processors, slicers, dicers, “bullets,” electric grills, yoghurt makers, or a Darth Vader bread-imprinting toaster.  I don’t even want or need a microwave.

Yes.  I said NO m i c r o w a v e  ovens for me!  (In my opinion, they aren’t “high” tech — they’re OUT tech!)

Give me a good knife, a cutting board, some cast iron and stainless steel pots, a gas stove and I’m good to go!  I do love a high-quality sharp knife which is a must for cooking.  Cheap or dull knives in the kitchen are dangerous and you will never get a consistent, aesthetic product with them.  My current favorite knife is the Shun Elite and I have a big vegetable knife and a smaller paring knife.  This is practical and convenient.

No fuss, no muss julienne carrots

Me and my knives can take on any chopper-slicer-dicer thingy.  I can julienne carrots like nobody’s business, cut dozens of paper-thin cucumber slices or dice an onion faster than you can load your slice-a-matic.  Cole slaw?  No problem.  And my clean up is a wash off of a knife and a few swipes of the cutting board–nothing to disassemble, get into the corners and crevices to clean, dry all the parts and put back together.  Who wants that mess?!!

If you learn to use your basic kitchen tools right, you will find they are the quickest and most convenient way to get a great meal prepared.  It is also the way to get the most aesthetic and delicious meal.  You can’t exactly imbue a lot of “life” into food when you’ve trapped it into a set of electric-powered blades and mowed it down to size or scrambled its molecules all to pieces in the nuker.  Using a good knife and hand-cutting vegetables is an art which allows you to implement your intentions and creativity in a way that really communicates in your finished dish.

Not that my cupboards are completely devoid of any type of kitchen gadget.  I do have a few favorites that amuse and entertain me and work well enough that I’m willing to pay the price of having to disassemble and clean them:

1.  My mother’s food mill.  This is by far the best kitchen gadget for mashing things.

Easy squeasy

2. A plastic lemon juicer that came free with coupons and purchase of a popular salad dressing mix.  A former roommate got it and I inherited it.  You can’t beat this thing for getting a lot of fresh, seed-free lemon juice fast.

3. The Garlic Pro E-Zee-Dice.  Mostly I use my knife and regular garlic press to prepare garlic.  But this thing dices so much garlic so fast it is amazing!  I use it because it works oh so well and I LOVE garlic.

None of these things are electric but all of them are time-consuming to clean after use. For the most part, gimme my good knife and big ol’ cutting board.  That’s my idea of high-tech in the kitchen.  That’s how I roll.

Got garlic?

So where do you stand on the whole kitchen gadget situation?

And do you ever write letters?