Garden lunch

I love New England in the fall!  I love New England in the fall!

Fried eggplantAlong with the crisp air, turning leaves & hot apple cider, much of the loveliness is the gardens.  Mine has been painfully neglected this year, yet due to soil that a DC friend referred to as “black gold,” our garden keeps on giving.  Tomato plants sprouted up from compost after my zucchini died in a summer heat wave.  My basil just gives and gives and gives.  And my eggplants- oh, my beautiful eggplants!  They showed little sign of growth this summer, but in mid-August we noticed some buds, which eventually became large, gorgeous fruits and lots of them.   My roots being what they are, there was only one thing to do with the beauty that my son picked today after school:  fried eggplant.  He also grabbed a tomato, a pepper, and some basil; we’re clearly trying to train him right.

“But I thought frying is bad”, you might be thinking.   But like so many, many things in life- it depends.   Fried food in restaurants are most often fried in vegetable oil, which is rancid and usually very old.  Vegetable oil is also linked to a wide range of diseases.    I’ve known some places to fry in olive oil, but that just gets you a big vat of carcinogens since olive oil is very unstable and oxidizes at high heats.

 
So, what did I fry my eggplant in?  Lard.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Lard from happy pigs that lived on a real, sustainable farm in Vermont.  Animal fats from healthy animals (not CAFO animals) is an excellent source of essential vitamins & minerals, including much sought-after Vitamin D.  Lard is also an extremely stable fat that does well with frying.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 beautiful eggplant
  • a bowl with flour, salt, pepper & parsley to taste.  I used this sprouted flour.  You can also add grated cheese to the flour mixture.
  • 1 bowl with two eggs, beaten.  Add salt & pepper to taste
  • a tablespoon of lard before every batch goes into the pan
  • cast-iron saute pan

Slice the eggplant.  Then take a slice and cover both sides in flour mixture.  Next, dip into the egg so that the whole slice is covered.  Put the slice into a hot saute pan with lard and fry on each side until done, roughly 5 minutes each side.  Repeat with every slice.  Do keep an eye on them to ensure they don’t burn.  Remove from pan and put onto paper towel to drain.  Serve with basil, tomato, fried peppers, mozzarella cheese, or even put on a sandwich.  To turn this into eggplant parmigiana, simply add a tomato sauce & mozzarella cheese.

Real food from my real garden. Yum.

 

Why I Still Eat Cannoli

I do, only occasionally.  Here’s why:

Food is one of the largest parts of our life, something we need to be consuming several times every day.  While nutritional value is incredibly important, it is not the whole meal.

I grew up in the blessed world of family meals.  One set of my grandparents lived with us growing up, and there was often a friend or relative visiting who joined us.  If someone was going to be late and regardless of who was around, my mom would keep everything warm on the stove and try to keep the kids from snacking too much.   Whenever the latecomer arrived, we sat and all ate together.

We usually started with only a few simple “buon appetito”’s.   Friends often asked about something they liked that their parents didn’t make, or us kids were asked about school or sports.  I imagine the adults spoke of more serious matters, but I have no recollection of those or nearly any conversations.  Rather, what remains is the memory and the feeling of sharing a meal, day-in day-out, with my family.  The daily coming together.

We certainly weren’t the Brady Bunch with deep conversations, and fine-tuned conflict-resolution skills; rather we had our fair share of dysfunction along side the home-cooked meals my mother and grandmother made.  Somehow, the discussions, arguments, grumpy kids or adults, nagging to eat or “just try” something was something I looked forward to.  During the busy years of after school activities, it was sometimes leftovers or “pizza Friday’s”.   But there was always a homemade salad to accompany the meal, and we always sat down together.

On the extra special days, my grandparents would have made a trip into NYC to Arthur Avenue, where the Italian-Americans go to forget they’ve left the motherland.  From there, amazing things would come back: loaves of bread with a taste only found there, sfogliatelle, millefoglie, cannoli.  The day-of is always the best with Italian desserts, so after dinner we’d all sit down and eat too many.  The next day, I’d toast sfogliatelle for breakfast & eat them with my grandmother, one of our favorite things and almost as good as the night before.

So when friends come to town and we find ourselves in the North End of Boston, we buy fresh, homemade cannoli & milefoglie and head to a park.  Bad jokes quoting The Godfather sneak out of everyone’s mouth as we dine.  The kids are silent as they sit on benches and gobble away.  And everyone nods in the shared goodness of fantastic treats and old friends.  Secretly, I am transported back in time.

I imagine my children’s food memories will be full of rich bone-broth soups, bread thick with cultured butter, raw milk & homemade ice cream.  But I do hope I’m able to teach them that good food comes from family, friends and laughter also, not only farms and gardens.

Into every life, a little cannoli must fall.

She should sell this stuff

Cereal: one of the hardest things to give up when making the change to a real food way of life.  I won’t get into it now, but lets just say that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize many of the “breakfast cereals” on shelves nowadays as food, many of which really look more like toys than food.  You know who you arIMG_0764e, Lucky Charms!

My family is now used to an eggs-for-breakfast way of life, with the occasional soaked-flour-pancake-morning mixed in, and we all are happy.  Yet when we go to grandparents houses or visit other friends/family, my kids gobble down bowls of cheerios like they had never before eaten.  How is it possible, when they’ve had only a handful of interactions with such things that they’re so enchanted?  Maybe its the cold milk combined with the crunch & slurp.  Maybe its the sugar.  Whatever it is, they gobble while I turn my head and mentally vow to get some liver in them when we get home.

Then along comes my friend Liz, who casually mentions her soaked granola when we were over for dinner.  After one taste, yum!   When I tried it at home, there were 8 hands nibbling from the trays as they cooled.  This will be what saves us on sleepy mornings during the school week.  Since she’s not selling this, I bring to you Liz’s soaked granola recipe:

Note: in typical fashion, I didn’t have the right seeds/nuts on hand, so I subbed in cashews for almonds, and simply omitted the pumpkin & walnuts.  It still worked great!  My kids love to put raisins on top too- anything with toppings pleases the little ones.

Liz’s Soaked Granola

Soak 6 cups organic rolled oats in water (just enough to barely cover) and six tablespoons yogurt or whey overnight. Soak one cup sliced almonds in water with one tablespoon yogurt or whey.

The next morning, dry oats and almonds at 200.  It takes roughly 4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.

When oats and almonds are dry, add in:
1 c. Sprouted sunflower seeds (if you don’t have sprouted, soak overnight in the same manner as the almonds)
1 c. Sprouted pumpkin seeds  (same as above, if you don’t have sprouted)
1 c. Shredded coconut
1 c. Pecans or walnuts, crushed

Mix dry ingredients.

Mix wet ingredients together in a separate bowl.

3 tbsp coconut oil
1/3 c. Olive oil (can use just coconut oil if preferred).
4 tbsp maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp salt only if nuts are unsalted, otherwise omit.
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon

Mix wet & dry ingredients together, then bake on baking sheets at 300 for 20-30 minutes.  I baked at 325 and it worked, but browned quick so you’ll need to be ready to take it out at 15-20 minutes or less- keep a close eye on it.  Mix every 10 minutes.  When out of the oven, mix in 4 tbsp of ground flax seeds.  Enjoy!

Liver success!

One of the real foods many people struggle with working into their diet is liver.  It’s a nutrient power-house, especially for pregnant or nursing mothers and growing children.  But I find that I’m the hardest one to please in this regard as the rest of my family loves it fried with onions.  I, however, can’t get past the texture and the, well, livery taste.

Last week I did it: I made a recipe that is truly good, not just tolerable.  With the leftovers from a liver-and-onion dinner, I got creative.  Why not get the liver in small doses with a fun dip, rather than trying to choke down a whole steak all at once?

So here it is, a bacon-cheese dip that you can put on sourdough bread or dip veggies.  I’ve found it’s a great go-to lunch when I need something quick.  Bonus- my kids love it!    Enjoy!

2-3 cooked calves-liver steaks
2 packages of organic cream cheese, or even better 2 cups of homemade cream cheese
5+ strips of cooked nitrate/nitrite free bacon
3 gloves of garlic
1/2 red onion
1 green pepper
salt to taste

Food-process, or very finely chop all ingredients separately.  Then pure together until smooth.  Chill and serve!

Soup in the Summer

It’s hot, so why on earth would I dream of making or serving soup?  Two reasons:  First, my children always love soup, particularly things with chunks they can dive their hands into the bowl in pursuit of.  It’s a mess, but they always eat it all and have a blast doing so regardless of the season. I’ll trade a few more dirty shirts for thoroughly nourished children any day.

Second, it’s one of the easiest ways to make and eat real food, regardless of season or weather.  A big pot of soup still goes a long way in the summer, it’s still easy to toss together in the crock pot in the morning and have dinner ready at night.    This weekend,  my hero of a husband whipped up the following chowder, and we just finished it for lunch 3 days later.

One thing first: you’ll notice that I don’t usually put quantities in my recipes (except for baking) which probably frustrates some of you.   From where I stand, quantities in a recipe frustrate me- I generally don’t have the exact right amount of anything and end up modifying it anyway, or I don’t modify and either wonder what-might-have-been or scrap the recipe all together.

My approach, and my advice: use what you have!  Do you have just a few pieces of leftover cod from last night, but some frozen shrimp or scallops?  Toss them in!  Do you have sweet potatoes instead of celery root?  Leeks or scallions instead of onions?   Great, toss them in!   Don’t obsess about the amounts, and don’t be afraid to put in more of what you and your family likes and less of what they don’t.   It’s your kitchen, after all, and there are no rules if you’re eating real food.

Now, for this weeks soup:  Fish chowder

Ingredients
Cod, or any other white fish will work
onions, diced to desired size
celery root, in chunks (potatoes work great also)
homemade stock, fish is best but beef or chicken both work well
raw milk
cream, (non-homogenized, grass-fed)
sea salt and pepper to taste
butter for sauteing

Optional items: Bacon, organic corn, fennel

Process
Saute onions in butter, lightly.  Then toss in fish for just a few minutes- do not over cook.  Take fish out and add the broth and the celery root or potatoes, and simmer until soft.  Add the fish and the remainder of the ingredients and let simmer.  Season to taste.   Serve with sourdough bread and butter.    What could be easier?!

Mango Mango!

Some days, my kids won’t eat.  Not often, but sometimes.  And while they may not want meals, they do want “snacks”.  In our household, snacks do not mean packaged niblets of red-blue-green-dyes shaped like animals, or packaged rancid-oil crackers.  No, “snacks” in our house include real food: homemade soaked-flour carrot cake, homemade almond flour cookies, and a favorite: homemade ice cream!

This week, the ice cream was dairy free.  Coconut milk is so good for us, and I was almost out of raw milk.  Just three ingredients: frozen organic mango, about a cup and a half, a can of organic coconut milk, and raw local honey to taste, about 1/4 cup  or less in our house.  Pure mango & honey together, then put all three ingredients in an ice cream maker.  I also add a pinch or two of sea salt for a little extra something.

Just yesterday, my toddler ate a big helping of this mixed with yogurt for lunch and I was thrilled.  I don’t know who loves summer more, me or them.