Firestone Culinary Tavern, 105 North Market Street, Frederick, MD 21701, (301)663-0330, www.firestonerestaurant.com

Valentines Day was the perfect opportunity to visit Firestone Culinary Tavern, one of our favorite restaurants in Frederick. Once a 1920-era department store complete with original tin ceilings, Firestone has become a flagship establishment in Frederick’s increasingly dynamic and diverse restaurant scene. Known for its steak and seafood specialties, the menu is farm-to-table fresh and at Firestone they are always willing to accommodate any special dietary requirements… which keeps us coming back again and again. We were so excited to learn that Firestone was open for indoor dining on Valentines Day (50% capacity, masks required unless seated at your table).

There are so many things to love about this restaurant. We like to sit in the mezzanine. With its wall of windows you can enjoy a view of both the active street scene on one side and the bar/lounge area below on the other. We also love that the knowledgeable servers and talented chef are always up for a challenge and never seem satisfied with anything ordinary. Each dish is a delightful surprise of presentation and flavor. On this most recent visit the Brunch Menu offered nothing specifically for vegetarians, and we try to eat vegan, but after a short conversation with our server we were off and running with an array of suggestions to order salad, main course and dessert to make any wholefood plant-based diet lover swoon.

For my salad I requested one of the salads on the menu (arugala, radish, apple) with an exchange of avocado for the goat cheese. No problem! The lemony dressing was a delicious accent to the other flavors, and the salad (served on a dinner plate) was huge.

And notice the size of that teapot! One two-cup teapot full of really hot water per person, offered with a selection of black, green and herbal teas was greatly appreciated on that cold winter day, and they even refilled one of our pots and gave us fresh teabags! It was a restaurant tea miracle! (If you are a tea drinker, you know what I mean). Even the mugs were hot when served. Bless you, Firestone!

Despite the Brunch Menu, the chef whipped up a tasty vegan entree for us with a melange of stir-fried fresh vegetables in a tasty garlic sauce over barley (our choice of grain — the other option was black rice). Complimentary homemade bread was an unexpected treat. It is refreshing to find a chef that doesn’t shrink from a challenge. At Firestone the menu is not carved in stone. Just ask and they will do their best to grant your request. The entire staff takes pride in providing an excellent dining experience whether for a full course meal or just a sandwich.

There were several desserts offered the day we were there, but the most appealing to me was the Pineapple Bread Pudding with coconut cream. We were not expecting it to be so large or we would have shared just one, but I’m not complaining. The second half was just as delicious the next day at home!

If you are trying to eat healthfully, but want to enjoy an unforgettable meal with excellent service, then I would highly recommend Giving Firestone Culinary Tavern a try. It is the perfect place for a special occasion dinner or a quick lunch break when shopping the many quaint stores in the City of Frederick.

Be prepared to be impressed!

The Silver Diner (review), 5120 Buckeystown Pike, Frederick, MD 21704, (301)694-9501

When you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet, dining out can be a challenge. When you find a restaurant like The Silver Diner, the news is just too good to keep to yourself. Prices at The Silver Diner are reasonable, the food is delicious, and you can even find a selection of hot vegetarian/vegan entrees on the menu! (If I had a dollar for every restaurant that doesn’t even have a veggie burger on their menu… sigh).

From the outside this diner looks like the classic silver diners of your memory. Inside the booths and on-table jukeboxes carry on that feeling, but the casual decor is a bit more trendy than you might expect — definitely not your typical burger joint. Their flexitarian menu features the highest quality, locally sourced ingredients creatively assembled in delicious and unique dishes you won’t find in even the more expensive restaurants.

The Silver Diner offers take-out, curbside pickup and dining-in. In fact they were one of the first restaurants in our area to allow dining-in to resume. How did they do it? The Silver Diner uses the same social distancing, disinfecting surfaces, masked/gloved servers, etc. as most, but they have gone even further to ensure the safety of their patrons. This restaurant has a triple filtration air system and germicidal lights to keep the indoor environment as sanitary as possible. But for all that, I would take my chances even without all their safety precautions — the food is just that good.

On our visit, I ordered the Hen of the Woods Mushroom Picatta over roasted tomatoes, farro, roasted organic corn, butternut squash, lemon-caper sauce, asparagus and sunflower seeds. This was fantastic! The flavors of all the ingredients were so enhanced by the lemon-caper sauce that I couldn’t stop until I finished the whole thing, and it was huge! At only $15.99 this was a bargain for something I would expect to see at an upscale restaurant for $35 – $50 minimum. This photo doesn’t do it justice, because I had already started eating when I said, “OMG, this is going public!” So delicious.

Hen of the Woods Mushroom Picatta

The Silver Diner has 18 locations (at last count) scattered throughout VA, MD, NJ and even one at BWI Airport, Concourse B. Maybe there’s one near you, or look for one when you travel. Bon apetit!

Homemade Spicy Citrus Potpourri

Today I felt like playing, not cooking, not even writing, so I put together the bits and bobs I’ve been squirreling away to make potpourri. Here is a photo of the finished product… about a gallon of potpourri in my largest pasta bowl. I wish you could smell it — the fragrance is like citrus spice heaven!

All summer I’ve been dehydrating fruit and vegetables. Last week it was apples (because it’s Fall) and bananas (because I bought way too many). Never wanting to waste anything, I’ve also been saving orange and lemon peels leftover from juicing. Over the summer months I collected quite a lot of dehydrated peels. (Orange and lemon peels are a great way to fill that extra empty tray when you dehydrate). I followed my normal procedure of dehydrating overnight at 105 degrees F because that low temperature protects the living enzymes in the fruit so it is preserved, but still considered raw. It was also the perfect temperature to dry out the citrus peels while still allowing them to maintain their fresh fragrance. Can you see them on the bottom shelf?

Here is what I used in this potpourri (amounts are up to you):

Orange peels, cut into 1/2 inch strips

Lemon peels, cut into 1/2 inch strips

cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces or crushed

whole star anise

whole cloves

Fragrance oils: I used food grade wild orange, cinnamon and clove oils (a few drops each) because I didn’t want any unnatural chemical smells contaminating the air in our home.

dried calendula flowers (optional). I used these because I had a huge bag on hand for making a soothing decaffeinated tea, and because they look pretty in the potpourri mixture… but you can skip the calendula or add something else you might have in your pantry.

Cinnamon/ applesauce cutouts:

To make these you will need about 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce and enough ground cinnamon to make a workable dough. I used a container of the cheap cinnamon you can find in many stores for about a dollar and mixed these two simple ingredients together until the dough was no longer sticky. Sprinkle more cinnamon on your work surface as needed, and roll the dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut shapes with small cookie cutters and dehydrate overnight at 105 degrees. The house will smell wonderful when you wake up!

So, try making your own potpourri. It’s much less expensive than the fancy varieties you’ll find in stores this holiday season, You can refresh the scent with a few added drops of essential oil as needed. Have fun! Fill your home with fragrance or give as gifts. Enjoy!

Homemade Muesli

 

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If you like granola, but are leery of the fat contained in most commercial brands, if you like to make your own granola but don’t want to heat up the kitchen making it on hot summer days, if you’re looking for a healthy breakfast that really gives you energy and keeps you feeling full until lunchtime, then muesli is for you. Muesli is a raw oatmeal dish that contains other grains, nuts, seeds and dried or fresh fruit. It’s a heart-healthy alternative to processed cereals that actually helps to lower your cholesterol! Have you ever tried it? Some people have never even heard of muesli.

Muesli was first created by Swiss physician Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner, who believed that much of the sickness experienced by his patients could be alleviated through a diet rich in raw grains, fruits and vegetables, plus moderate exercise including walking and gardening daily. Although muesli was first commercially produced in 1959 and has been a presence on grocery store shelves for over 60 years, it is is often overlooked or crowded out by the slick packaging, colors and shapes of the processed breakfast foods we know today. That is a shame, because muesli is so healthy, can be eaten cold or hot with or without added plant milk or yogurt… and it is so easy to make that even a child can do it.

Ingredients:

In a large bowl add:

1/2 cup raw walnuts, crushed*

1/2 cup raw almonds, crushed*

3 cups organic old fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds

2 Tbsp. ground flaxseed

2 Tbsp. wheat germ

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup organic raisins

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Gently stir to mix all ingredients together. Place in a tightly covered glass container and store in the refrigerator. Take out individual portions as needed and serve cold with plant milk or as a yogurt topping. If you prefer a softer cereal, top your muesli with just enough plant milk to cover and keep it in the refrigerator overnight. It will soften by morning, and you can eat it cold or warm it in the microwave for a hearty porridge. Add fresh fruit, honey or maple syrup to sweeten if desired.

* Hint: this is an easy way to crush nuts, and cleanup is a breeze. Put the walnuts and almonds in a plastic lunch bag, press out all the air and seal it closed. With any rolling pin roll over the bag several times until each nut has broken into desired size chunks. When you are finished just dump the nuts into your large bowl and throw the bag away. Nothing to wash!

 

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This recipe makes 10 or more 1/2 cup servings. Muesli is a real time-saver to have on hand for busy mornings. Healthy and delicious!

Vegan Stuffed Italian Zucchini Boats

Vegan Stuffed Zucchini Boats

 

It’s zucchini season again and if you are a gardener, you’re looking for zucchini recipes right about now. You would think that vegan zucchini recipes would be everywhere, but they’re not. I found a great Italian Zucchini Boat recipe online by Valerie Brunmeier, but it wasn’t vegan, so I made a few changes and voila! I really like this recipe first of all because it tastes delicious, second because it is a filling entree served with a side of brown rice or pasta, and third because it is beautiful.

Ingredients:

3 medium zucchini, roughly the same size

1 (24 to 26 ounce) jar marinara sauce, divided

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/3 cup chopped onion

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped button mushrooms or small jar of sliced mushrooms

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 tsp dry parsley flakes

1/2 tsp pink sea salt

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper or to taste

1/2 lb hamburger style veggie crumbles

1 – 1 1/2 cups veggie mozzarella cheese

1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast

2 Tbsp. panko bread crumbs

Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Measure out 1 cup marinara sauce and set aside for later.
  • Trim about 1/2 inch from each end of the zucchini and slice in half lengthwise. With a sharp knife lightly outline the center area you will remove to create the hollow of your boats (this will include the seed area, leaving about a half inch of solid zucchini around all the edges). Be careful to not cut through the skin. Using the tip of a spoon remove the zucchini flesh inside your outline, chop and set aside.
  • Place the scooped out zucchini boats into a 13″x 9″ baking dish, and add about 1″ of water. Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven 20 minutes or until just slightly fork tender but not soft. Remove from oven and set aside to cool a bit.
  • Meanwhile add olive oil to a 12″ frying pan and place over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic; cook a few minutes until veggies have softened, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the chopped zucchini flesh, mushrooms, remaining marinara sauce, veggie crumbles, nutritional yeast and the spices. Stir well to combine. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Remove the partially cooked zucchini boats from the baking dish and pour off water. Pour the reserved 1 cup marinara sauce into the empty baking dish and place the zucchini boats on top of the sauce.
  • Generously divide the cooked filling between the 6 zucchini boats (if you have extra filling just spoon it into the dish around the boats). Cover dish with foil and bake for 20 – 30 minutes until zucchini boat is fork tender, but not soft and droopy.
  • Remove baking dish from oven and set oven to BROIL.
  • Remove foil and sprinkle zucchini boats with half the veggie mozzarella, panko bread crumbs, and more mozzarella.
  • Place dish in oven and broil for just a few minutes (watch closely so it doesn’t burn) until the cheese melts and bread crumbs are golden brown.

 

Delicious!

 

 

 

Edible Flower Salad / Flowerpot Salad

 

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Around the beginning of February each year I start to get hungry for color. Where we live, winter seems to drag along forever. The only colors we see outside are brown, gray and white (if it has just snowed). I miss the greens of spring and summer, but most of all I miss the kaleidoscope colors of flowers. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a rainbow of flowers growing in my yard or in pots on the patio and deck. This year I just couldn’t wait for the weather to cooperate, so I decided to start planting my flowers early, inside instead of out.

Fortunately, I have a little AeroGarden* that sits on my kitchen counter where I usually grow fresh organic herbs. This winter I decided to plant organic edible flowers to brighten our salads and introduce some color into my kitchen. I’m sure you could grow flowers in pots on a sunny windowsill, too. I have tried in the past to buy organic flowers for salads, but no one (grocer or florist) would guarantee they could supply organic, never-sprayed flowers, so I was a little leery of buying them commercially. However, when you grow your own flowers you know exactly what chemicals they have, or have not, encountered. Mine have encountered none. I also have plenty of fresh flowers to place an occasional centerpiece on the table (The snapdragons are especially prolific. The more you cut off, the more they bloom).

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This is one of the best ideas I’ve ever had, and the timing was perfect. The colors of my little garden just sparkle on the black granite countertop, and the salads have been a hit with our family, too. Seeing the living profusion of colors lifts my spirit everyday and reminds me that this long dreary spell, which now includes social isolation due to the coronavirus, shall also pass.

The flowers I grew are: calendula, marigolds, snapdragons, and dianthus. All are competely safe to eat. If you are shy about eating flowers, there is nothing to fear. Most of them have a very mild flavor. The marigold petals (that’s the only part of this flower you use) are a bit peppery tasting, but the others have practically no flavor at all. Their purpose in salads is mostly aesthetic. Calendula petals have healing properties, especially when used as a tincture on the skin. Because of their mild flavor, Snapdragons have been used for years to decorate elegant desserts and specialty cocktails as well as salads. The Dianthus flower has a mild clove-like scent and is a member of the carnation family. Dianthus (Greek) means “flower of the gods.”

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This little Flowerpot Salad would be perfect at a shower or tea party. The “pot” is a long thin slice of zucchini wrapped in a circle and held together by a fancy little toothpick with a frill on top. Inside place a couple spoonfuls of your favorite hummus. “Plant” celery and carrot sticks along with strips of red pepper, broccoli spears, a few salad greens and an edible flower. So pretty, and healthy, too!

* http://www.aerogarden.com

 

 

The Gym is Closed… Now What?

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We are living in strange and challenging times. Our normal routine has been disrupted by a little known virus, and it’s keeping most of the population isolated. The gym may be closed, fitness classes may be cancelled, but this is no reason to stop exercising. There is one simple exercise that requires no special equipment or training. In fact, it’s free and you’ve been doing it most of your life!

Walking is the most basic of exercises and is beneficial in so many ways:

— Walking helps to lower stress and blood pressure. The heart is the most important muscle in your body and it must be exercised to stay strong and healthy.  You are in charge. You can walk at your own pace and gradually work up to longer walks at a faster pace as your endurance increases.

— Walking helps to strengthen lower body muscles and improve balance and coordination. This is a big concern as people get older and falling risk increases.

— Walking improves bone density (walking is considered a weight-bearing exercise because you are carrying your own body weight). One study of post menopausal women found that walking 30 minutes per day reduced their risk of hip fracture by 40%!

— Walking burns calories, helps lower BMI, and as a result helps manage type 2 diabetes.

— Walking helps you to manage joint pain and stiffness. If you have arthritis, avoiding physical activity is not the way to improve your pain. Walking pumps fluid into and out of the joints and cartilage, washing them with nutrients and slowing degradation there. For more information: http://www.creakyjoints.com

— Walking improves mental well-being and will help you sleep better at night. Walking releases endorphins similar to a runner’s high. You will rest soundly with a feeling of satisfaction after a brisk walk.

– Walking slows mental decline. It has been shown that senior men who walk more than a quarter mile each day had half the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than non-walkers.

Even if you are told to self-isolate because of the corona virus, you can still walk for exercise. If possible, walk in the woods or a park and enjoy the beauty of nature. Isn’t exercising in the fresh air more appealing than working out in a stuffy gym? Allow the sun to shine on your face and arms for additional Vitamin D absorption. Listen to the music of birds singing, leaves rustling in the breeze, water rippling in a stream. Use this time to enjoy the simple pleasures of nature, to pray or meditate. Walking can be a satisfying solitary activity, good for the body, mind and spirit. Or, take your dog along, and make time for a game of fetch or frisbee, and you’ll both return feeling refreshed.

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Mexican Stuffed Yams

 

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This is one of my favorite go-to meals when I know there won’t be time to prepare dinner tonight. It takes just minutes in the morning to get the yams into the slow cooker, and then in the evening pulling it all together for serving is a breeze. Bonus: Everyone can even assemble their own!

Main Ingredient:

One organic yam per person, scrubbed and individually wrapped in foil. Place yams in slow cooker, and cook on high for 4 hours or 7 – 8 hours on low. This is all the early preparation you need to do before your busy day.

Other Ingredients:

Seasoned black beans — you may use your own recipe (a great way to use leftovers) or canned as shown below.

Guacamole — once again, your own homemade or purchased.

Vegan shredded cheddar cheese

Salsa — homemade or purchased (I like to add a squeeze of lime to my salsa)

Organic corn chips.

As you can see, making this is simple as can be if time is a factor. I know homemade everything is always the best, and I feel like I’m cheating when I open a can, but this is the 21st century. We’re all strapped for time, and if I can put a healthy inexpensive meal on the table, it sure beats take-out. So, dip your chips and enjoy a healthy meal with little preparation and lots of fun.

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The Coronavirus: Fear vs. Wisdom

 

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If you follow the news, then you hear hourly updates on the coronavirus as  reporters spread doom, gloom and fear about worldwide sickness and even death from the  coronavirus. You may be asking: When will it strike here? What should I do if I get sick? Am I safe? How can I protect my children from something I can’t see? Obsessing on this one topic is creating panic when commonsense wisdom would be more helpful.

Please, keep in mind that fewer people have died from the coronavirus this year than from the flu last year, and those who have died had compromised immune systems before they contracted the virus. It is believed that thousands of people have recovered from the coronavirus thinking it was just the common cold, because their symptoms were so mild. So it seems obvious that the way to deal with this new health threat is to strengthen your immune system and use the necessary precautions to avoid getting sick in the first place. Here are some reminders:

— Wash your hands often, at least 20 seconds each time with soap and running water.

— Use antibacterial wipes at the grocery store (many stores provide them at the entrance) to wipe down shopping cart handles before use.

— Carry antibacterial wipes with you, and remember to use them.

— Sneeze and cough into the crook of your arm instead of your hands.

— Keep your hands away from your face.

— Carry your own supply of tissues with you. Communal tissue boxes are loaded with germs.

— Think of others. If you feel sick, STAY HOME. No matter how badly you “need to be there,” no one there wants to catch what you have.

— At home, sanitize often: door knobs, light switches, buttons on the microwave, toaster, stove, coffeepot, tea kettle, toilet seat/handles, faucets, etc.. Bleach infused wipes or even a paper towel saturated with rubbing alcohol will do the job quickly and easily.

— Avoid sugar. Sugar depresses your immune system for the next four hours after consuming it.

— Eat plenty of whole foods: vegetables, fruit, and minimally processed grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

— Stay hydrated and make pure water your beverage of choice. Nix the sugary drinks.

— Increase your intake of Vitamin C and Zinc. Taken together these help to lessen the severity of a cold, but you can also take them before any symptoms arise as a preventive measure.

— Elderberry syrup taken daily is a great immune booster (also comes in lozenges in case you’re traveling).

— If you live in the northern hemisphere and don’t get much sun for part of the year, you may need to increase your vitamin D intake. Vitamin D3+K2 is most easily absorbed. Ask your doctor to monitor your blood levels to get the correct dosage.

— Finally, reduce the stress in your life. Prayer and meditation, daily exercise, even a walk are all great stress relievers. Read a good book. Enjoy a hobby you’ve neglected for a long time, or try something new. Spend time with your pet. Turn off the news and just relax.

— Refuse to worry. Worry leads to anxiety, which stops you from living your best life. As long as you use wisdom, you have nothing to fear.

God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.         II Timothy 1:7 NKJV

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NIV