Keep Calm and Drink Tea

I confess, I love tea. I love the flavor, the aroma, and the total experience of brewing and drinking tea. This probably started when I was the very active little girl of a late-in-life mother, whose mission it was to turn her youngest daughter into a “proper young lady.” As a special treat she would prepare a tea party for just the two of us and whatever dolls and stuffed animals cared to join in. I specifically remember her explaining the attributes of the fine china teacups, which I was only permitted to use on these supervised occasions. She would hold the delicate teacup up to the light so I could see the faint shadow of her fingers through the china, and then explain how “a lady” would hold the cup, take a sip, use her napkin, etc. This must be how my love for tea began.

Now, I appreciate tea for all its health benefits as well. There is something very civilizing about brewing and indulging in a cup of tea. Over tea confidences are shared, problems are solved, friendships are solidified, and nerves are calmed. All of these side effects of tea may help to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol has been known to increase appetite and lead to fat storage. Elevated cortisol levels have been linked to many diseases, so controlling stress by stopping to enjoy a cup of tea during your busy day may benefit your health by reducing both appetite and tension.

Drinking tea (green tea, black tea, and oolong tea) has been shown to increase the fat burning process up to 17% and caloric expenditure by 4%. Studies in animals and humans have even shown that drinking tea may reduce the risk of accumulating belly fat. That’s one great reason to choose tea over other beverages!

In contrast, alcohol is loaded with 7 liquid calories/gram. Beer contains a similar number of calories as sugary soft drinks. Red wine contains twice that amount! If you want to reduce your midsection, then reduce or skip the alcoholic beverages.

Unsweetened tea, hot or iced, is a healthier thirst quencher than carbonated soft drinks. It’s easy to drink a large amount of empty liquid calories without even realizing it when you consume soda, and diet sodas are no better for you. These chemical cocktails are hard on your stomach lining, tooth enamel and bones, and  have even been shown to CAUSE weight gain. The bubbles in soda also release gas in your stomach leading to embarrassing GI noises when you least expect them.

Fruit juices and energy drinks may seem like healthy alternatives, but these are loaded with concentrated sugar making it easy to drink excess calories on top of everything else you consume. Eating whole fruit is a much better choice than drinking fruit juice. Whole fruit contains the fiber, water, vitamins, and minerals your body needs without the caloric overload leading to weight gain. Try sipping fruit infused tea instead — it’s and excellent way to enjoy the flavor of fruit without all those unnecessary calories.

If you are caffeine sensitive, then opt for teas with low or no caffeine. Flavored herbal teas contain little or no caffeine, and are a relaxing evening beverage. Chamomile tea is one herbal tea well-known for its calming effect on the mind and body. Always try to find an organic tea. If you garden, you can make tea from your own organic herbs. I have made excellent peppermint, spearmint, and lavender teas from my own backyard plants. Tea made from herbs picked right from your garden tastes so fresh, and it’s free!

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So, the next time you’re looking for a little something to drink, keep calm and drink tea. It’s an ancient beverage with modern health benefits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegan “Chicken” Noodle Soup

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The winter holidays are in full celebration mode! If you haven’t eaten a cookie all year, you will this month. Parties, baking with the family, snacking while enjoying in the annual Christmas movies on TV — don’t be surprised if someone in your house comes down with a cold. Did you know that eating sugar suppresses your immune system for the next four hours?  With all the added sugar we consume at this time of year, is it any wonder that flu season tags right along after the holidays?

Mom always said that chicken soup is the best medicine for a cold, and she was right. With this recipe even a vegan can get all the benefits of her age-old remedy without sacrificing a bird. It tastes just like the real thing!

Ingredients:

1 – 2 TBS. Organic coconut oil

2 carrots, chopped

1 stalk celery (including leaves), chopped

1/2 large onion, chopped

6 – 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced (can use frozen)

1 can organic garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup frozen organic corn

4 – 5 cloves garlic, pressed or chopped fine

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. curry powder

1 tsp. sea salt

1/4 – 1/2 tsp. pepper

1 bay leaf

8 cups vegan “chicken” broth (I like Imagine brand No-Chicken Broth best)

2 tsp. Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

1 cup small dry pasta

Melt coconut oil in a stockpot or dutch oven. Add the chopped carrots, celery, and onion and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms, salt, pepper, ginger, and curry powder and cook for another 2 -4 minutes.

Add the vegan “chicken” broth, garbanzo beans, corn, garlic, bay leaf, and Bragg’s Liquid Aminos. Turn heat to high and heat to boiling. Add the pasta. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until pasta is tender. (If not serving immediately, cook pasta less than the recommended time because it will continue to cook in the hot soup).

Makes 8 – 10 servings.

Don’t wait ’til you’re sick to enjoy this delicious soup. It will be one of your favorites!

 

 

 

Iris Inn Spinach Artichoke Breakfast Casserole

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For several years my husband and I made an annual long weekend excursion to the Shenandoah River Valley in Virginia. Always in Autumn so we could enjoy the gorgeous scenery dressed in stunning colors of orange, red and gold, and we were never disappointed. In mid to late October Virginia is still warm enough to enjoy outdoor fun like hiking and kayaking with only a sweater or light jacket occasionally needed.

We’ve stayed in many hotels and B&B’s on these vacations, but our favorite has always been The Iris Inn in Waynesboro. (www.irisinn.com). Built as a Bed & Breakfast (never a family home), this establishment offers everything you could want: secluded country location, yet close to many things to do and sites to see, beautiful accommodations from private rooms to individual cabins, and delicious bountiful breakfasts.

As vegetarians, breakfast at any B&B is always a challenge, however our hosts at The Iris Inn always tried to accommodate when we warned them in advance. One morning we were pleasantly surprised when the friendly innkeeper handed out recipes for the breakfast being served. Now, we usually tell people when we eat out that we are vegetarians (to relieve some of the pressure on them), but at home we follow a vegan lifestyle, so I was thrilled to have a copy of this casserole recipe that I easily veganized to enjoy at home. If you are planning to serve a brunch or take a dish to a potluck, this recipe is perfect for either occasion. It goes together quickly with only a few ingredients and is a welcome savory addition to any brunch table that even a vegan can enjoy. I hope you like it!

Ingredients:

3 – 10 oz. packages, or 1 – 32 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (you can do this overnight)

12 ounces vegan “cream cheese” ( I used Tofutti brand Better Than Cream Cheese)

1/4 cup organic butter or vegan “butter” at room temperature

1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk

2 – 6oz. jars marinated artichokes, drained

Cracked pepper

1/2 cup Vegan “Parmesan Cheese” (Search under “Recipes” to make your own)

-Place spinach in the bottom of a large greased glass baking dish. Top with chopped artichokes.

-Mix together vegan “cream cheese,” “butter,” and  almond milk. Spread this mixture on top of spinach and artichokes in the dish.

-Top with vegan parmesan and cracked pepper, to taste.

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Serve warm.

 

 

 

 

Zucchini Chips

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Do you have an overabundance of zucchini in your garden right now? Are your friends and neighbors starting to avoid you because they can’t accept any more of your extra zucchini “gifts?” Well, this recipe will help you to easily preserve your harvest without using up any freezer storage space (or annoying your friends). When you pull out these raw zucchini chips on a cold winter night people will gobble them down like they’ve never seen zucchini before in their life.

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When you have a large bowl of sliced raw zucchini it’s time to make the marinade. (You may have to make several batches of marinade in order to coat all the slices).

Ingredients:

1 TBS. olive oil

2 TBS. fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1 TBS nutritional yeast (for cheesy flavor)

Extra nutritional yeast to sprinkle on top

Pour the marinade over the chips and gently toss them to coat. Make sure that each slice is coated. It helps to slide a coated slice over an uncoated one, front and back, to get the flavor onto each chip. Make more marinade as needed and repeat the process until all slices are coated.

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Arrange the coated slices in a single layer on the mesh dehydrator trays making sure that they do not touch each other. Lightly sprinkle more nutritional yeast on top of each slice. In order to maintain a raw chip dehydrate at only 110 degrees for 10 – 12 hours. I usually dehydrate overnight and then check them in the morning. Add more time if necessary. They are done when all the chips are dry and crisp.

Allow the finished chips to cool in the dehydrator before storing them in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. These will stay crisp and tasty for months stored this way, and you can enjoy your fresh garden produce any time of the year. Zucchini chips are great for parties and healthy lunchbox treats, too!

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Fresh, green veggies… enjoy zucchini all year long!

 

YOUR PERSONAL SALAD BAR

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You want to eat a healthy meal, but when you arrive home famished the last thing you want to do is spend the next 20 – 30 minutes preparing a fresh salad. You want to eat now! All that washing, chopping, slicing, and dicing veggies each time for a salad is time consuming. All home cooking takes time, but it’s time well spent for your health, and you are worth it — even if you’re cooking for just one person. So, before you give in to the temptation to pop some kind of prepared fast food into the microwave or open yet another can of soup, STOP! There is a more excellent way!

You probably already know that it is wise to cook once to eat twice. This smart idea can be applied to preparing fresh salads, too. You simply need a plan — a specific block of time for food preparation. It is just as easy to prepare veggies for six salads as for one. Your chosen block of time can be any time that is convenient for you, when you are not hungry — before or after work, when the kids are napping or while watching evening TV. And, don’t just stand in the kitchen in silence while you slice and dice (unless you are using this time for prayer or meditation, too). Put on some music, listen to a podcast, practice your French — make it fun!

I have seen those huge salad boxes that people make up once a week for their various salad ingredients, but honestly, most people don’t have that much space in their refrigerator — I know I don’t. I do however, have a couple of plastic relish trays with eight sections each. Each tray has a lid, so they are stackable — what a space saver! When you have your favorite salad ingredients already prepared and waiting to be thrown on top of a heaping handful of triple-washed ready-to-eat greens, eating healthy fresh salads will no longer be a chore you dread. You will be your very own raw chef at a gourmet salad bar featuring only your personal favorites (none of those icky raw onions). It’s all about you, and you are worth it!

Excellent “Chicken” Salad

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This is a wonderful vegan “chicken” flavored sandwich spread that is great for school or work lunches. Packed with protein, taste, and crunch it satisfies on every level. Even if you have a nut allergy, you can still enjoy this scrumptious “chicken” salad with no fear– simply substitute raw cauliflower for the nuts.

 

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Ingredients:

1- 15 oz. can chick peas, rinse and drain

1 handful each of almonds and cashews OR an equal amount of chopped raw cauliflower.

2 stalks celery, chopped

3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

4 – 5 Tbsp. Vegenaise

2 tsp. prepared mustard

1/8 – 1/4  tsp. ginger powder

1/8 – 1/4 tsp. Adobo seasoning salt

pepper to taste

1 tsp. lemon juice (optional)

Method:

Chop scallions and celery (and cauliflower if using) — set aside.

Blend remaining ingredients in food processor ( blend only enough to chop — you want it kind of chunky, not creamy).

Place blended ingredients in a bowl and add chopped scallions and celery (and cauliflower). Mix well with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.

Makes 6 – 8 great sandwiches!

Escala Latin Bistro

126 Airport Rd., West Milford, NJ 07480. Phone: 973-506-6096. Fax: 973-506-4563

Escala Latin Bistro

Escala Latin Bistro is a relatively new restaurant in West Milford. Located at the Greenwood Lake Airport in the newly remodeled site of a former eatery, the interior of this restaurant is bright and cheerful with Latin American travel posters on the wall and tabletop graphics that look like airport runways. Just sitting there makes you want to book a flight to somewhere warm and exotic.

We had heard good things about this restaurant, so I really wanted to like this place. I was looking forward to a pleasant first-time lunch there with my husband, but this is an honest review of my personal experience at Escala. My first disappointment was the menu — not one vegetarian entrée! Well, we’ve faced this dilemma before, so I tried my favorite tactic; I ordered the San Pedro Chicken Salad, minus the meat, and requested that grilled vegetables be substituted for the chicken. The waitress consulted the chef and came back with the news that he had only squash as a grilled vegetable. That didn’t sound very appealing, so I settled for the Avocado Salad and Yucca Fries instead. My husband ordered the Caribbean Caesar Salad with green plantain croutons and a Cheese Quesadilla (from the children’s menu). The choices for vegetarians seemed mighty slim. We both ordered iced tea, brewed and unsweetened for me, bottled sweet for him.

When they arrived our salads were large and pleasing to the eye, however, while eating mine I discovered many wilted and yellowed leaves among the baby salad greens. The waitress offered to have the salad remade using only romaine lettuce, but knowing how fast my husband eats and how slow I am, I decided to just keep the salad I had and push the objectionable greens off to the side. The sliced avocado was fresh. Besides that the only other adornments to this salad were a couple of grape tomatoes and a few strips of mild cheese (maybe 4). The oil and vinegar dressing was unseasoned and unremarkable. Honestly, the salad was unimpressive. On the other hand, this was the first time I’d ever had yucca fries and didn’t know what to expect, but they were delicious! (I offered one to my husband and then had  to stop him from eating them all himself!) The home-brewed unsweetened tea was very weak — almost as clear as water. He was satisfied with his bottled sweet tea, so unless you are staying away from sugar that would be the better option.

As underwhelmed as we were with our lunches, we decided to try one more item. Strawberry/Nutella Empanada was the featured dessert on the tiny plastic menu stand on the table , so we ordered one to share. While waiting for our dessert to be served, we turned over the tiny plastic menu stand and lo and behold, there was a list of Empanadas that could be ordered individually… no fewer that 5 were vegetarian! Why weren’t these printed on the main menu? Why didn’t our waitress tell us about them when she knew we were diligently searching for something that didn’t contain meat? Major failure to pay attention to detail on several fronts.

When delivered, the Strawberry/Nutella Empanada was beautifully presented with strawberry syrup swirled on the plate and a cloud of whipped cream holding two chocolate cookie sticks on the side. That little treat was enough to make us decide to give this place one more try. We will return to Escala sometime in the future. Hopefully, by then they will have added some vegetarian entrees to the menu. If not, we now know to look behind the dessert menu for the list of vegetarian empanadas!

Turmeric Pickled Cauliflower*

Turmeric, and its active component curcumin, has been used for thousands of years in India, and recent research confirms that its anti-inflammatory properties can be helpful in the treatment of many conditions. Turmeric also gives food a warm golden color.

Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable. Cruciferous vegetables belong to the Brassica genus and include: arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels spouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, horseradish, kale, radishes, rutabaga, turnips, watercress, and wasabi. These plant powerhouses contain potent antioxidants which may reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases. Their anti-viral, anti-bacterial effects have been shown to fight illness and inhibit tumor growth.

This simple recipe incorporates both of these natural disease fighters. Tart and tangy, serve it cold as a salad topper or as a colorful addition to a relish tray.

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Ingredients:

1 large head cauliflower

1 cup white vinegar

1 1/2 cups warm water

3 TBS. Sugar (cuts the acid)

2 TBS. Kosher salt

2 tsp. ground turmeric

1 dry bay leaf

1 Mason jar

Disinfect Mason jar before beginning by placing it in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds.

Cut cauliflower into small florets that are evenly sized. Place florets into Mason jar and set aside.

In a small pot, add turmeric, bay leaf, salt, and sugar. Once dry ingredients are combined, add water and vinegar, creating a brine.

Bring your brine to a boil over high heat. Boil for 2 minutes.

Pour boiling brine into your Mason jar to cover cauliflower.

Seal and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.

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*Courtesy of Ellie Kahlon and Matthew Weisberg, Novo Mediterranean Restaurant, 37 Chestnut St., Ridgewood, NJ. 201-444-4910; novomediterranean.com

 

 

 

Dehydrated Green Beans*

Don’t try this at home!

I love the crunchy dried green beans you can find in tiny plastic boxes at our natural food store. At nearly $5.00 a pop though, it’s an occasional splurge we like to take on long road trips to balance out the unhealthy snacks found at most roadstops. With this in mind, I was delighted to find several recipes for dehydrated green beans online at the very time I had about a gallon of organic green beans from my garden just waiting to be used,(how fortunate was that?), and so decided to try dehydrating them myself.

Let me just say that not every recipe you see online is a good one, not every glowing review is to be trusted, and not every kitchen adventure is a success. Some recipes should NEVER be shared. If it’s a failure, even the best cook should just admit it and move on. In the spirit of full disclosure then, and because it made me laugh, I have to tell you about this experience… because it was a total DISASTER!

Full of anticipation, I washed and lightly blanched the green beans in boiling water, just as the instructions recommended. Then drained them and blotted them dry with paper towels. I had read that slicing the beans French-style( long ways) helped them dry more evenly, so I did that, too. Seasoning in the online recipes varied, so I just used my favorite: a little lemon juice olive oil and sea salt. It all seemed so simple; what could go wrong? When I put the seasoned green beans in the dehydrator they looked like this… beautiful, right?

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I set the dehydrator to 105 degrees in order to maintain the living enzymes in the vegetables and went to bed. Eight hours later, when I checked their progress I saw this:

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The bright green beans had turned into brownish leathery strips — not crunchy at all! Hmmm, what to do to salvage these beans? I decided to leave them in the dehydrator for a longer time to see if that would help. Still at 105 degrees, I waited another six hours and checked again. They couldn’t get any worse, could they? Yes!

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After a total 14 hours in the dehydrator my final product looked like dried brown shoelaces and tasted about the same. One gallon of fresh beans had turned into two loosely filled pint jars. (To be honest a few of those beans did get crispy, but it would take quite a bit of chewing to gnaw through the rest). I think I will save these beans as a reminder that not every recipe you see online is a good one, not every glowing review is to be trusted, and not every kitchen adventure is a success. I share this only for the humor. I hope you laugh as I did, and please, DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME.