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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Community Organic Garden Opening Day

Saturday, May 7, was the Opening Day Celebration/ Seedling Sale/ Potluck Lunch at the West Milford, NJ Community Organic Garden. After a full week of rain, threatening clouds did not put a damper on these festivities. Apple Acres was buzzing with gardeners shopping for organic seedlings and sharing delicious food in the beautiful Apple Acres Mill Barn (circa 1809).  A wonderful time was had by all!

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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

 

 

 

Zucchini and Cherry Tomato Pasta

Zucchini Tomato Pasta

So, it’s August and every gardener has more zucchini than recipes and more cherry tomatoes than any salad can hold. Here is a simple meal that only takes 15 – 20 minutes to prepare using all your garden abundance. Strikingly beautiful on the plate, I served it as a warm salad on a plate of fresh arugala for even more color and vitamins, but I think any dark leafy greens would work as well.

While you are preparing the vegetables, cook 2 cups small pasta according to package directions (shells, elbow macaroni, or spirals work well). Drain well. Add a few drops of olive oil, and toss to keep pasta from sticking together

. Ingredients:

1 medium size zucchini, cubed

2 cups cherry tomatoes, whole (they will soften as they cook and pop when you chew them — I like that)

2 TBS. Olive oil

1 TBS. Minced garlic (fresh or bottled)

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 tsp. dry Italian seasoning

Herbamare (seasoned salt) or Himalayan pink salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 – 5 TBS. Marinara sauce

Feta cheese, or cheese substitute for topping (optional)*

Method:

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and garlic; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Season with Herbamare and pepper. Add red pepper flakes and dry Italian seasoning. When vegetables are tender add the marinara sauce and heat through. Add the cooked pasta to the vegetables in your skillet and mix gently. Serve warm on a bed of greens.

*If desired, top with feta cheese or feta substitute (There is good recipe for vegan feta,”Betta Feta,” in The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, by Jo Stepaniak; Book Publishing Company, Green Press Initiative, 2003).

Crunchy Garden Salad

Do you ever get tired of leafy green salads?  With gardens producing just about every vegetable imaginable right now you might want to throw together a colorful vegetable salad that contains no lettuce at all.  The ingredients in this crunchy salad can be altered to accommodate whatever vegetables you have on hand; for a surprising burst of flavor throw in your choice of olives (I like kalamata olives), pickles, banana peppers, or sun-dried tomatoes.

It will be more flavorful if you steam the heavier, more dense vegetables for a few minutes — not too long, just until the color brightens but they still retain some crispiness. Any Italian salad dressing will work well, and it always tastes better the next day after flavors have had time to marinate. Makes a great lunch!

Ingredients:

1/2 head cauliflower florets

1 stalk broccoli florets

2 carrots, sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 green bell pepper, diced

1/2 red onion, sliced

2 red radishes, thinly sliced

1 pint halved cherry tomatoes

1 ear fresh corn kernels (sliced off the cob)

1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Optional: (any or all) olives, dill pickles, banana peppers, sun-dried tomatoes

Lightly steam cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots until just crisp tender (they will be easier to chew and absorb more flavor if steamed). Cool quickly in very cold water and drain.  Place in a large bowl, add other ingredients and your favorite Italian dressing. Toss to coat everything with dressing and allow to marinate for best flavor (good to make the day before). Serve cold.

Makes 10 – 12 servings

Homemade Vegetable Wash (Spray or Soak)

I have to admit that it just breaks my heart to spend a big chunk of my food budget on veggie wash.  Those tiny spray bottles of veggie wash never seem to last long the way I use it, and plain water just doesn’t do the job for soaking leafy greens. Here are two simple solutions you can make at home with common household products you probably already have on hand. They cost only pennies to make and work really well.  (You should refrigerate the spray because it contains fresh lemon juice)

SPRAY:

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp. baking soda

1 cup water

SOAK:

1/4 cup vinegar

2 Tbsp. salt

DIRECTIONS:

1. SPRAY: Put all ingredients into a spray bottle and shake gently to mix (it will foam). Spray on vegetables or fruit and allow to sit for 2-5 minutes, then rinse with cold water and dry.

2. SOAK: Fill a clean basin or sink with cold water. Add vinegar and salt, then stir until salt dissolves. Place vegetables or fruit in sink and allow to sit for 25 – 30 minutes. Rinse under cold water and dry.

These ideas came from http://www.food.com where you can find even more great recipes and money-saving hints.

Hearty “Chicken” Garden Soup

This soup is a melange of colorful garden vegetables and comfort food flavor with just a hint of hot cayenne pepper to spice it up.  As healthy as it is beautiful, this recipe will make the most of summer’s bounty all in one pot — sure to be a keeper!

In a large pot:

Lightly saute 1/2 cup chopped onion in 1 Tbsp oil (or 1/4 cup water for low fat)

Add:

4 cups water and 1 (32 0z) container Imagine brand “No Chicken Broth,” and bring to a boil.

All at once add remaining ingredients:

3 stalks celery, chopped

4 carrots, cut into chunks

2 large orange bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 medium zucchini (10 – 12 inches), cut in half lengthwise then cut into 1/4″ slices

1 large bunch kale, stalks removed and leaves chopped

1 Tbsp. whole fennel seeds

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp. turmeric

1 – 2 tsp. gray Celtic sea salt (or to taste)

Simmer all ingredients together for 15 – 20 minutes.  Add 1 package chopped Light Life brand  “Chicken” Strips during the final 5 minutes of cooking (just to heat thoroughly).

Serve hot.  (Makes about 8 generous servings)

Crockpot Sweet Potato Soup

This is a wonderful fall recipe; the color, aroma, and taste are all the best autumn has to offer.  It’s the perfect way to warm up on a crisp cool evening.  This soup can either be made on the stove or in a crockpot.  I like to throw all the ingredients in the crockpot just before leaving for work — what a stress reliever to come home to the smell of dinner only minutes from serving!

Ingredients:

1 c. celery, chopped

1/2 c. onion, chopped

1 Tbsp. olive oil

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

32 oz. Imagine “No-Chicken Broth”

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp. dried basil

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. honey or maple syrup

Method:

Saute celery and onion in olive oil until tender.  Put sautéed mixture in crockpot and add all other ingredients. Cook on High for 8 – 9 hours (until you return home).

Remove bay leaf. Puree cooked mixture with a submersible stick blender.  (Or if you have extra time, cool cooked mixture and puree in batches in blender.)

Add: 16 oz. rice milk, 3 scoops rice “Better Than Milk,”  3/4 tsp. cinnamon and puree again until creamy.  Add more rice milk if soup is too thick.

Serve hot topped with chopped walnuts, a sprinkle of cinnamon, croutons, or chopped scallions.

Watermelon Sorbet

The inspiration for this recipe came from “The Vegan Scoop,” a dairy-free ice cream cookbook by Wheeler Del Torro.  Eating vegan is always my goal, but I realize that simply because something is vegan doesn’t make it healthy.  In fact many vegan recipes, especially those for desserts, contain so much fat and sugar that you might as well eat the real thing;  if health is your concern there’s not much difference.  So, I just had to tweek this recipe to make it a bit more acceptable.

This is a refreshing summer cooler.  With all the added artificial ingredients found in most frozen treats it’s  nice to find one that contains no added sugar, and has all the healthy lycopene found in watermelon naturally.  (Lycopene is thought to reduce the risk of cancer).  The sweet crisp taste will please both young and old alike, and of course, it’s low in calories.  This one won’t weigh you down on a hot summer day 🙂

Ingredients:

6 – 8 cups diced seedless watermelon

1/4 cup Xylitol crystals

Zest of 1 lime, finely chopped or 1 – 2 tsp lime juice

pinch salt

1/4 tsp. Stevia powder

Method:

Using a food processor, puree watermelon into 4 cups.  In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring 1 cup watermelon puree, Xylitol, and lime to a simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Season with salt.  Pour in remaining 3 cups watermelon puree, then add Stevia — whisk until evenly blended.

Pour entire mixture into a metal cake pan and freeze overnight.

The next day, allow frozen watermelon to thaw at room temperature for 5 – 15 minutes.  Using a knife (if it’s too hard let it thaw a little longer), carefully break up puree into 2-inch pieces.  Transfer to food processor in batches and pulse until smooth.

Store in plastic container in freezer for up to one week.

Yield: App. 1 quart

Steamed Vegetable Casserole

This recipe is only a guideline.  You can use whatever vegetables are cluttering your refrigerator.  I usually make it when I have an overabundance of produce and just need more frig. space.  You can also substitute pasta for the brown rice, and it will be just as delicious.

Ingredients for the sauce:

6 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed

2 Tbsp. soy sauce

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 tsp. black pepper

Whisk the sauce and put it aside.

Ingredients for casserole:

Whatever vegetables you desire.  Fresh broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower work well.  I’ve also added sweet red peppers, zucchini, green beans, or yellow summer squash to the mix — whatever you have on hand. Cut vegetable into one inch chunks (slice carrot chunks in half), do not chop.

2 cups cooked brown rice or pasta

1 – 2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning

8 oz. grated veggie cheddar cheese

1 – 2 Tbsp. veggie parmesan cheese

Method:

Using a steamer pot, bring water to a boil over high heat.  Put the veggies in the steamer basket, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes, gently turning the veggies two or three times.  You want them to be crisp-tender, not wilted (the green veggies should be still bright green); if you see them start to wilt or change color remove the pot from the heat — they are done.

In the bottom of a PAM sprayed oblong glass casserole dish, place the cooked brown rice (or pasta).  Sprinkle half the veggie cheddar cheese over rice.  Spread the steamed vegetables over that and sprinkle reserved sauce over the veggies.   Dust with Old Bay Seasoning, to taste.   Top with remaining cheddar cheese and veggie parmesan cheese.

Cover loosely with aluminum foil, and put in 350 degree oven for just 10 minutes (to melt the cheese).

Beautiful colors — healthy and delicious!