Zucchini Bread

ThDSC03469is one almost feels like it’s cheating.  It uses all of those zucchinis that people are handing out this time of year like kittens, it is sweet but not too sweet, it is filling while still being a perfectly acceptable mid-morning teacher’s room lounge snack, and it isn’t really all that unhealthy for you.

Okay. Now that you’re with me, I can tell you this recipe is vegan (if you choose to use margarine as opposed to butter), and uh-mazing. This recipe is wonderful because aside from being easily modified to become vegan (yay for eating food that makes minimal demands on our environment, and is accessible to those with food allergies), this recipe can also be made with frozen zucchini, so you have no excuse not to grate those extra gourds you have laying around, and keep the gratings stored in the freezer (pre-measure into cups for easy future use) for a quick batch of zucchini bread mid-winter.

You may notice that this recipe is actually quite similar to my banana bread recipe.  This recipe, in fact, is almost identical, minus a few spices and the walnuts present in the banana recipe.  Both recipes were adapted from a banana bread recipe in The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook,  a cookbook created by the famous commune of the same name in the 1970s.  Classic.

DSC03811Speaking of classics, I’m listening to the Beatles  Abbey Road while I cook up this zucchini bread.  I’m listening to classic albums, as I choose what the next record will be for my two-year old nephew, whom I give vinyl for every birthday and Christmas. Abbey Road was the eleventh studio album by the Beatles, released in 1969, and the last album recorded by the band before their break-up.  Hailed often as one of the best albums ever made, George Harrison’s “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” are the primary reasons the album holds such a dear place in my heart, and the rocking “Come Together” I can’t possibly listen to without playing an imaginary bass and/or doing a signature clap-hands-and-come-together-shimmy.

Rock on.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 14 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tsp. baking powder
  • 12 tsp. baking soda
  • 14 cup butter (or margarine to make a very easy vegan adaptation of the recipe)
  • 34 cup brown sugar or 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup grated zucchini, fresh or frozen
  • 3 tbsp. coconut milk (almond milk or even water work fine as well)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Directions:

  • Heat the oven to 350°, and oil loaf pan.
  • Sift together all dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger)
  • Using an electric mixer, cream together butter (or margarine) and sugar in a large bowl DSC03462
  • Add zucchini to wet ingredients and mix thoroughly DSC03458
  • Add approximately 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and mix, then add 1 tsp. of the coconut milk and mix thoroughly.
  • Continue alternating between adding dry ingredients to wet mixture, with adding coconut milk and vanilla to wet mixture, until all ingredients are added and mixed
  • Fold in walnuts.
  • Pour batter into loaf pan, and spread evenly. DSC03468
  • Bake at 350° for one hour, or until top is golden brown and a fork inserted into the middle of the bread comes out clean. DSC03471

I love serving sliced warm, and have been guilty of slathering my bread with butter which is entirely unnecessary, but entirely fabulous. Some chocolate chips can be a great addition to convince children (and adult-children!)  that this bread is more of a dessert than calories imply.  Happy snacking!

Coconut Oil, Baking Soda, and Peppermint Toothpaste

DSC03896I love simple DIY recipes – and I mean, simple.  As much as I love the thought of literally whipping up my own body lotion or eye cream, I don’t often have the time to do it.

Toothpaste is a commodity that we use everyday. This little concoction is what we’ve been using in our home for the last two years, ever since I bought some from my local friend at Homemade on the Homestead, (still where I purchase my whipped body butter!) and I decided to try to make it myself.

Baking soda assists with plaque removal and is antimicrobial, which helps to prevent infections in the body. The coconut oil makes the blend less abrasive, and the peppermint oil gives it a lovely, fresh taste.

Dipping your toothbrush into the concoction may take a little getting used to, but once you’ve adjusted, you’re likely to be hooked. My partner is so into this recipe, he thinks all other toothpastes taste strange now. Lucky for me, this toothpaste recipe is three ingredients and takes about twenty minutes to make, aside from occasional shaking during the firming process.

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz  coconut oil
  • 4 tsp. baking soda
  • 30-45 drops of peppermint oil (depending on personal preference)

Directions:

  • Using a spoon or a spatula, fill a 4 oz. canning jar nearly full of coconut oil. DSC03898
  • Place a lid on the jar, and close firmly.  Submerge most of the jar in a pot of water on the stove, and turn the heat to medium. DSC03899
  • Continue checking the jar, removing when the coconut oil is thoroughly melted.
  • Remove jar from heat using tongs, and use a towel to carefully unscrew lid.
  • Add baking soda and 30 drops of peppermint to start (you can always add more peppermint later, depending on how strong you prefer the peppermint flavor). DSC03900
  • Stir with a spoon until all lumps have dissipated.
  • Place lid firmly back on jar, and set upside-down on a towel.
  • Every ten-fifteen minutes, gently shake the toothpaste mixture, and reverse positioning (upside-down to upright, then upright to upside-down), to ensure all of the baking soda does not settle to the bottom of the jar. DSC03901

Once the ingredients have firmed – place DSC03902in your bathroom and prepare to revolutionize your toothbrushing. Scrub gently until you’ve adjusted to the texture, and then marvel at how wonderfully clean your mouth feels afterward.

*Quick tip for whitening: Making a paste of 1 tsp. of water and 1 tsp. of baking soda and smear on teeth for five minutes once a week.

Eggplant and Tomato Bake

DSC03725If you aren’t okay with oil, this is the wrong recipe for you.

At least the way I do it.  I fry my eggplant in loads of coconut oil.  I like it saturated. I personally, don’t feel guilty about it.  Why?  Well, coconut oil has medium-length fatty acids (as opposed to longer-chained fatty acids prevalent in many other oils), making coconut oil easier to break down and less likely to turn into stored fats. You’ll need to make sure you use virgin coconut oil, but that oil gets broken down quickly by the liver and can be used immediately for energy, helping with metabolism, and helping you burn more calories. Additionally, the fatty acids in coconut oil also slightly reduce your appetite, due tot he way the body metabolizes the fats. And my person favorite reason to love on coconut oil – the Lauric Acid that comprises around 50% of coconut oil’s fatty acids is anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral; the consumption of coconut oil therefor can help reduce pathogens in the body and prevent infection.

My eggplant frying, cheese grating, and DSC03798bread crumb sprinkling was accompanied by the sounds of Ugly Cassanova’s album Sharpen Your Teeth, a group at that time comprised of Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, John Orth of Holopaw, Pall Jenkins of the Black Heart Procession, Tim Rutili of Califone and Red Red Meat and Brian Deck of Red Red Meat. The album was just re-released on vinyl from Sub Pop last week, and the first rounds of the limited-edition are a super sweet tie-dye looking yellow-ish vinyl. My copy just arrived  in the mail yesterday from my pre-order a few months ago, and I am a super happy and mellow girl in my kitchen on this rainy day.

Ingredients:

  • 5 tbsp. virgin coconut oil (or more if you’re not scared!)
  • 2 medium-large eggplants
  • 4-5 medium-large tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 cup breadcrumbs (split into four DSC03729parts, the the first three 1/4 cup each, the last 1/2 cup)
  • 1 white onion
  • 2 medium-sized bell peppers
  • 2-3 small zucchinis
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 28 oz. can diced and cooked tomatoes
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese *I’ve also substituted goat cheese, which I often have in the house, and it works well, though it has a lighter consistency)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  • Cut eggplant into discs and fry one layer at a time in a skillet or cast iron pan on medium heat. Flip after 2-3 minutes, and fry other side.  once first batch is finished, add additional oil, and repeat with another batch of eggplant, adding coconut oil as necessary.  In a medium-sized frying pan, this will likely take three batches. Set on a plate to cool as each batch is completed. DSC03728
  • Lay one half of the fried eggplant into a 9″x 13″ pan, greased with coconut oil. Set the other half aside.
  • Salt and pepper the eggplant.
  • Sprinkle 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs on top of eggplant.
  • Slice tomatoes. Use half of sliced tomatoes (set the other half aside), and layer on top of eggplant. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs on top of tomatoes. DSC03739
  • Stir fry chopped onion in 1/2 tbsp of oil for 5 minutes, or until onion is beginning to be translucent (I used a purple onion because I was gifted one by a dear friend our her garden and I love the color, but I’d recommend using white) DSC03734
  • Add chopped bell peppers and sliced zucchini, and stir fry for an additional 5 minutes. DSC03736
  • Add garlic at the very end and stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Season vegetables with oregano, thyme, salt and pepper.
  • Layer the fried vegetables on top of tomatoes, using full amount. DSC03852
  • Drizzle 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese on top of vegetables.
  • Spread 1/2 of 28 oz. can of tomatoes on top of ricotta. DSC03737
  • Add the last of the sliced tomatoes, and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup of bread crumbs. DSC03854
  • Drizzle last 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese on top of vegetables.
  • Spread second 1/2 of can of tomatoes on top of ricotta.
  • Lay down remaining eggplant pieces.
  • Mix last  1/4 cup of bread crumbs with the Parmesan cheese, juice of lemon, lemon zest, and drizzle of olive oil together in a bowl. Drizzle over entire dish. DSC03856
  • Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake at 50 degrees for 10 minutes. DSC03883
  • Serve with a side, and enjoy getting a huge dose of your garden vegetables all in one sitting!

Fancy Flavored Ice Cubes

DSC03551Summer is off to a bit of a late start this year, but the sun is out and it’s now time for lake paddling, deck sitting, and drink sipping. I’m not normally an ice person, but while I lounge in the sun, I want my beverage cold enough to condense so I can hold the glass to my overheated forehead before I take a refreshing swig.  Aaaah…  Mmmmm…

So I use ice cubes.  Brilliant, I know you guys, I’m a smartie.  I’ve got all your tips right here: to keep summer drinks cold, add an ice cube or two right from the freezer! What would you ever do without me?!

Seriously though, I do have a tip, and that’s to make DSC03449your beverage that much more exciting, with  fancy ice cubes. Honestly, they’re really all I use anymore, unless I’m making a smoothie that requires ice (not all smoothies pair well with mint). I use my fancy ice cubes in water, ice tea, lemonade, and even white wine (though you are more than welcome to judge me on that last one.  I judge myself a little too).

DSC03435So how do you make your fancy ice cubes? As luck would have it, approximately the same time of year that the weather starts to heat up, the mint also becomes primee for the picking, and it continues to grow all summer long! Coincidence? I think not.  My favorite ice cube additions are mint, cucumber, and lemon, though lime and honey are also fun, and blackberries or raspberries are fun for kids.

Here’s the easiest recipe I’ve posted yet.  So simple, I hesitate to call it a recipe. Really, here is what you need to chop and squeeze  your way to an exciting glass of water.

*Directions are for one tray, though I usually make four at a time.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 sprigs mint
  • 1 small cucumber
  • 1-2 small lemons
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Directions:

  • After rinsing fresh mint, place 2-4 leaves in each square of an empty ice cube tray.
  • Squeeze the juice of two lemons equally in each cube of the tray.  (I like to use my fingers to work a bit of pulp into each cube as well).
  • Slice the cucumber as thinly as possible, and then quarter each slice.  Place 2-3 of the quarter slices in each cube.
  • Add water. DSC03434
  • Freeze.

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Add to beverages, and enjoy! Feel proud of your small victory over mundane water! ( Give yourself a bonus pat on the back for utilizing some of that prolific mint…)

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Split Pea Soup with Bacon and Thyme

The creaminess of this non-cream soup is astounding. DSC04520With a butter, onion, and cabbage base, the soup, when cooked down and blended, has a magical smoothness to it; it is absolute comfort on a cool day.  And then the thyme?  And bacon?  Count me in for lunch, dinner, and then lunch again.

So glad I had the opportunity to get this recipe in another time before the weather gets warm and I take down my soup obsession a notch or two.  This last drizzly spell in Western Washington had my fireplace going again, and a couple of different pots of soup on the stove.  Pacified by the rain and dreading the drought, I’m grateful for these late spring showers.

DSC05023And I’m grateful for soup.  And Courtney Barnett. Her album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Think, is named after a poster that hung at her grandmother’s house. The Australian independent rocker that sprang into fame in 2013 with “Avante Gardner”, which Pitchfork named “the best new track of 2013,” also self-released her first album with a loan from her grandmother. I’m grateful for Courtney Barnett’s grandmother. Barnett’s tracks are at once mellow and upbeat, though you don’t have to take my word for it: Barnett was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy in 2016. Her songwriting seems effortless and easy, which is the feeling I get when I listen to her songs.  Even when she is complaining about the world, her laissez-faire attitude and playing style make the listener feel as if everything is going to be okay.

It is! Everything is okay.  Better than okay.  We’re making split pea soup.  With thyme.  And BACON.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups dried split green peasDSC04703
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 1 large white onion
  • 1 head of iceberg lettuce or 2/3 head of green cabbage
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp. thyme (plus additional springs for garnish)
  • 5-6 strips fried and chopped bacon (for garnish)DSC04702DSC04709

Directions:

  • Begin by soaking peas overnight to reduce time. Rinse, (I always rinse at least twice) and bring 4 1/2 cups water to a boil, before adding the split peas. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and simmer partially covered for 30-40 minutes until they begin to soften. *If you don’t have time to soak the peas overnight, soak for as long as possible, and make sure to still rinse carefully.  Split peas that are not pre-soaked will take considerably longer to cook, sometimes upwards of an hour and a half before they begin to soften. They will also be cooked an addition ten minutes with the other ingredients.
  • While split peas cook, thinly slice onion onion and finely chop lettuce or cabbage. DSC04708
  • Melt butter in a heavy-bottom sauce pan  on medium heat (4 qt. minimum, but larger is preferable), and add onions,  stirring until translucent.
  • Add shredded cabbage or lettuce, stir until wilted, and add vegetable broth.
  • Add lentils (strain any excess water that hasn’t been fully absorbed) and thyme, and simmer for an additional ten minutes. DSC04712
  • Blend smooth using an immersion blender, or in small batches using a standing blender. *If using a standing blender or food processor, take care not to fill over 2/3, and cover with a damp cloth to prevent burning from steam or unwanted messes. DSC04713
  • Meanwhile, fry bacon in cast-iron pan on medium-high heat until crisp.  DSC04718
  • Drain off fat and cut into small pieces, and sprinkle over soup with fresh sprigs of thyme.
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    Best enjoyed warm on damp, drizzly days. Eat up!

 

 

 

Nettle, Green Onion, and Prosciutto Pasta

DSC04957The nettles have arrived, and they are in abundance.  Aside from tea and perhaps a few set aside for a salve, what to do with all those nettles?  They arrive early in spring, and can be harvested as long as they are around, through mid-summer, providing only the top set of leaves are gathered (the stems and lower leaves get woody as the plants mature).

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • one bunch of green onions, diced
  • 10 cups nettle leaves, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups pasta
  • 1/2 cup flaked or shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano or parmesan cheese
  • 5 slices prosciutto, cut into strips
  • salt and pepper to taste

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Directions:

  • Heat up coconut oil and better in a large skillet or cast iron pan.
  • Add diced green onions and nettle leaves to pan and saute with lid off for approximately three minutes, then cover and turn to low, and steam for ten. *Use tongs to move nettle leaves from colander to skillet.  They may be cut smaller using gloves, but I find the leaves cook down enough that I simply pluck, rinse, and cook.

    DSC04988

  • In another pan, bring salted pasta to a boil as per directions, cook, and then drain.
  • Uncover steamed nettles, and add sliced prosciutto and stir to give the meat a touch of warmth before serving.

    DSC04997

  • Add prosciutto, nettle, and green onions to drained pasta, and stir. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.

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Happy gathering!

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Nettles

Harvesting nettles in spring has such a “turning of the seasons” quality to it.  The best time to gather is early spring, when the earth is bursting with new growth, trees are budding, and the verdant foliage is dewy and alive.

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The benefits of nettles  (Urtica dioica and Urtica urens) are many, particularly for detoxifying the body. Nettle leaf is a diuretic and strengthens the mucous membrane of the digestive, urinary, and respiratory systems.  Nettles reduce blood pressure, increase the excretion of salt, and help prevent the build up of uric acid in joints, alleviating cases of gout, rheumatism, and arthritis. Nettle root has been used for prostate issues in men, though the root has even better results for the latter.

High in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and protein, nettles are great for nails and hair, and can be used to stimulate the adrenals.  Nettles can be used in any recipes that require a leafy green to be sauteed or boiled, ridding the nettles of their stinging qualities. DSC04958

Used topically, nettles can be used in compresses or salves to alleviate joint pain, sprains, tendonitis, or insect bites.  It can also be used as a tonic, shown to benefit excema when applied directly to the skin. Nettles help alleviate symptoms of hay fever  (allergic rhinitis) by the reducing the body’s histamine production in response to allergens.  Although most general readers won’t have the capability to freeze dry nettles, it is worth noting that a human study regarding hay fever found that taking stinging nettle supplements daily (beginning two-three weeks before hay fever season began), had comparable or more effective results than taking prescription allergy medicine.

Nettles, as with anything, should be harvested in an area free of pollution, and at least 50-100 yards from public roads that may cover the plants with auto exhaust residue. Areas around agricultural businesses, parking lots, public parks, and fertilized lawns are also potentially laden with herbicides or pesticides.  Where we live, we have DNR land (Department of Natural Resources) right out our back door, where harvesting for personal use is free in the state of Washington (check your state’s State Forest rules and regulations), and harvesting non-commercially for edible non-marine plants and mushrooms is also allowed without a permit. National Forests vary in their regulations, and should be checked locally.  For instance, in Washington State, Gifford Pinchot National forest does not require a permit for up to three gallons of berries, while a free-use permit must be acquired to gather greens, mushrooms, or cones, while Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest requires permits for all of the aforementioned, Olympic National Forest does not require a permit for mushroom foraging, and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area prohibits foraging altogether. The National Parks (including Mt. Rainier), allow for the gathering of between one quart and one gallon of edible fruits, nuts, berries, and mushrooms per day, though North Cascades National Park prohibits mushroom foraging. This is a great resource for the Pacific Northwest with a brief rundown on rules for foraging on both state and national lands. In short, check locally before harvesting, but once you find your spot, you’ll have it all figured out for future expeditions.

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As a rule, don’t harvest from the very first plants of a species to show themselves in an area.  As pioneer plants, these should be left to grow and proliferate. Look for healthy community of plants to gather from, and gather from the more central portions of the plant, so that plants growing on the edge can continue to grow outward. Remove no more than ten percent of a native plant community in a single stand, and be mindful of only collecting what you need.

Nettles can be found in rich, moist soil, where there is also an abundance of sun. Their stalks are straight and sturdy, with heart shaped leaves that are toothed, and finely tapered.  The entire plant is covered with fine hairs that release chemicals when touched (giving the nettles their commonly referenced moniker “Stinging Nettles”) that are concentrated mostly on the underside of the leaves and stem, but become inactive once cooked or dried. Nettles grow in clusters, can reach over two meters in height, and often grow with mint in close proximity.

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The best time for gathering is in early spring, when nettles are newly sprung from the ground, under one foot tall. At this point, the plant has put energy into the growth of the leaves but not yet begun the budding process (nettles will produce pink or yellow flowers later in the season). Nettles can be harvested their entire life cycle, but the leaves and stem get woody, so if you do some late harvesting, just harvest the brand new growth at the very top of the plant. Using gloves, harvest leaves the first two or three clusters of leaves from the top of each plant, after the morning dew has evaporated, but before the full strength of the day’s sun has arrived. Place the nettles in a paper or plastic bag for transport, and then carefully transfer to a colander using kitchen tongs, and then use tongs to transfer to pan or pot for cooking.

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The benefits of the nettle will be most potent right way; it is best to consume them as soon as possible.  A great way to obtain the full benefits of a the nettles is to make a fresh tea right away, removing the tops and bringing them indoors, to have water just-blow-boiling poured over them, steeped for ten minutes, and then enjoyed.

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Another option is to cook up your nettles with any pasta or rice dish, any recipe wherein you might use a dark, leafy green, such as spinach.  Here’s a link to a simple nettle, green onion, and prosciutto pasta.