Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Garden highlights - 2017



Heirloom tomatoes

This year's garden was about compromise.  Work and studies left me little time to nurture seeds from start to transplant, so I opted for heirloom seedlings from online sources and the local nursery.  I was pleasantly surprised that the selection wasn't as narrow as I had feared.   Happily, I was still able to stock the freezer with tomatoes of about half a dozen varieties for making soups and stews over the winter, and there was usually something available for harvest fresh from the garden on most days.  Sadly, the basil was ready for harvest as I studied for a final and then was away on vacation.  Because of this, I didn't get to stock up on homemade pesto this year, but I think the neighbors enjoyed the windfall.  Another casualty to this year's weather was the garlic, which only yielded a few scrawny bulbs at harvest.  On the plus side, I was able to deter the deer that like to nibble our green bean plants.  This time, I tucked the bean seeds among the prickly leaves of zucchini plants, which the deer avoid.  This seemed to have made our garden no longer on the equivalent of the deer's Zagat guide of best places to eat because they seemed to have been frequenting our neighbor's flowering bush instead.  This year's gardening experience was certainly a bit pared down over the last few; however, I'll take it over not having one at all.  The seed catalogs have arrived in the mail just as we're settling in for a couple of weeks of below freezing winter weather, so it's time to snuggle up to the fireplace and start planning for next spring.

Although I didn't get to share the progress throughout the growing season, I did manage to capture it in photos.  Here are some of the highlights from the garden this year.
Flowers in an urn, a raised bed, a fig tree, zucchini and yellow squash

Daily harvests

Some of the flowers from this summer

Swiss chard, Italian eggplant, tomatoes ripening on the vine, strawberries

Friday, December 8, 2017

Easy chocolate superfood truffles

Chia seed coated truffles with cacao nibs and cacao dusted truffles with dried cherries and pecans

There are holiday treats everywhere you turn at this time of year.  So that I have something that seems decadent without straying away from my healthy eating program.   These little whole food bites are not only a decadent answer to a craving for something sweet, but they are packed with superfood nutrition and antioxidants found in raw cacao and maca powders, dried cherries, cocoa nibs and chia seeds.  I like to keep a batch stored in the freezer because I like the chewy, caramel-like texture they take on from being frozen.  These were my substitute for the Chunky candy bars that were in the office all during Halloween.

These just take a few minutes to blend together in a food processor.  They can be rolled into large marble sized balls or patted out into a pan and chilled for 30 minutes before cutting into fudge size squares.  In either case, store in a sealed container between rows of parchment paper in the freezer for a more chewy consistency or the fridge for a softer truffle-like bite.

Easy chocolate superfood truffles

1 cup tightly packed, pitted medjool dates (approximately 12 large dates)
3 Tbsp raw cacao powder (plus extra for coating balls)
2 Tbsp chia seeds 
1 Tbsp maca powder
5 Tbsp almond butter (or other nut or seed butter of choice)
1/2 cup pecans, chopped (or other nuts of your choice - optional)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup maple syrup (or other liquid sweetener of choice)
1 tsp vanilla extract or powder
1/4 - 1/2 cup add-ins of your choice (cocoa nibs or mini chocolate chips, dried fruit such as cherries, cranberries, coconut shreds, or diced apricots)

Into the bowl of your food processor, put everything but the add-ins and process until smooth.  This may take awhile, but be patient and use a rubber spatula to push down the mixture from the sides often.  If the mixture seems too dry, add a few drops of warm water or plant based milk to help loosen the mixture.  Once the mixture is smooth, add any desired fruits, nuts or nibs and pulse a few times to combine without breaking them up too much, or mix them in by hand.  Take about 2 tablespoons of mixture and roll into a ball by hand, then roll in cacao powder, chopped nuts or coconut shreds. Repeat with the remaining mixture.  These can be eaten right away or stored in the refrigerator or freezer between sheets of parchment paper.

Makes about 12 - 16 treats.

Thanks for reading!


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Kitchen adventure: Waffles



I enjoy having breakfast for dinner when the weather gets cooler as it is now where I live. Sometimes, when I've had a really healthy substantial lunch, all I'll want in the evening is something to satisfy my sweet tooth, and waffles are just the thing.  These waffles are light, but substantial because of the oats and bananas; and using bananas also eliminates the need for oil in the batter.  Whether you eat them for breakfast or dinner, I think this recipe will become a favorite.

WAFFLES

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup non-dairy milk + 1 tsp white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 very ripe banana mashed
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup 
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats pulsed in a food processor until fine or oat flour
  • 1 3/4 cups white whole wheat (or all purpose) flour
  • 1 Tbsp flaxseed meal
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ice water as needed 
  • Toppings - vegan butter or yogurt, maple syrup, fruit (fresh or thawed berries, diced apples or peaches), nuts, cacao nibs.  

Instructions

  1. Combine non-dairy milk and vinegar in a small mixing bowl and let set for a few minutes to curdle. Then add mashed banana, maple syrup, vanilla extract. Whisk until combined and set aside.
  2. Add dry ingredients (flour, oats, flax meal, and baking powder) into a large mixing bowl and whisk until well combined.
  3. Add wet ingredients to the dry and mix until well incorporated. If the batter is too thick, add a teaspoon of ice water at a time until the desired consistency is reached.
  4. Let the batter set for 5-10 minutes while your waffle iron preheats, and add more ice water if the batter gets too thick. 
  5. When the waffle iron is ready, generously coat with non-stick spray and pour in batter until nearly to the edges. Cook according to your preferred doneness.  I like mine to be well done with crispy edges, so I cook until there isn't any steam coming from the iron.  This takes about 1.5 times through on the highest setting on my waffle iron.  Remove and place on a baking rack in a 200 degree oven to keep warm. Do not stack, but keep them in a single layer to keep crisp.
  6. Serve with desired toppings (I had blueberries and pecans), vegan butter and maple syrup.  Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator and reheated in the toaster for crisp waffles or in the microwave for softer ones.  I double the recipe and put the extras in the in the freezer in a freezer storage bag.  They will keep for a few months.  



Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Spring in the garden and a visit to a small farm



This year, the garden got off to a slow start this year as we had a cool, often wet, spring.  Because of my studies, I didn't have time to start plants from seed as I usually do.  However, there are many more varieties of heirloom plants to choose from in local nurseries and by mail order than a few years ago.  Although the harvests won't be as diverse as I'd like, I was able to get a variety of tomato, peppers, squash, eggplant, basil and cucumber seedlings.   I also directly planted seeds for beans of all kinds, carrots, and greens. The last few years have provided enough garlic to last will into the winter months.  However, the mild winter disagreed with my fall-planted garlic, so, sadly, I will not have a large garlic harvest later this summer for pesto making.  I will be lucky to get half a dozen bulbs and will miss making a garlic braid to hang in my kitchen.  Each year's weather brings different successes and failures which is why I try to plant a variety each year - if one crop fails, hopefully, there will be plenty of something else. (We still have a couple of butternut squash left from the more than 20 from last year's harvest.)  Gardening certainly makes me appreciate how much work goes into producing our food.

Here are some photos of the garden during the last week of this spring.  Now that the summer heat is on, things have taken off, so I'll post some updates again soon.
Two of the garden beds with tomatoes, basil, and beans; a fig tree, and squash blossoms

Some of the flowers and ornamental plants tucked among the vegetable beds

Recently, we had a real treat in attending an open house of a friend and his wife.  They have about 7 acres, and have been setting up a small farm.  The chickens have the nicest coop I've ever seen with a cupola topped with a weather vane and a solar powered door to allow them easy access to the yard.  There are two of the cutest baby goats that enjoy the run of the paddock and climb on anything they can, plus beehives and guinea hens.  There is a puppy that is a working dog in training to protect them all, along with a few border collies (both theirs and ones they foster before they find a forever homes) for keeping things rounded up.  A vegetable garden is in its first year with plans for a field of cutting flowers for the next.  It was such a relaxing day spent in the fresh air and a bonfire to end the evening.  We went home relaxed while the dogs were tuckered out from running in the fields.  It has me dreaming of having a bit more land of our own.


Resources:
Seeds and fig trees (planted 2 years ago) - http://www.rareseeds.com/
Seedlings:  http://www.territorialseed.com/ and  http://www.rareseeds.com/


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Highlights from 2016


Farm view - Rural Retreat, VA

Well, they say it's better late than never...so, I'm finally getting to complete this post started many months ago.  For me, 2016 was shadowed by my sadness over my mother's passing away in February of last year.  I spent much of the rest of the year just taking things as they came as I realized that I wasn't going to be in control of things the way I usually like to be.  As I incorporated the responsibilities of settling an estate into an already busy schedule, I had to come to grips with the reality that grief makes you move at a slower pace through life.  I had to let some activities go in order to cope.  Despite that, there was still plenty to celebrate during the year.  The year was also filled with plenty of personal reflection, and I marked the end of the year by doing a look back to celebrate the highlights from 2016, picking a word and setting goals for 2017 as I have been doing over the past 10 years or so.

Here are some of the highlights from 2016:

I started and completed 1/4 of the coursework in a graduate school program in transpersonal psychology.  This partial stack of school books in the photo below kept me busy during the year.  My coursework has a large experiential component requiring a great deal of inner work.  My personal meditation practice has become even more consistent as I explored a variety of both Eastern and Western techniques.  I delved into a journey of self-discovery uncovering the mythologies of childhood and culture that are influencing me today, and immersed myself in discovering the science behind the powers of the human mind and the the mysteries of our dreams.  I've included a resource list of some of the books I explored in class and some others just for fun in case you are looking for something to add to your reading list.



Because of my studies, the garden didn't get as much of my attention as I would have liked to have given it.  However, the harvests still offered an abundance of fruits and vegetables plus beautiful flowers for bouquets.



I attended a weekend program on intuition and dreams at a farmhouse called the Big House in Rural Retreat, VA.  In addition to gaining new knowledge, it was a weekend of much needed rejuvenation, beautiful scenery, and making connections with a like-minded community.  After the program, the road trip continued with visits to family in Kentucky and Indiana before heading home and back to work and my studies.

The Big House in Rural Retreat, VA

Other highlights for the year included:


spending time with my brother and his family
a photography workshop with my favorite zen master
high tea at an historic inn with some of the ladies in the neighborhood
a fun summer evening at a traveling carnival with a girlfriend and her family
performing dance at a charity function
a special night at the 10-year anniversary celebration of  the release of Hip Tranquil Chick
my husband taking me to a performance of Love Letters by Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal
a beautiful local Christmas light display
monthly volunteering with my son at the local food bank

As I have done for many years, I completed Susannah Conway's Unravelling exercise of reflection for the year past and set aspirations for the year ahead.  Last year's word was IMMERSION, and that came about when I dove into my studies and also coped with being unexpectedly immersed in grief.  For 2017, I have chosen AUTHENTIC as my word to explore as my knowledge and worldview expand with my studies.  I'm looking forward to watching the rest of 2017 unfold and the adventures it might bring.

Thanks for reading!

Reading list:

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Personal Mythology: Using Ritual, Dreams, and Imagination to Discover Your Inner Story
Dream Solutions! Dream Realizations: The Original Dream Quest Guidebook
Extraordinary Knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind
Meditation for Beginners
Living Deeply: The Art & Science of Transformation in Everyday Life
When the Soul Awakens: The Path to Spiritual Evolution and a New World Era
The Secret History of Dreaming
The Essential Edgar Cayce
Succulent Wild Woman - Dancing With Your Wonder-full Self!
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less



   Rose in full bloom in my garden