Friday, December 28, 2018

Garden Highlights 2018




We have just celebrated the winter solstice in my part of the world, and the seed catalogs are already starting to turn up in my mailbox for the next planting season.  Work and studies have kept me pretty busy, but I carved out a little time to put in a kitchen garden again last year.  Digging in the soil, listening to the buzz of the bees, and working muscles little used while sitting at a desk helped slow time down for while while the stress melted away.  This year had a cool and rainy start which delayed getting the garden started.  I was so excited to see one of my fig trees develop fruit for the first time; however, because of the cool start, it was so late in the season that they didn't get a chance to mature...fingers crossed for next year.  Although I wasn't able to have as much variety as some previous years, I was still able to capture a few glamour shots of the daily (sometimes twice a week) harvests.  Before I turn to dreaming about next year's garden plan, I thought I'd share some of these highlights from my 2018 garden with you.

2018 Garden Highlights

Early spring greens (chard, kale, spinach)

Makings of a strawberry and greens smoothie

The wettest year on record helped produce these giant squash plants in this view of two of the raised beds in the front yard.


Cucumbers, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, green, wax, and broad beans, peppers and basil

Onions, shallots, cucumbers (green and Asian dragons egg), bell pepper, zucchini, ground cherries, green, wax and broad beans

Onions, eggplant, cucumbers (green and Asian dragons egg), bell pepper, zucchini, ground cherries, green, wax and broad beans, tomato, and lima beans

French market carrots, Asian cucumber, tomatoes, red and yellow onions, shallots, and broad beans

Cantaloupe, tomatoes, ground cherries, green, wax and broad beans, Italian sweet peppers, and lima beans

Cantaloupe and heirloom tomatoes

Eggplant, Italian and bell sweet peppers, tomatoes, basil, cucumber, sage, and raspberries

Eggplant, bell and jalapeño peppers, tomatoes, and sage

Eggplant, jalapeñand bell peppers, beets, carrots, tomatoes, and arugula


Kale, chard, carrots, and sweet peppers

Thanks for reading!





Thursday, January 25, 2018

Kitchen adventure: Carrot cake cupcakes with lemon frosting

Carrot cake cupcakes with lemon frosting

Eating more whole foods is better for us, but sometimes you just want dessert.  I have found a recipe for a cupcake that is moist and decadent without any added processed sugar, oil, or salt.  It's a cupcake that you won't feel guilty about eating with its sweetness and moistness coming from fruit and the creaminess in the frosting from the healthier oils found in nuts. 

This recipe is inspired from a current favorite cookbook and blog, Straight Up Food, by Cathy Fisher.  You'll find the original recipe here, and below is my version with all the changes I made incorporated.

For the best results, make the frosting first, then put it in the refrigerator to firm up while making the cupcakes.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Lemon Frosting

Lemon Frosting

9 pitted medjool dates

1 scant cup raw cashews
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
zest from 1/2 of a lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¾ to 1 cup water
1/2 cup chopped roasted chopped pecans (optional; for garnish)
  1. Place the dates, cashews, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla into a blender. Add ¾ cup of water.  If the water doesn't completely cover the dates and nuts, add just enough until it does. Set aside for at least  15 minutes so the dates and nuts can soften.  If you don't have a high powered blender, soak for 45 minutes or more so everything can thoroughly soften to get a smoother consistency.
  2. Blend until very smooth,  (Add a little more water if the mixture is too thick to blend, being careful not to make it too runny.)
  3. Transfer the frosting into a covered bowl, and refrigerate to cool and firm up while you are making the cupcakes.

Cupcakes

1½ cups non-dairy milk
10 pitted medjool dates
1/2 cup pineapple chunks (I used fresh, but frozen or unsweetened canned would work)
1/2 cup mango chunks (I used frozen, defrosted, and fresh would work too)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1¾ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
1½ cups grated carrots grated fine (2 medium)
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
  1. Place the nondairy milk, dates, and vanilla into a bowl and set aside for at least 15 minutes (so the dates can soften).
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners
  3. Grind the oats into flour with a blender. Transfer to a medium bowl, and whisk in the cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and cloves.
  4. Place the milk, dates and vanilla mixture plus the pineapple and mango in the blender, and blend until smooth.
  5. Stir the date mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients. Fold in the grated carrots and nuts.
  6. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is medium brown and a tester comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan and placing on a cooling rack, and cool completely before frosting. 
  8. Frost with the prepared chilled lemon frosting.  
  9. Keep refrigerated.

Thanks for reading!

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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.