Monday, May 30, 2011

Sara's Mediterranean Vegetables

Picture it: Marshall, Texas, 1994. Two young girls who share a similar sense of humor find each other on their very first day of college and forge a lasting friendship while sitting on the floor of the bookstore reading aloud from Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handy. Yes, that's just how my friendship with Sara began, and since that day she has been one of my dearest friends in the entire world. Although she and her family now live thousands of miles away in Istanbul, Turkey, we still keep in touch and do our best to connect on the rare occasions when they are stateside.

Sara shares my passion for whole food, and has agreed to share a couple of recipes with us via guest post. I know you're going to love her cost-effective, nutrient-dense recipe for Mediterranean vegetables (pictured above). Stay tuned for another post from Sara, featuring her recipe for Chinese Style Vegetables. You don't want to miss it, because it is a simple and delicious way to prepare just about any vegetable. Please welcome my friend, Sara, to Nourished on a Budget *golf clap*!

"So we all know (or probably know) that we need to be consuming more veggies, right? Sadly, our American diet tends to revolve around meat. Frankly, we eat more meat than we should as a culture. I was told by a doctor that the key to losing weight and being fit is making sure your diet is made up of more vegetables and fruit than animal products. In searching for more ways to add veggies to our diet, we found a really yummy Mediterranean vegetable recipe. Throw in some cubed or sliced chicken (such as fajita meat), serve on top of some rice, and you've got an entire meal where the meat/vegetable ratio is perfectly balanced. It's good, it's easy, and I really hope you will try it and let me know what you think!

Herb-Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables with Chicken
  1. 8 cups assorted vegetable pieces (such as sliced eggplant, zucchini, onion, carrots, mushrooms, tomatos and coarsely chopped peppers, remembering that the goal is 5 different colors of fruit and veggies every day--the more colors the better. Just choose your favorite veggies, and slice until you have 8 cups, but be sure to always include at least 1 large onion.)
  2. 2 cubed or sliced boneless, skinless, raw chicken breasts or 3 cubed or sliced boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  3. 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (cold pressed is really the only way it's actually healthy for you... and the cloudier the better.)

  4. 2 cloves garlic, minced, crushed, or pressed (I use my garlic press for at least 75% of the meals I cook, and I love it.)

  5. 2 tsp rosemary

  6. 1 tsp sea salt

  7. 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese (Use less if you want or none at all; it's not a necessary ingredient.) 

Combine oil, garlic, rosemary, and salt. Drizzle over vegetables and toss. Place in a deep, large baking dish (if you are adding chicken, place it on the bottom of the baking dish and top it with veggies after you have tossed them with the oil mixture). Bake at 375°F for 30-40 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with the cheese.

Special Notes:
I can't help but wonder if I could do this in a crock pot with a whole chicken... That may be my next experiment with it, but I'll bet it would be great. I would use a very small chicken, rub some olive oil on the skin, salt and pepper it, maybe add some extra garlic and rosemary, then after tossing the oil mixture over the veggies, add them in.

Also, just a side note for you: mushrooms are divine in this one. I probably put 3 cups of them alone in there... Definitely my favorite part of this dish. So if you try it, don't forget the 'shrooms!!!!"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Magic of Kefir

I first heard about kefir when I read Jordan Rubin's book, The Maker's Diet. He seemed to think it was the bee's knees, so I wanted to try it post-haste. It would be about 8 years before I would have the chance to try real kefir, made from kefir grains, but it was worth the wait! Although I still don't find the taste of plain kefir all that appetizing, I can mix it in a smoothie with some frozen fruit and raw honey, and can't even tell it's in there. It is tart, like yogurt, but has a thinner consistency and a more "yeasty" component that yogurt lacks. Perhaps it's an acquired taste, but the benefits are worth the work of making it palatable to our modern tastes. Simply put, I love my kefir! And I firmly believe almost everyone should be consuming it often. So, for your educational pleasure, here are some kefir facts:

What is it?
Kefir is a fermented beverage, traditionally made from milk. It can also be made from coconut milk or water, but coconut milk will not sustain the grains for continued use, and water requires a special "water kefir grain" to produce.

How is it made?
Real kefir is made from kefir grains. Kefir grains (pictured above) are small, ivory bundles that look somewhat like tiny cauliflower florets. They are composed of yeasts and bacterias bound by a water soluble polysacharide called kefiran. It is not a thermophilic culture, meaning the grains perform their lactic-acid fermentation at room temperature. It is not necessary to heat the milk before culturing, so it is extremely easy to produce! Commercial kefirs are not made from kefir grains and, therefore, do not contain the same bacterias. They are considered inferior to kefir made from grains. To make homemade real kefir, all you need is a batch of grains (as little as 1 Tbs can culture a cup of milk in 24 hours), and a cup of milk. Really! You place the grains in the milk, cover loosely, and let sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours. Then you can strain out the grains, drink the resulting beverage, and use the grains to produce another batch. The grains will "grow" with each batch made, so they are perfect for sharing with friends.

What are the benefits?
Like yogurt, kefir populates the gut with beneficial bacteria that will boost the immune system and impart a general feeling of well-being. The difference between yogurt and kefir is that yogurt has a transitory effect, meaning you eat the yogurt, then the bacterias pass through your system and exit the body. Kefir bacterias are not transitory, so they stick around a while and continue to work their magic in your gut. This is one of the reasons kefir is thought to be highly superior to yogurt. Following are some of the benefits I found on the Seeds of Health website. I have included their references below.

"Kefir has many reputed health benefits. It has antibiotic and antifungal properties. It's been used in the treatment of a variety of conditions, including metabolic disorders, atherosclerosis, and allergies, tuberculosis, cancer, poor digestion, candidiasis, osteoporosis, hypertension, HIV and heart disease. You might find it odd that that a drink containing yeasts would be good for treating candidiasis but it has been helpful to many people, both by restoring a better balance to the gut flora and because some elements of the microflora will kill off Candida Albicans. Not all yeasts are harmful.

In addition to beneficial bacteria and yeast, kefir contains many vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. Particularly calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, B2 and B12, vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin D. Tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids abundant in kefir, is well known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system. Because kefir also has an abundance of calcium and magnesium, also important minerals for a healthy nervous system, kefir in the diet can have a particularly calming effect on the nerves.

The abundance of enzymes brings more health benefits, especially to lactose intolerant people, many of whom can tolerate kefir without difficulty, as long as the kefir is raw and not cooked (cooking destroys the enzymes)."

Lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in kefir grains and kefir made from them. J Ind Microbiol Biotechnol 2002 Jan;28(1):1-6 .
Inhibitory power of kefir: the role of organic acids. J Food Prot 2000 Mar;63(3):364-9
Antibacterial activity of milk-fermenting bacteria. Vet Med (Praha) 1990 Mar;35(3):187-92
The Caucasus Kefir. Dr. Lee Lorenzen, Biochemist

Photo Credit:
Chiot’s Run, Flickr

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

God's Chicken

Today is Tuesday. Which means yesterday was Monday...ugh. I've had a rocky relationship with that particular day of the week as long as I can remember. In my youth, it was because I had to be dragged from my warm, comfortable bed to face the harsh reality of yet another school week. Although I don't have to be dragged out of bed anymore, I invariably have way more to do on a Monday morning than time permits. Chaos ensues. Yesterday was no exception. I got up, combed my hair, put on my makeup, ironed my clothes (OK...I smoothed them out with my hands and hoped nobody at work would notice the wrinkles), made banana nut oatmeal (you know me...not the "instant" kind), packed hubby's luch, played with baby boy, packed baby boy's lunch, fed the cat, and then realized I had to deal with two beautiful chickens I was planning to roast that night. In the immortal words of Winnie the Pooh, "Oh, bother." I had such plans for those chickens. I had envisioned slathering them with clarified butter and stuffing the skin with fresh herbs, garlic and chives from my garden. Alas, there was no time.

So I settled. I quickly rinsed them and set them free from their packaging. Then I plopped them in a Pyrex dish (no time for trussing) and threw a handful of sea salt in each cavity. I rummaged through my fridge and managed to find a rind from a lemon I had squeezed the night before, so I stuffed half in each chicken. Then I generously sprinkled more sea salt over the chickens, hit 'em with a few turns of the pepper grinder, globbed on some olive oil, threw them in the oven and uttered a prayer to bless my hastily-prepared chickens. How's that for a recipe?

Let. Me. Testify. Those chickens were divine! Hands down, the best I've ever roasted. If this recipe doesn't work out for you, we'll know you left out the last step (the prayer). I can't tell you how many times I've made dodgy decisions in the kitchen and just prayed everything would turn out well. I can't think of a time the Lord said "No" to that. So, here's my official recipe for God's Chicken:

2 small-medium roasting chickens (preferably pastured, organic)
1 large lemon
1/3 cup good olive oil
2 Tbs finely ground sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Remove chickens from packaging, rinse and pat dry
  2. Place side-by-side in a 9x13 Pyrex baking dish
  3. Season the cavity of each chicken with about 1/2 Tbs of sea salt
  4. Stuff each cavity with half the lemon (If you're not using leftover lemon, you could squeeze the juice over the chickens. I didn't, so if you do that, let us know how it turns out!)
  5. Season each chicken with the remaining sea salt and black pepper
  6. Drizzle the oil over the chickens
  7. Bake at 375 F for 1 hour and 15 minutes

Be certain to let the chickens come to room temperature before placing them in the oven. This will "relax" the meat and yeild a more tender, juicy result.

Also let the chickens "rest" for 15-30 minutes after removing them from the oven before carving. Carving fresh out of the oven will cause the juices to flow out of the chicken and leave you with a tougher, drier bird.

Photo Credit:
Herman Saksano, Flickr

Monday, May 23, 2011

In Search of Balance

I know there are so many people who take all the hype about pesticides with a grain of salt. They figure the government wouldn't actually allow us to be slowly poisoned to death, so why waste money on fancy food? Why waste time and energy thinking about how to raise a garden without Miracle-Gro, Sevin dust and Roundup? I get it. I really do. Most people are so overburdened with our fast-paced American merry-go-round they don't really have time to think about it. I guess I'm just not most people. That's not always good. Sometimes I go so far overboard that I add more stress to my life than is healthy. But I find that what I'm ultimately striving for is balance. Isn't that the main thing lacking in this merry-go-round, anyway? We are constantly struggling against the push and pull of family, work, and worship. Those of us who are believers understand that all of those things should exist in harmony within the context of our relationship with the Creator; that our first and utmost priority is relationship, and He will balance the rest in His power. But living that? Well, that's a different story, isn't it?

We get so caught up in going and doing that we fail to just be! To be in His presence, exist in His love, exercise in His guidance. I find it interesting that one of the most recognized scriptures on this subject is actually an agricultural metaphor: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5, NIV)" For me, this resonates! My garden provides for me such respite, and has become a daily reminder of God's provision, His closeness and His peace. To remain in Him is to allow Him to acheive the balance I so desperately need in my life. I can dig my hands in the dirt and see it alive with activity; the natural balance of good bugs and bad bugs striving in a constant tension that creates an energy I can feel. It is healing; it is peaceful. To use chemicals to totally wipe out that life and that energy seems more glaringly unnatural now than ever before. It seems, somehow, arrogant and ignorant to use man-made methods to try and improve on the system God created. Chemicals know nothing of abiding. Rather, they rush ahead, ignore wisdom and invite folly. They destroy balance and make a mockery of stewardship.

I spend a lot of time reading about the science of this. How the bugs we can see improve the soil by keeping it aerated and fertilized or serve to keep harmful insects in check. The microorganisms we can't see add nutrients and flavor to the food. To strip the garden of these things is to deprive our bodies (and our tastebuds) of many benefits. To add unnaturally high levels of artificial sources of nitrogen to the soil imparts harmful levels of nitrates to the produce we consume. Yet, I believe I would have chosen this path if I had no knowledge of the science that backs up the truth I feel within. The search for balance is all around us. Ultimately, it is found in the Savior. And He chose to reveal it in His creation. Many times in scripture, He chose to teach us through the example of creation, and I believe He is still teaching now. To be a part of that daily lesson through the serene and balanced example of natural gardening is a blessing.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How to Feed Your Food and Save Money!

I just side-dressed my tomatoes and peppers, and I'll share the concoction I brewed up. I'll admit, it was a bit of a guessing game, but this is my first year as an organic farmer, so I'm up for a little experimentation! After reading through the fertilizer section of the book I bought*, I decided to throw together a few ingredients I had on hand, mix them with some cow manure and see what happens:

Ginny's Organic Fertilizer:
40lb bag of cow manure
2 cups white sugar
2 cups citrus vinegar (see my previous post for this recipe)
4 cups soaked eggshells (2 dozen eggshells blended with 4 cups water, soaked overnight)
4 cups cornmeal or masa (I used masa)

I dumped all the above ingredients in my wheelbarrow, mixed it thoroughly with a cultivator, and side-dressed the tomatoes and peppers. I used almost all of it on that bed, so I scattered the rest over the top of my cucumber and greenbean bed, rather than side-dressing. I'm hoping that will be enough to benefit the cucumbers, since they are light feeders, and they share a bed with the beans, which actually  put nitrogen into the soil, anyway. I felt pretty confident about choosing to side-dress the heavily-feeding tomatoes.

To side-dress, simply pull back your mulch and dig a smal trench on one side of your vegetable row, fill it with the fertilizer, then replace the mulch on top of it. Water it in lightly, then you're done! I've been putting it off for a couple weeks, because it seemed such a monumental task. But the entire process (including gathering ingredients and mixing my fertilizer) only took about 30 minutes. Also, except for the cow manure (about $1.50 per 40lb bag), I used ingredients I had on-hand, so I didn't spend much to do this. Several of the ingredients are considered waste products by many, so all-in-all, a very cost-effective way to get nutrients to my plants. Pleasantly surprising!

Do you use an organic fertilizer? Tell us what works for you!


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mean, Green, (Inexpensive) Cleanin' Machine

As Friday approaches, I can't help but get excited about mopping my kitchen floors and cleaning bathtubs. Am I crazy? Nope. The new just hasn't worn off my latest discovery, and I'm still so excited about using it! I chunked all my store-bought cleaners, organic or otherwise, and made my own. Two ingredients. About $6 per concentrated gallon. You're so jealous right now, I know!

If you want to follow suit, here's what you need:
  1. 1 gallon white vinegar
  2. 1 empty gallon jug (I used a milk jug for my first batch)
  3. 6-8 citrus peels (orange is best), depending on size

Heres' what you do:
  1. Peel and eat the oranges (not in one sitting, silly)
  2. Cut your citrus peels into small chunks, small enough to fit through the hole of the milk jug
  3. Fill the milk jug up half way with the citrus peel
  4. Fill the jug the rest of the way with vinegar
  5. Steep for 2-4 weeks
  6. Strain the citrus vinegar into a bowl
  7. Pour the rest of your original vinegar over the citrus peels from this first batch (to make a second batch)
  8. Pour the citrus vinegar into the now empty vinegar bottle and store in a cool, dark place
  9. You may want to add a couple more peels into the second batch as you use citrus, to ensure you get an equally potent brew. Don't re-use a third time.

Voila! You now have a concentrated, powerful, fragrant and inexpensive cleaner that your child or pet could drink with no catastrophic effects (OK, I'm not advocating that you let them drink it, nor would he/she find it very appetizing. Just sayin'). I dilute about a cup per gallon of water, and I use it to clean just about every surface in my home except wood.  Never use vinegar on wood! If you have wood floors, you can use a similar method, just use water and lemon peels. And if you mop wood floors with it, use a barely damp mop and make sure you dry immediately (never let water sit on wood).

My Honest Review:
This concoction is just as effective (if not more) on my tile floors as any store-bought cleaner I've ever used. It can be slightly harder to use on tubs and sinks, as it requires some scrubbing for grime. If I run into any grime I can't easily get at with plain ol' "elbow grease," I sprinkle a bit of baking soda on the problem area, then  spray with my citrus vinegar. It will bubble a bit, then I wipe it off. That usually does the trick. But use caution with this method if you're cleaning a surface that could scratch easily. The baking soda is mildly abbrasive.

What changes have you implemented in your home to make it greener and safer for your family or pets? Share!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Enzyme-Inhibitor Fairy Tale

So, after sending my friend, Mandy, a "teaser" on soaking grains with my usual self-deprecating air of "I'm such a nerd for knowing so much about this," she responded with the following email:

"Cue a little doe-eyed girl at your feet like I am waiting for you to read me a wonderful fairy tale book."

Which prompted the following response that I just couldn't resist posting here:

"The wonderful fairy tale of enzyme-inhibitors? My pleasure.

There once lived a beautiful princess named Phosphorous. Phosphorous lived in nuts, grains, seeds and legumes, and had the magical ability to metabolize protein, calcium, and glucose. Phosphorous could form teeth and bones, and make cells grow. She was also essential to heart muscle contraction and kidney function. But one of her most amazing abilities was helping the body to utilize vitamins in order to assist other body functions to convert food into energy, and maintain the blood's pH.

But one day an evil witch who did not want the nuts, grains, seeds or legumes to start sprouting randomly, locked Phosphorous in a tower called Phytic Acid, from which she could not escape. Some vitamins and minerals that came in contact with this horrible tower would instantly bind to it and be escorted out of the bloodstream. With Phosphorous bound in the tower, what would happen to the people who needed her? They would not be able to absorb vital nutrients, and they might suffer from weight loss, anemia, bone pain, fatigue, irritability, skin sensitivity, irregular breathing and abnormal growth! Oh my!

Her only hope was the handsome prince, Phytase. Phytase had the key to unlock the tower and free Phosphorous from her prison. But the only way Phytase could perform this amazing rescue was for people to release his power by soaking, fermenting or sprouting the nuts, grains, seeds or legumes where Phosphorous lived. But, alas, the people were ignorant of this ancient practice and neglected it."

Thankfully, the story doesn't end here. More and more people are becoming educated on the importance of properly preparing grains for consumption! Some day our "fairy tale" will have its happy ending, where Phosphorous is free to perform her "magical" abilities.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Always Inexpensive, Always Nourishing

Following is a list of nutrient-dense, nourishing foods that won't bust your budget*. If you're adventurous in the kitchen, choose a few in-season items that you think would make a great meal and see what happens! If you create an awesome recipe, post it in a comment so everyone can try it. If you're not that adventurous, simply choose a couple ingredients you would like to try and google it. That's what I do when I think certain ingredients would make a good combination, but I'm not sure. I find a recipe that sounds promising, then I try it. If you find such a recipe, link to it in a comment so we can all try it, but the author receives proper credit. As always, you should search for local, organic sources for the following items, but compromise as availability/budget restrict your choices. In my area, the following items are usually affordable and freely available even on my limited budget!

Ground meat

Sweet potatoes
Fresh herbs

Anaheim peppers (mild)
Jalapeno peppers (not-so-mild)

Check the bulk section of your health food or grocery store. Just about any grain or legume purchased this way is quite inexpensive, even when organic.

*Some of these items will still be a teeeeeny bit on the expensive side if they are not in season (i.e., many greens, veggies and fruits). Eating in-season items is always more cost-effective, delicious and healthful!

**Always, always, always soak your grains, legumes, and nuts before cooking them! For general soaking guidelines, consult my "Soaking Basics" page.