#atozchallenge: M for Midway through

And also, sticking with my theme, MANGO, another fruit with a very large seed in the middle.  Mangoes are common in tropic and subtropical climates and have a season – usually January through August in the U.S. because they come from so many different places. They are actually the national fruit of India and several other countries in the east and middle east. The ones in my grocery store were from Nicaragua and Mexico.  I could grow them here in Florida (but I don’t).

20160415_115547.jpg
On the left, the more common type. On the right a different variety called Ataulfo from Mexico.

A really ripe mango is soft, juicy and I think very peach-like in flavor.  Under ripe ones can taste a little like turpentine, especially close to the skin. At full ripeness you can use them like any fruit in pies, cobblers, short-cake or sherbet.  But they are versatile enough to be used green, and I had them that way once in Cambodia. They were cut into spears and dipped in a spice/salt mixture like a vegetable.  Wasn’t bad, really, but very different.

They are a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A (that pretty gold color…), niacin and quite a few minerals.  There are different ways to cut them but I’ve pictured one that’s easy. Cut on both sides of the flat seed and then into cubes or spears. Even when not fully ripe, like the one I have pictured, I like to freeze them in chunks and use them in smoothies with milk, or yogurt, or orange juice or a banana or all of those things. There is no way to go wrong with a mango smoothie.  They are soooo good!

20160415_160206.jpg

Some people may have allergic reactions to the stems, leaves, sap, and skin of this fruit, typically a  contact dermatitis. If you are allergic to urushiol, the allergen in poison ivy, you may also have trouble with a similar phytochemical in mangos.  However, even sensitized people can eat peeled mango or drink mango juice.

That’s it for M.  We’re halfway through the A to Z challenge!  Everyone still having fun?

#atozchallenge: Let Us Eat Lettuce

I have returned from a journey, sick and hardly able to think about writing my posts. I am going to be brief.  There are two bits of nutritional advice that have meant a lot to me and they both apply to lettuce. So here goes…

Eat foods that will spoil, and eat them before they do.  We have so many varieties of good tasting but fragile greens available to us in our stores. It is sometimes difficult to eat them before they get limp and dried out, or wet and decomposing.  Do your best to plan but when your plans don’t work out – toss what can’t be cleaned up and used. Buy more fresh stuff.  Inevitably there will be some waste.

Always go for as much color as you can get. Color means a lot. There are nutrients that come with that color and more are being discovered all the time. We now hear about lutein, zeaxanthin, and other carotenoids in regard to eye health and macular degeneration. We hear about resveratrol in plants with deep purple color. There are lots more.  I had to laugh when reading on one website about how these nutrients aren’t essential to life like some of the major vitamins, but that they may be  important for good health.  So the question becomes do you just want to be alive or would you kind of like to be alive and healthy?

Dark green lettuces also contain vitamin A, beta carotenes, vitamin K, vitamin C, folates and a lot of needed minerals. Just eat a salad every day if you can, and consider that you can actually make a salad be the meal.

#atozchallenge: Kiwifruit

Kiwifruit is another fruit that is a berry, sometimes even called Chinese gooseberry. It grows on woody vines and originated in China. The major exporters of kiwifruit now are Italy, New Zealand and Chile. I had never seen a kiwi until the 1960’s when they were introduced to the American market. They are more common now almost everywhere.

They are about the size of a hen’s egg, have a brown skin which is edible but often gets peeled off. There are quite a few different varieties, with slightly different flavors but this is what we see available commercially.

20160406_150124.jpg
Fuzzzy brown skin and edible seeds. They are quite pretty.

They can be eaten raw, juiced or used for garnish.  They do have a substance that dissolves protein so are not usually used in gelatin or dairy desserts. They are highly nutritious, having lots of vitamins C, K and E in particular.  They keep fairly well. Firm ones will ripen at room temperature and will ripen faster  next to other fruits, even in the refrigerator.

If you’ve never tried kiwifruit, slice some up with strawberries, pineapple or whatever fruits you like in a fruit salad.

20160406_145632.jpg

#atozchallenge: Jammin’

20160408_122334.jpg
Raspberry jam, peanut butter, banana #favorite lunch food

Part of my food philosophy (a big part) is that any food can do a good thing for you if you eat it with the right attitude.  An extension of this is that eating a food that is not full of nutrients, on occasion, can still be good for you if it makes you happy (they’re called neurotransmitters and your brain makes them)  Mom and I tell ourselves this every time we have a cookie, and it also applies to jam.

Jam, almost any kind, is pretty, tastes sweet and a little goes a long way. Jam can be made from most any type of fruit, but most easily from those that are high in natural pectin. Pectin can be added to those not having enough of it naturally – it’s a product found in most grocery stores in the U.S. Gelatin can also be used and I will have a recipe at the end that uses it.  Jams are made with crushed fruit which is different from preserves where the shape of the fruit is preserved, duh…

It’s the process of crushing and cooking the fruit that releases natural pectins that thicken your jam, along with the sugar. Some recipes add natural pectin by including lemon juice and rind. The longer you cook it, the thicker it may become so you may need to experiment a little.  I love the frozen spoon test and the whole jam making method found in this link.(Click here to read )

Freezer jam is not cooked as long and has more of the nutrients found in the fruit and is more colorful and fresh tasting in my opinion. This freezer jam recipe has a surprise ingredient – tomatoes! You might not even notice they’re there. Surprise Raspberry Jam

You can make a lot of jam at once or as little as one pint jar if you have a small amount of fruit that might otherwise go to waste. It’s not hard, and fresh jam is so good in the morning with your toast, and your coffee (with half and half). Just sayin’…

 

#atozchallenge: The I Post

Iron.

20160408_103958.jpg

No not that kind.

The reason iron is interesting to me is that I know quite a few vegetarians and some vegans. I gravitate more toward that style of eating too.

Non-meat eaters need to be sure they have adequate circulating iron and iron stores in the body or they will experience iron deficiency anemia. Without iron to make hemoglobin, the blood can’t carry enough oxygen to properly fuel body cells. What it feels like is weakness, fatigue, inability to keep warm. It shows up as paleness in skin that should be pink.

The bad news is that plant sources of iron are of a form that is not easily absorbed by our bodies. A good deal of the iron in meat, about 40% of it, is a form that is easily absorbed which is why meats are a good source of the mineral.

The good news is that, amazingly, vegetarians and vegans do not have higher incidences of iron deficiency anemia. And no one, whether they eat meat or not, has to worry about it if they follow a few smart eating tactics with their plants sources of iron.  In fact, dried beans and green leafy vegetables are better sources of iron per calorie than meat. Here are some tricks that will help your body absorb it:

  • Combine an iron rich plant food with a source of vitamin C (absorb up to 5 times more iron)
  • Avoid drinking coffee or tea at the same time as iron rich foods (the tannins in those drinks block absorption)
  • Eat less at a time (your body gets overwhelmed with large amounts, as in supplements, and absorption is limited)
  • Cook with cast iron (really, get a well-seasoned iron pan and use it!)
  • Get your iron from a variety of iron rich foods (many of them already come combined with vitamin C – eat that broccoli!)

Here is the list of foods high in iron:

Beans, peas, lentils, blackstrap molasses, dried fruits, green leafy vegetables, potatoes, nuts and seeds, seaweed (kelp and nori), soy products, whole grains.

Click here for today’s iron rich, fast and easy recipe.  Spiced Carrot and Lentil Soup

#atozchallenge: Half and Half (It’s not coffee without it)

I was looking for interesting information about Half and Half and came across a statement that exactly describes what I love about this product. Ready?

“the addition of half and half gives coffee body and richness without turning it grey”

And that is my experience exactly.  On the rare occasions when I’m out of half and half and resort to using the husband’s skim milk in my morning coffee, the mere sight of it is enough to make me give up and dump it in the sink. Not the same and not worth drinking. I’m looking for this and nothing else.

20160406_074011.jpg
warm brown, not grey…

 

As you might imagine the term half and half means half milk and half cream, but it gets more specific than that when you look at the milk fat content. These are the general parameters:

  • whole milk       3.5% fat
  • half and half    about 12% fat, not enough to whip or be stable in sauces
  • light cream       16 -29% fat, generally not available in the U.S.
  • light whipping cream   30 -35% fat, has to have this much fat to whip and hold shape
  • heavy whipping cream   36 – 40% fat, whips quickly and is very stable
  • manufactured cream   40- 45% fat, used only in restaurants and why their stuff tastes so good and makes you fat

All these different products have their specific uses that relate to the amount of fat they have.  In cooking, the fat in cream makes it stable, meaning that it won’t separate and curdle. If you use a lower fat product like half and half in a sauce or to thicken a soup you should add it at the very end and not over cook it or it will curdle. It won’t taste bad if it does but it doesn’t look good either. It won’t curdle  with the heat of your coffee due to an additive, sodium citrate disodium phosphate (less than .5%) which keeps it from separating. One of it’s best and most common uses is to make your coffee rich tasting with that beautiful warm brown color… hmmm.

Using 2 tablespoons in your coffee will give you 40 calories.  Using 1/2 cup will give you 315 calories.  Personally, I find it better not to measure. After all, I’m not going to be drinking gallons of the stuff.

Be aware that in that same 2 tablespoon serving you will be getting 3 grams of fat, which is 5% of your daily allotment and 2 grams of that is saturated fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 20 milligrams of sodium, 1 gram of sugar (lactose), 1 gram of protein, 2% of your vitamin A requirement, 4% of your vitamin C requirement and 6% of your iron requirement.

Some people are going to try non-fat half and half, which is a complete misnomer because if there’s no fat in it, it can’t be half cream can it? This product is actually skim milk with added thickeners and corn syrup intending to masquerade as the real thing. It does have half the calories but has twice the amount of sodium. As you might guess, it does not have the body and richness of half and half, not at all.

You can make your own half and half by using 1 part milk to 1 part light cream, or 3 parts milk to 1 part light whipping cream, or 4 parts milk to 1 part heavy whipping cream.  But what a lot of trouble – better to not run out of it in the first place!

Click on this link to find other uses for half and half that are interesting and really quite good. Many recipes that call for cream or light cream will do well with half and half and you will have fewer calories as a result.

That’s it for H!

#atozchallenge: Be Grapeful

20160406_144602-1.jpg(If you don’t care what’s in grapes or why they’re good for you because you’d eat them anyway just because you like them, jump to the recipe at the end. That’s what I would do.)

Red grapes, purple grapes, black grapes, green grapes, seedless grapes, grapes for wine, grapes for the table, grapes for juice, grapes for jam.  They’ve been a popular food for centuries, but lately research has introduced us to the reasons behind their most important health benefits.

Resveratrol,  anti-oxidants, quercetin. Big words with powerful effects. They are the nutrients of most interest in all colors of grapes and they are concentrated in the skins and seeds. You should eat grapes.  This is why…

You probably wouldn’t remember all the scientific jargon if I gave it to you (I don’t have it in my head either) but what you need to know is that these phyto-nutrients are pretty effective at doing these things

  • decreasing inflammation
  • decreasing blood pressure
  • protecting against many different cancers
  • protecting against degenerative nerve diseases (Alzheimers)
  • protecting from viral and fungal infections

In addition to all the phyto-nutrients grapes are a good source of several important minerals – potassium, copper and manganese – and raisins or dried grapes have a good amount of iron.

They have only about 3 calories per grape and a serving of one cup is about 100 calories, an excellent low calorie snack.  They are a great source of hydration, being over 70% water and have a fair amount of fiber as well.  Need any more reasons to eat some grapes?

20160406_151009.jpg

I need to mention that grapes are high on the list of fruits that can have pesticide residues, so organic is best.  Choose berries (yes they actually are berries) that are firm, not wrinkled, tightly clustered and have nice green stems. Rinse the whole bunch in water before eating and store in the refrigerator. Freeze them for a snack on hot days. One of my favs, cut them in half and put in chicken salad.

Avocado-Grape Salsa The sweetness added by the grapes makes this salsa, or guacamole, unique and really brings out a wonderful flavor. It is also a very flexible recipe so you can leave out cilantro if you’re not fond of that, or use more avocado, onion or even put in some jalapeno. It all works. Be prepared for NO leftovers.

#atozchallenge: What exactly is a fig?

 

20160325_141116.jpg
A “figgy” picture of two different kinds of dried figs that are commonly available.

If you’re like me and didn’t grow up in a warm climate, your only exposure to figs was a cookie called Fig Newtons.  Since growing up (getting bigger anyway…) spending time in California and Florida, I now know that a fig is a fruit about the size of a plum that grows on a small tree or bush and is part of the mulberry family.  It can be eaten fresh but since it has to ripen on the tree and doesn’t keep for very long, it’s most often encountered as a dried fruit, a lot like a prune. There are a lot of different varieties with differences in flavor but because they are so perishable you won’t often find them unless you grow them.

The taste of a fig is very mild and that is probably why we see them dried more often than not. Drying concentrates the flavor and makes it more distinctive.  The dark ones I have pictured are the variety called Mission figs and the lighter colored ones are California figs.  Organic is a good choice, as with any product where you are eating the skins and all.

Nothing too remarkable in their appearance – most dried things are not lovely – but the fruit before being dried is very interesting.  Figs can be grown in most any temperate climate. I have been trying to grow figs in Florida, which is not exactly temperate, but even here they survive.. To pollinate and have true seeds they need the help of a little wasp that we don’t have in North America but the plant will produce fruit even without that pollination.  Summary: they are easy to grow but do better in loamy soil with adequate water and some pruning. If you don’t get fruit, be patient, it could take a few years. One tip I read for plants that don’t fruit is to add lime to the soil. I need to do this and to prune in the dormant season.

20160325_140756.jpg
Ooops, missed the dormant season – my fig is already budding out.

Eat figs fresh in salads, or as table fruit. Use them dried on your cereal, in soups, stews, to enrich poultry or lamb, and in baked goods. Here’s a favorite recipe that use the dried figs you would normally find in most grocery store. Give it a go!  Fig-Bran Muffins  Or,  you could always go and buy some Fig Newtons… just sayin’.

20160406_124921.jpg
They even have them in the healthy food stores!

#atozchallenge: Egg me on…

Chicken eggs, primarily. Eggs are probably the easiest protein to add to a quick meal, anytime of the day, but certainly for breakfast.  They have survived seasons of being bad mouthed for their cholesterol and for harboring salmonella and are presently in pretty good standing.

The marvelous thing about an egg is the balanced pairing of a protein and a fat along with other nutrients in a shell designed to take pressure fairly well.  This thin layer of calcium allows the collection, cleaning and transport of eggs, not to mention being pushed out of, sat upon and walked over by the chicken.  Packaging genius!

I love that eggs go from raw to safely cooked in practically no time at all.  Almost any way you want to apply the heat works well.  But there is something to avoid in cooking eggs, that is high heat.  Egg protein, which is the clear part that turns white, is denatured by high heat and becomes plasticized.. Don’t walk away from the stove when your eggs are cooking because there are only a few seconds between runny/disgusting and hard like rubber.

I don’t know why people think brown eggs are healthier since brown is only the color of the shell, and we don’t eat that, right?  However, anyone who has ever raised chickens knows that chickens who have a happy life running around eating greens and catching bugs have eggs that look markedly different on the inside.  Nutritionally there will be a difference. To see exactly how much difference diet can make in the amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol, and vitamins in an egg, you can visit the website Egglands Best and look under health benefits.

20160322_192518.jpg
Outside shell color says nothing about what’s inside, trust me. Just from a different kind of chicken.

Just so we’re clear on terms, cage free is a step better than eggs with no other delineation, but it still allows for large scale chicken houses where crowded conditions necessitate giving antibiotics. Organic will mean that there are no additives of this kind and usually friendlier living conditions for the birds.  And there is a lot to be said for having your own small flock, letting them roam free in your garden (great insect control, btw) and gathering your own eggs. Many urban communities do allow backyard chickens, roosters prohibited for obvious reasons, however, we are not all so blessed.

I was able to raise chickens when we lived on a farm. Sometimes a hen would lay a whole clutch of eggs in some out of the way place. There might be a dozen by the time I found them and they would still be okay to eat, but if you don’t know where your eggs are coming from refrigeration is best. Eggs will be considered “old” after three weeks but still may be safe to eat past that point. Older eggs are easier to peel when hard boiled while fresh eggs will be more difficult. Many people say that adding a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice, or a tablespoon of salt and ½ tablespoon of baking soda to the boiling water helps the peel come off easier.

My latest egg cooking experiment was to use my muffin tin, an egg still in the shell in each cup, and roast in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  The result was like a boiled egg but the husband pointed out the not-so-efficient use of energy.  The best method of hard cooking in the shell is to place in pan with water to cover by an inch, bring to a boil over high heat, turn off the heat and let sit for 15-20 minutes and then cool quickly in ice water.

You can also poach eggs (for a somewhat different but good taste experience), scramble them, fry them, or use them in a variety of recipes – the information on them would fill a book. I don’t want to overwhelm you, just sayin’…   Just eat them.

20160322_200858.jpg
I put butter on everything – you don’t have to.

#atozchallenge: We’re Talking D Today

The topic today is dandelion. Yes, the little yellow flowers that your kids pick for you in the spring if you’re lucky enough to have a yard, dandelion. But not the flowers, the leaves.

 

 

20160322_193450.jpg
Gorgeous, healthy color. You know there have to be vitamins in there.

I’m writing about them not because I cook or eat them very often.  It’s because they are part of the husband’s Pennsylvania Dutch heritage – wilted greens- and because he loves to tell everyone about their French name (story #47 of his).  This plant is really kind of marvelous in it’s medicinal properties and was actually listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia as a diuretic until 1926. It’s been a part of folk medicine in many eastern countries. Nutrient-wise, it’s one of the top four of all green vegetables, and in the top 50 of power herbs. Who would have guessed?

20160327_104931.jpg
Seriously, they grow everywhere I’ve ever lived, and that’s a lot of places.

I am so impressed by everything this plant contains, and by it’s ability to survive almost anywhere.  My theory is that God made this plant with lots of what we need and put it where we could find it easily because we might need it someday. All parts of it can be eaten. The root is being studied because of its cancer fighting properties. I could go on, because reading about it makes you want to go out and get some NOW,  but look at this:

1 serving provides this amount of RDA (recommended daily allowance)

  • 9% dietary fiber
  • 19% of vitamin B-6
  • 20% of riboflavin
  • 58% of vitamin C
  • 338% of vitamin A
  • 649% of vitamin K
  • 39% of iron
  • 19% of calcium
  • and a lot of antioxidants, including lutein and zeaxanthin

And since I did find some in the grocery store this week, we are going to eat wilted dandelion salad tonight. I will cook up some beef bacon to flavor the greens, wilt them and serve over potatoes.

Okay, I won’t go into all of story #47 but the word dandelion comes from “dente de lion” or tooth of the lion which is the pointy shape of the leaves. And “pissenlit” is French for wetting the bed, and that could happen if you eat too much dandelion. Just sayin’…

20160322_193344.jpg
Feuilles de pissenlit – just a name, or a warning?