#atozchallenge: Very Late Z

I’ve been sick, really.

I don’t remember if I did this when I was a child or if others did it to me, but, the memory is there of orange peel being squeezed in my face and of feeling the light, stinging spray of citric acid -my first introduction to citrus zest.

Zest is a great word meaning to enjoy something keenly, with relish, and also a pleasant flavor or exciting quality – that is why it is applied to the outer peel of citrus fruits.  The white part beneath, called the pith, is often bitter but the outer peel or flavedo is full of flavor and is used in many ways.

You might find it in orange marmalade, lemon flavored baked goods. I like to keep a lemon in my freezer for recipes calling for lemon zest.  A fine grater or special zesting tool can be used to cut the peel. It is often used as a garnish too because of its bright color and full flavor.

Another use, and one of my favorites, is in citrus essential oils. Here is your trivia for the day; when cold pressed, it requires 3,000 lemons to produce a kilo of lemon essential oil.  The chemical constituents in this oil, the list is too long to include, have anticancer, antidepressant, antiseptic, antifungal, antioxidant, antiviral, astringent, invigorating, refreshing and tonic properties.  All of which might make you think that we should be eating the peeling, not just the lemon. It works for me to put a few drops of the oil in my glass of water.

The next time a server in a restaurant asks you if you would like a slice of lemon in your water or other drink, you might have a good reason to say “yes, please”. Just sayin’…


#atozchallenge: Late Y

My food choice for Y is yogurt. I have been eating a lot of it lately since doing a round of antibiotic.  It is made with a lot of active bacterial cultures (good ones) that are naturally found in our intestines and which are a vital part of a healthy immune system and digestive system. Because it is more economical I have developed my own way of making yogurt at home. Here is how I do it.

I start with a gallon of 2% milk.  Any milk will do but the fat content will make a difference in your finished product.

On the stovetop I heat the milk to 190-200 degrees F.. I have a thermometer which clips to the side of the pan and I watch it closely. The milk needs to be stirred so it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan. I don’t let the milk boil.

Heat it slowly, watch and stir (in other words, don’t leave the kitchen or you will have a real mess…)

As soon as the temperature is reached I put the pan in the sink with ice water to cool it down quickly. The thermometer is still on the side of the pan and when it reaches 90-100 degrees F. it is cool enough.

Those are ice cubes, not little fish. The cooling is fast.

Add 3 tablespoons or more of yogurt that you have bought as your starter. It can be any brand that states it has live, active cultures present.  Choose a starter that you like because your yogurt will be similar. Stir the starter into your gallon of prepared milk.

I like to transfer the milk to a heavy bowl (I use the removable bowl from my crock pot) that will hold heat well. Cover it and place in a consistently warm place for 7-8 hours.  Suggestions for the place: your oven if it has a light that you can turn on. The light bulb will produce enough heat if you keep the oven door closed. OR if you have a water heater in a closet put a towel on it and set the pot on the towel OR put a heating pad set on low on your counter and the pot on top of that with a towel over the whole thing to keep the heat in.

Do not turn on the oven! Just the light.

After 8 hours, the yogurt should have curdled. I like to separate the curd from the whey (which makes Greek yogurt) by taking a large colander which I line with cheesecloth and setting in a container to catch the whey. Pour the yogurt into the colander, wrap the cheese cloth corners over the top, place a plate over it and put something heavy on it to press out the whey and put it in the fridg. Let it set for several hours. The longer you let it drain, the thicker it will be. You can always stir some of the whey back in if it gets thicker wanted.

Enjoy your homemade, unsweetened yogurt with fruit, cereal, or as a spread like cream cheese.  It has a milky, soft flavor with just a little tang.


#atozchallenge: Late X

The challenge is over today.  My last three posts didn’t make it up in April. Visiting with daughter Julie who is an equine vet, makes life very busy. I am learning that it is a blessing to be able to focus on one thing at a time and really be present in the moment. Unfortunately X, Y and Z were not part of the moment.  So here they are now…

X is for xylitol.  Xylitol is a chemical called a sugar alcohol (the “ol” suffix gives that away).  It is a substance found naturally in many plants. It has lately become a popular choice of sweetener because it does not affect blood sugar the way other sugars do, and it has some anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties that are beneficial in cases of ear infections and tooth decay.

Xylitol is extracted from plants through a process which results in a hydrogenated sugar.  The plants most often used are corn cobs.  The process involves a heavy metal as a catalyst, which is removed later. It is a highly processed substance and there isn’t a lot of information yet on what happens to those who make it a regular part of their diet.  It is known that tolerances differ but that at some level people will experience intestinal discomfort – gas, bloating, diarrhea.

After reading about xylitol, the pros and cons, I am concluding that anytime we try to process something and mass produce it we are stepping into potentially dangerous waters.  Why can’t we just eat food that grows, in the form that is simplest or with cooking that anyone can do at home without a lot of additives? Food is designed to be good for us.  Don’t mess with it.  Just sayin’…

#atozchallenge: Water

20160428_071233.jpgI am so grateful for water. I was thinking about that while washing dishes the other night.  We use water to carry the dirt away from everything we wash – our dishes, our clothes, our cars, our pets, our bodies, everything.  If that were the only benefit of water, that alone would be enough.

The complexity of what water does inside our bodies is another mind boggling subject.  We are composed of 50 – 75% water and all our basic functions depend on having enough of it inside the cells, outside the cells, in the bloodstream. Every biochemical reaction in our bodies takes place in water and we can’t produce it ourselves, nor store adequate amounts of it.  We have to take it in, or we die rather quickly.

And so we have a planet to live on that is watered with a beautiful closed system of purification and re-use of water, that has vast amounts of water stored underground, and seas and oceans, lakes and streams almost everywhere.  It is a perfect match for our needs. That being said, some of us have to work a lot harder for water than others.  Some of us never have to consider how precious our water is and are wasteful of it, taking it for granted.

I’m not going to get real technical about water. I just want everyone to have a chance to think about water and how marvelous it is, in all its forms from rain to snow to steam.  The beautiful clouds in the sky, the inspiring waterfalls that we flock to view, the cool lake that we jump into to cool off, the sprinkler that brings relief to our grass and plants and trees.  Water is, well, kind of miraculous really.  Just sayin’…

#atozchallenge: Vanilla


Black and white, chocolate and vanilla.  Classics in the world of flavors and although vanilla has some B complex vitamins and several important minerals, it usually gets left in the shadow of all the hype about chocolate.  It’s actually a flavoring found in most desserts, baked goods  and many drinks. It’s also expensive, coming in second behind saffron.  Here’s why…

It’s a bean grown by the only fruit bearing orchid around.  It grows in tropical climates, the flower blooms for only one day and when commercially farmed, has to be pollinated by hand.  The pods turn from green to yellow before being picked. They are left in the sun to dry and wrapped to “sweat” for up to 20 days. Follow this with 4-6 more months of air drying and a bit of fermentation before you get the thin, dark bean in the picture above.  The beans inside the pod are scraped out in powder form.   All this is pretty labor intensive from the sound of it.

You can buy the pods in health food stores.  The extract, formed by dripping alcohol over the beans is found in most groceries.   Vanilla sugar is the last form and many people make it themselves – just cut the beans or even just the pods in thirds and place them in sugar to infuse.

I wanted to picture my favorite vanilla concoction but I went to the freezer and it was gone.  I love, love, love vanilla ice cream with the specks of vanilla bean.  So I’m left with this picture, not nearly as mouth watering.  Ice cream will be on the grocery list this week, just sayin’…


#atozchallenge: Unleavened Bread

Long ago, a large tribe of people who had become enslaved in a land they had originally gone to for protection, were forced to leave in a hurry. It takes time for natural yeasts to develop in bread and they didn’t have that time. Their traveling bread was unleavened and it became one of the symbols by which this hasty departure was remembered. You can read a brief recount of this story in the Bible, book of Exodus, chapter 12, verses 31 -42.

This is one incidence of unleavened bread that is historically significant, but since unleavened bread is simply any bread product made without a leavening agent (yeast, baking soda, baking powder for instance) you can find many examples of it worldwide that are in common use.  Tortillas are unleavened bread common in Central America. Roti and chapati are unleavened breads common in India and Southeast Asia.  Most of these breads are flat in form but not all flatbreads are unleavened.

Interestingly this week is the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread which many Christians also acknowledge.  I know what it is like to celebrate this holiday and am sharing with you one of my favorite recipes.  It is a delicious sweet bread with a delightful almond flavor.

Almond Unleavened Bread

Mix: 4 eggs (beaten) with 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of flour

Add: 3/4 cup melted butter or oil

Add in increments: 2 more cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon almond extract, and finally 1/2 cup of unsalted, slivered almonds.  Place this thick batter in a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until bread is slightly browned on top.  Cool and slice in 1/2 inch slices.  Toast if desired.DSC07700



#atozchallenge: Turmeric

I know we take Sunday off each week in our atozchallenge, but yesterday when I was due to write about T, I was instead taking the opportunity for a long horseback ride through the woods of Pumpkin Hill Preserve (click to see).. What a great Florida park! The schedule gets to forgive me.

The T word is turmeric, a plant which has come to the attention of the health world in the west because of its anti-inflammatory properties.  It is raised commercially in India and other Southeast Asia countries.  The specific chemical in turmeric which helps reduce inflammation and pain is curcumin and if you take it as a supplement for pain, that is the name you should look for.

Turmeric, the spice, is made by taking the rhizome of the plant and drying it, then making a powder from it.  What you have at that point is the spice that you find in many Indian and Asian dishes, yellow in color and having some warm, spicy tones.  Because of its color it’s also used as a dye, something I noticed when traveling in Cambodia and seeing the Buddhist monks in their bright yellow-orange robes.  The spice has long been a part of religious rites in the countries where it is raised too.

Back to curcumin, it comprises only about 3% of turmeric which is not really enough for effective pain relief.  That is why curcumin is concentrated as a supplement.  It is also not utilized easily by the body but when combined with piperine, one of the constituents of black pepper, it’s uptake and utilization is increased by 2000%! Supposedly eating two or three black peppercorns with your curcumin supplement is all it takes.  I have not verified this but it doesn’t sound dangerous to try.  This is a very interesting supplement with other properties as well as the one I’ve mentioned.  Check it out if you are looking for something with anti-oxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

My daily dose of curcumin (from turmeric). Nice color, isn’t it?

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#atozchallenge: Starfruit

20160107_093601.jpgStarfruit or Carambola – you might not have heard of this one if you live in a northern climate. Florida is one of the states where it is grown in the U.S. and it is interesting that one man was responsible for the particular cultivar that is grown commercially and bears his name, Adkin.  He was a backyard horticulturist and his work produced this really, tasty and lovely fruit.

Although this fruit is still relatively rare in many parts of the U.S., I read that it is common in other countries (the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Guam, Phillipines, China, Taiwan) and has been for hundreds of years.  It has many names.  The Starfruit name is descriptive of the sliced fruit, as you can see.

delicious, juicy little stars are very decorative

Starfruit is a little like grapefruit, in that is has substances, caramboxin and oxalic acid, that greatly affect the utilisation of certain medications. Caramboxin is actually a neurotoxin and should not be consumed by people who have kidney disease.  For everyone else the low levels of caramboxin are not dangerous and the health benefits are considerable.  Starfruit is rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, and potassium. It is low in sugar, sodium and acid and has significant antimicrobial activity.

this one might be a bit tart since the ridges still have some green

They are ripe when all traces of green have gone and the ridges have turned slightly brown. Further ripening tends to make the fruit soggy and bland.  The taste and texture have been described as having elements of grape, pear, citrus and apple.  They are very juicy and somewhat tart, and even kind of crunchy. I know, it’s hard to imagine all that if you’ve never had them.  My brother has some trees in south Florida and brought us a whole bag of starfruit last winter.  I like them a lot. If you happen across them in your grocery, give them a try.

#atozchallenge: Raspberries, the passion and pleasure

Here they are, today’s star

I come from northern Wisconsin, and a particular part of it that is extremely cold for a good long time in the winter.  We have three months of growing weather in a good year. It can freeze yet in May and probably will in September so gardens go in quickly and get down to business. We can’t really do apples, or cherries or plums but berries…  We do them pretty well.
My first berry experiences were with wild berries. We were always on the lookout for bushes on the roadside or in the woods. Recently cleared fields and brush piles were likely berry patches. When we started seeing the right color on the berries it was time to get the pails and gear up.
There were all kinds of perils. There were bears, of course, and poison ivy, wicked thorns everywhere, a constant halo of deer flies and my most dreaded one, hornets. Long pants, long sleeves, big hat and a bucket on your belt in July meant we were hot and slow moving.
Thankfully, by the time I was married and living in Wisconsin again we had learned about cultivated berries and had a large patch in the yard. Much easier, but there were still chores every year – cleaning out the old canes and pruning. There was also the new problem of the guilt when you just couldn’t pick and eat that many raspberries. They are still my absolute favorite berry for eating fresh.
I don’t know how they do it these days since they are soft and perishable, but  my store has fresh berries almost all year long. Does anyone go out in the woods anymore? I don’t know. Your reasons to eat raspberries, in addition to their wonderful flavor, are a low calorie, high fiber, high antioxidant source with lots of vitamin C and B complex vitamins and a number of important minerals.  Interestingly, they are a source of xylitol which I will mention again when we get to letter X.  And they’re pretty.  And red.

Happy Letter R, my friends.

#atozchallenge: Somewhat Uncommon Q

There is an ancient pseudo-cereal called quinoa that is very nutritious, high in protein and fiber, with vitamins and minerals a plenty.  It’s not a true grain, not a grass plant, but a member of the amaranth family and although it cooks up much like rice it is a bit different.  I wish I was practiced at using it and knew exactly how to make it a part of a meal.  I don’t.  But I’ve had some recently and the whole experience was so good, I was willing to try to reproduce it at home.

The Columbia Building

Location: high in the sky above Seattle.  It you view the Seattle skyline you will see one dark building that rises above all the rest.  At the top of the Columbia building there is an exclusive area for dining and communing and it is there that I found myself a guest, with my daughter.  You would have to say that she has friends in high places, very high places. I could hardly breathe, looking out the full view glass windows over the harbor and Puget Sound.  In order to calm down I had to purposely not think about where I was and what kind of structure was holding me up.

We were advised about the menu items and ordered vegetarian.  The dishes came out looking perfectly cooked and presented in very attractive ways.  Everything was delicious.  It was a wonderful, relaxing evening in every way (as long as I kept my mind off being 80 stories high and on the same level as jets approaching SeaTac airport…).


The quinoa was light and fluffy in a creamy sauce – just wet enough to hold it together and make it easier to eat.  The flavor was mild and slightly of salt, like a good comfort food. I wasn’t sure how to  do this at home but a light cream/celery sauce with the quinoa did a pretty good job.  The food was really great but it had a hard time competing with the view.  Just sayin’…


The quinoa is in the upper left, accompanied by asparagus and what may have been garlic mashed potato or cauliflower – I don’t remember which.