Respect your Elders

There is one blueberry bush in our yard (of about 10) that has berries on it. I suspect that's because it's tucked beside an elderberry and the birds have been so distracted with the elderberry they haven't noticed the blueberry. Whatever the reason, it will have a nice-sized harvest when/if they ever ripen.

Yesterday I went to check on it and saw the elderberries are ripe! I'd had it in my mind that they'd be ready sometime in August. I guess that needs a mental correction? Anyway, it seems early to me. I harvested about 3/4 of the clusters from the 2 largest bushes. There were enough clusters that were nearly bare to tell me there have been ripe berries for a few days at least. The remaining unpicked clusters are mostly green and will be harvested in a couple weeks, I suppose.

Earlier in the spring I saved a few flower heads for use as herbal tea. Now I have about 2 cups of fresh berries. I'll probably dry half and syrup (You can verb 'syrup' right? You can verb 'verb' right?) the other half. Elderberries have historically been used for prevention of winter ailments, they're packed with vitamins (A, B, and C) and immune boosting antioxidants.

Later today we're going blackberry picking! Any berries in your neck of the woods? What's lookin' good?

For those interested in growing elderberries, one of my bushes was started from a twig I simply stuck in the ground. I believe it is Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra). The other is one I purchased from Gardens of the Blue Ridge and is the North American native elderberry, Sambucus canadensis. If you're interested in purchasing one, I can't recommend them highly enough.

Breakfast: Kickstarting my brain with grain

Hmmm, seems I'm talking about tasty stuff a lot these days, let's keep the trend going! I'm not doing a great job with the detox, but the beauty of this one is how forgiving it is. I feel like I can keep going and do the food aspect of it to create healthy habits and redirect my taste buds. Afterward, I can go back and integrate the yoga. In the meantime, I'm trying to remember to do all of it, just not beating myself up if I don't remember/can't find the time to do the morning routine of meditation and yoga.

Sorry for the pitiful picture...all I had on-hand was my cell phone.

This is pretty much what breakfast has looked like for the past week: baked apple quinoa (keen-wah) with a liver-cleansing beverage. Last week I started each day with a lemon drink that I grew pretty fond of: Juice from half a lemon, dash of cayenne, 2 ounces apple cider vinegar and a spoon of honey in 8 ounces of warm water. This week I'm supposed to replace the lemon drink with a detoxifying tea, but I had my lemon drink this morning anyway.  I don't know if it's that my tastes are changing, but I really enjoy starting my day with it!

I've used quinoa a handful of times in the past, but always as something of a rice substitution. Because it's protein-packed and full of fiber, it makes a perfect morning meal. I first tried this version which called for chopped apples, a few other ingredients, and dry grain all mixed together and baked.  It was good, but for texture's sake with the next batch I decided to partially cook the grains before mixing them up and baking them. I went with Gabby's Gluten Free Cinnamon Breakfast Bake, but instead of soy milk used apple sauce, didn't use quite as much maple syrup, and threw in a handful of chopped dates.

Sipping Inner Strength

Not long ago I read a post online somewhere about a woman who was drawn to certain herbs. Really really drawn to them to get to know all sorts of aspects of the plants and their properties. I don't really have that depth of connection with herbs or spices, but I've been a bit turmeric-curious lately.

Every winter I get into a chai latte habit, not the kind of wholesome, whole body warming chai (though I suspect that's what I'm actually craving), but the sugary, dessert-substitute coffee shop variety. It's the spice that I crave, the bite of ginger and pepper combined against the creaminess of milk (soy in my case).

Then I saw turmeric on sale at the grocery store and decided it was time to listen to the whispers. Maybe I'm stirred by the color: the brilliant orange-leaning yellow of an early spring daffodil that reminds me of my MeMa; or the broken-in familiarity of a worn out mustard-colored corduroy jacket, literally threadbare from years of daily wear. There's something about that color.

When cooking with spices I'm more of a garlic and basil gal. The earthiness of turmeric is exotic and unfamiliar but definitely in line with my cold-weather favorite: chai. And no wonder! Turmeric is kin to ginger, but with that earthy familiarity of curry.

If you follow Ayurveda, turmeric is a fiery plant perfectly suited for warming the soul during the winter. I don't know much about Ayurveda, but my friend Rachael does and in a brief discussion with her, I clearly recognized my dosha as Kapha. Turns out, turmeric is a pretty good choice for someone like me. (So are sun salutations, which is a topic for a different strength-focused post.)

Following the draw to turmeric and exploring why has helped me find my Spark: strength. While I usually look towards "rewarding experiences" as inspiration for the new year, rewards are not necessarily the reason to choose a path. The word I need most right now is strength. I could stand to use listen, too, since it's taken me a week to finally accept "strength" as a word to focus on. 

Glad I listened to the whispers. As an anti-inflammatory superfood, guess what turmeric is purported to do? Promote inner strength!

I'm getting to know ways to incorporate turmeric, so a few days ago I made a delicious tea based on this suggestion on 101 Cookbooks :
1/2 T turmeric, a couple shakes of pumpkin spices (though cinnamon or ginger would be just as delicious) 1 T good quality raw honey, mixed into warm (not boiling since you want the honey to keep all its good stuff) coconut milk. Stir every few sips so all the yummy nutrients don't settle to the bottom.

Turns out, I didn't make anything shockingly new or "turmeric milk" and there are recipes all over the place for drinks like this.

Have you been listening to your body lately? What has it been saying?

Tasty meaty figs

Figs are coming in by the bowlful, and, as usual, we're on the lookout for great ways to use them. Given the chance, Mabel will eat raw figs until she's sick. For those who know the benefits of figs, you'll understand why discourage that.

When Kate suggested we wrap them in prosciutto then grill them, I was immediately on board. Unfortunately we're on the 2-kids-in-child-care budget, so I went with a less classy approach: plain ol' bacon! We baked them at 350 for 30 minutes, then broiled them for 5 minutes on one side, flipped and broiled them on 3 minutes on the other side so they had that nice crispy texture.

Charlie and I give this use 2 thumbs up (each!). We even took a few over to a neighbor, and the bacon convinced him to finally (after years of my trying) to convince him to eat a fig. He ended up eating several, so I'll venture to say bacon is a good carrier for flavorful figs.

Using the whole hog, I mean hen

I wasn't raised in a particularly food-centric household, and in my late teens to late twenties was a vegan. This meant I didn't really know how to cook much besides dry pasta. I could heat up a can of beans or cook a mean tofu patty, but when I became a meat eater again I left all meat cooking up to Charlie. He knew his way around an iron skillet, mentally stores and adeptly cooks his dad's recipe for a burger with perfection every time.

When I was finally ready to "honor" the animal through cooking it, well, I had to learn from the very beginning.  I also keep my internet ears open to new ways to use up the whole animal, at least as much as I know how. If you're in a similar boat, I've listed a few of my favorite go-to recipes below.

My own drawing of Ally, our mean black hen

I use these recipes nearly weekly:
How to roast a chicken (Martha Stewart)
How to cook a chicken breast (The Kitchn)

Bone broth: My approach is different than others I see online, I'm not sure how I came up with the process, since I use the internet as a cookbook.
Roast the skin, bones, drippings, fat in the oven on 350 for 30 minutes, stir/flip everything as best you can and roast 30 minutes more.
In a slow cooker/crock pot, cover the bones, etc. with water, add 2 bay leaves and a handful of thyme. Simmer for 12 hours. After you strain out the solids, you will have a richly flavored, unsalted broth.

Floursack tea towels from Girls Can Tell

Keep it going perpetually if you want, like Nourished Kitchen does. I generally use it for a giant batch of soup and toss (or bokashi) the bones.

I most often use homemade broth for chicken noodle soup or chicken and dumplings. Sometimes I'll use it in place of water to cook rice or barley, which is fantastic.

For chicken noodle soup I loosely follow the directions my sister in law gave me: 
Boil some kind of chicken with bones in. Today I used chicken thighs but I usually do a whole cut up chicken. Remove chicken to cool and pull off the bone. Put chopped onions, carrots and celery in broth cook until just done, add meat back in ( no skin, : p ) add salt and pepper to taste. I scoop out a cup or two of it and puree it and put it back in. Then I make a roux ( 3 or 4 tblspn butter same amount of flour, melt and add some stock, then pour it all back in the pot. It gives it some thickness which we like. Then just add noodles or rice, (I use the Amish egg noodles, they are yummy) when they're done YOU EAT!
Mabel will drink the broth and call it a meal.  If we have extra broth left over, the dogs get it with their dry food. After all, they deserve a nutritional boost, too!