Thursday, October 28, 2010

For The Love Of Coffee Grounds

If you're a fellow home-brewed coffee drinker, you might want to think twice before washing those coffee grounds down the drain.

They actually make a terrific body-scrub in the shower - exfoliant AND moisturizer (due to the natural oils of the bean). Cosmetic companies are now looking for ways to incorporate the sun-screening properties of the coffee bean into facial creams. (The problem is that the "creams" themselves have proven to be carcinogenic.) Coffee grounds rubbed directly into the skin of your face, etc. will give you the unadulterated benefits which the cosmetic companies are trying to bottle and then charge you for.

Massaged into your thighs, the remaining caffeine (still in the grounds) helps to stimulate fat absorption. Fashion models use this method to reduce any visible cellulite before photo shoots.

Once you've rubbed the grounds into your skin in the shower, be sure to rinse well, but without soap, in order to leave the natural oils on your skin.

If not used immediately, it's best to keep the coffee grounds in an open container in the fridge for no more than four days. They will mould if left too long.

Last but not least, coffee grounds make a terrific addition to any compost or soil rejuvenation project you might have going on. They give a particular boost to plants that appreciate a more acid ph soil, such as azaleas, LAURELS, and rhododendron (no wonder I love them!)

Word of caution: Coffee grounds are POISONOUS to both dogs and cats - so be careful how you dispense with them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Customized Hot Chocolate

Wednesday - midweek - a little extra zing to perk me up, get my mind a'buzzing, would be nice. With cooler weather I find a simple cup of hot chocolate - Ghiradelli Unsweetened Cocoa, to be exact - easily does the trick. No pre-sweetened packets for me.

I put 1 TBS of unsweetened cocoa to each cup of water into a sauce pan and bring it to just under a boil, stirring constantly; then drizzle in the barest amount of honey to make the warm drink palatable (can't do without it; and you know me… I've tried!)

Hot chocolate made without milk, though, is surprisingly tasty. I scarcely miss it at all; certainly don't miss the congestion dairy tends to bring in its wake. I've read, somewhere, most human adults are allergic to cow's milk products; hence the congestive reaction to milk or cheese.

But there's nothing like customizing a cup of warm cocoa - sweetened to your own liking with honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, or whatever your sweetener of choice might be. The point is: you decide how sweet your hot chocolate is going to be - not "Swiss Miss" or "Nestle's".

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sweeten Your Own Tomato Sauce Naturally

There's no denying it: store-bought bottles of spaghetti sauce are easy to buy, store, and "prepare". And some of them really do taste delicious.  Often it's because they are sweetened with corn syrup or sugar.

You can create your own tasty tomato sauce, however, using naturally sweet ingredients without resorting to sugar.  The following foods, when cooked, will release their own natural sugars into the sauce:

1.  Onions - An amazing amount of sweetness is released from a cooked onion.

2.  Carrot - This too is a particularly sweet and starchy vegetable. It acts as both a sweetener and a thickener.

3.  Sweet Red Peppers - Also release a subtle sweetness.

4.  Raisins - Funnily enough, several raisins sprinkled into the sauce and allowed to stew for ½ an hour or so will add a surprising touch to a tomato sauce (though not to everyone's liking).

5.  Clove - The addition of 2 or 3 clove buds (or a mere pinch of ground clove) will also sweeten and add a dimension of richness to the sauce. (Yes, clove accents tomatoes well.)

Here is a recipe for a chunky sweet sauce to beat any supermarket brand:


28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 medium carrot
sea salt, dried basil, seasoning to taste
3 clove buds
2 medium onions
1 small/medium red pepper
olive oil

Start by pouring the crushed tomatoes into a sauce pan and putting it on a burner cranked high.  Peel one medium-sized carrot and cut it in half (to fit into the sauce pan), and let it cook in the tomatoes as their juices are reducing.  Sprinkle some sea salt and dried basil in, and add 3 clove buds or a tiny pinch of ground clove.  Once these ingredients have reached a boil, turn the heat down and let the sauce simmer.

No slice or chop the onions and the red pepper (not too fine) and add them to the pan.  Let it continue to simmer with the top on for an hour or so - checking it occasionally. When you see that the carrot is fully cooked, gently mash it with the back of a fork and distribute it throughout the sauce.  No one will ever guess there is a carrot in there!

Once all the vegetables are fully cooked, and the tomato juices sufficiently evaporated away, you will have created a thick, slightly sweet, richly flavorful sauce.  Take the pan from the burner and stir in 3 TBS or so of your best olive oil. (Tip: Olive oil is best when added to food after cooking in order not to dissipate its healthful properties through over-heating.)

This sauce is guaranteed to stick to the pasta and to your ribs, and keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Humble Potato

Sometimes there is nothing more comforting than a boiled potato… Its skin rubbed clean, I place a large potato in the sauce pan, fill it with water, bring it to a boil, then cover and simmer for ½ an hour or so till cooked through.

While still piping hot, I peel the potato with a paring knife, extricate the "eyes", and gently mash it with a fork in a bowl. Then I sprinkle some olive oil, sea salt, dried basil or an Italian seasoning on it and mash some more.  The olive oil and seasonings add to the subtle aroma and taste of the potato.  Best of all, it's simple, warm, satisfying food.

Whenever you feel "a cold coming on", the boiled potato is a terrific way to sneak 2 cloves of raw garlic into your system.  Simply prepare the potato as above and add 2 cloves of freshly minced garlic into the mash.  (I usually do this anyway because I like the added flavor!) The antibiotic qualities of the raw garlic will help your immune system ward off any lurking "bug".  And for those who are averse to simply swallowing 2 scored cloves of raw garlic whole, in preventive measure, the humble boiled potato is a perfect medium for conveying the garlic's curative boost.

As this delicious vegetable ranks high on the glycemic index, I limit myself to no more than 2 (large) potatoes in a week (if that), and only 1 at a time.  One potato, two potato…. (never three or four!)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Book Review: The Self-Healing Cookbook

It's an odd thing to say, but books seem to find me.  They leap off shelves sometimes, calling my attention - which is otherwise distracted or engaged.  Once in hand, there's no doubt I am to read them, even those on subjects I'm totally unfamiliar with.

The Self-Healing Cookbook by Kristina Turner was just such a book; though this one stayed on the shelf, courteously waiting for me to pick it up.  Its hand-lettered and illustrated spine amongst the other "tall books" wasn't even in the "Cookbook" section.

Turner's classic is an excellent primer on the food/body/mind matrix. There's no need to be concerned about the macrobiotic premise.  It reflects sound thinking and basic principles.  Enchanting illustrations and clear prose make it a book to beg, borrow, or 'buy'.

The Self-Healing Cookbook: Whole Foods To Balance Body, Mind and Moods by Kristina Turner (Paperback - Feb 2002)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cast Iron Pans

One of the very first gifts my husband and I received was a cast iron skillet.  That was 20+ years ago, when pre-seasoned pans were not on the market yet.  We diligently coated the skillet with oil and placed it in the oven to bake… 2,  3,  4 times… Oh, the stink of that burning oil!  But after the initial effort, we declared the pan "seasoned" and it became our best-appreciated and most-used cooking tool for some time.

I complained at first that the cast iron was heavy and not easily moved on the stove top.  "That's the point," my husband said, and thankfully he did not listen to my whining.  Over time we began to outfit ourselves with a full set of cast iron cookware: pots and pans of different shapes and sizes - a deep casserole, an even bigger Dutch Oven, even a small lidded sauce pan. The latest addition is a large wok, in which we warm or toast pita bread, re-heat rice to a crispy crackle, or dry-roast sunflower seeds and nuts.

Yes, these pans are heavy.  But there are so many points to recommend them (not to mention increased muscle tone!)

1.  They are the ultimate non-stick cooking surface.

2.   They wash up easily with the scrape of a wooden spatula (a short soak for more encrusted conditions) and a quick wipe of a sponge under running water.  (Generally stay away from using soap on them.)

3.  They dispense heat evenly - so cooking is uniform from all surfaces.

4.  Cooking with cast iron is a recommended way to ensure adequate iron intake in one's diet, as trace amounts are released during the cooking process.

5.  They are virtually indestructible.

6.  Cast iron is an excellent value for the money. These pieces are far less expensive than the fancier enamel ones that are so popular.

7.  If you're lucky, you might spy a cast iron pan in a thrift shop for an even better bargain.  A little rust?  No matter.  Bring a solution of water with a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar to a boil in the pan, gently scraping the rusted spots with a wooden spatula; discard the solution and rinse under cool running water.  The rust should be gone. Dry the pan thoroughly, and then coat the inside with a light film of cooking oil; put it on the stove burner on high for a minute or so to seal the pan again. That's it.

8.  Of course, if you're buying cast iron pots and pans NEW, they now come pre-seasoned.  The more you cook with them the better they become.

Whew!  Never knew I could bang on so much about a few pans!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

When you're in a {c}urry…

Happens every time I pass by the falafel cart outside the movie theatre: the most exotically fragrant smell of cumin, turmeric, cardamon, and red pepper hangs in the air; and I'm determined to rush home to cook up a curry with everything and anything that happens to be in the fridge.

That's exactly what I did yesterday; and I did it with just 5 ingredients, in 7 minutes-max from start to finish.

Here's how:

1.  Cranked up the heat under a cast iron skillet.

2.  Heated olive oil and some sweet red onion, chopped, with a sprinkling of curry powder till the onion began to wilt and the seasoning came alive, fully infusing the oil.

3.  Then stirred in some chickpeas (pre-cooked).

4.  Next a portion of sweet green peas straight from the freezer.

5.  Continued cooking about a minute or so longer till the peas were bright green and the chickpeas were heated through.

6.  Spooned the curry into my favorite bowl and indulged my senses!

I don't know what it is about these spices…. But I know they're full of antioxidants and health-imbuing properties. And it all comes together so quickly.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Savory Brown Rice

It's so easy to make a really delicious brown rice, or any rice, for that matter.

First, finely chop 2 medium onions and a stalk of celery. Wilt them in a large sauce pan with a generous amount of olive oil.

Then stir in the dry rice. When the rice is thoroughly coated with the oil and vegetable mixture, stir in sea salt and 2 large pinches of dry thyme for added flavor.

Finally, add the recommended (or desired) amount of water to the pan. Bring to a boil; cover; and turn down to a simmer till rice is done.

"Perfect Rice" for me is of a slightly nutty texture. I usually use less water and cook it for a shorter period of time than is recommended on the package.  To each his own.

One of the nice things about this recipe is the kitchen will smell of savory thyme, as though you were cooking a Thanksgiving stuffing.  And with so little effort  ^_^.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Beauty of Baking Soda…

Yes, yes - baking soda leavens the muffins and raises the cookie dough.  It freshens the refrigerator, cleans stains off the stove and brightens the laundry.  But, best of all, humble sodium bicarbonate can be used as a health and beauty aid.

Here are my favorite uses:

1.  As a stomach alkalizer - Drink ¼ tsp. of soda mixed in a tall glass of water to relieve indigestion immediately.  It counters any acid condition within the digestive system.  Makes a great overall-health tonic.

2.  As a mouth and throat gargle - Dissolve 1 tsp. of soda into a glass of warm water and "swish" to help heal soreness or inflammation of the gums and throat.

3.  As a thick plaster, baking soda helps to remove painlessly splinters of any kind.  Apply a thick paste of soda to the affected area and keep replacing it every few hours (as needed) over the course of 2-3 days.  The salts will eventually draw the splinter up to the surface of the skin so it can be removed easily with tweezers.  No need to dig around.

4.  As a water softener in your bath - Dissolve a cup or so of soda into running bath water.  It provides soothing relief to aching muscles as well as to any minor skin irritations (including the itch of chickenpox).

5.  And last but not least, as a regular hair cleanser instead of shampoo - Wet hair and massage about 4 Tbsp. (for shoulder-length hair) of soda into scalp and through your hair.  Give it a good scrub. It will not produce a lather, but after rinsing 3 times in cool water, your hair will be shiny clean, free of oils, and easily combed without tangles.  And no fragrances, harmful dyes, or unnecessary additives to think of.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Recipe for Cakey-Oatmeal Cookies

These cookies are a soft, chewey delicacy.   Their sweetness comes mostly from the plumped raisins and a wee bit of honey.  Those of you who like your cookies SWEET will want to add brown sugar, more honey, or whatever your favorite sweetener is. Soaking the raisins overnight in water allows them to release some of their sugars and plump up to twice their normal size.


1-½  Cups self-rising flour

½     tsp. of sea salt
½     tsp. of baking soda
1-2  tsps. cinnamon

¼  Cup oil
¼  Cup honey
1 large ripe banana - mashed
1 shredded apple
1 egg

1  Cup raisins soaked in 2 cups water overnight (save raisin water)
1-½  Cups rolled oats


In a medium mixing bowl mix well first 4 dry ingredients.
In a larger bowl cream together the mashed banana, shredded apple, oil, honey, and egg.
Then gradually pour the dry ingredients into the wet, mixing well.
Next stir in the rolled oats; then drain the soaked raisins (by now 2 cups worth), and fold them in.
Add sufficient raisin water to ensure a moist but firm dough.

Let the dough set for the time it takes to pre-heat the oven to 350℉.
Drop tablespoonfulls of dough onto lightly oiled cookie sheet about 1" apart.
Bake 12-14 minutes; let baked cookies set on sheet for a minute before removing to a plate to cool.
Yields @40 cookies.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How to lose weight? Keep your refrigerator stocked!

The trick is to have, close at hand, nutritious and already or semi-prepared foods that take very little time and effort to whip into a tasty mini-meal.

Foods I like to keep on hand are:  Cooked brown rice…   Lentils...   Cannellini beans…   Chickpeas...   and, of course... plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Fruits of choice? Anything you like: I prefer apples, berries and bananas.  The vegetables I always have in store are: Romaine lettuce, onion, garlic, green peppers, tomatoes, carrots and celery, and frozen green peas (I know, not "fresh" but infinitely practical since they steam cook in 2 minutes flat).

Cooked rice (make it the evening before -- it lasts 2-3 days in fridge) is easily re-heated and makes a scrumptious breakfast when combined with a couple of eggs: poached, fried, or scrambled.  It's also a great compliment to any curry you might quickly bring together with lentils, onion, celery, and curry seasonings.

Just about any cooked bean or lentil can be made into a super salad with a bit of chopped onion, some diced tomatoes, dried  herbs, sea salt, olive oil, and perhaps a squeeze of fresh lemon.

If you have cooked chickpeas in the fridge, a batch of humus can be whizzed up lickity-split with tahini, minced garlic, and lemon juice (I usually don't even bother with tahini - just use olive oil instead).  Spread the humus on whole wheat pita or a Rye Crispbread (my favorites are Wasa and Finn Crisps).  It's great with carrot and celery sticks, as well, or dolloped on a crisp leaf of Romaine.

The point of eating mini-meals is to boost your metabolism.  Eating small amounts of nutritious foods at frequent intervals will do that.  You'll never be hungry, and you're likely to eat less overall.  Also, your body naturally is at its peak metabolic rate in the middle of the day; so it's best to eat your biggest meal around noon -- if you can, and a series of lighter snacks into the later hours.  I know the idea of mini-meals may not  jibe with the schedules of you or your family or your current habits; but consider the concept.  You may find yourself developing new and better eating patterns.

I'm not saying "don't eat meat", "eat organic", or "eliminate dairy".  Just give your body a chance to eat some legume protein and a good dose of fresh fruits and vegetables each day.  Allow yourself to "snack" on these treats.  These foods are all "fat burning", i.e., they increase the body's metabolic rate and efficiency.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Unsweetened Chocolate - a Secret Delight

You might think unsweetened chocolate is just for preparing sumptuous chocolate desserts - to be melted and folded into chocolate ganache or a steaming chocolate souffle.

But have you ever tried popping one of those polygonous shards right into your mouth? ...There it melts of its own accord or is easily ‘crunched’ through with a few gentle bites.  As I have to stay away from sugar, this is my favorite and only way to eat chocolate.  A 1/2 lb. block of Callebaut Unsweetened lasts the better part of a month (if I nibble judiciously).

By itself, unsweetened chocolate is not for the faint of heart.  But you can easily add a favorite sweetener - a drop of honey or some stevia to a small cup of chocolate shavings.  Sweetening your own ‘unsweetened’ chocolate is an effective way to control sugar intake - and a great way to develop a taste for the ‘bitter’/‘better’ side of chocolate.

Next on my reading list:  

The Healing Powers of Chocolate by Cal Orey (Paperback - Jan 1, 2010)