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The Joy of Blueberry Picking

 

 

Anyone who has ever done it knows that picking blueberries in a sunny field on a beautiful mid-summer’s afternoon is good for the soul. But since those days only occur during a short window at a very specific time of the year, it’s best to embrace the opportunity with both arms and squeeze hard, so to speak. There’s something infinitely satisfying about A) being immersed in nature; B) harvesting your own food; and C) embarking on an activity that’s so absorbing, your focus on it becomes a meditation. I’m not the most disciplined meditator, as much as a fan as I am of its benefits. Sitting still for 20 minutes is a chore for me, but picking blueberries is NOT.

This may seem like torture to some of you, as yet another Nor’Easter bears down on some of the country. Spring isn’t exactly rolling out the welcome mat for us at this point, so summer seems especially distant. Think of this post as more of a ‘something to look forward to’ seed to be planted now and enjoyed later.

 

A bucket full of Joy!

Picking blueberries has become a cherished summer ritual, not the least of which has to do with the beautiful health benefits they possess. I love eating fresh blueberries on their own, in smoothies, coconut yogurt, and in baking.  When fresh blueberries are no where to be found, I rely on frozen!  They don’t have the plumpness and physical beauty of their fresh counterparts, but they are perfect in smoothies and baking. Case in point: muffins! One of my all-time favorite indulgences.

One of the easiest ways to whip a batch up is with a gluten-free box mix. Simply dump in desired amount of berries to the mix and you have a masterpiece on your hands.  Or, if you’re looking for a from-scratch recipe, here’s my favorite Paleo version:

 

 

One of my favorite indulgences…that’s loaded with antioxidants!

 

 

 

 

Paleo Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients:

2 ¼ cups almond flour (or flour of choice)

½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup coconut palm sugar

4 eggs, room temperature

¼ cup coconut oil, melted or softened to room temperature

1 cup coconut milk (full-fat from the can)

1 tablespoon vanilla

2-3 cups fresh or frozen berries (thawed if using frozen)

 

Batter up!

 

 

 



Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375. Place all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and sift-blend with wire whisk. In a food processor, add eggs, vanilla and coconut milk. Pulse mixture until smooth. Pour liquid from food processor into the mixing bowl. Add coconut oil and blend thoroughly with wire whisk or wooden spoon. Add blueberries and mix thoroughly. It’s OK if some burst and ‘bleed.’ Spray two muffin tins (12 each) with non-stick cooking spray, or use paper muffin cups in the tins. Pour batter into each cup, filling about 3/4 full.  Bake for 25-30 minutes on the oven’s center rack. Turn oven off and let sit for 10 minutes in cooling oven. Remove from oven and serve while still warm. Muffins may be refrigerated for up to a week, and they also freeze well.

 

 

Worth every bit of effort…

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh or frozen, blueberries make a beautiful breakfast parfait. See “Clean Comfort” for the recipe.

 



Kale-Potato Soup

Oh, my…Old Man Winter is certainly digging his heels firmly into the frozen and snow-covered earth this month and doesn’t want to be evicted by the Spring faeries. Much as I’d love for the faeries to take over instantaneously, the reality is, in much of the country, the weather will be ranging from chilly to frigid. And what better way to counteract that than with a steaming, colorful bowl of homemade soup.

As a fan of Paleo cooking, I’m quite enamored with potatoes of every variety. They’re grounding, nourishing, and just plain comforting and good-tasting. As a fan of maintaining my 180-pound weight loss and my overall good health, I choose to be careful and particular how I prepare potatoes. Their danger-factor can increase significantly if fried or bathed in butter. This soup is a way to enjoy their velvety goodness with minimal processing or pesky excess of fat.

Kale for me has been another matter. I don’t love it as ardently as I do the potato, but I find ways to consume it that are enjoyable. Soups are one of my favorite ways because the simmering and blitzing in the Vitamix transmutes their tangly, rough texture into something user-friendly. The result is a smooth, fabulous, and nutritious salad in a bowl – Enjoy!

 

Ingredients:

1 bunch kale, washed and de-stemmed

2 pounds potatoes, washed and cut in chunks (I like Yukon gold, but use whatever variety you prefer)

1 head celery, washed and cut into 3-4 inch sticks

4 quarts chicken stock

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

2 teaspoons coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

1 head garlic * peeled

3 large Vidalia onions, sliced into thick rings

For an extra kick, reserve 3-4 cloves from the head of garlic and use it raw.

Light olive oil or grapeseed oil for baking

 

 



Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350

Heat stock in a large stockpot on the stove over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and add potatoes, kale, and celery. Turn heat down to medium, cover, and let simmer until potatoes are fork-tender (at least 20 minutes).

While soup is simmering, pour enough oil on a shallow baking sheet (with sides) to generously cover the bottom of the pan. Place onion rings and garlic cloves in the pan, distribute evenly, and bake for 20-30 minutes, until they just begin to brown.

When potatoes are done, remove from heat and let sit covered until the onions and garlic are done. Scrape onions, garlic, and remaining oil in the baking pan into the stockpot. Add raw garlic cloves (if you desire), fennel, coriander, and cumin to the pot. Stir with a large wooden spoon to blend all ingredients.

Blend soup in batches in a Vitamix or blender. Return to the stove and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thoroughly warm. Serve immediately. Makes a great appetizer or light dinner. Soup also freezes well.

 



Butternut Squash Soup

Few vegetables are as comforting and nutritious as butternut squash. It has a slightly more mellow taste than pumpkin, but just as much beta carotene and fiber. And they’re a little easier to bake – bonus!

Did you know in the Yogic tradition, the physical body is referred to as the food body? The ancient sage, Patanjali, considered the body to be the sheath or layer of life made of food that serves as our most intimate instrument for experiencing the physical world. Which begs the question: is that good or not-so-good news for you? A decade ago that would have been a sobering thought indeed because I existed pretty much on simple carbs and fat. That KFC I was so fond of? Skin only, thanks. And drive-thru meals were SuperSized, or there was gonna be trouble.

No surprise then, that negotiating the world around me was a laborious process. The foods I lived on yielded little vitality in return. Sure, they kept me and my restless, unhappy mind sated and ‘happy,’ but it satisfaction was fleeting and I always needed more. And there was never enough. In my cookbook/memoir “Clean Comfort,” I detail how I turned the ship around. Hint: it was not through dieting, but by paying attention to both body and soul. They’re intertwined and one’s not getting healthy without the other. And when I was able to release my grip on binge foods and other oral security blankets, the process of including healthier foods was a natural and unforced process. Food for both Thought and Body…

The latest vegetable-based soup in my repertoire is a perfect example of a dish that imparts both flavor and energy. Since I’m always looking for ways to make my vegetable intake smooth and creamy, I came up with this amazingly good, vitamin-rich soup. The batch below is sizeable, but don’t worry, it freezes beautifully so you’ll have a nice supply of healthy fast food on hand.

 

A worthy addition to the Food Body



Eggplant Meatballs

Among the highlights of the annual Wine and Dine for the Arts Festival in Albany, N.Y.,  was the grand tasting on Friday January 12. Just about every chef brought their A-Game and served some pretty amazing food. Some of the stand-outs were Provence’s feather-light truffled liver pate mousse, courtesy of chef Rachel Bozzella; Chef Ric Orlando of New World Bistro offered his addictive sticky and sweet short ribs; and the best arancini I’ve ever had was served by Nick Yusavage at the Pasta Pane booth. But the dish I most ardently wished to recreate at home was the intriguing Eggplant Meatballs, dreamed up by Jen Hewes, executive chef at The Point. These meatless meatballs were moist, aromatic, and oh-so-substantial.

The fact that I’m not the biggest fan of vegetables but adore eggplant sealed the deal…and besides, I could always use a few plant-based tricks up my sleeve. So, I gathered the courage to ask Chef Jen if she’d share her recipe and she complied, very willingly. Eggplant Meatballs is a recipe so delicious that it wouldn’t be right not to share it, so below is the magic formula.

Chef Jen was inspired to create meatless meatballs because she wanted a vegetarian appetizer on The Point’s menu that was enticing enough to be share-able. Trust me, these are. And since I’ve been eating gluten-free and cow-dairy-free for nine years, I’ve provided two versions. The recipe is a bit time-consuming, but don’t let that deter you. Eggplant Meatballs are a great reason to while away an afternoon at the stove on a cold winter day.      

 

Photo credit: Emily Culver, General Manager of The Point in Albany, N.Y.

             

Eggplant Meatballs

 – Chef Jen Hewes, The Point Restaurant, Albany, N.Y. 

 

4 large eggplants, peeled and diced

3 ounces fresh garlic, minced

1 cup light olive oil or grapeseed oil

4 ounces chopped fresh oregano

4 ounces fresh basil

2 ounces fresh parsley, chopped

2 cups Parmesan cheese, finely grated

1 tablespoon pepper

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

4 eggs, well-beaten

3 cups Panko bread crumbs

2 cups seasoned bread crumbs

2 cups flour

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350

In a large mixing bowl, combine the following: diced eggplant, salt and pepper, garlic and half-cup oil. Toss until eggplant is evenly coated with oil. Place on baking trays and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Let it cool until almost room temperature and puree in batches in a food processor. In a large mixing bowl, combine pureed eggplant, eggs, oregano, basil, grated cheese, crushed red pepper, remaining oil, and the seasoned bread crumbs. Form into a large ball, then shape mixture into two-ounce balls. In a separate bowl, combine Panko, flour, and parsley. Roll the ‘meatballs’ individually in the flour mixture and refrigerate for 20 minutes. In a large frying pan or wok, heat remaining oil until shimmering. Fry until evenly cooked and golden on all sides. Place on paper towels to drain and keep warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve.

 

 

The Gluten-Free & Cow-Dairy-Free Version of Eggplant Meatballs

Ingredients:

4 large eggplant, peeled and diced

3 ounces fresh garlic, minced

1 cup light olive oil or grapeseed oil, divided in half

4 ounces chopped fresh oregano

4 ounces fresh basil

2 ounces fresh parsley chopped

2 cups Peccorino Romano cheese, finely grated

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

4 eggs, well beaten

3 cups gluten-free Panko bread crumbs (or matzo meal)

2 cups seasoned gluten-free bread crumbs

2 cups of all-purpose gluten-free flour

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350

In a large mixing bowl, combine the following: diced eggplant, salt and pepper, garlic and half-cup oil. Toss until eggplant is evenly coated with oil. Place on baking trays and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Let it cool until almost room temperature and puree in batches in a food processor. In a large mixing bowl, combine pureed eggplant, eggs, oregano, basil, grated cheese, crushed red pepper, remaining oil, and the seasoned bread crumbs. Form into a large ball, then shape mixture into two-ounce balls. In a separate bowl, combine Panko, flour, and parsley. Roll the ‘meatballs’ individually in the flour mixture and refrigerate for 20 minutes. In a large frying pan or wok, heat remaining oil until shimmering. Fry until evenly cooked and golden on all sides. Place on paper towels to drain and keep warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve.

 

 

 

Thank You Disillusionment

Picture it …the 1985 and highly impressionable version of me in my sweetly naive ‘I’ve got life by the tail’ repose. Vital stats at the time: 100-lb. weightloss, check! Golden tan, check! Approval from the world, check! Self-esteem…M.I.A.

Fixing the external only is meaningless. Internally, I was unsatisfied, adrift, confused, and in utter shock that dropping the weight didn’t magically bestow happiness upon me as had been the implication. Backsliding, bewilderment, regaining the weight plus more, feeling like a royal screw-up, and diving back into destructive eating patterns were inevitable. How else could have I found the real way to health and balance? 

Unbeknownst to me, that fateful August afternoon, there were many lessons to be lived. As I let the cascade of compliments from everyone around me bounce off my inner-turmoil, I knew I had only just begun to tap into the Truth.

 

 

 

Appearances can be deceiving…

This one is for Great Lakes Collagen: