We finally had our daffodils surface 2 weeks ago, and they opened this week with the warmth and sunshine. I love spring! The promises of long hope appear. It was a mild winter up until February, and then a severe cold that has been hard to shake off. When green life appears, I know spring is not too far away. This week I read a mime “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but actually you have been planted.” Like seeds, hope surfaces and eventually blooms nourishing our souls. But nothing says “spring” more than a babe, or two. Fresh joy springing forth in every smile. Grandbabies, Clara and Jefferson chatting on Facetime.
February’s arctic blast did so much damage to plumbing systems. My oldest daughter and her family are bunked up in a Super 8 motel while their homeowners insurance company get their house repaired after several pipes froze and burst, and damaging their furnace. It seems pretty dark to them still, but once repairs are completed they will have a new furnace, all new plumbing system, and much more. A real life “Schitt’s Creek” drama going on. Waiting for restoration is hard. So many more families have similar stories. Snow is being replaced with rain, thunder, and even a rainbow. The birds appear at the the feeders earlier.
I awake every morning now before 5:00am with those creative thoughts running in my head, those kind you just cannot tune out. It is like my body knows spring is almost here. A fresh garden project or recipe idea surfaces to respond to. My days as an employee wellness coordinator are drawing nigh on June 1, and God has already provided a semi-retirement job opportunity for me. I am now a culinary instructor at the local continuing education program. My joy of cooking and baking will be renewed to share with many others once again. Take a gander at my new page “Culinary Classes, Too” https://deannagreensandgardenart.com/culinary-classes-too/ on this website.
I love the life and sustainability that an organic garden brings. Health, wellness, goodness, and beauty prevail! As the autumn mornings get crisper, my herbs and tomatoes still produce. My garden plants will thrive until old man frost appears. Deanna Greens and Garden Art has been existence for over 7 years now. Some of Dean and I’s dreams have come true. The love of the earth and gardening came alive in me. “It takes some presumption to cut into the earth and to reshape and redefine – to alter the natural course of things, to commit to having planted a seed, to start a path with no idea, really, where it will lead,” writes Dominique Browning. More dreams opened up. This author continues “Gardening has to be as much about contemplation as it is about tilling and toiling. Mental toiling, perhaps…turning things over, quietly thinking, in a place that gives you a peaceful corner for just a moment or two.” Gardening has brought a peace to my heart. And “It dawned on me: I had tended that garden in great, lavish, loving strokes. It had given me quiet, steady, demanding, and undemanding seasons of pleasure. I took care of the garden, then the garden took care of me.” ~ Dominique Browning.
My garden has taken care of heart matters as well as health matters. I received the most interesting report from my eye physician this week. He said he could tell I eat lots of green, leafy veggies by the photo taken of the inside of my eyes. Doc says my peepers are in excellent health, just the lens are getting older with age. A stronger lens for my glasses are ordered. According to https://yoursightmatters.com/greens-such-as-kale-good-for-eyesight/ “Green, leafy vegetables, such as kale and spinach, are good for eyesight and preventing age-related eye diseases, including cataracts and macular degeneration. Greens contain cartenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which promote vision and the health of the retina.” Whatever I do not grow, I buy organic wherever able. Just eating as much leafy greens and veggies as possible, which means adding to the smoothies and omelets, using veggie-based pasta and riced cauliflower, and spooning fresh and dried herbs into my recipes. Yes, my garden sustains me.
I use my abundant, pungent arugula in my salads as well as egg, pasta, and rice dishes these days. A little goes a long way, so most of my culinary creations as of late include my fresh grown arugula. One important aspect to the culinary arts is that improvisation goes a long way. It is easier to substitute ingredients with cooking versus baking. I find arugula can be used in place of spinach in most dishes and salads. There is a taste difference with these 2 greens, but cooking properties similar. Arugula like spinach is a great source of vitamin A and C as well as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Arugula grows much like spinach, spring and autumn sowing here in Missouri.
I love creamed spinach! The best I ever had is crafted by the executive chef Gerard Germain. I learned much from the culinary experts while working at Dierbergs School of Cooking. Chef Gerard dazzles his students’ appetites with Italian and French cuisines. A first generation French immigrant applies his old world culinary magic in the kitchen of a fine Italian establishment in St. Louis called Tony’s. The next best thing is spinach in a white sauce over pasta. So here is my attempt to a lighter version of Pasta alla Fiorentina … Pasta Arugula (or the Italians say rucola), but my recipe is American-style. I lessen the butter and use a little olive oil as a base for the slurry as well as use whole milk instead of cream or half & half. Of course, arugula goes in the recipe instead of spinach. Noted for the recipe this evening, I cooked too much whole-grain pasta for the amount of white sauce I made, and did not add enough arugula. Fresh arugula shrinks considerably while sauteed. Tonight I served the Pasta Arugula with locally-made chicken Italian sausage and crusty bread. I sipped a glass of lavender sparkling water, and Dean downed a domestic beer this rainy summer evening.
I have had little energy the past few days, turning into bed early hoping to feel better the next morning. Extra glasses of water and hot tea are being consumed. Tuesday into Wednesday I awoke with my throat on fire, and needed to prop up on double pillows in order to breathe. The seasonal allergy snuffles definitely became a bacterial infection. My Dean seemed to feel worse than I with his croupy cough. We stayed home from work, and visited our doctors in the morning. Antibiotics were ordered treating a sinus infection for each of us. The January blahs indeed. Naps and cooking shows filled the day. Bone-in chicken breasts simmered all day in the crock pot, and made a healthy, tasteful stock for homemade chicken & dumplings. I had heard years ago, homemade stock made with real bone-in meats makes a health-filled potion. Adding vinegar, wine, or beer brings out the collagen from the bone marrow. I always add a bottle of beer or a glass of wine to the crock pot. I coached my granddaughter, Libby with the dumpling recipe and shared with her my secret ingredient, a pinch of nutmeg. Warm, comfort food filled our dinner bowls by evening.
I do not bake much as the sugar and calories are not needed as I age. Though I have been so inspired by the CutThroat Kitchen episodes I watched this week as well as the German influences while in Hermann, Missouri last weekend. In my memory bank, is an old favorite this morning, blueberry-almond kuchen. While in this rental house I have limited kitchen appliances and spices, as well as my recipe box is still at our home. By memory, I create a blueberry-vanilla kuchen. No almonds or almond extract in the rental house pantry. I substitute with a home-brew vanilla extract and use vanilla yogurt instead plain yogurt. A hand beater and muscles rather than my stand-up KitchenAid cream the low-fat cream cheese, yogurt, eggs, and sugar. Nutmeg goes in the butter crumb topping for a nutty flavor rather my standard cinnamon or cardamon left at the house. Sweet baking aromas fill the air this Sunday morning. Warmth filled our tummies once again.
This last day of January begins with a spectacular sunrise. Another unseasonably warm day is in store. Dean and I are feeling much better with a few rounds of antibiotics. I cleaned and finished up laundry yesterday while Dean worked on one of the vehicles. With the weekend chores completed, we have this Sunday to attend Mass and go play. An afternoon walk around the displays at the Train Show will help me burn off that serving of Blueberry-Vanilla Kuchen I indulged in this morning.
“Herbs deserve to be used much more liberally,” quoting food writer and chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. I keep telling my friends, family, and co-workers the marvelous benefits of herbs. Bursting flavor and full of nutrition! I recently found this guide, the ANDI guide which rates foods based on nutrient density. My ravings on herbs are justified according to ANDI. ANDI stands for “Aggregate Nutrient Density Index,” a scoring system that rates foods on a scale from 1 to 1000 based on nutrient content. ANDI scores are calculated by evaluating an extensive range of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities.
Here is a list of basic herbs and their scores to illustrate this concept.
Herbs/ ANDI Score
Bay Leaves/ 271
Basil rated the highest of all the herbs! Such an easy herb to grow in terra cotta pots in the kitchen window sill or in a sunny garden spot. Our bed of herbs in the screenhouse of our greenhouse include a few varieties of basil. Genovese, lemon, and Tai to name three. In the heat of the summer, it is prolific! Basil nutrients rate up there with arugula, leaf lettuce, and radishes. It’s about 50% the value of superfoods kale and garden cress, but 4 or 5 times more than soybeans or pinto beans. The Italian and Mediterranean cultures include basil in many of their recipes as well as Thai and Mexican cultures. Where I live and work in the St. Louis, Missouri region, there is an Italian restaurant or pizzeria on every corner of the block and in between. We love our pasta and pizza! My home kitchen has the flavors of Italy with my own fresh homegrown basil. Cost pennies to grow. Last night I made homemade pizza with a cup of fresh Genovese basil leaves cut into strips and atop tomato sauce, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, garlic and black olives. Sometimes its a veggie pizza, with chunky tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach, arugula, black olives, etc. You know, the plumposity of veggies in a single slice of pizza pie! Then there’s pesto! It’s flavor tastes how the word sounds when you say it. PEST-O! More flavors to discover in this nutrient dense herb … sweet, lemon, Tai, spicy, lime, Genovese, cinnamon, anise. Cannot wait to make some lemon scones with the lemon basil this weekend. What herb has captured your taste buds?
The first day of May, May Day was met with the chilly wind and overcast sky in Missouri. Don’t you picture children and women dancing around the maypole of ribbons with flowers on their heads and in baskets? Whatever happen to the old tradition of leaving a May basket of goodies and flowers on your neighbors’ doorstep? The good ole’ days! We could use such gestures to return. Maybe a tradition for me to keep alive. Next year I will gift someone with a May basket. Shhh! It’s suppose to be a secret! It may be you! This celebration has many variations, with the original celebration dating before Christ. Pagan in nature, with Christian influences along the way. The German origins of May Day supposely came when St. Walburga brought Christianity to Germany, and it is referred to as “Mai Day”. The old world picturesque town of Hermann, Missouri still has a MaiFest celebration every year.
May Day was also a day to celebrate for the laborers, as most seeding was completed by May 1. This year of 2014, farmers and gardeners are challenged by this date. Farmer Dave on the 550 AM radio program said this morning that only 45% of the United States corn crop is in the ground already. This cold air lingering around does not help matters, and for others the drenching rains keep the farmers from completing their seeding. A group of farmers gathered for the first Thursday farmers’ market of this season in Clayton, Missouri this afternoon. I am excited to have them just down the street a 1/2 block from the building I work in. I will patronize them every Thursday after I finish my day at the office. Tonight I baked some fresh organic kale sprinkled wth olive oil and kosher salt. My recipe is on the What A Dish page of this WordPress blog. While at the farmers’ market, I picked up some ramps, a wild variety in the allium family. Some refer them to “wild garlic” or “wild leek”. These are an Appalachian delicacy that have made their way into upscale restaurants more recent years. My ex-husband’s family was from West Virginia, where ramps were skillet fried with potatoes and eggs. The house smells like ramps for days afterwards. Veggie season is in! This locavore is so excited!
The enticing aroma of homemade soup filled my kitchen and home on several occasions those chilly days of winter, with Chicken Noodle-Vegetable and Italian Stone Soup the most frequent two. A big pot of soup goes a long way with just Dean and I, and always plenty if we have company for lunch or dinner. Spring finally arrived this month of April, but yesterday the air turned cold as the day progressed with more rain. With the cold dampness, soup was in order for dinner. Soup du jour was Roasted Red Potato and Cauliflower with Leeks & Garlic. A warm pot of all organic, plant-based ingredients even the stock. Yes, a vegetarian recipe. And organic tastes better. It is what I had in the kitchen. Accompanied was toasted ham & cheddar on fresh rye bread I picked up at a St. Louis local Bosnian bakery. Please feel free to try my soup recipe placed on the What A Dish Recipes page found on this WordPress blog. Bon appetit!
A half plate of veggies, a quarter plate of protein, and the last quarter plate are the carbs at lunch and dinner every day should not be an issue. It can be if the time and food budget is tight. So what is a person to do if the doctor or dietician advises this? So, I am that person and I have begun watching my carbs and protein counts and having that 1/2 plate of veggies at every lunch and every dinner. BTW ~ Everyone’s plate should look like the illustrated. ~ And my 2 snacks a day need to be a carb with a protein every time. My recent blood work shows I am no longer in the pre-diabetes category, but diabetes category. I have 3 months to take off some weight and have my glucose levels below that 100 threshold or I am placed on oral meds. I have to be a good girl for my sake, take care of myself! So my creative juices begin to flow and a practical plan begins. I am a wellness coordinator, look after employee wellness programs at my full-time job. I will be a wellness guru when it is all over. Singer Dale Watson says, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you always got.” So here are the 5 major changes I have made …
First, I have had my ah-ha moment, reality check, whatever you want to call it. I am a diabetic! If I keep on this same road I have been on, I will be diabetic the rest of my life. Who wants that? Not me! I started back to Weight Watchers before the holidays and have that support group. Though Weight Watchers is a great weight management program, the Points Plus system treats fruits equally with vegetables. Fruit has a high sugar content, so I need to treat it as a carbohydrate with the diabetic exchange program. Now that the half plate of veggies illustration is stuck in my head, that visual is what I live by today and everyday the rest of my life.
2nd change, I am daily using a booklet my doctor gave me as well as go online to http://www.calorieking.com for my carb counts. Those winter time pick-me ups like hot cocoa, chai latte, or a pumpkin muffie brought me over the threshold from pre-diabetic to diabetic, I am sure. One hot chocolate from your friendly neighborhood Panera Bread or Quik Trip is over 50 grams of carbs, more than I am to have at one meal setting! I have to “weigh” the immediate gratification to the overall outcome. Believe me, the sweet hot drink is not worth it!
3rd change, herbal tea is my everyday fall to beverage when water is not satisfying my thirst. Soda, diet or sugar-loaded are not good for anyone. Beer and wine are reserved for special occasions like the cocoa and latte. This week Stash coconut mango oolong tea is awesome hot or iced. There are so many other teas to try, of course unsweetened. Many have medicinal purposes as well.
4th change, the dollars I am saving each week from no hot or cold beverage runs I apply to my gardening habit, with this year’s focus on more vegetables and herbs. If I can freeze or dehydrate a supply of vegetables and herbs for the next winter, I will be that much more ahead budget wise. I will literally reap what I sow.
I have upped the ante from my 10-minute 4-3-2-1 fitness routine I started in January as my New Year’s resolution. So the 5th change is if I do not get a 30-minute walk in during the day or gardening is not part of my weekday evening, I will exercise with a swim at the Center of Clayton indoor pool or a DVD exercise tape at home before the day is over. I cannot afford any more excuses for lack of exercise.
I will share recipes for my half plate of veggies in the What A Dish page on this blog. Please share yours!
At my full-time job I am inundated with wellness information constantly. Everyone and their brother have a new service or product to sell for one of the seven dimensions of wellness. I will expand on that concept in another post in the future. Working with employees on their wellness needs brings it back to me asking “what I am doing to take care of myself”? Creative ideas, programs, products, white papers, aggregate reports, diets, menus, and so forth pop in my head at any moment. Some of those ideas I apply to myself. Tai Chi and Weight Watchers At Work for this season in my life… This cold winter proves a challenge for many of us while we hibernate in our warm homes. Though this year I have devoted 10 minutes every morning to the 4-3-2-1 exercise routine … 4 minutes of cardio, 3 minutes of resistance, 2 minutes of abs, and 1 minute for stretches. This replaces the outdoor walks in nicer weather. Not only do I keep my body from idleness, in the evenings I fill the brain with articles, books, garden catalogues, blogs, poetry, art, and classic movies while curled on the recliner with a blanket sipping a cup of hot tea. In a few days the Winter Olympics will come to our TV screen after the Super Bowl hype is over. Meantime, I have picked up once again my copy of A Place of My Own
written by Michael Pollan. He writes about simple living in a place he built. This so relates to the greenhouse we built, thinking “look at what our hands have made”. No, look at what Dean has made. I credit my husband for his craft, skill, and diligence. My plants survive like I in the winter, but become vibrant once again come spring.
A couple of evenings ago I shared on this blog my healthy dinner menu and a recipe. (See “On The Menu”.) Last night we had comfort food, warm comfort to counteract the winter cold. I made a healthier version of chicken dumpling soup with a homemade veggie, herb,and chicken stock before spooning the herbed dumpling batter into the boiling brew. Did you know if you add 1 tablespoon of vinegar to the liquid while cooking bone-in meat, more collagen and other anti-inflammatory nutrients will be drawn from the bones? This reserved liquid gold will be used for a seafood chowder recipe I have been mulling over in my mind for this weekend. My culinary vocabulary book cleared up the one question I had, “what is the difference between chowder and bisque?” Chowder has chunks of vegetables, and bisque has a puree of vegetables. Both often have cream in or served with. I will lighten my recipe with milk. I will make more stock from scallops. Cubed potatoes, shredded carrots, chunked celery and a medley of herbs will fill the soup pot just in time for the next arctic blast blowing Missouri’s way on Monday. This is my winter wellness. Cooking healthy foods, reading, writing, and those morning exercises.
The winter time blues will not beat me. I live and dream of my garden with tonight’s menu: Crunchy Kale Chips, Baked Sweet Potato, Crushed Peppercorn Medley-Crusted Beef, and a glass of Mencia Roble, a red wine made from the Mencia grape grown in Spain. A home-cooked dinner this blustery night. The kale recipe can be found on my What A Dish Recipe page. Kale is a vegetable I never tried until working with EarthDance Farms as an apprentice in 2011. Nothing beats the bursting flavors of organic kale, except maybe arugula. The power-packed veggies I ate this evening were grown by someone else, though organically. My readings this week include a blog written by a Kentucky woman who gardens year-round. Much of her garden survived the subzero temperatures earlier this month. She used a plastic liner and low tunnel fabric to protect her plants. Several varieties of kale, arugula, and mustard greens beautifully survived the arctic air. I am growing three heirloom tomato plants in my semi-heated garage this winter. They are still producing delicious fruit. This week’s Purple Cherokee tomato will be sliced for tomorrow’s lunch accommodating my beef patty sandwich. This is not quite like the gardener in Kentucky, though a start. Locally grown greens … I am so inspired to expand my growing season here in St. Charles County, Missouri. So what are you growing this winter? How do you beat the winter? Please share your story.