Monday, July 18, 2016

Summer Eating in Balance

I was probably about eleven when I first consciously observed the widespread mixed messages of summertime eating and living. On the cover of nearly every magazine in the checkout line, there are photos of the most decadent summertime desserts, contradicting the bold, yellow claims to help you be "bikini ready in 29 days." Far too many summers of my own adolescence were spent with long days of fasting in the sun so that I could later enjoy a soft serve at the carnival and still fit into a bikini. My metabolism paid the ultimate price and by the time I was twenty five, I was ninety-plus pounds heavier than I needed to be and I could not have been further away from being bikini ready.

We all feel better when we lose some of that extra weight we have been carrying around. Even losing a few pounds can make a significant difference in how we feel about ourselves, the way our clothing feels, even the amount of energy we have.

With all of the appetite suppressing, oil absorbing (gall bladder & liver damaging) medications, meal replacement shakes, mail order meal plans, and supplements available, I cannot stress enough how healthful eating really is where it's at if you are serious about being well for the long run.  This means you have to focus on fueling your body with the really good stuff as your number one "diet" priority if you want to maintain weight and ward off chronic disease.  Nothing else will do the work for you; and even if short term results are gained from any of these gimmicks, they certainly will not be maintained. 

I really believe there is a big difference between not bad for you and healthy. In my mind it's much the same thing as "good" and "good enough."   If I am at a BBQ  and the scent of the fire beckons me to make myself a s’more, I can remind myself that there’s fresh strawberries on the food table, but sometimes that is not going to suffice.  This is especially true when I am in the mindset of just wanting a fire roasted marshmallow, oozy chocolate glob between two graham crackers. And even if the host offers me a less-processed whole grain graham cracker with dark chocolate, I am not kidding myself when I eat this version either. It might be better for me than the traditional version, but it's still full of sugar and refinement and far from being a health food.

That's what makes a life in balance so awesome. I know I can eat whichever s'more I choose, because it is a discretionary treat.  I am owning it.   The majority of the time, I am eating a 
 veggie-rich diet, with lots of dark, leafy greens, fresh fish, fresh fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and I know that these foods nourish my body and soul and help to restore some of the damage I did with that s'more.  They also help me to feel no ill feelings about allowing myself enjoy an occasional serving of real ice cream, or a sliver of homemade blueberry pie, or even a cookie or two.  Because of my nutrient-rich diet, a treat here or there won't wreak total havoc on my body or my clean lifestyle. You may even see me eating [GASP!] a processed hot dog or some potato chips at a ball game, because I know that nothing sets us up for diet and lifestyle distress in quite the way deprivation does.  No, I am not suggesting that you never pass a donut shop without stopping out of fear of deprivation. I am saying that even in the cleanest of eating lifestyles, there truly needs to be some treats built in or allotted--free from guilt, remorse or self reproach. 

Even as healthy and mindful as I've become, I confess that my ears still perk up when I hear about weight loss miracles. Let's face it, it takes work to habitually eat well and stay physically active.  But like it or not, when we under eat and under nourish our bodies or rely on random supplements or fad diets, we mostly do these things in vain. If we follow a nutrient-rich eating plan that is well-rounded, we are honest about your exercise and food intakes, we should be able to lose and manage our weight.  Sure, it won’t be a quick fix, but I have never known success to be something that came without effort. The effects of obtaining a healthy weight through balanced eating are long lasting and will empower you in ways you never imagined.

When you eat the way that your body intended, it rewards you in ways that are far beyond that measurement on the scale. Some of the rewards of eating foods that love you back are healthy skin and hair, healthy blood sugar levels, healthy blood cholesterol levels, and increased strength and energy. You simply cannot put a price on being able to play on the floor with your grandchildren—neither can you obtain that experience simply by ingesting something out of a bottle. It is something that cannot be put into words, but experienced or observed in those that have found it.  It glows clear and bright. 

Summertime is the best time of the year for filling our bodies with minimal cost and effort because so many foods are fresh, local and in season.
Remember that fresh food is all around you. Look for farmer’s markets, produce stands or even at the garden out your own back door. Add extra nutrient-packed herbs whenever possible and use all that extra energy to chase fireflies during an evening walk or to splash in the pool with the kids. You don’t have to take my word for it: try it. Life’s a whole lot more fun when you have added energy from eating the foods our bodies love.

Enjoy each and every bite this summer, strive to get your nutrients met and feel good knowing you are loving the foods that love you back.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Dark Chocolate Filled Raspberries: Guilt-Free Indulgence!

I usually think of making these around Christmastime, as sort of healthier offering in a sea of far too much sugar.  Of course, seasonally speaking, these suckers are fresh and local right now.  My neighbor just gave me a basket of gorgeous berries from her own back yard, and I couldn't help but fill a few with chocolate. Super easy and quick: throw them in a bowl with some blueberries and this works every bit as well for the 4th of July as it does for winter celebrations.

fresh raspberries
3-4 squares of your favorite dark chocolate  –  we recommend 85% cacao Theo bars as you can get find dairy free and soy free varieties but even dark chocolate chips will work


1 - Cover a plate in aluminum foil.

2 - Chop chocolate and melt over double boiler or, if you prefer to use the microwave, melt in thirty second intervals, carefully checking to avoid burning, until chocolate is melted.

3 - Use spatula to scrap chocolate into a sandwich sized zip lock bag.

4 - Snip of a very small corner of the bag (you can always snip off more later but you can’t add bag back once you’ve snipped too far!).  I snip such a small corner that I could use the chocolate to write with.

5 - Fill each berry and place on prepared plate.  Refrigerate for five minutes before eating.  These will last 24-48 hours in the refrigerator.

Did I mention you get 12 of these for only 42 calories????  That's right, a tasty treat that's only 3.5 calories each.  Now THAT's what I call guilt free :)

Cherry Chocolate Smoothie

The idea behind this one is that you get a great nutrient boost while enjoying something that's quite similar to dessert.  This is a favorite among participants in my nutrition classes--and among kids.

1 cup frozen, unsweetened cherries
½ cup kefir or unsweetened yogurt (optional)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons raw honey (or your favorite natural sweetener)
2 cups baby spinach (you won't taste it, I promise!)
Water, to desired thickness

In blender: combine in all ingredients, except water (if omitting kefir, you can add 1/4 cup water in its place). Add water, ¼ cup at a time, blending in between additions; adding just enough water so that desired consistency is reached. Drink right away.

Simple and sweet.  Popeye would be proud.

Makes 1, nutrient-packed serving. Per serving:

Bite-Sized Eggplants Stuffed w/ Quinoa, Leeks & Mushrooms

Despite living with farms all around, country living can be the equivalent of cultural deprivation to a foodie--especially during the colder months.  We have an abundance of ethnic markets here in my neck of the woods and they are what keeps me sane by providing otherwise hard-to-find ingredients in rural America.  Our local Indian market carries these adorable little eggplants that I've been dying to do something with for some time now.  I finally picked some up the other day and felt inspired to stuff them.

The result was good enough to serve to company, but since when do you need company (or any excuse) to eat cute little finger foods?  I know I don't, especially when each piece is only 23 calories!  Let's just say I may have eaten about 10 of them in one siting...

One last note, I chose fresh oregano as a flavoring agent for several reasons.  First, I believe it is one of the most under-utilized culinary herbs (and it tastes nothing like the dried stuff in the shaker at the pizza place, trust me).  Second, oregano is ridiculously easy to grow; a member of the mint family, the stuff will take hold of a container and you will never have to worry with it (I planted two plants eleven years ago and have hardly even watered them in that time).  Most importantly, oregano is a nutrient powerhouse that is high in vitamin K and manganese, and has many health promoting benefits; including having anti-bacterial and anti-carcinogenic qualities.  Oh, and if I might add, it makes all sorts of dishes taste really great!

10 - 12 miniature eggplants
1 cup cooked quinoa, prepared according to package instructions and cooled to room temperature
1 cup mushrooms, diced into small pieces
1 leek, white and light green parts only, chopped into small pieces
1 teaspoon oil
1 tbsp mayo (I used this homemade version)
egg white from 1 egg
2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped + more to garnish
sea salt & fresh ground pepper, to taste
fresh grated parmesan, to garnish

1 - Slice eggplants in half lengthwise.  Using a melon baller or grapefruit spoon, scoop out the insides of the eggplant, leaving a 1/4' of the fruit attached to the skin.

2 - Chop up the parts that you scooped out and sauté in oil, along with the mushrooms and leaks.  Cook, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat until leaks are soft and excess liquid from the mushrooms has cooked off.  Stir in chopped oregano and set aside to cool for a moment.

3 - Place eggplants skin side up on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil, 8-10 inches away from the broiler, for about three minutes to soften.  Be careful not to let them burn (watch closely).

3 - Combine eggplant-mushroom-leek mixture with quinoa.  Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.  Add mayo and egg white.

4 - Turn eggplants skin side down on the sheet and divide the quinoa mixture evenly among the eggplant halves.   Return to broiler for 2-4 minutes more, until tops are beginning to brown and filling has set.  Remove from heat.  Garnish with fresh grated parmesan and additional chopped, fresh oregano.  Eat, share, enjoy!

Almond Milk

This recipe only takes a few minutes to make and the results are SO much better than the stuff in the carton. Plus, when you make it yourself, you don't have to worry about added sugars or chemical emulsifiers and stabilizers.

1 cup raw almonds
4 cups water + extra for blanching almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Cheese cloth

1 – Blanch the almonds to peel:  Bring 2 cups water to boil and drop whole almonds in for one minute.  Remove from water and place it bowl of ice water to cool.  The skins should now easily come off.  Pop almonds out an discard skins.

2 – Place ingredients in a blender and turn onto low speed.   Allow to combine for a minute and then increase speed  slowly to high.  Continue to blend for 2-3 minutes.

3 – Line strainer with cheese cloth and place in bowl.  Pour liquid from blender.  The liquid in the bowl is the milk; the leftover white “powder” in the cheesecloth is almond meal.  You can either discard the leftover almond meal or use it to add fiber to baked goods.

Recipe yields 1 quart.  Lasts 1 week to 10 days in refrigerator; shake before serving.

The Country Tart making almond milk with Jimmy Hoppa on WBOC's Delmarva Life! 

Five Minute Red Pepper Shrimp

This is a homemade meal ready in five minutes!   By purchasing already peeled and deveined shrimp and carrots that have been chopped into match sticks, you can easily toss this entire meal together in five minutes.  Not bad for a busy weekday night!  This meal also happens to be gluten free, for those with sensitivities. 

Think outside the box, if shrimp isn't your thing, you could use cubes of salmon or cut up chicken strips.  Prep them in the morning and have dinner ready in a flash.   Quick, easy and delicious meals make it much easier to enjoy a healthy lifestyle we can stick with!

1 lb shrimp, tail on but peeled and deveined
1/3 cup red pepper paste (see note)
5- 6 stalks green onions, cut with kitchen sheers into 1" strips
1 small package of matchstick carrots
1 clove of garlic, smashed and skin discarded     
1/2 - 2/3 cup water
Soy sauce or fish sauce, to taste
2 teaspoons cooking oil
6 ounces Thai rice vermicelli noodles  (approx. 1/3 of 17.5 ounce pkg)

1 – Bring 8 cups water to boil in large pot. Drop in rice noodles and cook for 1 minute.  Set aside.

2 – Heat oil in pan and add garlic rubbing around pan for about twenty seconds.  Remove and discard. 

 3 –  Add carrots to pan and cook for 1 minute.  Add shrimp and cook for 1-2 minutes until opaque. 

 4 – Add in pepper paste and stir to coat, then pour in ½ cup of the water.  Add more, if necessary, to desired consistency.   Stir in green onions. 

5 – Add soy sauce or fish sauce to taste and serve over vermicelli noodles.   Makes 4 servings. 
Note: Red Pepper Paste is a ground up pepper concentrate that is similar to tomato paste.  It is imported from Turkey and can be purchased in Mediterranean grocers and specialty markets.  The Rice Vermicelli Noodles are from Thailand, available locally in Asian grocers and even in the ethnic aisles of some local grocery stores. 

Recipe makes 4 servings.  Per serving:

Thin Crust Pizza in 5 Minutes Flat

I love this trick because it is quick, easy, and delicious.  It also doesn't hurt that it is portion-controlled and low calorie, as well as gluten free.  I choose the gluten free tortillas because they are 130 calories each and work every bit as well as the wheat flour variety, but or 1/2 the calories.     Crushed tomatoes make for a fresh tasting sauce and fresh, unaged mozzarella is lower in calories and sodium, making this pizza a tasty, health-conscious choice!

gluten free tortilla  (found in the freezer/ natural/ organic section of most grocers)
crushed tomatoes
fresh mozzarella, crumbled 
fresh basil
favorite pizza toppings


Cast iron skillet or other heavy duty pan that conducts heat well and can be placed inside oven
Cook top and broiler


1 - Place frozen tortilla in a cast iron skillet or other heavy heat-conducting pan on stove top and turn onto medium heat.  Top quickly with crushed tomatoes and fresh mozzarella pieces, and then add desired toppings. 

2 - Cook on stove top until the crust is beginning to crisp and cheese beginning to melt.

3 - Watching carefully to avoid burning, place pizza under broiler to finish off cheese and crisp up toppings.

4 - Remove from heat and wait 30 seconds before cutting; crust will set as it cools.  This pizza is great fresh but, once fully cooled, it also maintains its' crispness for packing to enjoy later. 

Experiment on your own and have fun!  I have also used this to make a gluten free version of my spinach cheese naan, shown below

Crêpe! for Sandwiches

When we run out of good lunch ideas in this house, crêpes are a go-to food that I whip up.  They can be filled with leftovers, fruit, and even preservative free luncheon meat as shown above.  This same recipe could be used to make desserts of brunch, but lunch seems to be an area where a lot of people find themselves stuck for new ideas.  Whip up a batch of crêpes and get creative to shake up a humdrum lunch routine. 

3 Eggs (local, pasture-raised, if you can find them!)
2 ¼ cups non-homogenized, grass fed milk (shake first!)
1 cup spelt or King Arthur's white whole wheat flour
½ cup all purpose, unbleached flour (or sub buckwheat flour, teff flour, or even almond flour)
½ teaspoon salt, fine or flake kosher preferred
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil*

-Shallow sauté pan or crepe pan (if you have one), I use a 10" well-seasoned aluminum pan
-Brush for oiling pan
-Blender, to thoroughly combine egg into mixture.

1 - In blender, combine eggs, milk, flours and salt and mix to bring together and then turn off; no over-blending necessary. Set aside and prepare pan.

2 - In shallow sauté pan, brush with liberal amount of oil. Much like oiling a waffle iron, you will not need nearly as much after the first couple are made.

3 - Turn heat up to high and warm up pan; do not allow oil to reach smoking point. When you see pan has heated up thoroughly, reduce heat to medium-low.

4 - Working quickly, pour approximately 3 tablespoons of batter into pan (more or less depending on desired thickness and pan size). I always pour mine in the top, left corner, furthest away from me. Then, using your wrist, roll the batter quickly around the pan to evenly coat (see photo below). If it doesn't turn out right away, never fear, it can sometimes take several attempts to get it just right--be patient!

Crepe batter with wheat bran added, just after it's been poured and swirled around the pan.

5 - Allow to set thorougly; this should take anywhere from 45 seconds to 1 ½ minutes. Use turner to begin gently loosening up edges from pan (see below).

6. When you can see that the entire piece will lift easily out of the pan without tearing, user  turner to release it completely and then flip  it over cooking the other side just for about 20 seconds or until sligtly browned and the moisture has dried from the surface.

7. Remove from pan and set aside.  Once cool enough to not melt the wax, layer between pieces of wax paper.  Store in air tight container or large zipper bag, in refrigerator, for up to one week.   See how many different things you can come up with to roll them around! From veggies to ice cream to deli meat--you'll be surprised at just how versatile they can be.

* Much less oil will be used if your pan is well-seasoned.  2 tablespoons is a gross over-estimate of how much could be used so the fat in this recipe is probably over-accounted for.

Makes 12 Crêpes.  Per crêpe:

Forbidden Rice Salad

Black rice, also known as forbidden rice, is being touted by Wellness gurus everywhere as a possible "perfect carb" due to its' slow digesting properties, and its high protein and high antioxidant values.  This salad is quick, easy and very flavorful.  It's a great crowd pleaser--which is always a plus in my book. 

My sister-in-law came up with this recipe on a whim when she was looking to please one such crowd.  It was an instant hit, and It has been a favorite around here ever since.  Finding out that black rice is now being labeled an up and coming superfood makes me love it that much more. 

You can find it more and more in grocery stores that have specialty sections; I buy mine for a fraction of the mega-grocery store's cost at a locally-owned and operated Asian market. 

1 ½ cups black or purple rice (sometimes called forbidden rice)
3 cups water
½ cup balsamic vinegar
4 cups baby spinach
2-3 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup crumbled feta or ricotta salata cheese or baked tofu
Sea salt & fresh ground pepper, to taste
Optional ingredients: fresh basil and green onions, to garnish

1 – Place rice and water in pot with lid.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes or until rice is tender and water has been absorbed.  Set aside to cool completely.

2 – Place balsamic vinegar in shallow pan and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a slow boil and allow to reduce by a little more than 2/3 or to about 3 tablespoons.  It will be thick and syrupy (watch close to end to make sure it doesn’t scorch).

3 – Blend balsamic reduction into rice.  Add olive oil and slightly crushed clove of garlic into balsamic pan and warm slightly until garlic is fragrant.  Remove clove and discard. Toss in spinach until just wilted.  Mix oil mixture and spinach in with rice.

4 – Add cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

5 – Chill for at least one hour prior to serving.

For 1/8 of recipe (approximately 3/4 cup)

Scottish Oatmeal Cake

One of my favorite brunch recipes is something that I concocted after having breakfast with my Scottish grandfather where he pronounced a pan-formed slice of oatmeal "cake" that we were served to be of Scottish decent. Whether or not this is true, it is an easy thing to do and makes for an impressive and unique breakfast or brunch offering to quickly feed just a few or a whole crowd.

Really this Scottish Oatmeal Cake is not a cake at all but, rather, leftover oats formed into a loaf pan, refrigerated and sliced for breakfast the next day. Seriously dressed up, this oatmeal is suitable for guests yet easy enough for a quick weekday breakfast that will fill you up with heart-friendly soluble fibers that will keep you going strong well into the day. 


3 cups of uncooked old fashioned oats*
2 cups water
2 cups almond milk or water (or 1 cup milk to 1 cup water or juice to equal 2 cups)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup dried cranberries, golden raisins, or other dried fruit pieces or even chopped nuts
Turbinado (raw) sugar (approximately 1/4 cup) or brown sugar

To serve, optional: fresh fruits, raw or toasted nuts, crème fraiche, maple syrup

* Note: Steel cut oats are a really great treat to use instead of rolled oats, but you will need to increase cooking time per package instructions.


1 - One day before, place oatmeal into a pan with water, almond milk, cinnamon, molasses and salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium low, and continue to cook for about 7 to 10 minutes or until all liquid has been absorbed. Stir in cranberries.

2 - While oatmeal is cooking, line a loaf pan with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, draping over all sides so that entire "loaf" may be easily pulled out later.

3 - Pour oatmeal into prepared loaf pan. Cover and place in refrigerator overnight.

4 - In the morning, cover a jelly roll pan with heavy aluminum foil. Set aside. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300 degrees fahrenheit.

5 - Remove cover from oatmeal loaf and, using the overhang of foil or wrap, pull entire loaf out of pan and place onto a cutting board.

6 - Pull sides down and cut loaf into 10 equal slices.

7 - Spread slices out onto prepared pan, and sprinkle 1-2 teaspoon of turbinado or brown sugar onto the top of each slice and place pan onto middle rack in preheated oven.

8 - Heat cake slices for approximately ten minutes or until heated through. When they've been heated through, turn on broiler and allow to cook for about thirty seconds to a minute more or until sugar has melted and is beginning to caramelize (this can also be done with a kitchen torch instead of the broiler).

9 - Sprinkle with chopped walnuts or pecan pieces.

10 - Serve with fresh fruit and creme fraiche.

Nutritional info per 1/10 of loaf, including walnuts: