Monday, June 25, 2012

Arugula Pesto (and 41 hrs of non-parental bliss)

Where the Russian River meets the sea
My husband and I spent the weekend at the coast. We had two kid-free nights in a row. This is the longest we have been alone together since our son was born over 6 years ago! Pretty amazing when you think about it. If you would have told us back in early 2006 that it would be 2012 when we would next have 48 hours (41 actually, but whose counting?) to ourselves, I doubt we would have believed it or been able to comprehend it. We took advantage of our time together by dining at a nice Thai restaurant in Santa Rosa called Sea Thai Bistro. My favorite dish was the coconut chicken soup in which lemongrass was a powerful component. I love the flavor of lemongrass. The menu reads: Chicken Galangal Soup in coconut milk broth, crimini mushroom, cherry tomato, shallot. No mention of the lemongrass but that is what made the soup amazing. Yum!

The next day we did a leisurely 6 or 7 mile hike from the edge of the Pacific over the bluffs to a lush redwood grove and back. There were views of the Russian River flowing into the sea as seen in the photo above. There were ferns as tall as us and interesting plants like this lily: 

I consulted my fellow Quincy blogger, naturalist Joe Willis, who posts prolifically here: black oak naturalist, to find out what it might be. Here is his response: It's definitely a lily. Probably a species of Clintonia. Probably Clintonia andrewsiana which has red flowers and blue fruit. So there you have it. Anyway, it was a lovely day full of uninterrupted conversation, synchronized hiking, and quiet moments.....

Back at home, I've been making arugula pesto like mad and freezing it for next winter. I've made it 3 ways so far and will share my favorite. Pesto (from the Italian pestare: to crush, grind, or poundconsists usually of nuts, oil, garlic, salt, cheese, and leaves of an herb. The most typical combo is basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, salt, and parmesan cheese. But let your imagination be your guide. You can use sundried tomatoes, parsley, cilantro, or arugula in the place of basil. You can use any kind of nut. You can use any kind of hard cheese. You can play around with different oils and salts. The possibilities are endless. I experimented with walnuts, pistachios, and cashews in my 3 different versions of arugula pesto and the cashew version was, hands down, my favorite.

Cashew Arugula Pesto
3/4 cup raw cashew nuts
1 clove of garlic
1 to 2 oz. of dry cheese cut in chunks (I used an aged dry Monterey jack)
a large bunch of arugula
1/4 cup of olive oil (or more depending on the consistency you like)
salt to taste
Place garlic, cashews, and cheese in a food processor and process until crumbly. Add the arugula leaves and the oil and process again until it looks like pesto. Open the lid and scrape down the sides with a flexible spatula and sprinkle in some salt. Blend again. Adjust salt and oil to your preference. Done! *********** I've been eating it with rice crackers and on spiral rice pasta; husband has been slathering on sandwiches. The little bit of hard cheese doesn't seem to upset my tum-tum :-) And again, it freezes well.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Panacea

The potatoes are liking their home in the re-purposed stock tank

Since cutting gluten out of my diet 3 months ago I've experienced some remarkable changes. I lost the 10 pounds I've been wanting to lose for years. My wrinkles have smoothed out. My gray hairs have been replaced by brown. My singing voice has become amazing and I am thinking about joining a band.

No, not really.

Okay, now for real, these are the changes I have noticed: I've lost 5 of the 10 pounds I've been wanting to lose for years. My back feels better. My gums which were a bit inflamed aren't anymore. My gut feels good. My skin seems clearer. My lifelong affinity for sweets has abated (but hasn't disappeared). So that's pretty good, even without the singing voice.

More on my back.... My mid-back has been giving me problems for years. There seems to be just one activity that aggravates it: doing the dishes. I think our sink is too low for my 5'9" stature. I actually enjoy washing dishes so its not psychosomatic. (I enjoy washing dishes so much that although we have a dishwasher I have never used it. I've actually never used a dishwasher in my life and truth be told, I am a bit intimidated by them. I always feel like there is some secret to loading them and that I should have a dishwasher training session before I can be trusted to do it correctly.) A few dishes didn't bother it but every time I finished a whole sink-load, I would have to ask my husband for a crack. This meant he would stand facing me and embrace me with both arms around my mid-back and squeeze. This invariably produced several loud cracks that immediately relieved my discomfort. I even trained my 6 year old son to crack it by walking on it. As I spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking and doing dishes, I would need cracking anywhere from 1 to 3 times a day, every day! I knew it wasn't a good situation but I really didn't know to rectify it.

Well, a couple months into the gluten-free experiment, I realized that I hadn't felt the need for a crack in a long time. Now another month has passed without a request for a crack! So it appears that something about eating gluten was causing inflammation in my joints, gums, skin, and belly. 

I went ahead and had a blood test done to test for celiac disease indicators recently, but from what I understand those mostly come back negative. I haven't received the results yet. It would only be interesting to me if it were positive, which I doubt. I just think I am one of the growing number of people who develop an issue with it and/or realize how much better their body feels and functions without it.

So, for now life continues......gluten-free and happy.

December 1, 2012: Now approximately 8 months gluten-free. I have lost 15 of the 10 pounds I had vaguely wanted to lose for years. I feel lean and strong and clear-headed. I still have not once asked to have my back cracked after doing the dishes! My eye-glass prescription has stabilized (coincidence?) and gum inflammation has been reversed.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Amazing Color of Rhubarb and a Sweet Succulent

Clearly I need to plant some rhubarb because this year I had to BUY some at the store! And then when I returned a couple days later for more, it was all gone. Now, I fear, I will have to wait an entire year to taste their unique flavor and SEE their unique color again. If you have a healthy rhubarb plant or two of your own, you likely take it for granted. They tend to get large and produce more stalks than you know what to do with. I am one who has taken them for granted in the past but not so this year. Although I don't have my own plant, my parents have a huge one and the neighbors have several and the rental I manage has a monster, so there has always been rhubarb in rhubarb season. This year the only rhubarb to pass through my kitchen were the 6 or 7 stalks I picked up at the co-op and hiked home with, their red and green canes protruding from my cloth bag.

When I got home I chopped them up and and cooked them down with ginger, sugar, red wine, and lime. This mixture was then strained, creating two products: a rhubarb butter and a rhubarb syrup.

These jars of ruby sweet-tartness didn't last long. The syrup was drizzled over homemade ice cream and used to ginger up sparkling water and prosecco. The butter/jam was eaten directly from the jar and used in a solar fruit bar thingy.
In case you'd like to try it:

Ginger-Lime Rhubarb Syrup and Quick Jam

4 or 5 cups of chopped rhubarb
1 cup organic sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup cab sauv or other red
1 t. finely chopped fresh ginger
juice of half a lime

Place rhubarb, sugar, water, ginger and wine in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until rhubarb is very soft. This doesn't take very long but I didn't time it. I'm guessing 20 minutes of simmering. Turn off heat. Stir in the lime juice and let the mixture cool to at least warm. Pour liquid through a strainer into a jar. Press solids to extract most but not all of the juice. Put solids in a second jar. Done!

Now for this cute succulent that Leo picked out a couple years ago at the St. Helena farmers market. Each year around this time it blooms, sending out its single long tendril adorned with tiny iridescent white-pink flowers. So sweet.

Hmmm......I think I need to wash the windows

June is in full swing!