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Summer’s over.

Watermelon, I will miss you the most.

If you still have some fresh organic watermelon where you live, get it while you can! Put some watermelon in a blender with mint and lime. And tequila, if you’re ready to party.

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Corcord Grape Jam.

Concord grapes are in season right now, and I’ve been getting tons of them in my CSA. They have a tart and sweet flavor, and their scent is so intensely “grape-y” that it seems almost artificial. Their fragrance takes me back to being five years old, helping my Ukrainian grandmother make wine by squishing around in a barrel full of fermenting grapes and sugar.

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Ever try to eat a raw concord grape? It’s basically impossible–there are a hundred seeds in each tiny grape. Ok, maybe more like five seeds, but still, it is a struggle, which is why concord grapes are usually turned into juice or jelly.

Concord grapes are high in anti-oxidants and dark purple grape skins are believed to have a host of other health benefits. If you like Welch’s grape jelly, this is the recipe for you–all of the flavor, but with none of the preservatives and far less sugar.

2 bunches concord grapes (about 2 pounds)
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/4 lemon

  • Separate the grape skins from the grapes by gently squeezing them. This part is a little bit of work, but a lot of fun!

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  • Put grape skins in a food processor with sugar, blend for about 30 seconds or until skins are finely chopped.
  • In a saucepan on medium heat, cook grape innards until they start to break apart. Squeeze in the lemon juice.
  • Stir in the grape skins, cook for about 20 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened.
  • A trick for testing if the jam is done: Put a plate in the freezer until it’s chilled. Spoon a quarter-sized dollop of the jam on the cold plate. If it runs on the plate, it still needs to cook down a bit more.
  • Set a large glass bowl on the counter, and place a metal mesh sieve inside of it. Pour grape mixture into th sieve, pushing it against the bottom and sides to separate the jam from the seeds.
  • Pour the jam into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. It will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.

Italian Apple Cake.

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Usually I save the dessert-making for special occasions, but a cool Monday in early autumn seemed like a good enough reason for me to bake a cake.  Now that it is starting to feel like fall in Brooklyn, I’m much more inclined to turn on the oven–and what better way to celebrate fall than some baked apple deliciousness?

For the most part, I stay away from gluten and wheat-based flours entirely, which can make baking a challenge, so I’m always interested in trying out a new gluten-free dessert recipe. I really liked this cake (which I adapted from a recipe in this book) first and foremost because it was insanely delicious, but also because it is relatively low in sugar. This was the perfect dessert to end a meal on an early autumn day, and an equally delicious breakfast the next morning.

Italian Apple Cake

3 eggs
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 1/2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
2 large apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
olive oil, for greasing a spring-form pan

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Combine eggs, sugar and maple syrup in a large bowl, and beat until well combined, about 3 minutes.
  • Gradually add almond meal, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring with each addition. Add yogurt, butter and cinnamon, stir until well combined.
  • Pour batter in greased spring-form pan. Arrange apples vertically by placing the core-side down, so they form a circle around the outside ring of the pan. Repeat to create an inner ring of sliced apples (I added a few extra on top for decoration).
  • Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  • Makes a great breakfast, served with yogurt, or dessert, served with ice cream.
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The summer garden.

A few days after the official end of summer, here is an assessment of my first summer garden, grown using organic soil and fertilizers.

Winners: fig tree, bush cucumber, plum tomato, lavender, thyme, basil, mint, parsley, cuttings from mystery plants I stole from my neighbor’s yard.

Better luck next year: strawberry, spinach, swiss chard, sage. Maybe I should give up on plants that start with the letter S!

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CSA Love.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, good cooking–and good health–starts with good food. Nearly all the produce I eat comes from my local CSA (which stands for community-supported agriculture) and farmers markets in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Both are great places to get local, seasonal fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat and dairy, fresh from the farm, without added pesticides, preservatives, GMOs, and any other additives that zap the flavor and nutrients out of our food.

I especially love my CSA–every week is a different mix, and it changes throughout the season. Currently I am picking up two shares– one distributed by Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, with primarily vegetables and fruit, and another from Local Roots NYC, where I pick up milk, cheese, honey, and an artisanal treat made by a local company, using fresh local ingredients.  Picking up my share–a box with 4-5 kinds of vegetables, 1-2 kinds of fruit, milk, cheese, and eggs–allows me to pick up most of the week’s groceries at once, which is very convenient for a busy New Yorker!

Since the variety of my CSA share changes every week, it helps me stay out of the grocery-store rut I can get into sometimes, when I feel like I’m having a hard time coming up with creative dinner ideas. It has definitely helped me become a more creative and adventurous cook, too. Get something weird in your CSA? Don’t be scared! Here are some ideas on what to do with some of the less common vegetables.

 

Green Detox Soup.

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I make this soup once a month. That time of the month. As my friends and I have gotten older, we’ve noticed that our PMS symptoms have gotten worse over the years. Everyone deals with something different–I experience severe headaches, fatigue, and “brain fog,” a not-very-scientific term for a lack of mental focus and clarity. Oh, the joys of being a woman!

My homeopathic doctor recommends going on a very clean, green diet around and during the time of your period to help the body cope with the major shifts in hormone levels. I try my best to fully eliminate meat, dairy, caffeine and sugar during this time, as it helps tremendously with my PMS symptoms. It can be hard sometimes to beat the sugar and salt cravings, but it is totally worth it.

This is a delicious and healthy recipe to make anytime, for any body (not only for PMS!). Green vegetables are high in chlorophyll, which, as you might remember from middle-school science class, is the substance responsible for the green color of plants. Many believe that chlorophyll has a host of health benefits. Green vegetables are also believed to have a detoxifying, as well as an alkalizing effect on the body. More on these topics later.

Green Detox Soup

This soup is a little different every time I make it, because I usually use what I have in the fridge. The key components: green chopped vegetables, leafy vegetables, a few potatoes for smooth texture, with salt, spicy, and tart flavors rounding it out.  Each batch has been a little different, but it always turns out delicious.

My cooking style is a bit imprecise–I am a bit of a rule breaker when it comes to following recipes to the letter. I like to improvise a bit when cooking, tasting along the way, and adding more of less of an ingredient when it feels right. I think I like doing this because it keeps me a little more in-the-moment, and connected to what I am doing–really paying attention to the taste balance, flavor, texture, color. It might drive my husband a little crazy, but I find it to be more fun than following the rules!

Feel free to experiment with this recipe. For example, if you don’t like spice, add less (or no) jalapeño, if you like more heat, add more to it.

2 tbsp coconut oil (use a neutral-flavored coconut oil, I like this one)
1 onion, chopped
1 pound potatoes, diced (any kind of white potato will do
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely diced
2 pounds chopped green vegetables (any of the following work well, and using a combination is best: asparagus, broccoli, fennel, green beans, peas, peppers, zucchini)
3 cups chopped greens (like kale, spinach, green chard)
8-10 cups water
a handful of fresh herbs, chopped (parsley, dill, cilantro, mint…any combination will do)
sea salt & pepper
1/2 to 1 lime

  • In a large pot on medium heat, add coconut oil, onion, jalapeño. Stir around for a few minutes, until translucent.
  • Add chopped potatoes, vegetables, salt & pepper to taste, stir. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, until they start to soften.
  • Remove thick stems from greens if necessary. Roll greens into a cigar shape, and cut into thin ribbons (the fancy term for this cutting technique is chiffonade). Throw em in the pot.
  • Add water, bring to a boil, cook all until tender, about 15 minutes.
  • Puree soup using a blender. An immersion blender makes this super easy, since you can leave it in the pot. If you have only a regular blender, that works too–just add the soup in small batches. Be careful not to burn yourself as you transfer it from the pot to the blender!
  • Add the pureed soup back into the pot. Stir in the fresh herbs and lime juice. Taste it again, add more salt if necessary.

No-cook breakfast idea: Coconut Chia Pudding

I’m helping my father and sister revamp their daily food routine by putting together some recipes that are good and very easy to follow.  Here is a favorite recipe of mine that is so easy, it requires no cooking at all.

Coconut Chia Pudding 

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1 14 oz can light coconut milk
1/4 cup chia seeds
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp real maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon (or more, to taste)
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

  • Put all ingredients into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake it up. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, ideally overnight. Makes 2 servings.
  • You can eat it by itself, or top it with fruit, nuts, seeds, etc.
  • Some topping ideas: diced apple, peaches, pears, mango, berries, toasted pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, more coconut, honey, maple syrup
  • This is great for breakfast or dessert. it also travels well—throw it in your bag, grab a spoon, and go!

Why are chia seeds good to eat?

  • They help balance blood sugar, and its unique combination of soluble and insoluble fiber slows down your body’s conversion of starches into sugars
  • They have more Omega 3 fatty acids (important for heart health)
  • They are the richest non-marine whole food source of Omega-3 (better than salmon)
  • They absorb 10 times their weight in water–good for maintaining hydration and helps with weight loss by making you feel full longer
  • They are high in protein
  • They are loaded with calcium, potassium, Vitamin B, and anti-oxidants
  • They have a neutral taste so they will take on the other flavors in a recipe