Spring Tonic Soup from Healthy Green Kitchen

Last Sunday, I went to the first in a series of classes I am taking on identifying and using edible wild plants. It was fantastic- so fun to be outside on a lovely day, refreshing my memory about some plants that I am already familiar with, but learning many new things, as well.

Do you know about Stinging Nettle?

Nettles from Healthy Green Kitchen

My friend Halyna, the teacher of my wild plants class, grows a ton of it. I am going to follow her lead and plant a big patch because while it does grow wild, I have never found any on my property (though I am going to keep looking). Nettle is an incredible plant, rich in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Nettle is particularly high in calcium, magnesium, chromium, and chlorophyll, and herbalist Susun Weed refers to nettle leaves and stalks as an “everyday nourisher”. Nettle is a notable ally to the kidneys, the digestive system, the respiratory system, and women’s reproductive health. It’s also amazing for the skin and for the hair.

Since it’s covered in prickly hairs that sting due to the presence of formic acid (hence the name: Stinging Nettle), you should always wear protective clothing and gloves when you harvest nettle. Once dried or cooked, nettle no longer stings.

I took home a bunch of nettle from Halyna’s house and decided to cook up a spring tonic soup after tasting the amazing one she had made and served to our class. I added dandelion greens that I plucked from my yard (these are also extremely nutritious: they’re high in beta-carotene, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium), as well as some ramps I bought at the Farmer’s Market. This soup is flexible: if you don’t have access to wild greens, use kale, spinach or another green instead. And if you have access to additional wild greens, like yellow dock, feel free to toss some in.

This is a perfect introduction to wild foods if you are not familiar with them: the greens are not at all bitter when prepared this way so the whole family can enjoy this soup. Feel free to sub in carrots and a different squash (or sweet/red/white potatoes) for the turnips and kabocha squash, if you like.

I ate this soup with my favorite multi-grain bread, slathered with goat cheese and topped with wild violets. Yup, you can eat violets, too: if you’ve got lots of them popping up on your lawn, you can give this recipe for violet jelly a try.

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Happy Monday! I have some exciting announcements for you instead of a recipe today :)

Tomorrow is the release date of my friend Shauna Ahern‘s third book. It’s a cookbook called Gluten Free Girl Every Day and while I have not yet held the book in my hands, I took a sneak peak at the recipes and photos and they are just beautiful. I adore Shauna’s writing and she and her lovely husband Danny are extremely talented in the recipe development department. I am sure you will love and use this one whether or not you are gluten-free: you can buy the book here.

Another dear friend recently published her second E-book. I read it on the plane on my way to Colorado last month and I was bowled over by it’s awesomeness. Kim Foster is a heck of a writer and her memoir, Sharp Knives, Boiling Oil: My Year of Dangerous Cooking with Four-Year-Olds, is simply a must: it will make you laugh, cry, and want to drop everything so you can go get messy in the kitchen with your kids.

Chalkboard Modern Sprout Planter

I recently learned about Modern Sprout (pictured above), a gorgeous self-watering/self-feeding planter in which you can grow herbs, produce and more in your kitchen window. One version of the planter is solar, and one of the kits is made with reclaimed wood from the Chicago Rebuilding Exchange, an organization that diverts wood from landfills, promotes sustainable deconstruction and hires people with barriers to employment. You can get a kit by contributing to Modern Sprout’s kickstarter campaign here.

A month or so ago, I teamed up with ZipList.com to add a recipe box to my site. If you are not already familiar with Ziplist, it’s a great tool to help you save recipes from all over the web. To use it, click on my “recipe box” link in the navigation bar at the very top of my blog, or click on the “save” icon that you’ll find next to each of my printable recipes. This will take you to your own personal recipe box in which you can save recipes from my site and many others. Ziplist is nifty because you can use it to make a meal plan and even more importantly: a shopping list. Download their smartphone app and you can pull up the shopping list at the grocery store!

After many years of dragging my feet, I finally decided to start a newsletter. There are a couple of places on the blog to sign up (in the sidebar and down in the very bottom corner of every page) and I hope you’ll do so. The newsletter is a way for me to keep you abreast of what’s going on here and also alert you to any special promotions I don’t want you to miss. Eventually I hope to send out the newsletter weekly…right now it’s more of a twice-monthly gig.

And last but not least: are you a member of my community over on Facebook? I’ve been posting over there more frequently, and I’d love for you to add your voice to the conversation.

Lemon Cake from Healthy Green Kitchen

I wrote this post about my brief experience with Paleo, and it seems to have ruffled some feathers. I did not expect a slice of cake to be so controversial.

A few people seem to think I said Paleo was not a good way to eat. I never said that. I said I loved the whole foods emphasis and that it may be beneficial for people with certain health concerns, but that it’s not right for me. I don’t have health issues and I don’t do well with restriction. If you’re Paleo (or vegan, or something else) and what you are doing works for you, that’s great. I mean that and I said so in the article. But I do feel very strongly (and I said this in the article, too) that you don’t have to follow a restrictive diet to be a healthy person. I wrote that piece for everyone trapped in the mindset that you must to go to extremes with your food to be healthy. I want you to know that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Yes, elimination diets can be helpful. I wrote about why you may want to eliminate wheat, gluten, and grains here. I wrote about dairy here. And sugar here. There’s a chapter on food sensitivities in my book (hooray! my book’s already up on Amazon! The cover is going to change a bit, but still! Can you tell I am excited?).

But it’s my feeling that elimination diets should be a temporary aspect of healing. Work on strengthening your digestion so you’ll be able to eat the foods that cause you trouble again someday (not with celiac disease or a life-threatening food allergy unfortunately though…you must stay away from those foods for good). Focus on ultimately eating more, not less.

Let’s be reasonable and use common sense here, folks. Let’s eat lots of real foods. Traditional foods. Eating like our ancestors did is great, but I really don’t think we need to go back and emulate the cavemen (who’s really sure how they ate anyway???). How about we just try to eat more like people did before all the processed foods, GMOs, and other undesirable stuff came along? How about we learn to cook and do that more often? How about we eat as organic and local as we can? And how about we don’t freak out SO much about gluten (again, unless you really cannot tolerate it or you have celiac disease) and sugar? I used to tell everyone not to eat gluten and sugar and I used to avoid them for the most part myself. I did that for many months before I even tried Paleo, and it did not make me feel any better than I do now that I’m back to including these in my life. (In fact, I feel healthier now because my mind is at peace since I’m no longer forcing myself not to eat things that I like. When I designate foods as “forbidden”, it brings back the feelings I had back when I used to basically starve myself as a teenager…I think I’ll pass on reliving that.)

Eat plentifully of wholesome stuff and don’t eat so much of the stuff that’s not. But please don’t be “on a diet”: don’t eat for weight loss…eat for your health. Your body needs food (all different kinds and and plenty of it) to do everything it needs to do. Don’t eat too few calories. Or fats. Or carbohydrates. Don’t deny yourself real foods that you enjoy. Move your body! Get lots of deep sleep, and some sunlight. Learn to properly manage stress. Strive for balance in terms of what you eat and in your life as a whole: I think that will go a long way toward helping you get and stay healthy. And happy.

Now here’s that cake I was talking about :)

Yellow Cake with Lemon Curd from Healthy Green Kitchen

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I rarely eat the same thing twice. A food or drink has to be really and truly insanely delicious for me to make it more than once; I guess that says a lot about this shake since I blended it up four times last week.

Date Shake with Toasted Nuts from www.healthygreenkitchen.com

The shake recipe comes from a wonderful new book (that’s officially out today!) called The New Persian Kitchen. I received a review copy from Ten Speed Press a couple of weeks ago and I simply can’t get enough of author Louisa Shaffia’s beautiful writing, or her food.

This is Louisa’s second book. I adored her first one (Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life), too. In fact, I wrote extensively about Lucid Food in a series of posts back in 2010: this granola is one of the recipes I featured.

One of the things I like best about The New Persian Kitchen is how Louisa weaves exotic, traditional Persian ingredients into contemporary dishes. Some of the recipes I most look forward to making include:

Cold Pistachio Soup with Mint and Leeks
Whole Roasted Fish with Oranges and Saffron
Sour Cherry and Rose Preserves
Herb Frittata with Walnuts and Rose Petals
Grilled liver with Cumin, Garlic, and Fresh Basil
Pomegranate Semifreddo with Blood Orange Compote
No-bake Persimmon and Goat Cheese Cheesecake

Don’t these recipes sound amazing? I am also a big fan of the ways in which Louisa shares cultural and historical information in this book. And the photography? It’s positively dreamy, as is always the case when Sara Remington is behind the lens.

I simply can’t say enough good things about this book, and I am pleased to let you know that Ten Speed Press has generously offered to send a copy of the New Persian Kitchen to one of my readers! You’ll find the information about how to enter the giveaway at the end of the post.

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I know what many of you are thinking right now. Lard? On Healthy Green Kitchen? Has Winnie gone bonkers?

Nope. I am as sane as ever, I promise. This post may seem surprising to you, but it’s really no different than any of my others. After all, when I post recipes, I always celebrate real food and healthy fats. And lard is both.

Pastured Lard from Healthy Green Kitchen

What’s that, you say? Lard is a healthy fat? Yes, it’s true. I too used to think lard was gross, and that eating it would give me a lard ass tushy. I also assumed putting it into my body would put me on the fast track to a heart attack, but I don’t think these things any more.

I am not talking about the partially hydrogenated lard you’ll find at the grocery store, though. That stuff IS NOT healthy. What I am talking about is lard rendered from the fat of from pastured pigs: pigs that have access to fresh air and sunshine, pigs that eat grass and other things pigs are supposed to eat (not pigs who spend their lives in cages eating grains). Lard from pastured pigs is high in vitamin D, and like olive oil, lard is classified as a monounsaturated fat (lard is about 40% saturated…that’s less than butter).

{I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating that there’s really nothing wrong with saturated fat from natural sources. In fact, saturated fats are very important! There’s long been a misguided notion that all saturated fat does is contribute to heart disease, but this simply isn’t the case. Saturated fats are vital to the structure of all cells in the body, they boost the immune system, and they are necessary for the absorption of minerals such as calcium. Adequate saturated fats are also necessary for optimal storage and assimilation of the unsaturated omega-3s. Meaning: omega-3 fats are even more effective when they are combined in the diet with some saturated fats.}

Lard has a high smoke point so it’s one of the best fats for high temperature cooking (such as frying). Unlike many oils (and vegetable oils, in particular), lard is considered a “stable” fat: it does not form free radicals when heated. Lard also imparts that coveted flakiness to pie crusts and turns pastries that you make with it into seriously divine treats.

Rendering your own lard from pastured pork fat is easy. You’ll need what is called “fatback” or “leaf lard” (the fat from around the kidneys) to get started. If your intention is to use your lard in pastries, then definitely go with the leaf lard because it’s creamy white and has a very neutral flavor.

I couldn’t find leaf lard so I used fatback I bought from my favorite local farmers.

How to render lard from www.healthygreenkitchen.com

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