Wild Salmon Scrambled Eggs

Serves 4

Imagine scrambled eggs all dressed up and you will have some sense of this dish–lovely to look at and good tasting, too. Wild salmon is a delicious source of omega-3 fats, which regulate inflammation; it’s also one of the few food sources of vitamin D. If you’re tempted to leave out the chives, you will want to reconsider. They really make this dish shine.

Ingredients

8 eggs, lightly beaten
4 ounces wild smoked salmon, cut into small pieces
1-2 tablespoons minced fresh chives, plus extra for a garnish
½ teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Recipe

1.     Place the eggs in a medium bowl, and whisk in the wild salmon pieces, chives, sea salt and pepper.

2.     Warm a large, heavy skillet over a low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the butter and, when it is melted, add the egg mixture to the skillet.

3.     Cook it, stirring gently, until the eggs are lightly cooked but still soft.

4.     Serve the eggs, sprinkled with additional chives as a garnish.

The Difference Between Brown and White Eggs

The color of an eggshell is connected to the breed of hen that laid the egg and not much more. White-shelled eggs come from hens with white feathers and ear lobes, and brown-shelled eggs come from hens with red feathers and ear lobes.  Since these red-feathered hens are larger and eat more than white-feathered hens, their brown eggs can be more expensive. Inside both white and brown eggs, a rich dark orange-yellow yolk can indicate high levels of omega-3 fats, vitamin A and other anti-oxidants.

Copyright 2010, Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul

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Considering Breakfast

Breakfast has always been my favorite meal of the day. This may be because I love the warmth and comfort of breakfast foods and would happily eat them for lunch and dinner and never want for more. But it might also be because breakfast happens in the clean-slate portion of the day; it is a meal that, by association, suggests possibility. The mood of breakfast is a hopeful one.

I know that not everyone shares my enthusiasm. You might not want to climb out of bed and cook–or eat, for that matter. It could be that you tend to have dinner late and you are still digesting it in the morning. Or, maybe you are just not a morning person. Perhaps cutting out food before noon seems like a good way to reduce the calories you consume. Or it might be the pressure under which you start each day that pushes you to overlook this important meal.

Whatever the reason, breakfast remains a habit worth cultivating. It establishes a pattern at the start of each day of considering yourself and what you need in order to be well. Breakfast is about self-care and, imbued within it, is this message: “I matter.”

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Maple-Nut Granola

Makes 5-6 cups

This granola is tried and true. I’ve been making it for years, and it’s delicious whether eaten dry by the handful or served in a bowl with yogurt and fresh fruit. It’s easy to make and one batch lasts for weeks or longer in the refrigerator. You can also double the recipe to feed a crowd, or to make a supply that will last you for months.

Ingredients

¼ cup virgin organic coconut oil
4 cups rolled oats (not quick oats)
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut (medium shred works well)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
zest from ½ organic orange
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3/4 cups chopped, pitted dates

Recipe

1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.     Place the solid coconut oil in a small pan on the stove top. Warm it on the lowest heat and when it’s melted, remove it from the heat and set aside. (If you melt more than you need, you can add the extra back into the jar—one of coconut oil’s loveliest qualities.)

3.     In a large bowl, combine the oats, pecans, almonds, coconut, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt and orange zest.

4.     In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, combine the maple syrup, orange juice and reserved melted coconut oil.

5.     Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well, completely coating the oat mixture with the oil mixture.

6.     Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the granola mixture across over the parchment. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring well 2 or 3 times to be sure it cooks evenly.

7.     When the granola is finished cooking, mix in the chopped dates. Let the granola cool, and store it covered in the refrigerator.

Copyright 2010, Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul

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Taking a Long View

I have long wondered why, for some of us, making better food choices is so difficult. I have come to believe it may be that there is a clear and immediate reward for eating as we wish right now–whether it be saving money, saving time, or satisfying hunger and desire–and there is often no direct consequence to making poor food choices, no fallout we can feel. Looked at another way, there is no clear and immediate reward for eating “righteously,” no upside we can measure, which makes our current needs and desires far more compelling than our distant ones.

Our tendency to make choices that satisfy us in the short term but might harm us later on may connect to our relationship with time. It is easy to see the upside of having fast food for dinner or dessert every day, but the benefit of foregoing these in favor of more healthful options is not as clear because it’s hard to look that far ahead, especially when we have been conditioned to expect instant gratification. Scottish economist John Rae put it this way:

“The prospects of future good, which future years may hold on us, seem at such a moment dull and dubious, and are apt to be slighted, for objects on which the daylight is falling strongly, and
showing us in all their freshness just within our grasp.”

We are pushed toward the primrose path, then, by our need for gratification in the moment; and so our so task may be to resist, and to remember that there is no shortcut to contentment, health or well being. These require time and effort, but they also develop skill, while easy pleasures, in the realm of food and otherwise, cultivate emptiness and little more. Real well being is enhanced by a willingness to forgo instant pleasure and use our everyday choices to build for the future. Among other “mature defenses,” Harvard professor George Vailliant has demonstrated that this ability and willingness is one of the best predictors of successful aging, joy in living, and vigorous old age.

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The Why and How of Eating Seasonally

Here in the Mid-Atlantic, the weather has made a gradual shift from warm to cold, which has brought me, as it always does, to consider the wisdom of eating seasonally. As I replace tomatoes and corn with winter squash and hardy greens, I am occasionally tempted to let summer’s melody linger on in my cooking–but I can think of several reasons to resist the temptation:

  • Seasonal foods are more nutritious because they are generally grown and harvested close to home. They give us the nutrients we need to support health in our own unique climate. They are also more nutritious because they can be harvested when  ripe. Produce that travels is generally picked before it’s ripe. It might look ripe when we buy it–its color may have bloomed–but nutritional value comes from the stem; so food cannot become more nutritious after harvest, only less so, no matter how it appears.
  • Food harvested in season and close to where we live tastes better because it’s fresher, and because local varieties are grown for flavor rather than their ability to be shipped across miles.
  • Seasonal foods grown nearby are cleaner since they are not treated with the chemicals needed to preserve them during shipping and storage.
  • Buying foods that grow nearby, and that are therefore harvested in season, is more economical. It leaves shipping costs and middle men out of the equation–especially if we buy directly from farmers, but true also if we buy local produce at the grocery store.

There is another reason to eat seasonally, and it is one worthy of standing alone: our bodies attune to a natural rhythm–one that is synchronized to the seasons of the year and, similarly, to the hours of the day. Spring and summer (like morning and early afternoon) inspire a building up and expending of energy. Fall and winter (like late afternoon and evening) are better suited to slowing down, pulling inward, and allowing ourselves to rest. Eating seasonal foods supports this natural rhythm. When we disregard it–when, for example, we eat zucchini or melon in the winter and burn the candle late into the night–we become less resilient. And it is resilience–an inner vitality that enables us to recover quickly–that maximizes our potential for strength and well being. Eating seasonally, then, is one important way of maintaining optimum health.

You may be wondering how to identify seasonal foods and, once you do, how best to prepare them in keeping with the weather. (more…)

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Essence of Autumn Soup

Serves 4-6

Making a bowl of homemade soup doesn’t have to be complicated, and there may be no better way to enjoy, and even celebrate, the essence of whatever fall vegetable you have than with a simple bowl of soup. What we have here can hardly be called a recipe; it’s just an easy formula for turning a single vegetable–parsnip, celeriac, or cauliflower–into soup. You can use this basic technique with other vegetables as well, so give full reign to your imagination and keep in mind that making it is especially quick. All you do is cook up some onions and garlic, add water and the vegetable of your choice, and cook it all a bit more. Then puree it, season it, and you have soup; add a little cream, and you have an indulgence.

Master Ingredient List

1-2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1-1/2 pounds vegetables, as detailed below
6 cups water
1/8 cup heavy cream, optional
fine sea salt to taste

Specifications by Vegetable Type

Parsnips: Peel, if necessary, and cut into 1″ dice. Cooking time: 20-25 minutes.
Celeriac: Peel and cut into 1″ dice. cooking time: 25-30 minutes.
Cauliflower: Cut into florets. cooking time: 20-25 minutes.

This recipe will work with many autumn vegetables–but not tough leafy greens, brussel sprouts or cabbage, to name a few. I tried it with winter squash, but the soup was so intensely “squashy” that it didn’t appeal to me. If you try the soup with “wetter” broccoli or spinach–both available in early autumn–you may want to add a peeled potato (cut into pieces) to the cooking water to give the soup more body.

Recipe

1. In a heavy soup pot, warm the butter or olive oil over a medium-low heat. Add the diced onion and sea salt and cook until the pieces become translucent. Add the crushed garlic cloves and cook for a few minutes more.

2. Add the vegetable pieces and water and bring the soup to a gentle boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender enough to be crushed when pressed against the inside of the pot with a spoon.

3. Using an immersion blender or a regular blender, puree the soup. Finish it with cream, if you like, and season to taste with sea salt.

Copyright 2010, Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul


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Questioning the Meat-Cancer Link

The link between food and health is often painted in broad sweeps and generalizations. Fats are bad; salt is bad; lean protein is good. You know what I mean. While over-simplifications like these may reflect a level of truth, they span too wide a spectrum and encompass more than they should. If we hope to discuss the link between food and health in a meaningful way–and to create meals that nourish us without being unnecessarily limiting–generalizations must give way to distinctions.

Consider the question of meat and whether or not its consumption is linked to a variety of cancers. The National Cancer Institute says that it is. So do the National Institute of Health, Harvard University, the World Health Organization, and the American Institute for Cancer Research.

To these and others, I say–we should all say–tell us what you mean by meat. For as long as there have been people, there have been meat eaters, and these meat eaters didn’t always get cancer. So, we need qualitative distinctions that will help us make sense of this link:

  • How were the animals raised? Are we talking about meat from cows that spent their lives on concrete under artificial lighting, eating genetically-altered corn and soy, and receiving antibiotics and hormones before they were trucked long distance for slaughter? Or do we mean meat from cows that lived on grass in the sunshine, without medication or grain supplements, who were then slaughtered on the farm or nearby? These animals and the meat they provide are not the same.
  • What varieties of meat are we referring to and was the meat processed? Do we mean animal organs, muscle meat, or stock made from bones? Are we discussing processed meats like cold cuts and sausage, or unprocessed meats without additives or preservatives?
  • How was the meat cooked? Was the meat charred on a grill, or baked or broiled at high temperatures? Or was it boiled or roasted at low temperatures?
  • How much meat was consumed? Do we mean large portions of meat served as an entree or small portions served as an accompaniment? Meat eaten daily, weekly, or only now and then? Which of these is linked to cancer?

With so many unanswered questions, and with an obvious need for solid information, it can be a challenge to resolve this issue for ourselves. Whenever I’m unsure of what to eat or what preparation methods to use, I look to the past–to a time when people did not succumb to the diseases we’re trying to avoid. In this case, the past provides a key piece of information: the incidence of cancer among traditional people, hunter-gatherers and those living in non-industrial cultures, was exceedingly rare. These people ate both cooked and raw meat and, because our genes still bear traces of our hunter-gatherer heritage, they were also our genetic brethren. (more…)

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Rich Chicken Broth

Makes about 8-10 cups

Broth made from chicken bones is a rich source of minerals, including calcium. When properly made, it is also a wonderful source of gelatin, which can aid digestion and help you assimilate nutrients. In folk medicine, and more scientifically today, chicken broth is a prized treatment for colds and flu and helps maintain an overall state of health.

Uncovering broth while it cooks allows for a deeper concentration of flavors. Simmering it over the lowest heat–so there’s barely a smile, as the French like to say–ensures clarity and preserves gelatin. And the most important piece of information you need for cooking broth is this: It prefers to be left alone. It’s simple catchphrase is “Do Not Disturb.”

Ingredients

1 3-4 pound chicken, whole or in parts; or the same measure of chicken bones, necks, and skin (and feet, if you are lucky enough to get them)
10-12 cups cool filtered water
1 onion, outer layers peeled and cut in half in either direction
4-5 medium carrots
2-3 stalks celery, with leaves
6-8 cloves garlic, cut in half and outer leaves peeled
1 leek, well-scrubbed, both white and green parts
handful of parsley leaves or stems
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
6-8 whole black peppercorns
optional additions: 1 parsnip, 1 zucchini, a bit of butternut squash, fennel fronds, chard stems

Notes: 1) To turn this broth into a “medicinal” tonic, add 3 pieces astragalus root and 1 piece of dried ginseng, both available from Kamwo Herbal Pharmacy. 2) To ensure a gelatinous broth, do not add vinegar to the cooking water, a technique often recommended for better extraction of minerals from bones. In my experience, vinegar inhibits the formation of gelatin. Additionally, cook the broth at the lowest temperature; any higher and the gelatin seems to break down.

Recipe

1. Wash the chicken pieces or bones, and place them into a stock pot with water. Bring the water to a low boil and then reduce the broth to the lowest simmer. The surface of the broth should only slightly ripple. Cooking the broth over a low heat in this way preserves the gelatin.

2. Skim any foam that rises to the surface. When the surface is relatively clear, add the remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered for 6 hours.

3. Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer and allow it to cool before refrigerating (discard the cooked vegetables). It will become thick and gelatinous when cool, though a gentle heat will reliquify it. You can use the broth as is, or you can turn it into a nourishing soup. Simply slice 1 carrot and 1 celery stalk (thinly) and simmer the vegetable pieces in salted water for 10-15 minutes, until softened. Add a handful or two of egg noodles to the salted water, and boil until cooked. Add the strained vegetables and noodles to the stock. You will need to add little, if any, salt, because the long cooking extracts sodium from the bones, leaving you with a well-salted broth.

Note: If you are making the broth with chicken meat, rather than just bones, and you want the meat for your finished soup, here is what you do (boiled meat is rather spent after 6 hours of cooking). Follow step 1, but simmer the chicken for only 1 hour and then remove it from the pot so the meat does not overcook. Let it cool enough to handle and, meanwhile, add the remaining ingredients to the pot. While the vegetables are simmering, remove the chicken meat from the bones, break it into pieces, and set the meat aside to use later. Add the bones and skin back to the pot and finish making the broth. When you are ready for soup, add the chicken pieces to the strained broth, along with any cooked vegetables and noodles you may be using and you will have one big, delicious pot of soup.

Copyright 2010, Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul


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Sustainability In the Kitchen

As changes to our climate become easier to see and feel, and as our world population continues to multiply, I look for ways to tread lightly and live more sustainably. Since my life is centered around cooking, my seeking is as well, and I wonder…about the impact my daily choices will have on my children’s generation or on their children’s generation, and about the connection between the way we grow, gather and prepare food and the well being of the places we inhabit.

Thinking in this way has led me to consider self control, especially in the kitchen. So many of our values and expectations around food reflect a culture that, until recently, has encouraged consumption and growth untempered by restraint–a culture in which all our wants are met, and nearly all personal needs are validated as necessary and appropriate. But these values are far in excess of those that sustained earlier generations.

On a related note, when I teach cooking classes from home, students often comment on the ways I attempt to conserve resources in the kitchen; these are approaches that have become so much a part of my daily work that it never occurred to me, until I was asked, to try and share them.

With all this in mind, I’ll use the rest of this space to describe methods I rely on for living deliberately and with a degree of care. Since the variables of food, tools and the kitchen underlie these efforts, they will be the focus. And if this topic feels daunting, rest assured that some of these approaches took years to take hold and, as time passes, they have continued to evolve. So consider any step that might resonate for you, and let go of the rest.

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Food, Cancer & World War II

The years around World War II (WWII) were a turning point in the history of our well being. And in the decades that followed–the sixty-plus years that constitute most or all of a lifetime for a majority of us–we have been living a large and uncontrolled experiment. One result has been skyrocketing rates of cancer. Although we don’t usually think of it this way, there has been no time in human history and no place in the world where food quality, eating habits and lifestyle have changed so fast and in so large a way.

Many believe that cancer strikes because of poor genetics or poor luck, because of factors that are outside our control. Some believe it’s simpler than that; it strikes because we’re living longer and have more time to develop the disease. Yet there is much evidence to suggest that cancer often strikes because of the lifestyle choices we make, and because our eating habits and the quality of the foods we consume have deteriorated. No culture in all of human history has ever eaten as we do now.

How did it happen? How did  the thread of well being that wove one generation to the next begin to unravel? One answer, I think, is that large-scale, continual change has been the reality for as long as most of us have been living. We’ve grown so accustomed to it that we rarely consider how unusual the extent and pace of this change has been. Further, the transformation of both our food supply and food habits promised to be “new and improved.” Without adequate perspective, most of us couldn’t know where these developments would lead or predict that the unraveling might destroy our garment of good health.

While it’s true that poor health is built into our modern food system, the story does not have to end here. We all have the power to step around this system and, in our own homes and without much difficulty, to understand and undo many of these changes.

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