Thursday, January 29, 2009

What do dietitians eat? Book club menu #6

Dietitians do love to eat and talk! This month we finally got around to discussing one of my favorite books, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. We also all love to cook, but I particularly love cooking for my friends who dash over to my house for this book club straight from their busy jobs.

Here is our menu for this night:
~Winter Squash and Applesauce Soup
~Lentil-Chickpea Salad
~Whole grain baguettes (from a local grocery store - even I don't always have time to make everything!)
~Iced Rooibos-Lavender tea (even better iced than hot!)
~Dark Chocolate Hershey Kisses (oh yes, dark chocolate belongs in its own food group!)

(1) Winter Squash-Applesauce Soup
I used all of the remaining winter squash from our Tantré Farm Thanksgiving CSA share plus some of Dick's home-made applesauce for this recipe.

Serves 12 easily

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 cups diced carrots (~4 or 5 large carrots)
• ~1 cup diced celery (~ 1 large stalk)
• 1-½ cups diced onion (about 1 large yellow onion)
• 8-10 cups roasted winter squash (see Special Note below for roasting directions)
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
• 12 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (I used our frozen home-made broth)
• 1 pint unsweetened applesauce
• Fresh herbs of choice, chopped

1) Pull out frozen broth if available from freezer the night before or even early in the morning to thaw in the refrigerator.
2) Begin roasting squash (see directions below).
3) Chop vegetables.
4) Scoop out cooked squash and set aside to cool a bit.
5) Heat olive oil in a large soup pot.
6) Add the chopped carrots, celery and onion. Cook 3-4 minutes until vegetables have begun to soften and onion turns translucent.
7) Add 4 cups of broth and heat until warm but not hot.
8) Take this mixture and puree thoroughly in a blender then add back to soup pot.
9) Now add cooked squash, thyme, and remaining broth. Stir to combine.
10) Heat the soup gently (do not boil).
11) Use an immersion blender to puree soup (or very puree carefully in batches in a blender).
12) Add applesauce, taste and assess texture of soup. If a thinner soup is desired, try adding a bit of milk, broth, even apple juice or cider.

Special Note: Directions for roasting squash - I used 2 small butternut, 4 acorn, and 1 small pumpkin, cut in half, remove seeds and stringy insides (be sure to save the seeds for roasting later), roast the squash pieces upside down on cookie sheet in 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, cool, scoop out cooked squash, discard or compost outer shells (actually my dog loves to eat these cooked squash shells along with any cooked squash that I give her also!)

Special note: Be very careful with the immersion blender. Keep the moving end under the surface of the soup or you will spray the soup all over the kitchen or yourself (which can burn you if the soup is very hot!). My attention wandered just a bit and oops! (notice in photo that I needed to remove the stovetop controls to wash soup spray off of them!).

Garnish with a sprinkle of any chopped fresh green herbs such as parsley, chives, or thyme.

Variation: Add 1-2 teaspoons of curry powder to taste to the pot of soup or put out a jar of curry powder with a shaker top to allow individuals to season their own serving to taste.
Variation: Sprinkle with small amount of sharp grated cheese.

(2) Recipe: Lentil-Chickpea Salad
I first ate this salad when visiting my good friend Rebecca last fall. Her husband loves this salad, but my friend confided that she knew I was her only friend who would eat it with enthusiasm rather than just being polite. And I did! I only modified it a tiny bit, based simply on what I had available in the house, rather than trying to improve on it. It makes a lot and lasts several days in the refrigerator. I admit that I have relished eating the left-overs for lunch on several days following our book club dinner. There are very few (if any) "fast food joints" where I could eat so well. :-) I truly enjoy making my own "fast food" that both tastes great and is nourishing me at a fraction of the cost of what I would pay if I were purchasing my lunch anywhere!

• 1-1/2 quart water
• 2 teaspoons salt - divided (can decrease or omit to reduce sodium in your diet in needed)
• 1 # lentils (the standard brown ones seen on the grocery store shelves - look for an organic brand if available)
• 1/2 cup lemon juice (fresh is best, but juice from a jar will do)
grated lemon zest from one fresh lemon (I added this to the original recipe plus the juice)
• 1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
• 1-1/2 cup chopped celery
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper
• 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 2 cups (1 15 oz. can) drained chick peas (garbanzo beans)
• 2 cups finely chopped red onion (great flavor and color)
• 5-6 ounces feta cheese crumbled

1) Bring water to boil, add 1 teaspoon salt, add lentils and simmer until tender, which should be only 15-20 minutes or so. Be very careful not to overcook, as they can turn to mush.
2) Meanwhile, combine lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, oregano, 1 teaspoon salt (optional - I did not add any here), and pepper. Whisk in olive oil.
3) Pour dressing over drained, hot lentils. Cool.
4) Fold in chick peas, onion, celery, and cheese.
5) Serves 8-12 as either a side dish or a main dish salad.

One of the many points of discussion in the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was the "time crunch factor" that is regularly expressed by people who feel their lives are too busy to actually cook any meals at all, let alone healthy meals such as this one. I can hear some people reading this blog saying (politely) to themselves, "Roasting squash??? Gracious, who has time to do that?" I would never expect anyone to throw this meal together from scratch in only 10 minutes. I could not do that myself, so I would not ask or expect anyone else to do that either. However, I do ask myself (in fact I do more than that, I give myself permission) to plan for and value the time I spend cooking as a gift of both health and love to myself, my family, and my friends. I can think of nothing I do that is more important.

Hint: Everytime I cook, I cook in bulk for any dish that can be frozen or eaten for lunch for the next day or two.
If the recipe I'm using says it makes 3-4 servings, I automatically triple it, every time, for any dish that can be frozen. Our freezer is filled with our own healthy "fast food", aka, left-overs!, for those nights when my husband and I only have a short time to figure out what to eat plus sit down to eat at home before we need to be someplace else.

Please share your experiences regarding the "time crunch factor". What are (or were) your obstacles? How have you jumped through those hoops?

Although I included the following food blessing in a recent post, I would like to end this post with same blessing, as this is the one I read at our book club last week. These words perfectly express how I feel about cooking and the joy I experience as I cook for this group of friends once each month.

I do this chore not just to get it out
of the way but as the way to make
real kind connected mind.
May I awaken to what these
ingredients offer, and may I awake
as best I can energy, warmth,
imagination, this offering of heart
and hand.

~~From the Tassajara Recipe Book
by Edward Espe Brown

Savor and enjoy your cooking time, your food, and your health!
Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Recipe: Cauliflower-Sweet Potato Stew

When a friend with a new local business called Locavorious puts out an email saying she has extra fresh, frozen vegetables to give away if we will post recipes on our blog using her vegetables, I jump! And jump I did right down to the Farmers' Market last Saturday morning, in the freezing cold weather to get some frozen cauliflower, green beans, and edamame. I was thrilled to get some of the cauliflower because I had been salivating over the photo accompanying a recently found recipe called Cauliflower-Sweet Potato Stew. Now I would not need to purchase cauliflower that had been trucked or flown cross country. Surely some of the other ingredients in this recipe have been (I'm not a purist "locavore") but I try to maximize what I can use that comes from my home state of Michigan.

This recipe is chock-full of vegetables, herbs, and spices that are health-promoting. I served this stew with some poached black cod and my husband's whole wheat-flaxseed bread, which served the purpose of sopping up all the delicious juice. My plate was at least half filled with this stew, which was certainly 3 vegetable servings if not more.

• 1 Tbsp. olive oil
• 1/2 cup unsalted, roasted cashews (not pictured)
• 1-1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
• 1 cup chopped celery (or onions - I didn't have any on hand)
• 1 Tbsp. dehydrated onion pieces (omit if using fresh onion)
• 1/4 cup freshly grated ginger
• 1 pint canned tomatoes (can be whole or diced) with juice
• 1 teaspoon Thai chili paste (or omit and use a small green chili, seeded, and chopped small)
• 1 # frozen cauliflower florets (or use fresh florets cut from a head of cauliflower, about 1-1/2#)
• 1 large sweet potato (about 1 #) - peel and cut into small chunks about 1 inch)
• 1/4 cup water
• 1 cup frozen peas
• 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro (or parsley for color if some family members do not like the taste of fresh cilantro)

1) Add olive oil to the wok or large skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add cumin and mustard seeds to the oil and fry for only 30 seconds (do not burn!).
2) Add the celery (or fresh onions) and cook until just starting to soften (don't overcook if using the celery as it is nice to have it still be a bit crunchy when done)
3) Take about 3/4 of the grated ginger in your hand and squeeze it hard in your fist over the wok to release the juice into the wok. (do not add that ginger to the pan). Add the remaining grated ginger, which should only be a couple of teaspoons, to the mixture in the pan.
4) Add the tomatoes and chili paste (or hot pepper), bring to a boil. Cook for ~5 minutes until just starting to reduce. If using whole tomatoes, use a large spoon to break them up slightly (no need to overly smash).
5) Add sweet potato pieces. Cover and cook until just soft (do not over cook or turn them to mush). Time will vary depending on the size of the chunks. Keep testing them by removing one chunk from the wok and cutting in half to check for tenderness.
6) When sweet potatoes are starting to soften, add frozen cauliflower pieces. (If using fresh cauliflower florets, add them in step 5).
7) When cauliflower is heated through, add the peas and cashews, cover and heat just until all is again heated through.
8) Sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro or other green fresh herbs.
9) Serve and enjoy the "wake-up" tastes of this delicious and beautiful dish.

Variation: Try this recipe with added tofu or tempeh pieces and/or served over brown rice or other whole grain like quinoa for a complete meal. I'm going to do both variations the next time I make this healthy recipe.

Thanks, Locavorious, for the delicious, locally raised cauliflower, another little reminder of warmer days of last year and those to come. I'm committed to keeping the local farmers who grow food to eat farming on our state's farms while also being stewards of our state's soil, water, and overall health, which encompasses and contributes to our collective physical, mental, and spiritual health, in addition to our economic well-being.

All of our actions have consequences, ripples, that impact each of us personally and also spread like ripples from a stone thrown into the lake throughout our larger community, most often without an endpoint that we see or appreciate. I began being more intentional about only choosing to eat healthy food years ago now to help my own cancer recovery process, but I now feel the deep responsibility to look at how my actions are also helping or hurting the health of the much larger body of which I am also a part.

My choices and your choices do matter. I will close with one of my favorite quotes, that I believe with all my heart.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
~~Margaret Mead,
US anthropologist(1901 - 1978)

Savor and enjoy good food and good health!
Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Friday, January 23, 2009

Summer in January! Recipe: Gazpacho

Yes, "Summer in January" was the theme for the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers gathering on Saturday. We all looked in our freezer and pantry shelves to find summer foods we had preserved in some way by canning, freezing, pickling, or drying. There is nothing like great food and great conversation with old and new friends to chase away thoughts of Michigan's snow and freezing temperature outside.

I brought Gazpacho using our home-canned tomatoes rather than fresh ones, which is a great recipe for winter, rather than the tasteless fresh ones typically available in January. I also used our frozen roasted sweet red peppers, our fresh herbs growing in my sunny south window, and our own elephant garlic cloves harvested last summer. I did purchase the onion (ours are long gone), a fresh cucumber, yellow pepper, orange pepper, and jalapeno pepper.

Gazpacho Ingredients:
• 2 quarts of canned tomatoes
• 1 cup water
• 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (do not omit - this is needed for both flavor and to maximize the absorption of all the fat-soluble cancer fighting phytochemicals in the tomatoes and other ingredients)
• 1 large cucumber (remove most of the waxed peel, remove the seeds, and dice into small pieces) - about 2 cups
• 1 yellow sweet pepper - remove seeds, then cut into small dice
• 1 orange sweet pepper - remove seeds, then cut into small dice
• 1 roasted red sweet pepper - cut into small dice
• 4-6 garlic cloves - cut into very small dice
• 1 jalapeno pepper - remove seeds, then cut into very small dice
• 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
• 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
• Salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1/2 teaspoon salt and several grinds of the pepper mill)
• unflavored yogurt
• fresh herbs of choice, chopped small (I used a mix of chives, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram)

Gazpacho Method:
• Blend first quart of tomatoes quite well, so that seeds and tomatoes are pureed
• Blend second quart only slightly so that the tomatoes are still a bit chunky
• Transfer both quarts of blended tomatoes to a large soup pot or serving bowl and add all remaining ingredients except herbs and yogurt.
• Season with salt and pepper.
• Cool several hours, however if possible make the day before to allow flavors to blend.
• Serve with a dollap of yogurt and a sprinkle of herbs.

Here are some of the other foods brought followed by some photos (sorry I missed getting a picture of everything!):
Deviled Eggs
Baguette slices with cream cheese and artichoke hearts
Blackberry Pudding
Plum gelato with homemade mini-cones
Beet caviar and Pea Guacamole
Biscotti (tiny crisp and scrumptious - just right!)

Ahhhhhh, "Summer in January" is a celebration I have not done before. I loved both the reflection on last summer and the excitement about the growing season and harvesting of fresh fruits and vegetables to come!! I hope our Michigan Lady Food Bloggers has this gathering every January as I love looking forward to happy events.

Check out the blogs written by the growing number of Michigan Lady Food Bloggers. Each one is different, and each one is fascinating reading. They are listed on the left side of my blog, complete with links to each one. I'll bet that no matter where you live, if you look around, you'll find a similar group of interesting people in your own neck of the woods (city, state, country) who love to eat and cook great-tasting food made with ingredients from local farmers and/or local companies. In fact, I encourage you to start your own blog about whatever you wish to write about! Even my husband is now starting a blog of the recipes that he enjoys cooking. Check it out at NoTime4BlandFood!

Let me know if you find a blog you really like in your location or if you start one yourself!

Enjoy and savor good food and good health!
Diana Dyer, MS, RD

"Just the flax, Ma'am!" Recipe: Pumpkin Flax Muffins

I always find it interesting to review the stats for my web site, watching which pages people view the most often. Currently the top 3 recipes people are viewing are Black Olive Tapenade, Tabouli (a favorite year round per my website stats), and Healthy Pumpkin Muffins.

Tabouli and black olive tapenade have been long-time favorite recipes on my web site. However, the appearance of the the Healthy Pumpkin Muffin recipe within the top three favorites is new and made me look to see if I had ingredients handy to make them myself. Yes, I did, including a 15-ounce can of plain pumpkin. So I modified the recipe slightly to use the entire can instead of just 1 cup of pumpkin like the recipe on my web site calls for. In addition, I cut down the sugar by half so the muffins are more savory than dessert-like, which I like even better.

These delicious muffins are chock-full of ingredients that contribute to good overall health, like the insoluble fiber from the whole wheat flour, soluble fiber from the flaxseeds, plant-based omega-3 fatty acids (alpha linolenic acid - ALA) from the flaxseeds, walnuts, and the eggs I use, soy protein from the soy flour, beta-carotene and multiple other cancer-fighting carotenoids (like alpha-carotene for starters) from the pumpkin, anti-inflammatory molecules called anthocyanins from the dried cherries I used, and the list goes on and on and on.

Recipe: Pumpkin-Flaxseed Muffins

• 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1/4 soy flour
• 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
• 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
• 1/4 tsp. baking powder
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 2 eggs
• 1 can (15 ounce) pumpkin (not pie filling)
• 1/2 cup plain unflavored yogurt (my husband makes our unflavored yogurt)
• 1/2 cup dried fruit of your choice (I used Michigan tart cherries, which were so large that I cut them into quarters)
• 1 cup chopped walnuts

• Mix all dry ingredients in large bowl, including the dried fruit and walnuts. I use a large wire whisk to make sure everything is well distributed.
• Put eggs, pumpkin, and yogurt in a small bowl. Mix well with a wire whisk.
• Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring with wooden spoon just enough to mix. Do not overbeat.
• Spray muffin tins or paper baking cups with non-stick spray. (Special Note: Because this recipe has no added fat, the muffin will be difficult to remove from the paper muffin cup after baking unless they are sprayed first before putting the muffin batter in them.)

This recipe made enough batter to fill 12 regular size muffins and 12 mini-muffins.
Bake at 350 degree until done (test by inserting a toothpick into the center of a muffin; it should come out clean), which may be 8-12 minutes for the mini-muffins and 15-20 minutes for the regular size muffins.

They are mouth-wateringly delicious when served warm! I have served them will meals such as my potato-kale soup and also just with a cup of tea. I find it hard to eat just one, which is an advantage of making some mini-muffins. Two of those little muffins are approximately the same (size-wise and calorie-wise) as the regular size muffin.

If you look very carefully in the photo that shows the large and small muffins, you'll see 12 of the large ones and only 11 of the mini-muffins. My husband just had to taste one to make sure the recipe modification was worthy of posting on my blog. "Two thumbs up - post it!", says the official taster.

Savor and enjoy your food and your health!
Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Friday, January 16, 2009

The End of Kale - Recipe: Potato Kale Soup

No, not the end of my passion for kale, I have finally come to the end of my own home-grown kale. Unlike store-bought fresh spinach, which seems to get slimy in the refrigerator within just days of purchase, kale seems to last for weeks and weeks. This is a photo of the last of my garden kale, harvested during a brief lull in our cold snowy winter last month in December. You can see how crisp and green (or red) and fresh the many shapes and sizes of the leaves look. Being harvested well after a good frost (in fact being harvested after being covered with snow and even ice), the taste of this kale is almost sweet, certainly "kale-tasting" but without any harsh and strong flavors that so often cause people to simply prefer their kale as decoration on their plate. 

What to do with my kale? So many options, what else do I have in the house to use? Well, more potatoes from our Thanksgiving CSA share are still waiting to be put to use as is some vegetable broth in the freezer, a bit of milk, and plenty of garlic from our garden. Not much else is needed for terrific potato-kale soup, a classic recipe that is easy, delicious, and healthy, healthy, healthy. 

Here is what I did.
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 quart vegetable broth (could use chicken broth or water)
4 cups of washed and chopped kale (large stems removed, but small stems are fine)
2-4 cloves of garlic, smashed or cut fine
2-3 cups diced potatoes
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil, add garlic to brown slightly (do not burn). Add broth to soup pot and potatoes. Cook for 10-20 minutes (depending on size of potatoes) until potatoes are almost tender. Then add kale leaves and milk to soup pot. Heat until kale leaves are tender and soup is hot but not boiling. This won't take long if kale leaves were small and tender to begin with. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired. 

Serve with a salad, fruit, and fresh bread or muffins. Here you can see we ate this soup with some roasted brussels sprouts (the final ones from our Thanksgiving CSA share) with some olive oil to dip them in, a pumpkin-flax muffin (recipe in an upcoming post), and my husband's homemade "fire in the belly applesauce". Yum, yum! 

Although we ate this food for our evening meal, I would like to end with a prayer of thankfulness about starting a new day, including a photo of sunrise from the back of our home this morning. I look forward to starting a new day, filled with challenges and opportunities, grateful that on this below-zero but sunny morning that I have plenty of food to eat and a warm home filled with love, along with thankfulness for the safe landing and rescue for the flight that landed in New York's Hudson River yesterday.

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

~~Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Recipe: Saturday Night Chowder

I recently read where Mark Bittman, who writes about food for the New York Times, gave away all of his cookbooks (perhaps he kept his own!). Although recipes are important to follow exactly for some food items, I really love cooking without a cookbook and also without always checking a recipe. I prefer to just look around in my frig, freezer, and pantry to see what I have available and what I should use up. Soups, stews, sandwiches, salads, and stir-frys (hmmm, all "s" words, that's funny) are so easy to do this way.

So in that spirit, last weekend I did just that to make Saturday Night Chowder, some of the best fish soup I think I have ever eaten, which is saying a lot since I always try to order fish stew or cioppino whenever I am in a coastal city like Seattle (where I first had cioppino many years ago), Boston, or San Francisco.

Here are some ingredients I found just waiting to be added to this Saturday night creation:

• 1 quart frozen fish stock (I always freeze any left over broth after cooking fish)
• 1/2 quart frozen vegetable broth used for our holiday fondue meal (we always have one pot of oil plus one pot of vegetable broth to cook our seafood, chicken, and tofu or tempeh)
• 1/2 quart frozen vegetable broth from steaming vegetables, with a few left-over vegetables frozen in the broth
• 3-4 cups diced potatoes with skins (still good to eat from our Thanksgiving CSA share)
• a small piece each of pink salmon and black cod (cooked earlier in the week with some pesto)
• one 4 oz. piece of black cod, poached tonight, with the fish and broth added to the chowder
• 1 cup of frozen corn
• 2 cups frozen flageolet beans
• 1 cup of homemade tomato juice
• 1 cup of left over stir-fried vegetables (zucchini, yellow squash, onions)
• 1 cup left over small scallops in stewed tomatoes
• 1/2 cup frozen peas
• a small amount of cut up fresh kale
• Water (or more broth or more tomato juice if available) to thin the soup to the consistency you would like (I added ~1 more quart of water)
• Salt, pepper, and/or seafood seasoning of your choice to taste

I thawed the various broths then added the diced potatoes and cooked over medium heat until the potato pieces were almost tender before adding all the other ingredients except the frozen peas and chopped fresh kale. When the soup was heated through, I added the frozen peas and fresh kale and continued heating just until they were thawed and hot but still both were bright green.

I added a teaspoon of spices Spice Merchant called Fish Broil, which contains dill, lemon grass, black pepper, garlic, in addition to some salt (not salt-free, which I would prefer, but at least what you see and taste are the herbs and spices instead of only salt as with some other seafood seasonings).

This is just delicious and is a complete meal all by itself containing two hearty protein sources (seafood and beans), a healthy complex carbohydrate from the potatoes and peelings, so many vegetables that a big bowl is certainly going to contain at least 2 servings of a very wide variety, this is very low in total fat as none additional was added beyond what might have been contained in the thawed broths with the fat that is present being primarily the healthy omega-3 fatty acids from the fish, very low in sodium, high in fiber from the beans, potato peels, plus additional vegetables, most of the vegetables were organically grown with many being locally grown (onions, garlic, kale, potatoes, tomatoes).

This dinner took almost no time at all to throw together. The most time consuming thing was the poking around the frig and freezer to see what was there, along with pulling all these little containers out on the counter. After that, thawing the broth, washing and chopping the potatoes (I do have a nifty gadget for doing that quickly) took only 10-15 minutes, with everything else simply tossed into the pan to heat through. It was great to get the refrig pared down to being able to see everything and know what is there to eat!

How much chowder did this all make? I would say almost 4 quarts, enough for three very hearty meals for my husband and me plus one nice lunch portion for the two of us. I froze 1 quart to have for later fast food.

There is a legend, true or not, that the word cioppino is derived from Italian cooks on the San Francisco wharfs asking local fishermen to "chip in" whatever they might have available for the local soup pot. Certainly that is how my chowder was created, a little of this, a little of that, making do with what I had available. However, I would say that the richness of flavor likely came from my habit of saving all broth for later use. So this creation was a combination of both planning and serendipity. I wonder how much of the richness of life follows that pattern of blending a plan for the future with awareness of what either needs to be done or is available right now. It certainly produced a memorable dinner that my husband and I truly enjoyed.

Years and years ago now while I was recovering from my second breast cancer in 1995, I remember making the conscious choice to take my family off what I call the "fast food are us" track to instead take the time to cook for my family, to intentionally carve out that time from our busy life to go back to cooking for both my enjoyment and my healing. Of course, cooking a beautiful, delicious, healthy meal each day led to the next step, which was eating together daily as a family. By the time I was done with chemotherapy in 1995, my older son was off to college, so our family's daily ritual of eating together needed to be coordinated between only 3 people, while not easy to do, admittedly making it easier for my family than many others.

Imagine my delighted surprise last night to read this grace, which perfectly expresses what cooking means to me. I have many favorite graces that I enjoy saying before eating. I'll be adding this one to that group.

I do this chore not just to get it out
of the way but as the way to make
real kind connected mind.
May I awaken to what these
ingredients offer, and may I awake
as best I can energy, warmth,
imagination, this offering of heart
and hand.

~~From the Tassajara Recipe Book
by Edward Espe Brown

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Only 5 more months until fresh rhubarb!

Yes, even in the middle of our deep freeze and snowy snowy winter, my ever optimistic husband reminded me that we only have 5 more months until our fresh rhubarb starts to appear as this photo shows from last spring! That's not so long, really. :-) In addition, the days are getting longer and seed catalogs have arrived so I know that winter is moving along with spring approaching day by day. Soon cardinals will be singing, in fact I usually begin listening for them when out walking right around Martin Luther King's birthday.

So with only 5 months until we can harvest fresh rhubarb, we'd better keep eating our canned and frozen rhubarb. I'm going to be taking some of our canned stewed rhubarb to a Michigan Lady Food Bloggers "Summer in January" gathering where we are bringing food that reminds us of summer. However, there are many ways to use rhubarb in savory dishes. Here is a favorite of mine as it combines so many unusual flavors and healthy foods all in one dish! I took it to the last Slow Food book club. There was not much left over, but I was glad to see a little that I could take home to enjoy the next day.

Lentils Curried with Rhubarb and Sweet Potatoes


• 1 cup dry red lentils
• 1 very large sweet potato, peeled and sliced
• 1 Tablespoon olive oil
• 1-2 cup rhubarb, diced (I used my frozen rhubarb slices)
• 1-2 Tbsp. honey (I use the smaller amount)
• 1 Tbsp. curry powder (mild or spicy if your family says ok)
• 1-2 Tbsp. fresh ginger root, grated
• 1 tsp. hot red chili powder
• Salt and pepper to taste (I added a bit of pepper but no salt)


Cover lentils with water in a deep pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and add raw sweet potato slices. Simmer until soft (about 30 minutes). Remove from heat, drain, and set aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in a skillet. Once hot, add rhubarb. Reduce heat and cook until tender. Stir in honey and seasonings. Mix with drained cooked lentils and potatoes that have been mashed together with a fork. Pour into a oven-proof dish and bake at 400 degrees until piping hot (about 20 minutes). Garnish with something colorful like chopped fresh chives, cilantro, or rosemary.

Serve with any chutney and brown rice. This is also delicious served cold on a kale leaf as a salad like shown in this photo with cranberry chutney.

Ending with a short blessing:
Oh Lord of the universe
Please accept all this food
It was given by you
Let it be of service to all
Only you can bless it.

~~Bhagavad Gita (500 BC)

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Christmas Cookies - Date Pinwheels

Christmas is finally packed up, so before I file away my recipe cards again, I am finally posting the cookie recipe I brought to our cookie exchange. These date pinwheel cookies have been a special part of our family holiday for as long as I can remember. My mother got the recipe from my dad's Aunt Ruth. They are "effort cookies" as I need 2 days to get them made.

1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup ground walnuts
1 package (7-1/2 ounce) pitted dates, cut small
Boil all together until thick. Set aside and cool.
Note: I have often added more walnuts or more dates to the filling with a smidge more water.

1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
4 cups flour (I use 2 cups white all-purpose flour and 2 cups white whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar with a mixer in a large bowl, then add eggs one by one, beating until well mixed. In separate bowl, mix flour, soda, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk to mix well. Slowly add the flour mixture into the butter mixture, mixing well after each addition.

Divide dough into four parts. Roll out each piece of dough using a rolling pin between two large pieces of wax paper. I roll out the dough to be just less than the length of a cookie sheet and maybe 7-8 inches wide. I would guess that the dough is about 1/8 inch in thickness. I do a lot of "cut and paste" to get the dough fairly even all around the edges. Take off top piece of wax paper, spread 1/4 of the date filling as evenly as possible on the dough. Then roll up the dough starting on the long side nearest to you, rolling away from you. Even out the ends of the dough with your hands then wrap the roll in wax paper and freeze overnight on a cookie sheet or anything flat to keep the dough from bending. This recipe makes 4 rolls of cookie dough.

When ready to bake, unroll the dough from the wax paper, cut into slices ~1/4 inch in width, then place on ungreased cookie sheets. I bake these on parchment paper at 375 for 10-12 minutes. I do shift the trays in the oven to keep the cookies from burning on the bottom. We do eat any "black-bottom" cookies but never give those away.

This recipe easily makes 80-100 cookies. Yum, yum, yum. Every one with a Christmas stocking at our house (except our dog) gets a small private stash in their stocking. It's almost impossible to just eat one!

I don't think either of my boys have tried making these cookies yet. Maybe next year we can have a "let's see just how you roll these up" cookie making party if they get home in time before the holidays. However, it did warm my heart to know that one of them asked Santa to bring him food storage jars for bulk food "just like mom's".

We still have a few of these cookies left in the freezer to bring out for special Christmas memories throughout the year. I'll bet they don't last through February (maybe not even January!).

Diana Dyer, MS, RD