frozen tomatoes

I’ve gardened for as long as I can remember, and inevitably, this time of year, I have a counter full of tomatoes and no idea what to do with them.  I’ve made sauce, I’ve eaten them raw, I’ve made soup with them… and now there they sit, waiting for me to come up with other ideas.

The homesteady part of me thinks:  “I should can them!”  And then the realistic part of me says:  “That’s insane.  Who wants to spend hours over a hot stove during these beautiful sunny days?”  And really:  who wants to sit and peel tomatoes?

So here’s a trick I learned from my mama:  You don’t have to peel the tomatoes or can them to save them for the winter.  Just wash them off, put them on a tray and freeze them, and then dump them (they will look and feel and even sound a lot like billiard balls) in gallon freezer bags.   Then when a recipe calls for a can of tomatoes, head to the freezer instead of the pantry.  Pull out as many tomato billiard balls as you think you need, and run them under warm water until the skin is barely softened.  Use a knife or your fingers to remove the skin, which comes of incredibly easily.  (Alternately, you can just let them sit on the counter for about fifteen minutes, and then the skins will come right off.)

Use the peeled tomatoes just like you would use canned ones.  The skins are full of nutrients but add an unpleasant texture (imagine rubber bands in spaghetti sauce), so I pop the skins back in the freezer in my bag of scraps for stock-making.  Other people dehydrate the skins and grind them for use in sauces, which sounds like a great idea that I just haven’t gotten around to trying.

How many tomatoes you freeze will depend on how many you have and how many you think you’ll need over the winter.  I have limited freezer space, so my tomato stash is usually around two gallons, and that serves us well.  If I had a larger family, yes, it would make sense to can the tomatoes so it wouldn’t be taking up freezer space, but since our household is so small, this works just fine.

And, really, there are few things more satisfying than getting to taste home-grown tomato flavor on a cold winter day.

Of all the things I recommend to my clients to improve their health, growing a bit of food ranks high on my list.  Gardening is great exercise, it gets you outside, in contact with the soil (which helps ground us and also exposes us to healing bacteria), it re-ignites our natural wonder at the world (“how did a tiny seed turn into THAT?!”), and, of course, we get to eat what we grow, and what we grow always tastes better than anything we can buy.

Even if you only have a little bit of space – or just a patio, or a sunny window – you can grow food!  So get gardening, and let me know what you grow!

Outdoor Cooking

When it’s hot outside and you just don’t want to be inside cooking, what should you do?

Head outside to cook!

Outdoor cooking is, to many, limited to grilling, but it need not be. I put my camping gear to use this morning and was reminded of just how pleasurable it is to cook outside – even if my kitchen is just footsteps away.

This morning I opted to cook outside because it was beautiful out, and I wanted bacon but didn’t want the house smelling like bacon. So, my tot and I headed downstairs to get the propane stove, and minutes later, we were cooking!

Shown in the photo above are my Coleman one-burner stove, a propane cylinder, a folding wind guard, and a 12-inch Lodge cast iron skillet.  (The cast iron skillet is what I use inside on my regular stove as well.)

A word to the wise, though:  if you live in bear country, cooking bacon may bring the bears to the yard!  Yikes!

(That was probably the most exciting bacon-eating I’ve ever experienced.)

What are your favorite foods to cook outside?  Let me know in the comments!

Herb & Garlic Polenta

This is the perfect base for Sprouted Italian Beans & Greens, or a ragout, or garlicky greens, or pretty much anything you want.  I like polenta right away, all creamy and soft, and I love it left over, too.  I transfer leftovers to a pan and refrigerate, then cut into squares and pan-sear in a bit of ghee, butter, or coconut oil.

To make this recipe, I soak the corn in lime-water, which helps to make the niacin in the corn available.  (This is how corn was traditionally consumed – and, as it turns out, it’s a lot healthier that way.)  You might be able to find pickling lime at a Mexican food store; if not, it’s available on Amazon.

To make the lime-water, put 1 inch of pickling lime (it’s a white powder) in the bottom of a quart mason jar and fill the jar with filtered water.  Shake the jar and let it sit until the lime settles on the bottom of the jar and the water looks pretty clear (at least an hour).  Then, to use the lime water, don’t shake the jar… just pour clear “lime water” off the top.  Pro-tip:  Label the jar, or, if you’re like me, in a couple months you’ll see it in the pantry and wonder… what the hell…?

Once you have the lime-water ready, soak the corn.

1 cup organic polenta or corn grits (available on Amazon,  but there is a much better price at Thrive.  You might also be able to find organic polenta or grits in the bulk bins at some grocery stores.)
1/4 cup lime-water (see directions above)
3-4 cups filtered water (enough to fill the jar)

Soak the corn for 7-12 hours.

To make the polenta, pour the corn and soaking liquid into a pan (I love using this cast iron dutch oven) and add another 1-2 cups water (or healing bone broth, for extra nutrition and yum).  Bring to a boil and then turn the heat to low.  Stir frequently.  Add:

1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs (I like this mixture)
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 teaspoon Celtic Sea Salt

The polenta will be cooked in 30 minutes to an hour (depending on how soft you like it).  When it reaches the consistency you like, scoop into dishes and top with:

1 tablespoon grass-fed butter or olive oil
grated cheese (optional)
whatever else your heart desires

Here it is, plain but creamy and delicious:

If you have leftovers, transfer them to a pan and refrigerate, then cut into squares and pan-fry in butter, ghee, or coconut oil to crisp up the outside.

Thrive is a grocery delivery service that I’ve used for several years and love.  They have better prices on a lot of the nicer brands, and they ship right to your door.  If you subscribe up using this link, you’ll get 25% off your first order, and I’ll get $25 in free groceries.  Win – win!

Just do one thing

As a health coach, two questions people ask me all the time are, “What should I eat?” and “What diet should I follow?”  This makes sense: everywhere we look, we see new diet fads, new ways to lose weight, new ways to identify ourselves by what we eat.  You can’t host a dinner party anymore without fielding concerns from people about how they’re paleo/keto/vegan/raw/gluten-free/dairy-free/soy-free/high-fat/low-fat/all-carb/no-carb/no-fruit/all-fruit/anti-nightshade/subsisting-on-air-and-sunshine-and-occasionally-vodka.

That last one is made-up.  (Probably.)  I know someone who lived happily for a year on just ice cream.  She may or may not have been me.  (She was me.)

And here’s the thing:  the question of what to eat isn’t easy to answer.  Humans are omnivorous, which means we can eat pretty much anything, and different cultures all over the world eat dramatically different diets and do just fine.  Consider that traditional Inuit people eat lots of blubber and almost no carbs, whereas the traditional Japanese diet features lots of white rice (carbs) and very little fat.  And here’s the rub:  people eating either of these traditional diets tend to be healthy!  My grandmother grew up eating bacon and butter and cream and, at 92, was still living at home and tending her own garden.

So what are we supposed to eat?!?

Most research on nutrition suggests that eating a traditional diet – that is, one that your ancestors ate – will keep you healthier.  Most research also suggests that eating a modern diet – that is, one filled with processed convenience foods – will make you sicker.

As a good starting point in figuring out what to eat, I really like Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, a book that offers out a number of helpful guidelines to use in deciding what to eat (and what not to eat).  Some of my favorites are:

Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food

Avoid products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.

Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients

Avoid products that contain more than 5 ingredients

Avoid products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce

Avoid foods you see advertised on television

Eat mostly plants, especially leaves

Eat animals that have themselves eaten well

Eat well-grown food from healthy soil

Make water your beverage of choice

Eat meals

Don’t become a short order cook

Fill half your plate with vegetables

Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods (fruits, nuts, and vegetables)

Plant a vegetable garden if you have the space, a window box if you don’t

Cook

While that may seem like a lot of advice to follow all at once, here’s the deal: you don’t need to.  Just pick one thing that you can change – something that seems both manageable and sustainable – and start there.  Then, after that becomes your new norm, pick one more change.  As you start to shift to healthier eating patterns, your body will shift too, and it will become easier to make healthier choices.

Do I recommend drastic dietary shifts to my clients?  No.  Why?  Because every diet has an equal and opposite binge.   You can deprive yourself of the junky foods you love for so long… until eventually you cave, and then you feel bad, and feeling bad makes you eat more junky food, and suddenly you’ve lost all the progress you’d made.  So I encourage my clients to focus not on drastic, fast change, but rather to take the slow and steady approach.

So, my answer to the “what should I eat?” question is this:  The only diet I advocate is one that’s 90 percent healthy, 10 percent vodka ice cream.  (Kidding!  You get to pick your poison.)  This is the 90-10 diet, and it doesn’t require religious adherence, nor does it require you to eat eat just pineapple for weeks on end.  You don’t even have to give up donuts.

Shout-out, by the way, to Mr. Bob’s Donuts.  I love you, donuts.

See?  All things in moderation.  Even donuts!

Since I recommend a moderate approach to dietary change, does this mean that I think people doing keto or paleo or sunshine-and-vodka diets are wrong or stupid?  No.  (Well, maybe my ice cream diet was unwise.)  If you’re an adult and you think that the keto diet might help jump-start healthier living for you, by all means, do it.  But if you think that a 3-day juice fast will solve all your problems and make you lose (and keep off) 15 pounds, you’re delusional.

Real change is change that lasts.

So pick ONE healthy thing.  And do that thing.  Not for a month, but forever.  Pick a thing you will be content to do forever, and start doing it.  Right now.

And if one day you forget to do that one thing, it’s not the end of the world.  You can just start anew, every day, and do that one thing, until it becomes second-nature to you, and you won’t have to think about it.  Then pick one more thing.

The little choices that we make every single day matter.  They add up to how we live our whole life.  So pick that one thing, and let’s get started.

What will be your thing?  Let me know in the comments!

And, as always, if you think you might benefit from a guide to help you transition to a healthier lifestyle, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me to schedule a free health history consultation.  Email me at upstreamhealth.jill @ gmail.com (minus the spaces) to set up an appointment.

Sprouted Italian White Beans & Greens

This dish requires a bit of forethought, but not that much work, and the result is pure yum.  I serve these beans and greens over Italian-seasoned polenta, but you can enjoy them on their own, too.  I always make enough to have leftovers, because this dish is just as good (if not better) reheated.

Sprouting beans before cooking them lowers phytic acid levels, makes the beans far more digestible, and also improves their taste.

Sprouted Italian White Beans & Greens

Servings 4 people

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup white beans I prefer cannellini but any white bean will do.
  • 4 cloves garlic peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning dried
  • 1 3 inch piece of kombu seaweed
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 onion peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup shiitake mushrooms you could substitute a half cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes I use frozen ones from my garden, but feel free to use whatever you have, and peel and dice them. Save the peels in the freezer for broth.
  • 1 tsp lemon zest from an organic lemon
  • 1 tsp Celtic sea salt
  • 6-8 cups kale or spinach lightly chopped. If using kale, remove all the hard stems.
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan or asiago cheese optional
  • sprinkle aleppo pepper optional
  • sprinkle black pepper optional

Instructions
 

  • Start this recipe at least a day before you plan to make it.  To begin, soak the cup of dried beans in 3-4 cups of filtered water for 8-12 hours (I usually soak them overnight).  Then drain off the soaking water, rinse and drain, and leave on the counter.  You can use a colander to drain the beans, but I find it easier to use a quart canning jar with a cover like this.  Rinse and drain the beans every few hours until you start to see a little tail forming on the beans.  This means they are starting to sprout, and you can cook them then or refrigerate until you are ready to cook them.  They will keep in the fridge like this up to 3 days.  
  • Put the sprouted beans in a pot and cover with filtered water. Add the garlic, bay leaf, Italian seasoning, and kombu. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the beans are fully cooked. Start checking them after 15 minutes, because sprouted beans tend to cook much faster than non-sprouted ones. Note how lovely they smell while cooking!  
  • Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil in a large saute pan over medium heat, and add the onions. Cook until softened, and then add the mushrooms and garlic. Cook until the mushrooms release their liquid and become limp. Add the tomatoes, lemon zest, and salt. Simmer for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavors to come together.
  • When the beans are cooked, strain off the cooking liquid (but save it for later use) and add the beans to the cooked vegetables. Put the greens in the pan, give it a quick stir, and cover, allowing it to cook until the greens wilt. If using kale, let it cook for an extra couple of minutes so the kale softens a bit more.
  • To serve, put in bowls and drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over each dish, then a teaspoon of lemon juice. Optional: sprinkle with freshly grated cheese, black pepper, and aleppo pepper.

This is an adaptation of a recipe by Rebecca Katz – you can find the original here.

Have you sprouted beans before cooking them?  If so, let me know about your experience in the comments!