Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Lemon Laced, Radish Top Pesto

I am obsessed, captivated, completely infatuated, almost posessed by our garden.
"Eeeeeek...excited, excited....ha, yeah....pummpeddd!"

Call me batty, but 'round here I take on any number of names: "one proud mama of our garden babies" or "the grateful deadheader."

I dirty myself head to toe, so sometimes I go for the "all-thumbs-hands-arms-elbows-in-kinda-gardener." The "dirty fingernailer" works too.

It's this time of year when I get so caught up with our little seedlings who graduate from sprouting young-buds to hardy fruits.

One of our strawberry blossoms
 Our first berry born from the blossom above!
Enter my world of purples, yellows, oranges, reds!
Chive flowers


Leaf lettuce
These colors don't just bedazzle the garden, they're all edible too!

These plants almost mute Manerva's (our garden scarecrow's) dimming wardrobe. Her mellow colors continue to fade fast.

Understandably so.
Her work shift runs day and night, rain or snow, wind, hail. Invariably, she sets camp watching over our garden boxes.

Housed within her boxes are radishes!

Make Your Radish Grow!
You know these guys are ready by moving their perky leaves aside to see their rounded ruby-red cheeks push up just above the soil (about a quarter to a half inch high) like so....

Radish tops
I found that most people think younger radishes, about 1 inch in diameter, taste better. Any bigger, and you risk them cracking and drying out. They also leave a bitter aftertaste, giving off a tickle-your-nose pepper flavor (which I lean towards because I savor a good, kick-in-the-pants kind of spice). 

Eat all your radishes, and figure your favorite size!

These characteristics do, however, vary depending on your radish variety (Just look at all of them!).

Any more radish growing questions can be answered here. This site contains radish varieties, where and when they grow best, and the relative length of time to keep radishes in the ground (the back of your seed packet shares this information too).

Grow Your Radish & Eat (all of) It Too!
These bulby-radishes package healthy-for-you nutrients, a delightfully peppery bite, and crisp flavor.

 I'm drooling!

I do that occasionally, partially because I want to make these pink gems shine in luminous recipes.  Find 15 pages worth of them at this site which beckons the adventurous food-lover, like me. In this social media savvy age, I have to pull up the radish recipe Pinterest page. And don't forget to gawk at good ol', Martha Stewart 30+ recipe repertoire. 

But, I won't stop at the root.

 Let your eyes venture northward, above the radish...wayy past its pink, white hue....

...yes..tilt your head...up...a little higher..a-hah!

You're staring at those lucious greens. They contain a similar but milder, radish pepperiness.

If you know me, you know my "no good thing goes to waste" mentality.
So let's have at these leaves in a
lemon laced, radish top pesto.
This spread enlivens homemade lasagna, soups, pastas or rice, and salad dressings. You can slab it onto meat, eggs, or grilled veggies; mix pesto into your pizza sauce. Even coat it thick on your cornbread or within your sandwiches.

I like to snack on my smothered toast with low-fat cottage cheese, pesto, and radish root slices.

Recipe: Lemon Laced, Radish Top Pesto:
Serving: 8 ounce Jar of Pesto
Preparation time: 45 minutes

  • Small sauté pan
  • Tongs or a spatula to toss the sautéed food
  • Cookie Sheet
  • Food processor
  • Spatula
  • A jar or any storage container

  • 2-3 garlic cloves taken away from the whole garlic bulb. Discard any loose leaves but keep the smooth, inedible outer skin surrounding each individual clove (For an example, look to the picture on the right). This covering (at the base of the picture) will protect your garlic from burning during the sauté.
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil for sautéing the garlic
  • 1/4 cup of your favorite nut (I tried 1/8 cup of sunflower seeds and 1/8 cup of pine nuts)
  • 2-3 big bunches of radish leaves (probably close to 5-6 cups of the coarsely chopped leaves)
  • Zest from one lemon (about 1-2 tablespoon)
  • Juice from one lemon (about 2-3 tablespoons)
  • A mounding 1/2 cup of shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup of sun dried tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil (any oil will do)
  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. While that warms, place the garlic (in its thin skin) and the tablespoon of olive oil into a small, shallow pan over the stove. On medium heat, sauté it for about 8-10 minutes or until the garlic is browned and soft to the touch. As it cooks, move it around a good bit, so it doesn't burn. The finished garlic's insides should be squishy and mashable. 
  3. Once the oven has preheated, scoop the nuts onto a cookie sheet. Place them in the oven for 10 minutes or until golden. I kept a close eye on them, repetitively flipping and mixing.
  4. Squeeze the soft innards of the garlic from its outer cover into the food processor.
  5. The nuts will probably be done by now, so take them out of the oven for cooling.
  6. Pour the rest of the ingredients into the food processor, and let the blitzing begin. From time to time, you may need to stop and scrape the sides with your spatula.
  7. (Optional) Customize your pesto: you can also hold the 1/2 cup oil until you puree the rest of the ingredients. Add it in slowly, one tablespoon at a time, until you reach the texture that you like.
  8. (Optional) If you can't use all that pesto imediately, spoon it into icecube trays for the freezer. Once frozen, pop one out as you need it; or, to save room, pull all of the cubes from the tray into a freezer bag. Using a single icecube of pesto is much easier than chipping away at a bulky, frozen block of it.

If you don't share my hankering for pesto, move onto these simple radish top ideas:
  • Try them as a salad garnish, but beware of their rougher mouthfeel.
  • Sauté them with a little butter or your favorite spices. I mix mine with kale or chard, and I don't notice the prickly leaves' texture.
  • Radish green and potato soup seems like a fantastic idea. The recipe in this thread uses radish greens sautéed in a little butter, cubed potatoes, salt, pepper, chicken stalk, and a bit of light cream.
  • Some people even pickle them. 
  • Cut them into narrow strips to use as a filler in soups.
  • Cook them as you would spinach. You can even freeze them for later in an air-tight, freezer-ready container. 

Radishes. There's a certain charm to them?!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Quack like a duck.

Can you quack like a duck?

 Booorrrinnggg...Don't just speak it, "Quack." Give me a throaty, whaspy, Donald Duck, "Quaaaack!" can you? For me?

Oh prettyyy pleassseee.....

Okay. Dear, crazy, quacking reader, you've made not only my day, but you also gave life to my perfect blog introduction. Thanks!

To all the silent rest of you, bah-humbug! :)

To reassure all my quacking readers, hands down (dare I say, feathery wings down), our ducks would eagerly quack back,
"Quaccccck. Quack. Quahhhk!"

These birds are quite happy and self-assured with no hesitation, except when they duck-away from speeding cars that slice down our raod.

"Quack-quacking" is their way of life, really. 
Ducks do what they value - what matters is keeping up the chatter as they  splash in for a swim,  doddle towards the pasture to visit their multi-specie family (the horses, chickens, and guinea hens) across the pond and back home for the evening. 

I like to sit and watch them carry on.  They often quack a low, conversational tone. But, what I really cherish is relaxing, listening to the hum of the pond water rush over their quacky clamor. It brings type of quiet that puts me under the misimpression that my world is at peace. 
But no, I'm wrong.

 Our world is at peace. 
For now, we sit. 
Just a girl. With her dog. Watching her ducks. 
Sharing what life has to offer.

Spring came, and these ducks are quackin' happy and laying! Hmmm, what to do with those delicious eggs?

Bake chive parmesan popovers! Well, I'll get to that. 

 Let's start by highlighting the prolific chives!

a gentle onion flavor
Look for: 
Chives resemble a hollow blade of grass. 

Match Chives With...
bacon, lemon, lime, garlic, oregano, parsley, soy sauce, tarragon, tomatoes, thyme, vinegar (in vinaigrettes or gazpacho), sharp cheeses (parmesan or blue cheese), really any dish that invites onions.

Simple Chive Dishes:  

  • Feature a finely chopped topping of chives on soft, scrambled eggs. Or, fold them into eggs before cooking omelets. Even keep them cold in an egg salad.
  • You can salt and pepper baked, mashed or smashed potatoes with chives. Why not try them in your picnic potato salad?
  • Add punch to salads or coleslaws.
  • Garlic bread makes chive greens pop! 
  • Swirl them into soup right before serving.
  • Chopped chives, mixed with a stick of butter, slathers perfectly on morning toast. For the long term, you can roll chive butter back in parchment paper to freeze! Thaw and butter your biscuits when the time's right.
  • Have at make-ahead chive oil. Try it out with fresh- squeeze lemon atop fish, chicken, even steamed rice (or other grains quinoa, barley, or faro).
  • Fried in butter and generously salted chives deepen the flavor of fresh tomato slices. 

Storing Them Fresh: 
Handle the fragile chive grass delicately. Dampen a paper towel, place onto it a single layer of chives. Roll the towel, and slip it in your fridge. Chives short-lived, about one-two days fresh, three at most. 

It is a perennial herb (growing back two or more years). Often, it dies back in the cold months but rallies back to life with the cool, spring weather's return. Pesky bugs steer clear of its pungent odor. Chives like full sun, about 6-8 hours is best. Light shade is okay too, making them perfect to grow on your windowsill. We harvest our chives by cutting them at their base, about 1 inch from the ground; they'll grow back from a bulb underneath the soil. 

Fresh or Dried Chives?
1 tsp. of dried chives = 1 tablespoon of chopped chives. The dried versions don't give the same tang as fresh.  

The chart comes from this site.

Recipe: Chive Parmesan Popovers
I combined chives mild flavors with flour, salt, pepper, parmesan, soaking it all with a little bit of butter. 

And, thanks to our ducky friends....

We mixed duck eggs into this recipe! 
It sounds strange, I know. 
Most people twist their face when I tell them about these spring treats.
But, before you reign judgement, gage these delicious eggs.
They're quite similar to the chicken eggs you're used to... 

...except for their larger size and volume, richer flavor, lighter shell-coloring. 

The duck eggs' bigger, more supple yolks lend to a fluffier texture for cakes and other baked goods.  I think they imbue a more decadent flavor.

They also gave way for the airy texture of my chive-parmesan popovers topped with a caramelized onion, mushroom, thyme, balsamic sauté.
Puffed underneath, you can tell the popover lived up to its name.

Makes: 12-24 popovers. It's really dependent on the size of your muffin tins

Microwavable container for butter
A brush or towel to grease pans with butter
2 medium mixing bowls
Fork or whisk to mix ingredients
Scissors or knife to chop chives

Two, twelve well muffin tins


  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely snipped or chopped chives
  • 1 and 1/4 cup milk, at room temperature (I used low-fat or 1%.)
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature (Duck or chicken will do!)

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Grease your muffin pans with about 1 tablespoon of melted butter. I coated a little bit of the surface of the pan above the wells, just in case the popovers POPPED over the rim.
  • NOTE: I used buttered muffin tins for mine. I had no problems freeing the popovers from the pan. Oil for greasing or non-stick muffin/popover tins would do the same.  
3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, pepper, parmesan, and chives.
4. In a second bowl, break the yolks of the eggs, and whisk them for about a minute. Add milk and the rest of the melted butter. 
5. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry. Mix until just combined. Don't worry if some lumps remain. 
6. Fill the muffin tins half full. Or, leave at least a quarter of an inch below the rim of the pan. 
7. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes without opening the door.
8. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. 
9. Bake for another 10-15 minutes or until the popovers are completely puffed, golden, crusty.
10. Use a knife around the edges of the popover to release them, thats if they're sticking to the sides of the tin.  They should slide right out!

The popovers taste perfect without anything, maybe a dab of butter. But, if you're feeling adventurous, try this caramelized onions, mushroom, thyme, balsamic topping! Yummo...It's a goodie! 

Large saute pan
Knife for chopping veggies
Cutting board

  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons of olive or canola oil
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons thyme
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • a pinch of salt and pepper to taste

1. Timing is key when making two recipes at once! Before mixing any of the popover ingredients, slice the onions to a desired thickness. Drop them in a sauté pan. Keep the heat wayyyy low. And, as you prepare the popover ingredients, regularly toss the onions. You don't want them to stick, so add oil as needed. Low, slow, low and slow, baby!
2. After prepping steps 3. and 4. in the previous popover recipe; clean and cut the mushrooms, and add them to the onions. Mushrooms soak in liquid; sprinkle more oil to stop them from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
3. Return to your popovers!
4. Continue turning the veggies as the popovers cook.
5. About 5-10 minutes before the popovers are done, pinch the thyme leaves off their woody stem (or try 2 teaspoons dried thyme, instead) and into the vegetables. 
5. Sprinkle in the vinegar, garlic powder, salt and pepper. 
6. Turn up the heat slightly
7. Let the vinegar simmer as you stir the ingredients. Do this for two-three more minutes. 
8. Then turn off the heat. 
9. The onions should show off their caramel brown hue and the mushrooms will be fleshy and pillowy. 

I LOVED bedazzling my sliced popovers with this oniony goodness!
I also paired my breakfast with fruit and yogurt. 

Don't you wish you were in sniffing distance? 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Interpretation of the Paleo Diet

I really don't flex my dietitian muscles much, but I keep getting the same foodie question, "What do you think about the Paleo Diet?"

Do you think it healthy to take on the Paleo Diet? It looks like this...

Picture from CSPI's Facebook page

would you have at the nutrition guidelines below?

Well, read on to hear my take on the matter...

What is the Paleo Diet? Page through these tabs for the detailed answer. See recipes, a sample meal plan, reviews from health professionals, along with Paleo diet "dos" and "don'ts".  Basically, you can eat foods that are similar to what the cavemen hunted (lean, gamey, grass-fed meat) and gathered (eggs, vegetables, fruit, roots and nuts). Forget the dairy, grains, beans, alcohol, salt, refined sugar and oils.

Nutrition science gets a bad wrap for seemingly "healthy" claims, good for one day and then blasphemy. Promoting this diet with little supporting evidence would discredit me as a dietitian. I am going to wait on the sidelines for more robust, larger studies and from ones of longer duration.

Before leaping into my ballad, I'll point you to this article about 7 signs of bad nutrition advice. Hopefully, it gives you some direction for deciphering all the nutrition fallacies swirling around you.

Basic nutrition - eating the types of food that keep you healthy - breaks down simply. Stick to the right amounts of whole grains (quinoa, whole-wheat bread or tortillas, pasta, rice...) and beans (lentils, canned or dried beans, edamame...), dairy or other calcium sources, lots of fruits and veggies (canned, frozen, or fresh, sometimes dried), and some protein (meat, eggs, beans, vegetarian options, you name it!). Learn how to size up healthy portions by watching this video!

Now, onto the science of the Paleo Diet
Paleo proponents do their part by grasping onto a couple nutrition studies which I'll jump into now. 

Three of them do not have a randomly assigned Paleo diet group and a pack of people assigned to a different comparison diet. This causes a big question mark to hang over their results: did participants shed pounds because they they were on a weight loss regimen or truly because of the Paleo diet (
1, 2, 3)? It's hard to say without the typical experimental model, what's called a "randomized controlled trial." This format is first-rate at testing the real effect of a treatment or diet through the use a two groups: (1) people on the test diet (the Paleo diet) and (2) a group shoveling in the "standard" diet for comparison. Hoisting the research up one more notch would mean conducting a "blind randomized controlled trial." The experimenter does not know which diet is being administered to either group. This intentional cluelessness eliminates biases that may skew the results.

Sure enough, the experimental setup was limited by of the small sample size of many these studies. A sample that's representative of all Paleo dieters would be hard to capture in studies of 9-29 participants (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). I greeted one, 13-person study with a couple chuckles and a head shake as it was stopped early because of a lack of participation (4). And, many of the participants had pre-existing conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular issues, or obesity; they weren't healthy active individuals.  More studies are needed with dieters 
typifying the majority of Paleo followers.

I feel a pang of frustration, you know that kind sends your eyes rolling, when I hear about a 3-month study which orders a Paleo diet that chops 300 calories out of participants  diet (4). If you cut two cans of soda, two glasses of juice or even that extra large muffin from whatever you eat (Paleo or not), you would lose weight too!  I'm inclined to believe that the eating less is the prominent cause of weight loss, not necessarily foods within the Paleo diet. This great read supplements my argument by reviewing current research on the "calorie" matter.

I also don't like the timing of these studies. They were held over a couple of days or as long as six months. But, dieters might agree, that these intervals do not portray the exhausting reality of sticking with extreme dietary restrictions. Life is quick and busy. Chaining yourself with strict food rules will only put you in more of a bind.  Three studies spanned 1-2 years comparing three diets: Atkins (most comparable to the Paleo menu with meat, whole foods, dairy, and leaving the grains behind), Ornish (very low fat, high amounts of grain and whole foods, but skimping on the protein), and Weight Watchers (a well rounded, healthy diet including all the food groups in smaller portions). No one diet outcompeted the others causing more weight loss than the rest, but it seemed that more people dropped out of the study when following the extremes (Ornish and Atkins) (6, 7, 8).

If you are looking to shed pounds or gain muscle, eat enough. Mix in well rounded meals with whole grains, veggies, fruit, protein, and some dairy or calcium containing foods. Edge in healthy snacks in too!
Who is behind this mad-arms race to create the "right" diet for you? 
The food industry cycles through these unsupported, fad diets not to answer your dietary needs but to feed off the potential gargantuan profit. What's this year's popularized food trend? Protein! In stores near you, products with healthy-for-you protein claims will abound.

Now, take the last craze, the gluten-free diet (no wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats). The food industry ran with it, and these products alone, grew at a compound annual growth rate of 28% in ten years with 2012 sales reaching approximately $2.6 billion. Google "gluten-free diet," and you'll get more than 4.2 million results (9). Lucrative and a good sell, eh?

The number one reason for people purchasing these products is that they're healthier than their gluten-containing counterpart. This far-out assumption makes gluten or wheat the bad guy. When, for a person without sensitivity or allergies, it's fine!  You could actually miss out on fiber for regularity and better cholesterol levels, with the potential to lower colon cancer risk (10).

To add to it, there's too little to no proof of benefits behind eliminating gluten-containing foods for those who don't need to. As a matter of fact, adherence to this regime may result in a diet that is high in fat and low in carbohydrates and fiber, as well as low in iron, folate, niacin, vitamin B-12, calcium, phosphorus and zinc. A small number of studies with adults show a trend toward weight gain after diagnosis; further research is needed in this area (Gluten-Free Evidence Analysis Library from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).

Currently, 1 in 133 people (about 1% of the population) have
celiac disease which mandates a gluten-free diet. Beyond celiacs, more people also have some sort of gluten sensitivity or coinciding (11). Slowly but surely, the number of diagnoses are rising with more patients becoming aware of the symptoms, more long-term working relationships between allergists and their patients, and improvements in clinical testing (12, 13). However, much of this progress has yet to come into fruition. The Paleo diet seems to take advantage of this diagnostic uncertainty by prodding followers to self-diagnose in order to sell them on their extreme, grain-free marketing scheme.

I can't stress enough that we are free to eat a well-rounded diet. Click the dairy, whole grains, proteinfruits and veggies links to read about some of the healthy things to follow when doing so. And, remember that a little soda or dessert along the side won't hurt! 

Beyond nutrition, that's some shaky evolutionary science.
 In regards to the evolutionary justification behind the Paleo diet, I'll take a similar view as anthropologist, Marlene Zuk, professor of ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Minnesota and author of Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live. 

1. The Paleo diet wants you to eat like a caveman. Who were the "paleolithic" people?

Which Paleolithic peeps are we talking about? Are we speaking Homo erectus? Homo sapians? How about this one...Homo heidelbergensis? Are we speaking of people living in Africa or those who moved to Asia. Could we mean the coastal fishermen, or should we move inland to the forest hunter and gatherers who relied on gamey, lean meat and rooted for plants (grains too!). Our human development has been far from homogenous. Obviously, each diet varied in time and placed, based on region and locality. How, then, can Paleo followers pin down the one, standard Paleolithic diet? 

2. Our bodies are made to eat meat, little to no grains, dairy, beans, or any refined, packaged treats? 

This tenant voiced by the Paleo followers, assumes that well-supported successes of other diets are faulty and invalidated. Supposedly, many of today's foods contribute to the chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. Countering this point, however, is the documented health benefits of being vegetarian (Find more consumer-friendly material about the research, here.) or even the widely publicized Mediterranean diet (Here is the Mediterranean diet study and commentary about it from credible health professionals 1 and 2). Unlike Paleo eating, these diets prove healthful and include the missing grains, dairy, and beans.

3. If we're genetically inclined to eat a diet from Paleolithic times, that must mean we've stopped evolving too! Are we cave men??

The appeal of this diet is that evolutionary changes could not occur in response to the today's major dietary shifts and novel food practices. Proponents believe that modern humans' genetics are very similar to our Paleolithic ancestors making our bodies much more fit for the Paleo diet, not to the current so-called civilized diet. 

Hmmm...If our genetics haven't changed for 100,000 years, then explain this one: Let's talk to the fact that we can drink milk, though it's a no-no in the Paleo diet. Humans were one of the first mammals to continue on cow’s milk after birth. And, now the vast majority of humans have evolved with the ability to digest it. This change happened much later than the Paleolithic time, but 5-7,000 years ago. It's evidence that a genetic shift took place much later than the Paleolithic times. That doesn't go without saying that some people now have trouble digesting milk. But, that's different than saying that ALL people should avoid milk because of our Paleolithic ancestry! 

Now to amylase - Um..amy-what? It's an enzyme that breaks down starches and grains for better absorption in our mouth and small intestine. More amylase makes eating and digesting grains easier. In populations with a grain-based diet - maybe vegetarians or those people with rice as a staple food source - more than the average amounts of amylase were maintained. This change occurred wayyyy after Paleolithic times. Unlike the grain-free recommendations of the Paleo diet, people have adapted and can still eat rice, wheat, and other grains.
No discredit to Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory. I don't want to take away from the idea that we've transformed over millions of years. But, we must give credence that to our ability to adapt to our surroundings at quite a fast pace. Call this science, epigenetics! It's like an equation: the environment we live in, the actions we take, the food we eat, our stockpile of emotions, sum it all up and we get major changes in our genetic imprint that can be passed to our kids; Take for example, the passing of traits like obesity, the lengthening or shortening the life span, or an increase or decrease in disease risk. Epigenetics is proof that our environment and what we do to our body can short circuit evolution and leave an imprint on the generation. Learn more from the voices behind epigenetics here.

All this to say that, genetically, we cannot compare to our Paleolithic ancestors.

4. Can we even replicate the paleolithic food environment?

Earth has changed drastically since Paleolithic times. The food from the previous environment, frankly, is not available. Humans have impacted their food source since we've existed. We cultivated teosinte, a grass seed, into corn. We made the apple, plum, peach varieties into the sweet fruit we know today. Meats from our stationary animals is fattier and more tender. Our food is different.

5. Paleo diets oust grains. Did cavemen eat them?

 As grain-free, Paleo diets became popular, scientists discovered remnants of seeds and grains on the teeth of fossilized early humans and on their cooking tools. Too, they found that our ancestors cooked bread! They ground grain into a crude flour to make primitive pita-like grain.

In closing, I take this thought from Zuk. Our view of people in history is always changing. To pin down a "Paleolithic standard diet" back then is hard enough, so to identify the perfect one to follow now would be wishful thinking. Find more about Zuk's argument, here and there.

When you're looking to stay healthy, match the amount of food you need with your activity level! Eat right-sized food - a mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, dairy, and sometimes food that satisfies your sweet tooth. It works every time!
Picture from PA NEN's Facebook page