kale chips

Remember these?

The leafy crunchy greens that had me  swooning in a Colorado mountain town are back. Say hello to kale chips: so much more than just a stand-in for those Doritos you’re trying to hide from view.

With my oven already roaring at 400° from two other dishes and a healthy bunch of lacinato kale in my fridge, I finally got around to try making these myself. Lacinato kale is different from the regular curly kale you often see in grocery stores. It’s sometimes called “dinosaur kale,” and like any self-respecting T-Rex, it holds up particularly well to heat.

What runner/triathlete out there doesn’t love a good salty snack? Maybe it’s all the salt we lose on those mammoth bike rides and speed drills. Maybe it’s just a good old fashioned craving. Whatever it is, it’s tasty and packed full of all those things your eyes gloss over when reading articles in Runner’s World and Clean Eating.

Things like beta carotene, vitamins K and C, calcium, and antioxidants. Those age-old nutrients that we’ve only recently decided to heroize into  “super foods,” “power foods” and “clean foods.”

Well kale is as mighty as they come, and it tastes great too. It’s nutty and not as heavily sulfurous as some of the other cruciferae specimens. It’s a dark mineral-green, which to me says “good for you” like coffee beans say “hello day.”

And crisped-up in a hot oven with just some good olive oil and salt, there is no better destiny for the wrinkled kale leaf. Paired with a cold beer and some sweet evening relaxation, these guys almost, almost, make me want to toss the tortilla chips sneering at me from behind my morning muesli.

But then I remember the salsa. Oh, the salsa. Too heavy for such dainty chips as these, and just not the right flavor match either. I can’t let the salsa down!

And so I don’t toss the tortillas — with their oil and calories and lack of antioxidants — because they’ll come in handy one day when I just don’t care about so-called Superfoods. But until that moment comes, I’ll take the Super, and all the taste that comes along with it.

Kale Chips

1 bunch of kale, washed, stemmed, and torn into chip-sized pieces

olive oil

your favorite salt

Preheat oven to 400. Toss the kale pieces in a big bowl with a few drizzles of olive oil. Sprinkle with a few pinches of salt (kosher, sea, Celtic, or harvested from the rocks of the coast, your choice). Bake for 8-12 minutes, or until the edges of some of the pieces have just begun to brown. Remove to the counter top to cool, and serve as a snack or appetizer.

tofu deli slices

Summer hit Syracuse last weekend with the impetuosity of a season long-forgotten. Blazing down during a Sunday bike ride, it left its pink hand print squarely between my shoulders. Yesterday it reached 30°C (87°F) and today the mercury is still up in the high 20°s (70°s). Our apartment, in good second-floor sun-drenched form, is responding as expected.

One of my favorite things about hot weather is eating cooler foods. Anything I can make without turning on my oven or standing over my stove gets my immediate approval. Coming in at a close second are things that can be cooked quickly or on low heat.

But first, a warning: I can’t promise you this will be the prettiest post. But food doesn’t always present us with the most photogenic subjects does it? In this case, tofu came out a little camera-shy, looking rather drab drenched in marinade. But once it was tucked into a toasted sourdough sandwich, it was reunited with greatness.

Tofu, which a wonderfully healthy source of natural soy protein (as opposed to all those junky bars, shakes, and factory-produced cereals), seems to have this way of sitting in my fridge too long. For some reason, I seem to have this horrible tendency to neglect it. But you know what? It deserves to be loved. And topped with avocado, sprouts, and fresh tomatoes, tofu-love comes easily. Even if you’ve been known to say a mean word or two about it.

And that’s where this tofu saver comes in. When I stopped buying deli meats, I missed the thick, juicy filler they gave my summer sandwiches. Egg salad and tuna got old fast. And so I hauled out the tofu, tapped it three times, and politely asked it to become something wonderfully sandwich-worthy. I’ve been making these slices ever since. And best of all, they last (almost) forever in the fridge.

Tofu Deli-Slices

Slice firm tofu in ¼ to ½ – inch slices.

Mix up a marinade: There’s almost no limit to what you can do here, just mix up any liquid things you think go together. In the past I’ve used brown sugar, soy sauce, worchestershire, even ketchup. You could use pesto, or a curry-coconut milk mixture, or any supermarket bottled peanut, Thai, or Indonesian sauce. I’m sure some salad dressings would do a great job, too. For a smoky taste, try a few dashes of liquid smoke, or BBQ sauce.

Marinate the slices in a plastic container or bowl for a few hours, overnight, or until it  starts calling your name.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Lay the slices out on a piece of parchment or foil, and bake until they become dry and leathery at the edges, and maybe start to brown slightly, usually over an hour. You can continue to bake them until they’re completely “meaty” all the way through, or leave them soft an squishy at the centers. Up to you.

Cool, and store in the refrigerator to use in sandwiches.

Homemade Energy Bars IV: Sunshine Bars

I could do the cucaracha right now. Problem is, I don’t really know what the cucaracha is. But if I did, I’d clutch these granola bars in my hands and shake them like marakas.

You see, I’ve been wishin’ and hopin’ and dreamin’ about creating the perfect home-made baked granola bars: toasty brown on the outside but with just the right chew factor that (some of) the bought ones have. I’ve managed with the chewy ones and the rolled ones and the fudgy ones, but the good old fashioned baked version has eluded me.

Part of the problem is pickyness. I’ve tried over 15 recipes, tweaking and re-tweaking. I’ve meticulously recorded every substitution and result. Most of the bars have turned out quite edible — something to be proud of even. But there’s always been one tiny problem. Too sticky. Too crispy. Too crumbly.

To add to my dismay, I desperately wanted crispy rice cereal in these elusive bars. Just a wee bit of that airy crunch you can hear in the back of your head when you chew. Whenever I’d add the sticky ingredients, those rice puffs would soak it all in and mush up like an abandoned bowl of Cheerios. I wasn’t about to make Rice Krispy squares, laden with butter and melted marshmallows. I wanted something good.

Eventually I gave up and bought some, just like normal people do. But after the 18th disappointing, too-sweet bar with a novel-length ingredients list, I went back to my oats and my coconut. I begged them to co-operate. I needed them to get me through the last two weeks of school without putting up a fight.

I guess I did something right. Sometimes I think ingredients, like people, just need to be loved. People talk to plants, horses, babies — why not craisins and pumpkin seeds?  As I wax poetic about something that was probably more luck than oat-whispering, I beseech you: Quaker and Kashi got nothing on homemade bars. Unless, of course, it takes you months to get them how you like them.

Good granola bars depend on the right proportion of ingredients, a sticky binder, and the right baking time and temperature. After many trials, I think I’ve found the right bar to usher me into a new season of triathlon training.

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the chi of kimchi

If only there was something yummy and exotic that made itself. Something you could just quickly cut up, stir, and plop in a container, only to turn out 5 days later in a delicious new guise.

Wait! There is! It’s called kimchi, and for its tart and tangy goodness we can thank the Koreans.

I’m seeing Korean food turn up everywhere. On the pages of Bon Appetit, on food blogs, and even in the New York Times. It’s even gone fusion, with a Twittering taco truck that brings mobile eats to its loyal followers. Kimchi is so important that the Korea Aerospace Research Institute even developed space kimch. Why? To accompany the first Korean astronaut to the Russian space ship, Soyuz, of course.

I can’t remember when I first tasted kimchi, but it wasn’t too long ago. I then started buying some locally-made stuff, available at the Central New York Regional Farmer’s Market, in all sorts of shades and styles. Being the fermentation freak that I am, my next thought was  “OK, my turn.”  Anyone who’s been to my apartment has seen the various fermenting things lying around my house. And before you run away scared, know that each one of them is darn delicious.

Food that is fast, easy, healthy and given to leftovers is manna for me right now. Finishing up my masters leaves little time for poring over new recipes (sad face #1), therapeutic vegetable chopping (sad face #2), and Zen-like-stove-top stirring (sad face #3). To this sorry state came my new friend kimchi.

The fabulous ferment did not only arrive to a dire, time-crunched situation, but to a household with a brand-new mandolin. Picked up for a steal of a deal on Amazon with Christmas money, this Japanese slider-knife is a miracle in a drawer. With this little beauty and a far superior recipe, my second batch of kimchi turned out much better than my clunky, over-garlicked first batch.

What, you may ask, is kimchi? It’s a Korean side dish with an inimitable taste, yet a Korean proverb reads, “if you have rice and kimchi, you have a meal.” To me, it’s crunchy ribbons of daikon and carrot folding over each other between layers of ruffled Napa cabbage. It’s chilies melding with garlic and ginger, and crisp veggies fermented to perfection. Served at room temperate over fried rice or a plate of egg rolls, or just eaten out of a jar, kimchi is a great snack full of healthy probiotics.

Best of all, the do-it-yourself kind pretty much does it itself. Just make sure you don’t spill it all over your gym bag.

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best before

There’s two kinds of people in this world. Those who take best befores as expiration dates, and those who take expiration dates as a supper idea. I’ve lived with both over the years, a family member who will toss a whole container of yogurt past it’s best before, and roommates who’ll scrape the moldy skin off the top of sour cream, give a little sniff, and dollop away.

A bit of mold or natty spinach leaves don’t bother me much. I believe that when it comes to food, the nose knows, and the tastebuds will tell.  That doesn’t mean that when you come over for dinner next I’ll be secretly poisoning you, it just means that I use my senses, not a “MAR 5-09” stamped on white plastic. 


Being frugal is also important these days, and as a student, I’m always looking for ways to eat well on a budget. Imagine my delight when I came across a new website called  Still Tasty, tips on how to keep your food fresh, and how to spot when it’s not. 

This is the ultimate resource when your Mom’s not around to tell you if Saturday’s stir-fry is still safe. Still Tasty offers guidance on how to keep fruit gorgeous, how to defrost safely, and the best ways to store your staples. Storage tips can be lifesavers. When I learned how to store herbs from Simply Recipes, I went from someone who never has cilantro or mint to a veritable herb garden.

So next time you find yourself unsure of how to care for your fresh chervil or tamarillos, get clicking!

i want you: to drink kefir

If you’ve spent any time around me lately, you’ve heard me singing the praises of fermented foods. If you haven’t, then allow me to introduce you to kefir, the best thing to come my way since kombucha tea.

As fermentation teaches us, good things take time. And so too with this post. I’ve been trying to craft a really great one for this, my latest obsession. Finally I’ve shot enough photos and schemed enough ways to convince you to bring kefir into your home.

Whether or not I succeed, this is what I’ve got; I happen to think it’s good. Better than does a body good, good. I bring you kefir: beloved breakfast champion, superhero of lactose-intolerants, rescuer of milk + vinegar buttermilk substitutions. Apparently they’ve been doing it for years, and I’ve been stuck in the dark with plain old milk and yogurt laced with added sugar (and who knows what else).

Red Raspberry

Now that I’ve lured you in with the pink tart and tang of a fresh raspberry blend, I’ll show you how it’s done. There are TWO STEPS here. Got that? TWO STEPS. Try to follow the complicated procedure as best you can. Really, it’s very scientific:

obtain some kefir grains from a fellow fermentor*

put the grains into a jar of milk and let everyone hang out for a few hours

Contrary to making yogurt, kefir pretty much takes care of itself. I have tried making yogurt about four times, to no avail. I wanted it so badly, but it just wouldn’t happen: The first time, tasting like the pickles that had occupied the jar prior to it, the second time refusing to thicken. Despite tedious temperature testing and the more sophisticated hot-tub incubation method of the third go, the milk still wouldn’t yogurtize. I gave up, dejected, forced to live with mediocre milk lacking the happy bacteria I’d so earnestly sought.

And then, kefir arrived on my doorstep. My dear mother had heard my plea, and sent me a container of the grains via husband-on-Amtrak, as I had done only weeks prior (with a kombucha colony in a Nalgene bottle). It was all so old-fashioned, trading gifts like this through a handsome rail messenger. We both succeeded in bringing the other over to the world of fermented foods; “good milk,” as Alton Brown says, “gone bad.” Or as I say, “gone better.”

Orange Nectarine

Orange Nectarine

Properly pronounced “keh-fear,” this fermented milk drink comes to us via the Caucasus region, comprising the geographical areas of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Southern parts of Russia, and North Eastern Turkey. It used to be made in animal skins and hung from doorways. Passersby would bump their heads against the bag, helping to keep the grains and milk well-mixed. In our house we keep it in a jar. We only bop our heads against it once in awhile, but it works out just fine.

Kefir is rapidly gaining on yogurt in popularity. (Go kefir, GO!) You can find it in grocery stores that have a good selection of health foods, but it’ll cost you about double that of yogurt. Now that I’ve got a never ending supply of the stuff, I’ve stopped buying yogurt altogether. It satisfies my craving, is much more versatile, contains even more healthful bacteria, and tastes like the champagne of smoothies.

best supporting actor . . . blueberry blend

Bannana-rific Blueberry

Lactose intolerant people benefit especially from consuming kefir. Why? Well, the yeast and bacteria in the grains survive by eating sugar. Guess what the sugar in milk is called? You got it: lactose. Being the only sugar those little guys can get their jaws on, they quickly gobble up all the lactose and leave a nice tangy product in its place. I’m not lactose intolerant, but apparently kefir (and its cousin yogurt) are more easily digested by such folks. See Alton Brown’s video for a cartoony lesson on the hows and whys.

Strawberry-Nectarine Blend

Strawberry-Nectarine Blend

Not only is kefir wonderful with all the above additions, quickly blended in with a convenient immersion blender, it makes a great buttermilk substitution. I mean, how often do we have buttermilk around, really. But kefir? In our house, all the time. Not only does it make wonderful smoothies, kefir can be used in creamy salad dressings, muffins, quick breads, buns, pancakes, waffles, and ice cream. Yup, you heard that right, and we deem it a success.

Have I hooked you yet?

The other day I was haranguing a friend we’d given kefir grains to turn his kitchen into a probiotic factory like ours. He told me to send him a photo of me, Uncle Sam style, and he’d make me an I WANT YOU TO MAKE KEFIR poster of my very own. I’ve got to get on that. When I do, I’ll post it next to Sammy here…


In the meantime, I’ve got a Mango Kefir Lassi on the kitchen counter with my name on it.

*Sites for finding kefir grains:

International Kefir Community

The Kefir Lady

Kefir Country


fridge of plenty

Because I want to be useful and not just entertaining, I have a short one for you today. This might be my briefest post yet, but it’s a good one, I promise. Months ago I saw this on Simply Recipes, and I want to pass it on to all of you today: a tip for storing fresh herbs.

Late summer is a time of plenty. Overstock, as it’s called in the business world, has hit the world of food too, where lanky herbs and weighted tomato plants stand like tired giants.

What to do with all of this bounty? Dill, cilantro, parsley — it’s everywhere, and crumpled up in a plastic bag in the fridge it will soon be nowhere.

That’s it. No fancy description. Nothing life changing, except maybe for your mint, parsley and cilantro. Just get yourself a glass with two inches or so of water, pop those herbs in stem down, cover with a plastic bag (it can go around the outside of the glass too, secured easily with a rubber band or just by twisting), poke a few holes in the bag, and set it in your fridge door. Change the water if it gets brown. Seriously, this is like having a pet fish.

It’s a miracle. It really is. I’ll be halfway through a recipe only to discover that pesky little “chopped fresh mint” command right at the bottom. I will NOT waste gas to go to the store for some chopped fresh mint. Ice cream, maybe, but fresh herbs? I confess, I simply will not. Anyway, back to the recipe. I open my fridge only to discover the mint a friend brought over two weeks ago. Yeah right…

Wait a minute, it’s looking as perky as ever. Ah yes, the beauty of the trick-it-into-thinking-it’s-still-growing ploy.

My dinner plans go uninterrupted, and later, I drive to the store for some ice cream.

And because I’m feeling so congenial with my fresh mint and all, I’ve decided to share with you a recipe, and another storing technique, for pesto. This popular green spread (used ’round these parts as a pizza base and a quick pasta sauce) is so easy to make yourself, and keeps well in the freezer.

Mark Bittman came through again with his Basic Pesto recipe, which I doubled and then froze into what look like ice cubes from Outer Space…

…thus constituting what should heretofore be known as the ugliest picture on my blog, are a convenient way to keep fresh pesto around without it developing that darned moldy skin across the top. I’m thinking you could throw one into a pot of hot pasta and roasted veggies, and in less than a minute you’d have a decent dinner ready to go. Or defrost two or three for a quick pizza sauce, topped with raw shrimp, red onions and feta.

You can do the same with homemade broth so that when a recipe calls for 1/2 a cup of broth, you don’t have to turn to that abomination of homecooked stews and soups, the bouillon cube. Presto, pesto!

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sushi for the scattered

Sometimes you just don’t have time for a sushi party. Sometimes, when you’re surprised with July in the guise of April cool food is what you crave. Add to the mix an apartment that manages to keep itself 8 degrees hotter than the day’s high, and no one’s getting this good looker anywhere near her cooker. (All this was reported before Darling Husband brought home a portable air conditioner. No more boiled Jenny for dinner! And forgive me for calling myself good looking; I just couldn’t resist the saying.)

When the conditions are so, it is time for scattered sushi:

The other day a brief but precious rainfall interrupted some steady summer temperatures with a (I didn’t actually say this in April, did I?!?) refreshing cool. I seized the opportunity to turn on my stove – something I don’t dare when it’s over 25 (77 for the Yanks) – to make some sushi rice. I have a foolproof recipe that I swear takes half the time it does in any fancy-pants rice cooker.

At dinner time all we had to do was slice up a third of a pound of fresh salmon Mark darted out to grab, a half avocado, some scallions, a red pepper, and a bit of cucumber and our dining room morphed into our very own sushi bar. A funky paper lantern recently purchased from the Ottawa IKEA, and a bottle of French Chenin Blanc from an empyreal friend rounded out the meal nicely.

You don’t have to know how to make sushi for this meal. All you need are the ingredients for sushi, and you’re set. However, once mastering this meal, it’s just baby steps to the real thing. But when you MUST HAVE SUSHI NOW and aren’t feeling picky about appearances, this is a noble substitution — not to mention aesthetically pleasing in its own right, the ingredients in your bowl distinct in their raw purity.

Instructions follow, but for those of you interested in making the rolls and all, check out my collection of how-to videos:

  • over the pond these women win for the best accents, best rice making info, and great rolling advice.
  • In this one the chef does it a little differently than we do, using a half sheet of nori instead of a full. But he has some great tips I can’t wait to apply, like spreading the rice and cutting techniques.
  • this one is haphazard but cute, reflecting how I usually roll it.
  • this one provides incredibly thorough steps on how to make nigiri.
  • You want to learn fast? this one will teach you, in true Japanese rapid-fire form!

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all bottled up

My Kombucha is only 4 days away from sparkly refreshing goodness. The pH reading yesterday registered a healthy 3.0, tasting pretty darn good as well. It needs to be bottled for about 5 days however for it to develop its characteristic fizz, so now I just wait patiently. In the process I’m reminded of how much I like slow food; food, beverages, and whole cuisines that take time are the ultimate antidote to our processed-food craze.

Aren’t they pretty? Strangely, they remind me of the way gas is sold in West Africa — all lined up in variously shaped bottles on the roadside.

We don’t drink Arizona Iced tea, but bought a 12-pack yesterday just for the bottles. A strange reversal indeed; we bought the product for the part most people discard. But it was either that or rummaging around in recycling bins, and I just didn’t have the energy.

It was a really interesting thing to watch, this whole Kombucha thing. The big culture that I started out with in the vat eventually “produced” a new one on top. Some people call this new culture a “baby,” and it provides the basis for the “gift that keeps on giving” nature of the drink. Like sourdough, the culture just keeps going and going . . .

I’ll keep the posts coming about my trials and errors in Kombucha-land!

kombucha: the brew of champions

I first tasted kombucha (kom-boo-cha) tea at a dear friend’s house in Goshen, Indiana, a regular stopover on our Winnipeg – Syracuse jaunt. Our host possesses the kind of leisurely effervescence that makes our time together always feel too short. Last August while standing in her kitchen listening to the rain that had diligently journeyed with us across the Midwest, she burst in suddenly to ask, “have you guys heard of kombucha?

I had, but as is common with me, promptly forgotten about it. Maybe it had seemed like health store hype. But after lifting a glass of my friend’s brew to my lips and letting it fizz and bubble down my throat like an earthy hybrid of tea, beer and champagne, I was sure never to forget it again. But not without a brief moment of doubt:

It took me about eight months to find a suitable “mother” or SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). I could have purchased one online, but like a sourdough starter or friendship bread, buying locally seemed part of the whole experience. I knew that if I was patient, someone in the Syracuse community would come through.

Yesterday I brought my baby home and left 6 liters of water to de-chlorinate for 24 hours (it evaporates off). Today I started the process of culturing my first, well, anything. Cultured as I may be, now I’ve got nothing on the kombucha fermenting away in my living room.

With some help from Wikipedia, I’ve patched together a briefer on kombucha for all parties: interested, incredulous, or somewhere in between. Kombucha works in a similar way to the old world process of making vinegar: sweetened tea is fermented by a solid mass of microorganisms called a “colony.”

The drink dates back to 250 BC China, where it was named the “Immortal Health Elixir,” for its ability to balance the spleen and stomach and aid in digestion. News of the beverage eventually reached Russia and Eastern Europe as tea became affordable for the average Joe (or Fyodor). The process of brewing kombucha was introduced in Russia and Ukraine at the end of the 1800s and became popular in the early 1900s. The kombucha culture is known locally as chayniy grib, and the drink itself is referred to as “tea kvass” or simply “kvass.”

I’ll keep the updates coming, but for now here’s the basic procedure:

1. De-cholrinate 6 liters of water by letting it sit for 12 hours.

2. Using 2 litres (8 cups) of your de-chlorinated water, make a strong, sweet tea: Boil water, then add 1/3 cup of black (fruit-flavored works well) and green loose tea. I usually throw in some dried hibiscus as well, for a nice rose tint. You can also steep dried berries in with the tea mixture. Experiment!  Stir in between 2.5 – 3 cups of white sugar (don’t use any other sweetener!) and stir until sugar is dissolved. Let the tea steep for 30 minutes.

3. Strain the strong tea into the rest of the de-cholrinated water (shown above).

4. Set the SCOBY safely aside in a bath of already fermented tea (shown above).

5. Let the tea-and-water mixture come to room temperature

6. Gently, and always with clean hands, place the SCOBY into the jar of fresh tea. Pour already-fermented kombucha into the jar (you’ll need about 10% of the final amount to be this “starter.”)

7. The SCOBY mother will either sink or rise, either is OK.

8. Cover with fine cheesecloth and set aside in location with good air-flow and medium light (no direct sunlight or dark closets).

9. Wait 2-3 weeks. Depending on the ambient temperature, the tea will ferment at different paces. Test the PH levels (most people like a tea of between 2.8-3 acidity) or scoop some out and taste to your liking. As time goes by, the PH will fall and the mixture will get more acidic and less sweet.

10. Repeat the process, saving some fermented tea to use as a starter in the next batch.


The Happy Herbalist, though not a well designed site, offers some really useful tips

WikiHow on Kombucha

A thorough article on the drink

He wrote the book

The New Homemaker likes it too

Taste before you culture