Peachy Keen Granola

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Single tasking. What a brilliant idea to have a name to go with my state of mind and being. I was attempting to multi-task nine weeks ago when I injured myself and now I am a new convert to the mindset of single tasking. It goes perfectly with my ‘keep things simple’ concept. What better way to slow down this crazy pace of life than to just focus on one thing and to do it as best as you possibly can. What I’ve learned during this unexpected journey is how much more I grasp out of every conversation when I am focused, the little things I notice and the stories I hear.

Three months ago as I started planning out the summer program for my kids I jokingly said to a friend of mine, “Wouldn’t it be great to have one of those summers like when you were a kid and the days seemed as if they lasted forever?” Never did I imagine that I was about to have that kind of a summer, where I would literally sit and observe life going on around me. Upside? Along the way I found that I was able to flex my ‘attention’ muscle. Once I figured out how to get past my anger and disappointment for being so careless as to have such an accident with a knife, I became focused on the now and living in the now.

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Life has a funny way of yanking you into the present. Like it or not there are some very defining moments in our lives when karma shakes us and gets us to pay attention. While it is a dark rabbit hole to focus on the areas of loss, it is also a part of the process of healing and accepting. In these past months I’ve learned that people can really surprise you, and usually for the better. And it is not the jolting moments that you define you but those touching moments in between that remind you about what is good.

When I think back on these past nine weeks, I recall getting three sets of stitches, feeling sick to my stomach and wishing a kajillian times that I could turn back the clock. But if I had turned back the clock I might have missed a few things…like being reminded at how deeply I am loved by my family; the visits and meals friends and family sent to help take some of the burden off of my husband while he took charge of the work of two people. I would have missed the extra hugs from my daughter, the jokes from my son, blogging with my mom, my aunt, Rosa and Kevin…I would have missed a lot of my days as I rushed and multi-tasked my way into summer and very important memories would have evaporated like the drops of dew on the morning leaves. I remember Jim Croce singing ‘Time in a Bottle‘…

If I could save time in a bottle

The first thing that I’d like to do

Is to save every day ’til eternity passes away

Just to spend them with you…

If I could make days last forever

If words could make wishes come true

I’d save every day like a treasure and then

Again, I would spend them with you…

What did I learn? I learned that spending time with my family and friends is the best way to make days last forever in my memory.

For me summer also has its memorable foods to cherish. These warm months conjure up visions of juicy sweet tree ripened stone fruits…apricots, cherries, nectarines, and peaches. In this recipe the dried white peaches combined with the crunchy cinnamon flavored oats give the granola a delicious twist of summer flavor. If I could bottle the taste of summer breakfast cereal then this is the recipe!

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Peachy Keen Granola

Ingredients

2 cups oats

1/2 cup red quinoa, uncooked and rinsed

1/2 cup sliced honey roasted almonds (Trader Joe’s)

2 TBS flaxseed

2 TBS sunflower seeds, shelled and unsalted

1 TBS wheat germ

1 TBS chia seeds (Trader Joe’s)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup honey

2 TBS coconut oil (Tropical Traditions Gold Label)

1/3 cup pistachios, shelled and unsalted (optional)

1/2 cup pecans, lightly sweetened (Trader Joe’s)

1/3 cup coconut flakes (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl combine all ingredients except the nuts, dried peaches and coconut flakes. Bake for 10 minutes, then stir and continue cooking an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately add in remaining ingredients. Allow to cool completely before transferring to an air tight container.
2 cups dried white peaches, chopped (Trader Joe’s)

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Summer Pesto Pasta Salad

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Eight weeks ago I had my first hand surgery and six weeks post surgery I practically made this pesto pasta salad myself. It was a simple and yet significant task, as it was like getting back up on the horse that threw me. I’ve often times told family and friends over the past few weeks that while I know I was lucky not to have injured my dominant hand (AKA my right hand), I am in no way a one-handed individual. I have learned to adapt to my situation at an exhausting pace – and my milestones have included saying things like, “I can put my hair in a pony tail!”

No gift of accomplishment goes unnoticed. Continue reading ‘Summer Pesto Pasta Salad’

Home Brewed Spiced Root Beer & Ginger Bug Secrets

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The 4th of July conjures up ideas of good ‘ole American traditions- apple pie, fireworks, root beer and blue jeans. Let’s face it, there is no single fashion item that screams AMERICA more than jeans. Sure designers worldwide have put their spin on them, and those are nice too, but I still love my Lucky Brand Sweet and Lows. I miss wearing my jeans. The last time I wore them was May 5 (7 weeks ago) and since then I’ve looked at them longingly and imagined how my attire would change if I could slip into them in the morning when I roll out of bed. Since I work from home three days a week jeans are my go-to comfort clothes. Much to my surprise, post hand surgery #2, I was just given clearance to fasten buttons. This may seem inconsequential to you, but for me it is like having a serious dose of oxygen put into my lungs after traveling to the moon.

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Coming from a big Italian American family, some of our traditions for the holidays can be wonderfully stifling. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world but there are times when I dream about just getting on a plane to go somewhere else just for an adventure. In my heart I know that I would desperately miss all the pomp and fanfare. However 4th of July isn’t quite one of those holidays that rates as a show stopper family event so it has become a traditional party date (or reunion) for a few of our single, now married friends, and a their children. We keep it simple and old-fashioned. We don’t expand the guest list because it is the group of friends we sometimes only get to see once a year- on this day. The “kids’ now range from 4th grade to high school, and somehow the walls come down and they all melt together as if they were never apart. We do our gourmet hot dogs, fruit salads, chips, chocolate chip cookies, apple pie, BBQ prawns, sausages, lamb, ribs and salads. The pool is used as a cannon ball practice playground, and unsurprisingly most of the water is outside of it by the end of the day. Water balloons and water guns abound, and the evening concludes with a ride in the back of a truck up a steep hill to see fireworks. We then come home and unleash the legal-ish fireworks –pops and sparklers. The constants from year to year are these… smiles abound from ear to ear, the girls bathing suits get smaller, the boys swimsuits get longer, the sun kissed faces are rosy and we all wish this bubble of annual fun we created would never end. Vacations are planned around it and year after year the tradition we started right out of college lives on.

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Now back to this root beer post. Why root beer? Last year, our good friends the Lammer’s took a trip they had been planning for years. They passed a year driving around the US in their RV seeing all the sights; taking in the history and creating one amazing and enviable adventure. Upon returning home we couldn’t wait to hear their stories. I was inspired to learn that one of the most impressionable memories that 13 year old Logan had was when he visited an Amish town and purchased a homemade bottle of root beer for the first time. Logan is passionate about his root beer, in fact he traveled all over the US and collected bottles of all the unique root beers he could find. My curiosity was peaked. I had never ever thought about making homemade root beer and so my research began in earnest. Ingredients were sourced from San Francisco to Oregon and my homework commenced. This was certainly a big project to take on, I am not going to lie. But what better way to celebrate the 4th of July on this blog then to make a recipe of firework proportions.

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This year, in honor of good ole’ American fun along with wearing my Lucky jeans I am going to flip the top on this homemade root beer and share it with all those that inspired this post.

History on American Cookery

This classic recipe is full of roots, berries, barks and flowers. There’s an old-fashioned undeniable charm of brewing root beer the traditional way – slowly simmering a concoction of roots, berries, bark and spices, dissolving a sweetener into the herbaceous brew adding a natural source of yeast, bottling and then simply waiting for the yeast to do its work. Some lead time is required to make it so depending on if Keifer starter is used the concoction will take 5 days or if ginger bug is made and used then it will take approximately 10 days from start to finish.

Preparing a true homemade root beer from scratch is simple. Herbs and spices are steeped in hot water, and when it has cooled to blood warm– you mix in sweetener, starter culture which makes a superb base for homemade sodas and probiotic tonics and is super convenient to store and keep. This mixture is then bottled and allowed to sit and ferment for a few days before it’s ready.

The work you put into your homemade root beer is minimal, but sourcing the ingredients can be very challenging. All of the other ingredients I found at two local health food stores, Good Earth and Gathering Thyme. They stock all the ingredients used for this old-fashioned homemade root beer recipe. If you are not a San Francisco Bay Area local then I suggest ordering online. I recommend purchasing from Mountain Rose Herbs which stocks obscure organic herbs and spices.

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Finding Ingredients for Homemade Root Beer

Root beer, like many other fermented beverages, once enjoyed position as a staple of American cookery. There was even a time when each community and each family enjoyed a closely guarded homemade root beer recipe. Unlike today, water was not always easily available or safe to drink so other fermented beverages were consumed as the beverages of choice.

The primary flavor found in any old-fashioned homemade root beer recipe is sassafras, a deciduous tree native to North America. The characteristic sweet flavor comes from the tree’s roots, thus giving us the name root beer. Traditionally sassafras was used as a diuretic and thought to cleanse the blood and promote skin health, which may account for the claim that this brew purified the blood and made for rosy cheeks. I guess we’ll just have to drink it and see for ourselves!

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Home Brewed Spiced Root Beer

Seasoned with sassafras, sarsaparilla and eight other herbs and spices, amassing the ingredients for this classic homemade root beer recipe can prove challenging as I mentioned, but it is a taste of American culture and worth the fun of pulling it together.

Root Beer Ingredients

1/4 cup sassafras root bark

1 TBS birch bark

1 TBS dandelion root

1 TBS ginger root

1 TBS hops flowers

2 TBS sarsaparilla root

1 TBS licorice root

1 TBS wild cherry tree bark

1 tsp juniper berries

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup unrefined cane sugar

1/2 cup ginger bug (this is not a spice, it is concoction made 5 days prior to use, directions below), or fresh whey or 1 packet kefir starter culture (available here)

Root Beer Directions

Bring two and one-half quarts filtered water (10 cups) to a boil and stir in sassafras, sarsaparilla, birch and wild cherry bark, ginger, hops, juniper and licorice. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and simmer the roots, berries, barks, leaves and flowers for 20 minutes.

Remove concoction from the heat and strain the infusion through either a fine-mesh sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth into a pot. Stir sugar into the hot infusion until it dissolves and allow it to cool until it reaches blood temperature. Stir in the ginger bug or fresh whey and pour into individual bottles (preferably flip-top bottles which are easy enough to find online), leaving at least one inch head space in each bottle.

Allow the root beer to ferment at room temperature for 3-4 days. Then transfer to the refrigerator for an additional 2 days to age. Now it is party time! But don’t rush now, be careful as it, like any other fermented beverage, is under pressure due to the accumulation of carbon-dioxide, a byproduct of fermentation. Open it over a bowl so that if it explodes all the goodness isn’t lost on the kitchen floor or down the sink. Serve over ice.

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Ginger Bug

If you are feeling kind of crazy and want to really go old-school on the deal then let’s get ready to make ginger bug. Ginger bug, a slurry of fermented ginger and sugar, forms the basis for homemade, traditionally fermented sodas including root beer or fruit-based sodas that are rich in beneficial bacteria.

Yield: about 1 pint

Ginger Bug Ingredients

Fresh Ginger

Sugar, Unrefined Cane Sugar, or jaggery (only one of these are needed)

Ginger Bug Directions

Break off a knob from your hand of ginger and peel away its skin. Grate the ginger until you have 2 heaping Tablespoons. Place the grated ginger in a small jar, whisk in 2 TBS sugar and 2 TBS filtered water with a non-reactive spoon. Cover the jar loosely and allow it to ferment in a warm place in the kitchen.

Every day, for at least 5 days, mix an additional 2 TBS grated ginger, 2 TBS sugar and 2 TBS filtered water into your jar. The ginger will begin to foam and bubble at its top, and will take on the yeasty fragrance of beer. After 5 days, it is ready to use. You can also store it in the refrigerator, and feed it 2 TBS grated ginger, 2 TBS sugar and 2 TBS filtered water once a week.

Note: When using the ginger bug to make homemade sodas, strain off 1/4 cup of the ginger bug’s liquid and whisk it into 1 quart of a sweetened drink (tea, fruit juices, etc). Mix well. Transfer the sweetened drink and ginger bug mixture to flip-top bottles, and allow it to ferment at room temperature for 3 days. Transfer to the fridge or drink straight away. Replace the 1/4 cup ginger bug you’ve removed with 1/4 cup sugar dissolved into 1/4 cup warm water. In preparing the above recipe I used 2/3 cups ginger bug and replaced the mixture with 1/2 cup of warm water to dissolve 1/2 cup of sugar.

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Creamy Coconut Pudding

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Ripping off the band aid – My recent life has been a series of harsh, unpredictable moments of unanticipated physical and psychological struggles. Seven weeks ago I had an unimaginable avocado related stabbing that has spun my world upside down. I can’t quite remember a time that I felt so rutterless. There are a few constants that remain in tact in this dizzying reality – my family, my love of cooking and my desire to remain optimistic no matter how jolted I felt. Continue reading ‘Creamy Coconut Pudding’

Buffalo Mozzarella & Eggplant Caprese Tower with Pea Mint Pesto

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I’ve always loved good foods- I can’t say that all of these fit into the ‘healthy’ category but for dietary reasons I have avoided packaged processed foods whenever possible. I determined early on that I don’t enjoy eating foods that are over salted, contain too much garlic, are made with high fructose corn syrup or preservatives. I cannot claim to be a health fanatic, nor a vegetarian, although I tend to dabble in both. I will shamelessly eat any homemade baked good that catches my eye. But if I had to put a label on myself, I would say that the word that describes me is “qualitarian”. Continue reading ‘Buffalo Mozzarella & Eggplant Caprese Tower with Pea Mint Pesto’

Blueberry Banana Buttermilk Oatmeal Bread with Coconut Butter Streusel

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I do not need to be cured, I have diagnosed myself with an acute case of everything is fine. That was really my attitude when this chapter of my life began which I’ve named “Gina was attacked by an avocado” the exact words written by a specialist I was seeing on the back of a piece of paper. While the choice of words is hilarious, the situation is much less funny. Yes, I tell myself the obligatory, “It could have been worse.” And it could have, but lets deal in the present – It under no uncertain terms is a pain in my $%&. I am not patient at all, I want to move at lightening speed, I want to cook, explore new recipe ideas, ground myself in the kitchen where new treats can be enjoyed. For me cooking and baking are one of the demonstrative ways I show my love. Continue reading ‘Blueberry Banana Buttermilk Oatmeal Bread with Coconut Butter Streusel’

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits and Gravy 2 Ways

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I am trying to find comfort these days. Trying really, really hard to self-soothe and heal. When sick, or tired, or far from home, everyone seems to yearn for the gastronomic equivalent of a warm sweater, a kiss on the forehead, a favorite blanket. Cutting-edge cuisine has its place, but sometimes you just want a hearty meal with your favorite comfort foods.

Don’t judge. We all have them – “comfort” foods that feel like more than just food. Far beyond the random edibles of our day, these are instilled with the likes of positive memories, celebratory identities, nurturing associations. Continue reading ‘Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits and Gravy 2 Ways’

Smashed Avocado & Egg Salad Open-Faced Sandwich

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You know that feeling when everything is terrible and terrifying and you don’t know what to do, and you find yourself lying in a pile on your bedroom floor, desperately looking for some sign of hope in old letters, or your Facebook newsfeed, finding nothing there to comfort you?

Come on, yes you do. We all do.

This past week, I read an article by Julie Peters and was inspired to learn about this relatively unknown Goddess from Hindu mythology: Akhilandeshvari.

I am sure you are wondering how an Indian goddess is going to tie into this food post and I assure you it will reveal itself but I am going to give you a candid glimpse into my world. Continue reading ‘Smashed Avocado & Egg Salad Open-Faced Sandwich’

Ewey Gooey Brownies – the brownie meshugaas

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The world splits into two camps on the definition of a perfect brownie: crumbly and cakey, and dense and fudgey. There is little love lost between them – the beauty of the recipe lies in the fact that the result IMHO resides in both camps; a deliciously rich crumbly and surprisingly dense brownie. Continue reading ‘Ewey Gooey Brownies – the brownie meshugaas’

S’More Stuffed Caffe Latte Raspberry French Toast

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This recipe is over the top, but doesn’t your mom deserve the most decadent brunch treat imaginable? Mother’s Day. A universal day of appreciation dedicated to the woman that has gone to all extremes to put a smile on your face, even during the most challenging of situations. This day is to honor her. Continue reading ‘S’More Stuffed Caffe Latte Raspberry French Toast’

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