Campfire Prawns & Corn Wheels

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The secret to enjoying the last of those long summer nights is a no-fuss do ahead meal with the added bonus of not having to wash any pots and pans. This is a great week night meal or fun dinner to do when entertaining. In keeping with my theme of the past few weeks, here is another easy summer meal to tuck into your “favorites” foodie file.

As I look towards Labor Day long holiday weekend, I want to keep the food aspect of entertaining my guests simple Continue reading ‘Campfire Prawns & Corn Wheels’

Fava Bean Edamame

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Fava Beans (or broad beans) although very common in Italy are not usual fare in the U.S. While they do continue to grow in popularity, they can be a chore to prepare. Fava beans, when in their pods, look like an overgrown sweet pea. Their taste is richer than most other beans; smoother and richer.

It never fails, I am suckered in each time. During the spring and summer I hunt fava beans out at the farmer’s market and I select a couple pounds of the plumpest, bright green pods I can find. Hand selecting each bean as I diligently run my hand along the exterior of the individual pods to ensure that there are nice fat beans inside. I remind myself that it is important not to go for pods that are bulging, as these are typically older and might have a slightly bitter taste. And while it always seems like a lot of beans when they are in their pods, one pound of un-peeled beans will garner roughly 1/3 cup of favas.

But I digress. Fast forward to that moment when I get home with my coveted glorious bag of fava beans and realize that I have now committed myself to peeling, boiling, shocking, peeling again and then finally cooking the scant ¼- ½ cup yield of beans. Typically I purchase them for my mom, as she loves to make a traditional Sicilian Fava Bean soup recipe that was handed down to her by my grandfather. It isn’t a recipe I would consider complex, but it is one that I always look forward to devouring. She covets them equally. Upon the arrival of the fava beans she guards these pods like gold.

Over the last few years in addition to buying her fava beans she has even managed to convince me to purchase and peel them for her before handing them over for her cookery. But this year I held out. I made a secret voyage to the Marin County Farmer’s Market and purchased a few pounds. I’ve been wanting to experiment with these beauties, so I didn’t divulge that I had purchased any. But like any mother, her antennas were up and without even trying she found out from a friend of mine that I purchased them! It was on. “Oh, I hear you bought some fava beans today,” she remarked. “Did you get some for me?” >my radio silence prevails< “Well not exactly. I was going to try out some new recipe ideas,” I explained. “Humm, so we not going to have any fava bean soup this summer? Or the pork and fava bean dish? Are you sure?” she questioned. “I’ll share my creations,” I say convincingly.

I am pleased to report that success was achieved. No need to go through the typical painstaking multistep preparation process. >drum roll PUH-leze< This is a super simple mind-blowing appetizer recipe. No shucking, boiling, shocking, peeling again and then cooking. Three steps, wash, season and roast! It’s a summer miracle- roasting the pods renders the second outermost skin edible!

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The Un-Fava Bean Recipe

Toss clean whole fava bean pods in good quality olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss on the upper most level of the BBQ. Cook over medium heat for 5-6 minutes on each side. The exact cooking time will depend on the size of the pod. When the pods loose their crisp firm form and become slightly browned and wilted they are cooked. Place the roasted pods on a plate or in a shallow bowl and sprinkle with kosher salt or sea salt. Encourage guests to eat them out of the pods similar to edamame. The skin is where all of the good flavors reside so it is I wouldn’t recommend pre-peeling them. However, if opting to go this skinner route then add a nice sprinkling of kosher or sea salt to the naked beans.

No BBQ? Well no problem-o. Spread the fava bean pods onto a baking sheet, in a single layer, and roast at 450 degrees for approximately 25 minutes, turning once half way through the total cooking time. Cook until wilted and tender.

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Blackberry & Proscuitto Goat Cheese Herbed Pizza

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Blackberries make summer memories

Summer simmers along, with hot days and warm still nights. This is the sign of a good blackberry summer. The berries hang heavy and ripe on their briers, waiting for eager hands to gather them. Heaving buckets heaped with berries comprise the Mt. Shasta Blackberry Festival’s iconic food – blackberry pie. As the summer days melt away, this end-of-summer staple, sweet tangy blackberries, ease us into the next season.

For our family, the Mt. Shasta Blackberry Festival has been a staple. There is nothing quite like a good ole’ fashioned summer party to push away the back to school blues. The potato sack races, watermelon eating contest and balloon toss contests are often picturesque images seen only in a Martha Stewart magazine but here, Continue reading ‘Blackberry & Proscuitto Goat Cheese Herbed Pizza’

Wis Dells Fried MAC & Cheese Bites

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One of my favorite things about traveling is the opportunity for food discovery. Even common dishes can take on a new local spin or inspire food creativity. This summer we headed to the mid-west to spend some time with good friends. Had it not been for them we may have never made it to Milwaukee and I can honestly say that we would have really missed out. It was a fantastic trip- the food, the people, the history, the fun. It was really a time to put the last 3+ months behind us and to focus on summer and friendships.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you more about the food. My friend Maria and her husband Robbie appreciate good food whether they are dining out or cooking-in. Over the years we’ve shared many meals together and this past February we took an amazing foodie adventure trip to New Orleans, Robbie’s home town. It was off of the charts delicious. Definitely a trip to remember. Our latest trip was no slouch either, Maria and Robbie created a list of fun things for us to do, places to explore and places to eat when they weren’t preparing delectable meals. A true vacation!

As you may have heard through the grape vine, Wisconsin is B-I-G on cheese. While we were visiting the Wisconsin Dells (Wis Dells), one of her recommendations was to dine at Mac’s– a macaroni and cheese shop. It was FANTASTIC –and yes, we are still talking about it! We ordered, then taste tested a few dishes, and without hesitation put in a second order, which left us with more food than we could eat. Without question we asked for to-go containers and packaged it all up.

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The next day, as we drove back from the Wis Dells to Milwaukee to reconnect with our friends and have a much anticipated farewell BBQ, I started thinking about our leftovers. I have always loved making and eating aranchni (fried Italian rice balls made with leftovers and other goodies) so why not make something similar with the leftover mac and cheese?! When we arrived at their home, a beautiful farm house built in the 1800’s, we gave it a try. The result was worthy of this post and has me pondering other fun ways to prepare this dish again.

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Wis Dells Fried MAC & Cheese Bites

Ingredients

2 cups mac and cheese, fresh or leftover /p>

1 large egg

½ cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

1/8 cup Parmesan Cheese, finely grated

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp salt

2 slices, cooked chopped bacon (optional)

1 TBS vegetable oil

Directions

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Place Italian breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese into a bowl and set aside.

If preparing mac and cheese from scratch, see link above. If using leftovers, place mac and Cheese in a bowl. In a separate bowl beat one egg and add it into the mac and cheese mixture. Add in bacon and combine well. Begin to form into 1-inch sized balls (golf ball size). Coat each ball well with breadcrumb mixture. Place poppers on baking sheet. When all of the mixture has been used, add vegetable oil to a 10-12 inch pan. Heat on medium-high and then add in as many poppers as can fit comfortably with room to turn and brown; working in batches will be necessary. Turn poppers regularly to crate a crispy outer crust. Place on plate and set aside in a 100 degree oven until ready to serve.

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Ricotta Kale and Spinach Gnudi (pronounced “nu-dee”)

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Summer in Florence, Italy conjures up memories of light meals involving quick summer preparations. And this past week with the heat temperatures hitting over 100 degrees Fahrenheit I was on the prowl to capture a taste of Italian summer.

Whenever I think of Italy, I flashback to my year spent in Florence with Zia Maria Rosa and Zio Andrea by my side. I’d be lying if I told you it doesn’t all seem like a wonderful dream. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. These precious moments have become a large part of who I am. At the time I didn’t share the passion I now have for cooking…baking yes, but cooking was limited to dinner parties.

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Zia Maria Rosa and Zio Andrea eagerly took me under their wings and opened my eyes to countless wonderful places and meals. There wasn’t a meal that went by that I didn’t ask Zia Maria Rosa for her recipes. She made even simple dishes sing with flavor. Our weekly dinners and weekend shopping trips to the market for ingredients are coveted deep inside the cockles of my heart. Over the years they’ve shared in all the milestones of my life and are now two names that happily drip off of the lips of my children.

These past months of recovery have forced me to consider new ways to put a smile on my face. As I shed my former self, three months post injury, I thought a post with the word NUDE would not only put a childish smile on my face but would garner a great deal of attention in a foodie porn kind of way.

Gnudi (pronounced “nu-dee”) is a type of gnocchi made from ricotta cheese and a scant bit of flour. The result is a pasta dumpling that some describe as “nude” ravioli, or filling without the pasta — that is to say, light, fluffy, and creamy. These creamy ricotta creations are actually deceptively light and shine with simple sauces and fresh ingredients– mushrooms, tomato and basil, butter and sage are all amazing with this summer treat.

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Ricotta Kale and Spinach Gnudi

Ingredients

1 pound fresh whole milk ricotta, drained

1 egg

1/2 cup spinach, finely chopped

1/2 cup kale, finely chopped

1/4 cup Peccorino, freshly grated

6 tablespoons bread crumbs

1/4 cup flour, plus flour for rolling

1/2 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 cup salted butter

10 fresh sage leaves

1/2 cup Peccorino, freshly grated

Directions

Place a large pot of salted water over medium high heat. Cover with a lid and bring to a rolling boil.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Using a food processor combine kale and spinach and finely chop. Set aside.

In a large bowl blend the ricotta and the egg together. Mix in the bread crumbs, cheese, flour, kale, spinach, salt and pepper. Knead lightly.

To test the consistency of the dough scoop a heaping tablespoon of the mixture and form it into a ball. Lightly flouring it. Drop it into the boiling water; if it does not hold its shape and rise to the surface of the water within a minute, add more bread crumbs to the dough.

Once the consistency is correct, form the dough into torpedo shapes, approximately the size of golf balls. Lay the gnudi on pre-lined baking sheets. Dredge in flour to coat, tapping off the excess. Slide formed gnudi into the boiling water and cook for approximately 2-3 minutes, until they rise to the top. Remove the gnudi using a slotted spoon after they float to the top. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan; working in batches if necessary. To test for doneness, scoop out a ball and press it with your fingers: the dumpling dough when cooked should bounce back, leaving no indentation.

While the gnudi cook, melt the butter in a medium saute pan and continue cooking until golden brown color appears. Add sage leaves and cook until slightly crisped then remove from heat. Use sage as garnish.

Arrange gnudi on a platter and lightly drizzle with a butter and sage sauce, add freshly grated cheese, and serve immediately.

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Cheesy Linguine with Smokey Garden Tomatoes

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I started my recovery journey 11 weeks ago, which at times feels like a major detour from my previous life. There are days that make me believe that I am making incredible strides in my recovery. There are also of course days where I feel simply bewildered or annoyed that I spend so much time rehabbing such a small (albeit critical) part of my body. The best way I can explain how I feel on most days is that I have a GIANT headache in my hand. I now realize how blissfully ignorant I was to have had the luxury of both hands and arms working without pain. As a food blogger I am constantly using my hands to cook, type, take photos and ….well Continue reading ‘Cheesy Linguine with Smokey Garden Tomatoes’

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 cup dried white peaches, finely chopped

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’

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