Creamy and Cozy Blueberry Latté

There’s something about the weather at last dipping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit that makes me want to run to the nearest couch, grab the nearest book, and cozy up with a blanket and a hot beverage so I can pretend that winter is real.

Those of you who have real winter are probably scratching your heads at my excitement (and at the notion that temperatures in the mid sixties would have anything to do with “winter” of any kind) but you have to understand. Here in Southern California the weather this time of year is indecisive at best. Our version of a change in the seasons is the weather shifting from blisteringly hot all the time to sometimes blisteringly hot and sometimes mildly tolerable. Sometimes high temperatures will fluctuate from 65 to 90 and back again in the space of a week. Sometimes it just hangs around the mid 90s for all of January and can’t be bothered to notice that the rest of the northern hemisphere got over that summer thing months ago. Some people love that about Los Angeles, but I am absolutely not one of them.


So the time for my celebration of almost cold weather has come, and one of my books of choice was Daphne Miller’s The Jungle Effect. It’s a pretty interesting read, especially if, like me, you are interested in a more anthropological approach to nutritional research. Miller examines the dietary habits of various “cold spots”; these are places with notably low rates of chronic disease.

Of all the places she travelled, there was a particular bit in the Iceland section that caught my eye. The traditional diet contains very few vegetables, and we all know that vegetables are a crucial component in a healthy diet. So how can the Icelandic population be so healthy? The answer, as Miller found, was multifaceted, but a crucial factor seemed to be the high rates at which people consumed bilberries, a cousin of the North American blueberry.

Blueberries, in all their glorious purple goodness. I’ve always known them to be excellent little nutritional gems, but that was far and above what I expected. Now, I’m not advocating giving up all other plant matter in favor of eating massive quantities of blueberries. (Miller doesn’t either, it should be noted, and nor, it seems does Icelandic tradition) But all this talk of antioxidants and frigid Icelandic weather gave me a hankering for a nice, cozy way to enjoy these tasty little berries while I continued to curl up on the couch with my reading. Thankfully, I had some stashed in my freezer for just such an emergency.

The result was this recipe. (If you can call it that.) Miller has a recipe for blueberries and cream in her book and I suppose you could say this was inspired by it, but my version is far lazier and the result, while it contains whole blueberries, makes use of the fact that blueberry infused milk/cream is a delicious beverage unto itself. As a result I have lovingly dubbed this a Blueberry Latté, because it satisfies all the requirements for a creamy, cozy beverage that’s perfect for enjoying while curled up on the couch with a good book. Sip this lovely purple drink while it’s warm and keep a spoon nearby to help you slurp up the berries.

Is it as healthy as Miller’s recipe? Probably not, given the higher ratio of milk to berries. On the plus side, I don’t find it needs any additional sweetener, and this is free form enough that it can be as healthy as you choose to make it. And this is a latté, after all. If you wanted a bowl of blueberries, well, you could just eat a bowl of blueberries now couldn’t you?

Blueberry Latté

You will notice this recipe doesn’t really have measurements; that’s because it’s insanely flexible and you can easily vary the amounts to suit your preferences. A few berries will infuse the milk just fine if you’re looking for a latté like experience, and lot of blueberries with a little milk will give you something more like a traditional blueberries and cream. Either one is delicious.

Ingredients

  • A handful or so frozen blueberries (You may use fresh, but you will need to stew them longer)
  • A half cup or so of your favorite milk (or more or less; coconut milk would be good if you’re nondairy, organic half and half is also delicious if you’re feeling decadent)
  • A couple drops of your favorite extract (optional) (I love cardamom, but vanilla would also be delicious. Or both, why not?)

In a small pot, heat the blueberries on low until warm and slightly juicy. Add the extract (if using) and the milk. Continue heating until the milk is warmed through and tinted purple. Pour into a cup and enjoy!

Creamy Pumpkin Soup with Sage

When I was a junior in college, I found myself in Paris over Thanksgiving. The French don’t really acknowledge Thanksgiving as a holiday; if it gets any recognition at all, it’s generally as a cross cultural curiosity, the way we might vaguely notice that Bastille Day is a thing that exists. But that November, my study abroad program decided to take pity on the gaggle of way faring, mildly homesick American college students they were hosting. They booked a restaurant in the Marais and held a Thanksgiving feast just for us.

The food was absolutely delicious, and while they had spent weeks carefully planning the menu to make sure it contained the staples of our strange little American holiday, it was still distinctly French in its character. I honestly have never seen an American cook turkey that beautifully. It was a far cry from our standard roasted bird, complete with a lovely, creamy sauce on top, but let me tell you, it was heavenly.


No one there was remotely able to fault the quality of the food. It was amazing. But there was one squabble I do remember which mostly occurred during the planning stages, and it always began with something like this: “What?? How can you have thanksgiving without pumpkin pie????”

Personally, I was just incredibly thankful that they were doing this for us at all, and I really wasn’t going to quibble too much about the menu. But some of my fellows apparently had far greater reverence for the sanctity of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and several were quite vocal about it. Meanwhile our program secretary (a lovely French woman who was kind enough to organize the event) was utterly flummoxed by the notion that you would ever want to put pumpkins in a pie. They’re a squash. Why…? And also, at a nice meal like this, how could you ever serve a dessert that didn’t contain chocolate?? It just didn’t make any semblance of sense.


The battle continued, American versus French, pumpkin versus chocolate, up to the day of. In the end, French sensibilities won out (they were doing the cooking, after all…) and the chocolate was delicious. But pumpkin was certainly not absent from the meal either. It was served up in a fashion that made far more sense to our fabulous French cooks: as an appetizer in the form of a savory, creamy soup.

That soup was delicious, and while I may be betraying my status as an American by saying this, it’s usually soup more than pie that I look forward to once pumpkin season rolls around. This soup is not the same as that lovely, velvety soup I enjoyed in that restaurant by the Seine; I honestly remember very little of its flavor at this point aside from the delicious creaminess and that it was served in a hollowed out bell pepper. But this recipe, my own, is also creamy and delicious, and full of lovely herbs that can almost take me back to the cool, crisp weather of a Parisian autumn, even when I’m still stuck with the 90+ temperatures of Los Angeles in October.

This recipe is surprisingly quick once you get going; the most time consuming part is peeling, seeding, and cutting up the pumpkin. It’s also very adaptable; if you don’t eat dairy, you can substitute another milk of your choosing. The bacon fat can easily be switched out for more olive oil (though I do enjoy the depth of flavor it provides) and vegetable stock can easily be used in place of chicken for a vegan/vegetarian option. It’s also grain free and an excellent option for those on a Whole30, GAPS, or Paleo (AIP or otherwise) type diet with appropriate substitutions.

Creamy Pumpkin Soup with Sage

Serves 6

  • 1 pie pumpkin
  • 6 cloves garlic
  •  1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  •  1 qt chicken broth (I used homemade bone broth, but store bought is fine)
  • 1/2 cup cream or nondairy milk of choice
  • 1-2 fresh sage leaves (if using dried, use significantly less; I infused the whole leaves and then removed them before pureeing, so powdered sage should be used sparingly to maintain a bit more subtlety)
  • Thyme (to taste)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil or other cooking oil
  • Bacon fat (optionalish)

1. Preheat oven to 375. Crack open your pumpkin and remove the seeds and stringy guts. (I like to reserve the seeds and roast them as a tasty snack. Waste not!) Peel and cut into 1- 1.5 inch chunks.

2. In a roasting pan, mix pumpkin, and whole, peeled garlic cloves and toss with olive oil, a sprinkling of thyme, salt, and pepper. Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until pumpkin is tender.

3. In a large pot, melt bacon fat (or drizzle more olive oil). Sauté onion with a touch of ground pepper, until translucent. Add broth, cream, and sage leaves and bring to a simmer or just under. Allow to infuse until the pumpkin is ready.

4. Add the roasted pumpkin and garlic to the broth and remove the sage leaves and allow to cook for another minute or two. Purée the soup with an immersion blender or (carefully) in a countertop blender. Adjust seasoning to taste, and enjoy!

Food as Medicine: Noodles with Garlic and Herbs

Germs.
They’re everywhere right now, and oh goodness are they hitting hard. Everywhere I turn I see someone struck down with some minor illness. I rarely get sick, and even I have succumbed to the wicked rhinovirus.

I also hate cold medicine, which never fails to present a minor dilemma at times such as these. I will take it if I’m absolutely dying, but it takes a lot to get me there. Thankfully, food is amazing. Some foods specifically can really pack a punch when it comes to warding off illness. Sometimes I find the right kinds of foods can actually stop a cold from getting too terrible.

Garlic is one of those, and it’s been a longtime favorite remedy of mine. Taken raw, it can do some amazing stuff as a decongestant and cough remedy. It also has antiviral properties, which means it treats the root cause AND the symptoms. Sounds like a good option to me.

The only real downside here is that the garlic has to be raw. Cooking destroys the compounds in garlic that work their lovely, medicinal magic. But raw garlic can definitely be biting. I love garlic, but even I don’t like it straight when it’s raw. Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate that while still letting the garlic do its lovely work. I just made myself some of the recipe below, and great glorious gods of garlic, I can actually smell a again!

My general method is to mix the garlic with something fairly bland, and add a little fat to help tone down the burn. The garlic should still have some pungent zing (the slight burning sensation actually feels therapeutic to me) but it shouldn’t be unbearable. This can be as simple as mixing the garlic with butter and spreading it on toast, but this time I felt like getting a little fancier. I made this with leftover pasta, but you can easily use rice or bread or some other vehicle for your garlic.

The measurements in this recipe are thoroughly in exact, because honestly the point is for this to be so simple that even a sick person can make it. Feel free to leave things out or make substitutions as needed. The most important thing here is eating your garlic! 

P.S. This recipe is also just a delicious and simple way to make pasta, so you really don’t have to save it for when you have a cold.

Noodles with Garlic and Herbs

Ingredients

  • Leftover pasta (as much or as little as you feel like dealing with)
  • Raw garlic, crushed (1-2 cloves per serving)
  • Butter or olive oil (or both!) to taste
  • a pinch or so each of dried oregano and thyme (both have antiviral properties of their own)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the pasta, then mix in all of the above ingredients. Eat, and feel your congestion and coughing calm down as the garlic burns away the virus.

Black Rice Ramen with Mushrooms and Egg

I have a confession to make.

I love ramen. And I’m not talking about the real deal that you can get in restaurants in Little Tokyo — that stuff is amazing, but not what I’m confessing to. I’m talking about those dehydrated noodles packaged in orange plastic containing a laundry list of ingredients I couldn’t possibly hope to pronounce. Here I am, a real food lover who has been on a massive quest for better health for years, and I love those ridiculous processed noodles.

It’s a bunch of things, really. For one thing, a hot cup of broth with plenty of noodles to slurp has always felt like such a cozy thing to me. Full of aromatic and pungent spices, it’s something I crave when I want something both light and warming, perfect for colds or just when you want hot soup.

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But more than that, I think my ramen love is largely borne out of convenience. I love to cook, and I love to eat truly good food, but sometimes when I’m pressed for time or just want something absurdly easy after a long day, the convenience of dumping a couple of packages into hot water and calling it a meal sounds really, really nice.

Thankfully, I’ve found a happy medium in this recipe. Healthy food that I can actually identify as having come from nature, with (almost) all the convenience of typical processed ramen. It uses black rice ramen, which can be found at various health food stores and even the occasional run of the mill grocery store. It contains nothing but a blend of black, brown, and white rice flours, is completely gluten-free, and is quite frankly far more interesting than boring old wheat noodles. It also doesn’t come with a seasoning packet, so we are forced to make something actually healthy (or at least more creative) out of it.

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These noodles start out very dark, but they lighten to a deep purple with cooking.

I also threw in an egg, because one of my big complaints about that wonderfully convenient ramen is that it doesn’t provide much in the way of protein. So here we have a nice little egg drop/ramen combo, and quite frankly it’s delicious.

Feel free to play around with it by throwing in leafy greens, spring onions, snow peas, water chestnuts, or any other quick cooking vegetable you have on hand.

Black Rice Ramen with Mushrooms and Egg

Serves 1-2

  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 of one small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 cup or so of mushrooms, sliced or chopped
  • 1 brick black rice ramen noodles
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1-2 teaspoons oil (I like avocado or coconut)
  • Salt, pepper, and your favorite hot sauce to taste
  1. Heat oil in a small pot and sauté one clove of the garlic and the mushrooms together. When the mushrooms are tender, add the ginger powder and stir, followed by the chicken broth.
  2. Bring the broth to a  low boil and add noodles. Cook roughly 3-5 minutes, until tender.
  3. Add the egg, stirring as you go to form threads in the broth. Remove from heat and add onion and remaining garlic. Allow to infuse in the broth for a minute or two, then adjust seasoning to taste and serve.

A Recipe for a Simple Red Sauce

Tomatoes. They’re everywhere right now. At least, everywhere around me. For whatever reason, my family has always had a certain tradition when it comes to gardening: We pick a few varieties of fruits and vegetables to grow, we plant those, and then every other available square foot of our garden gets filled in with tomatoes.

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A mix of Romas and various heirlooms from our garden, peeled and ready to be made into a sauce

 

Why tomatoes? I don’t know exactly, except that we have always grown tomatoes. And we grow A LOT of tomatoes. We eat them raw in salads. We make tomato salsa. We put them on sandwiches. And somehow, we’re still up to our ears in them.

Thankfully, tomato sauce is a lovely thing, and it uses up a fair number of those tomatoes too. Yes, peeling and cooking your tomatoes from scratch takes more effort than opening a can. And I admit, even I occasionally open up a can or a jar of pre stewed, pre seasoned sauce. But the truth is, tomato sauce doesn’t come from cans. It comes from tomatoes. This is my little rebellion against our “open a can” culture. And while it certainly takes more steps, it’s really not that difficult. And if you need to work your way through a bumper crop of tomatoes, this is an excellent way to do it.

There are a couple things that I find crucial to a good red sauce. Tomatoes themselves are necessary of course, but in my book so is red wine, for instance. It helps deepen the acidic tomato-y-ness and brings a subtle, fruitier note to the party. And then of course, a good quality fat such as extra virgin olive oil or bacon fat which boosts flavor and gives the sauce a better consistency. And the aromatics — the garlic and onions that make this recipe oh-so-delicious— are a must. Don’t even dream of skimping on those. The beauty of red sauce, I think, is in its simple, wholesome ingredients, all brought together to form an exquisite flavor that none of them could give you on their own.

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Some might say this is a lot of onion. They’d be right, but I would never dream of anything less in this delicious recipe.

You can serve this as-is on pasta, or use it as a base ingredient for something else. Some of my favorites include throwing in some meatballs, making chicken cacciatore, or even cooking it down and using it in my favorite lamb stew recipe. The possibilities are endless; what do you tend to do with tomato sauce?

The measurements here are somewhat flexible, partially because I’m a very improvisational cook and partially because this recipe lends itself well to adaptation. So go wild, experiment, and have fun.

Ingredients

  • 16(ish) medium to large tomatoes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bulb of garlic, peeled and pressed/minced
  • 1 generous splash 9 (~1/4 cup) red wine
  • A few table spoons olive oil or other cooking fat (I also love bacon fat if you’re feeling decadent and non-vegetarian)
  • Several generous pinches of herbs (I usually go with oregano and thyme)
  • Gound black pepper to taste
  1. To start, slice off the ends of each tomato and cut a small X in one end of each. Blanch for a few seconds in boiling water and then immediately transfer to an ice water bath using a slotted spoon. From there, you should easily be able to slip off their skins without much fuss.
  2. Transfer your peeled tomatoes to a food processor or blender and purée them. (Many people use a food mill or other implement that will filter out the seeds here. Personally, I don’t have anything along those lines and am quite happy to leave the seeds in for added nutrition, but if you prefer another method, by all means, use it.)
  3. In a medium saucepan, heat your cooking fat and grind in some black pepper. Allow it to toast for a bit before adding the chopped onions and garlic. Sautée until the onions are translucent.
  4. Add the wine, tomato purée, and herbs and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for roughly 30 minutes, or until the sauce has lost about 1/3 of its original volume and has thickened to a reasonable consistency.
  5. Taste and adjust any seasoning as needed, then serve or use for your next recipe!

P.S. If you really don’t want to bother peeling all your tomatoes or don’t have a bumper crop like I do, yes, you can just use a can of crushed tomatoes instead. If using that method, you will not need to reduce it for as long, so the simmering need only last long enough to infuse sufficient flavor. But really, is peeling tomatoes that bad?

Three Ingredient Mango Lassi

Yesterday I found myself driving inland from the coast, an activity which is usually a minor nightmare because of traffic alone. But yesterday was extra special. Here in Southern California we were treated to an excessive heat warning, which by the coast meant somewhere in the high 80s to low 90s. I found this somewhat (sarcastically) adorable, since as I drove further east I got to watch the thermometer climb up to 111. On top of that I got the lovely privilege of navigating past a roadside brush fire along the way.

My response to all this? “Well, I guess it’s officially summer!”

Goodness but I have lived here too long.

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Mango and yogurt make for a beautifully refreshing combination on days with record breaking heat.

Despite my nonchalance toward brush fires, I am surprisingly non-nonchalant towards heat. You would think that having spent my whole life in the land of perpetual summer I would be used to it; alas, this is not the case.

Needless to say after this somewhat depressingly summery excursion, I found myself in desperate need of something cool and refreshing. Air conditioning is not a thing that exists in my house, so when it’s 100+ outside and a chilly 87 inside, frequent showers and cold beverages are pretty much your only hope.

Thankfully, I was saved by a mango lassi.

For those who aren’t in the know, lassis are Indian yogurt drinks, generally blended with fruit. They tend to be cool, creamy, and refreshing; they’re a real life saver when you live in a place where triple digit temperatures and firestorms are the norm. (Or monsoons, I imagine.)

Some recipes call for added spices and sweeteners, but I went for simple here. Who wants to juggle a ton of ingredients when it’s too hot to think straight? Not me, and I usually love that sort of thing. So here you are, a lovely, refreshing drink that contains nothing but mango, yogurt, and water. It’s so luxurious and lovely on its own, I doubt you’ll miss the other ingredients either.

Three Ingredient Mango Lassi

Makes 1-2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1.5-2 cups frozen mango chunks
  • 1 cup full fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup water, or more for a thinner drink (If you’re feeling fancy, you can use a splash of rose water as part of this)

Blend all ingredients together until smooth and enjoy!

Magical Cold Remedy Tea

Imagine if you will a sunlit hillside in rural Greece, lined with terraced farms and winding dirt roads. In the distance, the Mediterranean is visible and the wind carries traces of sea air as it sweeps through the area. On top of this hill is an Orthodox convent that has been a part of the landscape for centuries.

It was in the midst of this scene that a wayfaring college student was welcomed inside by the sisters. (Okay, I was in a large group of wayfaring college students who were there to study the classics, but isn’t it more romantic to envision that I arrived alone, having trekked through the mountains on foot?) As we sat in a circle, the sisters told us about their lives at the convent and offered us tea and Turkish delight. The sweet, jellied candy was traditional, they said; historically visitors really did have to trek across those mountains, and the sugar and calories provided vital nutrition after a long and harrowing journey.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A courtyard of a Greek monastery. A wonderful place for tea, don’t you think?

But the tea… Oh the tea! Those lovely sisters have no idea how it changed my life, or that they might have been the ones who prompted my early forays into herbal medicine.  That tea was amazing. It managed to be both warming and cooling at the same time, and it was delicately spiced and lightly sweetened with honey. Several people asked one of the sisters what kind of tea it was (even her fellows were as curious as I was) and she replied each time that it was mint, with a touch of cinnamon and clove. The mint and honey were both grown/collected from their own farm. The clove and cinnamon were luxurious additions since they hardly grow in that area, but the resulting tea was heavenly.

Fast forward a year. In that time I have returned home from my adventures in Greece and already meandered my way back to the European continent, this time to Paris. I have also succeeded in getting sick. A lot. (I blame the Parisian metro. I love that metro system, but it also harbors many, many germs my American immune system had not yet learned to fight.) In the month of October, I came down with three separate colds, the last of which grew into full blown pneumonia AND conjunctivitis. (Fun times. Really.)

During this time, as I was lying in bed coughing my lungs out and unable to breathe through my nose, I thought of that wonderful tea back in Greece. I had half-heartedly attempted herbal cold remedies before, usually involving ginger, lemon, and honey, but none of them were successful enough for my liking. As I remembered that lovely Greek tea, it occurred to me to wonder what mint would be like in that mix. It would give the beverage more body, certainly, and mint had antiviral properties too, right? Sure, mixing the hot flavors of ginger with the cool ones of mint could be weird, but it worked with the cinnamon and clove… Continue reading