Monthly Archives: February 2016

St. Patrick’s Day Herbed Mashed Potaotes

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Just around the corner is March 17, when leprechauns, shamrocks and potatoes are aplenty. Everything is green — well, except for the grass that is. To tell you the truth, St. Patrick’s Day holds a very special place in my heart. I am not Irish, though I’ve been mistaken for one most of my life. With my fair skin and freckles I suppose it’s a safe enough assumption.

There’s something more though. My brother, Patrick, was born on St. Patrick’s Day 42 years ago. He is not Irish either, but was given the name at birth and throughout his life carried the mixed blessing of receiving birthday cards with happy green men, rainbows and the infamous pot o’ gold. They were personalized at least. Not many of us can boast that.

Patrick passed away two years ago on March 16 and as you can imagine, there isn’t a St. Patrick’s Day that goes by that his presence isn’t felt with every green-legged leprechaun, shamrock or pot o’ gold I happen to see. And while he mostly found his connection with this day amusing, he could never connect with the honorary meal of the day, corned beef and cabbage. Through the many birthday dinners that were shared, corned beef and cabbage was never allowed. It was his day after all. Sometimes there is a place for reinventing tradition. Sometimes there is more meaning in starting a new way of doing, being or celebrating that can bring about that comfort of a time-honored tradition.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, and all those going forward, I choose to celebrate with the food that Patrick loved as a way to honor his memory. That would be mashed potatoes. I guess I don’t have to stray too far away from the Irish traditions after all. Mashed potatoes are a comfort food and while they require some prep time they are worth the effort. I have a little spin on the traditional recipe that makes them visually appealing for St. Patrick’s Day and tasty enough for whatever day you decide you need a little comfort. I include rosemary and thyme in the broth while I cook up the potatoes. Rosemary is known as the remembrance herb, and happens to complement potatoes so well.

I think it’s safe to say that Patrick would approve of this recipe.

herbed mashed

Herbed Mashed Potatoes

∎  Add to a pot of water 1 tsp. of thyme, 1 tsp. of rosemary and 1 tsp. onion powder. If you are using dried herbs, be sure to put in cheesecloth to make removal easier.

∎  Peel and cut 3 large or 5 medium sized potatoes and add to your water. Bring to a boil and then simmer until potatoes are soft.

∎  While potatoes are simmering, take 1/2 cup kale and puree in 1/2 cup of milk, (or cream). Set aside until potatoes are done.

∎  Strain potatoes from water, being sure to remove the herbs as well. Add pureed kale to the potatoes along with 2 Tbsp. of butter and mash to the consistency of your liking.

∎  Add salt, pepper and chives to taste.

Written by Melissa Spencer for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript

Cherry Coconut Chocolate Balls

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Just shy of Eight months old, Everly has already learned to crawl and pull up! It’s so amazing to watch him grown like a little sunflower and learn so many things. It also feels like I’m caught in a whirlwind! Is soon as I get used to one thing ( or even before I get used to it!) we are on to the next. People always seem to think that the pregnant mom should be eating for two but I tell you what- I am MUCH more hungry as a breastfeeding mama, chasing around a little one, than I ever was with my squished stomach during pregnancy. Of course now getting good nourishing food into by belly can be a challenge. I know all new parents can relate.
But what’s a health conscious hungry lady to do when that post dinner sweet tooth kicks in with a vengeance? I have a secret weapon in my arsenal for just that scenario. Decadent but nutritious chocolate Balls! The great things about these besides the fact that you can whip them together in 5 minutes and they are delicious is that they are SUPER VERSATILE. You can change out virtually any of the ingredients for what you have on hand and make them as decadent or nutrient dense as you wish. THINK: Toggling the tipping point between a truffle and a granola bar. This recipe falls somewhere in the middle. It really satisfies the sweet craving but also could easily work as a mid afternoon pick me or post work out out snack!

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CHERRY COCONUT CHOCOLATE BALLS
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup dried tart cherries
1/2 cup almonds
1/4 cup chia seeds
2 Tbs natural cocoa powder
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 Tbs dark chocolate chips or bar

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Start by grinding up the bigger things first. I ground up the almonds and cherries first then added in the chocolate chunks, cocoa powder, chia seed and shredded coconut. After that is all ground up I added in the coconut oil and maple syrup and ground until it started to clump together in the food processor. The clumping together is good clue that your ratios are going to work and it will easily roll into balls.
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For an extra element of fun I like to roll the balls in cocoa or another ground dry ingredient. For this batch I tried cocoa, crushed almonds and shredded coconut and they all looked pretty. You don’t have to do this! On a very warm day you may choose to store the balls in the fridge. This also helps to set them up but they should hold together at room temperature.

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Make them Your Own
The basic idea is that you grind up all the dry ingredients and add in the sticky wet ones to bind it all together and then form it into little bite sized balls of YUM. If you make substitutions you might need to adjust the ratios just a touch to get all to stick together and form a ball. Its really as easy as that! This is really where you can choose how decadent or health minded you want to steer your treat. They are also wonderfully easy to spice up!

Instead of Shredded coconut and/or almonds Try:
Oats
Any kind of nut
Protein Powder

Instead of Chia Seeds Try:
Flax
Hemp
Sesame
Poppy
(You could also omit these)

Instead of dried cherries Try:
Dates
Dried Fruit of any kind

Instead of Maple Syrup Try:
Honey
Agave Syrup
Molasses

Instead of Coconut Oil Try:
Peanut butter
Almond Butter
Butter- Straight up decadent

You could also choose to omit the chocolate chunks, add more, or use milk or white chocolate.

Other add ins:
Crumbled cookies
Cinnamon
Cardamom
Nutmeg
Cayenne
Vanilla Extract
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ginger
The groundhog did not see it’s shadow and has forecast an early spring, but we’re no fools. After this past weekend, we know there is still ample time for winter to continue to wallop us with more mounds of snow and even colder arctic freezes. I am no fan of the cold but I am a fan of our New England winters. I understand we must have cold temps.to have snow and I love the beauty and freshness of a new-fallen blanketing of white. I do have a secret spice weapon though that helps me battle the cold that is inevitable and without which I may just stay huddled in a ball in front of the fireplace. Zesty, zingy and warming, ginger is a righteous rhizome and prevalent in our home throughout the winter.

Ginger, zingiber officinale, is a flowering plant that is known best for its rhizome or root stalk, ginger root. Whether you use it fresh, candied, pickled or powdered ginger offers incredible flavor and has great warming properties. It can add a touch of heat to sweets as it’s most commonly used in our culture however it is versatile enough to lend it’s pungent flavor to savory dishes, drinks and candies. Anyone who has experienced bouts of nausea may well know that ginger can help. Simply made into a tea, a few slices of the root boiled in water can bring quick relief to settle the tummy. There are so many ways to use ginger in all its forms but one of our favorites is the winter warming tonic, Fireside Tonic.

We usually make a large batch of Fireside Tonic in the fall to carry us through the cold and flu season. However it is helpful at any time of the season. Fireside Tonic, a traditional recipe first introduced by Rosemary Gladstar, author and herbalist, is a spice and veggie infusion that benefits the immune and circulatory system. It does indeed fire you up, physically and mentally! Over the years, many variations have emerged. Ginger is an integral part of this recipe and I tend to be a little generous with it. By combining ginger and fellow potent spices in apple cider vinegar a daily tonic can be made that will warm you from within and help combat the pesky germs that can slow us down throughout the winter.
fireside
Fireside Tonic
based on original recipe by Rosemary Gladstar)
*Chop: Equal parts fresh horseradish root, fresh garlic and onion and half that amount of fresh ginger root. To that add and 1/2 -1 fresh cayenne pepper or 1 tsp cayenne powder. Place all of the above in a glass quart jar and cover with apple cider vinegar (preferably Braggs, with the mother) allowing enough vinegar to cover the herbs about 1-2 inches. Allow this tonic to steep for at least 2 weeks or up to 3 months in a dark, cool environment. You do not refrigerate. The flavor will change as you go. When you are ready, strain the liquid from the jar and combine with equal parts honey or to taste. One tbsp of the tonic can be taken as a shot or mixed with water and sipped for a daily tonic. It can also be diluted and used in soups or stir-fries or as a salad dressing. The flavor will be hot, spicy and sweet but most importantly it is providing your body with a healthy dose of cold and flu fighting properties so we can enjoy all what winter has to offer.

Written by Melissa Spencer for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript

Nothing to Eat In the House?

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When I was a young girl, I recall going to the fridge in search of food and peering into it for long stretches of time and then desperately moving to the cupboards one by one in search of something to eat, only to come up empty handed.

“We have nothing to eat in this whole house,” I’d mutter and often just grab a sugar cube and be on my way. This is not a story about a girl growing up with no food. It is a story of a girl looking for an easy food fix and too lazy to put together some ingredients to make her own — or maybe she was just not ever taught how. And then there was my mother, gifted as she was with that magic of meal manifestation. She would go to that very same fridge and into those very same cupboards (that I had previously declared as completely empty!) and pull out all of the ingredients to prepare a whole meal for the whole family (all six of us) again and again and again. It was magic!

As a mother of three hungry, growing kiddos, I hear those same words in varying voices and tones echoing through my days. “When is someone going shopping, I’m hungry and we have no food!” and “There is nothing to eat in this whole house!” Sound familiar? Funny, as I look into that same fridge and into those same cupboards I see the makings of hummus, pesto pasta, bananas, oats and peanut butter or pancakes with blueberries or granola, grapes and yogurt.

We have an abundance of food. It’s sometimes embarrassing how much food wealth we have stored in that cubicle in the corner of the kitchen. However, I remind my older, wiser self of my younger and, ahem, lazier or uneducated self. Then I take the time to offer up suggestions of what can be combined to make a tasty and healthy snack. And trust me when I tell you that I am still plagued with this refrigerator desolation issue from time to time. I just catch myself a lot faster these days and have a plenitude of tools to throw at it.

My mother still has the knack for pulling together some raw ingredients into something amazing and delicious and I am still in awe of her cooking magic. She has been making her own mustard for quite some time with a recipe handed over by Florence, one of my longtime and loyal customers at the spice shop, who makes this delicious mustard for her family and friends every year. Last week my mother invited Autumn and me over to learn how to make it. I watched the process and happily taste-tested. It really is so simple and cooking together with family is time well spent. It’s so easy to create your own variations. Do you like a crunchy texture? Add some whole mustard seeds for that burst of flavor. Are you a heat fiend? Add cayenne or habanero. Or add a little white wine and attempt a Dijon style spread.

So grab a few pretzels and your favorite young’un and make your own batch of mustard together. Remember, you are teaching healthy food preparation skills that will last a lifetime. Thank you, Florence, for your willingness to share your recipe.

Florence’s Homemade

Sweet & Savory Mustard

1¼ firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup of apple cider vinegar

2 eggs

1 cup dry mustard flour

1/8 teaspoon ground clove

½ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon sea salt

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thick, approximately 8 to 10 minutes. Pour into jars, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator.

Written by By Melissa Spencer
For the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Friday, June 12, 2015
(Published in print: Tuesday, June 16, 2015)

Flowers and seeds of wild fennel

I admit that the licorice like flavor of Fennel seed is one that not everyone is as crazy about as I am. I once happily offered a handful of toasted fennel seed to my brother who after popping them in his mouth, wretched, sent me an accusing glance, and exclaimed “yuck, it tastes like licorice!”. Sorry, Nate, I managed to forget that is a bad thing for some people. So maybe eating them by the handful is a bit much for some. Not for me, I have a serious spice crush on fennel! To me, tomato sauce BEGS for a bit of that sweet, aromatic flavor.

Fennel seed is the fruit of Foeniculum vulgare, a perennial herb in the parsley family. The bulb of the plant, known simply as fennel, has a similar but milder flavor and is wonderfully crunchy much like celery. I love it roasted!

Aside from the flavor I love fennel for its medicinal properties. It is the ultimate digestive aid.
Fennel contains the volatile oil anethole which stimulates digestive juices, reduces inflammation of the stomach and intestines and helps nutrients to absorb. It also contains aspartic acid, which helps relieve gas.

Fennel is a galactagogue, which means it helps to promote lactation and increase milk supply. The stomach calming properties of fennel can transfer to the milk and help to calm the belly of a colicky infant.

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Another interesting property of fennel that is a bit more fun is that due to high levels of phytoestrogens it is considered to be a female aphrodisiac. Adding a little Fennel seed (or cooking with the bulb- or both!) to your valentines day dinner just might boost your mood for love. At the very least it will be delicious and you won’t need to pop an antacid.