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Taj Mahal Soup & Turmeric

 I found this recipe in a long-forgotten cookbook and made it once before years ago. The problem with the last time I made it was that I used the slicer disc on my food processor and ran the squash through it without peeling it. I ended up with thin squash moons inside hard, inedible strips of rind. It tasted delicious but was messy and laborious to eat as you had to remove the rind from each bite.

This time, I peeled the squash first and just chopped up the squash and zucchini (could I let an opportunity go by and not use zucchini? No!) without getting out the food processor with much better results. I also added a half of eggplant I had in the fridge (this would be a great recipe to use with those Japanese eggplants!) and a handful of fresh spinach leaves that needed to get used.Taj Mahal Soup

The verdict: an addictive, hearty soup with too much heat for my kids to stand, although they bravely downed a few bites before they gasped for air. Next time, I might halve the amount of cayenne because they do love Indian flavors and would eat up this soup if it were milder. I did try to mix in some sour cream when serving to cut the heat for them, but it wasn’t enough.

The adults in the house thought the amount of heat was perfect, however. The combination of Indian spices, toasted slightly in oil, are invigorating and satisfying, and the massive amount of vegetables and lentils fill the belly. It’s a great meal with whole wheat pita bread or crackers.

Turmeric, an orange relative of ginger often used in curries, is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. This or any dish with turmeric is what I reach for when I suspect that something is off inside and fear that it could be an swollen nerve caused by the multiple sclerosis. I ingest as much turmeric as I can handle and I always feel better the next day. Turmeric is a great remedy for any inflammatory disease, including arthritis.

Taj Mahal Soup

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 med onion, peeled and minced
1 1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed and drained
3/4 lb. yellow squash or zuchini, thinly sliced
1 10-oz pkg. frozen spinach, partially thawed
4 cups chicken broth
1 1-oz can whole tomatoes
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken (optional. I did not include chicken this time)

In a large, heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, ginger, and garlic and cook until soft, 3-5 minutes. Add cumin, turmeric, coriander, and cayenne and stir to blend. Add lentils, squash, spinach, chicken broth, and tomatoes and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer 50 minutes. Add chicken, if desired, and heat thoroughtly. Ladle into bowls and garnish with a dollop of yogurt, or as seen here, with a squash blossom!

Chocolate Syrup Perfection

Let me just start off by confessing that I never met a chocolate that didn’t call my name.

In fact, I believe chocolate should be included in the basic food groups of our illustrious food pyramid. Full of antioxidents, a little bit of chocolate can go a long way in soothing the road-weary soul at the end of a long day. And, I believe that eating pure chocolate, as opposed to chocolate in cookies or other baked goods, will not hinder any weight-loss goals. Seriously.

Banana Parfait - chocolate syrupA good chocolate syrup can provide a satisfying chocolaty experience, provided it’s not loading you up with high fructose corn syrup or trans-fats. Pouring it over small chunks of fruit is like bringing a chocolate fountain into your house — fun to eat and delightfully delicious. If I had a light dinner that night, I might even consider layering bananas and chocolate syrup with no-sugar-added almond butter. This is one of my favorite desserts!

Here’s the problem with common brands of chocolate syrup: they cheap-out and use high fructose corn syrup instead of real sugar. As I’m sure you already know, high fructose corn syrup is a highly processed, highly concentrated byproduct of our corn industry. It is incredibly cheap (mostly due to our farm subsidy policies which are causing us to have too much corn) and unbelievably widespread

Start reading labels and prepare to be shocked at how frequently you see high fructose corn syrup appear. It’s in soda pop, flavored waters, Wheat Thins (why, General Mills? why would you ruin a perfectly healthy baked whole grain cracker with high fructose corn syrup? it breaks my heart), breakfast cereals, GoGurt and other yogurts, cereal bars… the list goes on and on.

Highly processed, synthetic and artificial sweeteners fool the body into releasing hormones to process the “food” which then send out other substances that turn calories into fat for storage. Yep, that’s storage on your rear or around your middle compliments of the processed food industries.

My advice: if it has high fructose corn syrup on the label, find a different brand or skip it altogether.

The best, high-fructose-corn-syrup-free chocolate syrup I’ve found is called Ah!Alaska I find it at the natural grocery store.

Got Milk?

Earlier this week, the Breast Cancer Fund released an overview of current research on the causes of early puberty — a phenomenon affecting American girls. While the report listed a number of potential influences, including everything from obesity and inactivity to family stress, accidental exposure to toxic chemicals and t.v.-watching (?!), it barely brushed on the addition of growth hormones to our milk and meat supplies. In fact, the synopsis covered in the media doesn’t even mention the cattle and dairy industries.

Hmmm… Something doesn’t smell right.

Are you telling me that I can send my daughter into early puberty by letting her watch Desperate Housewives, but I shouldn’t be concerned about the ESTROGEN-derivatives and other hormones added willy-nilly to our industrialized beef and dairy herds? We are supposed to encourage our kids to drink several glasses of milk each day for strong bones, but is the result that girls as young as 8 are starting to sprout breasts and menstruate? Go visit a 3rd grade classroom and see what I’m talking about.

When I downloaded the full report, I was able to learn that “The European Union has forbidden the use of exogenous hormones as promoters of animal growth since 1989. By contrast, estradiol and other natural and synthetic hormones are still used as growth promoters in the U.S. beef industry. In the U.S. dairy industry, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) has been used to increase milk production since 1993.”

Yes, I knew that. It’s criminal.

“Suggesting reasons for concern, some researchers point out that federal risk assessments that have set safe threshold levels for estrogens in meat are based on overestimates of children’s own endogenous production of hormones, which are now known to be many times lower.”

You mean, the standards used for this critical food safety issue are known to be based upon false information? It’s getting fishier.

But here’s my favorite line from this section: “Their impact on pubertal timing of girls who are the consumers of its products remains an unanswered question.”

Of course that’s what the beef and dairy lobbies would have you believe. “The jury’s still out on this one.” Where have we heard lines like this before?

We’ll talk more about this…

Italian Tuna (Tonno)

One summer we stripped and painted the outside of our 100+-year old Victorian brick cottage. We hired a college student helper and he and my schoolteacher husband spent every day for a month or more wrapping and then peeling the house (we didn’t want lead paint specks all over our yard for future babies to eat) to get rid of the paint. Then we rounded up as many family and friends as we could coerce for the actual painting. My days were spent high up on the scaffold with an itty-bitty paintbrush doing the detailed dentils around the roofline. What a project!

Many of my favorite memories of those days are around feeding everyone lunches as a thank you for coming to help us out. I had fun with it, offering everything from make-your-own-burrito bars and salted cucumber sticks fresh from our garden to zucchini-filled tamales and cold watermelon soup. One of the crew’s favorites was Italian-style tunafish, or tonno.

tonno sandwichEven my little sister, a picky high-schooler at the time who initially claimed she hated tunafish, discovered she loved it when made this way instead of with mayonaise.

Start with drained fancy white albacore tunafish packed in water. Mix it with a few Tbsp. of drained capers and chopped fresh basil. Drizzle with good quality olive oil while stirring to moisten the tuna. Add fresh cracked pepper, if desired.

Here I made a sandwich of Tonno on toasted halves of roasted garlic artesian bread with a roma tomato and baked kale chips (recipe to come soon!). I ended up loading the kale onto the sandwich along with some tomato — mmmmm…. heavenly.

Tonno wrapHere is how I ate the leftovers the next day for lunch: wrapped in a toasted whole wheat tortilla along with stemmed, seeded, and peeled roasted green chiles, butter lettuce and chopped tomatoes. On the side I munched on fresh sweet peas — newly in from the end-of-summer crop.

By the way, I toasted my tortilla by laying it directly on the gas burner over low, low heat. I flipped it after a few seconds. If you do this, keep a close eye on your wrap or you will get burnt spots!

The Self-Hypnosis Diet

Self-hypnosis diet book
Steven and Joy Gurgevitch have developed this fabulous technique for approaching weight loss by “changing unhealthy eating patterns and creating new and lasting behaviors while still having an enjoyable, fulfilling love affair with food.” It’s called: The Self-Hypnosis Diet: Use The Power Of Your Mind to Reach Your Perfect Weight.

Finally. A diet that makes some sense.

Joy, a behavioral nutritionist, explains her work in this radio interview:

“Behavioral Nutrition is a newly emerging area in the field of Nutrition. It uses simple and motivating activities which help people make wholesome food choices. I do “Food Tasting” in my office (yes, just like a “wine tasting”) of nutrient dense foods, (people can experiment with whole grains, such as kamut, brown rice, quinoa… more healthful sweeteners such as brown rice syrup, stevia…plant protein…. walnuts and pinons, tempeh,). In my work I teach my clients how to read Nutrition Facts labels and ingredient labels. I do “home visits” where together we do pantry purging, go shopping, and learn simple cooking techniques. It’s one thing to have all the good foods in the kitchen; it’s another thing to know how to put them together to make an easy, quick, delicious meal. Fast-to-Fix meals are a great alternative to fast food. All of these activities take the client from point A (which is wanting and/or needing to make changes in food choices) to point B (which is actually having these wholesome foods in their homes and on their plates). The concepts of eating well are very simple, but it is often not easy to incorporate those concepts into lifelong behaviors. And that is what Behavioral Nutrition does: It helps people create healthy lifelong food choices and turn those choices into delicious meals that they and their families and friends love.”

To which I say: Tell it like it is, sister! You are preaching to the choir.

To which Joy responded: “Notice the “fast-to-fix” portion….perfect for your Glorious One-Pot Meals!!”

And all I can say is: Amen.

May this next year be one of health and wisdom for us all. Happy cooking!