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Simple Summer Salads for the Whole Family

It's hot outside, and that means no one wants to turn on the oven or cook a hot meal, especially if you've been spending some time outside. Salads make a great dinner option — they're cool, and you can dress them up with just about anything. Plus, during the summer, there are tons of in-season fruits and vegetables, so you can get your hands on the freshest ingredients.

Invest in a Co-Op

If you're going to be enjoying a lot of salads this summer, try investing in a local farmer's co-op. You pay a flat price at the beginning of the season, and periodically through the end of harvest, you'll receive a box of fresh fruits and vegetables that are all grown locally. If you're eating a lot of produce, it will end up being more cost-effective overall than buying from the grocery store every week.

Get the Kids Involved

Making salads doesn't have to be something that excludes your kids from the kitchen — get them involved. Older children can start practicing their knife skills on fruits or vegetables — under supervision, of course.

Younger children can still get involved, too. For example, put them to work washing vegetables or shredding greens. Lettuce and other greens tend to brown if you cut them with a knife, and little hands are the perfect size to tear all those greens into bite-sized pieces.

Simple Salad Recipes

If you're not sure where to start, here are five simple salad ideas to help you plan your menu for the warm summer months.

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Asparagus, Snap Pea and Radish Salad

You don't have to have greens to make a good salad. Sometimes, all you need is some asparagus, radishes and snap peas!

Ingredients:

• 2 pounds of asparagus
• 1 teaspoon lemon zest
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
• 3 teaspoons honey
• 8 ounces of feta cheese
• 8 ounces of snap peas
• 1 bunch of radishes
• Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Boil the asparagus until crisp but tender — usually three to four minutes. Whisk together your lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, thyme and two teaspoons of honey. Season it with salt and pepper. Wrap your gets in foil, drizzle it with olive oil, thyme and the remaining honey and bake until it’s warm — about 15 minutes. Crumble the feta, then toss it with your asparagus, radishes, snap peas and vinaigrette.

Summer Corn, Tomato and Salmon Salad

It never hurts to add a little bit of protein to your salads, plus it's the perfect way to put fresh corn and tomatoes to use.

Ingredients:

• 2 lemons
• 3 cloves of crushed garlic
• 3 sprigs of thyme
• 3 bay leaves
• 1//2 cup olive oil
• 4 teaspoons za'atar
• 5 ears of fresh corn
• 4 skinless salmon filets
• 2 medium tomatoes
• 1/2 a red onion, sliced thin
• Your favorite baby greens — arugula, spinach, etc.

Directions

1. Salt a large pot of water and add half a lemon to the water along with your garlic, bay leaves and thyme.  Let it boil at least three minutes before adding the corn. Whisk together oil, lemon juice, the za'atar and salt. Set aside.

2. Remove the corn from the boiling water and set aside. Reduce the heat on your pot of water and use the same flavored water to poach your salmon. Slice the corn from the cob and toss it in a large bowl with the salmon, tomatoes, onion and dressing. Serve over your favorite baby greens.

Sizzling Summer Sausage and Raspberry Salad

Everyone loves sausage, and it works beautifully as a component of nearly any salad.

Ingredients:

• 4 Sweet Italian Sausage links
• 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 clove of crushed garlic
• 1 tablespoon of capers
• 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
• 1/2 teaspoon pepper
• 4 cups baby spinach leaves
• 1 cup fresh raspberries
• 1/4 cup basil leaves
• 2 tablespoons dried currants
• 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
• Parmesan cheese

Directions

Grill your sausage for 15 to 20 minutes over medium heat. Remove from heat and keep warm. Mix and warm your vinaigrette ingredients — vinegar, olive oil, garlic, capers, lemon zest and pepper – in a saucepan until well-mixed and heated through. Divide spinach between plates and sprinkle with raspberries, currants, basil and pine nuts. Place one sausage on each pile, then top with dressing and parmesan cheese as garnish if desired.

Perfect Summer Fruit Salad

Salads don't have to be all about the vegetables — fruit salads are delicious, too!

Ingredients:

• 2/3 cup fresh orange juice
• 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
• 1/3 cup brown sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
• 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 cups pineapple, cubed
• 2 cups strawberries
• 3 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced
• 3 bananas, sliced
• 2 oranges, peeled and sectioned
• 1 cup grapes
• 2 cups blueberries

Directions

Combine the juices, the brown sugar, both zests and the vanilla extract in a saucepan over medium heat.  Simmer until it’s slightly thickened, then remove from heat and set it aside to cool. Layer your fruit in a large glass bowl, starting with the pineapples and working your way up to the blueberries. Pour the cooled sauce over the fruit and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

Cucumber, Tomato and Feta Salad

You can never go wrong with cucumber and tomatoes, especially when it's hot outside and you pair it with some fantastic, flavorful feta!

Ingredients:

• 6 cups chopped Persian cucumbers
• 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
• 1 bunch of scallions, chopped
• 1 cup assorted pitted olives, halved
• 1 package feta cheese, crumbled
• 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
• 6 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
• Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Whisk oil and lemon juice in a small bowl, then season with salt and pepper. Combine your cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions and half the feta cheese, then pour the dressing over it and toss to coat. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top and serve.

Salads are a fantastic way to stay cool during the summer — not to mention that they're good for you. Hopefully, these recipes give you an excellent place to start. And don't forget to get the kids involved!

Everything’s Coming Up Strawberries

Some people say that spotting a robin is the first sign of summer.  For me, summer begins with the start of strawberry harvest!  And last week, my CSA farmer brought me three (3!) cases of ripe red berries.  It’s a perfect rite of passage!

fresh strawberry pie
Photo by Inger Wilkerson

Strawberry Treats

Sweet treats are the mainstay of strawberry recipes.  Fancier favorites include chocolate dipped strawberries, strawberry rhubarb crisps, and spectacular pies, either baked or made of fresh berries, gelled together. But strawberries are delicious even simple and straight up, topped with cream and sugar, dolloped with sour cream and brown sugar, or even all by themselves. 

While desserts may be the most popular way of serving strawberries, they also shine in savory dishes.  Strawberries can go into a fruit salsa or add pizazz to a salad like this Butter Lettuce Strawberry Salad with Poppy Seed dressing.

Strawberries can even contribute in the beverage arena with drinks like strawberry limeade, strawberry margaritas, or fruit shrubs, a mixture of fruit and vinegar and a historic way of preserving fruit. 

strawberry margaritas
Photo by Inger Wilkerson

How to Buy Strawberries

One of the big benefits of loading up on strawberries right now is that they are available locally.  I love it when I can buy from a neighborhood farm selling perfectly ripe, just-picked berries.

To select your berries, I recommend checking the color, and also the bottom layer.  The best berries are a uniform medium red—no green shoulders!  The color indicates the overall ripeness; dark red may be overripe and pale red may have been picked a bit early.  Finally check the bottom layer for softness or mold.      

If you won’t be finishing your berries within a day or two, consider placing a paper towel under each layer before you refrigerate them.  This will absorb any extra moisture and give you a little extra time to enjoy.

And finally, buy organic if you can. 

strawberry salad 
Photo by Inger Wilkerson

Why Buy Organic 

Of course, by now, most people are familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “Dirty Dozen,” an annual list of most contaminated fruits and vegetables.  Every year they test produce so, if you can’t buy all organic, you can pick and choose where buying organic is most important.

The list changes annually as agricultural practices evolve, so it’s good to review it regularly.  But the beautiful bright strawberry seems to be high on the list every year and this year tops out at #1.

Citing USDA testing from 2015-2016, the EWG commented that “Strawberry samples contained residues of 81 different pesticides in various combinations,” including some “linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, hormone disruption and neurological problems.” They add that conventional “strawberry growers use jaw-dropping volumes of poisonous gases to sterilize their fields before planting, killing every pest, weed and other living thing in the soil.”

That’s a lot of reason to go organic!

If you can’t get organic, most people believe you are better off eating conventional produce rather than skipping it (wash it well). 

Enjoy

In either case, strawberry season is a delight not to be missed.  How often do you find so many ways to enjoy the bounty of summer! 

Join Inger at Art of Natural Living for great local food, gardening fun and green lifestyle tips. From (mostly) healthy recipes to natural body care, living naturally is an art!

The Health Benefits of Poppy Seeds

Poppy seeds usually get relegated to bagels and other baked goods — and they have earned a bad reputation for causing false-positive drug test results — but they are also one of the best things you can add to your diet. What are the health benefits of eating poppy seeds, and how can you include them in your daily diet?

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Health Benefits of Poppy Seeds

Other than tasting good on a muffin or bagel, poppy seeds have so much more going for them! Let's take a closer look at some of the health benefits of poppy seeds.

Fiber

You may not worry about your fiber intake unless you have a problem with bowel regularity. In addition to maintaining a healthy digestive tract, getting enough insoluble fiber in your diet can help with weight loss and can help control blood sugar levels.  Two teaspoons of poppy seeds contain roughly 14 percent of your daily intake of insoluble fiber, which helps you feel full longer and helps to lower your bad cholesterol.

Enjoy some poppy seeds on your salad or in a smoothie to increase your insoluble fiber intake – and try to enjoy more insoluble fibers like whole grains and fresh produce rather than soluble fibers like oats or non-whole grain products.

Calcium

A glass of milk a day keeps the orthopedic surgeon away, or so they say. Calcium is an essential mineral for bone growth and health.  It also helps your muscles, including your heart, and your nerves function properly and there are some studies that suggest that getting enough calcium in your diet can help to protect against diabetes, high blood pressure and even cancer.

As adults, we don't drink milk as often as we should and are at risk for calcium deficiencies.  A serving of poppy seeds contains about 4 percent of your daily intake of calcium.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is one mineral that is often overlooked but it is essential for bone growth, healthy digestion, preventing bone problems like osteoporosis and arthritis, and even helps to ensure that your brain functions properly. It functions to help your body regulate your hormone levels and helps you absorb nutrients more efficiently.

You can get almost the same amount of phosphorus as calcium from a serving of poppy seeds. It's easier than you might think to get enough of this overlooked little mineral in your diet.

Iron

A lack of iron in your blood stream has its own name – anemia – so that gives you an idea of how important this mineral is. It helps to keep your immune system functioning properly, improves oxygen circulation, and can even help to treat neurological issues like insomnia and restless leg syndrome.

Iron gets stored in your blood and muscles and is an essential mineral for overall health. Women need more than twice as much iron a day than men, and you can get roughly 2 to 4 percent of your daily intake of iron from a serving of poppy seeds.

Zinc

Zinc is another overlooked mineral that is essential for overall health.  It helps to support both organ and immune systems and ensures skeletal and reproductive health. Not having enough zinc in your diet can lead to you getting sick more often, make it harder for you to heal from wounds and can even impact your concentration.

While zinc deficiency is uncommon in the United States, you still need to be eating at least eight to 11 milligrams of zinc every day. A single teaspoon of poppy seeds contains between 2 and 3 percent of your daily zinc intake.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants in food help ward off signs of early aging and may even have some applications in cancer prevention. You can find healthy antioxidants in everything from dark chocolate to red wine, but if you're not a drinker or not a fan of sweets you might be wondering how you can add these healthy chemicals to your diet. Enjoy some poppy seed bagels, that’s how – poppy seeds contain a high amount of antioxidants, as well as a healthy amount of protein.

Good Fats

Poppy seeds are high in a good fat, specifically oleic acid, which lowers bad cholesterol. Lower bad cholesterol can reduce your chance of developing heart disease in the future.  You can find these good fats in things like fish – especially salmon and other fatty fish – walnuts, oil and eggs but they can be a pain to cook – why not just add some poppy seeds to your diet?

Sounds pretty good for a humble little seed, right? You can get at least part of your daily intake of iron, zinc, and many other essential vitamins and minerals just by adding some poppy seeds to your diet. They can easily be added to smoothies, sprinkled on top of your favorite salad or yogurt, or incorporated into some very tasty desserts.  Their subtle earthy flavor compliments so many foods that you may find yourself adding poppy seeds to just about everything!

5 Reasons to Prepare Your Own Fermented Food

various ferments
Various fermented foods. Photo by Daniela Roberts.

You may not realize just how many fermented foods you regularly eat. All sorts of delicious foods undergo fermentation at some point in their preparation: sourdough bread, cheese, yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, dill pickles, beer, wine, vinegar, chocolate, coffee, tea...all the good stuff.

Perhaps you need no reasons to ferment food yourself other than the fact that it tastes absolutely delicious. But this ancient method of food preparation has been undergoing a renaissance of late for many reasons in addition to flavor.

1. Food preservation not food waste. Who hasn’t—with the best intentions—bought too many vegetables? If you have a cabbage on hand that you need to use up quickly for example, simply chop it, salt it and submerge it in its own juices for a few days. Your resulting probiotic-rich sauerkraut will keep for many months.

How does that transformation happen seemingly by magic? Immersed in liquid, the anaerobic lactic-acid bacteria present on the cabbage eat its sugars and produce lactic acid, which ferments and preserves the food. These acids not only give sauerkraut its tangy flavor, they also inhibit the growth of bad bacteria. As a result, fermentation is very safe.

Before the introductions of refrigeration and chemical preservatives last century and canning a century before that, people fermented or dehydrated food to preserve it. This was especially important in cold climates with short growing seasons. People could enjoy vegetables throughout the winter by fermenting them at the end of the summer. Cold weather slows down the fermentation, preserving the food longer, making this method a perfect, seasonal and natural fit in these parts of the world.

2. Health benefits. Fermentation preserves vitamin C and increases levels of B vitamins, such as thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. It reduces phytates, anti-nutrients present in grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. Phytates bind to minerals, making nutrients unavailable for absorption. Fermentation breaks these bonds so the body can absorb the previously unavailable nutrients. Fermented foods also contain beneficial microbes that can improve your gut flora.

lemons and carrots
Lemons and carrots ready to prep. Photo by Daniela Roberts.

3. Savings. My family loves real dill pickles—the delicious fermented cucumbers that you will find in the refrigerator section of some grocery stores. Fermented dill pickles differ from the shelf-stable ones that you find in the center aisles of every grocery store in America. Those highly processed pickles have been pasteurized in vinegar. They lack the health benefits and flavor of naturally fermented pickled cucumbers. However, the fermented ones can cost a small fortune. I can ferment about three jars of pickles for the price of one store-bought jar.

4. Low energy consumption, low-tech. Fermented foods consume very little—if any—energy to prepare. To make my fermented salsa, for example, I merely prep and salt all the vegetables—tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, garlic, cilantro and so on—pack them into jars and set those out on the counter at room temperature for a few days while the food ferments. I don’t cook anything. I don’t turn on a burner. The energy required to transform my ingredients into tangy, mouthwatering and slightly effervescent salsa comes from the bacteria within the jar, not from an outside source.

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Only basic tools and skills required. Photo by Daniela Roberts

5. Minimal effort. Almost every time I ferment something new, I ask myself, “Is that all there is to it?” Fermentation requires very little of our energy to prepare and only the most basic cooking skills. If you can cut cabbage, you can make sauerkraut. If you can brew tea, you can make kombucha. Some dairy ferments require even less work. To make kefir, add kefir grains to milk and wait for a day.

To me a jar of homemade kimchi isn’t just a tasty, healthy snack. It’s a protest of our current broken food system. An act of defiance. I’m not saying fermentation will save the world. But I do believe preparing food this way does put you more in tune with the natural world. The food is alive after all. Sourdough is the new tattoo.

Scoby Invasion!

I was introduced to kombucha in 2009. Sadly, my introduction to this life-giving drink was due to my late husband’s terminal cancer diagnosis. During this difficult time I religiously researched alternative, natural, immune-boosting concoctions and gut health in an effort to return his body back to health. 

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This research led me to a health store which led me to kombucha. I was hooked. He wasn’t so much having lost the ability to handle many tastes after numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. He lost his battle with cancer in 2010, but my journey to health and wellness was only just beginning. 

Eight years later, I not only drink this health elixir on a daily basis, but I now make my own. What began with one tiny scoby that I ordered from Amazon (it’s amazing what you can get from Amazon!) has turned into over 50+ scobies! I avoid wastefulness with every bone in my body, and so instead of throwing these babies away, I often give them to friends or I bake them. Yep, you read that right.  I lay them flat on a baking sheet and bake them at 350 degrees until crisp and then I crumble them up into tiny pieces and attempt to pass them off as bacon bits, flax seed, wheat germ, chia seeds or whatever! The possibilities are endless. Once crisp and crumbled, they are virtually tasteless and unless you point them out to your crew, they won’t even question the tiny specks in their favorite dish. 

Believe me. I have 8 kids who will attest to this truth.

Enjoy a Wild Bounty with 3 Simple Nettle Recipes

Ask anyone in Northern New York’s Adirondack Mountains about stinging nettle, and you’ll get a story.

In my hometown haven of hiking and camping, the chances of accidentally brushing through a nettle patch while walking along an overgrown trail is more likely than not. Luckily, the itching and burning effects of nettle stings usually last only a few minutes, and the upsides to being surrounded by the edible and nutrient-rich wild plant are numerous.

Abundant in the woods, along trails, and near rivers and streams, stinging nettle (along with the similar wood nettle) is a seasonal must-have for creative cooks looking for a versatile green. Nettle harvest season begins before most cultivated crops send up fragile green shoots in our fields, and can last for months before the plants go to flower and then seed.

Be sure to prepare for your nettle-picking excursion by wearing long sleeves and pants, and by bringing along a pair of gardening gloves. Nettle patches can cover a large expanse of ground, and since you only want to pick the top 4 inches or so of plant (including the thin, fragile stems), you may need to travel through a patch to harvest your desired quantity. As soon as you wilt or dry your nettle it will lose all stinging ability and can be handled without gloves or tongs.

This mild and delicious green isn’t bitter like many other wild greens, and stands in well for spinach or arugula in soups, sauces, and pastas. Since the leaves are delicate and will break apart when stirred or blended, nettle works best in recipes where small pieces of greens are desired. You can also enjoy dried nettle as a steaming cup of tea in the cooler months to come.

Stinging nettle and wood nettle are both edible, both sting, and are quite similar in appearance. Be sure to wash nettle and allow to air dry before use, and collect leaves from areas that are unlikely to be exposed to pesticides or other contaminants. As with all foraging, consult trusted field guides and experts to ensure positive plant identification, and check with a doctor for any specific health concerns.

nettle patch

Creamy Nettle Dip

Ingredients:

• 4 firmly-packed cups of fresh nettle leaves
• 1 1/4 cups sour cream
• 1 cup thick plain yogurt
• 2 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
• 1/4 tsp ground smoked paprika
• 1 tsp garlic powder or 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 tbsp lemon juice
• Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Blanch the fresh nettle leaves. Squeeze out liquid and roughly chop. Yield should be about 1 cup of greens once blanched. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Reseason to taste, adding more lemon juice if desired.

Serve with chips or fresh veggies.

Dried Nettle for Tea

Place fresh nettle leaves on dehydrator trays (use tongs or gloves to avoid stings) with no more than two layers of leaves per tray.

Set dehydrator to 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit, and check after 4 hours. Leaves should be brittle and completely dry once done.

Let sit out for 24 hours to ensure leaves are completely dry before storing in an airtight container. Should keep up to one year. Great for steeping as tea, or bring camping to rehydrate and add some greens to your dinners.

Simple Summer Pasta with Bacon and Nettle

Ingredients:

• 3 packed cups of fresh nettle leaves, chopped (use gloves to avoid stings)
• 1/2 lb bacon, chopped
• 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
• 4 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 lb spaghetti, fettuccine, or linguine, cooked
• 2 tbsp butter + 2 additional tbsp butter (optional to add in at the end)
• Fresh herbs such as parsley or chives to garnish, chopped

Preparation:

Melt 2 tbsp of the butter in a large cast iron skillet or heavy pot on medium heat.

Add chopped bacon and cook, stirring constantly until the fat renders out and the bacon begins to crisp. Add in garlic and cook until fragrant and slightly browned.

Set heat to low, and add in cooked pasta, stirring until bacon is fully incorporated and mixture is heated through. Add in chopped nettle one cup at a time, stirring until the nettle has completely wilted and is evenly distributed throughout the pasta. Once wilted, the nettle will no longer sting. Stir in ½ of the parmesan cheese and ½ of the chopped herbs.

Salt and pepper to taste. Add in remaining 2 tbsp butter if desired.

Plate and top with a small amount of parmesan and fresh herbs.

Crispy Rice Patties Recipe

Rice is a staple food of India. It balances all the three doshas—Vata, Pitta and Kapha. It's easy to digest and nourishes the body tissues.

Here's a snack to satisfy your sweet tooth and is crispy and delicious.

fresh rice crisps with coffee
Photo by Arya Krishna

Ingredients:

• 1 cup white rice, soaked in water overnight
• 2 tbsp boiled rice
• 7 tbsp powdered sugar, more if needed
• 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
• Pinch of salt
• Oil for deep frying

Method of Preparation

Blend all the ingredients well in to a smooth paste. The consistency of the batter should be slightly watery like a pancake batter. Keep this batter to ferment for at least 8 hours. After 8 hours heat oil in a stuffed pancake mould. Pour the batter to each mould and fry until crispy and soft.When its getting cooked, flip it over to the other side with a spoon or a skewer. Let the other side get cooked uncovered. Once cooked well transfer to Paper tissue and serve warm.

This recipe is my personal favorite and it is tasty and definitely your kids are going to love them.