Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Harvest Porridge

After hunkering down/shoveling out of the big Nor’easter that blew (and blew and blew) through New Jersey the day after Christmas, I craved something warm and hearty for breakfast.  My mind turned to a meal I had a few weeks before, after a chilly morning walk along the Hudson River.  

There is a Le Pain Quotidien in Battery Park City that serves something called Harvest Porridge.  It is made of farro, almond milk, dried cranberries, pecans, and walnuts, and sounded as healthy and filling to me that day as it did this snowy morning - just what my achy, shoveled-the-long-driveway-three-times-in-40-mile-per-hour-winds body was calling out for.

Farro (also known as emmer) is referred to as an ancient grain for good reason; it was the first cultivated grain, appearing over 10,000 years ago in the Near East and Mediterranean.  Farro was found in Egyptian tombs and was standard fare for the Roman Legions as they conquered Western Europe.

Farro fell out of favor with growers because of its low yields and lengthy milling process.  It’s a shame because this whole grain is one of the healthiest you can eat.  Farro is a complex carbohydrate that contains double the fiber and protein of regular wheat.  It’s loaded with antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins, which contribute to reduced inflammation, stable blood sugar levels, and lower cholesterol. Did I mention it's delicious, too?

Farro is hulled wheat, meaning it has a hard, inedible outer husk that encases and protects the grain inside.  It can be purchased whole or pearled. Whole farro is the more nutritious of the two types because it retains the bran layer and germ when the outer husk is removed; the drawback is it takes longer to cook.  Pearled farro loses the bran and germ along with the husk during the milling process.  This enables the grains to cook faster (about half the time) but lowers the nutritional content.  
The majority of farro today comes from Italy but there are a few US sources producing high quality, heirloom grains.  South Carolina’s Anson Mills sells several varieties of farro, as does Washington’s Bluebird Grain Farms.  I bought mine at the Friday Union Square Greenmarket from Cayuga Pure Organics, supplier of New York grown organic grains, flours, and dried beans.   Founders Dan Lathwell and Erick Smith have been involved with farming in Ithaca, NY since the 1970’s and are committed to sustainable farming practices such as composting, crop rotation, and growing food without pesticides, GMO’s, and artificial fertilizers.

Farro is considered country food in Italy; its chewy texture and nutty flavor make it ideal for soups, salads, stews, and pilafs.  The firm texture is what made it appealing to me as a breakfast cereal.  I like oatmeal, but sometimes the texture is too mushy for my taste. Farro is an excellent alternative. 

Harvest Porridge
Adapted from Le Pain Quotidien

My only caution to you when cooking farro is this:  know what you’ve got.  Is it pearled or whole?  Most farro recipes I come across don’t distinguish between the two types and give cooking times based on one or the other (from my experience, it’s usually pearled).  As a general rule, pearled farro takes half as much time (30 minutes) to cook as whole farro (60 minutes) so adjust your recipe accordingly. 

I had some experimenting to do with my farro.  When I bought it from the Cayuga stand, it wasn’t labeled one way or the other and I hadn’t a clue about this “whole” vs “pearled” business.  I pulled out a farro recipe and started cooking.  It seemed like it took forever to cook – much longer than what the recipe called for - and the grains never really got soft and chewy.  I gave up and tossed the whole thing in the garbage. 

I went back and spoke to the woman I had bought it from and turns out, my farro was whole. She recommended cracking it in a coffee grinder to decrease cooking time and magic! - it worked!  I’ve also read you can pour hot water over whole farro and let it stand overnight to soften and decrease cooking time.

So let my experiment be a help to you; the last thing I want to do is scare you away from this excellent grain.  If all this sounds too complicated, start with pearled farro, which is less temperamental to cook with.  Yes, you’ll lose some nutrition, but it’s still a powerhouse food.   

The original recipe called for agave, which I didn’t have on hand so I substituted a splash of maple syrup instead. 

Almond milk is made of ground almonds and contains no cholesterol or lactose, making it a healthy alternative to cow’s milk.  It has a pleasant, mild flavor and is quite tasty in this recipe. Of course, regular milk is fine to use, too.

3 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon maple syrup or raw agave nectar
½ cup whole farro, cracked in a coffee grinder or pearled farro, as is
¼ cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

In a medium saucepan, combine almond milk, vanilla extract, and maple syrup.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Stir in farro.  Simmer over medium-low, about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add dried cranberries.  Continue cooking another 10 minutes or until farro is tender and has absorbed the milk.  Spoon into bowls and top with pecans and walnuts.

Serves 2


Alexis at Cayuga was kind enough to share more info about their farro and farro in general.  Here is what she had to say.  Thanks, Alexis!
I find it best to first soak the farro in room temperature water for about 6 to 8 hours before cooking.  Our bodies do not create the enzyme we need to properly digest and metabolize most grains.  Plus the longer the grain soaks, the less one is bothered with cooking for hours and hours.  If anything happens to float to the top of the bowl/pot during this soak period (which may be over night if that is how you chose to do so) scoop it off and discard!  During the actual cooking process I suggest treating the farro like a wild rice; water ratio of 3 (cups of water) to 1 (cup of grain).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Here's hoping your day is filled with warmth, laughter and love.
Merry, merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Don’t forget the pups! Christmas treats for locavore dogs

This might not be the typical cookie recipe you come across this time of year but I have a lot of four-legged friends in my life and I adore them all….

First, there’s Teddy, king of the AP Interiors office.  Ted is proof that good things really do come in small packages.  Here he is taking a break at Sant Ambroeus during a big installation in Southampton.

A typical office pose – on my lap.

Our adorable, sweet office puppy, Gypsy, also on my lap.

It’s much more common, however, to see Gyp chasing her tail or roaming the office, trash-picking tissues from the wastebaskets and hiding in the closet while shreding them.

I grew up with German shepherds and my sister and brother-in-law have two beauties:  Penny

and Rocky.

Last but certainly not least, the Outer Banks Crew – Shandy, Porter, and Whisky – part of my brother’s family (Note: This is not a staged pose. It really happens!)

Pets may as well be people, as far as I’m concerned, and I include them in the Christmas treats as well.  No inferior ingredients for these pooches!  I use whole wheat flour from Cooper Gristmill, an historic water-powered flour mill in Chester, New Jersey, stone-ground cornmeal from Wild Hive Farm in the Hudson Valley, wheat germ from Bob’s Red Mill in Oregon, Kate’s Homemade Butter from Maine, and yes, my favorite eggs from Quattro’s Game Farm.  Fresh mint and parsley from the farmers market do wonders for doggie breath….

Dog Biscuits
Adapted from Gourmet December 2005

People have been known to eat these biscuits (ahem…they are really good).  The recipe calls for a food processor but I wasn’t in the mood to deal with mine so I mixed the dough with a pastry cutter and my hands.

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups whole-wheat flour
1 ¼ cups cornmeal
1 ¼ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cup toasted wheat germ
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ sticks (¾ cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1 large egg

Pulse flours, cornmeal, oats, wheat germ, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with pea-size butter lumps. Add 1 cup water and pulse until a coarse, dense dough forms.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead in parsley and mint until well distributed. Gather, then halve dough and form into two balls and flatten each into a 6-inch disk. Chill until firm, about a half hour.

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two large baking sheets.

Roll out one disk of dough into a round (1/3 inch thick) on a well-floured surface with a well-floured rolling pin. (If dough becomes too soft to roll out, wrap in plastic and chill again until firm.) Cut out as many biscuits as possible and arrange about ¼ inch apart on one baking sheet.

Gather scraps and reroll, then cut out more biscuits. Repeat with remaining dough, using other baking sheet.

Whisk together egg and 1 tablespoon water. Brush biscuits with egg wash and bake, switching position of sheets halfway through, until tops are golden brown, about 35 minutes total. Turn off oven and dry biscuits in oven overnight. 

Makes about 5 dozen biscuits

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Healthy Living - Tata Harper at Organic Avenue

It was inevitable, I suppose, the more I educated myself on the quality of the food I put inside my body, the more I started to pay attention to the stuff I put on my body, like lotions, shampoos, make-up, etc.  Chemicals abound in these products and it’s my hunch most of them cannot be healthy for me.  So the timing was perfect when I got a Daily Candy email mentioning that Tata Harper was going to be at Organic Avenue for a beauty workshop, along with six other women in various areas of the natural wellness/beauty business.

I first read about Tata Harper Skincare several months ago and was immediately interested.  The article mentioned that Tata lived on an organic farm in Vermont and began researching her natural, non-toxic skincare line soon after caring for a relative with cancer.  Her stepfather was told by his doctors to refrain from using many of his personal care products because they were too toxic for him. When Tata tried to find him replacements that worked just as well, she came up disappointingly empty-handed. Four years and eight scientists (including herself) later, Tata launched her eponymous skincare line.  I’ve never been one to spend a lot of money on skincare products – I think so much of the cost pays for marketing and packaging and not actual ingredients – but this sounded legit and interesting, possibly worth the extra cost that comes along with pure, natural ingredients. 

Last month American Vogue featured Tata in a glowing profile.  I was a little bummed to find out she’s not really a farm girl from Vermont.  Rather she’s a sophisticated Columbian, married to a New York City financier, who travels back and forth from the farm to the city where she has a fabulous apartment (I kid you not – it’s fabulous.  Check out this video from Italian Vogue!).  Now, I’m not knocking her but the slightly jaded New Yorker in me wondered if she was a serious scientist or a well-connected fashionista with deep pockets.

Curiosity got the best of me and I signed up for the workshop and I’m so, so glad I did!  For starters, Tata was wonderful; smart, passionate, approachable, and yes, serious about the science of natural skincare.  She began by talking about the different layers of the skin, what their functions are, and how she cares for each with non-synthetic, non-toxic, mostly organic ingredients such as safflower, date plum, Spanish lavender, narcissus bulb, and alfalfa.  About 20% of the ingredients she uses are grown on her farm and the remaining 80% are sourced from around the world.  A former cow barn now houses production and manufacturing.

(On a side note, Tata’s husband sells grass-fed, hormone-free, organic beef, lamb, and goat from animals raised on Julius Kingdom, their 1,200 acre farm in Champlain Valley, Vermont. 

We were able to sample the 12 products in her line while giving ourselves a mini-facial with Tata up front, leading the way.  From the cleaning to steaming to spritzing to moisturizing, we were told how to use each product, what ingredients were in it, and how they benefit the skin.  I was really taken by the purity of the ingredients and how they left my skin feeling hydrated and radiant.

All of these organic, natural ingredients do come at a price but fear not; if her products don’t fit into your budget at the moment, I picked up plenty of great tips at the workshop, most of which were either free or very inexpensive to do, all contributing to better health and a more beautiful, healthy appearance.  Here are just a few and the people who suggested them….

Pure Nutrition – Christian Henderson 
Tender Shoots Wellness – Latham Thomas
Organic Avenue – Callie Hill
No More Dirty Looks – Siobhan O’Conner
Spirit Beauty Lounge – Spirit Demerson
M.A.R.C Holistic Center – Tracy Piper

Christian Henderson, a dietician, gave us a list of “foods to eat to enhance beauty!”, including their key beneficial ingredient: 

Kale (sulfur), cucumber (silicon), carrots (beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body), lemon (vitamin C), spinach (vitamin E), chia seeds (omega-3 fatty acids), avocado (mono-unsaturated fats), brazil nuts (selenium), beets (anthocyanin), cashews (zinc), water.

Both Christian and Latham Thomas of Tender Shoots Wellness mentioned the importance of selenium to the body.  It is difficult, however, to get enough in one’s diet through food with one exception:  brazil nuts All it takes is one or two of these nuts a day to get the daily-suggested dose.  Why bother?  Because selenium is an important antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals, protects the skin from aging, and maintains collagen and elastin, which means fewer wrinkles, shinier hair, and stronger nails.  I love tips like this – easy, 100% natural, and effective.  I snack on walnuts and almonds throughout the day anyway and now, after a quick stop at the health food store, brazil nuts, too.   

I started drinking coconut water during my first Clean detox back in January and it popped up in conversation at the workshop.  Coconut water is the natural equivalent to Gatorade (minus the refined sugars), replenishing electrolytes and hydrating the body (which also makes it great for a hangover…I'm just saying...).   It’s an incredible source of potassium, which helps the skin stay healthy and regenerate new cells.  Coconut water has a very mild taste, almost like plain water.  The coconut water sold at Organic Avenue is by far the best I’ve ever had, tastier than the brands I find at Whole Foods and health food stores.  It’s not so convenient for me to buy so I’ll stick to my usual and treat myself to an Organic Avenue bottle when I’m in their neighborhood.

Although chlorophyll, the green pigment found in almost all plants, was mentioned as something to incorporate into our diets through wheatgrass shots or straight up in water, when I got home and did a little googling to find out more, I discovered the jury is still out on its health benefits.  There has been surprisingly little study of it; fans swear it is an antioxidant that alleviates inflammation, detoxifies the liver, and prevents the mutations of certain DNA-damaging chemicals responsible for some cancers.  Its naysayers say while it is harmless in normal dosages, none of the above claims have been proven.  I was told it makes the skin glow.  Organic Avenue sells bottles of liquid chlorophyll, which I bought and have been adding to a glass of water first thing in the morning and at night (if you’re wondering – chlorophyll is tasteless).  I find it hard to believe it doesn’t do something good for the body; at the very least, it encourages me to start and end my day with a glass of water, which I know for a fact is a good thing.

Dry brushing helps stimulate the lymphatic system and remove toxins from the body.  It also removes dull, dead layers of skin and brings about new cell regeneration.  After five minutes of gentle brushing with a natural bristle brush, your skin will glow.  I started dry brushing when I did the Clean cleanse, although I found out from Tracy Piper of M.A.R.C, I was doing it wrong.  Rather than scrubbing willy-nilly (whoops - didn’t know that!), there is a better way that relates to the body’s lymphatic system.  We were given a brush at the workshop and a demonstration. Here, in Tracy’s words, is what she showed us:

First, your skin and brush need to be dry.  Start at the neck with downward strokes towards the clavicle.  This is to activate the large lymph nodes in the neck.  Then move to the chest wall area.  Do not brush into the breast tissue!  Brush the chest wall outward toward the armpit.  Next, divide your arm in two.  Start brushing from the elbow upward toward the armpit, then the lower arm to the elbow and finally brush from the fingertips all the way up to the armpit.  Do the other arm.  Below the chest wall or breast, brush down into the lower abdominal area where there are many lymph nodes leading to the colon.  You may also brush the abdominal area in a clockwise direction.  Then brush the legs in the same divided manner as the arms:  brushing in an upward direction, start with the thigh, then lower leg, then full leg.

Many of us spend our days sitting in cars, sitting at desks, sitting on sofas.  All of this sitting results in the blood in our bodies draining away from our heart, to our extremities.  Why does this matter?  Because blood circulation is what moves nutrients, gases, and waste to and from our cells.  Without proper circulation, blood cannot get pumped by the heart to the lungs where it is oxygenated and sent back out to nourish the other organs of our body.  Try to find 5 minutes (although 20 is better) each day to lie down and lift your feet above your heart, the higher the better.  It’s a great way to start and end the day.

Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to lower cholesterol, protect against heart disease, control high blood pressure, and counter inflammation.  Fish is an excellent source of omega 3’s but try as I might I don’t eat enough to get the important health benefits.  To compensate for my lack of fish intake, about a year ago I started taking a tablespoon of flaxseed oil (also rich in omega-3’s) every morning.  Turns out the experts at the workshop agree and recommend adding flax and/or flaxseed to your diet.  Only buy cold pressed oil.

No More Dirty Looks is the book I have been looking for since I began my quest to eliminate chemicals from my beauty products.  The reality of my search is it’s expensive and time consuming to find products that are truly chemical free and really do what they say they do.  I’ve spent more time and money at Whole Foods than I care to admit! Co-author Siobhan O’Conner gave us an overview of how she conducted her extensive research and came up with a list of safe and clean cosmetics. As a professional journalist, she loved doing the investigating; all we have to do is read her findings and apply it to ingredient lists when shopping.  This is a great resource and perfect gift for any person interested in living green.

Some of the products listed in the book are available at Spirit Beauty Lounge, an online retailer that sells only natural beauty products (they carry Tata Harper).  Like the book, it’s an excellent place to educate yourself on the best natural cosmetic brands. Green cosmetics are hard to find in stores and often must be purchased online.  After listening to owner Spirit Demerson talk knowledgably about what she sells and why, I feel confident this is a reliable place to go to find effective products.

This last tip is one of the least expensive but sort of brutal.  Literally yelp out loud bad, but it really does work!  At the end of a hot shower, make the water as cold as you can stand (this is where the yelping occurs) although not too cold to start - you want to increase the amount of cold gradually so you don’t shock your system.  Stand under the water for a minute, then turn it back to hot.  Why inflict this sort of torture on yourself?  Because it will get your circulation pumping, which is crucial to good health (see lifting your feet above).  Not only does it leave you glowing – literally – it will also leave you energized and rarin’ to go.  Hydrotherapy is a practice that can be traced throughout history, all the way back to the Greeks.  Hot water causes the blood to move towards the skin to feed it and cold water makes the blood flow back to the internal organs.  Going back and forth between hot and cold several times during a shower will flush out the skin and oxygenate it.

These are just a few of the fun and easy tips that were shared at the workshop.  Taking care of yourself really doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition, as long as you have the right people guiding you. 

Kale Chips
Adapted from Dan Barber via Bon Appetit 

Kale is one of the wonder foods I know I should be eating all the time but don’t, probably because I’ve never eaten kale and said, “Wow!  That was delicious!” Not one to give up and inspired by all the lovely ladies at the workshop to eat myself healthy and beautiful, I found Dan Barber’s recipe for kale chips and decided to give it a whirl.  I’m happy to report the chips are tasty!  And don’t just take my word for it – I brought them in to work and they were a big hit. 

What are the beauty benefits derived from the sulfur found in kale?  Sulfur is a major component of keratin, which gives hair, skin, and nails strength.  It is needed for the production of collagen, which keeps skin firm and flexible.  And it is anti-inflammatory, which benefits conditions such as psoriasis and acne. 

I chose Tuscan kale from Migliorelli’s Farm located in northern Dutchess County, NY, but any variety of kale will work.  

1 bunch of kale, leaves washed, dried
1 tablespoon olive oil
Fresh salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Cut kale leaves in half, removing tough ribs and stems.  In a bowl, toss leaves with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Arrange leaves in a single layer on baking sheets.  Bake until crisps, about 25 – 30 minutes.