Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An Excellent Historian

"Mr. Miller is accompanied by his wife of ten years, who is an excellent historian..."
So went the transcription yesterday by our neurologist/psychiatrist here at the Mayo Clinic, and it feels pretty accurate. If I've had any role in the things that have been going on with my husband the last couple of years (or really, our entire marriage, but who's counting), it's been best summed up as "advocate," or now, "historian." I have not publicly told the whole story of what's happened to Alex, because I hadn't felt it was my story to tell, at least not in full, and in the beginning Alex was reluctant for people to know because he didn't want to deal with the stigma attached. But he's at the point now where he realizes that the more a story like this is shared, the more likely it is to resonate with someone else who has a similar experience, and that there is a possibility for people to help each other in this way. I also think it's liberating to finally just put it all out there and heave a big sigh of relief.

In the fall of 2008--yes, it's been going on that long--Alex, who most of you know has bipolar affective disorder (Bipolar 1, for you pros--the heavy hitter), had been mired in a deep depressive phase that just would not break. This was unusual for him, especially for the season in which it had occurred, because historically we've battled hypomania every summer like clockwork, ramping up benzos and antipsychotics to get us through until winter with as little trauma as possible. But something was different for those months of 2008, and by September, he was truly desperate.

On about our third visit in a matter of days to his psychiatrist, Alex was given two options: Add an anti-depressant, for the first time since his bipolar diagnosis, to his med cocktail, or undergo Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). Those last words hit our ears hard, conjuring up images of Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," and for a stunned moment we just looked at each other. But the prospect of an anti-depressant, at that point, was equally terrifying. Every time in his life that Alex had been administered ADs, it had resulted in full-blown, florid mania. He'd been misdiagnosed with unipolar depression a number of times, so he had some pretty good experience with this. Let's just say he's lucky to be alive, and extremely lucky to still be married. So for him, at that point, that option was just right out. And then the doctor began talking up the ECT, saying all the things that I've now heard from just about every doctor. It's safe, it's mild, it's just a seizure, people have seizures naturally all the time, and they're OK, it can snap a person out of a depression abruptly, it will break the depressive cycle and allow you to recover, just a few days and you'll feel better...I said no, Alex said yes. He was desperate, and it was his decision.

We were told to expect some mild confusion on the days of the treatments, which would improve quickly. He was scheduled for 6 treatments, spread over the course of a couple of weeks, and should be recovered enough to go back to work and resume life as normal within a couple of days after the final treatment. We went four times; he had three treatments. That fourth day, based on my repeated concerns about the profound effect the treatments were having on him, he was examined and further treatments were canceled. This was the doctor's call, and I have since found it baffling that the doctor (and all doctors, really) could maintain that there is no possible way that ECT treatments are to blame for my husband's condition, while at the same time ceasing the treatments due to what they were doing to him. As it turns out, psychiatrists can tolerate an enormous amount of cognitive dissonance without suffering the ruffling of a single feather (or fussy little beard-hair).

I wrote describing the symptoms once, painfully, already, so I won't rehash that here, except to say that things have not improved much, if at all. Alex is now officially--by which I mean according to the Social Security Administration--completely disabled. Each day is still a struggle. It's been an enormous strain on our marriage, partly because there is so much I just can't do alone, and partly because I am by necessity his caretaker 24/7. His condition leads to fear and insecurity and a constant need for reassurance, usually meaning my immediate presence wherever he is. And by immediate, I mean not more than a few feet away, and certainly not in another room. Preferably touching distance. I love him, but it's exhausting. It's putting me into a sort of parenting role, while he still views me purely as "wife," and this leads to a good bit of emotional conflict between us. I get frustrated. I get angry. I get sad. I get depressed. I cry. A lot. Everyone wants to help, but no one can. Not really.

But back to the process at hand. It has taken us this long to get this far, largely due to being buffaloed by the medical establishment at almost every turn. Our sweet, wonderful GP is the exception--he'd have done anything to help Alex, and even referred him for some cognitive and speech therapy (which was denied due to lack of a definitive diagnosis), but this was just beyond his scope. The psychiatrist and neurologist that we saw at home pretty much circled the wagons for the "there is absolutely no reason to believe that any of this is caused by ECT" line. Really. No way. It's got to be something else. Depression. Conversion disorder. Something totally unrelated. Except that it happened literally overnight, WHEN HE RECEIVED ECT TREATMENTS.

Look, I'm not saying, and never have, than anyone did anything wrong, or that there's any level of malpractice or anything like that happening here. We're not even anti-ECT in general; it helps thousands of people every year, people who go on to have no complications. I've not threatened, nor do I have any intent, to sue anyone. I don't see how we could, anyway, since Alex signed away all his rights relating to possible risks prior to treatment. I did report it as an "adverse event" to the FDA's Medwatch, because I think that having adverse outcomes on record is important for people like us who may come after. We just feel that, possibly, there was some latent weakness or issue particular to Alex's brain, nervous system, or some renegade organ, perhaps, that was exploited by the trauma of ECT. And yes, I believe that passing electrical current through someone's brain sufficient to cause a seizure counts as trauma.

Every PT/OT/speech therapist we've seen has said the same thing: That Alex presents as a victim of a traumatic brain injury. That if we'd told them he'd had a bad head injury, they'd absolutely have believed it. We even began some cognitive and speech therapy at one point, only to have it discontinued because no doctor would give a diagnosis of TBI, because, of course, an injury pursuant to ECT is impossible. We began to seek help outside of our "home" medical circle, starting with a neuropsychologist in Little Rock who was the first sympathetic ear we'd had, and told us that yes, he had seen adverse outcomes from ECT. Not a lot, but some. In our psychiatrist's report on one occasion, he notes that I told him that we'd seen a neuropsych "who claims to see these symptoms in most ECT patients," which I most certainly did NOT say, and that I "couldn't tell him the name of this doctor." Not entirely true, because the truth was that I WOULDN'T tell him the name of the doctor, because we were trying to get in at Mayo, and I couldn't risk him picking up the phone and leaning on this guy before we had all the records in our hands. Yes, I was that paranoid at this point. But you know what they say about paranoia, if people are really out to get you.

At first, we couldn't get a referral to Mayo. Our neurologist just refused. She said she'd done every test she could (and to be fair, they're repeating all the same ones here, so I don't doubt her on that count), there were no conclusive results, and that was that. It was the response we were getting pretty much everywhere we turned, and I'll give you the translation of how that came across to us: "Yes, something is very, very wrong here. Very wrong. And it's a shame. Gosh, it's too bad. But I have no idea what it is, and I have my own life to live, and at the end of the day your problems aren't my problem, so take this sympathetic-looking shoulder shrug and please go away now."

So we tried on our own. We contacted the neurology department at the Mayo Clinic directly, provided some records and a history, and waited. And got back a letter informing us that they were "declining to consult" at this time. Dead end, unless we were referred by another neurologist. This is when I had a form of mild psychotic break and basically just harassed the local neurologist's office for several months until they secured a referral for us.

So here we are. I'm trying to be hopeful, but as I'm seeing them do the same things here that they did at home, it's difficult. And Alex is so completely desperate for help, and so entirely invested in this consultation, for which he's waited more than a year, I'm terrified of what will become of him if we receive yet another sympathetic shrug of the shoulders, and a "Sorry, old sport, tough break, that...well, good luck in the future, goodbye!"

Don't do that to us, Mayo Clinic. We need you to pull out a win here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Vegetarian Myth

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and SustainabilityThe Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability by Lierre Keith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


An important book with an unfortunate title. Keith has some pretty rough feminist axes to grind which occasionally cloud (though also occasionally enhance) her message as it regards our food supply, but what she has to say about the way we eat is important for ANYONE to hear. You can absolutely feel her passion as a "recovering vegan," and the pain it causes her to denounce something she once so passionately believed in. I don't like the title, because my fear is that vegetarians/vegans will look at it and discount it immediately (as you can see from the "reviews" from vegetarians/vegans who haven't even read/finished the book), and omnivores will look at it and think there's no message there that they need.

She does tend to go on a bit, but the message boils down to pretty much this: There is no opt-out of the food chain; we're all part of it, like it or not. There is no plant life without animal contribution and death, and vice-versa. The only way for our planet to keep feeding its inhabitants into the future is if we abandon the industrial agriculture model we've adopted. Monocropping of non-native species is killing our planet, and darn quickly. We're starving ourselves with our ever-increasing focus on genetically modified cereal grains and soy. The only sustainable way to feed ourselves is to do it on a small, local, native scale that includes animals (remove animals from the equation and topsoil vanishes). There's really nothing to argue with there.

I absolutely believe in the tenets set forth in this book (no big shock to anyone who knows me), and go out of my way to find local, organic sources for 100% pastured, grassfed meat and dairy. I buy produce from within 100 miles of my home almost exclusively. I invest in healthy fats, raise free-range chickens for eggs and meat, etc. I won't go so far as to absolutely denounce vegetarianism, but I do believe that it has to fall under the same guidelines: local, sustainable, native. While I really didn't discover anything "new" to me in this book, it certainly drove home the urgency of the locavore movement in ways that Pollan, Kingsolver, et al did not. This book has a bit of a desperate tone, because we're facing a desperate situation. I very much recommend this book to anyone who eats. Take Keith's angsty, patriarchy-hating melodrama (I couldn't say I disagreed with her points, and Heaven knows the patriarchy needs some hating, but it was just disruptive in this context) with a grain of salt if need be. The message is worth indulging her a bit there.

I was first made aware of this book in a blog entry by Dr. Michael Eades, in which he tells of Ms. Keith being the victim of a terroristic attack at a reading, and bought it partly in support of her in the face of that treatment. I'm glad I did. I'm also glad I'm not her, because this is a woman (I'm sorry, "womyn?") operating under extreme anxiety a lot of the time, it seems. But then, maybe we should all be feeling that pressure--we don't have much time to put things right.



View all my reviews

Monday, August 23, 2010

You Musk(melon) Make This Jam

muskmelon-nectarine jam

Just made a little batch of this jam from odds and ends I had on hand that just happened to be called for in this recipe from Ontario blogger and locavore Sarah Hood, who adapted it from a Foodland Ontario recipe. It was my good luck to have stumbled across Sarah's blog when I had these ingredients all ready to roll. I'd bought a bunch of nectarines the weekend before at the farmer's market, and the grower had tossed in this adorable little muskmelon (I'm thinking a variety of honeydew) for free. This jam is so good that I literally caught myself eating it with a spoon.

I took Sarah's tip about the lemon zest and ran with it, and lazied things up a bit further than that, even, because I have no patience for pushing things through sieves or getting out a food mill. I used a whole lemon and reduced the amount of lemon juice added later, and took my stick blender to the apples instead of straining them. I also left out that second half-cup of water the recipe calls for, and that maybe cut down on the time it took, because I got a very firm set fairly quickly. As nearly always, I peeled nothing.

This recipe yielded me more than four but not quite five half-pint jars of jam.

Honeydew-Nectarine Jam

1.5 cups tart apple, chopped (Granny Smith and Mitsy apples are out in Arkansas now)
One whole lemon, unpeeled, halved then sectioned, seeds removed
3/4 cups water
2 cups finely chopped muskmelon (canteloupe, honeydew, casaba, etc.)
2 cups finely chopped nectarines
1Tbsp lemon juice
3 cups sugar (raw, rapadura, whatevs)

Combine chopped apples, lemon pieces, and water in a large, non-reactive heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until apple is soft, about 10 minutes. The lemon will have cooked down to the peel--remove the pieces of peel. Original recipe has you push the mixture through a strainer at this point. You could do that, sure...or you could do what I did, and take your immersion (stick) blender to it right in the pan, and puree the apple pieces. Worked a treat.

Add melon, nectarines, and lemon juice, and bring to a full rolling boil. (This is where I used to mess up a lot of jams, and I never could understand why my jams didn't want to set. I was too timid in cooking them. You want the stuff to BOIL. Hard. I realize now that this is why jam recipes always call for a "large" saucepan or pot--you have to allow enough room in the pot for the jam to really rock and roll and pop and splatter...in other words, boil.) Gradually stir in sugar until completely dissolved. Boil rapidly, stirring frequently, until jam stage is reached, about 20 minutes. You could speed things along here by adding pectin, but it's not needed.

To check for "jam stage," put a clean spoon into the mixture and lift it out, looking at the back of the spoon. You want to see the jam coming off the spoon in a solid sheeting action. Additionally, if you put a little plate or two in the freezer before you start, you can drop a blob of the jam mixture onto a frozen plate, let it cool, then run your finger through it. If a gap remains where you dragged your digit, it's jam. If the "trench" fills in, keep cooking. Or, you could be sensible and just use a candy thermometer and watch for the magic 220F. I haven't gotten sensible yet.

Once jam stage is achieved, remove from heat and stir jam for 5 minutes. I don't know why, but I did it, and it turned out perfect, so you just hush and do it, too. Skim foam if necessary (I didn't have to). Pour jam into hot, sterilized jars, adjust lids, and process in a boiling water bath for however long you usually do with jams...I did mine for 10 minutes before I noticed that this recipe calls for 5 minutes. *shrug*

This was my first time using these crazy little Italian jars, and I had to go to Facebook for help with the oddly translated instructions for getting the one-piece lids to seal. You have to put them in the water bath when the water is close to the same temperature as the filled jars, then bring it up to the boil, process, and then just take the canning pot off the heat and leave the jars in the water until it's all cooled. Kinda weird, but totally worth it for the cute factor of the finished product, I think.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

You Should Totally Drink This

strawberry basil balsamic soda

This is another recipe that I first made back when it was strawberry season in Arkansas (which is to say, late May), but I know from The Twitter and The Facebook that lots of you people are having strawberries right now, which is grossly unfair. Our season was shorter than ever this year, but I did manage to get several quarts into the freezer. Not as many as I'd like, but at least some. I served this drink to my family at the lake on a holiday weekend, along with some Mozzarella Caprese featuring fresh homemade mozzarella. It was a big day for balsamic vinegar.

Yes, balsamic vinegar is in that drink. As is basil. You're gonna have to trust me here, because this is super refreshing. I stumbled across this recipe a couple of places, and it just looked so good I had to try it...and I kept making it, because YUM. I did a few things differently, because...well, because I just did. And I've done it a couple different way since, so I'll just mention those as we go.

NOTE: You'll need to make the syrup at least one day before you plan to serve this drink.

Strawberry Balsamic Basil Soda

Basil Syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup minced fresh basil leaves
8-10 bruised basil stems
1 cup sweetener of choice (sugar, Splenda, agave syrup, even honey...I've also experimented with stevia extract, though that requires that you use more water and monkey with it a bit)

Strawberry Balsamic Puree:
2 cups chopped strawberries
2 Tablespoons GOOD balsamic vinegar (Modena--don't skimp)

Carrier:
Sparkling water, sparkling wine, tonic, seltzer, club soda...anything bubbly and neutral-ish

Syrup: In a saucepan, combine water, sweetener of choice, and basil stems. Stir to dissolve sweetener, and bring to a light boil for a minute or so. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. Add the minced basil leaves to the pan, cover, and let stand a half hour or so (until it's cool). Remove basil stems, and transfer the rest to a Mason jar with a lid, and let it steep in the refrigerator overnight. Strain out the minced basil just prior to serving.

Puree: Use a blender, food processor, or stick (immersion) blender to puree the chopped strawberries with the balsamic vinegar. You want it as smooth as possible.

Prepare four tall glasses and have whole basil leaves ready for garnish. Pour 1/2 cup strawberry balsamic puree into each glass, and add one cup of seltzer (or whatever carrier you've chosen) and 1-4 Tablespoons of the basil syrup, depending on your taste for sweetness (In my opinion, each glass needs about 3Tbsp of the syrup, which is why I doubled the original recipe), to each glass. Finish with ice to fill glasses, stir gently to combine, and add basil leaves to garnish.

Cheers!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Plumb Luscious Plum Sauce

plum sauce

Plum season has come and gone here, and I didn't get a chance to write this up in time, but hopefully some of you in more northern climes are still getting some plums, or maybe you froze some until you figured out what to do with them...let me tell you, this is what to do with them.

I froze a good number of plums for smoothies, and made plum jam, and the darn things were so delicious that I went back to the Certified Arkansas Farmers Market the next week and bought another box of plums from The Russian Farmer. Froze some more, and decided that I wanted to do something really special with the last of them, since there wouldn't be any more fresh local plums this year. So I did what I always do when faced with such a quandary: I took it to Twitter (and by extension, Facebook, since my Twitter updates post there as well). I was rewarded with the most amazing plum sauce recipe EVER, from the lovely Joie of Canned Laughter. I only made a couple of tiny, inconsequential changes to Joie's original recipe, and I'll note those for you as we come to them.

JOIE'S PLUM SAUCE:

* 4 lbs. Dark Plums
* 8 oz. Onions
* 1 scant cup Golden Raisins
* 2 tsp. each: Whole Allspice, Peppercorns, Mustard Seeds
* 1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
* 1 inch piece of bruised Ginger Root (~1/4 oz.)***I at least tripled this amount, and chopped it up--we love ginger!
* 2-1/2 cups Brown Malt Vinegar (or substitute Apple Cider Vinegar)***I used both
* 2-1/2 Tbs. pickling salt
* 1-1/3 cups soft Brown Sugar, light

yum plums!

Start with four pounds of beautiful, ripe (but not overripe) plums. Joie's recipe called for "dark plums," which is good, because that's what I had. Wash, chop, and pit them--no need to peel them at this time (or ever, if you do it the way I did).

Find a kid to peel the ginger for you, because peeling ginger root is a pain in the nether regions. Use a whole one-inch chunk to follow Joie's recipe, or three times that much, chopped, if you're doing it my way.

get a kid with plums under her fingernails to peel the ginger

Bundle the whole spices (allspice, peppercorns, and mustard seed) in a bit of cheesecloth, tied up and secured in a nice little bindle. I fasten mine with a zip-tie, and cut off the excess cloth.

In a heavy, non-reactive (no aluminum, no non-coated iron, no copper) pot, combine chopped plums, chopped onions, raisins, ginger, half the vinegar (My bottle of malt vinegar wasn't quite enough for this recipe, so I made up the rest with organic ACV),cayenne pepper, and the sachet of whole spices.

plum sauce makin's

Bring this mixture to the boil, then reduce temperature and simmer gently for about 30 minutes, or until plums are soft and pulpy. It just gets more and more beautiful as it simmers.

that right there will make your house smell good

first simmer

This next part is where I disobeyed Joie's instructions. My sauce turned out amazing, and I'm sure it does when done her way, too--heck, her way might be better. But I am lazy, and I also hate to waste anything, plus I like a strong ginger "bite" to sauces like this. So, to follow Joie's instructions, at this point you'll want to remove the spice bag, and strain the cooked sauce into another container, rubbing the contents through a fine sieve before returning the strained mixture to the original, rinsed pot.

What I did was simply to remove the spice bag, and puree everything until it was perfectly smooth. Use a blender, a food processor, or the easiest option, an immersion (stick) blender, right in the cooking pot.

Whichever route you choose, at this point you'll add in the salt, sugar, and the remaining vinegar. Bring the mixture back up to the boil, and keep it at a good bubbling simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. It should reduce down a good bit, and thicken up some.

second simmer, after puree

Ladle hot sauce carefully into hot, sterilized jars, adjust lids and rims, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes (more if at higher altitudes--check your local extension office guidelines). Rest for 24 hours before storing in a cool, dark place (mine just live in a kitchen cabinet). Joie says that her recipe yields 2 pints, or 4 half-pint jelly jars. My batch, as you can tell from the picture at the top of this post, yielded 7 half-pint jars...probably because I pureed everything instead of straining anything out.

I really appreciate Joie sharing her recipe with me, because this plum sauce is simply divine! And look how pretty it is! This would make an amazing gift, if you are a better person than me and can resist the urge to hoard it all for yourself. I'm imagining many wonderful uses for this delicious sauce...on lamb, on chicken, or to elevate pork roast to another level altogether. And desserts? Oh, the options are endless.

so pretty

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Just Peachy! Part Two, Quick Fresh Peach-Tomato-Cucumber Salsa

peach, tomato, cucumber, onion, bell pepper, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro

See all that stuff there? Go gather it up. I'll wait.

*tap, tap*

Oh, OK, I'll tell you what it is. Unlike yesterday's Peach-Tomato Salsa recipe, this one, using all raw ingredients, is virtually instant. Seriously, you can have it on the table in minutes from start to finish. Do NOT leave out the cucumber. I'm convinced that is what gives it its bright, fresh taste...it tastes like summer.

Fresh Peach-Tomato-Cucumber Salsa

Equal parts of the following, chopped (for measurement purposes, we'll call it a cup each):

Peaches, peeled and pitted
Tomato, cored and seeded
Cucumber, partially peeled

And:

One medium Vidalia (or other sweet) onion, peeled
One medium bell pepper, any color, seeded
2-4 fresh jalapenos, seeded
A handful of fresh cilantro, to taste
2-4 cloves garlic, crushed then chopped

And:

Lime juice, just a bit
1-2 Tbsp honey, or more to taste
A splash of white wine vinegar (this makes a huge difference)
1-2 tsp ground cumin
Salt to taste

Instructions? Combine all ingredients.

this is as much as I chopped stuff, because I just puree it anyway

Just like before, it's up to you whether you chop or puree. And just like before, if you want it to be gorgeous, you'll chop everything uniformly. The colors are just beautiful. But if, like me, you like pureed salsa, or, like me, you are lazy, you'll just load everything into the food processor or blender and let 'er rip. Adjust the seasoning ingredients to taste at the end, adding anything you think might give it your own personal zing.

you needa eat that

Then, you needa EAT THAT. I am not kidding when I tell you that Alex and I put away the first batch all by ourselves, in one sitting, in bed with a giant bag of tortilla chips and an awful movie. And it makes at least a quart. It's that good.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Just Peachy! Part One, Cooked Peach Tomato Salsa For Canning (or not)

do the same with the peaches

I love peaches. LOVE them. That smell alone just makes me happy. So the last couple of times I've been to the farmers' market, I've come home loaded down with a box full. I cut a bunch up and flash froze then vacuum sealed them, so I can have fresh peaches to put in smoothies or cook with long after their picking season has come and gone, but when it comes to peaches, there's so much more you can do.

I've had really good success with a couple of different peach salsas this year, and wanted to share them. The first one is a cooked peach-tomato salsa that I processed in jars for storage, and the second one is fresh and raw. Both are totally delicious. I'd recommend the cooked version for topping chicken or pork or adding to tacos, etc., and the uncooked version ROCKS on tortilla chips. I'm doing a separate post for each one, starting with the cooked salsa.

You'll notice lots of "ranges" in my ingredients list, partly because I was winging it, and partly because taste is so subjective. You might like things more spicy, or less salty, or loaded with garlic and onions. Taste it and go with what you like.

Peach Tomato Salsa

Yield: At least 8 pints

4-5 cups chopped tomatoes (skinned and seeded)
9-10 cups chopped peaches (skinned and pitted, duh)
1-2 cups chopped onion, depending on your taste for onions (I used two Vidalias)
3 large Bell peppers, any color (I used one each red, yellow and green)
4-6 fresh jalapenos, chopped, or more if you like heat
1 cup white wine vinegar
A bunch of cilantro, fresh or dried (since I was gonna be cooking it anyway, I used dried) to taste
1/3 cup honey
Juice of 2-4 limes
3-6 cloves garlic, crushed then chopped
2-4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2-4 tsp cumin
Salt to taste (or not at all)

'maters

You need about 15 medium-sized tomatoes: enough to make 4-5 cups of chopped tomatoes once they've been skinned and cored/seeded. Here's the easy way to do that. Even better if you have a kid around.

in boiling water 'til skins start to split

While you get a big pot of water boiling, fill a huge bowl, or your sink, with ice water. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water. Watch them, and when their skins start to split, take them out, and immediately plunge them into a bowl or sink full of ice water until they're completely cool.

plunge into ice water until completely cooled

Might as well take advantage of that already-boiling water, and give the peaches the same treatment. Only this time, you're not waiting for their skins to split--time it, and give them about 60 seconds. Do them in batches to avoid overcooking any (I think I used about 20 medium-sized peaches). The skins should be just slightly "loose."

After they've cooled, all you have to do is gently rub the tomatoes and peaches, and the skins will slip right off. This is a perfect job for a child who keeps begging, "Let me help!" but who you mightn't want handling giant pots of boiling liquids.

get your seven-year-old to slip off the skins

Bella tomato-peeling

skins slip right off

Yay, nekkid fruits!

nekkid 'maters

do the same with the peaches

Then the boring part: You get to core the tomatoes and squoosh out all the seeds, and pit and chop the peaches. Kids are good for the squooshing (and can just tear the cores out with their hands) while you handle the knife work on the peaches.

squoosh all the seeds out and get rid of the core

I left the peaches chunky, but pretty much pureed everything else

If your peaches are going to be sitting around for any length of time, go ahead and squeeze the limes over them and mix well, to keep them nice and bright. Otherwise, you can add the lime juice at any time.

This is the point at which you decide how chunky you want your salsa (and how much time you want to spend standing at a cutting board chopping stuff up--or slaving over a food processor, whatever). For presentation purposes, having everything chopped uniformly, and kind of chunky, is definitely the most visually stunning choice, because of all the colors. Personally, I like my salsa un-chunky. I wound up splitting the difference and chopping the peaches, but pureeing everything else. Any excuse to use my Kitchen Ninja. I love that thing.

Kitchen Ninja! with peppers and onions

Get it all in a heavy non-reactive pot (no uncoated iron, no aluminum), add your honey, herbs, vinegar, and spices, and cook it just briefly...bring to a boil and let it bubble for, say, 6 or 7 minutes. This is where you can adjust your seasonings, add salt, whatever.

add herbs and spices and cook 5-6 minutes

All done! You can chill some to serve right away, package it in freezer jars or bags, or go ahead and process it to store in jars on the shelf, or even give as gifts (if you're insane). I know if you've never done it before, "processing" sounds scary, and you're afraid you're gonna give everyone botulism. But if I can do it, anyone can, and water-bath canning is not that intimidating. All it really is, when you get right down to it, is funneling your salsa into piping-hot sterilized jars (you can sterilize them in your dishwasher on the hot setting, boil them, or heat them in your oven), covering with a hot, sterilized lid, screwing on that ring, then placing the filled jars on a rack in a ginormous pot of boiling water for ten minutes. That's it. Really.

When you take your beautiful jars out and place them on a clean towel on your counter top, drying the tops, the best part soon follows...listening for that magical "POP!" that tells you you did it right. I love that pop.

peach-tomato salsa!

Next post will be a quick, easy recipe for a fresh raw peach-tomato-cucumber salsa you can throw together in minutes, and WOW whoever you feed it to. You gotta try it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Little Bee

Little Bee Little Bee by Chris Cleave


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don't want to say too much about the plot, because I read this book on a spontaneous whim, when it was recommended to me by Kindle because I enjoyed The Help. I knew nothing about it going in, and it was a remarkable and delightful discovery. Given the subject matter, you'd expect the author to have given the novel a preachy, heavy-handed tone, but he didn't. It's a real gift, in my opinion, when a writer can allow the reader to do most of the legwork in that regard. You're left to develop your own readings of the characters and their motives, and trust me--you will.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Big Breakfast. Or Little Breakfasts. Whatever.


salami mini-frittatas
Originally uploaded by ninjapoodles
This is another breakfast shortcut--anything that cuts down on what I have to do in the morning is good in my book. Plus we all do better throughout the day if we get a hit of protein first thing in the morning. It's so hard to get out of that whole "morning is the time to eat cereal grains" mindset, but that really is the worst thing you can do to your poor body after a night-long fast. OK, maybe not worse than skipping breakfast entirely. But close.

Anyway, this was so incredibly easy, and it's endlessly customizable. Basically, they're just little mini oven-baked frittatas. You can do them in regular muffin cups or minis (pictured here).

6 eggs
1 cup of any cheese (I used sharp cheddar here)
1 cup total of other add-ins (I used 3/4 c salami and 1/4c chives)
salt & pepper and/or herbs to taste
splash of milk or cream (or almond milk, etc.--even water)

Mix it all together, pour into WELL greased muffin cups (I sprayed mine too lightly with Pam, and they stuck on the bottoms), and bake at 350 just until eggs are set. You don't want them brown. 20-30 minutes-ish. Cool, then refrigerate or freeze, and give 'em a zap in the morning for breakfast.

Eggs are so awesome. Seriously, do anything here. Bacon, mushrooms, onions, sausage, spinach, feta...basically anything that would be good in an omelet or a quiche would work fine.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Big Promise

promise

Every year, I have these big, big plans for my garden. And every year, my grand schemes are realized in yet another Garden of Fail. The lettuces bolt overnight, the beans don't bear, the corn is stunted, slugs beat me to the strawberries, and worms devour the broccoli and cauliflower down to the stems. I don't use poisons or chemical growth enhancers, because for me, that defeats the purpose of growing produce at home. I can buy chemical-laden plants at the grocery store, way cheaper than what my time and labor is worth--there'd be no point in growing veggies and fruit at home that way.

So here we are once again. It's Spring, and I'm rooting around in the dirt. I'm replenishing the raised beds with fresh soil and starting over. This year, if I don't make it work, I think I'll have to give up. I have reinforcements this time. I've got weed cloth, row covers, and Escar-Go. The baby broccoli will be covered up so the cabbage moths can't get to it (though I'm a bit confused over when/how to uncover for pollination, so if you have tips on that, lemme know). The slugs will be baited and dealt with (hopefully) before they nom on my luscious strawberries. I'm limiting my plans to things that we will actually eat, and a smaller selection of those, in hopes that my reach will not exceed my grasp this time.

Here's the lineup for spring, with possible changes/additions happening during the summer and fall growing seasons:

Broccoli
Leeks
Brussels Sprouts
Cucumbers
Onions
Bell Peppers: Red, Yellow, and Green
Bush Beans
Strawberries
Sugar Baby Melons
Roma Tomatoes

That's right. ONLY Romas. Aside from the occasional batch of fried green ones, we don't like tomatoes, Sam I Am. We like tomato SAUCE. So all we need is a freezer full of home-grown Romas to get us through the year.

We have herbs going great guns already--that's something even I can't screw up. They grow like crazy in spite of me, even the ones that are in pots and never watered. We've got basil, oregano, thyme, sage, chives, rosemary, parsley, dill, lavender and about a half acre (at least it seems that way) of mint. I think I'm going to try drying herbs this year, so any advice on that front is appreciated.

I do have a bit of good news about things that made it over the winter here, besides herbs. Strawberries, as mentioned, are looking strong and already blooming. We should have a good little berry harvest if I can keep the slugs off them!

berry beginnings

And just in the last couple of weeks, the grapevines I'd given up for dead sprang back to life. Let that be a lesson to my fellow gardenoobs: Grapevines in winter look very, very dead. But look! It's alive (and smothered in mint)!

Grapevine and mint

Also featured in long-range growing plans, and doing well in their second year:

Blueberries
Blackberries
Granny Smith and Arkansas Black Apples
Peaches
Pears
Plums
Montmorency Cherries

These things should all be going strong by the time I'm ready to move away from here, I figure.

So what are you growing and what advice do you have for newbies like me?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Big Moves, Dog and Pony Show Edition

The other day, I put a shout-out up on Facebook asking for help hauling horses to the vet for Coggins tests, the first step in getting them re-homed. My good friend Lisa responded right away, and we made plans for today. She was here first thing this morning, and we caught who we could (all but one) and took off for the vet.

By the time we'd gotten the horses into the trailer, Lisa had decided to just take Kate and her baby on home with her after the vet. I did NOT object. This was the best possible outcome for Kate, who is running happily on acres and acres of beautiful grass now, instead of picking her way through rocks over here on the Mountainside of Barren Terrain. The relief I feel is enormous, as was the sense of joy I got from watching that filly stretch out and really run for the first time in her young life. Lisa owns Kate's full sister, who had a foal of her own just a few days after Kate foaled, so the two of them will grow up together, playing as only baby horses can. I love it.

They didn't so much as look back when they got out of the trailer, which was fine with me.

byebye

Lisa went back out later and got some better shots...looks like these girls are gonna be just fine. Now I only need homes for two more horses!

Kate and filly, new home!

fuzzy filly

Oh, and also on that trip, Erik the colt became Erik the gelding. He doesn't want to talk about it, and requests no pictures be taken at this sensitive time. He'll get back to you later, when he has reconciled himself to his new identity as one of the nutless.

We'd no more than pulled back onto our street when my cell phone rang to let me know that Kathy and Caitlen were in town to pick up Reggie and Gabby for a little vacation in Indianapolis. Reggie will be romancing the lovely Josephine, and a couple of other Indiana ladies, and I'm sure he'll deliver some beautiful puppies for the Hoosiers. I mean, how could this pair miss?

CH Renaissance Creative Impulse, aka "Reggie"
CH Renaissance Creative Impulse, "Reggie"


Josephine
CH Serenade's Sweet Surprise, "Josephine"

Oh, and that bitch? Is a thousand times more gorgeous in person, if you can believe it. She created such a stir in the PetsMart parking lot that her owner, Caitlen, ultimately had to HIDE her so we could have a minute of peace. People came from all corners to admire her and ask all kinds of crazy questions. My favorite: "Is that a poodle?" Nope, wolverine. Stand back!

Also traveling is our beautiful, sweet Gabby. Gabby is kind of Mommy's special pocket dog, and she'll be sorely missed while she's gone. But she and handsome Taz will no doubt deliver the next generation of champions in silver for Sue and Kathy. I'm nearly giddy with anticipation to see what comes of this cross.


CH Kallista Tintype At Renaissance, "Taz"


GabbyFinish2
CH Aery Silde Straight Talk, "Gabby"

Since things are still way too upside-down here for us to be doing any breeding or showing at present, I'm grateful to Sue and Kathy and Caitlin for allowing us to keep our noses in the game, and I'm glad that the next generation of amazing dogs is forthcoming.

It was a good day for us and our animals!

Friday, April 09, 2010

World War Z

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I liked this book so much I'm reading it again just over a year later. I remain woefully underprepared for the impending zombie apocalypse.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Big Business

I've spent most of today with Craigslist. I've listed a bunch of hunting equipment and gear, and some other things, and I've also been looking for likely candidates to do some work around here that needs doing. I've a barn that needs cleaned out, junk to haul off, and some heavy housework that I just can't manage on my own, plus Bella was given a playset by her grandmother over a year ago that still hasn't been assembled. Lots of stuff.

I have a bit of trouble staying on-task with Craigslist, because there are just so many fabulous diversions to be had. Usually, the good stuff is from other places. Urban areas. Big cities. New York and San Francisco. But by golly, Arkansas is catching up.

I've just solved all my problems, I think. In looking for house cleaners, just stumbled across this local guy, with an ad titled, "Butt* Naked Stud Monkey." What will Butt Naked Stud Monkey do for you? What WON'T BNSM do for you?

"Will do odd jobs around the house fully unclothed 5o buckaroos an hour obo...you can call me Lambo."


Lambo, don't sell yourself short. You hold firm to that 50 buckaroo rate--don't haggle! Stud Monkeys are rare enough; Butt Naked Stud Monkeys even more so.

Upon refreshing the page a bit later, I found a new listing, titled "Male House Cleaner Needs Houses." Looks like someone is trying to build a new business, but I was curious why he needed to include his gender in the listing. His ad says he's been cleaning houses for 10 years, and then kind of as an afterthought, adds, "I offer bottomless cleaning also." OK, really? Is this something that's in demand? The thought of some random guy in my house with no pants on is disconcerting enough, but when you add in activities that will have said random guy bending, stooping, straining, grunting...yeah, I'm gonna pass. Then again...what if these guys really are the best, and it's the pantslessness that frees them up to do such a superb job? Hmmmm.

Now to compile a list of household chores that don't involve bending over.


*Exactly when did we go from the phrase "buck naked" to the phrase "butt naked?" That doesn't even make sense. What does it mean? "I'm naked...EVEN MY BUTT?"

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Big Chip On Mama's Shoulder

So last week, Bella had a bad fall off of the high monkey bars at school, and fell with a "WHUMP!" flat on her back onto the gravel of the playground. She reassured me that it was at least nice smooth river rock gravel, as opposed to pointy slate gravel, but still. Rocks is rocks, and OUCH. Since she couldn't stop crying for an hour, the school nurse called and said we'd better come on and get her, which of course we did.

I took her to the ER, and based on her symptoms (her back hurt, yes, but her CHEST hurt more than anything), they performed an X-Ray and diagnosed her with a "chest wall contusion." And there was some heavily-accented mumbling about the point where the sternum attaches to something else being "knocked loose," or something, basically meaning that while she was fine and nothing was broken, she was gonna be sore for some time. We were instructed to keep her quiet for a couple of weeks, no heavy impact activities, etc.

0401101610a_158927.jpg

I called the school and reported in, then kept her home the next day, and sent her back the following Monday with a note from the ER doctor.

This brings us to Tuesday, when my child, who had been improving steadily, and was really doing a great job of assessing her pain and adjusting her activities accordingly, climbed into the car after school wincing at every movement. This kept up well into the next day, and I finally asked her if her chest was hurting more, because if so, we needed to check back in with the doctor. She said, "Well, it was a lot better, but then yesterday, they took us outside for a reward for doing good on the benchmark testing, and they had games. We had to do a sack race, in teams, and hopping really hurt."

*blink, blink* "Honey, if you'd just told the teacher in charge that it hurt you to do that, she'd have let you sit out."

"Nuh-uhh. I DID tell her, as soon as I took two hops and I knew that it hurt, I TOLD her that I couldn't do it because it hurt my chest! And she said that she didn't have a note from my parents saying anything about that, so I had to go finish the race."

"Are you serious?"

"Yeah. I tried to make little tiny hops so they wouldn't hurt, but they still did. And then my team was mad at me because I went so slow I made them lose."

And then Mommy's heart broke. And then Mommy got mad.

"So they have to have a NOTE, do they? From your PARENTS? Saying that they have our permission NOT TO HURT YOU? Bring me a piece of paper, honey, I have to write a note to your school."

I think I managed to maintain my decorum, explaining the nature of my child's injury and asking that they please respect her pain threshold, and that if she tells them that an activity hurt, they please NOT FORCE HER TO CONTINUE SAID ACTIVITY. And yeah, I did resort to all caps in one section, which I hope they saw not as yelling, but as an firm but genteel raising of the voice, in a civilized manner.

I think what really annoyed me is that the girl TOLD them that the activity was causing her pain, and they essentially responded that unless she had "backup" in the form of a note from an adult, then she had absolutely zero credibility in representing her own health, her own feelings, her own PAIN. It's telling her that she is not worth believing, not even when it's something important like a medical condition or injury that they could be exacerbating by ignoring her...which is precisely what they did. She hurt for two solid days after the sack race incident, and is still saying "ouch" when I hug or hold her. Grrrrrr.

And it's not like my child is a liar, or even has a history of exaggerating her pain, illness, or other problems for sympathy or special treatment or attention. Quite the contrary--the morning after the accident, she WANTED to go to school. She kept saying, "I think I can do it, if I just go really slow and no one touches me." So when THIS kid evaluates her pain level, and says, "I'd better not do this, it hurts me," then I just feel that SHE SHOULD BE RESPECTED AS A HUMAN BEING. A small human being, yes, but a human being nonetheless.

Shouldn't she? Shouldn't all our kids? Kids, like babies, are PEOPLE, same as adults.

I really hope my note wasn't over-the-top snarky, but then again, with the knowledge that we've been rezoned into a new school next year, I might not've been all that careful...

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Big LOLs

I have to interrupt any sort of coherent posting to share the best shirt for sale on the whole Internet right now.


You can get it here. I love the product description: "The font and spacing is bad, evoking the terrible writing of the Twilight series."

Monday, April 05, 2010

Born To Run

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I award five stars to this book based largely on the "you must read this" influence it had on me. I think I've told just about every thinking person that I've encountered, "You must read this book!"

Change your shoes; change your life. That's an ever-present theme, and it's one that hit home with me for sure, based on the drama of my crazy feet and all they've been through. Ever since a riding accident in 1992, in which a shattering impact on asphalt caused all the bones in the navicular area of my right foot to go, "KABLOOEY," and the subsequent surgeries, years of casting, surgical hardware and yes, even bone grafts, I have been on a constant search for the magical shoe that will give me the greatest mobility with the least discomfort. And always, no matter how short a time I'm in them, my first priority upon getting home is to GET THE SHOES OFF. It turns out that my "there is no shoe that feels better than...well, NO SHOES" philosophy was pretty much right on target.

I'm doing even better since discovering these babies, which I'd have done much sooner if I'd read McDougall's book earlier!

rivertoes

While there is tons of material here regarding the biomechanics of gait and movement, which I personally found fascinating, there's also plenty of storytelling, and the subjects are well worth the time spent running off on tangents in the middle of other tales. (Heck, I'd read a whole collection of short stories, just about the characters in this book, mainly the Tarahumara and the Gringo distance runners, but also the scientists, coaches, and other visionaries.) From some reviews I read, this tangential storytelling style rather annoyed some readers, but to me it felt completely organic to the flow of the larger theme. This could be a personal interpretation, since this is pretty much the way I myself tell stories...I have to make a few pit stops along the way to the destination, visit a few side trails, maybe stop at a Stuckey's for a pecan log. I can honestly say that there wasn't a time that, after one of McDougall's "detours," I thought, "Well, that was pointless." It was all woven in very naturally, to me.

Do yourself a favor, and read this book. Please don't think that just because you're not a runner (I'm not, not since "Frankenfoot"), this book won't speak to you. It seems to have something for everyone. You have to get close to the end before you get into what, for me, was the serious payoff--the examination of evolutionary evidence of homo sapiens' destiny of distance running. That was a game-changer for me, and the proof offered for that thesis is compelling. I was stunned to learn what we share in common, physiologically, with horses and dogs and other "running" animals, as opposed to chimps and other "walking" animals. We really were "born to run!"

So, the short version: Yes, McDougall is given to hyperbole. Yes, he tends to meander a bit while getting to his point. But sometimes, when you're on a long trip, you've just gotta stop and see the world's biggest ball of twine and maybe get a pecan log, right? Read this book, and be prepared to want to just run right out your front door and keep going...possibly with no shoes on.

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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Big News


big news
Originally uploaded by ninjapoodles
Hey. You guys. My mom got married. I thought that Easter was a good day to make the announcement, what with this being a time of rebirth and fresh starts. He's a heckuva nice guy, with a wonderful family. I finally have those brothers I always wanted, and two new sisters and two adorable new nephews, to boot! When your family is as good as mine, more family is always a good thing! We're blessed, indeed.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Big Outdoors

tadaaaaa

Are you getting outside? It's spring, you know. If your allergies can take it, get out there! The oak pollen is trying to kill us all, but we're Zyrtecced up and fighting back as best we can.

And? If any horse people local to me would be interested in some very fine Arabian horses, I have some ready for good homes. Give me a holler, and let's talk. They have GOT to go, because on one salary, I cannot afford to feed them. One mare with a foal at her side, a two-year-old filly, and a pony-sized four-year-old colt. Absotively gorgeous, every one of them.

God bless us, every one, and a happy Easter tomorrow.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Big Smooth

I've been making smoothies for a while now. Our whole family loves them, and it's an easy way to pack in a lot of nutrients at once. If you're in it for pure flavor, recipes like this can't be beat. I've now adjusted my thinking on the smoothie's role in my family's nutrition since those days, and it's gone from being a sorta-healthy treat to becoming a real nutritional workhorse in our diet. I've gotten a lot of emails and DMs asking for ingredients and measurements, so I'm gonna give it a go here. This is a process that you really eyeball and taste as you go, but I've tried to observe and record approximate measurements as I went along this time. I'll explain the low-carb version that I make for myself (and Alex), and then show how that can be changed and added to with Bella's "everything but the kitchen sink" version.

THIS IS A RECIPE FOR TWO. First into the blender (or Magic Bullet, or Kitchen Ninja--yes, I have them all) is liquid--a good bit of it. Back in the sugar-high days, I used straight juice, and even supplemented that with a splash of tart cherry concentrate. Delicious, but OMG the sugar. Even orange juice contains a full day's carbohydrate allowance for me per cup. Now if I use juice, I put in about 1/2 cup, then add a cup or so of water to that. I flavor that up with a teaspoon or so of lime juice and a few drops of stevia or a couple packets of Splenda. Another really easy solution to the liquid problem is to use sugar-free limeaid. It provides the perfect base flavor for all manner of fruit smoothies. The reason I use so much liquid is that I don't use ice...more on that later. For now, just follow along, and trust me.

Next in: A couple tablespoons of chia seeds. Yes, chia. THAT chia. You can do your own Googling on the nutritional benefits of chia, or salba, or iskiate. If you've read Christopher McDougall's amazing book, "Born To Run," then you've been introduced to chia seeds. An excerpt:

[Iskiate is]...brewed up by dissolving chia seeds in water with a little sugar and a squirt of lime. In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone. As tiny as those seeds are, they're super-packed with Omega 3s, Omega 6s, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, fiber, and anitoxidants. If you had to pick just one desert-island food, you couldn't do much better than chia, at least if you were interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing your risk of heart disease; after a few months on the chia diet, you could probably swim home.


McDougall hearts hyperbole just a bit, but he's on target here. I used to try to grind the seeds prior to use, thinking they would be like flax seeds, and pass through your system intact. I couldn't really do the "gel method" that most people seem to, where you reconstitute the seeds with water into a substance that resembles frog eggs and eat them straight, because ewwww. I recently consulted a chia-eater friend, and she said she just dumps hers into smoothies straight. My solution has been to dump them into the smoothie liquid at the start of the process, which gives them time to start absorbing liquid and doing their chia thang. So anyway, couple tablespoons of chia seeds. You can get them from this friendly hippie, who will include a free sample of other stuff, instructions on how to use chia seeds, and a hand-written note encouraging you to adopt a raw food diet. If you're like me, you will mentally wish him well while saying "NO, THANK YOU" to the latter. I need my cooked meat.

Here I plop in a couple tablespoons (remember this is for two servings) of a good quality coconut oil. I'm not a total organic fanatic--I can't afford to be, nor would I have the resources if I could. I do prioritize what I feel needs to be organic, however, and at the top of that list is fat, which really should be as clean as possible. That includes vegetable oils, meat, fish, and dairy sources of fat. So yeah, I pop for the organic coconut oil. This is also the substance I crank up when my weight-loss stalls. Sounds crazy, right? Not losing weight? MOAR FAT, PLZ. It has always worked. Listen, you need fat. You must have it to live. NONE of your organs can function without it. Don't be a fat phobic. Just avoid altered fats, and stick to pure, clean fats, and you'll be fine. Without grains, you're just fine (and arguably, better off). Without fat, you're dead. There's a lesson in that. Of course, you don't have to put the fat INTO your smoothie. You could just eat some along with it, or take your daily dose of fish oil at the same time--whatever floats your boat.

Why am I putting fat into my smoothies (or eating fat alongside them)? Because I'm about to pack a truckload of veggies and fruit into them, and all that good stuff that's in your veggies and fruit? Your body can't metabolize that stuff without...drumroll...FAT. This is what drives me nuts about self-appointed nutritional gurus like "Dr. Oz," who I heard last week prescribing diets FULL of fat-soluble nutrients, but not enough fat to metabolize those nutrients. (I also heard him tell an obese man to eliminate pasta from his diet because it "turns to candy in your bloodstream," and then follow that by telling him to snack on white-flour pretzels when he's hungry, but that's a rant for another time.) Onward to the good stuff.

Green leafy vegetables. Spinach is an easy choice, because you can buy pre-washed bags of tender, organic baby spinach, ready to go. I'm all about the convenience. Anything works here, really--chard, kale, any kind of greens, really, but spinach is my go-to-guy. For two servings, at least 4 cups of fresh spinach. That's right, FOUR CUPS. It blends down a lot, don't worry. A few carrots or beets in there won't be noticed, either...be creative. Anything goes. The recipe I'm talking about today did contain carrots.

Go ahead and blend up what you've got so far. Don't panic when it looks like this.

green

Next, we go to the berries. Any fruit, really, works fine, but I use berries for two reasons: Lower carb count, and spinach disguise. Not that I have to hide the spinach from my family; they know it's in there. But there's a psychological barrier for me in drinking a green drink. I know, grow up. Whatever. I almost always use strawberries and blueberries. Being locally available, and something I can stock up on, those are my go-to fruits. I'll add other berries, like raspberries and blackberries, cherries, whatever I've got on hand. Bella likes to add every fruit you can think of: peaches, apples, bananas, grapes, plums, everything. Pineapples, when used in a mixture with coconut oil, give a nice tropical drink flavor. Add rum, what do I care? Have fun with it. When in doubt about carb loads, stick to berries and grapes and stay away from the starchier fruits most of the time.

Here is the critical tip of this whole smoothie tutorial: FREEZE YOUR FRUIT. When you make smoothies with frozen fruit, you don't have to use ice. Also, this allows you to keep more on hand, especially if you have freezer space. Tomorrow marks the beginning of strawberry season in central Arkansas, and I'll be heading to the farmer's market to buy a flat of fresh, organic berries from my favorite grower. (Berries are also at the top of my "must be organic" list, because they are thin-skinned and porous.) I'll come home and wash and freeze those babies immediately, because I opened my last package of vacuum-sealed frozen berries from last year's crop today! The way you do this with berries is to flash-freeze the berries on a tray before you package and seal them for storage. That way they don't stick together, and you can grab a handful for your smoothies as needed. With strawberries, I slice the bigger ones prior to flash-freezing, so they're less work for the blender later.

So go ahead and whomp those berries in there. Depending on how hardcore you blender is, you might want to do them a few at a time, or all at once. If the mixture gets too thick, just add liquid. For today's recipe for two portions, I used about two cups of berries. Specifically strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Remember how I told you the spinach would be your secret? Behold (this also gives you an idea about the volume, when compared with the previous pic).

berry

That picture wasn't so great, so I took another one, free of the frosted glass of the blender, to show the color.

you can't see or taste the spinach

Four cups of fresh spinach in there, yo.

Bella gets to decide on her smoothie ingredients if she gets up early enough, and she leans toward an Everything But The Kitchen Sink philosophy on smoothies. Today, hers had: Orange juice, 1 Tablespoon chia seeds, 1 Tablespoon coconut oil, 1.5 cups spinach, a carrot, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, half a banana, a splash of lime juice, and a packet of Splenda. She sucked it down and asked for another. And yes, we drink them out of Mason jars. (How's that for hillbilly cred, Liv?)

smooth