Cue the blender

Since Monday I’ve been consuming most of my meals in the form of pureéd soups and blended smoothies. This isn’t part of some larger weight loss plan, but because Monday the bottom braces were put on my teeth. As if I needed yet another quirk around food, I now have to deal with the fact that chewing has been (at a minimum) uncomfortable, and at the beginning of the week it was downright painful.

When I decided to bow to the repeated recommendations of the dentist and get orthodontia to unkink my teeth, I didn’t really understand what I was getting into. I knew there would be a not inconsiderable cost and that I would have to give up some foods that I love (such as whole almonds) for a while, but I didn’t really understand what orthodontia was going to really be like.

Despite the crowding of my teeth, I’ve been really blessed when it comes to oral health. I’m in my mid-forties and I have no fillings in my teeth. When I had my baby teeth, I know that I had a cavity or two which were drilled and filled (without any Novocaine, either, since my mother was concerned it would harm me…or so she says…it could have been to keep the cost down, too), but once the adult teeth came in they were solid and healthy and have served me well. What this means is that I’ve never had to deal with any dental pain that I can recall, so having painful teeth is very new to me. I did have a few periodontal procedures last year, but gum tissue heals pretty quickly if you’re healthy, and the pain doesn’t last very long.

The sturdiness and robust health of my teeth is also one of the reasons why I consented to orthodontia. I want these teeth to last me until the very end, and it is very hard to properly clean my teeth in the areas of my mouth with the most crowding. My top braces were put on in March and the orthodontist estimates that my treatment will take 18 months total. The top teeth seem to be moving pretty quickly, so I’m hopeful that I may be out of these things sooner than that.

I don’t recall my teeth hurting quite this much when the top braces were put on, but I did try to prepare for the procedure. A few weeks ago we had a stretch of two or three days where the temperature dropped to pleasant levels, so I fit in some cooking. I made a roasted cauliflower soup and a butternut squash soup, portioned them out, and froze them. (Both were pureéd with a stick blender that was given to me by my stepmother. I love that thing!)

These soups were so easy to make, that a formal recipe isn’t really required, but I approached them the way I usually do when making something new: I looked at recipes on various web sites, and then made it up as I went along.

Butternut squash soup: Peel and cube a medium butternut squash. Chop a medium onion and a clove or two of garlic. Sauté the onion and garlic in about a tablespoon of oil (olive oil or some other vegetable oil) until soft. Add the cubed squash, then add broth or water to cover. I used some homemade mystery broth from freezer and a bit of water. (I need to be better at labeling stuff I add to the freezer; it was likely some sort of poultry broth.) Bring to a boil, then simmer until the squash is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste, then blend with a stick blender or a standard blender. (If using a blender be careful! Don’t overload it and follow manufacturer directions for blending hot foods!) Thin the soup with more broth or water if desired. Done!

Roasted cauliflower soup: Clean and separate a medium to large head of cauliflower into florets. Roughly cube/chop the stem. (You don’t want to use any of the green bits, but do use the stem. It’s all going to be blended together and will taste just fine.) Toss the cauliflower bits and a clove or two of garlic with some olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Slip into an oven that has been pre-heated to about 400F. Roast until soft and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and place in a deep pot with broth or water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn to a simmer until the cauliflower is soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. I recommend using white pepper if you have it, since it adds the right touch of mellow and spice. Blend with a stick blender or a standard blender. (If using a blender be careful! Don’t overload it and follow manufacturer directions for blending hot foods!) Done!

Both of these soups benefit from a bit adding a piece of parmigiano reggiano rind with the stock to simmer for a while. Remove it before blending. The cheese rind adds a nice richness.

Since today was another reasonably cool day, I also cooked up another soup to provide a bit more variation to my meals. For this (non-dairy) cream of broccoli soup I basically followed the recipe exactly and the results are delicious.

But first thing in the morning and during the hot days, soup is not something I really want. So I’ve also been experimenting with smoothies. I’m not a fan of really sweet things, plus I also need a way to get enough veggies into my diet so I’ve taken the leap into green smoothies. You can find all sorts of “recipes” for green smoothies online, but I use them only as suggestions, just like I do with everything else I cook. I’ve been cooking and combining flavors for so long now, and know my preferences and tastes, so I think I’ve come up with some real winners here.

Chocolate peanut butter smoothie: Place in a blender approximately one cup of unsweetened almond milk. Add one frozen, ripe banana, peeled and cut in chunks. Add a generous handful of baby beet greens, or a mixture of baby beet greens and purslane.* Blend until smooth, then stop the blender. Now add a heaping soup spoon of quality, unsweetened cocoa powder. Add about two heaping soup spoons of unsweetened peanut butter. Blend until smooth, pour in a glass and drink slowly.

Mixed fruit smoothie: Place in a blender approximately one cup of chilled water. Add one frozen, ripe banana, peeled and cut in chunks. Add a couple of ribs of celery. Blend until smooth, then stop the blender. Add approximately two cups of any fresh or frozen fruit you have on hand. This morning I combined a small orange (peeled and chunked), and a handful of small plums (seeded). At this point I also added a heaping soup spoon of some nutritional boost I had on hand, but that isn’t required. Blend until smooth, pour in a glass and drink slowly.

Salty lassi smoothie: Place in a blender approximately one cup of chilled water. Add one small cucumber, cut in chunks. Add a small bundle of purslane. Blend until smooth, then stop the blender. Add salt to taste (one-half to one teaspoon is about right), freshly ground pepper, and a stem of mint. Add a few heaping soup spoons of plain yogurt (full fat or low fat is better than no fat yogurt) and a small, green chili if you like a bit of spice. Add about one teaspoon of toasted cumin seeds. Blend until smooth, pour in a glass and drink slowly.

All of these drinks really stayed with me for a good three to four hours. I found this surprising, but then again they were full of fiber, after all. I also was concerned that my standard blender would have problems making these smoothies, and was glad this wasn’t the case. I’ve been thinking about ordering a Vitamix at times (the reconditioned ones seem to be a better price), but I’m not ready to jump yet.

Even though chewing isn’t quite as painful as it was earlier this week, I’m going to keep making smoothies and use them as a meal replacement a few times a week, at least. While my supply of baby beet greens may be pretty much exhausted, I still have plenty of kale, cucumbers, and herbs growing in the garden.

*Purslane pops up all over my garden in the summer. It is considered a weed by most people, but is a highly nutritious, edible plant. I’ve tried adding it to salads, and don’t much care for it prepared that way. In a smoothie, though, it’s basically just a filler and I find it works out well. If you’re lucky enough to have this “weed” in your yard, give it a try. Add it to soup or a smoothie, or chop it up and add it to a salad.

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Fruits of my labors

I thinned the winter greens a bit today, so I made myself a gourmet lunch. These tiny seedlings are often referred to as "micro greens" at fancy restaurants. Here the combination is arugula and spinach. I tossed the greens with a touch of extra-virgin olive oil and salt. The eggs are from my own chickens (of course). I've been saving a dozen eggs for about 3 weeks now just so I can make some into hard-cooked eggs. I did use the trick of putting a pinhole in the air space (through the round end), too. This combination of techniques worked: I was able to peel the eggs fairly easily.

Of course it was incredibly yummy! I still have a lot more thinning to do, so I hope to enjoy more salads like this over the next few weeks.

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Winter gardening

Brrr, it's getting colder! It was 29 F last night, but the baby greens seem to be doing OK under their frost protection row cover.

On the left, is the bed the following (L to R): mache (barely visible), arugula, chard, and claytonia. The argula sprouted very fast!

On the right is the bed with the following (L to R): winter lettuce mix, dandelion, mizuna.

I neglected to take a photo of the spinach in the cold frame today, but it is already starting to form the first set of true leaves.

All need thinning, but I didn't have a chance to do that today.

I've thinned the beds only a bit once, but those arugula sprouts are incredibly tasty! I hope to keep these greens going for another month or two. It's likely they won't reach full growth, but I started them rather late. This was an experiment, and I'm happy to see any type of growth on them, frankly!

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My winter garden experiment

I'd really like to continue eating fresh, locally grown greens over the winter. So, I'm trying to grow them myself.

Actually, this isn't a totally personal effort. Rachael came by to help me plant these beds a week ago, and Mark helped me put the beds together a few weeks ago and cut the PVC for the hoops. Planted in the far back is a bed of garlic. This should overwinter just fine with no protection, but I added the hoops and bird netting to keep the chickens off of the bed. They like to dig in the beds, and I don't want them digging up the garlic.

In the next closest bed, Rachael and I planted mache, arugula, chard, and a row of claytonia and radish. Again we added hoops and bird netting to keep the chickens off.

The next closest bed we seeded with a winter lettuce mix, italian dandelion, a mixed row of mizuna and radish. More hoops and bird netting, too. Finally, the bed with the cold frame has spinach in it. I added bird netting over that, too. I have some poly row cover for frost protection that I've been putting on during the really cold nights. I plan to keep it on permanently if I have something really growing that needs the protection.

All of these greens are supposed to be hardy and should sprout in cool soil. Although we've had unseasonably warm temps, wouldn't you know the temps dropped off right after we planted the beds. I'm pleased to see that we have some sprouting action, though.

That's mache sprouting up there. Yay! It appears that the winter lettuce mix is also sprouting, so if I can at least keep these going we'll get a few salads.

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