29 March 2012

Wild Violet Vinegar

 Spring has come extremely early to Michigan this year.  Nearly 3 weeks of 65+ degree temperatures have given us blossoms, lush green grass, BUGS and many smiling faces! 

Over the course of a few years, I've come across several recipes for wild violet vinegar, sugared violet blossoms, violet liquor and more.  It seems like I usually find the recipes in September though and have never made anything with violets.   We have an abundance of wild violets under a large stand of pine trees that were just begging to be made into something delicious!  I spent a most enjoyable 20 minutes sitting on the dry pine needles, a tiny breeze scented with pine, earth and violet.  Surrounded by violet blossoms, pine cones, tiny feathers and our orange cat,Otto, I experienced a calm that's been absent for a while now.

I filled up a shallow dish with flowers, dug through the pantry to find a couple bottles of rice vinegar and a glass container with a lid.  I rinsed the violets in a colander and laid them out on kitchen towels to dry.  Once they had dried I used about 2 cups of blooms to 24 ounces of vinegar and put the cap on the container.  (My container has a metal top, which is a no-no with vinegar.  However, there was no chance the vinegar would come into contact with the metal, so I used it anyway.)


I placed the vinegar in a dark pantry for a few days and just brought it out to find the most exquisite pink color and floral notes to the aroma!  I'm planning to let mine rest a few more days before I strain and bottle it.  (2 weeks total infusing time)

I will strain the vinegar using cheesecloth as it really catches little no-see-ums the best.  I will sterilize my jars in boiling water for a few minutes and recycle some wine corks for stoppers.  A cute-sy vintage tag will complete my presentation and we will be feasting on a unique vinaigrette dressed salad in another week!  I made enough for us to use throughout the spring with fresh salad greens.

I think this would make a lovely Mother's Day gift tied with a beautiful length of ribbon!

I am also planning on making violet jelly and a sweet violet liquor (this excites me on SO many levels) to share with my April Preserving Class at The Boulevard Market!  I'll let you know how they turn out!

I would love other recipes for violets if you've got them!  Happy Spring!   

22 March 2012

Thoughts on Food Styling & Photography

So, last year I purchased a fancy camera with intentions and high hopes for doing some food styling for this blog.  Yeah, well....

I had an epiphany this morning.  I like to eat and cook food, I like to grow it and pick it.  I like to read about it and try new things.  I am not a food stylist nor do I think I want to be.  I look at blogs that have lovely half eaten dishes, cutesy tableware and hands holding the "bounty" of whatever and think "THAT is just not me".  I am a real person that is trying to keep the dog out of the trash, a complete meal (hot, please) on the table that everyone enjoys, laundry, gardening, a blog, running multiple businesses, paying bills and possibly time for romance in my 23 year old marriage.  I won't mention children, parents, employees or political telephone calls.

I've decided I just want to share our food with you.  Recipes that taste great and get you interested in new foods, flavors or techniques.  I won't "highlight" any words for my recipes that will take you on a wild goose chase, I won't have perfectly plated dishes or perfectly grown vegetables, we have dishes that don't always match, weeds and bugs.  I will snap a photo with my hands holding the camera, not a "staging" area with lights and "props"....it's like human modeling for food.  Beautiful, but probably unrealistic in my realm.

I have a multitude of photographer friends that are amazing with a camera.  I don't think I love photography  enough to spend too much time on it, and I love food too much to let it grow cold or limp in pursuit of a lovely picture. It's all about balance.
If you're into food styling, great, go for it!  I love to look at cookbooks, magazines, etc.  Isn't life always about choosing what works and is right for you?  I hope you enjoy my less than perfect attempts at food styling and the recipes I share.  (Notice I didn't put any photos in this one! :))  

21 March 2012

Warm Leek & Bean Salad

Several months have gone by and I still miss my local Borders bookstore.  I can't even drive by without whining "I miss Borders....".  John was tired of hearing it, so he took me up to the Barnes & Noble on the other side of town.

Barnes & Noble is nice.  Parking is a stinker, everything fun is upstairs, I can't find anything without scanning EVERY dang title, there are no 40% off coupons, but it's ok.  What'cha gonna do?

On my last visit, I picked up River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsall (seriously, I had to copy and paste his name :)) which I am loving!  Simple, interesting recipes with a seasonal/local flair that are easy to get on the table with a minimal amount time.  Love it!   I adjusted it a bit to suit my tastes.

Last night John and I grilled a bit of pork and shared this salad after a day of cleaning out the garage and basement...omg.  We wrangled, hauled, burned and swept the winter right out of the place.  It was satisfying and horrible, filthy and muscle burning.  Its finished.

This salad was amazing.  Fresh and green, yet warm, hearty elements created a comfort food feeling!  It would also be fantastic with grilled romaine lettuce!


2 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
2 large leeks, cleaned and sliced in ¼ inch slices
1 can Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced

1 Tablespoon whole grain mustard
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar

Heat a skillet to medium, add olive oil and sauté leeks until tender, about 7 minutes.  You don’t want them to brown, so you may need to adjust heat. 

While leeks cook, combine mustard, vinegar and seasons in a small bowl.  Slowly whisk in olive oil until emulsified.

When leeks are tender, stir in beans until heated through.  Remove from heat and toss with parsley, salt & pepper.  Pour dressing into skillet and stir to coat evenly.  Pile a bit of lettuce onto plate and top with leek mixture.  Serve immediately.

20 March 2012

Tiny Meyer Lemon Pound Cakes

Meyer lemons are one of my favorite citrus fruits in the world!  A bit less acidic than traditional lemons with a orange-y flavor edge, deep yellow skin and complex flavor.  Here in Michigan, they are around for a short time, so I purchase a couple dozen and enjoy every moment!  You can treat them just like traditional lemons with zesting and juicing (they are really seedy, so be prepared) and the peels are fabulous candied.

I am never disappointed in poundcakes.  Adding meyer lemons just added to the pleasure!  I poked around the internet and didn't really find what I wanted, so I got out a few old cookbooks and ended up adapting a recipe from Taste Of Home.  While I was surfing, I ran across a "Muffin Monday" blogpost in which the author garnished her cakes before baking with a thin slice of Meyer Lemon and a pinch of sugar!  So cute, so creative, slightly weird texture when baked, but you can choose what suits you.

I loved this recipe because I had everything on hand and was snacking in less than 45 minutes!  I would set your timer for a few minutes less than the recipe calls for, I felt mine got a little overdone and were a bit too dry without adding a glaze, which I didn't want to do.  You could always do a bit of meyer lemon simple syrup to pour over when hot too, if you want them a bit sweeter.

Tiny Meyer Lemon Pound Cakes

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup sour cream or greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons Meyer Lemon juice
1 Tablespoon Meyer Lemon zest
1 3/4 cup floour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer until fluffy.  Add lemon juice, zest and vanilla and mix to combine.  Add eggs one at a time beating in completely before adding the next.  Add sour cream or yogurt and combine.  In a separate bowl, stir together dry ingredients and add to wet mixture, stirring until just combined.  Fill paper liners or a greased muffin tin about 3/4's full.  Top each muffin with a thin half slice of fresh lemon and a sprinkle of raw sugar.  Bake 18 minutes.   

15 March 2012

Fermented Foods & a disease called PLEVA

This post isn't recipes or cute photos of my little dog, so feel free to skip over it if you like.  I'm writing this post mainly for other folks out there suffering a rare immune disorder called PLEVA.  This post is also about my experiences with PLEVA and what role I believe food, specifically fermented foods, played in my remission status.

About 6 years ago, August, I was relaxing in a deck chair and noticed a strange bug bite-looking red spot on my arm.  Except it didn't go away or itch, it was just there.  About weeks or 2 later, I felt like I was getting a cold or the flu and broke out into a rash on the trunk of my body.  Weird.

My physician was on vacation, so I went to his associate that diagnosed me with atypical pityriasis rosea.  A small rash that would go away with exposure to sunlight and a benadryl. 

Everyday I would break out with more of this rash until It basically covered me from the mid-neck to the tip of my toes.  Even the palms of my hands and soles of my feet had the rash.  I was quite concerned that some of the bumps would not just heal and go away, instead they turned into scary scabs that were black.  The itching was the worst for me, which is a bit atypical.  The sunlight actually made it worse, I think mainly because it was hot outside and the drastic temperature just exacerbated the itching.  I always had this creepy skin crawling feeling.  At this point I was wearing all long pants and sleeves...in August, in Michigan.  Ugh.

I went to my doctor to discuss.  He had an appointment for me at University of Michigan's dermatology dept. within 2 days.  U of M was pretty easy.  Within an hour I had a skin biopsy and diagnosis of PLEVA.  When I asked the dermatologist how long I could expect to have the rash, he told me "at least 2 years".  I also got to have a syphilis test which was really fun, since the rash was on the bottom of my feet.  "Just to rule it out" of course.  Talk about embarrassing.  They also asked me to visit their dept. at 7 am so all of the residents could see this disease manifestation, as they had not seen it before.  Uhhhh....naked in front of 100 residents.  Science or not, no thanks. Or as a friend once quoted to me, in a Jersey accent "not fer nutin"! :) 

PLEVA is http://dermnetnz.org/scaly/pityriasis-lichenoides.html   Just a warning...the photos on this site are gross, so you've been warned!
 Basically PLEVA is :
The cause of pityriasis lichenoides is not yet known but 3 major theories exist:
  • An inflammatory reaction triggered by infectious agents
  • A relatively benign form of T-cell lymphoproliferative disorder
  • An immune-complex-mediated hypersensitivity vasculitis

We discussed treatments which included a year long course of antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs and light therapy.  Since my reactions to the sun were negative we decided to wait on the light therapy.  I am allergic to all penicillin and sulpha drugs, so there were major concerns over taking such a long course of antibiotics and possibly becoming immune to the erythromycin family of antibiotics.  They wanted to keep the chemo drugs as a last resort....so that left the antibiotics.  And a prescription for steroid cream that I had to measure everyday so I didn't overdose on it.  "Today my arms will be itch free, but from the knees down....you're out of luck until tomorrow!"   

I started a time release doxycycline and we had a few weeks of adjusting the dosage so I didn't have so many side effects.  In the meantime, I was scouring the internet's THREE references for PLEVA and everything on immune disorders and what could possibly help to be rid of them.  I couldn't shave my legs, wear a pair of jeans or have any type of fingernail growth for fear of scratching while sleeping.

Probiotics and fermented food became my focus and I really thought "what the hell, it can't hurt, maybe it will help."  I truly believe that in order to be healthy, your "plumbing" has to work correctly.

I entirely cut out any foods from a box, bag or can.  I also cut out all lunch meats and processed meats that weren't made at a butcher shop.  I had always ate quite healthy foods and lots of vegetables, so this wasn't too difficult.  Instead of taking probiotics in pill form (WHY would I need another pill?) I began eating fermented foods.  And no, not just sauerkraut!  I ate tons of cultured dairy products.  I also got on the miso bandwagon, pickled fresh vegetables, sour dough breads, dark chocolate, tea, coffee, soy sauce, vinegars, wine, beer and more!  I incorporated a fermented product into every meal.  Sometimes more than others, but EVERY meal.  When you really start looking around, fermented foods are readily available and delicious.  Smashed cauliflower with pale ale...yes, please!

By June of the following year, my rash was healed up.  I still had extensive discolorations from the lesions and scarring.  I also developed pretty severe reactions to sun exposure, but that's easily dealt with!  I went off of the antibiotics.  I really felt great. 

I've only had 2 other episodes over the last years of a "herald" spot along with flu-like symptoms and called my dermatologists to be put on antibiotics immediately for a short course, with minimal rash breakouts.  At those times, I always boost my diet with more fermented foods too.  I still eat mainly foods I have prepared, with good choices at restaurants containing (wait for it) fermented products!  I didn't/don't eliminate anything from my diet.  I do not eat much fresh dairy as it makes me feel terrible.  I eat lots of iron rich foods including liver/pate, kale/super greens and lentils/dry beans which I think is really healthy and keeps my immune system strong.  I also eat a ton of cheeses, dry aged meats, extra virgin olive oil and grains.  Since I don't have a huge sweet tooth, I don't eat too much in the way of desserts, but I don't eliminate them either.

Since wine and beers are part of my "job" I sample pretty often, but tend to be a cheap date when it comes to drinking.  If you've followed my blog, you will see how much I incorporated them into our diet (I will share a chocolate red wine cake recipe this week) that make it safe for children to eat too!

I thought I'd share my experiences with you in hopes that PLEVA will get some research behind it and a cure.  Also to give PLEVA sufferers another option that may help in your overall health, (and get rid of the damn rash!!  Been there, it's miserable.) and get physicians on the level about food/diet for health.  Everyday I have customers who are avoiding foods because their doctor told them too, without any clear reasoning behind it.  Make food your friend and defender to fight for you against disease and poor health.  I do not take supplements or vitamins and my latest blood tests showed my iron to be great and my cholesterol at 117.  All while eating an unlimited diet with NATURAL healthy choices.  Educate yourself on nutritional foods, it's so easy with the internet these days!  This book http://www.trulycultured.com/trulycultured/ was a great resource for recipes and science behind cultured/fermented foods!

All my best wishes for health to you!               

11 March 2012

"Just Sayin"

DISCLAIMER: This post is going to be a small rant on the term "Just Sayin".

I really dislike the whole"just sayin" term.  I've been sitting back and listening to customers, teenagers, small children and more coining this phrase. 

What I dislike the most about it, is they preface the "Just Sayin" comment with something completely nasty or rude.  For example; "Your ass looks enormous in those pants...just sayin." 

As if the "just sayin" at the end excuses them from all responsibility of the rude comment and you should just accept the rudeness because, they were "just sayin" it like it is.

Rarely have I heard "just sayin" attached to any positive words.  I think that might make me change my mind and enjoy being part of the crowd.  "You look beautiful....just sayin."  "You do laundry like a rockstar...just sayin"  "Sexy shoes...just sayin"   

Thanks for listening...just sayin!

07 March 2012

Lentil, Watercress & Manchego Salad

I have been so bored with food and recipes lately.  So bored that I bought Mussels.  Except I don't really like mussels all that much.

They taste fine, but they look so unappetizing that I end up just not wanting to eat them.  I only like the ones that look like this:

They are beautiful and pink and tasty.

I picked up a new cookbook for inspiration, "Plenty" by the owners of Ottolenghi, a deli in London.  I found some inspiration and new taste combinations.  I didn't have everything on hand for their lentil salad, but found a few good substitutes lurking in my kitchen.

We are big lentil lovers as of about 2 years ago.  I usually prefer the Du Puy green lentils from France as they are quite flavorful.  As I poked through the cabinets, I found 4 packages of different lentils with each containing about 2 tablespoons....no, I cannot throw them away.  I mixed them up to equal a cup, hence the uneven colors and sizes. It still tasted great!

I love dressings that you incorporate the oil with freshly ground herbs or greens, they seem to meld all of the flavors together quicker than a vinaigrette and look so beautiful!  It's also wonderful on a plain vegetable that might otherwise be a bit bland.  Not to mention, a little goes a long way!


1 cup green lentils
a bundle of fresh herbs (I used sweet marjoram, thyme and fresh sage)
4 cups watercress, stalks removed
2/3 cup parsley
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt & pepper to taste
3 ounces Manchego cheese (I used a raw milk, 12 month aged)
walnut oil or other nut oil
1 fresh lemon wedge

Pick over lentils and rinse under cold water.  Place in a large saucepan, cover with cold water, add herb bundle and bring to a boil.  Turn down heat to a simmer and let cook 15-20 minutes until tender, but not mushy. 

While the lentils are cooking, put half of the watercress, parsley, oil, garlic, salt, pepper and vinegar in a food processor and process until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Pour dressing into a bowl.

As soon as the lentils are done, drain and remove herb bundle.  Pour directly into bowl with dressing and toss to coat.  I add a drizzle of nut oil at this point and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  Toss in the remaining watercress and Manchego cheese.  We had this as a side to some locally made sausages, it was a match made in heaven! 

01 March 2012

A snowy morning photo...

I just wanted to share a photo that I snapped from a snowy morning last week.  I'm not a photographer, I just can't seem to capture the magic.  I am always intrigued by folks that can find and capture wonderful photos.

I'm thankful everyday for auto settings...that whole aperture thing really confuses me!  So I have to share ONE amazing photo I took, no photo-shopping or editor.  (And the real beauty is that the snow has all melted!!) Enjoy!  Happy March 1st!