Summer is here, and since I haven’t really posted since the Spring, we have some serious catching up to do. Cutting right to the chase: around March I came down with pneumonia, and my life hasn’t really been the same since. I won’t say that I was COMPLETELY derailed in my healthy lifestyle journey, as I never really stopped eating healthy; I just stopped doing it ALL the time and, of course, I stopped working out. If you’ve ever had pneumonia, you know that it takes a very long time to recover from. Three or four months worth of recovery? Not quite THAT much. That’s all my fault. But for at least the following month after my doctor deemed me “cleared” of all infection, my lungs were very sensitive. I had to be on heavy duty allergy medications so as to not irritate my lungs with the springtime pollen, and I had a hard time catching my breath any time I exerted myself. Having pneumonia didn’t scare me out of exercising, but it definitely made me more timid. I had never been that sick in all of my life and I was VERY reluctant to do anything that could make it come back, or make my condition worse for that matter. That was for the first month or so. The last two have just been sheer laziness. Which means it has been….3 or 4 months since I have seriously worked out. If I’m being honest, I can tell you that it doesn’t feel like it has been that long. In fact, I’ve been under so much stress and going through so many changes in my life as of late that all the days seem to be blending together into one big storm cloud. But enough of that. I’m not going to look to the past and pout about what I didn’t do and what I haven’t been doing. When I started this journey, I knew that there were going to be times like these: where life was going to knock me down, and I was going to have to pull myself back up again. The good news is that over these last months, I have tucked away QUITE an inventory of healthy recipes and products that need to be addressed. That means plenty of content for the blog, yes?
Right around the time when the weather here finally declared itself officially spring (for some reason it took Louisiana a little while to preheat this year, which is terribly uncharacteristic) I bought a TON of plants. This is not unusual for me. It seems that every year, right as the world starts to thaw, I get this primal, instinctive need to cultivate plants. It became such an issue that I even downloaded a gardening game on my phone so I could grow virtual plants. My strange impulses aside, something very useful came out of my spring fever this year. Currently sitting on my porch are seven live herbs and five vegetable plants. Granted, they are a little worse for wear. I used to have six vegetables, but my green peas were promptly killed the moment Louisiana summer came into full effect. For all my out-of-state readers, this is completely normal. Here, summers have a way of decimating everything in their path, and I do believe my cucumbers are next. Apparently I unknowingly picked THE most fail cucumber plant in the Walmart garden section, because it has never really grown properly. The roots never grew strong, the stems were always fragile and if you were to see them now, they just look like three big goofy stems with shriveled leaves at the top. Don’t really know where I went wrong there. But besides that my peppers are finally starting to produce, and I think with a little plant food I can coax my cherry tomatoes and strawberries to make fruit again. We’ll see.
The main reason I planted this year was for herbs. I absolutely LOVE cooking with fresh herbs. I’m not the biggest Ina Garten fan in the entire world, (although I have been known to all-day marathon her show on weekends sometimes) but I do accept her philosophy on herbs. Fresh is always better. I can’t even begin to describe to you the difference cooking with fresh herbs makes. Before my garden, I would often times avoid cooking recipes that specifically called for fresh herbs because they do NOT come cheap at the grocery store. And, on top of that, I never really seemed to be able to use them all before they went bad. Now, I HAVE heard that there are ways you can preserve them in ice cube trays with oil or water and I HAVE tried the water method myself. If I would ever try that again I would definitely use oil next time. Somehow, the water ended up evaporating over time (it was frozen…go figure) and I was left with powdery frozen herbs, which were pretty much the exact same as dried. No freshness preserved. And also because I didn’t realize the water had evaporated, when I gently knocked the tray while cleaning out my freezer, dried herbs went EVERYWHERE and made a huge mess. I was not happy. But in all honesty, growing your own herbs is even easier than all that freezing and thawing and chopping mess. The individual plants themselves were dirt cheap (no pun intended) and trust me, I am no horticulturist. Aside from a bit of plant food now and then, I haven’t done anything super special to my plants and they seem to be doing just fine. Probably because herb growing is like gardening for idiots. Which is perfect for me.
At first I was worried because I live in an apartment with no land of my own. I knew from the get go that I wouldn’t be able to put any of my plants in the ground, or else suffer a fine from my landlord. Everything I would be growing would come from a pot, and I invested a lot of time acquiring potting soil, clay pots and determining how big each herb would get so I could put it in an appropriately sized container. I’m relieved that I chose a medium sized pot for my mint because it is definitely the biggest of all my herbs. Which is kind of a shame, because I planted it more for the aroma than to cook with. I’m not a HUGE mint person when it comes to flavors in food. However, I have been meaning to whip up some mint juleps. I’m only an alcoholic when mint juleps are involved. That’s a damn good drink. The other herb that has really flourished (much to my surprise) is my lavender. I was absolutely hell bent on growing lavender this year. I love the smell, I love the floral, earthy flavor in baking, and it’s just pretty to look at. My heart swells with a sense of pride and utter contentment when I see the cloudy grey/green color of the leaves and the airy, wispy tendrils of purple blooms adorning the top. The little woman who runs a locally owned plant store here in Lafayette warned me that lavender was finicky and thus difficult to grow. So naturally I felt a sense of obligation to take extra care of this delicate little plant. Sort of like you would care for a sick or frail child. Since lavender hates its soil to be wet, I made a ritual out of sticking my finger into the dirt to test for moisture before giving it any water in addition to allowing it prime real estate on my porch in a shady area with only a few hours of direct sunlight. I really am such a brute, picking favorites like that. But because of my patience and unfair favoritism, my lavender plant has yielded for me many fragrant blooms and plenty of leaves. Which brings me to my next culinary endeavor. The first idea was to harvest the blooms for tea. It has been my heart’s desire to create my own blend of tea for a long time. I have been imagining something of an orange-lavender flavor and I feel that if I could somehow get my hands on my father’s dehydrator, we could be in business. That will take some strategic heisting however, so I’m shelving that project for now.
The second idea was some kind of lavender lemon pound cake and or cupcakes. One night at my sister’s house, we managed to concoct a lavender lemon bread which was not unpleasant. However the perfectionist baker in my sister declared it was unworthy for consumption because it didn’t come out like Starbucks’ lemon loaf. You can’t really blame her. Starbucks does have one hell of a lemon loaf. But I digress. For the rest of the weekend the bread WAS eaten by my mother and I but mostly by her boyfriend Robert. It definitely wetted my appetite for something else with that delicious aroma baked in. So I have set my sights on a particular recipe from (Sweetly) Serendipity for Honey Lavender Cupcakes. They are absolutely precious with their pale yellow icing and little bits of lavender blooms acting as sprinkles. Yes, I realize these are not particularly healthy and this IS a health food blog. However I like to think that sometimes it is good to break form and make something that you really like. I don’t cook strictly to be healthy. I cook also because I love it. And a little dessert never killed anyone as long as they don’t eat a dozen cupcakes in one sitting. Which I could easily do if I wasn’t in my right mind, but that’s not the point. I find also that if you make dessert a community endeavor, meaning that you SHARE your sweets, you aren’t as tempted to eat as much. I think that when I do bake these, they will be for a tea party amongst friends.
In going back to cooking with fresh herbs, I would like to introduce you to one of the savories that my garden has helped me make. I have come to know thyme as one of my very favorite herbs. It immediately creates a depth and earthiness to any dish, and it pairs well with red meat and mushrooms. Now, currently, my thyme plant is a little on the fritz. With the passing of a few extremely over-the-top, hot days, my poor little plant has lost many of its tasty and fragrant leaves and now looks like a half-sheered sheep. I hope that with a little tender love and care it will be restored to its previous splendor. The recipe that I am enclosing here, is one that MUST be made with fresh thyme. If you use dried thyme it just won’t be the same. I came across this recipe while I was living with my sister at our old apartment by the university campus. My sister and I eat the same kind of foods and then at the same time we don’t. I definitely have a broader palate than she does, and that’s not really a criticism, it’s just a fact. When we lived together we had to cook things that we both loved, which was sometimes challenging. Since we are both avid Pinterest users, we would use the site to help us plan our meals. When we realized that not only had we both pinned this Mushroom Soup by Season with Spice but we had both been jonesing for it for quite some time, I didn’t waste any time making it. The recipe calls for you to sauté the mushrooms, then add the fresh thyme and the Worcestershire sauce . The moment that the thyme hit those mushrooms and the essence of the two together wafted up from the pot, I realized exactly why they insist you use the herb in its fresh state. The addition of the Worcestershire made the scent magical and each ingredient complemented the others. I fell in LOVE with this soup and I don’t kid around when I say I make this once a month. The only thing that really kept me from making it often before was that I had to buy fresh thyme, which, as I said, isn’t cheap. Having a thyme plant makes this recipe that much easier to prepare. This recipe is also vegetarian and is low in calories, even with the addition of heavy cream.
If you don’t have a fresh herb garden, I highly recommend that you think about creating one. Most common herbs can be grown all year round with proper attention and care, although I find cilantro really should be planted in late summer and harvested throughout the colder months. I don’t know. Lavender isn’t supposed to be a summer herb either but it seems to be doing okay. For now, until you can get yourself set up, try that method of freezing fresh herbs from the store in oil. Take a clean ice cube tray, fill each about halfway with chopped fresh herbs, and fill to cover with olive oil. Next time you go to cook, defrost the cubes and you’ll already have a nice little portioned out cube of your oil and herbs. However, I’ve never tried this, so I wouldn’t just throw the frozen cube in a hot pan, as I don’t know how it’ll react as it defrosts. It could spatter everywhere and cause burns. Maybe microwave it on low until completely defrosted. There are tutorials for it online.
Homemade Mushroom Soup by Season with Spice
300g or 2 cups fresh mushrooms – cleaned and chopped finely
1 tbsp olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic – chopped
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 – 2 bay leaves
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp flour dissolved in 1 tbsp water
Salt to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk (skim milk is fine)
Dash of ground nutmeg
Black pepper to taste
Fresh parsley or thyme for garnish
1. Heat olive oil in a sauce pan. Add butter and lightly sauté garlic on medium heat.
2. Add in mushrooms, thyme, bay leaf and Worcestershire sauce. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until the moisture from the mushrooms disappears.
3. Add in chicken broth. Stir occasionally until broth boils, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
4 Add diluted flour in, and stir constantly (while simmering) until the mixture thickens. Season with salt and nutmeg. Taste and adjust seasoning.
5. Finally, add milk and heavy cream, and bring to a simmer. Turn heat off.
6. Serve hot in your soup bowl. Add freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with fresh parsley or thyme if you have them on hand.
I hope you try this on your next vegetarian dinner night! Until next time!
Eat, Pray, Love,
The Hungry Hungry Health Nut