LET YOUR GARDEN GROW

by Andrea Sperling

I know, I know, I haven’t written a blog post in a very, very long time.  I’ll just leave it at this: last year at this time,  my mom died.  A few months after that, my dad passed away, too.

From dealing with elderly parents the past few years, my mind has been more on aging gracefully than eating gracefully. But if I’ve learned anything of late, it’s that they’re ever so connected.   

During this time,  I've also been teaching kids how to cook and eat healthy with a national non-profit called Wellness In the Schools.  As my parents became the children and I became the reluctant parent, I realized that a lot of the culinary skills I used in dealing with children (including my own child, now in college) helped me in dealing with my parents.

Working with mostly underserved kids everyday, I saw firsthand how much junk food they bring for lunch and  how they avoid the salad bar and other healthier options that are readily available. Sadly, many have never been exposed to them at home. I see lots of obesity, diabetes, asthma and allergies.  Cut to fifty, sixty years later and you can see how these things can play out, especially with the obesity and diabetes. 

My parents had so many health issues but they never made the connection that food can be medicine. You can imagine how many times I explained to them how their first line of defense with the diabetes, the acid reflux, the hypertension, etc. was to eat healthier.  So I’m going to focus this blog more on how eating healthy can affect us as we age. As kids, we all think we’re indestructible and will live forever.

We can all make gradual changes in the way we eat. Going on diets is difficult because it’s all about loss, but if we add things or “crowd the plate," as we teach the kids, with some healthier options, eventually we might have less and less fries on our plate and more and more salad. And guess what? After a while, we don’t miss the fries as much. 

My parents never saw a vegetable they liked. I would sneak some broccoli or other vegetables into their pasta, the way many parents do with their kids. (I know this is controversial but I'm all for it!)  My dad was severely constipated- partly because of medication, but mostly because he didn’t eat any fiber. When I spoke to him one day about how diet could be helpful, he more or less admitted that it was easier to take a pill. He was from that generation where doctors were considered gods and if the doctor gave him a pill, he’d rather take that than make a lifestyle change or two.

In my schools, I learned that one way to get kids to eat salad and other healthy greens is by having them growi their own food. We have hydroponic gardens in some schools. In other schools, there are programs where the teachers and children grow enormous amounts of greens in outdoor gardens. (See Edible Schoolyard, for a great example). When you’re involved in growing and harvesting your own food, you become more likely to eat it. I love that some of my kids who wouldn't be caught dead eating the salad bar at school would eat Swiss chard when they'd see me walking around with a bowl of it that's been harvested from their tower garden.  I always tell them, try it five or six times, because you need to give yourself time to develop a taste for something new.

Now that’s it warm out, if you've never done it before, start bringing some healthier foods to your diet by growing a few herbs. Start with basil, cilantro and parsley because not only are they full of vitamins, but they complement so many things that we eat. I used to buy my herbs from my local farmers’ market. Being a city girl without a lot of direct light, I now grow my own with a small hydroponic garden.  My parents wouldn’t eat the broccoli or other greens, but they did like that pesto I’d make with fresh herbs in some of their foods. So did the kids.  Herbs add such great fresh flavor to what you eat but also have wonderful health benefits. Basil is anti-inflammatory. Parsley aids digestion. Cilantro has tons of Vitamin A.  If you end up having too many herbs, just throw them in the food processor with a little olive oil, garlic and salt and make pestos that you can freeze in ice cube trays. 

 

 

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WALDORF CELERY ROOT SALAD

by Andrea Sperling

 

 

Celeriacsm_0351.jpg

I remember when I was a kid my mom ordered a Waldorf salad at a restaurant instead of her usual iceberg lettuce wedge with  Russian dressing. I tasted it and loved the crunchy mix of apples, celery and walnuts served on a bed of lettuce. The Waldorf salad was invented at the Waldorf Hotel in Manhattan (now the  Waldorf Astoria Hotel) in 1928, and it deserves a comeback.

I was recently working with my friend Barbara Goodman on a project and she served me a celery root remoulade for lunch, another seminal dish, which combines celeriac, also know as celery root,  with a mustard aioli.  It was so delicious that I was inspired to go home and make my own twist on the dish- a Waldorf celery root salad.

The classic Waldorf salad uses mayonnaise to hold it together, but I'm not a big fan of mayonnaise. For a lighter, fresher taste, I use Greek yogurt. It's a lovely gluten-free dish for fall and winter.

 

GLUTEN-FREE WALDORF CELERY ROOT SALAD 

Serves 4-6

Don't be shy with the mustard here. Start small, see if you like it and if you want it to have a bit more of a tang, by all means add more. This dish is great served over escarole or lettuce as an appetizer, or as a side dish with fish.  Feel free to add some chiffonaded kale to the salad, too. Since the celeriac can turn brown, it needs to be acidulated right after it's shredded. You can peel the apple, or leave it unpeeled. I liked the unpeeled little pieces of lime green Granny Smith for color. Garnish with the walnuts and lemon thyme. If the thyme isn't available, use parsley. 

Ingredients

¼ cup walnuts

4 cups peeled and shredded celery root – about 1 large celery root

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt + 1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Zest and juice of 2 lemons

2 1/2 tablespoons organic plain Greek yogurt

1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper, as needed

2 teaspoons fresh lemon thyme or parsley

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1 Granny Smith apple,  cored and diced ( approximately 1 cup)

Salt, as needed

Freshly ground black pepper, as needed

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350.

Place the walnuts on a parchment lined baking sheet and toast  for about 8 minutes until lightly brown and fragrant, tossing frequently. Do not burn. Set aside. When cooled, roughly chop.

To prepare the celery root, cut off the top and bottom ends. Using a knife, cut down the sides the way you would cut a pineapple. Grate the celery root in a food processor or use a hand grater to shred. If you're not afraid of using a mandoline, like me, grate it into matchsticks.   Place the celery root in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt and 1 ½ tablespoons of the lemon juice so the celery root won't turn brown. Set aside.

To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl whisk together the yogurt, mustard, apple cider vinegar, lemon and lemon zest and salt. Add fresh pepper to taste.

Combine the vinaigrette with the celery root. Toss well. Adjust seasonings, if necessary. Before serving, add the diced apple, toasted walnuts and lemon thyme.

 

BLACK + WHITE SESAME TAHINI BARS

by Andrea Sperling

 

 

East meets Middle East in these black and white gluten-free sesame treats. East is gomasio, Japanese black toasted sesame salt, and Middle East is the tahini, unhulled white sesame seeds and pistachios.  I like these little snacks because they satisfy my craving for a dessert, but yet they're not cloyingly sweet like the peanut honey bars you find in a lot of Indian stores.

My daughter and I have eaten them for breakfast a few times when we're in a rush, too.  Between the sesame seeds, tahini and nuts, they have a lot of protein, calcium and fiber. They're also great for an afternoon snack.  Just check your teeth after you eat them, as the black and white sesame seeds can get stuck between your teeth.

 

BLACK + WHITE GLUTEN-FREE SESAME TAHINI BARS

Make sure you mix the almond butter and tahini mixture thoroughly with the dry ingredients so they don't fall apart.  Use a good quality almond butter - once,  I made them using almond butter from a jar and they weren't holding up as well as when I had the almonds freshly ground at the health food store.

You can make them without the gomasio and just add more sesame seeds. You can add rose water, dates, apricots or spice it up with cardamom. This recipe is just a starting point. Cut them into squares, diamonds or rectangles.

 

Ingredients

 1/2 cup raw cashew nuts

3/4  cups unsweetened dried coconut

1/3 cup organic almond butter

1/3 cup tahini

1/4 cup coconut sugar, sucanut or other organic sugar

1/2 cup raw honey, maple syrup or agave

1/2  teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1  cup raw white sesame seeds

1/2 cup gomasio

1/3 cup chopped pistachios

Optional: 1/3 cup chopped apricots, dates or golden raisins

 

 Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Take an 8” x 8” baking pan and line it with a 8” x 10” piece of parchment paper. One inch will hang over on two sides and this will help you lift it out of the pan easier.

Spray some olive oil spray on the bottom of the parchment paper and set aside.

In a food processor, pulse the cashews and coconut until they make a fine flour.

On the stove, heat the almond butter, tahini, coconut sugar, honey and vanilla until well mixed.

Don't overheat. Let it cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, combine the coarse sea salt, white sesame seeds, gomasio, flaxseed and pistachios.  Add the cashews and coconut mixture and stir until thoroughly mixed. If you're adding the dried fruits, add them here.

Pour the warm almond butter mixture in with the other ingredients, and with your hands thoroughly mix.

Press the mixture into the baking pan. Flatten it evenly with the bottom of a glass. Bake for approximately 15 minutes.

Refrigerate for several hours before you cut them.