Good Eats in 2014, And More in 2015

Is it me or do the years just seem to fly by? I swear we just did this Christmas/New Year's thing a few months ago. But, alas, another year has gone by. So, how did we do? Did we grow? Did we help other people? Where could we have done better? Where did we shine? Did we make the world a better place? What lessons were learned in 2014?

Fortunately, we are all blessed with two weeks at the end of the year to cogitate, reflect, dream and propose what the new year has in store for us.

As I take some time to look back, there are a few nuggets that rise to the top like high-quality cream on a gallon of raw cow's milk. Being in the local food world and having come to learn the importance of nourishing foods vs. pleasurable foods (though I do believe these two can happily co-exist), I am happy to share some of the edible lessons I learned in 2014, some of my favorite dishes of the year and a few new things I want to start doing in 2015.
Edible Lessons in 2014
Prunes
My grandmother used to eat prunes. And so did her mother. As did my mother during rounds of chemotherapy. I used to make fun of these "old ladies" and their prunes and now I have become that "old lady."

Early in the fall, David was strolling the bulk department at Whole Foods and along came the prunes. He paused and the prunes reminded him of his grandfather who ate them regularly. Before he knew it, he was plucking soft and sticky prunes from the bin and placing them in a bag.

You can imagine the conversation that ensued when I was unloading the groceries, can't you? After plenty of good laughing, he began to eat a few prunes each day and I decided to join him with this new daily ritual. All it takes is a few and you're good to go.

Lemon water first thing in the morning

While you wait patiently for your coffee to brew in the morning, pour some hot water into a mug and drop in a cube of frozen organic lemon juice (if you live in San Antonio, pick up a handy bag of Juicy Qubes in lemon from Organic Chix at The Yard Farmers & Ranchers Market) or just squeeze a half lemon in the water and stir.

Sip slowly and enjoy the alkalinity of this puckery morning beverage that will awake your palate, your mind and your belly. It will also aid in digestion and create good pH in your system.

Chia seeds
These adorable little seeds are an arsenal of health. Small but mighty, they definitely need to become a staple in your pantry. Choose from black or white chia seeds. (I use the black ones--it's just the ones I have always used.)

Add them to smoothies and make chia seed pudding. Or stir some in a drink to make bubble water.

See below for a few of my favorite chia seed recipes that can be enjoyed as breakfast, a snack or dessert.

True or False: The more you eliminate sugar and carbs from your diet, the less sugar and carbs you crave. 
True.

In fact, the more alkalined your body, the more you will crave vegetables instead of salty chips or sweet treats. This is one of the more important lessons I have learned this year and it works. By eliminating sugar (I use minimal amounts of honey, liquid stevia drops and coconut sugar) and carbs (like breads, pasta, rice, etc.) from your diet, you can potentially reverse diabetes and other health ailments. Food is the world's original medicine.

Ghee, grass-fed (and cultured) butter and coconut oil
Don't let the prophets of a "fat free" diet fool you, oil and fat are your friends. Really. I use lots of coconut oil and use it to cook with, drop spoonfuls into smoothies and seek recipes that call for coconut oil.

Ghee is another good source of fat that is good for you, as is butter from grass-fed cows, so go ahead and use it. If you can get your hands on cultured butter (which is available from Mother Culture at The Yard Farmers & Ranchers Market), even better.

Fermented anything

If you are not yet keen on the power of fermented foods, let 2015 be the year you embrace such edibles (or drinkables) as kombucha, cultured yogurt, kefir, kimchi and more. You can find all of these fermented foods at The Yard Farmers & Ranchers Market as well as at specialty grocers such as Whole Foods.

I liberally spill kefir or plain yogurt into smoothies, sip on Buddha's Brew Kombucha and slurp Mother Culture's yogurt (drinkable and Greek) topped with Cowgirl Granola. I love to spoon kimchi from Oh Kimchi Austin on my plate and add even more probiotics to my daily diet.

The trick to adding probiotics to your diet is to do so slowly and gradually, so you won't overwhelm your system.

Eat local
I know you already know this, but if and when you can, please choose locally-grown produce over
that stuff you find in the grocery stores that was picked weeks ago and traveled thousands of miles to find you. Equally important as local produce is humanely-raised proteins raised by people you know and trust. Meats without antibiotics and growth hormones is what you want. Eat strawberries in the spring and not the winter. Load up on melons, peaches, tomatoes and squash in the summer and kale, spinach and root vegetables in the winter.

In short, eat seasonally and know where your food comes from.

Yes, making a weekly pilgrimage to the farmers market might be a task (especially when the weather is not perfect), but knowing the people who raise and grow your food is a beautiful relationship. (This is simply not possible at a grocery store because no one really knows where the food came from...but it's here and you should buy it is what the store employees know.)

If you have kids, teaching them the importance of eating real food and locally grown foods will ensure their lives are richer and healthier.

Plus, supporting local producers keeps your dollars in the local economy and ensures small farmers and ranchers continue to remain viable and also provide us with safe and healthy food sources.

The best part? Shopping at a farmers market creates a sense of community, the animals are raised humanely and the produce is not sprayed with harsh chemicals (you should ask to make sure because there are those farmers markets that do allow conventional growers--though our farmers market is not one of them), the food tastes way better, you get access to unique and heirloom varieties you will never find in a grocery store (for example, the gorgeous rainbow carrots above) and everything always lasts so much longer.

Favorite Recipes from 2014
Asian Pork Lettuce Cups aka Tacos
If you love tacos, let this paleo version give you new found appreciation for "tacos". Using butter lettuce cups as the "taco," fill it with ground pork (or beef) and top with sliced cucumbers, fresh mint, cilantro, maybe some thinly sliced radishes, shredded carrot, green onions or whatever you want to add. Make it colorful by letting everyone build-their-own-tacos and  this dish will be as fun as it is delicious.

Paleo desserts--chocolate chip cookies and Reese's cups
Even though our sugar cravings have significantly subsided, we still love a sweet treat every now and then.

I made two versions of paleo chocolate chip cookies this year--one with almond flour and the other with almond butter. Though both are good, I vote for the almond butter variety. With just four ingredients--almond butter, coconut sugar, chocolate chunks and an egg, my guess it you'll swear they are the real toll house deal.

If, however, you are more a lover of Reese's cups, then try whipping up these chocolate cups for a unique and healthy alternative to the mass-produced version. Using almond butter, coconut oil, cocoa and honey, this bite-sized cup will be your new and healthy favorite.

Grilled pork chops with peach salsa
We love Peaceful Pork and we love peaches, so it was just a likely pairing. When peach season comes around next summer, add this dish to your "must-try" list and you will still be talking about it in the winter...just like we are.

Berry delicious and Breakfast pudding
Both of these recipes feature chia seeds as the staring ingredient. Whether you want to start your morning or end your day with chia seed pudding, you have two choices.

There are a few reasons I love chia seed pudding and here they are. You can make it in a blender. You only need a few ingredients--a can of coconut milk or some almond milk, chia seeds, honey and fruit or other flavoring such as cocoa, shredded coconut or the like.

Once it rests and then chills, you will have a rich and creamy pudding that is reminiscent of tapioca.

Spaghetti squash
Pasta is one of the few things I really miss now that I no longer eat grains. Lucky for us, there are choices. And it's a vegetable.

Spaghetti squash is a fun and easy alternative to pasta and few people will turn up their noses at this meal.

Smoothies--chocolate and pumpkin pie
I used to think smoothies were superfluous, but 2014 changed my mind about these dreamy and creamy meal replacements. Easy to make and will fill you up without the feeling of being filled up, smoothies are super versatile and can be slurped on the run.

One of my greatest edible "finds" this year is that you can toss anything into a smoothie and it works. Just look in your veggie drawer and freezer and see what speaks to you.

Roasted pumpkin puree, absolutely. Frozen bananas, a must. Half an avocado, why not? Raw spinach and kale, for sure. Half an apple, of course. Any kind of frozen fruit including berries, mango, peaches, but even if I don't add any other frozen fruit, I always use a frozen banana as a base. This way, the smoothie is guaranteed to have a creamy texture. And that's what I want in a smoothie.

For the liquids, you can also change those up to include just a splash or exclusively coconut water, almond milk, aloe juice, cherry juice, apple or pineapple juice and the list goes on. Be creative and use what you have in the house--with a a cup of this, a big splash of that and a glug of this. I have yet to make a bad smoothie.

Other possible smoothie add-ins for protein, flavor and texture include a spoonful of almond butter, cocoa, chia seeds, hemp seeds, coconut oil and honey.

Soups--Italian wedding soup and roasted broccoli and potato
My grandmother was a soup lover and an excellent soup maker. From split pea to potato soup, she could make a simple soup taste like a rich and exotic dish.  I'd like to think I got that same trait because soup is one of my culinary weapons.

This year's favorite soups include an Italian wedding soup and a roasted broccoli and potato soup.

Rich and yet totally good for you, these soups can be a meal, served before a meal or just with a salad.

Soups are an easy way to eat more vegetables and an even better way to clean out the veggie drawer in the fridge.

Choose from stocks such as chicken, beef, vegetable or half stock and half water or all water. Play around with the liquid and you'll see how it changes the flavor complexities of the soup.

If the soup can be made richer with an old frozen Parmesan rind, toss one in there and let the Parm melt into the stock for a velvety soup--but without the calories of heavy cream.

When plated, drizzle the bowl of soup with a nice olive oil, grinds of fresh black pepper and a few sprinkles of a flaky salt such as Maldon.

Tips for a Healthy 2015
What does the new year have in store for us? I guess we'll just have to wait and see, but, in the meantime, here are a few tricks and tips I am going to add into the mix.

Green tea
I was never a "tea" person because coffee has always been my breakfast drink of choice, but as I get wiser, I am recognizing the power of green tea. Soothing and satisfying, there is something simple and serene about sipping a cup of hot tea--with raw honey, of course. Make time for a cup of hot tea, friends, and everything will slow down when you do. Because we all need a bit more slowness in our crazy lives.

Eat less
In our world of excess, eating has become a hobby and a sort of recreational activity for most of us. We get together with friends over a meal. One thing I learned in 2014 was that I needed a lot less food to survive.

For the last fourth quarter of this year, we drank a lot of cold-pressed juices and smoothies, sipped on soup and generally consumed far less than in previous months and years. In doing so, we have both lost weight and feel even better than before--losing just five pounds can make a big difference in the way you feel.

Exercise more
Thanks to Nacho and Guero, our two 75-pound Labradoodles, I hit the streets of the neighborhood at least six times each day. Having highly domesticated pups means that I walk each one of these boys individually, so while I get plenty of movement, what I don't get is the heart rate up and I don't get a lot of stretching, which I desperately need.

So this year, I am getting back into yoga. I got out of the habit more than five years ago when I launched Cowgirl Granola, and of every form of exercise I have ever done, yoga provides me with the deepest form of satisfaction both internally and externally.

Find whatever makes you feel the best and make the time to do it. You'll thank yourself.
From our home to yours, wishing you a 2015 filled with health and prosperity, laughter and love.

Buen provecho!
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