You Are At The Archives for 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013 in , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to make Elderberry Extract - boost your immunity and skip getting sick with the flu

Vitamin C is great stuff but sometimes it's just not enough.  You need a variety of healthy options you can reach for when you feel a germ coming on.

Elderberry extract is an effective and tasty herbal remedy that you can use to boost your immunity during cold and flu season.  It's part of my family's herbal arsenal and we use it every year.  I thought you might like to see just how easy it is to make and use.  Kids will even drink it in their juice, and who doesn't want a better way to keep your littles happy and healthy?

Elderberry syrups are common at health food stores and great to use if you can.  They can get a little pricey to use on a regular basis for a whole family, though.  Elderberries work by preventing the influenza virus from being able to attach and replicate within host cells in your body.  That means even if you manage to catch a bug if you start treatment with Elderberry you can shorten the time you are sick.  If the virus can't replicate it can't make you so miserable.  Treatment with elderberry syrups has shortened recovery times to as little as 2 days - it really works! Read up on more information about elderberries, a wellness herbal treatment that has been used for generations.

Elderberries are also rich in antioxidants, so they provide anti-aging benefits to your body as well.  The rich purple color is from anthocyanins.  They're anti-inflammatory.  This little berry has a lot to offer.

I did the math really quickly, so I ended up with my recipe being a little more liquid than wanted to fit in my quart jar due to the fact that alcohol is lighter than water and therefore takes up more volume.  Whoops!  I should have accounted for that to start with.  Use these numbers instead to fit it all in.  It's a 50% alcohol solution.

Supplies you'll need: 
A clean quart glass jar
Measuring cups
Digital scale
Wire mesh strainer for when the extract is finished

Elderberry Extract Recipe at 5:1 concentration 
28 oz / 812 g total weight:

135.3 g dried, ripe elderberries
676.7 g sustainable or organic vodka
338.3 g filtered water and 338.3 g Everclear or other 95% pure ethanol

Directions: Measure and combine all ingredients in the jar.  Allow to steep for 2 to 6 weeks in a cool, dark place.  After steeping strain out the berries using the mesh strainer.  Use 15 ml (1 Tbsp) of extract in a cup of juice or smoothie each day to provide antioxidants and immunity boost.  It's also tasty in a cup of plain green tea or Matcha green tea too.

You can get bulk organic elderberries by ordering online or from your local herb shop.

If you have any auto-immune conditions or are on immune suppressing drugs you may wish to consult your doctor or naturopath before taking Elderberry.  See a list of precautions and possible interactions online.

For most adults and children this is a very tasty, safe way to stay well during flu season and, of course, totally natural.  Skip the synthetic colored cough syrups and enjoy elderberry instead.

I also adore Gaia Herbs products.  When I'm on the road and away from my bottle of elderberry or just needing the additional support I take their liquicap extracts.  Their Echinacea/Goldenseal combination is in my cabinet every year.  They also make capsules for Elderberry and plain Echinacea in case the bit of St. John's Wort in the combo capsule just isn't for you.  The liquid extracts they produce are just more effective than most powdered extracts and they put a huge amount of time and effort into both their cultivation, extraction and science.  I can't recommend this brand highly enough. (and no, they do not pay me or sample me even, I just love what they do)  I purchased these capsules myself and their Migraprofen capsules have thwarted many migraine headaches for me.  All things Gaia Herbs are good in my opinion.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 in , , , , , , , , , ,

Improve your skin and your health while driving - 3 ways to relax in the car

We're in the middle of a tremendously busy season of work, events, and family gatherings.  Most require time going to and fro and in America's automobile culture that generally means time in your car.  This can be a big drain or a big gain depending on how you address it.

Some people stress more while driving.  Everything from getting cut off to the amount of traffic amps up the tension.  Or perhaps you're a worrier, and spend your drive time caught in a cycle of repetitive, negative thoughts about what happened at work, the barbed email you just got from your ex, or your budget.  None of this is helpful to your body and as I've covered in other blog articles on stress and your skin it can immediately detrimentally affect your skin and bring on conditions like acne, eczema, and dermatitis.

With a few easy, accessible techniques you can short circuit this car quandary and transform yourself from frazzled to beatific as you bop around town.  With the help of Sheila Fazio I tell you how in our recent video on how to "Stress Less While Driving - 3 ways to relax during your drive".

Sheila is a truly gifted healer and a beautiful soul.  I met her at a women's retreat and learned a series of powerful breathing techniques from her that were different from most of the yogic breathing I had been taught before.  Her unique experiences as a social worker combined with her own personal life challenges give her a beautiful depth, approachability, and empathy for the challenges we all face.

Sit with us for 20 minutes and learn what you can do to make your commute conscious and take back the valuable time you spend there each day.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 in , , , , , , , , , ,

White Bean and Snap Pea Salad with Yogurt Miso Sauce - from Dinner in the Garden

Snap peas are one of my favorite things about gardening in the cooler seasons of the year.  My daughter will eat them raw as I pick them.  I like them blanched and as a carrier for various sorts of dips or in green salads as a sweetly substantial crunch with my greens.

I devised this recipe back in June when we had a bumper crop.  It was served at the Dinner in the Garden / For Reals Meals event to great acclaim by the attendees.  Now that the weather is cooling again snap peas will be in season and you can prepare this for any upcoming gatherings of your own.

The snap peas used for the dinner event were all from the Blissoma community garden.  There were a LOT this spring so I was scheming constantly on ways to put them all to good use.

The Yogurt Miso Sauce could be made with soy yogurt but I had the worst time finding any even in health food stores in St. Louis.  Consequently I used an organic, humane goat milk yogurt instead.  It seems all the soy yogurt around me was replaced by just coconut yogurt, which was sweet (I tried it just in case) and totally unsuitable for this recipe.  It was one of the only recipes for the entire dinner that ended up not vegan.  Fortunately many people digest goat milk better than cow milk, and it is generally not factory farmed which eliminates many of the environmental and gustatory concerns related to dairy.

I wanted a really savory, tangy sauce and this particular mixture turned out to be insanely delicious on crackers and just as a dip for other veggies too. The miso and white truffle oil add layers of flavor that bloom in the mouth as each bite goes down.  I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.  Make sure you buy an organic miso paste or read labels very carefully as otherwise you're likely to end up with unwanted MSG, which is common in many mass produced misos, or since it is a soy product anything non organic is likely GMO.  Even most of the miso pastes at my local asian market are packed with MSG.  I had to get the cleaner version from an independent, locally focused grocery store.  The miso paste is usually salty and provided all the salt this sauce needed.  If you find yours needs a little more you could add a splash of soy sauce or a sprinkle of sea salt.

White Bean and Snap Pea Salad with Yogurt Miso Sauce

Yogurt Miso Sauce

1 quart plain goat milk yogurt or plain, unsweetened soy yogurt

4 Tbsp white miso paste (organic, MSG free)
2 large cloves garlic, minced or crushed in garlic press
2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
4 tsp white truffle oil
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Mix all ingredients and allow to sit for several hours in the refrigerator to blend the flavors.

White Bean and Snap Pea Salad

6 cups fresh snap peas
1 lb dry white cannellini beans
Yogurt Miso Sauce
Optional: quality blue cheese or feta cheese for sprinkling on top

Soak and cook cannellini beans according to package directions (beans are generally an 8 hour overnight soak, rinsed, and then boiled until soft).  Drain and set aside.

Blanch snap peas by placing in boiling water for 1 minute, then quickly drain and rinse in cool water to stop cooking.  Allow to cool.  Cut each snap pea in two sections and remove any tough tips from either end.  

Mix beans, snap peas, and yogurt miso sauce.  Serve chilled.
If you don't mind dairy then the addition of a little blue cheese or feta was an amazing added flavor.  I ate many of my leftovers topped with it as a treat.  The tangy and pungent flavors of both these cheeses was delightful.  Feta was a little more overpowering, oddly enough.  The blue blended in more seamlessly and had a creamier texture with each bite.  Depending on the effect you want either could work.

I know my cohost Jess is going to be excited to finally see this recipe posted and hopefully you'll find it to be a palate pleasing delight as well.  It's a dish that can help you easily enjoy seasonal eating.  More peas, please! 

Thursday, August 1, 2013 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

St. Louis Dinner in the Garden with City in a Jar - inspired by One Part Plant "For Reals Meals"

Regular readers and Blissoma fans know that we are creating a community garden in North St. Louis City.  It's big and we're hoping to make a big impact for our community and their involvement with healthy, organic foods and herbs.

Part of my goal this year was to start bringing more people into the garden either through volunteer time or events.  I delivered fliers around the neighborhood and hosted the first group work day in the garden in late spring.  Neighbors I'd never met before came and learned about what's happening on our plot. 

More events were on tap, and after seeing the For Reals Meals series by Jessica Murnane on One Part Plant I decided that St. Louis definitely needed to host a copycat event.  They say imitation is sincere flattery and Jessica proved her colors when she offered 100% enthusiasm to the idea of her concept spreading to other cities.  Done! 

The season was perfect to have it outdoors in the lush June garden and feature as many locally procured and garden grown ingredients as possible.  Jessica Leitch of City in a Jar became my cohort since I am notoriously unable to focus on anything but food when planning a dinner.  If it was left up to me folks would have been eating with fingers, though the food would have been delicious.  Thank goodness I had help then with the table settings, bartending, flowers, and hosting.

We invited some neato people in the St. Louis scene, splitting the invite list between us equally.  I reached out to local filmmaker Ken Calcaterra, city government employee and fellow foodie Vincent Haynes, and Cbabi and Reine Bayoc of the famed vegan eatery SweetArt.  Jessica invited her photographer Christopher Willingham who shot all the photos in this post, her videographer, and several other friends.

At 6 pm on the first day of summer the guests began to descend on the garden.  I had planted, weeded, tended, and put in great efforts to make sure the garden was in spiffy shape for the evening.  The garden gods smiled on me and didn't let the weeds, bugs or heat get too far ahead of me.

Jess bartended while I was holed up in the kitchen completing the meal.  Afterwards Vincent told me he'd never consider having a dinner without a co-host again, as it solves the notoriously difficult problem of how to entertain guests while cooking food.  A buddy makes it possible!

We set things up picnic style on low tables with blankets.  It was casual but a memorable dining experience.

Recipes for Dishes from Dinner in the Garden

 - Lavender themed cocktails made with lavender simple syrup and 360 Vodka (Jess declared her favorite to be the Lavender/Lemon variation on a Lavender Collins
- Strawberry and Pickled Beet Salad with Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
- Creamy White Bean and Sugar Snap Pea Medley
- Sweet Potato Oven Fries with Crumb Coating and Homemade Heirloom Ketchup
- Panfried Polenta with Garden Herbs and Raw Mustard Greens Pesto

and a gluten-free baklava with coconut ice-milk for dessert

All recipes were original concoctions and featured ingredients harvested from the garden to show off the work we've been doing to grow fantastic food.  I'll gradually be posting all the recipes over the coming weeks so everyone can enjoy these healthy and super tasty creations.  With the exception of the white bean salad and baklava all recipes were vegan, and all of them were gluten-free.

Everyone enjoyed their evening.  I was glad I completed dinner by only 30 minutes after the estimated serving time (phew!) and that everything turned out well.  I'm working on some tweaks to the desserts as both weren't as fine as I'd like for sharing with the whole world, but they tasted good that night.

By next year I hope to have a full size farm table made from donated, reclaimed wood to serve on for many future events.  Thanks to both the Jessicas for their contributions!  I highly suggest following One Part Plant on culinary adventures through Chicagoland as you're sure to find something delightful.  We were honored to replicate her concept and instigate a little happy mixing of people and plants in North St. Louis.  We've got a lot growing up here.

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Strawberry and Pickled Beet Salad with Raspberry Balsamic Dressing

Strawberry and pickled beet salad recipe

There's little better way to celebrate the bounty of early summer or to nourish your body than with a bright and beautiful salad.  Enter the Strawberry and Pickled Beet Salad....

As covered in my post 5 Skin Benefits of Eating Salad there's a host of happy results when you fit some fresh fruits and veggies on your plate en masse at least once a day.  Read up and then come on back to make this sweet and unexpected dish.

Since we've already covered the health benefits of salad and beets in particular in other posts we'll get right to the recipe. All the fresh ingredients used are in season in summer meaning you can eat totally locavore for this dish. My spring beets were ready to pick in June, as were the berries and the last of the lettuce.

Strawberry and Pickled Beet Salad with Raspberry Balsamic Dressing

Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing

1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
½ cup grapeseed oil
¼ cup olive oil
3 TBSP raspberry balsamic vinegar
1 TBSP real maple syrup
1/16 tsp cloves
1/16 tsp allspice
pinch of salt
1 TBSP minced shallot

Puree raspberries in blender or food processor.  Blend in remaining ingredients except for shallot.  Stir minced shallot in by hand.  Stir dressing before adding to salad.

I used di Olivas Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar, which is a very syrupy, thick, sweet vinegar you can practically drink straight.  It is a gourmet vinegar only available at their own store here in St. Louis.  If you can't get a raspberry balsamic in your area then go for the best quality plain balsamic you can get.   The quality of the vinegar will greatly affect the final result of your dressing.

Salad Recipe (per plate or bowlful)

3 cups organic spring mix, red or green oakleaf or other quality lettuce, washed and spun dry
1/2 cup homemade pickled beets (see my recipe)
1 cup sliced strawberries
2 tsp chia seeds (optional)
Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing, quantity as desired

Arrange sliced, pickled beets and sliced strawberries evenly over the lettuce.  Sprinkle chia seeds and drizzle dressing on to taste.  Eat and enjoy!

I served this original salad at the 6/21 Dinner in the Garden held in the Blissoma Community Garden and hosted by myself and Jessica Leitch of City in a Jar.  The event was inspired by Jessica Murnane of One Part Plant who has been exciting me with her For Reals Meals series that features collaborations with creative professionals in Chicago, slow food recipes, and general awesomeness.  I'll be posting more of the recipes created just for our Dinner in the Garden/St. Louis For Reals Meals event soon and you can catch the full photo story on both City in a Jar and From the Bathtub.

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5 Skin Benefits of Eating Salad

Salad has often gotten a bad reputation.  It is associated with the dieting girlfriend who won't order anything else, the long suffering vegetarian who can't find anything else to eat on a meat-heavy menu, and being used as a precursor to the "real" food in most meals.  Many men wouldn't be caught ordering only a salad when eating out or even eating in.  But all these salad stereotypes fail to celebrate the magnificence that salad is for your body and your health.  What's more a properly structured salad can be the real nutritional powerhouse of a meal, offering a multitude of benefits to your good looks many cooked foods can't claim.

Salads can be artful, flavorful, filling, and insanely nutritious when composed well.  If your only familiarity with salad is iceberg lettuce slathered in a bit of ranch dressing then it's time to up your game with some more creative salad recipes.

Salad is awesome for everything about your health but in terms of a beauty investment this one offers a motherload of benefits for such an easy dietary addition.  Let's investigate the awesomeness hiding in your crisper.

5 Skin Benefits of Eating Salad

1. Salad can increase your hydration level.

Most veggies are majority water, so when you eat them you naturally hydrate your body.  Despite the fact that we know we're supposed to drink a lot of water many people still don't get enough, making consumption of moisture-rich foods a way to add hydration to your system.  When your body is dehydrated so is your skin.  Dehydrated skin can have an increase in roughness, sensitivity, flaking, and fine lines or even cracking.  Both for appearances and comfort and dealing with summer's warm temperatures hydration is required, making fruits and veggies a great way to send your skin the liquid it longs for to perform and look its best.

2. Raw foods in salads mean no loss of vitamins and minerals due to cooking.

When you're eating uncooked foods you're giving your body a shot at the maximum vitamins and nutrients available in many foods.  It's a rare food that remains unchanged by cooking - only certain very stable nutrients don't degrade or migrate out of foods when they're heated.  The actual percentage of raw foods you should consume remains something many experts debate.  Overall though it's safe to say that eating some is one of the best ways to make sure every bite is adding a lot of nutrients to your system.  Raw foods also contain live enzymes that can assist with digestion, something cooked foods don't boast since enzymes are destroyed by heat.

3. Fiber in vegetables and fruits used for salads cleans the intestines and colon, making nutrient absorption more efficient. 

If your intestines are gummed up with gooey, fiber-free, processed foods they aren't going to be properly absorbing nutrition.  Almost every ingredient in a salad contributes fiber that sweeps through the digestive system, carrying leftover gunk with it and leaving intestinal and colon walls free to absorb all the virtuous vitamins you're eating every day.  What good is a nutrient if it never really gets into you?  Not much.  
We're all supposed to get approximately 25 grams of fiber in our diets per day.  Sadly most Americans fall far, far short.  There is a fiber supplement commercial that drives me nuts - they show a woman desperately eating an apple and a bran muffin while trying to exercise and work.  Honestly, it's not that hard to get your fiber when you actually eat fruits and vegetables.  Are we that far gone that we truly think eating an apple is a grueling effort?  Apples are awesome!
2 cups of lettuce equals .9 to 2 grams of fiber depending on the variety with delicate green leaf lettuce ranking lower and the stiff, crunchy Romaine ranking at the 2 gram mark.  Personally when I make a salad for a meal I use at least 4 cups of greens.  If you're making a slaw or salad mixed with cabbage you're adding even more fiber.  2 cups of shredded cabbage adds up to 3.6 grams of fiber.
Other salad additions like carrots, peppers, celery, tomatoes, beets, asparagus, mushrooms, and green peas can really bulk up your fiber intake and also make your salads more interesting.  For a helpful list of fiber in common portion sizes of different vegetables, fruits, and grains check out this PDF.

4. Use of quality oils in salad dressings can improve absorption of nutrients and provide moisturizing, anti-inflammatory omega fatty acids that benefit skin.

This point requires some specificity.  Dressings acquired from most average grocery stores are not going to qualify for this healthy advantage.  That's because they are made with refined canola and soy oils that may be partly rancid, contain pesticide residue, and have no vitamins of their own.  Mass market dressings also commonly contain artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup, and other ickies.  Either make a visit to your local health food store or order up some individual ingredients and make your own unique and healthful dressing instead.
Salad offers the opportunity for culinary use of oils not generally suited for cooking like hemp seed oil, walnut oil, and pumpkin seed oil.  The oils most packed with polyunsaturated fatty acids (Omega fatty acids) are the ones you can't heat because heat makes them oxidize, so cold applications are the best way to get their anti-inflammatory health benefits and delicious flavor.  Organic sunflower and olive oils are fine general purpose choices as well if you don't have specialty oils on hand.
Oils will increase your absorption of beta-Carotene and Vitamin K which are fat soluble.  As much as I enjoy a good smoothie unless folks are remembering to mix in a healthy oil they may not absorb the fat soluble vitamins as well.  This is where salad shines, since dressings usually always use some oil.  A bit of healthy oil can also improve your feeling of satisfaction and how long your energy from the meal will last, since fats take a while to break down into caloric energy.  The veggies will digest first and the fat will fuel you later.
Omega fatty acid rich oils provide balancing, anti-inflammatory effects for skin with positive results for dry skin and acne specifically.  Ironically consuming more Omega 3 fatty acids in healthy oils can make you break out less.

5. Nutrients in salad help synthesize collagen, provide natural sun protective effects, protect against wrinkling and sagging of skin, can improve dark under eye circles, and make skin smoother.  

Let's talk about some of the individual nutrients you get when eating exciting and varied salads.  There's a lot, and their benefits are well substantiated by peer reviewed science!


Carotenoids are a class of compound that includes Vitamin A and all its varied forms.  Carotenoids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects within the body.  Carrots, spinach, tomatoes, romaine lettuce are great sources of carotenoids.  Dark leafy greens are one of the richest sources, so if you're the type that enjoys a massaged kale salad, more power to you.

Carotenoids include beta-Carotene, lycopene, and other compounds like lutein and zeaxanthin.  Many plants that contain one contain numerous of these and a lot of the studies available substantiate the positive effects of the range of carotenoids.


Beta-Carotene is a form of Vitamin A found in plants and one we think of when we think of orange, yellow and red fruits and veggies.  It is a photoprotective agent and is thought to quench photochemical reactions in the epidermis involving oxygen radicals generated by UV exposure.  While most studies have not found a significant reduction in erythema (sunburn) there was better, more efficient immune system function in relation to sun exposure in individuals supplemented with Beta Carotene in studies.

Here's the bigger benefit for your skin... beta-Carotene was found to inhibit the action of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-9, a collagenase enzyme that breaks down the extracellular matrix and collagen, contributing to wrinkling and sagging.  In studies with mice fed dietary beta-Carotene the expression of MMP-9 was suppressed, along with corresponding wrinkles and sagging of skin.  That means you can literally eat your way to firmer, less wrinkled skin when including beta-Carotene rich foods in your diet.


A significant correlation was obtained between the skin roughness and the lycopene concentration in tissues.  Lycopene levels being high meant smoother skin, lower levels meant rougher skin regardless of the age of the study participant.  Sun dried tomatoes are the food highest in lycopene with sweet red peppers also ranking well, so the extra money you shell out for the ripened peppers may serve your skin extra benefits.  Guavas, watermelon, and pink grapefruit all rank well, so feel free to add fruit to your concoctions.


Sulfur is known as the "beauty mineral" and is concentrated in skin, nails, and hair.  It must be present for synthesis of collagen.  Get your daily dose of sulfur from onions and broccoli, red sweet pepper and parsely for your salads.  Slice onions thinly, as oxygen exposure allows more sulfur bearing compounds to form.  Raw produce is higher in sulfur than cooked, making salads an ideal way to get your dietary sulfur.

Vitamin K: 

This nutrient pops up in some topical under eye products, but is an under-recognized vitamin in foods.  It strengthens and keeps blood vessels flexible by inhibiting calcium deposits.  It can reduce bruising which is great for people who have eye circles caused by leaky, fragile blood vessels.  It is fat soluble and absorbs when accompanied by some fat.  You can get your Vitamin K in romaine lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, and alfalfa sprouts.
(You might want to avoid alfalfa sprouts if you have lupus due to potential complications)

Vitamins C and E:

Dietary consumption of BOTH Vitamins C and E (together, not alone) can show sun protective effects for your skin in as little as 8 days.  4 separate studies have substantiated this effect, albeit at different amounts of vitamin supplementation and different lengths of days taken to establish photoprotective effects.  Participants showed increased resistance to UVB-induced sunburn and protection from DNA damage.   This means by including foods rich in both these vitamins in your diet you are providing yourself the equivalent of internal sunscreen!  Red peppers, citrus fruits, and papaya are tasty sources of Vitamin C, and you can get your Vitamin E through tasty toppings of sunflower seeds, almonds, and other nuts.


Flavonoids are fabulous phytochemicals that occur in plants.  You won't find them in meats, so bulk up on the botanicals to get your servings.  A case-control study in an Italian population found a negative correlation between skin cancer and consumption of flavonoid rich foods and beverages like tea.  Best results were obtained with high consumption of vegetables, particularly carrots, cruciferous and leafy vegetables, and fruits, especially citrus.  

So are you convinced to break out your salad spinner with me?  I'm thinking the case for how salad can boost your beauty is compelling, and fully plan to treat my salads as reverently as my serums.  Together they'll go farther!

For some drool-worthy recipes that will have you wondering why you stuck to plain lettuce for so long check out the Salad Recipe page at Young and Raw, and where numerous bloggers post their creative contributions.

You can also try my own recipe for Strawberry and Pickled Beet Salad with Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, which comes not a moment too soon - all this writing has made me hungry!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Pickled Beet Surprise - what this root rockstar can offer the health of your skin and body

How beets are good for your health

Beets.  They were one vegetable that despite my mother's "Girl Scout Bite" rule I had never tried even into adulthood.  Why?  For the simple reason that they were never served in my household as a child.  My mom, it turns out, had never liked them and therefore chose never to serve them.  Because I had no habit of eating them and didn't know what to do with them I never specifically chose them despite my longrunning love affair with so many other types of veggies.

Isn't that funny how a simple dislike from one of our parents can result in years worth of stalemate with a new food?  As I have gotten older I have definitely become more adventurous with my eating. I was always interested in ethnic foods and would have told you that I love trying new things.  A simple trip to the big international grocery store in my area taught me about the tiny sliver of foods that I have actually been consuming.  Many of the vegetables there I have never even seen before, much less have any idea how to prepare for a tasty repast.  Lack of knowledge brings hesitation and perhaps avoidance in some cases when new foods are concerned.  My ex would tell you that my first attempt at cooking a Thai soup after becoming enamored with the dish I ate at a local restaurant turned him off Thai for years to come due to my overzealous use of some of the stinkier ingredients.... so in some cases the caution is well advised.

But back to beets.  My first taste of a beet came at the end of a business trip to New York City several years ago.  I had to take the train to Astoria to then take a bus to the airport.  I got off at the last train stop and had time to burn.  I have never been a fan of airport food - too expensive, too limited - and so I made sure to investigate my area for some sustenance prior to departure.  Directly under the train platform I found a tiny, newly opened falafel restaurant.  I adore falafel, especially when it is prepared from a family recipe - oh so tasty!  And bonus, the sandwiches were only $5.  I couldn't believe my luck and promptly ordered my dinner.

Several bites into my intensely delicious meal I noticed something red in my wrap.  What was that?  It was good, whatever it was, and I inquired with the cook.  Pickled beets was the answer.  I was stunned and delighted.  My falafels at home had just found a new accompaniment, one that I never would have chosen on my own.

That sneaky pickled beet that rode in on my sandwich launched a sincere interest in this ravishing root.  I decided that beets most certainly were one thing I would grow.

I planted a bunch in the Blissoma comunity garden.  They were ridiculously easy to tend and in a few months we had a bumper crop.  I can vouch that I didn't have a single pest problem with growing these organically (unlike other plants) and they nearly took care of themselves.  As a crop for the budding gardener they are a great bet for a satisfying result.  Unsurprisingly many people, just like me, have not made any habit of eating beets due to unfamiliarity and therefore don't know what to do with them.  I served them to as many friends as possible but still had many left that I couldn't bear to waste.  So like a good thrifty gardener I set about preserving them.

I was longing for that perfect pickled flavor - not too sweet, not too sour, not too salty.  Something you can eat a lot of without puckering or feeling overwhelmed.  As the pickling recipes I found for beets generally included more sugar than I knew I'd like I tampered with one to achieve what has been dubbed truly delicious by the numerous people that have eaten them since.

Since this isn't entirely a food blog, but also a blog about skincare, beauty, and health I'd be remiss if I didn't inform you about the fabulous benefits these colorful veggies bring to your body.  Flavor isn't all you'll get when you venture into the land of beet eating!

Beets are a food generally known in the natural health community for detoxing the body.  Betalains, a special class of phytochemicals found in beets, have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and cellular cleansing effects.  Betalains are part of the deep pigment you see in beets.  Their concentration is decreased with extended cooking times so if you enjoy beets raw you'll get the maximum benefit.  However we all know that we most readily eat the foods we enjoy so if you like the flavor and texture better when cooked just try to keep your roasting time at an hour or less to avoid degradation of your healing benefits.  A healthy food doesn't do anything for you if you won't eat it because you don't like the preparation!

Beets have benefits for your digestive tract, nervous system, cardiovascular system, and may inhibit cancer cell growth.  The anti-inflammatory benefits are something to truly consider when thinking about skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, and even just general signs of aging.  Chronic inflammation causes your body's immune system to begin attacking healthy cells.  This can be one cause of degradation of collagen and skin tissues as well as extending to vital organs like the heart.

Psoriasis especially is a disease related to inflammation and improper immune system function.  The immune system begins to attack healthy cells, prompting a buildup of irritated cells as the skin cells attempt to rebuild and reproduce more quickly than they can be shed.  A recent imaging study showed that inflammation is widespread throughout the bodies of people who have psoriasis.  Inflammation was detected in the liver, joints, tendons and aorta.  The anti-inflammatory compounds in beets which inhibit this process by several mechanisms then would be exceptionally helpful in managing the effects of this bodywide problem.

Beets are also a super-rich source of minerals.  They concentrate the minerals found in the ground, many of which are vital for dozens of metabolic processes and reactions in your body.  They give you a great dose of manganese, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, and copper.

A detoxed body can give you a healthy complexion too.  The raw foodies often expound about how their complexion just seems to glow while eating raw and plant based foods.  This can be partly because a body laden with too many toxins can develop a sallow complexion.  The liver is also responsible for helping process, store, and maintain sugars in the body and if you read my post on how sugar is inflaming and damaging your skin you'll understand how a properly functioning liver can contribute to your good looks.  Prescription and OTC medications are generally metabolized by the liver so our modern use of so many drugs can impact how well our livers are functioning.  Additionally the majority of people that I know do consume alcohol, which is processed by the liver and most people will generally have some load related to alcohol to deal with.  Beets can help keep your liver performing its best through detoxification.

Best ways to eat your beets. 

One simple way is to create a raw juice.  The Heart Fortress beet juice recipe from Young and Raw has got you covered for a basic beet juice recipe.
I've also been mooning over this Beet Tartine with Marinated Caper Berries recipe from My New Roots.  Must try with this year's harvest!
A simple way to serve them is just to roast the beets, salt them, and serve them sprinkled with feta or your favorite nut cheese for a creamy and earthy bite of heaven.
You can also make a tasty soup called borscht.
As I've mentioned they also add a delicious spin to falafel sandwiches!

To add to the mix of options I want to share with you my adapted recipe for pickled beets.  Then next post I'll share with you a recipe for Strawberry and Pickled Beet Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette that will have your mouth singing happy, beety praises.

Blissful Pickled Beets recipe

Blissful Pickled Beets

3 quarts beets
4 cups vinegar
4 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 TBSP salt
3 TBSP Pickling spice
Sliced white or yellow onion

Wash beets, oven roast them in foil, peel and slice them.  Try this roasting recipe if you are unfamiliar with how to roast beets.  Set aside.
Combine vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a pot.  Place pickling spice in a tea ball or muslin bag and add to pot.  Many recipes for pickling spice are available online or you can purchase a blend from the grocery store.  Bring mixture to a boil and reduce heat.  Simmer 15 minutes.  Remove pickling spice.
Pack beets into hot jars layered with onions, leaving ½ inch headspace.  Ladle hot liquid over beets, leaving ½ inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles.  Adjust two piece caps.  Process pints 30 minutes in a boiling water canner.
This recipe can also be used to make refrigerator pickles if you prefer not to hot can them.  Allow to marinate 2 weeks for best flavor, then consume promptly.

homemade pickled beets recipe

Enjoy your foray into the finger-staining adventure that is the beet.  I hope to be hearing that many of you tried adding this many splendored food to your regimen for beauty and health.

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