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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!

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