AIP Creamed Spinach with Opo Squash

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One our family’s favorite steakhouse side dishes used to be creamed spinach, but after switching our diet to AIP/Paleo we bid a sad farewell to dairy products and the creamy, gooey, recipes that called for them.  The following recipe, which attempts to duplicate the comfort-food quality of traditional creamed spinach, combines strict AIP ingredients with an unusual veggie for extra nutrient-density and variety: the opo squash. Found in Asian and other ethnic supermarkets, the opo squash has a scad of alternate names including nam tao, bottle gourd, cucuzza squash, and calabash. While it looks something like a light green eggplant, it is not a nightshade, but in the gourd family and has a texture similar to firm zucchini when cooked. We enjoy this dish at least once a week and it is especially delicious when served with the Parsnip Gnocchi from Comfort Bites.IMG_4897

AIP Creamed Spinach with Opo Squash

Serves 8

1 14oz. can Aroy-D full-fat coconut milk, plus 1/2 cup

1/8 tsp. ground mace

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1/2 tsp. dried marjoram

1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast

3 Tbsp. bone broth

1 14oz. can Aroy-D full-fat coconut milk, plus 1/2 cup

1 1/2 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste, divided

2 large opo squash, chopped (about 3 cups)

2 Tbsp. coconut oil, lard, or duck fat

10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed, with water pressed out

1. In a small saucepan, combine coconut milk, mace, garlic and onion powders, marjoram, yeast, broth and 1 tsp. salt. Place over medium to low heat and simmer, stirring often, about 20 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and set aside until squash is ready.

2. With a paring knife or vegetable peeler, peel the opo squash. Cut off both ends and slice in half length-wise. With a spoon, scrape out the pith and seeds, and dice the squash into half-inch cubes. Heat coconut oil in a medium-sized pot or saucepan and saute the opo until easily pierced with a fork. If the squash has released a lot of liquid, feel free to drain some off.

3. When the opo squash is fork-tender, add the cream sauce. Bring to a good simmer, and then throw in the thawed, squeezed spinach. Cook until heated through and serve. 

 

*You should be able to find Aroy-D canned coconut milk in Asian or other ethnic grocery stores. With a high fat content and no gross preservatives or added ingredients, it’s AIP-friendly and a wonderful pantry staple. We substitute it in almost any recipe that calls for milk or cream, including ice cream, whipped cream, and even dips.

 

Baskets

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Good afternoon, friends. I’ve been on a basket-making kick lately, specifically wastebaskets. I got fed up with the hideous plastic one that I had under my desk, so last month I set out to design a special basket to toss my trash in.  I also ended up making one as a birthday present for M, and two more are in the works for Mama and O.

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Close-up of French randing section. A little lumpy, isn’t it?

They were fun to make and were a great way to use up colorful, leftover reed from previous projects. I’ve been trying to weed out some old reed so I have a better excuse to buy more!  The multi-colored reed that I used for my basket was originally dyed for a large tote basket I gave to M a couple Christmases ago, then I used some for a woven handbag for O, and after making my wastebasket I still have enough for another project.

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M’s Circus Basket

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For M’s, I used some oldish gold and turquoise, and some new scarlet reed for a vivid, circus-y look, and I also threw in a few hand-painted beads, each with a different design. Oh, well, call me crazy, but when you feel the urge to do something wild and fun, why not do it?  They also contributed to the basket’s pretty, wavy border. There’s no special pattern for these baskets, unless you want to call them “samplers”, because I just worked whatever weaving pattern I felt like doing in the moment. img_4753

Some of my favorites are: French ranting, (the diagonal weave that is a marvelous way to use up short scraps); checkerboard; braid-weave; and spiraling. To tell the truth, I hadn’t done a lot of basketry in the last couple of years and these last few weeks I’ve kind of rediscovered my fondness for it. I’m looking forward to more baskets, waste and otherwise, in the coming months.

Blue Skies and Tailwinds,

R

Wooden Toys and Whirligigs

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W, the young wooden-toymaker, has kindly allowed me to share photos of some of his latest creations, all birthday or Christmas gifts. He says he can’t keep all the things he makes, so we are the lucky recipients of his charming mechanical animals and whirligigs. We each have a small, but growing collection of meticulously crafted gadgets, every one with a unique function and moveable parts.  W has a passion for exotic woods such as wenge, purpleheart, tiger wood, and padauk, but also enjoys using beautiful native woods like walnut, oak, and cherry. His main sources of inspiration come from Making Mechanical Marvels in Wood by Raymond Levy and How to Make Animated Toys by David Wakefield.

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Geneva Wheel with Padauk, Walnut and Purpleheart

For M’s Christmas present, he made this colorful, friendly toucan:

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W did some woodburning for the details and then dyed the toucan’s body and beak

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Papa, on his birthday, received one of W’s most elaborate mechanical gadgets to date, a wooden steam engine:

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This was made with a very wide assortment of different woods, including purpleheart, tiger wood, leopard wood, oak, cherry, padauk, wenge, and walnut.

For M’s birthday, W made a “perpetual motion” toy, another beautifully hand-painted toucan. He actually took the time to make a different color scheme on each side.

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Give the dowel a twist and the goofy bird swings over and over till it reaches the other side

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Marmalade, (not for the last time):

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img_4591A sort of funny thing happened last month after I posted about my sugar marmalade. Usually, when making jelly, I have some trouble achieving a good set; however, this time, I had uncommonly fine results: the stuff set up so stiff I had to scrape it out of the jar!  If you wanted to kill a piece of bread my marmalade would be the perfect weapon. It was like candied citrus peel…maybe even stiffer.  So, the next morning, I went ahead with my honeyed version, and proceeded to thin out the petrified stuff of the previous day. I just added a little water and let it warm up slowly while I prepped the fruit for my other batch. Chopping the citrus rind is somewhat tedious, but I really did enjoy the whole marmalade process. I liked the taste of the honeyed jam much better than the sugar one; the flavor of the oranges and limes was much more pronounced. The sugar-sweetened marmalade tasted like candy, not something that ought to be spread on toast, (or biscuits I guess, because we haven’t found a good Paleo toast yet!)

To be completely honest, I did not get a very firm set with using honey.  It’s definitely thickened and spreadable, but not as firm as a typical jelly. It got a little thicker after being refrigerated, though. img_4599I wasn’t too unhappy with the looser set because my main purpose was to make a sugar-free preserve that my whole family could enjoy, and I realized I might compromise a good set by substituting honey and not adding commercial pectin.  The oranges and limes turned out to be seedless, for some reason, so that probably had something to do with the texture, too.  I ended up with three half-pints and a quarter-pint, not too bad for my first go at marmalade!img_4588Blue Skies and Tailwinds,

R

A Day for Kale

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img_4547This kale fiesta occurred last Saturday, but after three straight hours of “kaling”, I didn’t feel like posting.

Kale is an important vegetable for us: it’s packed with nutrients and is one of the more affordable organic veggies in the stores. Since we transitioned to a Paleo diet two years ago, we’ve been going through an amazing amount of vegetables every week (two or three at every meal of the day) and have tried in different ways to cut down our time in the kitchen to the bare minimum. And garlicky sautéed kale became our staple at dinner almost every night.img_4561

Kale, and other greens, are really labor-intensive to prepare, seeing that they  need to be stripped, washed, and finally steamed or boiled, so we realized that having a few weeks’ supply in the freezer would be a tremendous help.  We’ll get two or three cases of kale as early in the day as possible, then spend the next couple of hours in a steamy kitchen working through a veritable mountain of leafy greens. To process such a large amount, we usually have both sides of the sink full of kale soaking, waiting to be rinsed, and our two big stockpots boiling on the stove. This time, the cases seemed fuller than usual, so it took about three hours to get all the kale boiled, chopped, and into the freezer.  We got between thirty and forty 10-ounce packets.img_4566It’s a wet, messy job, but it’s bearable when the whole of MR.OWL is lending a hand. We’ll put our favorite disc of cowboy songs into the CD player and warble along with Roy Rogers, Marty Robbins, and the Riders in the Sky.

 

Marmalade, cont’d:

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Good afternoon!IMG_4156.JPG

Well, I did tweak my plans a tad, after all. I decided that, being new to marmalade-making, I would do a very small batch of orange-lime marmalade with sugar, just to see if I would enjoy the process. I didn’t want to waste expensive honey and find out that I really hated boiling, scooping, and mincing the oranges. So this morning I weighed my fruit (for a half batch I only needed 1 smallish orange and half of  a large lime), measured out my sugar, and set to work. As the fruit simmers during the first step of cooking, it fills the kitchen with a delightfully floral, citrus-y fragrance.

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Turns out marmalade is a lot of fun.  My pot was a little too big, as you can see, but there wasn’t a smaller one available. When you’re cooking Paleo for seven people, its never that hard to run out of dishes as early as ten o’clock in the morning.

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I got two wee quarter-pints, and a few extra tablespoons to taste later. Some of us try to avoid cane sugar, so we will probably be giving these jars as gifts.

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Today’s marmalade yield with my new, blue, wide-mouth pints

Tomorrow, I’ll be going ahead with the honey-sweetened batch, still orange-lime, although I picked a different honey. Instead of the mesquite honey I mentioned, I’m using a Turkish floral honey from Trader Joes. I thought the stronger-flavored mesquite might to be overpowering for the citrus.

Blue Skies and Tailwinds,

R

Marmalade

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I’ve spent the last couple of days thinking about different combinations of citrus fruits for the marmalade I’ll be making for the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge.   I believe I’ve finally settled on orange-lime, and opted to completely eliminate refined sugar in favor of mesquite honey.  The oranges should add some extra sweetness, which is why I chose them over using all lime.  Of course, in the end, I may change my mind altogether and go with grapefruit or blood orange for a lovely crimson preserve.  Marisa McClellan’s recent recipe for small-batch marmalade was extremely helpful and full of tips for those who have never made marmalade, including myself.  I was especially grateful to know about the standard marmalade ratio of fruit to sugar to water which is 1:1:1.  That makes it so much simpler to create a recipe with the citrus of one’s choice, instead of having to search for one using a specific variety.  I’ll be back in a few days with my final decision and maybe a recipe of sorts.  Until then,

Blue skies and tailwinds,

R

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New Year’s Resolutions:

Howdy, and happy new year!   My goals this year are various, from taking organ lessons to going out foraging more often to re-landscaping our yard.  There are also many knitting and sewing projects to be completed, too many to count, I’m ashamed to say.  But there’s at least one goal  however that I’m pretty sure I can achieve:

This morning I signed up for a canning Mastery Challenge hosted by the wonderful Marisa McClellan of foodinjars.com.  I’ve done a good deal of canning over the last couple of years,  and it has become one of my favorite methods of food preservation. This year, with much help from my sisters, I put up more than one hundred jars of divers and sundry pickles, jams, sauces, whole fruits, and chutneys, enough to last until next summer. Our pantry shelves glow with the deep purple of plums, the smooth gold of whole peaches and the vivid crimson of tomato preserves. Looking at them, I am bursting with pride and a luscious sense of achievement.  I’m looking forward to another canning season and Round 1 of the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge.  I’ll be making marmalade for the first time!

Blue skies and tailwinds,

R

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Snow-covered trees near our home