Grown-Up Nutrition

Bok choy packs grown-up nutrition into a few tiny calories. I’ve been eating a lot of baby bok choy the past few weeks. It’s the one thing in my garden that hasn’t been stressed by the heat.

Before this summer, I may have eaten bok choy a few times in stir fry, but I was generally unfamiliar with this green. Thanks to my sister providing seeds, I’m having the opportunity to discover how much I enjoy it.

I’m harvesting leaves rather than waiting for larger stemmed groupings. The leaves are tender and sweet – not exactly what you expect from a cabbage. As the plants grow larger, the aroma becomes more cabbage-like and the stems become tougher.

Whether you eat them raw or cooked, a one cup serving has a mere 9 calories. Of course, the cooked version will gain calories if you add meat or fat to the pan. And a salad may have added calories from other vegetables and dressing. Even so, with a little attention to ingredients you can get a remarkable amount of nutrition packed into a minimal number of calories.

Bok choy is high in antioxidants as well as cancer-fighting compounds like vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, folate, and selenium. It’s also a good source of the inflammation reducing flavonoid quercetin. And the good stuff doesn’t stop there. Bok choy contains many of the essentials for maintaining strong healthy bones – calcium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium, and vitamin K.

Including greens high in folate (like bok choy) in your diet during pregnancy can help prevent complications like spina bifida and anencephaly, a severe congenital condition in which a large part of the skull is absent along with the cerebral hemispheres of the brain.

I love a food that promotes good health without a load of calories, but the best thing about bok choy is it’s delicious! I read something recently that called it a gateway green. I can see how that’s an apt description. The mild sweetness makes it appealing for the consumer who isn’t yet accustomed to the bitterness found in many greens.

The mild, pleasant flavor makes a great background for prominent flavors like arugula and dried bing cherries, but it also blends well with more subtle flavors like red bell pepper, celery, cucumber, and carrots. Because I’m harvesting early, the stems are delicious chopped into a salad.

If you enjoy cooked greens, bok choy is great stir fried or sautéed. You can also cook it like more traditional mustard, collard, or turnip greens.

The other day, I filled a pot with chopped bok choy and a cup or so of chopped Swiss chard. I filled the pot with water to the top of the greens. Then I added about a cup of chicken broth, a chunk of onion, a jalapeño pepper with stem and seeds removed, a spoonful of chili garlic sauce, a dash of tamari, and some salt & pepper.

I brought the pot to a boil, then simmered the greens for about 20 minutes. You can vary the cooking time to fit your preferences. I’m from the south where we overcook things.

The result is flavorful, but mellow and just what I was looking for. I’ve eaten it as a side with both chicken and steak and have not been disappointed. Not to mention, I feel as happy as a child when I enjoy grown-up nutrition from baby bok choy!

Heat Wave Relief

I need heat wave relief! Today, it feels like 112˚ and it’s not yet officially summer. Planes need a longer takeoff roll, outdoor workers struggle to stay hydrated, and I need something cool and refreshing to enjoy!

Perhaps I’ll steal a play from my grandkid’s playbook and have an ice cream sandwich! But I can’t have dairy or gluten. And while I have an ice cream maker, I won’t have a chance to make my own today.

Hmmm, what are my options?

Coconut Bliss Madagascan Vanilla Cosmic Bliss Frozen Dessert Sandwiches are plant-based, dairy-free and certified gluten-free. That sounds promising. They are available at my local Natural Grocers and feature coconut milk ice cream speckled with vanilla beans sandwiched between two oat choc-chip cookies.

Reading the label, I have some hesitation about these because they contain sprouted oat flour that is not specifically identified as gluten-free. The fact that the oats are sprouted does not ensure that they have not been contaminated in transit. The GF certification should take care of this, but I won’t feel comfortable without additional research.

I hate it when reading a label leads to the need for more research, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

goodpop® is sold at my local Whole Foods as well as Natural Grocers. Their ice cream sandwiches are round with a generous ratio of GF oatmilk frozen filling to chocolate cookie. The website offers online orders. I’m assuming the product is shipped in dry ice.

Jolly Llama has two flavors of gluten-free, dairy-free ice cream sandwiches available: Premium Vanilla and Cool Mint Chocolate Chip. The non-dairy ice cream is sandwiched between two chocolate cookies. It appears these would be good choices, but they’re not sold in my area. The website has a tool to see if they’re stocked where you live.

Nana Crème offers Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches. As the name suggests, the frozen dessert part is banana-based. All Nana Crème products are free of the top eight allergens. This might make these a good choice for a party if you can find them in stock. They’re currently sold out on the website.

If gluten weren’t a problem, I’d opt for the So Delicious® Vanilla Bean Coconutmilk Sandwiches. While I haven’t eaten those, I have had the filling and it’s delicious. The cookie looks like a traditional ice cream sandwich cookie. And the size is small which appeals to me.

With such a short list of local choices, I may opt for a dairy-free ice cream bar instead. Or I could dummy up my own sandwich using a tub of gluten-free, dairy-free ice cream and cookies from a box. Now that I think about it, gluten-free Oreos would make really cute mini sandwiches. Maybe that’s what I’ll go with.

The key is to find something C-O-L-D that adheres to my diet and gives me heat wave relief!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Colorful Life Deserves a Colorful Plate

We spend a lot of time these days documenting colorful experiences on social media. In fact, the past few years of valuing experience over possessions has led to a full-scale push against the limitations of the pandemic. Many want large gatherings, colorful actions and over-the-top fun!

To live your fullest, it makes sense to guard your health. And good health begins with good nutrition.

One of the simplest ways to keep your diet healthy is to fill your plate with fresh foods of many colors. This was my grandmother’s rule. And it’s echoed by nutritionists.

The phytochemicals that give foods their color also provide nutrients, prevent disease, fight inflammation, and mitigate pain. Eating a rainbow of colors can have the following effects:

Red. Eating red foods can support the circulatory system, the brain, and help with cholesterol levels. Stock up on tomatoes, radishes, and strawberries. Then add some tart cherries for pain reduction. And don’t forget red chili peppers, red bell peppers, and raspberries.

Orange. Oranges, carrots and sweet potatoes help boost immunity. And my grandmother used to say carrots would help you see better at night. They can, in fact, add some protection for your eyes and bones.

Yellow. Peaches, pineapple, and bananas make a delicious smoothie that will boost immunity and may improve blood sugar levels and even insulin sensitivity as long as the banana is not yet ripe.

Green. Leafy greens are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. They can help lower blood pressure, keep cholesterol in check, and help protect against heart disease and stroke. And there are so many options – spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, arugula, lettuce, Swiss chard, and watercress. Of course you’ll want to avoid spinach if you have histamine intolerance.

Blue. Blueberries are my favorite blue food. (Actually, huckleberries are my favorite, but they’re hard to come by.) I try to keep blueberries on hand. They’re a great complement to yogurt, oatmeal, and ice cream. I tend to just eat them by the handful as a snack that helps lower my risk of cancer while possibly improving my memory.

Indigo. Blackberries are another berry I prefer to consume by the handful. I never think about the fact that they may be helping me age better while improving my memory and preventing heart disease and cancer. I just enjoy their sweet, tangy juiciness.

Violet. Eggplant, purple cabbage, and plums are great choices. (Avoid the eggplant if you’re histamine intolerant.) Plums have even been touted as a new superfood with more antioxidants than blueberries and isatin that helps regulate digestion system function.

If nothing here is on your favorite list, don’t worry, just choose something else in the same color range or a white food like cauliflower. A multicolor plate looks as good as it tastes. There’s really no going wrong.

Consistently eating a variety of colors will mean an essentially healthy diet without lots of reading, studying, and calculating. Your body deserves the support so you’ll have more time to get out and live a colorful life.

Why Isn’t Okra a Star?

Why isn’t okra a star ingredient? I mean, it’s even shaped like a star. What gives?

This summer, I planted okra in my garden. It’s still going strong. The plants haven’t required much other than an occasional watering to become taller than I and they are prolific producers. One acre yields 4 to 6 tons.

In spite of that, I rarely see okra at the farmers market and it’s not often available at the supermarket. This left me curious what drives the minimal availability and whether accessibility limits its inclusion in recipes. I started clicking around.

Okra is grown commercially for both the fresh and frozen food markets. Some varieties have round pods. Those preferred for the fresh market have star-shaped pods. That’s what I grow.

Since pods for the fresh market require harvesting with a knife, picking can be time-consuming. And the window for perfect-sized pods is narrow. No need to click around to discover that. I’ve learned the lesson in person many times over. Picking a single acre of okra takes between 10 and 20 man-hours.

Machine harvesting has been attempted with varying degrees of success. Given its labor-intensive nature, okra may never be available on the scale of potatoes, corn, or spinach.

But does that mean okra shouldn’t star in more dishes than gumbo, succotash, okra & tomatoes, and fried or pickled okra? Many of you may be imagining its slimy texture and thinking, nah, that’s plenty of dishes– maybe more than enough.

It’s true okra can be slimy. Pairing it with citrus or adding vinegar will reduce this. You can also cook at high heat to minimize sliminess. For example: sautéing, grill charring, or breading and frying result in delicious flavor and texture sans slime.

I sometimes slice a few pods and throw them in with fresh green beans I’m sautéing. The other day, I added some sautéed slices to pasta. It took the dish from a solid, everyday flavor into the slightly exotic category.

I love using large pods, lemon juice, lemongrass, chicken stock, water, and seasoning to create a broth for cooking fish and rice. It creates a pleasing base that can be taken to another level with the addition of saffron or topped with fresh pico de gallo for an extra pop of flavor.

Okra will grow in zones 2 – 11 but it’s traditionally considered a southern food. That association may contribute to it being a role player rather than a star ingredient.

And while many people may hear the word slime and assume they won’t like it, anyone who has had fried okra done right will fight you for it at the store. It was always the star of my grandmother’s summer table.

Tomorrow, it will be the star of mine. I have some sliced and breaded and waiting in the refrigerator. Once I pull out a cast iron skillet and heat some oil, I’ll be minutes away from a mix of soft and crunchy texture that tastes like nothing else!

I even have vine-ripened tomatoes from the garden to go with. It doesn’t get any better than that!