Homemade Sushi

homemade-sushi-platter

Making your own sushi is a surprisingly easy process and creates a beautiful array of appetizers or centerpiece for a special meal.  The most difficult part of the process in Vermont is obtaining really high quality raw fish.  If you do have a good source, that’s great!  If not, there are plenty of other delicious ingredients that can be used to make flavorful and colorful sushi rolls.

The only piece of equipment that is unique to the sushi-making process is a bamboo sushi rolling mat.  They’re widely available online for less than five dollars, however, and don’t take up much room in a drawer.

making-sushi-at-home

Prepare your rice:

True sushi rice should be white and short grain, prepared with rice vinegar.  Cook one cup of rice with just over one cup water.  Cover pot and bring to boil.  Simmer, covered, for about 10 additional minutes until water has been absorbed.  Taste rice to make sure it is cooked through.  If so, stir in two tablespoons rice vinegar and a dash of salt. Allow to rest, covered for a few more minutes so any grains stuck to your pot release.

Decide on your flavors:

“Sticked” or thin log shapes (imagine a carrot stick or baby carrot) work best for rolling into sushi.  Thick spreads like cream cheese can also work well.  Very hard things or ingredients in small pieces or bits work less well.  I like avocado slices, pieces of cooked sweet potato (extra credit for marinating them ahead of time), marinated tofu slices, smoked salmon (if you don’t have a reliable source for raw), red onions, egg strips (beat eggs with salt and sesame oil, fry in a flat “pancake” in a frying pan, cut into strips), and various pickled vegetables.  I often scan the fridge for leftovers that could be included.

Prepare your prep counter:

Gather everything you need on a counter with plenty of space.  I gather: my rice pot, a bowl of water for dipping fingers, a sharp knife, a cutting board, a bamboo rolling mat, nori (seaweed) sheets, ingredients for inside the sushi, and a platter for completed rolls.

ready-to-roll-sushi

Roll the sushi:

It will become much more clear how to make a nice sushi roll after trying it once!  Here’s my best effort to explain using words:  Lay out your bamboo mat and place a sheet of nori on top, closer to the left side of the mat.  Dip your fingers in water to moisten them.  This keeps the rice from sticking.  Take a handful of rice and push it into a thin layer covering the left half of your piece of nori.  Arrange your ingredients in a modest strip from the top to bottom along the left edge of the rice.  Moisten the bare right hand side of the nori with water.

Begin to roll the left edge over and around your ingredient strip.  When the left edge touches down, keep the bamboo mat up (so you don’t roll it into the sushi, and continue to roll the sushi until you’ve reached the end of the nori.  Give the whole roll (with the bamboo still around the outside) a gentle squeeze to bond everything together.  Your ultimate goal is to have enough rice to wrap around your inside ingredients, with extra nori to bind to itself, making a strong outer layer.  No matter how it comes out, it will taste good!

Open up the bamboo mat and lay the sushi roll on a cutting board.  Moisten the blade of a sharp knife with water.  Gently slice your roll into pieces of sushi and arrange on your platter.

Enjoy!

We serve our sushi with a dipping sauce (soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and hot pepper paste), pickled ginger, and wasabi.  Yum!

homemade-sushi

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Homemade Bath Salts

diy-epsom-bath-salts

Homemade bath salts are SO SO easy to make yourself.  They offer a great way to take advantage of the healing, relaxing, and restorative powers of warm baths in the winter.  Epsom salts have been used for generations to relieve aches and pains.  More specifically, they provide you with a dose of magnesium, a mineral that is often lacking in our modern diets.  Magnesium’s many powers include: maintaining normal nerve and muscle function, supporting a healthy immune system, keeping the heart beat steady, and helping bones remain strong. It also helps regulate blood glucose levels and aids in the production of energy and protein (from Medline).

When you make bath salts at home, it is also fun to experiment with different combinations of essential oils.  In addition to smelling good (without exposing you to synthetic fragrances), each essential oil has an array of superpowers that help promote health and wellness.  A simple google search can help you understand the range of benefits from each different essential oil or provide you with essential oil suggestions for treating a specific heath condition or promoting a feeling or mood.

Simple Homemade Bath Salts (adapted from Wellness Mama):

  • 4 cups epsom salts (very cheap and available at all drug stores)
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 40 drops of essential oils (available at health food stores and online)

Mix together in a glass bowl.  Store in a quart canning jar.  Use 1 cup per bath.

making-your-own-bath-salts

Lavender, birch, and frankincense for my “Aches and Pains” bath salts mixture

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Winter Weekends Around the House

This winter we’ve had the luxury of being able to enjoy calm weekends at home.  Our time is structured with projects and forays outside supplemented by plenty of relaxation and reading by the fire.  Having time and lacking garden surplus foods that must be used up has given me the space to experiment with some new recipes.  We also enjoyed the results from our first attempt to process garden-grown dent corn into authentic tortillas.  Yum!  Here are some (food-focused) glimpses from our winter weekends at home:

defrosting-elderberries

Elderberries defrosting in the sun (Elderberry Syrup recipe here)

sweet-potato-brownie

Sweet potato brownies: we’ll definitely be making this again! (recipe here)

brownie-plate

Oops: meant to take a picture of the beautiful brownie plated on strawberry sauce with a drizzle of maple syrup sour cream on top… 

saved-cilantro-seeds

Sorting seeds and making our order for the 2017 garden!

windowsill-herbs

And then planting a few for some early spring windowsill cilantro

bone-broth

Bones defrosting for crock pot broth (recipe here)

skiing

Two amazing things happened last week: it snowed AND it was sunny

sauerkraut-angel

Appreciating this beautiful cabbage angel while making sauerkraut (recipe here)

making-tortillas

Homemade garden-grown blue corn tortillas (recipe here)

homemade-tortillas

Success!

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Tracks in the Snow

RaccoonPath

A favorite children’s book in the after school program read, “Tracks in the snow, tracks in the snow.  Where did they come from, where did they go?”  Whenever I’m out on a walk in the forest and see tracks in the freshly fallen snow, these lines play cheerfully through my mind.

In this past post, I discussed how amazing tracking with children is.  Animal tracking is truly a magical tool that encourages curiosity and problem solving.

However, the benefits can extend to adults too!  Too often we forget to stop and examine the beautiful and interesting details that surround us in our everyday life.  This is especially true when trying to fit exercise and outside time into a busy day.  Mindfulness, curiosity, life-long-learning, and wonder are especially important when there is a need to counteract stressful situations in other parts of life.  Following animal tracks is a wonderfully energizing way to be present in the moment with all senses alert.

My challenge to you: Walk outside in a natural setting, deeply breathing in the fresh air, as often as you can.  If there is a dusting of snow or patches of mud, keep an eye out for animal tracks.  Take time to observe and question: What kind of animal was it?  How did it move?  Where did it come from?  Where did it go?

turkey-wing-track

RaccoonPrint

Bobcat

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Squoodles

It’s not new news that we tend to have and abundance of vegetables.  Even now – at the end of January – we have about 15 butternut squash and a bushel of onions stored in the basement.  The long growing season allowed many plants to yield far more produce than we are used to – it really was a year of abundance in the garden!

Therefore, I was really excited to get a spiralizer for my birthday.  This gives me one more tool in my arsenal for preparing and presenting veggies in a totally different form.  The spiralizer takes any round or cylindrical veggie and “spiralizes” it into spaghetti cut (1/8th inch), fettuccine cut (1/4th inch), or ribbon cut noodles.

squoodles

So far I’ve experimented on beets, onions and squash with great results.  Here’s our new favorite way of eating butternut squash:


Roasted “Squoodles” (squash noodles)

  1. Preheat your oven to 45o degrees F.
  2. Cut the bottom bulbous part off the butternut squash and refrigerate for later use.  Peel the cylindrical part and cut off the very top, making sure both ends are flat and parallel to each other.
  3. Assemble your spiralizer. I used the fettuccine cut blade.
  4. Press the top end of the squash into the Food Holder (covered in a bunch of pokey things that will hold the squash in place), and push the other end against the center of the blade.  Apply pressure against the blade by using the side handle while turning the handle.
  5. squash-noodlesOut come the squoodles!
  6. Toss squoodles with olive oil and salt (they want to have full coverage of olive oil but not be dripping in it).
  7. We’ve had great luck putting a cookie cooling rack in our roasting pan, and then putting the squoodles on top.  This allows air to circulate around them, making them more crispy and less limp.
  8. Roast for 20-30 minutes.  We like a few of ours to get slightly burnt, which allows the entire batch to  get crispier.  Turn on your oven light and keep an eye on things without opening the door.  They are very thin, so can go from crispy to burnt quickly!
  9. Enjoy!

roasted-squash-noodles

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Winter Recipes

I love cooking in the winter.   Darkness comes early, leaving plenty of time for food prep before I get hungry for dinner.  Warmth and good smells contrast with the brisk cold outdoor air.  And the final result is a hot delicious meal.

Though I’ve cooked a bunch of new recipes recently, I failed to take any photos or document the ingredient tweaks made as I adjusted each dish to taste.  Oh well.  It turns out I’ve already documented many of our go-to recipes that incorporate stored, frozen, and canned garden harvests.  Here are some favorite recipes for the depths of winter:

Chicken Soup and Elderberry Syrup: Two of our favorite get-well-soon foods.

elderberry-syrup

Squash:  A variety of simple flavor combinations that allow you to enjoy last year’s bountiful harvest day after day.

Butternut squash

Winter Sweetened Kale & Brussels sprouts: Sweetened and tender from frost, these brassicas are nothing like the peppery and sometimes tough summer versions.  You can’t go wrong with these simple go-to recipes.

Winter-Kale-brussels-harvest

Chili and cornbread: Nourishing and delicious.  Perfect for enjoying in front of the fireplace after a day filled with snowy adventures.

chili-up-close

Tomato soup: A standard in our household.  This is our favorite way to use tomatoes canned in the height of sunny summer.

Tomato-soup-with-toast

Ginger and Turmeric recipes: Miso squash bisque, curried broth, and Golden milk tea: Warming, comforting, delicious, and SO good for you!

Ginger-and-Turmeric1

Cream of cauliflower soup: So creamy you’ll forget it’s packed with veggies.

cream-of-cauliflower2

Enjoy

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Better Bitters

homemade-bitters

Our pantry, freezer, and fridge are stocked with organic whole foods.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have access to such high quality ingredients, many originating here in Vermont and some from around the globe.  Cooking everything from scratch (and barely ever eating out) allows us to spend more on the raw materials, making incredibly high quality meals quite affordable.

Then one day out of curiosity I took a peek at the Angostora Bitters ingredients panel from our cabinet… Alcohol, water, sugar, gentian, natural flavorings, carmel color and added colors.  Not the worst things in the world, but I realized that I could do way better!  Why hadn’t I thought of making my own bitters before now?

It turns out, making bitters is incredibly easy.  Simply steep ingredients like citrus peels, herbs, or spices in vodka, strain, and enjoy!  But what to steep?

Inspired by great new companies, like Urban Moonshine and Salud Bitters, I wanted my bitters to be functional and delicious.  I had also been meaning to take advantage of the collection of herbalism resources I’d been accumulating.

medicinal-herb-books

Browsing through my books, I started to list combinations of herbs, spices, and citrus peels that would promote health or ease ailments.  I’m no herbalist, so I don’t guarantee results.  I know that herbal remedies need to be used regularly over time to be effective and I’m not planning on having bitters every day.  The herbalism lens, however, was useful to me in concocting some intentional blends from millions of possibilities.

A simpler option, of course, would be to start with single or two-ingredient bitters.  Orange, cardamom, or ginger bitters would all be great all on their own.  I was ready to make a project out of it, however, so I pulled tons of ingredients out of the cupboards and got to work.

bitters-ingredients

I filled each jar about 1/3 of the way up with herbs, spices, and peels (dried ingredients will expand and you want everything to stay below the level of the vodka).  I then filled each jar with vodka, labeled each with its ingredients list, and let them sit in a dark corner of my kitchen.  I shook them daily (sort of… on the days I remembered).  After two weeks, I strained and rebottled into old hot sauce jars.  Perfect for pouring small amounts!

bitters-steeping

Though my concoctions were blended without really knowing how they would taste, I love the unique flavor of each one.  I now have a diverse selection on hand for adding to seltzer, water, or cocktails.  What an easy way to upgrade this versatile cupboard ingredient!

homemade-bitters

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