Category Archives: Naturally Delicious

Naturally Better: Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

I bake A LOT, just about every weekend. So, I go through a lot of vanilla extract. I kept buying those cute little two ounce bottles of it every month or so. It was really quite expensive. I wondered if I could make my own cheaper and better.

Vanilla extract, real vanilla extract, is just vanilla beans extracted into alcohol. That’s it! Vanilla beans + alcohol + time= vanilla extract. So easy! The neat part is you can vary the taste depending on what alcohol you use. I use bourbon. I think it gives it a really rich warm flavor. You could use rum for a more exotic flavor. Use vodka if you want a more exact, straight vanilla flavor. Use brandy for a … if you like brandy…

The other great part is you can make a HUGE amount of it with a relatively small investment. Currently, I have a 750 ml bottle steeping. I spent less than $35 on the bourbon and vanilla beans. That’s going to make over 25 ounces of vanilla extract or the equivalent of 12 and a half of those little bottles! That has to be savings of well over $25.

A word on vanilla beans: they should be soft, bendable and very fragrant. If they are hard and dry, you probably are not going to get much out of them.

Fresh vanilla beans bend

Fresh vanilla beans bend

The first time you try it, I would suggest starting with a half-pint of liquor. There is some debate over how many vanilla beans you need but really it depends on your own taste. I think a really easy place to start is half a bean per ounce. So, that is four beans for a half-pint. (Make it five if you want it extra vanilla-ey!)

Split the vanilla beans length-wise.

Split beans length-wise.  All the little seeds will be revealed.

Split beans length-wise. All the little seeds will be revealed.

Put them in the bottle.

Beans in bottle

Shake the bottle.

Wait for at least a month before using. Two is better. Give the bottle a shake every once in a while.

Once the extraction process is complete, then you can strain out the beans if you like. I just leave them in there and let them keep steeping.

It’s a good idea to re-label your bottle, lest it end up on your bar cart.  (Although, that would probably make for some delish cocktails!)  Also, you can put the date that you created it on or the date it’ll be ready.  By the way, vanilla extract never expires.

Relabeled

Relabeled

Do you make your own vanilla extract already? Would you give DIY vanilla extract a try?  Leave me a reply and let me know.

Many blessings to all,

Cynthia

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justdragonfly

Naturally Regular: The Scoop on Poop

I don’t remember how the conversation about bowel movements started.  It was one holiday or some family event.  I do remember my sister, Denise, arching an eyebrow at me and saying:

“You’re a vegetarian.  You must be like a goose now.”

“I don’t know if I am as loose as goose but I’m good for about a three day.”

“What!  That’s too much.  That’s not normal!” exclaimed another family member, whom I am sure would prefer to have her identity remain private.

“How often do you poop?” I asked.

“Once every five days or so,” she said.

I am not sure if I said anything at the time but that sounded a little constipated to me… Turns out, there is no normal range of exactly how often one should move their bowels.

The major determinate of whether your bowel movements are regular is, well, what comes out.  Guess what?  There is a chart for that!  It’s called the Bristol Stool Chart.  (Go ahead, Google it right now… I’ll wait.)  There are seven types of stools, ranging from Type 1, separate hard lumps, to Type 7, completely fluid.  The normal range is Type 3, resembling a cracked sausage and Type 4, looking like a smooth, soft snake.  So, if your poo is too hard or too soft, you’ve got work to do!

What to do if you are on the low end of the chart:

  • Drink more water.
  • Get more fiber in your diet like fruit, veggies, greens, seeds (like chia and pumpkin seeds!) whole grains and legumes.  (Special shout-out to my dad, Hank Lenz, who is a long-time proponent of psyllium husks!)
  • Eat less meat.  Animal fat is a lot harder to digest and will hang around, putrefying in your bowels until some nice leafy green or grain brushes it through.
  •  Get regular exercise.  Moving your body will make everything work better including your bowels.  Yoga and stretching can be especially effective for helping with digestive issues.
  • Try a probiotic.  Probiotics will help restore the digestive flora in your gut. Gut flora can be compromised by illness, poor nutrition or even medication like an antibiotic.
  • Avoid commercial laxatives if possible.  Chemical laxatives and stool softeners will weaken your peristaltic muscles, making it more difficult for your body to evacuate on its own the longer you use them.
  • Change your position.  Technically, it’s better to squat than sit when moving the bowels.  If you find that you are straining, it’s advisable to get your knees up higher than your waist and lean forward.  You can keep a stool or squatty potty near the toilet for this purpose.  If you are feeling exceptionally limber, go ahead and squat right on the toilet by drawing your knees up and placing your feet on the seat.

What to do if you are on the high end of the chart:

  • Drink water.  Although, it seems counter-intuitive at that moment, it’s important to keep your fluids up especially if you have diarrhea.  You are losing fluids quickly and they must be replaced or you risk becoming dehydrated.
  • Avoid meat and dairy.
  • Follow a BRAT diet if you have diarrhea until your condition improves.  BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast.
  • Charcoal capsules can also be used for diarrhea to absorb toxins and excess fluid.
  • Rest! Diarrhea maybe a symptom of food poisoning or infection.  So, it is important give your body time to heal itself.  (You’re probably not going to want to stray too far from the bathroom anyway!)
  • Eat pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix!!!) Pumpkin flesh is great for diarrhea because it contains electrolytes, potassium and soluble dietary fiber.  (By the way pumpkin is also excellent to give your canine buddy if he or she has diarrhea.)
  • Diarrhea can also be the body’s last-ditch effort to deal with constipation, by liquifying the contents of your colon in a “blazing lights and siren” emergency sort of way.  So, if you find you tend to get diarrhea after a bout of constipation, take a look at the first set of suggestions above.

Make sure that if you are on either extreme of the chart for an extended period of time, you get examined by a qualified healthcare professional.  Diarrhea and constipation can be indicators of a serious illness and should not be ignored.  Diarrhea can cause dehydration.  Prolonged constipation can lead to fecal impaction.  Contact your health care provider if you notice blood or abnormal colors in your stool.   Similarly, if your stool has an unusually foul odor, you also want to get that checked out.

Do be sure to give your excrement at least a once-over before you flush!  It’s an excellent indication of what is going on with your health in general.

Many blessings to all,

 

Cynthia

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justdragonfly

Nature’s Bounty: Fresh from the Farmer’s Market

“All my hurts my garden spade can heal.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

A dream of mine is to grow a lot of my own food and flowers.  Alas, a garden is a demanding avocation.  So, I must set aside that dream for now as my schedule does not permit.  In the meanwhile, thankfully, there is the farmer’s market.

I go to the farmer’s market usually every other week.  To me, it is an almost magical place.  The veggies and fruit seem more ravishing than jewels.  It makes me happy to gaze upon them, nestled in their display cases, practically bursting with delicious ripeness.  I was so excited by the first Long Island tomatoes, you would have thought it was my birthday.

One of the greatest pleasures is eating, fresh, ripe fruit and veggies in season!  I buy almost all organic produce when I shop at the supermarket but not even that tastes quite as delicious as food that was picked within a day of when I purchased it.  That first bite of tomato was like eating sunshine, the rain and the rich earth all in the form of a juicy, delectable, plump, meaty red tomato!  There is something very satisfying and right about eating tomatoes or corn, grown in the same environment you live in.

The farm I buy from is about 90 miles from my home or just shy of a two hour drive.  (The farmer’s market is about five miles away.  I really appreciate the farmers doing the lion’s share of the driving!)  While there is no universal agreement on what makes food local for a consumer.  100 miles has become the standard for many.  So, let’s go with that, shall we?

I think eating food that is grown locally is important for several reasons.  Taste is number one, as you probably already surmised by the way I went on and on in the previous paragraphs.  A close second is that you are buying the food from the people who grew it.  So, they can tell you in detail what their practices are and you can decide if they meet your standards.  Also, you are supporting people in your community by purchasing from them.  The last one I am going to mention is freshness.  Much of the produce you buy in the supermarket is not picked at maximum ripeness.  It is picked early to keep it from rotting in transit.  So, you are not getting the maximum flavor and nutrition, you would have enjoyed had it been allowed to ripen on the vine.

Do you go to your local farmer’s market?  What is your favorite part about going there? Please leave me a reply and let me know in the comments section.

Many blessings to all,

 

Cynthia

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justdragonfly

 

Naturally Healthy Fat-free Snack: Baked Kale Chips

I always liked the idea of kale chips but whenever I tried the store-bought kind, I found them to be very small, kind of greasy and a bit mushy.  They just never tasted quite right.  They barely resembled kale.  They were more like the soggy embers of kale!

I really like using parchment paper when I make oven fries.  They don’t stick to the cookie sheet and you don’t need any oil.  So, they are fat-free! Seriously, what’s not to like?  I reasoned if I was happy with the results,  I was getting with sliced potatoes, yams, carrots, etc., using this method, then was worth a try with Kale too.

It worked!   Essentially, you are in between baking and dehydrating the kale in your oven.  The best part is these chips are so easy to make:

Baked Kale Chips

Large Bunch of Kale

Cookie Sheets

Parchment Paper

Sea Salt (optional)

Sriracha Sauce (optional)

Preheat oven to 270 Degrees

Wash and dry kale.  (I like to spin the water out with a salad spinner.)   De-stem Kale.  You want to remove the stem all the way up the leaf (no tough veins!)  Tear into large pieces (remember they will shrink as they bake.)  Place on parchment-lined cookie sheets.  Do not overlap.

Place the leaves close together but not overlapping!

Place the leaves close together but not overlapping!

Place in oven on different racks, allowing the heat to circulate.  Bake for eight minutes.  Check on kale.  Sprinkle salt on if desired.  Turn the pans the other way (vertical to horizontal or vice-verse.)  Bake for another 8-10 minutes.  The kale should be thoroughly crisp but not at all burnt when it is done.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before handling.  Then place kale in serving dish.  I shake any leftover salt into the bowl with the chips.  At this point, I like to put a drop of Sriracha sauce on each chip as I eat them.  Yum!  Sometimes, I’ll sprinkle them with my homemade cashew “Parmesan cheese.”

Hope you enjoy!

Many blessings,

 

Cynthia

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justdragonfly

 

Natural Energy: Chia Seed Lemonade

I am pretty much full of chia seeds lately. They are fantastic! If you are looking for one easy way to improve your health, take chia seeds daily.

Chia seeds have a long history of providing excellent nutrition. Ancient Aztecs and Mayans used them to maximize their energy and strength. Chia seeds are still considered a superfood today. Packed with fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids.  They have all the benefits of flax seeds without the need to grind to them to make them digestible. Plus, they are shelf-stable and bugs don’t like them. Hallelujah!

Chia seeds are really easy to incorporate into your diet. You can sprinkle them into salads, cereals, casseroles and baked goods. I often put them in brownies and muffins. You can also drink them. I put them in my smoothies. Unlike other seeds which stay hard, when you add chia seeds to liquid, they expand and form a gel. So, they slip right down your gullet!

Chia Seed Lemonade (a.k.a. Chia Fresca a.k.a. Iskiate) is my new favorite to take these wonderful seeds.

Chia Seed Lemonade

Tall Glass of Water

Three Tablespoons of Chia Seeds

Three Tablespoons of Lemon Juice

Half Teaspoon of Stevia

Ice

Mix the seeds into the water and let sit for ten minutes. You will notice it is much thicker at this point. Stir again. Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir again and enjoy!

Do you think you will try Chia Lemonade? Do you already use chia seeds in your diet? Please let me know by leaving a reply. I love hearing from you!

Blessings to all,

Cynthia

justdragonfly

Natural Way to Start the Day: Summertime Smoothie

Summer is the season of the green smoothie! You can get all your ingredients fresh from the Farmer’s Market. The best foods for our bodies are the ones that are available in season. Getting fruit and veggies from the Farmer’s market ensures that they were grown locally and that they were picked when ripe.

I start every morning with a green smoothie. (When I didn’t get to make it yesterday. I really REALLY missed it!)  Here is what I have been putting in my blender lately:

Summertime Green Smoothie Recipe

Two big handfuls of Kale

The juice of a quarter slice of lemon

One peach, stone removed but skin intact

One cup of almond milk

One banana

Two tablespoons of Chia Seeds (These are rich in protein and fiber!)

I usually just throw it all in the blender and whirl it up. If I remember I will soak the chia seeds in the almond milk first. (Soaking seeds speeds up the time in which you digest them.) Most of the time, I just toss them in the blender with everything else. They still get the job done!

Another variation on this recipe that I like is to replace the peach with a few slices of melon. I try not to go overboard on the fruit. Although it is healthy, spiking your sugar first thing in the morning might have you crashing soon after you get to work.

Do you drink green smoothies in the morning? What do you put in yours? Please let me know in the comments section. I would love to hear from you.

Many blessings to All,

 

Cynthia

Please follow me on Twitter.  Also, please LIKE my Facebook Page.

justdragonfly

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

I have been doing a lot of my own baking these days.  There are a lot of advantages: 1) I use only real ingredients, often organic 2) I save money 3) I LOVE baking!  There is somethig so satisfying about putting a bunch of powders and fluids together, adding heat and tada, a completely new creation appears.

I have been noodling in the kitchen long enough that I can wing it.  I came up with something so tasty yesterday, I thought I’d share it with you.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients:

2 Cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

half teaspoon baking soda

half teaspoon salt

quarter cup organic unbleached sugar

1 mashed up banana

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

quarter cup oil

1 cup of soy milk

one cup chocolate chips (I like to use big dark chocolate chips)

Big ‘ol dollop of peanut butter (approximately a quarter cup)

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.  (Use a bowl you love to mix things in.  Love is an important ingredient.)  Add the wet ingredients until just mixed.  Then gently stir in chips.  Swirl in the peanut butter last.

Spoon into a greased muffin tin.

Bake at 375 for approximately 20 minutes.  Your kitchen will smell sooooo good! Allow muffins to cool before handling. Pop them out with a knife and enjoy!

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justdragonfly

Naturally Beneficial: Behold The Mighty Dandelion!

Today, winter turns into spring but it’s snowing… So, it seems like a good time for you and me to discuss dandelions. That’s right, dandelions. Before you decide to kill them again this year, I implore you, let them live. Let them live!

I don’t know who convinced the American public- at-large that we all need lawns that look like pristine, lush, green carpets – probably some brilliant but evil marketing genius at a chemical company – but that person should have been sho- ahem, given a stern talking-to!

Anyway, however it happened, it’s a damn shame because the dandelion, and other so-called weeds with wonderful health-benefitting properties, went from friend to foe in the space of a generation, when all they ever wanted to do was heal us and the rest of the planet. That’s right! Those lovely, little yellow flowers are really nature’s medicine. Dandelions are meant to nourish us and many other species.

The bees, for example, rely on dandelions for food in the spring before many other flowers are blooming and again in the autumn, after less hearty blossoms have long been spent. Much has been made recently about the declining bee populations and the dire consequences that stem from their loss. You can help the little buggers out by leaving the dandelions alone! I mentioned in an earlier post that you may have noticed your dog or cat eating dandelions. They do this because instinctively they know that dandelions will clean them out and improve their health. Dandelions are a mild diuretic and they are high in vitamins and minerals. *

Guess what? Dandelions will help get you healthy and clean you out too! I can hear you now. “Oh Cynthia! You’re being weird again! There is no way I am picking dandelions from my yard and eating them!” Well, you don’t have to eat them straight from the yard. Bring them in the house and wash them first for Goodness’ Sake!

Early spring dandelion leaves are quite tender and delicious in a raw salad. I have also put them in smoothies. A lovely herbal tea can be made from fresh or dried dandelion leaves. Wildman Steve Brill has several interesting cooked dandelion root recipes on his website. You can even make the flowers into wine! (I gotta try that… one of these days!)

Have I convinced you not to poison or rip out and discard this misunderstood herb yet? Are you impressed by all the health-improving benefits offered by the mighty dandelion? If you still feel weird about picking these beautifully abundant plants, you can always go to Fairway and pay several dollars for a bunch instead of allowing them to grow in your own backyard!

What’s your take on dandelions? Friend or foe? Leave a comment and let me know!

 

*A somewhat decent but by no means complete list of dandelion’s beneficial properties:

  1. Food for animals and insects
  2. Diuretic
  3. Eases indigestion

Good source of:

  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Biotin
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Phosphorous
  • Inositol
  • B Vitamins
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin D

Love and Blessings to All,

 

Cynthia

 

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justdragonfly

Naturally Veggie: Tortilla Lasagna

I love tortillas and salsa!  However, given my dental issues since I fell in 2013, I have to avoid crunchy, hard food.  I started making what I call Tortilla Lasagna as a way to indulge my love of tortilla chips… all Mexican food really.

Ingredients:

Tomato Sauce

Tortilla chips

Black Beans

Salsa (I added some real grape tomato slices here as well)

Vegan Cheese

Chopped Olives to garnish

Preheat oven to 350.

I am not  going to include measurements because I usually just make it for myself in a loaf pan.  You just layer in the ingredients to fill whatever pan you are using.  (Usually I only put in a layer of each item and then eat the whole pan.)

Put in the oven for twenty minutes and voila!

It’s quick, easy and delish!  Even after my teeth are finished, I will still be enjoying this dish.

Give it a try.  Let me know what you think.

Love and Many Blessings,

Cynthia

 

justdragonfly

 

Naturally Veggie: Tater Tot Casserole. Yum!

Looking for a Meatless Monday Meal?  How ’bout Veggie Tater Tot Casserole?

My recipe

  1. One Onion
  2. Head of Cauliflower
  3. Fresh Spinach
  4. Package of Firm tofu
  5. Cup of Veggie Broth
  6. Package of Veggie Cheese
  7. Can of Cream of Mushroom (To be honest… might not have been vegan but it was organic.)
  8. Tater Tots Yeah!

Just saute some onions, then add chopped tofu when they start to soften.  I added a little veggie broth when the oil had been absorbed.

Lay it out in a casserole dish. Then layer with fresh or frozen veggies (I used cauliflower and spinach) , add 3/4 cup veggie broth, a can of mushroom soup,  Then veg cheese and top with frozen tater tots. Cover with foil,

I baked for an hour at 350 then put it up to 425 for ten minutes just to crisp up the tots a little.

So good!  I had seconds.  I think you might too.  Enjoy!

Love and Blessings to All,

 

Cynthia

 

Please follow me on Twitter.  Also, please LIKE my Facebook Page.

justdragonfly