Minted Lemonade: Recipe for a Perfect Summer Drink

mintlemonade

In my opinion, two of the quintessential flavors of summer are lemon and mint. And when combined, they create a harmonious flavor combination that is bright and sunny. One of my favorite summer recipes is homemade lemonade, a tasty tonic. Lemons provide us with healthful amounts of Vitamin C and potassium. And mint is, among many other things, uplifting, breath-freshening and soothing for the digestive system.

Homemade minted lemonade is simple to make, requiring just 4 ingredients! Here’s my recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 1 cup organic evaporated cane sugar
  • 2 cups freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 4 cups of filtered water

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Combine the sugar and 1 cup of water in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear. Set aside to cool.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Place the lemon juice in a large pitcher with the mint leaves (you can crush some of the leaves to release a bit more mint flavor).

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Add the remaining water to the lemon and mint, then sweeten to taste with the simple syrup. Refrigerate for at least one hour to allow the flavors to blend.

Enjoy!

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How to Make Violet Cordial

It’s that wonderful time of the year when violets make their brief appearance, and my yard is filled with the beautiful little deep-purple flowers. A few years ago, I posted a tutorial on how to make violet syrup, and I thought it would be fun to revive that recipe with a twist. I made the same basic syrup, but added some vodka to the mixture to make a lovely violet cordial that can be sipped by itself or added to other beverages to make a light floral cocktail. The variety of violets I have in my yard are only slightly fragrant, so the cordial has a mild floral flavor. Different varieties will yield different tastes.

violetsyrup02I began by gathering 2 cups of violets, making sure to choose only those blooms that were open and free of bites and blemishes. When you are harvesting edible wild flowers, make sure that you are picking them from locations that are free from pesticide or other chemical applications.

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I placed the violets into a colander and rinsed them thoroughly.

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Then placed them in a Mason jar and covered them with 2 cups of boiling water. The water almost immediately began to turn a gorgeous sapphire blue! I let the violet infusion cool, then placed it in the refrigerator and let it steep for 24 hours.

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After 24 hours, I strained out the violet blossoms, squeezing them to get out all the gorgeous purple hue. I placed some in a bowl so that I could show you what a brilliant color it made.violetsyrup07

I placed the strained liquid into a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

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Then added 2 cups of organic cane sugar and let this mixture come to a boil.

violetsyrup11I then turned down the heat to medium and let it cook at a low boil for about 10 minutes, stirring often.

violetsyrup10I removed the syrup from the heat, then added the strained juice of half a lemon. The acid from the lemon made the syrup go from deep violet to a beautiful magenta color.violetsyrup09

I then mixed the syrup, 50/50, with organic vodka and bottled it in sterilized capped glass jars, which I bought at the Container Store.

violetsyrup12After letting it sit for 2 weeks, it was ready to decant. It is very sweet by itself, but makes a lovely addition to champagne or sparkling water. Enjoy!

Cleaning Up the Greenwash

The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate.

Back in July, I moved back to Arizona and I’m now newest member of the my Econista friend’s household. With the move came a shift of my lifestyle to the greener side of things, one of them being greener household cleaners. Basically the only things we use are vinegar, baking soda, and thieves all purpose cleaner.

More people are using natural cleaning methods because most cleaning products on the market contain chemicals and toxins that create indoor air pollution and can lead to health side effects such as lung damage.

Because there is no industry certification for what is “natural” or “eco-friendly” or “healthy,” household cleaner manufacturers can get away with greenwashing their products. So the Environmental Working Group (EWG) launched their “Online Guide to Healthy Cleaning” a few weeks ago, to let consumers have a better idea of what’s in their products and what effects these products might have on their consumers. Unlike food and cosmetics, it is not required that cleaning products list all of their ingredients, so EWG had to do some real digging to determine the full ingredient lists.

Like EWG’s Skin Deep Database, the Online Guide to Healthy Cleaning really surprised me with the items that got a bad grade. Here’s an example: When I think toxic cleaners for some reason the first thing that popped into my head was Windex. So I typed in Windex, expecting to have a bad grade come up, which it did. Windex Original Glass Cleaner got the grade of D, so did Windex Nature’s Source Glass Cleaner and Windex Multi-Surface Vinegar Cleaner. So I wanted to try a more eco brand, thinking for sure the eco brand would get a better score. I looked at Seventh Generation’s window cleaner, Natural Glass & Surface Cleaner, Free & Clear, the score was better, but not by much, with a C grade, mainly because of the ingredient methylisothiazolinone. Frustrated, I clicked on the category “Glass/ Window Cleaner” to see who could best the C grade. Turns out of the 49 glass cleaners out there, 4 received an A: Simple Green Naturals Glass & Surface Care, Rosemary Mint; Whole Foods Market glass cleaner, unscented; Green Shield Organic Glass Cleaner, Fresh; and Citra-Solv Citra Clear Window & Glass Cleaner.

For the record, there are simple homemade DIY recipes out there, including pure vinegar; you can check them out here. Or try our Four Thieves Vinegar or All-Purpose Cleaner recipes! Happy Non-toxic cleaning everyone! Have any favorites?

Wordless Wednesday: Farmers Market Finds

Perfect tomatoes. Ready to eat. No adornments necessary.

English peas. Preciously short season. Delicious in Minted Pea Soup.

Fingerling potatoes. Red and white. To be roasted with garden herbs and olive oil.

Strawberries. Last of the crop. Season came early this year. Perfect for Cold Strawberry Soup.

Icelancic lambs wool. Naturally gorgeous brown color. Will be used to make a batch of Fuzzy Soaps.

Peas and potatoes and basil.

Tomatoes and cucumbers. A salad in the making.

The jewel-toned cauliflower would look gorgeous on a crudité platter.

Nice variety of squash. My favorite are the oddly decorative and yummy patty pan.

Garlic scapes have a very short season. They are wonderful in stir fries.

So happy to have Solitude Wool selling their wares now at the farmers market.

Striving Toward Veganism

The following post is by guest blogger, Julia Guarino. 

When I was five years old, I arrived home one day from kindergarten and announced to my parents that I was going to become a vegetarian. They were surprised, but as I seemed determined, they obliged, asking advice from my pediatrician as to how best meet my nutritional needs. By age ten, I had completely eliminated the fish and poultry that I sometimes ate, and I have been completely vegetarian ever since. In my final year of college, I moved into my first apartment, and in the excitement of newly possessing a kitchen, I subscribed to Vegetarian Times. It is full of wonderful recipes and tips on products to buy and restaurants to frequent for both lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who still consume eggs and dairy products), and vegans (those who have eliminated all animal products, including eggs, dairy and honey). I had never really considered becoming vegan, because though I had long since chosen to use soy milk over cow’s milk and to replace butter with non-hydrogenated-oil-based margarine (like Smart Balance, which tastes remarkably similar), but I knew giving up cheese and eggs would take immense effort, and I wasn’t sure it was worth it. After all, not only did I enjoy these things, but as a vegetarian it was extremely difficult to order a meal at a restaurant with any protein in it that didn’t come from one of these two sources.

However, as the year continued, several articles on the health benefits of veganism published in the Vegetarian Times encouraged me to eliminate more and more animal products from my diet, and the more I did so, the more I realized that it felt really good. I began to do some research. Could I really do this? Did it make sense to become vegan? Would the benefits outweigh the inconvenience?

My research gave me a fairly clear answer: it is difficult, and you have to do it right, but if you’re willing to put it in the effort, it is worth it. I came across several medical studies done on vegan groups, providing evidence that a plant-based diet has enormous health benefits, including helping to prevent cancer, reversing the need for medication in type-2 diabetes patients, and more. Concern over the risks of malnourishment (as in the infamous case of the Queens baby) are not entirely unfounded, but seem to be fairly easy to avoid; as long as attention is paid to the vegan’s consumption of protein as well as some vitamins found in less concentrated amounts in non-vegan diets, such as vitamins B12, iron, calcium and zinc, even children live quite healthily on it.

I cannot say that the switch is easy, and I have still not made it completely, but the less eggs and dairy I eat, the better I feel. Perhaps it is simply a feeling of accomplishment, but either way, I know I am doing better for my body, and it is worth it, despite the inconvenience.

[Editor’s note: if you’re looking for some yummy vegan recipes here are some that I’ve posted in the past]

Strawberry Jam Made with Port Wine


It’s strawberry season at the farmers markets in my area. I look forward to this time of year, and always take full advantage of the abundance of this wonderful fruit. While we eat a lot of them fresh, I like to use them in a variety of recipes, including salads, soups, smoothies and more. This year, I decided to make jam, and since I love cooking with wine, I thought I would substitute port for the water in this super simple recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of cleaned, hulled, coarsely chopped strawberries (organic or local)
  • 1 cup of port wine
  • 1 cup of sugar (I used organic fair trade)
  • juice of 1 lemon

Place all of the ingredients in a thick-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to keep it from burning, and frequently scraping it from the sides of the pan.

Cook until thickened (about 30-40 minutes).

Pour into a clean container, and store in the refrigerator. Eat within 2 weeks (this should be absolutely no problem). Enjoy on toast, or as a glaze for meat dishes.

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Meatless Monday: Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff

I adapted this recipe from a dish I had at Luna 61, a wonderful vegetarian restaurant in Tivoli, NY. It is a stroganoff that uses mushrooms instead of meat. I took it to the next level by making it vegan and gluten free, while maintaining the awesome taste. The sherry and nutmeg are two key ingredients that give this dish its signature flavor.

  • 2 tablespoons organic olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped organic shallots
  • 4 cups of coursely chopped mushrooms (I used Trumpet and Crimini)
  • 1/4 cup of organic olive oil or Earth Balance
  • 1/4 cup of organic flour (you can also use wheat or rice)
  • 2 cups of almond milk (you can also use oat,
  • 1/4 cup of sherry, madeira or marsala wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground organic nutmeg
  • sea salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound of organic pasta, cooked (I used rice pasta for a gluten-free dish)
Saute the shallots in the olive oil over medium heat until the become translucent. Add the mushrooms, and saute until they begin to shrink and darken in color. Set them aside.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil or melt the Earth Balance over medium heat, then add the flour, whisking it to blend thoroughly. Cook for a minute or two to cook off the raw flour taste. Add the milk a bit at a time, continuing to whisk as you do this, so as to avoid lumps. Your goal is to create a thick white sauce. Once all of the milk has been integrated, cook and whisk for another minute, then whisk in the sherry. Whisk for another couple of minutes, then remove the sauce from the heat.
Season your sauce with the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Then toss in the mushrooms and stir with spoon until they are well-integrated. Serve warm over pasta, with a side salad. Enjoy!

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USDA Invites You to Vote for Your Favorite Recipes for Healthy Kids

image copyright Recipes for Healthy Kids finalist South Education Center Alternative

In an effort that would make Jamie Oliver proud, last September, the USDA and First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Recipes for Healthy Kids competition. The goal of this program is to encourage the development of creative, nutritious, and kid-approved recipes that schools can easily incorporate into National School Lunch Program menus.

Entries were accepted from September through December 2010. From among the 340 entries submitted, five were selected in each of following categories: whole grains, dark green and orange vegetables, and dry beans and peas. These finalists will be visited by a team that includes a USDA official, an American Culinary Federation chef, and a school nutrition professional to narrow it down to the three finalists (one from each category) who will participate in a national cook-off event this summer.

You can see the finalists on the Recipes for Health Kids website, check out all the yummy-looking recipes, and vote for your favorite. Voting for the Popular Choice Award closes on May 15.

Cranberry Oatmeal Walnut Cookie Recipe

This weekend we had dinner at our friends’ house, and I was asked to bring dessert. I made a batch of whole wheat brownies, which I planned to bring, but wanted to bake something else since I wasn’t sure if their small children would enjoy the rich chocolately awesomeness of the brownies. I decided to make oatmeal cookies, which have some healthy aspects. The cookies came out wonderfully, and were enjoyed by the guests of all ages, so I thought I would share my recipe with you.

Dry ingredients:
1 1/2 cups of organic flour
1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup organic fair trade sugar

Wet ingredients:
1/2 cup butter or Earth Balance, melted
1 tablespoon honey
1 cage-free, organic egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup organic milk or milk substitute (like almond, soy, rice or oat)

Final touches:
1 1/2 cups uncooked organic oatmeal
1/2 cup dried organic cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat your oven to 350º F. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the dry ingredients. Stir in the wet ingredients to make a dough. Then work in the remaining ingredients. Drop by the tablespoon onto a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake until the top and edges are lightly browned (about 10-14 minutes, depending on your oven).

Enjoy!

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How to Host a Cookie Exchange Party

a photo of the lavender sugar cookies I made for last year's exchange

My friend, Meg, and I have held a holiday cookie exchange for a small group of our friends. It’s a fun, low-key way to get into the holiday spirit. And it has become an eagerly anticipated tradition amongst our regular attendees.

It is not an elaborate event, just a simple gathering, with good food, great company, and a wonderful assortment of cookies, which we in turn give to our friends and family as gifts.

If you are interested in throwing a cookie exchange, here’s how we go about it. We send out an invitation asking guests to bring two dozen homemade cookies to trade with other guests. We promise our guests that they will walk away with an amazing array of home baked treats that will make them look like a domestic rock star, as if they have spent hours in the kitchen 🙂

We hold it in the early evening on a weeknight in order to minimize its competition people’s holiday social commitments. It is scheduled so that it is not too close to Christmas, but not too far away, so that the cookies will still be fresh for the holidays (however, if you need to, you can freeze most cookies). Sparkling cider, sparkling water and wine are offered along with hearty appetizers, and a backdrop of Christmas music sets the stage for a holiday state of mind.

While the piece de resistance is the gathering of the cookies, the party is also a great way to just relax in the company of good friends. And it’s a lot of fun to see what types of cookies people will bring. I never ask ahead of time, and interestingly, there have never been duplicates. The cookies have ranged from classic (gingerbread), to fun (candy cane), to unusual (organic lavender sugar*). Guests are asked to bring containers to transport their cookie conquests, but if they forget, I always have extras.

I’ve been to cookie exchange parties where the hostess asks guests to bring a copy of their recipe to share, but we skip that part. We feel that it is enough to ask people to make cookies and make time for yet another event during the busy holiday season. If anyone really wants a particular recipe, they can always ask the cookie cook to email it to them. However, we’ve found that our group is quite happy to just bake one type of cookie! I have also see websites that offer elaborate rules around cookie exchanges, but we tend to be fairly lax. All we ask is that our guests bring cookies they’ve made, and if they absolutely don’t have time, they can bring store bought. Again, this is about enjoying time with friends, and the last thing we want to do is add more pressure to our friend’s lives!

If you decide to host a cookie exchange, please let me know how it goes. And if you’ve come up with a creative or fun addition to the tradition, I’d love to hear about it!

*I buy Fair Trade cane sugar (which ensures that sugar cane farmers receive a fair price for their harvest), both for my home baking as well as for my sugar scrubs. My favorite brand is Wholesome Sweeteners, which is available at Whole Foods. I also learned recently that many brands of sugar are not vegetarian! They use bone char (usually from cows) to whiten their product (ew!). For more information on this topic, you can visit the Whole Foods blog.

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