Apple cider. And fresh cranberries. And fresh-squeezed lemon and orange juices. And spices. And honey. All together, hot and steaming and delicious, on my stove. This is one of my favorite wintertime drinks, and as soon as I start to see cranberries arrive in my grocery store I begin to think about it. “Yay!” I say to myself. “It’s Swizzle time of year!”
I have made this drink for many different groups of people over the years (because it’s a great sort of “special company” drink), and I have never yet encountered anyone who didn’t like it. People who say they don’t like hot cider like it. People who say they don’t like cranberries like it. I don’t know what it is, but it’s some sort of magical combination of ingredients that makes it universally loved. So odds are that you’ll love it too!
Most people have never eaten, or even considered eating, lamb shanks. Let me rephrase: Most AMERICANS have never considered it. Because, certainly, they’re common enough in the rest of the world – particularly the Mediterranean and Middle East. For some reason, though, lamb has an odd reputation in America and most Americans seem afraid of going anywhere near it.
My grandmother immigrated from Scotland, land of sheep, so my mother grew up eating plenty of lamb. And, therefore, I did too. But I’d never made shanks until about 10 years ago when my mother found this recipe and started making it. And I was instantly in love.
I love a good roasted leg of lamb as well as the next (non-American) person. But these shanks are now my favorite form of lamb. They are so tender – just falling off the bone, melting in your mouth, tender – and full of exquisite flavor. Probably because they’re so common in the middle east, this recipe has tons of spices.
Don’t be scared! It looks like a lot of flavor, but I promise you it’s PERFECT.
The thing with shanks is that they have to cook for a really long time to make them tender. There’s a pretty strong facia (or whatever) covering all the meat that needs to be cooked slowly to tenderize them. This is not a meal you can whip up in half an hour. So, this is a meal for a day off or a weekend. Or if, like me, you do your work at home it can be an any-day-of-the-week meal! But it’s especially good on cold, rainy, or blustery days. The perfect warm-your-bones sort of meal!
The farm that hosts our CSA, Snipes, is just about 2 miles from our house. It’s an old farm that has been in the Snipes family for 8 generations!! Our entire region used to be farmland, but theirs is the only one left, still standing after all these years right in the middle of urban sprawl. It’s really something of a miracle. So when they announced last spring that they were starting animal shares (for grass-fed/pastured meat, milk, and eggs) I jumped on board! It’s really pretty cool that, now, the meat we eat is raised just down the road from where we live.
We bought a pig share and a cow share, since they were the most affordable, and it’s been great to be able to see those animals grazing around. It’s a real comfort to know without a doubt the condition my meat is in. It’s not only important to me for humane reasons, but also for health reasons.
Here are the piggies. They forage free in the brush, and are moved every couple months or so to get new land to dig up!
Compare that to the way factory farmed pork and ham that’s sold in the supermarket is raised. How healthy do you think these animals really are, cooped up like that, eating only grain (which is probably GMO)? Pigs aren’t supposed to eat grain – they’re supposed to eat roots and bugs and plants. And the meat from animals that eat their natural diet is exponentially healthier for us!!
And here’s one of the cows, grazing away happily.
We started getting our pig share in the early summer, and an interesting thing happened. As we were eating our first pork chops I was intimately aware of the animal that had died so that we could have that meal. It wasn’t just some anonymous “meat” from the store – it was an actual animal I had met. So in our blessing before dinner I mentioned it, and asked that God help us not take for granted the lives that give us our food.
I’ve also found myself being very conscious of not wasting any of it. I want every morsel to be eaten or used to make soup or something. I find myself wanting to honor the life of the animal by not wasting it.
So it’s all been an interesting – and I think beneficial – change in how we view the meat that we eat.
Okay. So down to the recipe. (After all, that’s really why you’re here, right?)
I grew up in Arkansas, in a small town that was half an hour away from an even smaller town that had the best BBQ in the galaxy: Craig’s Bar-B-Q. The food is so good there that when John Edwards was running for president he had his tour bus go out of the way to make a stop at this place. And DeVall’s Bluff (where Craig’s is located) is not the sort of town you accidentally go through. It’s out of the way no matter where you’re going. But, the BBQ at Craig’s is so good that it’s totally worth it.
It’s the kind of place that the term “hole in the wall” was made for. If you didn’t know what it was, there’s no way you’d stop there and think, “I’ll buy something from this place and put it in my mouth.” It looks like a complete dive on the outside, and the inside isn’t any better, with old dark wood panelling and tables that wobble without the random things shoved under the legs, and a general atmosphere of shabbiness.
But once you bite into one of their sandwiches, you don’t give a fig about the wobbly tables or the grease-stained walls. You just want another one.
This is my husband enjoying his Craig’s BBQ. He grew up in Pennsylvania, and had literally never had a proper BBQ sandwich before this moment. He didn’t KNOW he’d never had proper BBQ before, but he knew it the minute he bit into one of these babies. (Incidentally, why is it impossible to find decent BBQ north of the Mason Dixon line? I have never understood this. But it’s true.)
I miss those BBQ sandwiches. Fiercely. It’s probably just as well that living in the Northeast only leaves me with pale imitations of BBQ, because this way I’m not really tempted by anything. The sugars in these sauces are pretty over the top. I tried to make my own BBQ sauce without (or with greatly reduced) sweeteners, and it was just not worth it. At least not when I’m remembering the magic that was Craig’s.
So I decided to try to go a completely different route and attempt a Carolina BBQ instead.
Carolina BBQ is vinegar based, instead of ketchup/molasses based, so it’s much easier to figure out a reduced-sweetener version. Also, I don’t have fond childhood memories of Carolina BBQ embedded in my head making me dissatisfied with anything that’s not exactly authentic, so I can play around a bit more.
(If you have fond childhood memories of Carolina BBQ dancing around in your head, I have no idea how this will hold up for you. We thought it was delish. But you’ll have to judge for yourself!)
This recipe does have some whole food sweeteners in it, but not much. What makes BBQ good is that combination of sweet and tangy, and so it’s impossible to leave it out altogether. However, it’s not much, and this recipe will be just fine for people who aren’t affected as much by whole food sweeteners, or who have gotten their inflammation under control and are just maintaining now. This recipe is simple in that it doesn’t take much work at all. But it’s time consuming since it involves a lot of brining and slow cooking. So plan ahead!
Zucchini. Tons and tons of zucchini. I like it and all, especially in Creamy Shrimp Linguine, but really…how much zucchini can one person eat? And yet I keep getting it in my CSA share.
So last night I went on a search for things to do with my abundance of zucchini, and as soon as I saw the idea for this recipe I knew I wanted to try it. As in, immediately.
So immediately, in fact, that when I discovered I was short on cocoa powder (gasp! horror!) I sent my 12 year old daughter out to the neighbors in her pajamas in search of some. At 9:00 at night. And when those neighbors weren’t home I sent her back out to the other neighbors to ask them. That’s how desperate I was to do this thing.
Ah, children. God’s little way of helping us do all the unpleasant, embarrassing things we don’t want to do ourselves.
Fortunately that neighbor was home, and awake, and in possession of cocoa, and willing to give me some. (Thanks, Tracy!) So I plopped in all the ingredients – changing up some things according to my whim at the moment – baked it, let it cool for about 20 minutes, and….
Oh. My goodness.
So good! It’s not necessarily like my old Baker’s Chocolate recipe that had 2 cups of sugar in it – but it is hands down the best attempt at better-for-you brownies I’ve ever tried. (And, believe me, folks, I’ve been TRYING.)
Before now, none of my attempts were at all worthy of sharing with you guys. But this one totally is.
What makes it special is that it’s really fluffy – spongy and springy – and yet at the same time is really, really moist. It just kind of dissolves in your mouth. And so chocolatey! Really, really chocolatey. There’s no hint of the zucchini in it at all, except for the fact that it’s so wonderfully moist and tender.
Also, this recipe has no flour. At all. Of any kind. It just has almond butter as the main ingredient!
I’ve been able to have foods like this, made with whole food sweeteners, just fine recently. (Well, I had to go through a detox after vacation, but after that I was fine.) Not everyone will be able to, though – in the beginning I wasn’t. So if you’re still sensitive to any kind of sweetener be sure to tread carefully with this! But if you’re able to have whole-food sweeteners in moderation, then this is definitely a recipe to try out!
What else are we supposed to do with all those zucchinis this time of year?
I was in Whole Foods the other day to bulk up on my spelt supply (since flour from their bulk bins are lots fresher than the packaged stuff on the shelves) and on my way in I was stopped by someone giving free samples in the entryway.
I didn’t really want to stop, because we all know that the real price of those “free samples” is being guilted into buying the thing afterwards. There’s this unspoken, “Hey, I just gave you free food and you’re NOT going to buy my product?! What kind of rude ingrate are you, anyway?” thing that happens. But he was very persistent about his invitation to sample his wares, in a way that made me feel rude to just sweep by.
“You have to try some of this salad dressing!” he said. “It’s personally made and bottled by my family with all natural ingredients. What kind do you want to taste?”
He had little cups with a few pieces of spinach in each one, and different dressings on top.
“Well,” I said, “it depends on what’s in it.” I thought I was being clever, here, because I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t be able to eat what was in the dressing. Sure out.
“Just olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, dry mustard, and salt!” He answered. Drat!
So I tasted it, and it was good!
I told him so. “Mmm, good!”
He grinned, sensing a sale. “I have a goal to beat the world record for most salad dressing sales in one day, and I just know you’re going to help me out!”
“There’s a record for the most salad dressing sales in one day?”
“There’s a record for everything.”
“So, what kind do you want? They’re only $6.50 each! All natural, and supporting a family business!”
“Ah, em…” I hedged. “I’ll, ah, think about it and come back.”
His face fell and every trace of affable humor disappeared. He looked pretty ticked off, honestly. Granted, his assumption that I wasn’t actually going to return was right, but still. You need to retain your salesman mask, man. Come on, now.
I felt bad. (Because I have this whole problem where I want people around me to feel good about everything, which is basically an impossible thing to do.) But there was NO WAY I was going to pay $6.50 for that dressing! I mean, oil, vinegar, lemon, mustard, and salt? Do you know how CHEAP that is?
His sales pitch of “see how simple this is” actually is only proof for how simple it is to make it yourself.
What’s that? You don’t think it’s easy to make dressing? Let me tell you a little story.
Last spring I chaperoned a field trip with my son’s class to Snipes, the farm near us. After they took a tour, the kids picked lettuce and then stuck a bunch of stuff in a blender to make dressing.
Did you catch that? A crowd of 9 year olds stuck a bunch of stuff in a blender and made dressing. See?! So, you now have no excuses.
And, they all loved it. I heard kids left and right saying, “Can I have more?” and “This is the best salad ever!” So I took a picture of the recipe that was hanging on the wall.
Anyone can do this. You literally take all that stuff, stick it in a blender, and blend away until it’s nice and creamy. That’s it.
I pretty much stick to the recipe. For the herbs, I just put in whatever sounds good that I have on hand fresh. Sometimes I don’t put any in at all. Sometimes I add lemon juice. You pretty much just start with the basic ingredients, taste, and go from there. I’ll also add a little water to thin it out a little, and that seems to help it not get so solid (and makes it more pourable) after being in the fridge.
But, it’s seriously simple, and seriously yummy. If you’ve been looking for a basic salad dressing that doesn’t have all the sugars and non-food ingredients of store bought, this is it!
Note: I usually double or triple this recipe so that I have it for a while. A single recipe will serve 4-6 people, but not leave any left over.
½ Tbsp grated parmesan cheese (the kind from the deli section, not the stuff on the shelf!)
1 garlic clove, minced
⅛ tsp salt
⅛ tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp water (omit if using lemon juice)
Optional: 1 tsp fresh herbs (whatever you have on hand)
Optional: 1 Tbsp maple syrup
Optional: Juice of a lemon (if you have it on hand)
Take all the ingredients, put them in a blender, and blend until they're nice and creamy. Unless you have a super-high-powered blender, mince the garlic first or it won't chop up right. That's it. You can experiment with different vinegars (red wine, apple cider, etc.), different kinds of herbs, things like mustard, or whatever else sounds interesting to you.
This isn’t exactly ground-breaking food blogging here. There is absolutely nothing revolutionary about this at all.
But, like with other no-brainer posts I have on here (iced tea, popcorn, etc.), it’s just something else that’s “something I can eat,” and is something that’s especially helpful for a sugar-free diet. I thought I’d put it here simply because I’d like this blog to be a resource of ideas for eating on this diet, even the obvious ones.
Once you go off sugar, you find yourself really enjoying fruit more than you did before, and something about combining the right ones together in a bowl makes them even better. I find myself craving this a lot anymore, and it always hits the spot! If you’re having cravings for sweet things, give this a try. Don’t psyche yourself out and pretend it’s a brownie. It’s just something really yummy that will fill you up and taste great and satisfy those sweet taste buds.
I know everyone has their own take on fruit salads and everyone thinks they’re right. I, of course, am no exception, so I think that the way I make it is really the only right way. You can obviously do whatever you want, but this is what I expect from a fruit salad:
Fruits to use
Fruits I ALWAYS use: pineapple, red grapes (cut in half), red grapefruit, mandarin oranges, and at least one variety of berry for color.
Fruits I use when they look good and are affordable: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, kiwi, cherries (pitted and cut in half)
Fruits I never use: hard, crunchy fruits like apples (the texture is all wrong); melon (melon is good by itself, or in a melon salad, but I don’t think they go with the other fruits in a fruit salad); pears, peaches, and plums (I just don’t like their textures compared to the other fruits. Also, they get mushy and tend to get discolored quickly); bananas, unless it’s being eaten immediately with no leftovers (they get gross and slimy pretty quickly in a fruit salad).
Other things that add to it
A couple sprigs of mint, shredded or chopped, adds a really nice, cool surprise of a flavor.
Juice of a lime or lemon brightens up the flavor and helps to preserve the fruits.
Juice from the jar of mandarin oranges (make sure it’s 100% juice and not sugar syrup) and from the grapefruit after the segments have been cut out gives the juicy base for the salad.
Heavy cream, whipped up with an electric mixer, can be nice on top (though I prefer mine plain, with just the flavors of the fruits shining through.) If you use it, either have it unsweetened, or sweetened with only a bit of real maple syrup or stevia.
Use fresh fruit and only if it looks good. If the strawberries don’t smell like anything, then they won’t taste like anything and you should just skip them. It will only be as good as the fruit that’s in it!
The only canned fruit I use is mandarin oranges. I use it for the juice. Make sure it’s oranges packed in juice only and not a sugar syrup.
Try to cut everything into roughly equal size. It helps to get a nice variety of fruit in every bite if everything’s the same size.
In the winter, your fruit salad will be sparser because there aren’t as many fruits in season. I generally just get one variety of berry – whatever looks the best and is the best price – to add in for color in the winter. It gets too pricey otherwise.
If you’re making this ahead of time, don’t add the juice until just before serving. The juice can make certain fruits (mostly the strawberries) mushy after a while.
For the above reason, it’s also good to drain the juice before storing leftovers. You can keep it in a jar and pour some on as you need it, if you want.
Try to get as many colors in it as you can. Use red grapes instead of green. Put some blueberries in, even if it’s just a few. We eat with our eyes, so color matters!
Serve in a glass bowl, if you have one, because it’s pretty!