Late Summer Tomato Soup


tomato soup

 

I wish I could take soul credit for this brilliant soup but the credit goes to  Deborah Madison, chef and author of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.   This is one of those recipes that is ridiculously easy to throw together while still having a wonderfully acidic, yet balanced, flavor.  

I used some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that came from a local co-op (I cleaned them out), but any juice, ripe, and fragrant tomatoes will work.  I don’t suggest roma or plum tomatoes, ironically, because they are a bit too “dry.” Prep time is a breeze; just be sure to chop everything to a similar size.  It all gets pureed in the end so who cares what it looks like at first.

The resulting silky soup is so creamy, it’s hard to believe that it is technically vegan! Cooking down the tomatoes not only develops killer flavor, it also makes the phyto-nutrients more available for our bodies to digest.  Most notably, the carotenoid pigment lycopene and vitamin C.  I’ll spare you the nitty gritty about all the benefits of tomatoes.  Just trust me on this one.

Late Summer Tomato Soup

3 Tablespoons olive oil

 1 cup shallots, cubed (3 large or 8-12 tiny)

5 pounds red, juicy tomatoes, rinsed and in chunks (de-seed if you like)

Himalayan salt and fresh pepper

Yield:  about 4-5

Heat olive oil over low heat in a medium sized soup pot. Add shallots and prep tomatoes as they cook.

Add tomato chunks to shallots with 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt and 1/3 to 1/2 cup water. Over medium to low heat, cover and let cook 4 hours.  Don’t rush it!  Stir every now and then.

After 4 hours, remove from heat and carefully blend the soup in two batches in a blender.  Make it creamy. Season with pepper and more salt if necessary.

That’s it!  Top with ribbons of basil and a drizzle of olive oil. Or serve with a dollop of plain yogurt and avocado.

 

tomatoes

 

The key to this recipe is finding good tomatoes.  If you grow your own, great!  Finding juicy, ripe tomatoes at the supermarket can be a challenge but this time of year, your local farmer’s market or co-op should have some beauties. They should be a little soft, fragrant, and feel like they have a thin skin.

I hope you like it as much as I did!

 

Renee


Minimalism


Somewhere in Cambodia

 

This post is a little different than my others because it doesn’t include food or chemical-free tips and tricks.  Instead, I wanted to open a dialogue on minimalism as a way of life.

Conceptually, minimalism may seem like learning how to live with next to nothing.  At first, I couldn’t wrap my mind around how or the movement to live in tiny houses (usually built on trailer beds), with only 10-15 items of clothing, 3 spoons and a couple forks (or sporks, for the extreme).

Before I go any further, I suppose I should mention what being a minimalist really means. Joshua Becker over at  Becoming Minimalist describes his experience of owning fewer possessions as having,

            “more money, more time, more energy, more freedom, less stress, and more opportunity to pursue our greatest passions: faith, family, friends.”

Well doesn’t that sound nice?  Essentially, by having less, we are able to live more.

As a product of modern society, we often measure success by the stuff people have.  Consumerism and capitalism at its finest has trained us to not only work hard, but to also spend, spend, spend.  Genius marketing has got us lined up outside Apple stores for over 24 hours, just to get a chance to buy the latest iPhone (even though our current phone is perfectly fine).  Today’s technology is a wonderful thing, but we have become obsessed with the new and unsatisfied with what we already have.

Minimalism does not mean depriving ourselves and it isn’t something that is meant to happen overnight. Gradually letting go of clothing, toys, kitchen gadgets, decorations, nail polish… while hard at first, will create more space for more experiences and fulfillment in our lives.

Owning giant homes, filled with material things, can represent wealth and success in a capitalist society.  There is no problem being proud of hard work and enjoying the returns.  However, justifying purchases because “we deserve it” without really thinking if we need it can lead to inflated feelings of entitlement.

I’m not saying sell your home, your cars, and all your stuff.  Minimalism is different for everyone.  Simple buying less or donating a bag of clothing a month are great ways to simplify your life.

Somewhere in Cambodia

When we own so many things, we find our days off working to maintain all those things.  We’ve all had those Sundays where we find ourselves catching up on household chores and laundry.  Organizing and re-organizing to make room for the latest kitchen appliance or Tupperware collection, or meticulously dusting the chotchkies shelf and making a space for that owl statue from Marshall’s you simply couldn’t resist (.99 cents!).

What if instead we spent our time away from work or school doing things we love with people we love. No, I don’t mean shopping the latest sales.  I mean really creating memories and experiences that enrich your life and character.

My husband and I decided to embark on our own minimalist journey a few months ago.  An upcoming move was a great motivator to simplify.  Honestly, we have moved quite a bit over the last few years so we really do not own any furniture that we take around with us.  We did, however, have stuffed closets and crowded kitchen cabinets.

Our culling began with our closets by separating things into 3 categories; Keep, Sell, and Donate.  Pretty self-explanatory.  I’m a sentimental person so letting go at first was difficult but then I relished in the challenge of seeing just how small I could make my wardrobe.  My ultimate goal is to have a capsule wardrobe of 10-15 items for each spring/summer and fall/winter.  The idea of not having to think about what to wear each day because everything works together sounds sooo freeing to me.  Furthermore, having fewer items means I can spend a little more on high quality pieces that will last for years.

Maybe I will write more about our personal experience with minimalism in the future, if there is an interest.

In the meantime, I suggest you check out:

Becoming Minimalist

Everyday Minimalist

Slow Your Home

The Simple Year

Minimalist Baker

or do a YouTube search for “Project 333,” if this interests you.  There are many blogs out there that go in much more depth about how liberating minimalist living can be.  Each person has a unique perspective and it can be helpful to gather ideas from others when it comes to de-cluttering.  Oh, and the pictures in this post were from our trip to Cambodia, where people have found happiness in owning way less than we can ever imagine.

Buddhism

Here’s to the simple life;  thanks for reading.

 

♥Renee


Berry Crumble for One


 

blackberries

About a week and a half ago I made the move back to Colorado from Korea.  Two humans and two dogs, flying in cabin, for 10+ hours was actually pretty entertaining, in a good way.  Unfortunately, my husband had to return to Korea to finish up work before our next move.  So even though my time here in my home state is only temporary (next stop, Baltimore/DC) I plan to take full advantage of the markets and basically exploit the bounty of Colorado summer.

I certainly had a unique and memorable experience living in East Asia but, I have to say, being back in the States in time for summer in Colorado reminds me of why this state is so wonderful.  Palisade peaches, baby beets, Bing cherries, plums… True, Colorado’s growing season is relatively short but when the weather is right, farmer’s markets are bursting with quality, organic, and local ingredients.  Which brings me to the star of this post…. berries.

I was reluctant to share this little creation because deep down, I am a selfish soul.  Alas, generosity got the better of me and I decided to enlighten you all with my super quick, super easy, healthy summer-time crumble/cobbler/lazy-person-pie for one.  The bowl I use could easily accommodate two servings but who has time to share. I don’t.  I chose to feature a blackberry variety (the name escapes me…) for this recipe but you could use any fresh or frozen berries, peaches, or nectarines you like.  This is great for breakfast, brunch, dessert, or a midnight snack.  We all know berries are loaded with antioxidants and, while they are pure perfection on their own, this recipe provides just another way we can enjoy their health-enhancing goodness.  To further sweeten the deal, I transformed the traditional buttery-sweet crumble topping into something that is actually good for you.

blackberries

 

Berry Crumble for One

Filling

1 cup fresh or frozen berries

½-1 teaspoon arrow root powder or tapioca powder (or cornstarch)

A bit of sweetener if berries are tart (stevia, maple syrup, raw honey, coconut palm sugar etc.)

Topping

1 pouch plain oats (about 1/3 cup) – I used quick-cooking steel cut oats but regular rolled oats are even better.  If using rolled oats, you may need to grind half of them in a blender to speed up the cooking time.)

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1-2 Tablespoons sweetener of choice (If using honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup etc., reduce the amount of milk.  The amount of sweetener you use depends on how sweet you like the crumble!)

 Pinch of sea salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cold butter/ghee/coconut oil (do NOT skip the fat!)

1 Tablespoon milk (almond, soy, hazelnut, raw, whole, flax)

¼ cup raw walnuts (optional, I didn’t have any on hand but I wish I did!)

1 Tablespoon of any raw seeds (optional-chia, hemp, poppy, sunflower etc.)

Yield: 1 (or 2) servings

I made this in a 1 ½ cup mini tureen but you can use a large mug, ramekin or any microwave safe vessel you choose. You will want there to be a bit of room between the crumble and the top of the dish to allow for bubbling.

If berries are frozen, put them in your mug and nuke them for a minute to get the juices flowing.  Then, add sweetener (if using) and arrowroot powder and mix well.

In a small bowl, combine all dry ingredients for the topping.  Then add the cold butter and cut into the dry ingredients to make a crumble.  Add milk and lightly mix.  You want chunks!

Add optional walnuts and seeds to the crumble mix.

Press berries down in the mug and plop the crumble topping on top.  No need to perfectly spread.

Microwave, uncovered, on high for 2-3 minutes.  When the juices start to bubble and the crumble hardens a bit, you are done!  Use oven mitts as the container will be HOT, HOT, HOT!!

crumble

Let sit for 15-30 minutes (this is a MUST; otherwise it will be too hot to enjoy).  You can make this à la mode with coconut cream, cashew cream, or a scoop of organic gelato.

 

Dig in!


Sunscreen: Chemical vs. Mineral


 

If you live anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, you are probably beginning to feel the anticipation of summer sunshine as we make our way through the flora and fauna of springtime.  Longer days, warmer temperatures, ladybugs, and budding flowers all signify the vernal equinox of nature’s renewal.

With the warm, serotonin-inducing promise of summer sunbeams comes the need for sun protection.  Modern societies worldwide seem to have an unhealthy or unbalanced relationship with the sun; we either get way too much or not nearly enough.  There is a reason nature designed our bodies to efficiently synthesize vitamin D from the sun, while punishing us with skin-peeling pain if we get too much. It is finding a healthy balance that seems to elude us.

Extremes of anything are typically not a good thing.  An obsession for basking in the sun is clearly damaging, yet fearing and preventing any exposure at all is risky as well.  In Western societies, we think of a deep tan as a projection of health and radiance.  In Eastern cultures, pure white, almost translucent, freckle-free skin is the desired aesthetic.   Not surprisingly, Western cultures have more skin-related problems (cancer, pre-mature aging) than our Eastern friends, however vitamin D deficiency throughout Asia is a serious problem.

So what’s the answer?  Experts and skincare manufacturing companies have butt heads over the issue for a long time; creating elaborate scare-tactic marketing schemes that either demonize the sun or the creams that block its penetration. We must create a balance.  In truth, only 10-15 minutes of bare skin sun exposure a few times a week is sufficient for maintaining adequate vitamin D levels (however, as we age, we may need to supplement).  Therefore, vitamin D synthesis is not justification for lying out in the sun all day, working on those tan lines country musicians love to sing about.  Balance is key.  Some people are extremely fair and sensitive to the sun so even 10-15 minutes of exposure can be damaging.  For you ivory beauties, I hope you like mushrooms. There is exciting evidence emerging that if you let shrooms sit out in the sun for a day (even after being “picked”), they will synthesize vitamin D in a way that makes it very bio-available to our bodies when we eat the fungi.

To prevent pre-mature aging and skin cancer, we do certainly need to protect our skin from excess UVA/UVB exposure.  While the best option would be to hang in the shade, wear a JLo hat and a turtle neck, this get-up is simply not practical.  Thus, we have a need for sunscreen.   For centuries, tropical cultures around the globe have used pure, unrefined coconut oil as a natural sun protectant.  This may seem odd at first (oil? Wouldn’t I burn?). Studies have shown that coconut oil actually acts as natural sun protection when applied to the skin.  Some people swear that coconut oil, head to toe, is all they need.  Vitamin D still gets absorbed but the burn is held at bay.  If you have skin that naturally rarely burns, then this may just work for you.  The majority of the Western population, however, will probably need something more.

Sunscreens offer either chemical or mineral protection.  Modern science and technology has allowed companies to create chemical concoctions that do in fact prevent our skin from absorbing harmful UVA and UVB rays.  The problem is that our permeable skin absorbs these chemicals, which have shown to be toxic to our reproductive systems.  These chemicals mimic our body’s natural hormones and can lead to major hormone disruption and perhaps even cancer.  So while you may be preventing a sunburn, you are still putting your health at risk.

Top 6 FDA-Approved Active Ingredients on the Naughty List:

Oxybenzone

Avobenzone – *while relatively non-toxic, this chemical commonly causes allergic reactions and should still be avoided.  It requires extra chemical stabilizers to prevent it from breaking down from sun exposure.

Octisalate

Octocrylene

Homosalate

Octinoxate

 

The number one bad boy is oxybenzone, which is found in 80% of chemical sunscreens in the United States.  Fortunately, all these ingredients are listed on the product so you can easily avoid them.

Courtesy of the Environmental Working Group, here is a handy chart that breaks down all the common sunscreen ingredients used in the US, from most toxic to least.

As you can see, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide fall low on the chart.  These are the two active ingredients that make up all mineral sunscreens.  Instead of being absorbed like chemical sunscreens (which is why you have to wait 30 minutes after application before going out in the sun), mineral sunscreen acts as a physical barrier to the sun and actually just sits on top of the skin. The minerals are natural and much more eco-friendly.  That being said, there are still certain risks and uncertainties with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  Some mineral sunscreen companies use these two minerals in nanoparticle form, which may make a nice feeling product, but this enables our bodies to absorb the minerals.  Research is ongoing, but it has been suggested that mineral nanoparticles can accumulate in different organs in our bodies and cause complications.  But ah, we do have an answer for that.  Some companies have abandoned the nanoparticle technology and ensure their consumers that the minerals are not nano sized (“non-nano”).  This is the safest bet we currently have.

Bottom line.  100% natural, mineral (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), non-nano, sunscreen is the safest product that we can use on a daily basis, given current scientific evidence.  Better yet, look for organic, vegan, cruelty-free lines.   Avoid all chemical sunscreens containing the Naughty List ingredients (I see you Coppertone, Neutrogena, Banana Boat).  Some drugstore lines, including Aveeno, have “baby” versions of sunscreen that are typically mineral based.  While they may not be organic or cruelty-free, they will do in a pinch.

All sunscreen needs to be re-applied every 60-90 minutes and more often if you are swimming or sweating a lot.  Some mineral sunscreens may seem more expensive than their chemical counterparts, but avoiding allergies, skin irritation, hormone disruption, and cancer makes the extra cents worth it.

Below are some of my favorite natural, nano-free, mineral sunscreens.

coola

Suntegrity

*All images are from the product company’s pages. These are my honest faves, no sponsorship or endorsement here.

 

Love and light,

Renee


Lemon + Poppy Oat Cakes


 (2 of 2)

 

I was always more of a French toast kind of girl but after experimenting with making some healthy pancakes, I finally came up with a great base recipe that just may compete with the king of sweet brekkies.   These oat pancakes are clean and healthy, providing a nutritious start to your day.  I chose to share the lemon and poppy seed variation but you could flavor them any way you like (vanilla with hemp seeds, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice, walnut and banana, cocao nibs and coconut….).  With spring arriving, I thought something lemony-fresh was in order.

 

Lemon + Poppy Oat Cakes

½ cup oat flour* (you can grind your own by pulsing old fashion rolled oats in a blender)

½ cup rolled oats* (gluten-free if you need)

2 Tablespoons coconut or palm sugar or sweetener of choice (if using liquid, just reduce a bit of the almond milk)

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 Tablespoon poppy seeds

½ teaspoon lemon zest, fresh or dried

1 Tablespoon white vinegar

Scant pinch of sea salt

¾  cup unsweetened, vanilla almond milk (or any milk of choice)

1 teaspoon lemon extract

2 Tablespoons organic, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil

1 whole egg  (use only the egg white, if you must. Don’t fear the yolk!)

Yield: about 6 pancakes

 

Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl.

Combine all the wet ingredients in a second medium size bowl.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mixed until just combined.

Let batter sit in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.

Spoon ¼ cup of batter into the dry skillet (the coconut oil already in the batter will prevent sticking).

After a couple minutes, bubbles should start forming on the top of the pancakes.  Time to flip.

After another minute or so, pancakes should be done!

 

lemon poppy oat cakes

 

*Certified gluten-free oats can be used for those with Celiac.  I have also used ½ quinoa flour and ½ rice flour in place of the oats and oat flour.  Yum yum.

I like to drizzle these spring cakes with plain yogurt mixed with a bit of lemon juice and honey. Today, I added some mashed blueberries to the yogurt.  I have also made these with vanilla extract and shmeared coconut manna all over them with slices of fresh mango.  Helllooooo spring!

 

-Renee