Food For the Body and Soul

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. He is rich who owns the day…” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Those of you who have been following my blog or attending workshops (at our herb shop) for any length of time know that I truly believe in the value of living each day to the fullest. I learned this lesson after spending many years in the field of geriatrics listening to senior citizens talk about their own lives. Recently, I have been reminded of the fact that the present day is really all that we have within our grasp. The past is over and the future is not yet within reach. So, why not celebrate today? One of the most fulfilling ways to do this is with the food we eat and the abundance of summer produce makes this task easy and inexpensive.

Summer is the perfect time to start experimenting with creating different dishes for the dinner table. Farmers markets and backyard gardens are overflowing with the goodness of the season. Red, ripe tomatoes, yellow, buttered sweet corn, crisp green beans, even red hot peppers can enhance any dish they are introduced to.  Not to mention sweet basil, lemony verbena and even pungent garlic…all can make the every day dish extraordinary. Vegetables and herbs together create a combination that can’t be beat. Don’t believe me? Try this. Slice a juicy, ripe tomato onto a plate. Drizzle with good quality olive oil, add strips of fresh basil leaves, sea salt and a dash of freshly ground pepper. Top it off with shredded mozzarella cheese. Let sit for a few minutes so the flavors can meld together or place in the microwave for a few seconds to melt the cheese. Then slowly enjoy…. A true taste sensation. And so easy.

Fresh basil is one herb that is synonymous with summer. Basil is an annual that requires the hot summer sun to flourish. Come the cool temperatures of fall or the setting on of its seeds, it will die back and become a memory once again. Its growing season can, however, be extended by pinching back the blooms and bringing the plant indoors once the temperatures drop. Yes, basil can be grown indoors but the flavor is not quite the same as when it is grown in the hot sun outside. The best solution is then to enjoy it while it lasts and even to preserve some of the harvest for later on.

Basil pesto is one easy (and delicious) way to enjoy and/or preserve the flavor of basil. Pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays (adding the Parmesan cheese after thawing), or added to favorite dishes and enjoyed fresh. Pesto can enhance the flavor of pasta dishes, can be slathered onto favorite breads, top off favorite soups or even replace traditional pizza sauce. Uses for pesto are practically endless! The best part is that pesto is extremely easy to make and is made from just a few ingredients. If you have different varieties of basil available, why not use a blend of them instead of just one variety? The flavor will be enhanced by the change.

For Perfect Pesto you will need;

2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed, dried and removed from stems

1/2 cup coordinating fresh green or herb; i.e. parsley, arugula or cilantro, washed, dried   and removed from stems

2/3 cup olive oil                                                           2 peeled garlic cloves
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or sunflower seeds
1 tsp. sea salt or iodized salt (optional)                   pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a food processor except olive oil and pulse until blended to     desired consistency. Slowly add olive oil and pulse to blend. Store in refrigerator for 24- 48 hours or combine all ingredients except Parmesan cheese and freeze in ice cube   trays. Once frozen, remove cubes from trays and place in zip-top bag in freezer. When needed, thaw cube and blend in a small amount of Parmesan cheese. Add all to your   recipe. Yummy!

Another way to preserve the flavor of basil is by creating your own blended sea salt. Fresh basil (or other herbs) can be used as the salt acts as a natural preservative. Simply place a cup of plain sea salt in a blender. Add a half cup of fresh basil leaves that have been washed, dried and removed from the stems. Blend until reaches desired consistency. Store in tightly closed container or zip-top bag. Add a pinch to any recipe that calls for salt including the tomato recipe above. You will be pleasantly surprised by the results.
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Learn to savor the moment and the opportunities that present themselves. Experiment and try a new recipe or dig out a long-forgotten one. Help to make this day the best day of your year! Thanks for reading along.

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