Quick and Easy Home-Made Veggie Rinse

Nature's BountyAt the time of this post, more than half the country is dealing with more snow than they know what to do with, as well as bitterly cold temperatures. We here in California are thankfully spared all of that although we could use some rain. But soon enough, the snows will melt, the sun will once again turn up the volume and market stands and supermarkets will be bursting with colorful, healthy produce.

I love using as many “whole” fruits and vegetables whenever I can; I don’t like resorting to frozen or canned. (I do freely admit that I use certain convenience items like frozen artichoke hearts, but that’s because I really, really do not like preparing those things). The picture above was taken sometime during the summer of 2014 and is typical of what I use over the course of a few meals.

But with fresh produce often comes fresh dirt and, if they’re right off the farms or truly organic, you might find a few “hitchhikers” of the 6- or 8-legged variety tucked in there as well. And who hasn’t worried about the pesticides that might be lurking on that perfect-10 of an apple?

The answer is veggie wash, not a particularly new product but one that is very effective in removing dirt, waxes and other residues. I used to buy the stuff pre-made but last year I read about and tried a home-made version that’s just as effective and costs much less. So in preparation for the summer that WILL COME, I promise 🙂  here is the recipe for a quick and effective fruit and veggie wash:

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  1. Add the ingredients in the order listed to a medium-sized mixing bowl/pitcher with a lip. Be careful when adding in the vinegar as it will foam up. I do this in the sink for obvious reasons.
  2. Stir gently to combine and to dissolve the salt.
  3. Pour into a spray bottle.

Alternatively, you can just add the ingredients to the spray bottle and slosh slowly back and forth to mix, but I find that everything gets mixed up better if I do the 2-step process.

To use, spray liberally on produce, and let it soak for 3-5 minutes.Then rinse off with cold water. You can use a brush if desired on more firm-skinned items like potatoes, cucumbers, carrots and so on.


The 21-Banana Salute

I was raised by parents who grew up during the Depression. “Waste not, want not,” and “use it up, wear it out, make it do” were the rules at my house. As such, I’ve come to regard the wasting of food as something to be avoided at all costs. I’ve concocted some pretty amazing dishes from drips and drabs of leftover meats, starches (potatoes, pasta or rice) and weary-looking vegetables, held together with the basics – olive oil and spices, and maybe a grating of cheese.

So when the caregiver we have for my mother-in-law informed me of her banana overload, I naturally said yes. Her son works in the produce department for a local grocery store and the employees are allowed to take home produce that is past its peak. Good idea; again – I can’t bear the thought of good food being tossed out. This was on a Friday; by the time Monday rolled around for her next visit, I’d completely forgotten about it. That is, until she handed me a large plastic bag full of these dark and glistening curved objects.

Oh. My. God.

Yep – she had FROZEN the bananas! She doesn’t cook much, and I guess she didn’t know the rule that you don’t ever refrigerate or freeze bananas with their peels still on. I stared at the bag on my counter. Some of the bananas had already started to thaw. The clock was ticking.

I counted – 21 bananas. TWENTY-ONE! My go-to banana bread recipe uses only two bananas, and I didn’t have the time nor the right number of foil pans to make 10 breads. I ran my hand over the pile of bananas in the bag. The thawed ones were becoming very mushy. Whatever remained at the end of the day would have to be thrown away, there was no getting around it. I thumped my head  – THINK!  It would have been easier to deal with them if they hadn’t been frozen …. wait a minute! The freezer!

I rummaged through my stack of containers and selected three of the right size, then chose a dozen of the bananas and began to peel. It was interesting, to say the least. The peels were disintegrating and I had to be sure to pull all the fibers off the fruit itself, which had started to take on a brownish hue. They did not look very good at all. All it took was a sample bite to convince me to keep going – it tasted like a creamy banana pudding. Yum! These suckers were worth saving.

I proceeded to whirl up the 12 bananas in the blender, four at a time, and divided the puree among the three containers. Into the freezer they went; nine more bananas remained. Another six were whirled up in the blender and poured into a container that went into the fridge – that would be for smoothies for the next couple of days. Finally, I adjusted my banana bread recipe to account for the third banana (ha!) and baked two lovely banana breads. Whew! All saved!

Do you know what happens to banana puree in the fridge? The same thing that happens to a banana in the freezer – it turns DARK BROWN. Seriously, when I got the tub of puree out of the fridge the next day, it looked exactly like a rich beef gravy. Hmm. Once again, all it took was a taste to convince me that color aside, this was delicious, fresh-tasting banana puree. I stirred it up (most of the dark color was on top) and made a wonderful smoothie. I finished it Wednesday.

I guess I know why companies that make banana-flavored items favor the use of artificial banana – that color was a bit off-putting at first. I’m looking forward to thawing out the tubs of puree that are in the freezer for future breads and smoothies.

So the next time you’re looking at a pile of bananas turning chocolate brown before your eyes, just peel ’em and blenderize ’em!



Quinoa – What It Is and Why You Should Be Eating It

It’s pronounced KEEN-wah, and it’s name is quinoa. And it’s VERY hot right now, showing up in a lot of restaurants, recipes and healthy-eating articles.

What the heck is it, you ask?

It’s an ancient grain, dating back over 5000 years to the time of the Incas in South America. It contains more high-quality protein than any other grain, and is the only grain that provides all the essential amino acids. It is gluten-free, to boot.  It looks like a cross between couscous and tapioca – round little spheres. Here’s what it looks like cooked:

I tasted some at a wine-pouring event last summer. It was served in a tasting cup with a slice of tri-tip, and it was delicious!  I’m a big fan of healthy eating, so I bought a box and made it one evening, to be served with a pork roast and some vegetables.

My family loves a side dish of plain rice (jasmine, basmati or brown) seasoned with just butter, salt and pepper. No icky rice mixes from a box. (Well, one exception that my 88-year old mother in law loves. I make an exception for her). The subtle flavors add a nice contrast to the main dish and vegetables or salad that accompanies the meal. I fixed the quinoa just like that – cooked up and added some salt, butter and a dusting of garlic powder.

I took a bite and ….. was rather underwhelmed. It seemed bland even though I had seasoned it. It was okay, but in my house, “okay” usually means no repeat visit. Sigh. It just didn’t move me. Drat. I had such high hopes.

I had made enough to create leftovers, so I decided to make a cold pilaf. We don’t throw away perfectly good food here even if it is a little less than spectacular. I added olive oil, seasoned rice vinegar, chopped cucumber, red pepper, red onion, and a sprinkling of feta cheese.

WOW! 🙂 It was amazingly good! I thought back to the tri-tip and quinoa tasting bite at the wine pouring event – it wasn’t served hot, either.

So that’s how I plan to keep this amazing grain in my food rotation. It gives me another way to do a hot-weather meal besides a pasta-based salad, and it provides way more protein and doesn’t need any mayonnaise to taste great. I can also serve it as a side dish instead of potato salad.

Check out quinoa today!!