Posts Tagged ‘ketogenic diet’

Under the Frost Blankets

I have always tried to protect a couple of winter crops with frost blankets, but this year is the first time I got really serious about it at the right time of year. The right time of year is October, when you figure out which beds are going to be open during the winter and prepare them for planting.   Clean them of the debris of their previous crop, and fertilize a little more heavily than you usually would. Since I planned to grow mostly green things, I used blood meal and organic kelp meal.  If I had had more finished compost on hand, I would’ve used some of that too. Whatever you decide to use, fertilize, turn it in, water, and let the bed sit untouched for about a week.

Next, hunt your frost blankets. I cannot say enough good things about the heaviest weight of Agribon agricultural fabric, the one called Agribon 70. I got mine from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  After a couple of years of fooling around with lighter fabric or two layers of lighter fabric, I have concluded that nothing but the 70 is worth spending my money on. The others all tear in our desert windstorms allowing the plants I have tended so carefully to be dessicated and killed.  It comes in rolls of 12 foot wide fabric, and 100 feet of it is one of the best gardening investments I ever made.

This is a heavy weight fabric and will actually smother the crops if it is allowed to just lay on top of them, so you need some kind of support.  If you are even slightly handy, no doubt you could rig something up with thin PVC pipe hoops, which I think would be the best possible solution.  I am not remotely handy, and so I bought a package of bamboo garden hoops.  These seem flimsy when you handle them but actually will do the trick.

Put the fabric over them and weight it down all around. Don’t use fabric staples, because you will need to move it a lot for watering and harvesting. I use a small load of bricks that I bought from a neighbor. They need to be placed at least one brick per foot, because otherwise you will lose it all in a real windstorm.

Next, decide what to plant.  Broccoli was an easy choice for me because I love it and also consider it one of the healthiest vegetables around, and the leaves and stalks are as edible as the buds.  I had planned to start my own from seed to get a known cold hardy variety, however in late October I saw some plants in my local garden center and decided to buy them because it would save time and trouble. Most of the broccoli sold in my area is chosen for heat tolerance, not cold tolerance, so no doubt I could have had heavier yields with a different variety, but this one is working out well enough.  I put the plants in 18 inches apart each way, which is pretty close, but they are not going to get quite as big as those growing in the open in other seasons.

One of the joys of having a growing oasis in the winter is sticking your head under the frost blanket and just inhaling the scent of green growth. I also frequently break pieces off the broccoli leaves to eat while I’m watering. I try to restrict myself to the lobes at the base of each leaf, so that the overall appearance is a little less ratty, but as I see it nobody but me is really looking under there anyway.  Here, at the base of the leaf, you see the tiny little bud cluster that is going to become a side head after I cut the main head of broccoli.

A few of my heads got brown bud, as you see above. There seems to be no real consensus about what this is, except that it probably is not a disease caused by a pathogen but related to growing conditions. I did notice that the plants that got the least water developed this condition. It also happens sometimes with my outdoor broccoli in very dry conditions. When I see this, I cut that head off and I am sure to keep that plant watered, so that it can concentrate on growing large side heads.  Overall, I still get a fairly good yield out of those plants.

A delightful part of having a winter garden is that some of the things you let go to seed in the past come back around. Here you see a particularly healthy arugula plant that will go into a salad in the next day or two.  One of the reasons that I was careful to enrich the soil thoroughly is so that a lot of things could grow without hampering the broccoli very much

Here are a few interesting things going on. This is an area where a goji berry came up in the middle of the bed last year, and I cut it back hard before I covered the bed and I’m hoping to get some edible shoots out of it. You cannot get rid of gojis once you have them, so whack and eat them enough to keep them within limits.  This is a section of a few feet in the middle of the bed, where I planted Snow Crown cauliflower, and those plants died by November. I have done very well with the same variety in the open, so I don’t know what happened, but I do know that they did not like the conditions under the blanket. No problem. In the open space that they created by dying, you see leeks, garlic, arugula, chickweed, and celery coming up.  You might be able to spot tiny little leaks in the foreground from one that I let go to seed last summer, and then you can see larger leeks growing where I harvested last year‘s leeks  by cutting them off a few inches below the surface and leaving the base and the roots in the soil.  In each place that I did that, there are are two or three healthy leeks coming up from those roots. I am very pleased with this way of growing them, and I plan to keep experimenting with it.  The garlic is there because, after I planted my regular garlic beds, I had a lot of seed garlic left over and just stuck it in all over this bed before I covered it. My hope was to have green garlic earlier than usual, and it seems to be working out well.

A closer look at the celery seedlings. These are the offspring of a hybrid celery called Tango, and the offspring of a hybrid are not necessarily true to the parent. However, it is likely that some will be close enough, and I’ll weed out the rest.

A closer look of the green garlic, growing lustily. These are the same shoots that you will see in the picture below, prepared for cooking.

Above you see Shirley poppy, bladder campion, and chickweed joining the party wherever they can find room, next to a sturdy leek.

People who live in other parts of the country might be appalled to know that I planted chickweed on purpose, but it’s a tasty nutritious salad green and good edible ground cover that doesn’t grow here naturally. So whenever I see it seeding itself around a bit, I am quite pleased.

Mallow seeds itself around my garden, and I let some of it grow for greens and because the bees like the blossoms.  It will never be a favorite for greens, because it is just a touch on the slimy side, but as long as it makes up a quarter or less of a greens mixture you won’t notice that.  Behind the mallow you can see a small sow thistle, and I was hoping that these would get larger and more tender under the frost blanket than they do in the open ground, but so far this is not the case and I am not very impressed with them. Oh well.  The whole idea is to try things and see what works.

Lunch was a head of broccoli seasoned with the green garlic shoots above and fried eggs from the one valiant hen who is laying this time of year. Eating off your own property just feels good.

Low-Carb Gumbo, and Further Notes on Cauliflower Rice

Whenever I write about Louisiana food, I find myself eager to convey something of the spirit of the place,  and part of the spirit is that there aren’t really many culinary rules. Louisiana cooks are famously adaptable. I have been sternly informed, by people who didn’t grow up there, of various rules such as:

“ NEVER use file’ powder and okra in the same gumbo. It’s one or the other.” Except that it’s actually rather common to use some of each, depending on what else is in the gumbo.

“NEVER use garlic powder.” Except that Louisiana cooks commonly use both fresh and powdered garlic together, getting different flavor facets of the same seasoning.

“NEVER make a roux with butter. It isn’t authentic .” Except that I never knew a Louisiana cook who used anything else.   Cooks who liked really dark black roux might use vegetable oil, but that was not all that common.

“NEVER put anything but butter and black pepper in barbecued shrimp. It isn’t authentic.”  Except that I never knew a Cajun cook who could resist tampering, and everybody has his or her own recipe with a lot of ingredients that aren’t necessarily known to science.

And so on. So let’s forget all that. In the Louisiana that I knew and loved, the only thing that really mattered was whether food tasted good and pleased and nourished people.

With that in mind, I’m going to urge you to get a good Louisiana cookbook if you want to make gumbo,   and then if you want to bristle about authenticity, you can argue with that author and not with me.  Anything by John Besh is good. (Yes, I know about the sex scandal, but it doesn’t alter the fact that the guy could really, really cook.)  Lagasse’s “Louisiana Real and Rustic” is great. And if you really want to go in for the cooking that I grew up with, get an old copy of “River Road Recipes” or “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen.” And remember that in Louisiana, gumbo is a wonderfully flexible vehicle for using all kinds of meats. If you don’t have shrimp, don’t use shrimp. If you don’t have andouille and tasso, use something else. You can make it work and end up with something wonderfully warming and tasty.   Remember that this started as the dish of backwoods  hunter-gatherers, and wild game of most kinds fits into it really nicely. And if someone happens to give you some alligator or possum  meat, well, you have found a good vehicle for it.

In the spirit of the wonderfully flexible Cajun omnivory, what I am going to talk about here is the fact that I like to keep my diet very low in carbohydrates, but I still want gumbo.  So I adapt. The meats, vegetables, broth, and seasonings are no problem. So the two areas of carbohydrate that you have to look at are the roux and the rice.

To make a low-carb roux,  I think that the best results come from Trim Healthy Mama baking mix,  which is available on Amazon.  It’s a combination of many different low-carb baking ingredients and they work well together in this context. It’s expensive but you don’t use much.   It won’t thicken the gumbo as much as a roux made with flour, but you can easily compensate for that with a little extra okra or file’. I like to make the roux in the oven if I don’t have time to devote exclusively to watching it, because it is easy and pretty foolproof.  Heat the oven to 350, in a small dish thoroughly combine 8 tablespoons of butter and 8 tablespoons of the baking mix, and put it in the oven. Total time will be about an hour and a half or a little less. In the beginning, you don’t have to stir very often, and toward the end you have to take it out and stir it thoroughly and frequently.  How dark to make a roux  is a matter of personal taste, and they vary from almost blonde to almost black.

This is a blonde roux. Way too bland for me.

This is more like it.

And here, where some of the floury particles are very dark brown but the whole roux does not yet taste at all burnt, is where I like it. But you can keep going if you prefer.

You can hold the roux in the refrigerator or freeze it until ready to proceed. You will be combining it with a sautéed vegetable mixture called the mirepoix and adding broth, seasonings, and meat.  When it comes to seasoning, remember that most Louisiana cooks have a bottle of Paul Prudhomme seafood seasoning tucked away somewhere, and it is awfully good in gumbo. Mine was based on ham and shrimp because that’s what I had left over from other meals. It was thickened with okra.

Finally, to serve it, you need rice to soak up all the highly seasoned deliciousness.  Cauliflower rice is better than you think it’s going to be as long as you keep one thing in mind: while a cauliflower seems solid, it is mostly liquid. That liquid is your enemy when it comes to getting a decent texture. You have to get it out of there. If you use frozen riced cauliflower, thaw it completely, and then squeeze and wring it in a dish towel. You will be quite surprised how much clear watery liquid comes out.  If you are dealing with fresh riced cauliflower, salt it rather heavily, let it sit for an hour, and then again squeeze and wring it in a clean dish towel. Really go at it and get all that fluid out. Then cook the cauliflower grains with a pat of butter, but no liquid, in a saucepan,  stirring frequently because it burns easily. And salt during the cooking  so that it cooks in, and you are likely to end up adding more salt than you think because cauliflower is pretty bland and absorbs a lot of salt, but taste along the way so that you don’t overdo it, especially if you disgorged the liquid with salt.   I use only the butter and salt as seasoning because my gumbo is already highly seasoned and very spicy. You will need to keep sampling as you cook to get the texture  right. Personally I don’t want it to crunch like a vegetable, but I stop cooking as soon as it is soft and doesn’t crunch so that it doesn’t get mushy.  I grew up among some of the best rice cooks in the world, and no, this does not taste like really good rice, but I also don’t care to gain lost weight back and have diabetes. So this is a small price to pay.

Also bear in mind that while rice swells in the cooking process, cauliflower shrinks. To make sure of generous portions, I recommend having 8 ounces of riced cauliflower per person to start with, maybe even more.  In the Louisiana fashion, you can always put the leftovers into something else.  Pile a cone of cauli rice lavishly in the bowl, pour gumbo all over it but leave the top of the pile sticking out, and eat. Yum yum yum.

The Squash Chronicles II: Squash Flatbread

I love my ketogenic diet and my blood sugar is superbly controlled, but there are times when I really miss bread.  Not just the flavor of bread, although the flavor of a really good sourdough bread is unbeatable. For that, there is no substitute. But there are times when what I really crave is the ease and convenience of bread, and the way it  pads out a meal and pulls it together.  In this case what I miss is not really the flavor of bread but its use as a “landing” for all kinds of other foods.  I have a few ways to fill in without adding too many carbohydrates, and one of my favorites is zucchini flatbread.

In addition to a couple of good sized zucchini or about a foot of serpiente squash,  you will need two eggs, a cup of grated mozzarella (the semi soft processed kind, not true fresh mozzarella for this purpose,)  half a cup of grated Parmesan, seasoning of your choice, and about a half cup of low-carb baking mix.  The best mix that I have found is the one from Trim Healthy Mama,  which is extremely expensive but does work well.

First, grate the squash and mix in about a tablespoon of salt.  Let it sit for half an hour. At this point, the shreds of squash will be swimming in liquid.  Over the sink, wrap the squash in cheesecloth or a thin dishtowel and start squeezing out liquid.  Keep squeezing and wringing, until you are left with about a cup of pulpy squash shreds.  Put these in a bowl and beat in the two eggs with a fork.  Mix in the shredded mozzarella and Parmesan.  Add a half teaspoon of salt (most of the salt that you used for disgorging the squash disappeared with the excess water) and seasoning of your choice. I like some fresh thyme leaves and a pinch of granulated garlic. For some reason fresh garlic doesn’t work well in this recipe. Add in a half cup of low-carb baking mix and half a teaspoon of baking powder and beat until evenly incorporated.

Preheat the oven to 425. Now line a baking sheet with parchment paper, oil your hands with olive oil, and begin pressing out the mixture into a thin even oblong.  Generally I aim for something a little less than a quarter inch thick, but if you plan to use it for breadsticks or a pizza crust you may want it a little bit thicker.  Make sure that there are no holes. The dough is lumpy and you will have to keep patting it down with the flat of your hands.

Bake at 425 until done to the right degree for your purposes.  It has to be baked enough to hold together well, but if you want to use it as a wrap, you will have patted it out pretty thin and should bake it only until it is cooked through and will come off the parchment paper in one piece but is still flexible.  If you want to make sticks as shown above, it should be more crisp, and the same goes for a low-carb pizza crust.

Above, it’s just cooked through, browned on the bottom, and right for making wraps. To make the breadsticks shown above, once it is baked to the right degree, top with another half cup of shredded mozzarella  and some chopped roasted garlic.  Return to the oven and broil until the cheese is melted and a little bit browned.   It is good dipped into your favorite pizza sauce, preferably the kind that you make yourself.  Any kind of herb pesto or sour cream dip is also good.

To make an impromptu low-carb pizza, cook the flatbread until fairly crisp. Brush the top lightly with a thick flavorful pizza sauce, coat with shredded mozzarella, and top with pepperoni, sausage,  or what you will.  Return to a very hot oven and bake until the cheese melts.

It goes without saying that if you insist on the wonderful malt flavor of really good bread, you need to eat really good bread and there are no substitutes.  But having a few options like this one means that you can save the great bread for very special treats and keep your carb intake down the rest of the time.  This is also a good way to take in extra vegetable fiber, with all its health benefits.


“Processed” Food


Like everyone else who works, I have a lot to do when I get home and some nights I need help to get a healthy dinner on the table. I eat a ketogenic (low carbohydrate) diet and don’t have pasta and rice and bulgur to fall back on. For those nights I keep some “fast food” in the freezer, like riced organic cauliflower. If I’m thinking ahead, I leave a bag out to thaw in the morning. More often I didn’t think ahead and need to thaw it quickly in the microwave. Either way, if you just cook it as is, you are going to have a rather damp mess on your hands, in my opinion anyway. So take the thoroughly thawed cauliflower, bundle it in a dish towel, and squeeze the water out of it. You’ll get a surprising amount out. Now you can throw it in a skillet with some salt, sliced green onions, chopped herbs, olive oil, and sliced almonds, and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes with regular stirring. Don’t add water back. Cauliflower loves to go soggy if it gets a chance. It’s done when the cauliflower grains are done to your preference. I like mine a bit on the firm side, holding their shape briefly to the tooth without any hint of raw crunch.  Check whether it needs more salt before you serve. Meanwhile, grill some salmon as shown here, or warm up leftover chicken thighs, or slice up some warmed leftover meat. Land it on your cauliflower pilaf and flavor it with finishing butter (Montpellier butter with green garlic is shown here) which also lives in the freezer in convenient individually wrapped portions, or just drizzle with your best olive oil.
Some would say that I should grow, grate, and freeze the cauliflower myself if I’m going to use it, and when such people get hold of me, I always suggest that they invite me over for a meal 100% produced from their yard so that I can write about it😉. So far, those invitations haven’t arrived. I am not a believer in making the perfect the enemy of the good, and we are not full-time yard farmers and have to make our modern lives work. Besides, grating cauliflower is one of the few kitchen jobs that I hate and one that I outsource whenever possible. I grow things that are unobtainable at markets or distinctly better when home-grown, and cauliflower is neither. So let somebody else do the work for you.
Regarding the finishing butter above, I am used to horrified shrieks of “It’s GREEN!” Indeed it is, and so are a lot of other good things. Expose yourself (and your family and friends) to green food until you get used to it, and your health will benefit. After all, nobody has ever looked at wild-caught Alaskan salmon at my table and said “Ugh, it’s PINK!” Good food is good food. Close your eyes if you really must, but getting over biases about green is better.

Here’s another version tricked out with capers, green garlic, thyme, pine nuts, and castelvetrano olives.

The Greens of Winter: Soup Base


Earlier this week I walked through my frost-killed garden to see what was left. For the most part I don’t make any special effort to protect my garden in the fall because after a long summer I’m ready to move on to the things I do in the winter, so the pickings were slim, but I found lots of chicory, dandelion, chard, broccoli leaves, alfalfa tips, celery, and kale, along with green garlic and green onions, and some of the herbs were still in fine shape. I decided to make soup, and since I had a lot more greens than I remembered planting, it occurred to me to make a soup base that could sit in the freezer, ready at any time to be turned into soup in a hurry. To the garden ingredients I added a large onion and a largish handful of sun-dried tomatoes from earlier in the summer. You could also use a jar of dried tomatoes in oil, drained.  The celery was used from base to leaf tip. I used roughly equal volumes of all the greens types, about the equivalent of a medium-sized supermarket bunch of each.

The onion was sliced thinly and sautéed very slowly in olive oil while I washed and prepared the greens. I was aiming for a rich caramel color, which meant low heat and frequent stirring, which is no extra trouble if you’re in the kitchen anyway. I used my wok because I knew that the volume of sliced greens would be considerable. First the green garlic and green onions were cleaned, finely slivered, and held separately, then everything else was washed and midribs removed and cut in cross section into roughly 1/2″ slices.


When the onion was a nice toffee color I added the chopped green alliums, cooked about another five minutes, then added the other greens and some more olive oil along with about a teaspoon of salt. Don’t stint on the olive oil. You want sautéed flavor, not steamed flavor.  The heat was turned up to medium and the whole mass stirred and turned with a wide wooden spoon about every five minutes to keep it cooking evenly. As soon as the greens were in the pan I ground the sun dried tomatoes into small powdery chunks in the blender and added them to the wok. They rehydrated well enough in the moisture from the leaves.  Keep cooking until the greens are soft when chewed.

When you have a darkened dense mass of soft greens, put the whole business in the food processor and grind to the finest paste that you can achieve. Taste. You want it on the salty side, because that helps with preservation and it’s going to be diluted later. Add more salt if needed. I prefer to use fish sauce rather than salt to season at this point because it adds a wonderful rich savor. I used about a tablespoon. Don’t use this if you might be serving vegetarians.


Now cool your soup paste and pack it into one-cup containers, each of which makes about a quart of finished soup. Coat the top with olive oil, push lids on tightly, and freeze.


When ready to use, put a quart of any kind of salt-free or low-salt broth you like in a saucepan, add a cup of soup paste, and simmer until thawed. Correct the texture with a stick blender if it needs smoothing out. Taste for seasoning and adjust in any way you like. The caramelized onions, deeply sautéed greens, and fish sauce gave a meaty-umami flavor to the potful I made for lunch today, so I salted to taste and added a swirl of fat from my homemade bacon and a generous sprinkling of thyme leaves, a meaty-umami herb if ever there was one. Yum. With toasted buttered slices of my low-carb fake-o cornbread, it made a perfect light healthy Thanksgiving brunch to lead into the excesses to come at dinner.

This basic formula can be varied endlessly according to what you like and have available. If you serve vegans at your table, using some miso rather than fish sauce and good olive oil for the final swirl with water or vegetable broth as the liquid would suit their needs while fully satisfying the omnivores. If you don’t like the brownish color, leave the tomatoes out and it will be more green. Pan-grilled small oyster or other mushrooms would make a good garnish. A fried or poached egg adds tremendous heft to soup if you want a richer meal, or some bacon lardons fried crisp would satisfy any ardent carnivore with a minimum of actual meat. You can add cow or coconut cream for a cream soup (try a toss of chopped fresh tarragon for the final garnish,) or some leftover tomato sauce for interesting tartness, or finish it with a handful of good freshly grated Parmesan along with olive oil and let the cheese dissolve in the hot soup. For a more Cretan effect, use crumbled feta and olive oil on top.  There are a hundred possibilities and you can get any of them from freezer to table in well under 20 minutes. Serve any kind of bready stuff that suits your diet alongside, and you and your table mates will be full. I say that a quart of soup is two servings, but I understand that normal people can serve three or four with a quart. Know your family’s tastes.

In my opinion the celery is necessary rather than optional, and I strongly advise including at least a small portion of bitter greens (dandelion and chicory in this case.) When making mixed greens, I’ve often noticed that a savory-meaty element is lost if I don’t include some bitter greens. The proportion is small and the final product isn’t bitter and is enjoyed be people who don’t like strong greens in other contexts. Besides, they’re so damn good for you.




Mostarda di Frutta, and notes on artificial sweeteners in ketogenic diets

While in Florence on my honeymoon many years ago I learned to love mostarda di Cremona, the sweet tangy mustardy fruit condiment. I bought a bulk kilo, hauled it home, and for many years enjoyed it with all kinds of things. Then I developed blood sugar problems and changed to a ketogenic diet and such treats were off my list of possibilities. Continue reading

Diet in brief


I very seldom talk about low carb/ ketogenic diets except with my patients because I think that your diet decisions are best made by you, in conjunction with the doctor who knows you best. But I will say here that ketogenic diet is, in my opinion, the most desirable treatment for type 2 diabetes and the only one with no side effects. I am also keeping an eye on the evidence for low carb diets in simple weight loss. So I wanted to pass on this public-information piece from the Harvard School of Public Health:
And of course, my reason for bringing this up on a gardening blog to to make yet another shameless plug for green and leafy vegetables. Your nearest farmer’s market will have them if you don’t grow your own. Just eat them. Lots of them. Eat them instead of the starchy stuff. Your body will thank you.