No-Flour Oatmeal Cookies

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Nothing beats oatmeal cookies for a quick and easy snack, and these, a recent experiment, containing no flour or baking powder, are sure to become a favorite recipe. Word of caution: whenever I cook or bake, I’m basically winging it, so if you’re into exact measurements, sorry.

Go ahead and take:

1-1\2 cup of whole or rolled oats

1\2 cup dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut meat

A generous handful of raisins or dried cranberries

A dash of cinnamon

3 heaped tablespoonfuls of coconut oil (and, really, I must digress for a second, because I always feel like I can’t sing the praises of coconut oil enough. It’s delicious in all kinds of baked goods that I want to keep dairy-free, and makes lovely, crisp cookies and mouthwatering, flaky pie crust)

1\2 cup honey, date sugar, or whatever your preferred sweetener is

Mix everything thoroughly in a bowl; it’s best to knead with your hands.

Add 1-2 eggs, just enough to make a sticky mixture.

Take a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet. Pick up small portions of the cookie mixture (about egg-sized) and flatten them thoroughly with your two hands. Place the cookies on the sheet, evenly spaced, and pop into the oven for about 10-15 minutes on medium heat, just until the edges start to turn golden-brown. Do not overbake.

Enjoy with a nice hot cup of tea or cocoa, or with a glass of cold milk.

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Top Cheap and Healthy Foods

Image result for beans and pulses

The more financially challenged a family is (I deliberately avoid using the word ‘poor’, as I believe poverty is as much a state of mind as of the pocket), the higher proportion of its budget is directed towards buying food. It makes sense – you can scrimp on entertainment, clothes, and all sorts of frills, but everyone needs to eat.

Some things are really no brainers when it comes to food choices: avoid prepackaged ready-to-eat stuff, soft drinks, and anything that isn’t food in its basic, natural state. But what if you really need to take this a step further? What foods are the best bargain, financially and health-wise?

Whole, dry pulses and grains – beans, lentils and peas of all kinds have provided a source of protein and nourished healthy populations all around the world for millennia. Combined with barley, rice, bulgur, corn, etc, these create dishes with an amino acid balance that needs only a little animal protein to make a well-rounded, low-cost diet. Learn how to prepare grains and pulses the right way by soaking and/or fermenting them.

You can get a lot of food out of a few bags of lentils, peas and beans, and when properly stored, they will keep almost indefinitely.

Oats – oats are very nutritious and make an excellent breakfast cereal, much better than any cold cereal you can buy. Get your oats whole and roll them yourself for longer storage and to get the most of their health benefits, and pre-soak for maximum digestibility.

Eggs – containing the most effectively bioavailable protein in human nutrition, eggs are filling, nourishing and incredibly versatile. They also have the advantage of being almost universally cheap. Of course, it’s a million times better to consume home-grown eggs with a healthier fatty acid profile and essential vitamins, but even a store-bought egg is a source of wholesome protein when you can ill afford anything else.

Organ meats – the general public has a refined taste when it comes to chicken and turkey, and prefers clean, white meat, breast being the most popular. Stuff like liver, hearts, stomachs, etc, falls by the wayside, and can often be got very cheaply – all the better for you! Organ meats contain plenty of iron and B12, and, of course, are an excellent source of animal protein. They can figure in a variety of soups, stews, casseroles and other dishes.

Vegetables – if you have a productive garden of your own, you’re in luck. If not, you still rely on what you buy – and though fresh vegetables are an essential in a healthy diet, they can be tricky on the budget. Prices go up and down according to season and other factors, and even when you get a really good deal on certain veggies, there’s only so much you can buy, and they won’t store forever. Learn to buy what is cheap and in season, rather than have a fixed idea of what you’re going to eat.

Plain dairy products – commercial dairy products are controversial, but if you don’t keep a dairy animal, plain unsweetened store-bought dairy products are still a good bet, and are usually affordable. Stick to whole milk, plain yogurt, naturally processed cheese and unsalted butter.

Canned goods – don’t automatically dismiss all that comes from a can. Some canned foods are very nutritious – such as canned tomatoes, beans, tuna, sardines, and more – and sometimes you can get very good deals on them, so keep your eyes open.

Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to make your meals more palatable or filling by the addition of refined sugar and highly processed vegetable oils. It will only mess up your blood sugar and satiety signals, and will ultimately make you hungrier.

Good luck in finding the best way to feed your family healthy, inexpensive food – I know this can be tricky, but the rewards are well worth it.

Super Simple Cheese

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While dreaming of full-blown homesteading and dairy animals (and I do believe that dreams attract reality!), I quench my craving for home dairying and cheesemaking by making this very simple cream cheese. It’s super easy to make and really delicious – puts me in mind of those cream cheeses that are usually too expensive for us to buy.

To make it, take sour cream and yogurt in half and half proportion (as much as you like), add salt/pepper/dill/garlic to taste (keep in mind that the cheese will become more concentrated in taste when it’s done, as liquids will drip), mix everything thoroughly and place in a cheesecloth over a strainer and bowl.

Tie up cheesecloth and leave overnight. In the morning, your cheese should be of nice, spreadable consistency.

Refrigerate and consume within a couple of days. Enjoy!

Sun-dried tomatoes

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We got a really good deal on cherry tomatoes, and as much as we love using them in salads and eating them as a snack, we didn’t manage to use them all up before they began to lose their freshness. Driven by a stroke of inspiration, I decided to make dried tomatoes.

Drying tomatoes is easy; I like to do it in the sun, because it saves energy and is done very quickly around here, but you can use your oven or dehydrator.

To dry in the sun, simply slice the tomatoes and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet or tray. Cover with mesh to prevent birds and insects from getting in your food. Place in the sun.

Once the tomatoes are slightly springy and mostly dehydrated, they are done. Put them in a glass jar and cover with olive oil (you can add herbs such as rosemary, basil or oregano), and place in the fridge. Or put them in a vacuum pack and freeze. They are great in all sorts of dishes, or can be made into dried tomato spread. Enjoy!

Harvesting and Using Carob

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Although it isn’t quite carob season yet, I’m already gearing up for it, especially now that I have a nice new food processor which is going to make turning the pods into powder a breeze! Those dark brown pods are just loaded with nutrients, they are naturally sweet, which means that when using them in baking you can use less added sugar, and best of all, they can be picked for free!

Read more about harvesting and using carob in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Carob trees grow all over Israel (and in similar climates), and the dark brown pods can be picked in the summer. They keep extremely well, so you can pick a big bunch and then process it at your convenience. Make sure the pods you pick are ripe. They are supposed to look and feel dry and to come off easily from the tree. Choose the biggest, shiniest, healthiest-looking pods.”

Image above: carob powder in the process of making.

Green Tahini (Sesame Seed) Salad Dressing

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On Shabbat nights and mornings, we usually have a first course of bread and spreads/dips, and tahini salad dressing/spread/dip is always starring there. The basic recipe is just pure tahini mixed with water until desired consistency is reached, with a sprinkle of salt and a dash of lemon juice. It can be spiked up with crushed garlic and, if desired, a drop of honey.

Another favorite of ours is green tahini – whizzed up in the food processor with cilantro, parsley, dill, or a combination of any or all of the above. It has a beautiful color, an interesting flavor and tons of health benefits. See recipe in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“It’s possible to play with the sort and amount of greens and the amount of liquids, so you can get a thicker, spread-like consistency, or a thinner variation which is used as a salad dressing.

Contrary to what many health adherents advise, I recommend using tahini from hulled sesame seeds, for its sweeter taste and smoother texture. It’s true that the sesame seed hull contains large amounts of calcium, but it is bound in a way that makes it not readily absorbable.”

Fenugreek: A WonderHerb

Hilbe, a spread/dip made of Fenugreek seeds or leaves, is a staple of Yemenite Jewish cuisine, and is usually eaten at one or more of the Shabbat meals. It goes amazingly with pita bread. The recipes vary, and can include garlic, lemon juice, and various herbs and spices.

Fenugreek itself has some wonderful nutritional benefits, being rich in calcium and magnesium – and also some very special health properties. It has a beneficial effect on blood sugar regulation and is known as a milk-supply booster for nursing mothers. I had taken Fenugreek capsules in the past, when I reckoned I needed to build up my supply, and I reckon they helped a bit, but nothing very dramatic. However, after a Shabbat of enjoying homemade hilbe spread in very moderate amounts, I suddenly felt a very prominent increase in my milk supply, something I didn’t even think of or aim for (since my baby was almost one year old and I figured we have a pretty steady supply-demand thing going). I suppose this effect was due to pre-soaking the Fenugreek seeds for a couple of days, thus allowing the special plant components to activate.

I think that’s really worth noting, as capsules are so much more expensive – and, apparently, less effective – than the real thing. I’m not sure you can buy Fenugreek everywhere, though. In Israel, the seeds are available in health food stores, and the leaves can be found at certain markets in season.

Here is the recipe we used:

– about 1\3 cup dry Fenugreek seeds. Place in a bowl of water for 48 hours, changing the water every day. The seeds will swell considerably.
– a bunch of fresh coriander, about 3\4 cup shredded
– 2 big cloves of fresh garlic
– juice of one lemon

– salt and pepper to taste

Once the Fenugreek seeds are soaked and drained, place everything in your food processor. Blend thoroughly and add water as needed, to reach desired consistency (thicker/thinner, however you like it). Once finished, it should have a refreshing characteristic smell, and look bright green, sort of like this:
Image taken from here.

A word of warning: hilbe has a dominant smell; some like it, some don’t mind, some wish they could do without it. The smell can later come out in your sweat, or even in your baby’s diaper. The Fenugreek capsules don’t smell when you take them, but the smell comes out with a vengeance later through all your pores.

Recently I’ve decided to try growing some fenugreek from seed, to see if the fresh leaves are as good or better as the dried ones we use in various dishes. So far it’s proving very easy to grow – I just made a shallow trench in one of the garden beds, threw in some dry Fenugreek seeds from the store, and almost all of them sprouted. Once the leaves are big enough to use I’ll be sure to let you know how it has turned out.