With the invigorating cool of a nightly breeze heralding the arrival of the autumnal equinox (mark your calendars, it's September 23rd!), it is now what we in my family call 'canning time.' The work of summer is now bearing fruits, quite literally, and nature's bounty is such that it is impossible to eat all the harvest before it goes to rot. So, we must preserve it to enjoy in the cold winter months ahead (and also, to avoid wasting such precious, nutrient-dense food). My mother's easy recipe for homemade fruit preserves not only allows you to choose your fruits of choice (my favorites being stone fruits, such as peaches and plums), but also keeps everything luxuriously simple: the only other ingredient in her preserves is sugar (no pectin, no flavorings, and absolutely nothing artificial!). All you'll need is a large pot (we prefer cast iron, for various reasons), your fruits, sugar, and a long wooden spoon... oh, and about 7 hours to spare.
The trick to making preserves (or jam/jelly/marmalade) is in the constant stirring. Well, perhaps not completely constant. I set myself an alarm that goes off every 10 minutes when I'm cooking aforementioned sweet stuff, and that method has always made my end product delicious and homogenous. To start, assemble your fruit and give it a good vinegar rinse (if you don't already know this little trick, check back later in the week for our article!). Once it has dried, remove any large stones or pits (if you've chosen fruit that doesn't contain these, you can skip a step) and give them a rough chop. There's no need to remove any skins, as the cooking process will break these down. Pile them into you pot, give them a quick mash with a wooden spoon (to manually release some juices), put on the cover and turn the heat on high. After about 10 minutes, you should have a little boil going. Remove the lid, set the temperature to simmer, stir and press the fruit again, then start your timer. Your preserves will now need to cook for at least 6 hours, uncovered. And don't forget the periodic stirring!
When your fruit has broken down enough that it seems that there's more liquid than will ever be cooked off (approximately half an hour after removing the lid), feel free to slowly start adding sugar, tasting as you go. It is important not to overdo it. For a medium pot full of fruit at the start, I typically only use about 1/3 cup of sugar. Pour in a bit, stir until you're sure it has dissolved, and then take a taste. Remember, the mixture will become sweeter as it cooks (and if you use overripe, but not moldy, fruit, it will be even more so). You can always add some extra sugar in the last half hour if you think it really needs it, but the less you need to add, the better! After your preserves have cooked for at least 6 hours, check the consistency (it should be thick but not goopy, and if you have large chunks, you can always puree the whole thing in the food processor after it has cooled off a bit... or just eat the globs piping hot, as I do!). Because there are no added preservatives or jelling agents, this needs to be stored in glass containers in the refrigerator. Tightly-sealed Mason jars will easily last you a year in the fridge, but you can also freeze it to use in pies or as a topping for holiday meat dishes. Happy canning!
- Maria Vasylivna
When it comes to keeping hunger pangs at bay throughout the day, nothing does a better job than trail mix (most likely because it contains healthy fats, fiber, and natural sugars). The perfect blend, however, is critical to the upkeep of your blood sugar levels and energy. As a general rule, we like to keep the ratio traditional: 5 parts nuts, 3 parts dried fruit, 1 part seeds, and 1 part flavor-enhancing ingredients (chocolate pieces happen to be my personal favorite for this category, but feel free to get creative!). Below, 3 of our go-to mixes (and some facts on how they help your body):
1) The Morning Report: Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, dried cherries, flax seeds, chocolate-covered espresso beans, and a dash of sea salt. This is a great mix for coffee-lovers! The nuts both have delicate flavors that mix well with sweetness of the chocolate, and the sea salt keeps the cherries from being overpoweringly sweet. Both nuts are an excellent source of magnesium, and provide much-needed protein and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Flax seeds are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, while the chocolate-covered espresso beans will give you just a hint of a caffeine jolt.
2) Tropical Flair: Cashews, macadamia nuts, crystallized pineapple chunks, dried acai berries, pumpkin seeds, toasted coconut flakes. This blend is sure to have you dreaming about white-sand beaches. Both cashews and macadamia nuts have a creamy consistency that plays well off the crunch of the seeds and toasted coconut, while the pineapple adds sweetness. Acai berries are a great source of calcium, and are also known for having high levels of antioxidants and oleic acids (both of which are great beautifying agents). Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, and new studies are showing that their bioavailability of Vitamin E could make them one of the best food sources of this particular vitamin!
3) Classic With a Twist: almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries, dried apricots, sunflower seeds, dark chocolate chunks, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. With fall already on our doorstep, this mix really gets me in the mood for hot spiced cider (which, by the way, would make a fabulous accompaniment to this trail mix!). Both walnuts and sunflower seeds are high in Vitamin B-6, and the dark chocolate provides antioxidants as well as sweetness. Almonds have long been touted for their high content of potassium, and for their ability to aid in heart health (because of a richness of monounsaturated fats).
- Maria Vasylivna
I know most people don’t want to hear it, but there’s no denying it any longer: fall is almost here. And with the onset of sweater season, comes another beloved autumnal tradition: the transition from simple summer lip balms to the venerated cold-weather classic… lipstick! For me, nothing compliments the crunch of crisp leaves beneath my lacquered riding boots so much as a swipe (or three) of silken scarlet lipstick. But in order to perfect your pout, preparation is key, and nothing creates a better surface for rich texture and delightfully dark pigments than a properly exfoliated pucker. Below, our easy at-home recipe for superiorly soft lips!
- 2 tablespoons pure cane sugar (I prefer smaller granules)
- 1.5 teaspoons sweet almond oil
- The juice of half a lemon (approximately)
- A few drops of your favorite essential oil
Combine the sugar and sweet almond oil in a small glass dish, and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Next, add your essential oil (I’m partial to the simplicity of 2 drops of mint oil, but you can also use lemon, neroli, rose, or lavender). Once your essential oil has been mixed in, add the lemon juice little by little, until you have just the right consistency (it should be just moistened enough to not crumble off your finger tips, but not so wet that it all runs down your hands). At this point, it’s time to make sure you’ve removed all lip products from your mouth, and have gently rinsed your lips with warm water. Pat the mouth dry with a tissue or towel, and then gently rub the scrub in upward, circular motions on your lips. Scrub for about 30 seconds per lip, and then close your mouth and let the mixture sit for another 15 seconds. Rinse off with warm water, but don’t dry your mouth with anything! Apply your favorite balm onto your damp lips, and head straight to bed. You’ll wake up looking oh-so-kissable (and that’s even before lipstick!)
- Maria Vasylivna
No one wants to be slaving over a stove forever first thing in the morning, much less in the muggy height of summer! Our 3 simple breakfast solutions, below, all feature the mighty avocado as the base. Why is it such a great option for the first thing in your stomach in the morning? It is low-carb and naturally cholesterol-free, chockfull of healthy fats, and has a decent serving of protein to boot! There is nothing not to love about this creamy green miracle!
Avocado Toast: Whip out 3 slices of your favorite multi-grain bread (I am partial to 9-grain), pop it into the toaster oven, and then grab a small bowl. Slice one avocado in half, remove the pit and skin, and then mash it in the bowl. Mix in your desired amount of salt and black pepper, and then drop in half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. After this has been properly combined, divide the avocado mash evenly between the bread slices, and smear it over them. Top with cucumber slivers (I like to pass mine through the mandoline to ensure conformity and delicacy), roasted red peppers, and some freshly-chopped parsley.
Avocado Egg Bowl: While many of you may have seen recipes involving baking an egg inside an avocado in the oven, I am not a fan of this method. When an avocado is heated to high temperatures, it can result in a bitter note in the flesh. For my take on this method, preserve the natural flavor of your avocado by just slicing it in half and removing the pit. Next, grab a skillet and fry up 2 eggs however you like (I prefer mine scrambled hard). Once your egg is cooked, transfer it into the hollow of the avocado halves, and then pile the rest on top. Season with salt, pepper, and a dash of turmeric. Eat with a side of sliced tomatoes.
Avocado Smoothie: This fruit makes a great foundation for a creamy morning drink. Grab your blender, and pop in half an avocado (slice it a few times to speed up the process). Add 2/3 cup of almond milk, 1 overripe banana, 1/3 cup frozen strawberries, a handful of baby spinach leaves, and one tablespoon of chia seeds. Blend it up, pour into a tall glass, and enjoy the first meal of the day alfresco!
- Maria Vasylivna
Growing up, my mother never let us use commercial salad dressings. She said that one should be able to taste the earth's bounty, not cover it up. Because of that, we always topped our salads in the simplest, and most healthful, way: just with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and freshly-squeezed lemon juice. This method works particularly well when combining different flavors and textures in a salad, like in one of my favorite light lunch recipes, featured here!
3 heaping handfuls of organic mesclun greens
Half an avocado, pitted and sliced
1/3 cup canned organic chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Half a "flame" pepper (yellow with red stripes), chopped
1/4 cup chopped baby carrots
Lay the greens on a plate first, then top with vegetables. Dress with extra virgin olive oil, and a squeeze of fresh lemon, then enjoy the delectable plant protein! Both the avocado and chickpeas are a good source of it, and provide a creamy contrast to the crunch of the carrots and the mellow sweetness of the pepper.
- Maria Vasylivna
Energy-Enhancing Morning Yogurt
1 ½ cups organic plain yogurt (also known as Greek yogurt)
1/3 cup frozen red raspberries
¼ cup raw cacao nibs
2 tablespoons chia seeds
Layer the frozen raspberries on top of the yogurt, then sprinkle with the nibs and seeds. Let it sit for about 5 minutes at room temperature, then mix it all together well and enjoy! The frozen raspberries will have thawed a bit and will lend a pretty pink color to the yogurt, as well as distributing their flavor throughout. The cacao nibs are an excellent plant-based source of energy (because of its high content of theobromine, which stimulates the body in much the same way as caffeine), and the chia seeds are chockfull of omega-3s and will help you feel full for longer.
- Maria Vasylivna
Hailing from North Jersey, nothing says summer to me quite like fresh Jersey white corn! Now that it's the season for this sweet, sweet vegetable, I wanted to share my recipe for a vegetable salad that can double as an ultra-healthy chip-topping salsa. I also like to use this as an unconventional vegan filling for lettuce wraps.
- 6-8 ears of fresh white corn, boiled, cut from the cob
- 1 1/2 cups of black beans
- 2 ripe avocados, diced
- 3 red bell peppers, diced
- 1 handful fresh parsley, chopped fine
- Juice of 1 lime
- Olive oil, to taste
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl, toss together, and serve!
- Maria Vasylivna
Who wants to eat a piping-hot bowl of borscht in the middle of the summer? (Granted, if you’re Ukrainian, the answer to that will always be a ‘yes,’ but I digress) The summer months are made for consuming cooler foods, and an easy way to get your vegetables is with a chilled salad. My mother’s recipe for Ukrainian beet salad, whose pronunciation is closest to the word ‘vinaigrette,’ is chock-full of nutrients, and a great meatless option for a meal!
What you'll need:
2 large potatoes
3 medium-sized beets, greens removed
½ cup white or red beans, dry
4 dill pickles
Sunflower oil, to taste
Fresh-squeezed lemon juice, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Soak the beans overnight in cold water. When you are ready to start cooking, drain the water from the beans, rinse, and boil them off in fresh water. Once cooked, drain them and let them sit until they have cooled to room temperature.
Roast the potatoes and beets in the oven. As this is a handed-down recipe, there are no indicators for temperature or time while baking (as my mother’s stove never had a temperature dial, only a fire), so start at 400 and periodically poke the root vegetables with a toothpick to determine readiness. Once they are baked, remove from the oven, and let cool to room temperature, then peel both.
- Chop the potatoes, beets, and pickles into bite-size pieces, and then mix with the beans in a large bowl. Drizzle with sunflower oil and lemon juice (but be careful not to use too much lemon, as it can quickly become overpowering. It should be just enough to cut the sweetness of the beets), and add salt and pepper if you need it. As we say in the old country, smachnoho!
Sweets are not just for your mouth! Honey, nature's golden nectar, is useful as a beautifying agent as well as a tasty treat. For any topical applications, and especially ingestion, I use only the purest raw honey. I happen to be blessed in the fact that I have a friend who keeps his own bees, so I get my molten goodness as fresh as it can be. When buying honey at the store or farmer's market, I prefer wildflower over clover (but to each their own).
Honey Mask for Thicker, Stronger Hair
- 2 heaping tablespoons of raw honey
- 1 tablespoon of sweet almond oil
- 5 drops of argan oil
- half a ripe avocado, pit removed, mashed
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl (if your honey is extra-thick, heat it up for a few seconds on the stove, but be careful not to make it hot!). Apply to dry hair, prior to showering. After working the mask through your hair, wrap in a warm towel and let it sit for 20 minutes. To remove the towel without damaging your hair (the honey will make the cloth stick), step right into the shower stream and let the heat of the water relax the towel's hold until you can easily remove it from your head.
Honey Mask for Soft, Soothed Skin
- 1 tablespoon of raw honey
- 1 teaspoon or fresh-squeezed lemon juice, or fresh-squeezed strawberry juice (these are both optional. Both are antiseptic and brightening agents, although I recommend the strawberry more for sensitive skin, and the lemon for dull skin)
Apply the mask directly to a cleansed face (if you can do an at-home steam to really open your pores prior to application, that is ideal). Sit or lay down, and relax for the next 20 minutes. The heat from your body will melt any crystals that may occur naturally in the honey, so it is not necessary to have purely liquid honey at the start. I prefer granulized honey for this mask, as it keeps the honey from dripping off too soon. After the 20 minutes are up, rinse with lukewarm water, and finish off with your preferred moisturizing method!
- Maria Vasylivna
When summertime comes, the last thing you want to be doing is slaving away in the kitchen. With this recipe, making a delicious (and good-for-you) dessert is a snap! Coconut cream, the main ingredient in this recipe, is a good source of fiber and is high in medium-chain fatty acids. To make this chocolate mousse, you'll need:
- 1 can of coconut milk (left in the fridge overnight, so that the cream separates to the top)
- 3-4 tablespoons of cocoa powder
All you need to do is whip these two together in a blender! Some things to note: be careful when removing the coconut cream from the can. The coconut milk will separate into the thick cream (which will be at the top), and the residual coconut water. You want to lift the cream gently out of the can and NOT use the rest of the water. Also, I have found that blending the coconut cream on its own for a while before adding the cocoa powder helps in creating the correct consistency faster. Lastly, you can decide to leave the mousse in the refrigerator for a few hours to really help it set (for those of you who prefer an extremely thick consistency). I love to play with the toppings for this! Some of my favorite garnishes include; fresh mint leaves (gently bruised), fresh blueberries and raw cacao nibs, raw macadamia nuts, or freshly-grated orange zest with raspberries. Enjoy the simplicity!
- Maria Vasylivna