Garden Fresh Marinara A La Nette

marinara collage

One of the very first things that I learned to cook as an adult on my own was my Nana’s recipe for marinara sauce. It was much more conducive to my studious lifestyle than the get-up-at-eight-in-the-morning-on-Sunday-and-start-rolling-meatballs-and-browning-porkchops sauce that my mom and grandmothers made each week. This version could be whipped up on a whim and ready to eat in 45 minutes. Additional bonus: Not one animal would be harmed in the making of it. It is so delicious that you could drink it. This is the easiest, most versatile sauce and most everyone has the six ingredients in their pantries at all times. Everyone should know how to whip up a batch of this for emergency dinners or to replace store-bought red sauce in recipe such as lasagna or stuffed shells. I will teach you how to make this marinara sauce in a future post and soon you will be impressing even the most discerning of unplanned Italian dinner guests.

Many years later, I became a homeowner, and the first thing that I did was plant a small garden of herbs and tomatoes. I couldn’t wait until I could use fresh tomatoes, basil and oregano from my own yard to make my beloved marinara sauce, and this was the first year I got enough yield to do so. I have made the marinara with store bought tomatoes and herbs, but it is just not the same level of freshness nor sense of accomplishment as growing the essential ingredients yourself.

Finally last week, there were about 15 perfectly plump, red tomatoes on my vines and there were masses of basil and oregano in the herb garden. I was finally ready to make my first-ever homegrown batch of sauce! Here we go…

garden haul

Now that the herbs and tomatoes are picked and washed, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Also, prepare an ice bath and place it in the sink. The first step in the process of prepping the tomatoes is to core them and slice an “X “at the bottom.

little x's

Place a few tomatoes into the boiling water and blanch them for a minute or two. Don’t crowd the pot, only do about four at a time. Transfer to ice bath to halt cooking, and drain. The skin will peel right off. Discard.

You will also need 2 – 4 cloves of garlic, depending on your taste preferences. I always use fresh organic garlic, never the stuff in jars. Jarred garlic is not acceptable. Pull the garlic cloves from the bulb, removing excess outer membrane, then gently press down a coffee cup to loosen the shell around the meat of the clove. Next, take a sharp paring knife, and channeling Paulie from Goodfellas, slice the garlic as close to paper-thin as you can. You can use a razor-blade if you are feeling extra mafioso that day.

thin garlic

Now we will saute the garlic with a high-quality extra virgin olive oil. For the best taste, you will want a pure olive oil, not one that is diluted with other types of oils. It is also a good time to note, olive oil is the only type of oil that should be used in Italian cooking. Pour enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, stir in the garlic with a wooden spoon.

sauteeing garlic in evoo

It will cook fast, so before the garlic starts to brown, add the tomatoes in and continue stirring.The tomatoes will being to exude some juice, and you can use the wooden spoon to softly break the tomatoes into chunks. I like to make my sauce chunkier, but many people don’t, so if you want a smoother sauce, toss the tomatoes into the blender and puree until it reaches the desired consistency.

stir in tomatoes

At this point, you can add about a tablespoon of pure cane sugar and stir. Turn heat to low and let simmer about 2.5 hours. Stir the sauce occasionally. You can add a little bit of water if it boils down too much. During the last half hour, you can add as much basil as your heart desires – I love to load it up! Also, pull the leaves from about two branches of the oregano and add to pot. I do not like too much fresh oregano, a little goes a long way. Also, I took a sprig of Thyme, and added that to the pot whole. Simmer about another half hour.

herbs in pot

Now all you need is an excellent Italian cheese (my pick is hand-grated Locatelli), some angel hair and a Hello Kitty bowl and you will be in spaghetti heaven!

Imagesauce over angel hair

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The Great Pet Food Situation of 2013

There are fewer things that I am more passionate about than my cats. I love their sweet little faces to the moon and back, and there is no bridge too far when it comes to providing the best for them. I believe that when someone brings a pet home, they have a responsibility to provide for him or her like a true family member.

Cats

Larz & Bisquie

When I first brought Larz home in April of 2007, I never had a pet before and it would be an understatement to say I had no clue what I was doing. Quickly though, I began reading everything I could get my paws on to learn about cats, their health, their behavior, and what is best for them. I bought them kitty fountains filled with special water, and organic catnip, and health insurance. Soon, I became a cat counselor of sorts for all my friends, colleagues and acquaintances. This is why I mortified to learn that I had been feeding them the kitty equivalent of Taco Bell up until January of this year.

At the recommendation of my veterinarian, whom I trusted, Larz and Bisquie had been on a diet of Fancy Feast since kittenhood. I asked my vet at every six-month check-up, “What should I be feeding my boys? Are you sure that Fance Feast is the best for them?” He always said yes. Looking back, it is odd that I blindly believed this, but I did. I trusted my vet, and I thought as long as they are eating wet food and limited dry, we were golden. According to everything I was reading, a wet diet was the key. He confirmed.

Working in the media, I am exposed everyday to anbundance of company news. I was becoming very wary of commercialized pet products, due to the constant recalls I was seeing week after week. I needed to investigate.

Soon I discovered the truth about pet food. It was comprised of cheap, often unregulated, imported ingredients and filled with grain. Cats are “Obligate Carnivores,” which means they eat only meat by necessity. They do not naturally eat grain, they do not naturally eat vegetables, and their bodies do not tolerate it. It is actually bad for them, and puts strain on their systems. Kidney disease, cancer and obesity is rampant in cats, and I suspect it is the food they are eating, just as it is for humans.

I began doing more and more digging, and I found an independent report that you could purchase for $17.95 that analyzed each brand and variety of pet foods on the market. I immediately whipped out my credit card and got to reading. What I learned was appalling. The woman who runs the site and does all the research states clearly that she makes her own pet food, so that is telling. She gives ratings for overall brands then for each variety, ranging from one to five paws, with five being the highest of quality. I would highly recommend joining her community and paying the $17.95 for access to her report. She depends on the revenues from the subscription payments to continue her work, and thus asks that subscribers do not share her findings. Trust me, it is worth the money.

From this report, I learned that the food I was feeding my own little babes was rated very poorly and the ingredients were not up to the standards I’d set for Larz and Bisquie. However, there are a few brands on the market and available at many pet supplies stores that seemed to measure up. My requirements at that time (early 2013) was that the food was grain-free, made in the U.S.A. and had no imported ingredients. I settled on Wellness brand for canned foods, Fromm’s Family for dry. For several months, we have all been happy, and I was feeling great about the new diet, even if it cost almost three times as much per month. To me, it was worth every penny. I spent most of 2013 evangelizing a grain-free, expensive cat food diet to anyone who had a set of ears, cat or no cat at home.

Fast forward to last night. My friend Erin just adopted a kitten named Luna Sky. Wanting to start young Luna on a high-end diet right out of the gate, Erin followed my lead and got her kitty onto Wellness. Like many a kitten before her, this one was a fussy eater and wouldn’t have it.

Luna Sky, Three Months Old - Picky Eater

Luna Sky, Three Months Old – Picky Eater

 So Erin started reading and researching foods last night and text me one she wanted me to check on. She also sent me this article which is precisely when the wheels fell off my day. Carrageenan is an additive in many foods, human and pet alike, and links are being made to this substance and gastrointestinal problems including cancer! The only C-word that I want anywhere near these dollies is “Catnip” OK? It seemed like Carrageenan was everywhere.

Throughout the course of the day, through our joint research efforts, I came up with my revised list of cat food requirements.

  • Grain-free
  • Chicken, Turkey or Whole Fish as 1st Ingredient
  • Made in USA or Canada with all ingredients sourced herein
  • No Carrageenan
  • BPA-Free Cans/Packaging

With this list carefully cross-referenced to ensure all criteria were met, I made a quick phone call to Pet’s General Store in Lakewood. I am an advocate of patronizing small family-owned businesses, and I have been wanting to check this place out and this was the perfect reason to go. They had two of the brands I wanted to try and the lady enthusiastically offered to order some samples of the third from the manufacturer so we could try it out before buying. Feeding these high-quality foods is an expensive experiment until you get it right, so their willingness to give samples was very much appreciated. You do not get that level of treatment or quality at PetSmart, friends!

The final three to make today’s cut were Fromm Family Duck & Chicken Pate and Chicken, Duck & Salmon Pate; Wellness Healthy Indulgence Chicken, Duck & Shrimp Recipe and Turkey & Duck Recipe; and Stella & Chewy’s Chick, Chick, Chicken Dinner (a freeze-dried raw chicken flavor – my cats never had this type before). The Wellness Healthy Indulgence line is Carrageenan-free and comes in a pouch rather than a can, which is why I gave this brand another shot.

Larz Inspecting Haul

I chose all of these foods based on the colors of the packaging rather than the nutritional value.

Erin went to another local and independently owned pet shop in Lakewood called Furry Nation. She also settled on Fromm Family in the can, though she was dissatisfied with this in the end because it only had a four paw rating when five is the highest. This is a work in progress, and there will be more to report as we see how these new foods are adopted by the kitties and how they respond to them. There are a few more brands I’d like to track down and have them sample, so stay tuned. My ultimate goal is going to be to make my own cat food at home, from scratch. I can’t wait to get to cooking!

I will continue to write about this topic because it is important to many, and the more you know, the better you care you can take of your beloved pets.

Scrumptious Pumpkin Spice Sugar Scrub

Image

Autumn has become my favorite season in years of late. The unmistakable smell of fall in the air, the fashion (cute coats and hats and tights and boots, oh my!), and the plethora of pumpkin everything that suddenly appears everywhere you sniff. A few cool days this August prematurely excited me for the upcoming season and I couldn’t resist starting Fall early.

For a few months now, I have been on a slow but sure path to detoxifying my household. I started with the purging of chemical cleaners and began making my own from vinegar baking soda and freshly squeezed lemon juice. I put the cats on a high-end, organic and grain free diet. We went flouride and sulfate free with our toothpastes and soaps, respectively. My cats have never been healthier, my house never cleaner, and my hair never shinier. I feel great about the changes I am making to be a greener citizen, and I am on way to making this house a toxin-free one.

In this spirit, I have decided to try my hand at making my own organic, vegan, chemical free beauty products. My first little masterpiece is this Pumpkin Spice Sugar Scrub you see above. It’s only in it’s second incarnation, and I plan to continue to experiment until I’ve reached perfection! Some of my most trusted gals have samples of this batch in their pretty little hands to test out and give me their feedback. I tried both of my batches thus far on myself, and I must say, never has my skin felt more luxurious, like sheathes of silk.

What’s In It?

Ingredients for Pumpkin Spice Sugar Scrub

Ingredients for Pumpkin Spice Sugar Scrub

Organic Unrefined Coconut Oil: The benefits of using coconut oil on your skin are infinite! It moisturizes, hydrates, removes dead cells, fights acne and eczema, softens, cleanses (it’s antimicrobial!), smooths, fights aging signs, to name just a few.  It also both smells and feels glorious.

Organic Canned Pumpkin: Pumpkin is so much more than a latte flavor obsession. It brightens, soothes and softens your skin. It’s packed with Vitamins A , E & C. It cures acne and exfoliates. It also smells likepure fall joy.

Organic Olive Oil: It’s an antioxidant that fights cancer and protects against sun damage. It hydrates and locks moisture into the skin. Olive oil is also a powerful in promoting youthful looking skin.

Sugar in the Raw: Sugar has three main benefits for the skin. In a scrub like this one, it is powerful exfoliant to remove the old, dull and dead cells and uncover bright, fresh skin cells. It hydrates and retains that moisture, and helps treat the damage you did your skin basking on the Lake Erie Shore all summer.

100% Cocoa Butter: Hydrates and smooths skin, as well as provides a unique scent.

Best Practices 

This scrub works best in a warm to hot shower to get the full moisturizing effects and wafts of delicious pumpkin-scented goodness. It can be used one to three times per week. Be sure to use this scrub prior to shaving for an ultra-close shave that leaves your legs feeling like satin.

Have you made your own scrubs at home? If so, I would love to hear about them in the comments. Have you tried my version? Let’s talk about it.