July 2014
Your Next Meal From the Wildside

Fruits, Nuts and Ice Cream

Have you ever tried the Paleo Diet? It is the healthy eating plan where you are supposed to eat like a "caveman." Your menu would include fish, wild or grass-fed meats, poultry, eggs, tree nuts, and lots of fruits and vegetables. The first time I heard of it, the Native American part of me thought: Of course! Hunter-gatherers would make a healthier, more natural menu. Then the modern, convenience-oriented part of me thought: Are you kidding me? No mac and cheese? No pasta or ranch dressing?

But then I started thinking about how my family ate when I was growing up, before pre-packaged and processed foods were so abundant. We did eat things like hot dogs that dyed the water pink, white-bread dinner rolls slathered in butter and plenty of starchy potatoes, but more typically dinner consisted of the majority of our plate being filled with vegetables. Sliced tomatoes and hand-chopped slaw were almost always served along with the other veggies. Mom and Dad would also have either a green onion or a slice of white or Vidalia on the side of their plate.

Although we mostly went to the farmers market, sometimes my parents kept a garden or some of their friends had gardens. I remember in the late 1970s my Dad parking on a dirt road, and we walked through rows of red dirt picking vegetables out of a big garden. I tried hard to tread lightly so I didn’t sink into a mound of red mud and squash the squash. It was hot, there were gnats and the okra was prickly, but we knew where our food came from. It is a memory my parents have long since forgot, but those trips to the field meant something that has stayed with me over the years.

Although we didn’t always have a home garden, my favorite places to live in Anniston and Huntsville had something in common: an abundance of fruit and nut trees. On Highland Avenue in Anniston, we had two or three fig trees. We pinched the skins to see if the figs were ripe enough to eat and ate them straight off the trees. The house at Windsor Terrace had four green apple trees. My sister and I would climb the one tree closest to the house so we could climb onto the roof and eat apples. The house we lived in while I was in high school was on San Ramon in Huntsville. The house was nothing fancy, just a simple brick rancher, but it had other impressive attributes. In the front yard was a pecan tree and in the back there was a plum tree, two peach trees and an apple tree. In the very back corner of the yard, my dad made a garden. In that corner garden, Dad grew tomatoes, watermelons, squash and more.

Now, one of Rolley Len’s favorite things to do at Pawpaw and Nana’s house is to pick tomatoes and check the other fruit and vegetables growing. My parents have a postage stamp garden at their house in Florida. It is just big enough for the two of them with some left over to share with neighbors. Even in that small space (about 1 yard by 1 yard square), they have had peppers, okra, tomatoes and strawberries to last all summer.

Picking fruit and vegetables can become addictive once you get on a roll, and I have seen that determined fixation in Rolley Len when she checks my parents’ garden. At our house, Jason has planted pear, apple and plum trees so pretty soon Rolley Len and Cason will be able to enjoy growing, picking and eating their own fruit. If you can’t grow your own, visit your local farmers market or u-pick. There might even be a delivery service in your area. 

When I looked up information about what you should eat on the Paleo diet, I realized it isn’t that far off from the way we already eat at home. Don’t get me wrong - at my house we love foods like chip and dip, and pasta alfredo, but even Rolley Len and Cason know that moderation is key. Although it might be hard for families to stick to the caveman menu fulltime, there are many ways to incorporate healthy choices into your normal routine. And if you have a child or a spouse who hates veggies, you can even sneak them in by mixing them into non-veggie recipes.

One night, I mixed a gorgeous green spinach puree and chopped red peppers into my ground deer meat spaghetti sauce. The spinach picks up the garlic and tomato tastes, and the red peppers blend in with the sauce. I had been nervous that Rolley Len might shy away from the sauce because she had seen the bright green puree before I added it to the skillet, but she had two helpings. I told her we could also use the puree in brownies and she was both surprised and intrigued. (I will let you know how those turn out.) As you plan your own summer menu, add some of your own hunter-gatherer ideas to your next meal for a nutritious twist.

The Fourth of July holiday simply must include homemade ice cream. So, here are some recipes that join together healthy fruits and nuts with creamy deliciousness.

VANILLA ICE CREAM

1 cup whole milk

¾ cup granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

2 cups heavy cream

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Whisk the milk, sugar and salt together until sugar is dissolved. Stir in cream and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours or longer. Once chilled, pour into your ice cream freezer and follow the directions for your freezer.

VANILLA ICE CREAM (little healthier version)

4 cups half and half

1 (14-ounce) can of sweetened condensed milk

2 Tablespoons vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Pour into the freezer container and follow the directions for your freezer.

BUTTER PECAN ICE CREAM (One of my Mom’s favorite flavors)

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup pecans, shelled

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup whole milk

¾ cup white sugar

Pinch of salt

2 cups heavy cream

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Melt butter in a skillet. Add pecans and 1 teaspoon of salt to butter. Cook over medium-low heat until pecans are toasted and golden, about 8 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat, strain butter from the pecans. Place the pecans in the refrigerator to chill.

Whisk the milk, sugar and remaining salt together until sugar is dissolved. Stir in cream and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours or longer. Once chilled, pour into your ice cream freezer and follow the directions for your freezer. Add buttered pecans to the freezer for the last five minutes to mix throughout the ice cream.

WALNUT ICE CREAM

 

½ cup chopped walnuts

¼ cup strong coffee

1 Tablespoon powdered sugar

Use the recipe for vanilla ice cream. When it starts to firm in the freezer, add walnuts, coffee and sugar. Let it finish freezing.

PEACH ICE CREAM

½ Tablespoon vanilla (change from original recipe)

½ Tablespoon almond extract

1½ cups mashed peaches

Use the recipe for vanilla ice cream, but with reduced vanilla and add almond extract. Add peaches to the ice cream before freezing.

Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.