In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.

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The Philosophy of Salads

Company is coming for dinner. Which means spaghetti (to keep cooking simple), and a huge salad in the style of a “certain Italian chain restaurant” (which is not so simple).
The chickweed is long dead, thanks to the Arctic chill that has enveloped our area for the past two weeks. Plus, who feeds yard weeds to company? What will people think? My “lettuce bowl” attempt for indoor leafy harvests utterly failed too, so I am to buying salad fixings from the grocery store. Read: reduced to buying… yes, you guessed it… bagged lettuce. The horror! The shame! (I grabbed two.)
Next: tomatoes. One display featured tomatoes from Canada; the other, from Mexico. And I wondered, which option destroys the environment less? The produce from Canada, with a shorter shipping distance but more electricity for heat and light to grow out-of-season tomatoes? Or the ones from Mexico, closer to the tomato’s natural requirements for warmth and sun, but further away from me, the consumer? The conflict! The guilt! (There are no “good” tomatoes in January, so I snagged the three which looked least sad.)
Sad tomatoes in January

Sad tomatoes in January

This is a trick question, of course. The “right” answer is that in the Piedmont region of Maryland, in January, after two weeks of nighttime lows in the single digits and wind chills well below zero, one does not expect lettuce and tomatoes. They are not native to here and now. They would not be except for the cheap energy that fuels our modern American expectations and consumption habits.
Learn from my folly, dear friends! An equally delicious, much healthier (and much more sustainable) winter salad for company could include:
  • cubed, roasted sweet potatoes or butternut squash
  • on a bed of torn kale,
  • garnished variously with goat’s cheese, pumpkin seeds, thinly sliced red onions, pickled beets, dried cherries, and/or chopped walnuts, and
  • dressed with a simple vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, walnut oil, Dijon mustard, a touch of honey and rosemary or other herbs.
All these ingredients could, could, be grown and produced locally to the Mountain/Piedmont regions of Maryland, and preserved in such as way as to be available for eating, even in this brutal weather.
Now, I just need to remember that for next time!

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My Cold Season Salad Greens

I forgot to mention that earlier this year, I swore off store-bought lettuce & salad greens, especially the prewashed-mixed-leaves-in-a-plastic-bag variety.

Let me be perfectly clear – these pristine baggies used to represent for me all that was healthy and good for you. Salads for all! No excuses, it’s so convenient! Look at this variety of dark leafy vegetables, what’s not to love?

After reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, bagged leaf lettuce in the store morphed from the ultimate health food to the posterchild for industrial agribusiness (organic or otherwise), and a symbol for what I am ever so gradually trying to get away from. Like so many “convenience” items, savings for me meant higher externalized costs elsewhere, namely in the consumption of fossil fuels. No more! During the summer, I got my fix through what I could grow, supplemented by the occasional head of leaf lettuce from one of the local farmers markets.

Let’s be brutally honest. No lettuce producers noticed my protest. No, my actions haven’t changed the world. It’s a purely symbolic move, but dammit, lettuce is one thing I can provide for myself!

At least, until I couldn’t.

Given the untimely demise of my winter garden, I had to find another way to boycott bags of leafy greens.

Behold: chickweed!

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Bountiful Beautiful Chickweed

Mild flavored, crisp textured – a perfect substitute for my salad green needs. Did I mention – extremely cold tolerant? And that it’s a prolific weed that actually grows in thicker when I harvest cuttings from several plants, rather than pulling individual plants up by the roots?

What’s not to love, indeed? Let the store-bought salad greens boycott continue!

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Green Tomato Salsa

A.k.a., what to do with all the unripe tomatoes when cold weather hits.

Chop green tomatoes. Add diced garlic, diced red onion, hot peppers (another “harvest before it freezes outside crop”), and cilantro (also salvaged pre-freezing weather). Let stand for a few hours, stirring occasionally. Add additional seasonings to taste – more of any of the ingredients, and / or salt, pepper, lime juice. Whatever you like, it’s your salsa after all!

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Backyard Summer Salad

Summer time and the eating is easy! The more I learn, the more I am amazed just how many wild edibles are available even in one’s own backyard. The photo below shows the variety of greens I could collect one August day to make a salad for lunch, with goat cheese, walnuts and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. The smallest/youngest leaves are the most tender and best for consuming raw. Remember, before you forage – have 100% identification (no even the picture below does not “count”), and know the environment (pesticides, pollution, laws, etc.).


Summer Backyard Salad Greens. (Photo used with permission of



This Is Not the Post You Were Looking For

You were looking for the post on dietary habits and sustainability.

Instead, this is a post on me giving up on coconut milk yogurt.

It wasn’t hard to make. But in the several batches I made, I never felt like it was, well, cultured enough.

Normally the bacteria eat the sugar in cow’s milk.  Coconut milk is low in sugar, so I added maple syrup to give the little guys sugar to eat. But adding extra sugar – even “natural” start like maple syrup – feels wrong to me.

Then the results were never as yogurt-y as it seemed they should be. Even after 24 hours of incubating.

And I never found a store bought coconut milk yogurt that tasted good either, so….back to cow’s milk yogurt (and sinus congestion) for me.

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Nothing to See Here, Move Along

Yes, I’m eating dairy again. No, the world didn’t end. It’s just once more congested. Of course correlation does not prove causation… But I’m still cutting back on dairy even if I’m not removing it all together.

Future post to follow on diet choices and sustainability, i.e., when drinking milk makes more sense than the alternatives, sinus congestion be damned.

In other news, I think I’m going to open a restaurant, called Free. With a purely allergen free menu.  We will serve, water, air, and lettuce.

Last but definitely not least, I made a thing! Tentatively calling it “Chili Pie with Corn Free Corn Bread.” My first experiment using plantains as a corn / cornmeal substitute.

Chili Pie with Corn-Free Bread

Chili Pie with Corn-Free Bread

I haven’t found the perfect recipe to use as a starting point for a plantain “Corn Free Corn Bread” so I’m just making this up… probably needs a few more revisions before sharing the results. Which is to say, I enjoyed it but the less adventurous folks in my house did not think it a viable substitute for Jiffy Mix.