Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sesame & Sea Salt Cracker Recipe

So let me start by saying that I've been wanting to make my own crackers for a long time now, years in fact. As a general rule I like to have as much control as possible about what I put in or on my body, and of course a good way to do this is to make stuff myself. Or at least it's a good way to get closer to that ideal. No, I didn't grow my own wheat or harvest my own sesame seeds, but hey at least I know what ingredients went into these crackers. Oh, and there are other good reasons to make your own crackers. You can adapt them to your own liking/imagination, they are sugar and preservative free, they are super cheap, and EASY to make. I put that in all caps because though people have been telling me that for years and I have wanted to make crackers for years, and I have had the ingredients at hand for years, and access to a working oven, for some reason something was still holding me back. I just couldn't believe that they would be easy and successful. So I kept buying boxes of sodiumtastic crap.

That is until one particularly cozy day when laziness prevailed! I made a big pot of soup on a gray afternoon and snuggled up on the couch with a bowl in my hands. I enjoyed the first few bites but then realized that what I was really missing were crackers for crumbling. But I didn't have any and wasn't very motivated to walk a mile to the grocery store and another mile back to a cold bowl of soup. So I finally tried making crackers.

And it was very easy. And successful.

I recommend you try it out. They're excellent, a little like pita chips. I bet they would make great friends with hummus.

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
Extra salt for sprinkling on top

In a food processor mix together the flour, salt and baking powder. With the processor on, drizzle in the water and oil and combine until the mixture forms a ball. Place the dough in a large mixing bowl, cover with a towel and let rest for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Divide the dough into two equal parts and roll out one half on a lightly floured surface. To roll out the dough thinly and evenly, turn it over as you roll it and add flour as needed, until it is about 1/8 of an inch thick. Cut the dough into strips, sprinkle with salt and sesame seeds, and lightly roll the dough one last time to press in the seeds and salt. Transfer carefully to an ungreased baking sheet and poke each strip with a fork several times.

Bake for about 15 minutes, but check them after 12 or so minutes. The crackers are done when they are lightly browned. Let them cool completely before breaking the strips into irregular crackers. Stored in an airtight container they will stay crisp for a couple weeks.

Next time I'm going to try adding different toppings. Maybe poppy seeds, or Parmesan cheese, or garlic?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Valerian Tincture Recipe

 Valeriana officinalis

According to my trusty copy of Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin may have used more than music in luring the rats out of town. Legend suggests that he also employed valerian, an herb known to both intoxicate cats and attract rats. However he did it, in ridding the village of Hamelin of its rats, the Pied Piper certainly calmed its citizens."

Recommended reading

Valerian is widely known for its tranquilizing effects in humans, and has also been used historically to tone the stomach, combat flatulence, suppress muscle spasms, and even cure the plague. (But if valerian attracts rats and rats carry the plague. . . there seems to be a cycle here.)

I am most interested in valerian for its possible effectiveness in treating menstrual cramps, anxiety, and in assisting a busy mind in quieting down and giving in to sleep. Since valerian is an antispasmodic, it helps relax smooth muscle tissue, like that of the uterus and therefore may subdue cramping. Of course, it might also make you a bit sleepy so it's best if you are in a place where napping isn't frowned upon. HerbalEd.org suggests taking 1 teaspoon of valerian tincture every three to four hours for the treatment of menstrual cramps. Valerian contains two compounds (valepotriates and valeric acid) that are capable of binding to the same brain receptors as Valium and has been used with some success at treating anxiety disorders.

I only have experience taking it before bed to ease the sometimes difficult process of falling asleep and it works wonders for me. I am interested in taking it for other reasons, namely to treat anxiety. Chicago is a big, loud, tree-less place and can at times transform me into a ball of nerves. And on top of being a country mouse in the City of Broad Shoulders, there is the added pressure and stress of being in my thesis year of graduate school. But not to worry, I just made my very own valerian root tincture to help balance all this out!

You can find a more detailed recipe of how to make an herbal tincture in my earlier post here. And as always, please be careful and educate yourself when taking herbs and making medicinal tinctures. I am just a hobbyist, always seek medical advice from a trained professional and use common sense.

Valerian Tincture Recipe:
You will need a large wide-mouth jar (about a quart), 4 ounces valerian root, cheese cloth, a fine mesh strainer, and enough 100 to 150 proof vodka or spirits (I used 151 proof spirits) to top off the jar.

1. Fill pint jar half full with valerian root, then fill to top with 100 proof vodka or spirits.

2. Stir mixture, cap, label and shake daily for one week. Then let sit for about a month in a dark place.

3. Strain mixture through cheese cloth by tightly squeezing the cloth to remove as much liquid as possible into a clean jar. Be sure to label with the name of the herb and the date. This recipe will yield about two cups of finished tincture. Sweet dreams, lovelies!