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Archive for July, 2010

wild sockeye salmon

This is Redfish Lake located at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho. I just spent several days there enjoying the slow pace of camp life. The days were long and the western, starlit nights, cool and crisp. I loved it, and having spent time there as a child, it was a nostalgic trip back.

This post won’t be recipe-oriented, although I’ll include one at the end. It will be more of a contemplative ramble on fish, nutrition and ecosystems. All have to do with health, both ours and that of the environment. We are inseparably linked.

When I camped at Redfish Lake as a little girl, there were “red fish” in the lake, lots of them. Idaho’s Stanley basin (and Redfish Lake) is the spawning destination of Snake River sockeye salmon. These wild salmon hatch from eggs and make the epic voyage from freshwater mountain lakes and streams to the distant reaches of the Pacific Rim. They do this in the spring as young fish, migrating downriver to the Pacific Ocean to spend 2 to 5 years in the ocean growing strong and large enough to endure the journey back home to the lake or river where their life began. The sockeye salmon from Redfish Lake must travel almost 1000 miles gaining over 6,000 feet in elevation to return to their spawning grounds where they provide life for the next generation and then die.

How amazing and beautiful is that? The power of nature. It brings tears to my eyes.

Okay, I don’t want to make this an environmental rant, but before the many dams were built in the Pacific northwest, millions of salmon returned each year to spawn. Redfish Lake was full of red fish, the brilliantly colored sockeye salmon. Now, how do they migrate past eight dams, reservoirs and industrial blockades? Most don’t, and it impacts so many different ecosystems that it’s impossible to measure the consequences.

Back when the salmon migration was uninterrupted by damming the rivers, millions of pounds of high-quality nutrients were “delivered” to the plants, animals and people of the Pacific Northwest. A recent study * documented 137 species that benefit from the ocean-origin nutrients these salmon provide to the environment. Eagles and other raptors, bears, wolves, coyotes, insects, aquatic species, and many plants all thrive on these nutrients. Minerals from the ocean have even been detected in the leaves at the tops of trees. For centuries, the indigenous people of the northwest were sustained by the salmon and their connection between land and sea. Rapid industrialization has changed all that.

Thankfully there are people working to restore the rivers and the wild salmon. Snake River salmon were listed as an endangered species in 1991 and although recovery efforts are underway, it’s been a slow process.

Below is a photo I took of a print by Douglas S. Young and Richard D. Alsager. It tells the story of the sockeye salmon and Redfish Lake. I bought the print for my fly-fishing-guide son who studied fish biology and river restoration at the University of Montana. He and his fiancée will be married next summer on the shores of Redfish Lake.

In 1991, four sockeye salmon returned to Redfish Lake in the Stanley Basin, their ancestral spawning grounds. This journey of over 900 miles is the longest anadromous fish run in the lower 48 states. Over the past few decades Idaho has seen sockeye numbers plummet from tens of thousands to just the three males and one female sockeye in 1991. These four fish were trapped and utilized as important genetic contributors for future sockeye to be spawned and released in Idaho. The four fish that returned in 1991 exemplify the power, strength, and resolve that is so prevalent and unique to Idaho’s anadromous fish.

This limited edition print was produced in order for Idaho’s sockeye to come to life artistically. The original piece of work was done by actually painting the fish and pressing them on paper. The areas vacant of paint were then filled in with various colored pencils and pens. We felt that if this fish was to leave this earth forever, that at least an artistic record of the actual fish would be left behind as a reminder to you of how beautiful they were.

— Artwork and narration by Douglas S. Young and Richard D. Alsager

I believe that a deeper understanding and appreciation of where our food comes from brings with it greater health, both physically and spiritually. You won’t be eating any Snake River sockeye salmon, but if you enjoy the rich nourishment and delicate taste of wild Alaskan salmon, express some gratitude for the fish and admiration for its strength before taking your first bite.

If you choose to eat fish, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon is a sustainable choice. Check here for a detailed guide to fish conservation and the best seafood choices.

* The above study information came directly from the Save Our Wild Salmon website (almost word for word).

how to roast wild Alaskan sockeye salmon
(full of nourishing fats and healthy protein)

what you do
I see no reason to mess with this, just cook it as it is and enjoy the rich, deep flavor of the fish.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place tin foil on a cookie sheet and lightly grease with olive oil. Carefully rinse and pat dry the salmon filet (any size). Pour a little olive oil in your hands and rub it on the entire fish. Place fish skin side down on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Place in oven and cook for 10 to 20 minutes depending on thickness. Remove when fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve with lemon slices. Keep it simple. Appreciate the fish and enjoy!

My guy Fairbanks (Alaskan Malamute), doing some fishing at Redfish Lake. No luck.

Peace, love and river conservation.
P.S. After writing this post, I ran across this wonderful blog (Idaho River Reflections), with an eloquent story (and gorgeous photographs) about the plight of the salmon. Please check it out.

gluten-free zucchini tomato basil bake

I suppose this should be called a zucchini tomato basil au gratin, sans gluten-cootie bread-crumbs. The photo above is the uncooked version. I have a problem with making people (me included) wait to eat until I fuss with taking a photo, so I prefer taking “before” photos of my food. I’m not the best “after” photographer, anyway. It’s hard to mess up a shot of beautiful, organic apples, but easy to end up with a slimy rendition of applesauce. Know what I mean?

This is an slight adaptation of a recipe I picked up from Vegetarian Times Magazine and I love it. It’s a bit of a pain, but well worth it. The prep work prevents the juicy veggies from releasing too much moisture. Soggy is not good, firm and hearty is. We’re also into zucchini season around here, so this has been on the menu recently. It’s great with grilled fish. Absolutely divine!

gluten-free zucchini tomato basil bake
what you need

4-6 tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
3-4 medium-sized zucchinis, cut into 1/4 inch thick, long slices
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (more if you’re a garlic fan)
4 tablespoons roughly chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground pepper

what you do
1. Drape sliced tomatoes over a colander, sprinkle with salt and let drain 45 minutes.
2. Place prepared zucchini slices on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and let stand for 45 minutes. This sweats out the excess moisture. Rinse and pat dry.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat a small amount of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté zucchini for a few minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a plate. You’ll have to do this in batches and add a touch more oil as you go.
4. Layer half the zucchini slices in a lightly oiled baking dish. Top with half the tomatoes, then half the garlic, olives, basil and cheese. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Repeat the process with the remaining zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, olives and basil. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil (maybe 1-2 teaspoons) and top with the rest of the cheese.
5. Cover with foil and bake 10 to 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 20 to 25 minutes, or until cheese is melted, golden brown and the dish is bubbling. Let stand for 5 minutes and serve.

* My son took spoonfuls of this and spread it over big slices of crusty Italian bread. He said it was amazing (not that I would know). I’m going to try a version of this as gluten-free pizza. Doesn’t that sound good?

Peace, love and veggie au gratin!

gluten-free spinach beet zucchini pizza

Pizza — laden with roasted golden beets, zucchini and vitamin-K-packed SPINACH.

I picked up my CSA delivery box this past week and guess what I found inside?

Whoa, how did you know?

Spinach, glorious deep-green spinach. And lots of it.

I’m not complaining because it’s the best spinach on the planet. It’s just that you have to get very creative with your recipe development when you’re in the deep-end of spinach season. Beet, zucchini and spinach pizza, anyone? Trust me, this was over-the-top delicious. But, before I launch into the recipe, please humor me (or skip this part) and let me wallow in my geek-ness.


I have a theory about hearty greens (like spinach and kale) and celiac disease and gluten-intolerance.

Celiac disease is a genetically predisposed autoimmune disease in which gluten (the main storage protein in wheat, barley and rye) wreaks havoc on the small intestine, inhibiting nutrient absorption. That’s the super-duper, shortened definition. If you want the unabridged version, leave me a comment and I’ll fill you in on anything and everything you might want to know about celiac disease and gluten-intolerance. But for now, my theory about spinach and it’s role in healing.

Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense (calorie for calorie) foods available. I bet the deep-green, leafy, organic stuff I get from Grant Family Farms is on the far-side of pharmaceutical grade. It’s packed with vitamin K – 1110% of the recommended daily value. It also contains a zillion other health-promoting nutrients, but to keep this post from becoming a thesis paper, I’m going to focus on vitamin K and celiac disease.

Without getting into the poopy (literally) details, unmanaged celiac disease can cause nutrient malabsorption. Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), iron, folic acid and a large part of our calcium are absorbed in the proximal section (the top part) of the small intestine. That’s the area that receives the most damage when you have celiac disease. If you have a trashed small intestine and you’re not breaking down your food adequately or absorbing your nutrients efficiently, you won’t be absorbing your fats (to make a long story short). If you’re not absorbing your fats, you won’t be absorbing your fat soluble vitamins. If you’re not absorbing your fat soluble vitamins, you won’t get the full benefit of vitamin K.

This is a generality. Our bodies are amazing and we compensate in many different ways, but if you become deficient in vitamin K, your blood may not clot properly. Isn’t it interesting that our blood has this amazing ability to flow quickly throughout the body; up and down and all around? Think about it, it remains a flowing liquid. But if you cut yourself, it can become a solid within seconds. Whew, that’s a good thing. If blood didn’t clot, one pinprick could drain the entire body of all its blood. Imagine a water balloon with one tiny little hole in it. Eventually all the water would slowly drain from the balloon.

Does anyone out there bruise or bleed easily? Anyone with celiac disease? Hmmm?

Vitamin K also plays a role in the synthesis of bone proteins. Without adequate vitamin K, the bones produce a funky protein that can’t bind to the minerals that normally form bones. You see, it’s not just the calcium you need for strong bones, it’s also vitamin K (and a bunch of other things, including exercise).

Anyone with osteopenia or osteoporosis? And celiac disease? Hmmm?

One more geeky thing (maybe two) and I’ll get on to the pizza recipe. Vitamin K can also be obtained from a nonfood source. GI tract bacteria can synthesize vitamin K, but you need to have a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria for that to happen. Antibiotics also kill the vitamin K producing bacteria, so there are lots of ways to become deficient, especially if you have celiac disease.

Now, don’t go taking vitamin K supplements unless your doctor prescribes them. Fat-soluble vitamins aren’t excreted as easily as water-soluble vitamins, so the risk of toxicity is much greater. I’m a big fan of getting my nutrients from high-quality food. This kind of focus is called nutrition therapy – this is what I do and this is how I live (most of the time, anyway).

So, let thy food be thy medicine and go eat some spinach!

gluten-free, spinach, roasted beet and zucchini pizza
what you need

1 gluten-free pizza crust (I used an Udi’s pre-made thin crust on this pizza)
1 & 1/2  tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
squeeze of honey (maybe 1-2 teaspoons)
2 small golden beets, scrubbed, trimmed and chopped into 3/4 inch cubes (no need to peel)
1 zucchini, washed and chopped into 3/4 inch cubes
2 cups spinach, washed, stemmed and chopped
grated cheese (I like a mix of  shredded Parmesan, Romano and Asiago)

what you do
1. Because the beets and zucchini take longer to cook than the pizza itself, I like to roast them first. It also adds a nice taste to the pizza. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the prepared beets and zucchini in a medium-sized bowl and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Gently mix to cover with oil. Spread out the veggies on a lightly oiled cookie sheet and sprinkle with sea salt. Roast on center rack of the oven for about 15 minutes. Watch closely and flip using a spatula to make sure they’re roasted evenly. Remove from oven and set aside.
2. While the veggies are roasting, melt the butter over low heat, add the garlic and honey and stir until blended.
3. Brush the melted butter-garlic-honey blend over the pizza crust. Add chopped spinach first, then beets and zucchini. Sprinkle shredded cheese over the top and cook in 375 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cheese is lightly browned. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes.
4. Cut into 4 slices and enjoy! Serves 1 or 2, depending on how hungry you are.

* I’ve also made this pizza with red beets, but I kept the beets separate while preparing them so that everything else didn’t turn pink (not that it matters).

Udi’s is a local company. The pizza crusts are gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, nut-free and delicious. Gluten-cootie-eaters don’t even know they’re gluten-free. No apologizing, no explaining needed!

Peace, love and vitamin K!

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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