Lenoir County: Fish Stew

 Check out my nutrition/lifestyle coaching business Be and Eat Well

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What comes to mind when you hear the words “Eastern North Carolina”? Do you think of the famous vinegar based BBQ, slaw and football? Or perhaps memories of passing fields that stretch for miles with corn, collards, tobacco and okra while on your way to the beach? Whatever crosses your mind, there’s a pretty good chance food is involved. Lenoir County specifically, has a long, rich history of growing local food. While researching this particular county’s food culture, I had the opportunity to discover some of the state’s finest BBQ, engage with farmers on Saturday mornings at the Lenoir County Farmers Market and interview owners of highly respected restaurants.

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Lenoir County includes Kinston, one of North Carolina’s oldest cities. This city was original named “Kingston” when it was established as the county’s seat in 1762.  Kinston is where the Lenoir County Farmers Market is held on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Local farmers are eager to exchange stories and favorite recipes, celebrating their homegrown ingredients. Foods such as peaches, pork, okra and collards are just a few of the seasonal choices these farmers have to offer.

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Not only does Kinston have a thriving farmers market but a top NC restaurant destination called Chef and the Farmer. Chef Vivian Howard has gained publicity nationwide with her Peabody award winning TV show, A Chef’s Life. After hearing Chef Howard speak at Meredith College in the spring of 2014, I eagerly awaited the opportunity to experience Lenoir County’s local produce offered at this farm to table restaurant. While spending a day feasting on NC BBQ, fried oysters from the Boiler Room, and succulent curried pork belly from Chef and the Farmer, Elena and I had the pleasure of talking with Chef Vivian Howard and discuss the food culture in Lenoir County. Vivian reminisced about growing up in Deep Run and explained how her mother prepared vegetables and grains to serve as the base of the meal while meat was considered a condiment. Foods such as butter beans, sweet potatoes, home canned peaches from the peach orchard were mealtime favorites, alongside the popular comfort dish, chicken and rice. Her family celebrated Thanksgiving with a whole hog BBQ and enjoyed locally caught fried fish on Fridays. Chef Howard continues to follow the southern food traditions she learned from her family as she creates the seasonal menu for her restaurant.

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We also learned from Chef Howard that Fish Stew has become a Lenoir County favorite and staple in some local’s eyes, serving as a comfort food year round and especially on cold winter days. Just ask any Lenoir County native for their fish stew recipe. They may not reveal the secret family ingredient, but they will make sure to tell you the stew must be layered and not stirred.

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If your wondering where to find this Lenoir County favorite, the fine family at Ken’s Grill & NC BBQ in La Grange, NC makes fish stew available to locals and tourists year round. Ken and his brother David run their father’s famed 1970 establishment offering whole hog BBQ on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays with a side of homemade slaw and hushpuppies. The menu consists of daily specials and various sides from the fryer, but Friday around 11am is when you’ll find a warm bowl of fish stew, served with crispy golden brown hushpuppies and fresh loaf bread available for purchase. Ken advised me to come in early for a bowl of stew, as it sells out quickly.  This fish stew recipe was first prepared in 1980 by Ken’s father-in-law, Mr. Jones, who owned a fish market in Lenoir County. Ms. Kate was the cook who brought that recipe to life time and time again, preparing the stew at Ken’s Grill for decades. Ken chooses the best quality, local NC fish offered by Kinston’s own Reynolds Seafood Company. This family run fish market was started in 1960 and continues to provide the ingredients needed to prepare the stew, including friendly advice on how to layer the pot.

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While you’re in Kinston, you will want to visit Sweetiepies, a new tasty addition to Kinston’s food culture. This cupcakery is owned by Ken’s wife, Teresa. She offers an array of colorful sweet treats that will surely want you coming back for more!

Whether you’re a native of Lenoir County, or passing through on Hwy 70, make sure to stop by these local establishments for a taste of this county’s unique food culture. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed! The recipe below is my variation of Lenoir County fish stew, using of course the freshest local ingredients. And please, Do Not Stir!

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Photos above: paintings and photograph of Reynolds Seafood displayed on store front walls, photograph of menu board at Ken’s BBQ

Fish Stew

Recipe inspired by Chef Vivian Howard, Kinston, NC, Ken’s Grill & NC BBQ, La Grange, NC and Reynolds Seafood, Kinston, NC.

Makes 3 quarts, serves 6-9

Ingredients:

1/4 pound bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces (Reynolds Seafood)

1, 6 ounce can tomato paste (Reynolds Seafood)

1 large yellow onion, sliced 1/2 inch thick (Lenoir County Farmers Market)

5-6 small-medium red potatoes, quartered (Lenoir County Farmers Market)

Salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste

1 pound Rock Fish (Reynolds Seafood)

6 eggs (Cock-A-Doodle Farm, LaGrange, NC from Lenoir County Farmers Market)

Directions:

Fry bacon in skillet. Pour bacon grease and bacon into 6 quart pot, heat on medium-medium low. Layer and add tomato paste, potatoes, onion, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to pot. DO NOT STIR. Add 6 cups water to cover vegetables. Bring to slow rolling boil over medium heat for 30-45 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Meanwhile, filet fish, removing as many bones as possible. Add fish to pot during last 10 minutes of cooking. DO NOT STIR.

After fish is cooked through, turn heat to medium low. Break eggs on the side of pot, gently place into stew one at a time. Let eggs set for 10 minutes. DO NOT STIR. When ready to serve, use a ladle to reach bottom of pot, scoop upwards to ladle into bowls. Always serve with fresh white loaf bread, just as the Lenoir County locals do.

Resources: Lenoir County North Carolina. About Lenoir County. http://www.co.lenoir.nc.us/history.html Accessed October 11, 2014.

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Forsyth County: Moravian Sugar Cake

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After a short hiatus, the project “Discovering North Carolina” is in full swing again and I am so happy to be able to share my experiences researching this great state. This is the first of three articles that will display the experiences I’ve had over the course of the past nine months and will leave you with three recipes, one representing each designated county. Check out my page Discovering North Carolina for project details and previous posts.

After attending the Got to be NC Festival and briefly learning about the Moravian culture, I continued my research for Forsyth County to gain a better understanding of its unique food culture. I browsed Old Salem’s website and corresponded with a couple of Forsyth County locals as I planned a visit to Old Salem Museums & Gardens. I was eager to stop by The Tavern for lunch to learn more about the traditional food and what life was like in this Moravian community.

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Salem, NC, currently known as Winston-Salem, was founded in 1766 by a Protestant denomination seeking religious freedom who traveled from Bohemia and Moravia (currently known as the Czech Republic) to Pennsylvania and finally Salem, North Carolina. The settlers, known as Moravians, kept records of their lives, recipes or ‘receipts’ of what they ate, which allows for the Moravian food culture to be continued to this day.

I had the opportunity to bring my parents, who were visiting from Wisconsin, on a day trip to Old Salem. They were happy to browse through the Moravian history and culture as my father’s genealogy includes Bohemian heritage. As we eagerly waited for lunch at The Tavern, Lori who co-owns the restaurant spent some time with us discussing the Moravian food-ways they were striving to recreate. She expressed the importance of using seasonal foods, fresh produce from the gardens and using only items that would have been traded such as molasses and brown sugar in her pies and desserts. We also discussed her stance on using white or dark meat in the Moravian chicken pie, as this is an on-going debate among Forsyth natives. We sank our teeth into the savory grilled cornbread, crisp pear salad and flaky, tender, all white meat chicken pie. Dad enjoyed the fried chicken liver platter and we all savored each bite, embracing the sights and the sounds of the staff dressed in Moravian attire bustling around the hardwood floors. Our server enticed us with six mouth-watering dessert options to complete the meal. After a fairly quick decision, we smiled happily and let the luscious German Chocolate Pie and the warm, melt-in-your-mouth Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie consume us.

As we strolled around the town, Winkler’s Bakery was high on my priority list of places to visit. Before visiting Old Salem, I knew baked goods such as Moravian Ginger Cookies, Lovefeast Buns, Lemon Tarts and Moravian Sugar Cake were all favorites. Walking into the cool, brick building and being surrounded by the sweet aroma of yeast and sugar, we couldn’t resist sampling the sugar cake and sweet yeast roll. The interpreter dressed in his baker’s attire gave us a history lesson of how Christian Winkler bought the bakery in 1807 and discussed how each of the desserts were incorporated traditionally in holiday celebrations.

After choosing which sweet treats I wanted to take home with me, I had the opportunity to discuss the history of Moravian food with Joanna Roberts, Assistant Director of Interpretation at Old Salem. She discussed how sugar cake was known as a “Great Cake” in the 16-17th centuries, and later named “Sugar Cake” in the 19th century. A Great Cake was defined as any cake made from yeast, eggs, milk and butter. Sugar Cake was different in that it frequently contained potatoes, as most do to this day. According to Mrs. Hanes from Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies, the main purpose for using potatoes was to keep the dough moist and prevent it from drying out too quickly.

On the drive home I reflected on my experience at Old Salem and what I learned about the Moravian culture and food ways. The next step was to decide on a recipe which defined Moravian life. After much thought, I decided Moravian Sugar Cake would be the recipe of choice I would try my hand at making. After browsing through Preserving the Past, various recipes online and testing one recipe, I finally found a recipe that fit the buttery taste, soft texture and sweet flavor I was aiming for. Although Sugar Cake mixes and pre-made Sugar Cakes are available to purchase at Old Salem or Dewey’s, making your own from scratch brings the experience full circle.

Forsyth County may be known for being the home of Krispy Kreme, but the Moravian Sugar Cake has become a staple for holiday celebrations. Forsyth County and Old Salem have much to offer as they aim to celebrate their past heritage and unparalleled food culture. If you’re making your way to North Carolina during the summer or holidays, activities such as participating in a Lovefeast, learning the history of the Moravian Star or sampling the traditional Moravian fare may be just the ticket to embrace the unique food culture of this historical county.

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Moravian Sugar Cake

Slightly adapted from Winklers Moravian Sugar Cake

Serves 12

Ingredients:

Cake:

1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup water (110 degrees F)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup instant mashed potatoes

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 1/4 cups all purpose flour, divided

3/4 cup water

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon whole milk

6 tablespoons melted butter, cooled

1 tablespoon butter, sliced into bits

Topping:

1 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 cup melted cooled butter

Directions:

Pour yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar into warm water, stir with wire whisk until yeast dissolves. Set aside until liquid has foamed. Combine dry ingredients (sugar, instant mashed potatoes, salt, 1 cup flour) in large bowl and mix with wooden spoon. Add wet ingredients (3/4 cup water, yeast mixture, eggs, milk, butter) to dry mixture, stir to combine. Gradually add remaining flour to mixture and combine to form a soft bread dough consistency. (This is not intended to be kneaded.) Place dough in greased bowl, turning to coat thoroughly. Place the one tablespoon of butter bits into dough. Let dough rise in warmed oven until it doubles in size, about an hour. Punch dough down, transfer and spread in greased 9×13 baking pan with 2 inch sides. Let rise for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Punch fingers into dough, making small holes. Drizzle the remaining 1/2 cup of melted cooled butter over the dough to cover, let dough rise 30 minutes. While dough is rising, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake 13-14 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean and is golden brown. Serve warm and enjoy!

Tip: Cake can be frozen and reheated in the oven at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes.

Resource: The Town of Salem. http://www.oldsalem.org/learn/the-town-of-salem/ Accessed October 11, 2014. Updated March 3, 2015.

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Easy Slow Cooker Green Lentil Soup

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Lentil soup has been on my mind for the past couple months. For some reason, the thought of cooking lentils was intimidating, since my family didn’t eat them growing up and I was never taught how to cook them. To my delight, an article showed up in my email inbox entitled, “Lentil Soup Without a Recipe”. This was just the motivation I needed to start thinking about actually making this soup. While cooking soup on the stove-top is my usual go-to cooking method, I wanted to use my slow cooker to be able to leave it alone and bring that heavenly homemade soup aroma into my apartment while I worked. After browsing a few recipes, I was confident I’d be able to conjure up the exact soup I was longing for. I must admit, this was one of the easiest recipes and requires minimal prep. Feel free to experiment with adding your favorite vegetables and spices!

Easy Slow Cooker Green Lentil Soup

Inspired by Food 52 and these two recipes

Ingredients:

4 cups water

4 cups vegetable broth

2 cups green lentils, rinsed

1 sweet potato peeled and chopped

3 carrots peeled and chopped

3 ribs of celery, chopped

1/2 large yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 bay leaves

1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, finely grated

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

1-2 bunches kale, washed and chopped

3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley

Directions:

Add all ingredients to slow cooker except for kale and Italian parsley. Wait to add these until the last 10 minutes before serving. Set heat at low if heating for 7-8 hours, or set at high if heating for 4-5 hours. Serve warm with your favorite crusty bread or a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and fresh cilantro!

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Food for thought: Which is your favorite color lentil to cook with?

A Celebration of Summer

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Another holiday is upon us. The last of the “summer” holidays, celebrating the American labor movement. As we head to the beach, mountains or relax at home, this weekend serves as an appropriate time to reflect. I have written about reflecting in the past and feel it is important for mind/body health. Take a minute to reflect and be grateful for everything that has happened over the summer, embrace the change of season that’s about to make its way across the county and focus your mind and body on your goals and ambitions for the last four months of the year.

Last week I started class, however, this semester is different. This is my LAST class of graduate school! Yes, it is true! After four years of balancing work and school, I will have my Masters in Nutrition in December. The experiences I have encountered while completing assignments has molded me into who I am today. I started grad school for the purpose of learning. There was always the question of “What will my practicum project be?” Or “What are you going to do with your degree?” I can say that those questions have been answered along the way and will continue to be as my path unfolds.

If you’ve followed me over the summer, you can imagine how enriching working with Elena from Biscuits and Such has been. Networking with so many amazing people while researching this gorgeous state, becoming even more comfortable and confident in the kitchen with recipe development and developing my voice on social media has opened doors I could only dream about before. This practicum isn’t just a project anymore, it is becoming life!

As summer winds down, (although here in NC it sure doesn’t feel like it!) we’ll be shifting our focus from okra, green beans and tomatoes to sweet potatoes, greens, and apples. Ok, I have to admit I’ve been eating sweet potatoes all summer long, but apples….now that’s a food that proclaims “it’s fall” like no other!

This morning my boyfriend, Michael and I, visited the Lenoir County Farmers Market and saw first hand how the produce is winding down as we start to transition seasons. Peppers were on my mind and luckily there were still a few waiting for me. While I was making the stuffed peppers tonight I realized how my ingredients were from all around NC. The lamb, from Rainbow Meadow Farms purchased from the State Farmers Market in Raleigh. The zucchini and red onion from the Midtown Farmers Market in Raleigh. The rosemary from my backyard. The corn, peppers and tomatoes from Lenoir County Farmers Market in Kinston. This cumulative dish illustrates my summer. Traveling from Raleigh to Kinston every other weekend to visit Michael, shopping at farmers markets most Saturday mornings, and experimenting with flavors, recipes and photography. It has been such a rewarding experience and I am ever so grateful to have this opportunity, while looking forward for what’s to come!

Lamb and Rosemary Stuffed Bell Peppers

Serves 3-4

 Ingredients:

1/2 pound ground lamb

1 medium red onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 sprigs rosemary, minced

4 medium bell peppers – your preference in color

1 ear white corn, boiled 3-5 minutes and cut off the cob

1 medium zucchini, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

cinnamon, dried basil, crushed red pepper to taste

ghee or butter

Optional sauce: Stewed tomatoes using Mother Earth’s Homegrown Beer or tomato based sauce of choice

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Rinse the peppers and halve, cutting from stem down, discard the core and set in greased baking dish face down. Bake in oven for 15-20 min until soft enough to be pierced with a fork.

3. Meanwhile, heat a medium sauce pan to medium high heat and coat with butter or ghee.

4. Saute the onions, garlic and rosemary until the onions start to turn clear or slightly brown.

5. Add the ground lamb and spices, brown 2-3 minutes.

6. Add zucchini and corn to mixture, turn heat to low for a light simmer. Taste to adjust spices as needed.

7. Once peppers are done, flip over and fill peppers with mixture.

8. Bake in oven for another 3-5 minutes.

9. Enjoy!

Optional sauce: Stewed tomatoes or tomato based sauce of choice

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Food for thought: What is your favorite way to stuff peppers? How are you celebrating Labor Day Weekend?

 

Thank your farmer and celebrate National Farmers Market Week!

Have you been indulging in summer’s fresh and local produce lately? I hope you have. If not, now is the time to start. The USDA recognizes this week as National Farmers Market Week. There’s nothing better then taking in the sights and sounds of the market, tasting samples, meeting your farmer and going home to sink your teeth into juicy peaches, savory green beans and vibrant heirloom tomatoes alongside grilled grass-fed meat. In honor of this week, here are a few of the farmers I visit quite frequently in the Raleigh area. I am so thankful for their passion to grow wholesome, quality food!

Peaches

Michele’s Fresh Fruit at Raleigh Farmer’s Market

Walker Farms, Franklinville, NC

Amy from Walker Farms at Raleigh Farmer’s Market

Mae Farm Meats

Mae Farm Meats at Raleigh Farmer’s Market

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Brock and Mary Beth from Coon Rock Farm, Hillsborough, NC

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Sandra from Rainbow Meadow Farms, Snow Hill, NC

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Audrey from Two Chicks Farm, Hillsborough, NC

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Produce from Wild Onion Farms, Johnston County, NC

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Produce from Rob’s Fresh Produce, Bailey, NC

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Bruschetta made with Heirloom tomatoes from Edible Earthscapes, Moncure, NC,  baguette from La Farm Bakery, Cary, NC, basil from Wild Onion Farms, Johnston County NC.

Food for thought: Do you have a favorite farmer or farmers market? What is your favorite dish to make using local ingredients?

Ice Cream

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What crosses your mind when you hear the word Ice Cream? Is it a certain flavor, the texture or mouth-feel of this creamy, luscious dessert? Does it bring you back to warm summer evenings and the attempts made to lick the cascade of melting decadence before it drips down the side of your cone?  Ah yes… the smiles the word itself brings to faces and contentment to the heart.

The word Ice Cream, to me, brings me back to my high-school years of working at the local Dairy Queen. Not that it was REAL ice cream, it was considered close enough. I dabbled in the gelato craze, which, I do highly recommend trying. However, not until recently have I felt any strong feelings toward ice cream. When I tasted Howling Cow’s Campfire Delight my taste buds danced and I couldn’t help but smile. Now THIS is Ice Cream. THIS is what all ice cream should be remembered as. The first bites brought back the childhood remembrance of crisp cinnamon graham crackers. The hint of smooth marshmallow along with the mildly sweet chocolate chunks (yes, chunks) made this experience one to remember. And to repeat.

Where can you find Howling Cow Ice Cream? Only on North Carolina State’s Campus…..and once a year at the NC State Fair. Why I’ve lived in Raleigh for 4 years and have just stumbled upon it in Our State Magazine is beyond me. Luckily I’m beyond my dairy free days and ice cream is welcomed.

If you happen to live in this great state, or are passing by Raleigh on a late summer road trip, I highly encourage you to pick up a pint, a waffle cone or a sundae and rediscover what ice cream means to you.

Food for thought: How does ice cream relate to your life? Do you have a favorite flavor or brand? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

‘Tis the Season for Farmers Markets! #1

It is officially summer. This may be my favorite time of the year. Not only do we have sunshine for over 12 hours, but the opportunities for in-season, local, fresh produce are almost endless. From farmers markets to roadside stands to CSA’s, each week we can be sure to find a mouthwatering summertime favorite.

As part of my practicum project, I have the opportunity to make it a point to visit farmers markets outside the Raleigh area. This makes me happy, as I get to drive to new places, meet farmers from various counties and most importantly…..EAT! Eat real, wholesome, locally grown food. Anyone who knows me will agree that I absolutely love grocery shopping. It doesn’t get any better when you actually get to MEET the farmer who grew your food. When it comes to waking up early on a Saturday for a market, I’ll be there.

I decided I will start a series of posts of farmers markets I visit over the course of the summer, which will very well lead into fall and winter. I’m so grateful for those farmers who brave the weather all year round! (Thank goodness I live in the South!)

The first ‘non-Raleigh’ market of the year started with a trip to Columbus County. After a drive through back-country roads to meet Elena, not knowing what to expect, I ended up at the pavilion.

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After speaking with a few farmers and buying cucumbers, beets, and turnip greens, grown mostly pesticide free, I was extremely ecstatic when I found a farmer from Higher Ground Gardens selling rhubarb!! Yes, North Carolina grown RHUBARB!!! Being from WI, this was a treat. I have not once found a farmer who was able to grow rhubarb in this state in the past 4 years I’ve lived here. Every time I asked about it, I received the same response: “It’s too hot for rhubarb to grow here.” Well, this farmer has proven that he is able to grow some great looking (and tasting) rhubarb!

The Columbus County Community Farmers Market is surely one I would recommend to anyone who is looking for good quality, wholesome food who lives south of Fayetteville, near Wilmington or even close to the eastern South Carolina border. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter!

Carrot, Beet, Rhubarb Smoothie
Serves 1

1 cup water
½ cup sliced raw carrots, frozen
¼ cup sliced raw red beets, frozen
¼ cup chopped raw rhubarb, frozen
½ tablespoon Coconut oil
Sprinkle of Ginger
Handful of Goji berries

1. Slice and chop carrots, beets and rhubarb after getting back from market. Freeze together in 1 bag for convenience.
2. Pour water into blender, add frozen ingredients and blend to break up.
3. Add coconut oil and ginger, blend. Taste. If the flavor is too earthy, add Goji berries to sweeten.
4. Enjoy!

I thank Elena for inspiring me to add beets to my smoothies and drink them out of blue mason jars!

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 Read more about my ‘Discovering North Carolina’ project here

Food for thought: What is your favorite summertime food or favorite smoothie ingredient?