Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dirt Dreams

It's no secret that I dream of one day having a year round garden that will produce enough food for my family, complete with chickens, goats and turkeys. Maybe even a little brown cow. For now I have to settle for my small garden boxes in my back yard, and this year I have added space in the form of a 10' x 20' plot at the community garden at Ekar Farm.

I am pretty psyched about all the possibilities, but I am still having trouble coming up with a garden plan. What to put where and how many of each plant to have.

In the mean time I have started seeds at home of just a few heirloom varieties. I am most excited about my Moon and Stars watermelons. I have never had the room to grow watermelons or winter squash before, so I know at least part of the plot will be dedicated to these. Seeds are sprouting and the time to put them in the ground is fast approaching.

I have also decided to try some strawberries in pots this year. My daughter is loving them. We have only had one strawberry so far. This morning I noticed a few blossoms turning into strawberries, so hopefully in "a few whiles" as my daughter would say, we will all be eating berries. Getting my daughter engaged in gardening with me has been so much fun. She is really excited to try all the things we are growing.

Happy planting and growing everyone!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Season of Giving

I was reading this article: http://www.newsweek.com/2010/11/22/what-food-says-about-class-in-america.html which is all about how healthy, organic food is something that is not really affordable for everyone. It's another example of how health care is not available to everyone, even the simplest form of trying to take care of yourself. For those of us who are better off, we have the choice to shop at Whole Foods or other grocery stores with healthier and more selective options. While Americans who are struggling to make ends meet are often facing not just access to healthy food but also the inability to afford healthier food.

As someone who places a high value on healthy food choices, it upsets me deeply to think of people who are not only hungry, but also people whose only choice is to buy cheap and unhealthy food. We should all be more critical of our food systems and the politics behind food distribution and food industry subsidies. Why should vegetables be more expensive than soda? Health care is a hot topic. If everyone had the same access and ability to afford healthy food, how far would that take us in terms of preventative health care?

Stepping off the soap box for a minute. What can we do to help? Besides educating ourselves and becoming involved with organizations who are helping to create change, we can also help the immediate need with donations.

So if giving food this time of year is part of your holiday tradition consider these ideas, and if giving food is not part of your tradition consider making it one.

  • Give healthy foods that pack a nutritional punch; canned tuna or wild salmon in water, dried blueberries, walnuts, whole grains like rolled oats, brown rice or popcorn, green tea, canned beans or lentils, nut butters, extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil are all non perishable and healthy options.
  • Ask your food bank if they will accept donations of non perishable items, most do. Frozen meat or fish and fresh vegetables are a critical need.
  • If you are part of a CSA or order Door to Door Organics, contact them to see if you can purchase a share or box to be donated to the local food bank. They may already have a system in place to deliver there.
  • If you don't have time to shop, donate money to a food bank. Most food banks have the ability to stretch your dollar further than you can because of their non-profit status and bulk buying power.
  • Give all year long. Food banks have needs throughout the year for donations, not just during the holidays. During the summer months needs can be even greater since kids are out of school and parents may be struggling to provide three meals a day instead of one or two.

Check out http://superfooddrive.com/ or http://feedingamerica.org/ for more information on what and where to donate.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wasting Food?

Even those of us with a compost pile hate to throw out food. Or at least hopefully we do. With a growing family and expanding food budget I am super conscious of any food that ends up in the trash. I feel guilty when I don't use the left over chicken carcass from a meal of roast chicken to make chicken soup or scraps from veggies to make veggie broth. But even with the best of intentions, when I do a cleaning of my refrigerator, inevitably things get thrown out. Perfectly good veggies that got lost in the back and rotted or condiments that are past their prime.

After reading this article: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/01/from-farm-to-fridge-to-garbage-can/?hp in the New York Times, I realized just how big a problem food waste is. On a global and personal scale, how many of us can afford to throw 25% of our food and grocery budget in the trash?

It's particularly unnerving as a nutritionist who is constantly telling people to examine their priorities in their budget. The truth is quality, nutritious food costs more. Do I believe it's cheaper in the long run, yes. It will save us money on health care and time lost from work. Never mind that it's an investment in our quality of life, our children's health and the health of our environment and food chains. When we want to buy high quality food, we're going to pay more. Which means we need to allocate more money to our food budgets. So how sad is it that for many of us 25% or more of that might get thrown away?

If you are using your food budget to buy quality ingredients, organic produce and grass fed animal products, you should also take steps to make sure that all that food gets used. The NY Times article offers some tips for making sure food doesn't go to waste, and here are some of my own:

  • Keep a white board on your fridge and/or freezer that lists what's in stock and mark things off as they get used. Use this to create a shopping list.

  • Each week create a meal plan that lists breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Check to see what you have in the house and then make a detailed list for what you don't have. Stick to the list when you're in the store. And stick to the meal plan when you get home.

  • Try to make one meal a week that relies on what you have in the pantry or freezer without buying new ingredients.

  • If you are concerned about the temperature in your fridge and/or freezer, check it.

  • Keep a container of quick and easy snacks in an easy to reach place in your fridge and in your pantry.

  • Try to clean out your freezer and pantry every month and take stock of what's there and make sure it's organized. A well organized pantry and freezer make them easier to use and easier to make meals.

Let me know if you have other suggestions for making sure we throw out less food!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nutrition 101 Class-Sunday June 27th

Join us on the farm for a day of work, learning and fun!
Sunday, June 27th, 9am -1:30pm
Ekar Farm, 181 S. Oneida, Denver CO 80224
I will be co-teaching a class with a fellow nutritionist, Jo Schaalman at Ekar Farm. At 9am, there will be a class on Permaculture, and at 11am Jo and I will teach Nutrition 101. The class will be:
A discussion on the health and nutrition benefits of being involved with and eating food from a communal Jewish farm. We'll cover a little bit about basic nutrition, why fresh produce is best, how to prepare freshly harvested food so that it retains the most nutritional value, as well as some Jewish thoughts on nutrition. Taught by Jo Schaalman and Juliet Glaser, Master Nutrition Therapy Candidates.
Work, Learn, and Fun!
With our herb spiral chugging, we will plant a Forest Garden, demonstrating Permaculutre concepts and innovative growing techniques. Really cutting edge stuff. This work and class will begin at 9 AM. At 11 AM, Jo Schaalman and Juliet Glaser will be teaching Nutrition 101. Around 12:30 we will kick back and enjoy. For those who are not Community Gardeners, Founding Sponsors or Work Share members, a contribution of $18 is appreciated but not required for participation in the Permaculture course. Please RSVP. The class size is limited.

Monday, June 14, 2010

One of my favorite things:

No pregnant lady jokes. Yes I am going to talk about pickles, but more specifically I want to talk about fermented foods, and even more specifically: probiotics.
I think everyone hears a lot about probiotics nowadays. But maybe some of us are still wondering what they are and whether we really need them or not. Over the course of a year I have become a big believer in probiotics and now firmly believe everyone should include them in their diet. Here's why:
Probiotics is the term given to the beneficial bacteria which reside in our intestinal tract. It's been estimated that there are more bacteria living in our intestinal tract than there are cells in our entire body. Which is a pretty awesome fact when you think about it. Now these bacteria can be good, bad or neutral for us. What we want is the good bacteria and a balance between all the rest. Essentially, we want to encourage the good ones to proliferate and discourage the bad ones.
There are lots of things in our lives and environments that effect the bacteria living within us. Poor diet, high stress, lack of physical activity, illness, certain medications, and environmental toxins all have a negative impact on our intestinal tract. Making sure we keep our good bacteria healthy and growing can have a positive impact on our lives. Good bacteria can have a positive impact on lowering our cholesterol, lactose intolerance, yeast infections, rotovirus, boosting immunity, food allergies, digestion and cancer prevention, just to name a few things.
My first real experience with probiotics was when I started my then 18 month old daughter on a probiotic regime after she had to take a course of pretty heavy antibiotics for an infection. The antibiotics managed to give her digestive issues and mess with her GI tract. She was obviously suffering from stomach aches and experiencing diarrhea. After only a few days of being on the probiotics, things returned to normal. After reading about the positive impact probiotics have on immune health while researching nutritional support for avoiding colds and flu, I kept her on the probiotics. I don't attribute it all to the probiotics, but she is definitely one of the healthiest toddlers I know. I recently attended a lecture on probiotics and since then have committed to making them a part of my daily routine as well. I highly recommend making them a part of your diet and your children's diets as well.
You may also have heard about prebiotics. Prebiotics are basically the food that probiotics eat. So you want to make sure to get plenty of these in your diet to support your probiotic health. You might question whether to take probiotics while taking antibiotics. Of course you should consult with your doctor, however I would say that taking probiotics while on an antibiotic medication is a good thing. Hopefully you will be able to counteract the damage to your good bacteria by getting plenty into your system. And probiotics will not counteract the effect the antibiotic will have on your bad bacteria, namely the reason you are taking the medication.
Support your good bacteria by eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat foods rich in prebiotics; artichokes, bananas, barley, berries, dairy, garlic, green leafies, leeks, honey, legumes, onions and whole grains. Drink lots of water every day. Exercise! Get enough sleep (7-8 hours/night) and rest when you need to. Try relaxing exercises like yoga, or meditation.
You can take a probiotics supplement (I recommend this) as well as eating foods rich in probiotics. When taking a supplement look for something that has at least 10 billion live or active cultures per dose. For normal use you'll want to take 10 billion per day. If you are using probiotics therapeutically (see a doctor or nutrition professional for advice on this) you'll want to take up to 10 billion three times a day. You also want to make sure the supplement includes more than one strain of bacteria, the more the better. Or alternate the types of strains you are taking.
Fermented foods contain these good bacteria. Fermented foods include yogurt, kefir (which may be more tolerable for people who are lactose intolerant), sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and kim chi.
Cucumber Kim Chi
Kim Chi has always scared me, until I tried these and they were awesome!
Make them and you won't be sorry!
15 to 20 small cucumbers
2 tbsp red chili flakes
2 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp minced fresh garlic
1 tsp vinegar
1 tbsp raw honey
Slice cucumber into bite size pieces. Put them in a large bowl, ass about two flat tbsp of sea salt and toss well. Allow salted cukes to sit overnight at room temperature to create a natural brine. Add 1 tbsp minced garlic, chili flakes, honey, and vinegar. Give everything a good toss. Pack the kim chi away into glass jars and add a couple tbsp of the brine per container. Place tops on jars. Leave closed jars out in room temperature for 24 to 48 hours to give it a chance to ferment. After 24 to 48 hours, transfer jars to fridge. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Moving Forward

Happy things are happening this month. Michelle Obama's Let's Move program released its action plan to fight childhood obesity. The goal they set is to reduce the rate of childhood obesity to 5% within a generation. To give you an idea of what that means, current childhood obesity rates vary from state to state between 25 and 30% and in some cases are over 30%. Colorado was the only state in 2008 that had a rate less than 20%, which of course is still way too high. These statistics are from the CDC, you can check them out on their website, http://www.cdc.gov/.

To accomplish this huge goal the Let's Move program rolled out a very comprehensive, and in my humble opinion, pretty darn good plan. It addresses everything from prenatal care to access to healthy food issues. I definitely recommend reading the plan, it's not too terribly long or written in much "bureaucratise". You can find it here: http://www.letsmove.gov/taskforce_childhoodobesityrpt.html. I think it's worthwhile for anyone who is a parent to look it over. Even if you are not necessarily concerned about the weight of your children, this is a plan that addresses overall health (which any weight management program should) and has good info on how to keep our kids healthy in general.

Two other things I recently came across that made me really happy were reading about some more gardening programs for kids. This article in the Denver Post features the Junior Master's Gardener program: http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_15066022. For more info on the program check out: http://cmg.colostate.edu/. CU Denver also has some info on why gardening is so great for kids: http://www.cudenver.edu/Academics/Colleges/ArchitecturePlanning/discover/centers/CYE/Publications/Documents/CYE_FactSheet3_Benefits%20of%20Gardening%20for%20Children_July%202009.pdf.

From my own personal experience, my daughter loves digging around in dirt and is starting to notice how my seedlings are turning into plants. I just enjoy spending the time outside with her. I really don't think anything entertains kids as much as dirt.

For those of us in Colorado, hopefully the weather will mellow out soon and we can really commit some time to being active outside with our kids. For those of you in the rest of the country where it is actually spring, go outside and enjoy it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Beyond Lettuce

As the weather turns warmer, steaming hot foods become less appealing. Salads are always one of my favorite meals, and during the summer they are my number one pick for what to eat. The thing is, salad doesn't have to just be about lettuce and cold veggies. Salad can be anything you want and when you need a super fast and healthy meal, salad can be your best friend.
Generally I do start with lettuce, but not always. I like to keep a spring mesclun mix on hand, or a head of romaine or red or green leaf lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is something I stay away from. It has virtually no nutritional value, and if you are trying to pack in the nutrients, stick to the other lettuces. Generally the darker the lettuce, the better it is for you. Spinach of course is great on its own or in a blend of other lettuces.

Leftovers are a salad's best friend. In the salad above, I started with lettuce and added some leftover carrot salad, grilled zucchini, roasted potatoes, and some broccoli salad. All of these were leftover from previous meals. I love cooked veggies in a salad, cold or warm. Another favorite addition is beans. Any kind, garbanzo, black, pinto, white, etc. Canned beans are a wonderful thing to keep on hand because they are so versatile and nutritious. If you have some leftover cooked grains like rice or spelt or buckwheat, throw some of that in too. Lentils are great in salads.

If you have all veggies and beans and grains in a salad, you don't even really need to add additional protein, but I really enjoy fish in a salad. Canned tuna or salmon, smoked salmon, anchovies or sardines, all make great salad ingredients. But if you just have some leftover grilled trout or halibut or poached or roasted whatever, go ahead and throw that in the mix. Leftover chicken or beef is also great. Nuts are another source of protein and good fat, so another good option. Cheese is another protein you could add, and of course any kind you want to use is great.

If I have some fresh herbs on hand I generally throw in a handful. I love parsley in a salad, but any herb works. Another favorite of mine are sprouts. I love sprouts on a sandwich, and they are great in a salad too. Sprouts are super nutritious for you, and fun and easy to grow yourself. One word of caution, they are not generally recommended for elderly or pregnant people because they could possibly contain bacteria on them that these groups are more susceptible to. I feel like if you make sure your sprouts are fresh then you are probably ok, and I have been eating them during my pregnancy and am doing fine. But of course you should decide for yourself.

I have to admit I am a sucker for salad dressing. I have slowly gotten over my addiction to store bought dressings (at one point my husband counted at least 12 in our fridge, like I said, I do eat a lot of salad). There are some really great dressings in the store, so many different flavors and there are quite a few natural brands that don't contain a lot of junk or chemicals in them. Basically follow my rules for buying processed foods and I think you can find a good brand of dressing.

Salad dressing is of course super easy to make yourself. Combining an oil with an acid (vinegar or citrus juice) and adding a few seasonings, whisk together and you are good to go. I like using olive oil and lemon juice, salt, pepper and a seasoning blend from my favorite spice shop. Mrs. Dash is another seasoning you could add. Using a little mustard in the dressing is also yummy. Play around and see what you like. One hint is to start making your dressing in the bowl, then add your other ingredients and then toss it all together.

Have fun and think beyond the lettuce. A couple super yummy recipes to try:

Corn and Tomato Salad
great as a side dish on its own or add to another salad

Sweet corn kernels (canned, frozen and thawed, or fresh)
Your favorite tomatoes cut into wedges if it's larger or halves for cherry types
Whisk together about 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, a couple tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp vinegar (white or red wine or balsamic) add salt and pepper to taste, then toss in the corn and tomatoes.

Cucumber Avocado Dressing
makes 2 cups

2 minced garlic cloves
1/2 cucumber
1 avocado
1 cup baby spinach
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
2 spring onions or green onions
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
pepper and salt to taste
Puree all ingredients with 3/4 cup water until smooth. Yum!