Reboot with Joe: From Pharmacy to Farmacy

On Thanksgiving Day, with a freshly made vegetable juice in hand, Joe Cross gratefully declares, “I’m thankful that I got sick, because, if I hadn’t gotten sick, I would have had a heart attack and died.  It was my body’s way of telling me to slow down and get well.”

Now, two years later, Joe is not only fit, healthy and very much alive, but encouraging others (perhaps you too) to join him and get healthy.  His Reboot with Joe program provides free tools, inspiration, recipes and a community of film viewers who are inspired to follow in his footsteps. On the new site, you’ll find these impressive statistics.

As a result of seeing the documentary, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead”:

  • 93 million glasses of fresh juice have been consumed,
  • 93,000 US tons of produce have been consumed,
  • More than 6.2 million pounds of weight have been lost,
  • And over 55,000 people are now medication free.
  • Furthermore, the film has been credited with driving the explosive growth in juicing in the past two years. In January 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that, “Appliance retailers say it has been hard to keep up with demand for juicers since (the film) hit Netflix, in July 2011.”

If you have not already seen the full movie, you can do so here.  The documentary quickly draws you into Joe’s juicy life-changing road trip.  A hundred pounds overweight, loaded up on steroids and suffering from a debilitating autoimmune disease, Joe had been a patient of six different doctors, to no avail, when he decided to resort to a healthy diet. To jump start a dramatic lifestyle change, he took himself out of his regular routine in Australia, and spent two months in the US drinking nothing by freshly squeezed juice, and getting better.

Juicing - not to be confused with mixing up orange juice from concentrate or any of the many juice drinks on supermarket shelves - super concentrates the nutrients of more fruits and vegetables than one could consume in a sitting by chewing. This type of cleanse gives the body a break from heavy digesting and metabolizing, while offering easily absorbable micronutrients and plenty of water for flushing and rehydrating. Looking back to our Paleolithic ancestors who often fasted as food was not always and everywhere available, it’s likely a routine to which we are well-suited. Nonetheless, in our modern lives, most of us have taken up fast food eating fast (as in quickly) instead.  And we have a health crisis to show for it.

Joe starts his healing journey with Dr Joel Fuhrman, who explains that “you don’t get permanently well, if you don’t permanently change your habits.”  With 61% of the American diet being processed, 30% animal products, 5% a white starch and only 5% fruits and vegetables, trading that in for quality time with fresh produce is a drastic change in the right direction.  One from which the less drastic, longer term lifestyle changes will follow.

Along the way, he meets a few people willing to give juicing a try.  One woman, who suffers from migraines, commits to a 10-day fast and enjoys headache-free living.  Joe also meets a truck driver with the same rare autoimmune condition he has. What starts as a chance meeting at a truck stop in Arizona, turns into a beautiful ripple effect story.  After this own healing in well under way, Joe returns to the US to become Phil’s (the truck driver) personal juice-maker and health coach.  Without spoiling too much, Phil, weighing in at 430 lbs and suffering from several painful chronic conditions, commits to vegetables and a juicer and comes out a clear winner.

Both Joe and Phil have powerful personal stories to tell, in which they were able to trade in their costly pharmaceutical prescriptions for farm-aceutical fruits and vegetables and go on to inspire countless others to do the same.  They later attended the same holistic nutrition program I did (Institute of Integrative Nutrition) and through health coaching and the Reboot with Joe program are now supporting many more to get healthy and enjoy life.

Have you tried a juice fast? How was your experience? We’d love to hear your stories and any juice recipes you would like to share. A randomly selected commenter will receive a Reboot with Joe bundle (The Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead DVDcompanion book and Reboot Nutrition Guide with recipes to help you get started juicing!).

Nominating Cauliflower: An Educated Cabbage

cauliflower 3

What will be the trendiest vegetable in 2013 was a recent question in a focus group.   I sat up straighter in my chair. “Trendy vegetables,” I love it already!  That makes vegetables sound as revered as high fashion and haute cuisine.  Cauliflower was declared the projected winner.  It is certainly deserving: not only does it assemble itself like a bouquet of flowers, offer a mild yet complete and comforting flavor, pack an impressive dose of vitamin C, as well as fiber and potassium, and exemplify fractal design, but Mark Twain referred to it as a “cabbage with a college education.”

Generally thought of as a white vegetable, this member of the brassica family also comes in a yellowish-orange, a deep purple and the fabulous knobby green Romanesco variety. This phenomenal mini moonscape vegetable provides the added excitement of a special spiraling pattern.  Who doesn’t want a Fibonacci masterpiece on their plate?

Not sure about the spirals and the Fibonacci sequence?  Vi Hart explains it more precisely and certainly more playfully than I could in the following video. You’ll be counting spirals on pinecones, pineapples, artichokes, sunflowers, cauliflower, etc in no time.

 

With so many ways to enjoy cauliflower, let’s start with one of the simplest, yet very delicious and beautifully presented ways:  Roasted Cauliflower

roasted cauliflower- before

Place sliced cauliflower in a single layer on a baking sheet drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt into a pre-heated 400˚ oven.

roasted cauliflower-after

Ten or so minutes later, remove the beautifully browned, slightly softened, still crunchy, with a decidedly sweeter and smoother flavor (than when it was raw) roasted cauliflower. Add additional salt or pepper to taste, and enjoy.

Cauliflower also does well as a potato stand-in. Whether you’re cutting down on spuds, avoiding the nightshade family, or just ready to try something new: Cauli-Millet Mashed Potatoes

Cauliflower mash

From The Hip Chick’s Guide to MacrobioticsMillet Mashed “Potatoes” with Mushroom Gravy

  • 1 cup millet, washed
  • 5 cups water, divided
  • 2 cups cauliflower, in small florets or chunks
  • sea salt
  • toasted sesame oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 12 button or 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 drop brown rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons kuzu, diluted in 1/2 cup water
  • scallions or parsley for garnish

Method:

  1. Place the washed millet in a heavy 2-quart pot.  Over medium heat, stir the millet continuously until it dries and then becomes aromatic and ever-so-slightly golden in color.  This can take 5-8 minutes.
  2. And water and cauliflower.  Bring to a boil.  And salt.  Cover and simmer over a low flame for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat.  Put millet through a food mill or blend in a food processor.  Blend to desired creamy consistency.
  4. To make the gravy: heat toasted sesame oil over medium heat in a skillet.  Add onion, salt and sauté until translucent.  Add mushrooms and sauté until soft. Add water and bring to a boil.  Season with tamari, mirin and brown rice vinegar. Simmer for 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to your taste, and simmer for 5 more minutes.
  5. Add diluted kuzu to simmering mixture and stir constantly as the kuzu thickens.

I made a double batch of the “Mashed Potatoes” part of the recipe above, reserving half to use as the topping in a vegan Shepard’s Pie a couple of days later.  My children ate this up so fast….

Cauliflower Shepards Pie 2

A sampling of other excellent cauliflower recipes:

And there are many, many more recipes. What are your favorite ways to prepare cauliflower?

Have a Beet in Your Roots?

Beets- farmers marketTo eat locally and seasonally, it is often assumed that making it through the winter is challenging.  True, fresh tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers are missing, but they are easily replaced by pantry shelves full of canned tomatoes, sauces, ketchup, chutneys and pickles while the freezer holds, among many things, frozen whole tomatoes, and all produce which stores well is comfortably tucked away.  It is spring that is sparse. Yesterday I used my last two pie pumpkins and butternut squash from last summer and made a note to grow more this season in an effort to make it through not just the cold seasons, but all the way to the following harvest.

Fortunately, my root drawers are not yet empty.  So beets, turnips, carrots, kohlrabi, celeriac, rutabaga, etc, often associated with fall cuisine, are actually common ingredients in our spring and early summer meals, increasingly paired with fresh new greenery.

Growing beet

Today, we’re having beets.  According to The Secret Life of Food, the name “beet” comes from the French bête, meaning beast.  Apparently, early cooks, alarmed at the bright red color beets turn their cooking water, were reminded of bleeding animals, and labeled these roots “beasts”.

Beets, which come in shades from the common deep red to golden yellow and even white, are full of valuable nutrition.  They are often used for blood cleansing, liver and kidney support (commonly included in juice fasts).  They are great sources of vitamins A, C and B-complex, folate (particularly in raw beets), manganese, iron, potassium and antioxidants polyphenol and betalain (a powerful, recently recognized nutrient, prevalent in red beets).  Additionally, they exhibit an enviable combination of low calorie, high sweet and very low glycemic index.

With all of this going for them, it’s hard to believe that beets used to be relegated to animal feed. Originally they grew wild in North Africa and in coastal areas in Europe and Asia. People first became interested in their nutritious greens. Early Romans started cultivating the full plant and prepared the roots by cooking them in honey and wine (which I had to try, recipe below) and today cooks worldwide prepare them in many different ways.

roasted beets

roasted beets 2

Roasted Beets: my favorite way to prepare beets. With very little prep work, you fill your 400˚ oven, and let the beets cook themselves until done (45 minutes or so).  The flavor is rich using this cooking method and nutrients are better preserved than when cooking beets in water.  Once roasted, they peel easily, and quickly become salads, soups and stew additions, can be puréed and even incorporated into baked goods.

Drinkable Beets. Beet juice is often used in cleanses for its ability to nourish the blood.  You can add digestive and immune support by fermenting the juice into beet kvass.  Or enjoy a quick smoothie by adding milk to a puréed beet soup, such as Red Velvet Borscht.

Red Velvet Soup

Baked Beets, either as a purée of roasted beets or grated raw ones, they can easily be included in baked goods. This is not an original idea, but deserves as much publicity as it can get.  They combine particularly well with chocolate, and add a bit of natural sweetness, rich color and antioxidants to your treats, such as in Choco-Beet Muffins. Or whirl a beet into hot chocolate (mix puréed beet into your warming mixture on the stove or if making Mexican-style cocoa, toss a roasted beet into the jar of the blender or vitamix).

Roman beetsRoman beets 4

Ancient Roman Recipe. Absolutely delicious!

  • 1 bunch red beets
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Cook unpeeled beets in a sauce pan with enough water to cover them, bring to a boil and cook until soft. Allow to cool and peel. Cut into small pieces.

Melt butter in the sauce pan, add wine and honey and allow to warm while mixing.  Add beets and keep on a low simmer until about half the liquid has evaporated.  Beets in this sauce are simply heavenly.

Color it red:  The deep pigments of beets are related to their antioxidant health benefits, and they generously share their beautiful hue with just about anything in their vicinity such as pasta, mashed potatoes, pancakes, smoothies, etc… and your hands.

If you have fresh beets with the greens attached, you have the makings of a complete package. The colors and nutrients of the greens compliment those of the roots, so whenever possible use both ends in a the same recipe (in salads, pasta dishes, a vegetable side dish) or in the same meal.

Speaking of both ends, should beet’s red color pass through your system and out the other side, don’t be alarmed - remember that you recently ate beets, and that you have a common condition called “beeturia.”

Meatless Monday: Maple-Squash Soup

maple-squash soup side

Early spring is when the harvest seasons meet. The cycle of the year is tangible when last summer’s hardy keepers extend through to this year’s sugaring season, and the two years are combined in the kitchen.  Winter squash and pumpkins store well, (as do the onions needed for this recipe) and they are so compatible with maple syrup, it seems almost unimaginable that they would be harvested at opposite ends of the year.

maple-squash soup top

Maple-Squash Soup

  • 1 winter squash such as butternut, red kuri, acorn or buttercup
  • 1 pie pumpkin
  • whole spices such as cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • 1/4 inch slice fresh ginger root, minced
  • 6 cups water, stock or sap (should you be tapping maples and have sap to spare)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (if not cooking in sap)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • milk, cream or coconut milk
  • any combination of ground spices you like such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, curry, allspice, etc.
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • a drizzle of hot sauce or a sprinkling of chili flakes (if you like a little spice)
  • garnish with creme fraîche or yogurt and freshly ground nutmeg (optional)

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400˚.
  2. Half the squash and pumpkin, remove the seeds (save for roasting or planting), and place cut side down in a shallow baking dish.  Fill dish with about 1 inch of water and add whole spices to the water. Roast in oven until soft (about 40-50 minutes, depending on size). Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  3. Melt butter in a skillet, and sauté onions until translucent.  Add minced ginger, cover and lower heat to caramelize for another 20 minutes.
  4. Scoop the cooked pumpkin and squash out of the skin (should come out easily) into a large soup pot, add the onion-ginger mixture, and stock, water or sap. Bring to a soft boil for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Turn off heat, add maple syrup, vinegar, milk and ground spices to taste.
  6. In a blender or food processor, puree all until smooth.  Adjust consistency with additional milk, stock or water as needed, and adjust flavor with salt, pepper and/or additional spices. Serve immediately, or return to soup pot and reheat. Serve with creme fraîche or yogurt, hot sauce, ground nutmeg and/or roasted pumpkin seeds.

So Long Salmon?

IMPORTANT UPDATE:  as reported by the Food Revolution Network:

“The FDA has been overwhelmed with more than a million comments and petition signers, many of them stressing massive health, environmental, and ethical concerns. Faced with such a deluge of response, the FDA decided this issue was hot enough that it warranted further examination, and has officially extended the comment period for another two months. “

This is an unusual opportunity to have your voice heard.  The public comment period has been extended until April 26, 2013. 

We spent Christmas Eve around a long dining room table at our friends’ house immersed in the abundance of a Seven Fishes Feast: seven courses of fish, followed by a dessert lasting until almost midnight is a marvelous way to welcome Christmas Day. I prepared the sides and helped serve the third course: smoked salmon (delicious, and highly nutritious, wild Alaskan salmon) with potato-celeriac-sunchoke mash, red and green cabbage slaw, and a caviar-creme fraiche dip.  While I was busy cooking, the FDA moved a step closer to approving genetically engineered salmon.

What we stand to gain from genetically modified (or GM) salmon is faster growing fish ready for market and consumption in about half the current time, as illustrated by the following image from Science Progress.

What we stand to lose includes unknown impacts to human health, wild ocean ecosystems and remaining wild salmon species.  Unlike existing GM foods (corn, soy and canola among the more common), against which there are plenty of objections, the genetic manipulation of a wild animal introduces new and additional concerns: the possible escape from farm enclosures and contamination of the wild population; untested health implications for the fish, oceanic ecosystems and human consumers; and the precedent for further manipulation of animals and other wild species.

Nevertheless, after a preliminary investigation, the FDA (the federal Food and Drug Administration) found GM salmon, produced by AquaBounty Technologies of Massachusetts, to pose “no significant threat,” and moved it closer to full approval.

Senator Mark Begich (a Democrat from Alaska) called the FDA’s findings a joke, saying, “I will fight tooth and nail with my Alaska colleagues to make sure consumers have a clear choice when it comes to wild and sustainable versus lab-grown science projects… People want to know they are eating natural, healthy, wild salmon.” Republican Representative Don Young called the FDA’s decision “foolish and disturbing.”

The “finding of no significant impact” or FONSI focused only on environmental questions, since in 2010, the FDA had already declared Frankenfish “as safe as food from conventional salmon.” The full report on the human health impacts can be read here.  The environmental assessment, released on December 26, 2012, will be available for public comment for just 60 days.

Despite increasing public concern surrounding both the human health and ecological implications of genetically altering species, the Organic Consumers Association explains that “the FDA considers any genetically altered animal a “new animal drug” for approval purposes. That means the genetically modified animal – in this case a salmon intended as food for humans – is subjected to a less rigorous safety review than if it were classified as a food (for humans) additive.”

Unlike conventionally farmed salmon*, the GM fish would start as fertilized eggs in Canada. The all female population would then be transported to an inland tank facility in Panama where they would be grown to maturity, processed into filets and shipped to US markets.

As with other genetically modified foods, the US does not require any labeling, so when buying or ordering salmon, the consumer would not know if the fish is wild, conventionally farmed, or GM farmed. A poll conducted by Thompson Reuters and National Public Radio found that 93% of Americans would like all GM foods labeled and that only 35% would be willing to eat GM fish.

There are numerous ecological and healthy reasons to be concerned.  Monterey Bay Seafood WatchFood and Water Watch and Food Poisoning Bulletin are excellent resources for additional information about seafood safety.  To speak out against GM salmon, visit The Center for Food Safety’s GE Fish Campaign to sign petitions urging the FDA and Congress to stop genetically engineered fish.  You can also add your name to the Organic Consumers Association‘s petition against GM fish.

Interested in filling your freezer with freshly caught, wild Alaskan salmon? There are several online companies which sell directly to the consumer. I often order from Great Alaska Seafood (and recommend joining their mailing list to enjoy special pricing).

If approved, would you eat it?  Or would you avoid salmon all together, since it wouldn’t be labeled and wild sources may become contaminated?  Will the bagel with lox be lost?

* It is worth making the distinction between conventionally farmed and wild salmon.  While wild salmon feed mostly on highly nutritious krill, providing Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and other difficult to find antioxidants, and contributing to the fishes’ naturally vibrant pink color as well as heart, brain and anti-inflammatory benefits for the consumer, farmed salmon is feed everything from wild fish (sometimes more fish than it produces) to corn and soy (safe to assume of the GM variety), turning the fish an unappealing shade of grey, which is then corrected with red food coloring. Instead of containing the desired Omega-3 fatty acids, farmed salmon often contains more Omega-6s, which generally trigger inflammation. You may want to read this, if you eat farmed salmon.

Filling up on a New Experience: Hunger.

The week before Thanksgiving, I ate less than I usually do. It had nothing to do with saving my appetite for the upcoming feast. Instead, I was filling up on a life experience which is a common reality for as many as 13% of households in Vermont, and as many as 15% in the US.  In the spirit of walking a mile in another’s moccasins, I signed my family up for an eating challenge sponsored by Hunger Free Vermont. Scraping by for a week on another’s tight food budget, opened our eyes and heightened our awareness.

According to Hunger Free Vermont, as many as one in five Vermont children experiences hunger or food hardship.  In a country as well off as the United States, it seems unimaginable that so many people live with hunger and food insecurity on a regular basis. And yet, taking a three-year average from 2009-2011:

  • 27,000 Vermont children under 18 live in food insecure households (22%)
  • 85,000 Vermonters of all ages live in food insecure households (14%)
  • 32% of Vermonters cannot afford either enough food or enough nutritious food.

In 2008, the federal government renamed the Food Stamps program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP). In Vermont, the program is known as 3SquaresVT. The Challenge consisted of eating on a 3SquaresVT budget.  We are a family of four, but since my husband was traveling part of the week, I budgeted for a family of 3 1/2 people, or $91.  With careful planning, some stomach grumbling, and the benefit of two community dinners, we made it on $84.  Since Thanksgiving was the follow week, I thought it made sense to be extra thrifty so that I could put a few extra dollars toward the upcoming holiday meal.

In no particular order, some observations and realizations from this experience include:

* Feeling hungry and preoccupied.  Almost constantly thinking and calculating how long could I stretch the time between meals, could I skip snacks, and how could I get a next meal within (or below) my budget.

* Walking through a grocery store when you’re hungry and on a budget is no fun - you want all these delicious looking foods, but they are too expensive; you want to find the cheap aisle and not have to search so hard among all the things you can’t afford; you have to be a walking calculator (how much per serving, how can I stretch this ingredient and/or this dollar).  Add to that, your hungry children, to whom you’re trying to avoid repeating, “we can’t afford that, we can’t afford that, we can’t afford that…..”

* It was challenging to stay true to my food preferences: non-GMO, organic, fresh whole foods, mostly vegetables and fruits, local food.  I bought a bag of tortilla chips ($1.50) which I am sure were made from GM corn and GM soybean oil. They made a couple of bean meals more exciting, but didn’t taste very good, and really did not feel good.

* Having a fully functioning kitchen, a reliable car, buying bulk foods, being an experienced cook comfortable making up recipes all allowed for a lot of cost savings.

* When work threw a few unexpected meetings into my week, my budget-doable cooking/food prep plan got trumped.  Twice I needed to find some lunch out in the world.  This was expensive.  Trying to hide my financial situation from my co-workers, made things even more complicated.  I spent $10.72 on lunch on Monday.  My daughter (home from school) was at work with me, and I couldn’t ignore her requests for lunch: we ordered 1 large sandwich and a drink and shared it.  Even so, I didn’t really have $5.36 per person for a single meal.

* Living in a community which shares food, was a tremendous help.  As it turned out, this week included two evening meetings during which pizza was served.  I gladly accepted, and was able to take a few left over slices for my children’s lunches the following day. At the end of the week, a generous farmer friend gave me several heads of lettuce - enough for two large bowls full of fresh, organic greens. Yes!

* Struck a goldmine at Shaws. Roaming this enormous store, I chanced upon the reduced produce rack.  Since I was planning on eating what I bought on that same day, I was able to afford organic mushrooms, a slightly dented cucumber, 2 mature tomatoes and a package of sliced mango.  All greatly reduced as they were on a fast track to becoming compost.  On the day-old bakery rack, I found a roasted garlic ciabatta bread for $1.90.

* A vegetarian diet is cost-effective, but I wouldn’t want to be forced into it for financial reasons.

* I can’t remember ever appreciating a jar of peanut butter as much as I did that week (a spoonful calms a hungry stomach enough to be able to concentrate on something else for a while).

* A tea bag can make several of cups of hot tea when brewed in a pot instead of a mug.  Sipping tea feels more like eating than having nothing at all.

* Food is so much more than hunger suppression.  That week, I had both very stressful situations during which I wanted to comfort myself with food (or drink), and a long-anticipated victory which I wanted to celebrate with an edible treat.  After much back and forth, I decided to spend $7 on the occasion.

With a considerable amount of careful planning, calculating, driving out of my way to where the deals were and cooking at home, I was able to feed my family for $84.  We ate a lot of black beans (I soaked a large pot full on Saturday night, cooked them on Sunday and had soup, rice and beans, quesadillas and finally enchiladas to round out the week) and other groceries which I found in discount stores and on day-old shelves. Taking part in this challenge ranks high on the worthwhile life experiences list, but not because it was particularly fun. It was sobering, and on the other side of it I am left appreciative of my increased awareness and knowledge of how easy it can be to support those for whom food insecurity is an involuntary situation.

The challenge and the 3SquaresVT program is not limited to Vermont.  This week in New Jersey, Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, is taking part in a similar opportunity.  You can follow his experiences and learn more about the program, by clicking here.  And you can always visit the Hunger Free Vermont website, your local food bank, food shelf or soup kitchen, where you are welcome to make a donation of food, money and/or time.

Bringing it Home: Growing a Farm-to-School Program

In the hour before the rain, we met at Stony Loam Farm, an organic vegetable farm two miles down the road from our school. It was our first harvest & process day in what we hope will become a series, and develop into a full-sized farm-to-school program.  But like all crops, growing a new food program, starts with a sprout: a small group of families, an accommodating farmer, committed teachers and administrators and a passionate food service director. On day one, we picked green beans and cherry tomatoes.

Given an opportunity to pick, to squat between the plants, and to allow a hand to detour away from the bucket and up to the mouth, kids eat vegetables.  They really do. So much so, that we had to cut them off, as painful as it is to tell kids to stop eating delicious, organic vegetables, our task was to bring fresh produce back to school for the lunch program.  Creating the opportunity for kids to be a part of the growing, harvesting, and preparing of their food, cultivates a greater appreciation of freshness, local producers, and the time, work and energy required to grow it.  From this stems a willingness to try new things, to waste less, to feel a stronger connection to place and local community - all while enjoying fresher, healthier, tastier lunches.

We proudly met our school food director with 36 pounds of green beans and another 20 of cherry tomatoes at the school kitchen.  With crates flipped upside down to help the smallest children reach the sink, the green bean washing team was immediately in full swing.  Meanwhile, parents sorted the cherry tomatoes: some for fresh eating the coming week, others for freezing for use in polka dot soup in the winter.

For more than a week, the school lunch salad bar featured freshly picked organic cherry tomatoes and green beans.  And my daughter came home one day reporting how much fun she had walking through the cafeteria offering her classmates roasted green beans as a taste test. Having enthusiastic children (instead of adults) market foods which might be new to others is just one of our cook’s many effective ideas.

Looking ahead, we have plans to pick apples and make applesauce; to gather potatoes, walking behind the farmer pulling up spuds with his tractor; and to puree and freeze pumpkins and winter squashes for use in wintertime soups, casseroles, and baked goods.

To share the experience, the locally harvested crops are offered as taste tests to all students, and to track our sourcing, we’re planning a food mapping project.  Starting with the local, in-season foods on the menu this fall, and photographs of the farmers who grew them, we’re looking forward to Food Day, October 24, to launch our farm-to-school map on the cafeteria wall.  These are some initial steps in enhancing a school lunch program (a daily part of a child’s experience), which can simply feed, or can be cooked up as an opportunity to expand palates and extend learning.

Simple Recipes:

1. Our cafeteria roasted green beans:

  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans, washed and ends removed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚.
  2. Toss green beans with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  3. Roast, flipping beans once or twice, until lightly caramelized and starting to crisp, between 10-15 minutes.

2. For a main dish which uses both green beans and cherry tomatoes, try Beans, Toms and Tempeh for a colorful vegan meal or to participate in Meatless Monday, at home or at school.

When You Think You Can’t Escape the Scapes

It’s time to google “scape recipes”.  Other than making a fascinating looking bouquet, wearing them as bracelets (as my daughters have been known to do) and chopping one up instead of a garlic clove, I was still at a loss for how to use the artistic display of curlicuing shoots fall-planted garlic sends up this time of year.

To encourage the plant to focus its energy in the formation of the garlic bulbs forming under ground (as opposed to the seed pods contained in the scapes) I have been following gardening advice to cut off the scapes.  With a basket full, I found this simple recipe online, and adjusted it like this:

Simple Vegan Garlic Scape Pesto

  • Jar full of freshly cut garlic scapes (if you don’t grow garlic, you can find these at farmers markets in late spring and early summer)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds (good source of magnesium, zinc, iron, vitamin E and a great source of omega 3 essential fatty acids)
  • 1 bunch of basil, leaves washed, removed and stems discarded
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chili pepper flakes (optional)

Method:

  1. With seed pods trimmed off, wash the scapes. Cut into match-length pieces.
  2. Place scape pieces, basil leaves, walnuts and hemp seeds in food processor bowl, and run processor until a paste is formed.  Drizzle olive oil into bowl until desired consistency is reached.
  3. Adjust flavor with salt and pepper.  Maybe a few chili pepper flakes for a touch of heat?
  4. Use as you would traditional basil pesto and pack up any additional in small air tight containers for the freezer.

Looking forward to tomorrow already: scrambled eggs with scape pesto for breakfast; scape pesto, fresh mozzarella and tomato sandwich for lunch, and pesto pasta, salad with pesto dressing or salmon with pesto for dinner…. a perfect destination for all those scapes!

Kombucha: My New Bubbly

On Mothers Day, I was blessed with another “daughter”: a perfectly slimy, thoroughly unappealing looking, squishy, whitish patty. She won’t be winning any beauty contests, but she is teaming with life, and healthy energy!  Earlier than I had expected, the “mother” kombucha “SCOBY” (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) from which I brewed my first batch, had already grown a mini version of herself.  I was delighted!

As a follow-up to a recent post about probiotics, here’s more about what has become one of my favorite food forms (well drink, actually) of naturally occurring probiotic bacteria: Kombucha.

When first introduced to the supposed elixir, it was described to me as an effervescent fermented tea made from a mushroom.  Though I am (for the most part) open-minded and eager to try new foods (particularly ones surrounded by information about their numerous health benefits), fermented mushroom tea was a stretch.  As it turns out, it is not made from a mushroom, but a “SCOBY” which resembles a mushroom (or rather a pancake, I think) in appearance.

Kombucha traces its history back to Russian as well as ancient Japan and China, often in a context of profound health and healing.  Although conclusive scientific studies have yet to be completed in the US, centuries of anecdotal evidence have convinced many to add this beverage to their diet, and some have used it as a successful healing therapy.

The drink’s naturally occurring bacteria serve to replenish our internal gut flora, which improves our digestion and boosts immunity. It contains glucuronic acid, which is effective in cleansing the body of toxins.  In addition, the tea provides a worthwhile amount of vitamin B complex, antioxidants and minerals.  It appeals to health-seekers, do-it-yourselfers, low-carb dieters and foodies in numbers large enough to have caught the attention of beverage makers such as Red Bull, Coca-Cola, and Celestial Seasonings (all of whom have leapt on board the kombucha train).  Being more of the DIY persuasion, I gave it a try.

How to make kombucha home-brew:

When the much anticipated SCOBY (which can be ordered online) arrives in the mail:

Brew strong black tea (ideally organic) with organic sugar:

Remove tea bags or leaves, add SCOBY and fill jar with additional cool water.  Allow to sit, covered with a cloth, in a warm place:

After one-two weeks, start to taste your brew.  It will continue to ferment (as the bacteria will continue to eat the sugar), making the flavor stronger and less sweet the longer you wait.

Save the SCOBY (which may already be growing a “daughter” so that you can start making twice as much) and serve your refreshing home brew.

Curious to know more? Various websites, such as kombucha camp, and these books can help.

Cheers!

Welcome Probiotics!

You’ve probably heard that yogurt contains healthy bacteria, and have perhaps been swayed by recent ad campaigns treading dangerously close to “tmi”  bathroom talk. You may have tried one of the highly processed, packaged, flavored and sweetened yogurt products in an effort to improve your digestive situation. While it is true that real yogurt (as well as other naturally fermented foods) made with active cultures offer the body unique nutrition called “probiotics“, it is also true that Dannon was sued over unsubstantiated health claims made in their advertisements for “Activia” yogurt-like products and has been quietly reimbursing costumers. So beware of look-alikes.

With 100 trillion bacterial cells from 500 different species, your gut is a veritable microbial zoo teaming with critters, and that’s exactly the way you want it.  These bacteria, when healthy and plentiful, keep you healthy, digesting well, warding off “bad” bacteria, and may well also be the key to protecting yourself from more serious chronic illnesses, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  According to this month’s issue of the Life Extension Foundation‘s magazine, your gut contains 70-80% of your body’s immune system, where probiotics work at the molecular level to keep you well.

Their biggest enemy? Antibiotics. Not only are we being prescribed the antis more and more often, but most of our animal foods come from CAFO factory farms where animals are pumped full of antibiotics, and so by extension, so are you when you eat the meat, milk and other animal foods from these sources.  The artificial sweetener aspartame and oral contraceptives both interfere with healthy gut bacteria, and genetically modified foods and chlorinated water very well may too.

A good way to repopulation your gut bacteria, is to frequently eat fermented foods - those  sometimes called “traditional” or “live” which contain natural forms of probiotics. A quick tour around the world of traditional fermented foods include Japanese miso, tamari and natto, German sauerkraut, Bulgarian yogurt, Russian kefir, Ethiopian injera bread, Korean kimchi, Indian lassi drinks, Salvadoran curtido, etc.  For more information and simple recipes for these traditional foods, I highly recommend Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions and Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.  Though probiotics has been receiving well deserved media attention only recently, they are by no means a new method of maintaining good health.

Since the goal is a thriving community of probiotics in your gut, you have to be a good host. Keep them out of harms way (antibiotics) and nourish them with prebiotics.  Foods such as bananas, garlic, onions, raw honey, wheat, barley, and soybeans naturally contain prebiotics, or probiotic food. For additional support, or in times of therapeutic need (such as during and following a course of antibiotics), you may also want to consider a high quality probiotic and prebiotic supplement.

Since I’ve been focusing on probiotics, no meal feels quite complete without a generous scoop of kimchi or kraut.  A bowl of plain yogurt satisfies a snack or dessert desire, and when thirsty, I reach for kombucha (a fermented tea drink).  A few of my recent favorite “full of life” foods: kimchi in an avocado half; kimchi or kraut quesadilla; sourdough bread with cultured butter; yogurt with raw honey and ground flaxseeds, and miso broth and kombucha to drink. To satisfy my growing thirst, I ordered a scoby (a kombucha “mother”) and have started brewing my own kombucha (a post on that experiment is coming soon).

Hungry for more?  Let me recommend these articles on probiotics:

And if you’re as hooked as I am, you’ll be happy to know this great looking new book is coming out next month: The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Katz with a foreword by Michael Pollan.

But first, my bowl of yogurt: