The Healing Powers of Chocolate

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, when around 48 million pounds of chocolate will again be purchased in the week, days and minutes leading up to Valentine’s Day (apparently 75% of which by men, whereas 75% percent of chocolate purchases the other 51 weeks of the year are made by women) draining over $1 billion dollars from our pockets (this seemed like an enormous amount, until I read that both Easter and Halloween purchases dwarf it), I found myself the lucky winner of a Foodie Blogroll contest and the recipient of The Healing Powers of Chocolate book by Cal Orey.

Not only does Cal clear up any lingering doubts that chocolate is indeed a healthy food: “Medical researchers around the world continue to find new health-promoting nutrients - there are believed to be at least 300 to 400 - in chocolate,” she provides information on the history, many varieties and grades, the medicinal uses and offers numerous great looking recipes.  From the familiar chocolate biscotti, chocolate fondue, and brownies, to several I am looking forward to trying, such as a chocolate hazelnut torta with chocolate-chestnut frosting, ciabatta bread with dark chocolate and olive oil and two mole (a spicy savory sauce often served over chicken) recipes, to exciting new chocolate interpretations I can hardly wait to taste: cocao pasta, spaghetti with ricotta and chocolate and Hawaiian cocoa bean curry shrimp!  My apologies if I have caused you to drool on your computer.

I was interested in the nutritious uses of chocolate before I started devouring this book, and can offer the following links to several recipes if you too are interested in trying something other than chocolate cake (for which the internet already offers many excellent recipes).

When I was a kid, being raised by a health food mom, carob was considered the more nutritious chocolate look-alike.  Few of us were fooled, and I couldn’t be more thankful that researchers have now deemed real chocolate a health food, so that I (and you) may indulge in its many “healing powers.”  Many thanks Cal for a great gift!

Our Favorite “Stinking Rose”

Yes, GARLIC!  It can do a number on your breath, but compared to what it does for your health, that’s a small price to pay.

As winter approaches and we brace ourselves for cold and flu season, today is not a day too early to add this easy, and flavorful food to your meals.  Particularly when eaten raw, garlic has antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral properties.  According to Dr. Andrew Weil, garlic works well for the common cold, sore throat, ear infections, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and fungal, yeast and bacterial infections.  Garlic also gets credit for cancer prevention and treatment and for the removal of heavy metals.

When you feel something coming on, make yourself some nice garlic toast: a couple of slices of whole wheat bread, butter or olive oil and then crush a good sized clove of raw garlic on to it with a bit of salt to taste.

A simple all-purpose wellness measure is to add garlic at the end of the cooking time of recipes that call for it.  I used to start by sautéing onions and garlic, until I realized that the heat and cooking time greatly reduces the health benefits of garlic.  Now, I toss it in at the very end, keeping the garlic as raw as possible.

Salad dressings, sauces, spreads (such as pesto) and dips (such a hummus) present easy opportunities to consume additional raw garlic.  Using a garlic press or a sharp knife (chopping very fine), you can add garlic to just about any sauce or dressing.

If the fear of bad breath is keeping you from eating as much garlic as you would like, you can give this method a try.  Put a whole clove of garlic in a spoonful of applesauce and swallow whole.  As long as you don’t cut or chew raw garlic, you won’t have the smelly situation afterwards.

Garlic keeps well so you can stock up the next time you are at the market, but what is really fun and easy is to grow it yourself! Fall is the time to plant it, so don’t wait!  If you don’t already have a garden, you can start with a small patch of garlic this year.  This weekend, turn over a small piece of earth, and plant several cloves of garlic. They will settle in underground until spring, when they will greet warmer and longer days with fresh new shoots.  By early summer you will have interesting looking plants with a curlicue on the top. This is the garlic scape and should be cut off and used as you would garlic. Consider it your first harvest.  Later in the summer, the single cloves you planted in the fall, will have transformed into full bulbs of garlic.  Your second harvest.  A phenomenal rate of return!

Click here for Step-by-step directions for growing your own garlic.  If your ground is already frozen or you do not have garden space, you can grow garlic in containers.

As you watch fall take a few more degrees from the air and few more minutes of light from the day, enjoy one last round of spring-like planting.  You’ll be giving yourself the tasty and very healthy gift of fresh garlic next summer.  Enjoy!

Elder-Blue SuperJam

Four Simple, Nutrient-Dense Ingredients:

Elderberries, beautiful little bunches of dark, luscious berries, they have long been used medicinally, particularly in Europe for a variety of ailments including arthritis, colds, constipation and asthma.  So revered for their healthful benefits, elderberries were often referred to as the “medicine chest.”

Modern studies have shown that these berries do indeed contain significant antioxidants, blood-cleansing, immune-boosting and virus-fighting qualities, and components which may also assist in stress reduction. In 1995, elderberry juice was used to treat a flu epidemic in Panama.

Elderberries contain amino acids, carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamins A, B and an impressive amount of vitamin C. It is the flavonoids, which are believed to account for the therapeutic qualities of the elderberries.

Blueberries are packed with vitamin C (good for the formation of collagen, for healthy gums and capillaries, for iron absorption and a healthy immune system). They also contain vitamins A, E and a small amount of the B complex.

Blueberries are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, and have gained star status when it comes to antioxidants.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rates antioxidant activity per serving with ORAC values (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). Blueberries (particularly wild ones) sit near the top of the list. Antioxidants are credited with neutralizing free radicals - unstable molecules linked to premature aging and degenerative illness. Additionally, blueberries have been recognized for effective blood sugar regulation, making them a good choice for weight management, diabetes treatment and prevention.

Chia seeds are the edible seeds from a desert plant, appreciated for their medicinal and energy-giving properties since pre-Columbian times. They were a main component of the Aztec and Mayan diets and used for endurance and to relieve sore joints and skin.

Chia seeds are very rich in omega-3 fatty acids (even more than flax seeds). They are also a good source of fiber, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, niacin, zinc and antioxidants and do not need to be ground (as flax seeds should be).

Maple syrup is enjoyed for its flavor, mineral content and its local availability here in Vermont. Nutritionally, it received additional recognition thanks to a recent Canadian study. It, and local raw honey, are my sweeteners of choice.

Inspired by a jam recipe I saw in Peggy Kotsopoulos’s Must Have Been Something I Ate, I combined these four ingredients to make Elder-Blue SuperJam. I was looking for another destination for my elderberries.  I wanted to make them easy to consume regularly in a quick recipe with a simple ingredient list.

Peggy’s “Guilt-Free Blueberry Jam” recipe calls for:

She recommends serving this on sprouted grain toast or as a topping on her Lemon Berry Tart (recipes available in her book).

Elder-Blue Superjam

  • 2 cups raw blueberries (preferably wild, otherwise organically cultivated)
  • 1/2 cup raw elderberries (freshly picked or frozen)
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon ground chia seeds
  1. Grind chia seeds in a designated nuts & seeds coffee grinder.
  2.  In a food processor, combine blueberries (minus a small handful), elderberries, maple syrup and the ground chia seeds until it is a gorgeous deep bluish purple mixture. Blend in the whole blueberries by hand if you like.
  3. Spoon into jelly jars and store in the refrigerator.
Because this jam is made in a food processor, all the nutrients of the raw berries are preserved (the heat from cooking berries to make conventional jam and jelly destroys important enzymes, and reduces the vitamin content). The chia seeds add a host of nutrients to the mix, and fill the role of pectin, since it helps the mixture thicken while it sits in the refrigerator.  It’s very easy to make and very healthy to eat.

Must Have Been Something I Ate (book review, recipes and how to win a copy)

You mysteriously don’t feel well. Since you don’t know what’s causing it, it “must have been something you ate”.  We’ve grown accustomed to blaming food for these short-term undesired states.

But, what if you focused on nutrient-dense real foods and you started to feel really good, then you could confidently declare, “well, it must have been something I ate!” In her new book, holistic nutritionist Peggy Kotsopoulos takes this proactive approach. Must Have Been Something I Ate: The Simple Connection Between What You Eat and How You Look and Feel is a zippy, fact-filled yet easy-to-read explanation of the cause and effect relationship between eating well and feeling good, physically, mentally and emotionally. With chapters covering best foods for a good mood, radiant looks, comfortable digestion, strong immunity, nonexistent PMS, a healthy weight and much more, she covers a wide range of topics directly impacted by our food choices.

I enjoyed the nutrition information most, followed closely by the recipe section, where I discovered some great new ideas.  A possible drawback is that many of the foods, both those covered in the discussion section, as well as used in the recipes are not standard grocery store items (including plant-based supplements from the Vega Company) and might be difficult to find. I’m all for trying new things, and appreciate the resource lists in the back of the book for those more esoteric items, at the same time, I like to make it as easy as possible to eat well.  The recipes I picked to try contain more common ingredients (and I provided links to Amazon grocery, if you need them).

On this beautiful summer day, I served a late afternoon tea trying three recipes from Peggy’s book. It’s a bit of a stretch to say I cooked them, since nothing required actual cooking (involving heat, that is) to prepare. This is exactly what I was looking for on a steamy day: blender and food processor assembly, and raw foods nutrition.

On the menu: Iced Chai Tea Lattes with Chocolate Mousse and Key Lime Pie.  These recipes are all vegan (meat, dairy, and egg-free), grain-free (and therefore gluten-free), minimally sweetened and predominantly raw.  We won’t tell our guests just yet that they are really having a serving of pumpkin, another of avocado and bountiful amounts of healthy fats and protein from nuts and seeds, in addition to plentiful vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants from the other whole food ingredients.

Chai Tea Lattes

Steep tea in boiling water for about five minutes and remove bag.  Add tea to blender with almond butter, cinnamon and vanilla.  Blend into a creamy latte. Garnish latte with a pinch of cardamom and /or nutmeg. Serves one.

Note: I steeped a pot of tea for four, allowed it to cool, made the lattes and then served them over ice with some freshly ground nutmeg and a mint sprig. Deliciously refreshing.

Chocolate Mousse

All all ingredients to a bowl and mix well with a fork.  Serves four.

I “Heart” Key Lime Pie

Chocolate Macaroon Crust

Add all ingredients into food processor and mix until all ingredients are finely processed and start to stick together.  Press mixture firmly into tart molds to form crust.  Place in fridge while making the filling.

Key Lime Filling

Place all ingredients in food processor and blend until creamy and smooth.  Pour into chocolate macaroon pie crust and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Note: I was unclear about the size of pie this recipe was for.  It calls for “tart molds”, which I don’t have and I wanted to make a family-sized pie.  The crust recipe worked well in a standard pie plate, but I had a hard time believing a single avocado would provide enough filling, so I doubled the filling recipe.

I didn’t have coconut nectar.  To sweeten, and not affect the color of the filling (as I thought maple syrup might), I used a combination of raw honey and stevia (a natural sweetener, many times sweeter than sugar, but with zero calories and a negligible effect on blood sugar, making it an excellent choice for weight loss, diabetes prevention and control, and low carbohydrate diets).

A COPY OF MUST HAVE BEEN SOMETHING I ATE OF YOUR OWN:   Thanks to the book’s publishers, I have an extra copy of this new book to pass on to a lucky reader!  I’ll throw in a package of Vega’s Complete Whole Food Health Optimizer supplement so that you can try those recipes. Simply leave a comment about this post or a “must have been something I ate” experience you’ve had, and on July 21 I will select a winner.  Good luck!

Strawberry Season: Opening Day

Welcome June, hello strawberries!  While I’m in a tough competition with the local chipmunk community for the strawberries in my garden (last year they won, hands/paws down), I got to spend the morning at a professional strawberry operation for what felt like a proper kick-off to strawberry season. The Charlotte Berry Farm held a Crop Squad this morning to rid the strawberry fields of prickly lettuce. They asked, we came, we weeded and we feasted. Look at these gorgeous berries:

Full of nutrition, these beauties are also full of exceptional flavor.  The one thing they lack, is a long harvesting season.  These ephemeral gems come and go so quickly, you have to thoroughly enjoy them while they’re here.  Because, if you’re like me, once you’ve had fresh, local strawberries, it’s not much fun eating those tasteless 3,000-mile ones from the supermarket anymore.

Strawberries contain impressive amounts of fiber, folate, manganese, iodine and potassium and sky-high levels of vitamin C. In order to collect on all the nutrition strawberries have to offer, it is recommended that you enjoy them fresh (they begin to lose some of their vitamin C and antioxidants when stored for more than two days), raw (as is true with most fruits and vegetables, the heat from cooking destroys many important enzymes and nutrients) and organic (conventionally-grown, they rank #3 on the “dirty dozen” list). Researchers have also credited strawberries with supporting a healthy blood glucose response, boosting cardiovascular health and fighting inflammation. To gain the medicinal value from strawberries, it is important to eat them regularly: at least a cup 3-4 times a week. That means stocking up now while they’re fresh and plentiful.

Eating Strawberries Fresh: For opening night, we had some just as they are:

in strawberry ricotta cones (for the recipe, click here):

as strawberry creamsicles:

on toast and in a strawberry salad:

 

Preserving Strawberries.  I like freezing them, because they’ll maintain most of their nutrients, do not need to be cooked, do not require adding sugar, and it’s very easy.  Start with firm and fully ripe berries, remove the stems, gently wash, let dry, then freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet for about twenty-four hours.

Once completely frozen, move them to sturdy plastic bags or containers and keep them in the freezer ready to use anytime between now and next year’s strawberry season.  Lastly, compost the sink full of stems.

When the Wild Leeks are Rampant

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Here, in the woods of northern Vermont, as in many other wooded areas (none the least of which is the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia), the ramp, or wild leek, is one of the great springtime forageable foods. I’ve never heard of anyone cultivating them, so it makes for a great excuse for a hike, complete with mud boots, a shovel, buckets and a little determination in your stride.  This has been the focus of several outings over the past month, and we have been rewarded, handsomely.

I hesitated before posting about one of my favorite springtime treats (if you call an onion a treat), since the Huffington Post recently published concerns about possible overharvesting.  It is recommended that one harvest no more than 10% from any given area per year, and then give that area a full decade to rejuvenate before harvesting there again.  I am not encouraging going on a wild leek rampage, but if I take this article to suggest that the ramp is becoming increasingly appreciated, then I write in support of its growing popularity and offer a few delicious things to do with them.

Curious about how and where to find ramps: here are some great foraging tips.

Curious about their nutritional value: They belong to the Allium family (ranked “Superfood #2 by Dr. Perricone), and appreciated for their health benefits as a springtime tonic, primarily believed to cleanse the blood.  Ramps are remarkably high in vitamins A and C, and also boast a significant about of iron, selenium, chromium, calcium and fiber.

Curious about how to eat them:

 

Spinach and Ramp Filo Rolls with Grilled Ramps

Eating Ramps:

1. Enjoy them raw, in the woods.  You should bring a shovel to dig them out of the ground.  They like where they are, and are a bit resistant to letting go…but once you’ve got one, you can enjoy it right there.  Although covered in mud, you can easily strip off the outer layer revealing a perfectly clean little leek.  Holding on to this outer layer, snap off the roots at the bottom and you have a clean ramp, ready to eat.  Be prepared to sacrifice your sweet-smelling breath for the rest of the day, and dig in.

2. Enjoy them raw, at home.  You can do the same at home, with the added benefit of running water to more thoroughly rid them of mud. My daughter recommends having them this way, dipped into Soy Vay teriyaki sauce.

3. Potato-Ramp soup.  Similar to potato-leek soup (using a recipe such as this one), but more fun since you’re using ramps which you dug up in the woods.  The green leaves, cut very thinly, make a beautiful fresh garnish.  I made this for the Teacher Appreciation Day luncheon at my children’s school.

4. Stock.  Since I didn’t use very many of the greens in the soup (I didn’t want to affect the final color). I thought I would draw a stock from them.  Fill a large pot of water, toss in all the left-over green ramp leaves (and any other vegetable trimmings you have) and boil.  Use the resultant garlicy-oniony broth for any recipe calling for stock. Delicious.

5. Grilled.  Brush them with a bit of olive oil and place them directly on the grill.  The bulbs become soft and sweet, while the leaves turn crispy. Simply delicious.

6. Spinach and Ramp Filo Rolls.  This is what I made for dinner. I added some sorrel, since it is another one of those rare spring-time harvestables, and it is bursting with fresh green leaves in my garden right now. You can find the recipe here.

7. Rampy Hummus. Make hummus as you normally would (here’s a simple recipe), substituting sliced ramps for chopped garlic. Garnish with thinly sliced ramp greens for a beautiful dish.

8. Rampy Pesto. Ramps can also be used instead of garlic when making pesto. Use both the bulb and the green leaves in a recipe with the customary basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese and pine nuts and/or walnuts.

11 Simple Steps for a Healthier and Happier ’11: Step 9

1/9/11: DARK GREEN LEAFIES

Fill up on the most lacking vegetable in American diets

If your January is like ours here in Northern Vermont, you’re well tucked in under a blanket of snow and ice. Don’t you miss green?  Well, you don’t have to, since filling your plate of dark green leafy vegetables is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Think of it as spring arriving early…every day.

Worthy of the label “superfood,” dark green leafy vegetables are among the most concentrated sources of nutrition.  They are very high in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, zinc, antioxidants and vitamins A, C, E, K and some of the vitamin B complex. They are crammed with fiber, folic acid, chlorophyll and many other micronutrients such as zeaxanthin, lutein and sulforaphane, which are increasingly receiving research attention for their disease-prevention properties.  Certain greens (purslane in particular) even contain omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Eating dark green leafy vegetables will help:

  • purify your blood
  • prevent cancer and other diseases
  • improve circulation
  • strengthen immune system
  • promote healthy intestinal flora
  • improve liver, gall bladder and kidney function
  • clear congestion, especially in lungs by reducing mucus
  • support strong bones
  • may help prevent atherosclerosis by reducing calcium in arterial plaques
  • support healthy regulation of inflammation, offering protection against inflammatory diseases such as arthitis
  • alkalize the body, aiding in disease prevention
  • slow your digestion, thereby supporting an even blood glucose level, which is beneficial for optimal weight, energy and diabetes prevention.

Broccoli is generally liked by adults and children, and can be a good place to start broadening your green horizons. Add the florets to macaroni and cheese for a more colorful and healthier “mac’n’trees.” Experiment with bok choy, nappa cabbage, kale, collards, watercress, nettles, broccoli rabe, dandelion and other leafy greens, by substituting them for more common greens such as broccoli and spinach in familiar recipes. Green cabbage is a nicely versatile vegetable, which can be enjoyed cooked, raw or fermented as sauerkraut or kim-chi (which adds probiotics to its list of nutrients). In addition to lettuce, greens typically eaten raw include arugula, endive, spinach, chicory, watercress, mesclun and wild greens.  Another source of green leafy goodness is culinary herbs, so use parsley, basil, cilantro, tarragon and others liberally.

With strong associations with regeneration, fertility, rebirth, and the natural world, green leafy vegetables deserve a prominent place in Western diets. A previous post includes preparation suggestions and a couple of easy recipes. All hale the Green!

11 Simple Steps for a Healthier & Happier ’11: Step 7

1/7/11: GARLIC

Nature’s tasty medicine

Many people think of winter as “cold and flu season,” but it doesn’t have to be.  With a few key medicinal foods on hand, you can easily avoid most bugs, and feel confident that you know how to shorten their duration if you do catch one.  Garlic, a member of the allium family, is one of those foods. And since my computer does not (yet) transmit scents across the world wide web, I can safely sing garlic’s praises while chomping on a clove.

Yes, it may give you that less-than-desirable smelling breath, but isn’t that a small price to pay for staying healthy?  Think of the strength of that aroma as equivalent to the potency of the medicine, because this is an impressive list.

Garlic:

  • is anti-bacterial (including bacteria which have become antibiotic-resistant!)
  • is anti-viral,
  • is anti-fungal,
  • is anti-inflammatory,
  • may help improve iron metabolism,
  • is a good source of manganese, selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6,
  • supports heart health by lowering triglycerides and total cholesterol,
  • keeps blood pressure in check, and
  • may help reduce the formation of fat cells.

Craving garlic bread, yet?  You can even increase the health benefits from garlic by letting it sit (5-10 minutes) after you’ve chopped it or crushed it, and by eating it raw or only slightly cooked.

Here are some ideas to help increase your garlic consumption, use it as medicine and even grow your own stash.

Eating from the 2000s into the 2010s

As we enter into not just a new year, but also a new decade, the media has been overflowing with lists of the best and worst of the past decade and all sorts of predictions for the coming ten years.  I guess I got inspired.

And so, in no particular order, here are some thoughts about where we’ve been in terms of food and nutrition in the aughts, how far we’ve come and the path we seem to be on as we head into a new decade.

Low- to-no carb craziness.  I am glad that craze is mostly behind us.  Although I heard from a significant number of people that they had weight loss success following Atkin’s suggestions, the joy always seemed to be short-lived.  Apparently the induction part of the diet - the elimination of carbs, the overindulgence of meat, the tunnel vision focus on fat and protein, the sweetening with artificial substitutes -  appeals to many eager dieters.  Not to me. The diet recommendations Atkins offers deeper into his books is what makes much more sense to me.  But how many people read and follow this book to the end?  How many dieters, after throwing themselves thoroughly out of balance in the first few weeks, mellow out and adopt lifelong eating habits which include a healthy portion of nutritious carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables in addition to an appropriate amount of protein and fat, together with a permanent “good-bye” to sugar and refined white carbs, such as described in the final chapters of the Atkins best-seller?

This weight loss concept not only  thoroughly pleased the meat industry, but also opened up a new product opportunity for other sectors of the food industry.  In the midst of the craze, all sorts of “no- and low-carb” products landed on our supermarket shelves. Standard food items (bread, pasta, cereal, cookies, crackers, bagels…) suddenly black-listed, were quickly reconfigured, with who knows what, and redesigned with “low carb” or “carb smart” inked all over the package in an impossible-to-miss font size.

In the 2010s, I’m happy to say, I see this diet craze already relegated to the past. And I see the signs for it to be replaced, not with another trendy diet craze, but with a much more sensible shift from processed foods to whole foods.  Go back to your Atkins book if you want, but read only the final chapters this time.  The weight loss will likely be slower, but the results will be much longer lasting, and your overall health will thank you.

In addition, I think vegan, vegetarian and raw diets will become increasingly more popular.  With several food safety scares, movies such as “Food, Inc” and “Fresh”, several new food industry books, such as Michael Pollan‘s, Eric Schlosser’s and Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent “Eating Animals”, together with the realization that meat-eating has direct climate change implications, the appreciation for no- or reduced-animal food diets is growing again. This is not a brand new movement.  Dust off a copy of Frances Moore Lappe‘s “Diet for a Small Planet” or John Robbin’s “Diet for a New America” - our eyes are just being opened again, and I hope a little wider this decade.

And the same time, I think there will be an increase high-quality animal foods: humanely-raised, pasture-grazed, all organic, grass-fed.  If I were a meat-eater, I would opt for eating less of it, but spending my meat money on higher-priced and higher-quality, (and, I hear, much better tasting) cuts. I suspect milk and other dairy products will increasing become available in this higher-quality version as well.  And, if Vermont, California and a few other states prove be a model, the rules around selling raw milk will become more relaxed, so that you will have the option of buying organic, pasture-raised, unpasteurized, and unhomogenized milk directly from the farmer and small-scale farmers wanting to raise their heifers in a healthy way will be able to make a living doing so.

What I am feeling most hopeful about are various trends suggesting further improvements in this decade:

Childhood obesity - I think we may have reached a turning point.  Rates seem to have reached a plateau, and with continued focus on improving school lunch programs, increasing physical activity and limiting “screen time” I think we are finally beginning to move in the right direction. How lucky our kids are to have a first lady like Michelle Obama, who moved into the White House and started digging up the lawn to plant a garden.  Whether it was a recommendation from her pediatrician, her husband’s astonishment at the price of arugula, or a bigger view of the nation’s childhood weight crisis that first inspired her, the message she is sending out is loud and clear: eat more fresh food. And, while you’re at it, why not grow some yourself.

Local food production and consumption - I’ll admit I am a “localvore”.  I’ve participated in several “Eat Local Challenges” including a week in January (I live in northern Vermont. It was a greenless week.) and I get the greatest satisfaction out of preparing and eating meals from ingredients sourced close to home (our own potatoes, onions and chives, Dave’s spinach, Vicky’s eggs, Lindsay’s milk.. for example, made a delicious frittata).  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms and farmers markets are growing at impressive rates, and seed companies are enjoying a boom time as small farms are expanding and people are feeling drawn to backyard gardening.

Tap water - For environmental, personal health and financial reasons, I am happy to see indications that the height of the bottled water craze is behind us.  It’s back to tap, folks.  Just pay attention to what you put your tap water in - no more plastic bottles, but now in stainless steel (and beware of “metal plus” bottles such as the SIGG ones which turned out had BPA in them as well!).. and maybe in glass by 2020??  The most cost-effective way to keep yourself hydrated just might be to wash out a glass juice bottle and fill it with tap water.  Bottoms up!

It remains a good idea to check to see what besides H2O is lurking in your tap.  You can add a filter to your faucet or run your tap through a (BPA-free) Brita pitcher first.  If you want a little extra zing in your beverage, you can treat yourself to a seltzer maker.  This nifty device may be one of my favorite purchases of the past year.  You simply fill one of the screw-on bottles with tap, tighten it into place, give it a few squirts and voila, your very own bubbly.  Once the company comes out with glass screw-on bottles, I will be really happy.

Sweeteners - our seemingly never fully satiated sweet tooth resulted in another decade of proportedly “healthier,” or simply less-caloric, ways to sweeten your life.  As the known dangers of using artificial sweeteners increased, the industry worked hard to create a new sugar substitute.  In waltzed Splenda — declared by many to be preferable to the artificial alternatives it pushed aside, since it is “made from sugar”, but somehow without the dreaded calories.  If you are currently a splenda user, I am sorry to have to report, that natural it is not. It is a chlorinated artificial sweetener, with a long list of side effects and potential health concerns just like aspartame and saccharin.

Going forward, if you feel you need a packaged sweetener, your best bet is going to be stevia.  Yes, it is processed, which ideally you would avoid, but it is made directly from the stevia plant.  It has been available for years but only in the supplement section of health food stores, because the FDA had not approved it as a sugar substitute.  Now that that has finally happened, your safest bet is using this plant-based, no-calorie sweetener…. as you ween yourself off packaged sweets altogether.

And, speaking of processed sweets - if you do yourself one huge favor in the coming years, refrain from consuming high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  This is huge - for one because it is a significant player in making us huge (overweight, that is) and we cannot digest is properly, and it is made from genetically modified corn and it helps make cheap food products cheaper and Big Food bigger.

Organics are so 2000s: welcome SOLE food in the 2010s: The rate of growth of the organic food sector has been impressive.  So much so that it quickly caught the attention of Big Food and big food outlets, such as Walmart.  As organic is becoming Big Organic, as described in Samuel Fromartz’s “Organic, Inc.” some of its authenticity is fading and without clear standards, definitions or oversight in place, the terms “organic” and “all natural” on a food label or body care product offer little significance.  ”Local,” some have said, “is the new organic”.  Although I fully support that shift for reliable food quality, I’m going to vote for another term for the coming decade: “SOLE”.  SOLE food is Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethically-produced.  It’s a tall order, but why not raise the bar that far?  We asked for organic milk, and the producers and venders delivered; we can just ask for more.

Where I am interested to see what develops this decade is in the area of sustainable seafood consumption. To eat fish or not?  What kinds? How much? From where? Farm-raised or wild-caught? The research showing the positive health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids is plenty convincing, but the mercury warnings have me running back to higher ground.  I’ve started taking fish oil supplements to make up for my lack of fish servings, but from which fish are these supplements being made?  And if we all become convinced of our need for additional omega-3 fatty acids, can the fish population possibly keep up with the increased demand?  When I do buy fish, I make sure it is on the mercury safe list, such as wild Alaska caught salmon.  It is by no means local. I order it online, and within 24 hours it arrives on my doorstep care of Fedex encased in ice packs.  It doesn’t feel sustainable, and I wonder if there are situations where farm-raised fish might be a preferable alternative?  My latest batch of supplements were krill oil. These are the tiny crustaceans, which, together with plankton make up the largest biomass on earth, making it a more easily renewable source of highly concentrated nutrition. I’ve been told they offer the same omega-3 nutritional punch I’m after, but without the overfishing concerns.

A seafood about which I am less confused is sea vegetables, otherwise knows as seaweed.  One of my new year’s resolutions is eating more of this nutrient-dense food from the sea.  My children are much better at it than I am, and I look forward to following their lead on this one.

Trying 100% Raw, Day #5

I’ve arrived at the fifth day of my raw diet experiment.  I’d be happy to continue for a while, because it really does feel very fresh, clean and pure to eat primarily fruits and vegetables and enjoy all the bright colors, flavors and crispiness of the season’s freshness right now.  However, the coming weekend is full of wedding and birthday celebrations including finely prepared cooked meals, so for now, the 100% version of the raw experience will come to a close come dinnertime tonight.  Going forward, I will definitely include more raw foods in my and my family’s diet.  It’s a plan.

 

Raw Day #5, I feasted on:

Breakfast: Really enjoying the light (compared to the cooked version), yet substantial meal of raw oatmeal.  Last night I soaked raw rolled oats with cocoa nibs and a few dates cut into small pieces.  I made this morning’s dish with ample amounts of blueberries, a sliced banana, raw milk and topped with almond slivers. 

Lunch: On a very busy day, my children pitched in by offering to make lunch.  They made a mixed green salad further brightened by an orange pepper and shredded carrots topped with a self-made dressing with tamari soy sauce and maple syrup. Absolutely delicious.