The Good News!

On his way out the door of the New York Times (which is not the good news), Mark Bittman stopped off to talk to his adoring public through an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered over the weekend.  It’s worth listening to if you missed it, but even the highlights in the transcript also remind us why we will miss his voice.  http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/10/03/445580304/mark-bittman-is-stepping-down-but-he-still-has-more-to-say-about-food

His is no longer a voice in the wilderness along with Michael Pollan’s and Alice Waters’ – they have been joined by  many others across the country. I was reminded that from his perch at the NY Times, he has seen from on-high what I have also seen over the last 12 years of working with farmers’ markets, which is that we can afford to be optimistic that the balance in favor of Big Food has been altered and that more and more people are coming home, literally, to grow more of their own food, buy more locally-grown food, and make more of their own meals at home.  And that all of those personal decisions add up to a collective demand for the availability of healthier food.
Just look at these headlines gleaned from three newspapers that I read regularly over the last year:
HARD TIMES FOR SOFT DRINKS, NY Times Business section, October 3, 2015
AMERICA STARTS TO PUSH AWAY FROM THE PLATE, NY  Times, July 26, 2015
HEATHIER KIDS OPTIONS TAKE ROOT AT MCDONALDS, Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2015
SODA BITES THE DUST IN MEAL FOR CHILDREN, WSJ, MAY 15, 2015
FDA MOVES TO COMBAT SUPERBUGS, WSJ, June 3, 2015
JOINING FLOCK, TYSON ACTS ON ANTIBIOTICS, WSJ, April 28, 2015
HUNGER FOR ORGANIC FOODS STRETCHES SUPPLY CHAIN, WSJ, March 19, 2015
LESS BELLYACHING ABOUT SCHOOL MEALS, March, 2015
CHANGING BREAKFAST, DIET HABITS EAT AWAY AT PACKAGED-FOOD COMPANIES’ PROFITS, Washington Post, February 14, 2015
CALORIE COUNT COMING SOON TO AMERICANS’ FAVORITE STOPS, Washington Post,
November 25th, 2014
MULTI-VITAMINS FOUND TO HAVE LITTLE BENEFIT, WSJ, OCTOBER, 2014
ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS COULD CAUSE SPIKES IN BLOOD SUGAR, Washington Post, September 18, 2014
Even while the corporate-heavy committee that decides what is “certified organic” in this country is meeting to decide which chemicals can be used to grow those “certified organic” foods they plan to sell us, it is obvious that we are making progress against big-time odds and big-time, pervasive influences.  Mark Bittman told All Things Considered that “ I am optimistic.  Things have gotten better.  We have passed the low point. More people are paying attention. More people are eating better. More people know about eating better.  I hope that will snowball, and we’ll see that our health improves as a result, and our negative impact on the environment decreases as a result, and that we’ll see a better food system is a great thing for all of us.”
I see this everyday from ground level; I hear it from you every week; and I know Bittman has seen it playing out at much higher levels than ground zero.  So let’s revel in this fall harvest; let’s thank our farmers for dealing with the unpredictability of the weather every day in order to meet our demand for local food,  and remember that each of us is one voice added to a growing chorus for change.

Lunchbox Makeover

Tips for packing healthy and fun school lunches

Pick colorful foods. This is one of the simplest ways to make your child’s lunch more fun and inviting. Not only is a colorful lunch fun, it’s also nutritious when the color is from natural, unprocessed foods like strawberries, carrots, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.

Use whole grain bread instead of white bread. When buying bread, make sure that “whole wheat” is listed as the first ingredient. If the first ingredient is listed as “unbleached wheat flour” or “wheat flour” the bread or product is not whole grain.

Limit potato, corn, tortilla, or other chips. Do your best to limit chips in lunches and at all meals, save chips for the occasional weekend treat. Vegetables and fruits should be the main side dishes in your child’s lunch.

Make lunches fun with shapes. Shapes can make a boring, healthy sandwich fun and less daunting to kids. Use cookie cutters to make different shapes out of sandwiches. Even cutting sandwiches into simple triangles, circles and squares can jazz up a lunch and use holiday cookie cutters for the Halloween and Christmas season. Cookie cutters can be used for fruits and cheeses as well.

Use inexpensive staples. Packing healthy lunches can get expensive. You can cut costs by using whole grain pastas, breads and wraps to create meals and pairing them with fruit spreads, un-processed nut butters and parmesan and pesto for the pasta. Brown rice and beans is another inexpensive kid-friendly staple. Healthy eating doesn’t need to drain your wallet.

Sneak in those vegetables for picky eater. We all know that kids can be picky eaters and can put up a fight over eating their veggies. Our solution is to sneak vegetables onto sandwiches like lettuce, tomato, cucumber, zucchini or roasted peppers.

Make your own Lunchables. Store bought, pre-packaged lunchables are loaded with processed fats and sugars, steer clear of these when you can. Instead, buy whole wheat crackers, organic meats and cheeses and make your own lunchables for the kids.

If your kids like juice, pack only 100% fruit juices. Check the labels of any juice or juice boxes you buy for your children. All fruit drinks are required to list the percent of juice on the label. Make sure its 100% fruit juice, otherwise it is sure to be loaded with sugars and additives.

Make your own baked goods. Sweets and baked goods are fine in moderation and a special treat for little ones. It’s best to make your own baked goods, instead of buying pre-made or boxed baked goods. This allows you to control the amount of sugars and leave the preservatives behind, making sweet treats more wholesome and healthful.

Get your kids to help in the kitchen. Most of us don’t realize how much kids enjoy helping cook, bake and make their own lunches. This gets them excited about eating their lunches when they help prepare them. The kitchen is a great place to start having discussion about healthy eating and cooking. You may be surprised by how your kids react positively to helping out in the kitchen.

 

Eat Local for Thanksgiving — It’s Easy!

Celery Root SaladThanksgiving is the easiest and best time of year to “eat local,” for the simple reason that the Native Americans and the Pilgrims were “locavores” back when “fresh and local” were not marketing terms, but just the way it was. This means that most of what you find on a traditional Thanksgiving menu has its roots in local, seasonal foods.

A New “Tradition”

Yet too often we feel obliged to follow more recent traditions. We fill a Thanksgiving menu with an industrially raised turkey that’s been injected with saline to make it seem juicy, or Jell-O salad with canned fruit cocktail, or green bean casserole with canned mushroom soup, or sweet potatoes from a can, baked with butter and brown sugar with marshmallows on top. That’s what my Grandma made anyway.

True Thanksgiving Tradition

There’s nothing wrong with family traditions, but it’s easy and fun to give those old favorites new life with fresh, locally raised foods. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to choose from autumn’s bountiful cornucopia of locally grown foods from salad greens to root vegetables.

And there’s even more to be thankful for, because local foods, when grown without synthetic chemicals, enhance our personal health, the health of our farmers, their farms, and our communities. And the virtuous circle expands as local organic foods benefit the soil, air, and water upon which life depends.

Giving Thanks for Healthy Food

There is just no better way to express gratitude for good food, local farmers, and their active stewardship of the land than to buy one or more local items for the big meal on the day we join together and give thanks.

And it’s easy–just tweak your favorite family recipes to create locally produced variations on Thanksgiving classics. Here are a few ideas:

  • Cole slaw can become a light Brussels sprouts salad
  • Mashed potatoes go glam as local potatoes roasted with leeks, parsnips, and rutabaga
  • Sweet potato gratin can be transformed into a sophisticated cardoon gratin
  • Classic raw celery and carrots become a classy celery root remoulade (recipe below)
  • Dinner rolls from a can become buttery sage biscuits
  • Pecan pie turns into local hickory nut or black walnut pound cake

And we all know pumpkin pie is better with local pumpkins, so get yourself a few from a local farmer.

You’ll have the tastiest Thanksgiving ever, and you’ll help keep local, sustainable farms thriving now, and for many Thanksgivings to come. Thank you!

Celery Root in Mustard Sauce (Remoulade)

Ingredients

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 cup heavy cream

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 pound celery root (about 2 medium-sized roots)

Instructions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice, mustard, cream, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  2. Quarter the celery root and peel it. Grate coarsely. Immediately add the celery root to the mustard sauce and toss to coat. Season to taste. Serve as a first course or side salad.

Creative Commons LicenseThe Land Connection Foundation

The best way to enjoy healthy, seasonal produce is to buy it from your local community farmer. To locate the farmers’ market or CSA nearest you, visit www.localharvest.org.

Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains new farmers, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Tips for Brussels Sprouts

SPumpkin SoupThe forerunners of the modern Brussels sprouts were wild cabbage-like plants with small green buds growing along the stems. They were already being cultivated in ancient Rome, but they are named after Brussels because that’s where they became popular in the 13th century.

Don’t Overcook!

Brussels sprouts may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of holiday fare, but they have had an honored place in Britain for centuries, alongside the roast goose or game. Perhaps it was the British tendency to cook vegetables to death that have given Brussels sprouts a raw deal. The solution, naturally, is to eat them raw, or very lightly sautéed.

Best Fresh off the Stalk

First, make sure you have the freshest sprouts possible. If you can get a freshly harvested whole stalk, with the sprouts still attached, all the better. At a local farmers market you may see these Dr. Seuss-like plants 3 to 4 feet tall, with the elegant, miniature cabbages spiraling up the stalk. Sprouts will keep well this way, and you can break the buds off the stalk as needed.

For a raw Brussels sprout salad, shave the sprouts whisper-thin, and then toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Or get more festive by mixing and matching with toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, or hazlenuts), fruit (dried cranberries, fresh apples, or pears), and even cheese (shaved Parmesan, cheddar, or fresh ricotta for a creamy, slaw-like salad).

Healthy and Tasty

Brussels sprouts, like all of the cabbage family, are high in Vitamin C, fiber, and folate. They also contain sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, both of which are believed to block the growth of cancer cells.

But the best reason to eat them is that they taste terrific. Even former sprouts-phobes may not recognize what they are eating when you serve them this Brussels sprout leaves sautéed in butter.

 

Brussels Sprout Leaves Sauteed in Butter

Ingredients

¾ lb Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil)
¼ cup chopped shallot (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley or thyme (optional)
salt and pepper

Instructions

Cut about ¼ inch off the stem end of each sprout, then begin peeling leaves. When you get to the point where it’s difficult to peel farther, trim off another ¼ inch and continue removing leaves. Repeat until you have a bowl full of fluffy leaves.

Place a frying pan over medium-high heat; when hot, add butter, shallots, sprout leaves, and an herb of your choice. Stir until sprout leaves are bright green and slightly wilted, about 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss and serve.

Creative Commons LicenseThe Land Connection Foundation

The best way to enjoy healthy, seasonal produce is to buy it from your local community farmer. To locate the farmers’ market or CSA nearest you, visit www.localharvest.org.

Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains new farmers, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Watch “The Story of Solutions”

I am not writing about candy this week, though it would be a good week to rail against our overconsumption of sugar. A Washington Post article about the weight issues of the new middle class in Mexico that can now afford to drink and eat sugar in even higher quantities than we do in the U.S. did come up with a great line about us overeaters in the U.S., calling us “lumpen gringos.” I was tempted to take that little phrase and fly with it, but it is perfect just as it is.

What I am doing today is encouraging you to watch [a 10-minute video](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpkRvc-sOKk) from the people who have put together a project called The Story of Stuff. I don’t like watching videos on the computer; it’s hard to get past the feeling that I have better uses for my time. But this one – along with my favorite, [Jamie Oliver’s TED award acceptance speech](http://www.ted.com/talks/jamie_oliver.html) – is good because it is inspiring. And we could all use a little inspiration.

The Story of Solutions is the title of this video, and it is marvelously mind-bending and provocative without being complicated or difficult to grasp. The basic premise is that we need to begin to look for solutions that change the game – the game that seems to promote more as the goal. The video encourages us to look at new goals as well as new methods of reaching those goals.

What if the goal were better rather than more? How could that change how we solve the process of getting there? When considering the problem of accumulating plastic waste, we are encouraged to think more about preventing it instead of just figuring out how to dispose of it. And my favorite part is the ultimate and underlying goal of building a society that works together to solve these problems. This is how we ultimately build the power to change the game, and everyone can participate in this endeavor.

Watch it – you will be glad you did.

Great Pumpkins, Great Seeds

SPumpkin SoupIf you like the circus act where a crowd of clowns emerges from a tiny car, then you’ll love spaghetti squash.When I see the stacks of orange orbs in front of grocery stores, I can’t help but think that pumpkins have been hijacked for that trick without a treat, the Halloween jack-o-lantern. The hijackees have been bred not for their texture or flavor, but for their bright color and substantial stems.

Not Your Typical Grocery Store Pumpkin

To find a truly great and delicious pumpkin, look for the opposite of the typical jack-o-lantern pumpkin. The best ones are either the small “sugar” or “pie” pumpkins on the one hand, or the large “cheese pumpkins” on the other. Either way, you will get two treats of the season in one – soft pumpkin flesh and crunchy pumpkin seeds.

At farm stands and farmers markets, you’ll find pie pumpkins ranging from light cream to taupe to a dark bronze or dull orange. Their stems may be thin or even broken off. But remember, you’re buying this pumpkin for the beauty within.

Pumpkins of All Shapes and Sizes

The cheese pumpkins (Winter Luxury, New England Pie, Long Island Cheese, and Cinderella) are flattened and squat, just like a big round of cheese. Some have vertical pleats running from the stem end to the blossom end.

New England Pie is the classic orange pie pumpkin. The flesh is stringless, giving it a nice consistency without putting it in a blender or food processor.

Winter Luxury is my favorite culinary pumpkin. It has a russeted, finely-netted soft orange-gray skin, and smooth, velvety, rich-tasting flesh.

Whichever pie pumpkin you choose, start by cutting it in half and placing it cut side down on an oiled baking sheet. Bake at 350 F until you can easily pierce it with a fork. Then cool to room temperature and scoop out the flesh to make a soup, stew, or your favorite pumpkin dessert. Any way you use it, it will make for a deeply satisfying meal on a chilly autumn evening — another reason to revere the great pumpkin and give thanks.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Ingredients

4 Tbsp butter
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder
½ teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch ground cayenne pepper (optional)
6 cups roasted pumpkin flesh
5 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
2 cups of milk
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup heavy cream

Instructions

  1. Melt butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add spices and stir for a minute more.
  2. Add pumpkin and 5 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Transfer soup, in batches, to a blender or food processor. Cover tightly and blend until smooth. Return soup to saucepan, and add brown sugar. Slowly add milk and cream, stirring to incorporate. Adjust seasonings to taste. Re-heat gently.
  4. Serve in individual bowls, and sprinkle with roasted pumpkin seeds.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Ingredients

Seeds scooped out of a pie pumpkin before roasting
Salt
Olive oil

Instructions

  1. Place the seeds in a colander and rinse to separate the seeds from the strings and flesh. Measure the pumpkin seeds and then in a saucepan, put 2 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt for every half cup of pumpkin seeds. Bring the salted water and pumpkin seeds to a boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Drain.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat the bottom of a roasting pan or heavy baking sheet with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Spread the seeds out in a single layer. Bake on the top rack until the seeds begin to brown, 5-20 minutes, depending on the size of the seeds. Keep an eye on the pumpkin seeds so they don’t burn. When nicely browned, remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a rack.

Creative Commons LicenseThe Land Connection Foundation

The best way to enjoy healthy, seasonal produce is to buy it from your local community farmer. To locate the farmers’ market or CSA nearest you, visit www.localharvest.org.

Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains new farmers, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Speak Up About the Farm Bill

The Farm Bill will soon come up for a vote, and we need to keep up the clamor for a bill that preserves, protects, and supports small struggling farmers and that enables us to continue buy fresh fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices at farmers’ markets. I cringed at a Washington Post headline the other day that referred to lobbyists gearing up for the next budget fight. Most lobbyists shouldn’t even have a role in the process, much less the kind of access that allows them to write the bills, which is exactly what has happened with large parts of the Farm Bill.

Farm-Bill-Petition-Opening-Graphic-Alert-Image-Web.jpgI was heartened, though, by another story in the paper this past weekend about grocery stores coming out against stocking and selling GMO salmon in opposition to the government’s permitting the sale without notification. These retailers are responding to a huge grass-roots groundswell of antagonism to the idea of eating these fish, and while our own government isn’t listening, the retailers are getting the message.

We can make a difference, and as in any battle, we just have to recruit and train the troops and provide them with the ammunition they need to argue a point and get it across. I will surely receive more emails from a variety of organizations over the next few weeks letting me know how to let our voices be heard on the Food Bill. Some go as far as to send prefab notes and emails and to provide a list of our representatives in Congress, as well as committee members who will vote on the language.

Having worked for my own congressman in a district office, I know that a call or a note can mean even more. The staffers who pass messages along will include your personal comments. You might even know more about the bill’s impact than your representatives do. Let them know, and share what you have learned. It will be a more credible comment than a computer-generated message. This is the way of the world of grass-roots lobbying now, but those messages that pour in from interest groups who have passed along their wording to thousands still do not carry the weight of a personal note, email, or call to your representative’s office.

I won’t comment on the Farm Bill again — there is too much other good and bad news to pass along — but I will continue to include links to updates. Thanks for caring and getting involved: this bill could make or break some of your favorite small farmers.

Remembering a Generous Relative

Sibs_in_Caux.jpg
Barbara Jackson, center, with brother Joe Appleton and sister Sherry Constable

I was reminded this past weekend why I am doing what I do now – combining my love of good food and working to help good people into a pretty nice gig. I was reminded by the voices of memory, by the children and siblings of a dear cousin, Barbara A. Jackson, who died tragically and too soon three weeks ago.

My family met to celebrate her life Saturday along the banks of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River at her sister’s farm. Amid all the memories involving her love of food and cooking was one particularly close to my heart. My cousin Barbara was the member of the family who took over the job of making the squash bisque that I took to our Thanksgiving reunions for over 10 years. Finally some years ago she offered to make it herself so that I could bring something new to replace it. And I was quite happy to have her do that. I still make the recipe at home and sometimes bring it to market for sampling, as it is one of our most popular and simplest recipes.

In speaking of Barbara at the gathering, her brother told us a secret about that offer. As it turned out, Barbara hated the chore of making that soup because she almost always made it for a crowd of at least 40 and usually more for our Thanksgivings and other events. I know just how she felt about peeling all those acorn squash. I even told her once that I had tried just baking the squash and then scooping out the softened meat of the squash to add to the soup before pureeing it. But it didn’t taste the same because the squash missed being cooked together with the minced veggies and the potatoes in the broth. So she wasn’t having any of that idea, either.

So we both persevered for all those years until just over a year ago when I learned something new. I happened to watch a segment of Jamie Oliver’s At Home series on PBS and saw him peel the squash for another dish by taking off only about two-thirds of the outer rind, which is just like him – he always avoids removing any part of a vegetable just for show. I had reminded myself just a few weeks ago to let Barbara know about a tip that was worth taking before Thanksgiving rolled around this year.

In his talk, her brother Joe assured us that Barbara didn’t regret her offer at all and stuck with her commitment out of love and out of that nurturing instinct so prevalent in my family. If even one person loved that soup and expected to enjoy it on Thanksgiving, she was not going to disappoint them. I missed my chance to lighten her load a little, but I won’t regret that – she never wanted any of her children or anyone else to regret anything they did, just to learn and move on.

I need to update the introduction you see at the beginning of this recipe. It will mention Barbara as the good and gracious (and old) soul who adopted the recipe as her own and brought it to Thanksgiving dinner for at least 10 years. And I will make it again this year in her honor and in honor of a family that loves to cook and eat good food. Those opportunities to cook and eat together will always be with us as some of our best memories. I hope that it is true for your families.

A Spate of Good News

It’s always fun to pass along good news in the world of health and nutrition, especially when it broadens our understanding of the importance of a healthy diet to our overall good health. The Washington Post pointed out Sept. 23 that a large majority of older men and women are now taking calcium pills and spending a total of $1.2 billion on them. Surprise! They don’t really need to and maybe shouldn’t be.

apples.jpgAccording to the Post, “recent evidence suggests that getting calcium from pills might not be as safe or effective for some people as getting it from food.” The article recommended food-based sources of calcium, including dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods.

And what do we have in abundance in our farmers’ markets now? Leafy greens — not just several varieties of kale, but chard, collards, mustard greens, and beet greens. Just imagine the farmers we would have competing to sell at farmers’ markets if even half of the expenditure on calcium pills was diverted to greens!

McDonald’s once again deserves a nod for its renewed and expanded commitment to introducing more fruits and vegetables as alternatives to french fries in their adult-oriented value meals and to aggressively promoting healthier beverages for its Happy Meals. This is a long-term program that will be phased in slowly — primarily to develop the supply chain, I suppose — but there is no doubt that these efforts will have an impact on the American diet. Since McDonald’s began encouraging children to choose milk instead of a soft drink with their Happy Meals, their milk sales have increased by 50 percent since the mid-2000s. They have also learned from experience that they cannot dictate those healthier choices, but they can offer them and let the customers move to them at their own pace.

There is reason to believe that those choices will improve over time. Science has finally caught up with the common sense of centuries, and proof is pouring in that what we eat can make us healthy, wealthy, and wise. How and what our children eat can affect their their ability to learn, as well as their ability to earn. The choices we provide as responsible adults influence and maybe control what they eat as kids. Those choices also build a foundation that affects what they choose for themselves as adults.

This process must involve — and ideally be led by — our schools, where all of our children are exposed to some of the worst foods they can eat. Even in our area, there is progress here too. Visit Realfoodsforkids.org to learn more about what is happening in Fairfax County. They need volunteers to expand their good advocacy work throughout the county; check out what you can do for the school in your neighborhood.

And one last thing: Guess what? An apple a day can keep the doctor away! According to a Sept. 26 Post article, apples were recognized for their health benefits by ancient Roman and Anglo-Saxon civilizations. More recently, apples have been proven to lower bad cholesterol when eaten every day and also seem to prevent strokes. The Post also pointed out that apple skins are loaded with fiber and quercetin, a phytochemical with anti-inflammatory and heart-protecting qualities, and may reduce the spread of cancer cells.

With all those locally grown great greens and appealing apples out there now, this is the time of year to get healthy, and I can’t imagine two better-tasting ways to do that. Buy a mess of greens and a bushel of apples and get crackin’.

And remember the children out there who aren’t yours when it comes time to devote some of your valuable time to a valuable effort such as improving the health of the community.