Your Sustainable Kitchen – Planning and Stocking

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Imagine this scene… There is food in the refrigerator that needs to be cooked, but you are too busy. The one night that you can make time, you look in the refrigerator and the pieces don’t quite add up to a meal so you order take-out. When the weekend comes around and you actually have time to cook a big dinner, your lettuce is wilted, the sweet potatoes have gone soft, the greens aren’t green, the garlic sprouted… You have been thinking about starting a compost bin, but you haven’t yet, so it all goes into the garbage and you start again.

Does this sound familiar (or is it just me)? But then some weeks are the opposite:

On Sunday you make a grocery list and shop. When you get home from shopping you take some time to prep your vegetables so that they are ready to be quickly thrown together for lunch or dinner. You make a big pot of something that can be used throughout the week (chili, stew, beans and rice or a whole chicken) and put that away, even freezing some for those rushed evenings when something unexpected comes up. You cook Sunday supper. You’ve planned your dinners for the week and pack lunches at night, and everyone gets fed and nothing grows green fur in your crisper drawer.

How is all this planning ahead and stocking up making your kitchen (and you) more sustainable?

  1. You plan ahead and don’t waste any food.
  2. You buy items in bulk, saving money and packaging.
  3. You go to the farmers market and buy local, in-season vegetables that are cheaper (because the farmer has them in abundance), have little or no pesticides (because of the farmer’s growing practices) and you support your local economy.

Planning out your week feels really good – for your health, your pocketbook, your planet, your farmer – and it tastes amazing!

How can you make it happen every week? Easy!

Planning

  • Pick a weekly day/time to sit with a few cookbooks or your favorite recipe blogs (like our Real Food Right Now series)
  • Write out meals for every night of the week and note when you can use the leftovers or make a double batch (use a meal planning app or print a meal planner like this one from KrisCarr.com)
  • Make a list for your shopping trip (always check out what you already have on hand, and keep a list on the fridge to add to during the week –  find a cute one and print it out. Like this grocery list from Palmettos & Pigtails. It makes planning more fun!)

Stocking

  • Be sure to have staples on hand – rice, pasta, nuts, beans, spices (check your stock and add items to your shopping list periodically)
  • Shop at your favorite markets – farmers’ markets, a grocery store with good deals, your local coop

Action

  • Prepare/clean ingredients ahead of time
  • Cook/freeze dinners nightly
  • Pack up left overs for lunches
  • Keep the most perishable foods visible – consider moving older items to the top shelf
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The Happiness Diet: A Book Review

We are all looking for happiness. Is it possible that it’s as close as the end of our forks? Tyler Graham and Drew Ramsey, MD, whose new book, The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body, features with a juicy burger on the cover, say it is. And the good looking burger on the cover of their book – meat, cheese, bun, veggies and all – are part of the prescription.

Eating burgers for happiness, with side effects like weight loss, a healthy brain and reduced cravings, sounds like what America has been waiting for. In The Happiness Diet, Ramsey and Graham teach us why the current Modern American Diet (MAD) has increased depression along with waistlines. Our diet has changed drastically over the last 100 years, and along with it, our brains. The MAD diet, which is made up primarily of industrially produced foods, has been stripped of the mood boosting foods that our brains need – fats, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. To improve our mental and emotional health, stabilize moods and improve focus, all which are needed for a good attempt at happiness, we need to eat better. But it’s not just about eating more or less carbs, or fat or protein. The Happiness Diet is calling for better food, dare we say… sustainable food. You can imagine that we are pretty happy just thinking about it.

Not many diets focus on sustainable food, which makes this book quite refreshing. The Happiness Diet sees that where our food comes from is as important as which foods we decide to eat. The industrialization of food has stripped away many of the nutrients our bodies and minds need. So in addition to the “diet” that we follow, we need to look beyond the processed and fast foods that have become a staple of the American diet and reconnect with whole, seasonal foods. And as a side, in the “Epilogue,” right in line with the philosophies that we find important, the authors remind us that our healthy choices have a ripple effect. These sustainable choices we make impact the land we live on and the people who produce and harvest it too (which can only lead to… more happiness!).

So what exactly is the Happiness Diet?

The Happiness Diet is one made up of healthy and delicious foods that will help to create and maintain a good mood. It is broken down in the book so that it’s easy to understand. What nutritional elements are we missing and why do we need them? What foods can we find them in? They even break it out into Focus Foods, Energy Foods and Mood Foods – and let us know how they work.

The book is sprinkled with the “Top 100 Reasons to Avoid Processed Foods” – and there are some good ones.

Reason 21: Old El Paso Taco Dinner kits contain ethoxyquin, a chemical invented by Monsanto in the 1950s and originally registered as a pesticide. There is very limited human safety data, but in a test tube it damages the DNA of human immune cells.

Reason 59: The FDA allows 5% of any jar of maraschino cherries to contain maggots.

Reason 64: More than eighty thousand chemicals are approved for use in the United States. The vast majority of these have not been studied for their safety — many are found in processed food.

Vegetarians and vegans beware! This book is for meat eaters. But if you have an open mind there is solid information about what vitamins/minerals/fats/etc. are essential for a healthy mind. With some substitutes, you could follow what they have outlined.

Graham and Ramsey have not only introduced the principles behind The Happiness Diet, but they tell you how you can make it happen. They outline a meal plan and even talk you through shopping and stocking your kitchen. With delicious recipes such as Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Barley Tabbouleh, Slow Pork and Mexican Breakfast, I don’t know why you wouldn’t give happiness a chance.

What’s in Season? Sweet Potatoes

Unless you’re in southern California, the farmers’ market is certainly sparse these days. Pea shoots and some other early spring favorites are surely right around the corner but for now, at least here in NYC,the pickin’s are slim: we’ve got meat, dairy, apples (lots of apples!), root vegetables and some good looking sweet potatoes.

What’s a Sweet Potato? It’s a perennial tuber root with leaves and flowers too! You can eat the leaves, but by the time we get them in the winter, the roots have been stored for months and the leaves are long gone. And just to clarify, a sweet potato is not related to a potato or a yam, but is its very own thing  – strangely enough, it is in the Morning Glory family!

Where do they come from? Domesticated  an estimated 5000+ years ago in Central or South America, sweet potatoes are now grow in the US mainly in warmer states like North Carolina, Mississippi, California and Tennessee. They are often grown in other countries too (China is one of the biggest exporters), so look for locally grown sweet potatoes at your farmers’ market, or regionally grown at your grocery store.

Varieties? Hundreds! The long and tapered root is sometimes small, fingerling potato size, but they can grow quite large. The skin is smooth and comes in many different colors – yellow, orange, red, brown, purple and beige. The most common flesh color is orange, but can also range from shades of white to a brilliant purple.

Season? Sweet potatoes don’t like frost. They are harvested from August to October and then stored for us to enjoy through the winter.

Dirty Dozen or Clean 15? Sweet potatoes rank #13 on the Clean 15 list from the Environmental Working Group’s shoppers guide to pesticides in produce.

Nutritional info? Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, they can also improve blood sugar regulation.

From the World’s Healthiest Foods website:
1 cup of baked Sweet Potato has 102.60 calories and many vitamins and minerals: vitamin A438.1%, vitamin C 37.2%, manganese 28.4%, vitamin B6 16.5%, tryptophan15.6%, potassium15.4%, fiber 15%, vitamin B5 10.1%, copper 9%, vitamin B 38.5%

How to cook them? Grilled, baked, mashed, roasted, steamed, boiled – they are extremely versatile. Soup, au gratin, chips, veggie burgers and more recipes than you will ever have time to try show up when you Google “Sweet Potato Recipes.”

Recipes: I tried out this sweet potato recipe from the wildly popular Healthy. Happy. Life. blog – this recipe alone was shared on Facebook 472 times! I just made the burgers (see the slideshow above), but check out her post to see how beautiful they look with the Cilantro Jicama Fiesta Slaw! The burgers were very easy to make and tasted delicious. They were a little bit denser the next day, and even more “patty” like. The jalapeno added a nice kick!

Black Bean Fiesta Burgers
vegan, makes 5 burgers

Burgers:
1 1/2 cups black beans, drained/canned (unsalted)
3 Tbsp fine bread crumbs
3/4 cup baked/mashed sweet potato
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro – including stems
1/3 cup diced white onion
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chopped garlic
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 Tbsp lime juice
1/2 jalapeno, diced/de-seeded
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast – or use more bread crumbs
a few dashes of chipotle powder or cayenne for extra heat

Directions:

1. First off prepare the Fiesta Slaw according to the directions. Chill in fridge until ready to add to burgers.

2. Whip up your “special spicy sauce” – set aside in fridge as well.

3. Next up, prepare the burgers. Pulse all the ingredients in a food processor. You can also mash well by hand – but a fp is a tad faster. Next, hand-form burger patties with the mixture and place them on a lightly greased baking sheet. I like to roll my burgers in a touch of bread crumbs so that they have nice crisp edges.

4. Bake your burgers at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool for a few minutes before assembling burgers. The last 5 minutes of cooking – add your burger buns to the oven to warm/toast them.

5. Assemble those burgers! Warm bun, spread of special sauce, tomato, onion, optional avocado, burger, fiesta slaw and finally another slather of the special spicy sauce on the top bun.

Serve! Enjoy the fiesta in your mouth!

Want more sweet potato? The Kitchn recently sent out this tasty round-up of sweet potato recipes.

Thrive Foods – For the Planet and Your Health

While we have had our bad eating habits explained to us before, vegan triathlete Brendan Brazier brings a new perspective to the topic and breaks the elements down into measurable chunks in his new book, Thrive Foods, which lends real weight to his theory that a plant-based diet is better for the planet and our personal health. Thrive Foods starts off on a depressing note with a detailed description of the toll industrial food production takes on our planet and the toll our current eating habits are taking on our health, but finishes off with a delicious plant-based cookbook to help us counteract the first three chapters.

This isn’t Brazier’s first book about foods that help us to thrive. His interest in food to fuel his body for its maximum output started early on when he was training for his passion – running, swimming and biking in the form of triathlons. As he experimented with foods to help him recoup after workouts, he discovered that the more nutrient dense foods he ate, the better his body performed, advice  he shared in his first two books – Thrive Fitness and Thrive. But what came out of that research (and into this book) was more than a diet, but an appreciation and deep understanding of how much our food choices as individuals impact the world around us, mostly in a very negative way.

Since nutrition has been Brazier’s main topic for many years, it makes sense that he begins his new book, Thrive Foods, by explaining where our nutritional deficits are coming from: stress, lack of sleep and nutritionally deficient food. He takes an extra step in this book by incorporating nutritional information with environmental issues in what he calls the “nutrient-to-resource ratio.” A simple way to see where you can get the healthiest foods while taking into consideration the drain their production has on arable land, fresh water, fossil fuels and air quality.

While part of the book reads like those old train math questions – for any science or math geek or for anyone who wants serious proof that changing your diet can help to improve climate change, it does the job.

A Brazier math problem:

By weight, 232 times more kale than cattle can be produced on the same amount of land (38,400 pounds of kale per acre compared with 165 pounds of beef). And since beef has a nutrient density of 20 and kale registers at 1000, which is 50 times greater, for every calorie you get from kale, you’d have to eat 50 from beef to match the micronutrient level. Since beef has about four times the amount of calories per pound as kale, to gain the equivalent in micronutrients from beef as from kale would require 2900 times more arable land.

To help drive it all home, the last two chapters before the recipe section explain the key components of good nutrition and which foods are the most nutrient dense and why. Then the last ⅔ of the book is made up of 200 plant-based recipes for peak health. Brazier has tapped into North America’s best vegan/vegetarian chefs and restaurants to gather the tastiest recipes – from a very simple Mexican Salad Bowl to a more involved Raw Zucchini and Carrot Lasagna with Almond “Ricotta.” The recipes are simple enough that anyone could follow along, and interesting and tasty enough that they could also entertain the most seasoned cook.

Brendan has cast a wide net of appeal with this book. Interested in nutrition? He’s got it covered. Sustainable agriculture your thing? Check. Love to cook? Recipes galore. Want to geek out on facts? Done. Want to be inspired to make changes to your diet? Keep reading. Are you a meat eater and don’t think the book is for you? Try again; these principals can even be applied one meal a week. If you are undecided, I say pick it up and give it a try, you will learn something and maybe even change your eating habits (and help the planet!) in the process.

Our Hero: Melinda Hemmelgarn, the Food Sleuth

A few years ago, a colleague and I drove from Bonaroo in Manchester, TN to the LOHAS conference in Boulder, CO. We’d put a note out through the Sustainable Table mailing list to see if anyone had suggestions of sustainable farms to see or people to meet. A woman we had never met responded with an invitation to brunch at her home in Columbia, MO. “Right on the way,” she said. I remember pulling up to her beautiful home and thinking, “this is a little weird… who is this person again?” My apprehension disappeared the second Melinda answered the door. She served up a delicious breakfast in her backyard and we had never-ending things to talk about.

This week, I reconnected with Melinda on the phone to talk about her work, her life and what inspires her in her mission to educate people about food, health and agriculture.

Melinda Hemmelgarn – registered dietician, writer, inspirational speaker, investigative nutritionist, media expert and advocate of sustainable agriculture – is our hero! She is the host of the Food Sleuth radio show on KOPN 89.5, where she interviews the leading experts on food, health and agriculture, helping listeners decipher the often confusing and conflicting information about the food we eat. Melinda is not only sharing this information with us, but she is teaching people the media literacy/critical thinking skills necessary to “think beyond their plate” and connect the dots between food, health and agriculture.

Be sure to follow Melinda’s work: Food Sleuth  Radio & Farm Hands Project &  F.A.R.M.  Food, Art, Revolution, Media

And her upcoming events: TODAY! August 25th in MN – Melinda and Dan will be presenting their F.A.R.M. project at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy &  October 18th in WA – Melinda will be presenting the Keynote at the FoodMed conference.

Here is a bit of my talk with Melinda. To listen to the entire interview, download the podcast for free from iTunes, or download a transcript here (PDF).

Q: I’m really curious about how you came to the food/health/agriculture connection? Was sustainable agriculture always an influential piece of nutrition for you? Or did the food/health/agriculture connection come around later?

That’s a great question. And it came around much later. So I’ve been a dietician for over 30 years and I can tell you that back then, we learned about food and its connection to disease prevention and health promotion. And that’s what really got me excited about dietetics and why I became a clinical dietitian. And it wasn’t until 2004 when I did a Food and Society Policy Fellowship that my eyes were really opened about the connection between agriculture and sustainable agriculture ad how that influences the quality of our food. And since then I have never looked back.So that was a two-year Food and Society Policy Fellowship. And it opened my eyes to the value of school gardens, of getting people involved in food production and understanding the connection between the quality of our soil and the quality of our food and ultimately our health. And once that curtain was raised, that’s when I really saw an opening for more of this kind of work, especially in the health professions. And I think that changes are happening very quickly and I’m very happy to say that there are many people in the health professions who are recognizing this link between how we produce our food and who produces it and under what conditions, to public health. But it’s always been that way and the time has come.

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Newest Newsletter – Healthy Bites #2

Here we go, a little excerpt:

I hope you enjoyed last month’s simple tips for spectacular health! It was fun for me and I would love for you to send feedback and/or health questions for to me to answer in future editions of Healthy Bites. If you missed a newsletter or would like to read my blog posts (and more), you can track them all down at the new Healthy Bites blog.

Now on to our easy tips for improved health and fearless cooking!

Here we go into quinoa, mushroom bourguignon, inspiration, and questions answered…

Read the full newsletter here!


Kale, What Doesn’t Kill You…

I don’t recall eating kale for most of my life. It’s not that I didn’t know what it was it’s just that I didn’t buy it, cook it or know that it was edible. As a teen, I can recall the salad bar at Sizzler (a family favorite) being decorated with its curly leaves stuffed into the ice – not something that would have been mistaken as a crudité and piled onto your plate. It must have slipped quietly into my diet when I started studying nutrition. Even then, I was taught about its superfood properties, but didn’t think much about those hardy, dark, green leaves.

When I talk to people about kale now, most of them know that it’s good for them and feel that they should be eating it, but still they don’t. Typical comments include: “I don’t know how to cook it,” or “It’s tough and bitter, isn’t it?” or “It’s too healthy for me.” Basically, people are afraid of it and like me, many people didn’t grow up eating it. Now, people are curious.

Can you shift your knowledge of kale from an ornamental plant that lines driveways in the suburbs and brings color to the White House Rose Garden in the fall? Can you get over your fear of this intimidating green and instead welcome it onto your dinner plate?

Preparing for a recent road trip with a kale-fearing friend, I decided to sneak some of this immune-boosting superfood, hopefully unnoticed, next to our traditional road trip foods. I made kale chips, a salty, crunchy favorite of mine. The night before our departure, I turned a big bunch of kale into bite-sized morsels. My friend sat in the kitchen talking to me while I packed other snacks and taste tested my kale chips until they were crisp to my satisfaction. “Taste this for me.” I said, as though I were talking to a child who doesn’t like to eat vegetables. I didn’t mention that it was high in vitamin C, B6, manganese, calcium, copper and potassium. “Yum,” he mumbled as he reached for another. “These are tasty. Can we eat them instead of popcorn while we watch the movie?” The chips didn’t make it to the car the next morning, but I think I helped him conquer a fear of kale that night.

Learning about kale’s nutritional value might boost its image in your head, but ultimately it’s the taste and versatility that will win you over. While kale can boast reducing cancer risks, increasing cell detoxification, fighting belly fat and promoting immune systems, if you don’t know what to do with it, you aren’t going to eat it. You will find a few varieties in the store, including curly, dinosaur and purple, but my personal favorite is the basic, curly leaf kale. You can bake it, sauté it, boil it, add it to soups, spice it up or even sweeten it. To make that first step towards allaying your fears, I suggest making kale chips. It worked for my friend and it can work for you.

Crunchy Kale Chips

These tasty treats are salty, crunchy and make a healthy substitute for potato chips. They go from perfectly cooked to burnt quickly, so keep an eye on them. The thinner leaves cook faster, so pull those out and leave the others in a few extra minutes. The kale will shrink, but don’t worry, there will still be enough to enjoy and share. When they are ready, the kale chips will crunch!

Ingredients

1 bunch curly kale, washed, dried, stemmed and ripped into large pieces
1 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground (or to taste)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Put kale into a big bowl. Add the apple cider vinegar and olive oil and gently toss until all the leaves are covered. Sprinkle the nutritional yeast, salt and pepper over the kale pieces and toss a little bit more until the seasoning is evenly distributed.
  3. Spread the pieces onto baking sheets in a single layer. You might need 2 or 3 sheets depending on the size of the bunch of kale or you might have to do this in batches.
  4. Cooking time varies depending on the thickness of the baking sheets and the size of the kale pieces. Start with 10 minutes, then turn the kale over and cook for another 7 to 12 minutes.