Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How Has Real Food Changed our Lives?

This is part of Real Food Wednesday: Share Your Real Food Testimonials

I was raised to be aware of artificial colors and hydrogenated oils so we didn't get much candy or packaged cookies at home but I never really understood why and you'd better believe that as soon as I hit school, I inhaled the latest kind of every colorful piece I could find. My friends all thought we were health nuts and I guess comparatively, we kind of were, but, oddly enough, we really were not. We had plenty of sugar in our house, we went through many 5lb bags regularly. We ate a lot of cereal and bread, my mom made homemade bread as I got older. We guzzled regular (not organic) skim milk, pasteurized and from cows shot up on growth hormones and living in small confined areas. We ate regular eggs from hens in coops so tight they had their beaks clipped. We used margarine over butter, it was the healthier alternative then. Our meat was mostly kosher so they got a little more room to move but I'm sure they were fed grain, not healthy for cows; I'm not sure if genetic modifications were big back then but as the years passed, I'm sure they were fed gmo corn and soy. The veggies were mostly overcooked, not very delicious, not organic, and we were not encouraged to drink water.

When I moved out on my own I ate whatever without much regard but did pretty much keep away from artificial colors and flavors, out of habit. But my diet wasn't good. And my body felt the effects of it even though I exercised and looked pretty healthy on the outside.

Life changes when you are responsible for someone other than yourself. Pregnant with my first child, my husband and I really started thinking about what I ate to nourish the baby and we started reading and making small changes.

After he started to eat solids, we realized we needed to get into organics and make greater commitments to our health and so our journey into truly real food began. As well as our journey to change how we lived, our footprint on the planet, our understanding for how our purchase impacted others in the world, and to use real products to clean instead of chemicals.

I was just speaking with someone the other day and she asked if I felt healthier. The truth is that we, as a society, don't know how unhealthy we truly are until we change our diet. Then we can feel the difference.

You can tell a lot about a person from their, well, output. Many of us, I was included, thought it was normal to have uncomfortable poops. It's not! Stomach cramps, pains, headaches, constipation, diarrhea, all of this that we live with everyday like it is the way our bodies are meant to work, but it's not. We see commercials on TV to help make these "regular" symptoms tolerable from antacid to laxatives and pain medication because this is our normal. Once we start eating REAL food, we know the truth. But money drives corporations so we are force fed a bunch of convenience pre-packaged foods created with artificial flavorings from fossil fuels and from things that were once food but were raised on sterile farms poisoned with chemicals to enhance our fast-paced life which causes us to need more meds in order to live comfortably.

How has my life changed? I feel alive! I am alive. I have a connection with my food and my family. I take time to create and appreciate each meal (and I usually make three meals a day for the six of us.) My children understand and I have confidence in the choices they make. We make a conscious decision every time we put something in our mouths or make a purchase.

My children taste. When we travel, our biggest luggage is our food. On our way back from Disney World we were running late and hence had run out of food. We stopped at a fast food place (how many of my friends had looked at me like I was a child abuser for never taking them for fast food!) and figured, well, once wouldn't kill them. They had seen the commercials, so you know, happiness comes in a bag. Well, they looked at it and took one bite, spit it out and asked "what is this?" They were right! It really doesn't even taste good. It doesn't taste like real food because it isn't food at all.

My children understand what food is, what it is for, and that it SHOULD taste delicious always. They have respect for the earth, for real food and our connection to the planet. They know that we impact our environment and that each of us must make choices for our own health and the future of our planet. And because they understand, they make good informed choices by themselves. When there is candy at school, they use it to barter for other things their friends have or they give it away. (Really, I actually have had teachers call me to ask if something was wrong because they wouldn't eat the cake, candy or even pizza that was offered.) My children are smart. They know that when they get home they will have some truly yummy food made with real ingredients, including love.

Join the Real Food Wednesday Carnival. Add your testimonial by heading over to Cheeseslave

What’s Real Food?

Real food is whole, natural, and nutrient-dense.

* Organic
* Humanely raised (animals on pasture, not in factories)
* Grown locally when possible
* Whole and unrefined (real maple syrup instead of high-fructose corn syrup)
* Processed as little as possible (raw milk instead of pasteurized and homogenized)
* Nutrient-dense (enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics)
* Free of additives and preservatives
* Free of synthetic and chemical ingredients
* Not genetically modified
* Traditionally produced and prepared

In other words, butter or lard instead of shortening or vegetable oil. Real milk from a cow instead of soy milk. Real sprouted flour (ground fresh or purchased) instead of refined white flour. Real, natural sweeteners like honey or unrefined cane sugar (rapadura or sucanat) instead of white sugar.

If it’s highly processed and/or doesn’t come from nature, it’s not real food!

We’re not saying you have to be perfect (nobody is) but try to feature real foods in your recipes and minimize the junk like vegetable oil and refined sugar and additives.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Irish Soda Bread

Yesterday morning I open my refrigerator to sour milk and one egg to feed my family breakfast. This is just depressing. Plus I hate the idea of throwing out (what was once good) organic milk. So I searched for something to make that would satisfy four hungry kids and found a wonderful plain Irish Soda Bread.

It was easy, fast, and actually delish. The crunchy crust was a real favorite and we all enjoyed the texture of the bread. And what a way to use up sour milk!

Preheat oven to 425F.

In a mixer with a bread hook mix:
3 cups flour (I used a mix of some whole wheat and all purpose white)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Then add 1 1/2 cups sour milk (I'm not talking about curdled milk) and mix with the dough hook until it pulls from the sides. If too wet, you may need to add more flour, up to another cup. If too dry add more milk, up to another 1/4 cup.

Cut the top in an X to allow it to grow and bake in bread pan or free form in a circle. Bake 30 minutes until the crust forms and tapping it sounds hollow - you can cheat and peak if you're not sure.

We enjoyed with almond butter, jam, and cheese.

I have decided to get a good quality vita-mix and start milling my own flours fresh. There is a lot of discussion on pre-milled flours losing nutrients and not being good for us. I'm also going to start researching sprouting my own wheat berries and making sprouted breads. So stay tuned for that information - I can't wait to learn about it. If you have been doing this or know how, share the love!

Crispy outside Chewy inside Chocolate cookies and Palm Shortening

Not super healthy but hey, we all want a little chocolate time and again and these are probably the best chocolate cookies we've ever had!

I didn't have butter so I had to search for a cookie that used shortening or substitute it when the recipe called for butter. Though I don't seem to use it that often, I keep the organic Spectrum shortening made from Palm oil on hand for just in case moments.

I based these on a recipe from The Enlightened Cook with only a few modifications. I changed the sugar to brown sugar for the texture and cut back on it a bit, as I always do, but you could try 1 full cup if you like your cookies sweeter.

The cookies came out crispy on the outside outside (if you allow them to set and cool and don't devour them all while hot, which is easy since the batch makes a lot!) and chewy on the inside, they even pull when you tear them in half. For us, they are the perfect cookie with great texture and flavor.

Crispy outside Chewy inside Chocolate cookies:

3/4 cup dark brown sugar or Succanat
1/3 cup spectrum organic palm shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large organic egg
1/3 cup unsweetened Fair Trade cocoa powder
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon non alum baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream sugar and shortening until light and fluffy. Add egg and mix until incorporated. Add vanilla and cocoa and mix well. Then just dump or gracefully add all the dry ingredients right on top of the wet mix in the order listed. I like whole wheat flour with chocolate recipes, it adds another dimension and more depth of flavor. Mix it all until blended just a minute or two, do not over mix it.

Using a smaller ice cream scooper make cookie rounds on a nonstick cookie sheet. I use a silpat. They will spread, no need to push them down. You will have slightly thicker cookies if you refrigerate the dough first or if the shortening is colder and they are a prettier cookie that way too (see the single above recently made in a new batch) but none less delicious either way.

Bake 9-11 minutes and cool on cookie tray a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack or your mouth. Makes 31 cookies. Note: storing in an airtight container will keep the chewy texture but you'll lose the crispy exterior.

About Shortening:
Shortening is solid at room temperature and is traditionally lard or hydrogenated oils like Crisco. Nowadays, most of us don't like the idea of using lard which we know is a saturated fat. Saturated fats have been accused of clogging arteries and leading to cardiovascular disease. We all know that Crisco is full of trans-fats and is not good for us so we need to avoid that fake fat.

Palm oil is naturally solid at room temperature making it a perfect substitute for traditional shortening. Extracted from the palm fruit, organic palm oil shortening is a whipped white/clear shortening with no flavor so it works well for cooking (though unlike butter, adds little flavor) in baked goods, and it has a high melting point so can be used for sauteing and even deep frying. Organic Palm Shortening is non-hydrogenated and trans-fat free. Palm oil is a mixture of monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids and is made up of short- and medium-chain fatty acids where lard is made up of all long-chain fatty acids. It is a source of antioxidants and MCT (medium chain trigylcerides) known to speed up the metabolism.

Palm shortening is prevalent in Europe and would be the most popular oil in the world but for the high soybean use in the U.S. The only real problem with palm oil is in its harvesting. Many companies will plow down forests instead of working the land sustainably. Choose a brand like Spectrum or another that works with nature, is organic, and fosters stronger communities and schools where the palm oil is harvested.

Have some on hand for those just-in-case moments and to use whenever. It has a very long shelf life (even well past the date stamped on there) and is a good pantry item to stock.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Alphabet Soup: HFCS

High Fructose Corn Syrup is a readily used sweetener in processed foods in the U.S.. And, according to the HFCSfacts site, may even be a health food:
"In terms of composition, high fructose corn syrup is nearly identical to table sugar (sucrose), which is composed of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. Glucose is one of the simplest forms of sugar that serves as a building block for most carbohydrates. Fructose is a simple sugar commonly found in fruits and honey. ...Research confirms that high fructose corn syrup is safe and nutritionally the same as table sugar. ...It contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients. "
So it's a natural thing, just like fruit, sugar cane, and honey and serves as the building blocks for carbs. It's completely safe and "all natural." Even the calories are about the same in high fructose corn syrup as in sugar. What a relief!
"High-fructose corn syrup could be all-natural, if cornstarch happened to fall into a vat of alpha-amylase, soak there for a while, then trickle into another vat of glucoamylase, get strained to remove the Aspergillus fungus [like peanuts, corn can grow this mycotoxin, a toxic mold (see peanut scare for more info.)] likely growing on top, and then find its way into some industrial-grade D-xylose isomerase." Dr. Mercola
HFCS is about as pure as this complicated chemical process naturally occurring in our world.

HFCS rise in popularity coincides with the rising obesity and diabetes in our country but that may be coincidence since there was also the rise in fast foods and processed foods generally during this same time.

There is probably some link to the rising use of HFCS and the effects it has had on our food consumption because things like soda, tantalize our sweet taste buds but never satiate us, causing us to want and eat more. But on the front page of the HFCSfacts site it clearly states:
The American Medical Association (AMA) recently concluded that "high fructose corn syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners."
That's because a calorie is a calorie, and sugar and HFCS do contain about the same number of calories per unit. And true, they both contain fructose and glucose. But since HFCS is man-made, it can range anywhere from 42% to up to 90% fructose. That's not exactly the same composition as naturally occurring sugar. Having a higher fructose amount sounds good intuitively. Fructose sounds like fruit and is found in fruit so we assume it must be healthier than glucose:
"but every cell in the body can metabolize glucose. However, all fructose must be metabolized in the liver. The livers of the rats on the high fructose diet looked like the livers of alcoholics, plugged with fat and cirrhotic." Dr. Field
Our body breaks down sugar, 100% sucrose, into glucose and fructose. Our body regulates the rate of this breakdown to control the release and absorption of the sugars into our bloodstream. HFCS consists of fructose and glucose too so it was seen as similar to sugar. But the body cannot regulate the absorption of this sweetener in the same way. The liver turns excess fructose more readily into fat in the body than it does glucose. The way our body metabolizes foods is one of the reasons why HFCS has been cited as a culprit for increased risks in diabetes, hypertension, cancer, heart disease, and obesity.

High Fructose Corn Syrup was created in 1970, so there is not much of a history. HFCS is not a sweetener our grandmothers used. Sugar had been the primary sweetener, created from sugar-beets and cane sugar. High Fructose Corn Syrup is more readily used in the U.S. where corn is cheap (and subsidized by our government, but that's another post!) and where, in 1977, tariffs were added to sugar making imported sugar more expensive. No studies have been done on the long term effects of HFCS on human beings, well, except for the massive experiment they are doing on our population since 1970 with us as unknowing guinea pigs. Our country looks differently since 1970. It tastes differently too. Never before in history have so many people consumed so much fructose.

And though the HFCS commercials explain that everything is "fine in moderation," the fact is that you must work to avoid excess HFCS. It is a key ingredient in more than just soda and candy. It can be found in virtually every processed food including condiments (ketchup, salad dressings), snacks (crackers, cookies, cereal bars), frosting, jam & jelly, ice cream, "wholesome" breads, and even some "health foods" like yogurts, energy bars and fruit juices.

Manufacturers use HFCS because it is a super-cheap sweetener despite the complicated process to create it. It is easy to transport and use. It adds texture and helps preserve foods for a longer shelf-life. Talk about efficient, one bushel of corn produces enough corn syrup to sweeten 324 cans of soda. It is found in nearly every single non-organic processed foods.

Along with HFCS, we, as a nation and individually, are consuming way too much corn.
Check out this great video on Mercola called CORNOGRAPHY. If you are eating processed foods, grain-fed meats (corn fattens up cattle cheaply and is not what cows are meant to eat (see Alphabet Soup: rbgh for some information on grassfed dairy and meats.), eggs laid by vegetarian-fed hens, then you are most certainly eating too much corn. And let's not forget, corn is a starch, a grain; it is not a vegetable.

It's most probably corn if the ingredient list of the product contains:
  • Baking Powder
  • Confectioner’s or Powdered Sugar
  • Corn Oil
  • Corn Syrup
  • Cornmeal
  • Cornstarch
  • Grain-fed or grain-finished Beef
  • Dextrin or Dextrine
  • Dextrose
  • Food Starch
  • Fructose
  • Fructose And Fructose Syrup
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Malt
  • Malt Extract
  • Malt Syrup
  • Maltodextrin - made from corn and used in foods for a creamy texture, at a minimum, look for organic in food ingredients
  • Monosodium Glutamate
  • MSG
  • Sorbitol
  • Starch
  • Vegetarian-fed Eggs
  • Vegetable Oil (though it's usually a combination of soy, corn, cottonseed and maybe peanut)
  • Xanthan Gum
By the way, regular corn syrup (you know, the kind home cooks use for pecan pie) is not the same as HFCS as it is 100% glucose which is more easily metabolized by our bodies, but still is a corn product. Also important to point out, some honeys may try to use cheap HFCS to expand their bottom line and lower the price of their honey. This is illegal and the government does check for it, but you should be aware of the possibility of this occurring.

In addition, and very importantly, conventionally raised corn is most certainly genetically modified (see Alphabet Soup: gmo) and the enzymes used to create HFCS are GMO as well.

And now we find out, HFCS may even contain Mercury:

Environmental Health published a study recently with the shocking revelation that HFCS contained trace amounts of mercury. The vast majority of popular name-brand foods tested positive. The mercury comes from the process used to create HFCS from cornstarch. Of course the corn refineries refuted and extolled the virtues of HFCS.

I'll post more on mercury later but suffice to say that mercury is a prevalent carcinogenic toxin. It escapes into our water systems, soil, and air from coal-fired power plants and from agricultural use in some pesticides and fungicides (so ironically the very corn that is grown for HFCS could have been a culprit in releasing the mercury into our environment.)

Mercury is a cumulative poison which means it accumulates in muscle tissue over time. It heads for the brain where it can stop nutrients from entering the cells and it can bind to immune cells as a factor in auto-immune disorders. Significant levels can cause depression, arthritis, fatigue, insomnia, and mercury poisoning. It can cause permanent neurological damage, fertility problems, and birth defects.

Though prevalent, there are ways to lessen our risk of this poison and one of them may now be to avoid HFCS. I'll add more tips on ways to avoid mercury in a post soon. And even if this study had flaws, as HFCSfacts has come out to say, there are so many other reasons to avoid HFCS, it really doesn't matter.

While it is important for all of us to lessen our intake of too many sweets generally and focus on good nutritionally valued whole real foods, our children should avoid HFCS, gmo and rbgh products. We should work to lessen our family intake of corn and processed pre-packaged foods. Read labels to avoid the ingredients posted above. If you haven't yet, begin by limiting (and never allow children to drink) sodas, no matter the sweetener. Only purchase real juice (especially for kids) and limit intake of juice generally. Limiting sweeteners and sweet drinks (liquid candy) and limiting corn products will go a long way toward helping us get healthier.

We can live sustainable, healthier, more fulfilled lives (see Lean & Green: How to Live Sustainably and on a Budget) while protecting our children and preventing the diseases that have run rampant in recent years. Getting back to basics includes real food; nourishing our lives starts in our home kitchen.
Links for more Reading:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Grocery Store Secrets

We were in the grocery store the other day. (Yes, now that our biz closed we have to go to one of those. And I find them very surreal. There is very little real food, lots of things to fill the belly, and loads of chemicals, but very little nourishing food and a pretty "hospitalized" look to the whole thing, in my opinion. Sometimes I still feel like an alien dropped on a strange planet when I enter. Take a look the next time, think of yourself landing here looking for real nourishing foods and see what you think.) Anyway, we're at the bakery and it was the end of the day so they had just restocked their bread on the shelf. Other customers are pulling loaves in bags complaining that they are wet. Of course they were wet! We know to expect that based upon our experience running a grocery store, but maybe you didn't know to expect that as a consumer. That leads us to our first "Grocery Store Secrets:"

1. That fresh wholesome bread (you know, the kind without all the chemicals that can preserve it into the next ice age), that real bread placed on the shelf that you think the store just got in just baked fresh, well, that's not really the case. All bread, ok, I'll say almost all since some local stores may very well be different and get bread in from a local bakery or even fresh in from a big manufacturer, but in most every chain grocery store, I'd say with a high degree of certainty, every single natural or organic loaf arrives to your grocery store FROZEN. Yes, it's true. All those brands in the bags, those arrive "fresh frozen," then your store puts them out on the shelf as fresh. That's why the bag is sometimes wet as it defrosts. Now, we never carried those "bread-like" brands with all the chemicals in there; it would not surprise me if they are delivered "fresh," whatever that might mean for a load of chemicals shaped into a loaf, but who knows. In our grocery delivery service we started by just delivering our bread frozen, but too many of our customers would be upset thinking that we got it in fresh and then froze it days later, of course that was not the case, but we changed instead of trying to explain it over and over again; we would simply take your ordered loaf out of the freezer the morning of your delivery or the day before so it would be nice and fresh and perfect upon delivery to you. We received many compliments that our bread was so much fresher than the store and that's why - it was defrosted just for YOU.

Most grocery bakeries are not fully functioning bakeries at all, they do not get up at 2am to make the bread, knead the dough, let it rise, roll it out, let it rise, bake it fresh; more often than not, they are using par-baked frozen loaves. If it's a big chain, they may have a main kitchen miles away where they do make some or most of their goodies and then ship to the local stores, but more than likely, even those are using the same doughs and mixes that are so readily available to all grocery stores nowadays, after all, time is money. Even the bread that they put in the bag to make you feel like you are living in quaint city with a corner bakery, those are all either par-baked and frozen or baked completely and frozen before they are defrosted for your enjoyment.

Oh, and it's not just the bags of bread, those cookies you think are made right there in your grocery bakery, those arrive as frozen cookies ready to defrost or frozen dough ready to bake up, same with the muffins all piled high and "fresh."

So, the next time you get that cookie for your little one thinking that they baked it right there on the premises with ingredients you would have in your own kitchen if you baked it, understand that is an illusion. Those cookies are created with a long list of ingredients, some of which you would never find in a family cupboard and may include chemicals that are hard to pronounce. Suffice to say, it is not the cookie grandma made for you.

2. Lets move over to chicken counter. All those men and women in white coats, not real butchers, again, it's the illusion. Some of them, maybe most, can indeed cut meat but all those cuts laid out so pretty in the glass case, you know, the boneless skinless breasts, the boneless thigh meat, the wing drummets, all that you think they worked so hard to chop up perfectly just for you, not true. These things come pre-cut and sealed in a giant plastic bag, much like a trash bag, only you know, sanitized for our protection. Giant plastic bag full o' chicken parts cut all the same so that the people in white coats can lay it out behind the nice glass case for you. Again I will insert my caveat that there MAY very well be a small local store that has a real butcher on premises and cuts all their own meats and chicken fresh but the vast majority get it all from the same manufacturers all prettied up and ready to sell. These same manufacturers sell the pre-packaged cuts like those pictured here. The bulk bag is cheaper for the store to purchase so they can actually mark it up higher; the pre-packaged tend to be more money since those are more expensive for the store to get in the first place, but it's all the same, one is not necessarily fresher than the other, it all depends when they arrived and how long it's been out. At least the pre-packaged stuff has a date.

3. The bulk spices in the grocery store that you think are such a great bargain? Those could have been sitting on the shelf for months. There is no telling. Unless you have a very honest local shop, and even honest shops have a hard time making ends meet, those spices are not as pungent as you might think so not as good a value. Those little spice jars, most grocery stores can just buy them individually, that means they don't have to buy a full case and wait to see if it sells in a timely manner. You get more pizazz for your buck getting the freshest of the spices, that usually means the pre-packaged and air-tight sealed containers.

The other items in the bulk aisle, I won't buy them personally. I don't know how long they've been sitting there, can be months, seriously, and I don't know whose grubby paws went in to take a little taste. Funny enough, those bulk items come to the store really cheap. The store marks them up MORE than the prepackaged stuff. We just assume they are a better value but sometimes, if you take the time to look and compare, you will see that there are several that actually cost more per pound than the clean pre-packaged of the same item. Plus in bulk you have no idea the brand unless it's marked so always compare the cheapest brand of the pre-packaged, probably the one we don't always look to purchase. That and the pre-packaged are at least sealed air-tight so will be fresher longer and the bulk, well, sitting there, sitting there. The grocery store makes a lot more money on the bulk so positions them well but a better value for us consumers? That's not usually the case.

4. And we'll end today where we are greeted in the store, with those colorful huge displays of fresh fruits and vegetables beckoning our entry into this foodtopia. You know how that lovely display of fresh produce seems to remain perfect no matter when you visit? That is a lot of hard work, go produce managers, and a lot of tossing and trimming. Many stores expect to lose up to 50% or MORE of the fresh produce that they put out! Of course, much of that smooshed, imperfect produce is used by the almighty hot food counter, the garbage disposal of the grocery store that turns junk into gold, literally. Things you would have turned your nose up to in the front counter, you buy and squeal in delight as you gobble it down from the counter in the back that prepares that wondrous array of "fresh" foods. Let's just say, it's not what grandma used to prepare the meals with love for her family.

And we haven't even discussed dairy out of refrigeration walking around in carts of people intending to buy it and then changing their minds and how that is put back on the shelf to the detriment of quality control, how filthy those grocery carts can really be, how grocery stores work us to buy the end caps and treats at check out as well as the products placed in the middle shelves, the sheer amount of utter waste, and that sometimes sales aren't really a savings at all. It's all a planned experience.

It's a dizzying scene, the grocery store. Try to find good real food. Try to read labels and if something doesn't come with a label, understand it probably did at one point (like "fresh" baked goodies.) Try to understand the game of grocery shopping and play it in your best interest instead of the best interest of the store's bottom line. It's not so much nourishing bodies as moving product out before it goes bad.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Flowers - Show you Really Care this Valentine's Day

I always thought it was so cute when my baby put his little face into a big flower and inhaled with an audible sniff. Then I started wondering as I watched, what was on the flower that he was touching and breathing?

A heavy dousing of chemical fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, growth hormones, fungicides and pesticides are used on conventional flowers to be cut for our enjoyment. When we touch that flower, we get those poisons on our skin which then penetrate into our body. As our children put their hands to their mouths, those pesticides are even more easily ingested into their small growing bodies. Yet there my precious boy was, nose deep in that gorgeous flower. That simple act that seemed so cute, was not. When we smell the lovely perfume of a flower, we are also inhaling toxins.

Even worse, our purchase has a devastating impact on our environment and upon the people who work in green houses and outside on the flower farms. Thanks to our purchase, they do have a job, that's true. But the workers, mostly women, tend to be sorely underpaid and work in a dangerous environment. The flowers can be sprayed while workers, with no protective gear, do their jobs or the workers may be forced to go back to the fields while the pesticides are still wet on the flowers, without time for them to dry or dissipate. The chemicals used are intensified in green houses where the fumes (and people) are trapped. The pesticides get in her hair, on her clothes, on her hands, and are even inhaled directly into her lungs and organs. Studies show that flower workers are exposed to 60 times the "safe" standard for dangerous pesticides and chemicals. All those chemicals are then brought home on her clothes and into the lives and bodies of her children and loved ones who run to hug her upon her return from work.
(pictures courtesy Jimma Times and Discover Channel, both linked below.)

Even the workers who prune and pack the flowers for shipment are at risk as they absorb the chemicals in their skin and lungs since most work without gloves or masks.

While U.S. grown flowers use very strong chemicals too, the imported flower farms can use unregistered chemicals otherwise banned in the U.S. Many of these chemicals are listed as "category 1" and include the most hazardous of chemicals including methyl bromide and DDT. Birth defects, childhood disease, cancers and other serious illness are now rampant in these communities.

These toxic pesticides drain into neighboring forests and waters, impacting our planet and our future and depleting our ozone layer.

Studies have found over 50% more pesticides on flowers than the allowable limit on our fruits and vegetables; and we are putting those to our faces and the faces of our children!

Roses were found to contain 1000 times more cancer-causing pesticides than food!

The flower industry is big business and the stakes are high. If insects are found in the cargo upon entry to the U.S., the entire shipment may be destroyed. Strong pesticides lessen the risk of loss of revenue. But good for business does not always mean good for planet and people. Luckily, we have choices. Show your flower power by choosing eco-friendly flowers so you and your lucky recipient can really stop and smell the roses.

Organic, Sustainable, Fair-Trade Flowers:
  • are the same price as conventional flowers

  • are safer for flower farm workers and their families

  • lessen the pesticides and toxic chemicals released into our environment

  • allow you and your loved ones to safely touch, admire, sniff, and smell

  • is a gift that doubly and deeply shows you care about the person and our planet

  • are sent in recyclable gift boxes printed with vegetable-based inks and tissue paper made of chlorine-free post-consumer material

  • smell better than conventional flowers

  • last longer than conventional flowers (when taken care of properly)

  • are the environmentally responsible choice

  • help support local organic farming communities which pay better wages and help build schools to create a strong foundation for a healthy future for their children

  • encourage more organic and sustainable flower farms - every flower counts. Help change the world one beautiful flower at a time!
Get your Valentine's flowers set up now, just pick the day of delivery and you'll be the organized hero!

I've used Organic Bouquet for years and appreciate their quality, prices, selection, customer service, and attention to detail. Organic Bouquet recently partnered with The Climate Trust to initiate a carbon offset program that mitigates greenhouse gases generated from shipping your flowers. Each time you purchase a bouquet, the amount of carbon emissions from that shipment is offset by rolling funds into the Truck Stop Electrification Program — a program which reduces wasteful diesel emissions at truck stops by creating low cost, electrical alternatives for truckers to power heating, air conditioning and appliances. The Climate Trust estimates this program will remove nearly 90,000 metric tons of CO2 over the next 16 years, the equivalent of taking 16,000 cars off the road or planting 180,000 trees! By offering a cleaner and cheaper alternative to diesel idling, the project will also save truckers an estimated 10 million gallons of fuel!

Learn More:

If you find my blog helpful, please use the links here to help me offset costs and allow me to continue to research and post. I only link to companies and products that I have researched and use myself. Thank you so much for using the links to Organic Bouquet to do your shopping for eco-friendly flowers. It is a company I believe in and I'm proud to support them.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"That Sure is Colorful Lettuce, Mommy!"

We are greeted at the grocery store by fresh colorful produce piled high. Apples in pyramids, bananas stacked like a puzzle, and then there are those lovely crisp greens nestled one on the other. If you are like I used to be, you approach slowly, touch them, maybe even pick one up only to shrug not knowing what to do with it. Not anymore! Turns out it's easy to prepare that wide variety of fresh greens. They are versatile and delicious, nutritious and an essential part of good health.

Greens offer a nutritional wallop of high levels of vitamins and minerals including Vitamins A, B, C, E, K, beta-carotene, calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, folate, lutein, phytochemicals, cartenoids, and chlorophyll. Greens are naturally high in fiber, low-fat, low-sodium, and low in carbohydrates. Most greens are also considered cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in nutrients isothiocyanates, sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol, all linked to reducing the risk of breast, prostate, cervical, lung, and other cancers. Not only do they work to lower the incidence of cancers, cruciferous vegetables boost our immune system, support cardiovascular health, build bones, fight cardiovascular disease, fight age-related macular degeneration, and help fight against birth defects. If you're looking for a super-pill, greens are the answer!

Most all greens can be simply sauteed in olive oil with garlic and onions. Some people like them spiced up with hot sauce or dried chili peppers or with a little kick from a splash of vinegar. Some greens are bitter but turn sweet as they cook longer. It's very easy to incorporate greens into your regular meals, both raw and cooked. The variety makes it easy to enjoy them in everything from breakfast frittatas and omelets to souffle, stews, salad or quick saute.

Many people discard the stalks but I have found that those can be cooked and used along with the leaves. What I normally do is add the stalks earlier in the cooking process to get them started, add the leafy greens toward the end to keep them vibrant.

Greens tend to be dirty so clean them easily in a sink full of water, just agitate every so often. The dirt will fall down to the bottom. Pat dry before cooking or salad spin dry if using raw to get off the excess water.

Chard is a lovely green, very much like Spinach. Chard, also called Green Chard or Swiss Chard, has green leaves with white stalks. Red Chard, pictured below, has green leaves with red stalks. The color adds antioxidants but they are all Chard, pronounced with a hard CH like choo choo. Rainbow chard pictured at the top has vibrantly colorful stems.

When my then 3 year old saw it he declared, "that sure is colorful lettuce, mommy!" He was right. You can use chard raw or cooked. It is mild so does not need to be cooked a long time like collard greens (Today we're just talking about more mild greens but I'll attack more bitter greens like collards, which are absolutely delicious when cooked low and slow!, another day.)

The stalks of chard can be used much like you'd use celery. They are perfect added to a stir-fry.

Sweet & Salty Chard Saute

1 bunch chard, washed, rolled and sliced into thin ribbons
.25lbs pancetta (optional but it adds a nice salty bite)
1 onion
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chicken broth (or veggie or even water but we like chicken broth)
handful chopped almonds (lightly toasted if you like)
splash of apple cider vinegar

Saute the pancetta until crispy. Remove. Add the onions and saute until caramelized, add garlic. Add the chard, don't worry, it will cook down. Top with stock & raisins and cover. Cook on medium covered for 8 minutes turning every so often to mix it all up together. Uncover and cook a couple more minutes, continuing to turn in pan. Top with chopped almonds. My husband likes a splash of apple cider vinegar too.

Another fave with Chard is Syrian Swiss Chard with Chickpeas by Joan Nathan. We make that every Rosh Hashanah.

Kale is another mild green. It comes in Dino or Lacinato Kale which has a more prehistoric look as well as Curly varieties - both Red and Green. Kale is a good one to juice since it's not bitter or strong and even the kids will like it if you add an apple as that masks the veggie flavor.

Kurly Kale Chips
1 bunch curly kale
olive oil
sea salt

Rip off the leaves and roughly chopping in appealing uneven pieces. Toss with some olive oil and salt and roast at 425F for a 3-5 minutes until crispy but NOT brown. You will probably need to flip them 1/2 way through the cooking. The secret is to keep them in a single layer when cooking so that they will crisp up instead of steam.

Black-eyed Peas, Kale, and Red Pepper

3 pieces bacon (optional)
1 onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 red pepper chopped
big bunch of fresh greens like Kale
1 can black eyed peas
1/4 cup chicken (or veggie) stock or water
hot sauce

I made it with bacon but you can certainly leave it out. What I did was cut a couple pieces of bacon into pieces and fry them up. Once crispy, I removed them and set them on a towel to drain and poured off most of the grease. I left enough to saute 1 chopped onion until translucent and then added 2-3 chopped garlic cloves. Let that saute up another minute. Added a whole bunch of chopped Kale (you can add stems first and cover for 2 minutes and then add the leaves but for this dish I discarded the stems because I didn't want that firmer texture with the creamy beans.) Add the diced red pepper (I love the flavor of fresh red pepper so I don't saute that with the onions. The fresh flavor, crisp texture and lovely red color remains if you don't cook it out.)

Add one can of black eyed peas, sea salt, freshly grated black pepper, and 1/4 cup chicken stock (if you omitted the bacon, you can add water or veg stock instead to make it vegetarian) cover and simmer 5-8 minutes. Some people like their greens more wilted but Kale isn't one of those bitter greens so we enjoy it a little fresher. You can cook it longer if you prefer.

Take out everything with a slotted spoon and reduce the liquid by cooking another minute or two uncovered. Top with a splash of hot sauce, fresh diced tomatoes, the crunchy bits of bacon and serve over brown rice. This is a meal in itself but you can use it as a side dish.

Spinach is another super veggie and we try to eat it twice each week. Bunches are usually inexpensive but bags of baby spinach can be a super convenient for salads or adding to stews, soups, or a quick saute. If using a bunch, do not chop off all the stems, trim gently at the base as the sweetness is in the stems.

While some juice spinach, we prefer it cooked since cooking breaks down cell walls and allows us to absorb more of it's nutrients. However, there is debate on whether to eat spinach raw or cooked since it contains oxalic acid. Cooking breaks down the oxalic acid into crystals that can limit the absorption of iron so always add some iron-rich foods with spinach. Eaten raw, oxalic acid in spinach cleans our intestinal tract but also binds with calcium and diminishes the absorption of calcium so enjoy calcium-rich foods when eating it fresh.

I make and freeze basil spinach pesto which I then add to stews, soups, and frittatas. I like to keep it in the house fresh and frozen so I have it on hand for all sorts of things including:

Basil Spinach Pesto
This is a good way to get spinach into the kids and husband and they won’t even know it! The spinach adds nutrients and a lovely green color but you won’t even know it’s there. If you don’t use it all in a couple days, freeze it into ice cube trays and then you can take out a cube whenever you need it.

1 bag of (organic) spinach
1 bunch (handful) of basil
Handful of pine nuts (about ¼ cup)
1 – 2 garlic cloves
¼ teaspoon Salt & grinds of Pepper
Lemon Zest (optional) (from one organic lemon)
Olive oil (about a ½ - ¾ cup)
½ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese (imported or organic)

Boil a pot of water. Drop the spinach in for a moment then remove and put in ice water. Drain well and dry best you can. (Spinach offers more nutrients when cooked but you can also use raw spinach if you prefer.) In a blender or cuisinart blend the spinach , basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon zest, salt and pepper until ground into a thick paste. With the blender on, stream in olive oil. Stir in cheese by hand. Taste, add more salt if necessary.

This is very versatile and flavorful and perfect to have on hand to make any meal gourmet. Toss with pasta by itself or add chicken and/or veggies. Use as a spread on sandwiches with cheese and deli meats. Use as a pizza topping. Add to soups or stews for an Italian flavor. Mix in cream cheese and use as a dip. Add a little cream or cream cheese or use as is to top meat, fish, veggies, or chicken before or after cooking. Mix with eggs to make a green eggs frittata.

I made green eggs for my son's class when they had Dr. Seuss day with spinach-basil pesto mixed in a frittata. The kids said they were the best eggs they ever had!

Green Eggs Frittata

8 Eggs
¼ cup milk or cream
1 small container Ricotta Cheese (8 or 12oz)
1 handful Parmesan Cheese
¼ cup Spinach Basil Pesto (or more to taste)
¼ teaspoon salt & some grinds of pepper

Preheat oven to 425F. Put pan in oven to heat. Mix all ingredients together.

Remove pan and butter around all sides of pan. Add egg mixture. Cook for 20-30 minutes until slightly golden on top and done in the center. Depending upon your oven, you may need to turn the pan around after half-way through cooking for even rising and browning. This is a soufflé so it will fall therefore serve immediately. Great for breakfast, brunch or lunch served with side salad and toasty garlic bread.

Creamed Spinach is classic and actually simple to make. You can use a roux if you don't have cream to thicken the sauce. So many recipes on the web so I won't add mine here but be sure to add a scrape of fresh nutmeg to your white sauce.

Spinach Souffle is easy, light, and tasty.
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 package frozen bag spinach
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup milk
1 cup shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare souffle dish with butter and then coat with bread crumbs or some grated parmesan cheese. This allows the souffle to climb up the wall and cling to the side.

Beat egg whites on medium to high with a pinch of cream of tartar if you like, for added insurance.

No need to defrost the spinach, just break it up and put it in the food processor. Pulse until grated.

Make roux - add butter to pan and melt. Add flour and stir. Allow to cook one minute and bubble but not brown. Add milk and stir to make sure no lumps. Once it boils again it will thicken, mix in the shredded cheese. Mix in the frozen grated spinach. Add the 4 egg yolks. The pan should be cool enough now from the frozen spinach to add the egg whites but you can move it all to a bowl instead if you prefer.

Take 1/3 of the egg whites and mix into the spinach mixture to lighten it up some. Then fold in the rest of the egg whites. Bake 33 (don't peek or open the door for at least 30 but check at that point if it maybe needs 5 more minutes.)

Nontraditional Picadillo
1lb grassfed beef
1 small onion diced
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 small can of diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2/3 cup raisins
1/2 to 2/3 cup or so pitted olives stuffed w/almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 sweet red pepper diced
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon grey salt or sea salt
black pepper
spinach, frozen or fresh, whole package

Saute onion and garlic. Add ground beef and brown. Add can of tomatoes, tomato paste, raisins, olives, cumin, salt, pepper, red pepper, cover and simmer 10-15 minutes. Add fresh spinach and toss in there to wilt it (if you're using frozen spinach put that in with the raisins and then cook uncovered a bit more if too liquidy) and cook 2 more minutes. If you don't have olives with almonds, add olives and then chopped up almonds on top before serving. Serve over rice.

Chicken Spinach Stew
I was kind of sick so I didn't fuss too much and was surprised how delicious and easy this came out so had to share it.

2 packages chicken (we used breast w/bone and thighs w/bones)
1 big red onion diced
2 tablespoons flour (optional as thickener)
3 cloves garlic chopped
1 12oz can stewed tomatoes
1/2 lb carrots
1 package frozen spinach, like 10 oz
1/2 teaspoon cardamom

Warm pot, add chicken skin side down until it browns, about 6 minutes. (I normally would have removed the chicken then and added the onions, garlic and stir around a bit to get up the brown pieces. Then add the flour and cook one minute. But I was not feeling well so I just threw it all together in one step and mixed the flour with the water and added that when I added the water.) Then to the chicken, onions and garlic add a can of stewed tomatoes and then fill that can with water twice and add that with diced (or whole baby) carrots, sea salt, pepper, cadamom, and frozen spinach. Simmer 30 minutes until done. Enjoy with rice.

Even better the next day, take all the chicken off the bone and shred it up. Add the rice and warm it all up together. Made me feel all better.

If you think your child won't touch greens, first, set a good example. Then explain. My 3 year old is on a non-veggie kick, take them off his plate and move them away from him. I showed him that it was all yummy. Took a couple bites in front of him while we actually talked about how healthy vegetables are and how they make you strong all the while making yummy sounds. He finally said, "souwy, mommy, I want to try it." and ate the whole thing, well, until he looked at the spoon and then looked at me and said "I just don't like to see it." so we got a different bite that hid the greens and he asked for more. It takes patience but they will eat their veggies, especially when they are not overcooked and are delicious.

Greens create a classic salad, can be added to sandwiches and wraps, can be used as a wrap instead of bread. You can create pockets using greens, like mixing meats or beans with grains like rice or bulgur and then steam them in the big green leaves or braising them in a tomatoes or stock. When we make soup I always toss in some greens, frozen or fresh, at least a couple handfuls. Greens can be added to omelets and frittatas, mixed with pastas, or pulverized in your food processor to be mixed in meatballs or used as a topping to chicken, beef, fish. Juice fresh greens (we like a bunch of kale, 2- 3 stalks celery and one apple) to supercharge your day

Add Greens, fresh or frozen, raw and cooked. A super-food, they come in a huge variety and can add great texture, color and flavor to your menu while adding lots of nutrients to your life.