Friday, October 24, 2014

10 Ways to Celebrate Food Day

Food Day, held each year on October 24, is dedicated to raising awareness about the impact our diets have on our health, the environment, and the people who produce our food. Want to join in the fun?

Here are ten ideas for making the most of this national celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainable food.

1. Make a real meal. It doesn’t actually take that much longer to put a “real” meal on the table, rather than some concoction that’s frozen, over-processed, and not even particularly tasty. Need recipes for quick and easy suppers? Here you go.

2. Host a potluck supper. Like the idea of real food but hate to cook? Invite friends and family over for a potluck. Someone else can bring the appetizers, main dish, side dish and dessert. You supply the atmosphere, the location, and the drinks. Easy peasy!

3. Eat at a restaurant that offers local, organic food.
More and more restaurants and fast food chains are choosing quality as well as convenience, by sourcing their ingredients from local farmers who have committed to growing their food sustainably. Here’s a list of some of the best.

4. Shop at a farmer’s market.
Is there any better place to find locally grown, organic food? Plus, when you shop at a farmers market you’re putting money back into your local economy and helping to protect land from urban sprawl.

5. Join a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) enables you to buy a share in the food a farmer produces. You’ll enjoy an abundance of fruits and vegetables you love, but probably be introduced to some delicious new varieties, as well. Kohlrabi, anyone?

6. Go meatless for a day, a week, or…?
Some people don’t like the idea of “becoming” vegetarian, but what about going meatless one day a week? Here are some delicious vegetarian recipes that will give meatless new meaning.

7. Convene a community forum. You can make big changes happen by involving friends, neighbors, elected officials and policy makers in the conversation. You’ll find ideas here to help you get a community forum off the ground.

8. Watch a movie. Check out the Food Day organization’s Film Screening Guide. You’ll find reviews of compelling films about food and agriculture, plus suggestions on how to organize a film screening for friends, neighbors, elected officials and policy makers.

9. Eat everything in your refrigerator.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, consumers waste almost 30% of the food they buy. How? It gets “lost” in a cupboard. No one remembers to eat the leftovers and they rot. We simply buy too much. On Food Day, take stock of the food you already have. Eat what’s there before you buy more. If you’re putting food in the freezer, label it and date it so you know what it is and when you put it away.

10. Tell 5 friends about Food Day. The success of Food Day lies in people participating in it. Tell your friends and neighbors about it, and mention it on your social networks. Post pictures of the meals you make on Pinterest and Instagram, and share recipes on Facebook and Twitter. Make Food Day so much fun this year that you can’t wait until October 24 rolls around again next year.
[via Care2]

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Beyond Pumpkin: 10 Other Fall Foods to Eat Right Now

Pumpkin gets all of the love when it comes to fall food, but fall flavors go way beyond that beautiful orange squash. Find these fall foods at your farmers market!

Don’t get me wrong. I love pumpkin and pumpkin spice. But you can’t live on pumpkin alone, as much as we all may want to.

Fall is such a bountiful season, and there are tons of delicious, seasonal fall foods that I could have listed below. The foods on this list are in season right now, and they’re some of my favorites to pile onto my plate. Cheers!

10 Fall Foods in Season Now

1. Arugula – Arugula gets a lot of love as a spring green, but you can also often find it at local markets in early fall. Pair bitter arugula with a bright lemon vinaigrette or try it on a sandwich in place of lettuce.

2. Eggplant – Eggplant's subtle and distinctive combination of textures and flavors - smooth, fleshy, creamy, smoky - make it a versatile and beguiling component of many great dishes. Try it in any of these vegan and vegetarian eggplant recipes.

3. Grapes – Grapes are in season now all over the U.S. and will stay in season until about December. See what types of grapes are available at your local market. You can eat them as-is, of course, or use them to make delicious food art.

4. Cabbage – Cabbage is the humblest of the uber healthy cruciferous vegetables. It’s affordable, healthy, and in season right this second! If you’re sick of slaw, try making your own fermented sauerkraut. It’s good on sandwiches, stirred into a bowl of stew, or on top of grain bowls.

5. Pecans – Snatch up those seasonal pecans now! Pecans are lovely stirred into oatmeal or baked in a pie, but you can also use them in recipes like these homemade chocolate energy bars.

6. Carrots – Pumpkins aren’t the only orange fall foods that deserve your attention. Early fall is peak carrot season. If you need a little carrot inspiration, try shredding them into a pan-full of carrot muffins.

7. Brussels Sprouts – People tend to love or hate these tiny cabbages, and I fall squarely onto the love end of the spectrum. Try roasting them up with olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar at 425F for about 45 minutes. Stir every 10-15  minutes until they’re soft and a little bit brown.

8. Potatoes – White potatoes don’t get a lot of attention, but I am a big potato fan. They’re filling, affordable, and surprisingly healthy. Bake ‘em, mash ‘em, or cook ‘em into fritters. If you want to replace the egg in that fritter recipe, just whisk 1 tablespoon flax meal into 3 tablespoons of water, and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Boom! Flax egg.

9. Turnips – As root veggies go, turnips don’t get the limelight too often, but I love them. If you’re sick of using turnips in soups and stews, try using them in place of radishes in this recipe. I have done it, and it was amazing.

10. Leeks – Adding sauteed leeks to any recipe somehow makes it instantly special. Leeks are one of those fall foods that seem expensive, but don’t have to be. A little goes a long way, so just grab one or two leeks instead of a whole, pricey bunch. If you need a little bit of help including seasonal leeks in your cooking, try one of these leek recipes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

5 Crazy New Reasons Organic Produce Is Really Worth Your Money (and How to Afford It!)

In the quest for a healthier body and a longer life, U.S. consumers are filling their grocery carts with more organic produce than ever, and that number continues to climb every single year. While that’s a great thing for those that can and choose to do so, conventional produce still accounts for a majority of produce sold here in the United States, especially among those who believe organic is too expensive, or who aren’t fully aware of the benefits that come from eating organic foods.

Not all things are 100% necessary to buy organic, such as paper goods and clothing. Even food and beverages labeled certified non-GMO are safer than traditional, conventional foods, even if they aren’t certified organic. However, one area you definitely want to go organic when you can is the produce department. When you’re a vegan, you can luckily avoid having to worry about buying organic meat, poultry, milk, eggs, and dairy (since you may know that organic labeling doesn’t negate the cruelty animals on organic farms go through.) You’ll also save more money by not buying animal products, which will leave you more funds to spend on healthy, organic plant-based items.

Everyone knows that organic foods are beneficial to our  health and the planet,  but do you know exactly why? Here are five reasons to make the switch today:

1. Allergies

Did you know that allergies can arise from consuming non-organic produce? Many people find this is also the case with genetically modified foods. Foods that are directly sprayed with chemicals or that are chemically altered in any way may lead to allergic reactions that can be hard to trace back to your diet. Many people may suspect they have a food allergy, when it could be a chemical in the food instead. The immune system sees chemicals as invaders and sets off an allergic reaction as a result. Buy all organic produce for one week and see how you feel. Be sure to also buy organic pre-packaged foods when you can as well.

2. Gut Microbiome

Pesticides and herbicides contain chemicals that can kill off your beneficial gut bacteria. Low levels of beneficial gut bacteria have been linked to depression, weight gain, diabetes, and yeast overgrowth. Pesticides, antibiotics, and other chemicals sprayed on foods have been shown to change the way the brain and gut work due to the depletion of good gut bacteria. Over time, low gut bacteria and consistent intake of pesticides and chemicals can also lead to leaky gut syndrome, which can cause severe digestive upset and harm.

3. Diabetes

Many chemicals and pesticides have also been linked to poor insulin function, which can cause type 2 diabetes or even mild blood sugar sensitivities. Since everything you eat enters the bloodstream, putting chemicals in your veins doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you want your hormones such as insulin and leptin that affect your blood sugar, to work their best for you and your health.

4. Animal Safety

One of the most overlooked benefits of buying organic foods is how it actually benefits the animals on farms where organic produce is grown. It’s commonly known that eating organic foods benefits the environment and may help prevent global warming, however, eating organic foods also ensure that animals on these farms or who live nearby these farms aren’t being exposed to harmful pesticides, chemicals, fertilizers, and herbicides.

5. Obesity

It sounds a bit far-fetched to think that you could gain weight from eating conventional produce like celery and bananas, but don’t shake your head at the thought of the idea just yet. The chemicals in non-organic produce and other conventional foods has been shown to create a toxic state within the cells and slow down the metabolism as a result. Considering that our immune system has to work harder to fight off such toxins, it only makes sense that our metabolisms would also slow down.

I know a conventional head of lettuce or shiny red apple might seem harmless enough, but don’t let their appeal fool you. Many are coated with sprays to make them more appealing to consumers, but they actually taste worse than their organic, fresh counterparts. Always go for organic, because if you wouldn’t spray chemicals like Round-up on foods yourself, why would you pay for someone else to?

Feed your body organic, plant-based foods. Want to know how to afford them? Here are some great tips!

1. Buy What’s on Sale

This allows you to rotate what you buy each week and it helps you get in a variety of nutrition. Many stores will cycle when certain organic items go on sale. For example, some rotate the same sale items every four weeks, while some are up to six weeks. Start to pay attention to when items go on sale and you’ll know what to buy when. Or, you can always get friendly with your produce guy (which I highly suggest) and just ask him yourself. Then ask when new trucks are delivered and be sure to get to the store the day the new sale starts and fresh items are delivered. There’s no need to visit multiple stores, but doing so will also give you more exposure to sales.

2. Compare the Cost

Most of the time, organic produce is only a dollar or so more than conventional items. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, buy what organic foods you can (especially those off the Dirty Dozen list) and eat more of those instead of paying to eat foods filled with chemicals.

Plus, many supermarkets label conventional produce just under the next dollar up in price to make consumers assume they’re much cheaper than organic. For example: conventional apples may be labeled $3.98 per bag or bushel, while organic apples may be $5.28 per bag or bushel. Consumers automatically see the number 3 in the price $3.98 and assume it’s almost $2.00 cheaper, when really, the price difference is only right over $1.25. See what I mean? Don’t let conventional prices fool you! You’re much better paying for a high-quality organic apple free of pesticides and toxins than saving under $2.00 for a bag of less tasty, chemically-treated ones.

3. Shop in Season

It’s also smart to shop in season so you can avoid paying high premiums for items that have to be imported from other countries. Plus, seasonal foods taste fresher, and your body will appreciate you eating in alignment with nature.

4. Don’t Fear Frozen

If you can’t afford organic, fresh spinach, berries, etc., then go with organic frozen items. They might not be as tasty, but frozen foods are possibly just as nutritious (if not fresher) than non-frozen items since they’re frozen at peak harvest. They also last longer, which means you won’t be throwing anything away. Learn how to freeze your own bounty.

5. Re-evaluate Your Priorities

When I started seeing the benefits in my own health from eating organic, plant-based foods, I made sacrifices in other areas of my life so I could afford to do so. Did I really need those magazine subscriptions every month? Was that new shirt each week really more important than feeding my body clean, natural foods? See where you can spare $10.00-$20.00 or so per week, and then spend that money on organic produce versus opting for conventional items.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mushroom 101: How to Choose, Prep and Cook Mushrooms

Mushrooms are in season right now and are such a great way to add local produce into your weekly menu.  From mild flavored white button mushrooms to portobello's earthy flavor, there is a mushroom that can be added to most any style of cooking.  The following is a rundown of how to select, prep, and cook these amazing members of the fungus family.

Common Cooking Mushrooms

Beech mushrooms are petite with either all-white or light-brown caps. They have a crunchy texture that offers a delicately mild flavor that is both sweet and deliciously nutty.
  • How To Use Them: Cook beech mushrooms whole or slice them into sauces to compliment chicken or fish dishes. They also taste great with vegetables and in stir-fry. Add to soups, stews or sauces as a last ingredient to maintain crisp texture.
Button mushrooms, or white button mushrooms, are the most popular mushroom because they are the most inexpensive and the most widely available. They have a fairly mild taste and blend well with almost anything, although they don’t offer the more intense and dramatic flavor of other varieties.
  • How To Use Them: White button mushrooms can be sautéed or cooked in any way, or enjoyed raw in salads. Try them sliced and sautéed on pizza, or in pasta, quesadillas or cheeseburgers.
Crimini mushrooms, also known as baby ‘bellas or browns, are similar in appearance to white button mushrooms, but have a light-tan to rich-brown cap and a firmer texture. Criminis have a deeper, earthier flavor than white buttons.
  • How To Use Them: Criminis They can be sautéed, broiled, microwaved or cooked in almost any way. Their hearty, full-bodied taste makes them an excellent addition to beef, wild game and vegetable dishes.
Enoki mushrooms have tiny, button-shaped caps and long, spindly stems. They are milder in taste and crunchy. Before using, trim roots at cluster base. Separate stems before serving.
  • How To Use Them: Try enokis raw in salads and sandwiches. Or use them as an ingredient in soups, such as a stock made with soy sauce and tofu.
Maitake mushrooms are also called “Hen of the Woods.” They have a distinctive aroma and a rich, woodsy taste. To prepare maitakes, sauté lightly in butter or oil.
  • How To Use Them: Maitakes add a richer taste in any recipe calling for mushrooms. They can be a main dish ingredient or used in side dishes and soups. 
Oyster mushrooms can be gray, pale yellow or even blue. They have a velvety texture and a very delicate flavor. To bring out their flavor, sauté with butter and onions.
  • How To Use Them: Try oyster mushrooms over linguine, with sliced steak and with red peppers sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese.
Portabella mushrooms have a deep, meat-like texture and flavor. Portabellas can be grilled, broiled or roasted and served as appetizers, entrées or side dishes.
  • How To Use Them: The hearty taste and texture of portabellas make them a flavorful vegetarian alternative; they can be grilled and served as “burgers” on toasted buns.
Shiitake mushrooms have a meaty texture and are rich and woodsy when cooked.
  • How To Use Them: Shiitakes add a meaty flavor and texture to stir-fry, pastas, soups, entrées and sides.

How to Choose

Choose mushrooms with a firm, unblemished skin.  Reject any that are damp, soggy or withered.  Mushrooms should have an earthy, but pleasant scent.  If you are not going to use the mushrooms immediately, buy whole instead of sliced, to lengthen their freshness in the refrigerator. Mushrooms are a food that should be bought organic, when possible, as the skin is being eaten. Modern mushroom farming often uses synthetic chemicals to increase production.

To Prep Most Mushroom Varieties

Use a damp paper towel to wipe the mushroom clean.  Trim the end of the stem off, or break it off completely.  Unused stems can be used in making homemade beef or vegetable broth, to enhance the flavor.


There are dozens and dozens of ways to cook mushrooms (many are good for eating raw as well).  Here are simple instructions for grilling any of the larger varieties of mushrooms:  Brush cleaned mushrooms with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Place on heated grill or grill pan and cook until tender (about 12 minutes), turning often.  For portobello, grill cap down for 10-15 minutes on a hot grill or grill pan. Turn over for the last 2 minutes of cooking.

[via The Nibble]

Best Herbs and Supplements for Stress Relief [Infographic]

Tired of living in the age of anxiety? Try one of these gentle, non-addictive remedies.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

15 Delicious Recipes That Prove Pumpkin Is King of Fall

When it comes to favorite fall ingredients, pumpkin may very well be king. Double homage if it's tucked into a bowl of chili, and triple the points if it is slipped into some buttery dessert. No-knead pumpkin rolls and pumpkin muffins with eggnog will make your kitchen smell like fall and fuel your autumn spirit.

Here are 15 recipes that prove pumpkin is the best – a great way to enjoy the chilly weather for dinner, breakfast and dessert.

Pumpkin is one of those things that just keeps giving this time of year: You can transform their cheery orange faces into Jack o'lanterns, use the flesh of the pumpkin for recipes, and even toast the seeds for a delicious snack. Whatever your preference, you're bound to see a whole bunch of pumpkin at your grocery store this time of year.

Shopping for Pumpkin & Pumpkin Puree

Remember when shopping for pumpkin, make sure you choose the right kind for baking and cooking.

While some recipes ask for whole pumpkin, many recipes (especially pumpkin desserts) will call for pumpkin puree. This is something you could buy at a store, but it's also easy to make at home.

Pumpkin Muffins with Eggnog Cream Cheese Swirl

Recipes with Whole Pumpkin

Baked Pumpkin Steel Cut Oatmeal

Breakfast and Dinner Recipes with Pumpkin Puree

Gluten-Free and Vegan Chai-Spiced Pumpkin Bars

Pumpkin Puree Desserts

 [via The Kitchn]

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Farmers' Markets Are Good for Communities…Right?

Vegetables at the Dane County Farmers' Market. Photo courtesy of Bill Lubing.
Farmers’ markets practically glow with wholesome virtue: Shop here, they promise, and you can help build a sustainable, healthy food system!

But without the data to buttress those claims, it’s hard to know whether farmers’ markets are actually meeting those goals or how they can adapt to better meet their communities’ needs. Alfonso Morales, a professor of urban planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wants to help change that.

Fueled by an increasing interest in local food, the number of farmers’ markets in the United States has more than doubled in the last decade. This rise in popularity has been accompanied by the implicit assumption that farmers’ markets are more sustainable than their fluorescent-lit, big-box counterparts. Their environmental advantages, advocates say, are clear. Food is transported shorter distances, which results in lower fossil fuel consumption. Farmers’ markets offer more diverse crops grown by more eco-friendly methods. Broaden the definition of sustainability to include social, health, and economic factors, and you’ll encounter claims that farmers’ markets promote healthy eating and a pedestrian culture, bring fresh produce to undeserved neighborhoods, foster entrepreneurship and a diversified agricultural economy, and create a social space that builds a sense of community.

Most people assume that farmers' markets help encourage sustainable agriculture. Morales' new project could help measure that effect.

Farmers’ markets might very well be doing all these things, Morales says, but we don’t know, and he admits that right now there isn’t even a consensus on how to evaluate these “sustainable” activities. “But even so, we have to make a way forward. And the way we make a way forward is though measurement.”

Those measurements are relatively easy for major supermarket chains, which have the staff and the budgets for exhaustive market research. Analyzing research data enables big retailers to respond to changing demographics and consumer preferences, ensuring that they stay relevant to the communities they serve. Farmers’ markets typically don’t have those resources. That’s where Morales’ project comes in.

Morales and his partners at the Farmers Market Coalition are working with managers at nine farmers’ markets around the country to ask, “What is it that’s relevant to them and their community?” They’ll help market managers figure out what data they need and how to collect and present it. Some of the data will help address all those assumptions about the environmental benefits of farmers’ markets, such as the average number of miles the food actually travels, the number of organically farmed acres represented at the market, and how diversified the market’s farms are. Other data will speak to a market’s impact on its community by looking at the number of small businesses started through the farmers’ market, whether it attracts foot traffic to nearby shops, and the number of vendors who are minorities or women. All this data collection will help reveal how each farmers’ market is affecting its community — and how it could be doing better.

Bill Lubing, the manager of the Dane County Farmers’ Market in Madison, agrees that good data is essential when making decisions about how to move a market forward. “There are a lot of people with a lot of ideas,” he said, but a shortage of ways to evaluate those ideas. “More data is always better.” For example, because he ran the market’s newsletter for years before becoming manager, Lubing knows that links to recipes are very popular. Surmising that customers are sometimes stumped by the produce at the market (how do you tackle an entire stalk of Brussels sprouts?), he’s published a series of basic instructional videos, as well as more recipes. They’ve been a hit.

Morales argues that good data can do more than improve decision making. It can also help market managers advocate for the market with local business and government. For example, if a market wants permission to open a new branch in a public park in an underserved neighborhood, data showing the amount of produce purchased with SNAP benefits can help persuade the city that it’s a worthwhile use of space.

Morales, who worked as a market vendor in Chicago while doing research for his dissertation, believes that professors like him have an opportunity “to really engage with the community directly, and to try to empower people.”

Shopping at a farmers' market gives consumers a closer connection to their food–which is becoming increasingly popular. Photo courtesy of Bill Lubing.

The project’s immediate focus is local: to help individual managers make decisions that work in their particular communities. But if the project takes off (and it looks like it’s going to — dozens of markets beyond the original nine have asked to participate) it could generate enough data to start to draw conclusions about the roles of farmers’ markets in the United States as a whole. That’s exactly the kind of large-scale data needed to evaluate whether farmers’ markets are really helping create a more sustainable food system.

Regardless of how they stack up environmentally, Morales believes that farmers’ markets offer something that chain supermarkets can’t: a personal connection to a farmer and to food. “A relationship matters to people,” he said. Lubing agrees. Shopping at a farmers’ market “really has an emotional buy-in factor,” where you feel like you’re cheating on your local cheese maker if you grab a block of Cheddar from the grocery store in a pinch. “And people love that, people crave that.”