Eating Well–Without Trying So Hard or Worrying So Much

“Healthy eating:”  Two words with the power to spark enormous stress.  Those two words can easily send our minds swirling with confusion–and likely as not, a good measure of guilt as well.  “Am I doing enough?  Am I eating too many carbs?  Should I be juicing more?  Are eggs on the good list or bad?”

Suspended Judgment:  There’s a secret for happy and healthful eating, but can you first even imagine that eating well is a lot easier than you think?  Could you believe that it doesn’t have to be really hard, guilt-laden or worrisome?

 

Autumn Bounty

Seasonal Bounty. Limiting our produce choices to what’s in season has the curious consequence of making it easier to cook meals that are healthy and delicious.

Seasonal Eating:  The key to eating well, happily and easily, without worry or guilt.  Let me make the case, beginning with a definition of “seasonal eating.”  Seasonal eating is really place-based eating, i.e., for the place where you find yourself, eating what the earth provides, when the earth provides it, in the amounts provided by the earth.

“Place” is a critical to seasonal eating.  The term is otherwise meaningless since at any one point in time, a produce item is “in season” somewhere in the world and can be found in the produce aisle of your local grocery store.  Only when eating is tied to place do we reap the many benefits of a true seasonal approach.  In an interesting paradox, it is the limiting aspects of place-based eating that are the source of its many advantages.

Read on to discover the many benefits–health and otherwise–of seasonal eating. . . .  I’ve discovered at least a dozen.

In the meantime, if you’re ready to start the seasonal eating journey, join us for one of our Healthy, Seasonal Meal Making Classes.

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Eating Well–Without Trying So Hard or Worrying So Much (part 3)

Making the Leap

Resisting Peer Pressure  If seasonal, place-based eating yields so many helpful benefits, why do we tolerate the many downsides of the global food system?  In a nutshell, most of us don’t really decide what we eat.  Food marketers largely decide what our hand reaches for at the grocery store.  So if this is your year to begin joining the wonderful convergence of good that comes with seasonal eating, begin by re-gaining the decision-making power over your food choices.  It often takes eating in a way that others view as strange and weird. So get comfortable making food choices free of the peer pressure generated by food marketing experts.

Start a Learning Adventure  If seasonal eating doesn’t generate immediate interest, it’s often because we have such a limited repertoire of meal ideas.  When spinach comes into season, for example, we eat it steamed with lemon juice every other day!  Actually, there are so many things that can be done with each vegetable besides piling it on the side of the plate.  So many flavor partners, produce companions, entrees to be brightened with their colors!  If you have trouble imagining spinach 15 different ways, then join one of our Whole Kitchen seasonal meal making classes and begin developing the valuable skill of weaving produce into meals every which way.

Enjoy a Non-Seasonal Food Budget  Seasonal eating is a choice we get to make.  Unlike our ancestors, we  don’t have to go hungry when the food landscape is barren, and no one is watching that you buy only seasonal at the grocery store.  Over the years, I’ve developed a “budget approach,” happily enjoying things like citrus, ginger, chocolate (of course), olive oil, fish sauce and so on, but being mindful to limit reliance on long-haul items to a dozen or so at a time.

Strawberries in a Basket

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” a sentiment that applies as readily to produce as the human heart. With no fresh strawberries in Colorado after September, imagine how extraordinarily gorgeous they look and taste when they reappear in June–a surprise that is lost in the global marketplace where strawberries are available anytime, any place.

There’s a way that good eating can be a natural, easeful part of our lives.  Can you believe that making and enjoying healthful meals can be just another part of life, no more or less issue-laden than going through our morning and evening routines, getting to work, finding time to meet with friends, getting to appointments and so on.

Ready to begin transitioning to this kind of eating?  Ready to make the joyful discovery that less is more:  less in the way of selections actually brings more interesting variety and nutritional depth to mealtimes.  Come join one of our classes and start the journey.

Recipe: Using Beans in Green Salads

Winter Green Salad with Cumin Dressing

Winter Green Salad with Red Beans

Red beans add a delicious warmth to this salad. Note that I substituted yellow corn chips since I had no corn in my freezer pantry.

This salad was inspired by Nava Atlas’ Vegetarian Express cookbook, which features a number of salads using canned and frozen mix-ins.  While Nava uses these convenient foods to quickly perk up a salad, they’re also great for adding color, texture and heartiness to salads in the winter months, when tomatoes, cucumbers and other common salad standbys are out of season (and are therefore quite expensive and not very tasty.)

For the Salad

I’m just giving an ingredient listing; use amounts that best suit your household size and tastes.

  • Lettuce and/or spinach
  • Canned tomatoes, diced (or reconstituted sun-dried tomatoes, sliced thinly)
  • Frozen corn kernels, thawed
  • Olives, black or green, sliced thinly
  • Red Beans, well drained
  • Cilantro, chopped, if desired for garnish

Notes 

  1. Lettuce:  A sturdier green, like Romaine, green leaf lettuce or bunch spinach will do the best job of holding up the heavier mix-ins.
  2. Canned Tomatoes:  As always, use a high-quality brand for best flavor, like Muir Glen.  So they don’t make the salad soggy, dice them, remove seeds and then drain well in a colander before adding to the salad.  Fire-roasted tomatoes are a nice addition.
  3. Corn:  For best results, remove from the freezer in the morning and thaw in the frig in a colander all day.  Otherwise, just microwave 1-2 minutes and drain, or place in a colander, rinse with hot water and drain well before adding to salad.
  4. Rice:  For a heartier salad yet, add a little warm brown rice.

For the Dressing

Fast Version:  Simply add the cumin and chili flakes (noted below) to 1/4 to 1/2 cup readymade Italian dressing.

Homemade Version:  Combine in the order given in a small, lidded jar.  Shake well to combine.  Allow to sit for at least 10-15 minutes for flavors to meld.

  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced (to taste)
  • 4 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp. chili flakes (more or less, to taste) or black pepper, to taste
  • Sea salt, to taste

The Beauty of Relishes

Want a Good Way to Save Time, Money and Stress?  Relishes Make for Easy Meals and Great Taste

I’ve been wanting to experiment with relishes ever since reading A Thousand Acres, a novel profiling the lives of  several Iowa farm familyies.  While the novel itself was pretty unsettling (although masterfully so), the summer harvest always brings to mind its description of Iowa food preservation rituals.  It puts my paltry canning efforts completely to shame.  The novel’s women didn’t settle for putting up a few jars of plain old tomatoes and peaches.  They preserved almost everything from their gardens–much of it in the form of interesting sauces and relishes.

I remember thinking that seemed like a ridiculous lot of work!  But as the months and years passed, I realized those Iowa gals may well have something on us.  Sure they worked hard for a couple of months each summer, but think of the benefits their investments yielded:

  • Mealtime Speed  Need dinner in a hurry?  Fry up pork chops and top with a flavorful relish.  With the relish providing the pizzazz, side dishes can be super simple.  Get a totally satisfying meal together in practically no time.
  • Stress-Relief  No need to worry all day about what to make for dinner.  Just pull a relish from the shelf, mix ‘n match with different meats, sandwiches, wraps, salads, etc.
  • Affordability  We all know that seasonal produce is the best in terms of taste–but its also very reasonably priced.  So preserve those savings for year-round enjoyment.

It took a couple years, but this summer I dug up some of the relish recipes I’ve been saving and took the plunge, making a gingery beet relish.  I feel like I struck gold!  Beets are so plentiful and cheap right now.  Make up a batch and it stores for a couple months.  Pull it out and use with abandon on meats, sandwiches, salads, rice dishes–you name it.  Get not only color and flavor but a valuable nutritional boost.

I’m excited to share the many joys of relish with you–and to relish some as well.  Join us for one of our Farmers’ Market classes this week to, cook, learn, taste and chat relishes.

Recipe: Millet (or Rice) with Garlic Scapes

Millet with Garlic Scapes

Millet with Garlic Scapes

Problem:  You’re having rice for dinner, again.  We love brown rice because it’s easy and delicious.  But if you’re craving just a little pizzazz, here’s a solution:  Lightly Fried Millet with Seasonal Garlic Scapes.

1)  Vary It  When cooking a pot of grains for the week, try a different grain.  I’ve been playing with millet–and developing a taste for this fluffy yellow grain.  Cook 1 cup of grain in 2 1/4 cups of water.

2)  Fry It  There’s a reason we all like fried rice.  Added fat up the flavor quotient of almost any bland food.  But you don’t need to add a vat of fat to get the taste benefits.  I used just 1 Tbsp. of a good fat–safflower oil–for four servings.  Hint:  leftover, cold grains are best for frying, after they’ve dried out a bit.

3)  Brighten It  Garlic scapes and green garlic are in season and add wonderful color and flavor to plain old grains.  They’re easy to slice.  I tossed about 1 cup of them in oil before frying the grain.  Sauteeing just a minute or so takes off the raw edge.

4)  Crunch It  While sauteing the garlic, I went one step further (totally optional) and added a handful of pine nuts. Slivered almonds or chopped walnuts are a perfectly fine (and a lot less expensive) alternative.  Toasting for just a minute or so really brings out the flavor.

5)  Finish It  After sauteing the garlic and toasting the nuts, I added about 2 cups of cold millet.  Crumble before adding as it forms into a solid mass when refrigerated.  After adding, leave it alone a couple minutes to brown before turning.  It might pop just a little.  Cover briefly with a lid if necessary.  Once the grain is browned and slightly crispy, turn off the heat and stir in just 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil, if desired.  Serve and enjoy.

Why We Love Seasonal Eating

Mealtimes that are easier tastier and more fun

Rhubarb in the Early Summer Garden #1

Rhubarb is a lush addition to the Early Summer Garden . . .

Seasonal eating gets a lot of press these days.  Usually it’s in the context of eating locally, since the two go hand in hand.  Sometimes it’s in the context of saving money, since seasonal produce is  less expensive than produce grown in greenhouses or shipped from different climates.  Rarely is there mention of the best reasons to eat seasonally:  because it makes mealtimes easier and tastier as well as more interesting and fun.

This month’s Beef and Onion Saute with Rhubarb Gratin is a good case in point.   It is based on a recipe for Rhubarb Khoresh that I clipped from the newspaper years ago–long before seasonal eating became a common kitchen term.  Nevertheless, the recipe writer knew her seasons.  This became clear when I struck out into the rain last week to harvest the rhubarb from my garden, then the parsley, and then the mint called for by the recipe.  So there were the three main ingredients, all in their prime, in the garden, at the same time.  That’s seasonal sensibility.

More Rhubarb

. . . so gorgeous

The resulting dish was obviously local and economical, but it was a pleasant surprise to discover, once again, how well the season’s flavors melded together.   That’s where the easy and tasty part comes in.  It may seem splendid to have practically unlimited options in terms of grocery store produce and recipes; little do we realize how burdensome is the flip side of unlimited choice.  Somebody has to sift and think through hundreds of options to find just one thing for dinner!

With seasonal eating, however, only a dozen or so items are in their prime each month, which automatically narrows the options to a manageable range.  Better yet, what’s in season almost always tastes great with whatever else in in season, even with a pairing as odd as rhubarb, parsley and mint.  So it’s easy to come up with tasty meals.

More Rhubarb in the Early Summer Garden

. . . I had to include a couple more shots

Now for the fun and interesting part.  In late spring to early summer, rhubarb is everywhere.  That may seem like a sure recipe for boredom.  After all, what else is rhubarb good for besides strawberry rhubarb pie?  Just as necessity is the mother of invention, however, a commitment to seasonal eating is the mother of culinary innovation.  Who would have known rhubarb has a savory side?  Who would have used it to brighten up a beef and onion saute with springy, tangy sweetness after all the long months of winter?  Only someone dedicated to maximizing the bounty of the season, rather than being lured by the siren song of grocery store tomatoes, eggplant and peppers shipped in from warmer climates.  Their time will come in Colorado, and they’ll be filled with juicy goodness, but not now.  Now is the time for rhubarb’s springtime punch.  So be sure to try the stew right away, while there are still a few coolish days when a warming beef dish has appeal.

A Boredom-Busting Meal for Mid-Winter

Easy, Fun, a Little Fancy + Vegetarian and Gluten Free

So you’re bored–with restaurant food (see previous post) as well as your weekly rotation of 5 standard meals.  If you can saute and deglaze, two simple Cooking Basics we learn about in Whole Kitchen classes, you can break out of that rut in a heartbeat.  Begin by thinking outside the meat-starch-vegetable triangle, as in this meal that lifted me out of my cold-weather blues:

  • Spinach Salad with Sauteed Pears
  • Whole Grain Toasts with Parsley Chevre
  • Spicy Mushroom and Walnut Saute
Spinach in Salad Spinner

As a cold-weather crop, spinach is reasonably-priced and sweet-tasting now. A salad spinner is perfect for washing out all the dirt that collect in spinach.

Spinach Salad with Sauteed Pears and Mushrooms

As the star of the meal, this dish requires the most time.  So start by preparing all its pieces, but hold off on the last step until everything else is ready to go.  Also, take the cheese from the refrigerator now so it can warm to room temperature.

Step 1–Prep Spinach

  • 1 bunch spinach

Cut into 1-2″ squares, wash and spin very dry.

Step 2–Prep Celeriac

  • 1 med. celeriac, shredded on box grater
  • 1-2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste

Combine celeriac and lemon juice in a small bowl and toss to coat, then toss with spinach.

Step 3–Saute Onion and Pear

  • 1 med. to lrg. red onion, sliced 1/4″ thick, then cut into 2″ lengths
  • 1 large Bosc pear, diced to 1/2″
Cleriac with Utiity Knife

While a tough-looking character, celeriac is also a long-storage vegetable that can be eaten raw for nice, wintertime crunch. Remove the skin by cutting away with a paring or utility knife.

  • For meat eaters:  1/4 lb turkey bacon, diced into 1/2″ pieces
    • 2-3 lrg. galic cloves, minced

Saute onion in 1 Tbsp. olive oil for 3-5 minutes, add pear and saute another 5-7 more minutes until everything is browned.  (If using bacon, add and saute 2-3 more minutes to cook through.)  Push everything to sides of pan, add a little oil to center of pan and saute garlic just 1-2 minutes.  Turn off heat and stir everything together.

Step 4–Deglaze Pan

  • 1/4 cup vegetable, mushroom or chicken broth
  • 1-2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 Tbsp. good-quality olive oil or toasted walnut oil, as desired

Deglaze pan with broth, then add vinegar and oil and stir to mix thoroughly.  Reserve until serving time.

Step 5–Dress and Toss Salad

At serving time, if vegetables have cooled, re-warm just 1-2 minutes, then toss with spinach mixture along with:

  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice, to taste

Spicy  Mushroom and Walnut Saute

Bosc Pears

Bosc pears, a winter storage fruit, are best when there is no longer a green hue to their skin and they "give" slightly when pressed gently from the sides. Buy several and store in a paper bag so you always have some of these sweet gems for winter cooking.

Chili flakes are added only to brighten up the mild taste of mushrooms for winter.   So consider sticking to the recommended amounts, even if you’re a chili lover.

  • 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced about 1/8 to 1/4″ thick
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Saute mushrooms in a large saute pan for 10 to 15 minutes, until browned but not shriveled.

  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. chili flakes, to taste
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup walnut pieces

Push mushrooms to sides of pan, pour about 1 tsp. olive oil into center of pan and warm slightly.  Add chili flakes and cook about 30 seconds.  Immediately stir in walnuts and continue cooking about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until nuts begin to brown and smell toasty.  Stir mushrooms and walnuts together, turn heat to lowest setting and keep warm until ready to serve.

Whole Grain Toasts with Parsley Chevre

This idea came via a comment on last month’s parsley article, where Jill Swenson shared another great use for parsley:  her favorite creamed cheese and parsley sandwich.  Since I can’t eat cow milk products, I substituted sheep milk chevre (from Sunny Breeze, a family farm in Craig, Colorado, sold at Vitamin Cottage).  Goat milk chevre would also work.  Because of their bold flavor,  very little is needed.

  • 2-3 oz. sheep or goat chevre or creamed cheese (warmed to room temperature)
  • 1-2 tsp. stoneground mustard
  • 1-2 Tbsp. plain soy milk
  • 2-4 Tbsp. chopped fresh, flat-leafed parsley
Mushrooms and Chili Flakes

Chili flakes are added only to brighten up the mild taste of mushrooms for winter. So consider sticking to the recommended amounts, even if you're a chili lover.

  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine cheese and mustard in a small mixing bowl and mash and blend with a large fork to combine, adding soy milk as needed to make a spreadable mixture.  (It helps if the cheese can be left at room temperature for an hour or so.)   Stir in parsley and add salt and pepper or more mustard and/or parsley, to taste.

  • 4-6 slices whole grain bread, toasted and cut in quarters

Serve bowl of spread on a tray, surrounded by toasts and small bowls of additional parsley and mustard to use as desired.

Read more about Superfood Parsley and check out the easy recipe for Parsley Pesto.

Learn how to quickly and easily make meals like this.  Learn basic cooking techniques like saute and deglaze, and also how to use new and different ingredients like chevre and bosc pears.  There’s all this and more in Whole Kitchen cooking classes.  New classes are starting soon.

Gluten-Free Bread

Since white bread products have little nutritional value, be sure to use a 100% (or at least partially) whole grain bread. We used gluten-free Vegan Oat Bread from Colorado Springs- based Outside the Breadbox, found at Vitamin Cottage. Note how they are cut in triangles for a little flair.

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