Day 94–Spicing Up Our Lives

Spices in Mapusa Market, Goa, India.

Spices in Mapusa Market, Goa, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can spices save your life?

That’s a bit dramatic, but there is a good deal of research on how spices can help us live a healthier life. I love making new dishes for my family, but I am guilty of relying on the standard salt, pepper, garlic for just about everything. I’ve been reading about the health benefits of some spices that are not on our regular rotation and will be making a more conscious effort to use them in my regular cooking. Here is a list of 5 spices that we are trying to incorporate into our meals.

Cinnamon–I usually use cinnamon for toast or for sweetened baked goods, but cinnamon is actually good in many savory dishes as well. I’m thinking of trying it on sweet potato gnocchi, in chili, on rice or quinoa and as part of a rub for steak.

Cinnamon has been shown to boost our ability to process glucose and maintain even blood sugar levels. It also has been shown to help with cardiovascular risk factors, including diabetes. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine studied the effects of cinnamon on individuals with type 2 diabetes and found that it substantially lowered blood sugar levels over a placebo within two months. Apparently, cinnamon may also offer benefits against cancer, yeast infections, cholesterol problems and food poisoning.

For best results, don’t use the 2-year-old jar of cinnamon in your pantry (I tell myself), buy the quills and grind them using a spice grinder or a nutmeg grater. Ceylon cinnamon in jars is supposedly the highest quality for pre-ground cinnamon.

Turmeric–Turmeric is one of those mystery spices to me. I have to say that while I do occasionally use curry powder, I haven’t owned a bottle of tumeric, which is often used in curry powder mixes. After reading about it, though, I am all on board the turmeric train. This Indian spice is packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory powers that apparently protect and heal every major organ of the body. They key compound in turmeric is curcumin, which prevents inflammation that, in turn, causes other health problems. In fact, it has been shown to be as effective as anti-inflammatory medications (including Celebrex) without the side effects. It also shows indications for treating skin diseases like psoriasis and eczema.

Tumeric is the only readily available form of curcumin. It is a root and apparently difficult to grind, so pre-ground powders are the best source. Tumeric from the allepy region of India has twice as much curcumin as turmeric from other areas of India.

Here is how we plan to use more turmeric: soups and stews, on stir fried vegetables, in chili, melted into butter and poured onto vegetables, in egg and chicken salad.

Coriander–Coriander is the seed pod of the cilantro plant. It tastes completely different though. I haven’t warmed up to cilantro yet, but coriander is lovely. The healing power of coriander comes from two oils in the coriander seed that are powerful antioxidants.

Coriander is a powerhouse when it comes to treating digestive ailments, including irritable bowel syndrome. A study in Digestive Diseases and Sciences found that when compared with a placebo, those taking a coriander treatment experienced three times the improvement in their IBS symptoms of pain and bloating. Apparently, coriander acts as an antispasmodic, relaxing the muscles in the digestive system and calming the bowel and colon. It also has indications for helping with diabetes, eczema, high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Here is how we plan to use more coriander seeds: in our favorite broccoli and shrimp dish, in meat rubs, soups, stews, and in roasted vegetables like cauliflower.

Fennel–I’m one of those weird people who loves the black jelly beans at Easter. I love licorice or anything with that flavor profile, so fennel is just wonderful. I don’t cook with fresh fennel though, and that might be something I try this spring. The chemical anethol, present in fennel seeds, is a recognized phyto-estrogen, and fennel seeds in tea or in food are highly effective in addressing menstrual cramping. Fennel apparently also alleviates colic in babies and addresses arthritis and colitis.

Fennel seeds are more effective than ground fennel, which loses potency after 6 months.

While I am alone in my love of licorice, we will add fennel seeds to our diet in making sausage or sausage ragout sauces, and to our Italian type seasoning blends to go on tomatoes, in tomato sauce and with olives.

Ginger–Ginger has been long known for its digestive healing properties, but I didn’t realize that it also helps with motion sickness. In a University of Michigan study, volunteers subjected themselves to a spinning chair, and were spun until they were nauseous. They were later given 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams of ginger and in subsequent tests, they took longer to become nauseous. Note to self: take ginger before getting on the teacup ride at Disney.

Fresh ginger is more effective than dried, powdered ginger. Knobs of fresh ginger will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or indefinitely in the freezer.

We can add more ginger to our diet by using it in stir fry, using it in salad dressing, and as a tenderizer for meat. I also love it pickled with sushi.

So, yay, 5 easy ways to boost our healthy living while cooking and put a little variety into our dishes. I love all these ideas, but turmeric is definitely the most compelling little health booster I’ve seen. I’m on the lookout for recipes!

 

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Day 91–Chickens (a post by Ellie)

Ellie and the Silky Chick at the Dig In! Conference

Hi, I am Ellie, Deanna’s guest blogger for today, and I am writing about chickens. Chickens are very good pets to have because of the protein in the eggs. Sadly, I live in Cary so no chickens for me, especially because my mom (Deanna) won’t let me have them (hopefully she will give in).

I did some research on chickens and found out that chickens are related to dinosaurs, so their feet look really weird. Chicken eggs have good protein and pasture raised eggs have more protein and omega 3 fatty acids, which are really good for your heart. So if you live in a city that allows you to have chickens, maybe you should get them. At this conference I went to called “Dig In!”, I got to hold a hen and a chick. The chick fell asleep in my hands immediately and buried its beak between my thumb and forfinger. But the hen surprisingly would not let anyone hold her but me, and soon fell asleep in my arms. She woke up to a boy petting her the wrong way and she crowed at him then fell asleep again. Chicken eggs range in size, some the size of a robins egg and all the way up to the size of eggs that we buy from the farmers market. My favorite type of chicken is a Polish chicken because their feathers on the top of their heads look like a sideways mohawk.

Polish chicken at the Garden Girl, on the Roxb...

I don’t suggest you get a rooster unless you like to wake up at 5:00 am or you really want to annoy your neighborhood. You can always volunteer on a farm if you can’t or don’t want chickens roaming your front or backyard 24/7. Chickens, like any animal, need feed, water, grooming, and a shelter. So that is a little bit about chickens.

Day 64–Starting Week 10–Budget and Menu

Well, we are beginning week 10 of our journey with lots of good eats and with an eye toward spring and all the delicious fruits and vegetables that will be coming our way in another 4-6 weeks! So rather than look at sweet potatoes as “sweet potatoes…again??” we’re looking at them a bit nostalgically, knowing that it may be another 5-6 months before we see them again. Here is how we did at the market–a pretty typical week by this point. We went $4.00 over, but I splurged on two fresh, pasture-raised chickens, which just seemed too tempting to let go!

  • Heaven on Earth Organics (sweet potato, tomatoes, broccoli, onion, greens): $16.00
  • Mae Farm (chorizo): $8.00
  • Rare Earth Farm (local buttermilk): $4.00
  • Rainbow Farm (fresh chickens-2): $28.00
  • Lowes Food (pastry): $5.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, limes, grated cheese, organic sugar, peppers, lettuce, etc.): $35.00
  • Earps Seafood (NC shrimp): $8.00

Our total for the week: $104.00

So what’s to eat this week? We have a mix of hearty home cooking and fresh spring dishes–that seems to match our weather as well! In honor of National Pound Cake Day, I’ll be making a lemon pound cake–yum!

This week’s menu

  • Sunday–Roast, fresh chickens, sweet potatoes, sautéed kale, whole wheat buttermilk biscuits
  • Monday–Chicken and chorizo taquitos, multigrain mix, salad
  • Tuesday–Leftover taquitos
  • Wednesday–Roasted broccoli and shrimp over brown rice
  • Thursday–Chicken pot pie, salad
  • Friday–Leftover pot pie and greens
  • Saturday–Chicken noodle soup and biscuits

 Have a wonderful, healthy and delicious week!

Day 62–A Locavore’s Lunch–The Busy Bee

The Busy Bee is located in what was the Busy Bee Cafe in the 1920s.

I have to say that lately, I’ve had such great lunches from home that I haven’t been eating out for lunch much (good for my health and my wallet!). But when I do get lunch out, I typically frequent one of our many downtown lunch spots that serve local food. The Busy Bee on Wilmington Street (www.busybeeraleigh.com) is one of my all time favorites. They were, in fact, the catalyst for my new love of the fish taco!

Located in a former cafe of the same name, the Busy Bee features fresh, local, organic produce and NC sourced seafood. Their beef apparently comes from a distributer (according to my server), but much of the rest of the menu comes from local and/or sustainable sources. My favorites are the fish tacos and the spinach and artichoke burger (a hand-made veggie burger with spinach, artichoke and feta). Their sides are also wonderful. If you are a mac & cheese lover, get thee to the Busy Bee! Lighter than many mac & cheese dishes, it is very flavorful and filling. I usually go the unhealthy route on the sides with either the mac & cheese, tater tots (seriously–so good) or the fried green tomatoes.

I’ve also gone to the Busy Bee for staff happy hour, and the place has a terrific vibe in the evening. If you like beer, they have a pretty incredible selection of artisanal brews. If you don’t like beer, I can vouch for the Queen Bee martini with local honey and elderflower (a note: I do not sample adult beverages at lunch. Not that I haven’t been tempted, but still…).

If you’re in the Triangle looking for wonderful, fresh, locally sourced food, give the Busy Bee a try! And if you’re not local, check out their menu for some great flavorful inspirations that you might try at home!

Day 55–Community Gardens

Austin TX

“It is what it is, but will become what you make of it.”  Pat Summit

Spring is just around the corner here in North Carolina, and we are looking forward to planting our garden. I have mentioned before that we have some challenges (some extreme shade, some hot spots, horse-sized mosquitoes and LOTS of tree roots). I’m not only interested in having a successful gardening year for our family, but I am also interested in expanding access to fresh food. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been rewarding to find new local sources for our food and to post recipes and blog about our journey, but a larger issue is nagging at me. While I’m frolicking at the farmer’s markets, packing organic produce in my “green” Trader Joes bags, other families are having trouble finding any access to healthy, fresh food. Living in “food deserts,” these families, children, elders are often dependent on highly processed, overpriced foods available at local convenience stores. And there are many more folks who might have access to fresh food, but have no idea what they are eating (e.g., me six months ago). Food access and food literacy. Two huge issues affecting the health of many families in my area.

So I can let it nag at me, or I can see this as an opportunity for another part of our journey. Maybe I just have the zeal of the newly converted or maybe this is where I’m meant to go. Hard to tell at this point 🙂 In any case, an opportunity came our way and we are seizing it and we will see where it takes us.

Advocates for Health in Action is hosting a “Dig In” workshop focusing on building, maintaining and sustaining community gardens in our area. Topics for the 1/2 day program include garden planning, school gardening, legal issues, fundraising, organic gardening, bee keeping and more. The program looks like so much fun that our whole family is going! I feel fortunate to have this level of enthusiasm for not only improving our garden, but helping with a larger community gardening initiative. The event is in March and we will definitely blog about what we learned!

Taking this locavore journey is shaping us in ways we never expected (but I guess that’s why it’s a journey!). And taking up Lady Vols coach Pat Summit’s challenge, we will see what we can make of it.