Day 295–Cranberry Pecan Quinoa Granola

English: A chocolate chip granola bar made by ...

What’s in that granola bar? Read the labels! Or better yet, make your own!

We’ve learned a lot this year reading the labels of everything we buy–even cleaners and beauty products. It never ceases to amaze me what is allowed to be in our food and don’t even get me started about what is in makeup. Heather at Sugar Dish Me had an eye-opening experience as well with food that is labeled and recognized to be “healthy”. Instead of just being bummed out that some “health food” is not all that healthy (there are, by the way, no FDA requirements for a food to be labeled “healthy”), she took the initiative to make her own awesome granola packed with goodness. And quinoa (which is its own special kind of goodness)! I’ve never had quinoa in granola, but I’m looking forward to it. Check it out! I am totally making this over the weekend and plan to sprinkle it over my oatmeal.

HERE is Heather’s very funny story and her recipe!

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Day 155–Starting Week 23–Budget and Menu

green beans

We’re in that golden time right now–beautiful fruits and vegetables are plentiful and the oppressive humidity of summer is not yet here. Yes, there are mosquitoes and voles and an apparent flea epidemic, but there are also soft rain showers, cool evenings and the joy of finding new green tomatoes on my plants. Life is good!

Our budget is pretty good, too! We spent just $97.82 this week and that included some really yummy Spanish mackerel a whole chicken and extra peaches for grilling and making cobbler. YUM! Have a delicious and healthy week!

Menu

  • Wednesday–Broiled Spanish mackerel, sautéed zucchini, tomato and squash, steamed green beans
  • Thursday–Melina’s pasta with pesto, potato and green beans (recipe to come)
  • Friday–Salad with grilled peaches, blue cheese and peach balsamic vinegar (thanks mom!)
  • Saturday–Roast chicken, corn on the cobb, sautéed squash and onion
  • Sunday–Grilled pork chops, roasted new potatoes, butter beans
  • Monday–Leftover stir fry over brown rice
  • Tuesday–Scrambled egg burritos

Budget

  • The Produce Box (peaches, blueberries, strawberries, corn, green beans, tomato): $23.00
  • Locals Seafood (Spanish mackerel): $13.00
  • Homestead Farms (pork chops, chicken): 25.00
  • Various farmer’s market (new potatoes, butter beans, peaches, basil): $15.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, yogurt, soy milk, blue cheese, butter): $21.82

Day 117–A Locavore’s Lunch–Sarah Cecilia Good Food Company

We love buying our fresh, locally produced vegetables, meats, cheeses, etc. and cooking at home, but sometimes the drive to cook just isn’t there. And sometimes dinner is so good that we don’t have leftovers for lunch the next day. I found myself hungry and bereft of lunch options yesterday while also visiting the newly reopened Downtown Farmer’s Market in Raleigh. I considered buying enough basic ingredients to make my own lunch, but then I came across the Sarah Cecilia Good Food Company Booth and decided to let someone make my lunch for me! I have seen the Sarah Cecilia booth at the Western Wake Farmer’s Market, but usually I’ve just finished breakfast and am not feeling up to buying prepared food. This day, however, was different. I was hungry!

The Sarah Cecilia Good Food Company is a small business run by Kim Hunter and Kelly Hatch. The name of their company comes from their two moms–Sarah and Cecilia. Sweet, no? Their dedication to preparing locally sourced, sustainably produced foods in healthy and nutritious ways drives their budding catering and food delivery business. They are present at many of the local farmer’s markets in the Triangle area and they also deliver meals to your home or office! I understand that Kim and Kelly are also interested in opening a cafe in Raleigh–I’m looking forward to that!

For lunch, I had the Asian noodles with greens, cilantro, chicken and onion. Wow, was it good. Flavorful and healthy and bursting with all kinds of fresh flavors. A nice portion for lunch, too and at $6, it didn’t break the piggy bank. The other option today was shrimp rolls, which sounded good also.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to find a healthy, local lunch while shopping for vegetables and that I could support a local, woman-owned business. And I felt virtuous enough with my super healthy lunch to have some strawberry cobbler later 🙂

Day 113–Starting Week 16–Budget and Menu

This week, the farmer’s markets were just teeming with people and chock full of wonderful strawberries and spring vegetables. I didn’t buy as much at the market as last week because we now have our weekly Produce Box delivery. Still, it was great to be out seeing the farmers so busy after a quiet winter. Our total for the week was $101.65–just $1.65 over our weekly goal. Not too bad!!

  • The Produce Box (sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, strawberries, cucumbers): $22.00
  • Rainbow Farms (roasting chicken): $13.00
  • Farmhand Foods (kabob beef): $15.00
  • Farmer’s Market–various (onions, sugar snap peas, asparagus, cucumbers, tomatoes): $18.00
  • Trader Joes (organic soy milk, rice, frozen fruit, bananas, mushrooms, Ezekiel bread, cous cous): $33.65

What are we having this week for $101.65? Here is our weekly menu:

  • Sunday–Roast fresh chicken, sweet potato wedges, roasted asparagus spears, buttermilk biscuits, strawberry cobbler
  • Monday–Curry chicken and spinach over whole wheat cous cous
  • Tuesday–Pasta salad with roasted vegetables
  • Wednesday–Sandwiches with leftover pasta salad
  • Thursday–Veggie stir fry over rice
  • Friday–Leftover cleanup night
  • Saturday–Grilled beef and vegetable kabob with whole wheat cous cous

Have a terrific and delicious week!

Day 112–A Strawberry Workday and Strawberry Fruit Leather

Saturday was all about strawberries at our house. We managed to get up and out of the house early and meet some of our fellow scouts at a local strawberry patch. The morning was beautiful and the berries were plentiful. It’s fun to watch everyone’s strawberry picking strategies. I pick the closest spot and start picking. Tom checks out the field and picks the spot where he thinks most people won’t have picked and Ellie gets as far away from us with her friends as she can. I’m thinking this mirrors our personalities fairly well 🙂

There is something about an entire field of ripe strawberries that makes me tend toward hoarding. I want to pick them all! In the end, we had four large buckets of beautiful, ripe berries and two pints of locally produced Maple View Farm ice cream. Two excellent treats! Once we got home with our bounty, the work began. We rinsed and checked our berries and immediately started hulling them for jam.

We made eight half pints of strawberry jam in all. The jam started out as old fashioned, slow cook jam with no pectin. After 90 minutes of cooking the berries, lemon juice and sugar, I couldn’t really tell if the jam had jelled, but I canned it using a hot water bath thinking that surely 90 minutes was enough time. The next morning, I re-cooked it and canned it a second time because it was too soupy. A lot of extra work, but I think I’ll be happier with the results this winter. And in the future, I may just use pectin with strawberries. They seem to have a lot of juice in them and it doesn’t cook down very well. Maybe blueberries are better?

After making the jam, we made strawberry fruit leather, based on a recipe in Sherri Brooks Vinton’s Put ‘Em Up cookbook. I was interested in this because fruit leather is a nice snack, but we don’t buy fruit rollups–they’re pretty full of junk and very low on actual fruit. The fruit leather drying process took longer than the recipe called for (about 4 hours instead of 2), but the end result was totally worth it. Our strawberry leather is chewy, tart and bursting with strawberry flavor. Soooooo good. Apparently, the fruit leather will keep in an air tight container for up to one month, but it will not last that long in our house! The recipe is below.

While we were canning and drying, I also froze 6 quarts of berries. I rinsed them, hulled them, then put them on parchment lined baking sheets, which I popped into the freezer for about an hour. When the berries were frozen, I put them in quart sized freezer bags. This way, they don’t get mushed and frozen in a big block.

After all that, you would think I’d collapse, but no, I decided to make a strawberry cobbler (recipe to come). Inspired by a similar recipe from Creative Noshing, I took our peach cobbler recipe and substituted strawberries as a test. It was amazing–especially when served hot with our Maple View Farm ice cream. Wow!

So our final total was 8 half pints of jam, 6 quarts of frozen berries, one batch of fruit leather and one strawberry cobbler. For good measure, I pickled 4 pints of asparagus spears (more on that this week). Needless to say, my house smelled great all day and at the end of the day, I slept very well. It was nice to take a day to devote just to cooking, canning and enjoying the literal fruits of our labor!

Berry Fruit Leather

  • 4 cups of berries (any will do!)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  1. Wash and dry the berries. Combine them with water in a large skillet and bring to a boil. Simmer until the berries begin to break down, about 5 minutes. Puree the fruit by mashing it with a potato masher or using a stick blender (my personal choice).
  2. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Line a rimmed backing sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. Return the berry puree to the pan and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently until it thickens to the consistency of baby food. Add the sugar and still to dissolve.
  4. Spread the sweetened puree onto the baking sheet, tilting the pan or using an offset spatula to create an even layer about 1/8″ thick.
  5. Dry in the oven until tacky to the touch, about 2 hours (for me this was 4 hours).
  6. Cool to room temperature. Side the parchment onto a cutting board and roll the leather into a tube. Slice the fruit into 2″ strips and store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Day 89–Industrial Products in Food–Ok or Troublesome?

Orthophosphoric acid H 3 PO 4

In an effort to be more efficient, I often look for “two fers”–that is, one solution that will address more than one issue. Sometimes this works wonderfully and other times, if I try to force a solution where it doesn’t quite fit, I have (as Ellie says) an “epic fail.” In the food industry, these “two fers” often use industrial products and ingredients to address issues with processed food stability or to lower the cost of food production. This isn’t illegal and in many cases may not be harmful, but maybe you want a higher standard than “not necessarily harmful” in your food supply. If you are trying to eat more whole foods and limit your intake of highly processed ingredients, it is interesting to see how these ingredients are used elsewhere. Thanks to Experience Life magazine for this information.

Olestra–This chemical is used to make fat-free potato chips and snack foods. It has no flavor or nutritive value. Olestra works by bonding to fat and preventing it from being absorbed in your body. But that method can have drawbacks, including diarrhea and abdominal cramping, especially for people with sensitive digestive systems, with irritable bowel syndrome or for small children. Interestingly, olestra is also used in paints and lubricants. 

Calcium Chloride–Calcium chloride is a chemical blend of salt and chlorine that has been deemed safe for food use by the FDA. It has no nutritive value and is not used for flavor. It is used as a stabilizer for some canned foods, an electrolyte in sports drinks and is an agent in some pickling. It can cause upset stomach, and irritation of the digestive tract, especially in people with digestive issues. Calcium chloride is also the key ingredient in road salt and ice melt.

Phosphoric Acid–This chemical is used to make foods–specifically sodas–more acidic. It has no nutritive value. Because it is so cheap, it has become the standard acid in sodas, replacing natural sources like lemon and lime. Phosphoric acid has been linked to decreased bone density and kidney stones, the former is especially a problem for women over 40 who have a history of osteoporosis in their family. Oh, yes, phosphoric acid’s industrial use is as a rust remover known for its ability to rapidly eat rust on metal. Your dentist may also use small amounts to etch/scar your teeth before putting in a filling.

Calcium sulfate–Calcium sulfate is a desiccant (drying agent) and a coagulant. It has no flavor or nutritive value. It is often used in foods, including tofu, to bond molecules together. It is also the key ingredient in plaster of paris. The use of calcium sulfate can cause abdominal swelling and abdominal pain in some people. Industrially, it is used to make plaster and drywall.

Cornstarch–Cornstarch is a thickener that, unlike the above ingredients, is typically found in most households. Cornstarch is made from the endosperm of the corn grain and is a cheaper industrial substitute for the more simply processed arrowroot. It is used in puddings, chewing gum, gravy, ice cream, sauces and some canned foods. Because cornstarch is used so heavily in processed foods, it may pose a hidden sugary carb risk for those trying to eliminate processed carbohydrates or sugars from their diets. Cornstarch is also used to make rubber tires, plywood and some insecticides.

Corn syrup–Corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup is probably the most insidious and highly contested ingredient on this list. It is made from processing corn starch to release all the glucose in the starch, then processing it some more to shift most of the glucose to fructose. Because it is very cheap to produce, it has replaced most beet and cane sugar as well as honey in sweetened, processed foods. It is present in many processed food products, including ketchup and other condiments, cheese spreads, marshmallows, dehydrated soups, cake mixes, snack foods and frozen foods. Both the chemical nature and high level of use of corn syrup have linked the chemical to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and non-alcohol fatty liver disease. Corn syrup is also used to make shoe polish, metal plating and explosives. 

Maybe these all seem ok to you, maybe not. Regardless of what we choose to purchase at the grocery, it is important to make informed choices. In some cases, the “two fer” works in our favor and in others, it isn’t a win-win situation for our bodies.

Day 87–Making Room For a Freezer

“I feel the need…to freeze!” Apologies to Tom Cruise.

In preparation for the spring and summer garden bonanza of fresh fruits and vegetables, I’m reading a lot about food preservation strategies. Thanks to Tom, Ellie and I have a nice setup of canning supplies just waiting for this year’s strawberries and blueberries, and I’m studying how to put them up without killing anyone. Really, that is a fear I have, but I’m working through it. In reading about food preservation, I am understanding that I need to reframe my way of thinking. When I think of “preserving,” I typically think of canning foods. But drying, freezing, and refrigerating are other options for food preservation that are even more accessible than canning.

Using a freezer to preserve foods isn’t a huge revelation, I know, but I haven’t really thought about using my freezer as a way to put up fruits and vegetables for winter. I typically think of my freezer as a holding area for ice cubes and our week’s worth of frozen fruit for our smoothies, not as a place to store our jackpot of string beans from our CSA.

The only issue with this is space. We have a nice sized freezer drawer on our refrigerator and I love it, but it doesn’t have a huge amount of room for long-term storage. Which brings us to the issue of the deep freezer. I’ve never had one, but I’ve thought about it in the past. The issue comes back to space again, because where in the world can you put a deep freezer without causing an issue?

It may be that our laundry room will provide us with the space needed, but that will involve some cleaning out of all the “treasures” currently stored there. If we can make it work, our family will have some delicious projects ahead of us!

All of this makes me realize that the world of possibilities and options is almost always larger than what I am currently thinking. Hell bent on canning, I neglected to think of the larger opportunities of freezing and drying. Tree, meet the forest. This, to me, is the wonderful part of our journey–re-framing things in my own mind, learning, growing and becoming more aware and mindful.

Now, excuse me, because I have some serious re-organizing to do 🙂

Day 85–Starting Week 13–Budget and Menu

The title for this week should be “how I blew my budget on fresh scallops.” We are way over budget this week at $136.40. I think that might be a record in our 13 week journey so far! How did we go so far afield this week? Well, there are two reasons (really, three, but I’m not counting my lack of self-discipline):

  1. We ran out of several staple ingredients (flour, organic sugar, butter, vanilla, olive oil) and stocking up the pantry added to our weekly bill. Because I don’t track how these ingredients are used, I don’t cost them out over the weeks so they are reflected in this week’s budget.
  2. Locals Seafood had the year’s first fresh caught jumbo NC scallops. I caved. At $22/lb they were definitely a splurge. I also increased the amount of fish I ordered since we are all big fish eaters and I seemed to have disappointed faces when all the fish was gone.

Here is how our budget worked out for the week:

  • Locals Seafood (fresh NC scallops, fresh NC striped sea bass): $63.00
  • Heaven on Earth Organics (broccoli, swiss chard, onions): $13.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, Ezekiel bread, organic sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, organic lemons, soy milk, sardines, pasta): $50.40
  • Singing Turtle Farm (whole wheat pastry flour): $10.00

That is a whole lotta money. I’ll be under control more next week 🙂 What are we having this week for such a large sum? Here’s the menu:

  • Sunday–fresh caught NC jumbo scallops and lemon zest served on lemon pepper pasta; lemon blueberry pound cake
  • Monday–Pasta con sarde (pasta with sardines), salad
  • Tuesday–Scrambled egg Florentine
  • Wednesday–leftovers
  • Thursday–Pan seared rockfish (striped bass) over greens w/roasted carrots
  • Friday–leftover fish, broccoli and salad
  • Saturday–Pizza

So, austerity it isn’t, but a special feast every once in a while isn’t so bad, is it? With the exception of the pound cake, at least it is all low-fat and healthy–and at least the pound cake is homemade with whole wheat, locally milled flour and not store-bought. But still, when I look at our weekly budget, I’m seeing a lot of rice and cous cous in next week’s menu 🙂

 

 

Day 81–Cracking the Cookie Code

Chocolate chip cookie dough.

Ok, I had mixed emotions about the two-month-long cookie sale for our Girl Scout troop. I don’t love the idea of young people out peddling highly processed, sugary food when we already struggle with getting them to eat healthy. But, in the spirit of tradition (and out of fear of the Girl Scout Council), I pushed ahead, stayed positive, kept my issues to myself and we all survived. We counted cookies, set up booths, counted some more, hit up our neighbors, collected money, counted some more and then…we were done! No. More. Cookies!

Then, I received an email from Ellie’s middle school band director. The band’s booster club had chosen a fundraiser to purchase some badly needed equipment and defray the cost for the steel drum band to perform at Disney World. This fundraiser…is…wait for it…selling tubs of raw cookie dough. AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH. Are you kidding me?

First, let me say that I am a huge supporter of PTA’s and school arts programs, especially band programs–how cool is it that we even have a middle school steel drum band? And I am a big fan of our school’s band director–he is amazing and, for patiently teaching all those hormonally charged young people, he probably deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. I contacted the band director immediately and explained our dilemma. Did I say how awesome he is? He is awesome. I suggested that instead of purchasing a vat of cookie dough, we make a family donation to the band boosters to cover the proceeds of what we might have sold. No problem.

Except there is a problem. And that problem is called “sales incentives”. Or as the folks at Entertainment Fundraising call it: the “Extreme Fundraising Prize Pool”. The dazzling array of cheaply produced, made-in-a-sweat-shop goods had Ellie smitten. And, there is some social peer pressure involved. Those of you without children, do not judge. It’s unfathomable the frenzy these cheap prizes cause within a school. So, after a great deal of discussion, we decided to find out what is in the cookie dough, and if it didn’t seem too terrible, we would see if our neighbors wanted any. If there were unpronounceable ingredients or big health issues, we would pass. No problem.

Except there was another problem. And that problem is called “we’re not going to tell you what is in our cookie dough”. Or, as the folks at Entertainment Fundraising call it: “Secret Ingredients”.

After a fruitless online search to find ingredient lists, I called Entertainment Fundraising to see if they could email me a list of ingredients in their cookie dough. In this day of food allergies, that didn’t seem like a crazy request. I spoke with “Charles” about this at length. Our conversation went something like this:

C:   This is Charles at Entertainment Fundraising!!!! How can I help you!!!!

Me: Hi Charles, our school band is selling your tubs of cookie dough this spring…

C:  Great!!! The cookie dough is super!!!

Me:  Yes, well, I’m looking for a list of the ingredients in the different doughs, but I can’t find one online. Can you help me with this?

C:   Oh (no more exclamation points). No, we can’t give you the list of ingredients.

Me:  Um, ok, why is that?

C:   We cannot communicate with anyone except the fundraiser chairperson.

Me: Um, ok, why is that?

C:  They have the special code to download information from the website.

Me: Does this information include ingredients?

C:  Probably.

Me: But you can’t send it to me?

C:  No.

Me: And why is that?

C: Your fundraising chairperson has the special code.

Me: Hmm, well that seems odd, Charles, but I’ll try to get in touch with our fundraising chairperson…

C: Ok, great!!!! And thank YOU for supporting the children!!!

Me: Whatevs.

I thought for sure, I would never see an ingredient list. Then, this morning I received several pdf files from the band director in my email (because he is awesome). Ingredients lists! Overall, the cookie doughs use a lot of partially hydrogenated oils (which by their nature include trans fats), several different kinds of sugar including fructose and some of the cookies include parabens. Being raw cookie dough, they also include preservatives, which is not a huge surprise. I showed the list to some folks I work with and they all agreed that 1) a vat of cookie dough is, in principle, gross and 2) they were not interested in foods with such a high level of fat.

In the end, this has spurred a lot of thinking about how we talk the talk of health with our children, but we really don’t put that into practice when it counts. We tell them to make good choices, then send them out to sell poor choices to other people. As a result of all this, I have made an offer to the PTA to start a Wellness Committee of teachers, parents and students at the school, but haven’t heard back.

But for reals now, I am done with cookies…

Day 80–First Day of Spring and Eggs Nested in Sauteed Chard

Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) with variously col...

The first day of spring is typically celebrated with great exuberance in my house. Tom hates winter. Hates. It. He usually has a big, dramatic countdown to the first day of spring–this countdown begins shortly after we open Christmas presents. So, you understand my surprise when not only did we NOT have a countdown this year, but we were well on our way to work when he said, “Oh yeah, it’s the first day of spring!” We did a  little happy dance in the car (good that Ellie was already at school, so we were spared the eye rolling), but that was it for our celebration. The truth is, we have had spring here in NC since January. We’re not complaining, mind you, but it is a bit anticlimactic to celebrate something that arrived two months ago.

One of my favorite spring foods is swiss chard, especially the rainbow variety. Due to our hot summers, chard is usually out of the way by June, so we have to enjoy it quickly. Chard has a fresh, sweet taste that is something like a really amped up spinach. And we are absolutely ready for something other than collards and kale.

So tonight, in celebration of spring, we will have a dish that uses two fresh springtime foods–swiss chard and fresh farm eggs. This dish was shared by a friend and it looks to be healthy, fresh and easy to make. Thanks to Ben’s Produce for the organic rainbow chard and Water Oaks Farm for the fresh eggs!

This recipe is from Simply Recipes and since the recipe is not mine, I’m directing you to the original source. If I can get my food porn skills in gear, I will post photos, but the photos on the recipe site are pretty amazing, so they speak for themselves.

Happy first day of spring! Or 80th day of spring, whichever the case may be. Celebrate with something fresh and delicious today!