Day 122–All We Want is a Salad Bar

The reactions to our experience watching “What’s On Your Plate?” keep growing as we move forward and study our own eating environments. I asked the group of girls who saw the film what they learned and to them, it was astounding to learn how difficult it can be to change even one small part of the school food system. These girls are typically up for a challenge, so they zeroed in on that. Ok, so here are middle school girls complaining about how horrible the school lunches are and how little choice they have in their diet while on campus (yes, they could bring lunch, but that’s a whole other discussion about middle school social rules). They equate the quality of their lunch with how much the school cares about their well being…and let me tell you, this is one group of girls who do not think the adults in charge really care.

What do they want? A salad bar. How hard will that be? We’re going to find out.

Ellie brought up a very good point during the discussion. She noted that schools spend a lot of time, money and energy dealing with bullying, but they don’t do anything to address one of the personal aspects that encourages bullies to zero in on a target–being overweight. The girls agreed that being overweight or obese raises the odds that you will be bullied or harassed. So why aren’t schools using their bully budget to address that? It was a good point. If young people are asking for help with this issue, we should be listening.

Now this group of 4-6 girls is interested in starting a petition to have a salad bar in the cafeteria. Every journey begins with a single step and they are excited about moving forward. I’m sure it will be an eye-opening experience!

Day 110–Our First Produce Box of the Year!

The Produce Box is here! The Produce Box is here!

Pulling into my driveway last night, I saw an unfamiliar car behind me. The car pulled into my drive and stopped. Someone looking for directions? Someone complaining about my lack of green grass in the yard? Nope. It was my Produce Box Neighborhood Organizer delivering my first Produce Box of the growing season! Life is good.

I’ve blogged about The Produce Box before (HERE), but this is the first box we have received since last fall, so it merits some additional blog time! The Produce Box sources all its vegetables and farm products (cheese, bread, honey, jam) from North Carolina farms, packages them into CSA-type boxes and delivers them to the house. Members also contribute a small fee (I think it was $3 this year) to provide small grants to local farmers to help address issues on their farms (some of this year’s grants included purchasing seed starting supplies, purchasing refrigeration units, educational opportunities, etc).

Because The Produce Box works with several farms, they do offer a greater variety of vegetables than a traditional CSA, which also reduces the risk of not receiving anything if one farmer has a crop fail. Members can pick among several boxes each week, including an organic box and a small box for folks who can’t consume all the veggies in the standard box. And I have to say it, I love having my vegetables delivered. One thing I can cross of my list. But you know, meeting with and talking to farmers has been a real joy for me, so even though I get my produce box delivered, I’ll still be heading out to the farmer’s markets to pick up anything not in my box as well as cheese, pasta, meat, eggs, etc.

What did we get in our first box? Due to a late season frost last week, this week’s box is smaller than usual, but still a very welcome sight! We received two packages of strawberries, sweet potatoes, spinach, a HUGE head of lettuce, greenhouse cucumbers, and carrots so fresh they still have the dirt on ’em. Yum. Just in time for saladpalooza night!

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Day 51–Sweet Harukai Turnips

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Every once in a while on my trek through the farmer’s market, I find a new vegetable or fruit that causes me to veer from my shopping list and take a chance. This week I was at the Coon Rock Farm tent and saw what I thought were the prettiest white “radishes”. I found out that they weren’t radishes at all. Rather, they were Harukai turnips, also called Japanese baby turnips. You may have tried these already, but they were new to me. The folks from Coon Rock Farm suggested sautéing them–they are so small that they don’t need the heavy-duty roasting or boiling that large turnips require. Cute and easy to cook? Sold!

We were going to have them Monday, but I just couldn’t wait, so I made them as a side to our braised beef ribs. I washed the greens and turnips and cut the greens off and reserved them. Then, I halved the turnips and sautéed them in about 1 tbs. of olive oil until they were mostly soft. When they were about done, I added the greens and a little kosher salt and pepper and sautéed them for about 3 minutes more.

Not only were the turnips really cute (yes, I’m a sucker for mini vegetables), but they had a mild, delicious flavor that would pair well with many dishes. I’m glad I didn’t add any extra seasonings or garlic because these turnips are so mild that extra ingredients would have overwhelmed the flavor.

This is a definite “do again” at my house! If you happen to see these little, white turnips, give them a try!

Have you had success with new or unusual vegetables?

Day 45–Roasted Vegetable Pasta

Ricotta cheese.

In case you missed it, Monday was national Eat Italian Food Day. I have no idea why this isn’t an entire month–I know I could do it. In spite of the Americanized version of Italian food, which tends to be very heavy on the cheese and meat, most Italian food in Italy is locally-based, impossibly fresh and creatively resourceful. I know this because I once tried to eat my way across Tuscany (I am an expert–don’t try this at home).

So in honor of Meatless Monday and Eat Italian Food Day, we celebrated with a vegetarian pasta dish that is delicious, healthy and easy to make. This recipe is actually based on a dish made by The Cake Boss (go figure!) and its simple beauty comes from using whatever fresh, seasonal vegetables are available. Roasting the vegetables brings out their natural flavor and sweetness without any additives other than olive oil and salt. That is truly Italian cooking!

You can vary this dish throughout the seasons by using what is ripe and delicious at the time. You can also vary the pasta you use. I like orecchiete (little ears) pasta because it holds the sauce well. As a mom, I think this is one of those healthy, versatile recipes that could be a regular (and by changing it up, maybe no one will notice I am basically recycling the same dish). Score!

  • 1 lb. fresh pasta (we used orecchiete pasta)
  • 1 organic onion
  • 2 organic tomatoes
  • 2 c. organic broccoli florets
  • 3 organic carrots, peeled and cut into 2-3″ planks
  • 2 c. cubed organic butternut squash
  • 2 handfuls of kale (from our garden!) or other greens–arugula is good, too!
  • About 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese (we used Hillsborough Cheese Co. garlic and chive ricotta)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pignolis (pine nuts), parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet.
  2. Put a stock pot of salted water on the stove to boil.
  3. Cut all vegetables except kale into bite sized chunks and toss with olive oil and a little kosher salt and pepper.
  4. Chop kale into little bite sized pieces and reserve.
  5. Put all vegetables except kale in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Add kale to pan during last 5 minutes.
  6. While vegetables roast, add pasta to the boiling water and cook to al dente. When pasta is done, reserve 1 c. pasta water for sauce and drain pasta.
  7. In a large bowl, add cooked pasta, roasted vegetables, kale, ricotta and pasta water and mix together. The cheese should melt and make a light sauce. The pasta water is essential and will thicken the sauce and help it stick to the pasta.
  8. Serve with pignolis (pine nuts), parmesan or whatever makes you happy!

Buon appetito!

Day 39–Backyard Farming–Can We Grow Our Own?

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My Pheonix-like kale is either a complete anomaly or a sign of hope...

You can’t get any more local or sustainable than growing your own vegetables or raising your own chickens. Some have wondered why I spend so much of my time tracking down local, organic farmers, when I could just grow produce myself. Well, there’s a story behind that, but before I go there, I want to thank someone who has made my blogger soul bloom.

I want to thank Creative Noshing for bestowing the Liebster Award upon my little blog. The Liebster Award is given from bloggers to new bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. What means so much to me is that I love the Creative Noshing blog myself and if you haven’t checked it out, you should! Terrific recipes and wonderful writing. Now I get to share the award with up to 5 other bloggers! A nice way to pass along positive encouragement!

I am in turn selecting the following blogs for the Liebster Blog Award, and I hope you will visit their sites. They are well-written blogs that share great information and have a good sense of humor and style.

Stay Healthy with Samantha

The Lovely Locavore Ladies of Boston

Hillsborough Cheese Company

Congratulations to them and many thanks to Creative Noshing. You made my day!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program …

In regards to growing my food, I would say I have a black thumb, but I don’t think that is accurate. My yard has a black thumb and I am sticking to that story. I’ve had wonderful gardens in my past–vegetable gardens and herb gardens chock full of heirloom tomatoes, squash, okra and lettuce. My current house, however, exists in some Bermuda Triangle of gardening. I have beautiful, mature oak trees, which provide shade–something humans enjoy more than vegetable plants. On the flip side, the few open spaces I have seem to be real hot spots. And then there are the bunnies. Not sure what it is about Cary, but our wild bunnies proliferate like, well, rabbits. They are really cute, but not so much when they are eating all your broccoli plants.

Despite these challenges, I see a small ray of hope. The kale we planted last fall has come back rather Pheonix-like from its earlier bunny attack and looks lovely. It’s just enough to get me looking at seeds again. Knowing I have a membership to The Produce Box certainly helps take the pressure off having to feed my family from three raised beds of sad little plants. Then again, maybe herbs are a better choice considering my hot, mediterranean-like sunny spots.

The weather is warm(ish), the sun is out, and hope springs eternal…Maybe this year…

Day 33–Are You Joining a CSA?

CSA Haul the First

Today is 70 degrees and definitely doesn’t feel like February. But here we are in winter, dreaming of all the wonderful fruits and vegetables yet to come in the next few months.

For CSA (community-supported agriculture) organizations, this is the end of the sign up season. We have just renewed our membership in The Produce Box, which is a modified version of a CSA. I love the concept of the CSA, but the pickup idea just wasn’t working for our schedules (or my memory). Wondering about getting your local veggies this spring and summer? Here are some good options.

CSA

CSAs are membership “clubs” typically organized between a farmer and individual members of the public. In the winter, members purchase  “shares” in the farms future bounty and pay anywhere from $400-$500 up-front. This fee gives the farmer funds to purchase seeds, upgrade equipment and get ready for the busy season. Once the farm is producing, each member receives a weekly box or other amount of whatever is harvested that week and this goes on throughout the growing season. The benefits to the farmer are great–he or she knows has money to invest in the farm upfront and has a ready-made customer base (although members don’t pay for the weekly boxes, there are usually opportunities to purchase other items). The benefits to members include a steady supply of fresh fruits and vegetables and having a connection to a community farm. If you want all-organic produce, you can work specifically with an organic farmer. This all works really well unless the weather is bad or there is a blight and farm production is reduced. In that case, it is a good learning experience about the gamble of farming.

Modified CSA

Modified CSAs are membership clubs that work with a select group of farmers, rather than just one and they tend to offer a greater variety of products. Like traditional CSAs, there is usually some up-front or membership fee and after that, they vary widely. Some provide one standard box of produce each week, others give members varying degrees of choice in what is in their box.

Benefits to the farms are the same as a traditional CSA, and include also that the farmer does not have to run a separate business. Benefits to members include a wider variety of produce and a small safety net in case one farmer has trouble producing.

Because modified CSAs are run by a third-party, members should ask a lot of questions, including how much of the weekly or annual payment goes directly to the farmer. Other questions to ask might include:

  • Who are the farmers? Where are their farms located?
  • Can I visit the farms? How can I contact the farmer?
  • How are farmers chosen for participation?
  • How sustainable are the farms in the group? What are their farming protocols?
  • How much of the membership fees/payments are used for overhead (management, marketing)?
  • Can I see the most recent annual financial statement?
  • If all fees are paid in advance, how are these funds managed? Is there a board or is this an individual? Who has authorization to spend the funds and how is the risk of fraud addressed?

I know that last question sounds harsh and it might be hard to ask, but some modified CSAs charge an annual fee of up to $500. That’s a lot of money for a family and if the farmer isn’t in charge of the money, you need to know who is. Just sayin’.

Farmer’s Market

The farmer’s market is still a great way to get the widest variety of locally produced vegetables quickly after harvest. Farmer’s markets are springing up everywhere these days, which is great for consumers. To find a farmer’s market in your area you can go to www.sustainabletable.org and search by zip code.

Benefits to farmers include one-stop delivery of their products and a direct connection with customers. The downside to farmers is that farmer’s markets are a lot of work and their customer base is heavily dependent on the weather that day. Benefits to consumers include the ability to price shop among vendors, ask questions to the farmers themselves (or their family members), and see the amazing variety of seasonal products available in your area.

Farmer’s market caveat: make sure the market where you shop requires vendors to a) grow the food themselves and b) farm within 100 miles or less of your market. This prevents commercial food vendors from selling you the same veggies they are delivering to the supermarket, which often come from another state or country.

Grow Yer Own

Ok, this probably should have been first on the list. Growing your own vegetables or fruits is an incredibly fulfilling task. From my experience, I can say that walking out to your own backyard and picking vegetables for dinner is tremendously satisfying. You can’t get any fresher or more local than that! With a sunny patch and a little know-how, you can produce wonderful results for your family.

Gardening in your yard does have a few requirements: sun, consistent water and patience. My yard lacks adequate sun and once the mosquitoes turn out in force, it’s really hard to make myself water every other night, which is what we have to do when the weather turns hot. So, raising veggies has not really worked for me (more on that in another post this week!), but I do have plans…

The only downside to growing your own vegetables is that if you aren’t successful, you pay for the seeds/plants and still end up buying vegetables elsewhere. That’s where I am and why we joined the flexible CSA.

No matter what your resources, there are options for fresh vegetables coming soon! How will YOU get your veggies this year?

Day 21–Changing Diets, Changing Bodies

Caffeine

Three weeks into our journey, we’re taking time to assess how our dietary changes have influenced our bodies. We’ve already seen several benefits from our reduced caffeine and soda intake.

My husband says he feels great and has added both speed and distance to his daily runs on the treadmill. He doesn’t miss diet soda like he thought he might and he’s doing really well without coffee. So far, he also likes the different meals we’ve been cooking and really liked trying his hand at pizza making last week!

My seemingly chronic insomnia has abated and I’m sleeping better than I have in a long time. I can’t tell you how awesome that is. I’m even dreaming, which I don’t remember doing for months. I had attributed my sleeping problems (I could fall asleep, but not stay asleep) with pre menapause, but clearly, caffeine had a major role in that problem. I don’t miss diet soda either and drinking more water has definitely helped me feel more energized during the day. Either that or I just have to take more bathroom breaks and that’s making me get up from my desk 🙂

Our pre-teen weighed in with her opinions of the change. She feels like she has more energy and she said she feels happier with fewer mood swings during the day. With the exception of the bison chili we made, she has enjoyed everything we’ve been eating so far and really liked our pizza challenge.

The only challenge I’ve had so far has been a small weight gain, which seems to be reversing itself nicely. I think it’s taken my body a while to adjust to “real” food during the day instead of Lean Cuisine and Diet Coke. Since I’m still going to the gym and working out regularly, I’m not concerned about this, but it was a surprise at first.

All in all at week 3, we are happy with the changes we have made and all three of us see positive benefits. So, onward we go!