Saturday, October 16, 2010

Scary Food Advertisement....

I'm a bad blogger....I know.  Time gets away from me.  That said, I ran into a weekly circular for a local grocery store that frightened me so much that I had to make the time to post this one.  I'm not getting into what store, what circular etc.  The content alone is horrifying. So, here's my take on it:

I flip through the local grocery store circulars every week.  I actually look forward to it.  It's a little quiet time when I plan out the meals and try to make the healthiest grocery list possible and stick to a budget.  Smack on the front of one of the fliers is an advertisement for a sale on sea scallops- this has my attentionSeafood? Yummmy.  Before my mind even has the chance to contemplate the bottle of chardonnay that will be scrumptious with our scallops dinner, I see bold font next to it that reads, and I kid you not, "Chemical Free."  WHAT??????? Are you serious that "Chemical Free" is a bonus, selling point of food in our grocery stores?  Has food processing and preparation seriously come to the point that if our food doesn't say "Chemical Free" then we need to assume it has chemicals?  Never mind the fact that this particular item isn't even a processed food's shellfish.  It was a live, living, breathing form of sea creature...and I should be jumping for joy because not only is it on sale, but it's also chemical free.  Well, hip hip hooray.

Just a reminder about how scary our food can be and how unfair it is to our families and children.  Just a thought.
Saturday, August 21, 2010

Our Own Ground Flour

A quick reflection of this past year: it was busy. We became parents. We were both working full time (thankfully), and my husband was working on finishing his degree online...full time. I loved our conversations about making healthier choices, growing our own food and being more environmentally conscious, but I honestly wasn't prepared for a particular idea brought up by my husband.

So here it is: one random day, he's all excited about a new idea. He wants to order a bulk shipment of grain and start grinding our own flour. He already priced out the grain and a manual, hand crank grinder and was ready to go. The electric grinder was too much money to fork out for an idea that we were just starting and didn't even know if we loved it or not yet. I didn't think he was serious....and I laughed. He was understandably offended at my reaction. My perspective on this idea at the time was that we were clearly already feeling time constraints between work schedules, school demands on him, child care and not enough sleep. I thought that there were many smaller steps we could take on our quest for some healthier, earth conscious decisions that wouldn't be quite as time consuming. I mean, we weren't even making our own bread yet...never mind grinding our own flour.

I realized I was being inappropriately unsupportive and we went for it. A giant barrel of grain came to the house (oh god, the UPS guy thinks we're nuts)....followed by the grinder. My husband started grinding flour immediately. I was still skeptical. I was proven wrong and yes, I have here and now put it in writing. So, let me tell you the reasons this freshly ground flour is awesome:

  1. It smells fresh! This might sound crazy but I stuck my nose in the bag of whole wheat flour I bought at the grocery store and then stuck my nose in the canister of freshly ground flour and there is a significant difference!
  2. It’s amazing for baking. When using store bought whole wheat flour, I have found that I have to combine the recipe with white and whole wheat flour to avoid dry, hard baked goods. Not so with this flour! Whole wheat all the way baby!
  3. Minimal processing. This stuff goes from grain to flour to baking- all in our kitchen. 

Eventually, I think we will look into an electric grinder now that we know the idea is a hit....and I was wrong. The manual grinder can be time consuming. In the mean time, maybe I’ll get some super toned arms and shoulders from this grinding :) .
And for those of you pizza lovers out there (I could not live without pizza!), here is my bread machine whole wheat pizza dough recipe that I have tweaked to work with our flour:

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups freshly ground whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons of bread machine yeast

Place all ingredients into the bread machine in the order listed, set on the dough cycle and there you have it!  When it comes time to top and bake your pizza, set the oven to 400 degrees and wait just 18-20 minutes for pizza bliss!
Friday, August 13, 2010

On Organization....Or Lack of it....

Local Triathlete Caught at Drive-Thru

True Story.  Well, mostly true.  In a quest for a healthy life, activity has to be part of the equation.  In my case, I have been lucky to find a sport that I love: triathlon.

So, onto my story.  It was about 9:30 pm on a Tuesday night and I was just driving home from work...we had a special event in the evening that extended my work day by about 4 hours.  I'm driving home and I'm hungry! I haven't had dinner yet, I'm tired and I realize that I left absolutely nothing out to defrost for when I got home...not that I was much in the mood to cook anyway.  What's a tired, hungry girl to do?  Well, I saw the golden arches.  My husband happened to be on his way home too.  I called him on the cell....and made him go through the drive thru to get me dinner.  So, no I didn't get caught at the drive thru but that's only because I made my husband do the dirty work.  Here I am talking about minimizing processed food I lick the sweet and sour sauce of that last french fry. 

I want to be clear here- I firmly believe that life is too short to not indulge from time to time; however, I think there is a big difference between making a planned, proactive decision to enjoy a food that you truly think tastes great versus a tired, stressed reaction to just fill the hole in your stomach.  On that Tuesday night, I was totally reacting and it got me thinking.

Eating healthy requires organization.  When I'm on my game, it's great.  Food is planned.  Meals are ready to go.  Healthy snacks are within reach.  Unfortunately, every now and then there are those weeks where life takes over and the organization get missed grocery forgot to leave that chicken out to defrost.  These days, people are leaving their houses early in the mornings and returning late in the evenings to a pile of chores to help get the family ready for the next day.  I firmly believe that proper fuel and nutrition are essential to keep the pace! So, when I am on my game, these are some of the things that have worked great for me. 

1) Frozen veggies- during my trips to Trader Joes, I stock up on frozen, organic veggies.  I throw them in the freezer and don't have to worry about them going off or being wasted.  They are like "on-call" nutrition, ready to go whenever you need them.  They have been particularly helpful for baby food over the last year. 

2) The whole chicken- Purchase an organic, free-range chicken for roasting.  I find that the chicken gives me healthy meals for 2-3 nights.  The first evening, we have roast chicken, potatoes and veggies.  For the next 1-2 evenings, there are a lot of different options such as healthy chicken soft tacos, stir fry curry chicken with brown rice and veggies and don't forget about sandwiches!

3) Bake a healthy dessert once a week-  if you are like me, you have a vicious sweet tooth.  There is nothing worse than a sweet tooth and not being prepared to handle it when it acts up!  Life is too short to not eat dessert.  When you have some time at the weekend, whip up a batch of healthy, protein packed brownies or chocolate chip cookies.  Keep them in the fridge and you will have portion controlled, sweet bliss at your fingertips for when that sweet tooth acts up...instead of running to the convenience store for a pint of ice cream.

4) Have a "No-Cook" night once a week- it seems that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and we need to give ourselves a break sometimes.  So, once per week don't cook!  This could be an evening where you order in.  It could be an evening where you enjoy food such as salads, sandwiches or even sushi from the local market. 

My goal is to stay on my game as much as possible.  It's important for me and my family.  There will definitely be more on this issue to come....and I would LOVE to hear any ideas you have.  Got a recipe? Time saving tip? Let's hear it so we can make the healthiest food possible for our families!
Saturday, June 5, 2010

Holy Water!

No, I didn't go to church (is my mother reading this? Argh- I think she has me figured out by now anyway).  In our efforts to build our garden of fresh, organic produce, hubby and I ran into a discussion about water.  Gardens need it.  Depending upon the weather, they could need a lot of it.  Our water supply comes from a private well.  In my recent internet surf sessions about eco-friendly practices, water conservation is frequently a topic that comes up.  It seems that we often take our "unlimited" safe, clean, water supply for granted.  So, we started talking.  There was talk about drip hoses, irrigation systems and just regular "get your butt out to the garden with a watering can" type talk as we (mostly hubby) decided how we would keep this garden hydrated.  The thought of turning on the faucet to our outdoor hose and just leaving it on for extended periods of time, running our well, made me nervous....until hubby came up with the solution: rain barrels.  I had heard of them....I saw them online, but I didn't know if they would truly be effective.  Today, I am here to tell you that effective they are!

First, hubby scored some 55 gallon barrels off of someone on Craig's List.  I liked this idea because it was giving new life to a used product that may have otherwise been thrown away.  He painted them to match our house (I know- the paint may not have been environmentally friendly, but as I said, we are a work in progress).  He installed spigots, a screen to filter out solids and piping to link 2 barrels together and send overflow through our gutter system.  Here they are:
Shortly after they were installed, there was forecast of rain.  We waited.  Would we actually get enough water to take care of the garden?  It rained, as forecasted, overnight.  It didn't pour rain like crazy- just enough that you could hear it with the window open.  The next morning, hubby went out to the barrels and came in like a kid in a candy shop.  They were full.  Completely full.  One night of rain had provided 110 gallons of water.  Like I said, Holy Water!  I never imagined that we would get that much water, that quickly.

Since our first night of rain, I think it is safe to say that the rain barrels have taken care of over 90% of the garden's watering.  Hubby ran a hose down the hill to the garden and it gets plenty of pressure to ensure those tasty veggies get what they need.  We have ran into a few small obstacles with the sealant used on the spigots, but we're working that out and couldn't be happier with the results.  Why didn't we think of this before????

Saturday, May 29, 2010

$30 Challenge

Today I took a trip to the Amherst Farmers' Market as part of my quest for feeding us healthy, fresh, minimally processed food.  Lately, I have been internet surfing about the cost of eating organic foods and I have been paying closer attention to the cost difference between organic and non-organic products.  I'll be honest here- it's hard not to pay attention to the difference when you try to eat this way as much as possible because the grocery bill does go up.  That said, I do believe that the costs of basing our diets on unhealthy foods may not show up in the grocery bill but they will show up eventually in health problems and quality of life issues.  My goal is to find a balance that allows us to eat the freshest, healthy food without spending unnecessary money.  I'm confident that there is a happy medium there somewhere.  Perfection isn't necessary- I think every small effort for a healthy lifestyle pays big.

So today's shopping trip was for produce and I came up with the idea to set a limit of $30 and see how far it took me.  We're a hungry bunch.  We're active and we eat.  Here are the goods:

- 1/2 lb spinach
-1 head romaine lettuce
-shitake mushrooms
-2 large tomatoes
-1 small tomato
-1 pint sugar snap peas
-1 quart strawberries
-1 pint raspberries
-1 loaf multigrain bread

All of the vendors I bought from were organic and I'm happy with my purchases.  I do have one confession: I did go over budget by $1.  I had $4 left in the budget challenge I set and the pint of raspberries was staring at me.  Yes, they cost $5.  Yes, they taste amazing.  I considered hiding them from my husband before he polishes them off in one sitting, but I guess that would be mean. 

Overall, I felt good about buying from local vendors and farmers.  Amherst isn't a location that's convenient for me to go to every week, but it certainly is worth a trip once in a while and it's motivated me to keep an eye out for other farmers' markets.  If you have any recommendations in the Massachusetts and New Hampshire areas, send them my way! I'm off to eat :)

Friday, May 21, 2010

A movie and a garden....

My sister in law gave me a recommendation to see the movie Food, Inc.  It was scheduled to be on PBS one evening so my husband and I watched it.....and were both horrified about what was presented about our food industry.  I talked about it for days (my apologies to anyone who crossed my path and unknowingly said "How are you?").  I thought about it for even longer. In fact, I'm still thinking.  Really thinking.  I have to be honest that I am someone who has been conscientious about my diet for a while; however, it was always more of a weight management issue.  I'm "blessed" with the type of metabolism where I swear I could gain 5 lbs just by thinking about a whole chocolate cake, never mind actually eating it.  My husband, on the other hand, could sit like a couch potato for months and still sport a six-pack. Argh.  So, to stay in a healthy weight range I watched what I ate....or did I?  That's where this movie really got me going.

My humble synopsis of the movie's premise is that we no longer know where our food is coming from, it's heavily and unsafely processed and we CAN do something about these problems.  Based on this, I started thinking about all the labeled "healthy," "low-fat" alternatives in my diet.  I started looking at the back of ingredient labels of my precious snacks and dessert substitutes and I couldn't understand them- it was like a rocket scientist wrote out the list of ingredients.  This can't be good....when I bake it's flour, sugar, butter, eggs etc.  What the hell was all this stuff listed on the back of the box???

When our daughter was born, we tried to keep her diet as organic as possible.  Now, we realized that we should look at doing the same for our own.  So that's what we're setting out to do: base our diets around as much healthy, unprocessed, fresh, nutritious food as possible.  I can't say we'll be perfect, but we're certainly trying to do it as much as possible and it's a learning experience.

One of our first steps is our new garden.  Truthfully, we had tomato plants (and a couple of failed zucchini plants due to our neglect) the last couple of years and loved how much more flavor and freshness came from them growing right in our own backyard.  So, the idea of expanding the garden did start before this movie.  Our interest in it just went into overdrive afterwards.  Here it is:

My hubby has been working super hard on this and he did a great job. I can't take any credit. I think my only contribution was telling him what seeds I wanted.  He planted green beans, zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, potatoes (in tubs), carrots and spinach.  Our living room doubled as a green house for a while, but that's ok.  Warm weather is here and these little darlings are out in the sunshine! I'm hungry just thinking about it all.

So, that's one of our first steps.  If you have any tips or advice on growing your own organic produce, please share!