Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Temptation of Out-of-Season Fruit

This past weekend, I hosted a Sunday lunch. It was a glorious spring day so we ate outside on the patio.

I made my version of bouillabaisse-cum-chowder and with it, we ate olive bread, cheeses, and a simple green salad.

Dessert was a fruit flan, which I bought at my local Whole Foods.

I deliberated over whether to buy the flan topped with summer berries or a pear and almond flan. Another option was an apple and almond flan.

Last Thursday I wrote about the advantages of eating in-season fruit for health, budget and sustainability. Given that we're just coming out of winter into spring, apples and pears are still the in-season best buys.

Summer fruits, like berries, are available, but they're not in season and so they're expensive, plus they're not as flavorful as they are at the height of their growing season.

I love almonds with pears and or apples so I was leaning toward the responsible choice: in-season fruit flan, especially having written that post just days before.

Then again, I loved the look of the summer-berry flan--such gorgeous colors, so apparently decadent.

And it was the same price as the apple or pear almond flans!

Despite what I know and despite what I've written on the topic of shopping, cooking and eating by the seasons, I chose the out-of-season berry fruit flan.

I'm aware that as I stood in front of the pastry case deliberating, it didn't matter that I knew the more responsible choice was the in-season fruit plan; in that moment, confronted by the colors of the aesthetically-appealing berry-flan versus the less colorful sensible pear flan, I chose the one that looked prettiest, the one that provoked in me a more intense response.

In other words, I made an emotionally driven choice, as we so often do with food. And as soon as we allow our emotions to drive our choice-making, reason, logic, best intentions, even values, fly out the window!

It's important to me to walk my talk, to role model what I write about on this blog, yet I'm human and a messy one at that, which means sometimes I make decisions that are not aligned with my core values.

A Facebook friend commented that she's impressed over my tackling the food and sustainability issue by encouraging awareness around shopping and cooking by the seasons.

"It's hard to avoid the choices tempting us to do otherwise," she said.

Indeed it is.

Regardless, at the end of the day, was I happy with my choice?

You know, the berry flan really did look the prettiest, but as I state above, summer fruits bought out of season have less flavor and they're not succulent, and as a matter of fact, the berries on the flan were not flavorful, nor were they juicy.

Alas, the flan did not live up to its appearance. And I'm glad, because it was a reminder to stick with what I know to be the best choice: buy and eat in-season for flavor, budget, health and sustainability, even when it's tempting to do otherwise.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Meatless Monday Broccoli Timbales

Meatless Monday: one day a week make the choice to cut out meat.

In conjunction with the Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, Meatless Monday's goal is to improve the health of individuals and the health of the planet.

Going without meat on Mondays isn't a round-about way of promoting a vegetarian diet.

Rather, it's a campaign designed to encourage meat-eaters to be more aware of their health, for instance, less saturated fat is better for one's heart.

It's also a means of alerting meat-eaters to the impact factory-farming animals for human consumption has on the environment and ultimately the planet.

In previous posts, I've linked often to the Animal Welfare Approved site which certifies and promotes family farms (versus factory farms) that raise their animals (for human consumption) with the highest welfare standards.

So if you do eat animal protein, as I do, then choosing meat stamped with the AWA label or with other Humane Food Labels ensures that at least your purchase has not contributed to the environmental and inhumane scourge that is factory farming.

Additionally, humanely-raised animal protein is antibiotic and hormone free, which is good for the animal and for the consumer. And despite how ironic this reads, humanely-raised animals graze happily and live according to their species before being humanely slaughtered.

Humanely-farmed protein items have a slightly higher price tag. But by reducing the amount you consume, for example:
go meatless on Mondays,
eat sustainably-fished seafood a couple evenings,
3) eat no more than 3 ounces of animal protein at any one meal, then you can avoid going over budget.

So there are responsible and creative ways to eat animal protein with your budget, health, and the health of the environment, in mind.

This weekend I stumbled upon actress Alicia Silverstone's newly-released vegan cookbook The Kind Diet. Flipping to the part one, I noticed these section headings:

Nasty Food #1: Meat
Nasty Food #2: Dairy

Recently, I quoted a friend as saying, "sometimes food just seems scary." She was making reference to the way certain foods are represented in the media as cancer causing, heart-attack inducing, filled with chemicals, bad for your health, etc. etc.

When I read Alicia's "Nasty Food" labeling, I thought of my friend who finds topical information about food overly worrisome.

As a minimal-meat and minimal-dairy eater (but nevertheless a responsible consumer of both) I found the "nasty food" labels very worrisome since they advocate against the dietary choices of the majority, which is not vegan.

Beware nasty food labeling that is extreme.

A balanced diet full of colorful seasonal veggies, fruits, fish, small amounts of animal protein including meat and dairy, plus grains, legumes, nuts and seeds is a sound approach to health and wellness.

By way of making intentional and healthy dietary choices for ourselves and the environment, Meatless Monday is something we can easily integrate into our lives -- far easier than completely eliminating meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy.

With that in mind, I'm linking to a recipe I posted last fall for Broccoli Timbales. Delicious vegetable, egg and cheese-based individual custards, timbales can be served on their own as a light meal or with a side of rice or noodles, and perhaps a side salad.

Keep in mind that you can swap out the broccoli for carrots, spinach, chard or a combination of all three or your choice of seasonal vegetables.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Advantages of Eating In-Season Fruit

The recommended serving of fruit per day is 2-4.

I'm not a big adherent of that during the winter, even as we begin to see signs of spring.

Because of the worldwide distribution of food, seasonal foods are available year-round now which means it's easy to forget about seasons when we do our weekly grocery shop.

Seasonal fruits like fresh, soft summer berries are available all year at my local Whole Foods -- they're more expensive in the winter, and they're not as flavorful, but they're there.

Even peaches, and end-of-summer fruit, are reappearing as we head into spring; they're displayed not far from the tropical pineapples from Hawaii and the grapes from South America.

The transportation of fruits grown abroad means we have access to quite a colorful selection of 2-4 servings of fruits in the winter.

As a result, we've grown accustomed to choice so that the notion that it's not as healthful to eat cooling summer foods when there's snow on the ground may seem contrary.

Yet there is wisdom in the seasons, therefore it follows that there's good judgment in choosing and consuming foods that nature produces at specific times of the year.

Seasons are natures way of providing our diets with diversity while also providing an effective way to balance our systems so that we can cope with the heat of summer (by eating summer fruits and vegetables) and the cold of winter (by eating warming root vegetables, and fruits like apples and pears harvested late in the fall).

It's a 21st-century ailment buying and consuming out-0f-season foods just because we can, because they're available, after all not that long ago transporting fresh produce internationally was not possible like it is today.

And I meant "ailment," since eating out of season is not the healthiest of diets and can lead to a number of physical ailments.

Nor is it budget-wise (summer fruits are sometimes double the price in the winter) and it's certainly not sustainable, particularly when fruit (any food, for that matter) is transported internationally.

So what are we to do?

Again, because we've grown accustomed to choice, such as tropical fruits in winter, frozen summer berries all-year round, the idea of passing up these options in favor of the seasonal fruit of the region may seem to some too limiting, even unnecessarily ascetic.

Yet foregoing choice at the grocery store is an exercise worth practicing for health and budget, and if you're concerned about being a responsible consumer, for sustainability.

You may find that the seasonal fruit of your region is limited, or it may not be. In Colorado, I tend to stick to apples in winter, and some pears, with the occasional lemon or lime, which I use in my cooking.

Unfortunately, though apples and pears grow in Colorado, the varieties available at my local store are trucked in from out-of-state, as are the lemons and limes.

An apple or a pear a day is less than the prescribed 2-4 servings, however, if I wasn't eating all those colorful veggies I've been referring to in previous posts, I might have nutritionists concerned.

Come summer, I'll make up for a winter of apples and pears eaten raw or cooked into a myriad of dishes, and indulge in the cooling fruits of the season and the region -- chances are, I'll even go over 2-4 servings a day!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Eat a Rainbow

A meal lacking color is not as aesthetically pleasing nor as flavorful and nutritious as a meal bursting with green, orange, red, purple and more.

Yesterday, as in many previous posts, I made reference to the phytonutrient-rich properties of colorful vegetables.

Last week after posting information about food-pyramids, the ANDI food ranking list and tips for shopping on a budget for health and wellness, a friend remarked that sometimes food just seems scary!

That is, she said, if you deviate from the prescribed 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Prescriptive information can be scary; in fact, I think it's best used as a guideline rather than the formula.

When I googled "servings of fruits and vegetables per day," five did appear to be the number, but it did go as high as nine.

One food pyramid suggested 2-4 servings of fruit and 3-5 of veggies a day -- if you did eat the 4 and the 5 then you would be consuming 9 servings in total.

Frankly, I find the idea of the 2-4 and 3-5 servings not scary, but potentially daunting in its capacity to cause me to feel obsessive about counting and weighing and measuring my food, which is no fun.

I like color. And preparing my meals so that they are filled with a combination of green, purple, orange, red, yellow and white is a far easier, less neurotic way to ensure eating sufficient veggies and fruits.

And I like this fun little tune about color; it sure beats perusing pyramids and counting portions.

I also get quite excited by the art of coordinating vegetables and fruits so that the end result is a plate vibrating with interest, texture, flavor, and of course color.

The pic above is a plate of braised winter vegetables: leftover orange-yellow acorn squash from yesterday's meal, purple cabbage, curly green kale, and white and green spring onions.

I love the combination of the purple against the yellow-orange squash -- I probably wouldn't wear it, but it's gorgeous on a white plate!

For flavor, I tossed in a clove of peeled and chopped garlic and the same of a chunk of fresh ginger root, plus a couple rashers of Applegate certified-humane turkey bacon.

I served the veggies atop a portion of cooked quinoa (yesterday it was quinoa noodles) which I'd drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and then I poached an egg and set it in the middle (pic left).

This made for a rainbow-of-meal with who knows how many servings of veggies, but without a doubt plenty of color, and thus plenty of phyto-nutrients, and it included neutral-colored quinoa, a high-protein grain, plus a white and yellow Omega 3-rich egg.

Color: Eat it; it's good for you!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Meatless Monday

It's Monday, our meatless day, and so today I'm featuring curly quinoa pasta topped with stewed acorn squash.

This heavy-on-the-carbohydrates vegetarian dish is quite filling. It's also predominantly orange-yellow, the color of the acorn squash.

Lacking a variety of color, which would make this a more nutritious meal, I'd serve it with a side, like a green salad or the Winter-to-Spring Salad posted a few weeks ago.

Red, orange, green, purple and white vegetables combined or paired create an edible rainbow choc-full of health-giving phytonutrients.

I received a group email recently about the amazing green-skinned and white-green flesh cucumber; it had been showcased in the New York Times "Spotlight on the Home" series.

Apparently one cucumber contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, folic acid, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc and electrolytes.

Despite its potential as a superfood, the cucumber doesn't appear on the ANDI list as one of the top 30 foods.

But eat it anyway.

In fact below, I'm suggesting refreshing cucumber side-salad and or cucumber water as a palate cleanser to today's Meatless Monday dish.

Quinoa Pasta with Acorn Squash
1) Quarter a small acorn squash, remove the skin and the seeds, cutting the quarters into small chunks.
2) Line a skillet with olive oil, toss in a peeled and chopped clove of garlic, and the same of a chunk of ginger. Saute gently over med heat.
3) Slice one leek, and using a strainer, wash out any grit.
4) Add leek and acorn squash to skillet, stir ingredients over low heat. Place lid on skillet and let vegetables stew in their own moisture for about 15 mins.
5) There are various options for adding more flavor to the stewed squash and leeks, for instance a) Turn the heat off and stir through a big blob of sour cream or yogurt and finish with the juice of half a lime and some chopped cilantro.
b) With heat still on, pour in a good-quality bottled tomato sauce and a spoonful of capers or perhaps some sliced green olives. Stir over low heat.
c) Or you could simply serve it atop the pasta plain (as in the pic above), but then I added toasted walnuts and feta cheese (not seen in the photo), which added crunch and creaminess.

I chose curly quinoa pasta for this dish to add interest and because quinoa is one of those high-protein gluten-free grains which ground into flour and made into pasta is a great substitute for, or simply a change from, standard wheat pastas.

To Serve: Once you've drained your pasta, coat it with olive oil. Spoon pasta into bowls and top with stewed acorn squash, variety a, b, or c.

As mentioned above, you might like to serve a side of the spinach-based Winter-to-Spring Salad or a bowl of peeled and thinly-sliced amazing cucumber doused with organic rice-wine vinegar.

On the other hand, you could add the cucumber slices to a jug of water. Cucumber infused water is a refreshing palate-cleansing beverage, the perfect accompaniment to a starchy, but nonetheless delicious, bowl of pasta and stewed acorn squash.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Selecting Groceries for Health & Budget

Not wanting to overwhelm readers
yesterday with yet another system for determining the most healthful foods to buy and eat, I decided to wait till today to do that.

Though hopefully you won't find my system overwhelming at all, but rather a practical tool that's easy to implement when grocery shopping.

I devised this system with both budget and health in mind and in summation, the idea is this:

1) Buy eighty percent of your groceries as whole, unprocessed foods from the periphery of the store.

a) Pick 40% of that 80% as fresh produce i.e. mostly seasonal vegetables and some seasonal fruit.

Pick 20% of that 80% as humanely-farmed animal protein i.e. meat, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, plus sustainably-farmed seafood. If you're vegetarian or vegan, obviously you'll pick less of b and more of c.

Pick 20% of that 80% as dry, bulk items i.e grains, legumes, nuts and seeds etc (pic to left).

The remaining twenty percent (some weeks less) of your groceries will come from the middle aisles as pantry staples i.e. tinned, bottled, packaged or frozen food.

The check-out pictures at left were taken when I shopped with a young couple who wanted to make healthier food choices and reduce their grocery bill.

Under my watchful eye, they followed the above formula.

As you can sort of see, their purchases reflect the 40/20/20/20 rule -- though I think I deterred them from the totality of the 20% they could have utilized in the middle aisles.

Instead of packet pancake mix and bottled olive oil they bought bulk flour and eggs, determined to make their own pancakes, and they also bought bulk olive oil and honey rather than the bottled and brand-name variety from the middle aisles.

Their healthy choices saved the couple around $80, significantly reducing their weekly grocery bill. Plus, they reported that their "fridge has never been so full of wholesome, delicious food."

It's simple, practical, and it makes sense when you're at the grocery store to keep in mind the 40/20/20/20 rule.

Try it, and see what a difference it makes to your budget and to the foods you then have available to eat once home.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Food Ranking Systems

Yesterday I introduced Andrew Weil's food pyramid and the anti-inflammatory diet and today it's the ANDI food ranking system.

ANDI is short for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index.

Simplified, the index ranks foods according to the ratio of nutrients to calories. Its raison d'etre is to help consumers easily identify foods with the highest nutritional value.

Created by Joel Fuhrman, M.D., who "specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods," the ANDI system has been adopted by Whole Foods as part of their Health Starts Here program.

To give you an idea of the way the index ranks foods, here is a sample chart. And here is Whole Foods sample index which ranks the Top 30 Super Foods.

As you can see from both samples leafy greens feature at the top of the charts or in other words, they have the highest nutrient value per calorie count.

As we head into spring tender young greens will become more available at the grocery store. A few weeks ago I posted a list of produce best purchased organic and conventional produce safe to consume.

Print the list out and keep it on hand -- especially if you're considering making purchases from the ANDI list since most greens, because they grow low to the ground and are thus likely to contain high pesticide residue levels, are best bought organic.

If you're beginning to feel baffled by pyramids, indexes and lists, when grocery shopping try the following tips -- hopefully you won't find these too baffling:

1) Stick to the periphery of the store.
2) Buy 80% of your groceries as whole, unprocessed food i.e. fresh produce (pics to left), humanely-farmed meats, poultry, dairy and eggs, sustainably-fished seafood, bulk grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
3) Buy 20% (some weeks less) of your groceries from the middle aisles i.e. whole grain breads, pasta, tinned fish, olive and or canola oil, and so on. (Andrew Weil allows for "healthy sweets," found in the middle aisles, such as quality dark-chocolate. We like that!)

Chances are, if you do manage to purchase the bulk of your groceries as fresh produce, followed by grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, with animal-based protein items as supplemental to the aforementioned, you will check out with mostly whole, unprocessed foods most of which rank "healthy" on pyramids, indexes and lists.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Foods to Combat Inflammation

In recent posts I've made reference to the health benefits of eating less meat.

I'm not a nutritionist, but I like to research, and specific to this blog, topics related to the correlation between diet and health.

There's a driving force behind my research: the annoying aches and pains I experience more frequently these days and my awareness that those niggling discomforts are more often than not, directly related to what I eat.

I'm aware too that my aches and pains are starting to feel a lot like the ones my parents complained about. In other words, there's also a genetic component to the aches that come with age.

So between understanding that I have a genetic predisposition to arthritis, and that food either feeds that condition or fends it off, I make dietary choices to keep inflammation, which is at the root of arthritis, at bay.

According to my research inflammation is increasingly recognized as the underlying cause of many serious illnesses and the diseases and complaints associated with aging.

Though I'm not a Dr. Andrew Weil junkie, I do like the look of his anti-inflammatory diet; it's a simple and sensible approach to eating whole, unprocessed foods and so it mirrors the way I try to eat.

If you clicked on the link in the above paragraph, you probably noticed his food pyramid.

At the top of the pyramid are those foods he advises we consume sparingly i.e. desserts. Toward the middle are those foods he advises we eat a few times a week i.e. animal protein.

Further down are the healthy oils and fats such as fish, nuts, seeds and oils -- foods he suggests we eat 2-to-6 times a week, followed by grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits which we should eat daily.

Animal proteins are not an every-day food on the anti-inflammatory diet because regular meat and dairy consumption can, over time, lead to inflammatory conditions, which as stated above, underlie many serious illnesses.

On the other hand, deep-sea fish, like wild-caught salmon, and healthy oils are foods which help to inhibit inflammation because they contain nature's own anti-inflammatory: omega 3 fatty acids.

Canned fish like wild-caught salmon (wild caught is considered the "best choice" by Seafood Watch) and wild-caught sardines are highlighted on Weil's food pyramid as are herring and black cod.

And before curling up your nose at the thought of sardines, the pic to left is a delicious dish I posted this time last year.

Thai Vegetables and Sardines is an unusual flavor combination of sweet (Thai sauce) and smoky (sardines), plus it makes the most of a medley of colorful spring vegetables.

The pic at top is a dish I posted late last spring. Noodles with Mahi Mahi, Cilantro and Cucumbers can be made with fresh or frozen wild-caught salmon and for the budget conscious, tinned wild-caught salmon is a great choice.

Most importantly, both meals demonstrate that with little fuss, it's easy to combine foods from the first four tiers of Weil's healthful food pyramid: fresh vegetables, grains, pasta, healthy oils and deep-sea fish, to create nourishing, seasonal meals.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Meatless Monday: It's Cool, it's Green

It's Monday and Market to Mouth is part of the movement touting the personal and environmental benefits of beginning the week meatless.

Meatless Monday is a "great challenge; a great way to ease into eating less meat," commented a reader last week, and I agree with her wholeheartedly.

And so do lots of celebs and movers and shakers, including one of my favorites: sustainable advocate, No Impact Man, Colin Beaven.

I stumbled across No Impact Man: The Documentary recently and I was reminded that a number of years ago, I'd read about Colin's attempt to live for a year without negatively impacting the environment, despite that he and his wife and their baby daughter live on 5th Avenue, New York.

Three years on from his year-off-the-grid project, Colin's efforts to inform and educate and inspire each of us to make small changes as a way of contributing to the end of the environmental crisis continue on his blog of the same name: No Impact Man.

Meatless Monday is one small change we can all make -- one small way we can positively impact our health and the environment. Plus it's easy and it doesn't cost anything -- in fact, it will cost you a lot less that meatloaf Monday.

Back in early February I featured a series of Indian dishes that make up a substantial, vegetarian Indian meal (pic above).

I thought I'd revisit those dishes by way of encouraging you to think about preparing your evening meal tonight sans meat.

Today's Meatless Monday menu:

Indian Dahl
Spicy Tumeric Potatoes
Spinach Saag and Papadams
And if you fancy making a dessert to go with your meatless Indian meal try some delicious Chai and Spicy Rock Cakes.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fishy Friday: Thai Coconut Tuna

At the beginning of the week, I wrote about Meatless Monday.

Given that it's the end of the work week, I couldn't resist naming this post Fishy Friday.

Yesterday, by way of transitioning from the topic of humanely-farmed meats, poultry and eggs, to sustainable seafood, I mentioned two online resources, Ocean Trust and Seafood Watch.

The Ocean Trust label appears on some frozen, packaged fish, in fact the Sockeye salmon which I used in the Spring Vegetable and Salmon Risotto carried that label.

Exploring fish labeling further, I discovered ProFish, an extensive online resource.

If you want details on your "carbon fishprint" this is the site; it lists over 20 watchdog organizations, including the two I mention above.

For today's fishy-Friday dish, I unfroze a fillet of tuna I had in my freezer. It's Whole Foods, Whole Catch yellowfin tuna.

Whole Foods website says, "we build partnerships with farmers and fishermen that are committed to your health, the environment and the integrity of our oceans ..."

I also checked Seafood Watch's website and I found that yellowfin tuna is a good choice, I think, because to tell you the truth it was a bit confusing trolling through the links hoping to find a statement along lines of, "it is safe and environmentally friendly to eat this fish."

In spite of not finding exactly that comment, but noting that yellowfin is a "good choice," I forged ahead, and prepared my piece of tuna.

Thai Coconut Tuna
1) Into a pot pour one can of coconut milk.
2) Add a tablespoon of Thai Red Curry Paste; stir into milk.
3) Add a couple of chopped carrots, a sliced leek, a couple stalks of celery and a chopped baby bok choy, plus a couple cloves of peeled and chopped garlic and the same of a chunk of fresh ginger.
4) Gently simmer ingredients over low heat until the veggies are tender; approximately 15 mins.
5) If you have it, add a splash of Thai fish sauce; taste-test, and add salt if you feel it needs it. Turn heat to low.

6) Cut a fillet of Tuna into small cubes; toss cubes in sesame oil or a light olive or canola oil, salt and pepper. Either cook the cubes in a skillet by simply searing them, or grill them for a minute in the oven.
Note: It will take barely a minute to cook the tuna, so keep an eye on it, and remove it from the heat as soon as it's done to your liking.
7) Squeeze the juice of a fresh lime into the pot of coconut veggies. Taste-test, does it need more lime, fish sauce, salt?

To Serve: Ladle portions of into a bowl and top with the tuna cubes. Decorate with pieces of sliced cucumber, a couple sprigs of cilantro and a wedge of fresh lime.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chipotle Pulled Pork Leftovers & Risotto

Have you bought a to-go meal, not eaten it all, and then microwaved the leftovers for your next meal?

To me the beauty of leftovers is adding fresh ingredients at home to create a brand new meal.

And that's exactly what I did yesterday evening with my Chipotle lunch-leftovers.

Remember, Chipotle buys their pork from Niman Ranch and other ranchers who practice humane farming, and that's why I chose to go there for take-out, and why I asked for their pulled pork with my lunch.

Additionally, it's simple, yummy and healthy food that I can, in all good conscience, feel good about.

Chipotle Pulled Pork Leftovers
1) Toss a handful of corn chips on a plate.
2) Sprinkle chips with grated cheese. I used Parmesan.
3) In a skillet saute a handful of fresh veggies such as a spring onion, bell pepper, kale or chard or spinach or broccoli; add leftovers to your fresh veggies. (I had leftover pulled pork, rice, pinto beans, and tomato salsa).
4) While skillet contents are heating, microwave chips and cheese for 30-45 seconds.

To Serve: Top warmed chips with a heaping spoonful of warmed leftovers and veggies, and garnish with cilantro, avocado pieces, fresh tomato or your favorite salsa.

This morning I had an email from the Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) organization. As you're probably aware, I've been linking to their site in my recent posts on sourcing humanely-farmed meats.

The email was in response to my concern that it's difficult to trust meat labeling; fortunately it contained a link to a site that explains some of the Humane Food Labels.

The information therein certainly clarified that I have a number of good, better, and best choices at the grocery store when purchasing meat, eggs, and dairy. Check out the link and acquaint yourself with Humane Food Labels.

Last summer I wrote a post about helping a friend learn how to shop on a budget. Where I offered Bruce tips for shopping at Whole Foods for a family of four, he shared tips for buying sustainable seafood.

Two online resources he turned me onto are Seafood Watch Guide for Sustainable Seafood and Ocean Trust. When I picked up the "Certified Humane" eggs plus turkey bacon this weekend I also found "Ocean Trust" Sockeye Salmon in the freezer section.

At around $7.50 for two 4-oz pieces of frozen, wild and sustainably caught salmon, it was a budget-wise and good-conscience purchase.

The Ocean Trust label was clear and obvious on the front of the pack and I recognized it immediately as one I could trust (no pun intended).

Because frozen fish isn't quite as flavorful as fresh, I find it's great as a garnish rather than as the feature of a meal. So when I bought the salmon, I had in mind that it would top a risotto dish that a friend and I intended making to eat in front of the Academy Awards on Sunday night.

Here's that dish: creamy risotto full of chunky fresh veggies and wild caught salmon.

Spring Vegetable and Salmon Risotto
1) Add one cup risotto and two and half cups water to a saucepan.
2) Simmer rice for about 45 mins, stirring periodically so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan, adding more water if it does begin to stick.
3) If you have an open bottle of white wine, you could add at least a cup during the cooking. The more liquid you add (whether it's wine or water), the creamier the risotto.
4) Meanwhile, chop a selection of spring vegetables, i.e. asparagus, leeks, squash, bell peppers -- whatever you have on hand.
5) At around the 30-min mark, add the chopped and washed veggies to the pot of risotto and continue cooking -- the veggies will essentially steam cook in the pot.
6) At the last minute, slice a fillet of salmon into pieces and sit it on top of the risotto. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the salmon and rice and put the lid on the pot. The salmon will steam cook in about 5 mins.

To Serve: Toss a handful of roughly chopped parsley or cilantro over the risotto; spoon portions into bowls, adding salt and pepper plus finely grated Parmesan or Romano or your choice of a dry, yellow cheese.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Make a Difference: Grocery Shop Responsibly

Yesterday I introduced Meatless Monday: a fun and easy-to-remember challenge.

At the beginning of each week, I'll revisit this challenge by way of reminding readers of the budgetary, ethical, and health benefits to reducing, refining, and replacing meat in one's diet.

Though I am a meat-eater, I'm doing my best these days to locate humanely-farmed versus factory-farmed meat at the grocery store.

Yet, this exercise has been more of a challenge than not eating meat on a Monday!

I mentioned yesterday that I'd found "Certified Humane" eggs recently, and while at the dairy case, I also picked up Applegate turkey bacon which, according to their website, is also "Certified Humane."

Do I really feel as though I can trust what I've purchased to be exactly as its labeled?

No, I don't, but I do feel more confident about "Certified Humane" than the loosely defined "organic" and "natural" meat and dairy that I was purchasing because I've done my research.

Today I grabbed a take-out lunch, not something I usually do, but having dipped into Righteous Porkchop, I knew that Chipotle Mexican Grill buys their pork from Niman Ranch and other ranchers practicing traditional farming methods.

I bought the to-go bowl of cilantro rice, pinto beans, shredded pork, tomato salsa and lettuce. It's a substantial lunch and I have the leftovers in my fridge; I'll mix them with other fresh ingredients tomorrow to create another meal.

Changing my purchasing habits and making simple, value-driven choices is my way of saying "No" to the kind of corporate farming practices documented in Food Inc., which by the way, I thought would take home the Oscar on Sunday night.

Despite that another worthy documentary, The Cove, won the Oscar it's impossible to deny that we are in the midst of a food renaissance, the result of the domino effect of a series of inconvenient truths, the most obvious: obesity and diabetes.

When I feel overwhelmed by what I'm reading and researching about our food, and what I'm finding or not finding at the grocery store, I feel more compelled than ever to make value-driven choices like those I mention above and in many of the posts that make up this blog.

My choices can make a difference, and so too can yours.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Meatless Monday

It's Meatless Monday. Join the movement and enjoy this first day of the week sans meat.

It makes sense if you are trying to cut back on your consumption of meat to make Monday the day to do it.

It's the beginning of the week, a time when it's easiest to implement changes in one's behavior; and "meatless Monday" sounds rhythmic, which means you're more likely to remember today as an intentionally meatless day.

In recent posts I've written about reducing, refining and replacing the meat in your diet, and some months ago I wrote an article on the budgetary advantages of re-thinking our relationship to meat.

If you peruse Why Meatless on the meatless Monday website, you'll note a number of health benefits to reducing your intake of animal protein too.

Grocery shopping this weekend, I continued my search for ethically-farmed meats poultry and eggs, and I'm happy to report that at Vitamin Cottage, the natural grocer located in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, I found NestFresh eggs.

NestFresh boxed eggs are stamped "Certified Humane" and the small print reads thus:

"Meets the Humane Farm Animal Care program standards, which include nutritious diet without antibiotics or hormones, animals raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space and the ability to engage in natural behaviors."

I felt good about these eggs, more specifically their stamp, so I bought a dozen. Best of all, they were around the same price as other brands of eggs not stamped "Certified Humane" -- that's just under $2.50.

For a delicious Sunday brunch, I used several of the eggs to make Marmalade Bread Pudding (pics below), a sweet version of the Savory Bread Pudding (pic above) I wrote about this time last year.

Savory bread pudding is a delicious, budget-wise Meatless Monday dish so do follow the link and try out the recipe; it makes the most of early spring greens too!

I wouldn't suggest following savory bread pudding with sweet bread pudding for dessert, but you might like to try the sweet version for brunch this weekend.

Marmalade Bread Pudding
1) Using any bread (wheat, rice, millet, brioche, baguette) you have on hand, slice it (if it's not already sliced) and then butter 3-4 slices.
2) Top it with your choice of marmalade. I used Kumquat, but you could use orange, ginger, orange and lemon, lime -- whatever you fancy.

David Leibowitz posted a recipe for Bergamot Marmalade on his blog last week. I confess I had no idea that bergamots are a member of the citrus family! Yet they are, in fact they're a type of orange.

If you're in a part of the world where you have access to bergamots, you might like to try his marmalade recipe and then use it in this pudding recipe.
Slice the buttered, marmalade bread into quarters and line a baking dish with the slices.
4) Sprinkle with your choice of dried fruit, i.e. raisins, cranberries, cherries, chopped pieces of dried apricot or a combination of any of these.
5) In a bowl, beat two large eggs with one cup of half and half and a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg.
6) Pour the egg mixture over the bread (pic to left), and allow the dish to stand for about 15 mins so that the bread soaks up some of the liquid.
7) Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 30 mins or until the top is slightly brown and the egg custard has set around the bread pieces.

To Serve: The recipe above will serve two, so divide the pudding in half and scoop portions onto plates or into bowls; on the side add a blob of marmalade.

You might like to top each serving with some walnuts or on any day, other than Meatless Monday, try a couple slices of grilled bacon on the side. I found that Applegate bacons are also "Certified Humane."

Because there's no sugar in the custard, only in the marmalade, maple syrup or honey drizzled over the lot is delicious.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Eat Real, Unprocessed Foods

The return of warmer days with more sunlight hours means the return of life in the plant world.

We're not quite there yet, but spring is in the air.

It's evidenced in the natural world by the appearance of crocus, new green growth on trees, and in the grocery store by the return of young, leafy greens.

The beauty of preparing meals with alkaline-rich spring veggies is that the taste of spring's bounty speaks for itself.

Complicated recipes and flavor-enhancing sauces are not necessary.

For instance:

1) Wash a bunch of asparagus, snapping off the woody ends. Line a skillet with olive oil and heat it on high; toss in asparagus and move skillet about so the stalks char-grill but don't burn.

Once tender, remove asparagus from the skillet and lay on a large plate or platter. Drizzle with lemon juice and season with cracked black pepper and salt.

For additional color, you might like to grill a medley of vegetables, i.e. add radishes and or organic bell pepper to the skillet with the asparagus.

2) Wash baby spinach leaves and an equal amount of arugula; toss into a bowl. Add a peeled avocado and gently mix into greens with enough olive or walnut oil to coat the greens; top with fresh-squeezed lemon juice and pistachio nuts.

To Serve: Present the plated asparagus and the spinach and arugula salad as a light meal with chunks of crusty bread, and with the asparagus spears, you might like to serve sides for dipping.

Yesterday I briefly mentioned the health benefits of incorporating more and more spring vegetables into one's diet as March progresses, and using vinegar (or lemon juice) over those veggies as a way to bring out the best flavors and as a means of helping sluggish winter-livers detox.

Fresh produce, especially fresh vegetables, is a topic I frequently return to in these posts.

When grocery shopping on a budget for health and wellness, 80 percent of one's purchases should come from the store's edge, starting with seasonal veggies and fruit followed by meat, fish, dairy, and dry bulk foods like grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

In other words, 80 percent of one's groceries should be whole, unprocessed foods or 'real foods' as author Nina Planck calls them in her book Real Food: What to Eat and Why.

On her blog The Nourished Kitchen, Jennifer McGruther challenged readers to eat only 'real food' for at least a month suggesting participants begin the challenge by purging their pantries of processed foods.

I think of processed foods as the packaged, tinned, bottled, and frozen foods found in the middle aisles of the grocery store, the aisles I advocate shoppers spend as little time in as possible by way of staying on budget. (See my 7 in-store budget-wise tips.)

And with the recent news that much of Whole Foods 365-brand bags of frozen organic vegetables are grown in China, it's yet another reason to stick to the periphery of the store where you can buy fresh and seasonal produce.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Winter-to-Spring Salad

The picture above is the side salad my friends and I shared last night with our buffalo burgers.

I made caramelized onions to go with the ground buffalo which I formed into burgers after mixing it with a dollop of seeded mustard.

When I taste-tested my caramelized onions they were too sweet; I guess I was heavy-handed with the tablespoon of brown sugar that I melted with one tablespoon of butter.

To rectify the problem, I poured the wilted, sweet and buttery onions into a strainer and briefly ran cold water over them, flushing out some of the sugar.

Returning the onions to the pan and the hot plate, I added a slurp of balsamic vinegar -- the acidic-tartness offset the buttery sweetness superbly.

Balsamic vinegar went over the salad too, about one tablespoon to two or three tablespoons of olive oil.

A good quality balsamic vinegar will bring out the best in salty foods such as goat cheese, astringent foods like spinach and sweet vegetables like roast pumpkin, and it will offset the richness of oily foods like pine nuts -- all the ingredients that make up the salad above.

Incorporating chunks of roasted winter pumpkin with early-spring spinach, arugula, watercress, or asparagus is the perfect combination of winter-to-spring ingredients.

As we head into March, combining winter root veggies with young, raw or partially-cooked greens will help systems and livers sluggish from heavy winter foods transition into longer, warmer spring days that beckon us to be active.

Adding vinegar to cooked vegetables, meat dishes and salads will also help, in particular a slurp of either organic apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar, since both are considered detoxifying agents for the liver.

It's been a pleasant break today, writing about a simple salad instead of the politics of where our meat comes from -- the topic of the last couple of weeks.

Perhaps it was this first, warm and sunny spring day in Boulder CO that inspired my digression.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Animal Welfare Approved Meat

Last week I said would ask this question when next grocery shopping for animal and or dairy protein:

"Can you tell me which meat and poultry items are from AWA-certified farms or farmer groups?"

I asked the question and a very nice young man at Whole Foods' meat counter said that he didn't know of that particular certification.

He did share that the Boulder CO Whole Foods sells Country Natural Beef, Nature's Rancher Buffalo, (pic above) Homestead Pork, Bell and Evans Chicken and Diesel Turkey and that all their animal protein is farmed according to animal compassion standards.

I googled animal compassion standards and found my way to an article that cites Whole Foods as the founder of the Animal Compassion Foundation, but the link to the foundation doesn't go anywhere.

Further googling came up with a link to Whole Foods website and a podcast about the foundation and its mission.

To tell you the truth, I'm starting to feel overwhelmed with missions: the various missions of the companies, farms, and organizations I've linked to above and in previous weeks, WFs mission(s), and my mission to find humanely-farmed meat and poultry.

I wish I could just buy my food at the grocery store and feel confident about what I'm buying, but alas, that's not the case.

I bought the pack of ground buffalo above because the nice boy at the meat counter did his best to assure me that this buffalo was raised according to standards that sounded as though they align with AWA-standards.

The Animal Welfare Approved standards are my benchmark these days because they are the "most rigorous and progressive animal care requirements in the nation."

If all meat and poultry items available in local groceries were affixed with the AWA stamp, I know I would feel more confident about my purchases.

I picked up Edible magazine a couple of days ago, specifically, Edible Front Range, which celebrates "local Colorado food, farms and cuisine, season by season."

(There's bound to be an Edible magazine in your community since it's available as a local publication in over 60 communities across the U.S. and Canada.)

Anyway, in the winter edition of Edible Front Range there's an article on Colorado-farmed bison, in particular buying a portion of a bison directly at auction.

Last month I wrote of the budgetary and ethical advantages to buying meat direct from the farmer and so I was happy to see details in Edible on how to order bison meat from one of 20 Colorado bison farms: For information on buying grassfed buffalo go to American Grassfed Association.

Additionally, there was an article on Colorado beef rancher, Dale Lasater. Lasater Grassland Beef is produced using traditional-farming methods, methods that align with AWA's standards.

As on the Niman Ranch website, you can order Lasater Grassland Beef online including 175-220 pound sides of beef.

Divide a side amongst 4 families and pay approximately $5.89 a pound for roasts, stews, brisket, ground beef, and steaks.

Of course you will need a freezer.

What I ultimately discovered reading Edible magazine is that it's a great resource for finding locally produced, high-welfare animal protein, artisan food, and organic produce -- food I can feel confident buying and eating.

Tonight, I'm sharing dinner with several women friends. I'm going to mix the above pack of buffalo with a tablespoon of seeded mustard (no hummus this time) and serve the burgers with caramelized onions.

We'll have a simple side salad to go with and I'll try not to get too stressed wondering if the AWA would approve of the way Nature's Rancher buffalo are farmed.