Monday, December 9, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: Gifts for the EcoFoodie in Your Life

The gardner. The home cook. The philanthropist. The entertainer. The conservationist. All of the above. 

Below are a few gift giving ideas for the EcoFoodie in your life.  Unfortunately, this comes too late if you celebrate Hannukah, (apologies for that--I have been sick for weeks and am running behind on life in general) but if you see something you like, do make a mental note for that next birthday, anniversary, or "just because" moment. These gifts are wonderful the whole year round. Happy shopping!

From top left to right:

1. Slow Food USA Ark of Taste Seed Collection: a yummy assortment of seeds from Ark of Taste's catalog of endangered foods. Have your Tennis Ball lettuce, and eat it, too!
2. Double Oven Mitts: From the lovely Provisions store at Such a luxury not to spend 10 minutes tracking down your second oven mitt every time you use the oven.
3. Donate to Save Family Farms: The older I get, the more important it seems to give back for the holidays. Donate in your loved one's name to American Farmland Trust to save farmland and support farmers. Act quickly and your donation will be matched by one AFT's founders!
4. Acacia Salt Cellar: So much easier to season properly when you can just grab whatever sized pinch you need. Bonus: you don't have to worry about your salt caking up in humid weather.
5. Cuisinart Hand Blender: This is one gadget that gets used in my kitchen all. the. time. Soups, smoothies, baby food--infinitely easier than transferring things to a blender. One of my absolute favorites.
6. Grow, Cook, Eat: A great book for the beginning home gardner. Covers all the basics without overwhelming, including lots of yummy recipes. A great way to get inspired over the winter.
7. Personalized Gardening Gloves: Love these more for their stylish simplicity than anything else. Sometimes it's nice to feel the warm soil on your bare skin, but these are great for the days when you can't spend half an hour scrubbing dirt out of your fingernails.
8. Magazines, magazines, magazines: For the food lover in your life, the gift that keeps on giving. There's a food mag for every kind of foodie these days, from quirky, to artsy, to academic.
9. Le Creuset Oval Dutch Oven: Another item that is constantly in use in our kitchen. Gives you lovely, even heating for soups, stews, and roasts. On the pricey side but worth every penny.
10. Slate Cheese Board: Just picked up one of these for myself (happy early Christmas!) from Brooklyn Slate Co. Handmade and gorgeous, perfect for the entertainer in your life. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Cast Your Vote in the Nature's Plate Award!

For the second year in a row, The Nature Conservancy is running their Nature's Plate contest in cities around the U.S. As part of their overall mission to conserve and protect our environment, the contest is a "people's choice" award for restaurants that use sustainable practices. The final round of voting goes through October 15th, so don't miss your chance to weigh in on the greenest restaurant in your city. If you're not familiar with the restaurants on your list, it's also a great excuse to get out and do some yummy eating that's good for your body and your planet. And if that's not incentive enough, one lucky voter will receive a $100 gift certificate to enjoy a meal at the winning restaurant!

Bostonians, your nominees are:

Area IV, Cambridge
Nourish, Lexington
Red Lentil, Watertown
Taranta, Boston
EVOO, Cambridge

Click here to vote and get some more details on each restaurant. Not from Boston? Click here to see nominees from other cities. And go vote!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Just a Little Nudge: Remembering What (and who) All That Food is For

Mindfulness. It's a bit of a buzzword these days, and it's no wonder why. In a world with so much activity and sensory input (have you seen the blaring TV monitors at the gas station??), we all hunger for ways to feel grounded, for touchstones that we can go back to throughout our busy, screen-filled days. It can be a real challenge to stay present in any given moment when so much is competing for our attention. Take, for example, this working mother of three who too often finds herself responding to frantic work e-mails on her iphone while attempting to feed three children and clean the kitchen. I am the world's best multi-tasker--I have to be with so many responsibilities and people depending upon me. It's the mono-tasking that I'm not so good at. These days I try more often to put the phone down, let the dishes be dirty, and enjoy the lip-smacking sounds of my babies discovering a pluot for the first time. Finding the space to pause in those seemingly insignificant moments transforms them into opportunities for connection, both with those around us and with ourselves. The challenge lies in creating that space, and the more that we have on our metaphorical plates, the harder it can be.

Perhaps that is why my heart broke a little when I read this Times article about how "nudge" marketing is being used to guide supermarket shoppers toward the produce section. It's a fascinating article examining how social scientists are using "gentle" tactics to get people to make healthier choices as they shop. No preaching or judging, just some subtle coaxing. It's genius, really: a divided shopping cart with instructions to use the front half for fruits and vegetables, or giant green arrows forging a path to the produce section...the tactics are so simple and easy (and cheap) to implement. But it was the mirror trick that really got me. A grocery store in El Paso placed mirrors at the front of their shopping carts in an attempt to compete with the flashy, junk food based displays that surround shoppers as soon as they set foot in the store. "'I'm looking at myself, and thinking, O.K., now what?'" said Samuel Polido, a shopper featured in the article. While the effectiveness of the mirrors has not yet been fully studied, that aha moment says so much about the way that so many of us relate to food in this country, and how so much of it is out of our control. Bombarded by advertising and grocery displays that push us toward items whose real food value is questionable at best, we forget how important it is to care for ourselves through the choices we make. We have the power to buy and prepare food that supports the health of our bodies, our families, and our communities, but these days that can be so hard to remember.

With time, perhaps more grocery stores will implement tactics like the ones included in the article. Until then, here are some strategies I use to stay mindful about my food, both when I'm shopping and when I'm in the kitchen.

  • Bring your own bags. Sounds simple, but by taking a moment to grab your totes on your way out you are already beginning with mindfulness. You set an intention to shop in a thoughtful way that is good the planet and for your community.
  • Shop the farmers' market first. In season, it can be incredibly economical, and in the winter you can treat yourself to a few fresh, local items. You get sunlight instead of florescent ones, fresh food instead of processed, and community rather than commodities. Once you have your market finds, you can figure out what else you need to round out a week of meals that are grounded in whole, healthy, local foods. 
  • Stick to the perimeter. Almost all grocery stores stock their fresh food items on the outside--whether it's produce, dairy, meat, or seafood, you will find it all if you just make a lap around the store. Yes, you may need to dip into the aisles for bread, pasta, and a few other basics, but the more you can avoid the interior the more likely you are to walk out with a cart full of real, healthy food.
  • Keep your pantry stocked. I can't tell you how many times my husband and I have ended up with mediocre takeout in the past year, simply because we didn't have time to get to the store for basics like grains, beans, or pasta. We sort of gave ourselves a pass with the whole three children under two thing, but we finally have time to do regular shopping again and keep our kitchen full of healthy basics. Even at our most exhausted, we can always find something that's easy to prepare and even faster than waiting for a delivery driver. (Sorry, husband. Your takeout glory days are coming to a close!)
  • Cook big. Stewing up some lentils and kale? Chopping peppers and carrots for a pasta salad? Whatever you're cooking, double or triple the quantity and stash the leftovers in the fridge. There's an easy meal for next few times you need it.
  • Keep it simple. There's no shame in carrot sticks. In fact, there's no shame in carrots that have not even been chopped if you need a quick snack or a side of veg. You can also slice them and throw them in a roasting pan with a little olive oil if you have an extra ten minutes to prep and a half hour to let them cook (at 350, covered with foil). Either way, don't be fooled into thinking that a microwave dinner is really that much easier than preparing your own. When you're really in a bind, just go basic and you can't go wrong.
  • Consult your cookbooks before you shop (or don't). In other words, learn how you most enjoy to be in your kitchen. I get impatient with recipes and have the most fun when I'm improvising with whatever I have on hand. But I have friends who love to work their way through cookbooks and produce elaborate dishes. Figure out what most inspires you and then develop a shopping approach to match.
  • Grow Your Own. This year, with a backyard redo and so many babies, we had to put our glorious garden plans on hold. But, we did manage to get a couple of basil plants going. It's so lovely to walk out back and just pick what we need, and gardening makes a great summer project for the littles. Our toddler helped to plant our basils (as pictured) and is now in charge of watering. Mostly though, he enjoys the work of eating it!
  • Keep looking in that mirror, metaphorically speaking. In the absence of a mirrored shopping cart, remind yourself whenever you can that what you eat and how you prepare it can provide a wonderful way to nurture yourself, your friends, your family, your community, and your planet. Every day is filled with opportunities to choose fresh food over frozen, the dining table over the television, whole foods over processed. Yes, there will always be nights when we just want a pizza to appear at the door, but the more you can nudge yourself toward eating and cooking with mindfulness, the easier and more enjoyable it gets. 
What are your favorite strategies for staying mindful in the kitchen?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ecofoodie Goes to Market: Roslindale Village

These days, trips to the farmers' market are a family affair. Gone are the days of strolling perusal and easy chatting. Granted, there are new pleasures to be found in having the assistance of a toddler as I select my squash, but I sometimes wax nostalgic for more leisurely days.

Last Saturday, I actually had the opportunity to head to the market alone (sigh of relaxation), so I took the opportunity snap a few photos. Given that I'm constantly gushing over the bounty I bring home every week, I thought it would be nice to share a few pictures of the market itself. If you are in the Boston area, I highly recommend a visit, even if it means a bit of a drive. The Roslindale Village Farmers' Market really is something special, with kids or without.

**With any luck, this will be the first of an occasional series, featuring area markets throughout the year...stay tuned!**

Adams Park, an urban oasis.

I snuck in bright and early. Two Field Farm was still setting up.

You say tomato, I say, I'll take some of each, please

Diced peaches make for a very slippery finger food. 
Totally worth the mess.
My babies smell like peaches. Every night.

Ok, so I do play favorites on the tomatoes.
Nothing beats an heirloom.

Greens, greens greens. 
Oh, and some gorgeous eggplant.

The Fornax stand. We stop here every week.
As my toddler says, We need more yummy bread.

We usually grab a treat as well.
Oat cakes are his favorite.

My jams are not camera shy.
Had a lovely chat with Robin, of Doves and Figs
Walked away with the most scrumptious Fig & Cranberry jam.

Apparently I am tomato obsessed. Can you blame me?
Perfect pints from Allandale Farm.
These beauties are organic and only travelled two miles to market.
Can't be beat.

My toddler tried his first apricot this week. 
Verdict: Mmmmm.

Sugar plums.
Can't. Get. Enough.

Fade to purple.

Garlic lover's paradise.

For more info on the Roslindale Village Farmers' Market, including a full vendor list and weekly activities (free yoga! live music! a clown show for the kiddos!), click here. Hope to see you this Saturday!

Friday, August 2, 2013

To Market, to Market: With a List or Without?

This morning, an interesting article popped up on my Facebook page via PBS Food: Five Tips for Farmers' Market Shopping. Hmmm...I thought when I saw the title, sounds intriguing, but how much advice does one really need on how to shop at a market?

Show up. See what looks good. Buy it. Take it home. Seems simple enough, right?

The article did have some good tips though, urging readers to bring their own bags, have cash on hand, and  ask questions. While all of these may seem obvious to the veteran market goer, it is good advice for a novice, in particular the last point--get to know your farmers! What are their growing practices? How big is the farm? Just how local are they? What would be their top pick from the harvest that week? Chatting with your farmer and other vendors makes the market a lot more fun, and the relationships that form can play a key role in holding a food community together. You may, for example, find out that your favorite farm needs volunteers to help with their efforts to get more land, or other things you would never know without stopping to chat!

Three good tips, indeed, but the first two were a big surprise to me: Plan Ahead and Create a Meal Plan. This is the precise opposite of how I shop at a farmers' market. In the winter, when options in New England are limited and I'm making huge batches of soup, a roast, or some other hearty recipe, I do prepare a list for the grocery store and think ahead about what I can get at the winter farmers' market. While I love the fact that we have an ever growing number of year round markets (I even wrote an article on it a while back for Edible Boston), there's no denying that the seasonal repertoire is limited--all of the root veggies and kale a girl can eat! But in July, when markets are in their glory, when new things are popping up every week--now fennel, now squash, now stone fruits!--the best thing about it is not having a plan. It's the brief time of year when I can let the market and all of its abundance tell me what the plan should be. Gorgeous tomatoes and herbs = fresh pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and basil. Mounds of green and yellow summer squash = grilled squash salad with chive vinaigrette and feta cheese. You get the idea. For me, the market means freedom and inspiration. Stock your kitchen with whatever looks the best and you don't need a meal plan. Just open the fridge, grab whatever appeals, and get creative! Improvise a new dish altogether, or put a spin on a cookbook favorite. Some of the best dishes are born this way, not to mention some wonderful memories when you're cooking with or for the people you love.

Of course, we all approach our shopping and our cooking differently. What's your farmer's market style? Do you come prepared with a list or fly by the seat of your pants? Does your cooking style change from season to season?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Savory Summer Salads...Hold the Lettuce, Please.

I am a salad girl. My husband is a meat lover. Yes, he likes to eat his veggies because he feels better when he does, but if he had his druthers it would be grilled steak tips and pork loin every night for dinner. So, as I stand in the front of the refrigerator in the afternoon and contemplate the dinner menu, I'm always aiming for a veggie victory. I'm looking for more than just dutiful chewing at my dinner table--I want those exclamations of delight. If you have cooked for a finicky loved one (newly picky toddler, anyone?) you know the feeling. Words like yummy, amazing, and delicious have never sounded so sweet.

When it comes to summer salads, I'm faced with an additional challenge: my husband won't eat lettuce. Well, that's not entirely true. He'll eat the wilted, bland, possibly bleach blasted, bagged lettuce from the grocery store. He just won't eat any of the tasty, leafy, crisp, colorful lettuce that's available in abundance at the market each week. What is his problem, you ask? To make a long story short, husband has an issue with creepy crawlies. And, a couple of years ago when I was prepping a gorgeous head of Bibb lettuce, husband spotted a big green grub whose girth was particularly remarkable. For my part, I'm perfectly happy to see that the occasional creature makes it through to my kitchen with my veggies. I buy organic whenever I can, and I see it as confirmation that no one has been blasting my food with harmful pesticides. It is also easily remedied: grub in the lettuce becomes grub in the trash in a few quick seconds, and then you're back in business. But, for my husband, who already has a phobia of things that squiggle (I'll spare you the very dramatic story of the inchworms in the woods), that incident has led to a full blown case of lettuce PTSD. 

So, this year, after the requisite attempt to sneak some fresh lettuce into the mix (failed), I've decided that some creativity is in order. And, as tends to happen when you're forced to deviate from your normal routine, there have been a lot of delicious surprises! We've done grilled veggie salads, leftover veggie salads...throw some vinaigrette on it and add a sprinkle of cheese, and you really can't go wrong! Below are a few of the salads I've put together, but it's more about a method than a recipe. See what looks good to you at the market this week and try out something new!

Grilled Summer Squash Salad

7-8 medium sized summer squash (you can use any variety you want here: zucchini, sunburst, limelight, whatever looks good.)
1-2 spring onions, red or white
feta cheese
vinaigrette (I prefer to make my own--recipes coming soon--but you can use store bought in a pinch)
olive oil

Slice squash lengthwise, brush with olive oil on both sides, and season with salt and pepper. Trim the onions and do the same. Grill until squash and onions are just fork tender. Be sure to take them off before they get floppy--mushy veggies do not make for a good salad. Chop squash and onions into bite sized pieces and place in a large bowl. Toss gently with vinaigrette, to taste. 

Roll several leaves of basil together and slice thinly to make little basil ribbons. If you want to get fancy, tell your friends you're doing a chiffonade of basil, because you are. Separate the ribbons and stir them gently into the squash along with a good helping of crumbled feta cheese. If you have some sweet little tomatoes on hand, as I did, you can also chop those and add them in for a pop of color. 

We have enjoyed this salad as a side dish with a protein and spooned over whole grain pasta or couscous. Just add some extra vinaigrette while your pasta or grain is still hot and it will soak up all that flavor. Yum!

Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad (i.e. leftover veggies salad)

5 ears cooked sweet corn, kernels removed
1 heirloom yellow tomato
1 handful of grape tomatoes
2 grilled summer squash
vinaigrette, to taste

Chop all veggies, toss with vinaigrette, season with s&p if necessary. Enjoy! Seriously, this was just me using up leftover cooked veggies in the fridge and tomatoes that needed to get eaten. Happy days for husband and toddler alike. Oh, and also me!

Beet & Carrot Salad (pictured at top)

3 fresh carrots, shredded (I don't recommend using supermarket carrots for this--they can be ok for a stew, but in a simple salad like this you want them sweet, juicy, and delicious.)
3 medium sized fresh beets, peeled and shredded
vinaigrette (again, a simple mix of olive oil, your favorite vinegar, and s&p is really the best dressing here, but store bought can also work)

Toss all ingredients and enjoy. Yes, it's that easy. As you can see from the picture above (I'm cheating and using an old one that predates our lettuce problem), this salad is a fabulous lettuce topper. But, it's also delicious as a side or a snack straight out of the fridge. Earthy, sweet, crunchy, and super quick to make. When it comes to summer salads, this is an EcoFoodie favorite.

All of these salads are incredibly versatile, and there are endless variations you can try. Two things they all have in common? They're great as a pot luck side dish, and they always pair fabulously with a crisp glass of prosecco on a hot summer night. Enjoy!