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Attention all foodies, eaters, cooks, members, prospective members and anyone looking for a reason to get in the kitchen and challenge your skills or learn something new.  Starting on February 4th Full Circle will be hosting the first Farm-to-Table Meal Challenge; challenging you to make your best meal out of as many Farm-to-Table box ingredients as possible.  Whether you need a challenge to get you learning more about preparation and cooking methods, want a little inspiration to get in the kitchen cooking healthier meals or just plain want to show off your culinary skills and knack for using every last bit of your farm to table box, taking part in the Meal Challenge will be a great inspiration with tasty rewards.

Here’s the scoop:

This challenge is open to all active Full Circle members. (Not a member yet? Click here to become one.) For the week of February 4th -11th place your box order and make whatever changes you normally would to your order contents.  What you get in your box will be the base of ingredients you use for your meal.  If you anticipate needing any other ingredients, add them to your order in Green Grocery as additional points will be awarded for Green Grocery items.

Sometime during the week set aside an evening, or a morning if brunch is your specialty, to prepare a five star meal using as many ingredients from your box as possible.

Submit a list of your Farm-to-Table box contents for that week and your recipes (don’t forget to highlight which items come from your Full Circle order) to us by e mail  – check out our Facebook page for complete entry details  and email address – and our panel of judges will select the first, second and third place winners.

Our judging panel includes a talented chef with 20 years of experience in the industry, a veteran gourmet foodie and baker extraordinaire, and a very special but extremely picky 6 year-old.

Winners will be selected on a point basis.  Our creativity, edibility and simplicity categories will be judged on a sliding scale from 1-10.  5 extra points will be rewarded for submitting a photograph along with 5 points if our youngest judge deems your dish delicious.

A note to those who are tempted to throw your whole Farm-to-Table box in a pot, add water and call it a meal.  Though simple, this will score low in the creativity category. Our simplicity category is intended to keep your recipes from being too extravagant or chaotic, so using your ingredients thoughtfully and simply will be to your benefit.  At the end of the competition we are looking for some great recipes that we can share with everyone; recipes that can be re-created at home and will stand the test of time and ease.

The selection of prizes is well worth the work, check out our Facebook page for complete rules and prize listings.  For me, even without a prize, a challenge that gets me motivated to plan, prep and cook a healthy meal is enough to get me going.  Sometimes a bout of friendly competition can be just what it takes to put your resolution to cook more, eat better and make the best of local and seasonal produce into play.

Not to mention, the collection of great recipes we amass and share with you in the weeks following will come in handy next time you are at a loss for what to make for dinner.

Tie up your aprons and get cooking!

For all the rules, regulations and final details visit our Facebook Page!

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“Light” foods have always been a nemesis of mine, conjuring up images of the cardboard-like “light butter” that my college roommates stocked in the fridge.  If I am going to indulge in a bowl of ice cream I am going to eat traditional chocolate-chocolate chip, not the light and tasteless counterpart.  Yogurt, my favorite breakfast food, keeps me full and energized for hours because of its healthy fat and protein content.  I am not about to switch to the lightened version that tastes far more like artificial flavors and sweeteners than any wholesome breakfast should.

“Light” foods, which you would never find naturally growing out of the earth, are not the healthiest or only way to “lighten up.” Instead of spending time and money on diet foods and lifestyle tricks, you and your waistline may benefit from enjoying moderate amounts of wholesome foods and other sources of natural light in your life.  Healthier ways to lighten up, including trying different types and amounts of whole foods, activities and engagements can naturally lighten up your weight, mood, health and energy.  Living a bit lighter can be healthy, tasty, fun and easy to do.

Sunlight

Light, in the form of sunshine, is important for the synthesis of vitamin D, something many of us are deficient in this time of year.  Adequate amounts of this vitamin are important for your bone health, immune system, heart health, brain function and mood.  However, dark winter skies and the limited availability of vitamin D in foods leave many of us feeling lethargic, moody, achy or mildly depressed.  Lightening up by including more whole food sources of Vitamin D as well as spending a few more minutes outside between rain/snow storms every day will benefit your whole body and inspire health, happiness and energy. Some of the best food sources of vitamin D include wild salmon, sardines, organic eggs and organic whole milk.

Light-eating

To “lighten up”, for me, means treating my whole body well, not torturing it with artificial processed foods touted for their low calorie or sugar content.  Even in the midst of winter eating lighter is easy to do with whole foods that are satiating, comforting and easy to make.  Dark leafy greens are in season and will fill you with incredible amounts of powerful antioxidants and nutrients to build immunity and energy.  Heartier winter salads with legumes, nuts, seeds, cheeses and meats will satisfy without weighing you down.  Ovens roasted root vegetables pack in the nutrients, are filled with fiber and stocked with natural sugars that power your body for work or play in the colder weather.  Broth based soups can nurture your health, warm your belly and help hydrate your body.

Lighthearted

Lighten up your mood, physical body and mental state by taking a step back from everyday stressors and letting yourself enjoy a more balanced lifestyle.  Eating lighter quantities, instead of feasting and fasting will help keep your metabolism and mental state on a more even keel.  Bring a bit of light into your lifestyle by taking a walk, practicing yoga or having game night with friends.  Engaging in activities and practices that keep your mind and body active is enlightening.  Nurture your whole body with light that keeps you steady, strong and smiling and just lighten up!

Here is my “light” for the day: a run with the dog before the rain starts, a warming cup of soup, Caesar salad with a vitamin D boost and an extra hour of sleep.

Vitamin D rich Caesar dressing

3 anchovies (don’t skip -they are one of the best sources of D)

Juice of 1 lemon

3 cloves garlic

2 tbsp grated parmesan

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp Worchester sauce

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

Put all ingredients in a standing blender or Cuisinart.  Process until smooth and toss with romaine, croutons and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

This morning I took my dog for a run.  Flurries of lightly falling snow could be seen in traces along the path and on the limbs of trees and the cold gray air had kept the usual hoards to a minimum.  It was peacefully quiet, refreshingly crisp, but oh so very gray!  As we ran along at a slower pace than normal, both of us a bit tired, I couldn’t help but scan my eyes across the horizon, dark gray skies gave way to light gray rooftops, dirty white leafless trees, gray wet roads, snow white blanketed sidewalks and puffs of gray-white breath condensing quickly in front of me.

Looking for a bite to eat later that day I was disheartened to find an almost empty refrigerator with only a half-full bottle of milk, a few potatoes, two parsnips and some Jerusalem artichokes from the previous week’s farm box.  Everything colorful I had stocked on the shelves was quickly eaten leaving behind a white-gray filled, very unappetizing array of foods.

In the heart of January, eating the white starchy foods that are in season, when the season itself seems to be bringing you down all on its own, can feel like locking yourself in a gray padded room and waiting to go crazy.  But once again nature reigns in the creation of things that work symbiotically and, as it turns out, there are numerous reasons why we should not shy away from locally grown foods in all shades of white during this gray time of year.

Cold air, wet weather, less time outside, the flu season, stress, travel and the fewer hours of daylight that accompany the gray winter season require increased immunity, efficient energy production, attitude adjustments and motivation from all sources available.  Luckily, foods like potatoes, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac contain an array of nutrients and health building properties you need to help you endure the winter.

Don’t fight the season.  Compliment the weather, mood and environment around you with the best of the season’s bounty. Keep your body and mind healthy, optimistic and strong with these wintry whites:

Potatoes: A good source of vitamin C and B6 as well as potassium, manganese and fiber, potatoes are great for immune system and energy building this time of year.  Potatoes also contain a variety of phytonutrients that produce great antioxidant activity.  To get the most nutrients for your buck buy organic and eat the skins too.

Parsnips: Parsnips are rich in vitamins B1, B2 and C as well as minerals, potassium and fiber, making them a good antioxidant, immunity builder and energy source.  Parsnips have been shown to have pain-relieving properties and to help lubricate the intestines and promote healthy digestion.

Jerusalem Artichokes: This tuber contains a large amount of inulin, which has been linked to intestinal health because of its pre-biotic and good bacteria promoting qualities.  Jerusalem Artichokes help promote healthy and efficient digestion and have high amounts of vitamin C that provides antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.  In the winter months this tuber is especially helpful in nourishing the lungs and decreasing asthmatic symptoms.

Celeriac (or Celery Root): Low in calories and high in fiber and vitamin C, potassium, calcium and iron, this food defies its ugly appearance.  Celeriac’s high water content helps flush the body of toxins while its nutrients help re-build and nourish.  Health benefits include easing digestion, circulating antioxidants, building immunity and helping blood flow.

Beautiful Yukon gold and fingerling potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac/celery root are coming straight to you from Full Circle Farm this time of year.  Take advantage of the healthy and still local foods you can get your hands on and use these winter weather foods to your nutritional advantage.

Usually, when something becomes “trendy” I try to avoid it at all costs.  Pants that are so tight you can see every muscle flex, boots with toes so pointy they look like lethal weapons, no carb diets… most trends seem like more effort and absurdity than they are worth.  However, one trend I have no “that’s so trendy” qualms about is the popular movement to get involved in the community food system.  Unlike other mass movements that become the latest trend, this one has the potential to actually construct a long lasting positive change that will impact the life and health of yourself and others through education and participation in the local food system.

I have to admit; I am going to jump on this band-wagon but not without a bit of discernment.  As the trend takes flight, it becomes increasingly more difficult to distinguish what is helpful from what is superficial and figure out how to get involved, learn and make a difference in a way that matters.  The necessity and significance of this movement is hard to ignore, but I want to make sure that my goal to get more involved leads me to a genuine outlet where I care about what I am doing, why I am involved, and how the process will make an impact.

For many of us looking to get more involved the first step can be intimidating, but joining tons of organizations, giving huge donations and making extreme commitments are certainly not necessary to get more involved in the community and educated about your local food system. Choosing one simple but meaningful outlet, even if it may not be the most popular or well-known way to get involved, is a realistic and constructive way for every individual to take a step in a positive direction that is sure to make a difference.

Volunteers planting trees out at Griffin Creek Farm

For me, choosing something that I can work into my schedule without feeling stressed, finding something a little off the beaten path that interests me, but does not already have a waiting list miles long, and feeling passionate about what I invest myself in are the most important factors in finding the right opportunity.  When I learned about the new Seattle Slow Food book Club, it seemed to be a perfect fit.

Reading is something I love to do, especially when it is about food, health, sustainability, gardening, and farming.  While it is something I can do on my own time, the camaraderie of knowing that others are out there reading and pondering the same topics draws me in.  Discussions sound inviting, encouraging, and I look forward to the challenge of discussing other interpretations of the text and how to put these topics into play in real life.

Not only can I meet others with similar interests and stretch my brain around new topics and texts, I can also be involved in the larger community movement around slow food, sustainability, health and eating locally.  The education of those who chose to get involved will make a difference in individual lives as well as community progress towards a better food system.

This is just one of many ways to get involved in the community and take action to make a difference in the food system that supports it.  Depending on your passions and skill set you may chose to cook in a community kitchen, join a garden coop, get some friends together to clean up your neighborhood, host a potluck to discuss how you and your community members can take action or take classes on urban homesteading.  Whatever it is, make it your passion and put your heart into it.  Enjoy the learning and involvement process and take pride in your part in making a difference.

For more information on the Slow Food Book Club visit:

http://slowfoodseattle.wordpress.com/books/

Here are a few more ideas to check out:

http://www.northwestharvest.org/Volunteer/Opportunities.htm

http://www.cascadeharvest.org/community/volunteer

http://seattletilth.org/get-involved/volunteer/index_html

http://www.solid-ground.org/GetInvolved/Pages/default.aspx

I would love to hear from you.  Please share information about your favorite community food system organizations or some other ideas you have about getting involved. Thanks!

When I reached out to our readers for some healthy New Year’s resolutions, I received some great food, lifestyle, and nutritional goals.  Thanks to everyone for sharing your resolutions and spreading the inspiration to take action, make change and live well.

As I lay awake, the wind howling and these resolution ideas streaming through my head, I kept returning to one poignantly put phrase that read, “eat what the heart wants instead of the mind.”  Eating what the heart wants, literally, means bringing more awareness to what and how you feed your body.  But figuratively I thought, the concept of nourishment can stretch beyond the realm of food and into the proceedings and thoughts of our every day lives.  Let your heart, and not just your mind, guide you to the nourishment it needs from wholesome food as well as goals, inspiration, decisions, activities and relationships.  If a change is grounded in what the heart guides you to feel and not just what the mind thinks should happen, does this define the difference between long term achievements and short term spurts of motivation?

When I step back to examine goals and resolutions that I have set in my own life, it is achingly obvious that far too many of them have dwindled only weeks after their initiation.  I would have liked to cut processed sugars out of my diet because I know they are hard on my body, energy and mood, but the commitment just was not strong enough to keep my hands off platters of gingerbread cookies and chocolate ice cream cakes over the holidays.  Why was I unable to stick to my goal even though I knew it would benefit my mind and body?  I had my mind set on making this change, but had I forgotten to engage the motivation from my heart that may have made the long lasting difference? If I had set a resolution framed from the heart such as: I promise to my body to eat less sugar so I have the energy to enjoy the outdoors, the patience to endure the holiday stress and trust in my good health to look forward to many more years of family, friends and adventure, would I have had the endurance to stick to my resolution?

As I let my mind run with the phrase, I came to this simple summation: feed the heart.  In addition to eating what the heart wants, nourishing the heart with good intentions, companions, activities, challenges, feelings, and care will pave the way for positive changes that will last a lifetime.  Instead of doing what you think or have been told is good, cool, better, fashionable or trendy, do what you know, feel, believe, trust and hope is going to make a difference in your life.

Lose the last ten pounds not just because you don’t like the way you look but because your body will feel better and have the strength to spend a day hiking with your dog.  Grow more of your own food because it will nourish you, your family and the earth, not just because it is what your neighbor is doing.  Exercise more to strengthen your heart, prolong your life and increase your energy to do the things you are passionate about, not because the health magazines tell you to.  Set goals at work to stretch your mind and challenge your intellect not just for the numbers on your paycheck.

You can eat, sleep, exercise, work, act or change for the mind all day long but without nourishing the heart as well, the best and strongest changes will be hard to hold on to.

As for me, I am going to climb more mountains, not just for the exercise, but for the exhilaration and pure joy I get from being in the outdoors and the confidence I get from knowing I have the health and strength I need to get myself to the top.

Happy New Year to all.  May you lead with your heart into a new day, new year and new stage of life.