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Getting outside for a walk, hike, ski, bike, snowshoe, run, climb or whatever the activity of your fancy, is often put on the backburner when the winter months are especially dreary. However, as the days get a bit brighter, longer and warmer, I hope that everyone takes advantage of the extra moments to enjoy some fresh air. Fortunately I have squeezed in some time in the mountains to soak up some snow and sunshine, but the rigor of hiking ridgelines and skiing down has definitely asked more of my body than the short run or yoga class I have gotten in the habit of doing.

Fresh air, exercise and complete healthy exhaustion plasters an irreplaceable smile across my face and is a good way for everyone to keep their bodies strong, immune systems healthy and minds focused. The only problem is keeping enough fuel in the body to make it through the day and to nourish strength and renewal. I know first hand that, as hunger surges through my body, anything seems like good momentary satiation. Cookies, hot chocolate, candy, energy bars and sweet juices or Gatorade provide instant satisfaction but are not the best choice of nourishment and leave me clamoring for more only a few hours later.

Sugar filled foods marketed as energy bars and drinks provide quick results because sugar is burned quickly and creates instantaneous energy. However, sugar does not provide prolonged energy and sends the insulin system on a roller coaster ride in attempt to control the surge. Consistent use of sugar as an energy boost can be an unhealthy habit that deposits empty calories and can have negative effects on your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels. Sugar doesn’t adequately replenish the nutrients lost during exertion and fails to re-fuel and nourish the active body. In addition, processed ingredients, preservatives and artificial flavorings are not the nourishment your body needs after a rigorous day.

Home made energy bars are a great alternative to store bought bars and can be healthier, tastier and made just the way you like it. Sugar can be replaced by honey, agave, fruit purees or nut butters. Add protein with nuts or quinoa. Dried fruits such as apricots, dates, cherries and raisins are packed with natural sugars and nutrients like potassium, iron and beta-carotene that fuel and nourish your body.

Here is one of my favorite recipes for you to try, or mix up a batch of your own and get your body outside for a day of fresh air, exercise and adventure. The dates in these conveniently bite sized treats are packed with potassium, which your muscles need during exercise to help maintain normal contraction and to balance potassium levels to keep blood pressure steady. Dates are also a great source of Iron, vitamin A and tons of healthy fiber. Paired with almonds for a bit of heart healthy fat and lots of protein as well as a dash of cardamom for an authentic sweet flavor, these little energy treats pack a healthy and delicious boost of energy anywhere and anytime.

Almond Cardamom Bites

1 cup toasted slivered

¼ tsp ground cardamom

½ tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup finely chopped dates

Zest of one orange

½ cup dried unsweetened coconut

Chop almonds into smaller pieces after toasting (don’t do this in a blender because they get too fine). In the bowl of a standing mixer, or by hand,mixthe almonds, cardamom, cinnamon, dates and orange peel. Mix until dates have softened and mixture is combined into a thick paste-like consistency. Form date mixture into ping pong ball sized rounds and roll in coconut (or press date mixture into a small baking pan and spread to a uniform ½ inch thickness and sprinkle with coconut). Enjoy immediately or wrap tightly and save for up to 10 days. Enjoy!

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“I hate mushrooms.” I can distinctly recall saying this line more than a few times during my youth. As I picked around even the smallest white spongy specks on my plate I wondered, “why would I eat a piece of fungus that tastes mildly like dirt and squeaks across my teeth when I chew it? Gross !” My mushroom predisposition unfortunately held true until, as a chef, I was literally force fed a mushroom tart. In order to ensure the food I was serving to guests was not going to leave a literal or figurative “bad taste” in their mouths, I swallowed the mouthful of slippery caramelized fungus.  Sweet and earthy, still warm from the oven and caramelized to a melt-in-your-mouth consistency with just a hint of salt to contrast the buttery crust it was served in; it was delicious.

When gigantic portabellas, perfectly golden criminis, brushed white buttons and amoeba like shitakes started filling the shelves of our refrigerator, my like minded mushroom-hating boyfriend gawked with disgust. But, as I gradually and successfully sneaked them into delicate cream sauces, home made pizzas and rainbow chard gratins, it went without discussion that mushrooms were becoming a new staple of our mealtimes. Lucky for us, unlike the soft serve ice cream with chocolate sprinkles and home made Italian style doughnuts that have also been know to become unmentioned dietary staples in our house, mushrooms are one of natures best healing foods as well as a culinary delicacy.

Of the over 14,000 varieties of mushrooms about 3,000 of them are edible and over 700 of them have known medicinal properties. Extensive research in health circles around the world has been published about the healing powers of this wondrous fungus.  In Chinese medicine mushrooms have been linked to body balance and homeostasis, helping align and strengthen energy and immunity. According to recent medical studies the impact mushrooms have on the immune system not only wards off illness but helps relieve more dramatic immune system ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis.  High amounts of Zinc found in most varieties help fortify the immune system, regulate blood sugar, metabolism and inflammatory pain management.

Selenium, essential for the function of antioxidants is also a key nutrient found in mushrooms that contributes to their potent healing qualities. The cooperative work of selenium and vitamin E helps clear the body of harmful free radicals and may contribute to the prevention of age related and degenerative diseases.

Mushrooms are packed with selenium, copper, zinc, potassium, iron, B vitamins and are a conveniently low calorie food that you can consume with complete confidence that every last bite will nourish and heal your body. In addition, mushrooms are one of the rare foods that contain vitamin D, making them a great food to get you through the dreary winter months.

It was a drastic change of heart, you could say, that brought these little tilth dwelling orbs into my highly regarded list of favorites. To the food that has this many nutrients packed tightly into a beautiful natural form with the power to transform health, well-being, longevity and energy, I am sorry for calling you “gross”.

This week I am excited to see local crimini mushrooms as a substitute for the regular contents in my Farm-to-Table box.  Not only will I swap them in, I am also ordering a few extra criminis and four large and beautiful portabellas from Full Circle’s Green Grocery program to make a weeks worth of delicious and healthy meals.   I am thinking a crimini and leek risotto to start the week and spice rubbed roasted portabella burgers to bring it to a close.  Nourishment, flavor and the pure joy of spongy, squeaky fungus, bring it on!

Check out Full Circle’s Good Food Life blog this week for a great mushroom recipe and modify or add to your order for the week to get some great organic mushrooms delivered straight to you.

Sugar laden sodas and artificial fruit juice stand by, Kombucha is taking over and it’s a healthy liquid revolution. Whether you’ve only tried it with your nose upturned to the slightly bitter tang, or take it down by the bottle on a daily basis, it’s hard to ignore the boom that this fizzy, healthy touting tea is creating. As I am discovering with my first home brewed batch, Kombucha is also an easy at home project that results in a great tasting and good for the body refreshment.

Kombucha is an ancient fermented drink that is thought to have originated in Russia in the late 19th century but can also be traced back to ancient Chinese and Japanese cultures. Made from a tea and sugar brew left at room temperature to ferment for several weeks, Kombucha brewing techniques have been passed down through generations of people who have held the drink in high esteem and attributed it with potent health giving properties.

In our modern adaptation of the drink, fruit juice flavorings have been added to the traditional tea base to create colorful, flavorful and popular drinks. However, because of Kombucha’s relatively recent re-popularization and the difficulty of studying a constantly changing food with live cultures that differ depending on the preparation method and huge variety of beneficial bacteria that can inoculate the beverage, It has been difficult for researchers to provide scientific support for what specific impacts Kombucha has on the body. Nevertheless, Kombucha producers list vitality, energy, immunity, digestion and appetite control as some of the benefits of their products and consumers are buying it. The general consensus of regular Kombucha drinkers is positive, linking it to personal well-being and many stories of major health changes and noticeable benefits.

In my own experience with semi-regular Kombucha consumption, I do notice a slight energy boost, a sense of lasting satiation and calming in my digestive tract. But, as an opponent to sodas, Kombucha is mainly a healthier way for me to satiate the occasional hankering for a refreshing fizzy drink and is a healthier alternative to coffee when I need an afternoon pick me up.

Despite the lack of research on Kombucha directly, several health benefits can be confirmed by its probiotic contents that have been researched extensively in other fermented foods such as yogurt and keifer. Because Kombucha is a raw and live fermented food, it is known to contain billions of probiotic cultures linked to a myriad of health benefits. The positive impact probiotics have on digestion, immunity, inflammation, detoxification and nutrient absorption is reason enough to take a few sips of Kombucha on a daily basis.

Brewing your own Kombucha at home, as I discovered this week in my first trial run, is pretty easy. The first, and most necessary step is getting a “baby” or “scoby”. The baby is a round gel like patty that forms on the surface of the Kombucha during fermentation and contains billions of probiotic organisms. You can get a Kombucha baby from a friend or order one online.

To start, brew a large batch of your favorite tea, steep it with a small amount of sugar (1 C. Sugar/3 Qts. H20-sugar is important to fuel for the fermentation process) and cool the brew to room temperature. Pour the brew into a large clean jar, carefully place the baby on the surface and secure a tea towel or cheesecloth over the jar opening and walk away. Kombucha brews best in warm, dark places but will eventually ferment just about anywhere you leave it. The longer you let it sit, the more carbonation and less tang you will get. Just make sure you let it ferment for at least a week so the cultures of beneficial bacteria have ample time to develop.

Bottle, refrigerate, and enjoy!

More Great Kombucha Info!

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can drive to the store, park your SUV, load a grocery cart with soda pop, candy bars, potato chips, and juice in the box, while sporting the latest and most fashionable outfit and still claim to be “green”, “organic” or “sustainable”.  The marketplace that continues to engulf our everyday lives has certainly caught on to the rising demand for a more natural lifestyle.  What started with a search to define food grown without chemicals in a more earth and health-friendly manner has ballooned into a whirlwind of green labeling.  The issue now is, with the words organic, green, natural, sustainable, healthy and eco-friendly plastered across millions of products, how do you distinguish the true ground breakers from the impostors?

Solving this question was the topic of the most recent Sustainable Foods Summit in San Francisco.  The Sustainable Foods Summit is a series of meetings bringing together leaders in the sustainable food industry to discuss top issues concerning sustainability and eco-labeling.  Full Circle’s Frank Paganelli had the fortunate opportunity to attend this round of discussions, focused primarily on what role labels play in the food industry.

In an industry that is looking more and more towards the triple bottom line (taking ecological and social performance, not just financial performance into account) do labels already in place address sustainability from both the business and consumer perspectives?  Or, is there a market for a new labeling system that certifies the sustainable business practices coming into play?  Frank was thoroughly impressed by the number of respectable companies who came together to address these questions and assert a common goal.  In our evolving food system it is a necessity to measure impact, socially, ecologically, locally, abroad and upon all employees in order to create a mission, metrics and labeling system that ensures all measures are properly accounted for and communicated to consumers.

“The fact that so many companies are making the triple bottom line their mission, and numbers are growing, must signify the beginning of a revolution,” said Frank.

The biggest question to address, Frank explained, is how to certify what you are doing as a company.  Numerous bodies and organizations such as the Food Alliance and the Stewardship Index are already in action, but does creating individual mission metrics for your own corporation make more sense and allow you to set higher standards?  At Full Circle sustainability initiatives are well in place; rooted beneath the company from the very beginning, but without labels to quantify success.  To start, Frank has returned from the summit with goals for the upcoming year that will help measure and certify Full Circle’s actions. Measures such as the carbon emissions saved, land conservation, community education and food bank donations.

Companies such as Stone Bird Flour, Honest Tea, Organic Valley, Theo Chocolate and Strauss Valley Creamery have set high standards in the industry and are bounding ahead with new goals and labels to ensure consumers are well informed about the product they are purchasing. Positive energy and motivation is coming from all directions as the food industry revolution continues to evolve.  For Full Circle, Frank noted, it is important to work ahead of the mainstream and continue to make progress, not just with new ways of labeling and ensuring products and services, but with every bite of quality food made available to a growing number of conscious individuals.

Learn more about the Sustainable Foods Summit and take part as a consumer to ensure the companies you support are upholding their claims and making progress to create a more sustainable food system.

A great deal is hard to turn down.  It’s a funny thing to observe people, myself included, make purchases “because its on sale” or “the discount was too good to be true.”  I will be the first to admit, the revolution of discount websites like Groupon and Living social, has drawn me in and I have made more that a few impulse purchases.  Most of the purchases I use; one month of unlimited yoga was blissful for a mere $20 and a round of burgers, drinks and dessert for two went down smoothly at $30 but a good number seem like spur of the moment decisions that will go without impact in the broader scheme of things.

Nevertheless, I am still relentless in my search for better discounts, coupons and sales as the excitement of that ‘possibly the greatest of all-time deals’ lures me on.  Fortunately, what this never ending open eye for deals has led me to is a new site where the discounts are great but the difference you make with your purchase has a positive impact as well.  The new site idealnetwork.com is similar to its competitors but has a humanitarian edge in the game.  At Ideal Network 20-25% of every purchase you make is put towards a campaign to support the cause of your choice.  Yesterday I bought 5 sessions of yoga and chose to give $8.75 of my purchase to the Seattle Humane Society.  Now I am feeling good about the imminent yoga bliss and proud to support a cause I genuinely believe in all in a one-stop shop.

Ideal Network is a great new project to support, not to mention the great local deals that you will surely appreciate.  I know, for me, splurging on a great deal always feels better when the splurge benefits all parties involved.

Ideal’s official launch is today with Theo’s chocolate, a partner of Full Circle Farm and a great producer with a Fair for Life certification.  Never one to turn down great quality chocolate, this will definitely be on my list of purchases.  I can already tell you, a bar of Theo’s Chai Tea Milk Chocolate and Fig Fennel and Almond dark chocolate, a tin of their chipotle spice sipping chocolate and a good amount of my favorite salted dark chocolate caramels at a great discount with portions of my purchase going to The Just Garden Project will make my day.

Check out Ideal Network and make a difference when you get a discount.  Keep your eyes peeled; a great deal on your own Full Circle Farm-to-Table delivery may be headed that direction!