No matter which end of the trend you fall on when it comes to choosing to eat more local and seasonal foods, I think more of all of all good - in fact, I think more talk and action around all of it is great. Local foods are fresher, having traveled fewer distances to arrive on our tables, have higher nutrient values having spent less time in transit, they come from local growers who live and work in our economic region and contribute to the health of our communities, and most of all - they taste better. Taking a step toward choosing more foods from local sources couldn't be easier or more delicious than right now.
At the heart of it, eating seasonally means preparing vegetables picked at their prime in way that makes the most of their flavor and freshness by simply elaborating on the perfection that’s already there.
Lately the corn has been so good - both in Minnesota and in Colorado. Sweet, juice-filled and loaded with flavor, local sweet corn is still without any starchiness or toughness to the kernels. As part of a healthful diet that is loaded with a wide variety of colorful vegetables, corn is a delicious addition to celebrate the height of summer flavors.
To find the best sweet corn from a local stand or at the farmer’s market, ask the farmer when it was picked - you'll ideally want corn that was harvested within the past 24 hours for maximum sweetness and tender kernels. You don’t need to peel back every cob to get the best pickings - rather, gently squeeze the cob through the husks to feel for bruising or denting in the middle of the cob. I don’t worry about imperfections at the top of the cobs - once peeled back those can easily be cut off before preparing.
Once you get your sweet corn home, one of the easiest ways to prepare it is to simply pan-fry the freshly cut kernels in the best organic butter you can find, seasoned with a little sea salt and some fresh basil: it couldn’t be easier or more delicious. Enjoy it alongside your meal along with a big, fresh green salad and a plate of perfectly ripe locally-grown tomatoes drizzled with great olive oil and you’ve got the makings of a fantastic, seasonally-maximized dinner. Enjoy!
Fresh Summer Sweet Corn in Butter with Basil
kernels from 5 ears of sweet corn, preferably organic
3 tablespoons best-quality organic butter
several pinches of fine sea salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
freshly ground black pepper
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add butter. Allow the butter to melt and brown slightly. Add corn kernels and sauté for 4 minutes, or just until warmed through and hot. Season with sea salt, fresh basil and black pepper. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
Our first CSA share showed up yesterday, delivered from Burning River Farm by farmer/owner Mike Noreen. What a bounty: bok choy, broccoli rabe, crispy-fresh head lettuces, baby kale, spinach, and a basket of herbs for planting so that we’ll have herbs later on this summer. Oh, those greens - they looked so good that I felt better just opening the box, even before I had eaten them.
Then, my mom arrived at my door with bags of freshly snipped leaf lettuces and just-picked asparagus. By now I’m feeling like a queen, with all of these riches of the new summer garden season arriving in my kitchen.
Shortly after the whirlwind of first-day CSA share pick-ups last night, my doorbell rang – it was my friend and neighbor Mary Jo holding in her hand a bunch of greens, wondering what they were and what she should do with them. This marks the other start to the summer garden and market season - shifting our way of eating away from the typical shopping list and grocery store options, to choosing what’s here, right now. Excitement can easily give way to feeling stymied or overwhelmed, though, when good intentions for opening the CSA box, buying arms full of veggies at the farmer’s market, or watching rows of Swisschard come up in the garden turn into vegetable panic.
But it’s not that hard. Eating fresh using the best vegetables of the moment actually takes less time – fresher food takes less work to make it taste good and vegetables cook more quickly because they are still plump and full of water from growing in the soil and not being shipped cross-country.
My advice to Mary Jo was to gently sauté the broccoli rabe with some olive oil and garlic and then throw in an egg or two to scramble, tossed with the greens. She reported back this morning that it was delicious.
So that’s the new bottom line, when we’re heading into this season of bounty and “of the moment” fresh foods. Quick is good. To use fresh greens after work but save time, rinse the greens, roll them gently in a kitchen towel and store them in a plastic bag – they’ll stay nice and crispy fresh, and won’t lose their moisture or nutrition to the dehydrating environment in the fridge. Take some out for lunches or dinner all week, and make a green smoothie with some of them in the morning.
Dinner can be quick as well. All greens taste good lightly steamed and served with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar or freshly-squeezed lemon juice, and some good salt and fresh pepper. Or sauté them with some garlic or maybe even some Texas sweet onions (also in season right now - delicious), add a little crumbled Wisconsin or Minnesota feta cheese and toss the whole thing with some whole wheat pasta for a more substantial weeknight dinner (see recipe below). Or, put steamed greens over some cooked sweet brown rice or wild rice and top with a Thai peanut sauce – coconut is slightly sweet and it makes a great pairing with the flavors of the greens. With all of these options, using a little fat from the eggs, olive oil, cheese, or coconut milk is key - dark leafy greens and fresh head lettuces are Vitamin A-rich, and we need a little good, healthy fat to help us unlock and absorb the available nutrients.
Try eating more salads, too. Salads should become more of the main story, at least a few times a week in the summer. A big pile of fresh greens can be topped with your favorite grilled mushrooms, fish, chicken or meat, as well as thinly sliced raw vegetables of every variety for extra crunch, flavor and nutrition. Keep the dressing light to let the flavors really sing in your mouth – drizzle with fresh olive oil and lemon or whip together a quick salad dressing. (Homemade is so much better than bottled, in every way – tastes better, doesn’t have all of those thickeners, stabilizers, modifiers, preservatives, and colorings, and it costs much, much less.)
The key is that if you want to eat well, then yes, it will take a little more time than dialing for take-out. But the rewards are literally life-giving. Instead of your poor little old body fighting inflammation and fatigue, you will be giving yourself energy and fuel from the original source. Real food. From the earth. Grown not by accident, but with purpose and a reason – and, incidently, chock full of things that we really, really need. Eat!
Fresh Greens and Feta with Whole Wheat Pasta
A painless way to eat your greens!
6 T olive oil
4 cups chopped Vidalia onions (or red or yellow onions)
7-8 cups mixed greens - kale, chard, collards, arugula, spinach, bok choy - washed, dried, cut off the stem and coarsely chopped
3/4 lb whole wheat bowtie pasta (I prefer the Bionaturae brand)
1/2 lb. good local feta (try Shepherds Way), crumbled
freshly ground pepper
crushed red pepper flakes
Set the pasta water on to boil.
Heat olive oil in a deep skillet dutch oven. Add onions and cook for 10 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until golden and sweet.
Add the chopped greens to the skillet, salt lightly, and stir until the greens begin to wilt. Cover and cook 5 minutes over medium-low heat.
Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente in salted water. When the pasta is just about done, remove the cover from the greens, turn it down to low and add the crumbled feta. Drain the pasta and add it to the greens mixture immediately, tossing to mix thoroughly.
Season with fresh pepper, red pepper flakes and salt if needed. Serve immediately.
With Earth Day just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about how important making healthy decisions are for our kids - not just for their little bodies, but also for the earth and what that inheritance will look like in their future.
Of course there are so many related issues that contribute to the health of our children, from school lunches to exercise, but my focus is on the importance of eating clean, organic foods, and minimizing exposure to chemicals in our most controllable environment – home.
Children are sponges, as we know, absorbing information through all of their senses at a rapid rate. The same is true for their bodies: because children are small beings, growing and developing so quickly, they are more susceptible to suffering an impact to their health and development through chemical exposure. Potential damage comes their way on a daily basis through contact with pesticides, plastics, common personal care products, cleaning product residues and building materials.
It’s not one chemical or another that can be isolated as doing the most damage, rather it’s the accumulated exposure to a plethora of chemicals that has the most impact on growing bodies. Environmental exposure is linked to endocrine-disrupting toxins, which affect young girls in their pubertal development by wreaking havoc with their endocrine, or hormone, systems. It’s also linked to neurodevelopmental disabilities, which include learning disabilities, ADHD and Autism, as well as more common ailments such as asthma, allergies and eczema.
The overall picture can be gloomy and overwhelming, which is why I think that it’s critical to look closely to see how we can minimize risk to our children by making changes at the place where they spend the most time – at home.
First, make an commitment to buy as much organic dairy, meat and produce as possible. When we look at pesticides, it is sobering to read that even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows that 33% of all pesticides are potentially cancer-causing, in spite of the fact that they are EPA-approved. Topping the list of foods that are most important to buy as organics are milk, meat, baby food, oatmeal, apples, potatoes, grapes, strawberries, peppers, peaches and pears. Click here for a link to a downloadable shoppers guide to fruits and veggies.
Second, clean up your home. Do you have a cabinet of household cleaners that is locked so that your children can’t get into them? Why use household cleaners that are dangerous to your family in the first place? There a many safe, effective cleaners available – either premade in the natural cleaning section of the store, or at any co-op grocer. Natural alternatives can be made at home with as few ingredients as baking soda, lemons and vinegar. Click here for a helpful link of 10 things to do to make your home safer. (I’m teaching a class at Lakewinds Minnetonka on Green Cleaning on May 5 which gives recipes and ideas for greening your home).
Third, lead by example, and avoid using the most harmful beauty care products that you wouldn’t want your children using. Toxins are found as synthetic ingredients in nail polish, perfumes, cosmetics, shampoos, and lotions. For everyday products, choose natural alternatives, but look closely at the ingredients to make sure that the label matches the claim (ie: no hidden synthetics), and avoid products with petrolatum, phenols, sodium laurel sulfate, phthalates, parabens, and propylene glycol - to name just a few. Follow this link to a shopper’s guide to keep in your wallet as easy way to remember. Read about homemade skin care products in today's article in the StarTrib Variety section about the classes that I teach.
How will all of this help the earth? By cleaning up the cycle of harm and repair. The fewer toxins that are created to grow our food, unclog our drains or wash our skin, the cleaner our rivers, lakes, oceans and soil will be – from the manufacturing process to the waste process – allowing a healthier world to exist for generations to come. I think our children deserve a greener legacy than the one we're on target to deliver. Every single small change matters.
Scrub Your Sink
2 tablespoons baking soda
Wet the surface of sink. Sprinkle baking soda liberally over entire surface. Squirt lemon juice over baking soda and watch it sizzle. Scrub away soap scum easily with a cleaning cloth or sponge.
Safe Hand Soap Pump Refill
8 oz liquid castille soap (available as Dr. Bronners in a bottle, or bulk at local food co-op groceries)
40 drops peppermint essential oil (optional)
Reuse an empty soap pump container with this mixture for an affordable, non-toxic and naturally antibacterial alternative for clean hands. Suitable for children and adults.
Simple Body Oil
2 oz. sweet almond oil, coconut oil (I like Wilderness Family or Nutiva brands), or olive oil (cold-pressed extra-virgin)
5-10 drops lavender essential oil (or your favorite essential oil) - optional
Shake to combine in a small glass bottle or jar. Use over the whole body after showering and before toweling dry for silky smooth skin. Store remainder tightly covered in a cool, dark place. Suitable for children and adults.