I have lots of opinions about food. Things I love, things I wouldn’t touch, and things I want everyone to go out and enjoy, right now.
One of my very favorite things is the Mill City Farmer’s Market in downtown Minneapolis. Tucked behind the Mill Ruins along the Mississippi River, Mill City Farmer’s Market is what I’ve come to consider the jewel in the crown of metro area farmer’s markets. Of course I know that everyone has their favorites, but this happens to be mine. Here’s why:
1. I love the quality of food I can find there: the Market has chosen vendors who meet the highest standards of local and sustainably grown, pesticide-free and/or organic foods, plus quality goods.
2. I adore Brenda Langton. With her rich history in the metro food scene serving some of the most honest and responsibly-sourced food from early St. Paul days to Cafe Brenda and now Spoonriver, she has created an amazing food zone at the Market with passion, vision, and a whole lot of work. Mill City Market has become the new standard for organic, quality and innovative local market vendors in large part to her energy and commitment.
3. I love the variety: greens, cheeses, breads and pastries, handmade chocolates and crackers, herbs, wild-caught salmon, and perfect ice cream. I can shop here on Saturdays and stock my fridge for days.
Here are some of my very favorites:
But go, find more gems for yourself, and make sure to buy lots of fresh veggies so you can go home and put together a super-local and delicious summer meal that doesn’t take more than a little tossing in a salad bowl.
(P.S. I would be a big liar if I didn't mention that I get a bag of organic, cardamom-spiced mini donuts from the Chef Shack at least once a summer for utter donut perfection. Just make sure to eat extra salad later to make up for it.)
Super Simple Spinach Greek Salad for Two
two large handfuls fresh spinach (about 4 loose cups)
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
10 Kalamata olives
1/4 red onion, extremely thinly sliced
2 ounces Singing Hills Goat Dairy feta
2 tablespoons best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
juice from 1/2 fresh lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
large pinch sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Wash and spin dry the spinach. Tear into bite-sized pieces into a medium bowl. Top with tomatoes, olives, onion, and feta. Drizzle with the olive oil, lemon and sprinkle on the oregano, salt and black pepper. Toss well to combine and serve immediately.
Spinach has dominated my day so far - in a good way. A few of us talked about it during class this morning at Alotapilates; we bought some from an overflowing box just picked and delivered from the Hjele farm to Local D’Lish this morning which we ate as a salad with brunch; and it will be on our table tomorrow at lunch, wilted and stuffed into crepes with sautéed cremini mushrooms and a little bit of locally made havarti from Morning Star Farm in Cokato, MN.
Spinach is an easy entry into eating dark leafy green vegetables since it is mild tasting and delicious, whether served raw or lightly cooked. In the spring, it is usually one of the first local greens to make an appearance at the markets since it prefers cool growing conditions and doesn't mind spring rains.
For being so delicate, spinach packs a big nutritional punch: it is extremely high in vitamins A, K, C folic acid and B2, as well as the minerals manganese, magnesium, calcium (yes, really!) and iron. Spinach is also loaded with antioxident-rich phytochemicals that are especially good for eye health - age related macular degeneration in particular and cancer protection, especially stomach, skin and breast cancers.
In order to get the most nutritional benefit out of your beautiful, local spinach, eat it both raw and cooked to maximize vitamin absorption and phytochemical benefits (raw to get the vitamins, minerals and enzymes; cooked to get the phytochemicals). Either way, be sure to prepare it with a good healthy fat, such as cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil and raw almonds or walnuts in a salad, or by cooking it in a little coconut oil or organic butter to access the fat-soluble nutrients.
Buy fresh spinach when it looks bright green and fresh; store it loosely packed in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator where it should last for about four days. Wash fresh spinach by swishing in a bowl of cold water to removed trapped sand particles and dry in salad spinner or by wrapping in clean cotton towel and refrigerated until ready to use that day.
Visit Mark Bittman’s article from last week’s NYTimes Magazine to find a whole matrix of recipes for eating cooked spinach, or try this salad below which totally simple and truly delicious.
Spinach Salad with Grapefruit, Avocado and Walnuts
Four large handfuls (about 8 loose cups) of fresh organic spinach (tender stems are fine to include), washed and dried
2 tablespoons top quality extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 wedge of a fresh organic lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ripe avocado, pitted and flesh cubed into 1/2” pieces
1 ruby red grapefruit, peeled and sections cut into bite-sized pieces, preferably organic
1/2 cup walnuts (halves or pieces, preferably raw but toasted if you like. Can substitute raw pecans or almonds.)
Place spinach leaves in a large bowl; drizzle with olive oil, squeeze the fresh lemon juice all over and sprinkle a large pinch sea salt evenly on top (about 1/4 teaspoon). Add a generous grinding of black pepper. Toss well to evenly coat the spinach leaves, then top with the avocado pieces and grapefruit chunks, sprinkle with the walnuts and serve.
Ever heard of a sunchoke? You’re not alone if you haven’t: it’s not a common vegetable for many of us, but it’s a vegetable that is worth finding it’s way into our diet.
Also known as a Jerusalem artichoke, sunchokes are the tuberous root of the sunchoke plant, a relative of sunflowers. Sunchokes are knobby and misshapen, with a papery skin and flesh the texture of a radish when eaten raw, and creamy like a potato when cooked.
So why bother learning about this funny little tuber and consider adding it into your diet? Gut health. Our digestive systems need all the help they can get from foods that contribute to a finely operating gut, especially if we have trouble with blood sugar imbalance, have received antibiotic treatment, or suffer from digestive distress including stomach upset or IBS, Crohn's or colitis. Jerusalem artichokes - like other inulin-rich sources such as chicory root (most often consumed as an herbal tea or coffee substitute), asparagus, artichokes, dandelion root, onions and garlic - can help.
Inulin is a carbohydrate that acts as a soluble dietary fiber: whole foods inulin sources are considered natural prebiotics, which help establish a healthy intestinal environment by stimulating the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria. A healthy intestinal environment prepares us to access the benefits of probiotic foods such as unsweetened yogurt and kefir, unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchee, miso and other fermented foods that contain beneficial bacteria.
So if you’re willing to give a sunchoke a try, there are very simple ways to get them into your diet. Buy a small amount, scrub them well with a vegetable brush, and slice them thinly to eat them raw with a healthy dip like hummus or white bean dip, or substitute them where canned water chestnuts are typically called for. To cook, clean them the same way, then slice them into 1/4” crosswise pieces, cover with salted water and gently boil until tender. Then mash with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and eat as a vegetable side with your dinner. (You could also go half and half with potatoes on that one). To roast, prep them as above, then toss with coconut oil, salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes - alone or as part of a big pan of roasted vegetables - until tender and caramelized.
Or try this simple soup, put together in 10 minutes with a few other basic ingredients and simmered for less than an hour.
Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) Soup
2 medium leeks, white parts and pale green parts only (save dark greens of leeks for soup stock)
3-5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil
1 bulb fennel, rinsed, tops removed and bulb sliced crosswise (optional)
1 lb Jerusalem Artichokes (sunchokes); scrubbed, quartered the long way and sliced into 1/8” pieces
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon oregano, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin
pinch red pepper flakes
2 small branches rosemary (optional)
2 bay leaves
filtered water to cover by 1 inch
freshly ground black pepper
Heat a medium soup pot over medium heat. When it is warm to the touch, add the coconut oil, leeks and garlic and sauté until softened but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the fennel (if using) and Jerusalem Artichokes and continue to sauté about 5 minutes longer. Season with the salt, oregano and cumin, add the rosemary and bay leaves, and cover by 1 inch with filtered water. Increase heat to bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 40 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add salt, if necessary, season with freshly ground black pepper and serve.
* Add cooked wild rice for a more substantial soup. Purée in a blender for a smooth soup.
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.
In the best possible world, we would always have access to the freshest, most life-giving food - whether from ingredients used make our own meals – or from some terrific person who prepared them for us. The meals would be balanced, chock full of nutrition and delicious. Quite simply, there is no better way to give your body the most optimum diet than to eat whole (real!) foods that have been thoughtfully put together and prepared from scratch.
On a daily basis, though, in spite of all logic that would guide us otherwise, we consider the nutritional needs of our body a hasty afterthought. Life gets in the way, of course.
So what do you do when the light has gone on and you know what you should be eating, but anticipate having busy mornings, afternoons or evenings when you’ll be on the run?
Plan ahead. Keeping healthy and convenient food items stocked in your refrigerator will make grabbing a quick meal simple and practical.
Consider “wrappers”, pockets or vegetables for quick foods. Sprouted whole grain tortillas, whole grain pita pockets, nori seaweed sheets, or collard greens are all perfect vehicles for rolling and stuffing with nutritious ingredients. They’ll work for breakfast, lunch or dinner and are easy to vary depending on what you choose to put in them.
Make a practice of cooking a batch of rice and beans (or lentils, quinoa, hummus and wild rice) on the weekend to have available all week long. It is a good habit to make basic foods to us as the backbone of filling for your quick wrap or pocket meals in addition to eating them a variety of ways throughout the week. Chopping greens, crunchy brassicas like broccoli or cauliflower and peeling whole carrots to store in airtight containers will make filling your wraps, pockets or green rolls with abundant vegetables a fast, easy choice.
Keep a fruit bowl available on the kitchen counter. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to remember a piece of fruit or two to take with you on your way out the door if you see it. Fruit will last just fine on the counter for a few days and can be replenished from extra stored in the refrigerator.
Blend up a smoothie and pack it along with you in a glass jar. This is a good way to have a healthy option ready in advance - blended up with fruit, some greens, and a little nut butter it will keep just fine without refrigeration for several hours - just shake it up before drinking.
Make your own snack packs with raw nuts for a healthy between meals option, as is preparing your own sandwich snack crackers made out of whole grain flatbreads (Ryvita, Wasa or RyCrisp) – filled with nut butters and a little honey or raisins, or hummus and sliced veggies, or cheese. Or take along big slices and chunks of raw organic vegetables - whole peeled carrots, big wedges of red pepper, thick slices of cucumber - and pack along a small container of hummus or nut butter. Any choice will fill you up and help you to avoid resorting to unhealthy snacks with zero nutritional value.
Even if you took one of these options and incorporated it into to your need for quick meals once, twice or a few times a week you’d be doing yourself a HUGE favor by reducing bad fat, sodium or sugar grams in fast food options. It will also cost less, it will contribute less garbage to the waste stream and you’ll feel better at the end of the day.
Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t achieve the optimum, but keep an eye on making these small changes become the new habit - and you’ll make a big impact on your health in no time.
Collard Green Wrap
1 collard green leaf
1/4 cup hummus
1/2 sweet red pepper, cut into strips
1/3 cucumber (skin on) cut into spears or flat slices
Cut the spine out of one large collard leaf (washed and patted dry). Lay each half flat on a cutting board and spread with hummus. Fill with avocado slices, sliced red pepper, cucumber wedges or a small handful of spinach. Roll up starting at one pointed end. Secure with a toothpick and fill the second collard leaf half in a similar manner.
My husband and I recently returned from a quick trip to Europe - a day in Amsterdam waiting for a connecting flight and a short week in Vienna. What I was struck by while wandering the two cities and stopping into cafés to warm up or have lunch was the variety and amount of soup being eaten for meals.
It sounds weird to say that this was something remarkable - soup was being eaten for lunch everywhere, by women and men. But it’s not so weird to notice the contrast when you read the stats on what's going on over here in the US: we’re eating more breads or food prepared with bread products for every meal, more than ever before.
What I love about soup is this: it’s warm, it’s filling and satisfying, and it is a simple way to deliver a number of good things – vegetables, whole grains, beans or pulses, root vegetables, garlic and onions, an earth-friendly amount of meat, and even meat broth (if you make your own stock) – in one convenient bowl. Better still, it delivers all of the good stuff for a minimum of calories (as long as your spoon isn’t standing on its own or the name of the soup doesn't include the words beer and cheese) – making it a wholesome, waistline-friendly meal option.
We ate some delicious soups in Amsterdam and Vienna: tomato soup; a light, fresh mushroom soup; pumpkin soup; winter root vegetable soup; and a carrot-chickpea soup. Nothing fancy or exotic – just simple, nourishing and delicious.
Soup doesn’t just taste good - it’s especially good to eat during these chilly seasons, when viruses abound and our immune systems and sinuses are prone to overworking. You may have heard by now the famous study done in 1993 by a researcher named Stephen Rennard, M.D., from the University of Nebraska who was able to show in the laboratory that chicken soup did indeed slow down the activity of cold and flu viruses. Isn't it gratifying when research proves what grandmothers around the world have known all along?
On the other hand, what’s wrong with eating so much of our food on, in, between or under bread? For one, when we’re consuming so many calories from one food group, chances are that we’re not eating an adequate amount of foods from the other food groups - namely fruits and vegetables or even non-wheat whole grains. Additionally, if it’s not 100% whole wheat, you’re most likely consuming GMO grains that have been stripped of any nutritive value by the processing and degerming processing – leaving an empty source of calories that wreaks havoc on blood sugar levels. (More on the bread issue in an upcoming blog.)
But what happens instead when you have a bowl of soup and a couple of whole grain crackers with a piece of cheese, or slice of turkey or a couple of spoonfuls of chickpea hummus? You are filled with warmth and a sustained source of energy, with vitamins, minerals, protein and nutrient-dense calories to keep you operating without suffering the classic craving/crash cycle. If you think that a bowl of soup is not filling enough, then eat it with a salad or have two bowls of soup - you’d STILL be better off than eating two slices of pizza.
As far as stressing out over the amount of time it takes to make soup, why not make a big pot over the weekend? It reheats quickly and transports easily in a lunch box to work and tastes good all week long. Or use a crockpot by preparing the ingredients in the morning (or the night before and refrigerating) and letting the soup simmer while you’re out for the day. Few things smell as good as a dinner waiting for you when you walk in the door, hot and ready to go.
Of course homemade soup is better than canned, packaged or deli soups - high sodium content, excess sugars and quality of ingredients would be the main reasons to avoid them. In a pinch, a couple of local companies sell freshly prepared soups ready to go in some refrigerated sections of area grocery stores, as do local bakeries.
Ultimately if I can convince you to make a pot of soup – or at least eat soup for at least a couple of meals a week, then I’d think you were on to something good.
2 cups corn, either cut fresh off the cob (in summer) or frozen kernels
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil, or a combination of both
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled, (green sprout removed) and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
3 medium potatoes, cubed (3 cups)
5 cups vegetable stock or low-sodium bouillon, dissolved (or corn stock in summer)
1 tsp. salt
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, basil or other herbs, chopped
freshly ground pepper, to taste
Sauté onions in olive oil or butter for 3-5 minutes or until golden. Add garlic, carrots and celery (and potatoes at this point if you’re cooking at high altitude) and sauté another 5 to 8 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Add potatoes (at sea level), corn and stock. Season with salt and half of the herbs; cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
For a creamier soup without the cream, remove 2 cups of soup and purée in a blender. Add the purée back to the soup. Finish seasoning with additional salt, if necessary, the remaining herbs, and freshly ground pepper before serving.
(To make in a crockpot, sauté onions and garlic until tender in a skillet on the stovetop. Add to crockpot along with remaining ingredients (reduce water to 4.5 cups) and cook on low while you’re away. To finish, season to taste with fresh pepper and additional salt, if neccessary, and add fresh herbs.)