Eating Seasonally

Let’s get back to the topic of traditional eating and pick up where we left off a few days ago.  So, the 3 cornerstones of traditional eating are eating locally, eating seasonally and eating simply.  We talked about how food cultures and traditions evolved from the food available in a particular region combined with the means of preparation and preservation.  I know that sounds complicated, but it’s just a matter of eating what you can grow or gather in your area.  So today, let’s move on to eating seasonally.

I think many of us have a rough idea of what eating seasonally is about.  If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ll notice all the pumpkin spice *everything* that has been popping up on Facebook over the past week or two.  I guess that could technically be considered seasonal eating…if it’s actual pumpkin and not artificial pumpkin flavoring.  Seasonal eating is nothing more than eating what the soil is providing inside any particular season and it’s the reason we associate berries with spring, tomatoes with summer and pumpkins with fall!   Our grandparents ate this way because they had no other options, but for our generation, there are many benefits to be had from eating seasonally.

First, it just tastes better!  I know we love our chocolate covered strawberries for Valentine’s Day, but have you noticed that those strawberries are white and hollow inside instead of brilliant red and fleshy?  As hard as modern food science tries, they cannot replicate the sweet, juicy flavor of a strawberry that has ripened in the May sunshine.  Hot house produce has a one-dimensional flavor, flat at best, that is no more than a mockery of the real thing.  Stick to citrus and apples in winter and your taste buds will thank you.

Second, fruits and veggies that are grown locally, picked at the peak of freshness and eaten as soon as possible retain a much higher level of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals than produce that was picked green and stored for months in controlled-atmosphere cold storage.  Yeah, that apple you bought in May?  It was picked last September, sprayed with fungicide and stacked in a cooler til you bought it.  (Now, there are exceptions to that rule.  Squash and sweet potatoes, for instance, actually improve in storage,  as the starch content is turned into sugar…but we’ll talk storage crops another day.)

Third, eating seasonally saves you money.  In-season produce cost is often 50% less than unseasonal produce.  You figure those February strawberries had to be manipulated into ripening, packaged in a climate-controlled facility and then shipped across the country.  May and June strawberries take their time, ripen naturally and are eaten as quickly as they’re picked.  And to be honest, in gardening circles, as we approach the end of the season, there are days that I give away produce because I can’t stand the sight of another zucchini or tomato.  That’s an absolute money-saver for the lucky recipient!

Fourth, eating seasonally keeps you connected with the Earth, seasons, life cycles.  Remember a couple weeks ago when I said that there’s a rhythm to living seasonally?  There’s something that’s almost magical about the first ripe tomato, berry or apple, especially when it’s still warm from the vine or the tree.  Magical.  And those flavors become indelibly linked to memories in a way I can’t explain.  Don’t laugh at me, but a few weeks ago, I sobbed as I picked black raspberries for my dying father-in-law.  Of course, I was grieving the impending loss….but I was so unexplainably sad that he was experiencing his last black raspberry season.  There was such grief in knowing that season would never come for him again.  I can’t explain it.  Don’t judge lol.

Eating seasonally is a matter of creating a diet built around freshly-harvested foods, making the necessary adjustments for the various seasons, of course.  Now admittedly, the farther north you go and the shorter your growing season, the more difficult this style of eating becomes, but it IS possible.  As with eating locally, eating seasonally doesn’t have to be an all or nothing prospect.  It’s entirely acceptable to start with one meal a week and build up from there as your resources, confidence and knowledge begin to grow.  An example of a seasonal meal for Ohio in mid-August could be something as simple as green beans cooked with onions and tiny new potatoes, roasted sweet corn and cukes/tomatoes/onions marinated in a simple vinaigrette.  How easy is that?!  As fall approaches, how about a stuffed butternut squash with a side of braised kale and a compote of stewed apples and cranberries?  Admittedly, winter is the more difficult of the 4 seasons to eat in season, but that’s where your storage crops (winter squash, pumpkins, onions, potatoes, beets, turnips, carrots, apples) and preserved foods come into play.  So for a winter meal, possibly pumpkin ravioli with sage leaves sautéed in browned butter, home-canned veggies or fermented pickles and a mug of steaming, mulled apple cider?    A spring meal could be a pan of foraged mushrooms, served with wilted greens, early spring onions or wild garlic and if you’re lucky, the first of the fresh rhubarb.  You cannot tell me that doesn’t sound delicious!   And yes, my children WOULD eat that.

So to summarize, eating locally is nothing more than eating food that can been produced in your particular region.  Eating seasonally is eating food as it becomes mature in your particular region.  We’ve got one more ‘cornerstone’ of traditional eating to address…eating simply…and we’ll do that in a day or three.  Til next time!

 

 

Eating Locally

We’ve talked a bit about traditional eating recently and I’d like to expand on the different aspects of what it means.  Last week, I gave this rough definition of traditional eating:

“Traditional eating is simply-prepared, whole, nutrient-dense food that our ancestors have been eating for hundreds (thousands?) of years.”

That makes it sound so simple, doesn’t it?!  Well, it IS simple, but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy.  Our great-grandparents ate locally, seasonally and simply because that was the only avenue available to them.  They ate food that was grown locally because cross-country transportation was slow and prohibitively expensive.  They ate food seasonally because commercial refrigeration wasn’t widely available and preservation was a new, imperfect practice.  And they ate simply because food was expensive, and time and money were too precious to waste on pretentious techniques and presentation.  I think we could call those 3 points the pillars or cornerstones of a traditional diet.  So let’s take them one point at a time and begin to apply those points to our lives.

Eating locally may be THE most difficult aspect of traditional eating.  As we’ve moved from a rural, agrarian society to an urban, technical one, it’s harder and harder to find local foods.  I count myself blessed beyond words that we live in a region that can provide most of what we enjoy.  Our low-temp pasteurized, non-homogenized milk is delivered from a local microdairy twice a month by the farmer himself.  Eggs come from a family down the road.  Pastured beef from a family in the next county.  Fruits come from my own property or a family-run orchard a short drive away.  Veggies come out of my own garden or from my cousin’s farm market in the neighboring village.  We produce our own sweeteners in the form of honey and maple syrup, and sorghum is produced just south of the Ohio River.  I am so blessed!  Of course there are items I can’t find locally; we’ll never grow avocados or citrus here in Central Ohio, but we attempt to eat in a manner in which the bulk of our diet can come from local sources.   And I think that’s the hinge upon which traditional eating swings:  you have to decide to eat in a manner that you can sustain locally.

Think for a minute about how food evolved culturally.  We often make fun of different food cultures:  the British boiling everything, the Scottish and their haggis, the French and their escargot, the Irish and their potato-heavy diet, the Germans and their cured/pickled food.  But those different food cultures evolved in response to the ingredients available locally and their attempts to prepare and preserve them.  Even here within our own nation, we have distinct food cultures.  My family were/are Appalachian people, so our diets consisted largely of dried beans, storage crops like potatoes, beets and onions, yard birds and cornbread made from the grains we grew, dried and ground.    If you head into the Carolina lowcountry, you find a traditional diet consisting of locally grown rice, seafood and heat-loving vegetables like okra, yams and greens.  North, into the colonial states, you find diets heavy in seafood, venison, squash and cold-loving apples.  Yes, these are generalizations and even within those regional food cultures, you find microcosms that have been heavily influenced by immigration…but the point is, traditional eating is based on what was available regionally.

So where does that leave us now, with our Super Walmarts full of food grown from across the globe?  As I stated earlier, we simply need to attempt to eat in a manner we can sustain locally.  In this age, very, very few people will be able to fully walk that out, but we CAN take baby steps.  Imperfect progress, my friends, imperfect progress.  Let me give you just a few pointers to set your feet moving forward.

  • Ask around.  Talk to your foodie friends.  You’ll be surprised at what’s available when you start talking to people with similar food goals.  Til yesterday, I had NO idea there were 3 microdairies within a 20 mile radius…because I had never bothered to ask!
  • Shop locally.  If you can, shop at farmer’s markets, family-run veggie stands, butcher shops and orchards FIRST.  And again, ask.  There’s a whole-food underground out there and local farmers can help you get connected.
  • Grow what you can.  I’m not suggesting that you have to have acres in crops; even a small patio garden can supply lettuce, peppers, onions, eggplants and tomatoes.  And they’ll taste so much better than anything you can buy.
  • Start small.  Start with one locally-produced dish or meal a week.  The object of this game isn’t to become overwhelmed and quit out of frustration, but to slowly shift to locally produced food.  Let your diet evolve just like our food cultures did.

Anytime we make the decision to change the way we eat, it feels awkward, uncomfortable, and a little daunting.  You’re not alone in those feelings, sweet friends!  I remember when we first began to make the shift towards more homegrown, local, seasonal meals….I thought I’d die trying to figure out how to feel my children!  But here we are, years later and we’ve all survived lol.  Our diets aren’t perfect by any means, but we try to follow the 80% rule and allow ourselves grace for the other 20% of the time.  So, do the same, allow yourself grace and start the slow process of moving forward.  No guilt and no pressure;  just slow, steady and forward.  Til next time—

 

 

The Last Great Hurrah – Or – Back To The Lunchbox

All good things must end, and today is the last day of summer vacation for my children.  Angus, who turns 13 next week, is beginning 8th grade, and my sweet Petunia, 6th grade.  I tell you, I just blinked my eyes and June and July were over and done and we’d begun the August countdown.  Sigh.  While I dread the 5:45 wake-ups, I AM looking forward to a return to something like a routine.

Summer for my family is a very relaxed season.  With the exception of hygiene and tidy rooms, I don’t have huge expectations for the kids.  After 9 months of “working” full-time, I feel like they need to be free to rest, play, visit, explore and generally be children.  Typically, they develop new interests and learn new skills over summertime with little (or no) “push” from me:  this summer, Petunia took up sketching, bird watching and learned some elementary kitchen skills while Angus began learning guitar and kept busy outdoors; he LOVES cutting grass and has been tinkering on small engines in the barn with his daddy.  I’m sad all that ends tonight at bedtime; I think there’s something magical about self-directed, summertime learning, something that can’t be duplicated during the school year with it’s non-stop demands.

With back-to-school comes the inevitable question of “Mom, what’s for lunch today?!”  Part of our return to traditional eating meant that school lunches needed a complete overhaul.  Before 2015, I was pretty okay with my kids buying school lunches, but that changed abruptly when I began subbing at the kid’s school and actually SAW the lunches.  I never understood why my children were coming home *starving* at 3pm after eating lunch at 12:30—til I had lunchroom duty one afternoon.

  • Veggies were steamed with no seasoning whatsoever.
  • Portions for a 110# 6th grader were the same as a 40# Kindergartener.
  • Lunches were very carb/sugar heavy and completely lacking beneficial fats.
  • Time was an issue as that 30 minute timeslot included the 10-15 minutes it took to stand in line and order the food.

Now listen, I’m not dogging my children’s school, the lunch lady or the program they follow.  The food they serve fits the federal requirements, is considered “nutritious”, is handled properly and the lunch lady is an absolute doll.  BUT…sometimes things that look fabulous on paper don’t translate well to reality.   My personal conviction (perhaps it’s the French in me?) is that food should do more than just supply nutrients to your body, but should also feed the eyes and comfort the spirit as well.  Yes, I understand that school cafeterias can’t “feed the eyes and comfort the spirit” en masse in a 30 minute window.  Like I said, I’m not dogging the school.   They do their absolute best, especially considering the restrictions and regulations they’re working within.  What I AM saying is that we need to return to the ages-old practice of feeding ourselves from home.

So what does this all look like?

In our house, school lunches start the week before with a detailed meal planning list.  We use leftovers extensively and the only way to end up with quality leftovers is to plan, plan, plan ahead!  One to two times a week, I prepare a cut of meat large enough for dinner plus lunches for the 4 of us.  Our favorites are whole roasted chicken or a good quality beef roast, both of which can be chopped or shredded and served in a million different ways.  I follow the old “Meat + 3” approach to lunches, the same as for dinner, and it’s worked well for us for many years.  I pack a hearty main dish, hot or cold depending on the season, and plenty of nutritious “sides” that the kids can pick from to fill up their empty corners.  Typical main dishes include favorites such as chicken fried rice, soups (chicken, tomato, beef, chili), pasta salad, Build-Your-Own burritos, bite-size meatballs, shredded chicken barbeque, chicken/tuna/egg salad or baked beans.  Packed into a thermos, the hot dishes will stay hot for many hours and provide a soothing, comforting, delicious meal for the children—and for me!  (If you haven’t purchased a serving-sized Thermos yet, I greatly encourage you to do so!  We picked them up at Walmart for about $10 when the kids began Kindergarten, and 9+ years later, they’re still going strong!)    “Side dishes” can be anything and everything, depending on the children’s palates and appetites.  Favorites for us include fresh berries, nuts and seeds, cheese cubes, homemade yogurt, carrot sticks with a full-fat dip, applesauce, olives, small salads and occasionally, a small treat like a cookie, piece of chocolate or a homemade dessert.  To wash it all down, I pack a small juice box and a bottle of water, but when it’s especially frigid outside, I’ll include a thermos of hot tea, spiced cider or cocoa, again, to nurture the spirit as well as the body.

To keep the morning chaos at a minimum, I do as much prep ahead of time as possible.  When we unpack from the grocery store, we automatically portion non-perishable items into snack-size baggies or small plastic containers.  All the non-perishable items and necessary paper goods are kept in a convenient drawer so in the morning, it’s just a matter of grabbing a few sides and tossing them in their lunch boxes.   The same can be said of perishables; just designate a small basket or shelf in the fridge and load it up with small serving containers of perishable sides like berries, yogurt and olives.  In the morning, I simply prepare the main dish, add a few sides and a drink and we’re ready to roll.  Honestly, if I’ve done the requisite prep work, I spend less than 10 minutes a day on lunches…while at the same time, saving $30+ each week on school lunches.   Occasionally, something will come up on the school menu that the kids are really excited about and we do allow for a purchased school lunch from time to time, but as a rule, they find it disappointing and are ready for their home-packed lunches the next day.

Now, I want you to know that it took several months for us to find our lunch-packing groove.  It took a while to learn what worked, what didn’t and what they looked forward to each day.  Don’t expect every lunch to be a smash hit—that’s a whole lot of unnecessary pressure you’re heaping on yourself!  Just start small, one lunch at a time and go from there.   Til next time!

 

 

Eating The Way Mamaw Used To Eat

 

As I mentioned in my last post, my family’s diet and eating habits have evolved greatly over the past several years.  Long ago, when it was just the Mister and me, both working full-time, we ate a LOT of take-out.  Bless her heart, the gal at the Chinese restaurant knew my husband’s voice over the phone and knew “no rice” with his meal.  We rarely cooked on weekends because we were busy doing young-person stuff and during the week, though I did cook, it was largely starch-heavy meals eaten in front of the TV.  It’s okay.  I’ll confess it.  Then Angus came along, and 17 months later, our sweet little Petunia and the revolution began.  Perhaps “devolution” is a more appropriate word as we slowly returned to a traditional style of eating that our great-grandparents would have approved of.

So what is traditional eating?  Traditional eating is simply-prepared, whole, nutrient-dense food that our ancestors have been eating for hundreds (thousands?) of years.  Fresh fruits and veggies, unprocessed meats and fish, whole dairy, nuts, seeds, eggs, fats, herbs, and minerals.  That’s it.  It’s really no more complicated than that.  I know your hesitations, so I’d like to take a minute to dispel a few myths about traditional eating before we go any farther.

  1. It’s no more expensive than processed food.  You can purchase a whole roasting hen or a package of chicken nuggets for approximately the same price.  One is whole and unprocessed, the other, well…..
  2. It’s not difficult.  It’s no more difficult to bake sweet potatoes than tater tots.
  3. It’s not time-consuming.  The aforementioned roasting hen takes 30 minutes in my Instant Pot and yields several meals plus a stock pot full of broth.  Can you say the same about chicken nuggets?
  4. It tastes good!  When my bestie switched to a whole food diet, she was truly shocked that simply prepared, nutritious foods could taste so good!  And they do, my friends!  When you start with quality ingredients, the finished product will always taste amazing.
  5. You WILL feel better…but maybe not initially.  When you begin to transition to a whole food diet, you WILL go through withdrawals as your body detoxes from the ingredients in your former diet.  But this too shall pass.

If a traditional diet is healthier, simpler and as quick as convenience food, why do we persist with packaged, drive-thru pseudo-foods?  I believe whole-heartedly that it comes down to a bit of fear and a lack of knowledge.  When you’re in the kitchen for the first time staring at that whole, naked chicken, it CAN be a little daunting.  What the heck do you do with it anyway?  So many of us simply did not learn kitchen arts from our mothers or grandmothers, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a lost art and we CAN’T learn.  It just takes patience and persistence.  You can’t be afraid to make a mistake (Praise God for the occasional pizza delivery!) and you can’t be afraid to try again when you DO fail.

So how do we even begin the transition to a traditional, whole-food diet?

Slowly.  Steadily.  Intentionally.

Let me throw out a few suggestions and you can pick and choose which may be good jumping-off points for you.  Can you…

  • Eat at the dinner table tonight?
  • Add an unprocessed veggie to your meal?
  • Begin moving away from white bread towards whole grain?
  • Add a simple, fresh fruit for dessert each night?  (Berries and cream are a favorite here!)
  • Buy a fresh cut of meat instead of a processed or packaged one?
  • Make enough dinner so that you have leftovers for a healthy lunch and can avoid the drive thru?
  • Begin eliminating sugary cereals and packaged breakfast foods?
  • Offer cheese, nuts, carrot sticks for an afternoon snack?
  • Eat at home on Friday night instead of going out?
  • Meal plan for the week ahead so the temptation to have something delivered is lessened?
  • Replace sugar with honey?
  • Shop at a local farmer’s market to find fresh, seasonal produce?

These are just a few of the simplest ideas to get you started but everyone’s journey towards traditional eating is going to look different and will happen at a different pace.  And that’s okay!  You may want to spend a week or two journaling your meals, really looking at your grocery list and paying attention to how your body feels after different types of foods.  Those activities may help you to spot trends that will prompt you to action.  And in a couple weeks, I’ll begin to post our own menu so you can get a feel for what simple, wholesome eating looks like.

But here’s my last thought:  whatever you do, don’t feel guilty.  Don’t feel guilty for eating processed food or for having served it.  And don’t be afraid because you’re not sure how to change those habits.  Fear and guilt are the muck and the mire that prevent us from growing and changing in so many aspects of our lives.   Don’t let it hinder you from making invaluable changes to the way you eat.   It all takes time, my sweet friends.   If you’re so inclined, start moving your feet forward.  Try replacing one unhealthy diet habit with one healthy one and give it plenty of time to “stick”, then move on to the next.  Slow and steady, my friends, slow and steady.  Til next time—

 

 

Detox For The New Year

 

 

Happy New Year to you!  I hope you had a safe and warm holiday last night and that you’re as excited for the new year as I am.  I feel like 2018 has some great things in store for my family and I’m eager to see it begin!

Anyway, I have to confess something to you:  I’ve eaten really, really badly the last few weeks.  Really.  As a rule, my diet is low carb and sugar/grain free, but man alive!, that wasn’t the case this season!  I played pretty fast and loose with holiday meals, indulged in a little too much of my Sweet Petunia’s delicious baklava and by Christmas Day, I was feeling it.  I didn’t gain weight, but I just felt MEH.  Sluggish.  Bloated.  Grumpy.  Frumpy.  Undisciplined.  Unsatisfied.   Does anyone else know that feeling or is it just me?   If that’s your experience too, don’t feel ashamed about it.  It’s so stinking easy to get into that cycle of anticipation and indulgence that it takes real effort to throw the brakes on that cycle!

So here’s my solution:  detox soup.  Now understand me, I’m using the word detox a little differently than others.  I don’t think there’s anything magical about this pot of soup.  It’s absolutely nutritious, full of vitamin-rich veggies, beneficial fats and lean proteins, but it’s just soup.  You may lose a pound or two, may feel a bit less sluggish, but it’s not going to undo months of bad eating overnight.  That said, there’s a reason our Grannies made soup when we were sick, down, overwhelmed or needed comfort.  What I find is that a big pot of simple, hearty soup in the lull between Christmas and New Year’s resets my mind and taste buds and readies me for the return to normalcy.   It detoxifies my mind of constant indulgent food thoughts, reminds my taste buds what plain, home-style food tastes like, and helps to regulate blood sugar, satiety and digestion after the wild ride that was Beggar’s Night/Thanksgiving/Christmas.

The great thing about this recipe is that the variations are endless.  I prefer this version because it’s low in carbs and full of satisfying ingredients that we generally always have on hand…but you can mix it up any way you like:

  • Don’t like collards?  Try kale, cabbage or spinach.
  • Prefer vegetarian?  Skip the meat entirely and substitute veggie broth.
  • If you enjoy grains or beans, throw in a handful of barley or a cup of Great Northern beans.
  • Swap out the Italian herbs for bay leaves for an “earthy” flavor.
  • If you love carb-rich veggies, throw in some carrots or a couple red skin potatoes.
  • If you’re iffy on the sun-dried tomatoes, use a fresh tomato or eliminate them entirely and replace with roasted red peppers, chipotles in adobo sauce or dried Ancho peppers.
  • Top it how you like!  I love a few dashes of green Tabasco sauce, but a dab of pesto, chopped avocado or a few shreds of parmesan cheese would also taste amazing!

Ingredients for Detox Soup

  • 2 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ cup onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 8-12 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups cauliflower, chopped into small florets
  • 4 cups cooked chicken breast, chopped
  • 2 cups yellow squash or zucchini, sliced and quartered
  • 1 cup green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 cups chopped greens (I prefer collards as they hold up to cooking without becoming mush)
  • 2 Tbsp red/white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried basil/oregano/Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Salt, pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large soup pot, cook the bacon and olive oil over medium heat for 2 minutes.
  2. Add the onions, garlic, sundried tomatoes, and mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Pour in the chicken stock, then add the cauliflower, collards and chicken. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Add the squash, green beans, basil and pepper flakes and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the vinegar and season to taste.

These cooking times are a bare minimum to get the veggies tender and the chicken warmed through, but if you want flavors that you recall from Grandma’s cooking, don’t neglect a long, slow simmer! I prepare this soup in my big red Dutch Oven and after the initial cooking time, I set it on the woodstove for the afternoon.  The slow, even heat melds the flavors and creates a rich broth that is so satisfying.  If you don’t have a woodstove, the same results can be achieved in an Instant Pot set to warm or on a back burner turned very, very low.

When I’m detoxing from holiday eating, I enjoy 2 big, hot bowls of this soup each day, along with a fat/protein-rich breakfast and snack.  I also try to eliminate all dairy and my favorite sweets and treats (berries, flavored coffee and pecans, for example).  After several days of eating in this manner, I feel like “me” again.  Instead of craving baklava, chocolate and carb-heavy dishes, my body and spirit are satisfied with simple flavors and healthy treats (like homemade yogurt topped with pecans) .

How do you readjust your body, mind and spirit after the indulgences of the holiday season?