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Home Gardening Makeover – Guest Blog by Kathy McFarland

October 19th, 2015 / cat / 0 comments

Home Gardening Makeover

Guest post by Kathy McFarland

Gardening at home is a pleasant way to improve a person’s body and spirit.  Few things affect the mind more positively than being out in the fresh air and watching plants grow from small seeds into large food producers. I have been planting a home garden nearly my entire life.  As a child on the dairy farm where I grew up, gardening provided our family of 7 with fresh vegetables in the summer and home-canned vegetables throughout the winter.  I have continued to grow a garden throughout my adult life from the time I graduated college up to the present time, including the 30 years that I spent as a public school teacher.

While I have been growing a food garden for more than half a century, I have changed the methods that I use and the seeds that I plant.  For most of my gardening life, I continued to plant the familiar varieties with which I had grown up.  I rarely looked at seed catalogs.  I usually bought either the seeds or seedling plants, whether I purchased them from the small-town local store or from one of the big box stores in a neighboring city.  Either way, I knew that I was providing fresh food for my family of 4.

Fast forward to today and my current growing methods that received a makeover when I became acquainted with Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company www.rareseeds.com.    For the first time in my gardening life, I sat down and looked at a colorful seed catalog.  I was amazed to see that there were not only red tomatoes, but also pink, orange, yellow, white, purple, striped, and always-green tomatoes.  I could choose from more than 150 varieties of tomatoes at Baker Creek.  Carrots in colors of red, white, yellow and purple could grow in my garden.   The fact that Baker Creek offered a tremendous variety of eggplants in many shapes, sizes, and colors fascinated me.  Thus begun my experimentation in the garden.

That experimentation taught me that some of the things that I had been planting for decades would still be my favorites.  It also taught me that some of the new (but old) varieties could surpass my previous favorites in flavor, ease of growing, preserving, etc.   For example, I had been planting and canning Blue Lake green beans for many years.  I ventured to try Calima, Bolita, Contender, and Missouri Wonder beans.  While I liked some of those varieties, I learned that Blue Lake still suited my taste and purpose the best.  My traditional Clemson Spineless okra won out over a few other varieties that I tried because they were so readily available to me, even though I also enjoyed some of the red-hued okras.  On the other hand, I tried growing some Golden beets and Bull’s Blood beets, in addition to my tried and true Detroit Dark Red beets.  I fell in love with the Golden beets and have grown them every year since, even though I still grow the Detroits for pickling.

In addition to trying assorted varieties, I broadened my horizons by planting new types of vegetables.  I was adventurous enough to grow amaranth for the first time in my home garden and discovered that it  is easy to grow and makes delicious greens and grain.  I was delighted to learn that leeks are easy to grow and serve as good alternatives to onions.

Not only did I experiment with growing new things, I also experimented with gardening practices.  For the first time, I planted spinach in the fall to overwinter and was pleasantly surprised with the abundant harvest I had in the early spring.  I traded my chemical fertilizers for more natural compost and switched my poisonous chemicals for organic pesticides.  I paid attention to which plants grew well in close proximity and which ones  needed distance from one another.  The end result has been that now everything in my garden is grown organically.  All of my kitchen scraps make it to the compost pile rather than into the garbage can.

One of the most marked changes to my home gardening experience is growing more vegetables from seeds and fewer from purchased seedlings.  In late winter and early spring my kitchen buffet counter becomes a potting table laden with trays of newly planted seeds, as well as tiny plants in various stages of growth as they await their appropriate time to be planted outside.  While I still purchase most of my seeds for planting, I have begun to save seeds from my harvest and plant them the following year.  I have learned about isolation distance required for various vegetables to reduce or prevent cross pollination.  I have learned to select seeds for saving from the best specimens.  As a teacher, I used to hope that my students would become life-long learners.  As a home gardener, I continue to be a life-long learner.

 Kathy McFarland is a life-long gardener who has transitioned from conventional to organic gardening in the Missouri Ozarks.  A former English teacher, she now writes and edits for Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company publications.

Growing Yard Art – Featured on JoyFoodly!

June 17th, 2015 / admin / 0 comments

I was thrilled to write a blog for JoyFoodly! Read all about putting the soul into your garden.

Please do share and leave me your comments!

 

http://www.joyfoodly.com/growing-yard-art-a-gardening-primer/

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What Does a Health Conscious Shopper Look Like?

March 26th, 2015 / admin / 0 comments

It is incredibly easy to be an unhealthy consumer in America. The truth is we are constantly inundated with fast food commercials and quick meal options that are laden with sugar, salt and other preservatives. Even at the grocery store the aisles are loaded with 30 minutes or less meal boxes and unhealthy snacks that ultimately leave us feeling unsatisfied. It doesn’t have to be this way though!

Here is what it looks like when a health conscious person goes grocery shopping:

  • A health conscious person will stick to the outer perimeter of the grocery store filling up their cart with organic fruit along with free range meats and lots of protein and fiber rich greens. The perimeter takes less time so they will be in and out quickly.
  • When looking for snacks a health conscious shopper grabs fruits for sweet snacks, raw nuts for savory salty snacks and veggies for crunchy snacks. Every item in their cart is identifiable and easily pronounced. Oh, and their grocery bill won’t be nearly as high as most people think healthy items are.
  • The health conscious shopper also has plenty of energy to get through their day, glide through the supermarket and even has enough energy to go home and cook a healthy meal after shopping.

If this doesn’t sound like you, then you might not be a health conscious grocery shopper. This doesn’t make you a bad person; it simply makes you feel less energy and cost more, and often cause huge weight gain. The good news is you can change it!  One step at a time, fresh spinach rather than a store bought salad. Maybe this week you will swap canned fruits for fresh fruits! Next week you add a lot more greens in your cart, and a new veggie to your plate. It doesn’t have to be hard to be healthy. It just takes the willingness to decide to do it.

Here’s to your health! Real FOOD Rocks!

Veggies

Easy Meals at Home

February 5th, 2015 / admin / 0 comments

Would it surprise you to learn that having more meals at home doesn’t require a bunch of cookbooks and culinary expertise? Serving your family homemade meals can be as easy as 1-2-3! You really just need three main components to make a quick meal that satisfies and is healthy.

Protein- Whether you like tofu, chicken, beef or fish you should consider local and free range / wild caught. Remember, not every meal must have meat! If you prefer meals that are meat free there are lots of vegetable, bean, grain options that can pack a mean protein punch!

Veggies- Steam, bake, or sauté – even eat them raw anytime (veggies are not just for salad). Studies have shown that meals taste better when they are also appealing to the eye so get a bunch of beautiful lush greens, tomatoes, carrots or whatever you like and put a rainbow on your plate!

Grain - Quinoa, brown rice, whole grain toast to name a few options – the possibilities of what you can serve with your protein and veggies are endless, and it is so easy to cook a huge pot at one time and break out into daily servings.

Once you have the components in your mind you can mix it up and use different spices to make any dish go from bland to delicious!

Here are three meal options that are a breeze to make even if you only have 30 minutes:

  • Make a yummy blend of fresh rosemary, oregano, and sea salt. Sprinkle on veggies or meat before grilling or baking in the oven (you can use water rather than olive oil too!) Once it’s all cooked, serve it over a bed of fresh lettuce or chard…add cherry tomatoes or purple cabbage for color! Use olive oil and balsamic vinegar as your dressing. Consider using hummus as a dressing as well. Yum!
  • Grab your cracked pepper and sea salt – season up some flank steak. Then, sauté it with onions, green peppers, garlic, and maybe some kale too! Serve in a whole grain pita for a quick and easy handheld meal.
  • Get fishy with it! Simply salt and pepper, and use lemon slices on your fish of choice. While it bakes in the oven, pull out your cooked brown rice and a touch of water and put your chopped veggies on top (steam for 10 minutes). Boom! Dinner is ready!

Now, I want to hear from you!

What are your favorite quick and healthy meals? Leave me a comment below and tell me about it! What do you love to cook, eat and ENJOY?

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Feeding Your Family Nutritious Meals on a Tight Budget

November 30th, 2014 / cat / 0 comments

Feeding Your Family Nutritious Meals on a Tight Budget

There really isn’t much to debate about anymore when it comes to the value of eating seasonal, organic foods. With recent studies showing that organic produce is richer in antioxidants and far lower in metals like cadmium, a return to good, old-fashioned cooking, based on delicious local produce, is the order of the day. Don’t believe the hype that healthy food is more expensive. You don’t have to shop at fancy stores to get the best out of local produce. There are many ways to feed your family the best food at a fair price; these are just a few suggestions:

* Grow your own food:

Susan Huff has spent a lifetime showing that homes and schools make excellent settings for a personal garden, where you can grow all the foods you love–ripe, plump tomatoes, crunchy kale, fleshy pumpkins and more. Don’t be discouraged if your backyard isn’t huge or you live in an apartment with no garden. Even a six-foot space on your terrace can host a small garden where you can grow herbs like basil, cilantro or rosemary effortlessly and even a tomato vine or two! The idea is to lose your fear of farming and to create edible spaces within your home; the fact that everything you grow will be 100% pesticide-free, low cost and ultra delicious, is certainly food for thought. If you don’t have your own terrace, use your kitchen or any free room in the house to grow your own sprouts! Did you know that sprouting seeds, pulses or grains causes their vitamin content to soar? Sprouts are also gentle on the digestive system, since they are, in effect ‘pre-digested’. Finally, they are rich in chlorophyll, which aids the body in the production of hemoglobin, which is crucial for the metabolism of cell energy.

*Plan ahead: One of the most common ways to spend more money than you need to is by buying without making a list. Rather than aimlessly shopping and sticking items in your shopping cart that simply look appealing at the moment, take the time to plan out your weekly menu and shop for only as many ingredients as you need to make your programmed dishes.

* Make time for home cooking: A lack of time is without a doubt the most common excuse for parents to avoid cooking for the family on a daily basis, yet top chefs like Jamie Oliver have shown that it is possible to whip up a healthy and super delicious meal in as little as 15 minutes. Cooking at home means you are not spending more than you need to on pre-packaged or pre-cooked foods (which are generally lacking in flavor and high in unhealthy fats, salt and sugar). Pre-cooked meals also come in much smaller portions than you can whip up at home for the same price or less and nothing beats the flavor of fresh, crisp, seasonal fruits and vegetables which are consumed when they are in their optimal state. Home food preparation will also enable you to dabble in recipes from other cultures, thereby opening the doors to the world of gastronomy to even the youngest members of your family.

* Bulk buy when you can: Fruits and vegetables should be consumed as fresh as possible; always try to source them from local farmers to ensure they haven’t chalked up too many food miles. However, other food items (especially spices and canned goods) can be bought in advance and stored for various months. Check out the deals offered by your local supermarkets and speak to friends about sharing bulk purchases, to lessen the pressure to consume everything before the expiry date.

* Don’t center every meal around meat or fish: Some of the cheapest meals to whip up for your family are vegetarian: think baked spuds, a vegetarian couscous with roast vegetables or homemade veggie burgers. These are all delicious dishes kids and adults alike will love, for a fraction of the price of meat or fish. As long as you are getting your required quotient of iron, Omega-3 fatty acids etc., feel free to try a few vegetarian and vegan recipes. Start off with raw vegan desserts; they are surprisingly easy to make and super delicious: think a creamy raw cacao pudding, rich chocolate cake or sweet yet refined sugar-free raw apple pie. All of these need to be savored to be believed. They truly are as good, if not better, than their baked counterparts.

These are just a few ideas for eating right on a budget; surely you can think up many of your own ways to eat for less: whether that means visiting local farmer’s markets, planning family meals in line with the season, purchasing more cheap yet incredibly nutritious superfoods or joining a local co-op. What will your way be?

 

Freelance Article by Helen Gorner

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Through the Edible Education Project, Dr. Kip Curtis addresses poverty, healthy eating and teaching children to grow food.

May 21st, 2014 / cat / 0 comments

For the past five years, I have been working with kids in schoolyard gardens that I have installed in schools in south St. Petersburg, Florida.  I started doing this because I saw that a lack of economic resources impacted kids in ways I just couldn’t stand to watch.

Reports in 2009 cited a 70% dropout rate for African American boys in my community – seven of ten, not getting through high school.  More recent reports have revealed that obesity, diabetes and infant death are also rampant.  These diet-related health issues are all preventable.  Eating right and eating healthy are harder for kids who don’t have resources.  Less healthy eating choices are less expensive, more convenient, and often taste good.

I saw poverty doing great harm and hurting kids in south St. Petersburg.  And I believe that kids don’t deserve to be hurt, whatever the income or education level of their parents.  So I decided to do something about it.

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I started building gardens in the schoolyards of the schools attended by the kids experiencing the worst impacts.  I recruited volunteers from nearby colleges to work in those gardens and teach the kids about healthy food (and to teach them science and math and language arts at the same time).

The experiment has been wildly successful.  The small idea has become a big project (http://peacepatch.org).  Kids have not only gained experience growing food that they could be proud of, they have gotten better at math and science because they learned it doing something they care about, growing a garden.

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Most importantly, they eat what they grow.  In some of the schools where we have worked, we have offered cooking classes allowing the kids to harvest fresh food and make yummy dishes.  In others, like this video shows, we encourage the kids to sample the food they have grown, which they always do willingly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrFyrhBa2Ms&feature=share&list=UUdvlS_ctZxQ5ZQV1Iotzcdw&index=1

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I am now taking these ideas wherever they are needed.  This month I formed a new organization, The Edible Education Project, Inc. (http://edibleeducationproject.com), because I believe every child deserves access to fresh healthy food and deserves to learn the necessary skills to integrate that food into their lives.  I am working to contribute to a healthy, literate, and well-educated population in every neighborhood and every background.

Kip Curtis, Ph.D.

 

BIO: 
Dr. Kip Curtis grew up on a sustainable farm in the 1970s.  His professional development brought him through the environmental movement, into a doctorate in environmental history, end eventually back into food systems.  For the past five years he has been the primary force behind a farm to school education effort in St. Petersburg, Florida (http://peacepatch.org).  He is now offering his vision to farm to school and farm to plate food system projects around the country.  (http://edibleeducationproject.com) Like me on Facebook: http://facebook.com/edibleeducationproject

Real Food is …

April 25th, 2014 / admin / 1 comment

Crunchy

Filling

Light

Flavorful

Nutty

Sweet

Savory

Seriously healthy

And super delicious

See it all on our menu and  MORE!

Freeze, Thaw, Heat!

April 23rd, 2014 / Susan Huff / 0 comments

Getting the Most from Seasonal Food for Longer.

Freezing is a wonderful way to enjoy seasonal produce throughout the year, and, with a little upfront work, it makes it easy to grab healthy options to thaw and heat when in a hurry!  Just give yourself a few minutes to heat slowly so as to maintain the nutritional integrity of your delicious frozen homemade meal.

Here are a few timescale tips on refrigeration, freezing, thawing and heating your favorite foods!

REFRIGERATION

  • If not frozen, soups and entrees can be kept 7 –10 days in a refrigerator
  • Cookies and muffins can be kept in a refrigerator for 2 weeks.
  • Salads last 4 – 8 days in the refrigerator depending on how cool your keep your refrigerator

FREEZING

  • Soups, entrees, cookies, and muffins can be frozen for 1 year.
  • Dips and sides can be frozen up to 2 years (got to love garlic and lemon!).
  • When freezing with mason jars, avoid cracking by using straight-sided jars, and filling only as far as the fill-line below the lid twists.

GENERAL THAWING AND HEATING INSTRUCTIONS

Soups

  • Place frozen soups in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours until thawed.
  • Or, to thaw faster, put soup in a bowl of water in your sink.
  • Once thawed, place contents in a stainless steel saucepan, and heat slowly.
  • To preserve nutrients, opt for slow stovetop heating over the speedy high-heat of the microwave.
  • Entrees can be thawed in the refrigerator 2-10 hours prior to warming.
  • If thawed first, heat the entrée in a conventional oven, preheated at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or in a toaster oven for 20–30 minutes based on the size and wattage of your toaster oven (convection is best).
  • If placed in the oven fully frozen, please allow at least an additional 10 –15 minutes.

Entrees

COOKIES, MUFFINS, DIPS & SIDES

  • Cookies, muffins, dips and sides can be thawed in the refrigerator – takes 4-5 hours.
  • Warm to taste.
PLEASE REMEMBER

 

ALL PROVIDED CONTAINERS (TOPS AND BOTTOMS) ARE RECYCLABLE!

If you aren’t able to recycle, please return the containers to The Soulful Seed, so that we can!

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The Most REAL Fabulous Olive Oil I Trust!!

April 7th, 2014 / cat / 0 comments

Olea Estates certified organic olive oil rates in the top olive oils in the world. The olives have been handpicked and immediately cold pressed for four generations by the Chronis family since 1856. There is no heat added to the process or filtration.

Olive oil and olives are the basis of the Mediterranean diet and are full of antioxidants (cancer fighting elements). Olea Estates organic olive oil is consistently very low in acidity, 0.00<0.3. It can be used in all cooking. As with all true olive oils only use low heat. The best health benefits from olive oil are from cold consumption.

The 2014 crop is due into the US in late May or early June. Olea Estates products are always hand inspected and not irradiated. The 2014 crop was tasted by the certified European Taster who stated it was the best in the valley of Sparta. He bought a full year supply for his own family’s use.

Use Olea olive oil mixed with Olea red wine vinegar as a salad dressing or marinade for meats, fish, chicken. Drizzle Olea over any grilled, steamed or baked vegetable. Cook your eggs in a teaspoon of Olea. Add Olea to any soup, stew or stir fry (at the end of cooking). Add to beans or rice. Coat a steak, chicken breast, roast or fish fillet with Olea before cooking. Of course you can just dip some artesian bread into Olea and enjoy the pure flavor! Or add a little Olea wild oregano for a special treat!

Olea Estates olives are always hand harvested, very low sodium (5.25% sea salt), and full of antioxidants.  The olives are not pasteurized and retain all their probiotics. The olives are in a brine of sea salt, red wine vinegar and mountain spring water. Enjoy them plain, in salads, on pizza or any of your favorite dishes.

Olea Estates wild grown oregano grows 7000ft above sea level and is hand harvested by the Chronis family. It will add a wonderful flavor to your meals. Another super- antioxidant, try oregano on your salad or eggs. Add oregano  to all pasta dishes (with Olea olive oil), soups, stews, roasts.

Olea Estates Greek Mountain Tea (Sideritas)is another super antioxidant. Handpicked from Mount Parnon, east of Sparta, at an elevation of 6000 feet, this herbal tea has over 60 know health benefits. Included in these are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and use as a digestive aid. This herbal tea is caffeine free.

Pantry

Pantry Staples!

March 31st, 2014 / cat / 0 comments

Here you go: a list of pantry staples that will make it easier to cook regularly — and by instinct rather than depending solely on recipes.

Of course, this list could change dramatically – depending on the cuisines that influence your cooking, and logistical things, like how much space you have! Take this list, like all advice, with a grain of salt, and leave suggestions for pantry basics I’ve left out! Art, flavor, food: they are all one! Enjoy!!

  • Good Sea Salt
    Maldon Sea Salt is a nice flakey salt that many chefs prefer for finishing. It costs about $7 for a box that will last you a long time. It makes a noticeable difference if you salt your food with it. Trust me. For salting while you cook, a $2 box of coarse kosher will work.
  • Black Peppercorns and a Good Peppermill
    You can buy peppercorns in a container that also grinds them, but usually this is a big waste of plastic since you cannot refill the container. There are a range of peppermills to choose from.
  • Good Quality Olive Oil
    My rule of thumb is to get the best you can afford, and don’t buy more than you can use in a few months because it will go rancid. I love Eden and Costco brands.
  • Chicken (or Vegetable) Stock
    Have a few cartons of stock around for risottos, simmering vegetables, and just giving extra flavor to your stove-top and oven-prepared dishes. Shelf-stable, packaged stock (or broth) comes in 32oz (4 cup) cartons, and handy 8oz (1 cup) containers. I prefer to make my own and freeze!
  • Dried Pasta
    Perhaps the most obvious pantry staple. If you have several shapes, you’ll be halfway to dinner. I keep one long, like spaghetti and several shaped pastas. Everyone loves pasta!
  • Dried Spices
    Pick your favorite 5! Curry, Celery Seed, Old Bay, Vogel mix, and Cumin are mine — I cook mostly vegetarian.
  • Vinegar of Several Varieties
    Don’t get lost here. Start with balsamic, then try white wine vinegar. If you cook with Asian-influenced flavors, a bottle of rice wine vinegar will help.
  • Canned Whole Plum Tomatoes
    If you have room, keep several large cans on hand. Many meals for me start by dumping one into a pot and then adding whatever else I have around. Stews, braises, pasta sauces, bruschetta purees. It’s pretty much endless. Yet fresh tomatoes or sundried are my ULTIMATE favs!!!
  • Rice
    With brown and black rice in my kitchen, I always feel like I can pull something together. Those are my preferences – one for health reasons, the other for taste and texture. There are many varieties of rice: choose at least two.
  • Dried Mushrooms
    Dried porcini mushrooms pack the most punch, but buy what you can afford. FungusAmongUs.com offers a pound of bulk organic dried porcini for $25, which may sound expensive, but that is a lot of dried mushrooms, and they keep well in a sealed container (I use a canning jar.) Trader Joe’s shoppers can buy an inexpensive bag of dried wild mushrooms ($1.99 for an ounce, enough to get you through a couple of meals so buy a few packets), a mix of porcini, shiitake, cremini, and oyster mushrooms.
  • Capers
    Either packed in brine, or salt, capers are an essential ingredient in many Mediterranean dishes from Pasta Puttanesca to Salad Niçoise. They instantly add a tang and pungency to chicken, fish and pasta. Try pairing them with lemony flavors. Olives as well!
  • Anchovies
    Cured fillets, packed either in olive oil or salt (which have a longer shelf life), add depth to salad dressings, pasta sauces. Just one or two mashed up fillets can be that “magic ingredient” you’re looking for when something just isn’t tasty enough.
  • Dried Red Pepper Flakes
    When you want a little spice in any dish, a pinch of red pepper flakes added during the cooking process will go a long way. Cayenne works too!
  • Dijon Mustard
    Slather it on roasts, add to salad dressings, plop a dollop of it on your cheeseboard. MUSTARD in general!! Love it on fish!
  • Nut Oil
    A small bottle of walnut or hazelnut oil will go a long way as a base for salad dressings, or a quick finishing drizzle on finished pasta dishes, meats, or cooked vegetables.
  • Nuts
    If you keep one kind of nut around, the pine nut gets my vote. Then, second, sliced almonds. They turn in a few months, so really use them if you have them, or keep unused nuts in the freezer. Toasted in the oven or in a skillet, they’re great in salads, in rice dishes and smashed up as crusts for meat and fish.
  • Lentils
    A quick legume that makes a nice warm side-dish, or a fresh, cool salad. The tiny green French variety is my favorite. Yellow lentils are common in Indian cooking.
  • Quinoa
    Cooks quickly and is delicious warm or cool. Takes to cooked vegetables, or finely chopped fresh vegetables.
  • Almond Butter and Coconut Milk
    I know they are not in the same category but if I am out of these, I am out of food – I LOVE them both!

Eat Well, Be well, Stock well! BE PREPARED!

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