Monthly Archives: April 2012

What’s FRESH & LOCAL in May? Asparagus, Rhubarb & Other Spring Delights

Loris Sofia Gregory, Healthy Kitchen Coach, Apple Valley, MN
Valley Natural Foods, 13750 County Road 11, Burnsville, MN 55337

May in Minnesota has our taste buds perking up for those perennial delightful flavors of asparagus and rhubarb. Though asparagus was not grown in the New World until around 1850, there are directions for cooking it in the oldest surviving recipe book created by a Roman food lover in the third century. Asparagus has a long coveted reputation as a vegetable and a medicine, owing to its delicate flavor and its bountiful fiber, protein, beneficial vitamins and minerals. Look for the youngest thin shoots of asparagus, as once the buds start to open the shoots quickly turn woody.

If you are lucky enough to procure some fresh asparagus this month, wrap asparagus in a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator vegetable crisper. Use as soon as possible, within one or two days, before its natural sugars turn to starches. If you cannot use asparagus for more than a day, either wrap the ends in a damp paper towel or bundle the spears with a rubber band and stand them upright in a container in an inch of water.

The website of Featherstone Farm in Rushford Village, Minnesota offers these suggestions for enjoying the spring flavors of asparagus, courtesy of Mi Ae Lipe’s Tastes from the Valley to Bluff: The Featherstone Farm Cookbook (2008).

• If you find young, tender asparagus stalks the width of a pencil, serve them raw with a favorite dip.

• Serve steamed asparagus warm topped with butter and Parmesan cheese.

• Serve steamed or grilled asparagus cold with a simple vinaigrette, or olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt.

• Slice into 1-inch pieces and stir-fry with other vegetables in a wok with a little peanut or sesame oil.

• Add cooked asparagus to your favorite omelet or scrambled eggs. • Substitute asparagus for leeks in a quiche, or combine the two.

• Place parboiled or steamed asparagus spears, tomatoes, mushrooms, and shredded mozzarella cheese on top of focaccia or flat bread for an elegant garden pizza.

• Asparagus and morel mushrooms, lightly sautéed in butter, are a magical combination.

Though coveted as medicine for thousands of years in China, rhubarb as food is a relatively recent innovation. Commoners in 17th century England first realized the delights of rhubarb, after sugar became affordable to the masses. An affordable sweet for children in parts of the United Kingdom and Sweden was a tender stick of rhubarb, dipped in sugar. Rhubarb is still enjoyed this way in western Finland, Norway and Iceland. Chileans sell rhubarb on the street with salt or dried pepper instead of sugar.

Like asparagus, rhubarb doesn’t require much of you. Let fresh flavorful rhubarb be its own star. Cut up the stalks into 1-inch pieces, add a smidge of water and let the pieces simmer gently in their own juice until soft. Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar for each pound of rhubarb and add cinnamon and/or nutmeg to taste. A tablespoon of lime juice or lemon juice also adds some tang. Wrap unwashed rhubarb stalks in a plastic bag and refrigerate in the vegetable crisper, where it will keep up to 10 days.  In her novella The First Four Years, American author Laura Ingalls Wilder refers to “pie plant,” which has become rhubarb’s slang name as well as one of the favorite ways to enjoy it.

Additional ideas for your fresh rhubarb, also courtesy of The Featherstone Farm Cookbook, include:

• Top your breakfast cereal with sweetened rhubarb.

• Add very thin slices of rhubarb to spring soups or salads, or anywhere a bit of tartness is welcome.

• Combine rhubarb with oranges, cherries, raspberries or strawberries for a tasty chutney.

• Light, tangy and sweet rhubarb sauce makes a delectable topping for ice cream, pudding, custard or pound cake.

See many more ideas for enjoying fresh spring vegetables at http://featherstonefarm.com/the-crops/.  For tasty samples, coaching and more inspiring ideas for healthy eating this month, I look forward to meeting you at my:

FRESH & LOCAL DEMO: Tuesday, May 8, 11 am to 2 pm
Featuring vine-on tomatoes, basil and English cucumbers fresh from Living Water Garden in Wells, Minnesota, “full of life, full of water and full of healthy nutrients.”

FRESH & LOCAL CLASS: Asparagus to Strawberries
Tuesday, May 15, 6:30 to 8:30 pm; $17 members; $20 non-members
Register at least one week ahead with VNF Customer Service: 952.891.1212, Ext. 221.

REGISTER ONLINE HERE.

Discover how to prepare and enjoy the luscious healthy spring flavors of asparagus, basil, cucumbers, peas, rhubarb, spinach and strawberries. This interactive coaching class will explore Valley Natural Food’s produce department and introduce our local farmer partners for May and June. This class will provide helpful handouts and tips on how to save money on eating fresh and local, preparing fresh and local with and without recipes, planning weekly menus and shopping lists plus storing and preserving local fresh food for year-round healthy eating.

Based in Apple Valley, contact FRESH & LOCAL health coach Loris Sofia Gregory at 952.431.5586 or lorissofiagregory.com. Loris would love to hear your ideas and questions about eating FRESH & LOCAL. Request her earth-friendly seasonal recipes and healthy eating tips if you miss her monthly demos and classes at Valley Natural Foods.

FRESH & LOCAL: Spicy Spring Sprouts Snack

Loris Sofia Gregory, Healthy Kitchen Coach

Demo at Valley Natural Foods, Burnsville, MN, April 10

Jack and the Green Sprouts: Broccoli or Alfalfa (or any other sprouts)
•Deena’s Gourmet Spicy Black Bean & Chipotle Hummus (or other hummus flavors in the VNF Deli Cooler)
•LaTortilla Factory Smart & Delicious Wraps (made with gluten-free teff and millet; also consider gluten-free “Food for Life Sprouted Corn Tortillas,” both in the VNF freezer)
•Veggie Confetti: broccoli, carrots, green onions, radishes, sweet peppers or other veggies; detoxifying cilantro, parsley, wheatgrass or other greens (all shredded, finely diced or snipped)
•Avocado, Crisp Apple or Cucumber Slices
•Organic Garden Fresh Salsa

1) Spread a thin layer of hummus on a wrap or tortilla.
2) Cover with a layer of sprouts.
3) Sprinkle with colorful veggie confetti and snips of greens as inspired.
4) Cut in wedges, squares or leave as a whole circle.
5) Center an avocado, apple or cucumber slice on top of each piece, or space across whole wrap or tortilla.
6) Accent with a dollop of salsa for extra zest.
7) Serve, savor and enjoy as an appetizer, snack or meal.
8) Option: use whole wrap or tortilla; add hummus, sprouts and toppings; use another wrap or tortilla as a lid and cut into wedges for portable sandwiches.

Vegan, gluten and wheat free.  Rich in Vitamin A, C, protein, iron and fiber.

How to Avoid BPA When you Need a Quick Dinner

Healthy Legacy.org

It’s already challenging for families to prepare meals at home—with busy schedules, after school activities, long work hours and more, carving out time to not only eat together but also to cook from scratch is a tough task for many of us. So we sometimes turn to ready-made food, right? I know I do.

Unfortunately, sometimes subbing in pre-made meals can affect your exposure to the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone disrupter linked with certain cancers, diabetes and obesity. As if we haven’t already got enough to worry about! So this week’s tip is all about helping you through those times when you need a quick meal, but don’t want to end up with a hefty dose of BPA on the side.

Tip: If you’re short on time and need to fix dinner quick, we recommend opting for frozen pre-made meals instead of those in the can. Canned all-in-one meals have some of the highest levels of BPA of any canned foods. [If you buy any canned goods, look for 'BPA FREE" brands such as Eden Organic. Prepared foods in glass are a healthier choice, especially anything containing tomatoes. BPA linings in most canned goods, break down over time, creating a toxic soup for you and your family.]

But before you microwave, make sure you pop the food out of the plastic tray and onto a plate. Here’s a video from our friends at the Breast Cancer Fund showing how to heat and eat without the plastic.

Of course, these tips are meant to help you make safer choices, but the truth is that we shouldn’t have to constantly studying up on the latest problem chemical to make its way into our products. You can act now and ask the FDA to rule bisphenol A unsafe for use in food packaging.

Easy Ways to Go Organic on a Budget

By Kate Geagan, MS, RD, Dr. Oz.com, March 2012 (reprinted in part)

Are you looking to add more organic foods to your diet, but are concerned that the additional costs will increase your grocery bill by epic proportions? No longer relegated to the “natural” section of the grocery store, organic foods have become mainstream, making it easier than ever to include organic foods in your cart while still sticking to a budget. Here are my favorite strategies to help you shop smarter for your own health, as well as the health of the planet:

Bulk Up. If your favorite grocery store has them, bulk bins are one of the best places in the supermarket to save money while still buying organic foods. Stock up on the organic versions of some of Dr. Oz’s favorite good-for-you staples like brown rice, bulgur, quinoa, teff and more. READ MORE ABOUT THE AMAZING BENEFITS OF THE BULK TRAIL IN MY JANUARY BLOG.

Love Those Legumes! Dollar for dollar, meat, fish and poultry are some of the costliest calories in your cart. Serving delicious vegetarian meals two nights a week is not only an easy way to help you lose weight and improve your health, it also allows you to free up more food dollars to put toward organic options. Use your favorite organic canned beans (rinse first to remove excess sodium) for a satisfying soup, or save even more by soaking dried beans or lentils overnight. Sprinkle beans with organic taco seasoning for delicious Southwestern bean tacos that will even have carnivores asking for more. READ MORE ABOUT EASY ECONOMICAL MEALS ON THE BULK TRAIL IN MY FEBRUARY BLOG.

Pass on Organic Junk & Processed Food. Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy! Organic soda, ice cream and potato chips, for instance, are still high calorie splurges that can pack on the pounds and pad your grocery bill. Make sure at least three-quarters of your cart is loaded with minimally processed foods that look as close to their natural forms as possible. READ MORE ABOUT POWERFUL SNACKS IN MY MARCH BLOG.

Go Generic. Nearly every major supermarket chain now carries its own line of USDA certified organic foods under their own private label, so look for it the next time you’re in your favorite grocery store. This not only saves you the cost of an extra trip to a more upscale market or a separate natural foods store, but it can cost significantly less than other organic brands.

Be Picky About Portion Size. At the meat or fish counter, stick to 3 oz per person and cut your “main course” bill in half instantly. You can then use the extra savings to buy organic meat or poultry instead (currently there are no organic standards for fish). Enjoy those 3 oz portions of meat, poultry or fish with an abundance of whole grains, vegetables and a side salad for a hearty satisfying meal.

Browse Big Box Retailers. Many people are surprised to learn that everyday staples such as organic milk, yogurt and produce are available at big box retailers, making these items more within the reach of everyone at a good price. And many of the companies who supply these chains offer down loadable coupons on their websites, saving you even more at the checkout counter.

Fill Up on Frozen. The freezer case is one of the best bargains in the supermarket when it comes to organic; stock up on your favorite frozen organic fruits and vegetables (with no added sauces or syrups) for baking, smoothies, soups and side dishes. The added bonus? Frozen fruits are on your schedule, meaning there’s no risk of costly spoilage.

Following some or all of the above tips keep both your food bill and your waistline lean.

What’s FRESH & LOCAL in April? Sprouts and Other Shades of Green

Loris Sofia Gregory, Healthy Kitchen Coach, Apple Valley, MN

Valley Natural Foods, 13750 County Road 11, Burnsville, MN 55337

Can you believe that April has arrived? Earth is warming up and preparing to collaborate with us in growing delicious edibles here in Minnesota. New shades of green are emerging day by day. We ponder when everything will be fully green and our first garden sprouts will pop up from moist soil. Regardless of when spring will be here in its full glory, be sure to notice our sprouts and other shades of healthy green at Valley Natural Foods, thanks to FRESH & LOCAL growers in Wisconsin.

In World War II, Dr. Clive McKay, Nutrition Professor at Cornell University, sparked considerable interest in sprouts by announcing, “Wanted! A vegetable that will grow in any climate, will rival meat in nutritive value, will mature in three to five days, may be planted any day of the year, will require neither soil nor sunshine, will rival tomatoes in Vitamin C, will be free of waste in preparation and can be cooked with little fuel and as quickly as a chop.” Dr. McKay was talking about the amazing properties of sprouted soybeans.

Though Chinese physicians started prescribing sprouts for curing many disorders over 5,000 years ago and accounts of sprouting appear in the Bible’s Book of Daniel, it took centuries for the West to fully realize their nutritional merits. Along with Dr. McKay, many researchers discovered that sprouts of various kinds not only retain the B-complex vitamins present in the original seed, but also increased 300% in Vitamin A and a whopping 500 to 600% in Vitamin C.

Wisconsinites Joe Mahoney and brother Jack heard about the goodness of sprouts in the mid-1970s and started sprouting for their own health. A local restaurant caught word of their “sprout farm” near River Falls and they were soon delivering sprouts to one eatery than another. Supplying the Wedge co-op since 1978, their business “Jack and the Green Sprouts” is a pioneer in the local produce movement. Using well water and certified organic seed, Joe and his employees hydroponically grow premium quality nutritious sprouts in a super clean, climate-controlled environment, seven days a week year around.

Though not certified organic, Jack and the Green Sprouts is a chemical free and environmentally friendly operation, supported in part with solar panels to offset the electricity needed for grow lights and temperature control. Specializing in the highest quality produce delivered to Twin City and Wisconsin co-ops for over 35 years, owner Joe personally assured me that all their sprouts are tested by an independent lab prior to shipping and that they offer a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee. When you buy Jack and the Green Sprouts, you are also supporting up to 15 employees who are in turn supporting their families through growing FRESH & LOCAL.

Claimed by many to be the “best sprouts in the nation,” try Jack’s broccoli and alfalfa sprouts on our produce shelves year around. Broccoli sprouts are three- to four-day-old broccoli plants that look like alfalfa sprouts, but taste more like radishes. Broccoli sprouts act like an antioxidant, stimulating and protecting your cells against disease. Alfalfa sprouts are also a top source of antioxidants as well as a wide range of vitamins. All sprouts are among the ultimate super foods that are so easy to eat fresh and raw, at home or on the go. Think of sprouts as energizing companions to salads, cold or grilled sandwiches, paninis, pizzas, pockets, wraps and soups, or just enjoy them solo.

While you are checking out the sprouts, don’t forget to take notice of our luscious green Butterhead lettuce, delivered from Future Farm in Baldwin, Wisconsin. Their chemical-free lettuce is also grown hydroponically year round, ensuring a fresh green product that is environmentally responsible and extraordinarily tasty. A sister company to family-owned and operated Baldwin Dairy that has been in business for over 100 years, read more about Future Farm and Fuel LLC leading the way in sustainable, green and FRESH & LOCAL at www.afuturefarm.com.

For tasty samples, coaching and more inspiring ideas for healthy eating this month, I look forward to meeting you at:

FRESH & LOCAL DEMO: Tuesday, April 10, 11 am to 2 pm

Featuring Jack and the Green Sprouts, local hummus and flat breads.  

FRESH & LOCAL CLASS: Spring Rhubarb to Winter Squash

Tuesday, April 17, 6:30 to 8:30 pm, Valley Natural Foods in collaboration with ISD 196 Community Education, $18/class. Register at least one week ahead at 651.423.7920 or www.district196.org/ce.

This class will introduce you to a healthy rainbow of fresh and local vegetables month by month, from fresh rhubarb, asparagus and spinach in May through local apples, root veggies, pumpkins and squashes in November. You will explore the co-op’s FRESH & LOCAL produce and hear about local farmer partners and food artisans. Expect helpful handouts, coaching and tips on how to save money and eat healthy, preparing fresh and local with and without recipes, and storing and preserving local fresh food for healthy eating year around.

 Based in Apple Valley, reach FRESH & LOCAL health coach Loris Sofia Gregory at 952.431.5586 or lorissofiagregory.com. Loris would love to hear your ideas and questions about eating FRESH & LOCAL. Request her earth-friendly seasonal recipes and healthy eating tips if you miss her monthly demos and classes at Valley Natural Foods.