Guide to the Farmer’s Market

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I was so bummed yesterday because I couldn’t make it to the Farmer’s Market (FM). I woke up late, decided to drive instead of walk, spent 20 minutes looking for parking (it only takes 8 minutes by foot), and then I had to give up since I had to be somewhere else. I really had my heart set on getting more Pink Cara Cara Naval Oranges and fresh, buttery croissants from Paris Bakery for a late Sunday brunch.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the simple rules one needs to follow to have the ultimate farmer’s market experience and how I have come a long way from the first time I seriously started shopping at the FM. Most people complain that they never have time to go to the Farmer’s Market. Others feel like an outsider trying to get into the FM circle, needing to learn the lingo and mannerisms. I certainly felt that way. Or, the idea that it costs much more to shop at the FM. To ease your anxiety about the FM, follow these tips and you will be a savvy FM shopper in no time!

1. Put it in your calendar. Now it’s there and you can plan around your FM hours. Make it a point to schedule time in your busy life to buy yourself fresh groceries. The only reason you wouldn’t have time to go is if you didn’t plan for it in the first place. The FM is at the same day, same location, same time, every week (unless otherwise noted). The only difference is that it’s not there 24 hours, 7 days out of the week. Sometimes, my husband and I make a date out of going to the market. Sometimes, I run to the market, quickly buy all the things I need, and zip out of there. Going to the Farmer’s Market does not need to be a day long event, as most people think.

2. BYOB, bring your own bags. Not only is it cool to carry your own bags, most marketplaces have banned plastic bags. Plastic bags do not ever degrade, are toxic, and kill wildlife. Having your bags will also ease your comfort of carrying your beautiful farmer’s market finds without crushing or damaging them on your way home.

3. Go early. Heard the saying, early birds get the worms? It’s true, you will get the best selection if you arrive early. Often times, the best, rare things are gone within the first hour of the market opening. Though, if you get there late, vendors sometimes throw in a little extra of this or that, or just give away produce as they are closing up. It’s not guaranteed, but it does happen.

Photo credit: nicksflickpicks.com

4. Carry cash. Most vendors only take cash. I usually only spend $25-40 for a full week’s worth of groceries. Carry more cash in the beginning, just to be on the safer side. Many Farmer’s Markets even accept food stamps.

5. Get to know the vendors. Farmer’s like talking about what they are selling and can offer loads of information. Unsure of what a romanesco broccoli is or how to cook purple cabbage? Ask the farmer and s/he can give you the easiest cooking methods, storing tips, and maybe even wine-pairings!  Don’t be shy. You shouldn’t feel intimidated that you don’t know what a certain fruit or vegetable is. I ask all the time and it just gets the conversation rolling. The FM really is a friendly, helpful atmosphere.  Otherwise, you can just look up recipes and tips online. Also, ask what all the labels mean. Most FM offer organic and nonorganic produce, so ask what the labels mean. A better question to ask is if they use pesticides or spray.

6. Shop around. If you are overwhelmed with all of the choices and vendors, just take a few minutes to walk around, get a feel for it, and observe. Then make your purchases. You will quickly learn which vendors have the best stuff, offers the best price, and other differentiating points.

7. Don’t go on an empty stomach. Usually, the FM is full of tempting treats like baked goods, crepes, and dumplings. Although, there is nothing really wrong with satiating your hunger with these goods, you will find that most of your money/time will be spent at prepared food stands and fruit instead of on the fresh vegetables. This is a general rule for when you are grocery shopping.

8. Be open-minded. You will find all sorts of vegetables, fruits, and other food that you might have never seen at your grocery store. That is because most small farms do not operate on monoculture agriculture. Also, don’t expect to find watermelon at the FM, even though your Safeway is selling it during the winter. The farmers can only sell what they grow (not imported), therefore their crop depends on the seasons–>weather.

9. Check-in (optional). Have your phone on you so you can check-in and let your friends and family know how super cool you are by shopping at the FM. (optional)

10. Carry a camera (optional). Vegetables make great photographic subjects and who doesn’t like looking at pretty food.

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Eating Healthy On The Road (with recipe)

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Road trip and airport/airplane food is usually dense in refine carbohydrates, salt, sugar, and fat and seriously lacking in nutrients. It leaves you bloated, fatigued, and uneasy. Though, a little planning can change all of that so you can enjoy your trip  so much more.

On The Road
Satish and I drove down to Los Angeles a couple of months ago to visit friends and family. We always prefer to drive down so we can have the convenience of our own car, but this time I was dreading the road food more so than ever before. Off of I-5 there isn’t much offered than fast food and a few sporadic fruit stands, so we usually end up making one stop at In-N-Out. I always order a grilled cheese (no meat) and fries. It’s basically just white processed bread with “cheese” and onions, blended with their special sauce. I  physically never felt great after indulging in that “food”.  Maybe, the experience is much different for people who eat the beef patties. Well, I just couldn’t do it anymore. The feeling of being bloated and fatigue..especially since I have been doing so good with eating fresh, clean food and working out. I find that once you have cleansed yourself of processed food, it’s really hard to eat food made out of chemicals. So, I made our own food! Homemade, gourmet sandwiches to go! The drive was only 5-6 hours long, so we did not need a whole lot of food. I also had packed unsalted, mixed nuts and tortilla chips (Satish loves them). We always travel with our stainless steel water bottles filled with water.  We did stop by a Starbucks for coffee/tea and a bathroom break.

In The Air
Recently, we went to Kauai for our vacation. I couldn’t have been more excited about the trip, but the airport and airplane food had me a little more than turned off. I have been trying to keep up with my new year’s resolution and I do not think vacations are an excuse to eat highly processed food. Plus, there is nothing pleasurable about it to me. I also didn’t want to leave a trail of plastic behind just for my convenience. (Processed food comes packaged in plastic). Especially, since most places and facilities do not recycle or properly dispose these materials. A couple of days ahead of our trip, I made savory muffins (recipe below) for us to take on the plane. They keep well and are filling. We had also packed our own trail mixes and Lara Bars.

Game Plan
Plan: Make sure to eat a decent meal before heading out to the airport or on a long car ride to avoid eating horrible airport food or going through the drive-thru.

-Pack your own food: fruits, sandwiches, sun-dried tomatoes,  nuts, and carrots are good choices.

-If you are driving, you can pack a cooler so the food options open up, especially if the road trip is during the warmer months. Salads can be a great, light option for the road and should not wilt in the cooler.

-Bring  water in a reusable steel/glass bottle. Fill up several reusable water bottles before heading out on the road trip (major no-no for airplanes) and you can even spruce up your water with a sprig of mint or citrus. Just squeeze a few drops of fresh lemon or sweet orange into your water bottles for a refreshing taste. You will save money and plastic from ending up in the ocean. When you run out of water, buy the largest container of water and refill your reusable bottles.  One large plastic container does less damage than 36 individual, plastic bottles. Also, if safe-drinking water is available, fill up from the sink or fountain. Also, many water-filter made for traveling.

– Do some research and try to find out if there will be better choices while driving or at the airport. This is especially helpful for longer flights and road trips.

– Relax. After all you are on vacation, and as long as you are not making too many exceptions and staying active, don’t worry about it!

Muffins On The Go Savory Muffins
Olives and Sun-Dried Tomato Muffins
I made these muffins for our recent trip to Kauai. I added the pinch of turmeric to act as natural preservative, but it did not change the flavor. I like to use sun-dried tomatoes that are not packed in oil/solution. To soften the sun-dried tomatoes, I cover them in hot water for 10 minutes before using them. These keep well in the refrigerator for 7-10 days. They also freeze well.

Ingredients
Butter, for greasing
1 cup baby spinach, washed, well-drained and chopped
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped *see headnote
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons dried basil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3/4 cup  freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup mild goat cheese, crumbled
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup whole milk
2 cups whole grain flour
4 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
black pepper, freshly ground
pinch of turmeric (optional)

Method

1. Preheat oven to 400F, with rack in the top third. Use the butter to grease a 12-hole muffin pan and set aside.

 

I buy sun-dried tomatoes that are not packed in solution or oil and soften them by soaking them in hot water for 10-15 minutes.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add the spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, two-thirds of the olives, dried basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, and two-thirds of the goat cheese. Gently mix together using a spatula.

 

You can use a variety of olives, but Kalamata works the best in the muffins.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and milk together and add to the sun-dried tomato mix.

4. In another bowl, mix flour, turmeric, salt, black pepper, and baking powder together. Slowly add the flour mixture to the sun-dried tomato  mixture. Fold together with a spatula just until the batter comes together. Be careful not to over mix.

Be careful to not over mix the batter; it should be a bit lumpy.

5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, filling each hole 3/4 full.  Top each muffin with a bit of the remaining olives and goat cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops and sides of the muffins are golden, and the muffins have set up completely. Let cool for a couple of minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.

What are your healthy tips and suggestions for road trips and airports?

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Super Bowl Tacos

Even if you are not a football fanatic, you can’t deny the delicious junk food the Super Bowl parties offer. Nachos, pizzas, chips, wings and they taste good in their own right. Well, don’t think of Super Bowl as a sabotage to your health goals or new year’s resolutions. It’s just one day (as long as it really is just one day) and it’s okay to have a cheat meal every now and then. If you are truly worried about falling off track, follow these Healthier Social Eating Rules.

If you are hosting or  taking something to a party, consider these alternatives to the traditional taco. They are easy to assemble, easy to eat, and seriously delicious.

Garbanzo Bean Tacos
serves 8
Ingredients
– 15 oz Garbanzo Beans, from a can (drained and washed)
-1 medium onion, chopped
– 1/2 cup salsa
-1 teaspoon cumin (optional)
– salt and paprika, to taste
– 8 taco shells or soft mini tortillas
– 1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream
– 1 cup arugula

Method
1. Saute onions in heated oil until translucent on medium heat (5-8) minutes.
2. Add in the garbanzo beans, salt, cumin and paprika. Stir well and cook for 10 minutes.
3. Turn off the stove and stir in the salsa.
4. Immediately, spoon the mixture into each taco shell. Top with the fresh arugula and serve immediately.

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The Healthy Pantry

Follow me on Twitter Keeping a well stocked pantry is the most important and basic part of cooking and maintaining a healthy eating lifestyle. I stock my pantry with food that naturally keeps for several months, so I have no … Continue reading

Whole Grain vs Refined Flour

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It is day 13 of January Rules and I am going strong. Interestingly, I have been presented with opportunities to eat processed flours- like croissant sandwiches, Mac n’ Cheese from Grub, and pizza from Tony’s Coal Fired Pizza. Constantly. I normally do follow the three rules of January Rules, or at least I thought I did. I have come to realize that my weakness for food made with refined flour is greater than I thought and I make a lot of exceptions. Pizza, croissants, desserts, breads, pasta- oh you name it and I love it. Unfortunately, all of these things are made with refined flours that have very little nutritional value and contribute to empty calories, fatigue, malnourishment, constipation, mood swings, and preventable chronic diseases.

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January Rules

The holidays were really fun- going from one party to another, learning how to make cookies from scratch, participating in cookie swaps, decadent dinners, brunches, and exciting Club Dine In! events. My favorite was Irvin’s dessert party. Irvin, a passionate baker and blogger, throws an annual grandiose dessert party. He bakes all of his desserts from scratch and asks his guests to bring only their sweet tooth. Irvin had 21 desserts, all displayed beautifully with name cards. I tried to take only bite-sized servings of the desserts I really wanted to try, but I decided that everything was sooo worth it. My favorites were the Red Velvet Cake with Whipped Mascarpone Cream Cheese Frosting and  Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Marshmallow Sour Cream Topping.

I baked cookies from scratch! Pistachio+Muscovado Sugar+Egg Whites+Meyer Lemon

I don’t feel that guilty about my indulgent ways in December and have set goals to get back on track to healthy eating and living. Instead of making large, undefined resolutions such as “losing weight” I’ve decided to go to the gym at least four times a week, limit desserts to once a week, and appreciate food more. I’ve also decided to clean up my act a bit more by participating in January Rules. Remember, the October: Unprocessed challenge? Andrew Wilder at Eating Rules has come up with another challenge: January Rules. This challenge is much more lax and asks you to follow only three rules. I already follow these rules normally, especially #2, but I need to more vigilant.

  1. When you eat grains, eat only 100% whole grains.
  2. Don’t eat high fructose corn syrup.
  3. Don’t eat hydrogenated oils, trans fats, or anything that’s been deep-fried.

Also, once a week, go ahead and “cheat.” Eat anything you want. I encourage all of you to kickstart 2011 with joining me on January Rules. Follow the hastag #januaryrules on Twitter for inspiration, motivation, and ideas.  Follow me on twitter for more frequent ideas on how to satisfy your sweet tooth, make unprocessed choices, and pretty pictures of food and other musings.

 

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A New Way To New Year’s Resolution

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Every year, we make a few resolutions and many of those are repeat resolutions (the same ones we make every year in hopes of a different result). The most common resolution, which I am certainly guilty of making, is losing weight. Loosing weight is a great goal to have but the term is very broad and doesn’t leave you with any direction on how to lose weight. Actually, when I used to say “I need to lose weight” or “My goal is to shed some pounds” I would feel overwhelmed and depressed. It seemed like a big goal, with 12 months to achieve it. So there was the “I just can’t go on another diet” feeling and the “I will start tomorrow” sentiment. By mid-March only a guilty, hopeless, self-deprecating feeling would be left. The problem starts at the goal setting itself. We do not outline how we will make the goal achievable nor do we set the intermediary goals that will make the big goal possible.  Instead of  just saying, “I will lose weight” or “I will eat healthier”, make resolutions that will help you achieve these big goals. Think about the steps you will need to take to achieve weight loss, eating healthier, or making a million dollars, and then set those steps as goals. Once, you can achieve the smaller goals, the big goals will fall into place. For weight loss, diet and fitness are both important. Increased cardiovascular activities and strength training will help you burn fat and put on muscle needed to continuously burn fat. Though, eating unprocessed, whole foods will keep you satiated, energized, and improve your workout. Eating fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lentils, legumes, and even clean animal protein in moderation will help you lose weight. Though, in turn, you will need to reduce the amount of junk food you eat. The foods you eat determine how much harder you have to workout. For instance, if the majority of your caloric intake is from junk food, processed meats, and refined sugars and flours, you will have to work out much harder to burn calories and lose weight.

When it comes to health, I am only making three resolutions  this year. In the past, I’ve always almost failed at “eating better” and “losing weight” until I changed my goals. My new New Year’s Resolutions are:

1. To lose weight. To go to the gym 4 times a week for cardio and strength training. If I cannot make it to the gym, I will go for a 20 minute jog outside or run up and down our apartment building’s stairs. Big goal results: stronger body, more energy, glowing skin, and weight loss.

2. To eat better. To limit my intake of desserts and food with added sugars to once a week. Big goal results: more energy, weight loss, and improved mood.

3. To eat better. To eat slowly and mindfully. I don’t have to eat everything put in front of me and should recognize when I am truly hungry. Also, even if I am starving, I will slow down and try to enjoy each bite, instead of gobbling it all up at once. Big goal results: positive relationship with food and weight loss.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions? Any tips or ideas?

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Healthier Social Eating: The Holidays

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With so many holiday parties, gatherings, shopping, work, school and kids, eating well, resting, and working out could easily drop off your radar.Though, at this time of the year, it is really important to take care of yourself to prevent health goal relapse and catching a cold or the FLU.  Follow these simple tips for maintaining balance and prevent guilt from overeating.

This is a modified list to Healthier Social Eating: BBQ’s

1. Sleep Well and Rest Enough
If you are tired, lethargic or sleepy, you might  tend to load  up on junk food and caffeine for an energy “boost.” Loading up on empty calories and caffeine will only make you hungrier and cause you to crash after the sugar high starts to wear off. Extra caloric intake (without extra caloric output) will lead to weight gain over time leading to obesity. Sleep deprivation also lowers your immune system’s ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. Also, inadequate sleep has been linked to depression, lowered cognitive (brain) function, higher blood pressure, and irritability. Try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night for optimal health and happiness.

2. Eat Regular Meals and Have Healthy Options Available
Many people tend to skip their regular meals in favor of eating at holiday parties and gatherings. Typically, parties tend to only serve junk, cheap, or highly processed food, even if it is in a sophisticated form. A gourmet cookie is still  made of sugar, butter, and flour. And, brie is still a high, saturated fat cheese, even if it’s topped with cranberry sauce. Do not walk into a party hungry, as you will end up eating  the party food  and drinking high caloric drinks to replace dinner. Instead, fill up on healthy, satisfying food beforehand party and only eat the really amazing food at the party.  If it is a potluck party, bring healthy alternatives to desserts, crackers, and cheese. Look at everything that is offered and choose only the items you really want to eat. This way you can fill up on the healthiest foods first, without worrying about bad calories, sugar, and fat.


3. Think Before You Drink
A drink that is not a glass of water has calories and sugar. Drink at least eight ounces of water or so that your thirst is quenched and stomach already feels a little full.  You will  less likely  chug the alcoholic drink to quench your thirst. Is that chocolate martini or eggnog rum drink really worth 500-700 calories (equivalent to a meal)? Make your choices worthwhile and sip on a glass of wine or beer.


4. Mix and Mingle
Choose three or four items you really want to eat, and then step away from the food table so you’re not tempted to graze. You will be less likely to keep mindlessly refilling your plate if you are in the middle of an interesting conversation and standing on the other side of the room from the food. Being with friends and family and having a great time at  the party also contributes to overall good health. Focus on the people at the party instead of the food and drinks.

5. Make Room for Dessert
Cookies, cookies, and more cookies are on everyone’s mind during the holidays and parties are dedicated to just desserts. If you have been good about sticking to your health goal, then a cookie or piece of yule log is nothing to feel guilty about. Don’t let a relapse turn into a downward spiral. In the long run, a piece of dessert is not going to harm you if you follow a healthy, clean diet. It’s pretty clear that sugar is toxic and should be consumed as treats, not regular snacks. Instead of saying “there’s always room for dessert,” actually leave room for it. Eat a little less of everything else so you can have a piece of that cake, cookie or pie. Desserts typically take a long time to make, therefore spend time eating the dessert instead of devouring it at once!


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Eating Beyond The Holidays (With Recipe)

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A few weeks ago I attended a Thanksgiving cooking demo at We Olive SF, a sustainable olive oil store. Teresa studied holistic nutrition, manages Oak Hill Farm’s CSA program, and has started Can Can Cleanse. Teresa showed us how easy it is to prepare seasonal food for a holiday gathering. It got me to thinking that often times, Seasonal Food is also known as Holiday Food to be only consumed on holidays. Well then, what about rest of the season? We don’t need to wait until Thanksgiving or any holiday to eat fresh, homemade dishes. Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, are available throughout Fall and Winter and there a ton of ways to enjoy these foods.

The dishes served at the holiday dinner table are richer and more decadent (more fats and sugars), which makes that meal so enticing and is nothing to feel guilty about. Though, the same ingredients can be prepared in a healthier way for daily consumption. The food that is grown locally and seasonally should be eaten everyday and not just saved for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  The turkey or ham may take center stage, but the abundance of vegetables (green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, potatoes, Brussels sprouts) really make up the holiday table.

It’s always been all about the vegetables.

Butternut Squash soup is easy to make, delicious, and very healthy.

Brussels Sprouts are another typical holiday side dish that can be enjoyed any night of the week. Brussels sprouts are easy to pack also, so you don't have to resort to fast food for lunch.

Homemade Cannellini Bean and Rosemary Dip

Winter Squash Salad with Arugula, Feta & Pine Nuts

This recipe is modified from Teresa Piro’s Thankful Soups and Sides cooking demo at We Olive SF. It is a mouthwatering salad that looks really pretty and elegant. The salad is packed with antioxidants and flavor that you will want to eat it everyday. The warm squash makes the salad perfect for a cold, winter evening, also.

Ingredients
2 cups Delicata squash, seeded
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
1/3 cup feta, crumbled
2 tbs pine nuts, toasted

1 tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup arugula

Preparation
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cut squash into 1 inch squares. In a large mixing bowl,  toss squash,  sea salt, black pepper, and  olive oil to coat the squash well. Evenly lay out the squash on a baking sheet. Roast in oven for 30-35 minutes, or until soft, but not mushy. Remove from oven and let squash cool slightly.


3.  In the same mixing bowl, add roasted squash, feta, toasted pine nuts,  pomegranate seeds, extra virgin olive oil and gently toss. Garnish with arugula and serve.

A warm winter salad of squash, arugula, pine nuts, and pomegranate seeds is soul satisfying and super simple to make, and is a perfect everyday meal.

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Sustainable Gifts To Give

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Shopping during the holidays is never as fun as it looks on television. Parking, long lines, the plethora of gizmos and gadgets leaves everyone dazed and confused. In the end, you may just end up buying something that the recipient really does not want or is environmentally damaging. This year, turn your focus on giving gifts that really matter and will make a positive difference.

1. Pick a charity that is meaningful to you and give in the honor of your recipient. This choice is more sustainable and thoughtful than anything material that will eventually end up in the trash. As cliché as it sounds, giving the gift of giving keeps on giving. You can determine how much you want to give so it  falls into your budget. My favorite charity is Heifer International. You can donate money to buy livestock, seeds, or trees which enables communities to generate food and income. Heifer trains the recipient family/community to sustainably raise their gift and share their resources with others. Equally favorite, Fair Trade (aka TransFair) empowers farmers and farm workers around the world to decide their most pressing local economic development needs for themselves, and reinvest in their products, cooperatives, and communities in sustainable ways.

2. A cookbook and pantry ingredients to help your recipient get started. My favorite starter cookbook is How to Cook Everything, Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food By Mark Bittman. Bittman simply shows how to make cooking at home easier, with an emphasis on basic kitchen skills.

3. Tea. Not only is tea a really delicious drink to enjoy slowly, alone or with company, it’s healthy. Tea has been used as an herbal, medicinal concoction throughout Asia for thousands of years and has picked up  steam in America. Choosing organic, Fair-Trade tea will make the gift even sweeter as you will do the environment and farmers justice as well. My preferred tea house is Samovar in San Francisco and they have an easy website for ordering tea and accessories. Follow Samovar on Facebook or Twitter for discount codes.

4. Give gifts that create memories. Buy a membership to the museum, cooking class, or a joint spa treatment. Doing activities together will make your relationship stronger and both of you will have memories (and pictures) to last a lifetime. If you live in the Bay Area, I highly recommend gifting a day pass or membership to the California Academy of Sciences. Sign up on flash sale sites such as Blissmo and Fresh Guide to save big on service oriented and green-minded gifts.

5. Give the gift of health. Signing up for a dance class, gym membership, or personal training may seem like an extravagant purchase for oneself, therefore in the form of a gift it will be most appreciated. A personal training session might just give your recipient the jumpstart s/he needs. I really like working out at my local JCC gym and love all the classes they offer to members. Flash sales site are a great place to shop for local health oriented gifts!

Did you know that Club Dine In! is on Twitter and Facebook? Follow @clubdinein for daily health, fitness, and social news, recipes and delicious tips! Join the Club Dine In! community on Facebook to connect with like-minded people and find out about exclusive Club Dine! events.