5 Really Good Reasons To Eat Seasonally

Eating seasonally makes me feel happier and there are traditions around seasonal food around the world. In India, mango season is celebrated religiously. Actually, most people in India refer to seasons by the foods available at that time of the year. Having grown up in the United States, I didn’t really experience the joys of seasonal eating, since most foods were available year round. Though, I distinctly remember mango and green flat bean season, since my family made a huge celebration out of them. These foods were bought at an international market and were internationally imported foods. I have never appreciated fresh food as much as I do now until I started eating them in season. That is when mango and bean season clicked and I gained a better appreciation for how the world works.

dino kale garden

Aside from culture, there are many reasons to eat seasonally. From a health perspective, eating fresh, seasonal food makes the most sense. Hopefully, the points I make below are enough to convince you to include seasonal foods in your life.

1. Variety. Cooking with the seasons breaks up the monotony of your meals. There comes a time at the end of each season, where I cannot wait for the arrival of new crops. I become bored with the flavors and crops by eating them at home and at every  local restaurant all season long. It almost makes me want to stop eating the vegetables and fruits altogether, which I suspect is the case for many people. However, by shopping at the farmers market, I am constantly introduced to new vegetables and fruits which help stave off boredom on the plate and palate. Even dining out at local restaurants becomes exciting, be able to experience and taste what the talented chefs can make with the seasonal food.

strawberry lentils

2. Healthier. There are many health benefits to eating in season. Vegetables and fruits have the most nutrients when they are at their peak ripeness. The antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in the food starts to decrease as soon as they are picked. Vegetables and fruit that are grown to travel long distances (1,500 miles on average) are picked before they can develop their full range of nutrients. Fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits usually travel a lot less and are exposed to a lot less heat and light (both degrade delicate vitamins). Also, you can buy seasonal food in its whole, unprocessed form, instead of canned or frozen varieties. Canned foods are usually soaked in sugars, salts, BPA and are highly processed. Frozen foods are a pretty good option when you do not have fresh food available, however, there is a bit of processing and nutrient loss that goes on when freezing the food.

3. Environment. Seasonal produce usually means local produce, which is also great for the environment and local community. As pointed out in #2, local foods travel a lot less and are fresher, thus they retain much of their nutritive value. Fewer green houses are produced and less fuel is used in transporting local food. Food that is closer to the source also has less, if any, preservatives and pesticides sprayed on them and are unprocessed. The best place to find local, seasonal food is at the farmers market or by subscribing to a CSA. Though, if these are not options for you, look for the local sign in the produce section of your grocery store. More and more grocery chains are catching on to the fact that people want higher quality food. Spring does not arrive in San Francisco at the same time it does in New York City; seasons change at different times everywhere. Seasonal food gives you the opportunity to connect with the land you live on and the people who grow your food.

4. Wide Range of Nutrients. This one is a slight combination of #1 and #2. Eating seasonally ensures you are eating a variety of nutrients. A magical vegetable or fruit that has all the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, and fiber your body needs just does not exist. There are some pretty powerful fruits and vegetables out there, but even they lack a little something. Thus, it’s important to eat a variety of food and the best way to avoid eating broccoli year round is to eat the food that is in season.

5. Taste. Quite simply, food grown in its rightful season tastes better. If you are not convinced, do a taste test. A winter tomato, grown indoors or in hot houses, does not taste anything like a tomato grown under the hot sun, picked right off the vine just before it got to you. The better the fruits and vegetables taste, the more likely you will eat them. The more you eat them, the more health benefits and happiness you will gain. Give the vegetables and fruits you wrote off a second chance, by eating them in the season they were always meant to be grown.

tomatoes

Just shortly after experiencing seasonal food, I started to anticipate what the newest food will be at the farmers market. A partial reason, why I started Farmers Market Finds. I look forward to each season equally. Towards the end of winter, I start to look forward to asparagus, strawberries, and English peas. By mid-June, I can almost taste the heirloom tomatoes, peaches, and squash blossoms. And, by the end of September, I am making roasted butternut squash and thinking about Thanksgiving. In February, I am obsessing over blood oranges and kale.

What is your favorite food season and what do you anticipate eating most?  Please share your culture and food traditions with me. 

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Update: We Raised Over $4000 for Doctor’s Without Borders.

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Last September, Sila Mutungi posted on his Facebook status that he was thinking for doing pancake festival/fundraiser. I contacted him right away wanting to help organize. Sila and I split up in our tasks; he was in charge of organizing the music and I was in charge of everything related to the pancakes. Usually in large food festivals, sustainability is not even considered and I wanted to make sure that all of the ingredients were sourced sustainability.  Through generous donations from local farms and businesses, we had medjool dates, fair-trade coffee, bananas, chocolate, and sugar, organic apples and pears, organic butter, whipping cream, and milk, farm fresh eggs, and buttermilk pancake flour. View more pictures here and here.

Marcus Cohen Presents the Congress

Organizers: SILA and Nimisha

Roger Anthony, of Soul Cocina, was our executive chef.

Despite the rainstorm, hundreds of people walked through the doors, to enjoy live music and eat sustainable pancakes. In the end we raised over $4000. The entire event was run on donations and volunteers. 100% of the $10 cover charge went to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). We had chosen Pakistan as the recipient of the fundraiser. Pakistan was devastated by flooding, triggered by torrential rains, affecting 20 million people. The floods washed away crops and destroyed villages.

 

 

Here is a summary of how the money was used in Pakistan in response to the floods:

 

 

  • Conducted over 106,616 consultations at five hospitals, seven mobile clinics and six diarrhea treatment centers;
  • Screened more than 97,000 children and pregnant and lactating women and treated more than 8,800 malnourished children;
  • Conducted 434 complicated birth deliveries and 82 Caesarean sections;
  • Admitted 339 new born babies to the nursery;
  • Distributed 2.1 million liters of clean water per day and built 709 latrines, 280 shower sites, and 130 hand-washing points, and installed 271 hand pumps;
  • Distributed 73,708 relief item kits and 22,629 tents;
  • Distributed 2,000 transitional shelters

I would like to thank our donors, volunteers, and musicians again. A special thank you to Sila Mutungi, Roger Anthony (Soul Cocina),  Satish Ambati, and Bruce Hanson (for providing CODA SF).

MUSICIAN INCLUDED
SILA, Native Elements, Marcus Cohen Presents the Congress, The Dunes, Classical Revolution, Miriam Speyer, Dj Santero, Dj Zeph, and Dj Amar.

DONORS INCLUDED:
Alter Eco
Bob’s Red Mill
Straus Family Creamery
Farm Fresh To You
Whole Foods, Noe Valley
Rainbow Grocery Co-Op
Weavers Coffee and Tea
Bi-Rite Market

Rotee

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Meatless Mondays: The Health Reasons

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Meatless Monday (MM) is a nation-wide campaign to encourage people to give up meat one day out of the week to increase health, ecology, and economy. It’s also very achievable. You are only going one day a week without any meat. In turn, you will increase your intake of fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. (MM does not mean substituting meat for refined carbohydrates,  large quantities of cheese and peanut butter; it will add a significant amount of fat and calories to your diet. MM also does not mean for you to increase your intake of meat for the rest of the week.)

Here are a few health benefits from a vegetarian diet:
-Vegetarian diets often contain more fiber, potassium, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and vitamins associated with reduced risks of chronic and preventable diseases (diabetes, obesity).
-Generally, vegetarians maintain a healthier body weight (that is if they make good choices).
-Diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce cancer risk. Whereas, red and processed meat consumption are linked to colon cancer.
-Studies have shown that countries with a higher intake of fat, especially fat from animal products, such as meat and dairy products, have a higher incidence of breast cancer.
– Fiber is only found in fruit and vegetables. Fiber makes you full on fewer calories, hence less overeating and greater weight control.

These are just a few of the many health benefits of a diet focused on fresh vegetables and fruits. Adopt to MM and see the results for yourself.

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Farmer’s Market Find: Strawberries and Asparagus!

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We got the first crop of strawberries and asparagus already! Subtle signs that Spring isn’t too far away.  I am not entirely sure, but I think the two strawberry vendors at today’s market were from Southern California, where the weather is much warmer than here. Strawberries are just lovely, but they have a really thin, delicate outer and absorbs the pesticides and is listed number 1 in EWG’s Dirty Dozen list. The Dirty Dozen lists fruit and vegetables exposed to the most pesticides. I will have a lot more on the strawberry issue soon enough- California did silently pass the use of methyl iodide, scientifically proven to be very dangerous.

The take home message here is that buy organic strawberries and ask the farmer questions about their farming technique. I remember seeing one of the strawberry farmer’s last summer and spring at this market but I never talked to them. I wanted to ask them a lot more questions, because I am conflicted on  eating non-organic strawberries, but I got shy! It happens. Though, I did taste the pesticide-free strawberries and it was so good.

Smoked Salmon from Montery Bay’s Blue Ocean Smoke House

I splurged a little and got smoked salmon today ($10/6 ounces). We started eating smoked salmon much more after hiking the Kalalau trail in Kauai.  We packed smoked salmon, hard goat cheese, nuts, and grass-feed roast beef deli meat to sustain us on the two-day, 12 mile hike. Now we eat it for breakfast, a quick snack, or topped on a bed of different vegetables. Of course, we only eat wild Alaskan salmon from sustainable resources. If you are not sure about which fish are safe or sustainable check out the Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch.

Celery Root- Swank Farms

We recently had celery root dessert at Ubuntu- I had no idea it looks like this in its original form.

Cheddar Cauliflower- Swank Hill Farms

No, they don’t taste like cheddar cheese! They are higher in vitamin A (the color) and taste like white cauliflower.

Tat Soi flowers- Happy Boy Farms

The tatsoi flowers are related to broccoli family and have a really nice taste to them. They are not as delicate as they look and taste wonderful sauteed with garlic, ginger, and little soy sauce.

I was at the Ferry Building for breakfast with a friend on Tuesday morning and the Tuesday market was going on. I bought a few oranges, asparagus, and ranunculus. There were tulips too, but I just adore ranunculus. The farmer gave me an awesome tip of just putting a spoonful of sugar in the water to help them bloom. They are still blooming!

Other purchases:

Spinach (Serendipity), Meyer lemons (Hamadas), Cara Cara oranges (Ken’s Top Notch Produce), Leeks (Happy Boy Farms), Button mushrooms (Far West Fungi), and Roma tomatoes (Swank Farms). I spent a total of $32 this week at the farmers market.

 

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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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Farmer’s Market Find: Helping Hunger

I opted to skip the Farmer’s Market this week- gasp! My fridge is still full of vegetables from last week (I overbought) and decided to do something a little different this Sunday morning. I finally got a chance to volunteer with Boobs4Food, a passionate volunteer organization committed to fighting hunger in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The founders are four women (Boobs) who are striving to “unite the food-loving community with those for whom the next meal is an uncertainty” (Food). All of the volunteers met at Out The Door for brunch, before we headed to the Fort Mason Farmer’s Market to pick up and deliver food to Harbor House and Friendship House for Food Runners. Food Runners  picks up perishable and prepared food from businesses such as the farmers markets, restaurants, caterers, etc. and delivers it to shelters and organizations that feed the hungry. As a dedicated farmer’s market shopper, it was really great to see where to all of the unsold produce and food end up.

Over brunch, the ladies of Boobs4Food and I discovered that all of us grew up in the same town, went to the same elementary, junior high, and college!

Out The Door is the quicker, sister restaurant of the famous Slanted Door. I really like OTD, because they use fresh, local ingredients and the menu is really healthy. Their new brunch menu is amazing; it has favorites like beignets and Vietnamese coffee, eggs in a hole, a variety of Pho, and green papaya salad. The menu offers plenty options for vegetarian and gluten-free diets.  Restaurants like OTD inspire me to epxand my cooking horizons and explore different flavors in the kitchen.

Boobs4Food organizes volunteer events monthly. Join them on Twitter or Facebook to find out about upcoming events.

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My Sustainable Holiday Table

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Last month for Thanksgiving, Phantom Floranista and I collaborated to make a beautiful Thanksgiving table arrangement. We tried to use all compostable and sustainable materials to create a feeling of warmth, abundance of food, and elegance. The table arrangement was so beautiful that I had a hard time taking it apart once Thanksgiving was over and it was time to transition into Christmas. Therefore, we consumed all of the edible fruit and composted the flowers and some of the leaves. Even though, we didn’t have any specific plans to entertain during this month, I just had to do something with the table now that Phantom Floranista showed me the basics of floral arrangement. We also got our first tree as a married couple this year and decided to really get into the spirit of things by decorating our apartment. Inspired by magazines and in-store displays, I bought extra glass ornaments and other decorative knickknacks to put on our long, rosewood table.

I carefully placed large, round ornaments in places where the apples, corn, pomegranates, and mandarins were for the Thanksgiving table.

I also placed a few taller ornaments to give height and character.

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I also replaced the Fairy Tale pumpkin with a cubed vase filled with ornaments and decorative balls for the centerpiece. I bought the red cubed vase last year and filled the bottom with tissue to prop up the decorative pieces. I also used  tall candles that I already had to give more height and depth.

I covered up an empty aluminum can into a festive utensil holder with tissue paper, rubber band, ribbon, and an ornament.

Please share your holiday decorating tips and pictures!

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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!

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Farmers Market Find: Crabs

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I really love everything about the holidays.  From Halloween to Diwali, to Thanksgiving, to Christmas, it’s all about the pretty, shiny things. Well, it’s not just about the pretty, shiny things, but the decorating makes the holidays really fun.  So does the food. The farmers markets are bursting with late Autumn and early winter produce and seafood. It’s crab season and everyone is planning their meals around crabs! I don’t think I am ready to bring crab home, but I am definitely planning dinners out before crab season is over.  I would love crabtastic recommendations in SF!

Australian Spinach almost feels like Kifer Leaves

Moss Christmas trees and decorations!

Authors of The Wild Table cookbook, Connie Green and Sarah Patterson Scott

Natural, compostable decorations and accent pieces.

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