Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to School (From the Farm)

I have a few funny farm to school stories to share.  We have been dabbling in this area for about 5 years and the efforts in the early days offer some of the funniest fodder.

1.  Imagine the faces on our dear lunch ladies when the farmer shows up with wooden crates of whole, unstripped, unwashed KALE leaves.  They were accustomed to washed, chopped, ready to go bagged kale. I received a few emails after that one.  Lesson learned - give a fair warning and plan for delivery a few days prior to service so they can begin prep.

2.  We attempted to order WATERMELONS from one farm for a special program at one school.  We estimated we needed about 30.  All good.  However, come harvest day, only 15 were ripe and they weren't exactly of the size I was accustomed to seeing in the grocery store and upon which I based my forecast.  Lesson learned - always have a Plan B.

3.  We were super excited that one of the school gardens had SWEET POTATOES to contribute to the school lunch menu.  Good thing we supplemented with potatoes from our local farmer because they school's were long, skinny, misshapen and hard to peel.  Lesson learned - it's the thought that counts.

4.  Most local farms are not set up to deliver to 16 schools.  In the early days, I was the delivery gal, driving the school division, circa 1980s, wood paneled station wagon around the circuit of our schools.  Lesson learned - try a satellite delivery system where the farm delivers to 4 or 5 centralized schools and the cafeteria managers pick up from there.

5.  One of our very first farm to school programs was coordinated by an enthusiastic local college student.  He called it "Lunch Goes Local".  Cute right?  He assured us he had a great source for local produce.  We planned some side dishes and modified some entrees to include a local veg each day.  But it wasn't so cute when we got the bill for SALAD GREENS that cost $7 a pound.  Lesson learned - no hydroponics, no middle man produce broker, and set a price limit.

It is well worth the effort for the support of the local economy, the positive publicity, the student buy-in, the super fresh produce, and the potential lessons about gardening and food sustainability for students.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Feeding Your Family

We had a meeting today at Trader Joes.  Having just come off the fiscal cliff of feeding 3 teenagers, and thus 5+ adults, I had for the most part thought TJ's was pricey.  Most containers and packages are small for 5 adults which means I would have to buy multiples.  (Just to keep you up to date, two of those mouths are now at college and unfortunately, tuition is more expensive than groceries.)

We were talking about doing grocery store tours and cooking classes with them, and our friendly Crew Member pointed out some great products.  I have to say Trader Joe's (or any store's for that matter) frozen veggies offer great options to expand dinner and to pump up the nutritional content of dinner.

I frequent TJ's for their sauces and spreads and cute pastas.  After today, I would add their prepped veggies.  I am usually an advocate for not purchasing prepped items - and thus paying for the cost of someone else slicing and dicing.  But I must say, when time is short, ready to go pre-cuts are a great option.  We have been defaulting to eating out when the dinner plan isn't preset and I know, even with the cost of prepped veggies or other short cuts, it is cheaper to eat at home.  A stop at the grocery might be a better option than eating out.

This ending up being a $69 meeting as I always multi-task and tossed some items in the cart while we did our tour.  But I'm stocked up on a few go-to items for adding flavor to my dishes, some great snacks, and fresh spinach for tonight's salad.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Menu Planning 101 - Dinner Winners

Very good lasagna tonight, if I may say so myself.  Oven ready noodles.  Two jars of pasta sauce - any flavor.  No ricotta - no problem.  I combined shredded mozz, an egg, a half a jar of leftover aflredo sauce, shredded jack & cheddar, shaved provolone, and a little grated Parmesan. We are trying to eat vegetarian a few nights a week so I sauteed onions, green peppers (from the garden!), and diced carrots with some fresh herbs to make veggie lasagna.

I'm famous for not having a dinner PLAN - much to my husband's dismay, but I'm pretty good at pulling something together.  Some of my other posts have talked about letting the harvest determine the menu, based on what is in the garden.  You can also let the pantry or the fridge determine the menu, based on what you have in stock or what leftovers you may have.  Having a well stocked pantry is the key to success with this style of menu "planning".

5 tips from a seasoned cook:

5.  Keep a well stocked pantry.

4.  Cook often enough so that you know how to make easy substitutions. (I knew what consistency lasagna filling should be, so that I could come up with a reasonable, tasty substitute.)

3.  Make do with what you have.  Mozz, cheddar, provolone, parmesan - whatever.

2.  Notice that I said "cook" and not "chef" - they won't all be winners, but they'll be okay for dinner.  Trial and error is okay.  That's how you accomplish number 4 above.

1.  Hate running to the store as much as I do!!  I'll be really creative (risky?) with substitutions before I will run to the grocery store.


Friday, October 25, 2013

What's In My Garden Now? Freeze Warning!

We have the first freeze warning tonight.  All my fellow gardeners and I will be scurrying around to bring in potted plants and tropicals, to pick the last tomatoes and peppers, and to cut the last flowers. 

The first freeze is good news for the collards, as they say they will be sweeter after a few frozen nights.  Can't say I've noticed in past years.  I'm not quite a collards' aficionado yet.  The ones I made this past weekend - before any freeze - were delicious.  Of course, my recipe calls for a pinch of sugar!

Our Potting Shed

My husband built this wonderful potting shed.  The morning glories (started from seed!) overtook it this year.  There are huge windows on the north facing front and the west facing side for full sun all day.  It allows us to keep ferns and geraniums from our porch "inside" over the winter.  This year we will try to overwinter lantana and a beautiful rose tree.  We can start seeds in the early spring in the big, sunny windows.  He has also been known to buy shrubs and perennials at the crazy late fall 70-90% off sales at the garden center and keep them in there over the winter.  It is not a heated space but the exposure allows the sun to keep it nicely warm.  Not quite a greenhouse, but almost.

How does your garden grow?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

School Daze-Hash Tags and Tweets

To follow up on how I "kept it real" for high school students (see my blog post from last week), let me tell you how the nutrition classes went.  They liked the assignment to create a hash tag about why fiber is important in your diet.  My example was #fiberfills.  From the students, we had the not unexpected poop related one liners, demonstrating they clearly got it.

After looking at clear plastic tubes that showed the sugar and caffeine content of energy drinks, they were asked to Tweet something to their friends about what they learned.  One student Tweeted, "I'll stick with water".

I think they got a kick out of counting out the 20 sugar cubes of sugar that are in a 20 ounce bottle of  Mt. Dew.  They realized that the at-a-glance nutrition information in the Nutrition Facts box is for an 8 ounce serving and that they had to multiply by the 2.5 servings per container to "keep it real" for the amount they usually drink.

They were pretty impressed that our program had just hired a social media intern to help us reach high school students. They were similarly impressed that I knew about things like Instagram and Vine - thanks to my own teenagers.

If only one could predict what is next on the social media horizon. We need to stay one step ahead of the obesity epidemic by being innovative and responsive.  This is true for children, young people, and adults.  What is the next healthy eating or physical activity fad, food, tool, app, game, etc. that will help us get our message across?  Who knew that McDonald's would respond to positive industry and parental pressure and cater to children and change its Kid's Meal?  Who knew that kickball would make a comeback for young adults?  Who knew that My Fitness Pal would help adults monitor their intake and output?
What's next?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What's In My Garden Now? The Simple Pleasures Of Life on a Hobby Farm

What a pleasure to come home from work after a long day of meetings and head out to the chicken coop and garden and gather a basket of fresh eggs and veggies.  Here is today's harvest.

Not bad for a late fall day!  Look at the rich colors in the mesclun lettuce mix and Swiss chard.

Show the picture of the radishes to your kids.  Did they know they have such a long root?  Did they know they have such lush tops?  Or did they think they only came trimmed, cleaned and in little bags?

And I'm happy to say the new chickens are finally laying in the nesting boxes!  They had been laying on the floor of the coop, in the pine shavings, requiring us to climb under roosting branches to retrieve the eggs.  Maybe they like the warmth of the boxes, now that it is cooler outside.  We are down to 5 chickens, with 3 currently laying, and we are getting about 2 eggs every other day.

Simple pleasures.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

School Daze-What Works?

Love this piece! A fellow blogger interviewed school meal program folks like me and here is her take on what works to get kids to eat the good stuff.

Take a look:  Six Quick Lessons From the School Lunch Line

1.  Advisory panels of (she says) parents - I say students. 

2.  Introduce the new stuff slowly - same good pizza with a whole grain crust.  We switched the crust the first year and the cheese to low fat the next year.  Psych.

3.  Free samples - it's hard to say no to free stuff.  I had high school students eating fresh, local steamed asparagus because it was free.

4.  Peer pressure - contests, direct asks, and positive social pressure from students who do like it.  Find your cheerleaders.

5.  Don't give up - she mentions a school district where it took a year for students to accept dark leafy lettuce rather than iceberg. We switched to brown rice cold turkey at the start of the school year.  They didn't notice.  We plan to do that next year with whole grain hamburger and hot dog buns.

6.  Know when to give up - she says, "Sometimes you have to let the customers be right, even when they're not".  Our epic fail was fish tacos.  I love them.  Most kids didn't.  Now we have "Make Your Own Taco Day" and they wrap it themselves.  If they want to leave out the cole slaw, they can.  If they just want to eat the fish pieces, they can.  Want to dip the tortilla (whole grain!) in the dressing?  Sure, why not?

Make the healthy choice the easy choice.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hot Topics-Adult Obesity Rates

US Adult obesity rates from as recent as 2012 are out.  Overall rates are 35%, down by barely one statistically insignificant percentage point from 2009-10 rates.  The good news is obesity rates are not rising.  The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) has been conducted annually since 1999 and monitors the health and nutritional status of adult Americans over age 20.  The data is not self-reported but is actually measured.

Looking at gender, women are up slightly, and men are down. Rates for men did not differ from women, except for in blacks.  Fifty-seven percent of black women were obese, compared to 37% of men of the same race.

Looking at race, for black adults, the obesity rate is 48% putting that group solidly in the “almost half” range.  Wow.  Half of adult black Americans are obese, compared with 33% of whites and just 11% of Asians.  By prevalence, the largest numbers of obese persons are white (50 million plus).  Another wow.
Looking at age, middle-aged adults ages 40-59 had the highest rates, followed by younger adults 20-39.   

This table presents a summary of the latest data.

Group   Obesity Rate %
Overall   35
Women   36
Men   34
Blacks   48
Hispanics   43
Whites   33
Asians   11
Being obese is having a body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30.  In a 5’4” person, the cut off is 174 pounds.  In a 5’9” person, this is 203 pounds. Risk of chronic disease may be impacted by factors such as body composition and fat distribution that are not captured by BMI.  By definition, obesity (BMI>/=30) rates include those that are overweight (BMI >/=25).  If we added the percent of adults that are in the overweight range (BMI 25-29) to the percent that are obese, the overall percent of adults at an unhealthy weight for height would be alarmingly higher.

Alarming enough is that the prevalence of obesity among adults continues to be greater than one-third of the US population.  Where are our role models for children?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Farm to School Success Story

In 2009, WVEC did a segment on Healthy Virginian's Week and our theme was farm to school.  We served local red potatoes and eggplant - yes, eggplant - from a farm right here in Williamsburg.  Here's the clip.

The farmer came in to the kindergarten class and showed a whole potato plant in a bucket, with the potatoes exploding off the roots.  Yes, some of the kiddos did not know potatoes grew under ground. 

At lunch one day, I wheeled around a cart of whole eggplants, both white and purple, to pass around and let students feel them, cut eggplant slices to let them see the inside, and then we served roasted eggplant slices to let them taste them.  There are so many age appropriate SOL connected lessons from one vegetable - color and shape, plant parts, adjectives, healthy eating.

We washed, sliced, salted and rinsed (to remove bitterness), dried, panned, sprayed (with cooking spray), and dusted (with Parmesan cheese) hundreds of eggplant slices.  Then, we roasted them quickly in the convection oven.  Spaghetti sauce was provided for dipping (because kids love to dip!) and guess what - they liked it!  More importantly, they tried it.  It's all about creating a willingness to try and an enthusiasm for new foods.

Yes, this was a ton of extra work for our dear lunch ladies.  But talk about willingness and enthusiasm - that is them in 2 words or less.

Four years later, we are still growing our farm to school program (pun intended!) and maximizing experiences for students.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Chuckles From the Chicken Coop-Realities

When the old hens stop laying - they are consistent for about 3 or 4 years - it's time to make a decision.  Similar to the decision to be made when, as new enthusiastic first-time chicken owners, you realize you bought a mix of hens and roosters.  And roosters are noisy.  And they don't lay eggs.

For you city slickers, yes, you can have hens and no roosters and still get perfect eggs.  No problem.

In the beginning, we did the boil-pluck method to take care of the unwanted roosters.  Then we tried the cut open-and-just-keep-the-breasts method.  I quickly decided that when chicken is on sale for about $1 per pound, it is well worth stocking up.  More power to you ancestors, but it is too much trouble and mess for me.  "You can take the girl out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the girl . . ."

We've lost chickens to disease, electrocution, hawks, racoons, and foxes.  We've lost eggs to some of those predators, as well as to snakes.  In the realities of farm life, it happens.  If you are reading this as you think about joining the growing backyard chicken movement, be prepared to consider those realities.  And be prepared to make tough decisions.

Today, husband asked me what I wanted to do about the hens that were no longer laying, as we head into a winter of feeding and caring for them for no return on our investment.  We have a decision to make.

So, where's the chuckle?  It's the chuckle of satisfaction from eating fresh eggs. It's the chuckle of satisfaction that my kids have experienced farm life - knowing where food comes from, the hard work, the fresh air, and the realities. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hot Topics-Report Cards

Report cards are about to come out for our children.  We received one too.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nutrition watchdog group (among other things), gave Americans a "C" for our eating habits.  Check out our report card.  Using USDA data to compare current eating habits to those of 1970, we are eating more grains and about the same amount of fruits and veggies.

Let's take a look at My Plate.

Comprising over a quarter of the recommended plate, eating more grains could be a good thing if they are whole grains.

But eating the same amount of fruits and veggies could be a problem.  Take another look.  Veggies are the largest recommended food group. 
For most of us, fruit consumption probably needs to shrink a bit and veggie based meals and snacks needs to increase.

Beef consumption is down but cheese is way up at 23 pounds per person (interestingly, that's almost exactly an ounce a day).

Bad news?  Fats and oils are up (it must be all that EVOO madness).  But we have moved away from the saturated fats.  Good news?  Sugar and sweeteners are down (probably replaced by sugar subs - so I'm not sure we came out ahead).  But we are still drinking too much sugar in our sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs).  Not just sodas but lattes and frappes too.  Is this you?

Alarmingly, calories are up 450 per day since 1970.  Using the guideline that a pound of fat has about 3500 calories (and simplifying the math), if that excess caloric consumption were consistent, we could be gaining almost a pound a week over our parent's generation.  Things that make you go "hmm".

A "C" is average.  Let's not be average.  Do your homework and make some changes.  Thirty years is a long time.  How will the report card look for our kids in another 30 years?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hot Topics-Permissible Indulgence

Seaweed, black beans or brown rice with the word "indulgence" sounds like an oxymoron.  But snacking is in and if your snack has healthy ingredients, you feel better about it; hence the phrase "permissible indulgence"

One-third of Americans say they snack 3 to 4 times a day.  That is on top of their meals.  Some weight loss advice recommends 3 balanced meals with 2-3 small snacks a day. With our on-the-go society, snacking is here to stay.
My Plate guidelines apply to snacks too so half of your snacks should be vegetables and fruits.  Enter seaweed and black beans.  Half of your grain based snacks should be made from whole grains.  Enter brown rice.  Snacks should include at least 2 food groups for nutrient variety and satiety.  Enter lean protein and low fat dairy.

There is a broad spectrum from denial to indulgence.  Restrictive, elimination diets are known to fail.  Change what constitutes an indulgence for you.  Think about it - is it sweet or salty?  Crunchy or chewy?  Maybe you can get that from something healthy.  Give yourself permission to indulge.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What's In My Garden Now? A Fall Salad

Tonight's salad - all fresh from the garden!

Mesclun lettuce mix
Swiss chard
Cherry Tomatoes
Green Pepper

To accent the strong ingredients, I added crumbled bleu cheese, sprinkled on some sesame seeds, drizzled it with chunky bleu cheese dressing and tossed on a few bacon bits (real!)

I didn't know what we were having for dinner after I got home from work, took my long walk with the dog down to the river, and then gathered eggs - until I visited my garden.  Once again, I let the harvest determine the menu.  Okay, so we had it with frozen pizza, but it was delish!

I was thrilled to see that after a lot of rain, the collards are ready with young, tender leaves and the broccoli has formed its heads.  They say collard leaves are sweeter after the first frost, but I might not be able to wait!

Keeping It Real

I was sitting in the lobby of a major teaching hospital on the east coast.  It draws patients from a large region - rural and urban, affluent and "underserved".  I have several hours to sit and wait so I am people watching.  People stroll (hand in hand with their caregiver), rush (usually in scrubs), roll (in wheelchairs), and walk by. 

I am struck by how far apart the general healthy eating advice we give is from the chronic disease processes being treated in this hospital.  My Plate is bright and cute.  Disease is sad and painful.  The gap is huge. 

I'm not sure young people "get it".  I think the promise (or hope) of deferred chronic health problems is too remote.  I fear the vision of life as an older person with a calendar full of doctor appointments and a kitchen counter covered with meds is too fuzzy to the young person who is living large.  Living large literally.  Overweight and out of shape.  I am deeply concerned about the overweight and obesity I see in the 20-30 year old population.

That feeling of "I'll lose weight later" or "I'll live forever" is killing these kids (I can call them that).  When they are my age, they will not be sitting in the lobby of the hospital, they will be in the operating room, in the procedure labs, in line at the pharmacy, and inpatients. 

How can we make our healthy eating messages more relevant to young people?

We can talk about how healthy food gives you vim and vigor NOW.  We can talk about how when you are in shape, you feel better NOW.  You can climb stairs and not be out of breath.  We can talk about the "high" you get from a great workout, rather than from an energy drink.

We need to craft our messages carefully.  Kids don't care about grams of fat.  Teens don't care about drinking milk to prevent osteoporosis.  Young adults don't care about increasing whole grains to lower blood pressure or blood lipids.

I'm guest speaking in high school health classes next week.  I've decided to trash the PowerPoint with the official Dietary Guidelines "Select Messages for Consumers" (although I have managed to make those entertaining in the past) and am planning 6 stations with hands-on learning.  Students will rotate through the stations, seeing the fat content of appetizers in "fat tubes", measuring the sugar content of Mt. Dew, rank ordering "juice" drinks by percent juice content, Tweeting a message to their peers about what they learned about the caffeine content of energy drinks, and creating a hash tag phrase about eating breakfast.

Keeping it real.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Poll Results!

Survey Says . . .

The first F4 poll asked what is your favorite fall/winter veggie.  For all 8 (!) of you who replied, the winner was winter squash, followed closely by broccoli.  Kale and collards were a far third (where are all my Southern readers?)

Perhaps it is the wide variety of winter squash that has broad appeal.  Acorn and butternut recipes abound.  I just pulled a butternut squash lasagna recipe from a magazine that I would like to try.  Plus, with winter squash, there is the license to add butter and brown sugar and make it almost dessert like.

Two of the veggies I listed in the poll were ones I have grown successfully in my garden in the fall.  Broccoli and collards are easy to grow.  Kale is too.  Kale is getting quite popular in the form of kale chips - just toss with olive oil and salt and pepper and roast till crunchy.  Kale also works well when chopped and added as a healthy ingredient to many common dishes. 

The fourth choice in the poll, mesclun lettuce, is also easy to grow in both the spring and fall.  Mesclun means mixture and the seeds provide a mixture of tender, young salad greens - great to add to your salad to spice and color it up.  They germinate quickly and can be cast in a container.  Try them in a pot outside your door where you will be more likely to snip a few while they are young and tender and delicious and add them to your salad.

Grow it, try it, like it!

Monday, October 14, 2013

School Daze-More Good News About School Food

Check out this recent (September 2013) article in the local Health Journal about our upcoming effort to continue to improve school food.

The Health Journal

We originally focused on the SUPPLY of good, healthy food to our cafeterias.  This was sort of under the "if you build it, they will come" philosophy. The problem was, parents - who have the lunch money and perhaps healthy food awareness, are often looking for something different than the students - who have the appetite, taste buds, and sometimes quirky kid food desires.  It is hard to make everyone happy.  Especially for $2.30 (plus or minus). 

Now we are focusing on DEMAND - how to make the food more appealing to our student customers by looking at preparation, production, and presentation.

We will work with a consulting chef to address four goals:  offer more appealing food; train our staff; educate our students and parents; and increase meal participation.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hot Topics-Additives, Preservatives and Colorings Oh My!

I’ve noticed something.  Parents of children with behavior problems (such as aggression, hyperactivity, and anxiety) who are now of school age often turn outward to find the cause.  They look to playmates (“he is aggressive”), at gender (“he’s just being a boy”), at classroom management (“but they have to sit still for so long”), to psychology (“she is an active child”) and even school food (“it’s the food coloring”) to explain the behavior.  Maybe the behavior problems manifest themselves more once a child is in the social environment of school.  Perhaps the parent’s attention was first called to the problem behavior by a teacher.

A recent study linked behavior problems to dietary quality during two key developmental time frames.  Unhealthy early dietary patterns, a mother's prenatal diet and a child's diet from birth to age 3, were independently related to the risk for behavioral and emotional problems in children.  These diets are both, of course, well before a child attends school.
I’ve had some parents over the years ask us to not serve food with additives, preservatives, and artificial coloring.  Frankly, I do not want to eat many center-of-plate, low cost foods (which is what public schools have to serve) that do not have preservatives.  Shelf life is important and food deliveries only come once a week.  Food borne illnesses are serious and we serve a susceptible population.  Additives are not inherently wrong.  They emulsify, leaven, enrich and improve our food.  Artificial coloring may be a little shadier, but know that many old school standbys have been improved - our strawberry milk is now colored with beet juice.
I know, it's complicated.  Child behavior is complicated.  Childhood obesity is complicated.  Just don't be too quick to blame school food.
Reference:  Maternal and Early Postnatal Nutrition and Mental Health of Offspring by Age 5 Years: A Prospective Cohort Study, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, October 2013

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What's For Dinner Tonight? No Time, No Recipe, No Problem

In the door at 4:45.  Want dinner by 6.  Hmm . . . 

My go to protein is IQF (individually quick frozen) boneless, skinless chicken breasts - always in my freezer, no thawing required, and bake up in about an hour.
No time to Google a recipe?  Check the bag or packaging for ideas.  This bag has something like "Chicken Broccoli Au Gratin".  I scan the ingredient list.  Frozen broccoli cuts?  Check.  Cheesy boxed rice mix?  No way, too high in sodium.  Shredded cheese?  Check.

So I generally follow the instructions, subbing 1 cup of rice, cream of chicken soup, chopped garlic from a jar, dried onions, Herbs de Provence seasoning, and Parmesan cheese for the boxed rice mix.  The recipe calls for 2 cups of boiling water and I go with that as my general rule of thumb is "twice the water to the rice" for good rice.

Cover with foil and in the oven it goes, with my protein, grain, and veggie all set for dinner.  Thinking of My Plate and wanting half my plate to be fruits and veggies, I need to add a side veggie - what's in the garden?  Since it is pouring rain, I think I'll go with what's in the fridge or freezer?  Baby carrots?  Perfect, boiled with a little tarragon.

No time, no recipe, no problem.  A well stocked freezer or pantry and a little creative substituting can yield a healthy, balanced meal.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Cooking Clubs-Get Your Kids In The Kitchen

Cooking Clubs start next week!  We have 6-week, 1 day-a-week after school cooking clubs in our schools where students learn basic food preparation skills and receive healthy eating messages while they try new foods and new recipes. In our middle schools, they are called "Chef Challenge", with a made-for-TV style cook off at the end.

This year's theme is All Stars.  I chose the kid, family and cafeteria manager (they teach the clubs!) favorites from the past 7 years of cooking clubs.

We start slow with basic recipes and then step it up.  Here is the first week's recipe for elementary students:

Counting Sheep (Serves 1)
 1 large cauliflower floret, washed and trimmed
2 cheese sticks
Cream cheese spread (lite or whipped)
Cover the bottom of the cauliflower with cheese spread.  Cut the cheese sticks in half and attach the 4 pieces of cheese to the cauliflower to make legs.  Dip 3 raisins in the cheese spread and attach to make eyes and a nose.
Source:  National Dairy Council – Chef Combo’s Fantastic Adventures
I wonder what you would call this if it were made with broccoli?  Get your kids in the kitchen and have fun!



Monday, October 7, 2013

Chuckles From the Chicken Coop-Dirty Jobs

What is the grossest job on the hobby farm?  I have raised 3 children, 2 horses, 3 rabbits, a cat, 5 dogs and a litter of 8 puppies, and chickens.  The grossest job by far is cleaning out the chicken coop.  They tend to make stalactites (stalagmites?  The ones that grow up from the floor, not down from the ceiling?).  It's dusty.  There are spiders.  There is the possibility of BIG black snakes.  It stinks.  Got the picture?

Have you ever caught a black snake after it's been in the chicken coop?  They love eggs.  Lots of eggs.  They will eat several and you can see the lumps of the eggs, shell and all, down the length of their body.  Then, after you catch them, their defensive measure is to barf up the eggs.  Hot, stinky, sticky eggs.  Need I say more?  My husband and son are the go-to-guys for snake relocation.

So, why do we do it?  Fresh eggs.  Always the option of a back up dinner plan of omelets.  They are kind of entertaining.  They are easy keepers.  Kitchen fruit and veggie scraps don't go to waste.  Their droppings, mixed with pine shavings from the coop, are great for the garden.  When they are really laying, there is the pleasure of sharing farm fresh eggs.

Unlike many things we do in life, it's worth it. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Late Season Tomatoes

At the same time that I had not-so-perfect tomatoes coming out of the garden, I was talking to one of our cafeteria managers about what we should make for this year's Fall farmer's market cooking demo.  She is a real chef, has great ideas and inspiration, and does a wonderful demo twice a year with me at the market.  I do the nutrition spiel and she does the cooking spiel - great team! 

Anyway, she proposed a roasted tomato & garlic soup.  So I decided to give it try.  You won't find many recipes on F4 (too many other blogs for that) and I tend to cook kind of Rachel Ray style - a little of this and a little of that, but here goes.

I trimmed the tomatoes of splits, holes, green parts and imperfections.  Those are perfect for the chickens - they go ga-ga over anything reddish.  Diced the toms and added chopped garlic (also from my garden, harvested in mid-summer and dried in a colander).  Roasted on a sheet pan in the convection oven for about 15-20 minutes until dry.  They shrink up remarkably.  Then I had to go out of town for 2 days so I put them in the fridge.  This evening, I added chopped fresh basil leaves (from my mom's garden), blenderized them in my Ninja, transferred to a pot, added half and half (yes, a Registered Dietitian who uses half and half) and then added skim milk (there does that make you feel better?) to get the desired consistency.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Wow - really good.  Let the harvest determine the menu.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

I Spent $2.25 On An Apple

Yes, that's right.  One apple.  And you guessed it, it was a GIANT Honey Crisp.  It is that time of year.  Make a meal from an apple. 

We chose 3 at the store and didn't realize until we were checking out that I was about to spend almost $8 for 3 apples.  But I'm not one of those people who changes their mind at the checkout when there is a line.

It was worth it.  Juicy.  Crisp.  Delish!  Some people say eating healthy is expensive.  I very much so disagree.  I would have spent more than $2.25 on a bag of chips.  Or a ChickfilA milkshake - which was tempting me until I remembered I had half the apple left in a zipper bag.  Or just about anything else in a drive through.  Or many other snacks purchased at the grocery store - even two-serving snacks, which is what I got from this gi-normous, de-licious apple.

They don't last long.  Honey Crisps have a very short season.  Get yours today!

Friday, October 4, 2013

What's In My Garden Now?

This is why I grow zinnias every summer.  Freshly cut today!

All this color from a simple packet of seeds.  Cheap.  Easy.  Tall enough that you can get away with not weeding.  Plus, my daughter once said, when she was younger, that she thought they were the prettiest flower she had ever seen.  Warms a momma's heart.

You know how they say you look like your dog and you decorate your house in the colors you like to wear?  I also think you choose flowers in the colors you like to wear.  Love PINK!

I was out of the garden for a week due to a family emergency.  Wow.  Tomatoes are done, for the most part.  I think I'll make fried green tomatoes with what is left because I am losing the race with the stink bugs.  As soon as they turn reddish, they bugs are drilling into them.  Yuck!

Had to do a little watering, which is unusual for October, but it gave the broccoli and collards a boost.  Radishes look great - if only I had the heart to thin them - it is so hard to pull out a perfectly healthy, cute little plant so that the others around it can get bigger.  At least I can give the pulled plants to the chickens!  Mesclun lettuce and Swiss chard are slow - probably due to lack of rain.

When I pull the rest of the tomato plants, I'll top dress with a nice compost mix of grass clippings, chicken poop and pine shavings.  All that goodness will soak in over the winter.

Every season in the garden is a joy!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Food Books, Films and Apps Worth Checking Out

Foodies Take Note!

Food Tank, The Food Think Tank, has compiled lists of books, films and now apps worth your time.  If you are a list person like me, the simplicity of a list is appealing.  If you are an avid reader like me, this is the place to read about sustainable food practices and food politics.  If you are a techie, take a look at the apps.  Film fan and food activist?  Spend a couple of hours here. 

Food Tank Books:  Food Books Worth Reading

Food Tank Mobile Apps:  Apps Changing the Food System

Food Tank Food Activist Films:  Foodie Films

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

School Daze-Chef Partnership

We are in the process of hiring a consulting chef to work with our school meal program.  We have set 4 goals for the program:  to offer more appealing food, to educate parents and students, to increase participation, and to train our staff.  Our chef will be with us for 10 months, working in 2 schools towards specific objectives to reach measurable change.

Over the years, we have had great partnerships with volunteer chefs through the Chefs Move to Schools program.  Now, we hope to lean on one a little more heavily for their culinary skills, eye for presentation, and creativity.

This will be a fun program to blog about.  Professionally, I think a chef & Registered Dietitian partnership will be perfect to help us make strides in our school meal program.  Personally, I hope to learn a few things myself that I can bring home to the dinner table.  Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

School Daze-What Are They Eating and What Are They Doing? Student Survey Data

From October 2012 - Everyone is clamoring for DATA.  Here is a brief report on the data from our survey of secondary school students.

However, the data paints a very complex, divided picture.  Half of our students are getting 7 or less hours of sleep a night.  Not good.  Half of our students are drinking SSBs (sugar sweetened beverages) every day.  Not good.  Half of our students are physically active for 60 minutes or more at least 5 days a week.  Good, but what about the other half?

Strolling the halls of a high school might confirm that students are either fit or fat, with few in between.

The author is right - who worried about soda in schools and who knew what "screen time" was just a decade ago? The conversation has changed - in a good way. Let's keep it up.