Monday, March 28, 2016

Helping People Get on the Road to Real Food!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Spring Solstice/Easter, whatever you celebrated, over the past long weekend.  Over the holiday, I saw a lot of friends and family and was asked some of the same questions that I get asked a lot. Mainly, “How do I start shopping and eating better and cooking more from scratch”? “You must have unlimited spare time!”.  “How do you do it?" Do you ever sleep?”

I realize that many people think it is a daunting task to even enter the kitchen - let alone actually cook in the kitchen. And I also hear the time and stress crunch argument a lot.  “No time”.  “I can’t be running from market to market a couple of times a week!”  “How can I come home after a long day and start cooking dinner from scratch?”. 

Without answers and a plan, these folks end up going to a "big box", or a one stop mega mart where they pick up boxes of processed microwave stuff (I can’t in good conscious call it food), or "rotisserie" chickens, or eating lots of take out and fast food. People also fall into the habit of eating regularly at low priced chain restaurants were the food is frozen and microwaved for service - and highly processed.

When I get asked these questions, I first think, what is it that these folks really want to do?  DO they have goals around good food that they cooked for themselves or are they just feeling guilty by what they see in the - very confusing - press? Are they willing to make some changes to the benefit of themselves and their family?  Lastly, it is also important to know when folks are not willing to make changes and are pretty clear in their belief that anyone who thinks that their heavily processed, sugar laden, fast food diet isn’t good for them - and is really bad for their kids -  is a “conspiracy theorist”.  Trust me - those folks are out there!

Here I offer some guidelines for any of you who get asked these same questions and want to offer something helpful in reply.  If we can help someone make positive, healthy changes, by all means we should. And so I offer the following.

Getting Started

Many years ago, we set out to define some goals for ourselves, the way we shopped, how much we cooked at home, and the way we ate.

Basically our goals were our goals - and they remain the same:    
  1. Shopping for and cooking real food that that is humanely raised, chemical and hormone free and local and seasonal.  Making very few exceptions on the “local” aspect. 
  2. Making meal time an important time - eating together without distractions and with enough time to eat, enjoy the food, and talk to each other.  
  3. Building shopping for real food into the schedule. 

Asking the Right Questions

In order for a person to develop their own goals, it is necessary for them to look at their habits and practices and decide where they want to make changes.  These general questions can be a good start to helping individuals see their habits and patterns and what they would like to change.

  1. How often do you eat fast food in a week?
  2. How often do you eat take out in a week?
  3. Do you “Brown Bag” your lunch?
  4. Do you make menus and shopping lists prior to shopping for food?
  5. How often do you cook “from scratch”?  Would you like to do more real cooking?
  6. Do you have a - relatively - set “dinner time” for everyone? (the work on the positive power of “family dinners” is astounding!  On children, yes.  But also on all of us)
  7. How often in a month do you cook for family and/or friends?  Would you like to do more?
  8. Do you know where the Farmers Markets and Markets selling local farm products are in your immediate area?  
  9. Where do you shop for food?
Of course, there are clearly many other questions to ask and conversations to be had.  We know that if many Americans ate real food, they might be able to eliminate the prescribed medications in their lives. We know that behavior - especially children's behavior - is influenced by the kinds of things they eat. I suggest leaving those more in depth discussions for later in the process.

So, obviously you are not sitting down your family and friends, with paper and pen in hand, and “administering” the above as a test!  But asking folks to consider some of these issues for themselves will help them set their own goals.  Believe or not, we get stuck in patterns of behavior - good and bad - that we don’t even recognize after awhile.  Your nudge may be just the thing to folks thinking about these very important aspects of life.  Good Luck!

Treasure Real Food!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Garden Planning & Delicious Winter Greens Lasagna

The Blog:  Garden Planning and Delicious Winter Greens Lasagna 

These few warm days have been just enough to send me into full on garden planning mode.  I have pulled all of my notes out from the past few years and, as usual, have started planning by promising myself that I will stick to growing the tried and true things that we really like, with maybe one “experiment” or maybe two. 

Then I dive into the catalogs and my reserve weakens.  “A new Heirloom something or other has been discovered??”  “Don’t we really need Tomatillos?”  “Maybe this will be the year that I’ll be successful with that; it looks so good! I should try it one more time . . .”.

Yes, I need someone to talk me down.  In my fantasies I have unlimited space - or think I can create it where it doesn’t exist, which I think I actually have done somewhat, but any more would ruin our little garden escape by overcrowding it.

So, after a first run through of notes and catalogs and articles, I generally start editing in a reasonable fashion.  I’ve learned a lot over the past 4 years of serious growing, so I am hoping that my decisions will yield lots of success.  My pepper habit shows no sign of waning - and it shouldn’t.  We have a lot of success with peppers. I have to have eggplant and okra growing.  The same with a couple bushes of cherry tomatoes.  They are the gardener’s “treat” while working, so one or two types is absolutely necessary.  We eat a lot of salad greens of all sorts, including arugula. The same for hardy greens and beans as well.  I always enjoying growing a bit of garlic and I must have a small plot of potatoes - just because they are so delicious when cooked at harvesting.  Cucumbers are a big deal with us - we love to eat them a number of ways, use them in cocktails and in making lots of pickles.  I have my fingers crossed that the strawberries and blue berries really take hold this year - we went through a lot of jam over the winter.   And, of course, we grow lots and lots of herbs.  I have learned over time what herbs make sense for the way we cook and eat, and what are just going to take up much needed space.

But then, It is time for the Philadelphia Flower Show - so all reserve may be thrown to the wind! 
I would love to hear what you all are planting and if you are, in fact, in planning mode right now or waiting a bit - like a sane person!  Share your garden ideas.

Recipe:  Winter Greens Lasagna (adapted from Chowhound)

This is so scrumptious and satisfying, no one will even miss the traditional  meat filling.  The trick we have found in making this a few times is to use a nice mix of hardy greens (happily we have a freezer full) and also use fresh lasagna noodles.  The original recipe called for “no cook” noodles - which neither of us like.  Buying or making sheets of fresh pasta and just cutting it yourself works perfectly in creating a light and delicious lasagna. You can of course buy dried lasagna noodles, cook them and set them aside, but fresh pasta is really the best.


2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium white onion, medium dice
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups of heavy cream
1/2 pound of kale (whatever you like, red is good), washed and coarsely chopped - you can remove the stems if they seem to large; we usually don’t remove stems from greens, there are lots of nutrients and flavor there! You should have about 5 cups.
1 pound of swiss chard, washed and coarsely chopped. You should have about 8 cups.
1/2 pound of Lacinato (black kale), washed and coarsely chopped. You should have about 5 cups.

Note:  the point is to use about 18 or cups of chopped hearty greens.  Whatever you have on hand or what’s available - and what you like - will make a delicious lasagna.

1 3/4 cups of creme fraiche.
Freshly cut, uncooked lasagna noodles or a 9 oz box of “no cook” noodles or cooked fresh noodles
1 pound of whole milk fresh ricotta
2 cups of finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 5 oz)


Heat your oven to 400 degrees, set a rack in the middle of the oven.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  When the oil shimmers add the onion and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper and cook the mixture until soft, stir occasionally.  This will take about 5 minutes.

Add the cream to the pot along with a few handfuls of the greens and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly wilted.  Keep adding greens a little at a time until they are all slightly wilted - and coated in the cream. This will take about 10 minutes. Season the creamy greens with salt and pepper and remove the pot from the heat.

Spread 1 cup of the creme fraiche evenly over the bottom of a 13 by 9 inch baking dish.  Cover that layer with a layer of 4 lasagna noodles. The noodles should overlap a little. Use a slotted spoon and scoop 1/3 of the greens mixture from the cream and evenly spread it over the noodles, then cover the greens with a third of the fresh ricotta and a quarter of the parmesan.  Repeat this process for two more layers and end with a final layers of lasagna noodles on top.  Pour 1/4 cup of the warm cream evenly over the noodles.  Mix the remaining creme fraiche and parmesan together and spread that evenly over the top.

Cover the lasagna with foil and bake until bubbling and starting to brown, about 45 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake until the top is browned completely and the sauce is bubbling. This will take about 10 minutes more.

Let the dish cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.  


Cherish Real Food!