Singing the Praises of Local Food

Photo credit: my talented friend, Katie Cannon (www.katiecannonphotography.com)

Anyone who really knows me knows how passionate I am about nurturing a strong local food system here in Minnesota (and everywhere!) and how I believe in the power of local foods to cure so much of what ails us. Strong local food systems equal food security. Strong local food systems support rural communities and give people interested in farming a fair shot at earning a living. Strong local food systems foster the health of people and the planet. Interested in curbing climate change? Buy local. Concerned about animal welfare within our food system? Buy directly from a small local farmer.

The reasons to support family farmers go on and on, and the evidence supporting the local movement is dang compelling. Here are a few reasons to connect with nearby farmers (and make a new friend in the process):

Why buy local?

  1. Local foods are fresher. Buying local produce cuts down travel time from farm to table. The longer fruit and veggies spend on a truck or in storage before being delivered to you, the greater the loss of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. The moment a piece of produce is picked or cut, its enzymes begin decomposing and feeding on precious nutrients. Researchers at Montclair State University revealed that the vitamin C content of broccoli was cut in half when it was shipped from out of the country compared to when it was sourced locally. A study at Penn State University found that spinach lost 47% of its folate after 8 days.

  2. Local foods are seasonal. True, it would be great to have fresh tomatoes and berries all year round, but eating seasonally means avoiding “artificial ripening” with gases or eating a bland version of a fruit or vegetable that’s been shipped thousands of miles. Eating seasonally results in the most delicious and nutrient-dense produce.

  3. Local foods are better for the environment. Some foods are shipped literally thousands of miles; that is a big carbon footprint that could be avoided by purchasing local and seasonal foods. For example, the average carrot has traveled 1,838 miles to reach your dinner table.

  4. Local foods preserve green space and farmland. Buying foods grown and raised closer to where you live helps maintain farmland and green space in your area.

  5. Local foods promote food safety. Less distance between your food’s source and your kitchen table leaves less of a chance of contamination.

  6. Local foods promote variety. Eating locally promotes diversity in one’s diet. Farmers who run CSA (community-supported agriculture) programs, sell at farmers markets, and provide food to local restaurants have the demand and the economic support for raising more types of produce and livestock.

  7. Local foods support your local economy. Money spent locally stays local. Purchasing locally builds your local economy instead of handing over the earnings to a corporation in another city, state, or country. Also, since the food itself moves through fewer hands, more of the money you spend will end up in the pockets of those raising and growing those foods.

  8. Local foods create community. Ever find yourself spending much of your time at the farmers market chatting and socializing in addition to purchasing your produce? Getting to know your farmer, cheese purveyor, fishmonger, butcher, workers at your local co-op, etc., creates a sense of community, which is important for everybody.

Adapted from articles from the University of Minnesota and the University of Washington.

 

Local Food Resources in Minnesota

For CSA (community supported agriculture) farms:

www.minnesotagrown.com

 

For a list of farmers selling direct to consumers (especially during COVID-19): 

www.minnesotacooks.org

 

To find restaurants working with local farmers around Minnesota and serving quality foods, check out the farm-to-table directory at Minnesota Cooks:

www.minnesotacooks.org

 

To visit two of my favorite Twin Cities farmers markets:

www.stpaulfarmersmarket.com

www.millcityfarmersmarket.org

 

For a wonderful, satisfying, local food experience in Northeast Minneapolis:

www.foodbuilding.com

 

For Animal Protein:

www.pettitpastures.com (grass fed beef)

www.ykeracres.com (pastured pork & grassfed beef)

www.redtablemeatco.com (salumi)

www.ferndalemarketonline.com (turkey)

www.ironshoefarm.com (pork, beef, chicken, and more)

www.lowryhillmeats.com (butcher shop)

Drunken Beans

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I couldn’t resist sharing a recipe template for drunken beans – frijoles borrachos – that we’ve been eating up (literally) like nobody’s business at our house.

A dear friend mentioned she’d just added them to her cooking list, inspiring me to rotate them into our own meal plan for the week. For those of you who’ve never tried drunken beans, they’re basically just beans simmered in dark beer with onion, bacon, and a handful of seasonings, which results in a super flavorful and satisfying meal or side dish.  Virtually all of the alcohol from the beer boils out during cooking, so you don’t have to worry about anyone getting tipsy from eating them.

Though I’m no expert, I think drunken beans are usually made with pinto or black beans, but I picked up some dried local heirlooms at the farmers market last week called Good Mother Stallard, and they turned out deliciosos. Good Mother Stallards look like a speckled pinto and are slightly larger than your average pinto. I picked them for no other reason than they are beautiful, grown locally, and I felt drawn to them. I’m certainly not a drunken bean expert, but I don’t see why you couldn’t use red beans or another specialty bean you enjoy. I’ve heard Peruvian or Mexican yellow beans are another good choice.

During this strange time we’re living in, when COVID-19 is shutting down major meat processing plants and panic buyers are even causing some of our small farmers to sell out, many people are considering the benefits of eating more plant-based dishes, which is usually not a bad idea. The average American needs more plant-based meals in his or her diet. Beans are filling and therefore make an excellent substitution for meat. They’re also nutritious and contain protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, antioxidants, and important vitamins and minerals, such as folate, manganese, potassium, iron, phosphorous, copper and magnesium. Beans are also considered helpful for lowering LDL cholesterol, the type we don’t want climbing too high.

Though this template calls for bacon, you could easily leave it out. I hope you give them a whirl!

Drunken Beans

  • 1 lb dried beans like pinto or Good Mother Stallard, rinsed and preferably drained overnight
  • 4 pieces (uncooked) bacon, diced (optional)
  • 1 small white or yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1-2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and diced (a poblano would also be delicious)
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle dark, gluten-free beer (or any dark beer, if you’re not sensitive to gluten)
  • 1 tablespoon brown coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 -1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Soak beans overnight or for eight hours. Drain and then place in a large sauce pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until tender, 45-60 minutes. When tender, drain remaining water and set aside.

Cook bacon in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until crispy, stirring occasionally. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and transfer to a separate plate. Set aside.

Reserve 1-2 tablespoons of bacon grease in the sauté pan and discard the extra. Add onion and pepper, and sauté for 5 minutes or until onion is soft and translucent. Add garlic, and sauté an additional 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add beer, beans, brown sugar, oregano, chili powder, salt, and cumin, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and continue simmering uncovered for about 15 minutes.

To serve, stir in the bacon and lime juice and top with fresh cilantro. Delicious served with a side of chicken or alongside your favorite tacos or burritos!

Claudine Arndt

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Love in the Time of Coronavirus. These are the words that keep visiting me, gently whispering in my ear multiple times each day, guiding my thoughts and outlook around the pandemic we’re facing: Love in the Time of Coronavirus.

Literature nerds will recognize this as an overt wordplay (aka ripoff) from Nobel prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera. For those of you with passions beyond fiction, very simply Love in the Time of Cholera is a love story following two main characters, Florentina and Fermina, who first fall in love while young but don’t end up in a relationship together until five decades later. Among many plot twists and turns and enough drama to flush out a novel, the book encourages readers to explore what love really, truly looks like.

Which brings me to where I started – love in the time of coronavirus. Though the plot we are currently living more closely resembles the apocalyptic trajectory of Station 11 (one of my top-five favorite fiction reads ever), I wonder if you see what I’m seeing lately: a global love story unfolding within this pandemic, bearing a depth I’ve never witnessed before. Love showing up in both ordinary and extraordinary ways: farmers donating food to food shelves and schools for grab-and-go boxed lunches, young healthy individuals staying home for the greater good of all, neighbors intentionally checking on each other and delivering food when needed, families and friends regularly FaceTiming to stay connected, chefs and restaurant owners donating meals to health care workers and the recently unemployed, executives donating their salaries, neighbors singing to each other across Italian plazas and New Yorkers giving a resounding round of grateful applause to health care workers as they leave their shifts at the hospital, people asking each other, “how are you,” and actually listening deeply to the answer.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus.

Perhaps I’m being overly romantic in my outlook, just as Gabriel Garcia Marquez was criticized for being too simplistic in his depiction of enduring love (though perhaps only by those who chose to interpret his message simply). If that’s the case, I’m cool with it because having this outlook makes me feel better and encourages me to step up my own game and be the best person I can be. This crisis is offering me a beautiful reminder of what is important in life. I like looking for and uncovering all the positive and generous acts emerging amidst the universal uncertainty. It definitely beats the negative news headlines.

Of course, within this global love story is also the opportunity for each of us to cultivate a deeper self-love story, one in which we commit to taking care of ourselves as if our health matters – because it always has and always will. Life has changed dramatically in the last few weeks, and it looks like many of these changes are going to be with us a while, but we are still living. Do you feel alive? I cannot begin to imagine a better time to start valuing your health more deeply and learning to cultivate healthy habits. Seriously. The time is now, when nothing is normal and everything feels topsy-turvy anyway.

Close your eyes: Can you imagine a healthier, stronger version of yourself? Take a few seconds to sit with that vision, and then see if you can land on one or two ideas you already have for boosting your health. You’re smart. I know you have some ideas.

If you’re looking for other ideas, today’s love note from me offers resources for how to buy locally from farmers during this time when quality food is essential, and ideas for moving your body while sheltering in place. I also wanted to share a favorite springtime recipe and the link for a healthy deviant journey I’ve begun, in case you want to join. Here goes:

1. There is no better time than the present to connect with local farmers and buy your food directly from them. Quality food is essential to health and well-being, and one of the best ways to get quality food is to buy it from a source close to home that took care growing or raising that product while also caring for the land. I am well-connected with Minnesota farmers because of my work with the Minnesota Cooks program at Minnesota Farmers Union. Over the last two weeks, the Minnesota Cooks team has been compiling a resource we’re calling Buying Locally While Social Distancing, which is a list of Minnesota farmers offering farm fresh foods for safe delivery or pick-up. Small family farmers = healthy food + food security. During a time when none of us really wants to be grasping for the last package of chicken in the grocery store while trying to maintain distance from others, why not seize this as an opportunity to connect directly with farmers for the freshest food possible?

For those of you from other parts of the world, simply google your city and state with the words “farmers market association.” That should give you a good starting place for connecting with farmers. You can also contact your state’s farmers union and ask for names and numbers. Remember: don’t show up at farms without a prior appointment.

2. Move your body while sheltering in place. Though our world has changed dramatically in a short span of time, our body’s need to move has not. Perhaps now more than ever it’s imperative we continue to exercise – or build some sort of a movement practice if we aren’t already in the habit. Barring any health concerns which prevent you from exercising, movement is a critical pillar of overall well-being – both physical and mental. If you’re typically a sedentary person, it’s totally okay to start small with a short walk down your street, a few intentional extra trips up and down the stairs, or simple bicep curls with five-pound dumbells. Consistency is key, and getting started is the hardest part. Every little step we take adds up.

If you’re looking for instructed fitness opportunities, consider checking out some of the super awesome people and studios I’ve listed below, all of which have taken their classes virtual and, therefore, are currently available to you wherever you’re hunkering down in the world:

a. My friend Suzy, owner of Defining You Pilates and Fitness in St. Paul, and her stellar team quickly transitioned their Pilates and fitness services to a virtual format. As stated on their home page, “We are choosing to be creative, nimble and innovative in our approach to community fitness.” Yes!!! Suzy is a leader in the Pilates universe and the queen of staying upbeat. She will make you smile while giving you a great workout.
b. Feeling sassy? If so, mXe (prounouced moxie) is the studio for you. Offering dance, cardio, barre, boxing, and more, they’re also offering the first week of online classes free. Dancing helps me feel alive, and the folks at mXe know exactly how to get your heart rate up while making it fun enough to help you forget just how hard you’re working.
c. In the mood for one-on-one personal training? The dedicated team at Discover Strength is offering 1-on-1 virtual training for $39 per session, with the introductory session free. You don’t need any equipment, though small weights and an elastic band might be useful if you have them on hand.

Of course, walking or running outside are always available to you, as are body-bearing exercises like planks, push-ups, and lunges, which you can do from the comfort of your living room. I’ve also enjoyed discovering fitness videos like this Latin Dance Cardio Workout on YouTube, which keeps me hopping and flailing around my house breathless while giving my husband some cheap entertainment. It’s a win-win. ;)

3. Embark on a 14-day healthy deviant adventure with Pilar Gerasimo, health journalist and author of The Healthy Deviant. I mentioned Pilar in my last newsletter after attending her book launch, as I am a huge fan of hers and love the health revolution she’s promoting. Acting on instinct, Pilar decided to offer this 14-day healthy deviant adventure now while our lives and routines are already disrupted. Makes sense to me! The adventure started last Wednesday, but it’s not too late to sign up and catch up. Price is based on what you feel you can afford right now: $0 – $79. I’m always up for being a healthy deviant, so I signed up. I hope you do, too.

4. Minty Pea Spring Soup. This soup is an easy springtime dream. You should make it. End of story.

As a reminder, I am still seeing clients and have room to take a few new clients, but all of my sessions are taking place virtually until further notice. If you could use support, please reach out.

Stay healthy and sane, everyone!

Lockdown – a healing poem

Because there is healing in poetry and the arts, I felt compelled to share this poem written recently by Richard Hendrick in Ireland about the state of affairs right now amidst COVID-19. It fills me with a sense of optimism and reassurance that everything is just fine and will continue to be just fine – even if nothing is normal right now we’re a little uncomfortable with all the changes – if we just slow down to Love.

 

Lockdown

 

 Yes there is fear.

 Yes there is isolation.

 Yes there is panic buying.

 Yes there is sickness.

 Yes there is even death.

 But,

 They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise

 You can hear the birds again.

 They say that after just a few weeks of quiet

 The sky is no longer thick with fumes

 But blue and grey and clear.

 They say that in the streets of Assisi

 People are singing to each other

 across the empty squares,

 keeping their windows open

 so that those who are alone

 may hear the sounds of family around them.

 They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland

 Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.

 Today a young woman I know

 is busy spreading fliers with her number

 through the neighbourhood

 So that the elders may have someone to call on.

 Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples

 are preparing to welcome

 and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary

 All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting

 All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way

 All over the world people are waking up to a new reality

 To how big we really are.

 To how little control we really have.

 To what really matters.

 To Love.

 So we pray and we remember that

 Yes there is fear.

 But there does not have to be hate.

 Yes there is isolation.

 But there does not have to be loneliness.

 Yes there is panic buying.

 But there does not have to be meanness.

 Yes there is sickness.

 But there does not have to be disease of the soul

 Yes there is even death.

 But there can always be a rebirth of love.

 Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.

 Today, breathe.

 Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic

 The birds are singing again

 The sky is clearing,

 Spring is coming,

 And we are always encompassed by Love.

 Open the windows of your soul

 And though you may not be able

 to touch across the empty square,

 Sing.

 

 -from Richard Hendrick (Brother Richard) in Ireland

 March 13th 2020

Immune Boosting Tips

While it’s always a great idea to take exquisite care of ourselves, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic is offering us a stark, in-your-face reminder how important it is not to leave our health to accident. Rather than feeling nervous or overwhelmed as we navigate these uncharted waters, however, my wish for everyone is that we empower ourselves with useful information and resolve to take even better care of our precious selves and loved ones in the days to come.

There’s a lot that feels outside of our control right now, but there are actually many small actions that are totally within our control (in addition to good hygiene), which can help keep our immune systems strong and ready to fight off viruses. To be human is to get sick sometimes, and when that happens the best we can hope for is to bounce back quickly.

The information below about boosting immunity has been a resource for my clients for years. I’ve reworked it over the last couple of days and included a few more ideas specific to this pandemic. Consider it a care package from me to you during this unprecedented time. I hope each of you finds at least one suggestion helpful (in conjunction with hand-washing, wiping down surfaces, covering your cough, etc):

1. Eat more garlic. Garlic is related to the onion (another valuable immune booster) and contains the active ingredient allicin, which fights infections and bacteria. According to one study, British researchers gave 146 people either a placebo or a garlic extract for 12 weeks; the garlic takers were two-thirds less likely to get sick. Garlic is an easy immune booster to embrace. If you like to cook, simply incorporate garlic into your dishes at the end of cooking for the most immune-boosting impact. Better yet, set aside a couple fresh cloves, crush them slightly, then cut into pieces small enough to swallow. (Swallowing garlic bits, rather than chewing them, minimizes garlic breath.) If you don’t like to cook, simply buy a garlic extract from the health foods store. 

2. Boost your inner sunshine with vitamin D: There’s no denying the piles and piles of research on vitamin D; having adequate vitamin D levels is unquestionably one of the most important things you can do to keep illness at bay and experience optimal health. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, a well-respected, integrative MD, studies show how supplementing with vitamin D can reduce colds and flu by 42%. That’s significant! We all rely on a solid bank of vitamin D, preferably in the 55-80 ng/ml range, which is considered optimal. Vitamin D levels can be ascertained via a simple blood test, but often we need to specifically request a vitamin D test from our physicians. If you’re able to find out your vitamin D levels, talk to your doctor about just how much vitamin D to supplement with to get you into an optimal range. If you don’t know your levels and want to start supplementing immediately, it is generally considered safe to take 1000-2000 IU’s daily (especially for Minnesotans). It’s not uncommon to need 5,000-10,000 IU’s daily in the winter, but everybody is unique.

3. Embrace elderberry. Consuming elderberries to boost immunity is hardly a new concept. Elderberries are loaded with antioxidants and vitamin C, making them an extremely effective immune-boosting tool. The following information, which is quite persuasive, comes from The Healthy Home Economist:

“In one study, elderberry extract inhibited several strains of influenza and reduced symptoms. In another, elderberry syrup flavonoids were found effective against the H1N1 (Swine Flu) virus. In the most compelling study, a randomized trial of 60 patients aged 18-54 suffering from flu symptoms for 48 hours or less received 15 ml (3 teaspoons) of elderberry syrup or a placebo 4x per day for five days. Researchers observed that “Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with a placebo.”

If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on fresh elderberries, try steeping them in boiling water and then drinking as a tea. Elderberry juice is another option, and elderberry syrup is available at most health food stores (I like the Gaia brand), or you can follow this link to find a recipe for homemade elderberry syrup: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/simple-elderberry-syrup-to-boost-immunity/#sthash.yFrI613F.dpuf

4. Breathe through your nose whenever possible to better filter impurities and pathogens. Breathing through your nose – especially while exercising increases the micro-amounts of nitric oxide in your bloodstream – which elevates the white blood cell count, thus boosting immunity. Breathing through your nose while sleeping leads to deeper, more restful sleep, which is always helpful for our immune system. It sounds weird (and even a little scary), but if you tend to sleep with your mouth open, consider “mouth-taping,” which is exactly what it sounds like: grab some medical tape and simply apply a piece vertically from the top of your upper lip to your upper chin. Many clients have looked at me suspiciously when I suggested they try this but then reported back how they did indeed feel more rested in the morning.

5. Take zinc. This trace mineral is well known for its immune boosting properties, and elderly people and vegans/vegetarians are at greater risk of being deficient. Zinc deficiency produces a direct and rapid decline in T cell function. T cells elevate the body’s immune response to viruses, bacteria, and other challenges to one’s health. Pick up a zinc supplement, keep zinc lozenges on hand, or eat zinc-rich foods like oysters, beef, crab, lobster, pork, chickpeas, or cashews to increase your levels. If taking a supplement, simply follow the recommended dosage on the bottle. I like the Mega Foods brand of zinc as well as Country Life.

6. Skip mainstream lines and try a natural, essential oil based hand sanitizer. Rather than arm wrestle somebody over who gets the last mainstream hand sanitizer on the store shelf (especially when we’re not supposed to be touching each other), find a doTerra rep and order some On Guard by doTerra, a more natural antiseptic spray that utilizes essential oils along with ethyl alcohol to kill 99.9% of germs. Sometimes taking the off-the-beaten path is so much less stressful.

7. Outwit bad bugs with an army of good bugs. If you know my work at all, you know I’m a big fan of probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods, like kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Even a tablespoon or two of these foods every day can do wonders for our health.

Most of our good bacteria live in our large intestine, and most of our immune system (70-80%, astonishingly) is found in our digestive tract; therefore, when we build a healthy population of bacteria in our digestive tract, we’re building robust immunity. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, in an 80-day Swedish study of 181 factory employees, those who drank a daily supplement of Lactobacillus reuteri—a specific probiotic that appears to stimulate white blood cells—took 33% fewer sick days than those given a placebo. Any yogurt with a “Live and Active Cultures” seal contains some beneficial bugs, but Stonyfield Farm is the only mainstream US brand I know of that contains this specific strain. Do yourself a favor and don’t get too hung up on whether your probiotic supplement has this specific bacteria though – just make an effort to increase your good bacteria.

8. Drink warm water throughout the day (but especially in the morning) and stay hydrated. Be mindful of this especially in the winter, when the air is dry; our bodies need to be well hydrated to function properly and to keep protective (mucosal) barriers intact. According to Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer, chief of the Dr. James J. Rahal Jr. Division of Infectious Disease at New York Hospital Queens, ”Dry and cold conditions (i.e. winter) are probably more high-risk situations (versus summer) for viruses because of dry mucosa.” The mucosa, she explains, is what lines your trachea, the back of your throat, and your sinuses. Viruses invade the mucosa and start growing, causing your cold. Keeping the mucosa hydrated is a key piece to warding off unwelcome viruses. Remember coffee and other caffeinated beverages don’t count!

9. Don’t even think about eating sugar if you are feeling rundown or after coming into contact with others who are sick. A sugary treat is fine every once in a while, but eating it regularly really taxes the immune system. If your health is compromised in any way, do not eat sugar. Instead try eating gentle sweets like sweet vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, red bell peppers), fruit, dates with almond butter, or try drinking kombucha (sparkling, fermented tea) or sweet herbal teas like Good Earth Sweet & Spicey tea or Tazo’s Wild Sweet Orange.

10. Don’t cheat on your food sensitivities. If you know you’re sensitive to a certain food or group of foods, don’t cheat right now. Many people have food sensitivities, whether it be gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, corn, etc. On a day-to-day basis, most of us can consume things our body doesn’t love and get away with it, but every time we do that it forces our immune system to work harder. My body doesn’t love dairy. As soon as I eat it, I get congested and a little asthma-like cough settles in, so for the foreseeable future, I won’t be cheating on my food sensitivity. I will respect my body’s boundaries.

11. Eat all the colors of the rainbow. Food is our primary medicine. Period. Eat all the colors of the rainbow, which means an array of fruits and veggies. Richly colored fruits and vegetables are chock-full of protective, immune-boosting phytonutrients. Food is our first line of defense – let’s not forget it. 

12. Drink dandelion root tea. This tea aids bile production, which helps create really robust digestion. Additionally, dandelion root tea has been shown to have anti-viral properties and assist the liver in cleaning out toxins, all of which helps boost immunity.

13. Avoid spending all day indoors. Even if it’s cold and yucky out, do your best to get some fresh air for a few minutes. Indoor environments are stagnant and force us to breath in chemicals from furniture, carpet, and cleaners that burden our body. Fresh air is better for our immune system.

14. Chew your food thoroughly. Chewing our food well helps our digestive system do its job more easily and absorb optimal nutrition from the food we’re taking in. When the body has to work hard to digest the food you eat, it taxes your entire system. 70-80% of your immune system is located in and around the digestive system – treat it well.

15. Take time to relax and do absolutely nothing. When we pack our schedules so full that there is no time left for rest, our health suffers. There’s a reason most religious traditions advocate for a Sabbath. Make sure you take breaks from all electronics too, including computers, TVs, and phones to allow your body and mind to relax fully. Perhaps this time of self-isolation and social distancing is an opportunity for some deep restoration of our health (ironically) from generally too-busy lifestyles.

16. Prevent the intrusion of pathogens through visualization. It may sound bizarre, but science has proven the powerful health benefits associated with visualization. And really, what harm could come from trying it? Simply imagine your body full of bright light. Start at your head and move slowly down to your toes, filling your body, section by section, with awareness and love. Then flood your entire body with this bright light of awareness for a full two minutes. This will charge the body with a heightened awareness, which will support the body’s immune system.

17. Smile and laugh as much as possible!

18. Get enough sleep. Ample sleep is a miracle worker for our immune systems. Seriously consider shutting down the TV and computer 2-3 hours before you plan to turn in, giving your brain and your nervous system a chance to calm down. You might also try moving electrical alarm clocks, phones, or other equipment away from where you sleep (at least 3 feet away).

19. Go easy on pesticides. Choose your foods carefully and learn which ones are important to buy organic. Pesticides weigh down our immune system and make our bodies work much harder to keep us healthy. Human beings were never meant to ingest the volume of chemicals we take in as a result of living in the 21st Century.

20. Load up on vitamin C. The jury is still out on whether or not vitamin C helps prevent the common cold, but study after study has proven that vitamin C helps reduce both the severity and duration of a cold or virus if you happen to catch one. Vitamin C rich foods include oranges, peppers, strawberries, pineapple, and cauliflower.

Please feel free to share this information with your loved ones. For my fellow health practitioners, also feel free to share, though I would simply request that you give me credit for compiling. Thank you!

Lemony Chicken Vegetable Soup

Various versions of this lemony chicken vegetable soup seem to be floating around the internet lately, as if back in fashion – and for good reason; it’s easy, flexible on ingredients, super flavorful, and generally inexpensive to make, like many soups. What’s not to love?

I can’t remember where I got the original version I began working from, which called for orzo, but like most things I cook, I began experimenting and working off-the-cuff pretty much from the start. I suggest you do the same. Orzo is certainly tasty and adds a fun chewy texture to the overall dish, but it is a pasta containing gluten and isn’t tolerated well by many. If that’s you, or if you generally try to avoid over-consuming gluten like I do, then try adding cooked rice (white or brown – your choice) at the end of cooking instead. Rice is a beautiful substitute.

Though this recipe – with its main ingredients being chicken, leek/onion, and celery – isn’t necessarily a spring soup, the addition of the lemon at the end keeps it super fresh and bright tasting, which does feel springy. I could also see wilting some spinach or arugula in at the end of cooking to up the nutritional value.

I’ve found that it tastes best if each eater adds freshly squeezed lemon to his/her individual bowl rather than finishing the entire pot with lemon before serving. In case you have leftovers, it just doesn’t taste right when reheated if the lemon is already added. This soup reminds me how simple cooking can still deliver really beautiful flavors.

 

Lemony Chicken Vegetable Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick

1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped

2 celery stalks, sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick

1 clove garlic, minced

12-16 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs, depending on how meaty you want your soup

12 cups chicken broth, depending on how thick you want your soup

kosher salt, to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup cooked white Basmati rice or brown rice (or 1 cup uncooked orzo, if you digest gluten okay)

1/4-1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped

lemon wedges, for serving

optional: chives or parsley, for garnish

 

If using rice rather than orzo, cook rice according to package directions or using a ratio of 2 cups water to 1 cup of rice.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add leek, onion, celery, and garlic and saute until the vegetables are soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add chicken thighs to the pan, arranging on top of the vegetables, then add the broth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, then reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken is done, about 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and allow it to cool until it can be handled, then shred into bite-size pieces.

If using orzo, bring the broth back to a boil, then add orzo and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.

Remove pan from heat, then add shredded chicken, dill, and rice, if using. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add optional parsley and chive garnishes, then serve with lemon halves for squeezing over each individual serving. 

Prescribing a Different Kind of Medicine: Food

Doctors are taking a new approach to get to the root cause of some costly illnesses.

(This article by Fenit Nirappil originally appeared in the Washington Post.)

 

Adrienne Dove pulled up to the checkout line of the Giant grocery store in Washington with a cart filled with cabbage, bananas, and bagged string beans. The register rang $20.60. Instead of cash or card, Dove paid with a Produce Rx voucher from the store pharmacy. The Giant in the most impoverished part of the District of Columbia is the latest frontier in the “food as medicine” movement.

 

Hospitals and  local governments across the country have been writing and filling prescriptions for healthy food in an attempt to address the root causes of diabetes, hypertension and other costly illnesses. The federal farm bill that was passed late last year included more than $4 million in grants for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distribute to governments that run prescription produce programs, but the money has not yet been distributed.

 

The goal, backed by some research, is to improve health and reduce costs by subsidizing fresh produce such as broccoli and grapefruit in addition to insulin and beta blockers. “What we are hoping to find is there is a return on investment for the health-care system: a reduction in ER visits, medication compliance,” said Lauren Shweder Biel, executive director of DC Greens, a nonprofit group that is managing the District’s Produce Rx pilot. “That’s the holy grail for systems like this.”

 

Improved diet is also a target.

 

“I was trying to manage my patients’ diabetes and high blood pressure, but when they were telling me they were eating Top Ramen, doughnuts, and bagels because it keeps them full, all I could say was ‘That’s too bad, here’s some more drugs,'” said Rita Nguyen of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, who oversees an expanding produce prescription program.

 

In the nation’s capital, the Produce Rx program provides 500 Medicaid patients $20 weekly vouchers for produce at the Giant in Ward 8 through the end of the year. Ward 8 is the poorest, sickest part of the city and has the highest rates of death for diabetes and heart disease. It’s also a food desert, and the Giant is the only full-service grocery store.

 

The Produce Rx program, which includes the cost of vouchers and evaluates patient outcomes, has received $500,000 from the District government and about $150,000 from American Health Caritas, a Medicaid-managed care organization. Dove, 43, found out about the pilot program at a health clinic. Medical professionals often urged Dove to eat better, but she was surprised when a clinic official called the grocery store pharmacy to secure produce vouchers for her the same way doctors would call in a prescription for drugs. “I grew up on McDonald’s and I got high blood pressure,” she said. “Now I tell my son, ‘don’t be like Mommy,’ and he asks for broccoli and spinach.”

 

One of the biggest challenges for programs is ensuring that access to healthier foods will make a difference in what a person chooses to eat. Ciera Price was on her first shopping trip after her doctor wrote her a prescription for the produce program when she met the supermarket’s in-house nutritionist, Jillian Griffith, and scheduled a free consultation. “When they tell you to eat healthy, what does that mean to you?” Griffith asked Price. Price winced. “Leaving everything that I love and sticking to the greens.” Griffith offered a more optimistic answer. “Maybe you can learn to love new things,” she said. “We want to be in the middle and mindful of the things we are eating and how to eat foods that make us happy.”

 

In 2001, Boston Medical Center launched one of the first food pharmacies with its food pantry in the basement of the safety net hospital, which treats patients regardless of their ability to pay. Nguyen said proponents are still trying to figure out the best way to set up such programs. “We don’t know what dose of food is enough to make a difference,” Nguyen said. “Is food by itself enough? Or do you need the nutritionist, do you need the cooking supplies, the recipes?”

 

In Pennsylvania, the Fresh Food Farmacy initiative by regional health insurer and provider Geisinger provides produce, cooking demonstrations and diabetes management lessons to 700 patients. In the first two years of the program, officials found that diabetics who received food saw their blood sugar levels decline, as opposed to those who were not given any. Allison Hess, a Geisinger executive, said the Fresh Food Farmacy costs about $3500 per family annually, and drops in blood sugar would result in greater savings from less medication. “It’s kind of a no-brainer,” Hess said. “We are going to either pay for this medical expense or pay for this food and education that’s going to be more of a lifelong benefit.”

Minty Pea Spring Soup

This recipe comes from my favorite cookbook du jour: Dishing up the Dirt, Simple Recipes for Cooking Through the Seasons by Andrea Bemis. If you like cooking with whole, seasonal foods – which I hope you do – this is an invaluable resource to have. All the recipes I’ve tried so far are easy, tasty, and healthy. Win, win, win. An added bonus are the intimate stories at the beginning of each chapter, endearing accounts that detail the author’s experience as half of the farm team at Tumbleweed Farm in Oregon. Honestly, the whole book is a thing of beauty.

 

It is about this time of year (April/May) when I start noticing mint pea soups showing up on seasonal restaurant menus. Along with fresh taste of greens, mint and peas are two of the flavors I most look forward to in spring. The bright flavors and color always make me happy. I recently made the recipe I’m posting from Andrea’s cookbook below, and last week I also ordered a pea mint soup at a farm-to-table diner in Minneapolis. That soup used a small dollop of creme fraiche instead of the coconut milk that Andrea calls for, and the chef also drizzled in a swirl of chili oil before serving to give it a nice zip. Since I don’t plan on getting tired of pea mint soup anytime soon, I’m also going to experiment a little and see if I can recreate something similar to what I tasted that day at brunch with my friend.

 

Spring will be here for a couple months; I’m going to make the most of it by enjoying a parade of flavors I’ve waited for all winter. This soup reminds me how sometimes the simplest foods can be the most satisfying.

 

Minty Pea Soup

Serves 4-6

1 Tablespoon coconut oil

1 medium-sized yellow onion (or other onion), diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

3 cups fresh shelled peas or thawed frozen peas

1/4 cup firmly packed fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

1 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk (make sure to use full-fat coconut milk for the creamiest texture)

fine sea salt

lemon wedge

freshly ground black pepper

extra-virgin olive oil for serving

thinly sliced radishes for serving

fresh dill for serving

 

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium. Add the onion and garlic. Saute until the pieces are soft but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the peas, mint, coconut milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring the mixture to a low simmer, then turn off the heat. Working in batches, transfer the soup to a high-speed blender and process until smooth. Add additional water to thin if necessary. Taste and adjust salt as needed.

 

Serve the soup warm or at room temperature with a tiny squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a sprinkling of pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, a few radish slices, and a sprig of dill.

The Great “Hyperpalatable” Food Hoax

Hyperpalatable.” Have you heard this word before? It’s somewhat new to our modern day vernacular, used to describe all sorts of super sweet, salty, and fatty foods engineered to deliver a wallop of flavor that far surpasses the flavor available in natural foods (fruit, veggies, grains, etc.). Hyperpalatable foods are addictive and keep us reaching for more cookies, more chips, more fries, or more of that luscious, rich cheese dip even when our bellies are full and our minds say, “no more.”

 

These engineered foods can keep us stuck in a pattern of overeating because it’s quite challenging to stop eating them once we start. In fact, they are designed to be difficult to stop eating, and it has very little to do with willpower. These junk foods either possess excessive amounts of salt, sugar, or fat or they’ve been engineered to have just the right ratio of sugar/fat, salt/sugar, salt/fat. In either case, the eater gets a nice hit of dopamine – the “feel-good” neurotransmitter associated with bliss, euphoria, concentration, and motivation – with each bite. This trains our taste buds to not only receive less pleasure from the subtle but delicious flavors of whole foods but to desire and seek out hyperpalatable foods instead. These cravings can then lead to food addiction.

 

To reiterate: food chemists intentionally suffuse food products with increased levels of fat, sugar, salt, flavors, and food additives to tap into and train our brain’s reward system to desire and consume these engineered foods. I hope you find this information as creepy as I do.

 

David A. Kessler, author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite has reported that restaurant chains like Chili’s cook up “hyper-palatable food that requires little chewing and goes down easily.” He uses the Snickers bar as another common example of a hyperpalatable food, describing it as, “extraordinarily well engineered.” He writes, “As we chew it, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel traps the peanuts so the entire combination of flavors is blissfully experienced in the mouth at the same time.”

 

Wow.

 

The intense flavors we experience when we eat these junk foods are simply not available in natural foods. An apple is sweet, and pineapple is really sweet, but neither holds a candle to the utterly intense sweetness of an Oreo or a Girl Scout cookie, in which oodles of sugar are paired with just the right amount of fat. It’s no wonder some people can plow through an entire sleeve of cookies before realizing what has happened. The pleasure center of our brain lights up as dopamine is released and we feel happy and calm after bingeing on those cookies. Pizza, chips, and french fries top the list of super salty hyperpalatable foods; cheeseburgers and bacon are other examples of that irresistible and exquisite salt/fat combo. When faced with the choice between a bowl of lightly salted brown rice, roasted and salted potatoes or sweet potatoes, or salted vegetables versus any of the aforementioned super salty addictive foods, I think we all know what’s going to win. It’s no wonder many people can’t stop at one or two pieces of pizza, even if it means their bellies hurt afterwards and they have to unbutton their pants when all is said and done. Again, that pizza is engineered to keep us eating it long after we’re full.

 

Your willpower muscle will likely be a pretty weak muscle around hyperpalatable foods. Remember, these foods are designed to be addictive, so it’s far less about willpower and more about the way your brain has been conditioned to crave and enjoy these foods. Unfortunately, we live during a time when we are surrounded by hyperpalatable foods; therefore, my best advice is to simply limit your exposure to them. Don’t bring these foods into your home regularly. If they are not in your house, you are far less likely to eat them. If you’re at a social gathering and find yourself faced with a big bowl of chips or sweets, do your best not to start eating them. If you start, you’ll struggle to stop. Seek out anything resembling a whole food instead and save yourself both the remorse and bellyache later.

 

Staying clear of hyperpalatable foods will mean avoiding most chain restaurants and packaged foods in the grocery store, especially packaged snack foods like cookies, crackers, chips, breakfast cereals, muffins, soda, and everything else I’ve already mentioned. You can Google “hyperpalatable foods” to find online lists if you still feel unsure whether or not something might fall into that category. I will never forget how one of my nutrition professors told us very matter-of-factly, “If something has a label, think twice about eating it. If you don’t understand the ingredients, don’t even think about eating it.”

 

In summary, it might work best to think about ending the consumption of hyperpalatable foods as a break-up. There will be a period of mourning. You will miss them, even if it was a one-sided relationship. And you may even feel crummy for a while while your body detoxes and goes through withdrawal. But the other side of this break-up will be a fresh start complete with taste buds that can actually taste and enjoy the natural sweetness of an apple, appreciate the rich, uncomplicated flavor of raw nuts, and feel satisfied with roasted Brussels sprouts or sweet potatoes as a snack. I know it sounds weird now, but it’s possible. And the rewards are far greater than a short-lived dopamine hit. 

March Madness: Shaking up Your Life

March Madness is here. No, I’m not talking about the NCAA tournament; I’m talking about cabin fever, the deep longing for spring, the burning desire to feel the sun’s warmth as we enjoy long walks outside without fear of slipping on the ice and breaking a bone. Mother Nature dealt Minnesota and much of the U.S. a winter fit for the history books, which has made many of us (even those of us who “love” winter) feel like we’ve come down with more than a mild case of madness. 

March is also my birthday month. March Madness indeed. People close to me know I tend to go somewhat crazy with birthday festivities, but this year I’m approaching the month more intentionally than past years. I’m being extra choosy about where I spend my time, energy, and money. I’m sure I’ll enjoy a few glasses of wine over various birthday excursions, and I’ll likely indulge in a substantial piece of flourless chocolate torte with raspberry sauce and hopefully a few fresh mint leaves (not that I’ve given it much thought, of course), but aside from those indulgences I’ve decided this year’s March Madness is dedicated to pushing me forward and closer to the best version of myself I can be.

After all, the best way to honor the gift of another year of life would be to honor and take excellent care of this life and body I have now.

So I scheduled a few 1-on-1 strength training appointments in addition to my group sessions at Discover Strength since staying strong as I age is paramount. I also booked a couple bodywork sessions to reward myself for my planned extra physical activity. I’ve already had a fun night out dancing with a friend, and I have another March dance date on the calendar because dancing makes my soul swell in a tsunami of joy.

My whole point in sharing all this is to stir up a little curiosity in you: what could you do for yourself this month that would be extra loving? Real self-love and self-care is about giving our body, mind, and spirit what it needs. What could you commit to for a month? What would make your soul swell in a tsunami of joy? A month is simultaneously a manageable AND significant amount of time in which to make powerful changes. Don’t hesitate. Just go for it. Be brave and shake up your life a little.

 

Love,

The Birthday Girl