Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The More You Know

Disclaimer: This is not a recipe. It's a reflection on my last 6 years as a sustainable foodie/pescatarian/semi-vegetarian and on my first 5 months as a sustainable food and nutrition science editor. 

I gave up meat on a bit of a whim after reading one of those popular paperbacks arguing for the nutritional and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet void of anything factory farmed. I'm glad I did it. With other lifestyle changes, it helped me shed a ton of weight and get closer to my food and my community. At the time, I thought I'd give it a try and see how it went and never committed to go entirely vegetarian or vegan, though I've dabbled in both over the past six years and I've learned a lot about myself and about my body along the way. Eliminating things from your diet can be a fun challenge that can open your mind to entirely new ideas of what constitutes a "meal."

When I stopped eating meat, I stopped eating fast food and I cut out a lot of "processed" foods, too. The stuff that filled my grocery cart, pantry, and fridge took on entirely new meanings and appearances. My family looked at me like I was nuts for the first few years and my grandma forgot to mention the occasional turkey neck that went into her delicious "vegetable" soups. Dining out and grabbing food on the go also became more interesting and challenging for all the obvious reasons.

Snacking trends
In the last few months, I've been fortunate to travel to Chicago and San Diego, two of my favorite cities, for food and nutrition related conferences. In Chicago, I attended IFT Wellness, an industry-focused conference with tracks on protein enhancement, sugar reduction, and salt reduction. The several hundred attendees came largely from big food companies and had food science or nutrition degrees and sessions were convened on everything from novel protein sources (including insects) to natural sugar alternatives (including monk fruit extract and changing the shape of your food product).

what food companies contemplate as they develop new products
While I was in Chicago, I made a trip to Eatily. It was amazing.
The conference opened with provocative keynotes that ridiculed Michael Pollan and gave me a glimpse into what I considered "the dark side."  A consumer panel shared their daily snack choices with us and walked us through their rationale for starting the day with peanut butter cups, serving frozen pizza and chicken nuggets for dinner, and polishing off sleeves of chips ahoy at a time. I sat in on sessions presented by nutrition scientists, legal experts on ingredient labeling, product development consultants, and food technologists. I couldn't help but be skeptical of a lot of what I heard, saw, and tasted, but I loved every minute of it.

At the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting at Experimental Biology in San Diego, I sat in on really scientific sessions on protein requirements, biofortified staple food crops, sustainable diets, and malnutrition and inflammation.
A catch-all definition with many contradictions

I spoke with some of the world's leading scientists on hidden hunger, human breast milk, lipidomics, and functional foods and was invited to speak with ASN's Public Policy Committee. Words can't do my experience justice. I was in awe of it all and so much of the science was incomprehensible; it's been a long time since I've studied molecular biology, cell biology, microbiology, or biochemistry. [The full program for that conference is here.]

But here's the rub.

While a lot of the hard science went right over my head, I was able to understand some of the big picture conclusions coming out of scientific research that the media just isn't picking up on. I learned how important it is to space your protein out throughout the day and how hard it is to get all the amino acids you need for healthy cellular function without animal protein.

How exactly do scientists measure sustainability?
I learned that to eat more sustainably (in terms of carbon footprint, not necessarily land usage or any of the other things you might associate with sustainable food), the best thing you can do is to consume less calories and even more importantly, to drink less calories. I learned that taking a baby aspirin with your fish oil or omega 3 supplement can greatly enhance the anti-inflammatory effects of said supplement. And I learned that if we all followed the well known recommendation to eat two servings of seafood a week, our oceans would be devoid of fish very, very soon.

The slides to the right are just a few of the ones presented during the sustainability session, which got really detailed into cost per nutrient density and carbon footprint

There are no hard and fast truths when it comes to the way we eat. 

Carbon footprint isn't the only way to measure sustainability
Everything is interdependent and what works for your body or for your community or for your country might not work for another. It's all so complicated and the entire field of nutrition science is still so young. I don't feel more or less confused than I did before, but I'm approaching things with a much more nuanced view than I think I ever have. I'm starting to seek out locally pastured meat, because my new functional dermatologist told me to cut out dairy and without its protein (dare I assert that cheese is no better for you or the environment than pastured chicken), I'd have to drink 3 vega protein shakes a day to get enough amino acids to repair my muscles after long crew practices and butt-kicking spin classes. I love that those smoothies have perfected vegan delivery of complete protein in a convenient (albeit expensive) form, but what's the impact of all that processing of whole ingredients into powders and packaging them and shipping them?

Lots of variables!

I can't help but think sometimes that it must be a little luxurious not to care so much about the health of our bodies or our planet, but I'm incapable of caring any less, at least for the time being. And, I'm excited to keep learning and to be spreading knowledge within the scientific community and beyond. :-)

I met Ellie Krieger of the Food Network's Healthy Appetitie in San Diego. :-)
I'd be eager to engage in conversation and comments about all this. If you've made it this far, you surely have an opinion or two to share, so please do! While I feel safe asserting that I know more than the average Joe about sustainable food and nutrition, the more I learn, the less I realize any of us really "know" much of anything!

PS: Curious about the "books" my team publishes? Here's a link to some of our titles.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Homemade Vinaigrette Recipe and Tips

My mom circulated an article on the health benefits of raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar to me and some friends last week and it got everyone thinking and talking about ways to incorporate this "superfood" into our diets. I am not a fan of drinking vinegar so my natural go-to was an apple cider vinaigrette.

Salad dressings are super easy to make at home and generally much cheaper and healthier than store-bought dressings. You probably have a lot of the ingredients on hand at any given time, so why buy the bottled stuff when you can customize your own to your specific tastes? I whipped up a pint of dressing last week and gave a half cup to a friend who requested the recipe today, so here it is!

For all dressings like this, I recommend using an immersion (aka hand-held) blender if you want to emulsify (creamify) the ingredients. If you have a jar with a lid (like my favorite pint-sized canning jars), you'll likely be able to fit that blender right down into the jar and then seal it up, minimizing dirty containers and dishes (timesaver!). If you don't have one of those doo-hickys, you can use an upright blender. You'll just have more cleaning to do, I suppose. If you don't need or want to emulsify your dressing, you can simply put all of the ingredients in a container with a spill-proof top and shake well to combine. If you do this, you'll want to mince the garlic instead of adding them whole (again, adding to the dirty dishes)!

3 cloves garlic
1 1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
2 tb dijon mustard
1 tsp honey or maple syrup (optional)
dash of sea salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

Makes roughly a pint of dressing. :-)

Other ideas for dressings:
Use a pitted date instead of honey or maple syrup to sweeten
Add some fresh herbs like parsley, basil, or chives
Dried herbs work, too
You can swap out the apple cider vinegar for any kind of vinegar
Instead of vinegar, try lemon or lime juice
Instead of garlic, try a shallot
Add a dash of hot sauce for some zip
Some Braggs Liquid Aminos or soy sauce can add some umami flavor

What are your favorite homemade dressing tips?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Minestrone Soup and Soup Tips

I LOVE SOUP. No, not the salty excuse for flavor you get at (insert your chain restaurant of choice here). I mean real, homemade veggie soup full of love and nutrition. It's so easy to make (especially if you have a great sou chef) and is a great way to clean out the fridge. We make a pot (sometimes two) almost every Sunday and put it in pint-sized wide mouth ball jars for convenient lunches and dinners for the busy week ahead.

Yesterday, James and I made one of our favorites - a basic minestrone. It's such a simple soup to whip up. I never measure anything and improvise with what we have on hand. Here's a list of the ingredients and some general soup-making advice...

Ingredients (listed in order how I added them to the pot):
2 tb + extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 flavorful carrot, chopped
2 stalks (organic) celery, chopped*
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tb herbs de provence
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 can no-salt-added diced tomatoes + can of water 
1 qt low sodium vegetable broth
1 can white or red kidney beans
1 zucchini
2 cups chopped kale 
Fresh parsley and/or basil, finely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Rather than walk you through THIS recipe step by step, I'm going to give you my tips on how to make a delicious soup every time in the context of this soup.

It all starts with your mirepoix, a simple saute of onions, carrots, and celery (in a ratio of roughly  2 parts onion to 1 part carrot and 1 part celery). This is the base of most soups, though it is often varied by adding peppers and/or garlic.

Goldilocks chop your onion (or shallots or leeks) -- not too big, not too small, just right! The onion will soften a lot, but try not to use big hunks of onion unless you like biting into big hunks of onion. Add it to a large heavy-bottomed pot after your olive oil is hot (it should NEVER be smoking). You'll know it's the right temperature when you add a piece of onion to the oil and it sizzles but doesn't go crazy and brown quickly!

Keep in mind that for a pretty soup, you want them to be uniformly chopped, but that it doesn't really matter when it comes to taste! For texture, you have to chop and add ingredients to the pot based on cooking time. Carrots go in right after the onion because in this soup, they're the hardest. I usually saute the carrots for a bit before adding the celery to finish the mirepoix. Add sea salt to taste and add dried herbs to the mirepoix now because the sauteing in olive oil unlock their flavor, infusing the soup with it. Fresh herbs always get added at the end.

I don't add the garlic until there's some moisture in the saute from the veggies because if it goes directly in hot oil, it will burn and turn bitter pretty quickly. So in this soup, I added the garlic then the peppers and let them saute a bit before adding the tomatoes. Stir this mixture and monitor your heat. You don't want the veggies to start browning, but you do want them to soften and sweat their juices a bit before you add the tomatoes and broth. Give them a few minutes to get to know each other before adding the tomatoes, water, and broth. Turn the heat up and bring the soup to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat to simmer once it comes to a boil. When the carrots are almost soft enough for your liking (go ahead and eat one!), add the beans, zucchini, and kale. Continue to simmer until the zucchini is perfectly soft and the kale is bright green. Then, add some freshly chopped parsley and/or basil to finish. You can also stir in some good extra virgin olive oil or some grated Parmesan, Romano, or Pecorino (or all of the above!)...

The best thing about soup like this is that it can feed you all week. One day, eat it on it's own. The next, add some orzo pasta, quinoa, or brown rice to change it up a bit. I love using wide mouth pint-sized canning jars (they're even freezer safe) to store it because it's the perfect serving size and if you fill the jars while the soup is still hot, the seal will pop air tight, lengthening the shelf life a bit. A jar of veggie soup stored like this can last up to a week in the fridge and months in the freezer!

* A note about celery: According to the Environmental Working Group, it's routinely one of the dirtiest produce items in the grocery store with the highest amount of residual pesticides. Go for organic if you can. Trader Joe's carries organic celery hearts at a reasonable price. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Eating for Energy Workshops!

I'm so excited that after a year of studies at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and months of what I'll call "transitional preparation," I finally have the time to share what I've learned and what I'm most passionate about live and in person with the Greater Boston community!  I've got several upcoming workshops booked and while some are private events, others are open to the public, like the Eating for Energy workshop at Davis Square Chiropractic on Tuesday, March 4th at 7:00 pm. Full details are below, but if you'd like to host a workshop or cooking class at your home or office, email me at I look forward to hearing from you. :-)

Do You…
… Miss the energy of long summer days?
… Struggle to make it through short winter days?
… Indulge in caffeine and sugar for energy?
… Wonder what would life be like with more vitality?

… Want to eat foods that will increase energy?

Join me for a free Integrative Nutrition Workshop!

Eating for Energy
Tuesday, March 4 at 7:00 pm
Davis Square Chiropractic
49 Holland Street, Somerville, MA 02144

No need to sign up in advance, but if you do plan to attend, please leave a comment below so I can save you a seat. I hope to see you there! 

PS: If you're in the market for a great Chiropractor, the doctors at Davis Square Chiropractic are amazing. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New Granola Recipe in DIY Homemade Gift Batch Size

I made a few double batches of granola this year to give as holiday gifts and have had a few requests for the recipe, which has been adapted from Clean Food by Terry Walters. This recipe yielded enough to make roughly 12 pint sized ball jars full, so you can half it if you only want 12 cups of granola instead of 24. But, I'm leaving it as-is because it's a great DIY project for homemade gifts. It's super easy and healthy, too, so you can feel good gifting it!

8 c rolled oats
4 1/3 c puffed brown rice cereal (or any puffed grain cereal)
3 c unsweetened coconut flakes
4 c chopped/sliced nuts seeds (your choice! I used a mix of walnuts, pecans, almonds, sunflower, and chia)
1/2 c dried fruit (your choice again! I used mostly blueberries)
4 tb cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1/3 tsp nutmeg
1 c melted/liquid coconut oil
1 c maple syrup (take it out of the fridge when you start your prep to bring it down to room temp)
3 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 250*F. In your largest mixing bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. In a smaller mixing bowl, mix all your wet ingredients well. Pour wet ingredients over dry and mix thoroughly to combine. Pour mixture into baking sheets or glass pans (you'll need 4 9x12 pyrex, but feel free to mix/match what you have). Spread evenly and bake for 1 hour or until golden brown and delightfully crunchy. Turn off the oven, but leave the granola in the oven until the oven has cooled and the granola is set (you don't want to jar it while it's hot!). Remove from oven and break into pieces with a wooden spoon while divvying it up for yourself and lucky recipients!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My New "Dream" Job

Pinch Me! I'm a Food Editor!! :-) The last few months have been a bit of a blur, but I presented my strategy yesterday to senior management at my publishing company and I'll be commissioning content in some really exciting topics in 2014. I'll be the Acquisitions Editor for the following topics and couldn't be more excited:
  • Food Sustainability
  • Functional Food, Health, and Nutrition
  • Food Microbiology (beer, wine, cheese, bread, yogurt, and fermented foods)
  • Dairy (more cheese and yogurt) 
For the first time in my life, my job is fully aligned with my personal interests and passions outside of work. I feel like I can stop living a double life and embrace what I do with enthusiasm and confidence. I can't wait to publish outstanding content on everything from food waste to kefir to superfoods to organic cheese. Maybe I'll even find a scientist to write a book about kombucha! Or one about sourdough starters. Or one about grain-free baked goods! Or all of the above, because I've got to find a lot of new books to commission this year! 

So, how in the world did this happen? 

Like a lot of you, my career hasn't really followed a logical "path." I think we all have that ideal vision of a ladder or a progression of jobs that seem to build on one another, but it doesn't take long to figure out that's rarely the reality of careers these days. I've been fortunate to work for some great organizations and some caring and thoughtful managers, but I've also had my fair share of challenges... the kinds that have made me want to go all the way back to the beginning and start from scratch, except without the naivety. 

While nothing's ever perfect, things are starting to make sense. The last 13 years have taken me through a maze of knife sales to education management to test prep marketing to computer science book marketing to data management book editing. For the last few years, I just focused on working hard and moving up and to tell you the truth, I've felt stuck. Worse than stuck. Like I was sprinting my heart out on an unforgiving treadmill. I wouldn't let myself get off because I wasn't "there" yet. But I had no idea where "there" was.

Not knowing how else to drive the changes I wanted in my career and eager to learn again, I went back to school. It was a big decision, a huge investment of time and of money and I'm confident that the investment will, in time, return. It already has in a lot of ways. I've made wonderful friends and have built a network of really smart people who I admire and respect. I had fun along the way (especially in Brazil and in my Marketing Social Change class) and my eyes were opened to entirely new ways of thinking. I approach problems differently now and while I'll never consider myself an expert in statistics, economics, or corporate finance, at least I know about these things, why they're important, and where to go when I need to know more. And I can certainly hold my own in a conversation about any of them (I hope!). I get what the triple bottom line is and love that companies around the world are embracing corporate social responsibility as a matter of course. I gained some really valuable perspectives on life and work and when I gave my last presentation at Boston University's School of Management last night (on solving Cuba's economic problems, no small feat), it felt surreal. 

While I was finishing my MBA, I also enrolled and attended the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and became a Certified Holistic Health Coach. Earlier this month, I started working with my first official client. And, now that I'm done with school (well I have a one-week class in Silicon Valley in January left), I'm excited to apply what I've learned at both BU and at IIN more broadly. My new job will certainly benefit from what I've learned and I hope I can broaden my impact on the health and nutrition of more of you as well! 

We're all on journeys. Often more than one at a time. And I hope as we close out one year and look forward to the next, we're all able to reflect on the rewards inherent in the journey and know that with a balance of persistence, patience, and passion, we can all achieve something that makes us feel truly content. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Pistachio Parsley Pesto

Thanks to Annie for the awesome black sea salt!
I've had two annual Thanksgiving Potlucks so far this week and have another this coming Saturday. Over the weekend, I made my Vegan Butternut Squash Soup recipe and the Balsamic Parsnips and Maple Dijon Carrots inspired by Clean Food by Terry Walters for our Chi Omega Alumni Potluck and I'll probably make the soup again for Saturday. But today, I wanted to try something different, so I roasted a Spaghetti Squash and topped it with a delicious pesto made from parsley, pistachios, and garlic. I got a few requests for the recipe from coworkers, so here goes:

1 spaghetti squash of about average size, rinsed
1 large bunch of parsley (roughly 1 1/2 c leaves)
6 TB extra virgin olive oil (2 for the squash + 4 for the pesto)
3 TB shelled pistachios
2 TB lemon juice
1 clove garlic
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400* F

Time-saver: Line a pan (9x13 pyrex should work well for this recipe, but you can use whatever you have that will fit both halves of the squash) with a sheet of parchment paper if you want to save time on dishes later!

Slice the squash in half lengthwise (a sharp butcher knife works well), and scoop out the seeds (Any metal spoon should work for this. You can keep the seeds if you want to roast them like pumpkin seeds, or simply discard/compost them).

With the squash skin-side down, drizzle the meat of the squash with some Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Season with some good sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Massage the oil, salt, and pepper in to the squash. Place the squash flesh down/skin up in a baking dish and roast at 400* for 45 minutes. 

Flesh down and into a 400* oven. 
You'll know it's done when you can stick a fork through the skin and it goes through the meat of the squash without resistance. The squash should also start to turn a golden brown. 

45 minutes later... perfection! 
I flipped the one on the left over first... the one on the right a few minutes later and it was still steaming. 
While the squash is cooking, I had plenty of time to get some work done, take a quick shower, AND make the pesto... but the sink is still full of dishes (shhhh... don't tell James.)

Parsley is super high in Vitamin C and was still
available at the Union Square Farmers Market on Sat!

The pesto was super easy. I threw 1 clove of garlic into the food processor and let it rip until she was all minced up. Then I scraped down the sides, added the pistachios, and pulsed on high until they were minced, too. Then I added the parsley and ran the processor on high while I drizzled in the EVOO, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. That's it.

Once the squash was cool enough to handle, I used a fork to scrape the squash down off the skin and combined the meat of both squash into the better looking skin. I also mixed it up a bit so the seasoning would be more evenly distributed (it's the little things).

Then I spooned the pesto atop the squash. I meant to throw some dried cranberries and whole shelled pistachios on top to make it even prettier, but this little guy distracted me!

This has me thinking of all the things I could cover in parsley pesto. Dried berries and some creative juices could turn a dish like this into a Christmas tree in no time! :-P

BESIDES basil, what's your favorite kind of pesto?