Sunday, March 25, 2012

Back (or front) Yard Gardening

It's that time of year again...time to get some seeds started, or start thinking about where you can grow a little food on your stoop, in a window box, or in your front or backyard. Lettuce and strawberries grow wonderfully in a window box, tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers, eggplants and many other things grow well in large pots, and without too much effort or money, you can set up a raised bed over a small plot of yard in the front or back of your home or apartment building. A raised bed allows you to plant above the existing soil, so you don't have to worry if there is lead or other soil contamination, and if your beds are at least 12 inches deep, you can grow just about anything.

Growing food is much easier than you might think, and there are tons of online, and local resources to help you. Community gardens, master gardener programs, and local schools and organizations teaching people about urban agriculture and offering assistance to people wanting to grow food. I started out with a few pots, then some mounds of dirt in my yard (when I finally lived somewhere with a yard) and now have 6 small raised beds. Start small and try something new each year, don't be afraid to ask questions, and before you know it, you will be harvesting your own cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes and so much more...

Here is a link about how I built my raised beds a few years ago with detailed instructions to help you get started. And, a little info on starting seedlings as well.

Are you going to try growing some food this year? Let me know if you have any questions!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mac and Cheese - a quick and healthy twist on an old favorite

I know for a purist, this twist on Mac and Cheese would be considered sacrilege. There is hardly any cheese in it, and there are actually vegetables snuck into it too. There is a time and place for the delicious super cheesy version, just ask my friend Jason Sobocinski of Caseus and The Big Cheese and he will pontificate about it. The only catch is, too much of the old stand by (or even the fancy locally sourced four cheese variety) and I'll have a stomach ache, not to mention, a big stomach.

I invented this paired down Mac and Cheese one night for my son. This version still has the crispy melted cheese on top, but forgoes the loads of cheese from inside the dish. But don't worry, it is creamy, flavorful and totally satisfies your Mac and Cheese craving, without all the heaviness of the original. If you have some leftover pasta in your fridge, it is quick to make, and much cheaper too, since there is less cheese in it, so it's great for a simple weeknight dinner. We'll save the rich Mac and Cheese loaded with atisnal curds for a special occasion, and enjoy this one whenever we feel like it.

Too many "cooking words" like rue, or buerre blanc can seem intimidating and difficult. This is one of those recipes that is actually very simple, and works just as well if you have a little less, or a little more of any ingredient, so I'm including simple instructions for those of you that like to cook by feel. There is a recipe below with measurements as well if you are more comfortable with that.
In a nutshell, here's how you do it:

Melt a pat of butter in a frying pan.
Add a spoon full of flour, stir around until it is bubbly, about 30 seconds.
Add milk to reach 1/2 inch up the pan edge, and stir until the flour dissolves and the milk thickens.
Season well with salt (and pepper if desired)
Stir in any veggie you like: fresh spinach, peas, chopped cooked broccoli, etc
Stir in cooked whole grain pasta*, enough to fill the pan and be coated with the sauce.
Cover with thin slices of extra sharp cheddar cheese.
Place under the broiler until the cheese is melted and crispy.

Measured Recipe:
Simple Healthy Mac and Cheese
8-10" frying pan with oven safe handle
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk 
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 cup cooked broccoli or 1+ 1/2 cup raw spinach or other vegetable
3 cups cooked whole grain pasta* 
Extra sharp cheddar thinly sliced, enough to cover the top of the noodles
Follow directions above....

Use any noodles you like for this dish....and let me know how it works for you! Enjoy!

* Noodle Notes: The best, inexpensive whole grain noodles that I have found are the Stop & Shop, natures Choice brand, or Barilla pasta which often goes on sale for $1. For a gluten free pasta, the Trader Joe's brown rice noodle, penne shape is very good.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Big Food Exhibit at The Peabody Museum

Lately I have been very busy with a whole range of food justice projects, and I'm eager to get them up onto the blog to share. Time being the limited substance it is, we'll have to settle for this little bit here....for now. There is a great new exhibit at the Peabody Museum, in New Haven, CT called Big Food. It's a fun, interactive exhibit about the history of food and the rise of obesity. I helped out with with a few parts of this exhibit as it was taking shape, and it was a very interesting experience to see how a museum exhibit is created; man is that a lot of planning and work!! A few cool highlights are the hall of food eaten by the average American in a year, the teaspoons of sugar in sodas and sweet drinks, and this super fun computer game called Smash Your Food. The exhibit will be up from now until December 2nd, and is excellent for adults and kids, and well worth the trip. There is a fee to enter the museum, and it is open free to the public on Thursday's from 2-5pm. This project is lead by CARE and the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. 

Did you know that a medium movie popcorn and soda is the nutritional equivalent of eating 4 hamburgers with 12 pats of butter?!

Do you know how much sugar is in that iced tea or soda you like to drink?
And, what about all the marketing $ that goes into getting little kids to crave a lot of unhealthy food?

The coolest teens ever from Common Ground High School, making delicious smoothies with bicycle blender power! I couldn't stop drinking their samples....The scary thing though was to watch some kids try the smoothie and say "yuck fruit". We have a long way to go....

The New Haven Food Policy Council set up a table and handed out fresh fruits and veggies, along with information about the work we are doing to write a Food Action Plan for New Haven.  It is always exciting to get a people to try new things! The big winner this day was fresh papaya with a squeeze of lime, delicious and great for digestion!  People loved it!

Thank you to all the wonderful volunteers who made the opening day a great one! Special thanks to Cara, the Vista/Americorps staff at CitySeed for all her help!

Check out this exhibit and all the up coming events that are happening around it!

And, let me know what you think!