Carrot Ginger Soup

It’s that time of year again: I have about 20 pounds of carrots in my refrigerator from my Dad’s garden and our friends at Woven Roots Farm.  I also have about as much free time as…wait, what’s that?  Since the first week in September I have been busy and busier and I can’t complain about it one bit.  So this week’s recipe is all about carrots, and quickly!

My husband Dana and my brother Brian and I started selling our Fire Cider in stores around the Berkshires last September.  We have gotten so much support from so many people and local businesses (no, they are not the same thing!) all over the Berkshires and beyond: we are now officially in every state in New England and even Ohio.  It’s been a pretty amazing year for the three of us.  This fall for our one year anniversary we exhibited at the Big E for 6 days, handing out over 15,000 samples of our tonic.  This has led to us working pretty much nonstop for the past 4 weeks and counting.

One thing that has kept us going (aside from the Fire Cider, of course) has been sitting down for a home cooked meal together, at least a few times a week.  I am so used to cooking almost all of the food we eat that it’s been kind of a shock all this eating on the go- grabbing prepared food at the Co-op or The Creamery and  eating in restaurants at the end of a long workday, too tired to cook, or even go to our garden to harvest food.  So I feel reassured that once again, home cooking with farm fresh foods is the way to go for health, best flavor and my sanity as well.

Eating together is one of those things that is full of intangibles and is so very important to any family, be it your group of friends, your roommates or your parents, siblings and kids.  When we eat together we have a chance, maybe the only time all day or all week, when we are all doing the same thing, at the same time, together.  When we share a meal we have prepared together we share the energy and love we put into the food and we all receive the benefits.  Eating together is community building 101.  Speaking of the energy we get from our food, eating root vegetables helps me to to feel more grounded and connected to the earth, especially during times when I’m really busy!  This easy soup recipe calls for 3 root veggies: ginger, onion and carrots with some fresh herbs for a very colorful and nutrient dense meal.

This soup takes about 15 minutes of actual cooking time, with about 30 minutes of simmering and cooling, so make a double batch and save some for later in the week when you have less time to cook.  You can use the downtime while the soup simmers to sauté some greens in garlic and olive oil for a well-rounded, brightly colored meal that will surely leave you and your family feeling nourished, brighter and healthier.

Carrot and Ginger Soup with a swirl of cream or coconut milk, perfect fall food!

Serves 4 – Cooking Time 15 minutes – Total Time- 40 Minutes

Ingredients

 

Enough olive oil or coconut oil for sautéing the onion

medium yellow onion, sliced

1 & 1/2  pounds  carrots, cut into 1/4-inch rounds

4  cups  vegetable or mushroom broth

1  tablespoon or more fresh  grated ginger

1 1/2  teaspoons  salt

1/4  teaspoon black pepper or more to taste

Optional:

1/2  cup  heavy cream (Highlawn Farm!) or coconut milk

Fresh herbs for garnish: chopped parsley or dill

Procedure

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, 5 to 6 minutes.

Stir in the carrots, broth, ginger, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the carrots are soft, about 20 minutes. Let cool at least 10 minutes.

Using a wand blender or a vented stand blender, puree the soup until smooth. Return to pot and warm, if necessary, over medium heat.

If you want to add cream: whisk the cream in a small bowl until soft peaks form. Fold in a pinch of salt and chopped fresh herbs. Divide the soup among individual bowls and top with the herb cream.

For the coconut milk: use organic, canned coconut milk (not the light stuff, it just has water added) and blend well so that it is smooth.  Add the chopped herbs and serve the soup with ¼ cup swirled into each bowl.

If you are on a strict no sugar diet, try making this version of the soup using lots of leeks and just a few carrots for color and mild sweetness.

Pesto Pizza

The barbed wire on the top really adds to the over all effect: Welcome to Greenpoint, kinda.

I took this photo on my last trip to NYC.  There is a block long wall topped with barbed wire that greets you as you leave the ferry dock and enter Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  This mural was my favorite piece of art along the wall.  My trips to NY are always filled with new experiences and plenty of new ideas for recipes based on the things I eat, the menus I read and the street food that seems to be on every corner.  This past trip I came back craving pizza and so, here’s my version, made with a thin, crispy flax crust and topped with fresh garden pesto, Kalamata olives, goat chevre and grated Romano.

For the Pizza Crust

Make up a batch of flax dough, from my previous recipe for flax crackers and flax bread.

Roll the flax dough out in an even, thin sheet, between two well greased pieces of parchment paper, the third method in the flax cracker post.  Make whatever shape you like, I tried to go with a round-ish shape.

Par-bake the crust, after piercing it all over with a fork, at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes.  The dough should be set up but not too crispy.

For the Toppings

For my pizza I chose a base of freshly made pesto, here are a few suggestions!

And added halved Kalamata olives, fresh, soft goat cheese and shaved Romano cheese.

Have fun and get creative, use whatever toppings and cheese you have on hand.

Bake the finished pizza in the oven at 350 for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until the edges are crispy and the cheese is melted and starting to brown.

Slice and serve with a big green salad.

Pesto pizza and garden salad, dinner is served!

Making the Healthiest Use of Your Food Dollar

This Sunday I gave a talk at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Pittsfield about how to get the healthiest value for your food dollar.  Here is most of the talk, with links to all kinds of resources to help you follow through with any suggestion that sounds good to you, here’s to eating well and saving money!

Choosing to make the healthiest use of your food dollar involves more than just economics and saving money. For me, making healthy choices means thinking about my environmental impact, supporting our community and nurturing my family. So the options and suggestions I am going to talk about here take all of those things into consideration.  And what’s great is that a holistic approach to food shopping where we choose what’s best for mother earth, for our families and community is so often what’s best for our bodies as well.

Getting high nutritional value for a low-cost involves doing more yourself and relying less on packaged or prepared foods which are generally expensive in terms of your health, your budget and also create a lot of waste.  It does not mean you have to quit your job to make everything from scratch, although there’s nothing wrong with that!  It may mean managing your time a little differently or shopping at different stores and using your same food budget in a new way.  High value for low-cost may also involve getting together with friends and family to do things like cooking meals together, preserving a lot food all at once or spending time at a community garden like the one at Canoe Meadows off of Williams Street. Plants are a great place to start as far as a getting a whole lot of nutrition for very little money. Remember: the more processed and packaged a food is the more you are paying for the packaging and the preparation and the less actual food you get for your money.  The following tips, separated by food type, contain links to resources to help you follow through with making some money-saving, health building changes. Beans:  Soy beans to navy beans and every legume in between offer high protein, high fiber for penny’s per pound.  I am talking about organic dried beans, or canned, if you are in a hurry.  Yes, they need to be soaked overnight and cooked for a while in on the stove top: a pressure cooker will cut cooking time down by hours!  All it takes is a minute to measure beans and leave them to soak overnight.  Another couple of minutes to rinse them, add water and set them to cook in a pressure cooker or in a crock pot, with the timer on.  Cooking a large pot of plain beans means you have many servings of nutritious protein for a minimal time and money investment.  Beans can be baked into burgers, added to soups and salads or served as a main course.  I have even make brownies with beans! Soy: I would recommend avoiding processed soy foods and sticking with organic, non genetically modified tofu and tempeh, which is a fermented soy food made from whole soy beans.  Tempeh is really delicious and the easiest to digest of all the soy foods.  Processed soy is expensive and usually has a lot of stuff added to it, things we (thankfully!) don’t have access to in our home kitchens.  I call things like soy ‘chicken’ nuggets, soy ‘meat’ and soy cheese vegetarian junk food.  Tofu and tempeh are minimally processed and less expensive.  Just like with your pot of beans you can season them however you like, from breakfast smoothies to cakes, scrambles and stir fry’s! I am definitely making a case here for home cooking that starts with whole foods.  When you make your own food from simple ingredients you have lovingly made food that is much less expensive and you know exactly what you are eating.  Cooking at home is the best way to avoid additives, chemicals and other unhealthy stuff getting from into your food.  You have control when you prepare your own food and you save money.

Bulk cooking is an excellent time saver.  Make a big pot of chili (or soup or similar one dish meal) with lots of beans and veggies and you have dinner, plus leftovers and you can freeze half of it for another meal later in the month.  Set aside an hour or two once or twice a week, you will be able to prepare and cook a lot of food all at once and will have plenty of healthy options on hand throughout the week.

Buying in bulk is another money saver: you don’t pay for packaging, just the food!  There is a buying club at the Unitarian Church as well as one through the Berkshire Co-op market in Great Barrington. Hopefully there will soon a food co-op in downtown Pittsfield, the first organizational meeting is today, Wednesday at 6:30 at the Unitarian Church!  When I buy in bulk from the Barrington Co-op I pay only 15% above whole sale on everything from nuts and tea to spices, grains, beans and even dairy and produce.  And it’s all organic.

Herbs and spices are your friends: they add health benefits, are high in nutrients and can transform a plan serving of beans, grains or tofu into a gourmet meal.  If you have a sunny windowsill you can have free herbs year round for the low investment of a couple of seed packets and a few pots of dirt.  Spices can be bought in bulk for much less than the small glass jars at the grocery store. Animal Protein:  It’s 100% worth the investment to buy locally raised, healthy animal foods than it is to use that same $20 to buy a lot of cheap meat and dairy.  I think it was Michael Pollan who said there is nothing more expensive than cheap food.  We all heard about pink slime, right?  Cheap food is making Americans fat and sick, check it out the next time you are in the grocery store:  diabetes and obesity are always on sale.  Factory farms, where all cheap animal foods come from, are not only incredibly destructive to our environment but also inhumane and cruel to the animals and workers.   These animals are full of pesticides, thank you Monsanto, drugs and misery, you don’t want to put that into your body or feed that to your children.

Take your meat and dairy budget and invest it in sustainably raised fish, locally raised happy meat and dairy and supplement the rest of your diet with plant-based foods like beans, whole grains and soy.  Remember when meat was a special occasion, once or twice a week?  It should be!  Eating too much meat can be unhealthy, it’s especially bad for those with arthritis and can make you tired and lethargic, among other things.  We all know the Perdue guy, doesn’t he look like an unhealthy chicken?  We truly are what we eat!  I drove by one of the Perdue factories in Virginia last week and the smell from the highway was awful.  This is not food.   We need to remember what we are eating; that an animal has contributed to the life cycle of the farm (if it’s raised on a real farm, not in a factory) and has ultimately given its life so that we can thrive. Another awesome budget protein source are eggs.  I think every house should have a couple of back yard chickens.  Are your kids bugging you for a pet?  Chickens are a pet that really pull their own weight; they pay you back with free food!  They eat all your veggie scraps and turn them into beautiful little orbs of easy to digest protein that you can make so many different things with.  If you have chickens, after the initial investment of building a coop, you’ve got free organic protein in your backyard, it doesn’t get better than that. When it comes to carbohydrates whole grains are where it’s at as far as affordability and health.  Bread, crackers, cereal, pasta: you are paying a lot for processed wheat and water.  Read ‘Wheat Belly’ if you want the truth about why wheat, the way we cultivate it in the US, is making so many of us overweight and unhealthy.  With whole grains there are so many options to choose from: quinoa, millet, barley, brown rice, oats.  Just like with the dried beans, you can make a whole bunch of grain at once and have meals for days.  Plain grain can be turned into yummy breakfast porridge, added to a cold salad or reheated with olive oil and a few herbs and spices to round out a healthy dinner.  If you buy, for example, boxed breakfast cereal , you are paying a lot for a cardboard box full of refined carbohydrates and sugars.  Take that same 5 dollars and you will be amazed how much organic rice and oats you can buy.  Grains are a versatile, healthy and affordable staple, get creative and see what you can make! Fresh produce, especially organic produce, can add up, I know.  That’s why it’s so important to make bulk grains and beans a staple of your diet, you will have money left over to buy the slightly more expensive organic produce.  Did you know that conventional produce has lost up to 50% of its nutrients over the past 50 years?  It might be a dollar or two less to buy conventional but you are getting half the nutrition plus all the pesticides and herbicides that cause cancer and all manner of disease not just in humans but in the environment as well.    Organic produce is healthier, it tastes better and you get more for your dollar when you buy organic.  Try a taste test, get organic carrots and conventional carrots and see for yourself.

Better yet, grow your own vegetables, beans and berries!  Stop mowing the lawn and start growing your own food!  Gardening is a great way to get exercise, fresh air and ‘free food’.  For some gardening can be a spiritual practice, a way of connecting to the web of life.   Getting your hands in the dirt is a health building activity that’s good for people of all ages.   My husband and I have met so many people in the Berkshire happy to share their land, sometimes in exchange for some of the produce that they don’t have time to grow themselves.  There are community gardens and plenty of empty lawns, so if you don’t have land, just ask around.   Last year Dana and I saved over $200 a month from June to January by growing our own food at a friend’s farm.  And the best part was that we were eating even more veggies than we would if we had to buy them from the store!

Once you are growing your own food you can preserve it by canning, drying, freezing or lacto fermenting.  If you don’t know how, I’m sure you know someone who does.   Try organizing an end of season canning party!  Get together with your friends and neighbors and teach your kids.  The more you do for yourself the less you need to buy.

One last tip: I know that grocery shopping often can include things like paper towels and products for all manner of things we don’t always actually need. And these things add up. What do you really need and what can you replace with reusable items?  I haven’t bought paper towels or paper napkins in years.  I have a stack of kitchen towels and I use them for everything.  Use a mason jar or reuse take out containers instead of plastic wrap and plastic bags.  A roll of plastic wrap is destined for the land fill: think about where the things you are buying are ultimately going to end up.

Think long-term and about how you can invest in your health, the health of your family and your community: when you buy local products, locally raised veggies, meat and cheeses you are getting the best food on earth.  Plus, local shopping means your money stays in the Berkshires; it goes to the farmer and the shop owner: your friends and neighbors.  When you shop at Price Chopper your dollars go to corporate headquarters…somewhere.   Think about the environmental impact of your food choices, was it trucked in from California, that’s a lot of diesel fuel. When you make this paradigm shift, when value is so much more than just dollars, you are cultivating much more than your own health- you are making choices that positively affect everyone around you.

Guest Post: A Food Co-op in Pittsfield?!

Renaldo Del Gallo wrote the following article,“Exploring a Pittsfield Coop”, published this past Saturday in the Berkshire Eagle.  The first organizational meeting for the Pittsfield Food Co-op is tomorrow, Wednesday May 30th 6:30 pm at the Unitarian Church, 175 Wendell Ave, Pittsfield.  Please join us!

“Just off Main Street in Great Barrington is a funky grocery store with all types of organics, a great healthy bulk food section, whole foods where processed foods would be found in other stores, a produce section with a local focus bursting out in a rainbow of hues, sustainable seafood that does not endanger the ecosystem, grass-fed beef and free range chicken. It is peopled with younger dreadlock-donned granola-types and aging hippies who seem so damn happy to be there. It’s cool. It’s the “Berkshire Co-op Market.”

OK, that’s a slight exaggeration — there are a fair amount of soccer moms and regular folks, too, but you catch the drift. As soon as you walk in the store you say to yourself, “This place is sweet.” 
A cooperative, or “co-op” for short, has been defined as “a business owned by the people it serves,” although you don’t need to be a member to buy at the Berkshire Co-op as you would at BJ’s. Nor do you need to be a member to shop at Wild Oats Market, a co-op in Williamstown that focuses on local producers. But if you live in Pittsfield, you are out of luck. There is no food co-op here.

Dana St. Pierre, Daniel Esko and Amy Huebner plan to change all that. An organizational meeting has been set for Wednesday, May 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Church located at 175 Wendell Ave. in Pittsfield. The public is invited. According to Daniel Esko, “We need to see what sort of support there is out there for the general idea of a food co-op in Pittsfield, get people who are interested together in a room, and get a core group organized to move forward.”
I asked the trio, “How is a co-op different from a regular grocery store?” A food co-op looks like other businesses since it sells products just like any other grocery store, but differs behind the scenes. Unlike a BJ’s where being a “member” is really a fee to get in the front door, a co-op is actually owned by its members. The co-op exists solely to serve the needs of its members.  Unlike traditional corporations with traditional stockholders, the members are local members of the community that use the co-op. The governance is a democratic one, and co-op members elect their own board.
Co-ops distribute “surplus revenues” (profits really, or income above cost and reinvestment) in a highly unusual way. Rather than it going to shareholders based upon “shares” owned, profits are redistributed to members based on their use of the cooperative. Therefore, they are called “patronage dividends,” as opposed to the typical stockholder dividend, because the return is based upon how much business the member has done with the cooperative. 
A traditional corporation owned by non-local shareholders almost always results in a profit-driven purpose. Because owners are not local, the profits are usually spent outside the community. Sure, traditional corporations can be socially conscious, but mission number one is always profit and is their raison d’être.
To be sure, a co-op is a business just like the traditional corporation. It often has a corporate structure and has a corporate existence on file with the secretary of the commonwealth, or the local equivalent in whatever state it is located. The co-op must be economically sustainable like any other business if it hopes to be around. And it is a business — not a club or an association.

But the raison d’être of a co-op is to serve the needs and values of its members, not monetary profit. Since meeting the needs of its members is the sole purpose of the co-op, greater social goals and the benefit to the local community are placed ahead of profits.

According to Esko, “This translates into a commitment to operating an environmentally sustainable business, [and] purchasing goods and services from local farms, producers and contractors.” This also means “strengthening the community through donations, event sponsorship, education and outreach among others.”
In the end, notes Esko, “a Pittsfield co-op will be whatever its membership wants it to be.” The bottom line is that “a food co-op does not exist to make anyone wealthy, but exists to serve the needs of its owners/members.”

Dana St. Pierre notes that co-ops often engage in “things that are not necessarily profitable and therefore not much a part of a for-profit business; things like organizing community gardens, farmer’s markets, and all sorts of educational opportunities.”

Rachel Estrada, who works at the Berkshire Co-op, says, “Cooperatives are not only places that provide organic healthy food, they are also a strong heartbeat within a community.” She believes co-ops “bring people together who share similar interests, building bridges and creating community.”
For more information, go to facebook.com/PittsfieldFoodCo-op

Rinaldo Del Gallo is an occasional Eagle contributor.

New Spring Salad

Dana and I literally made room for our yoga practice.

I’ve been a bit pressed for time since there are a lot of exciting changes going on right now; the garden is growing, there are houses to bid on (woah!) and we converted an extra room in our house to a yoga/meditation room.  I have been naturally waking up consistently early for the past few weeks, a change I attribute to the new season and a sign that my health continues to improve.  The combination of getting up earlier and our yoga room means I’m able to do an hour of Kripalu yoga, mediate and start my day having already accomplished two of my most important goals for the day. Or I can work in an hour of yoga later in the day.  Either way, having hour long classes, on line, that range from gentle restorative yoga to more vigorous, challenging classes, right on the Kripalu home page, makes a daily practice pretty easy to incorporate.  If you have space for a yoga mat and an internet connection, you too can incorporate yoga into your daily routine.  Give it a try!

One of 4 post cards designed to promote the market. This one is my favorite. You can see the other designs on the New Amsterdam Market Facebook page.

Dana, Brian and I are also expanding Fire Cider to a weekly market in New York City called ‘The New Amsterdam Market’ which opens next Sunday at 11 am in the Old Fulton Fish Market.  This is such an exciting next step for us and there’s a lot  to do to get ready!  So, I find I have less time that I would like to spend writing new recipes and playing in the kitchen.  In the interest of time, mine and yours, I’ve come up with a new way to write recipes so I can continue to share with you on a weekly basis…

The ingredients will be listed in the order they are added to the recipe.  Simple instructions will appear throughout the list and the meal should take about 5-15 min to assemble or cook, sound good?  Healthy meals fast, yes please!

One dish dinner with the daffodils my mom picked for us, thanks mama!

New Spring Salad

In a large bowl combine:

1 can tuna

3-4 T mayo

2 T spicy dijon mustard

2 T raw apple cider vinegar

2 T each: Kalamata olives halved and chopped oil cured olives

salt and pepper to taste

Mix well then add

Salad greens of your choosing: baby spinach and dandelion greens are especially nutritious.

1 grated carrot

Mix again and top with

grated cheese, I used some Vermont cheese from the co-op that’s part cheddar and part Romano

a small handful of toasted, salted sunflower seeds

Serve and eat!

Sunday Breakfast

On Saturday night I made dinner for Dana and I: roasted cauliflower dressed in ghee, cumin, turmeric and two of our homemade curry spice mixes with mustard seeds.   Then kale with goat cheese, hot pepper and a dusting of cumin and curry.  For dessert I made biscuits which I planned to use again in the morning for breakfast.

For the meal pictured I started with a bed of arugula, drizzled olive oil, sprinkled salt, black pepper and hot pepper and then grated some amazing raw cheddar cheese from Vermont.  I fried up some eggs and toasted the biscuits.  The eggs go on top of the greens and then I grated more cheese on top of everything.  A quick meal with plenty of protein and even a serving of greens!

Coming soon: my cookbook based on the recipes in this blog and a new class series, “Healthy Living in the Berkshires” which will be hosted by Bisque, Beads and Beyond on North Street starting with two information and sign up sessions May 23rd and 24th.  Mark your calendars and stay tuned!

Does this sound like a health claim to you?

If there were a local food movement militia, this would be my uniform.

The longer this process of bringing our Fire Cider to market the more I think we’ll actually need a local food movement militia.  After we celebrated the end of the bureaucratic bullshit, the red tape wrangling, the deciphering of rules and regulations specifically written so that you need your corporate lawyer to interpret them, Dana and I happily began phase two of the Fire Cider project: production and marketing.  The Solid Sound Festival went well, people really liked our labels and had a lot to say about tasting Fire Cider for the first time!

Then we got an email from the man who is ultimately going to send us our whole sale licence.  He said our label isn’t up to regulations.  This is the same guy I called several times and left several messages for, TWO MONTHS AGO.  I also spoke to several other people who work for the FDA.  They told me they couldn’t explain the rules to me but that I could hire a lawyer to read them to me.  I was also informed that it is up to us, the producers, to follow all these hard to interpret rules.  How will I know if I am doing something wrong?  When the FDA sues me and confiscates my product.  Awesome, thanks for the advice.  Right now it kinda seems like the FDA is just trying it’s best to waste our time and money.  Clearly this organization is run by and for big business.

Dana, my brother and myself have spent hours trying to come up with a way to say what we know to be true about our product without making any ‘health claims’.  The FDA, an organization that routinely approves drugs with significant side effects and minimal testing just can’t be sure that a food based product made from a several hundred year old recipe that’s backed by doctors and documented in books is a ‘safe product’. Also, the FDA has no sence of humor, no big surprise there. This excerpt from the email we received about our label, really sums up everything we’ve been dealing with: “The use of the phrase “digestive aid”  on the left side of your label implies a medicinal – or curative property. Also the statement “Fire Cider is much like a large bear on a cold winter night, a large bear that mauls what ails you!” – these are implied claims that the product has curative benefits or properties. ”  SERIOUSLY?  A simile is a health claim?!  A large bear that mauls what ails you is meant to be funny not cure cancer.  Although Fire Cider would probably be good for that but I can’t say for sure.

Making Fire Cider, part two!

Not to worry, we are playing by the rules.  We are changing our label, again. And again.  We’ve come this far and we’ll be announcing soon where and when you can buy Fire Cider in the Berkshires!  Our next event will be July’s Third Thursday at Dottie’s on North Street.  Dana and I will be handing out free samples and selling 8 oz bottles of Fire Cider so please come out and see us, your support makes all the difference!

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