We all know that we should eat healthier and there's always room for improvement; but there are hindrances to not only finding good food sources, but affording the extra time and money to obtain them. Given the current environment of threats of food shortages, transportation, and local climate changes affecting growing; we have a daunting task to get and keep our nutritional goals.
If you have local growers, get to know them, who they are and what their practices are. Locally grown is always best as food is grown in a similar environment to your own and the microbiome affects will be complimentary. Produce is also picked when ripe with the fullness of nutrients available. Produce grown and shipped is picked prior to ripening and ripens on the way to you. Many nutrients are lost this way. If you can't get locally grown, the next best thing is to purchase frozen organic in the grocery as those fruits and vegetables will have been picked when they are ripe and frozen immediately for preservation before shipping. Localharvest.org is a great online resource to find organic and grass fed meats in your local area.
Then there's the "ugly food" movement. It has become a thing of the past that slightly bruised and disfigured food is thrown away as not being presentable to shoppers. As there has been a bigger need to provide wholesome food to food shelves and greater numbers of people, the idea of putting perfectly good food into peoples' hands has opened up the idea of no longer throwing the imperfect produce away. As well as there being local organizations that may do this in your area, there are also online sources like Misfits Market (misfitsmarket.com) or Hungry Harvest (hungryharvest.net) that process and mail to your door your orders at up to 40% less depending on time of year and availability. It might also depend on locations. There are others, so explore the internet to find the ones best suited to your needs.
Next options are Thrive Market that carries guaranteed organic for every product on their shelves. They advertise up to 6,000 products including staples, meats, produce and harder to find needs with an entry level fee. This again, can be shipped right to your door. With the prices on gas climbing and despite mailing costs, these may not be such bad ways to obtain good quality food without fuel costs. Butcher Box (butcherbox.com) and Walden Local Meats (waldenlocalmeat.com) are other great sources for mail order meats.
Another new concept in obtaining fresh produce is the "gleaning" movement or food recovery programs, where people go into the fields that have already been harvested, usually by mechanical means, and pick what has been left behind. It helps the farmers clean up their fields and supplies more viable food for food shelves and those willing to take advantage of the excess for their families. Organic farms that store produce over winter will sometimes open their facilities for gleaning overripe or marginal produce.
If you are growing your own food you have an advantage in being able to grow the things that your family loves. For those of you that are beginning this adventure, plan ahead for growing as much as you can and either freezing and/or canning for winter and food shortages in the grocery store. Much like the Victory Gardens of WWII, we can augment, if not fully stock, our larders with good quality food. Here in Vermont where winters can be long, it is a blessing to be able to go into my freezer and bring out fresh frozen green beans in January; or make a blueberry pie with fresh frozen blueberries picked in August.
The following two resource books can help you with practical ways of getting good healthy nutrition, simply as you learn about the pros and cons of food groups and making your own vs purchasing. There are probably more options out there for you than you think so explore with your laptop, your local areas and the mail order options. There are other places like Trader Joes and other food suppliers that carry some organics so read labels and glean from these sources also. Start now to think about sources and plan ahead. Your quality of life may depend on it.
Resources: Food What the Heck Should I Eat? Mark Hyman, MD This is an excellent and down to earth approach to helping people get started eating for optimal health. Dr. Hyman not only gives good nutritional information, but gives practical guidelines about myths and misunderstandings about some food groups. He gives practical information for what to watch for in labeling and nutritional dos and don't as well as good sources similar to the ones above regarding where to get accurate information. He also includes a chapter of meal plans and recipes using simple and straightforward methods for beginners and intermediates.
Nourishing Traditions, The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats Sally Fallon. This is more than a cookbook. It has chapters categorized by product with introductory notes and annecdotal information on every page about where to find the right sources, how to make from scratch, how to substitute with the best foods and myriads of recipes for every lifestyle. She also includes great information on each food group and what to look for and avoid as well as what gives you the most nutritional bang for your buck. Great for beginners as well as the more advanced who want to make their own breads, yogurts, fermented dishes, sourdough and the list goes on. This book has been revised at least 4 times now, but each edition is chock full of great ways of using what is available to you. Used copies will be just as valuable.
Eatwild (eatwild.com) state by state guide or Eat Well Guide (eatwellguide.org)
It Springtime!!!!! I'm thinking of all the green sprouts raising their heads and the wild things that will be appearing. There's plenty of medicinals that will be ready to do our spring health cleansing with; but there's more!! There are some wonderful plants to look forward to that have culinary charm and great artisan potential. If you don't pour herbicide on your lawn, and you don't begin to mow too early, you are likely to find john-jump-ups and violet leaves showing themselves early. Both the leaves and the flowers can be added to salads. Take a look at The Herbfarm Cookbook, by Jerry Traunfeld if you get a chance. There are other places to find recipes for wildcrafted herbs, but non as fun and served with such flair as these. The following are some interesting anecdotes and a good spring Nettle soup recipe that will please your eyes as well as your palette.
Scented Geranium leaves
Geraniums come in so many diverse scents now, from cinnamon to rose. Choose your favorite and try this recipe with your kids. They love putting the leaves in the pan. Its a very simple way to add flavor to yellow or white cakes or cupcakes.
Take any scented geranium leaves, rinsed and dried. Place in bottom of cake pan that has been oiled for non stick. Gently pour in basic white or yellow cake recipe or boxed mix over the top of the leaves. (Or in the case of cupcakes you can put the cake mix into the cups and set one leaf gently on top so that the imprint comes out and the leaf can be removed after baking. Bake as directed. When removed from oven and cooled, remove from pan and flip right side up, removing the leaves from the top. The flavor will have infused into the cake and there will be leaf patterns imbedded in the top. Frost or glaze as desired, or try some creative touches with the leaf patterns with sprinkles, confectioners sugar, or drizzling different colored glazes.
Flowers in salads
It's always been a favorite thing for chefs to add edible flowers to salads and as garnish. As spring and summer arrive along with the flowers, or as you contemplate what flowers to grow in your garden, consider some of these for color and unique flavors.
Borage - an intensely blue flower has a mild cucumber flavor
Calendula - orange/yellow flowers for accenting salads or soups
Daylilies - single petals sprinkled, or full buds before opening, stir fried with veggies
Monarda or "Bee Balm" - many colors and interesting petal formation tastes like oregano
Nasturtiums - a favorite of restaurants with a mild radish flavor
Pansies/Violas/Johnny Jump-ups - early season favorites in many colors and sweet flavor
Nettles are an early spring favorite. Though they have oxalic acid in their leaves which cause a skin rash, collecting them with gloves and scissors works fine. If you do get 'stung' a little lavender aromatherapy oil does the trick which you can carry in your pocket. Cooking takes all the sting out of them and they are full of great vitamins, taste like spinach, and break down nicely for soup.
Gather 2 quarts of gently packed leaves
Use tongs to drop them into a large pot of boiling, salted water for 2 minutes
Drain and plunge them into cold water (they won't sting at this point)
Gather leaves into a ball and squeeze out as much water as you can.
Now to prepare your soup:
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
4 Cups chicken or vegetable broth
8 oz button mushrooms
2 Tbsp long grain white rice
4 oz nettle leaves
1 cup coarsely snipped chives
Optional Garnish: Creme fraiche or sour cream
. Melt butter in medium skillet, add onion and cook until softened
. Add stock, mushrooms, rice and bring to boil
. Reduce heat, cover, simmer until rice very soft, about 30 minutes
. Put half nettles and half chives in blender or food processor, pour half the soup over greens, put lid on and blend on low speed and slowly turn up speed until blended smooth
. Pour blended soup into 2nd saucepan and blend rest of greens and soup
. Stir pureed soup over medium heat until almost a simmer
. Taste and add pepper and salt to taste
. Garnish: Whip fraiche or cream until smooth and drizzle onto top of soup in circular or zigzag pattern
Over 40 years of Herbal and nutritional experience.