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Local Pomegranates?

In Wisconsin, not likely.  Not the full sized ones anyways.

© Melinda Nagy | Dreamstime.com

As I try to incorporate a “locavore” mentality into my grocery shopping, I do still try to keep my health and tastebuds in mind.  What is the most important thing to me when I can’t find something I want via a local source?……making sure I understand where it comes from!

At my local grocery store….which, I would like to add, is family owned and operated and is competing quite nicely against the big “W” and one other national chain store…..whew, ok, back to the story…..at my local grocery store, pomegranates were on sale.  Because they keep for so long (more on this in a future post), I decided to buy a couple.

My mom is a produce manager back in my hometown area, so I get the low-down on any upcoming produce shortages and changes in regulations.  Did you know that all fresh produce needs to be clearly marked with its origin for the consumers?  I did.  Therefore, I knew I could find out right then and there, in the produce aisle, where my pomegranates came from.

However, that wasn’t enough….just knowing it was from California didn’t satisfy my urge to know more.  I wanted to know where in Cali, how it was grown, and on and on.

In doing a little net surfing, I learned that there are about 250 pomegranate growers in California supplying almost all of our US pomegranate purchasing needs.  These growers use approximately 14,000 acres to grow the supply and most of the acres are located in the central and southern San Joaquin Valley [data sourced from the California Farm Bureau website referencing the San Francisco based Pomegranate Council].

Pomegranates are in season/harvested from October through January in California.

This got me to thinking.  How does the pomegranate grow and could I grow it here in Wisconsin myself?  I learned that the pomegranate grows on a large bush/tree and prefers warm weather (pomegranates originate from the Middle East and they grow best in areas where the temperature do not dip below 40 degrees). 

© Elad Nussbaum | Dreamstime.com

Wisconsin does not fit the bill.

HOWEVER, upon further research, I discovered a variety of pomegranates that can be grown in a container.  Therefore, during the winter when Wisconsin hits that low average February temperature of just barely twenty degrees, my pomegranate tree will be safely indoors.

What type of pomegranate you ask?  A dwarf pom, of course!  It is a type of bonsai plant.  Pretty much everything is the same as its full sized counterpart, but the tree and fruit is just smaller in scale.

I will be on a quest someday soon to purchase a dwarf pom tree……..now, to find a cute container to grow it in!


Making Socially Responsible Food Choices

When I decided to try to make a conscious decision to choose “socially responsible” foods to feed my family, I became overwhelmed and began wondering a few things. 

Should I just purchase all organic?  What is considered local?  What am I supposed to eat in January?

For me, I have been asking myself three things when I purchase my food:

1.  How far did this food have to travel? 

The farther the food had to travel to allow me to purchase it, the more fuel that was consumed (for commercially grown food, such as produce, the average is around 1,500 miles).  Think about this:

A lot of fruits (think watermelons and the like) are more than 90% water.  I do not really want to pay for the transportation of this water when I may be able to find that same watermelon at a local farmer’s market (if watermelon is not in season, I ask myself if I really need watermelon — or if I could enjoy a fruit that is more in season — or I try a new fruit that may have travelled a lesser distance).

Photo Courtesty of Olga Vasilkova via Dreamstime

Also, when thinking about how far food had to travel (when it comes to processed, manufactured, and packaged foods), I take a look at the ingredient list.  The fewer ingredients in the food, the better it is when it comes to fuel use. 

Every single one of the ingredients listed not only had to travel to the plant where the final product was manufactured, but then the final product had to travel from the plant to my store. 

That could be a lot of fuel use — in the end, I tend to make things from “scratch” as much as possible to help cut down on fuel consumption. 

(I put “scratch” in quotations because I actually hate using this word — whenever used, people automatically think whatever you are making from “scratch” will take a long time, be tedious, and not be very easy.  Most of the time, that is incorrect — also, the added benefit is that I know EXACTLY what I am putting into my mouth!)

Here’s a fun tidbit for you — if everyone ate one meal per week from a local source, over 50 million barrels of oil a year would be saved!

2.  How were the farmers that produced this food treated?

Let’s face it, the bottom line of a business is THE bottom line of the financials.  Without a good bottom line, the business would cease to exist!  Therefore, a manufacturing company is not only looking for the best ingredients for their product but also at the best price.

If you have ever seen the movie “King Corn” you were able to watch as a couple of guys try a year long experiment growing an acre of corn (an acre of corn grown specifically for corn syrup and process manufacturing).  In the end, without government assistance and subsidies, they would have LOST money!

By shopping at a local farmer’s market (as one option), my food is not only utilizing less fuel for travel, I am helping that farmer support his family.  Hopefully, in turn, that farmer makes local purchases as well.  This cycle could continue inevitably making my community a more prosperous place to live!

Phot Courtesy of Byron Moore via Dreamstime

3.  How was the land and the animals treated to produce this food?

Photo courtesy of Martina Meyer via Dreamstime

I am not going to get into all the hub-bub about animal cruelty, land preservation and pollution — but for me, when I shop at a local farmer’s market (where more often than not I can actually get to know the farmer himself), I feel more confident that the animals raised and the land that was tilled were treated fairly.

When I have to purchase food or ingredients somewhere other than a local farmer’s market, or a local dairy, or a local manufacturer (where I know how the ingredients were purchased), I do look for a couple of things:

a.  Certified organic food; then I know there were no harmful pesticides that went onto the land (or into my tummy).

b.  For meat, eggs, and the like, I look for “grass fed” items.

c.  I simply look at where it was produced! 

I was surprised to discover that a lot of local grocery stores will carry locally produced items (it cost less to get to them, so it is cheaper for them to sell!).  I have learned that instead of automatically reaching for the mainstream, popular brand of an item, if I just take a second to search for something a little less familiar brand-wise, more often than not I discover an item that was made by a business less than 100 miles from me!

In the end, not every single purchase I make would fit into the “socially responsible” category, but as long as I know I made the most “socially responsible” choice that I could, I am happy!

P.S. (What will I eat in January?  Preserving local, fresh food is key!  Freezing, canning, and gardening are my new hobbies……when summer comes rolling around I will be posting all of my preservation ideas……)

How I Diet without Dieting

I love food.  Plain and simple.  However, I am most passionate about the foods that are “bad” for you (chocolate and the like).  As I have grown, and my tastebuds have matured, however, I have learned to love foods that aren’t bad for me (veggies are at the top of the list)!  Eating more locally grown foods has helped in experimenting with newly found veggies and other health foods.

Just recently I watched an episode of “Good Eats” with Alton Brown (yes, I am proud to admit I am a fan).  The episode was based on how Alton lost 50 pounds while focusing on eating foods that had a high ratio of nutrients to energy rather than just high in energy alone.  He stresses how this approach was not a diet (he wasn’t limiting what he ate, just made sure to fill himself full of things he should be eating and decide if there was really room, or the necessity, for more).  He stuck to four lists of what he would make sure to eat. 

I have decided to take a similar approach — I could stand to lose a few pounds and would enjoy the extra energy!  I have adjusted Alton’s list to suite my own preferences and also suite my need to eat more locally grown foods (or at least have an understanding of where they came from).

List #1:  Things to eat daily

1.  Fruits and Vegetables (at least 3 servings per day with at least one being fruit, one being a leafy green, and one being carrots)

2.  Whole Grains (at least 50 grams — can be found in things like cooked brown rice, whole grain cereal, popcorn, whole grain crackers, whole grain bread, etc.)

3.  Nuts (at least one serving — based on my weight, I am looking at 58 grams of protein per day — 1 oz (approximately 24) almonds has about 6 grams of protein)

4.  Tea (just to try and get rid of my soda intake!)

5.  Dairy (at least one serving….will most likely be a glass of skim milk with dinner!)

Optional:  Chicken and Hard Boiled Eggs (I will not necessarily consume these daily, but will if I need more protein in the given day — all while still watching my fat content of course!)

List #2:  Things to eat 3 times per week

1.  Fish (oily fish such as sardines and herring, but also including fish such as salmon, tuna, cod, etc)

2.  Yogurt

3.  Potatoes (sweet or regular)

List #3:  Things to eat only once per week

1.  Red Meat

2.  Pasta (this one will be TOUGH)

3.  Dessert

4.  Alcohol

List #4:  Things to avoid altogether

1.  Fast Food

2.  Soda

3.  Processed Meals (Frozen Dinners, etc)

4.  Canned Soups (I am excluding cream-of-anything from this list due to cooking needs — I am trying to avoid those large “diet” cans of chicken noodle soup that have a ton of sodium)

5.  “Diet” anything — because this is not a diet!

Along with making sure I consume the above items per the recommended dosages, I am also going to be tracking calories.  Yes, I said it…….I am, however, still not calling this a diet even though I will be tracking what I eat.  Tracking my food intake will be more so to realize how quickly the calories add up and to ensure I am getting the recommended dosages of protein, fiber (very important), and limiting fat.  I will think twice about those chocolate squares by doing this! 

To track what I eat, I will be utilizing my account on Livestrong.com (I have been using it on and off for a while).   The great thing about this website is that it not only tracks the calories but also the grams of nutrients as well!

Along with consumed calories and fiber intake, I can also track my exercise and be able to “add back” more calories to consume for the day!  I will be looking at a net of 1,500 calories per day.

Why you should eat pumpkin

At the farmer’s market last week I saw, for the first time this season, pumpkins for sale!  I quickly learned pumpkins are in season in Wisconsin from about the middle of August until frost rears its ugly head on the ground.

Of course, my husband and I originally saw the orange beauties as future jack’s, but then it hit me — nature didn’t intend for pumpkins to be carved, but instead consumed.  I was ecstatic!  Another new ingredient was in season!!

I guess I have been so used to canned pumpkin from the grocery store for any recipes calling for the infamous puree, that it took a life change (eating fresh and locally) to realize I could have an even fresher, more delicious version.

So, before diving in and buying the entire wagon’s worth of pumpkins at the market this past weekend, I decided to do some research.  I wanted to know why I should eat pumpkin and how to properly purchase, store, and preserve them.

First, I had to get past the fact that pumpkin isn’t just an ingredient in pie.  I was about to discover new, healthy ways to incorporate a vegetable chock full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber into delicious main courses.

According to about.com, pumpkins can provide you with plenty of Vitamin A and beta-carotenes along with Vitamins C, K, and E (and other miscellaneous minerals).

Pumpkins are also a good form of fiber (something I am always looking for — lots of fiber in foods keeps you fuller longer).  Just a half a cup of canned/pureed pumpkin provides 3.5 grams of fiber.

The “flesh” of the pumpkin is not only the edible part of the vegetable either.  The seeds are also very noteworthy delicacies.  Pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas) are loaded with minerals, appear to provide anti-inflammatory effects, and may even help protect against prostate cancer and osteoperosis.  Just a quarter cup of these bad boys and you have provided yourself with 1.5 grams of fiber as well!

So, I’m sold…..I am ready to add fresh pumpkin to my diet.  But, is that wagon on the side of the road (selling jack o’lanterns for $1) my best source?  Yes and no (depends on what sizes they are offering — remember that MOST are buying pumpkins to carve and the bigger, the better).

When choosing a pumpkin for consumption (rather than carving) you want one that is heavy for its size — pumpkins that are somewhere around 2-5 pounds are typically your best option (so do not be tempted to purchase that goliath pumpkin……you will not be as pleased with the taste as found in the smaller ones).

Darker hued pumpkins are also better options — the ligher pumpkins tend to be drier and have a bigger opening in the middle (less puree for you).

If you are at a farmer’s market (not just a wagon on the side of the road as you see so many of here in Wisconsin), ask the producer if they have any “pie” or “sugar” pumpkins.  They are the smaller pumpkins that are grown specifically for consumption (they were named with the end result of a pie in mind, of course).

If you are like me, you have now just went out and bought yourself 20 little pumpkins and are ready to go……..quickly realizing you are not going to be able to work your way through all 20 of them instantly; you will need to provide storage.

If left in their whole state (not cut open), pumpkins can last a very long time if kept in a cool (50-60 degrees), dry place.  Just keep a newspaper under them in case they do start to disintegrate and “ooze” (I am sure you have seen plenty of pumpkins after Halloween that are just begging to be disposed of — once they start appearing as such, do not eat).

Once you have cut the pumpkin open, you will want to use them (cook or freeze) within a couple of days — raw pumpkin tends to mold easily.

After you have cooked it, puree or chunk form will last about 4 to 5 days in the fridge.  You can, of course, freeze or can pumpkin to supply yourself all during the off-season.

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT can pureed pumpkin — only cubed form.  Read more about why on PYO’s website here.  If you want to can pumpkin, do it in cubed form.  Otherwise, you can safely freeze both puree and cubed pumpkin.  Just thaw the frozen goodies in your fridge prior to using in a recipe!

Now, go get your pumpkins and check back later for my upcoming posts on cooking and creating puree, using pumpkin in “new-to-me” recipes, and preserving for future use!

Organic? Fair Trade? I just want a cup of coffee!

We have officially made our first “switch” in products. We ran out of coffee and I thought it was the PERFECT opportunity to try and make an informed buying decision.

So, I started to do some research. WOW. There is a lot to consider when you are looking for that “smart” choice in coffee.

First off, I knew the coffee beans themselves wouldn’t be local. I live in Wisconsin…..enough said. So, to bring in the local aspect of my purchase, I knew I wanted to find a local coffee roaster. After performing a simple Google search, I found the perfect spot!

Black Waters Coffee is located right in my area. They roast the beans themselves (in their warehouse just down the street from where I live) and have a cute little coffee shop selling their roasts and fresh, hot cups of java! They even have a bit of deli food if you are also hungry.

I love the cozy feeling of the place. It is more than just a mom and pop store, but it was built around that same type of business.  It is 100% locally owned and operated. Come to find out, they supply the coffee for the break room at my husband’s office in town!

So I found the perfect supplier, but what kind of coffee should I buy from them? I knew I wanted organic (because of the agricultural benefits to the land), but then also discovered the world of Fair Trade Certified (FTC) coffee as well. Luckily, Black Waters has multiple varieties that fall into both categories.

I decided to go with the Las Capucas Honduras Roast and the Sumatra Permata Gayo roast.  Both are organic and both are Fair Trade Certified.  My husband and I normally like dark roasts best, so I knew we would like the Sumatra.  However, we have already tried the lighter, medium roast and it was delicious!

Now, I didn’t want to just settle knowing I had purchased organic, FTC coffee.  I wanted to know more about where it came from!  So after I got home, I did a little googling (to learn more than the brief description on the bag and handouts that were at the coffee shop).

The first one I did a search on was the Las Capucas roast.  I learned that Las Capucas (in Honduras) is home to one of the most progressive coffee cooperatives in its country — the Cooperativa Cafetalera Capucas Limitada (COCAFCAL). 

COCAFCAL has obtained Fair Trade, Organic, and Rainforest Alliance (guaranteeing they use strict guidelines to improve and protect the environment, wildlife, and workers in their local area) certification within the past few years.  For you geography buffs, Capucas is situated near the Mayan Ruins.

Each harvest season, the cooperative produces about 181 tons of coffee and is sold out several weeks after the harvest’s end (that means I need to buy as much of it as Black Water has roasted at a time!!).  The cooperative currently has about 100 members (producers).

On their website (CapucaCoffee), I learned that every year they have a specialty coffee competition where their members prepare samples for international tasters to become the “favored” producer of the cooperative.  This annual competition also aides and educates the producers in how to supply the highest quality coffee bean they possibly can.  They even have a beauty pageant crowning the “Queen of Coffee”!

The cooperative of COCAFCAL uses its earnings to better the lives of their producers and their community as well.  COCAFCAL offers funds to community programs such as a new soccer field for the children, a tree nursery which provides new coffee trees and hardwoods to the producers, and focuses on paying their producers the best possible price for their coffee (by getting Fair Trade certification, the producers are guaranteed a minimum buying price which is above standard average prices).

The other coffee I purchased, the Sumatra Permata Gayo comes from a wonderful cooperative as well!  The Gayo Organic Coffee Farmers Association (PPKGO) is an organic, fair trade cooperative consisting of small scale farms.  The cooperative is located in Sumatra, Indonesia near the Gunung Leuser National Park (in the Gayo Highlands of the Aceh province).  Interestingly enough, all of their coffee is grown in the shade!

The cooperative, even in a region that persistently experiences political conflict from an ongoing civil war, is an ethnically diverse group (and 20% of them are women).  The cooperative is made up of 1,600 growers from 32 different communities.  Of the growers, 5 different ethnicities are represented (Gayo, Javanese, Acehnese, Padang, and Batak).  Therefore, this cooperative stands as a model for unity between races within this area of Indonesia (keep in mind they are also still struggling from being torn apart by the recent tsunami).

The PPKGO also helps the local communities their producers live in.  They have built portable water systems, constructed new roads, refurbished mosques, and established a credit union.

On their website (Gayo Farmers Association), one producer is quoted as saying “Thanks to Fair Trade, one of my children is now in medical school and the other is in midwifery school.”

After looking at both of these organizations, and the fact the cooperatives’ coffee beans are then roasted locally before my purchase, I can feel good each and every morning as I sip the coffee that is helping so many people!

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