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Smoothie Recipe

Part of my new eating plan (see post here) includes getting at least one serving of fruit in per day (as a part of a minimum 3 servings of fruits and veggies).  I have decided to incorporate smoothies back into my “diet”!

I had been turned off by smoothies in the past because I couldn’t find a good way (i.e. didn’t want to find a way) to make them without yogurt.  For some reason yogurt + smoothie = not good eats for me.  But, with a little experimentation, I have found my perfect smoothie base recipe!

Into a blender I add the following:

1/2 cup fruit (frozen or fresh) — I have been using a frozen fruit medley of blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.  I have also used frozen raspberries (that I froze from my Pick Your Own experience this year), but plan on trying apples, grapes, mangoes, or basically whatever is in season or on sale!

1 banana — this is my way around adding yogurt.  I am able to acheive that smooth consistency with the banana without the chalkiness I sometimes feel the yogurt adds

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup fruit juice — I use whatever I have on hand (orange juice, apple juice, or recently an apple raspberry juice via Old Orchard)

1 tblsp honey

3 ice cubes

Pulse the mixture in the blender until the ice cubes are crushed then blend to perfection for about 30 seconds.  Then, enjoy!

For me, this is one serving (usually my breakfast).  It gives me over one full serving of fruits, about 6 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, only 1 gram of fat, and approximately 280 calories.  Perfect start to my day!

The best part is that you can also make this ahead…..simply add all the ingredients (excluding the ice cubes) into the blender or tupperware container.  Then cover and refrigerate overnight.  When it comes time to make your smoothie, simply add the ice cubes and blend away.  Take with you in an insulated mug to work to enjoy all morning!

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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.

The Beaver Dam Community Garden Recap

This past summer (2010), Beaver Dam was blessed with a new community garden.  For a very small fee, residents of the community could rent a 20 foot x 20 foot plot and grow food to feed their families.  In some cases, such as with the Rotary Club’s plot, the food grown was donated to local charities.

This year the community garden featured 19 gardeners (I was one of them!) growing everything from tomatoes to peppers to pumpkins.  An eager group of citizens, as a part of the Leadership Beaver Dam group, decided to take the time and go through the process of gaining the support and approval from the city board to pursue an inevitably positive addition to the community.

The garden was featured multiple times, on the front page no less, in the local newspaper (the Daily Citizen).

October 6th, 2010:  Community Gardeners Encouraged by Successful Season

October 6th, 2010:  Annual Meeting Planned

June 16th, 2010:  Group is Leading the Way in Beaver Dam

April 30th, 2010:  Breaking New Ground:  Community Garden Kicks Off Project 

March 29th, 2010:  Community Garden Gets OK

January 29th, 2010:  Community Garden Space Sought

I will most definitely be participating in next year’s garden (on a personal note, my husband is one of the founding members pictured above….I am very proud of him and the group).  I will be keeping a “wishlist” of items I would like to plant, grown, can, preserve, and enjoy on the “Garden” tab of my blog.

On Monday, the community garden will be hosting its first annual meeting.  The meeting will be at First Lutheran Church (311 Mackie Street).  There will be a quick potluck from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. with the meeting starting thereafter.  Board members will be elected and committees will be formed to help make 2011 a great second year!  Everyone is invited to attend the meeting — those interested in joining the board or helping out with next season should attend.

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!

Canning Raspberry Jam (or is it jelly?)

I love raspberries…..fresh from the bush or baked in a pie, I love all forms of the fruit.  When I found out that a local apple orchard has a “pick your own” option for raspberries, I was determined to get there before the raspberry season was over.

Lucky for me, it was Labor Day weekend and I had “labor” available in the form of a couple of friends who had decided to come down and visit for the weekend (no, they did not know the had become pickers before they decided to visit).

So, when they arrived, we got into the car and headed out to the orchard.  I walked away with a peck and a half of apples (I will be blogging all about my apples on a guest post for Leftovers for Lunch in early October!), homemade cider donuts, caramel apples, and twenty little pint boxes to go fill with raspberries.

Yes, you read that correctly…..20 pints.  No, I did not have a plan for 20 pints of raspberries at the time.  BUT, I knew that if I wanted to enjoy their goodness this winter I had to find a way to preserve them.

You are probably thinking to yourself “but by the title of this post, it appears you just made jam out of the raspberries”.  Guess what?  You are right!  However, along with the jam, I did also preserve a few of the burgundy beauties for this winter to use in other recipes I have in mind.

Today, however, I wanted to walk you through my experiences canning (and jam nonetheless) for the very first time in my life!

The first step — figuring out if this stuff is “jam” or “jelly”.  I definitely debated on this topic for a while.  What I ended up making is jam…..jam is made up of the crushed version of the fruit (for instance, my raspberry concotion includes bits of seeds and raspberries directly in the spread).  Jelly is typically a clear, bright product as it is made from the juice of a fruit.  There….problem solved!

Once I had determined I was making jam, I had to figure out what in the world to do (in case you missed it above, I mentioned this was my first time canning and canning jam at that).

I, of course, hit up my favorite website (PickYourOwn.org) for help.  This page here on their website walks you through (essentially) the steps that I took.  Along with the directions from this website and the directions from the box of pectin, I was all set.

Wait, pectin?  What is that?!?!  Pectin is a powdered form of what is extracted from citrus fruits and it is what causes your jams and jellies to thicken, or harden.  Upon further research, I found that you can buy many different forms of pectin (in your local grocers canning section).  Some pectins allow you to use less, or no sugar, in your jams.  In this case, I had the form of pectin that you needed to add sugar to for it to work (so please keep this in mind as you pursue your own jam adventure).

One of the first things you need to do for any canning project is prepare your jars and rings.  Personally, I washed them all by hand then put them into the canner which I had started boiling the water in.  I let the jars and rings hang out in the canner until I was ready to pull them out to fill them.

DO NOT put the lids in the canner (especially not for this long).  The “glue” on the lids will essentially disintegrate and you will note be able to form a seal on your jars.  When it comes time to sterilize the lids, I take a couple cups of the boiling water from the canner, place it in a bowl, and put the lids in this for about 5 minutes (see my notes below for when I actually completed this step).

There really isn’t too much as far as ingredients go for my raspberry jam.  Basically I needed raspberries, sugar, and pectin.

I first started with 8 cups raw (6 cups smashed) of fresh raspberries.  Yes, you can use frozen (eeeek!) from the grocery store.  Just make sure that they are not frozen with any sort of juice/sugared liquid.  I found that one pint of my fresh raspberries equaled about one cup of smashed!

After smashing the raspberries (I used a potato masher), I let them sit in the bowl while I prepared the pectin mixture.  Now, I was following the recipe directly from the pectin box for raspberry jam (6 cups of smashed raspberries plus 7 cups of sugar along with one full box of pectin — pectin comes in a box that is the same size of jello, FYI).

However (and I should have taken to heart this advice on PYO), I really did need a bit more pectin for the jam to harden to my liking.  The end result did end up being a bit more runny than I am used to (still very jammy and delicious, but I would have preferred it a bit thicker).  So next time I will be adding more pectin!

Now it is time to prepare the pectin mixture.  I added about 1/4 cup of the 7 total cups of sugar to the entire box worth of pectin.  I then added to the pot the smashed raspberries and mixed away.  You will want to bring this mixture up to a FULL boil (on PYO it says it will take 5-10 minutes…..it took my mixture 10 minutes).

Once this mixture is at a full boil, you can then add the remaining 6 3/4 cups of sugar (or whatever amount you have remaining, depending on the pectin you purchased).  Bring this to a boil, again, and boil for one minute.

{while I waited for this new mixture to come to a boil, I put my lids in the bowl of water as mentioned above}

After the mixture has boiled for about a minute, you will want to skim the excess foam from the top.  Ok, this step isn’t 100% necessary, but if you do not do it, you will have jam foam at the top of your jars.  I decided to skim.

If you would like to test the thickness of your jam, now is the time to do it.  Take a spoon (that you had resting in a glass of ice water) and spoon yourself some of the jam.  Let it rest so that it reaches room temperature to see the finished thickness (I kept my jam mixture at a low, simmering boil during this time).

If you are not happy with the thickness, add more pectin and boil for another minute before testing again.  If you are happy with the thickness, remove the mixture from heat and let stand for 5 minutes then stir completely.

Now it is time to fill the jars!  While my mixture was “standing”, I took my jars and rings out of the canner to get them ready to be filled.  Using my funnel, I filled my jars to within a 1/4″ from the top (this funnel, along with a handy jar gripper, came in a canning set I received as a gift from my mom — do not can without these two items!  It would be a miserable process without them).

Put the lids on your jars and put the filled jars into the canner for their water bath (your jars should be covered with about two inches of water when they are in the canner).  Process the jars in this water bath for 10 minutes (I started pulling them out around 7 minutes as the pectin instructions said between 5 and 10 minutes for processing time depending on your altitude).

Let the jars cool and seal.  Your jars will “pop” as they cool….this means they are sealing!

That’s it for this year’s raspberry jam, but I will definitely plan on making more for next year (we have already consumed one of the jars and the leaves on the trees haven’t even changed yet).

Grandma’s Freezer Corn

In my quest to preserve as much summer-fresh goodness as I can for the upcoming winter, my grandma was kind enough to write down (and mail) her famous freezer corn recipe (I have since laminated the recipe card to preserve the nostalgia impact is has on me).

Our family DEVOURS this corn any time it is available. Grandma used to have a multi-acre garden each summer (including a bounty of sweet corn), but within the past few years she has decided to no longer tend a garden. So, I am hoping to preserve not only the locally grown sweet corn, but also my grandmother’s traditional recipe. Lucky for you, I am willing to share!

At our recent visit to the Madison’s farmers market, we decided to purchase a dozen cobs of sweet corn and try our hands at this recipe (it turned out great, so I will be buying MUCH more corn this week to freeze). One dozen cobs equated to two quart sized freezer bags (generously filled).

The recipe is very easy and requires very simple ingredients!

8 cups of corn, cut off the cob (I got right around 8 cups with my dozen cobs)

1 cup of water

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup butter

Directions:

Melt butter in saucepan.  Add water, sugar and corn (the recipe also shows 1 tablespoon of salt, but my grandma wrote a note on the back of the recipe that says she finds the corn becomes tough if you add the salt; she notes that she just adds the salt when she goes to eat the corn).

Once all the ingredients are in the saucepan, boil for 3 minutes.  Cool ingredients in cake pan then package in ziploc bags, or your preferred container to freeze (my grandma likes to use old Kool Whip containers).

Personally, I filled the ziploc bags.  Then I laid them out flat in my freezer so that they were easier to store and you can get a lot more air out of the bag!

The Seasons of Fruits and Vegetables

I started reading the book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver.  I am only to the third chapter and I already HIGHLY recommend this book! 

The book is about a family that moves to the Appalachia area and lives solely on food grown from within their county (either by themselves or through local farmers) for one year.

One of the biggest tasks when attempting something such as this is having the ability to plan for when fruits and vegetables are in season.

Some of you may be thinking, there is a season?  I can get tomatoes all year at the grocery store!  Well, if you are eating a tomato anytime outside of July through September, you are not definitely not eating a locally grown, “farm fresh” tomato.  More than likely, that tomato was commercially grown in Mexico using a ton of pesticides and preservative methods to allow it to travel the 1,500 miles to your plate.

This same tomato scenario is true for all fruits and vegetables.  Each one has a season.  Now, obviously seasons will fluctuate depending on the area of the country you are in (I am focused on the US here) and some fruits will grow in areas such as Florida whereas they would not survive well in areas such as Wisconsin (i.e. oranges). 

Since I live in Wisconsin, my experiences will be based around the seasons and weather I live in.  But, in general, the seasons should be relatively close wherever you call home!

A great website, that I now frequent quite often is Pick Your Own (PYO).  I will refer to this website often (because it is that awesome), but for this particular blog post, I have a couple of places on this website I would love to show you!

On PYO, not only can you find local farms in your area (in all US states) where you can go buy fresh, in season produce, it also gives you a helpful guide as to what would be available to pick at any given time!

If you would like to see the general seaons for different fruits, click here.  Or, if you are interested in vegetables, visit their page here

HOWEVER, (and remember how I mentioned how awesome this site is?),  you can even find an area on their website where it will give you the produce that is commonly grown (and their seasonality) for your particular area.

For instance, to get to the area on the website that references produce seasons in my area of Wisconsin, I clicked on the link for “Start here to find a farm near you” on the website’s homepage.  Then, of course, I clicked on the link for Wisconsin.

On this page you can find many “Pick your Own Farms” in the area — I will be blogging about tips for a visit to one of these very soon.  However, if you scroll down towards the bottom of the page, you will find “Harvest Dates in Southern Wisconsin”.  This is the chart from their website that I now reference almost daily:

Harvest Dates in Southern Wisconsin

Crop Average Harvest Dates
Asparagus April
Beans, snap July 4 – September 8
Beans, lima August 20 – October. 10
Beets June 24 – Frost3
Broccoli June 21 – September 8
Cabbage June 21 – September 8
Carrots June 25 – August 10
Cauliflower June 4 – August 14
Cucumbers August 1 – Frost
Eggplant August 10 – Frost
Kohlrabi June 4 – September 10
Lettuce, leaf May 25 – Frost
Lettuce, head, romaine June 24 – Frost
Muskmelon Aug. 8 – Frost
Onions, storage July 4 – August 13
Onions, sweet Spanish July 24 – August 28
Peas, snap June 4 – July 20
Peas, snow June 24
Peppers, green July 19 – Frost
Peppers, jalapeno Aug. 4 – September 15
Potatoes, red June 24 – October. 8
Pumpkins August 18 – Frost
Spinach May 15 – June 1
Squash, summer July 4 – Frost
Squash, winter August 18 – Frost
Sweet corn June 30 – September 15
Tomatoes July 25 – Frost
Turnip Greens May 20 – Frost
Watermelon August 3 – Frost
     1Dates are for southern Wisconsin.  Add 7-14 days for northern locations

Now, there are some things missing from this list (like raspberries or blueberries).  BUT this chart is an amazing reference for those “staple” items grown in my area. 

However, Pick Your Own does not ignore the items that are not already on this list!  At the top of the page for “Wisconsin”, they have notes for the month.  For instance, the note for September 2010 reads “Blueberries are in, almost everywhere.”

There are then links to recipes and such for what is currently in season (more blog posts to come!) and there is a wealth of information on this website for preserving the bounty of produce that is inevitably available.

Going back to the book I am reading, the author provides this very clever pictorial that gives you a very creative way to remember when produce is in season.  It is called the “Vegetannual”. 

In the book it describes how to view and think about this creation — it outlines the fact that the more complicated the growth of the item, the later on in the season it matures and is ready to be harvested.  Here is the picture of the vegetannual:

Now that you are armed with the seasonality of your food, decide what you are ready to get your hands on and keep an eye out on my blog — hopefully we can learn how to preserve all this food for the upcoming winter months together!

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