As the debate over organic versus non-organic continues to grow, so too are my children growing. And it’s for that reason that I (sometimes) choose organic. I know their tiny bodies are exposed to a lot more cancer-causing pesticides than our adult ones (since children eat a greater volume of food compared to their body size and weight than adults). I also do it, because deep down I believe that organic farming practices are better for the environment, and I would rather my grandchildren inherit a cleaner world than that which my own children have been born into. Add to this the ethical arguments for consuming organic meat over conventionally raised meat and,… well it almost makes me want to go entirely vegetarian, or even vegan!

Pictured above is what I received in this week’s CSA box (excluding two large cucumbers, which I had already stored in the fridge and forgotten about!)

I wish we could afford to buy everything organic (all fruits and vegetables, milk, meat, grains, etc.), however, given that I am a stay-at-home mom, we do need to watch our spending. Granted, we could choose to forgo vacations, home improvements, etc. But for now, during the summer months, we purchase most of our fruits and vegetables through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm, called Coopers Farm. While they are not certified organic, they grow as close to organic as possible, using sustainable and organic practices. I will discuss this in further detail in a subsequent post. This year we have also purchased a monthly beef share from Coopers Farm. Their beef is raised on pasture, fed only a small amount of grain, and is hormone and antibiotic free.

As for the remaining items, some of our purchases at Costco are organic (for example quinoa, agave nectar, honey, and almond butter). Very rarely have we purchased organic milk; it just seems prohibitively expensive. Recently, I’ve done some research and feel that from a health perspective at least, “conventional” milk is just as safe to drink (though the environmental and ethical arguments for organic milk are certainly very strong).

Ideally, I would like to always purchase organic fruits and vegetables that appear on the “dirty-dozen” list, which tells you which 12 fruits and vegetables you should purchase organic to reduce your exposure to chemicals and which 15 you can buy “conventional” to save money. Also, ideally I would like to eat only organic, ethically raised meat. This is definitely more expensive; however, we could offset the higher cost by increasing the number of vegetarian meals we eat. This, however, will be difficult for my husband, who is a meat-lover.

For now, I feel good about our decision to join a CSA that uses organic and sustainable growing practices, even if they are not certified organic. If you aren’t already part of a CSA, I would highly recommend joining one! Just be sure to do your research before you commit to a particular farm, as farming techniques, produce offerings, and prices vary from farm to farm. I would be happy to answer any questions you have about my experience with CSA.

Here are some websites related to this topic which I have found useful:

What are your thoughts on the organic debate? Do you buy organic? Why, where and when?

Come check out a weekly “link party” where bloggers near and far share links to their CSA stories and recipes on an inspiring blog called In Her Chucks!

Disclosure: Coopers Farm has not in any way provided me with any incentives (financial or otherwise) to make any of the above statements.

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About Kefir (and Yogurt)

April 24, 2012

If you live in North America, this may likely be the first time you have heard the term “kefir”. However, I am certain you have been hearing the term “probiotics” frequently for quite some time now. Well, kefir (and yogurt) is the result of combining milk with probiotics (aka live bacteria), resulting in fermented milk.

More specifically, kefir is made by using kefir grains, a combination of Lactobacillus bacteria, yeasts, protein, fat, and sugar to ferment milk. This takes approximately 24 hours, during which time the bacteria and yeast change the texture, taste, and nutrient composition of the milk. Carbon dioxide is also produced, which gives kefir a hint of natural carbonation. Kefir is best described as a naturally sweet, yet tangy, liquid yogurt.

Studies suggest that regular consumption of foods that contain probiotic organisms can stimulate the immune system, prevent allergies, improve symptoms of lactose intolerance, help treat inflammatory bowel disease, and possibly even lower elevated cholesterol levels. Emerging research also hints that probiotic bacteria may guard against colon cancer.

You can add unflavoured yogurt and kefir to muffins, pancakes, and other quick bread recipes to add moistness and a hint of tartness, however cooking at high temperatures kills probiotic bacteria. The best way to reap their probiotic benefits is to enjoy them fresh.

Here are ways to add a serving of kefir (and yogurt) to your daily diet:

Breakfast

  • stir a large spoonful into a hot whole-grain cereal, such as oatmeal
  • alternate layers of yogurt, low-fat granola, and chopped fresh fruit for a breakfast parfait
  • toss fresh berries into plain yogurt or kefir and top with a drizzle of honey
  • top pancakes and waffles with a spoonful of kefir, toasted walnuts, banana slices, and a drizzle of maple syrup
  • make a breakfast smoothie with plain yogurt or kefir, berries, banana, and 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed

Lunch and Dinner

  • toss shredded raw carrots and drained or crushed pineapple with plain low-fat yogurt for a refreshing salad
  • mix plain yogurt and dijon mustard with diced chicken breast or canned light tuna for a low-fat version
  • spoon plain yogurt or kefir onto sliced fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions for a tasty side salad
  • add chopped cucumber, fresh dill, and minced garlic to plain yogurt – serve as a dip for grilled meats and chicken
  • for tasty grilled salmon, mix plain yogurt or kefir with an equal amount of low-fat mayonnaise; add 2 – 3 Tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice, freshly grounds black pepper, and plenty of chopped fresh dill; spread on top of salmon fillets before grilling
  • top a baked potato with plain yogurt or kefir and snipped chives; or mix plain yogurt with salsa for a Mexican-inspired topping for baked potatoes
  • make a yogurt- or kefir-based salad dressing by blending yogurt or kefir with water to desired consistency; add your favourite herbs and salt and pepper to taste

Snacks and Desserts

  • swirl vanilla or plain, low-fat yogurt into applesauce or other strained fruits for a nutritious, kid-friendly snack
  • for an afternoon fruit smoothie, blend low-fat yogurt or kefir with your favourite chopped fruit and ice
  • add a dollop of plain or vanilla low-fat yogurt to desserts – try it on apple crisp and puddings

The above information is taken from Leslie Beck’s “Foods that Fight Disease”. You can find more detailed information about kefir on her website:  http://www.lesliebeck.com/ingredient_index.php?featured_food=94

Do you already incorporate kefir into your daily diet? If so, what are your favourite ways to enjoy kefir? If not, will you give it a try?

About Quinoa

April 21, 2012

The following data is taken from “Quinoa 354 – The Everyday Superfood” by Patricia Green & Carolyn Hemming

 

 

Types of Quinoa

– there are three types of quinoa: seeds (often referred to as “grains”), flour, and flakes

– quinoa seeds are available in red, black, and white/golden colour

– quinoa flour is a creamy ivory colour and most often has the same fine texture as regular all-purpose flour

– quinoa flour can be used in almost all regular baking, but the slightly nutty flavour may alter the final taste of your dish

– you can use a portion of quinoa flour combined with portions of all-purpose white, whole wheat, potato, tapioca or rice flours

– store quinoa flour in the refrigerator or freezer for maximum freshness

– quinoa flakes have the same texture as rolled oats and are prepared similarly, however they are more difficult to find in the market

Preparing Quinoa

– combine 1/2 cup quinoa and 1 cup water and bring to a boil (so, a 1:2 water to quinoa ratio)

– cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes

– turn heat off, keeping the aucepan covered and on the burner to allow residual heat in the pot to continue cooking the quinoa for another 5 minutes

Nutrition Facts

1 cup (250 mL) cooked quinoa

calories = 222

total fat = 3.5 g

saturated fat = 0 g

trans fat = 0 g

cholesterol = 0 mg

sodium = 13 mg

total carbohydrate = 40 g

dietary fiber = 5 g

protein = 8 g

Other Interesting Facts

– mostly grown in South America

– sold in most grocery stores, health food stores, and bulk food warehouses

– pastas that use quinoa as an ingredient, often combined with rice, kamu or potato flours, can also be found on the market

– high in vitamins and minerals such as riboflavin, calcium, vitamin E, iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, folic acid and beta carotene

– for information on how quinoa measures up to other seeds and grains, visit www.quinoa365.com

– identified as one of the world’s healthiest foods, quinoa has a complete combination of all life-supporting nutrients

– technically, it is not a grain nor related to grains, but is similar to whole grains

– espcially important for vegetarians or vegans, quinoa is a nutrionally superior source of non-animal protein

– quinoa is ideal for low-carbohydrate diets

– because quinoa is a complex carbohydrate, it leaves you feeling fuller longer and can help to regulate blood sugar levels

– because quinoa does not belong to the same plant family as wheat, it does not contain gluten

– quinoa is rich in magnesium, which helps to reduce high blood pressure because it allows the blood vessels to relax

– quinoa’s high manganese and copper content gives it antioxidant power to promote the elimination of toxins and free radicals that may cause disease