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Friday, May 30, 2014

Strawberry Rhubarb Muffins

If you've read this blog before, then you probably know that if there's a fruit in season (or a vegetable for that matter) I will attempt to make a muffin out of it.  As you can imagine, some foods lend themselves to a tastier end result than others and as luck would have it, rhubarb is one of those foods.  Rhubarb is a springtime vegetable that many people grow in their gardens, but if you don't, it's abundant at many farmer's markets this time of year.  It looks like hot pink celery which makes it intriguing and after baking with it, you'll be hooked.

I do have a few notes on rhubarb, however.  First of all, do not eat the leaves as they are toxic due to their high oxalic acid content.  Many bundles of rhubarb that I see at the market have the majority of their leaves cut off, but in case they don't, just chop them off and throw them away before you cook with it.  Secondly, rhubarb wilts very quickly so a little storage tip I picked up from a local farmer: place the stalks in a glass of water in your fridge and they will stay fresh for several days.

Rhubarb can be prepared in a variety of ways, but most people will choose to cook it rather than eating it raw and add at least some sugar to it as it's extremely tart on it's own.  I really enjoy it in this muffin recipe because it adds a nice tart flavor to counter the sweetness of the fresh strawberries.  I used all whole wheat flour in this recipe as well as plain greek yogurt in order to cut down on the oil, so not only are they lighter, but they are moist as well.  Here is what I did:

Strawberry Rhubarb Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup diced strawberries
1 cup diced rhubarb
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and grease or line muffin tins.  Sift together dry ingredients making sure any lumps from the brown sugar are broken apart.  In a separate bowl mix together the egg, yogurt, vegetable oil and milk.  Pour mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Fold in strawberries and rhubarb.  Spoon batter into muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Yield: 18 muffins

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

If They Plant It...

When most people think of toddlers or preschool children and vegetables together, chances are they are not envisioning a very joyful relationship.  Instead many of us, either because of horror stories from our parents or experiences with our own children, imagine a very different scenario.  One that involves peas splattered on the wall or sweet potatoes secretly fed to the dog, maybe even a few green beans hidden in a secret spot under the table that only your child can find.  Well, there's good news for anyone out there who has struggled or is currently struggling with a picky eater when it comes to fruits and vegetables.  Research shows that children who participate in gardening activities, whether at home, at school, or in a community garden, have an increased willingness to try fruits and vegetables compared to those without gardening experience.  Even very young children can benefit from gardening experiences as it increases their exposure to fruits and vegetables and the more exposure a child has to a food, the more likely they are to eat it.  Increasing exposure to these foods and a willingness to try them is extremely important for young children as they are forming the taste preferences that they will carry with them into adulthood.

Beyond the nutritional implications of gardening with young children, there are a vast amount of other benefits.  Children learn where food comes from, that much of it starts as a seed and goes through a growing process before it is edible rather than the popular belief among kids that it just magically appears at the grocery store.  They learn how to care for living things and their environment, which research has shown increases their chances of becoming environmentally conscious adults.  Children also engage in physical activity while gardening and are able to have a variety of sensory learning experiences.

Overall, gardening can be an amazing experience for a young person and one that will have lasting positive implications long into adulthood.  Here are a few ways to incorporate gardening activities with children:

Plant a garden, big or small, in your yard, on your patio, or on your balcony.

You don't need a lot of space to have a great gardening experience.  While traditional garden plots are great, smaller raised beds or even pots and window boxes can be used to grow a variety of fruit, vegetable or herb plants.

Join a community garden.

Community gardens are a wonderful thing because they give people a chance to have a great gardening experience while sharing the responsibility of planting, weeding, and watering among many people.  They're also a great chance to interact with other people in your community and learn more about gardening from neighbors who may have more experience.

Encourage your child's school or child care provider to start an instructional garden.

Gardens can be incorporated into a variety of curriculum for all ages.  Check with your child's teacher or daycare provider to see if they might be interested in starting a garden and talk with other parents about volunteering to help with the garden.

Any way you can, getting children involved in gardening will not only encourage healthier eating habits, but will provide them with a wealth of benefits now and in the future.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Out of Hibernation

So I just looked at my calendar and I could have sworn that it said Memorial Day was this weekend.  That's just crazy... oh wait, that's true?  Hmm, it seems that the longest winter in history has clouded my concept of time and my ability to blog!  I apologize for the long hiatus, I have in fact been continuing my locovore ways throughout the winter and early spring and will update you all on the info I've been storing up during my time in hibernation.

For now though, let's get back to the topic at hand, freaking out about getting my garden started.  Actually, I'm just being dramatic.  If you're like me and haven't started your garden yet, no need to give up on it.  In fact, if you live in the Northeast like I do, this week is probably the perfect time to get it going since we're more than likely past the danger of any frost that may damage young plants.  Also, many farmer's markets have an abundance of fruit, vegetable and herb plants ready to go into your garden so there's no need to worry if you didn't plant seeds early indoors.  That's actually my plan this year.  Again, I'm not entirely sure what black hole the last few months fell into, but I certainly didn't stay on task and prepare for spring as I usually do.  However, since our garden worked out pretty well last year, I have a pretty good idea of what I'd like to do with it this year, keeping many of the plantings the same, but possible omitting a few that we don't really need.

Here is what I'm thinking:

There is nothing that I love more than fresh greens in the summer so the romaine lettuce, arugula, and spinach will definitely return.  I think I'd like to give rainbow chard and kale a try as well given that we eat so much of it and basil is always a staple as well.  The sage we planted last year is a perennial, so it has come back looking very healthy and this year I plan to plant mint since both herbs in addition to the basil pull double duty as delicious flavorings and animal deterrents.  They are planted all around our greens for that reason.  Other items to return will be yellow squash and zucchini, cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, bell peppers and green beans.

If you're planning on getting a garden started or haven't planned it, but think you might like to it's not too late!  This is the perfect time to get it going and be sure to stop at your local farmer's market to check out what they've got.  You'll be sure to get a lot for your money and can even talk to the farmers to get some planting and care tips.  Happy planting!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

This Week at the Farmer's Market

I've been looking forward to this weekend for a very long time because we have for once...nothing on the calendar.  While I love the many weekend events of summer, trips to camp, BBQ's and weddings as well as those into the fall, there's nothing quite like the freedom of an unscheduled weekend.  I'm secretly really excited that it's a rainy weekend too because now I have no guilty feelings about not doing some sort of yard clean-up outside.  I guess that's not so secret anymore.  Anyway, despite the dreary weather, Addie and I made it out to the farmer's market this morning and had a great time.  I love now that she is getting a little older, she really gets excited for our weekend outings to the market.  For one thing, we always make our way to the fresh donut stand (she wouldn't let us forget about that), but also she really likes the busy-ness of it all.  She's a very social little lady.  I really enjoy the opportunity to show her the vast amounts of fruits and vegetables and teach her a bit about them all.  This morning there seemed to be a lot of new things for her to see with all of the funny shaped gourds, painted pumpkins, and cauliflower colored like the rainbow.

Peppers of all kinds were also out in full force as well as Addie's favorite, tomatoes, as farmers were selling off the last of their summer crop in large numbers.

Since most of our tomatoes have been picked already from our garden, we decided to purchase an 8 qt basket so we can make tomato soup this weekend.

If you didn't get a chance to get out to your local farmer's market this weekend, try to plan for it next weekend.  Even though it's no longer summertime, there are still plenty of in season fruits and vegetables to purchase and maybe even some new ones to try!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Grilled Turkey, Apple, & Cheddar Sandwich

I'm feeling pretty official these days as a parent because my daughter has now begun (big sigh) extracurricular activities.  Right now this only means for us a 45 minute music class once a week, but I feel like it's the beginning of an even more hectic existence.  I love having this time to look forward to with Addie and she of course loves it too, but with this minor adjustment to our weekly schedule, I kind of feel like parents of multiple children involved in several activities really do deserve a round of applause, a medal, or at least a back massage after all of the driving they do (thanks Mom!)  Anyway, I'm discussing this because since we've started this activity, I've been trying out more meal ideas that are quick and healthy and made one last night that I definitely wanted to share.  We made grilled turkey, apple, and cheddar sandwiches and a side of garlic parmesan kale.  Easy and delicious, perfect for a busy week night dinner.  Here's what I did:

Grilled Turkey, Apple, and Cheddar Sandwiches

Whole wheat or multi grain bread
1 apple, thinly sliced
1 slice cheddar cheese
2 oz thinly sliced organic turkey
1 tbsp honey mustard
1 tbsp butter

If you have a panini press, that would be perfect for this sandwich, but we just used a regular skillet.  Heat skillet over med-high heat and spread butter on two slices of bread.  Spread honey mustard on the opposite side of one slice of bread and stack turkey, 3-4 apple slices, and cheddar cheese, topped with the other slice of bread.  Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until slightly browned.  Serve with your favorite fall vegetable or try ours, Garlic Parmesan Kale.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Baked Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

So I'm still on an apple kick, using up all of our apples from our apple-picking excursion and I don't really see an end in sight.  I may have to go picking again, I'm getting so hooked on fresh apples in everything!  Something else I'm hooked on, particularly in autumn...baked goods for breakfast.  Like most people, during the week I'm generally running out the door as fast as I can for work and while I never skip breakfast (what kind of future dietitian would I be??), I don't often have time to bake from scratch on a weekday morning, i.e. never.  So weekends are it for us, but I try my hardest to take advantage of them.  This weekend I made a baked apple cinnamon oatmeal that satisfied my baked breakfast items addiction while still remaining healthy and very tasty.  This recipe is really easy and can even double as a healthy dessert with a little bit of vanilla yogurt or ice cream...yum!

Baked Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup apple sauce
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Combine oats, cinnamon, baking powder, and brown sugar in a large bowl and mix well.  Whisk together apple sauce, melted butter, eggs, and milk in a separate bowl and then pour into dry ingredients, mixing well.  Pour mixture into greased 9 x 9 baking pan and bake for 40-45 minutes.

Makes 9 servings.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Homemade Cinnamon Applesauce

Autumn is officially here and I'm celebrating this week with one of my favorite fall fruits: Apples.  Living in Upstate NY, we're lucky to have apple orchards almost as frequent as Wegman's locations and that means plenty of opportunities to pick your own or purchase already picked apples from a local farm.  Why are apples so great?  Because they're not only nutritious and inexpensive, but they're extremely versatile in ways to eat them.  Apples are an excellent source of fiber, low in calories and easy to transport to bring with you to have with your lunch or as a snack.  They are great just simply raw, but they can also be baked and added to oatmeal or by themselves with a little cinnamon for a low calorie dessert.  Of course they're always great in a homemade pie, fritter, or dumpling, but adding them to a favorite whole wheat muffin recipe can make for a delicious breakfast or snack.  Using applesauce in place of oil is another way to cut down on calories from fat when baking.  In addition to all of these attributes, I can't think of a better way to spend a beautiful fall afternoon than picking your own apples. Here's a little bit about the different varieties of apples offered here in New York State:

McIntosh: sweet with a little bit of tartness and very juicy, great on their own for snacking or for cooking
Empire: also sweet and slightly tart and juicy, also great for snacking
Gala: very crisp and mildly sweet
Jonagold: sweet and juicy with a little tartness, great for cooking
Cortland: sweet with a little tartness, white on the inside- I like these best for baking
Red Delicious: dark red color, very sweet
Paula Red: very crisp, tart and juicy, good for baking
Macoun: very sweet and juicy
Autumn Crisp: very crisp and juicy

It's hard to decide on my favorite recipe to use with apples, so I think I'll just start with this super simple one for homemade cinnamon applesauce that can be added to many other dishes and maybe share a few more as the week goes on.  I love this recipe because only takes about 10 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to cook and you only need 3 ingredients...pretty easy huh?  I also love it because you can freeze any extra applesauce you have, use it for baking, or as a topping for pancakes, oatmeal, or with a little low fat vanilla yogurt for a healthy dessert.  Here's what I did:

Homemade Cinnamon Applesauce

4-5 large apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
1 cup water
2-3 cinnamon sticks

Place apple slices in a large pot and add water and cinnamon sticks.  Bring to a boil, then lower temperature to a simmer and cook covered for about 20 minutes or until apples are soft and most of the water is absorbed.  Remove remaining cinnamon sticks and use a potato masher to mash apples.  If you prefer smoother applesauce, you can use a hand blender or food processor to blend out all of the chunks.

A good idea for using all of the apple peels and cinnamon sticks after your done prepping is to place them all in a saucepan with water and simmer them, making a very cheap and environmentally-friendly air freshener for your home.  Who can resist the scent of apples and cinnamon on a chilly fall day?