Food Matters
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Throw the Perfect Fall Dinner Party With These Tips

As much fun as summer is, most of us can't wait for fall to roll around. Aside from the cozy fashion, brisk weather and holidays, there are all the warm flavors of the season to celebrate, too.

All these assets combined also provide you with ample inspiration for a fall-inspired dinner party. As a bonus, the feast you prepare can go easy on the Earth, too. Here are six tips for a party that's equal parts enjoyable, autumnal, and eco-friendly.

fall soup
Photo by Libby Penner on Unsplash

1. Shop Local...

This tip should apply all the time if you're actively in pursuit of a green lifestyle. Local shopping benefits the Earth as much as it does you and the local community. For starters, transporting a nearby farmer's goods to you requires much less fuel than, say, an international flight tasked with bringing the same products from overseas. On top of that, you'll be putting your money back into the local community, thus building up small businesses. If you need any more incentive for buying locally, the food tends to have more nutritional value than something grown and shipped from somewhere else. Time to find a nearby supplier and get shopping.

2. ...and Seasonal

To that end, your fall dinner party menu will undoubtedly incorporate those seasonal flavors we mentioned previously. This is good news, because buying produce that's in season is a boon to the environment. If you're buying something out-of-season—say, a sweet, summertime watermelon in the middle of fall—then you know it had to be shipped in from somewhere with the right climate. That's not good for the environment, nor is it good for you, as we've already learned.

You'll want to familiarize yourself with the produce that's suited for fall growing. From apples and pumpkins to Brussels sprouts and pomegranates, you have plenty of perfect autumnal choices. Imagine all the good you can do by combining tips one and two and planning your dinner party menu with local, seasonal ingredients. You, your community and your guests will all be pleased with your careful shopping.

3. Have One Hearty Headliner

It's no secret that the production of meat, dairy and eggs hurts the environment. According to Smithsonian Magazine, livestock-centric food production creates one-fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The worst offender of all is beef, as cows require the most land, water and fertilizer to grow. They also produce five times more greenhouse gases than their livestock counterparts.

For your fall feast, steer clear of a red meat centerpiece. Instead, opt for a single hearty headliner made of an environmentally friendly protein. You could go completely meat-free, serving up a vegan or vegetarian main, or you could mix things up with an in-season fish, such as luxurious Maine lobster, which is typically caught between June and December. You can make plenty of show-stopping recipes with just the lobster meat or tails—no boiling of the live animal required.

4. Decorate Naturally

Your dinner party table will probably feel incomplete without a bit of decoration. However, buying a bunch of one-time-use ornamentation won't fly, considering the green-living policies you follow.

Decorate your table with the natural elements you see around you. One of the simplest ways to do it is to collect the gorgeous fallen leaves that represent the season. Examine them for any dirt or hiding insects before laying them at the center of your table. You could also try collecting pinecones and placing them into decorative jars or doing the same with seasonal fruit that you'll later eat. Another eco-friendly option: candles made of beeswax or soy. You can even make them yourself to ensure they are up to your standards.

5. Don't Overdo It

As you're piecing together your fall dinner party menu, it is easy to let your stomach get the better of your good sense—it all sounds so good, doesn't it? However, cooking too many dishes means you'll have leftovers that might not get eaten, which means you'll be wasting a lot of food when you throw it in your compost pile.

Try and consolidate your cooking plan so it's just enough food for everyone invited. Whittle your focus down to two to four recipes, depending on how many people will attend. That way, there's just enough for everyone to eat without being wasteful. Bonus points if you can prepare parts or all of a recipe ahead of time—your guests want to hang out with you instead of watching you slave over the stove all night.

6. Buy Extras Secondhand

We already mentioned the fact that you can decorate for your party with nature's bounty. Unfortunately, you probably won't find a fancy fall platter or serving utensils in the middle of the forest. That means you might have to buy a few supplies to host your party properly. To do so in an eco-friendly way, head to the local thrift shop to see if they have what you need first. That way, you won't be wasting any resources to make your meal—the dish you'll purchase will have already been well-loved by someone else before they passed it on to you, nothing new required. It'll be a budget-friendly buy, too.

With these six tips in mind—and the ample fall inspiration around you—you'll throw a dinner party that's just as memorable as the season itself. While that feels pretty darn good, it'll be even better knowing that your soiree was completely Earth-friendly, just the way you wanted it to be.

My Ayurveda Kitchen: Delicious Quinoa Bowl for Autumn

Before going to the recipe let me explain a little bit about quinoa. Quinoa is not classified as a grain; it is a pseudo-cereal.

What exactly is a pseudo-cereal? A pseudo-cereal is one of many non-grasses, such as amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat, that are used in much the same way as cereals (true cereals). Nutritionally, quinoa is considered a whole grain, which is a gluten-free complete protein. Yes, you heard it right!

Quinoa Health Facts

  • High in fiber and low in calories
  • Improves your metabolism
  • Helps in weight loss and is ideal for Kapha predominant persons
  • Aside from being a good source of protein and other vitamins, in other words, Quinoa can help you have a healthier weight, healthier heart, improved digestive process, and healthier bones.
  • Quinoa can protect internal organs with its antioxidant activities, it also regulates diabetes, and reduces the risk of gallstones.
  • Super protein

Now let’s move on to the recipe.

Quinoa bowl
Photo by Prudence Earl on Unsplash

Delicious Autumn Quinoa Bowl Recipe

Ingredients:
• 2 tbsp. of ghee
• 1/4 tsp. Asafetida
• 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
• 1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
• 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
• 1 cup of quinoa
• 1 cup of black-eyed peas
• A handful of coriander leaves
• 1 cup of vegetables of your choice – in fall I prefer seasonal vegetables like squash, pumpkin, carrots, etc.
• 1 tsp. of bouillon stock powder
• Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Cooking Quinoa: Add 2 cups of water to 1 cup of quinoa, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. When it becomes fluffy, switch off the flame.

2. Cooking Beans: Soak the black-eyed peas overnight, drain and pressure cook for 2 whistles. Drain and keep aside.

3. Steam the vegetables of your choice.

4. In a pan, add ghee and sauté the spices for 2 minutes. Add the cooked quinoa, black-eyed peas, and vegetables. Mix well. Serve warm.

17 Time-Saving Tips for Cooking Real Food

If you’ve decide to cut down on your plastic footprint, you’ll start cooking more—unless you already cook everything from scratch. That’s because when you reduce your plastic consumption, you cut packaged, processed food from your diet and replace these food-like substances with home-cooked versions.

When you cook more, you not only reduce your waste, you also eat tastier food, improve your health—unless you only cook chocolate chip cookies—reduce your dependency on corporations to feed you, spend more time with your family and save money. I know cooking real food requires takes time. These tips will help save you some.

Plan Ahead

1. Cook Simple Food

I make a lot of one-pot meals and other simple food—minestrone soup, dal, frittata, pizza, refried beans. These types of dishes also help you use up food you have on hand so you waste less of it. I don’t cook anything very elaborate but it all tastes good.

minestrone
Minestrone soup. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.

2. Start Early

I love to eat steel-cut oats for breakfast. At night before bed, I combine them with water in a pot, bring everything to a boil and then turn off the heat. By morning, they have cooked and I simply heat them up. If I forget to do this, they take about 45 minutes to cook in the morning. I don’t have 45 minutes in the morning. (Go here for the full recipe.)

3. Stock Up on Non-Perishable Staples When You Shop

When I use up ingredients, I add them to my running shopping list. When I need staples like rice, beans, sugar, salt, baking soda and so on, I buy lots. I hate to realize just as I start cooking that I’ve run out of an important ingredient.

4. Buy Organic Produce and Don’t Waste Time Peeling It

I don’t recommend eating the peels of industrially grown produce. Stick with organic, stop peeling potatoes and carrots and save time.

organic farmers market produce
Organic produce from the farmers' market. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.

Choose Your Equipment

5. Keep Your Knives Sharp

Dull knives can slip and cut you. A sharp one will speed up chopping and help keep your digits intact.

6. Use a Pressure Cooker

Friends and readers kept telling me to get a pressure cooker and am I ever glad I finally did. I love it. I’m actually a bit obsessed with it. After soaking chickpeas, I can cook them in minutes and they taste spectacular. I have to admit that opening a can does take less time but the contents can’t compare with beans you cook yourself. You’ll save money too. (Read more about using a pressure cooker here.)

7. Use a Crock Pot

I make stock in my crock pot regularly. I have also made good minestrone soup in it. You just toss everything in there and let it sit all day.

8. Choose the Right Tool for the Job

For example, if you want to make a vat of soup, use one large pot, not four tiny pots occupying all the burners on your stove. Trying to cook with the wrong tools leads to frustration and inefficiency.

At Your Station

9. Organize a Mise en Place

This French phrase means “put in place.” Before you start to cook, chop and measure out everything and set it on your countertop. Then just grab what you need as you cook. This saves so much time.

10. Organize Your Tools

I have a tiny kitchen. One of my favorite accoutrements is the bar in the pic below, which holds all the utensils I constantly use. I don’t have to search through drawers or cupboards for these when I need them.

bar with tools
Tools of the trade within easy reach. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.

11. Double or Triple Recipes

Cook a vat of soup and you can eat it all week and freeze some of it for later. Making extra doesn’t require much more effort and will save you lots of time in the long run.

12. Prep What You Can in Advance

When I come home from the farmer’s market on the Sunday, I prep some of my vegetables. I trim carrots and beets, or roast them or both. I clean and chop greens and stash them in the refrigerator—just as convenient as the bagged stuff! I may cook beans. I might make salad dressing. It depends on the meal plan.

13. Keep Your Compost Bowl Close by When Prepping

This helps keep your countertop clean and organized. If you don’t compost, here’s a post on how to compost the lazy way.

14. Cram More Into Your Oven

If you’re making, say, eggplant parmigiana at 350 F, bake a pie or cobbler, bake potatoes or roast vegetables or do all of the above while you have the oven on.

15. Clean As You Go

I am trying to instill this in my kids. Every good chef knows this rule. Clean as you cook and you’ll work more efficiently and won’t face a sink piled high with dishes when you’re done.

Lifestyle Tips

16. Get Your Neighbors and Friends Involved

Students often ask me how they can find the time to cook. I always suggest that they take turns with their friends and roommates making vats of food for the entire group at the beginning of the week. In other words, we can all work together and share! It’s a radical idea.

17. Farm Out the Cooking to Your Children

Yes, it takes time to teach them but once your kids have learned how to cook, they can cook dinner regularly. I don’t buy snack food because I don’t buy processed, packaged food. When my kids want cookies, they make cookies! This is such an important skill—cooking in general, not just baking cookies, although that is also very important.

Which Probiotic is Right for You?

Most of us are well aware of the proven health benefits of probiotics. Although some bacteria are harmful and can make us sick, beneficial bacteria can boost immune systems, help with weight loss, treat infections, ulcers, gastritis, and even improve symptoms of depression. You might be taking a probiotic right now. But are you sure it’s the right strain of bacteria for your conditions?

Even beneficial bacteria, when grown out of proportion, can have negative or just plain uncomfortable side effects. It’s important to ensure you’re taking the right probiotic for you, and to ensure you’re taking it the right way. In this article, we’re discussing the benefits and uses of different kinds of probiotics, and how to properly take them. As always, it is advisable to seek guidance from your doctor before making any major changes.

pexels-photo-1389104
Photo by Pexels

Which Probiotics Should You Take?

Just when you thought you had it all figured out, you reach the probiotics section of the pharmacy and find a ton of choices facing you. Should you take a supplement or up your intake of natural sources for probiotics? Do you take Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium? The right probiotic could depend on the conditions you’re dealing with. We’ll cover some options here.

Probiotics are a powerful natural remedy for conditions such as yeast infections and bladder infections. For these conditions, try to increase your intake of probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut. Lactobacillus is the probiotic found in yogurt and other fermented foods, which can help treat yeast infections. Bifidobacterium can help treat irritable bowel syndrome, among other conditions, and can even boost the immune system.

If you are dealing with symptoms of an STD like herpes, look for Del-immune V® brand probiotics. A study on mice found that this brand of probiotics can possibly help improve survival rate in mice that were injected with herpes simplex type 1 virus. The study did not include human subjects, so further research is needed. However, probiotics can improve many symptoms and it’s worth asking your doctor if you could benefit by taking one.

Probiotics can even help counteract some of the negative side effects of painkillers and other medication like antibiotics. Painkillers work by preventing the creation of prostaglandins which help protect the lining of your stomach and GI tract. This could cause the bacteria in your stomach to become unbalanced. Taking a probiotic can help reduce inflammation and irritable bowel symptoms that can result from taking painkillers.

Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium work similarly, the important thing is to find a supplement containing “live bacteria.” Most probiotics are considered generally safe, especially for healthy individuals, however it is always advised to consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet or supplements.

When to Take Probiotics

Determining which probiotic to take is only half the battle. To really benefit from the effects of probiotics, you must ensure that you take them properly and consistently. A study conducted at Institut Rosell Inc. looked at how different probiotics were affected if they were taken before, during, or after meals, as well as how these probiotics were affected by different meal types.

They found that the beneficial bacteria from probiotics had the best chance at survival when consumed during or 30 minutes before a meal that had contained some source of healthy fat. Healthy fats are frequently consumed with breakfast, which often includes dairy, eggs, or avocado. However, some find that taking your probiotic in the evening helps the bacteria to latch on to the stomach lining.

Whichever way you cut it, the best time of day to take your probiotic is when you will always remember it. Whether that’s morning or night, try to take it with some foods that are high in healthy fats.

Kitchen Science for Kids: Sourdough Starter

While I wholeheartedly believe kids need to play outside in nature, they can also learn about entire ecosystems right in their kitchens, using only basic ingredients. This lesson covers sourdough starter. If you and your student want to later bake bread, you can find the recipe here.

sourdough starter jar
Mature sourdough starter. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau. 

Vocabulary

Bacterium (plural bacteria): Microscopic, single-celled organism that lives in soil and water and on plants, animals and other matter. Its purpose in life is to reproduce.

Ecosystem: All the living things in a given area. All things that live in an ecosystem are dependent on one another.

Microbes: Tiny living things that can be seen only through a microscope, such as bacteria and yeast.

Symbiosis: A mutually beneficial and dependent relationship between two groups.

Yeast: Another class of microscopic, single-celled organisms which, like bacteria, live everywhere.

Lesson Plan

Time requirement

The starter should be ready for baking within a couple of weeks, with very little active work done to it.

Equipment

  • Kitchen scale (optional)
  • Thermometer (optional)
  • Two glass measuring cups or small glass or ceramic bowls
  • Measuring spoons
  • Fork
  • Small breathable cotton or linen cloth
  • Flour
  • Water

What Is a Sourdough Starter?

A sourdough starter contains living bacteria and yeast that transform flour and water into a leavening agent. Filled with gas bubbles, a leavening agent makes bread dough rise during baking. A sourdough starter also adds flavor and aroma to bread. It most commonly consists of only flour and water. This living thing needs regular feeding to keep it alive. When well cared for, sourdough starters can live for hundreds of years. The starter that King Arthur Flour sells dates to the late 1700s.

sourdough loaves
Sourdough bread fresh from the oven. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.

History

About 6,000 years ago in Egypt, someone baked the first loaf of bread. They likely noticed a neglected mixture of flour and water that had sprung to life, bubbling away in a corner somewhere. That accidental starter would have made the first loaf rise. For thousands of years, all bread was made with a sourdough starter.

In 1857, Louis Pasteur first identified yeast under his microscope. Not long after his discovery, around 1880, industry developed commercial yeast, which contains only one strain of bacterium, Saccharomyes cerevisiae. Commercial yeast produces consistent loaves of bread quickly, which meant bakeries could bake more loaves, more quickly, with fewer workers, resulting in higher profits.

However, bread made the old-fashioned way has never completely disappeared. People bake sourdough bread all over the world. San Francisco’s sourdough bread is so famous that scientists named the main bacterium found in sourdough Lactobacillus sanfrancisensis. They later discovered that this bacterium lives in sourdough bread cultures around the world, but no one has ever found this bacterium anywhere else on the planet except for in a sourdough culture.

Method

1. In a glass or ceramic container, mix 50ml warm water (about 110 degrees) with 50 grams flour (approximately 1/3 cup if you don’t have a scale). Your mixture will resemble thick pancake batter. Cover your container securely with a breathable cloth. Leave your container out on the kitchen counter.

2. Stir your starter several times a day. Depending on your kitchen environment, the starter should start to bubble within 3 to 7 days. At this point, begin to feed it daily.

3. To feed your starter, in a separate container, mix together another 50ml warm water with 50 grams flour. Stir in 1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons of the bubbling starter after you have stirred it down. This new mixture is your new starter. The previous one is discard. TIP: Store your discard in the refrigerator until ready to use for making crackers, pancakes or waffles.

4. Continue to feed the starter daily. After 5 days of feedings, it should begin to double in size after feeding and fall back to its original size. This process will take several hours. It will also smell yeasty, slightly fruity and slightly acidic. The starter is now ready to leaven bread dough.

5. At this point, either leave the starter out on the counter and feed it daily or store it in the refrigerator and take it out once a week to feed it.

The Science Behind Sourdough

Yeast and bacteria are present in the air, in the flour and on your hands. You may want to use your clean hands to mix the ingredients to inject them with more microbes. As the microbes begin to reproduce in the starter, the bread-friendly ones take over and crowd out any unfriendly ones.

Lactobacilli bacteria convert sugars in the flour to lactic acid and acetic acid. These acids give sourdough its distinctive sour flavor. Acid-tolerant yeasts thrive in the starter also. They convert sugar into carbon dioxide and ethanol. The carbon dioxide creates bubbles that make the bread rise. Each microbe eats different sugars and so they do not compete with each another for food.

The principal yeast in the starter is Candida milleri. This acid-tolerant yeast doesn’t consume maltose, a sugar in flour starch. Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis, the bacteria found only in sourdough cultures, can't survive without the maltose they eat. Of course, microbes do die eventually, but not before they produce their replacements. When yeasts die, they break down into compounds that the lactobacilli eat. This mutually beneficial relationship between two organisms is called symbiosis. (If only all relationships went this well…)


Sources:

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, Michael Pollan

The Biology of Sourdough,” Discover

Invite a Rock Star to School Lunch

Lunch is an essential meal, but one I find hard to keep interesting. The classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple slices, and water sounds delicious, right? Unless it’s on the menu five days a week. That’s when my kids begin to moan. Why? Because no gazes light up around them at the lunch table as they open their bags. No one peeks over their shoulder asking what they brought today. They already know. It’s the same PB & J and apple they bring every day. Boring. Absolutely boring. Worst of all? No one wants to trade with them.

Granted, I don’t approve of food trading at lunchtime, but invariably I find children like to swap snacks. Seems they’re uninterested in their lunch totes, too. This is a tough pickle for any “cool” parent to swallow. “Me? No fun? No way!”

Garden Harvest for Lunch

If want to create the “wow” factor for your kids at lunch time, try packing a freshly-harvested carrot from the garden, including the greens. If your kiddos are fussy like mine, you’ll shave the tough outer skin off before you slip it into their bag. Once at school, surrounded by their classmates, your child will pull out their prize amid shrieks of delight.

“What’s that?”

“Where did it come from?”

“How did you get it?”

Unless they grow carrots themselves, most children don’t realize what they look like in their natural state. Makes sense. They only know the manicured versions they see on the market shelves. But they love the way home-harvested carrots look, marveling at the long, tapered bodies, the feathery green leaves, beholding the treasures as if a miracle had been performed.

carrot_harvest_bloominthyme

The first day my kids came home from school after revealing a whole carrot for lunch, they were proud as peacocks. “Everyone thought my lunch was great!”

My favorite part? It tasted great, and carrots are nutritional rock stars. Win-win!

Healthy Dips for Snacks

As an accompaniment for those carrots, try engaging your child in the process of making homemade peanut butter or humus. They’re super as dipping sauces for carrots and celery adding even more nutritional value to the meal. Without preservatives. And peanuts are easy to grow. Does it get any better?

peanut_roots_bloominthyme

To make peanut butter, place 2 cups of peanuts in a high-speed blender or food processor, add a 3 teaspoons of vegetable oil to the mix and grind at the highest setting. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender as needed. The process should only take about two minutes. You can store your peanut butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator and it will keep for several months. Flavorings like salt and honey are optional, but delicious!

hummus_ingredients_bloominthyme

Hummus is just as easy to prepare by nearly the same process. Combine 2 cups of fresh chickpeas (cooked), or 1 – 15 oz. can chickpeas, 1/4 cup tahini, the juice from 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons of olive oil, blending until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping the sides as necessary. You can use the entire lemon, peel and all (without seeds), though the result will be a strong lemony flavor. Your choice.

Other great flavors to add to the mix are roasted peppers, garlic, hot pepper, cumin and salt. My kids love the roasted pepper version, but hummus lends itself well to just about any flavoring. It also stores well in an air tight container in your refrigerator. Best of all, your child can claim ownership at the lunch table. “I made this!”

Stevia

On most plates, herbs like parsley, basil, and rosemary take center stage. However, your child will thrill in the thought of eating stevia, or what I refer to as the “sugar” herb. Stevia is commonly found in commercial sweeteners labeled as “all natural,” but what’s more natural than eating the leaves plucked right from the plant?

cucumber_soup_bloominthyme

Not a thing. The kids and I add garden stevia to soups and beverages for a delicate sweetening, but eating the greens is way more fun. Especially when they munch them for lunch in front of their friends.

“You’re eating leaves?

“Like a caterpillar!"

“Do they taste good?”

Fellow students will want to steal a taste, but no need. Stevia is super easy to grow, and will inspire a new wave of young gardeners—perhaps even a school garden. And why not? A “green” wave has hit the country with gardens sprouting up across the landscapes of our schools. In fact, kids in Alachua County, Florida, are growing greens for their school lunches just outside the cafeteria doors. Why not in your neighborhood?


Award-winning author and blogger D.S. Venetta lives in Central Florida with her husband and two children. It was volunteering in her children’s Montessori school garden that gave rise to her new series Wild Tales & Garden Thrills, fictional stories bursting with the real-life adventures of young gardeners. Children see the world from a totally different perspective than adults and Venetta knows their adventures will surely inspire a new generation to get outside and get digging.

My Ayurveda Kitchen: Ginger-Turmeric Smoothie Recipe

Turmeric is the healthy spice that has been advised to take on daily basis. It has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice and medicinal herb. It has a group of compounds called curcuminoids, among which curcumin is the most important. 

Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. Unfortunately, curcumin is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream, so it helps to consume black pepper along with it, which contains piperine, a natural substance that enhances the absorption of curcumin. 

Turmeric is used in Ayurveda to balance vata, pitta, and kapha, though in excess, it can aggravate pitta and vata. It also nourishes the rasa and raktha dhatu (circulatory system). It's bitter, astringent, and pungent in taste and is known for its antimicrobial properties. Ancient Ayurveda used turmeric for wound healing and in inflammatory conditions. Also, turmeric is used in respiratory tract diseases. 

Ginger is considered as an Ayurveda superfood as it improves digestion and assimilation.

ginger turmeric smoothie with fresh veggies
Photo by Adobe Stock/beataaldridge

Healthy Ginger-Turmeric Smoothie Recipe

Ingredients:

• 1-1/2 Cups unsweetened coconut milk
• 1 tsp turmeric
• A pinch of Black pepper
• 1/2 tsp grated Ginger
• 1 tsp coconut oil
• 2 tsp honey

Directions:

Mix all the ingredients and blend on high speed until smooth. 

Variations: You can include your choice of vegetables like carrots, beets, spinach, or fruits along with this recipe.