Food Waste: America’s Dirty Little Secret

peppers and veggies

I was cleaning out my fridge yesterday and came upon several fruits and vegetables that had gone bad. I threw them into the compost bin (we are lucky that our progressive city provides curbside compost pickup) feeling terribly guilty. And for good reason. According to the US Department of Agriculture, Americans waste 150,000 tons of food a day, the equivalent of 1 pound per person per day. Those with the healthiest diets, the ones that contain lots of fruits and vegetables, are the worst offenders. That would be me.

Not only is this offensive to the people in this country who struggle with food insecurity, it’s also horrible for the environment. All the water, pesticides, soil and other materials it takes to grow vegetables and raise animals are being wasted at alarming levels. If your city doesn’t provide composting services, and the huge majority doesn’t, all that food waste is going into a landfill which releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.  Hello climate change.

Add to all of this the fact that only 4 of the 10 larges supermarket chains have plans in place to address waste in their own stores, and we have one very big problem.

I wrote over the summer about my plan to make each day of the week unique. On the list  I will add taking stock of our food situation on weekends so that I can plan ahead for the week to use the food that needs to be consumed soon. My husband pulled a Larabar from the back of the pantry for a snack this weekend and it had mold growing all over it. Turns out it expired in 2017. Larabars are expensive and we ended up having to throw away two boxes of them. To say I felt ashamed of that is an understatement. They are a nutritious source of calories and they could have been donated to our local food shelf if we weren’t going to eat them in a timely manner.

Ever since I watched this Oprah episode on food waste way back in 2008 I have thought about the food we waste. Did you know Americans make up just 5 percent of the world’s population but use 25 percent of the world’s energy resources?

I, for one, am just tired of the waste, and I’m ready to make some changes. One thing we do well in our house is eat leftovers. We love them and more often than not we eat at least 75% of the leftovers in our fridge. But I am going to start freezing what we don’t eat instead of finding them in the back of the fridge when it’s unsafe to eat them. I’m going to insist we finish one type of snack food in the pantry before we buy something similar. And I am going to stock back up on these reusable BPA-free GreenBags that I used to use all the time until we ran out. They keep fruits and veggies fresh much longer.

What haven’t I thought about? Is there something you do that helps reduce your household’s food waste? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

 

Giant Scallions

This summer I am in a CSA share with my good friend Shawn. In case you didn’t know, CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture. You buy a seasonal “share” from a local farm and each week you receive a box of produce (or cheese or whatever that farm specializes in). If you want to learn more and find a farm near you, click here. Anyway, we both have families of three so our boxes get split up very evenly and it’s a nice way to try new fruits and veggies. For instance, in yesterday’s box there were a smattering of gooseberries, which I had never tried. That was fun.

Also in yesterday’s box were the most gigantic scallions (also known as green onions) I have ever seen. One of these scallions probably equals four or five store-bought scallions. I got very excited because I adore green onions in any format. In fact, when I was a child, my grandma used to serve them raw on her veggie plate at her annual backyard BBQ and I would gladly gobble them up. I pity the fool who smelled my breath after that.

scallions
Giant scallions from the CSA

Onions are a powerful source of antioxidants and are part of the Allium family (along with garlic). They are rich in anti-cancer compounds called phenols and flavanoids. They are also rich in alliinase which is believed to be heart protective. They are anti-inflammatory and overall a very healthy food to add to your regular diet.

I got a little overwhelmed with the size and quantity of the scallions yesterday so I asked on my Cultivate Wellness Facebook page for cooking ideas and got some great ones. I thought that I would compile and share some of them here so you, too, can be empowered in your scallion cooking journey.

How about Tessa’s idea to make some Afghan Dumplings with Lamb Kofta and Yogurt Sauce?

Maria says “My favorite way to cook green onions is in a cast iron skillet with olive oil, salt and lemon pepper! I do it on a medium/high ( depending on your stove) you want the onions to break down and get a little char! It’s about a 10 min cooking time.”

Lara suggested adding them to a batch of cold Potato Leek Soup (I can get on board with that! Plus we got potatoes in our box this week, too).

Allison wrote that she was using her CSA scallions to make a Minty Orzo Salad with Grilled Beef. That recipe isn’t available online but here’s one that looks ah-mazing.

Sally used her giant scallions to make Crab Cakes. I do love a crab cake.

Molly likes to make Smitten Kitchen’s Spicy Green Onion Slaw recipe, which looks absolutely delicious. I love a slaw in any form.

How fun that so many people participate in a CSA?! At least a couple of the readers who chimed in with ideas got their giant scallions this week too. I love that.

If you have a favorite scallion/green onion recipe, please leave it in the comments! Happy cooking!

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One Pot Garlic Parmesan Pasta

 

THANKSGIVING

thanksgiving table

It’s Monday, and for Americans it’s also the week of Thanksgiving.  This is usually the week where we think and talk about food nonstop.  What will we make?  What will we eat?  What will we have for leftovers?  Pie. Casserole.  Marshmallows on top of sweet potatoes.  Stuffing (my FAVORITE).  It’s a bit overwhelming.

Many fitness and diet experts will give you all kinds of rules and tips to navigate the holidays.  And many of those tips and tricks sap all the fun out of everything.  Don’t eat carbs.  Don’t have gravy.  Skip the dinner roll.  Only have one glass of wine.  Calories in/calories out.

I say, forget that.  Remember that quote I posted last week about how it’s what you eat on a regular basis that counts?  

It's fine to socializeoccasionally with special food and drink.-2

It’s true.  Do you nourish your body with the good stuff more often than not?  Do you give yourself ample opportunities to eat fruits and veggies and drink lots of water?  Even if you answered no, are you really going to start doing this on THANKSGIVING?

Stressing yourself out and feeling anxious and guilty about what you eat messes with your stress hormones, which release into your body, flooding it with chemicals that will inhibit your digestion.  The stress hormone Cortisol is to blame for excess belly fat in many people.  So do me a favor (heck, do yourself the favor) and relax.  If you’re going to eat something decadent, do it with joy and happiness.  Don’t sneak it.  Don’t chew it up quickly and swallow the evidence before anyone has a chance to “catch” you.  Savor it. Enjoy every bite.  AND MOST OF ALL, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. When it’s had enough, respect that and put the fork down. And for goodness sake, never, ever comment on how much someone else is eating, what their body looks like, or how it’s now time to “work off all those calories”. 

And the next day, enjoy a green smoothie as part of my Green Smoothie Challenge, a bit of exercise, some fresh air, and the company of the people around you.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Quinoa and Veggie Salad

Quinoa salad

Ok, so last night we were lucky enough to be invited to a private event at the Children’s Theater Company in Minneapolis which included the coolest theater experience we’ve ever had (a fully immersive and interactive performance of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) followed by a traditional lobster boil by Smack Shack.  It was amazing.

I woke up this morning feeling like I wanted to eat a bit lighter, and I had some leftover cooked quinoa and tofu from the Veggie Dumplings we made yesterday so I decided I’d make a salad for my family to have for lunch today.  I wanted something light and easy.  I had some fresh green onions and cucumbers from the farmer’s market in the fridge and peas in the freezer.  I always have garlic powder, salt and pepper, so those were no-brainers.  Below is the recipe I created, which is totally vegan.  It’s easy to sub out the tofu for another protein of your choice: beans, feta cheese, even shredded chicken.  

Quinoa super up close

QUINOA AND VEGGIE SALAD

Ingredients (makes 4 servings)

  • 3 cups cooked quinoa (I like adding a bit of vegetable Better Than Bouillon to mine when cooking)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled firm tofu
  • 2 green onions, white and light green parts only, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • course sea salt and pepper to taste

METHOD:

  • Mix everything together (think you can manage?)

This would be an easy salad to double the recipe and keep it around for lunches and side dishes all week.

EAT WELL!

Vegetable Dumplings — The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

veggie dumplings

Remember those beauties?  Vegan Dumplings were the big winners in the poll for the first recipe I would test from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good cookbook.  You’ll remember from a previous post that I received the book as a birthday gift, and that Gwyneth and I have a long, complicated history.  Mostly it’s me not being sure if I should love her or loathe her.  It’s so hard to decide.  Regardless, I love the look of many of the recipes in her cookbook and so I decided I would cook my way through it and report back. What I want to find out are:  Are her recipes approachable?  Can a middle aged busy mom without a nanny, a cook, a housecleaner and other household help actually find the time to make the creations within?  The only way to find out is to try.

I accumulated the ingredients for the dumplings pretty easily (you know what, I like to say potstickers better, and I think the way I made them are more like potstickers, so let’s go with that from now on).  It wasn’t a crazy list with lots of expensive, hard-to-find ingredients. 

My kiddo has been in camp all week and I really wanted her help with this one, so I waited until today to make these.  You’ll notice in the photos she’s wearing her Angry Birds pajamas.  In this house, we cook in our pajamas.

The end result is that they turned out amazing.  They were really delicious and perfect and we couldn’t stop eating them.  They might not be as beautiful as the stock photo I used above.  I’m thinking I should invest in a food styling course.

finished potstickers

The downside is that they are really messy to make, including a lot of splattering if you choose to pan fry them (which we did, because PAN FRYING IS AWESOME). The cleanup wasn’t fun, but then again it never is.  My best piece of advice is to always try to clean up as you go so it isn’t so overwhelming at the end.  Here is my kitchen at the end of everything.  SO. MUCH. MESS.

dirty kitchen

So here’s the recipe, adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Vegan Veggie Dumplings (I can’t legally reprint the whole recipe here without her permission, and even though I emailed last week to ask for it, I’m guessing her people have better things to do, which may or may not include sourcing local and organic tomatillos for her kids’ lunches.)

Vegan Potstickers Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups green cabbage, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 small red or yellow onion, or even two or three green onions, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled firm tofu (I haven’t tested this but I bet you could use ground chicken, turkey or other animal protein in place of the tofu.  You know it wouldn’t be vegan anymore, though, right?)
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa (I love adding a bit of vegetable Better Than Bouillon to my quinoa when it’s cooking.  It adds flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil (I used olive oil which technically isn’t a neutral oil but it worked out fine.  You could also use canola)
  • Pinch of coarse sea salt
  • 48 square wonton wrappers found in the refrigerated section, typically near the tofu
  • Dipping sauce for serving (see below for recipe)

Vegan Potstickers Directions:

  • Pulse the cabbage, onion and garlic in the bowl of a food processor until finely chopped.

potsticker filling in food processor

  • In a large non-stick skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the cabbage mixture with a hefty pinch of sea salt.
  • Cook and stir occasionally until the veggies have softened, about 5 to 6 minutes.

potsticker filling on stove

  • Add in the tofu, peas and quinoa and continue cooking until the peas are soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the soy sauce and sesame oil. Use a potato masher to smush up the mixture until it sticks together.  We allowed some of the peas to stay whole because we wanted a bit more texture.

mashing poststicker filling

  • Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
  • Make an assembly line of several wonton wrappers and put 1 teaspoon of the filling mixture in the center of each wrapper. Wet your finger in a small bowl of water and use it to moisten the edges of each dumpling. Carefully fold the corners over making a triangle, making sure you press all the edges to form a good seal.

filling potstickers

  • Heat a bit of the neutral oil (like canola) in a large nonstick skillet set at high heat. Cook the dumplings for 2 minutes, or until they are golden brown on the bottom.

potstickers in pan

  • When the potstickers are browned to your liking on the bottom, add 1/2 cup of water to the skillet, putting the lid on and allowing the dumplings to steam until the wrappers are completely soft, about 2 minutes. Serve with the dipping sauce recipe below. ***Make sure if you are using a skillet that isn’t non-stick that you pay close attention to the potstickers because they will cook a lot more quickly than in a non-stick skillet. (See the photo below for what happens when you don’t pay close enough attention.)

burnt potstickers

  • Vegan Potsticker Dipping Sauce Ingredients:
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce (I use lower sodium)
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Combine all ingredients with a fork or a whisk and serve alongside the potstickers.

EAT WELL!

Vegetables Shmegetables

peas in a pod

My 10 year old is having a bit of a moment. It happens every so often. My normally fruit-and-veggie gobbling machine doesn’t want them. But, she will eat cherry tomatoes off the vine. And maybe a clementine and some slices of cuke. But those grapes she asked me to buy? And the blueberries and raspberries that normally wouldn’t last more than a day or two? Languishing in the fridge. The peas for dinner? Cast aside after a couple of bites. She’s all about the carbs and protein right now. She’s in horse camp from 8am to 5pm all week and honestly I think she is just wanting some heartier fare.

I’ve never believed in cajoling, imploring “just two more bites” or setting an amount she must eat to have dessert. That’s just not how we’ve decided to do it. Every family has different rules. But you know, there are some days when even I really don’t want whatever I’ve cooked, or I have an aversion to veggies or whatever. So I get it. And I know that in a couple of days she’ll be back to eating her weight in apple slices. In the meantime I’ll make sure the other food I offer has decent nutritional value. And if the grape tomatoes could ripen on the vine a little quicker that would be good too.

VEGGIE DUMPLINGS!

veggie dumplings

Thanks to everyone who participated in helping choose the very first recipe I’ll test from the It’s All Good cookbook.  The big winner was Veggie Dumplings followed very closely by Japanese Chicken Meatballs. So no one feels left out, I will make the meatballs next, okay?

I am planning on making the dumpling with my 10.75 year old’s help (she would really want me to tell you she’s ten and three quarters).  She truly is my sous chef.  I started cooking and baking with her when she was about one.  First, she “helped” (i.e.: made a huge mess and caused a lot of havoc but had a great time).  Now she truly helps.  For real.  She reads recipes, measures, chops, cracks eggs, blends, toasts, and can even make some recipes by herself start to finish.  It’s a revelation.  After all the hard work of incorporating her into my kitchen endeavors, even on days when it would be so much easier to do it by myself, she now truly makes cooking and baking easier on me!  It only took about 10 years, but here we are. So anyway, the picture of the dumplings above are what they would look like in my dreams.  The end result will surely be delicious but maybe not so pretty.  Regardless, I will post the real photos of our finished product.

On a separate but related note, I started my classes for my Nutrition Consultant program yesterday.  I am enthralled already by the material so that’s a good sign.  My favorite takeaway from yesterday’s reading was this: “Being in conflict over what to eat, when to eat, how to eat, and with whom to eat may be a greater problem than what to eat, as distress sends a major stress message to the nervous system, inhibiting robust digestive response”. — Ed Bauman.  I find this to be so true.  I know so many people who are on special eating programs, or who just feel really stressed about eating in general.  I think it’s so important to remember that being relaxed about eating, whatever it is you are putting in your mouth, is so important.  Stress surrounding eating just messes up your insides.  I truly believe that when you are relaxed about it, your digestive system works better.  Remember though, I’m no doctor, so if you are on some sort of medically required eating program, you should stick with it and listen to your physician.

Until next time, eat well!