Choosing whole grain bread in the supermarket

You’ve heard the phrase “Make Half Your Grains Whole”, meaning that the average American should be eating about 6 servings of grains per day, half of them consisting of whole grains.

Have you ever wondered how to make this happen for you and your family? The USDA has some great ideas to get started. The problem is, with all the words on the label, oftentimes it can be difficult to identify the whole grain foods from the refined grain foods in the supermarket. This article will help you identify whole grain breads next time you go shopping.

You cannot judge a book by it’s cover when it comes to choosing a whole grain bread. Breads can be colored brown to resemble whole grains even though they are actually made with refined wheat. Choose a fresh looking loaf, flip over the package and check out the nutrition label (don’t forget your glasses!). The most important thing to look for is the phrase “whole wheat” as one of the first ingredients. If it just says “wheat,” “7-grain” or “enriched wheat” that is not a whole grain. Enriched just means that a vitamin that was lost during processing was added back to the flour afterwards. (This has been required by US law for B-vitamins since 1942).

Image courtesy of http://www.copykat.com

The ingredients that are listed first in the ingredient list are those that make up most of the product, so it is important that “whole wheat” is one of the first ingredients. Congratulations, you have found a whole grain bread! This bread will be superior to refined wheat breads because the whole grains contribute important vitamins, minerals and fiber. If you identify a few whole grain breads, compare the prices, the number of slices per loaf, check out the labels, the amount of fiber per slice (5 grams per slice is excellent) and the freshness date.

Always inspect the bread for mold and make sure to buy the one with the most recent date on the tag.

“Make Half Your Grains Whole” Image courtesy of South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (www.scdhec.gov/health/proservices/nutrition/charge.htm)

A version of this was originally posted on Examiner.com

Canning Green Goddess Organics Heirloom Tomatoes in Monterey, CA

Canning California Heirloom Tomatoes
The beautiful tomato photos in this post are by Gerick Bergsma

As the last scrumptious jars of Green Goddess Organics Heirloom Tomatoes disappear from my shelves I am reminded of the misty fresh sea air in Monterey. Last fall, just before moving back east, my buddies Katie, Robin, Gerick and I canned a heaping pile of the most juicy ripe tomatoes we could find to carry us through the winter.

The tomatoes of choice were a mixture of the five heirloom varieties (Red Brandywine, Yellow Brandywine, Marvel Stripe,  Black Crimson and Cherokee Purple tomatoes)  grown by Green Goddess Organics in Hollister and Salinas. This exquisite farm is owned by Madeleine Clark and run by Jerry Simpson. This 3-year-old farm is certified by the Tri-County Organic Farmers’ Cooperative, growing a variety of delicious orange-flesh honeydew melons, icebox watermelons, broccoli, peppers, green onions, summer squash and beets.

Growing California Heirloom Tomatoes
Green Goddess Organics tomato fields off Riverside Road near Hollister, CA

We canned about 80 pounds – most of which were “seconds”, secured by our awesome friend Aretah. “Seconds” usually have some surface blemishes, splits or cracks on them. Since they cannot be stored as

Canning California Heirloom Tomatoes

well and don’t look as pretty as the “firsts,” farms will often sell them at reduced prices when tomatoes are in abundance. The cracks in the tomatoes are usually caused by too much water, when I see them I know it means the tomato is super juicy!  So these are perfect for canning.

Canning California Heirloom Tomatoes

It took an entire evening of chopping and sterilizing. Gerick and Robins generous use of their kitchen complete with functioning dishwasher made sterilizing the jars a cinch! We ended up with about 50 quart size jars which we’ve been cooking into soups, pizzas, sauces and salsas throughout the winter – stay updated for recipes!

Originally posted on The Fresh Dish in 2011

Inzana Ranch Nectarines preserved with Search Ranch Honey and mint

Canned Peaches

My friend Katie has become the canning conniosseur in my life and we’ve gotten ourselves silly with stickiness on numerous canning projects over the past year here in California. Something that she and I have in common is enthusiasm for tantalizing produce from the farmers market that oftentimes inspires our canning projects. We both adore Inzana Ranch’s fruit and nut stand at the Monterey and Pacific Grove Farmer’s markets. Its one of the best we’ve ever encountered and we both look forward to Tony and Joye Inzana‘s friendly smiles and colorful delicious selection of almonds, grapes, apples, asian pears, apricots, figs, persimmons, kiwis, walnuts and peaches as the seasons change.

Canned Peaches

Their bright juicy clingstone nectarines inspired Katie to get creative preserving some nectarines for the coming Winter.  Clingstone nectarines are the type that have the flesh attached to the seed in the middle. We’re not sure what variety of clingstones they are, perhaps August Glo, or one of the twenty-one other varieties Inzana Ranch cultivates according to their California producer certificate . She bought about 7 pounds of them which we brought up to Search Ranch, our friends Marie and Jim’s homestead up in Carmel Valley. Katie got the idea to make a light honey syrup from Search Ranch’s own hives instead of boring old sugar from Jordan at Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove.

Canned Peaches

With Marie and Jim in their farmhouse style kitchen last Saturday morning, we kicked off an action packed weekend as we chopped, heated and properly preserved these gorgeous symbols of Summer into jars. We learned from the Joy of Cooking that preserving stone fruits in a light syrup requires about 3 parts water to 1 part sugar, and we knew Happy Girl Kitchen’s cherry jubilee consists of a very light honey solution (10:1 ratio) for preserving sweet bing cherries. We tasted the nectarines and Katie knew this fruit would turn out best with a slightly sweeter syrup since a lot of them were a little tart yet.

Canned Peaches

So here is how we did it:

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 4 cups + 1/2 cup of water
  • 7 pounds of nectarines (about 15 cups)
  • juice of half a fresh lemon
  • 1 bunch of mint, de-stemmed
Canned Peaches

We sliced the nectarines in uniform slices and squeezed fresh lemon juice all over to prevent oxidation. We chopped the mint leaves and set aside.

Canned Peaches

We then prepared the syrup, heating the 4 cups of water and honey in a pot slowly while stirring until it completely dissolved. When it came to a gentle boil, the heat was turned down and it simmered for a while staying hot while we sterilized the jars and lids.

Canned Peaches

We heated the nectarines in a pot with a 1/2 cup water just until they got hot, stirring around a little so they heated evenly.

We filled the sterilized jars with nectarine slices and chopped mint, then poured the hot syrup over the fruit to the point where the fruit was completely covered. Just before covering with sterilized lids and boiling the jars we stirred the jars to removed extra air.

Voila, the taste of California Summer to enjoy from a jar all winter long…

Originally posted on The Fresh Dish

Smart Snacking

What do you do when you feel like you’re dragging your feet and its hours until your next meal?  If your answer has something to do with caffeine, a vending machine or nibbling on some of the chocolates or cookies that are ubiquitous this time of year, I encourage you turn over a new leaf and try thoughtful snacking instead. This is a sustainable way to boost your energy and keep you going for the long run.

The key is how you snack, not what you snack on. When you feel like reaching for something to munch on, check in with your brain to verify that you are actually hungry- not just bored, thirsty or tired. If that is the case, act accordingly instead of eating. Making the effort to take a deep breath and listen to what your body is telling you will give you more confidence and control over your actions.

Photo courtesy of Appletree Staging blog

As far as the snack goes, avoid very sugary foods and those with many ingredients on their label. Try choosing nutrient-rich snacks one with fiber that will healthfully release energy into your bloodstream at a steady rate. A fun way to do this is to combine at least two food groups together, packing the most nutrition in per bite.

Here are some snacks I like:

✴ Whole wheat pita chips & cottage cheese, drizzled with a little ho

ney & cinnamon

✴ Cucumber slices with hummus & olives

✴ Yogurt with some peanuts and grapes mixed in

✴ Celery sticks with natural peanut butter & dried cranberries

✴ Whole wheat tortilla with salsa & black beans

✴ Apple slices with cheddar cheese on wheat crackers

✴ Homemade “trail mix” made by combining nuts, raisins & whole grain cereal

Homemade peanut butter is easy to make! Photo courtesy of http://foodfotosandfun.blogspot.com

Once you decide on the snack your body is asking for, prepare it and put it on a plate. Do not eat your snack standing up or in the drivers seat! Sit down and enjoy it in a civilized manner, appreciating it and the little break you’re allowing yourself to have from whatever is on your mind. Eating a well rounded snack in a calm environment will reduce your stress levels.  Although thoughtful snacking may be more difficult to do away from home or in a noisy place, it is worthwhile to improvise with your surroundings and find a way to treat yourself right (carrying basic utensils and a key-chain knife prepares you for hungry situations whenever they hit). At first, thoughtful snacking is a little more difficult than scarfing on a bag of chips, but with some practice your mind and body will feel the difference and thank you for making the effort in the long run.

A version of this post originally appeared on The Fresh Dish in 2010.

Irish Soda Bread Recipe – An Excellent Easy Bread Recipe

Irish soda bread is a staple in my household – not because we’re Irish, but because it is so easy and a total crowd-pleaser. As far as I understand, it is not really an Irish food but an American invention reminiscent of wheaten bread, I gleaned from my real Irish neighbor as he nibbled on the batch I made this afternoon. This recipe freezes well and thus makes a great all-around snack, for hikes and afternoon coffee breaks at work.  After cooling, wrap individual pieces in aluminum foil. No need to reheat in the oven, just let thaw for a few hours before eating.

The key to cooking the perfect chewy, crunchy, crisp Irish Soda Bread is the pan. While any size or shape glass dish or brownie-type pan will do, a stoneware baking dish is the best because it cooks evenly and perfectly. This recipe is an adaptation from Mary Burke’s Irish Soda Bread recipe published in the Boston Globe Taste section in 2006 and the King Arthur Flour’s 200th Anniversary edition cookbook recipe.  It yields one large loaf (9×5) or about 8 small loaves.

Mixing the irish soda bread dough can be done by hand or with a mixer

Ingredients:

  • 8 Tablespoons butter @ room temperature
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar + little more for sprinkling
  • ¾ teaspoons baking soda
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ cups plain yogurt
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 c. dried fruit (a mix of raisins and cranberries is my favorite)
For best results, bake the irish soda bread inside a clay baking dish

Instructions:

Set oven to 350 F.
Butter or spray the baking dish(es) with canola oil

In large mixer or bowl: mix the flours, 1/4 cup sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix well. Cut the butter into small pieces and mix into the dry mixture with fingertips.

In another bowl: stir together water, yogurt and egg.
Mix the wet and dry mixtures together well, stir in the dried fruit.

Transfer to pans, dividing evenly, sprinkle tops with a little sugar.
Bake 40 min or until tops are golden, and a knife or toothpick comes out clean.

Originally posted on thefreshdish.com on March 15, 2010

Healthy Drinks Demo, Medford MA

                  Syrah teaching kids about sugar content in soda at Medford Farmers Market                

Syrah represented Cooking Matters Massachsetts at the Medford Farmers Market on August 11, 2011.  With the help of with Nicole Maddox and Mimi Delgazzi, she taught market shoppers about how the sugar content of soft drinks and offered samples of healthy drink alternatives like sun tea, Nicoles amazing horchata (recipe beIow) and 100% fruit juice spritzers.

Nicole Maddox's amazing, refreshing Horchata recipe
Nicole Maddox and Mimi Delgazzi (not pictured here) helping teach the kids about healthy drinks
The kids enjoyed samples of healthy drinks