Friday, September 30, 2011

Homemade Salsa

When Oliver asks for dinner ideas classic Latin American dishes are always the first to come to my mind. Tacos, enchiladas, moles and mojos (oh my)! There is no denying these are my favorite foods.

Oliver's guacamole is by far the best I've ever tasted (and I have tasted many gaucamoles). It's heavy on citrus and fresh ground cumin. So this week, when he announced that he planned to also start making his own salsa, I was very excited.

The salsa recipe combines fresh tomatillos, several types of dried peppers, onion, garlic and a dash of salt. After quartering the tomatillos and onions he tossed them in olive oil roasted them in under the broiler. The peppers were cut with kitchen scissors, seeded and soaked in hot water. Then it all went into the blender together. The result was a smokey, hot, delicious homemade salsa.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What's for lunch? Arugula with lemon and parmesan

This has been one of my favorite salads for at least five years: fresh arugula, the juice from one lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, a small pinch of salt and parmesan cheese. Its an easy lunch to make in the office too. I keep all of the ingredients in the office fridge or in my desk drawer so I don't have to worry about finding time to make a lunch at home in the morning. It beats the pants off a can of Slim Fast!

This arugula came from the Grant Park Farmer's Market on Sunday. When I got  home and put my bag down Topher went straight for it. He rubbed against it incessantly until I pulled the arugula out. I finally gave in and let him have a leaf...because Topher wants a healthy heart too! The video is posted below.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dinner from the grill

On Monday we picked our last two eggplants. Oliver paired them with Amber Jack and asparagus and threw it all on the grill. Simple, fairly fast and healthy. We ate in the backyard and enjoyed the cool autum weather.

Also, check out the great comic from Mom:

Thanks Mom!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Atlanta's impressive intown coops

Over the weekend Oliver and I participated in the Atlanta Urban Coop Tour. It's a tour of 28 in-town chicken coops with the proceeds going to Georgia Organics and the Oakhurst Community Garden Project. We couldn't afford the $20 tickets so we spent three hours volunteering at the will call booth and each earned a free ticket. And I'm so glad we did! The coops and chickens we saw were all so different and so interesting. Impressive doses of ingenuity.

In addition to the coops on the tour I can think of five more friends or neighbors who also keep chickens. That means there are at least thirty three people within an eight mile radius raising city chickens. I can't speak for the owners we met over the weekend but one of the reasons I want to raise my own livestock is to bypass the CAFO meat system.

CAFO is an acronym for concentrated/confined animal feeding operation. Georgia is one of the nation's highest chicken CAFO producers. Growing up in Dunwoody I'd seen and smelt the coops during trips to Lake Lanier but it wasn't until I saw the documentary "Our Daily Bread" that I realized what was going on inside the buildings. If you don't know what I'm talking about then this four minute clip is worth watching: click here. I've seen it dozens of times  and the scenes of live baby chicks dropping along conveyor belts still leaves me in awe.

There is such a stark contrast between the factory chickens' environment and that of the family backyard chicken. All the homes we visited felt effortlessly idyllic. As if adding chickens to ones home helps emphasize a slower pace of life and appreciation for basic human needs. All the coops shown here are located in Grant Park, Ormewood or Inman Park (neighborhoods in the center of the city of Atlanta's perimeter). Thank you to all the owners for letting me photograph their yards! 

Side note: "Our Daily Bread" planted the no-CAFO diet idea in my head but Robert Kenner's "Food Inc" solidified it. Many of my friends have given up meat entirely; while I understand their choice I do not think it's a solution to the problem. I believe in using my shopping dollars to support those who are raising animals the right way. We still eat meat but we make an effort to only buy meat that has been raised in a healthy, ethical way. More about this in a future post. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fall Planting - Round One

Fall planting has begun! This year we're trying a few new things. For starters, we're planting our leafy greens in bi-weekly waves. The last few seasons we've found ourselves with more ready-to-harvest greens then we could eat while they were ripe. After the perfect month of greens had passed there wasn't much left in the garden to eat. By planting new greens every few weeks we will hopefully spread out the harvest time thus providing garden fresh greens throughout the fall and into the winter. We're starting with Bibb lettuce, Romaine lettuce, and bok choy. We'll be adding kale, arugula and spinach.

We're also trying a new fertilizer recommended by an organic vendor at the Grant Park Farmer's Market. It's a liquid fish emulsion. Smells terrible but supposedly produces great results.

And finally, onions! We've never tried growing root vegetables because frankly - how are we supposed to know when they're ready to be picked? These onions were an impulse buy at Home Depot. They were cheap so we decided to give them a try.  Oliver planted them in the raised bed that previously held cucumbers.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What's for lunch? Pinto beans!

In an earlier post I explained my weekday breakfast goal is to eat a cereal high in fiber, low in sugar and made of real food ingredients. My goal for weekday lunches is just as simple: beans or greens. Beans means a bowl of homestewed black or pinto beans. Greens is a salad of spinach or arugula (depending on the season).

It's true what the kids say: beans, beans they're good for the heart. So today I'll highlight a few of the reasons beans make the MVP list of heart healthy eating.

1. Beans are an excellent source of cholesterol-lowering, heart diease preventing, fiber! In fact "a cup of cooked pinto beans provides 58% of the recommended daily intake for fiber". 
2. That same cup of beans fulfills 23% of a body's daily need for magnesium. What does magnesium do for the heart? It "improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a [lack] of magnesium is...associated with heart attack". (Full article here: WH Foods)
3. One cup of pintos also provides 73% of the recommended daily intake for folate. Top 5 Health Benefits of Folate (Folic Acid) listed here
4. Besides, your colon just loves pinto beans! My Dad would refer to them as "roughage". (As in, "You need to make sure you're eating enough roughage".)

Beans! The more you eat the better you'll feel. Beans, beans - well maybe not at EVERY MEAL - but how about four times a week? Your body will thank you (but your significant other may not).

Side note: A pot of stewed beans is a very cheap meal that requires four hours of stewing and returns many days of eating. We purchase our dried beans in quart containers from YDFM. Costs about $2.50. Stewing them is a day long process. (Historically stew day coincides with wash day, Monday, and the left over meat carcus from Sunday's meal). A big pot will make more then enough for Oliver and I to eat Tuesday through Friday as lunch. By Saturday we're both tired of them and what's left tends to be thrown out. Picking up a bag Vigo beans and rice at the grocery is a tempting alternative but high sodium content counters some of the health benefits.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Atlanta's Urban Coop Tour

We're excited to be volunteering with the Atlanta Urban Coop Tour this Saturday. Buy a ticket and come visit us in Grant Park! More info here:

Photo ©2011 Jimmy Clemmons 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Works in Progress

It was a great weekend for drawing, painting, exercising and eating well. On Saturday we rode our bikes to the East Atlanta Village Strut (a neighborhood festival). The ride is a little over 4 miles round trip with quite a hill in the middle. Thanks to the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition for the free bike valet!

Blog writing is still on hold while I generate goods for the upcoming Etsy shop but I wanted to share a sneak peek at my progress. Everything painted has been scanned in. I'm now working on creating papergoods featuring the drawings and paintings.

Also, the stuffed poblano peppers (made with the previously blogged pig butt) were INCREDIBLE. Oliver drizzled them with a mixture of sour cream, lime and cilantro. Just a small amount but it really made the all the flavors pop. So good.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Peachtree Road Farmers Market

This morning we headed eight miles north of our house to check out the Peachtree Road Farmer's Market. I'd been curious to see if it was any better or different then our neighborhood farmer's market.   Overall I'd say the two are comparable; we even recognized a handful of vendors. In the future we'll stick with the Grant Park Farmer's Market  simply because it's within walking distance of our house. But for anyone living on the north side of Midtown or in Buckhead the Peachtree Road Farmers Market is a great option. Check it out!

I'll be taking several days off from blogging to make some art for the Etsy shop. Aiming to have the store open by the start of October. Until then, bon appetit!

Friday, September 16, 2011

TGIF! Boiled Peanuts

Earlier this week Oliver picked up a bag of fresh green peanuts from YDFM. The result, a tasty (read: salty) local snack that probably does NOT count as heart healthy. These bad boys had our ring fingers swollen within 24 hours. Oh well, everything in moderation. Enjoy your weekend!

And a "Thank Goodness its Friday" from Topher too!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Oliver's Big Pig Butt - it's whats for dinner!

We picked up 4.4lbs of pork butt (butt is actually shoulder - go figure) at YDFM on Tuesday. Last night Oliver coated it in homemade seasoning, wrapped it in plastic wrap and left it overnight in the fridge. This morning he dropped it into our crockpot with a sliced onion. After ten hours of roasting he peeled away the (admittedly giant) chunk of fat and pulled the pork into tender and delicious pieces. $17 of pork sounds like a lot for two people but it will feed us for the rest of the week and into the weekend.

Tonight we ate it as a main dish with sides of yucca con mojo and toasted kale. This weekend it will be stuffed into poblano peppers for dinner, topped with BBQ sauce for lunch and mixed into omelettes for breakfast. Not all in the same day! Today is Thursday; knowing our eating habits my guess is that we'll enjoy this cut of pork once a day for four more days. Seventeen dollars divided by ten individual meals equals $1.70 per meal. That is less then a taco at Moes (read: unbeatable) with the added benefit of knowing where the meat came from and how it was cooked. Hooray for another Chez Oliver dinner time homerun!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dinner from the garden

Mid-September in Atlanta can be unexpectedly warm. The meterologist is reporting that today is the 90th day we have hit 90 degrees or higher. With fall planting still several weeks away we're making the most of our last few, homegrown, summer vegetables.

What to cook with two large eggplants, one greenish-reddish pepper and two cherry peppers? Curry! We combined our homegrown ingredients with a bit of curry paste, a few small potatoes, an onion, rice and coconut milk (all from YDFM; see previous posts for more about YDFM). And wall-la! Dinner for two with leftovers for four individual lunches. Heart healthy, incredibly delicious, and local - my favorite kind of meal.

(For anyone wondering, the beer is Heavy Seas Great'er Pumpkin Imperial Ale aged in Bourbon Barrels. We shared a bomber. Super good. Get your hands on some of this seasonal beer if you can find it!)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"A Year of Food Life" - a must read!

Locavores, foodies and home gardeners have all found inspiration in the true story of Barbara Kingsolver's year long food experiment. In 2007 Barbara Kingsolver (you may already know her as the author of the novel "The Bean Trees") moved her family from Arizona to Virginia with a vow to survive only on food that either they had grown themselves or had been grown in their neighborhood. In her novel "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" she details their family experiment. Over the course of twelve months Barbara, her husband and her two daughters raise heirloom turkeys, perfect the art of daily homemade bread, can hundreds of vegetables and learn to make cheese all while running their own hillside fruit and vegetable farm. If that isn't enough, each chapter ends with a recipe.

If you're someone who is still putting off starting a garden or needs convicing about the joys of eating in season foods then please read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A year of food life". This book is the reason our garden went from summer to year round. It also inspired my desire to learn canning and my ambition to eat not just real food but real, local, in-season food.
  • The recipes are on Barbara's website. Click the following for a direct link: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle recipes
  • You can read an exert from the book here.
  • And finally, as I give this awesome book two thumbs, do me favor: click the following link to play aloud the background.  Click here!

Monday, September 12, 2011

What's for lunch? Spinach with goat cheese!

Spinach salad with golden raisins, goat cheese and balsamic vinegarette from Figo.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Brew Day

The skies have cleared and the weather is mild; a perfect day for brewing beer! Today Oliver made a German Altbier. Should be ready to tap in a few weeks.

It might go without saying, but we're craft beer drinkers. No Bud or Coors for us. Fortunately there are a lot of great breweries and brewpubs in Atlanta so finding a delicious beer that is brewed locally is easy. Options abound!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Amazing Tomatoes!

Three days of rain coaxed our heirloom tomato blossoms into half a dozen new tomatoes! Such a simple little thing but I'm so happy about the possibility of fresh tomato sandwiches for another month. The actual vine is a beast! Not our prettiest tomato vine ever but when it comes to producing new branches and flowers it is prolific.

Topher was in the garden with me as I took these photos. Here you can see him sitting in one of our empty raised beds (and looking for the neighbor's cat). It's a mess now but all summer it was full of cucumber vines. We plan to replenish the soil before our fall/winter planting. Then we'll probably fill it with lettuce, kale and maybe broccoli.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Homemade Chili for a rainy week

It's been a grey and drizzly week in Atlanta as the remnants of tropical storm Lee took their time passing over. Perfect weather for some homemade chili and cornbread. The only nonperishable ingredient was a can of tomato paste. Everything else was fresh, delicious, real food.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Starting small: Cereal suggestions for a healthy heart

Start small and be reasonable. That's a good way to build a lifetime of heart health. Change one thing at a time (eating habit or exercise regimen) and do it until it becomes a habit. Then pick your next change. 

Sugary breakfast cereal was the first habit I broke. I was a Honey Bunches of Oats addict; I would happily eat it twice a day. But I did some research into heart health and began to understand the importance of fiber as well as the opportunity to get it everyday with breakfast. My goal was to find a cereal high in soluble fiber and relatively low in sugar. My final selection was Kashi Go Lean Crunch.

Why Kashi and not Cheerios? Because Kashi Crunch has THREE times the amount of soluble fiber as Cheerios. Also when I compared their second and third ingredients I decided Kashi was closer to "real food".

Side by side comparison:
The first three ingredients in regular Cheerios: whole grain oats, modified corn starch and sugar. If I were shopping today, not knowing what was implied by the second ingredient and seeing sugar as the third ingredient would have told me all I needed to know. The box would be back on the shelf and nowhere  near my basket. But as a beginner I looked up modified corn starch

Modified starch...are prepared by physically, enzymatically, or chemically treating native starch, thereby changing the properties of the starch. Modified starches are used in practically all starch applications, such as in food products as a thickening agent, stabilizer or emulsifier; inpharmaceuticals as a disintegrant; as binder in coated paper.

Whoa! Thickening agent/stabilizer/disintergrant/coated paper binder? Not with my breakfast thank you!
The first three ingredients in Kashi Go Lean Crunch: Seven whole grains & seasame (it takes four lines to list them), soy protein concentrate and evaporated cane juice (aka: less processed, less refined sugar). I wondered about 'soy protein concentrate' so I looked it up too. Kashi's website describes it as "protein directly from soybeans". Suspicious of something called "concentrate" I continued to look for information on other websites. I was surprised and happy and to discover most research agreed that soy bean concentrate retains most of the fiber of the original soybean... at least it's from real food.

For more information about fiber, both soluble and insoluble, I recommend the American Heart Association's website. I linked to it earlier in this post but I also suggest looking through it further on your own.

One more thing! Some grocery stores make picking a heart healthy cereal more complicated then it needs to be because they separate the cereal into TWO aisles in very separate sections of the store. Keep that in mind if you go looking for Kashi. It tends to be kept in the health food section.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Heart Healthy Lifestyle: How it happened to us

To the best of my memory, we arrived at our current heart healthy lifestyle in three steps: two major life events combined with a bit of self-education.

In March of 2009 I was getting by on a diet of cold cereal, Lean Cuisines and Kashi bars. This had been my go-to meal plan for a little over ten years. Even two years with a chef as boyfriend had been unable to break my addiction to highly processed and rarely real food. March of 2009 is when I met Oliver; six weeks later he moved in (and by May 2011 we were husband and wife). His passion for cooking and his horror of Lean Cuisines quickly began to chisel at my frozen food devotion. Within six months my taste buds had changed enough that I could no longer eat a Lean Cuisine without cringing at each bite's intense amount of salt.

We spent Christmas that year in New Orleans with Oliver's family. When New Year's rolled around we could feel the added pounds from too many parties and too many po' boys. It was time to take our work outs more seriously. I suggested we give the gym a try; Oliver resisted saying that we were fine working out at home and in the park. By February he relented and we signed up for a two week trial membership at our local 24 Hour Snap Fitness.

It was that week that we received an unexpected and devastating phone call. Oliver's Dad, with whom we'd just spent a week in New Orleans, had died of a heart attack in his sleep. He was only 57. It was his first heart attack. Just weeks earlier he'd been to the doctor for a stress test and seemed okay. How could this have happened?

When we returned to Atlanta after the funeral our food goals became more defined. It was no longer enough to set our standard at "real food" we needed to learn about "heart health". Defining "heart healthy food" lead to a maze of vague nutrition claims and mixed results from studies. In the end I decided to my trust in Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver and Jamie Oliver. Their books were the beginning of our self-education. We're still reading and learning about foods, their sources, their benefits and their detriments.

Today, our family standards for heart healthy eating are as follows: high fiber foods (most often in the form of black/ pinto beans and dark leafy greens), whole grains, never fast food, avoidance of CAFO meats, no highly processed foods (no Goldfish, no Lean Cuisines) and avoiding anything that has sugar (or corn syrup) in the first three ingredients. Weekday breakfast has been the biggest challenge; after two years of searching we have found only ONE breakfast cereal that does not have sugar in the first three ingredients. It's name will give an idea of how tasty it is; it's called "Twigs". Our biggest weakness remains bacon. We love bacon.

The trial gym membership turned into a full membership. We go three times a week, most often together, and stay for 30 to 45 minutes. We work out hard and focus on getting our heart rates up. On days that I don't want to be there I find myself repeating "use it or lose it". I'm proud that my devotion to the gym is not fueled by vanity; it's fueled by a real desire to be active and clever well into my 90s.

As our lifestyle has become more committed and refined I've found it hard to press the importance of heart health on those around me. When I do talk about these things in person I come across as preachy.  I hope that knowing the history of why we live the way we do will help others consider living the same way. It worries me that so many people live their lives as if a heart attack (or diabetes) can't happen to them. It is my hope that this blog will serve as inspiration for the little ways that we all can make our lives a little healthier.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Oliver's Grilled Jerk Chicken

This healthy and delicious meal is also easy on the pocketbook. We tallied it up at $1.33 per serving. That price includes the okra/eggplant/tomato medley and a side of rice! We ate variations of it for three meals last week.

We started with eight leg quarters from YDFM and a jar of jerk paste.  Mix the jerk paste with a small amount of olive oil and put to the side. Then take each leg quarter, pull back the skin (pull it back, not off) and use your preferred knife to cut off any obvious fatty spots. Between the meat and the skin generously coat the chicken with the jerk paste. Pull the skin back into place and let marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Grill and enjoy!

Friday, September 2, 2011

And Topher Too

Topher during a visit from his step-brother, Bleu Blue. Blue is my Mom's Ragdoll. They live in Chicago. Happy Labor Day my friends!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

What he did with the fresh picked eggplant

Another quick post tonight: For yesterday's dinner Oliver used our fresh picked eggplant in a side dish he first cooked for me just a few months into our relationship. Since then it's become a cozy, healthy and delicious, "down home" southern side that we eat every few months. On it's most basic level it's a medley of diced eggplant, chopped okra, grape tomatoes and onions - but once you put it all together in a lovely old fashioned cast iron skillet it seems to become so much more then what it is.

Two more things I should mention about dinner:
1. It was paired with grilled jerk chicken. I'll post more about that this weekend.
2. Until I met Oliver I'd NEVER had an okra that was not fried. I vividly remember my elementary school serving them fried. They filled one of those little melamine squares on my tray. Even fried I DID NOT WANT them. I'm happy to say Oliver's method of browning and smothering has happily changed my mind.

Recipe available on request.