Archive for Organic

Local Arizona honey sold at Farmers Markets

Mesquite Honey

Absolutely Delightful Mesquite Honey available at the Roadrunner Park Farmers Market on Saturdays (Photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

Desert Wild Flower Honey

Absolutely Delightful Desert Wild Flower Honey available at the Roadrunner Park Farmers Market on Saturdays (Photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

The desert southwest is certainly the last place some people would think of as a place that produces honey.  The National Honey Board says, “The color and flavor of honey differ depending on the bees’ nectar source (the blossoms).  In fact, there are more than 300 unique kinds of honey in the United States, originating from such diverse floral sources as Clover, Eucalyptus and Orange Blossoms.  In general, lighter colored honeys are mild in flavor, while darker honeys are usually more robust in flavor.”  There are some distinct pollen sources in Arizona.  One company called Absolutely Delightful Honey offers, “Uniquely delicious, natural flavors to include orange blossom, alfalfa, mesquite, desert wild flower, Flagstaff wild flower, catsclaw and camelthorn. From time to time we get small batches of rare honeys like prickly pear or staghorn (cholla) cactus honey.”  They are found at four Phoenix-area farmers markets throughout the week.  The Benefits of Honey website says, “Honey is a great natural source of carbohydrates which provide strength and energy to our bodies. Honey is known for its effectiveness in instantly boosting the performance, endurance and reduce muscle fatigue of athletes.” One way to incorporate this energy booster into a diet is to use it as a substitute for sugar.  It could be added to teas to make them sweeter and to pastries for a great unique flavor.

Clover Honey

Clover Honey available at any health food store like Sprouts or Whole Foods Market (Photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

Alfalfa Blossom Honey

Alfalfa Blossom Honey available at any health food store like Sprouts or Whole Foods Market (Photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

Honey is a great product for everyone to eat.  Just make sure if someone is allergic to bees, not to include the honeycomb in their honey.  The desert southwest has honey distinctive to the area, but so does honey that is produced in other parts of the country and around the world.  It is like people can go on adventures just by tasting honey.

Absolutely Delightful Logo

Absolutely Delightful Local Arizona Honey available at four Phoenix-area farmers markets over the week (Photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

 

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Pets need natural, organic food as much as humans

Primal Dog Treats

“These are Primal Dog Treats available at Pet Planets in Arizona and Canada” (Photo by: Christina Thompson 2012).

People are starting to have better diets consisting of holistic, natural, organic foods and it is improving their health.  Why shouldn’t pets have the same opportunity?  Plenty of pet food companies have risen to this new movement in pet food.  Horizon Pet Nutrition out of Canada has four sub-companies and believes, “…in having locally sourced ingredients, being environmentally sustainable, and being a globally trusted company.”  Another company out of Canada, Champion Pet Foods, also has two sub-companies (Acana and Orijen), and they believe, “Quality is never outsourced and to nourish as nature intended.”  A US company called Petropics makes wet food diets for cats and dogs called, “Tiki Cat and Tiki Dog.”  There is a page on the company’s website that describes the illnesses that the food helps to alleviate including, “…diabetes, obesity, cancer, urinary tract infections…”

Neve cat

“This is Peggy Thompson’s cat, Neve (Italian for snow) at her home in Cincinnati, Ohio” (Photo by: Christina Thompson 2012).

The illnesses listed above seem to be the top four biggest maladies that have accompanied the poor diets being brought on by poor quality pet food.  “My daughter and I have three cats,” said cat owner, Peggy Thompson.  “We used to have four, but our poor little Neve died suddenly last month due to cancer and poor nutrition from commercial pet food for many years.  Our veterinarian recommended we put the other three on a natural, organic diet so we can keep them healthy.”

Tiki Dog Food

“This is all-natural Tiki Dog wet food available at Pet Planets in Arizona and Canada” (Photo by: Christina Thompson 2012).

Where do you find healthy pet food?

small mammal food

“This is some natural rabbit and guinea pig food that is available at Pet Planet stores in Arizona and Canada” (Photo by: Christina Thompson 2012).

In the Phoenix area and in Canada, there is a store called Pet Planet that is delivering a variety of natural, organic pet food products to people daily.   Kristin Jensen of Pet Planet said, “Although we mainly offer only natural, organic cat and dog food, we have natural food for pet birds, small mammals, and reptiles.”  Another place to find healthy pet food is Whole Foods Marketlocated across the US, Canada, and even the UK.

People seem to be caring about what their pets eat as much as what they eat.  The trend will hopefully continue for companion pets and extend to small mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish.  People want their pets to be happy and healthy and now the right pet foods are being manufactured to accomplish that.

Arcana dog food

“These are just two of the flavors of Arcana dog food available at Pet Planet stores” (Photo by: Christina Thompson 2012).

 

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Hydroponic gardens are great for foodies and chefs alike

basil

Hydroponically grown basil at AZ Growing store in Scottsdale, Arizona (Photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

MicroGarden

This small hydroponic system is a great beginner kit for people wanting to try hydroponic gardening available through AZ Growing (Photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

Many people in this world are turning to hydroponic gardens to grow their fruits, vegetables, and herbs.  In a recent article published in Maximum Yield Magazine, author Dr. Lynette Morgan says, “Fortunately, flavor in fruits and vegetables is something that can be manipulated to various degrees by the grower—and in hydroponics we have far greater control over growth factors than we do with outdoor crops—so there’s no reason for our homegrown flavors not to be fantastic…” Restaurant owner, Homaro Cantu, recently made an aeroponics(a type of hydroponic gardening) garden in the basement of one of his restaurants because he realized the value of taste that comes from growing hydroponically.

tomatoes

High yielding cherry tomato plants being grown indoors with lights and hydroponics at AZ Growing in Scottsdale, Arizona (Photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

Chefs are not the only ones talking about hydroponics.  A cast of hydroponic garden hobbyists created a podcast called “Heavy T’s Grow Show”, where listeners can call and ask questions, listen to interviews, and receive prizes just for calling in.  With the influx of people turning to hydroponics, especially in more arid desert regions like Phoenix, Arizona, it must be an easy way to grow plants, right?  Aaron Heimes of AZ Growing located in Scottsdale, Arizona says, “You need to pick up a book.  The book that I read and helped me get started is How-to Hydroponicsby Keith Roberto.”  Reading about hydroponics and the do-it-yourself techniques will teach anyone how to make their food taste better.

LECA

Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate (LECA) being used for a hydroponic growing medium at the AZ Growing store (Photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

hydroponic system

Hydroponic systems can also be very intricate like this one at the AZ Growing store (Photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

 

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Farmers’ Markets

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Food labeling is important for everyone’s health and well-being

Everyone knows about the labels on food and why it is the most important information that consumers can get about what they are eating.  Consumers are not the only ones reading product labels, so are the chefs preparing the food in restaurants.  Everyone is looking out for each other when it comes to food.

Why is it important for chefs to read the labels?

Food labeling has come under a lot of scrutiny.  It was even brought up in a court case against McDonalds.  A statement in the case read, “Thus Congress provided that essentially all packaged foods sold at retail shall be appropriately labeled and their contents described.”  A chef needs to know what is in their food because although it may not seem like, restaurants are food retailers and nutritional information is important.  Chef Margaret Thompson said, “I always ask about food allergies before I make my menus for private parties.  I want my customers to be happy with their food and know every piece of nutritional information that I can give them.  It is important for their safety and my reputation that proper food labeling is taken.”

There is a company called Monsanto that is producing Genetically Modified food crops and has therefore been put under condemnation because they do not want to label their products as such.  They were recently issued a court-ordered mandate to remove a genetically engineered sugar beet crop.  Not only is Monsanto being put under examination for their GM foods, but so is all food labeling.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest released a report addressing the problem with food labels.  “Problems with food labels can be broken down into three basic categories:  the Nutrition Facts Panel needs to be improved, ingredient labels need to be modernized, and Health-related claims need more stringent regulation.”  Chef Margaret said, “I know the labels on the food are not the best.  I research as much as I can to make an informed decision on the products I buy for customers.  I also petition the FDA and other government organizations to reform product labels to give all consumers the best possible information.”

So what do chefs serve, if labels are not correct?

“My restaurant (Lime Covington) serves only local organic products,” said Gina Puopolo, Executive Chef/Owner of the Covington, Kentucky restaurant.  “I don’t buy pre-packaged ingredients; I make them from scratch, so I know everything that goes into my food.” There are plenty of nutritional facts that chefs have to look at especially when it comes to food allergies.  One of the biggest allergies that chefs are dealing with now is wheat allergies, which has brought about the whole gluten-free movement. Chef Gina said, “I used to serve corn tortillas, but I changed to flour and our burritos can be made with lettuce for people with gluten allergies.”

Learning how to reading and understand food labels is important because after all, knowledge is power.  Everyone must do their part to change by being educated consumers and take the time to contact the proper agencies to bring about food label reform.  Chefs are only a small part of a bigger consumer picture.

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Fruit and veggie farming battle

Every produce consumer is a part of the debate about organic food because it is in every grocery store, mega mart, and produce stand.  It is up to consumer preference to what they purchase: organic fruits and vegetables or conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.

Organic vs. Conventionally Farmed

Dragonfruit

Conventionally farmed dragonfruit taken at a local grocery store (photo by Christina Thompson 2011).

Is it true that organically grown fruits and vegetables are better nutritionally?  A CNN Article gave people some insight on this issue.  It said, “A few small studies have shown that some organic foods contain higher nutrient levels than conventional ones. For example, a recent study showed that organic ketchup had 57 percent more of the antioxidant lycopene than regular ketchup.”

Lenons

Meyer Organic Lemons taken at The Fresh Market (a strictly whole-food) grocery store (photo by Christina Thompson 2011).

In an article posted by Grist about this debate they studied strawberry crops.  “The study design was both careful and comprehensive in scope. The strawberries were grown on 13 conventional and 13 organic fields, with organic/conventional field pairs located adjacently in order to control for soil type and weather patterns. The data was drawn from repeated harvests over a two-year period, and the strawberries were picked, transported, and stored under identical conditions to replicate retail practices. And just as farming is a complex business, scientists contributing to the study range from soil and food scientists to genetics experts and statistics specialists, who analyzed 31 soil properties, soil DNA, and the relative taste and nutritional quality of three strawberry varieties in California.  The results are pretty convincing: organic strawberries are healthier, tastier, and better for the soil than conventional strawberries.”

The bottom line

Peas

These organic peas were bought at a local farmers' market (photo by Christina Thompson 2010).

The Grist article also offers this, “Its findings only apply to strawberries — but they do point the way to the kind of research that can, and should, be done with other crops as well.”  The studied only offered that strawberry crops are better organically for us.  The CNN article has Charles Benbrook, a Ph.D. scientist with The Organic Center saying, “Read labels and look at each product in its own right. An organic potato chip may contain as many calories and saturated fat grams as a conventional chip. The price premiums associated with processed organic food are not as great as the premiums charged for organic whole foods.”  In the article too, they have Professor Alan McHughen, Ph.D. of botany and plant sciences at the University of California, Riverside with this understanding, “Focus on foods’ benefit to your immediate environment — i.e. your body — first.  A good diet means variety, balance, and moderation, regardless of the farming method that produced the food.”

Sea beans

These delicious sea beans were found at a local grocer, but not in the organic section (photo by Christina Thompson 2011).

There really is some difference to organic and conventional farming, but other things maybe added to the organic food to make it worse for you then conventionally farmed produce.  Like Benbrook says, “Read labels!!”

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Executive Chef strives for a more peaceful place

How Chef Margaret Thompson went from an Executive Chef to a Yogi Chef

This is Chef Margaret Thompson, at home, contemplating restaurant names and themes (photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

 

From a young age, Chef Margaret Thompson was in the kitchen.  She started off her cooking and baking life learning from her grandmothers.  “They taught me Italian, Polish, and good old down-home cooking and baking,” she said.  She also could be found in front of the TV mesmerized by the cooking styles of Ms. Julia Childs, the Galloping Gourmet, and Jacques Pepin.

At age 35, she attended the Riverside Culinary Academy in Riverside, California for a degree in Asian Culinary Arts.  She fed her family delicious cuisine from Japan, India, Thailand, China, and Indonesia, just to name a few.  “I like cooking Japanese dishes because Japanese cuisine is all about the presentation.  Sukiyaki is the best example of this,” Margaret said.  Then at age 46, she went on vacation to Europe and attended a cooking school in Sorrento, Italy to learn more traditional Italian cooking.

When she was living in a country club with her family, a neighbor came to a block party where Margaret made various scrumptious desserts.  The neighbor approached Margaret to make her more desserts that she could take with her when she went to doctor’s offices (she was a Pharmaceutical Representative).  “This inspired me to start work on my dream, owning a tearoom.   I felt that I should go to a prominent school where I could get a professional reputation.  That school for me was the French Culinary School in New York City for a Master of Pastry Arts,” she said.

While she was attending school, she studied under one of her childhood idles, Chef Jacques Pepin.  “I remember at school, we were to speak French.  Jacques and I passed in the stairwell while I was carrying a tray a pastries. He asked me in French for a pastry.  I answered him in Italian and got scolded,” she said.  She also studied under Chef Jacques Torres and Chef Andre Sultner.

Right out of school, she started work at the Green-up Café in Covington, Kentucky.  “It was brand new restaurant that I helped Chef Jean-Robert open,” Margaret said.  Soon after that she saw a fun opportunity to join the culinary staff of Norwegian Cruise Lines North America located out of Hawaii as a pastry chef.  “It wasn’t as fun as I thought,” she said.  She came home and was approached by the Cincinnatian Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio, to be their Executive Pastry Chef.  This also proved to be a disaster for her.  “I worked 16-20 hours a day, seven days a week with people who did not have the best moral standards.  I would compare it to working on that show, “Hell’s Kitchen,”” Chef Margaret said.

“I believe my experience at the Cincinnatian Hotel fully expresses my belief that negative energy put into food by chefs and manufacturers creates negative people,” she said.  This prompted her to leave the Cincinnatian and become a private chef.

Does she have any way of maintaining peace amongst the chaos of the kitchen?  “I have been practicing Kundalini Yoga (not that pretzel yoga, more based in creative, positive energy for the body, mind, and spirit) for ten years.  My friends suggested that I become a yoga instructor because they thought that I would be good at it.  I went to New Mexico for a month and became a Yogi at the Ashram of Yogi Bhujan.”

She has been a Yogi Chef for three years now.  Chef Margret still wants a tearoom, but has been constantly rethinking its concept.  She would like to use locally grown and sustainable meat, poultry, and produce items.  She hopes to eventually find a nice big piece of property to grow some of these items herself.  “I want to have enough room in my restaurant to teach culinary classes, as teaching has always been one of my greatest passions.  It would be great to combine the two biggest loves in my life, but for now I will do what I can with My Chef Mom on Facebook.”

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Chia Pets have become a health food phenomenon

Chia Pet Kitten

This is a Chia Pet Kitten that can be purchased at many stores as a novelty Christmas gift (Courtesy of www.chia.com 2012).

At first glance at the headline, it probably looks like a joke or just another fad put out by the health food industry to make us laugh.  There was an article published on a local news site that told the truth…Chia seeds really are good for you!  This boggles the mind because so many people have received the Chia Pet as a gag gift since it’s inception in 1977.

Chia (Salvia hispanica), has been harvested (for the seeds) by the Aztecs and is still being grown and collected today by the people of Mexico and Guatemala.  The seeds are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for our natural metabolism.  When the seeds are grown on the Chia Pet, they grow into micro greens and are a good substitution for alfalfa sprouts on sandwiches.

These are the Chia Seeds that are harvested for consumption in a bulk bin at Whole Foods (photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

There are other benefits that come along with the chia seeds.  Do you suffer from Diverticulitis?  Well, chia seeds are a good source of fiber to help prevent it.  Need energy?  Chia seeds are your answer for beneficial proteins that provide a healthy boost of energy all day.

There are recipesout there for people to cook or bake using the seeds as substitution for less butter and oil, adding moisture to baked goods in a healthier way.  Another source to add the seeds to your diet would be to drink Mamma Chia drinks. Mamma Chia’s motto is, “Seed your Soul.”   The drink boasts it has 2000 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids, 644 mg of Omega-6 fatty acids, 230 mg of Omega-9 fatty acids, 10 g of fiber, 33 mg of Calcium, and 4 g of protein per serving (1bottle).  Who would have guessed that a bunch of chia seeds would supply that much nutrition?

Mamma Chia Drink

These are just two of the flavors of Mamma Chia drinks available at Whole Foods stores (photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

Chia seeds are not just a fad; they are healthy for us to eat.  More and more grocery stores are starting to carry the seeds in bulk or in bags.  It is still an expensive purchase, but well worth the nutritional value.  Since chia seeds are also being grown as micro greens, it wouldn’t be surprising to find them amongst other micro greens at local farmer’s markets.

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Growing & eating your own harvest

Lettuce

Red Leaf Romaine Lettuce growing in the hoop house at Gorman Farm (photo by Christina Thompson 2012).

Many people find it easier to go to the store than to grow their own “crops.”   Classes are being offered at extension offices of universities across the country.  Many of the classes relate to allocating garden space to growing organic fruits and vegetables.  Instructors are using books and their own knowledge to help people create sustainable harvests from home.  In Cincinnati, Gorman Farm recently offered a class on “Four-Season Harvesting.”

What is “Four-Season Harvesting”?

The idea of “Four-Season Harvesting” is allowing people to cultivate fruits and vegetables year-round from their home gardens so they do not to rely solely on the grocery store.  John Hemmerle, garden manager at Gorman Heritage Farm said, “Cold hearty veggies taste better when it’s colder.” With this method, people will now have a better understanding of what pesticides are in their food because they will be the ones growing it.  Phil Erdeljohn, a young male participant, said, “My grandma used to spray the tomato plants with soapy water to get rid of the bugs off the plants.”

Butter Lettuce

A head of butter lettuce that is ready to be harvested from the hoop house at Gorman Farm (photo by Christina Thompson 2012)

How do fruits and vegetables survive the winter months?

“Protection:  moisture and wind will destroy your plants, not the cold,” said Hemmerle.  So, what is the best remedy?  In a book called Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman, he writes: “…I suggest two (4-foot by 8-foot) cold frames per family…I will make a strong suggestion with respect to layout.  Your cropping area, whatever shape, should be easily divisible.  I want to encourage the small succession plantings that characterize a four-season garden.  They are the best way to maintain a continual supply of vegetables.”  Hemmerle, “I suggest hoop houses and row cloth for protection.”  With the “solar winter”(6 weeks before and after the Winter Solstice), the plants will go dormant and not grow, but they will remain green and harvestable.

Planting raised beds with cold frames or using row cloth to cover small crops seems like the most economical idea for people with small homes and little land.  Apartment dwellers could make a fully enclosed cold frame and have vegetables year-round as well. Erdelrjohn said, “I cannot wait to have my own home because I want to be able to use what I learned in the class to have my own organic and sustainable garden.”

One of the raised beds growing in the hoop house at Gorman Farm (photo by Christina Thompson 2012)

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