By: Leanne Ely
I just love this time of year when those tender green leaves start shooting from the earth. There’s nothing like walking out to the garden with a pair of scissors and bringing in everything you need to make a fabulous salad for dinner.
If you’ve made the decision to plant your own organic vegetable garden this spring, I truly applaud you! If you have children, they are learning an unbelievably valuable lesson by seeing how much work it takes to get a tiny seed to grow into an edible plant.
Believe it or not, gardening isn’t as hard as you might think. Once you have a couple of basics under your belt, it really isn’t very hard. It takes a lot of work to tend to your garden, I won’t lie to you, but it’s well worth the effort (scout’s honor!).
Plus, growing your own organic vegetables is also a very economical way to feed your family the absolute highest quality food that you can and stretch your grocery dollar.
Here are the basic tricks and tips you need to start your own organic garden.
1. Gather your tools. You’re going to need a hoe, a pitch fork, a spade, a weeding tool and a trowel in order to plant your garden. You’ll also need a watering can and supplies to build a frame if you are going to do a raised bed rather than digging up the earth.
2. Buy organic seeds. Make sure you have a good quality source for organic seeds. This is especially important when it comes to corn, beets, soy beans, zucchini, yellow squash and alfalfa, which are some of the crops that are legally allowed to be genetically modified in the United States.
3. Start in organic soil. If you’re starting some of your seeds indoors (which should be done for herbs and some crops like tomatoes, peppers and leeks), use an organic starting mix to get the best start possible for your seeds. (Your seed packets will tell you which plants need to be started early.)
4. Make a bed. Three weeks before you’re ready to put your seeds in the ground, you’ll want to make your garden bed. The soil should be good and workable. The earth should be dry enough that it crumbles in your hand rather than clumps together. Dig your garden patch about 12 inches deep. Remove stones and weeds. Rake the soil on a regular basis over the next three weeks—this will help any weeds that want to make their way up do so before you plant your seeds. If you don’t want to dig a bed, you can make a raised garden. Measure the area of land you want to dedicate to your garden and put a layer of newspaper or cardboard down to prevent weeds from coming through the grass. Build a simple frame about 12 inches high around your garden, and fill that with soil.
5. Add compost. Add a good layer of organic compost to the top of your garden and rake it into the soil. You can buy organic compost from a local organic farmer, purchase it from a garden store or make your own out of kitchen scraps,. Compost acts as a natural fertilizer, and it’s very beneficial for the soil.
6. Grid or rows. Decide if you want to plant in trench style (which requires a hoe to make long furrows to plant in) or in a grid pattern. There’s no rule here. You can be as organized as you want to be.
7. Add water. Lightly moisten the soil before you plant your seeds. You don’t want the seeds to get swamped with water.
8. Plant. Read your seed packets to find out how to space your seeds and how deep to plant. Cover the seeds with a small amount of soil.
Until your seeds sprout, sprinkle water over the surface of your garden whenever it looks dry. A spray bottle is great for this, or a watering can will work but remember to only add a small amount of water.
Gardening vegetables is so rewarding and such a great thing to do with the kids. There’s something very primal about eating food you’ve grown with your very own hands.
Our New Dinner Answers will help you use all your produce, wherever it came from! Click here to read more!
By Leanne Ely
I just love the sweet, tart flavor of a juicy ripe cherry. But really, who doesn’t? Cherries are not only delicious, these delicate little fruits are also very healthy. If you suffer from gout pain, you probably already know that cherries can help prevent flareups but there’s much more to cherries than that.
Cherries are known to reduce inflammation in the body and if you eat them on a regular basis, you’ll find they can also help reduce muscle pain. Some studies have actually shown that eating cherries on a daily basis is similar to regularly taking ibuprofen.
Cherries are also a good source of vitamin A, E and C, and they’re a yummy way to get your fiber into you.
Tart cherries are available year round, and I use them frequently in savory dishes. During the summer when sweet cherries (also known as dark cherries) are in season, I am constantly snacking on them and tossing them into salads.
So what else is there to know about cherries?
It’s time for your Trick:
Cherries bruise easily and they are very perishable. Cherries will only stay fresh in the fridge for a few days so eat them shortly after bringing them home.
And your Tip:
When shopping for cherries, look for fruit with the stem still attached. The stem should be nice and green and not wilted. A fresh looking stem is a sign that the fruit was picked recently.
And your Recipe:
Sweet and Tangy Cherry Baked Turkey Strips
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 pound boneless skinless turkey breast meat, cut into 1-inch strips
1/2 pound black cherries, pitted and chopped (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped basil leaves
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic; cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender-crisp. Add turkey, cherries, broth, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar; blend well. Bring mixture to a slow boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully remove skillet lid and stir in basil; cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Meanwhile, in a cup, combine cornstarch and water; stir into sauce and cook just until thickened. Serve immediately.
I adore cherries and one of my favorite ways to enjoy them is turning them into epic smoothies! Here’s my favorite Chocolate Cherry Smoothie recipe!
By: Leanne Ely
Happy Tuesday, Y’all!
It’s time once again for Tricks, Tips and a Recipe. Today you’ll learn a tip, a trick and you’ll get a great recipe to try it out with. Neat, huh?
Today’s focus is on: COCONUT MILK
There are a lot of producers of coconut milk making it easy to pick up this delicious drink at the grocery store. Easy to swap dairy milk for coconut milk, it’s always in my blender in the mornings, making my breakfast in a glass smoothie!
Coconut milk is rich in MCT (medium chain triglycerides) which gets used for fuel and is not stored as fat and satiates, keeping you full. Coconut milk is also rich zinc (think pretty skin), potassium (helps normalize blood pressure) and selenium (may decrease joint inflammation).
After all that, I know you’re going to want to keep some in your fridge!
Here’s a TRICK:
Slip a little coconut milk in your cooking (fabulous with curries!) the antimicrobial nature of the coconut milk will help keep the cooties at bay!
And a TIP:
You can buy coconut milk in the can or the dairy case. My recommendation is go with the fresh stuff (So Delicious and Silk both make it, as does Trader Joe’s if you’re fortunate to live near one). Not only is it cheaper this way, but it’s fresher, too.
And your RECIPE:
Lemon Infused Crab Cakes
16 ounces crab meat
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup almond flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground mustard seed
1/8 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 large egg
To Assemble: In a large mixing bowl, mix all ingredients together.
On a large sheet of plastic wrap, take crab meat mixture and pat into patties. Wrap each crab cake individually.
In a 1 gallon freezer bag, add wrapped crab cakes.
Seal bag, squeezing out excess air.
To prevent freezer burn, place the filled bag in a second 1-gallon freezer bag; carefully squeeze the bag to force out any air, then seal. On the outside of the bag, label with the recipe name and date of preparation; place it in the freezer.
Defrost your freezer meal the night before in the fridge. If you don’t have a full thaw at cooking time, remove it from the holding bags and place it in a sink of water to speed-thaw your food. New rules allow for thawing in hot water (100 degrees) with no issues regarding quality or safety (old rules said to use cold water for thawing, but this is no longer necessary – hot water is fast, effective and safe).
At time of cooking ingredients:
2 teaspoons olive oil
Cooking Instructions: In a large skillet, heat oil over medium and add crab cakes. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until brown on the outside and cooked through on the inside. Serve warm.
If you want more fabulous recipes like this one (which is from our current Freezer Menu), click here!
By: Leanne Ely
As far as I’m concerned, basic kitchen skills are every bit as important to teach our children as are basic hygiene skills. We brush our teeth and wash our hands multiple times every day of our lives, and we also have to eat multiple times a day, every day of our lives. So, why is it that we don’t seem to put an emphasis on teaching our children basic kitchen skills at an early age?
My children were up at the counter helping me with age-appropriate tasks right from the time they were in diapers. I never had to worry that they wouldn’t know how to put a meal on the table when they were out on their own!
If you are among the thousands of folks who love our Saving Dinner freezer menus, I hope you’re using your prep as a teaching opportunity.
The way our freezer menus work (in case you’re not familiar) is that you do all of your prep at once so that you can cook your meals fresh from the freezer on those nights when you’re frazzled and tempted to order takeout.
Not only are these freezer menus a real life saver and an essential tool in the kitchen, in my opinion, but they are also an ideal way to get the kids involved in dinner prep. Depending on the age of the child, this could give you a bit of help and we all know that when kids have a hand in the meal, they are much more likely to eat it! If you’re tempted to chase the younger kids out of the kitchen because it creates more work, remind yourself that the teaching opportunity is worth it!
The following are the ways you can involve your children in freezer meal prep:
Have the kids help with the grocery list. Meal planning and grocery shopping are essential skills! Our freezer meals come with shopping lists, so go over them with your child before you head out to the market. Have them help you determine which items you already have on hand. When you’re at the store, show them why you’re choosing those darker avocados over the light green ones. Explain best before dates and why you buy certain items in bulk. Talk about budgeting and why you buy certain items frozen rather than fresh. Grocery shopping is a giant teaching opportunity, so don’t leave the kids home—take them along!
Make your child the sous chef. When you get home and are ready to do the meal assembly prep, while you handle the protein, let the kids set up the produce required for the recipes. Depending on age, this might be simple stuff like passing you two onions or selecting the right spices from the cupboard. If your children are of chopping age, let them do some of that prep while you supervise. If they aren’t old enough to master knife skills, they can stir spice mixes and help place the assembled meal into the plastic bag, sealing it for the freezer.
Have them do the labeling. Hand your child the marker and ask them to label and date the bag for you.
When it’s time to take that meal out of the freezer and cook it, get junior back in the kitchen! Go over the cooking ingredients together and see what you need to get from the store and what you have on hand. Not only does this teach cooking skills, but it also helps with literacy and math skills.
Then, show the kids how you safely thaw the meal (in a bowl of cold water), and let them help you prepare the side dish you’ll be serving alongside the meal. Kids are great at making salads!
If you have multiple children, put someone in charge of setting the table, someone in charge of clearing it, and make sure to enlist help with the dishes—preferably someone who didn’t help with the cooking!
I am so passionate about getting the family around the table together, and having everyone pitch in at dinner table is a fabulous way to let everyone have a stake in the meal you’ll be enjoying.
PS–We just released our first BRAND NEW Freezer Meals of the year! 6 amazing new menus and we have them on sale for over half off this week! Click here to learn more
By: Leanne Ely
In an earlier blog post, I talked about the importance of honeybees, so naturally I wanted to feature honey in today’s post. After reading this article, you’ll have a great trick, a new tip and a fabulous recipe featuring my favorite sweetener—honey!
(Now, in case you didn’t read that article, I strongly recommend you do that. You can find it here.)
Honey is one of the few sweeteners in the world that actually has huge health benefits. Honey is antifungal, antiviral and antimicrobial. That’s because bees produce a substance called propolis to fix cracks in the hive and to keep their home secure. It’s basically like bee caulking. This propolis is deposited into the honey and we reap the benefits when we eat it. Cool, huh?
Besides being delicious, honey also contains phytonutrients which protect against cancer.
Now for your Trick:
Watch out for “honey blend” products you see in the grocery stores. That is not pure honey and often contains high fructose corn syrup! These manufacturers are required by law to label their product as a “blend” so watch for that word. Best bet is to buy local honey when at all possible.
There’s another reason why you should eat local honey and you’ll learn that in your…
A teaspoon of local honey each day may help keep allergies away. When you eat local honey, the pollens that upset your allergies end up in the honey you eat. Rather than making you sick, this actually inoculates you, almost vaccinating you against local allergens. This worked miracles for me, but your mileage may vary. If you can’t find local honey, go to http://www.honey.com/honey-locator/
And your Recipe:
Cabbage and Sausage Stir-Fry
1 pound pork sausage meat
1 small onion, sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons raw honey
2 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups chopped kale
In a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid, cook sausage meat over medium heat for 10 minutes or until browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.
Discard all but 1 tablespoon of drippings from the skillet and reduce heat to low. Add next 5 ingredients (onion through honey); cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add cabbage and kale; cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add cooked sausage meat; blend well then heat through; serve warm.
By: Leanne Ely
You hear all the time that you should eat your fruits and vegetables. That they contain important minerals and vitamins essential for good health. So, you probably feel that you’re doing something good when you sit down to your daily salad and whatever other vegetables you can cram into yourself and/or your family members. And you are. Don’t get me wrong! But you might be surprised to know how nutritionally deficient much of the produce we have available to us really is today.
According to the American Food Pyramid, adults need roughly 3 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day for optimal health. But I personally feel that this number should be higher because I don’t believe that a couple cups of today’s produce can provide us with all of the minerals we need.
One study conducted by a research team out of the University of Texas discovered that six out of thirteen nutrients in a sampling of 43 different fruits and vegetables were significantly depleted between 1950 and 2000.
In 1950, broccoli contained an average of 12.9 milligrams of calcium per gram, but in 2003, broccoli was shown to contain only 4.4 milligrams of calcium.
The soil is depleted. Farm lands have become severely depleted of minerals. Even many organic farms have soil that has been over farmed to the point where the food that’s grown in that dirt is not as nutritionally dense as you might expect it to be.
The soil simply isn’t healthy anymore. With the GMOs, the pesticides and fungicides . . . we’re lucky if the fruits and vegetables that get harvested today have any nutrition in them at all by the time they get put on store shelves.
But there’s another thing.
Travel Time. Produce loses nutritional value at a steady rate after it’s been harvested. When you’re eating fruits and vegetables that have been shipped from across the country, how much nutritional value do you suppose it has by the time it reaches your table?
So how do you get all of the nutrition you need?
Here are a couple of ideas for you.
• Eat a lot of organically grown fruits and vegetables and consider supplementing with a daily multivitamin.
• Start growing your own food and ensure that the soil you use is properly nourished with organic compost matter and safe fertilizers.
• Preserve the nutrients that are in your produce by cooking them properly. Heat can destroy 30% or more of the nutrients in raw fruits and vegetables so don’t overcook them. Steam or saute your vegetables to prevent nutrient loss or, better yet, enjoy your produce raw. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule. When you cook spinach, tomatoes and carrots (not overcooked into a pile of mush, mind you), you actually increase the amount of available antioxidants found in the foods in their raw state.
• Choose fresh or frozen over canned. Canned food has little nutritional value left after all of the processing it has undergone to get to you. Frozen food, however, is generally frozen immediately after being picked and it is possibly more nutritious than the food you get fresh at the grocery store if it’s been shipped to you from half way around the world, being exposed to all kinds of heat, light, air and who knows what!
So what’s the moral of the story?
Even if you think you’re eating enough produce, chances are you’re not. I’ve written articles in the past that will help you get more veggies into your diet. This might be a good time to reflect on one such article! Read it here.