Sunday, October 23, 2022

From Seed to Table

In my previous position as Assistant Food Service Director for Hingham Public Schools, I had the wonderful opportunity to lead the Hingham High School Farm to School team. One of my responsibilities in that role was to grow lettuce for the high school cafeteria lunches!

At the high school, we grew lettuce with the EvanLEE Organics' Grow Towers, which are indoor growing racks. We had grow towers in the cafeteria kitchen, classrooms, and even the high school greenhouse.

The grow towers use a terraponic system. In this system, plant trays are planted with soil and seeds as usual, but instead of watering the soil directly, water is added to the water pan that the trays rest in. Holes in the bottom of the planted trays allow the soil and plants to take up water as needed.

Students and staff helped to plant, maintain, harvest, and serve the greens that we grew. The lettuce was offered in the high school cafeteria lunches and donated to the Hingham Food Pantry. I enjoyed working with the community to offer fresh, delicious, and nutritious meals. In the 2019-2020 school year, we served over 150 pounds of our own organically grown lettuce!

To learn more about the EvanLEE Organics' Grow System at Hingham High School, please watch this video.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Inspiring Reads

I am very excited to be working at the Wellesley, Dedham, and Westwood Public Libraries! Lately I have been reading inspirational books, and I have found them to be so hopeful, thought-provoking, and motivational that I wanted to share some with you.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams 

How do you find joy in life with the difficulties we face everyday and all of the suffering in the world? Spiritual leaders Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama meet for a week in Dharamsala, India, to discuss how they live joyful lives through their different practices, and how you can do it yourself. 

Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh shares his stories and wisdom, to teach us how to increase our awareness and find peace in every moment even during stressful times.

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times
by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams

It is not easy to feel hopeful with the global climate crisis that is affecting humans, animals, and the environment. Through Jane Goodall's experiences and conversations with Douglas Abrams, discover more about hope, Jane's four reasons for hope, and Jane's thoughts on how we can live in harmony with nature.

The Gift of Anger: And Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi
by Arun Gandhi

Arun Gandhi recounts living with his renown grandfather, Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi for two years, when he was just twelve years old. Each chapter provides a different lesson on how to live peacefully and create positive change in the world.

Happy Reading!

Friday, February 25, 2022

Fermentation: Make Your Own Sauerkraut!

If you are interested in making your own fermented foods and don't know where to start, sauerkraut is a great first project. It's very easy and requires only two ingredients: cabbage and salt. Here I will share with you how to make your very own sauerkraut!

Sauerkraut Recipe

Ingredients and materials
  • Cabbage, shredded (1 pound per pint jar)
  • Sea salt or Himalayan salt (2 teaspoons per pound of cabbage)
    • Please note: do not use iodized salt
  • Glass jars (for example, wide mouth 1-pint mason jars)

  1. Add the shredded cabbage and 2 teaspoons salt per pound of cabbage in a mixing bowl.
  2. Mix and knead the mixture until the cabbage releases its juices.
  3. Tightly pack the mixture into clean glass jars and leave at least an inch of headroom at the top.
  4. Cover the jar(s) loosely and place in an undisturbed, dark spot if possible.
  5. Press the sauerkraut down once a day, so that the liquid rises above the top of the kraut. 
  6. Let the cabbage ferment for 4-5 days, then taste the kraut. If you like the taste, store the sauerkraut in the fridge. Otherwise, continue to ferment for as long as you would like. The sauerkraut can be stored in the fridge for many months.
    • Tip: I usually like to ferment my sauerkraut for about a week, because the liquid in the sauerkraut tends to evaporate off over time, and the cabbage should be submerged in liquid during fermentation. But adjust the fermentation time depending on your personal preference, the environment, and your experience.
  7. Enjoy the sauerkraut when it's done!
  • Add Color: Try combinations of white and purple cabbage, or add some other root vegetables, such as carrots, beets, turnips, etc.
  • Add Spices: Caraway, anise, and fennel are all good candidates. Add 1 teaspoon per pound of cabbage, or more or less according to taste.
Sauerkraut made with green cabbage (top jars) and red cabbage, carrots, and caraway (jars below and to the right)

Fermented foods may provide health benefits, such as boosting the immune system, decreasing inflammation, and more.

Looking for more fermentation projects? Check out the book Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin, which has just been released with a revised and expanded second edition. Learning how to make sauerkraut from Alex at a Slow Food BU workshop in 2009 was how I first got inspired to make it on my own at home! The book covers how to ferment foods and beverages of all kinds, with beautifully illustrated step by step photos. And if you enjoy the fermented tea kombucha, don't forget to read my contribution in the book with tips on the kombucha "mother," which is also known as a SCOBY, or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.

Happy Fermenting!

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Bread Baking

What's better than a homemade loaf of bread? Here I will share with you three bread recipes that I love to make.

First is one of the most recent bread recipes that I learned about. It's a homemade Italian bread, that produces a soft and fluffy loaf. It doesn't require kneading and takes only a little over 2 hours to make, so it's a great recipe when you're short on time! Find the recipe here from Amanda's Cookin'

Homemade Italian Bread

Next is Cook's Illustrated Almost No-Knead Bread. It involves very little kneading, but it does require some planning ahead, with a first rise of 8-18 hours and a second rise of 2 hours. The bread is cooked in a dutch oven, initially with the lid on, and then cooked for the last 10-15 minutes with the lid off. It makes a loaf with a very crunchy crust, which is delicious! Learn how to make the Almost No-Knead Bread here. Pictured below is the white flour recipe, which is the one I usually make. 

Almost No-Knead Bread

Finally there is my fiancé's great-grandmother's bread recipe. This recipe uses a traditional hand kneading method, with a first rise of 1.5 hours and a second rise of 1.5 hours. The recipe yields three, traditional white bread loaves. We made this bread for my fiancé's grandmother a few weeks ago when we celebrated her 101st birthday, and she loves to eat this bread that she used to make when she was younger! The recipe is below. Since cake yeast isn't readily available, I substitute the 1 cake yeast with 2 tablespoons and 3/4 teaspoons dry yeast. 

Great-Grandmother's White Bread

Great-Grandma's White Bread Recipe

Grandma's 101st Birthday!

I hope these recipes have inspired you to go and bake some bread! :)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Cranberry Bog and Nature Trail at Patriot Place

Hidden behind Patriot Place is a hidden Ocean Spray Cranberry Bog and Nature Trail! This 7-acre bog is the last active cranberry bog in Foxborough, MA.

Fun cranberry facts
  • Did you know that cranberries are one of the few fruits originally native to North America?
  • Cranberries do not grow in water. They grow on vines, and air pockets inside fresh cranberries allow them to float on water.
  • Cranberries may be dry or wet harvested in the fall. In the dry harvest method, a mechanical picker harvests the cranberries from the vines. With the wet harvest method, cranberry bogs are flooded with water, and water reels mix the water loosening the berries from the vines. The cranberries can then be gathered together, because they float on water.
  • Only around 5% of cranberries are sold fresh while the other 95% are sold as cranberry sauce, juice, dried cranberries, and more.
  • Around 400 million pounds of cranberries are consumed by Americans a year! Almost 80 million of these pounds are eaten during the week of Thanksgiving.
  • There are numerous health benefits associated with eating cranberries. They contain antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, including vitamin C. Cranberry consumption may also reduce the risk of developing urinary tract infections.

Learn more about cranberries and the bog when you walk along the 1/2 mile trail at Patriot Place. It's open from dawn to dusk, 7 days per week, at 1 Bass Pro Drive, Foxborough, MA.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Mindfulness at MorningSun

This past July my fiancé and I went on a Treasure of Life Mindfulness Retreat at MorningSun Mindfulness Center in the Plum Village tradition. Plum Village is a Buddhist monastery in France founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay). The goal of the Plum Village community is to create "a healthy, nourishing environment where people can learn the art of living in harmony with one another and with the Earth."

Likewise, the MorningSun community in New Hampshire strives "to be a resource for people working to create a better world by sharing practices that can build peace, and develop vital and thriving relationships between individuals, families, organizations and the Earth." MorningSun was co-founded by Fern Dorresteyn and Michael Ciborski, who lived and trained at the Plum Village monastery for nine years.

The four day retreat was busy, with activities beginning at 7 am and ending at 9 pm. We had daily Dharma talks to learn more about the Plum Village tradition and ways to practice mindfulness, being aware and present in the moment. There were multiple opportunities for meditation everyday, including sitting meditation, working meditation, and walking meditation. The bell of mindfulness notified us when the next activity was going to start, but it was also used as a reminder for everyone to stop what they were currently doing, be aware of our breathing, and take the moment to relax and be mindful. From 9 pm until after breakfast the following morning, we had periods of noble silence to cultivate mindfulness, awareness, and to wind down at the end of the day.

One of the enriching aspects of this retreat was that it was an all ages retreat. There was a separate children's program for certain periods, and other times the entire community practiced together. Tasty vegan and vegetarian meals were prepared and shared with the MorningSun community, and we often ate at the picnic tables by Blueberry Pond.

Blueberry Pond
If you are interested in learning more about MorningSun Mindfulness Center and Plum Village, visit their websites. Other mindfulness centers and resources in the Plum Village tradition can be found on the Other Resources page!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

19th Annual Harvard Nutrition and Obesity Symposium: Sugar

The 19th Annual Harvard Nutrition and Obesity Symposium was held on July 11th and 12th. This year’s topic was Sugar: Epidemiologic, Physiologic, and Policy Considerations of the Sugar Epidemic.

The 19th Annual Harvard Nutrition and Obesity Symposium: Sugar
According to research from the National Cancer Institute, Americans consume around 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day, with ~50% of added sugar coming from beverages. Because sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugar in the American diet, many studies have delved into this topic. Increased intake of sugary beverages has been associated with negative health effects, such as weight gain, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, gout, and tooth decay. Higher intake of sugary beverages has also been associated with decreased student academic performance, including the areas of grammar, reading, writing, and math.

To address some of the negative effects of sugar, a number of cities in the U.S. and other countries have added soda/sugar sweetened beverage taxes to discourage their purchase. Some have even taken it a step further, with junk food taxes added in Mexico and Hungary. Meanwhile, Chile is taking an impressive and large-scale approach to confront the obesity epidemic. High sugar beverages have a hefty 18% tax. Warning labels are put on the front of food and beverage packages with added sugars, sodium, saturated fats, or calories that surpass certain thresholds. Restrictions are placed on child marketing. In addition, there is a total advertising ban on all TV and cinema from 6 am – 10 am, with warning messages on TV outside of this time. 

Funds raised from sugar sweetened beverage taxes and similar taxes may be used for public health initiatives, such as supporting nutrition and physical activities in schools. Benefits of these taxes can include decreased consumption of unhealthy foods, decreased rates of overweight and obesity leading to healthcare cost savings, decreased mortality rates, increased number of quality of life years, and increased years of life for individuals.

Conflicting results have been found regarding whether low/zero calorie sweeteners are better or not compared to caloric sweeteners. Dr. Richard Mattes suggested that rather than lumping  sweeteners into a category, each type of sweetener presents a unique metabolic challenge. Taste receptors are located all over the body, and the signaling cascades they initiate vary depending on the sweetener type and where it binds to in the body. Dr. Eran Elinav noted how the human microbiome varies according to the individual, and how consumption of the same food or beverage has different effects on different people.

Overall, the fewer added sweeteners you consume, the better it is for your health. Different guidelines exist for recommended limitations on added sugar intake. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests limiting added sugars to less than 10% of total caloric intake. The American Heart Association recommends an intake of no more than half of one’s daily discretionary calories to come from added sugar. For most women, that's approximately 6 teaspoons per day, or 100 calories from sugar. For men, it's about 9 teaspoons per day, or 150 calories. While it may be difficult to determine the amount of added sugars in your foods and beverages, changes are coming to nutrition facts labels. Added sugars are scheduled to be declared on nutrition facts labels by 2020 for large manufacturers and by 2021 for small companies. Some manufacturers have already begun updating their nutrition facts labels!

The New Nutrition Facts Label