Friday, September 5, 2014

School Nutrition and Gardening

Welcome to the new school year! This month I begin my position as a graduate assistant with the John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition at Framingham State University. The John Stalker Institute (JSI) provides information, resources, and workshops for Massachusetts school and child nutrition professionals, to address child nutrition and healthy nutrition environments. Visit the JSI website to learn more about the institute. My work will relate to social media and online communications, and I am looking forward to learning more about school nutrition.

On the topic of school nutrition, I would like to share an infographic that I made and some information that I gathered on school gardening and nutrition, for my Computers in Nutrition Education course that I took last semester. Enjoy!

School Gardening and Nutrition

There are many good reasons to incorporate gardening into the classroom. School gardens are a great way to get children physically active, and to engage student interest while teaching them about science, nutrition, and numerous other topics. In particular, several studies have demonstrated benefits of school gardening in relation to nutrition. For example:
  • In 3rd-5th grade students who participated in gardening activities in Texas, students had an increased preference for vegetables and an increased preference for fruits and vegetables as a snack.
  • Morris and colleagues found that in 1st grade students involved with a school-gardening program, students better identified food-groups and were more willing to taste vegetables.
  • In a study on 4th grade students in California, the students who were involved in garden-based nutrition education had a greater preference for vegetables, including snow peas and zucchini, compared to a control group and a group that only had classroom-based nutrition education. In a six-month follow up, the garden group still had greater preferences for broccoli, zucchini, and snow peas compared to the other groups.
The development of eating habits begins at an early age, and garden-based learning is one effective way to incorporate nutrition education into the classroom and to promote healthy eating habits. For more benefits of school gardening, please see the infographic below (click on the image to enlarge it if needed).


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mochi Waffles

If you have never had mochi, you are missing out. Mochi is a traditional Japanese sticky rice cake, and it is delicious!

Assorted mochi from Mochi Kitchen

Pictured above is an assortment of freshly made mochi from Mochi Kitchen, based in Somerville, MA. Although I have not made my own mochi from scratch before, I have bought pre-made Grainaissance Mochi from Whole Foods.

Brown rice, Grainaissance Mochi
 Just pre-heat the oven to 450°F, and cut the mochi into 1" - 2" squares.

Mochi to be baked
Bake 8-10 minutes until the mochi puffs up, and they're done! Eat the mochi as is, or with sauces.

Baked mochi
When I first heard about mochi waffles from my friend Sean Kushi, who ate them growing up, I could not believe I had not heard about them before. Waffles made out of mochi? Yes, please! Making mochi waffles, or moffles, is easy and quick; and they are gluten-free and tasty.

Luckily, I was already equipped with a waffle maker.

Black & Decker Waffle Maker
Pre-heat the waffle maker, and coat the surfaces with oil. When the waffle iron is ready, put in the mochi, cut to your preferred size.

Mochi in the waffle maker
Cook the mochi for about 4-5 minutes, depending on your waffle maker.

Mochi waffle
And your mochi waffle is ready! Eat moffles with maple syrup, natto, nut butters, or any toppings of your choosing. Savory or sweet toppings can be used, and check out some other topping ideas towards the end of this article from Serious Eats. Enjoy!

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Visit to Vancouver

I had a great time visiting a college friend in Vancouver this past month. Here are some highlights from my trip!

The City of Vancouver is a major tourist destination, and it is very beautiful. Vancouver tends to have a mild climate year-round, with warm summer days, and a rainy winter season. The city is very walkable, and there are bike lanes everywhere. Driving and public transportation are other options to get around Vancouver. In addition, there are many parks all over the city.

Grocery prices in Vancouver are quite high, although I did make some interesting finds, including this marinated cabbage, primed for fermenting.

Marinated, sour cabbage
On my first full day in Vancouver, my friend and I visited Granville Island Public Market. You can get to Granville Island by walking, by public transportation, and by ferry. I enjoyed going to Granville Island Public Market, and I went there twice during my stay. The public market features homemade products and independent food vendors. I had a delicious focaccia from Terra Breads at the public market, and the best chocolate covered mocha beans I've ever had from Bon Mano Bon.

Granville Island Public Market
My friend showed my around Vancouver, and we visited several cultural landmarks, such as the Inukshuk.

We also went to the International Summer Night Market in nearby Richmond, British Columbia, which was a blast!

International Summer Night Market
I found out that Lululemon stores offer complimentary yoga classes once a week, so that is what I did the following morning. For lunch, my friend and I had delicious lunch sets at Kingyo, which offers Japanese cuisine. We both ordered Kingyo's assorted deluxe bento box for lunch (limited to only 10 sets per day). It was amazing.

Kingyo's assorted deluxe bento box
After walking off some of our lunch, we decided to have gelato at Bella Gelateria, which has been voted to have some of the best gelato in the world. Mmmmmm.

Akbar mashti (rosewater, saffron, pistachio, and cream) and black sesame gelato
I also did some explorations of my own. This included renting a bike and biking around Stanley Park, and visiting the Vancouver Aquarium.

Anemones and rockfishes at the Vancouver Aquarium
I stopped by VanDusen Botanical Garden, which originally was a golf course before the site was transformed into a botanical garden and opened to the public in 1975.

VanDusen Botanical Garden
 There are many gorgeous flowers and plants at VanDusen Botanical Garden.

I visited the University of British Columbia (UBC) as well, which has a nice campus.

University of British Columbia
At the University of British Columbia, I went to the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, a natural history museum. At the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, I saw numerous preserved animals and skeletons, and I was lucky to catch the beginning of their Herbarium Project exhibition.

Rattlesnake skeleton
I also went to the Nitobe Memorial Garden at UBC, which is beautiful!

Nitobe Memorial Garden
For my last dinner before I left Vancouver, my friend and I ate at Nuba, which provides Lebanese cuisine.
One course of "La Feast," a vegetarian mezze sampler at Nuba
For dessert, we had donuts from Cartems Donuterie, including a Vegan Earl Grey donut and a Honey Parmesan donut. Yum!

I enjoyed seeing my friend and traveling to Vancouver. It was a relaxing visit, and Vancouver is a great city to explore and to eat delicious food!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Amazaké: Fermenting Rice With a Rice Cooker

The fermentation adventures continue! It has been some time since I first fermented rice a few years ago. Since then, I have learned a few tricks of the trade. Although I have already written about fermenting rice, here I am going to share with you my latest tips and directions on how to make amazaké using a rice cooker.

Amazaké (also spelled amasake) literally means "sweet sake," although it does not contain alcohol. Amazaké is a sweet rice drink, made with rice that is fermented with koji. Koji is cultured grain inoculated with spores of Aspergillus oryzae, which is a fungus (a mold). Koji can be used to ferment other foods besides amazaké, including miso, sake, and rice vinegar. I purchased organic brown rice koji (and a few other goodies!) online from South River Miso, a local company based in Conway, MA.

Brown rice koji, miso tamari, and a miso sampler kit from South River Miso
The koji room at South River Miso, where koji is incubated. This photo was taken when I toured the company in 2012.
Besides being nutritious, amazaké is delicious, and fun and easy to make! Not sure if you like amazaké? You can find amazaké sold at Whole Foods Market if you would like to try it first.  

The Bridge Amasake sold at Whole Foods Market
Here are my latest directions on how to make amazaké using a rice cooker, inspired by South River Miso's amazaké recipe. As with all recipes, you will find different instructions for how to make amazaké if you look at other sources.

Amazaké recipe using a rice cooker

*Please note that this recipe may be scaled proportionally, to make as much or as little amazaké as you would like.

Ingredients and materials:
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1/2 cup brown rice koji
  • 4 cups water, divided (or more if desired)
  • Rice cooker
  • Thermometer (optional)

  1. Cook the rice according to your rice cooker's instructions. I cook 1 cup brown rice with 2 cups of water. Do not add salt.
  2. After the rice is cooked, mix the rice. Add 1 cup of water to the rice and mix this in as well. Check the temperature of the rice. The temperature should be under 140°F. Give the rice time to cool down with the cover removed if necessary.
  3. When the rice has cooled down to under 140°F, mix in the koji.
    • Adding more koji to the ratio will make the amazaké sweeter.
    Brown rice with koji
  4. Keep the rice and koji mixture warm as it ferments. 
    • In the book "Wild Fermentation," Sandor Ellix Katz notes that the rice can ferment at temperatures in-between 90°F - 140°F. However, South River Miso recommends fermenting the rice in-between 115°F - 130°F. The higher the temperature, the faster the rice will ferment.
    • To keep the rice warm, I found it effective to prop the rice cooker cover on top of chopsticks, and to keep the rice cooker on the "keep warm" function. The temperature of the mixture was around 137°F with this method, and this worked out well for me. 
    • Ferment the rice for 5-8 hours or so.
      • If you are fermenting the rice at a lower temperature, you may also ferment the rice overnight or for up to 24 hours. The rice will get sweeter the longer it ferments.
    • It helps to occasionally mix the rice around every hour or so if possible. This helps to prevent the top layer from drying out.
    • During the fermentation process, enzymes secreted by Aspergillus oryzae break down some of the complex carbohydrates in the rice into simple sugars, which is how amazaké becomes sweet. As the rice ferments, it will begin to taste and smell sweet, and it may develop a liquid consistency.
      Keeping the ferment warm with the "keep warm" function
  5. When the rice tastes to your liking, add and mix in 1 cup water (or more if desired) to the fermented rice. Turn the rice cooker on the "cook" function for around 15 minutes, with the cover removed. Mix the rice constantly to prevent it from sticking to the bottom. Heating up the rice at a higher temperature with the "cook" function will stop the fermentation process, preventing the sugars from eventually turning into alcohol. 
    Fermented rice - amazaké
  6. Enjoy amazaké hot or cold. Amazaké can be stored in the refrigerator, and should keep for at least two weeks or more. My amazaké usually turns out thick like porridge. However, you will often see amazaké served as a beverage. If your amazaké is not thin enough to serve as a drink, water or any type of vegan "milk" can be added to it, and blended to create a drink. Amazaké can also be used as a sweetener substitute.

    Amazaké blended with almond milk and coconut milk
Amazaké with coconut milk, almonds, candied ginger, and cinnamon
  • Try fermenting other grains with koji, such as millet.

Interested in fermentation beyond amazaké? Stay tuned to Boston Ferments if you live in the Boston area, and mark your calendars for the next Boston Fermentation Festival on September 27, 2014!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fermenting Kimchi

After attending the Boston Fermentation Festival last September, I've had fermentation fever! Benefits of fermented foods abound. Fermented foods provide beneficial bacteria, preserve and sometimes enhance the nutrients in foods, and more.

Lately I have enjoyed making (and eating) kimchi. Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean vegetable dish, often made with napa cabbage and red pepper. One great aspect about homemade kimchi is that you can make it exactly how you like it. Kimchi is also rather easy to make, once you get the hang of it. Here is the kimchi recipe that I have been using recently, from the book Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin. (A book that I contributed writing to!) This is an abbreviated version of Lewin's kimchi recipe, with my minor modifications. More details on making kimchi can be found in Real Food Fermentation.

The fermentation literature, and
Napa Trilogy Kimchi by Benjamin Green and Sean Kushi
(Photo courtesy of Sean Kushi)
Kimchi Recipe

Yield: Approximately 1 quart, or 2 pounds

Prep time: 10 minutes + overnight + 20 minutes

Total time: 5 days

Ingredients and equipment:
  • 1/3 cup coarse salt
  • 2 cups nonchlorinated water
  • 2 pounds vegetables: napa cabbage, plus optional mustard greens, bok choy, daikon, etc.
  • 1/2 head garlic
  • 1 large or 2 small onions
  • 1 piece (1/2 inch, or 13 mm) ginger root
  • Up to 1/2 cup Korean red pepper powder, chopped or ground red peppers, or pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)
  • a few scallions or a length of Korean "long onion" (which is, more or less, a mature scallion)
  • 2 pint wide-mouth mason jars

  1. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the salt in the water to make a brine.
  2. Cut up any or all of the 2 pounds of vegetables. Quarter the leafy bunches of vegetables, or cut them into 1-inch square pieces. Slice the cabbage core and include as much or as little as you like. Peel the root vegetables, and cut them into thin diagonal slices, 1 inch or so long. 
    Kimchi vegetables, ready to be brined
  3. Put the cut vegetables into the brine and mix, using clean hands. The brine makes the vegetables more malleable. Cover the bowl to keep it free of foreign objects. After 6 hours or so (or overnight), drain the vegetables thoroughly in a colander. Taste them. They should be salty, but not unpleasantly so. If they are unpleasantly salty, rinse them or soak them in fresh nonchlorinated water, taste them again, and repeat until you are satisfied. Set them aside. 
  4. Peel the garlic and the onions. Peel the ginger (the edge of a spoon works nicely).
  5. Blend the onions, garlic, and ginger in a food processor, adding enough water to allow them to blend. (Or mix them with a mortar and pestle, or chop them finely with a knife).
  6. Add the red pepper, sugar, and fish sauce, if using, to the combination from step 5, adding just enough water to keep things blending into a paste.  
  7. Making the red pepper paste
    (Photo courtesy of Sean Kushi)
  8. Cut the scallions diagonally into 1-inch lengths, add them to the paste, and mix the paste with a wooden spoon.
  9. Move the drained vegetables into a large bowl, and mix them with the seasoning paste using the spoon. Taste the kimchi. If it is not salty enough, add more salt now and stir. 
  10. Kimchi vegetables with the red pepper paste
  11. Pack the kimchi tightly into the Mason jars, leaving 1 inch of space at the top. Try to pack it down well enough to squeeze out most of the air bubbles along the side of the jar. Close the jar. 
  12. Leave the jar on the counter at room temperature for a few days. Taste it every day or two. It should start to taste a bit "wild." When you like the way it tastes, put it in a cool cellar or a refrigerator to store, or bury it in the ground. The cooler the temperature, the slower the subsequent fermentation.
My tips:
  • As a warning, kimchi is especially smelly as it ferments! You may want to ferment your kimchi in a cupboard if you have the space to.
  • The vegetables will shrink as they soak in the brine. I would not recommend adding more salt brine than what is listed in the recipe. Otherwise, the kimchi may turn out too salty.
  • Make the red pepper paste according to taste. For example, I do not like my red pepper paste too oniony, so I use less onion than called for in the recipe.
Enjoy kimchi with rice or noodles, or check out some of these kimchi serving suggestions from Serious Eats.

Happy fermenting!

Tastes of Summer Kimchi
Featuring vegetables from Waltham Fields Community Farm