Week 2 of October Unprocessed

Just a quick taste of what’s coming up this week…
Whole wheat apple pecan muffins
Mushroom fried rice
Roasted carrot soup
Wheat berry salad w/ spinach, chickpeas & feta

Maybe even something sweet but I’ve had far too many cookies lately! On that note, I’m headed to the gym. Photos & recipes to come soon…

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No Artificial Flavors

So far, this whole October Unprocessed thing is a breeze. It probably helps that I didn’t really have to make many changes. In any case, I think what I eat on a day to day basis just goes to show that it’s not hard to eat healthfully, deliciously and wholesomely. Even avoiding processed foods on a budget.

So the Boston Local Food Festival was freaking spectacular. I was overwhelmed in the best way possible: by unthinkable amounts of deliciousness. I ate shredded chicken gorditas with pumpkin mole sauce and pepitas, pork belly sandwich with something pickled on it (don’t recall), a mini tart filled with pumpkin jam (!) and free samples of every variety, including butternut squash bread, fresh goat cheese, and handmade white chocolate with pink peppercorns and sea salt (out of this world). I came home with a beautiful bunch of swiss chard, a “mini CSA box” (great concept), a pumpkin cake slice with marscapone and pepitas, and chocolate-raspberry jam…

Now, what I’m going to do with two lil potatoes, a lone tomatillo, a single kale leaf, a couple of baby beets (and some purple garlic/onion/what is that?) is a mystery and will take some creativity. I’m open to suggestions!

Confession: I love cool, drizzly fall days. Even thunderstorms and feet of snow. As long as I can stay inside, I am perfectly content with the weather being a mess outside. I savor long rainy Sundays as an opportunity to cook, read, drink a glass or two of wine, and seriously relax. It also forced me into cleaning, which was not fun, but overdue. So I woke up, made a pot of coffee to enjoy with my pumpkin-marscapone cake (too full to eat it at the festival) and promptly set about baking cookies. Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip-Pecan cookies with a perfect chew, to be precise.

But my real goal for the day was to make a pot of homemade soup, which I admit I haven’t done in a while. And it’s one of my favorite things to do, especially on a lovely grey fall afternoon. Since I took up soup making about a year ago, I can’t remember eating soup from a can a single time. It’s one thing that is always better homemade, and that anyone can learn to do. Once you start, you’ll never look back. When I first got into making soup, I followed recipes strictly and with caution, feeling that it was a complex magical formula I’d dare not toy with. But I’m rarely one to follow recipes, and now that I’ve got the hang of souping, there’s nothing holding me back. This recipe is my very first soup to invent all on my own. Rustic and wholesome, it is hearty, comforting and highly nutritious. Very much of the season.

Pumpkin-Swiss Chard-Cannellini Soup

2 (14 oz) cans pumpkin puree
1 qt. veg or chicken stock (read the label)
1 medium or large sweet potato, cubed 1/2″
1 sweet onion, diced
1-2 carrots, thinly sliced,
1-2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 (14) oz can of cannellini beans (navy beans or chickpeas if you can’t find them)
1 hefty bunch of fresh chard, sliced crosswise into 1 1/2″ strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
Butter
Olive oil
Handful fresh thyme, sage, or both
Dried rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
1/3 c. milk, 1/2 and 1/2 or cream, optional
1/2 c. toasted pecans, chopped, optional

  1. Heat your oven to 425. Toss cubed sweet potato with a splash of olive oil and a generous seasoning of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Roast just long enough to get medium-soft, about 15 minutes.
  2. While your potatoes are cooking, bring a large stockpot of water to a boil, and stir in the swiss chard. Simmer for about 8 minutes, drain and rinse your pot.
  3. In the bottom of the stock pot, melt 3 or so Tbsp butter and a glug of olive oil. Add the onion, carrots and celery and stir to coat. Unless you’ve bothered to strip the thyme leaves from the stems, which I did not, simply place the bundle of thyme on top so you can later discard it. If you have the sage, give it a fine chop and toss it in with the aromatics. Go ahead and add the dry rosemary, too.
  4. Let the aromatic veg cook down until soft and fragrant and golden. Remember to keep an eye on the potatoes and set them aside when they are soft, but not mush.
  5. Remove the thyme and stir in the garlic. Allow to cook for 1-2 minutes until your whole kitchen smells beautiful. Then add both cans of pumpkin, sweet potatoes and the broth and stir until it’s all well incorporated. Season with an initial dash of nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon. Cover and let simmer, with an occasional stir, for about 20 minutes.
  6. Swirl in the cream, if using. Taste your soup and adjust the seasonings. I found I used more nutmeg than the other spices, but didn’t measure a thing, so follow your instincts (cautiously) and add more of each as necessary. Puree the soup with an immersion blender, if you have one. If not, you can choose to puree in batches in a food processor or upright blender, or you can keep it chunky.
  7. Finally, stir in the beans and chard and allow to simmer another 5 minutes until warmed through. Taste and season for salt and pepper. I found it was better with a pinch of sugar, too.
  8. Serve with a sprinkle of crushed toasted pecans, if so desired. A fall salad with pears and goat cheese would be lovely. I enjoyed it with a simple slice of multigrain pullman.

Change is in the air…

Gotta love fall (and I admit, I love it more than most). This fall brings more than changing leaves and winds, but changing lives. I’ve never had a more bittersweet taste in my mouth. HerbanFlavor is now taking a new direction: the exciting news is, we’ll be covering two cities: DC and Boston. The other side of that coin is that we’re now 500 miles apart. Which is hard, to say the least. But there is cooking, eating, and exploring to do, so onward we march.

I (Lindsay) have just started a new job (with the food justice focus I’ve dreamed of) in Boston and relocated less than a month ago. I’m now the Coordinator of the Campus Kitchen at the University of Massachusetts Boston. We are part of the national network of The Campus Kitchens Project, which engages student volunteers in the fight against hunger. In a nutshell, we salvage unused food from the dining halls and other sources, and make it into healthy meals for hungry kids in our community. For more on that, you can follow our Blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Anyway, this post is really about a great initiative by the website EatingRules. It’s called October Unprocessed, and it’s web-wide call to action for all of us who care about food, nutrition, public health, the environment and forging a better food system. For some of you, spending a month eating only unprocessed foods sounds like an impossible challenge; for others, it seems only natural. I think above all, the point is to make us think about what we put into our bodies and the impact that has beyond ourselves.

I’ve taken the October Unprocessed challenge – will you consider it? If you think a month is too much, do it for a week. If you think a month is too easy, try a year. You don’t have to be extremely strict – in the end, it’s about what works for you. As EatingRules points out over and over again, it’s up to you what you consider “strictly unprocessed” and where your priorities lie. The founder, Andrew, defines unprocessed as foods that one could theoretically make in their own kitchen with enough time, equipment and talent. EatingRules also talks about “deliberate exceptions”: choosing ahead of time which foods you know you can’t give up; and the “cheat meal” so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Really, you can make this what you want – the point is to take the time to think carefully about what you’re consuming and what that does to your body, mind and planet. Will you spend just one month (or week) trying your hardest to eat real food?

My unprocessed October: How I do this is different than how you’ll do it – eating is deeply personal – but this is my aspiration for the coming month:

  • WHOLE FOODS: No, not the store – you think I can afford that on my save-the-world salary? No. I mean the literal concept of foods that have not been processed. What does that mean? Think about an apple, a bunch of swiss chard, a bag of wheat berries, a jug of olive oil,  a pound of tomatoes. The bottom line is, as close to its natural state as possible. This means fresh produce, whole grains, beans, nuts, eggs etc. I want to recognize my food as a product of nature and know where it came from.
  • Minimally altered foods: canned and frozen vegetables, whole wheat pasta (literally made of whole semolina wheat, possibly eggs, and nothing else), cheese, coffee, etc. Beer and wine are just fine! Please, above all else, read the ingredient label!!! If your canned tomatoes contain “calcium chloride” or some other unknown, chemical, synthetic ingredient, you should probably put it back on the shelf. Basically, if you cannot pronounce or identify the ingredients, or keep up with how long the list is, don’t eat it.
  • As much local, seasonal, organic and natural food as possible: I am renewing my commitment to the farmer’s market. I’ve been making weekly trips to a farm just 10 minutes from my apartment in Brookline, where I buy the majority of my produce and eggs. It’s also much cheaper!
  • My deliberate exception: sugar. Yes, I know, I consume way too much – at least a tablespoon or two by breakfast, because I put so much in my coffee. And yes, I know that highly processed, bleached white sugar is terrible for you – but it’s my exception, to fit my needs. Having just moved 500 miles to start a new job in a new place, I am quite thoroughly broke, and I simply cannot justify replacing my white sugar with turbinado that costs 4x as much. Now you tell me – why does something that’s endured less processing, and in theory used less energy, time, money, and product, cost more?! In any case – I am also adamantly against wasting food, and refuse to swap out a bunch of perfectly edible goods for their more perfect counterparts – when it’s time to replace them, I’ll think about it.
  • Tricky things: chocolate – I’m a veritable addict. Luckily, I love dark chocolate and only need to read the label to know whether or not there are scary ingredients (wtf is soy lecithin? does that grow in the wild? do you want to put it in your mouth?). Peanut butter – one of my cheap, moderately healthy staples. It of course depends on what you buy: look for PB that contains little more than peanuts and salt/sugar, if that. Nutella – uh oh – “reduced mineral whey”, lecithin and artificial flavor… might be giving that a break until November…

Otherwise, I feel good about the ingredients found in my pantry/fridge – even my honey is local! – so I just have to be extra cautious when shopping, and moreover, when eating out. Luckily or not, I am too broke to eat at restaurants right now. We’ll see what tomorrow’s Boston Local Food Festival brings…!

Updates to come about all my tasty, unprocessed eats! Tell me about your take on this challenge, and follow my Twitter @FemNistKitchN for more.

Simple, earthy pasta

Whatever you’re doing right now (because I know you’re probably multitasking while you read this), stop and make this deceivingly easy, hearty meal. Serves two, unless you can’t stop eating it…

1/2 lb whole wheat fusilli
1/2 sweet/yellow onion, sliced
1/2 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp fresh thyme, stemmed
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz crumbled goat cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

Melt half the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat and prep your pasta. Sauté onions until soft and golden. Add half the remaining butter and the mushrooms and continue cooking gently until the mushrooms turn dark brown. Add thyme, garlic, salt and pepper and lower heat. When the pasta is done to your liking, drain and add it to the skillet with the remaining butter. Toss with goat cheese until melted. I enjoyed this immensely with Sam Adams Black Lager but I’m willing to bet money a Chardonnay or Pinot noir would also be irresistible accompaniment.

…sorry for the lack of photo, I inhaled this!!

Holy fish tacos, Batman!

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Dos Taquitos in Raleigh, NC. A long time favorite. These are the “tacos isla mujeres”: mahi mahi with pineapple salsa and two kinds of slaw. I am still recovering 3 hours later from the taco coma. Some of the best fish tacos I’ve had north of Texas.

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