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Become an Expert in Your Own Kitchen

On the Farm . . . what's happening this week

There isn't anything exciting to report on the farm - more of what you'd expect. Vegetables continue to grow, we continue to monitor field needs for weeding, watering, and possible problems such as insects or disease as well as plant crops for late summer and fall.

So instead of talking about that in more detail, I'd like to talk about food and preparing it. My disclaimer is that I am no food expert. I am a person who is striving to eat healthier so as to have more energy and to model good habits for my children. Take my advice as someone who is learning, and who is aware that many of you know more than I on this subject. I welcome any thoughts or advice you would like to contribute. In fact if you would like to offer a "guest column" to further our collective knowledge or to expand the conversation of our food journey this summer - it would be super exciting! (I know, I have revealed the 80's Valley Girl influence on my vocabulary choices that I still struggle with. Oh well.)

It is the beginning of July, and the fifth week of CSA shares; summer is here! That is great, but I realize it may also mean the excitement of being a CSA member is wearing off. If that is true for you, I wish to encourage you in your quest to better your eating habits and/or to support habits you've already established.

Author and chef, Mark Bittman, of the New York Times wrote an article for the October 2014 edition of Time Magazine called The Truth about Home Cooking. (You have to sign in to read the whole article - check the library if you'd like to read it) One of his main points in the article is that anytime you prepare whole food at home, you are eating healthier. You will consume less sodium, less MSG and other additives, and you can control your portions better. That is very powerful. One more time - anytime you prepare your own food, you are eating healthier.

I find when my family gets busy and leaves food preparation to the last minute, we are vulnerable to bad food choices. When one of us (probably no surprise that at our house it is usually me) spends a little time making a plan for the upcoming meals, we eat better and less food ends up going bad in the fridge. That is my first piece of advice - start making plans, even if it is just planning one meal per day. I've found that even that ends up multiplying as it generates a certain amount of leftovers to be used for other meals.

Here are some other ideas that continue to help me. Hopefully they will help you also:

•It is a good idea to have a few staples on hand. Think about the items you use a lot and keep them around for last minute meals. Here are some examples from my kitchen - lemons, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, sea salt, pasta, eggs, dried pinto and black beans, and brown rice. Here are ideas from Mark Bittman

•You don't have to prepare fancy food! Nothing replaces simple whole foods in nutrition and flavor. If a recipe seems too complicated, try paring it down or pick a different one.

•You can't go wrong with a salad or with adding greens and sliced vegetables to a sandwich, wrap or pita.

•Steaming or sautéing vegetables for a few minutes retains much of their nutrition, doesn't take long and is an easy clean-up.

•If you like scrambled eggs or pasta - bingo! Almost any vegetable can be added to either one. Slice or chop the desired greens or other vegetables and sauté or braise them in a little oil or butter while scrambling the eggs or to add to the cooked pasta. The secret is that tougher vegetables require a few minutes longer that more tender ones. You can't go wrong. Optional ideas are to add cooked sausage, crumbled bacon, ground beef, or chicken. Add soy sauce. Make a cold pasta salad by adding balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top and voile - a last minute dinner is served!

•Don't stress if you don't feel you are a great cook. You will get better the more time you spend in the kitchen. The more meals you prepare - the more comfortable you will be with sensing when greens are wilted the right amount for you, or when something is about to burn, etc. Before you know it, you will be an expert in your kitchen -really.

Can't you picture it - soon you will be inviting friends or your partner into the kitchen for a glass of wine while you nonchalantly sauté a mouth-watering pan of delectable food. There will be jazz music playing in the background, and the conversation will be intellectually stimulating . . . wait, I'm dreaming.

Even if your reality is similar to mine - you'll be stirring your creation while setting the table and calling, "Dinner's ready" to the kids outside, you will be eating healthier and will feel better in many ways.

Now start planning - what are you having for dinner tonight?

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