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Saturday, February 22, 2014

CSA: Farm to Table at Home

        The first time I heard the term "CSA" was from my friend Dan Meiser, owner of Mystic's Oyster Club and Engine Room. Dan has been a major voice in the Farm to Table movement in Connecticut. At the Oyster Club, the menu changes every day depending upon what Chef James Weyman can source fresh from his local farmers. It must be stressful to plan a menu every day based on what your farmers and fishermen can supply fresh, but on the other hand, imagine a restaurant where the food is always unique and inspired based on the freshest ingredients. This is the model I wanted to emulate at our home.
        Jeanine is a very skilled home chef and I enjoy cooking as well, so why shouldn't we have access to the same food sources that Dan and Chef James have? So I asked Dan where we can source our food and he directed me to the CT NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) website and also to the Local Harvest website. He told me that I should join a CSA. I had never heard that term before, but the Internet is my friend so I checked out the websites and googled "CSA". CSA stands for "community supported agriculture". Basically, you pay money to a farmer at the beginning of the season to purchase your "share". In return you get a box full of stuff every week for the duration of the season. You don't know what you will be getting or even how much, but in general you get enough vegetables for the week. And just like at the Oyster Club, you can decide what you're cooking based on what you get.
       A typical cost for a share would be around $800 for the season. The season runs 16-20 weeks which is $40-$50 per week. Most CSAs offer a half share as well designed to feed 2 people. You don't only have vegetables. There are CSAs for raw milk, organic chickens, beef, eggs and other farm fresh foods. Last year we joined our first CSA by purchasing a half share at a local farm. We were so pleased with it that this year we bought a full share for organic vegetables, and we joined a chicken CSA and a raw milk CSA! We had to act quickly because many of our local CSAs fill up quickly, especially the dairy CSA.
       We are looking forward to a year of locally sourced foods from our local farmers. We get our vegetables from New Mercies Farm, raw milk and yogurt from Deerfield Farms and pasture raised chickens from the Wooly Pig . You don't have to purchase a CSA share to enjoy these fresh ingredients.
        There are over 100 farmers markets in CT where you can purchase fresh, locally produced food. This year, support your local farmer and make your kitchen farm to table.

Some memorable moments for our family from last summer's Farmer's Markets.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Health Care Reform?

I just read an article from the Harvard Business Review titled "The Strategy That Will Fix Health Care." It was a very good read and discussed 6 points needed to move us into a high-value health care delivery system. The first point is to organize into "Integrated Practice Units" or IPUs. This is a team of providers dedicated to caring for an entire condition. Currently a patient with diabetes, for example, may first present to a primary care physician who makes the diagnosis and initiates treatment with medications designed to lower the blood sugar. The patient may end up taking insulin and may eventually be referred to a specialist (Endocrinologist) who may further manage the blood sugar levels with more intense insulin dosing and perhaps even an implantable insulin pump. The patient may also need to see a Nephrologist (kdney specialist) for kidney failure that often accompanies diabetes, or a podiatrist for diabetis foot ulcer, etc. Under an IPU, all of the caregivers are involved at one time in one organized team, providing medical care as needed and education and counseling to help the patient better cope with their condition. The IPU is just one of the 6 pieces of the pie that the authors, Michael Porter and Thomas Lee propose as a cure for the current ailing healthcare system. The other steps include measuring outcomes and costs, moving towards "pay one price" bundled care packages, integrating care delivery across facilities, expanding services geographically and building an effective IT platform. I happen to agree that this approach will indeed go a long way towards improving our current health care system. We will be better poised to care for a larger population of sick patients more effectively and efficiently.

This is what we have come to. Instead of improving our health, we need to improve our ability to deal with more sick people. This is a backwards way of looking at things. We are building a better fire engine when we need to be preventing fires. 

Let's look at diabetes for example. This is a major health problem which in turn becomes a major risk factor for the development of other major health problems such as coronary artery disease leading to heart attacks. In their 2001 article in Diabetes Care, Boyle, et. al. warned that the number of Americans with diabetes is projected to increase 165%, from 11 million in 2000 (prevalence of 4.0%) to 29 million in 2050 (prevalence of 7.2%). (Diabetes Care, 2001: 24(11), 1936-1940). Well, CDC statistics show that the situation is much worse. From 1980 through 2011, the number of Americans with diagnosed diabetes has more than tripled (from 5.6 million to 20.9 million). 

Why is this happening? We often blame this on our aging population. However, the rise in diabetes is seen across all age groups. From 1980 through 2011, the percentage of people with diagnosed diabetes increased 167% (from 0.6% to 1.6%) for those aged 0–44 years. Even more concerning is the rise of type 2 diabetes amongst children. This had previously been termed adult onset diabetes and was rarely seen amongst children. Experts believe that this is linked to the rise in childhood obesity that we have seen throughout our country.

Health care reform is a way of building efficiency into our current health care system which will allow us to provide higher quality care at a lower cost. This is badly needed because of the rise of chronic and possibly preventable illnesses such as diabetes. In my opinion, a more effective form of health care reform would be lifestyle reform aimed at preventing the rise of diabetes in our culture. None of the health care reform measures look at reforming our health. We have been eating poorly for decades and we have seen the effects of it. Our food system is broken, not our health care system. We have been living on processed foods instead of natural foods. We have become an obese nation and now are looking towards the health care system to bear the burden. On the other hand, the food system in this country should be bearing the burden.

Thankfully we are now seeing the quiet rise of the American Farmer and a shift towards a more natural diet. Our local CSA shares have all sold out and the farmers' markets in Connecticut are so crowded that parking is often an issue. Instead of IPUs, what we need is access to more organic whole foods and less access to processed artificial foods. I refer you to Dee McCaffrey's excellent book, "The Science of Skinny" which discusses the health effects of our mass produced foods. If you really want to see what you're eating, by all means watch the documentary "Food, Inc."

So, here is my 6-step solution. Let's shift the focus from health care reform to health reform...

1. Teach the nation to cook. 
2. Support our local farmers by joining CSAs and shopping at local farmers' markets. 
3. Support families that prepare meals at home.
4. Provide healthy, whole food lunches in public schools.
5. Provide subsidies to producers of organic whole foods.
6. Stop buying processed junk foods from the supermarket and shop the organic sections. 

It has taken us 50 years to get this far behind in our health, but it's not too late. We need to reverse the trends that led us here and become a healthier nation.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Forbidden City Asian Bistro : Vegan Style

As you may know, Forbidden City Bistro here in Middletown, CT is one of our favorite places to eat. We don't just eat when we go there, we sit for hours, talk, go through many bottles of very good wine, try this, try that and visit with owner Eric Leong and Mario Wongsosudiro who have become very dear friends to us.
 Eric always makes sure that his dishes are thoughtfully created and executed. Mario, makes sure that everything else is running smoothly and is largely responsible for your good time and yummy drinks. My personal favorite is " Lost In Manilla".  If you stop in, you won't regret ordering it. It's a stemless martini glass of whiskey, citrus and mango flavors that really sneak up on you after you've gulped it down too fast. I
 had the honor once again of photographing their cuisine. This time I photographed the dishes on the NEW vegetarian and vegan menu. Most of the 15 new recipes are vegan. Not only are the new creations bright and pleasing to the eye, but they will knock your socks off! The flavors are really well executed. To learn a little bit more about this menu, here is the press release: 

Forbidden City Bistro and Art Gallery 335 Main Street Middletown 06457-3309 860-343-8288 January 24, 2014 Contact Eric Leong Phone (860) 343-8288 For Immediate Release CELEBRATE THE NEW YEAR WITH NEW VEGAN AND VEGETARIAN CUISINE AT FORBIDDEN CITY BISTRO Forbidden City Bistro celebrates 2014, The Year of the Horse For 600 years, the Imperial Palace of China, also known as the Forbidden City, summoned the best chefs from all corners of the country for the emperor's enjoyment. Like its namesake, Forbidden City Bistro has consistently served the best of regional Chinese cuisines, bringing exotic and contemporary Asian Fusion to Middletown since 2005. Now, Eric Leong has added a new dimension to his menu of exotic Malaysian cuisine, with 15 new vegan and vegetarian dishes, all featuring his unique Eastern and Malaysian flavors. These are not your typical vegetarian items. The Fava Bean Ravioli is a fresh, bright dish prepared with shiitake mushrooms, eggplant & snow peas in a green curry sauce. Laksa Tempeh is a comforting mix of spongy tofu and fermented soy prepared with cabbage, broccoli, mushrooms & eggplant, all simmered in a pineapple curry. The Cantonese Risotto is an earthy and sophisticated mixture of sweet brown rice and porcini mushrooms. His Five-Elements Quinoa is a stir fry of onions, shallots, shiitake mushrooms, soy beans and goji berries with quinoa & black beans. Owner Eric Leong created these items and 11 other vegetarian and vegan delights. “I want to offer our community a unique, contemporary spin on vegan and vegetarian cuisine that embraces traditional Malaysian flavors in a modern way.” Malaysian cuisine is a fascinating blend of Malay, Chinese, and Indian food traditions, with Indonesian, Thai, Portuguese and Middle Eastern influences. These new dishes are colorful, exotic, and full of enticing flavors. In addition to the new vegan and vegetarian items, Forbidden City Bistro will be offering other special items to celebrate the New Year, including Wok-seared Ginger and Lobster and Pan-Roasted Duck Breast from January 28th until Feb 2nd. The vegan and vegetarian items will be permanent additions to the dining menu. For more information contact Eric Leong at (860) 343-8288 or via email at Photos available upon request. Here are some of the photos from the shoot:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

On Cloud Nine...Seriously.

Cloud Nine Catering is special for so many reasons. We actually hired this CT catering company to provide an elegant sit down meal for 100 people at our own wedding. We had to cater our event and thought long and hard about what kind of food we wanted to represent us. We wanted local ingredients, well prepared food that was not totally typical, an open mind that would work with our tastes and ideas and all within our budget. When we met with Courtney from Cloud Nine, she assured us that our day would be perfect, the food would be to die for and that everything they make is good and she was right on all accounts. At our tasting, we sat at an intimate table for two and tried various appetizers, main courses, desserts and wines. We left with a doggie bag, a bottle of wine and a new friend, Andrea Isaccs. Andrea is the owner of Cloud Nine Catering and The Lace Factory. What makes her business unique is that she can supply the food, the venue or both and both are amazing. The Lace Factory is where most of the tastings are held for engaged couples. It also makes a wonderfully industrial chic choice as an event venue. The old painted brick walls and floor to ceiling windows that surround the entire space bring in a beautiful light that shines through some of the old lace machinery. I was so honored to be asked to photograph Cloud Nine's tasting at The Lace Factory and these are some of the images from that shoot.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Battle Chicken!

It's been a while since a blog post I know. I've been working, working, working and soon the wedding season will be over only to begin doll making season! We picked up our last of the chicken CSA from The Wooly Pig and put the 11 chickens in the deep freezer for the winter. We don't intend to buy any meat this winter. We were telling our good friend Eric Leon, owner of Forbidden City Asian Bistro in MIddletown, CT about the chickens. Because they cost more than conventional chickens, he wanted to see if there was a difference in flavor and texture. He prepared two equally sized chickens ( one of them was our chicken ) and cooked them in a way that was traditional Malaysian and would not disguise the flavor. They were boiled, rapidly chilled and then air cooled. They were then chopped up and served with cucumber, rice and traditional sauces for dipping.

 Here are both chickens. The one without the head is ours. Our chicken is a pasture raised, organic, non-GMO fed chicken. The opponent chicken is a cage free chicken.
 Chef is cutting up the chicken.

Eric invited two of his friends to join us. They did not know about the chicken battle. Here is what the dishes looked like prior to eating.

 They were identical in appearance. We ate our chicken first. The meat was sweet, tender, fresh tasting and juicy.  Everyone was enjoying it. The second chicken came out and everyone dug in but immediately noticed a difference in the flavor of the chicken. It was still tender and juicy but there was no sweetness.  There was a " chicken" flavor that was less appealing and I noticed that right away.  Everyone wanted more of chicken number 1. By the end of the dinner, restaurant employees were trying to rationalize the higher cost and figuring out how to get some for themselves.  


The organic, non-GMO, pasture raised chicken which was $3 more per lb. was victorious. Delicious. No comparison. Thank you Wooly Pig for your awesome chickens! They are worth every penny. 

There was indeed more to our wonderful meal.  Eric made us KangKong with Sambal and a curry dish. Many wines and Saki were had and we ended our meal with delicious sesame balls. 
 KangKong is a type of Asian water spinach.
 Delicious curry dish
Sesame balls 

A happy Eric enjoying our appreciation for his food. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Three month running hiatus and now what?

I have struggled with right sided knee pain for a few months. Before that I was running 5K 3-4 times per week.  I wasn't running with any goal in mind, just for fun and fitness.  We live in a VERY hilly area and the hills are more like small mountains, which has always made running a challenge for me.  I became very used to the hills and so that made my running on flat ground a breeze, but with that came some knee strain and then it was all aggravated by an actual fall onto the knee which was not related to running at all. I was planning on running in the Cape Cod half marathon which took place a couple of weeks ago, but could not train for it.
For me, the biggest fear of not running is losing all the fitness I have gained over the last year. Remembering that I couldn't run to the mailbox initially and worked myself up to running four small distance races per week! So now the procrastination builds as I worry about how difficult that first run is going to be again. This only causes more time to go by and before you know it, it's three months and I've lost a good amount of muscle. During this time I also lost weight.  Some of it I'm sure is from the muscle loss but my diet has remained very healthy and wholesome and has not allowed me to put any weight back on.  Nutrition is always the most important thing in my mind, exercise is only secondary.  I've been able to maintain a certain level of fitness and health just through diet alone and this hiatus has helped me prove that.
So today I put on my running sneakers and heart monitor and headed out the door.  I warmed up longer than usual ( about 20 min) and then hit the road. I ran my usual run and all it's hills.  Here are the differences I noticed:

Three months ago:

5K on hilly terrain average time 22 minutes
Heart rate on flat areas 110 bpm
Heart rate on hills 145 bpm
(My aerobic threshold is 160 bpm)
No walking or resting
No pain, shin splints or side stitches


5K on hilly terrain average time 33 minutes
Heart rate on flat areas 130 bpm
Heart rate on hills 160 bpm at aerobic threshold
No resting, walked briefly up part of a large hill
No pain, no shin splints, no side stitch

A certain amount of fitness has been lost but I feel confident that I can slowly build back up to where I was.  That is not even really a goal for me, the true goal is to physically leave the house and move my body! I feel great post run and I am over the anxiety of how that first time back out is going to be. I will of course listen to my body and take it easy. Hopefully I'll be running a half in the spring and if not, I will still have the benefits of regular exercise.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sprouted Spelt Pancakes

Every once and a while I am in the mood for pancakes but I hardly ever eat them.  I avoid them because I always feel gross and super crampy afterwards. I decided to experiment with a few ingredients this morning and these were really great! They were the perfect consistency and I know that I am getting nutrients and beneficial fats and carbs from my breakfast. Here are my all vegan pancakes:

1 cup organic sprouted spelt flour
1 cup organic almond milk unsweetened
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
2 tbsp of aluminum free baking powder
1 tsp cold pressed organic sunflower seed oil

Mix ingredients together and beat with a whisk. Use a small amount of coconut oil to line your pan and on a medium to high heat, pour your batter in large spoon fulls to the size you like your pancakes. When bubbling through, flip and cook on other side. About 3 minutes per side.

For topping:

Real deal Maple syrup. The real stuff that came out of the tree, not a corn syrup product.
add fruit ( optional)

 Delicious!!!!! And you don't have to feel gross.