Tomato Ciopinno- Vegan Style- and Bengali Dal

King Oyster Mushrooms
King Oyster Mushrooms grown by NH Mushroom Co. in Tamworth, NH
Great news! White Barn Farm is harvesting some over-wintered spinach for us (!) to go in next week’s Bengali Dal! An aromatic dish with healing spices and White Barn’s gilfeather turnip!
 The cold snap has made for an unexpected return to keeping greenhouses buttoned up and heated, but warmer weather is around the corner, and before you know it, our farmers will be planting those seedlings in-ground!
We have an awesome new item on the menu- Tomato Ciopinno, traditionally made with scallops or shell fish, we’re using omega-3 and 6- rich mushrooms grown by NH Mushroom Co., and using some sea kelp for even more umami. It’s tomato based- yes we still have tomato frozen from the summer (!), and served with crisped parsnips.

Killdeer in the Fields, Maple Marinated Veggies, and Knit with Us!

Robins have begun to appear in the fields, and we even spotted a pair of killdeer searching for a nesting site: a sure sign of spring!

The kohl rabi and carrots continue to hold their sweet crisp, and we’re getting more promise of fresh greens to come! It’ll be entirely dependent on the weather, but we may surprise you with things like spinach in the kits in the coming weeks if our farmers can get into the fields and snag it before the cold does!

We’re marinating some vegetables this week using Laurel’s freshly boiled maple syrup, and serving it over blue corn polenta- grown by Kate & Jude at Neighborhood Farm. We’re also taking advantage of the last of the squash with some sunny fritters, and we’re trying a new recipe of Vietnamese Pho (pronounced ‘fah’), which will have scrumptious NH-grown mushrooms in it.

Gather Here
Attention Cambridge dwellers: We’re having a tasting and knitting gathering at Gather Here next Thursday March 16th. Bring a knitting project, eat some al FreshCo, and hang out! 6-8pm.

Fresh Spinach and Maple Syrup

Fresh Spinach!

The bad news: climate change is real; the good news: fresh spinach! Farmer Chris found that his spinach is already growing in the field that we planted last fall- no greenhouse, hoop-house, or anything!

We’re trying a new recipe this week: Kofta Curry: it’s an Indian Veggie-Ball smothered in awesome curry sauce and served over rice. We are also concocting an amazing miso sauce made with Maple Syrup Laurel makes in NH (sugaring season is already half way through!), and with a special treat- grapefruit!

Sugaring season has been off to a roaring start- the temperature needs to be freezing at night and above freezing, and usually sunny during the day. The difference in temperature causes the sugary phloem to rise up from the roots during the day to feed the start of the buds of the trees, and will retreat to the roots when it is freezing to prevent from freezing itself, and causing damage to the tree. The sap needs to feed the bud growth before the tree is able to make its own energy through photosynthesis when the leaves come out.

Tapping a tree means cutting into that flow of sap from the roots to the limbs. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup! We’re so excited to bring you a bit of it in your meal kits this week!

And peep into any fields you may pass- there may be spinach out there! Spring has sprung indeed!

Into the Wilds of the Allagash, a meditation on the seasons

August 15th, 2016

Floating northwards on the Allagash in the North Maine Woods, the gluttony of late summer is everywhere. A moose cow perked her ears up as we trickled past, and then lazily dunked her head in the eddy in which she stood shoulder-deep, coming back up with aquatic plants spilling down her chin. Bald eagles, deliciously abundant along the river, played in the shifting winds, or just watched from a broken tree top, looking fed-up*. The brookies (brook trout) have their pick of succulent insects, as do the dragon flies who zip across the water gulping their fill. The beech trees reach gloriously towards the sun-splashed river, their chlorophyll greedily soaking in the sun. It’s hardly a tough time to be alive.

Soon though the shorter days will be felt, the nights will take on a chill, and the pre-winter scramble begins. Squirrels will scurry with nut-filled cheeks from hole to hole, storing, storing. The beavers will make last minute patches on their homes in preparation for the ice flows. Bears continue to pluck calories from the abundance of their surroundings, knowing that there will not be more until spring.

It’s a flow not shunned, it’s just a flow, one to be embraced, not outsmarted- too much. We should be thankful for the advances our large brains have afforded us: canning, drying, hybrid seeds, electric fencing, but not take advantage, for where does that leave the other creatures who continue to abide by the laws of nature? In the middle weeks of August, it’s easy to want for the life of these creatures, as they thrive off of what nature has created, doze in the sun and move in the breezes of the evening. Don’t be too envious though; winter is coming. Let this rediscovered connection let us relish in the comfort of our shelters and easy supply of shelf-stable foods when the winds are whipping through sub zero weather on the Allagash, and the soft green moss that easily grows on the river’s edge will not be in sight for months to come.

As the winter wares on, the layers of bear fat dwindle, the black fly larva hunker down and wait it out, and our fires continue to burn, perhaps we don’t have to join them, but keep them in mind as we grow our hybrid seeds and eat our stored food in sync with the natural flow of what’s beyond in the North Maine Woods.

*                                                *                                                *

 

Planning a trip on the Allagash? 

For more information about canoeing the Allagash, I recommend Gil Gilpatrick’s Guide to the Allagash. It has all the necessary information to go on a self-guided trip.

If you’re looking for a guided trip with good local food and really friendly knowledgable staff, we recommend Allagash Canoe Trips.

Food for a week long canoe trip on the Allagash

The benefit of canoe-camping is being rather gluttonous in your food packing. I brought a full-sized cooler with lots of fresh food. We used 15lbs of dry ice with a layer of regular ice over it. This kept our fresh food cold for 5 days. We brought al FreshCo Meal Kits for dinners, which was great for easy packing and portioning, but if they’re out of your geographical accessibility range, I recommend putting together kits like them, even pre-chopping vegetables to save of space and cooking time at the campsite. All the campsites on the Allagash are outfitted with a cooking fire, we used a combination of camp-stove cooking and camp fire-cooking.

Here’s what we had:

Dinner:

Pad Thai: Zucchini, corn, carrots and onion sauteed and served over buckwheat noodles with a maple/balsamic/soy sauce dressing. Cooking time 10 minutes

Grilled Zucchini, Eggplant, Peppers served with Harcha, a Moroccoan skillet bread. We made the dough in advance with corn meal, semolina, olive oil and some salt.

Kale Pancakes with Pickled Beets and Lentil SaladWe made the lentil salad in advance, and cooked the kale on the first night, as this is quick to spoil. Pickled vegetables are a great thing to take- they last a long time under no refrigeration

Dragon Bowl with Brown Rice and Black Beans. We cooked and pickled the black beans beforehand, and had zucchini, carrots, and peppers. Cook the rice after soaking it for the day in a bag while paddling, and it only takes 10 minutes to cook. The vegetables saute quickly, and you can have the curry sauce pre-made.

Mac & Cheese with Zucchini and Peppers. This was for the last night, we got a box of mac and cheese, knowing our refrigeration wouldn’t last until then, and brought whole peppers and zucchini. Add some hot sauce, and even some river fish if you catch any. 

Snacks:

Hard-boiled eggs. I like to do this in advance of the trip. Put all the eggs in a pan with cold water about 1/2″ above the biggest egg. Bring to a boil. Once it starts to boil, remove from heat and cover. Let sit for 12 minutes, then cool under running cold water. Refrigerate. These will last for the week.

Trail Mix: Candied ginger, chocolate covered almonds, corn nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds. Ration some for each day.

Hummus and Cucumber

Lunch:

PB&J

Cheese, Avocado and tomato sandwiches

Breakfast:

Oatmeal: sweet or savory. Sweet: maple syrup, banana, jam. Savory: Nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, paprika, olive oil, herbs

*Fed up is a term originating from the sport of falconry, a hunting technique in which humans use falcons to hunt for small game. The birds are fed according to a carefully measured weight: if they are fed too little, they will not have any incentive to come back to their humans, and will go in search of their own food; fed too much, and they cannot fly and will sit in a tree refusing to budge until they have digested their food, feeling “fed up”.

Why Should I Buy ‘Local Food’?

First, what is Local Food?

We hear the word “local” a lot. The term was first used to limit the geographical proximity between you, who eats the food, and where the food was grown, although there are differences in the mileage range in which you may still call your food local. The New Oxford American dictionary defines a locavore as someone who eats only food grown within 100 miles of the place of consumption; while other agencies and institutions have a larger radius.

Strictly speaking, geography is the only defining characteristic of ‘local food’, but we, along with many other consider local food to be associated with other major benefits and values:

  1. Local Economics: Why every dollar you spend shapes the local food system

30% of New England farmers will age out of farming in the next ten years, leaving 1.4 million acres of farmland in transition. Create more demand in the local food market by buying local:

Voting with your dollar is one way to keep farmers, both young and old engaged in growing good food.

You get a voice with your dollars; by buying from a local grower, that grower can keep doing what they are doing because they are getting financial support from you and their community. The more we support positive agricultural endeavors with our dollars, the less we support negative farming activities like foods being shipped hundreds of miles and being grown in monocultures or with non-organic principles.

So put your money where your mouth is! Give your local growers the financial incentive to keep up the good work, which may in turn give the nod to new growers who may seek to fulfill the growing need for well-grown food, for which you have just created higher demand.

2. Freshness: The closer you are to your farmers, the faster you get it post-harvest

Fruits and vegetables are filled with water-soluble vitamins and minerals that not only give them flavor, but that make them more nutritious to us- it’s what we define as freshness.

Let’s think a moment about conventional food. Bananas are picked green, loaded on a sea-faring vessel, and weeks later at their destination are ripened using a synthetic chemical in the shipping containers in which they arrive, just before they are distributed to the grocery store where you can pick up your maybe not-so-fresh fruit. Salad mixes are picked, washed, dried and packed in rigid plastic containers to make their way across the county from California in refrigerated trucks, unloaded, repacked, and eventually end up in the grocery store.  But it’s organic! No matter, there are no stipulations in organic certification which describe the number of days between harvesting and availability to the consumer.

The faster you are able to consumer food post-harvest, the more nutrients there are available to you.

3. Taste: Get greater diversity of vegetables when farmers are growing for you, not the industrial food system

The fruits and vegetables we see in the grocery are bred to have the characteristics to travel across the county and the world; such traits do not necessarily coincide with good taste. There are plenty of delicious foods we just don’t see anymore because of the norm of year-round availability in total disregard of the seasons of your region. Take the Paw-Paw, for example: it is a fruit native to the Northeast U.S. and rarely seen anymore. It disappeared from the food scene upon the advent of refrigerated shipping- it was too delicate to last the journey, and was replaced with more physically resilient fruits such as apples and oranges.

What we see in the stores are fresh foods that can last weeks after harvesting and still look appealing to you once they reach the grocery store, not those that necessarily taste the best.

If you buy a carrot in the grocery store, or happen upon one in a can of soup, it is almost always going to be a Chantenay red- cored carrot- a carrot that has a 97% chance of being grown in one of seven states in the U.S. across vast monocultures.

It’s a carrot that has been bred for size, flavor, sturdiness in shipping and peal-ability. But think about what you’re missing out on in the carrot world if you limit yourself to only the Chantenay! There are Nelsons, Rainbows, Mokum, Yayas and Atlas, to name a few. Organic growers have the weather conditions, soil conditions and seasons in mind when choosing to plant these different varieties- wouldn’t you rather eat a carrot with the natural cycles in mind, and picked at peak-ripeness for taste, and with regard to crop diversity rather than the alternative?

With the rise of locally grown foods, and places to access such food, think of all the delicacies we can enjoy due simply to the fact that growers can get food to you with hours or days of harvesting their goods! It brings a whole lot more diversity, freshness, and flavors to your plate.

 

 

How to eat locally in New England in Winter

In America, we have a list of the ten most eaten vegetables by volume, among them, tomatoes, peas, lettuce, etc., but only three of the ten top vegetables are storage crops available during the New England winter: potatoes, carrots and (to a lesser extent) cabbage.

Eating a diversity of vegetables throughout the year is important not only for personal health, as each vegetable contains a unique combination of minerals and vitamins, but it is also important for soil health for the same reasons- creating a balance in soil nutrient profiles as different crops are rotated through. Sampling a diversity of vegetables means giving a market for a wide variety of vegetables for farmers, and this diversity vastly improves the health of the soil in which the vegetables grow, plus, it’s a tastier way to get through the winter.

There are more options than you think over the winter for locally grown vegetables. Some farmers are extending the season with hoop houses (a moveable, passive greenhouse), and can grow hearty greens like spinach and bitter greens throughout the colder months. Kale contains a kind of natural anti-freeze, allowing it to continue to be harvested well into the winter- this may be the last standing crop you see poking through the snow come January. There’s celeriac, rutabaga, a whole range of squashes, you will likely continue to see leeks, cabbages, endive, carrots, all sorts of potatoes, and my personal favorite, watermelon radish.

You’ll get to sample all the winter has to offer in New England with our meal kits, but we have a few ideas to get your daily dose of winter vegetables, and make the best use of what farmers are selling that match the season and your likely desire for starchy, warming vegetables this winter.

Rutabaga & Oats for Breakfast

Rutabaga is a sweet, starchy vegetable, and given the warm fall and winter we’ve had, most farmers have a LOT of rutabaga, and they’re big! This recipe is a great way to use them, and a good way to start the day.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c grated Rutabaga (from a farmer you know!)
  • 1 c oats (I like rolled oats, and suggest NOT using quick oats)
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 2 tsp olive oil, coconut oil, or sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 egg (from a farmer you know uses compost for feed- you can taste the difference)

Overnight Oats:

Submerging any grain or legume in water and letting wild yeasts in the grains and the air go to work is the beginnings of fermentation. Oatmeal is a filling, healthy, and very cheap way to fill up for breakfast, and overnight oats reduce cooking time and aid in digestion. Fermentation essentially starts the digestion process for you, starting to break down some of the cells in the oats. Leave them overnight, or for a couple days depending on your taste (it gets a little more dank as the days roll on), boil for 5-10 minutes, and they’re fully cooked and not mushy like “quick oats” would be. Saute rutabaga, fry or poach and egg, add the spices, and you have a cheap, healthy breakfast!

1. The night before, submerge oats in water in a bowl, set on the counter, and cover with a cloth or something that allows air to flow through

2. In the morning, drain the water, put the oats in a pot, and add ~3/4c water and bring to a gentle boil. Stir to be sure the oats do not stick to the bottom, and cook until desired thickness.

3. Grate or julienne rutabaga, and saute in a cast iron pan for 5-10 minutes or until softened

4. Fry or poach your egg

5. Meanwhile, add nutritional yeast, paprika, salt, red pepper and 1tsp oil to the oats and mix in the rutabaga.

Serve the oats with the egg over it. Breakfast!


New England Kimchi

Adapting this traditional Korean recipe to New England winter

This is an easy ferment of cabbage and daikon radish, to which you add a spicy and flavorful paste. Fermented for a week in a jar, and then stuck in the fridge, this treat will preserve the harvest for about a month, and kimchi can be used as a condiment alongside many dishes, or just be a treat on its own. Fermented foods are great for replenishing gut flora and aiding in digestion.

Try it!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup finely chopped Napa Cabbage
  • 1 cup julienned Daikon Radish
  • 2 tsp thinly sliced Scallion or Leek
  • 3 cloves Garlic
  • 1 tsp Crushed Red Pepper or Thai Chili
  • Salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh Ginger

1. Mix the daikon and napa cabbage and salt heavily (about 1/8- 1/4c), mixing to ensure the salt has reached all surfaces. Pack down and leave for a few hours until you see liquid in the bottom of the bowl. Pack it down again, ensuring the vegetables are submerged in their own liquid, and cover with a cloth.

2. Spice Paste: Blend or finely grind all other ingredients, until you have formed a fine paste.

3. After 6 hours- day, mix the paste in with the cabbage mix, transfer to jar, and pack down so everything is submerged in liquid. Be sure to leave 1 inch of space at the top (otherwise it will overflow during fermentation). Lightly cover the jar and allow to sit in a cool, dark place for up to a week, tasting the kimchi each day until it’s fermented to your liking.

4. Cover with a tight fitting lid, and refrigerate for up to a month, enjoying throughout!

On Bikes, Food and Community

It’s been a year and half since I started al FreshCo – impassioned by the chance to make the world a little bit better by improving our food system, and through it, our connection with community and our environment. Starting with this goal; my bike; and some wonderful farmers, I have delivered 3,842 locally grown, healthy meals to our Boston community using my trusty bicycle.

Through rain, shine, tens of inches of snow through the long Boston winter, the old MetroFive got me from JP to Cambridge, Somerville, Southie, Dorchester, Roslindale, and on and on. As I started delivering more meal kits, I added on a homemade trailer, added things like a sturdier back rack for panniers, fenders to protect the kits in the rain. My bike is like a limb- I couldn’t get around without it, nor could al FreshCo run as efficiently as it does.

Last week, my bike, was plucked from my porch, taking with it my whole setup- trailer hitch, lights, rack, fenders, a wonderfully broken-in saddle, even my lock, and of course, the old MetroFive itself, one and all. My bike is my livelihood, it’s my only form of transportation, and it’s the human-powered engine that keeps al FreshCo running. What nerve, I say!

Helping me fight this momentary feeling of defeat, I started a campaign to raise money from family, friends, supporters, and the community, hoping to get back on the road.

In an extraordinary show of support from the community, we raised $1,660 in just 24 hours- $660 more than requested.

Building a business is a challenge that I have loved taking on; there are ups and downs, sure, but thinking of the community we have built around bikes and food is astonishing. Biking makes sense, eating food grown by great farmers makes sense, and getting a community of people to whom all these things makes sense, well, it makes sense!

Back to the bike; the story doesn’t end here!

In a very unexpected turn of events- I stumbled upon my bike, and it didn’t go far! Walking the dog, I was flabbergasted to find a dude casually ride by sitting on my bike. A double and triple-take later, I weighed my options- daylight, people around, the dog, a pretty relaxed looking guy on the bike, and yes, it was most definitely my bike. Call the cops? He’s on a bike! Follow him? He’s riding away! Determined-woman-walk towards him, I placed my hand on the handlebars, and said, “Hi, that’s my bike”. He told me his friend gave it to him, I told him that his friend, then, stole my bike. He started to call his friend and I politely told him it could be easier if I call the police. With the help of a friendly, bilingual, long-term resident of the neighborhood, we told him to scram, and I walked away with the old MetroFive!

Save for some missing parts (not surprised the trailer hitch was tossed or sold); it is still intact. With such generous support from you all, I was on my way to moving on to bigger and better delivery options to carry me through all seasons, but karma struck back.

Being part of a mission-oriented community gives us purpose. Continuing to build our community of those striving to outweigh all the bad in the food system with the good, is where we are heading. Thanks for tuning in!

Meal Kit Hacks: Spice it up!

Some of us are good at following directions: we like order, clear instruction, and consistent results. Others (like me) tend to wander off track rather quickly, drawing outside the lines and ignoring the finer points of instructions after we’ve got the general gist of things. If you count yourself like me, chances are you’ve already altered your al FreshCo meal kit to your personal taste and style, but here are a few ideas to shake up your meal kit to better fit you:

Local veggies… for breakfast!

Have leftovers of a stir-fry or a Buddha Bowl in your fridge? Toss some in a frying pan with eggs or tofu for a delicious breakfast scramble! This mixture also makes a great filling for a breakfast burrito, with a dash of hot sauce or ketchup. Not only are you getting complete plant-based proteins, but lots of fiber from the veggies to slow the release of energy and keep you going strong until lunch!

Fight fire with fire

As the temperature rises, try kicking your food up a notch as well: mix in a little hot sauce or hot paprika with your peanut satay sauce, or sprinkle your flatbread with chili flakes. There’s a reason hotter climates tend to have spicier cuisines. The heat from the spices can actually help cool you down by increasing blood flow to the surface of your skin and making you sweat. It also encourages you to drink more water with your meal, which is always important, no matter the weather!

Stay tuned for more al FreshCo Meal Hacks, or share your own with us! Email cathy@al-freshco.com, maybe you’ll inspire our next recipe!

Let’s Keep it Local and Seasonal- even in Winter!

Ah, here we are in the New Year, a time traditionally reserved for fresh starts and resolutions. You may be feeling a bit heavy and sluggish after the season of overindulgence. Many of us get out of healthy habits in the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, and we may find ourselves eating more sugar, more heavy foods, or just more in general. No wonder by now our bodies are ready for a break! You may be looking around and seeing lots of people picking at salads, trying to atone for the past couple of months. We’ve come to equate “healthy eating ” and “diet ” with a lot of light, raw foods. But there’s a reason why you feel miserable when you start eating lots of salads and raw veggies in the winter. Look outside, and there’s snow on the ground. Look at the farmer’s markets and you won’t see many lettuces, tomatoes, or cucumbers. That’s because those foods are seasonally available at the time of year when they are most appropriate and nourishing for your body: late spring and summer. What the land is providing right now is far more appropriate for what our bodies need in this cold weather. Think warm, moist, slightly sweet tastes found in root vegetables, grains, and legumes.

So how can these foods compete with salads for cleansing? When you eat seasonally, your body gets what it really needs and your digestive system is able to reset. This in turn calms your nervous system, helping you feel more grounded and better able to deal with stress. And the less stressed your body is, the more efficiently it acts to burn fat and find its healthiest state. Plus, you get to eat food that makes you feel warm and cozy and tastes delicious, all while knowing how great it is for you!

This week we’re excited to be offering our kitchari again. I’ve discussed the benefits of doing a kitchari cleanse at the change of the seasons in other posts, and the start of a new year is a perfect time to rebalance yourself. Try cutting down on or eliminating sugar, caffeine, and processed foods and focusing on warm, lightly cooked vegetables and grains as well as healthy oils. We’ve loaded the kitchari (and all our other kits) up with delicious seasonal, local veggies to help you get a happy, healthy start to your year.

If you want to try the cleanse, and have everything prepped and delivered to you- jump on the al FreshCo train! You can order the Ayurvedic kit here.

If you’re looking for more ways to find balance in your body this year, or if you want more personalized advice, feel free to contact me to schedule a personal Ayurvedic consultation. You can do so at fireleafayurveda@gmail.com. Wishing you all a wonderful and healthful start to the new year!

Tips for Supporting Yourself During a Cleanse

Many of you have decided to enjoy the kitchari kits as a way of gently cleansing and nourishing yourselves during the transition from summer to fall. Whether you’re trying just one meal a day of kitchari or going for a full-on cleanse, the kitchari is a wonderful way to support yourself as the seasons shift. As you clear out your body with this warm, light food, you may be wondering what else you can do to gain the greatest benefit from a cleanse. In Ayurveda, the shift in weather offers a great opportunity to adjust diet and lifestyle in accordance with the seasons to bring greater balance. Here are a few ideas for ways to love yourself as the weather turns cooler!

1. Eat mindfully. Food is obviously essential to our health, to the health of our communities, and to the health of our land. That’s why we go to such great lengths at Al FreshCo to honor each of those components in the kits we make. Too often we rush through our meals, distracting ourselves with music, TV, or reading. While you’re eating the kitchari (or other meals), try tuning in completely to the food in front of you. Notice its textures, tastes, smell. Amazingly enough, how you eat is just as important for your digestion as what you eat. So take the time to enjoy and pause with your meals.

2. Make the cleanse about more than just food. With the kitchari, you’re making a commitment to honoring yourself by simplifying your diet for a short time. Why not carry that spirit into other areas of your life? Try to carve out some quiet space at the beginning and end of each day to sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Perhaps you’d even like to carry the cleanse idea through the rest of the day, stepping back from the busy rush of some of your normal activities. You might limit your use of media or be more intentional about getting outside for some fresh air each day.

3. Give yourself some (oily) love. In Ayurveda, one of the most highly regarded practices is that of oil massage. You can do this yourself each day, taking time to massage some organic oil into your skin and sit quietly for a few minutes while it absorbs. Choose pure oils with no additives, and you can warm them gently in a saucepan before using to make the experience extra nourishing (Just be very careful, as oil heats quickly and can burn severely if it is too hot. Always test before using!) If you tend to be cold and have dry skin, try organic sesame oil (not the toasted variety). If you tend to be warm, try coconut oil. You can also treat yourself to a professional Ayurvedic massage treatment, each of which is carefully tailored for your constitution and particular imbalances. Our friend Stephanie at Samsaraa Massage Therapy offers amazing Ayurvedic treatments should you wish to deepen the beneficial effects of the cleanse!

Why Eating Seasonally is Important for Our Health

In a time when we can have pretty much any food at any time of year, eating seasonally might seem like it limits our choices. Particularly in the dark, cold days of January, the bright pink raspberries in the supermarket look incredibly enticing, even if we know they’ve flown thousands of miles to make it to the shelf. Aside from the ecological impact of transporting food across vast distances, eating food not seasonal to our locale disrupts the deep wisdom of nature and our bodies and the ways in which these entities have co-evolved for optimal health.

Our bodies and our digestive systems actually follow a seasonal cycle, which is intimately tied to the cycles of nature (not surprising, when you consider that we are part of nature). The beginning of the calendar year, in the deep cold of winter, marks the time when our digestive fire is strongest. Our bodies crave the heavier, sweeter foods, which are most nutrient dense and therefore more able to sustain us through the most barren time of year. Foods such as heavier grains (rices, oats, wheat), root vegetables, and nuts tend to store well and are available to us even in the snowiest months. Because of their heavier qualities, these foods require a greater amount of energy to digest, and our bodies respond with an increased digestive fire.

As the seasons shift from the cold, dry winter to cool, damp spring, our bodies also shift. The foods we enjoyed in winter start to feel a bit too heavy for our digestive systems as the dampness in the air can lead to an accumulation of moisture in the body in the form of mucous. This is one of the reasons why congestion and allergies are so prevalent in the spring. Happily, the earth provides the perfect antidote to this accumulated heaviness in the form of detoxifying vegetables and fruits. The dark, bitter greens of spring (think kale, dandelion greens) combined with lighter, crisper textures (pea shoots, radishes), work to detoxify the body from the accumulated heaviness of winter. As the season progresses, beets and cherries join nature’s arsenal against illness.

The summer brings with intense heat and a consequent diminishing of our digestive capacity. You can think of this as the sun doing some of the work for us, as it offers us foods which require less digestive energy due to their lighter textures and high moisture content. Summer in New England is truly the time of abundance, as we see bounties of tomatoes, cucumbers, berries, summer squash, corn, lettuces, and stone fruits. These foods work to replenish the moisture lost in the long daylight hours and to cool the heat which builds in our bodies.

When autumn comes again, we have the fall harvest in anticipation of the dearth of winter. Apples, squashes, and other richly-colored foods indicate the turn toward colder weather and the need for more grounding, heavier nourishment once again. Our bodies are intricately tuned to take advantage of the particular foods which nature offers at any given time. This is why eating seasonally can be so beneficial for the body. Instead of trying to figure out what foods are healthiest or when to eat what, we can simply look to our particular corner of the world and see what the earth is providing.

One of our foundational tenets at al FreshCo is to work with local farmers to source the most local, ethical food we can for our meal kits. We do this because our conception of health encompasses our customers, our land, and the farmers who tend it. If you want to know what is in season locally, you can simply look at our meal kits each week for a simple, delicious way to incorporate more seasonal produce into your diet. We think you’ll notice just how wonderfully eating locally can taste and feel.

Eating Seasonally for Your Immune System

With spring finally bursting forth after a long, hard New England winter, it’s unlikely that many of us are thinking much about the autumn and winter to come. We’re reveling in the bounty that is beginning to show up from farmers’ greenhouse crops and looking forward to the start of farmers’ markets in the coming weeks. Yet even as we anticipate warmer weather, our bodies are already preparing themselves for seasons ahead. As I spoke about in my last article, at this time of year we are provided with foods, which support our bodies’ natural inclination to detox during spring and early summer. Bright, spicy, bitter flavors found in dark leafy greens, radishes, and spring onions help us to decongest our bodies after the cold seasons of accumulation.

Yet the benefits of eating seasonally extend far beyond just feeling better now. Through eating a seasonal diet now, we work to correct any physical and mental imbalances present and to scrub our digestive systems of accumulated congestion, leaving us cleaner and lighter and increasing our immunity when cold and flue season rolls around again. Since it has been shown that 80 percent of our immunity lies within our digestive system, keeping the gut clean and healthy is imperative for good health. And one of the best ways to do so is, of course, to eat in accordance with the seasons!

Spring is a wonderful time to experience the immediate benefits of eating local, in-season produce as well as to prepare our bodies for the challenges of colder weather. It’s also a great opportunity to give your digestive system a rest in order to insure a strong immune system come winter. As such, try loading up on fresh vegetables, especially those with predominantly bitter or slightly spicy flavors (think kale, arugula, radish, onion, sprouts). Reduce your consumption of heavier foods, which are harder to digest, such as dairy, wheat, animal products, and nuts. Lighter grains and seeds—quinoa, millet, sesame and sunflower seeds—are wonderful choices this time of year. If reducing dairy or wheat seems difficult, just remember that everything has a season, and come fall and winter you’ll be able to enjoy the nourishing qualities of those foods in a way which will serve your body’s health.

The more you can focus on eating seasonally, the more you will build your body’s health, both long-term and immediate. If you’re uncertain about what produce is in season, check out what’s available at your local farmers’ market. You can also always check out our meal kits, since we source fresh, ethically-produced veggies from a network of local farmers. The veggies that are ready for harvest in a particular week are the veggies we put in our kits! Eating seasonally is one of the best (and tastiest!) ways of supporting your own health and the health of the earth, two of the things about which we are most passionate.

The Benefits of Seasonal Cleansing the Ayurvedic Way

After a few more days of intense heat and humidity, the change in the air is palpable here in New England. Fall is arriving, and with it come changes in our schedules and lifestyles. Children head back to school, and many of us find our to-do lists getting longer as we move into a busier time of year. Autumn weather brings cooler, drier air and shorter days. These changes are reflected in our bodies as well. In Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of health, fall is said to be ruled by the energy of air and ether, and these qualities in our environments are reflected in our bodies. As the season changes, you may experience dry skin and joints, earaches, increased anxiety, or digestive issues such as constipation, gas, or bloating. Happily, antidotes to many of these issues can be found through eating a seasonal, local diet consisting of fresh vegetables and grains. You may notice that as fall progresses the produce available becomes heavy, moist, and more grounding (think all those beautiful fall squash, as well as apples and root vegetables). These qualities in food help to ground and nourish our bodies as they prepare for the cold weather ahead.

Ayurveda also encourages cleansing at the turn of the seasons as a way of clearing out accumulated toxins and allowing the body and mind to reset before the new season takes hold. Doing a gentle cleanse which does not stress the body is a wonderful way to re-energize and to boost immunity, especially as we head into cold and flu season. If you find yourself feeling sluggish or not your best, it is the perfect time to offer your body a re-set. While there are thousands of cleanses available, Ayurveda offers a unique and simple way of supporting the body with kitchari, a traditional stew made of mung beans, basmati rice, and spices. This combination is light and very easily digested but also very nourishing. The specific combination of spices has been used over the centuries to offer the greatest support to the digestive system, which plays a vital role in the immunity of the body. Eating kitchari helps give your digestive system the chance to scrub out toxins which can prevent the immune system from functioning optimally. Kitchari is easy to prepare and can be made even more delicious through the addition of seasonal produce. In the coming weeks, we are offering a special kitchari kit (a KIT-chari if you will) to help you start the fall season in your best health!

There are a number of ways to do a kitchari cleanse. Traditionally, one would eat kitchari for every meal for three to seven days to allow the body to clean and reset. This is a wonderful choice if you are willing to commit to a few days or a week of a mono-diet. However, you can still reap the benefits of kitchari even if you only eat it for one meal each day for three to seven days (or longer…kitchari is my breakfast of choice throughout the fall and winter). In this case, it’s best to choose fresh, in-season vegetables and grains for your other meals and to eliminate sugar, dairy, caffeine and animal products for the time of your cleanse. The other kits available through Al FreshCo would be ideal for complimenting the kitchari cleanse!

As we offer the kitchari, I’ll be offering more suggestions on how to support yourself through a cleanse via this blog. If you are interested in more personalized attention or in learning more about Ayurveda and how it can help you to live a more vibrant, healthful life, I offer individual consultations and would be happy to work with you! I can be reached at ashley.temin@gmail.com.