Dried Mission Figs

Fig-A-Ro

Is it just me that ends up singing songs from old Tom & Jerry cartoons while enjoying my new favorite food?

It’s weird what we remember from childhood.

So, figs. Back in late 2009 when I started this whole whole-foods organic thing (pardon all the wholes), my New Year’s resolution for 2010 was to try 10 new foods. I ended up blowing that out of the water, trying nearly 50 new things. (It wasn’t hard; I’d lived a picky eater’s sheltered food life). To this day, I still try to grab at least one new food to incorporate into my diet with each trip to the grocery store. After all, variety is key to proper nutrition, and I prefer to get my nutrients from food, glorious food!

(And organic chai green tea. Chai is a nutrient, right?!)

I was inspired to try figs based on the recollection of how much I loved eating Fig Newtons as a kid (again with the childhood resurgence). My first dip into the fig pool happened recently over dinner with a friend at a restaurant called Mas Tapas in Charlottesville, VA. They had a fig plate that sounded intriguing. Thankfully, my friend confused figs with dates and didn’t much like the figs. More figs for me! I ate them all.

Then, figs kept popping up on various food blogs that I read, particularly on Kath Eats Real Food (KERF). She put figs in her oatmeal. She put figs in her salad. She put figs in her leftovers.

So when I came across dried black mission figs at the Friendly City food co-op, I grabbed ‘em.

Dried Mission Figs

Dried Mission Figs. *Photo Credit: mar__ on Flickr.

I soon discovered that these dried figs tasted just like Fig Newtons! (Wow, right?!) And, they had a nice substantial chew to them – more hearty than just popping a handful of raisins, and just as sweetly satisfying.

I started chopping up dried figs and throwing them on my salads and into my oatmeal. Heck, I started grabbing random figs to munch on as I passed through the kitchen!

So, what is a fig? Where do figs come from? What good are they in our food rainbow (because boy, they sure are weird looking!)?

Figs originated in Spain and were brought to the US in the late 1700’s by Franciscan missionaries, who planted fig trees (known as Ficas trees – a member of the mulberry family) in San Diego and throughout California. When fresh, a fig is pear shaped with a purplish-black skin and pink flesh. They have tiny, crunchy little seeds inside. Figs are in season summer to fall in the US and are typically grown all along our US coastlines (zones 7-10, for all you gardening types).

Figs are a good source of potassium, calcium, manganese, and dietary fiber, amongst other things. If you choose fresh figs, note that they are very perishable – so pick figs that are tender but not mushy. They should smell mildly sweet, and not sour. Keep fresh figs in the fridge and eat them within a few days.

Fresh Figs

Fresh Figs. *Photo Credit: Xerones on Flickr.

Dried figs have a much better shelf life (several months, shelf-stable or in the fridge), but choose organic dried figs if you can. Conventionally processed figs are often treated with sulfites when dried and processed. Sulfites cause allergic reactions in an estimated 1 out of 100 people, and can be particularly acute to those with asthma. Federal regulations prohibit the use of chemical preservatives on certified organic foods.

Figs are a delicious, nutritious, sweet treat to help bridge the gap between lush summer fruits and the subtle squashes of fall. Eat a few figs and reminisce about your childhood. If Tom & Jerry like ‘em, so should you!

*Photo Credits: mar__ and Xerones on Flickr

Ethical Eating

Caitlin over at Healthy Tipping Point has a great post up about her definition of “ethical eating.” I enjoyed reading the post and its comments, because this topic has been one I have mulled over a great bit over the past 7 months. (Wow, has it really been 7 months since I went organic?!)

In order to eat ethically, one must have some sort of code of eating – some set of principles or ways of thinking about eating (such that to be unethical would be to break those rules). Defining my own personal “code of eating” has been a challenge, and not just due to the changes it has invoked in my lifestyle. That has been the easy part. The challenge has been in navigating the social labels, and in absorbing and responding to the reactions from the public, friends, and family to my choices.

Caitlin’s definition of ethical eating is this:

I believe that “ethical eating” means you strive to make educated decisions about your food choices and the impact such choices have on our community, animals, and our environment, and then you strive to reach the best conclusion for YOU.

Notice that nowhere in her code of ethical eating does it say, “eat this, but not that,” or, “you have to be a vegetarian,” or, “you have to be vegan.” I like her definition. Based on Caitlin’s definition, I am an ethical eater.

With that, each person’s set of principles for eating will be different – and the point is, that’s completely OK.

Another concept hit upon in Caitlin’s post is this notion that you have to be a “perfect” eater to make a difference. This is the part of the equation I have wrestled with, and this is where the labels come in. When people ask me how I eat, I respond that I am vegetarian. If it is somebody that is truly interested, I’ll go on to say I’m “vegan at home,” but that I do eat cheese 4-5 times a month when I eat out at restaurants. So, what am I? A 25-days-a-month vegan? An 83% vegan? I don’t like labels, personally, but they are helpful in explaining my choices to others with less knowledge on the subject.

I don’t eat meat, seafood, or eggs. I don’t drink cow’s milk. I infrequently eat dairy products (cheese, yogurt, or dairy used in baking). I choose organic foods whenever possible – and to make this possible, I go out of my way to do my grocery shopping at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. This is my code of eating. These are my rules.

Knowing what I know about factory farming and how we come to get most of our cow’s milk, I’m equally inclined not to eat dairy as I am not to eat eggs or meat or seafood. When I do eat cheese, it’s not because I can’t live without it. (Don’t get me wrong – I love cheese, but I really don’t miss it). I eat it because it is easier to allow myself to eat cheese at restaurants – because picking through a menu to try to find vegan options and then get the servers to relay your message appropriately to the cook staff can be complicated. Is that a cop-out that allows me to break the vegan ethos and eat cheese? I don’t know. But I do feel “guilty” about it – that I eat cheese. That I’m not “vegan enough.”

Yogurt is another bone of contention with me. I stopped consuming dairy milk and yogurt because of my desire not to spend my hard earned money on an industry that does not operate in line with my sense of compassion toward animals. But, I’ve had a hard time reaching my daily vitamin D and calcium requirements without my daily cup of yogurt. I’ve tried many different brands of soy yogurt. I don’t like any of them (though I love soy milk). I have resorted to taking a calcium/D vitamin supplement. This goes against my preference of getting my nutrition from food when possible. But eating dairy yogurt would make me even less vegan.

Here’s the question: who said that 100% vegan is perfection? Why does perfection even enter the equation? Am I not helping a great number of animals by not eating them? Am I not helping our planet just the same?

Last year, I went on a little day trip with my family to a dairy farm in Indiana called Fair Oaks Farms. What I saw there did not disturb me. I did not feel like I was watching unhappy cows. Of course, I know there is a deeper truth, and that deeper truth is disturbing (like, the fates of all of the baby calves that are born that happen to be male). It’s not a perfect industry, and not all farms are as “happy” as Fair Oaks. But if I choose to eat yogurt or cheese, I am doing so having fully considered where my food comes from and what effects its processing and manufacturing have on the animals and the environment.

Does that make me an animal killer? No. Life is not black or white. There is a gray area between these extremes. We have to maintain some sense of perspective, especially on a topic as personal and broad in scope as what we put in our bodies. When I visit an animal shelter, I want to take every single abandoned puppy and kitten home. I want to help all of the critters in my back yard – the birds, the bees, the rabbits, even the baby minks. Can I save them all? Should I save them all? No.

I can and should do my best to find a balance between what I need in my life and what is best for them – my animal friends. I rescued 3 cats; that is enough. I could not have more than 3 cats in my house and care for them properly. When I feel the need to do more, I donate to animal welfare organizations and local no-kill shelters. I do my part, whenever I can, however I can.

It’s the same with food. I need to find the balance between what I need for my health and well-being and what’s best for the animals and the planet. And I need to be OK with the fact that there is no such thing as perfection. Eating is a lifelong practice. We rehearse our food choices 3 times per day or more, every day, in hopes of achieving improvement. I hope to improve to the point of balance – a sense of peace with my choices and their effects on the world around me.

I need to draw my lines in the sand, enact those principles as my code of eating, and allow myself the luxuries of reflection, revision, and flexibility.

What is “ethical eating” to you? Do you have to be vegetarian or vegan to be an ethical eater?

Hits the spot

Oh man, I love food. I really, really do. If I would have known that what I’d been eating all those years wasn’t actually food – if I’d have known how delicious and satisfying real food actually is – well, I suppose I’d have switched to eating organic, whole foods long ago.

I just turned yesterday’s leftover bread from grilled banana sandwiches into french toast topped with fresh organic strawberry wedges and banana slices, drizzled with 100% pure maple syrup.

Ridiculous.

There were two motivating forces behind my initial decision to go organic. They centered around my anger at the various government food regulatory bodies for siding with corporate lobbyists and neglecting to properly protect and inform the citizens of the US. They centered around a general disgust of the money-hungry machine that is the American food industry. I didn’t want my hard-earned dollars supporting a corrupt system with deplorable priorities. The organic market isn’t perfect, and is of course run by those same regulatory bodies – but it’s as good as I could do short of growing my own food (an endeavor that I can only minimally participate in, given my current living arrangement). Today, I purchase as much food as I can at local farmers’ markets, and buy the rest certified organic.

What I didn’t expect was the deluge of reasons why I would choose to stay organic – a million little happy reasons called my taste buds.

I need to be a little more specific here, because it is quite possible to go “junk food organic” – which, while slightly better than eating traditional junk food (at least you wouldn’t be consuming pesticides and genetically modified food-like substances), isn’t exactly what I’m talking about. I’m talking about going whole-foods organic. Starting with real food that came from the earth. Minimally processed food. Clean food. (Coincidentally, I am in love with a cookbook by the same name – Clean Food by Terry Walters).

It’s no wonder I didn’t like eating vegetables as a kid. When they all come from a can or a bag, or even worse – a box, guess what? They all taste the same. And when they’re swimming in pools of chemicals waiting for you to throw them into the microwave to be nuked – well, let’s just say that’s no way to treat a vegetable.

I’ve had a chance to try quite a few fresh vegetables in the past 6 months – fresh, whole, organic plants. I’ve played with different forms of preparation, from steaming to roasting to sauteing to grilling to eating them raw. I’ve learned the effects of each method of preparation on the nutritional values. And I’ve discovered something amazing – vegetables all taste different! They have subtle, delicious flavors – none of which even remotely remind me of the bland “green” flavor that I remember as a kid. Today, I fill my plate up with greens without a second thought – and not because I have to. Because they taste good.

Every week is a new adventure when you spend most of your grocery shopping time in the produce department. Once upon a time, I’d make it through the produce area in seconds flat, hurrying to get into the bowels of the grocery store where all the “real” food was. Oh, if I only knew! Today, I can easily spend an hour in the produce area, checking out the latest additions to what’s in season and new for me to try. If you told me a year ago that I’d become one of those “perimeter” grocery shoppers – one of those people that rarely set foot within the actual aisles of the grocery store – I’d have never believed you. I’d have declared it impossible, because what on earth would such a person eat?!

They’d eat real, whole foods. And they’d enjoy their meals more than ever before. So delicious!


Organic is Easy

I waffled back and forth trying to decide if I should call this post, “Organic is Easy” or “So Much Good Food.” Both are so fitting!

When I climbed into this rabbit hole (thanks for the visual, Human Head!) of “going organic,” I expected to be up against quite a challenge. After all, I’ve gone low fat, I’ve gone low carb, I’ve gone vegetarian and back – and all were fairly huge shifts in how I shopped, how I ate, how things tasted, and – most importantly – how much I was forced to deprive myself of. I didn’t enjoy any of my other “ways of eating,” (mostly due to unpleasant taste and texture issues). I expected “going organic” to be pretty much like that.

It has been nothing like that! There has been a shift in how I shop (though shopping online from home and having groceries delivered feels like a luxury rather than a challenge). When I’m not shopping from Peapod, I do have to travel a little farther for my groceries to get to Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s, but it’s not that big of a deal. I’m a commuter, driving 50+ miles round trip every day for work. A few extra minutes in the car doesn’t phase me.

Other than that, though, I feel more like a kid in a candy store than a woman shackled to deprivation. Real food tastes SO GOOD! The flavors are so much better than anything I yanked from the freezer, pre-packaged, and threw in the microwave in my former life. And, preparing real food takes much less time than I imagined (or feared) that it would. I’m a busy person. I work 2 jobs (one full time, one half time) and go to school as a half time student, as well as take on occasional web and photography gigs on the side. For years, I’ve made the excuse that I just don’t have time to cook. In reality, it takes no more than a half hour per day to plan and prepare good food to eat – often less, because I make larger batches of a recipe when I have the time, then freeze the leftovers to throw in my lunchbox for those work days when I’m gone sun-up to sun-down.

The message I’d like to yell from the mountaintops: Quit with the excuses and stop feeding your body crap! Food is fuel. I feel like I am now intercepting and diverting a myriad of health issues that were likely barreling toward me: diabetes, heart disease, cancers…. Do it NOW before it’s too late! Some of these conditions are not reversible. I decided not to be the person sitting in a doctor’s office getting a grim diagnosis, wishing I’d have just started taking care of myself a little sooner. Don’t be that person. If you live in the US, the government isn’t watching over your health (sadly); the burden of education is on you. Find out what’s in your food and where it comes from. When you do, you just might come to agree that most of what’s sitting on the supermarket shelves is not actually food at all.

Avoid Pesticide Residues on Fruits & Veggies

My lunch today included a big ol’ bowl of my front lawn. Well, not really – but in the past, I’m pretty famous for saying I wouldn’t eat a salad that looked like weeds pulled from my front lawn. (My mom is proud, I’m sure!)

Earthbound Farm Spring MixIn this week’s Peapod grocery delivery, I had them bring me a box of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix for my salads. Instead of just plain ol’ iceberg lettuce, I’m now eating arugula, frisee, green chard, green oak, green romaine, lollo rosa, mizuna, radicchio, red chard, red oak, red romaine, and tango (half of which I’ve never even heard of!) One serving provides 130% of the day’s Vitamin A requirement and 50% of my Vitamin C, amongst other things. Not bad!! It’s fresh, it tastes great, and even the container makes me feel good – it was made from recycled plastic bottles.

I decided to check out Earthbound Farm’s web site, where I found a free downloadable pocket guide to Choosing Organic fruits and veggies. This brings me to the point of today’s post.

I’ve been pretty lucky to find so many options for buying organic produce in my area, with both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market a short drive away, and Peapod carrying a full line of organics. It’s not always possible to find organic versions of all of the fruits and veggies that you may want to eat, though. In those cases, try to focus on getting organic varieties of the fruits and veggies that are most likely to be covered in multiple pesticide residues in their traditional forms.

A trick to remembering which ones are OK to buy and eat as traditional non-organics, if you must: if it has a skin that you do NOT eat, the inner fruit or flesh is likely protected from pesticide residues.

However, if you eat the skin – chances are, it’s carrying pesticide residues. So, try to buy these fruits and veggies organic whenever possible:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Celery
  • Bell peppers
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Lettuce

That way, you’ll avoid eating those pesticides! Do you really want to be eating chemical and biological agents designed to kill living things? I don’t!

Source: Earthbound Farm Pocket Guide to Choosing Organic

Adventures in Chopping

Tonight I bring you the first in a series called, “Adventures in Chopping.” Sure, wielding a big, sharp knife may be child’s play to most of you, but to me? It’s confusing, intriguing, and simultaneously terrifying.

You see, I’m clumsy. ’nuff said.

At any rate, I’ve got a long day ahead of me tomorrow, and I know I will not be waking up early enough to feed myself properly. Since I now have a fridge full of produce (thanks to Peapod), I thought I’d better get chopping (literally and figuratively). I decided to make tomorrow’s breakfast tonight, so I can just grab it and go as I sleepwalk out the door in the morning.

The adventure started like this:
Googling how to chop peppers

Yes, I had to Google how to chop a bell pepper. I also had to Google how to chop an onion. Now you hush with the laughing!

It took me a good half hour to chop up one red pepper and one onion, but there was no bloodshed – and that’s a primary goal, right?

chopped red peppers

Mission accomplished.

On a side note, I have to share tonight’s dinner. I wouldn’t normally be so ga-ga over a sandwich, but this was the most delicious lunch meat I’ve ever had in my life… no joke. I will have to review it properly at some point. It was deli sliced herb turkey breast made by Applegate Farms – the organic meat company that touts, “There is no mystery to our meat!” The product description: “Our tender juicy turkey breast meat is lightly salted, coated with an earthy herb mix of parsley, rosemary and sage, then slowly roasted.”

I think that herb mix was more heavenly than earthy! Mighty tasty.

Applegate Farms Herb Turkey Sandwich

I wish I’d have gotten out the fine china for a sandwich of that caliber of deliciousness! (For the record: the sandwich was turkey breast with lettuce, mild cheddar cheese, and a little mayo on whole grain bread, with a side of vanilla yogurt with blueberries – all organic, of course!)

EpicOrganic.net

Welcome to Epic Organic!

Hello, and welcome to Epic Organic! I’ll be your host, and I am Shelly. As I write this, I’m a 35 year old Chicago native (brr!) living in the southwest suburbs.

I began 2010 with a few resolutions. Continue eating natural and organic whenever possible. Try 10 new foods this year. Learn to cook.

I recently realized the foods I bought off the shelves of my local supermarket and ate every day weren’t what I had assumed them to be – in fact, some weren’t actually foods at all, but more like chemical concoctions made to resemble food. As I dove deeper into researching the US food industry and food labels and ingredients, I discovered frightening facts about genetic engineering, hormones, antibiotics, cloning, and other things that, quite frankly, don’t sound like they should be anywhere near my food.