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The Sun-Rises to the Beet (Sunrise Pasta with Coconut Beet Sauce)

I pretty much ignore him every week as I walk down the aisles, clipboard in hand. He stands behind a table and two large coolers, smiling and taking in the scenery, as though he were a hiker in a commercial for allergy medicine. He always seems to float in a cloud of serenity, and I get the feeling that this weekend gig of selling goods at the farmers market is the least stressful part of his week. In stark contrast, I balance an extra large coffee cup in my grip, and try to hold myself so that the dripping eruption of jet fuel stays contained to the area around my hands and misses my shirt. I frantically dart from booth to booth, scribbling down a list of vegetables trying desperately to categorize them into logical order before calling in to the “fresh and local” radio show with Susan Berkson and Bonnie Dehn. If curious, most of the vendors ask me what I am up to, why I am walking around with a clip board, or (if they know me) what’s on the schedule for the day’s market talk.

Not the calm one.

He just stands.

Stoic.

Quietly amused.

Watching.

I don’t usually avoid him on purpose, although sometimes I fear that my constant state of frazzle will pierce through the calm and send his energy field into anaphylactic shock. Mainly, I just haven’t had much to ask him about. He sells fresh pasta, which, isn’t a seasonal food and so it doesn’t get too much air time on the radio show in the summer. It also happens to be something that, until recently, belonged to a category of foods I was attempting to eat less of.

Last Sunday, the sun blazed so hot that it cooked the souls out of the ground. They rose in steamy streams and hovered about clinging to the fabric of our shirts and haunting every corner of breathable air. The vegetables wilted in terror, but they were only pretending, lying down to play dead until the weather breaks. The people came and went quickly, they were tethered to the unshakable wills of small children, who couldn’t quite express the effect that the heat was having on their mood quite as well as their scrunched up faces and irritable glares. The market was slow. I decided to use the time to figure out what I am going to make for my cooking demo on the July 24th. The pasta man stuck out like a tree in the deserted aisle. I wondered over to him.

“Hi” I said.

“Hi there, can I help you find something?”

“are you the pasta maker?”

“no, I just sell for my neighbor on the weekends. I don’t make pasta, but I do grow a lot of my own food.”

“Really, what do you grow?”

“Here, try a cherry.” He said, producing a cherry bowl from behind the table. “I planted this tree when my daughter was born. That was over 20 years ago now, and every year it produces like crazy!” He said, his eyes glistening with excitement.

The cherry had a flavor so rich and perfectly “cherry” that it almost tasted artificial. It was delicious.

“Do you have a pasta that will go well with golden beets?”

“Here” He said with a sly smile. Try these…

I took home two packages of pasta, and red and golden beets. After some delicious experimentation and finally the approval of a discerning board of judges (thank you Christina and Jessie) I came up with the following dishes: Both feature the product of the week (beets). Recipes will be posted following the demonstration at the Minneapolis Farmers Market at 10:30 am on Sunday, July 24th. It’s free and open to the public, please come!

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These are a few of my favorite things

I have a cousin who used to dream of one day becoming a tour guide. In the summers we would often spend two weeks together up at my grandparents house in Maine. He would give us tours of the house, day after day, we would be introduced to the kitchen, the pantry, the bathroom, the linen closet. We would often tease him, in the way that kids do, about being “off of his rocker”, but now I think that he may have been onto something.

It’s fun seeing my home through the eyes of a traveler. This was the thought that occupied my mind while running through the shady strip lined with fragrant lilac trees. It was a hidden oasis nestled smack in the middle of a split suburban throughway during rush-hour.

“Do runners typically wave when they pass each other in Vermont?” I asked our east coast visitor. The lilac trees opened up, letting us out onto an island of soft green. A narrow strip of brown marked a compact trail build by hundreds of stomping running shoes. I was remembering being really surprised by how friendly people are in Minnesota. Truth be told, it terrified me.

“Um, actually, we don’t have the volume of runners where I live in Vermont that you do here, nor do we have the trail system. I hardly see people when I run.” She continued, “The people are really friendly here, actually, I am amazed by how friendly they are. It’s amazing how people will take the time to talk to a complete stranger about the weather.”

Walkers, runners, bicyclers, skateboarders, our suburban streets have the activity of a beach town. No temperate day goes unappreciated, or undiscussed. On the weekends, the local farmers market where I work is transformed to a fairground, where street performers play and children tug their parents around with strawberry smeared grins. I stand at the demo station waiting for people to ask where to find the best rosemary, or who has those little red new potatoes. I listen for these questions, and often butt-in to answer them regardless of whether they are addressed to me or not. It thrills me to guide people through the market. I’m sure that my cousin will be pleased to hear that I often find myself wondering if there is a demand for farmers market shirpas in this economy.

Toward the end of my shift I received this text message from my friend Josh.

“Are you at working at the market today? We have some out of town guests and we are here.”

It couldn’t have been a more perfect day to share. The strawberries are ripe, the flowers are blooming, a bounty of greens lines every stall, scattered tomatoes, potatoes, kohlrabi, and red radishes stick out like blushing jewels, the smell of herbs solidifies the whole experience into a memory.

Here are some of my favorite things that were shared with my friends and me and on our tour of the market today. Some of them are not things that we sell at the market, like this fermented garlic that the Worker Bs brought back from their travels out east: And here are some greens that grower Shur Yang identified for us on our radio show (to listen to the show, click on Saturday June 18th) (garlic scapes with a single sprig of chinese broccoli on top). When I got home I sauteed a whole bunch of chinese broccoli with three or four garlic scapes. Inspired by an AMAZING cooking demonstration from blogger Amy Peterson of “Green your plate“, I flavored them with the following ingredients.Mmmm delicious! Happy travels!

 

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Fertilizer and Omelettes

Asparagus Omelette with Bacon and Chives Recipe

“It’s what’s on this table” Mike said, as he scooped his hand through the soft brown pellets, lifting up a handful and letting it drop from his fingers like sand. It reminded me of rich chocolate Ovaltine, that drink we used to have as kids, only much darker.

“Black gold?” I said.

“Hey, have you been reading my notes?” Mike replied, laughing. He was getting ready to give a “market talk” about earthworm castings at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Some of the growers have been mentioning castings a lot recently, mostly in reference to how they make a casting tea to spread on their crops. This, they have found, gives them a better product.

“Castings”, it turns out, is just a fancy word for poop.

Poop tea.We joked around about earthworm castings for several moments, before the conversation turned to the mating habits of bees. It seemed a totally natural turn, considering the other half of the table contained a giant display of worker B products. Mike (pictured above) and Liesa (pictured below) are the worker bee’s of Worker B. “So I understand how bees mate, and it’s crazy, but I still don’t get the whole chicken egg fertilization thing.” Liesa said.

“Uhhh..” I said, trying to find a response that would make me seem knowledgeable, or at the very least, clever. I had nothing.

“yeeeaaaii don’t know about that one. I’ll find out for you though!” I said.

I took out my phone dove out of the conversation and into the chaos of shoppers zig-zagging through the aisles. With loose shoulders I dodged and shimmied my way through, narrowly avoiding many a fanny pack. Unruly green onions sprouted from shopping bags, whipping me as I passed. I had to tip-toe through buckets full of tulips, but nothing would stand in the way of my mission.

Destination: Blue Gentian.

Darryle, of Blue Gentian, farms chickens… and ducks, and turkeys. He also has sheep, pigs, goats, and cows. Here is what he had to say about chickens:

Chicken mating lasts less than 30 seconds, during which the rooster sperm enters the oviduct. The rooster sperm then travels through the hen’s reproductive organs to the infundibulum, which is downstream of the hen’s ovary. The journey to the infundibulum can take over a week, but once there, the sperm can remain for several days, ambushing eggs as they are released from the ovary. The unsuspecting chickens are used to laying eggs, fertilized or not, they do it almost daily.

“My chickens leave me 3-5 eggs every day” said one of the master gardeners at the market.
“Wait a minute, you have chickens? I thought you said you lived in Minneapolis?”
“Oh yes, I have 8! The city allows you to have them after your neighbors have signed off that it is okay and your coup has been inspected.” She replied.

Interesting. I don’t have a coup, and I am pretty sure my neighbors wouldn’t be too thrilled with me housing chickens in our apartment (not that it matters much, turns out Saint Paul is much more lenient than Minneapolis when it comes to owning poultry.) I wanted to stay and hear more about how to own chickens..but I was dying to get back to Liesa with my new found knowledge.

“Makes sense” Liesa said, shrugging. “Thanks!” She grinned.

“Thank YOU!” I replied. “This is totally interesting. Now I need to know your favorite egg recipes so that I can make a dish to go with this story. Any ideas?”

“I usually just make leftover omelettes.” Mike chimed in. “I’ll put anything leftover in an omelette. Even pizza!”

“Well, I do have some asparagus leftover from yesterday..”

 

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Asparagus with butter-tea infusion

I love a rainy day at the farmer’s market, and here’s why:

The contrast of color is amazing. Red, purple, blue and yellow flowers protrude out of the dull gray skies, with soft petals that look as though they were carved out of butter.

The sound of rain smacking into puddles is relaxing.

The produce stays perky all morning, and due to slower traffic, the good stuff is still available so when I am done with work and ready to shop.

Their is plenty of time to exchange stories with the vendors. For example:

Fascinating!

And it got me thinking. Why don’t I ever cook with tea? Mrs. Kelly has lots of award winning tea’s available at the market, and all of them seem like they would contribute a really unique flavor well suited for…well I don’t know, asparagus maybe? Here is Mr. Kelly talking about one of their latest creations:

Feeling inspired, I swung by the table of Produce Acres Cold Springs Farm to visit “the asparagus guy”. I bought a pound of asparagus. Then, after some discussion with the Mr. Kelly, I decided to flavor the asparagus with green jasmine tea. First, I melted some butter (~1/2 stick) over low heat, and poured in 2 tsp green jasmine tea. It seemed like the tea trapped the milk solids (or something) because when I went to strain the mixture, only liquid poured through. This is a good thing, because the milk solids in butter is what causes butter to sometimes burn. Essentially, what is in the bottom of this measuring cup is jasmine green tea infused ghee (clarified butter). After a quick sautee of the asparagus with 2 cloves of garlic, a little salt, and this delicious butter concoction, I poured about 2 tsp water into the pan and covered with a lid to steam for 2 min. The end result was quite tasty!

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Herb magic

The wind stampeded through the lot, picking up napkins and knocking over plates, and leaving smears of mustard and coleslaw in its wake. The market employees, it seemed, had all managed to position themselves away from their shady tents in order to absorb warmth from available patches of sunlight. I had abandoned the demo station, and was standing next to Loretta and Sandy watching helplessly as gusts threw themselves into the tent’s billowing white walls.

“I’ve heard of tents actually lifting off of the ground and impaling people before.” Sandy said, sounding depressed.

Both Loretta and I looked at her, quizzically

“..at another market” she continued. We all exhaled hard, and stared back at the tent. We were like innocent villagers, watching from a distance as enemy troops ransacked our home.

A strange rustling was brewing behind us. I swung around and observed a parting sea of market shoppers as a large white van emerged. The bright-eyed and sunny, Mrs. Bonnie Dehn (affectionately referred to as the MN herb lady, because she and her husband are associated with the delicious herbs that they grow on their farm, Dehn’s Gardens) was in the driver’s seat. The van stopped at our feet and Bonnie jumped down, smiling and waving as she rushed to open the side door. Within moments all thoughts of the wind had vanished and we were reclaiming our fallen empire by bringing in herbs, terracotta pots, and potting soil.

As she hooked on the microphone for her market talk, I mentioned to Bonnie that earlier in the morning Loretta and I had a tasting of several of different varieties of Dehn’s farm’s mint, including apple, pineapple, chocolate, and orange mint.

“Oooooh, try THIS!!” Bonnie said, excitedly, and she picked a little red bud off of one of the herb plants and handed it to me. I placed the flower on my tongue and tasted.. petal, with a hind of grass, then nothing..and then..

POOF.

All at once like a shot of compressed air, the pineapple flavor exploded on my palate, and as quickly as it came, it was gone.

“Wow, what was that?” I asked.

“It was pineapple sage, here, rub the leaves it’s very fragrant”. Bonnie pet the sage gingerly with the flat side of her fingers, the way one would if they were to carefully stroke a chinchilla, or brush a harp without making a sound. I ran my fingers over the leaves and inhaled their scent, which was fresh and cleansing, like being washed with rain.

The wind continued, but Bonnie had barricaded herself behind a fortress of herbs and laughter. One by one the people gathered, feeling assured by her presence that they were safe from the chilly assaults of the wind. A few soldiers went down, the tri-colored sage, the lemon thyme, and the Greek oregano, but Bonnie plowed through her talk as though it were a mild and temperate summer day. The entire time she spoke, I asked myself why I don’t simply surround myself with herbs all the time. It feels so good to be around them, yet I always seem to talk myself out of buying them, fearing that I will be neglectful, or harvest too much too soon and end up killing the plant. Fortunately for me, Bonnie doesn’t let people go around empty handed.

“Here honey” Bonnie said, before leaving after her talk. She was clutching the edges of a pot overflowing with a cornucopia of herbs. “Take this home and put it on your windowsill.”

I practically skipped to my car, herbs in hand, mentally hooking their flavors together and taking them apart as though I were a kid on Christmas morning having just received a kit of Legos.

I love my job.

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The longer the winter, the sweeter the parsnip?

Spring-dug parsnip chips with fresh mint

“Have you ever had a spring-dug parsnip?” My hand hovered over the little basket of what looked like white carrots. I froze at the question, and looked up from under my sweatshirt hood.

“no, why, are they different from fall parsnips?” I asked, slightly embarrassed for my ignorance. His tone implied that I might want to reconsider my purchase after the lesson I was about to receive.

“YES..” Heinel’s farmer Don answered, in a cautioning tone. Then he said”…they are much SWEETER!”

It was like having somebody say ‘sorry, I don’t have a dollar for you…but you can have twenty!’

My hand came back to life, and commenced greedily loading parsnips into the loot-bag that swung from my wrist.

Farmer Don continued, “we made parsnip chips with them, they were really good.”

At those words my taste-buds sprung out of bed. The salty-sweet crispness of a parsnip chip would be just the thing to justify this wintery day in mid-May. Since the heat in our building has recently been switched to air-conditioning, I figured it would be nice to have the oven going for warmth.

When I got home, I consulted the internet about spring-dug parsnips. According to various sources, many vegetables get woody or bland durning the winter rest, but parsnips seem to just get tastier.

Sometimes they get so sweet that you can even eat them raw. Timing is important, however. If they are left in the ground too long, the budding foliage will rob sugar off of the parsnips and you will be left with a hardened bitter root. I knew I wasn’t going to have to worry about that. Farmer Don is an excellent grower of vegetables. I made Heinel Farms spring-dug parsnip chips today and they were delicious!

Note: I like to finish my parsnips with a sprinkle of mint. We have several varieties of mint at the Minneapolis Farmers Market this time of the year, including chocolate mint, pineapple mint, and orange mint!

 

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Spring’s Game

Arugula, Fennel, and Sunchoke Salad with Grapefruit Walnut Dressing (found under Paleo recipes)

We wintered hard in Minnesota this year, packing ourselves up daily for a snowy trudge to work, pulling on furry boots, the outer hide still wet and matted from the previous day. Our morning rituals were closed by the reluctant zip of a feathered-down jacket. Our gait reduced to a heavy waddle under the weight of 3, sometimes 4 layers. We shivered through the first 5 minutes of our favorite morning radio show, rewarding our resilience with sips from tightly sealed traveling coffee mugs.

After all that work, it was difficult not to feel entitled to a little reprieve. When Spring poked her head up and tiptoed across my bedroom floor to greet me on that first bright morning, I felt for sure she was here to stay. The boxes came out of storage. Closet hangers were emptied and refilled with glowing clothes that bounced and swayed.

Alas, the following morning spring was nowhere to be found. She was hiding somewhere, giggling and waiting to be caught, while snow flurries tickled the shy, naked ground, causing it to tense up.

My bouncy clothes proved to be poor armor from the darkness. I watched and felt camaraderie as drivers stopped at stoplights, clutching their travel coffee mugs in desperation.

I’ve heard grief comes in stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. In the past few weeks I am sure I have felt them all. I ran through the bitter wind and flurries of May day. I cursed the sleeting skies of April. I promised to take advantage of ever ounce of sunlight granted. I slept and watched bad TV shows instead of blogging; and finally, I welcomed the weather in whatever form it chose to appear.

Late this 43 degree morning, Spring padded her sleepy feet slowly out of hiding, rubbing her eyes, and widening her lips into a smile that warmed us to 62 degrees! I whistled my way to the co-op with a delicious craving to blog!

 

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Re-posting for TwinTown

In honor of TwinTown Crossfit I am re-posting this January post in which I reviewed some of the recent scientific studies about the paleo diet. I’m doing this because I am planning to talk about this research tonight, and I am sure I will forget some of the details:

“The information cascade, or what I think should be called ‘the misinformation cascade’ is when people see someone else doing something and then they do the same thing, even though it goes against their instincts. It’s what has caused us all to keep buying low-fat foods even though they don’t actually improve weight loss. Eventually that sort of mis-information gets repeated so many times that it is taken to be true, even without any real evidence.” Dave said. I sat in his office snacking on a red bell-pepper. I was telling him about how hard it is for me to change my perception of animal fats as being evil, and grains as being good. It’s like a scooby doo ending, where the bad guy removes his mask to reveal that he was really the friendly neighbor that you had been trusting all along.

For the past 3 weeks Christina and I have been adhering to a palaeolithlic diet. I didn’t do too much research before we started (mainly because we are both healthy and can afford to play around with our diet for the sake of experimentation) but after being a vegetarian for so long, and now eating a diet heavily laden with meat, I decided to dig into the literature to see what potential damage I might actually be causing.

What I have been finding out has totally blown my mind.

Here is a summary of what I read this afternoon. The field of palaeolithic nutrition begins with observational studies of hunter-gatherer cultures, a few scattered studies comparing modern “western” diets with traditional diets and such. In the past few years, however, a number of small clinical trials have been done comparing the palaeolithic diet with various other “healthy” diets.

In 2007, Lindeberg et al compare the palaeolithic diet of lean meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, root vegetables, eggs, and nuts with a “Mediterranean-like diet” comprised of whole grains, low-fat dairy, vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, oils, and margarine, in ischaemic heart disease patients with either type 2 diabetes or glucose intolerance. The study lasted 12 weeks, after which comparisons of body weight, waist circumference, and glucose tolerance were made. Both groups lost comparable amounts of weight, and reduced waist circumference, however the palaeo group had significantly improved glucose tolerance over the Mediterranean-like diet:

(the light grey is baseline glucose area under the curve (AUC) the medium grey is after 6 weeks and the dark grey is after 12 weeks (Lindeberg et al., 2007). The shorter the bar, the better the glucose tolerance.)

Okay, so this study shows that the palaeo diet might be slightly better than the Mediterranean diet if you have ischaemic heart disease and glucose intolerance. What about the rest of us?

In 2008, Osterdahl et al performed a dietary intervention on a small group of healthy individuals as part of a pilot study. They tested the effects of 3 weeks of a palaeolithic diet on several metabolic endpoints. They found significant reductions in body weight, BMI, waist circumference, systolic blood pressure, and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (used as a marker of several disease states, including cancer, obesity, and metabolic syndrome). Although the palaeo diet was higher in cholesterol, it did not cause increased blood cholesterol of the subjects. The subjects ate far less calories on the paleo diet than they had prior to the start of the study.

In 2009 Frassetto et al investigated the effects of a palaeo diet on different outcome variables used to measure circulatory health, and carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. The diet was controlled in that the researchers portioned out food and kept the calories constant to prevent the patients from losing weight. They wanted to see if the diet could be of benefit independently of the reduced body weight. The paleo diet REDUCED blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, VLDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, without affecting HDL cholesterol. They also found that it improved results of an oral glucose tolerance test, as well as reducing diastolic blood pressure. These results are extremely impressive given the small size of the group (9) and the short length of the study.

In 2009 Jönsson et al. performed a study where patients with type-2 diabetes ate either a palaeolithic diet or a “diabetes diet” which was designed in accordance with current guidelines. This was a randomized cross-over study, which basically means that each participant consumed both diets, and the order in which they completed each trial was random. Thus some patients ate palaeo for 3 months, then were switched to the “diabetes diet” and vice versa. The conclusion of the study was that the palaeo diet significantly improved glycemic control as well as body weight, BMI, diastolic blood pressure, triacylglycerol, and raised HDL compared with the “diabetes diet”.

These studies were all small, pilot type studies. I imagine it is incredibly difficult to find funding for something that is so contrary to what has been en-grained in our minds for years. When someone speaks to me about heart health, I think oatmeal. This is not due to any sort of research that I have seen, but instead to this little icon:It says “As part of a heart healthy diet, the soluble fiber in oatmeal helps reduce cholesterol.” If it’s only the soluble fiber that makes oatmeal a heart healthy food, a person would actually be better off skipping the oatmeal and having a cup of blackberries for breakfast instead, as blackberries have nearly twice the soluble fiber of oatmeal. In fact, most fruits and vegetables are high in soluble fiber, so why does my brain instantly think of oatmeal when people start talking fiber?

For more information about the politics of food labeling, check out the amazingly awesome Marion Nestle’s website

For more information about the paleo diet, check out the site of Dr. Loren Cordain, PhD by clicking here

..and for an awesome community of people who are eating primal (similar to paleo, but with a few delicious differences) click on Mark Sission’s site here

References:

Lindeberg S, Jönsson T, Granfeldt Y, Borgstrand E, Soffman J, Sjostrom K, Ahren B. “A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease” Diabetologia, 50(9): 1795-807, Sep 2007.

Osterdahl M, Kocturk T, Koochek A, and Wandell PE. “Effects of a short-term intervention with a paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 62, 682-5; 2008.

Frassetto LA, Schloetter M, Mietus-Synder M, Morris Jr RC, and Sebastian A. “Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 63, 947-55; 2009.

Jönsson T, Granfeldt Y, Ahren B, Branell UC, Palsson G, Hansson A, Soderstrom M, and Lindeberg S. “Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetics: a randomized cross-over pilot study” Cardiovascular Diabetology. 8:35; 2009.

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