Orange-Cranberry-Rosemary Corn Muffins

 

1 cup cornmeal

½ cup flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

 

3 eggs

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup melted butter

zest and juice from 1 navel orange

 

1 cup fresh cranberries, cut in half

1 tbsp chopped rosemary

 

Preheat oven to 325 and line 8-10 muffin wells with paper.

Beat wet ingredients together and whisk dry together.

fold cranberries and rosemary into wet ingredients, then fold wet into dry until just combined.

pour into tins and bake for 30 minutes or until inserted stick comes out clean.

Healthy Living Blog: Next Level Veggies: Fermentation for Everyone

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Whether you’re shopping in our produce department, at a farmers’ market, or eating out of your own garden this season, I’m sure you’ve noticed how abundant the harvest of fresh food is right now! Personally, I find it a little overwhelming (in the best way possible, of course). I want to eat everything all the time, and I can’t keep up! New things appear on our shelves every day, and each is better than the last. How can we keep enjoying our favorite staples, explore the ephemeral seasonal items, and keep some around for times of less abundance? I have an answer for you, and it’s a practice as old as agriculture itself. I’m talking about fermentation.

Yes, fermentation is an ancient alchemical process by which raw ingredients are combined in such a way that biological reactions take place and fresh perishable food is transformed into a mystic concoction that only gets better with time. In wild-fermented foods, the healthy bacteria inherently present in raw fruits and veggies are manipulated to transform these foods, introducing new intriguing flavors, preserving raw nutrients and unlocking vital minerals for our bodies to use.

 

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Some lucky Healthy Living staff got the opportunity to learn about wild fermentation last week from the very man who wrote the book on this art, Sandor Katz. In his intensive, hands-on class, we took fruits and veggies grown by the same Vermont farms who supply Healthy Living and added nothing more than sugar and salt to them, and watched as before our eyes they were transformed into probiotic soda and lacto-fermented kraut. In a few days (or weeks, or months, depending on your taste), you can enjoy your next-level veggies as a savory, nutritious kraut, and your ripe berries as a delicious effervescent tonic—and you won’t believe how easy it is.

 

The vegetable versions most are familiar with are sauerkraut, simply cabbage and salt, andkimchi, a Korean-style kraut usually made with nappa cabbage, carrots, scallions, radishes, garlic, ginger and hot pepper as well as salt. In class, we made a hybrid ferment, using many of the ingredients of kimchi minus the chili pepper and ginger. This “kraut-chi” has the variety of kimchi with a milder flavor. If you don’t like some or any of these classic veggies, you can use almost anything—roots, brassicas, nightshades, stonefruit, apples—even watermelon rind and rhubarb! If you can grow it, you can sour it. Not everything will ferment to your liking—greens have a bitter flavor and slimy texture on their own and work better in a mixture—but the possibilities are as varied as your own preferences, and the only way to find out what you like is to experiment!

 

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Begin by trimming and rinsing the dirt off of your produce—but no need to scrub too hard or peel; the bacteria in the outer layers will catalyze the fermentation process. Then grate, chop or slice everything into small pieces. Different sizes are OK as long as you are exposing plenty of surface area—the more, the better to achieve even texture in the final product. Mix all your prepped produce together in a large bowl, crock, or bucket—glass, plastic or ceramic are great, and a metal mixing bowl is fine at this stage, but don’t use metal as the fermentation container, as the salt can corrode it.

 

The next step is to add salt—any salt will do, but keep in mind that the less refined it is, the more minerals will be made bioavailable by fermentation, and the more nutritious the final product will be. A sea salt is ideal for this reason. You want to aim for roughly 2% salinity in your kraut, so measure based on the volume of your veggies. The saltiness can be adjusted to your liking, but you want to make sure there’s enough to get the process going.

 

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Using your hands, massage, pound or squeeze the slaw to evenly mix in the salt, and then keep kneading it. This will slowly release all of the water from the veggies and produce your brine. Keep going until the volume of the slaw is reduced by about half. When your veggies are good and tender and there is some liquid in the container, you can stop and let things sit for a few minutes. More water will be released.

 

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While the veggies marinate, you can prepare your fermentation container. In class, we mixed our kraut in a 5-gallon bucket, pounded it down to 2.5 gallons and filled 10 quart-sized glass jars with our fresh kraut. You want at least an inch of space at the top of the container to allow for bubbling. The final step is to press the mixture down in its container so that all of it is submerged in the brine. This will keep oxygen from acting on the kraut. Lacto-fermentation takes place by the action of lactic acid bacteria, or lactobacillus, which is an anaerobic process. This means it happens in the absence of oxygen. While your kraut is fermenting at room temperature for the next few weeks, all you have to do is keep it covered with a lid (but you don’t have to seal it) and pressing it down below the brine. If you decide to seal the lid to prevent overflows, remember to burp the container a couple of times a day.

 

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For the first few days, the bacteria will produce lots of carbon dioxide, which creates bubbles. You may see your kraut bubbling visibly or it may simply rise to the top of the jar. Using your clean hands or a spoon, just press it down until all of the bubbles below the surface are released. After about 10 days, it will be reasonably mature and you can start tasting it to monitor its flavor. When you like the way it tastes, put it in the fridge—or let it keep going! Kraut can keep fermenting in this environment for months, even years, and it will never spoil, only develop further. White mold on the surface is not necessarily a problem—just a result of the kraut coming into contact with oxygen. Scrape it off, resubmerge and let the party continue!

 

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The ecosystem created by fermentation is amazing, and when you eat fermented foods, you are adding this community of good bacteria into your gut, and both supporting your digestion and fortifying your immune system. Not to mention the amazing anti-cancer compounds that are made accessible in simple, inexpensive foods such as cabbage by these bacteria! You could say that eating fermented foods is your best health insurance policy…but don’t take my word for it—try it yourself! Healthy Living sells both of Sandor’s books, which are full of funny anecdotes, practical instructions and recipes for both the beginner and the advanced fermenter, ranging from fruit and vegetables to grains, beans, dairy and beverages—kombucha, anyone? You can create a lifetime of living food from these books and they are worth their weight in gold. You’re the alchemist—have fun!

 

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Posted on the Healthy Living Blog on Monday, July 8th, 2014

Healthy Living Blog: Afield with Vermont Farmers

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Farm season in Vermont is peaking, and to us at Healthy Living, this means it’s also farm trip season! Last Wednesday, a group of HL staff took a trip to several of our local producers’ fields (I guess that makes it a field trip??) to see what’s coming out of the ground and learn more about how it’s grown. To me, this opportunity to connect, to witness and to deepen our relationship with vendors is vital to being part of a business that supports local. For anyone who buys local, when we get to know our farmers, we enrich every bite and add value to every purchase by knowing who grew our food, what care they took in doing so, what they risked and sacrificed to make it possible, and what it means to them to bring it to us. I don’t think anyone we visited would mind another friend stopping by, so I highly encourage you to make a pilgrimage to your local farms and let them know you love their food! I swear, it makes the veggies grow bigger…

 

What struck me most about this farm trip was how different each farm is. So different, in fact, that it reminded me of the four student houses in Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School. Each house, and each farm had its strengths and its weaknesses, its characteristics and its aversions, and these differences are what make them all worth appreciating. When we all play to our strengths and diversify, a rainbow of bounty (and a stronger food system) is the result. As with people, I’m sure glad every farm isn’t the same…how boring would that be?

 

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Our first stop of the day was on Grand Isle at MR Sol Farm. MR Sol—formerly MR Harvest—is certified organic and run by Dave McGregor and his partner Greg Sol, who together manage several high tunnels as well as two sets of fields in diversified vegetable production. Dave grew up on the farm, which started as a large flower garden under his father’s hand and grew into what it is today, 25 acres of intensively cropped land.

 

The farm is still recovering from a very wet season last year, which had a big impact on the diversity of their crops. This year, they are working on restoring variety to their fields, with moderate success. Dave was quite honest with us when showing certain heirloom species, explaining that they can be more fickle and susceptible to environmental factors than their more common descendents, and a risk to grow.

 

It’s obvious that Dave has to make tough choices between offering more to his customers and protecting his business, but his positive attitude more than makes up for any disappointments. I’ve never met a farmer so determined to problem-solve and willing to try anything and everything to squeeze the most out of his acres.

 

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And I wasn’t fooled by his less-than-perfect fields, which were unapologetically weedy—ever since we started receiving boxes from him back in April, I am consistently impressed with the quality of his produce, which is unmatched and stands out from our already exceptional shelves, practically glowing with vitality.

 

After being invited to pick right from his plants on our tour, we stepped into his walk-in to conclude the visit and found it impossible to stop him from filling an overflowing box of his best produce for us to take home. Dave’s generosity, ethics and above all, his down-to-earth honesty all impressed me greatly. You can taste the best by looking for MR Sol’s yellow and red onions, cucumbers and eggplant, gold beets and green cabbage, scallions and a mess of tomatoes this week in Healthy Living Produce.

 

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We continued on our rainy journey to Savage Point Road on North Hero, home to Savage Gardens. They are probably most famous for their delicious eggs, but what I didn’t know is that they also have a bustling farm stand and extensive gardens. I can also personally attest to their having extra tasty meat birds, after bringing home a fresh one and roasting it whole. HL is currently carrying their beautiful red and blue new potatoes, which I can’t get enough of—did I mention I roasted my chicken on a bed of them? Be sure you visit their happy farm to pick up a fresh bird if you get a chance.

 

Hugo and Amanda Gervais started growing on the property after building their home in 2001. Amanda’s garden grew and brought her to local farmers’ markets, and eventually animals were added to the mix and Hugo joined her to farm full-time. The diversity of their farm is amazing for its size—quite small, that is. This land supports thousands of laying hens, broiler birds, their 3 dairy cows—yes, they sell raw milk—and a cornucopia of fresh produce, as well as cut flowers. They also sell piglets! We met their 4 pigs who were friendly and frolicksome.

 

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They now farm 30 acres in North Hero and 60 in Isle Lamotte, practicing rotation with their animals and cultivation. This means that the fields for planting have been pre-fertilized by the chickens, who were pastured on them the year before. This practice ensures the long-term viability of the land for growing and minimizes the need for inputs and pest management. They are certified organic and clearly care deeply about their land and creatures, great and small.

 

Hugo and Amanda are incredibly humble and warm people and spent a long time talking with us, which shows me how much they value their supporters. They have two young children and while they did recently built housing for their handful of seasonal employees, it was so beautiful to witness a family farm run by folks who are doing it themselves and for love and have a true passion for growing and raising. You can find more of their produce (and sometimes chicken!) at the Fletcher Allen Farmers’ market on Thursdays’, as well as weekly markets on the Islands.

 

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After we dried off and ate some lunch, it was down to the Intervale our group went next. Our first stop was Half Pint Farm, which is leased by Mara and Spencer Welton. Half Pint’s philosophy boils down to a whole lot of planning, seed saving and a very specific focus: specialty and heirloom varieties. Specifically, tiny versions of heirloom varieties—think baby squash, microgreens, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, baby lettuce… And their farm is correspondingly tiny. Don’t be fooled by its’ size, though—comprised of just 2 acres, it boasts close to 400 varieties of vegetables.

 

I think micro-managed is the appropriate term here—as Mara said, “we are a spreadsheet farm”—but far from obsessive, it’s incredibly inspiring to listen to her talk about her passion for overseeing the cropping, bringing in new varieties and experimenting to learn what works and what doesn’t. In regards to what doesn’t work, I found their approach very interesting —when a crop falls victim to disease or pests, they don’t fight at all. They let nature take its course and instead focus on what’s doing well. And on a farm with so many varieties of a given crop, they can afford to do this, which is fortunate.

 

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During the winter, which Mara calls “conference season”, they are traveling and sharing their techniques with other farmers and learning new ways to improve their return. This combined with subscribing to as many food magazines as she can get her hands on is what allows Mara to be perched on the cutting edge of food trends and still drawing on traditional grower wisdom.

 

For example, among the bouquet beds for CSA members she pointed out sunflowers whose heads had not yet opened. These large buds look somewhat like baby artichokes, and she had heard that if steamed, they could be eaten much the same way. She was going to try it our and if it got her approval, the sunflower buds would go into her CSA boxes for the week. This kind of experimentation in a farm share wouldn’t be everyone’s way of doing things, but they have cultivated a customer base who are as enthusiastic about slow food as they are, and it works.

 

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As we walked around the small farm, it was as clear there as it was at all of the farms that it’s tomato and pepper time right now. I couldn’t keep track of all the varieties of each that they have growing, not to mention the jumble of mature squashes on the ground (don’t forget about those squash blossoms, either). I saw cuke-o-melons and sunchokes growing for the first time, and even got to taste the elusive Trinidad Perfume, a habanero variety with no heat. I never knew habaneros had so much flavor!

 

Leaving Half Pint, I was most impressed by the obvious success they have had working within self-imposed parameters. A small farm size, a tight plan and a specific focus all have helped Half Pint succeed as a specialty producer that customers seek out time and again for exceptional food. While other farms, such as Savage Gardens, are looking to grow all the time, Half Pint seems pretty content to be the mini-farm that it is.

 

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Speaking of growth, our last stop of the day was just down potholed and puddled Intervale Road at Diggers’ Mirth. 22 years ago, Diggers’ started as another small Intervale farm, and season by season it has grown into the essential and dependable mid-sized farm that it is. They have acquired several additional fields in the Intervale, allowing them to grow specialty crops for their diverse customer base, as well as expand their “bread and butter” crops: salad greens.

 

Hilary, one of the partners, explained to us as we traipsed through the rain that the 5 of them track their hours worked, and at the end of the year they divvy up their profits accordingly. This system allows them to travel, work other jobs, and get out what they put in. The other thing Hilary emphasized is their mission to make fresh food accessible to as many people as possible—this is what got the collective started in the first place. The Diggers’ Mirth Farm Truck rolls through the streets of Burlington’s Old North End, a mobile veggie disco with a mission: bring the food to the people. The price is right on this produce and it’s very important to the Diggers’ crew to keep paying it forward.

 

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Though farmers have come and gone from the collective, they share the same core values, and the same ability to grow amazing food. You’ll regularly see their fresh herbs on our shelves, such as parsley, cilantro and dill, as well as piles of bagged mesculun and spinach. Keep your eyes peeled soon for their oblong Sangria watermelons—the best I’ve ever had.

 

Seeing and hearing all of these people share their farm stories with us and thinking about their diverse backgrounds and approaches was a powerful experience for me, as it would be for any eater. Whether it’s by cunning, hard work, love, or dumb luck, these 4 farms are all growing amazing produce and working true magic in the fields. I am proud to be a part of helping support them and bring their food to the people. But don’t let us do all the work! Bring your people to the food—visit your local farmers today! It’s a trip I won’t soon forget.

 

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Posted on the Healthy Living blog on Tuesday, August 19th, 2014