Thursday, March 28, 2013

Product review: The Squatty Potty

Its time for some potty talk. As a dietitian, I am pretty comfortable discussing all things number 2 - patients, clients (and friends and family) can have a lot of questions on the topic. I thought I heard it all, and then an NPR segment taught me I had more to learn!

Did you know that many cultures around the world would be horrified at the idea of sitting on a toilet? Many folks around the world squat when eliminating and it may be time for us to consider adopting their technique.


There is a muscle that does a U-turn around the end of your colon. The big idea is that when we are sitting on our toilets with our feet flat on the ground, this muscle isn't fully relaxed and can inhibit bowel movements - think about an older sibling giving you a noogie. This inhibition can increase the desire to "strain" and may lead to hemorrhoids. By elevating your feet, this muscle is able to relax and elimination should be easier. My sister is almost through with her training to become a physical therapist and I asked her if the concept was accurate and she said yes. When I checked out their website, I signed up to receive a complimentary Squatty Potty so I could take it for, er, a spin.

Also on their website were a few peer reviewed studies that investigated the possible health benefits or hazards with the two bathroom postures. As a registered dietitian, I am trained to look for the evidence.I was pleased to see this supporting literature. As of yet, there is not a trial using the Squatty Potty. This is in the planning phase.

My experience? I did think that it was easier to use the bathroom with the Squatty Potty. And, having my knees pressed to my chest was surprisingly comforting, kind of like curling up in the fetal position in bed. Cozy. 

If you're interested in trying this technique, grab a stack of phone books or yoga blocks and prop up your feet. If you find it to be helpful, check out the Squatty Potty website to purchase your own.

Nutritional note: many things contribute to risk of constipation. Staying well hydrated, eating whole foods that are rich in fiber, regular consumption of fermented foods with probiotics as well as exercise can all lower risk of constipation.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why I Bike: Alix

When did you learn to ride your bike? Who taught you?

My father taught me to ride a bike when I was wee high to a grasshoppers eye.  I remember peddling my first bike--pink with a white banana seat and streamers on the handlebars--down the street in front of my house. 

In what city and state do you live? 
Bronx, New York

What is the biking culture like there?
There is not a biking culture in the Bronx.  While in Manhattan bike lanes and paths are becoming more common, there are still very few up here.  Riding down Broadway is quiet the adventure, maybe challenge is a better word.  Trying to dodge glass in the road while watching out for crazy cab drivers and pedestrians keeps your senses on high alert.  Although, in recent years I have noticed more people taking to bikes as a mode transportation.

What kind of bikes do you have?
I own a Trek mountain bike, and a Raleigh road bike.  I've owned my mountain bike for years, but since buying my road bike a year ago have only risen it once!  Yikes, guess that makes me a road cycling fanatic now!

How often do you ride your bike?
During the spring, summer and fall I ride my bike to work as much as possible, and ride every weekend for fun!  But, during the winter my bikes are locked up in my apartment because I am a wimp and don't ride in the cold!
 I wish drivers...
Paid more attention to their surroundings, and didn't text or talk on their cell phones while driving!

I would ride my bike even more if...
I lived where there wasn't a winter to contend with.

My favorite bike snack___________
Almonds and bananas (but not together).

My favorite piece of bike gear is
My Terry Falcon bike seat with the middle cut out -- much needed to keep a happy bottom and pelvic bone!

Do you ride your bike in all weather?
No!  I am a wimp and can't ride in the cold.

Do you own a car?
Yes, but I only use it to escape the city or go to Costco (haven't figured out how to strap the mega-large tubs of hummus and gigantic bags of almonds to my bike yet).

I mostly ride my bike ___
for touring and commuting.

My favorite thing about riding my bike....
Meeting other cyclists and making new friends who also love their bikes.

The coolest trip I’ve done on my bike….
This is a toss up between the 2012 Climate Ride and a 5 day ride through Czech Republic...

Climate Ride was a 5 day, 300+ ride from NYC to DC to raise awareness of climate change issues and bicycle advocacy.  The ride was one of the most inspirational experiences I have ever participated in, from the amazing landscapes and hardcore hills to the inspirational people cycling along side me!

In the Czech Republic I rode through the countryside on a trail bike for 5 days with my friend Liz in the spring of 2011.  Our bags we transported separately from town to town by locals, and we took to the trails and roads with nothing but a map and granola bars each morning.  Such a bonding experience and definitely an adventure of a lifetime!  Loved every moment, even when we were lost in the middle of the forest for half a day.

The bike trip I’m dying to do…
Riding through the Italian wine country… eating and drinking my way from one town to another!

Does your house/apt/work have special accommodations that make biking more feasible?
I am lucky that my workplace--The American Museum of Natural History--lets me bring my bike into my office with me!  Although, we also have bike racks in the parking garage, so if I wasn't such a freak about my bike, I'd just leave it locked up out there.  My apartment building has a bike room, but when I am using my bike frequently (Spring-Fall), I keep my road bike in my apartment for easier/quicker access.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Scrumptious Soups: Lemon chicken soup

It is a normal tumultuous mid-west spring: a beautiful weekend in the 50's spent hiking in the woods is followed by snow storms and rain. And mud. Lots of mud. It is par for Ohio weather, but it can wear on you. This soup is perfect for spring: the hearty flavors warm the belly while the brightness added by the lemon juice hint of more spring to come.

Lemon Chicken Soup

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 8 ounces of mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • Zest and juice from one lemon
  • 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken - this is where you use left overs from your roasted chicken
  • 1 can canellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • Red pepper flakes for garnish (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1.  In a large stock pot, warm the olive oil and add your veggies as you chop them. Once they're all in the pot, saute for a few minutes longer or until they start to become tender. 
  2. Add the chicken, chicken stock, lemon juice and zest, beans and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil and taste your seasonings. Add salt and pepper, if needed. If soup is too thick, add more stock or water. 
What dish is your favorite to warm your belly on a chilly evening? 

He has a condition called fill-up-the-pot-itis and I inherited it directly from him: if we have a cooking vessel, we fill it up. My mom recently banned him from using the largest stock pot because he kept making too much soup!  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Healthy Easter basket ideas

Easter is just around the corner and for those of you celebrating Easter with your kids, you may be looking for some ideas for their baskets that won't have them bouncing off the walls. I am not one to recommend banning all sweets, but I do think that there is room for other lower-sugar and less-junky items and even better; some non-food items that your kids will love.

Bring on the fruit: fruit is naturally sweet, so while it is a source of sugar, that sugar is packaged with other good nutrients and fiber.
  • Fruit leathers : these taste better than their gummy cousins and have only fruit for their ingredients. You can buy them or make your own using your slow cooker (and this recipe comes with a facial too!).
  • Chocolate covered fruit: look for a short ingredient list and dark chocolate; milk chocolate has much more added sugar.
  • Sugarless gum: helps promote tooth health. Make sure the kids are old enough to not swallow the gum. 
Ready, set, action: wouldn't it be great if the kids were entertaining themselves so that the parents can catch up and enjoy their cup of coffee?  You can make that happen.
  • Chinese jump rope: this is a great activity for kids to try that can fit in mom's purse or dad's pocket. 
  • Garden supplies: it is studied again and again that kids who help grow vegetables eat them! Get your garden started with some seeds (try the Little Bunny Garden), a how-to book for gardening in containers with your kids or even a pint-sized wheelbarrow
  • Play Dough: fun for everyone and you can look for colors to match the occasion
  • Bubbles: best if you have nice weather and access to the outdoors. Probably not ideal for inside church or grandma's house.
Get crafty: Everyone is happier when they have something fun to do. Be prepared with a few simple activities and the day will 
    • Glitter Easter Tattoos: What kid doesn't love temporary tattoos? I still do love 'em and we can even find Easter themed versions.Stickers are another fun option.
    • Crayons or markers: just make sure they stick to paper and don't write on the walls!
    • A new coloring book would pair nicely with the new crayons! 
    You don't have to center the holiday around sugar. A small sweet treat is nice, but round out the celebration with family time and non-food fun. Happy holidays!

          Saturday, March 23, 2013

          Saturday Synopsis: Splendid salads

          Are you read for some salad inspiration? Here are some of my favorite salad posts so far - there is something for everyone! Hot, cold, sweet and savory. All delicious!

          Kale salad with cannellini beans and cranberries

          Reader poll: What is your go-to salad recipe?

          Thursday, March 21, 2013

          {Recipe ReDux} Green with Herb Envy: Cool cucumber mojito water

          Spring is in the air and the Recipe ReDux theme this month celebrates all things green! Our challenge this month was to use fresh herbs in unusual ways. 

          As the evidence continues to grow that we should focus on water over regular or diet soda, but even dietitians can get a bit bored with plain water, I thought it would be fun to create my own healthy soda! It is simple to make very tasty to sip on. And this summer when it is like an oven outside, I know this will hit the spot!

          Cool Cucumber Mojito Water
          • 1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
          • 1-2 limes, thinly sliced
          • a few sprigs of mint (10-12 leaves)
          • Water or seltzer, per your preference
          1.  Slice the cucumber and add to a 2-quart pitcher. Slice the lime and squeeze a bit into the pitcher to release more of the juice. Add the slices too. 
          2. Muddle the lime leaves a bit between your fingers (fancy bar-talk for smash) to release the lime flavor and add those to the pitcher too. 
          3. If you are planning to use seltzer, add only 1 quart of water to the pitcher. If you're going to skip the seltzer, fill your pitcher with plain water. Let sit in the fridge for a few hours or over night to marry the flavors. 
          4. To serve, pour over ice and top with a bit of seltzer if you like the bubbles. Cheers!

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            Wednesday, March 20, 2013

            Why I Bike: Roger

            When did you learn to ride your bike? Who taught you?
            I learned how to ride a bike in 1991 - was eight  years old. Before then, a tricycle was my main form for transportation around the park and areas of  residence. I then moved to a bicycle with training wheels for about a year until Uncle Steven came for a visit. He told me “it’s time to put on your big boy shorts and get those training wheels off”. We then made our way outside with my bike (sans training wheels). He gently guided me back and forth while I maintained my balance as I rode through an empty parking. After a few of falls and successful  unassisted rides, I finally got the hang of it. With confidence, I finally rode all the way home by myself.

            In what city and state do you live? 
            Silver Spring, Maryland

            What is the biking culture like there?
            I don’t remember there being much of a biking culture. That’s just what we crazy kids did at that age.

            What kind of bike do you have?

            I have a Ross Eurosport road bike made in the 1970s.

            How often do you ride your bike?
            I ride my bike back and forth from work; about 6 times a week.

            I wish drivers...
            I wish drivers would be more understanding of the fact the bike lanes are limited in DC. We (riders) don’t intend on slowing traffic down or making you (drivers) anxious. Most bikers obey traffic signals as though they were operating a vehicle on the road. So please be patience and less aggressive with us (riders).

            I would ride my bike even more if...
            I would ride my bike more if I lived in a tropical area, where it was sunny most days of the year.

            My favorite bike snacks are:
            bananas and Granola bars

            My favorite piece of bike gear are:
            My lights. They allow me to see and be seen at night.

            Do you ride your bike in all weather?
            No. I try to avoid riding in the rain, cold, snow and any other wet weather.

            Do you own a car?

            I mostly ride my bike ___
            I mostly ride my bike to commute.

            My favorite thing about riding my bike....
            I love getting from A to B much faster than if I had used public transportation or even a car.

            Craziest thing I did (or craziest thing I carried) on my bike:
            I rode down a steep hill in the rain. My brakes don’t work in wet weather due to the absence of friction between my brake pads and tires. This was one of the scariest moments of my life. Fortunately I was able to stay calm and steer into level ground before anything disastrous happened.

            Does your house/apt/work have special accommodations that make biking more feasible?
            Yes, we have a bike room in our apartment.

            Tuesday, March 19, 2013

            Cooking class: Chicken stock

            Good stock is the foundation of flavor for any good soup. If you ask most folks where stock comes from, they'd say the grocery store. And for too many folks, this is the truth. Stock isn't too hard to make, and it uses the whole chicken.The ingredient that seems to be the greatest limiter is time. I tend to do my longer cooking projects on the weekend, but if even that it asking too much of your schedule, try making your stock in the slow cooker. You start the stock after dinner and it is ready before work the next morning!

            My dad is the best soup maker. Immediately following thanksgiving dinner, he is working on his stock. All of the extra meat is removed from the turkey bones and set aside. Once the stock has simmered for a few hours, he will set the pot on the back porch to cool. This draws the fat to the surface and allows it to be skimmed off easily.

            Chicken Stock
            • Bones and left-over bits from 1 or more roasted chickens or turkeys
            • 1-2 onions - no need to peel
            • 2-3 cloves of garlic - no need to peel
            • 2 stalks celery, washed and chopped into a few chunks
            • 2 carrots, chunked
            • Herbs, if you wish: parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Fresh and dried are both just fine
            • Salt and pepper, to taste
            1. In a large pot, add the chicken carcass and bit. Add your veggies and herbs. Add enough water to barely cover everything and bring to a boil.
            2. For the first hour, occasionally skim off any gunk that come to the surface occasionally. Continue to simmer for another 2-3 hours and then let cool. 
            3. Pour broth through cheese cloth or a fine mesh strainer to remove all solids from your broth.
            4. As for storage, we tend to use quart jars. Pinterest has many more ideas though - muffin tins, ice-cube trays, plastic quart freezer bags, etc. Think about what you will use the stock for and see what makes sense for your kitchen. Make sure to label and date your stock. 
            These veggies are flavor!
            Use the whole chicken

            Thursday, March 14, 2013

            Cooking class: How to roast a chicken

            The thought of a roast chicken dinner can bring to mind a Norman Rockwell lickity split. It is a bit old fashioned in today's cooking that tends to focus on boneless skinless chicken breasts, and it is a meal that intimidates many, but it doesn't need to!

            Roasted chicken is delicious and is the beginning of several meals: a roasted chicken dinner with roasted vegetables, chicken stock and lemon chicken soup. By eating the entire chicken and using the bones to make broth, we waste less food and lower our "food-print".

            Roasted chicken
            • 1 whole roasting chicken
            • flavoring - onion, garlic, lemon, herbs 
            • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
            • Salt and pepper
            • Twine or skewers to truss the chicken
            1. Preheat oven to 425 and grease the dish you're going to bake the chicken in - I used a 16-inch cast iron skillet, but a glass baking dish or large casserole diss will also work beautifully. 
            2. Rinse your chicken and remove any odd globules of fat and any remaining pin feathers. Pat dry and place in prepared pan. 
            3. Stuff cavity of chicken with something flavorful - I used a quartered lemon, but onion wedges, fresh or dried herbs and whole garlic cloves are other good options. 
            4. Rub the outside with more flavor - I drizzled the chicken with olive oil and a seasoning blend that included rosemary and oregano. I also sprinkled on some salt and pepper. 
            5. Truss the chicken. The idea here is to tuck in the legs and wings so that the chicken is pulled together tightly. If the chicken isn't trussed, it may cook unevenly - parts will be dry and other parts under cooked. Most folks use string, but you can also try reusable skewers. 
            6. Place in the oven and bake for about an hour or until done. The chicken is done when juices from a slice into the bird run clear, the skin in crispy and well browned and a thermometer reads 165. 
            7. Remove the chicken from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes or so before slicing.
            Note: I served my roasted chicken with roasted vegetables. About half way through cooking, I put a casserole dish with chopped sweet potato, potato, carrots and onions and roasted them right next to the chicken. 


            Do you have left over chicken? Try cubing it and making it into my apple almond chicken salad and take it for lunch!

            Save the chicken bones! We're going to use them to make chicken stock.

            Wednesday, March 13, 2013

            Why I Bike: Heather

            Thank you to Heather for participating in my weekly column! Heather is also a blogger and writes at Dietitian on the Run - it's fabulous! Check it out here. 

            When did you learn to ride your bike? Who taught you?
            I assume I was 4-5 years old but don’t have much memory of who taught me/when, which I guess is good in some ways - no traumatic falling memories, and all I do remember is riding my bike around our neighborhood a lot!

            The bike & I took a long break until I bought a road-bike in the spring of 2010, at the encouragement my best friend (a very avid and  competitive cyclist). I’m still learning to ride that….

            In what city and state do you live?
            Washington, DC

            What is the biking culture like there?

            Short answer: amazing.

            Long answer: they are creating more and more bike-only lanes along the busiest streets of downtown, our bike-share system has hubs/bikes ALL OVER the place and you see cyclists of all types out every single day, no matter what the weather.

            What kind of bike do you have?
            Cannondale Synapse (road bike).

            How often do you ride your bike?
            I’m very much a fair-weather rider - in the spring/summer I occasionally use it to commute to work (25 mile ride, round-trip) and may ride once during the week and once on the weekend. During the winter, it sadly collects dust and loses tire air.

            I wish drivers...
            Looked both ways before turning in any direction! If you’re coming up on them from the opposite way they plan to turn, there’s no hope. Just stop & wait. (Same could be said for running.) I also wish they weren’t always so timid of cyclists - if we’re on the road, we trust ourselves to be there.

            I would ride my bike even more if...
            I didn’t have to carry my helmet around afterward….I didn’t rely on the padded bike-shorts to
            stay comfortable (those look very awkward off-the-bike)…I was better at changing a flat!

            My favorite bike snack:
            Larabars! Easy to pack, nutrient dense and so tasty.

            My favorite piece of bike gear is:
            The clothing pockets - I love that cycling gear is always ready to be your pack-mule.

            Do you ride your bike in all weather?

            Nope. I’m very much partial to the skies & seasons.

            Do you own a car?
            Yes, I have to have one for work. I’ll celebrate the day that that isn’t the case.

            I mostly ride my bike:

            A little bit of everything! Mostly for exercise/touring, but when all systems cooperate I love to commute with it.

            My favorite thing about riding my bike....
            How far you can go in such a short time! As someone who is primarily a runner, this is a big

            The coolest trip I’ve done on my bike….

            From Denver à Golden, CO and back. We rode through some city neighborhoods, up a lot of hills, past the Coors Brewery, toward the Rockies, through downtown Golden and then up Lookout Mountain (not all the way, for me). Then turned around and did it all over again, heading toward the city skyline.

            The bike trip I’m dying to do…

            is go to France to chase the stages of the Tour (de France) in July!
            One clip in shoe!

            Craziest thing I did on my bike:
            One clip-in shoe on, one Nike Free on. It may not sound crazy, but I think it looked a little crazy. I was trying to improve my clip in/out technique, and it’s much less nerve-wracking when you have one foot that’s free. So I carried each alternate shoe in a back-pack and switched half-way through the ride.

            Does your house/apt/work have special accommodations that make biking more feasible?
            I live in a row-house with plenty of foyer space for bikes, not that they really match the décor.

            Monday, March 11, 2013

            TED Talk by Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA

            Check out this great TED talk - and then plant something!

            Ron Finley: His graffiti is his garden
            Favorite quotes:
            • The drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.
            • I am an artist. Gardening is my graffiti. I grow my art. I use the garden soil like it is a piece of cloth.
            • Grow your own food. Growing your own food is like printing your own money.
            • Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do. And defiant. Especially in the inner -city.
            • If kids grow kale, they eat kale.
            • The funny thing about have to sustain it!
            • We gotta make it sexy. Gangster garners. If you ain't a gardener, you ain't gangster. Get gangster with your shovel. Let that be your weapon of choice.
            • If you want to meet with me, come to the garden. With your shovel. So we can plant some shit.

            So, let's stop talking about it and do it! What are you going to plant?

            Wednesday, March 6, 2013

            Why I Bike: Lori

            When did you learn to ride your bike? Who taught you?
            I grew up in a wonderful neighborhood where every child owned his or her own bike. I don't ever remember not owning a bike. My three older brothers taught me how to ride a bike.

            In what city and state do you live? 

            Little Rock, AR

            What is the biking culture like there?
            We have lots of bikers -from serious to those out for a Sunday stroll. I feel AR is a well -kept secret in that it's one of the most beautiful states complete with mountains, trails and lakes.  It's perfect for biking.

            What kind of bike do you have? 

            How often do you ride your bike? 
            Not nearly enough! I try to ride one weekend day/month. That's all I can do most of the time.

            I wish drivers... I never ride around cars. The whole experience for me is to take in the beauty around me. Cars and roads are not inspiring!

            I would ride my bike even more if... I didn't have a never ending to do list.

            My favorite bike snack:
            KIND bars and water

            My favorite piece of bike gear is my zippered pouch under the seat.  It holds all the essentials...Keys, Kleenex and lipgloss.

            Do you ride your bike in all weather? 
            Nope, I'm a total wimp. I like the temperature to be between 60-80.

            Do you own a car?
            Heck yes

            I mostly ride my bike for exercise and "connecting" with my soul or with friends

            My favorite thing about riding my bike....
            having time to ride and consider what really matters.

            Thank you, Lori! Keep riding :)

            Reader Poll: Why do you bike? Or, what's stopping you?

            Tuesday, March 5, 2013

            The heroic tale of an underripe pear's transformation to greatness in two minutes flat.

            I didn't used to be a pear eater. Probably because my mom wasn't a pear eater. Our issue was that we didn't know how to pick our pears and kept eating underripe pears. Not too tasty. Like apples, there are many varieties of pears, each with their own flavor profile and texture. Try a few types before writing off the whole category.

            Pears actually ripen best off of the tree, so you're not likely to find ripe pears in the grocery store. The best recommendation is to wait until the pears are actually ready to eat - this can be hurried a bit by putting apples in your fruit bowl: they release ethylene gas and can promote ripening.

            When is the pear ripe? "Check the Neck" is the advice. If the area around the stem is tender, your pear should be good to go.

            Unfortunately, like all new skills, this requires some practice. I thought I had a ripe pear this morning but once I had sliced it, it was still quite crunchy. As it wasn't an Asian pear, which are supposed to be crunchy, I knew I was in trouble.

            What to do?

            The fruit wasn't going to ripen any further once it was cut, and I really wanted to avoid wasting food. Then, I remembered a friend once making a fruit dish for her kiddos and thought it would work here. I chopped the pear into bite-sized pieces, added a few tablespoons of water and microwaved it until the pear chunks were tender, about 1-2 minutes. I drained the excess water and added some homemade applesauce. In 30 more seconds, the dish was ready to go and boy did it smell good!

            So there you go, underripe and potentially food waste being transformed into a belly-warming treat with a little creative thinking. In the mean time, I'll give the rest of the pears a few more days before I try again!

            Reader poll: How have you avoided food waste with some flexibility and creative thinking?

            Monday, March 4, 2013

            Breakfast of Champions: Chocolate hazelnut steel cut oats

            Is it April Fools day? Chocolate for breakfast? This is actually a real recommendation - yes, it is chocolate, but it is whole grain and not a ton of sugar. This is a great breakfast option to make on the weekend or in the evening when you have a pocket of time. Pack up your fridge and you're ready for breakfast success!

            Chocolate Hazelnut Steel Cut Oats
            Makes four servings
            • 1 tablespoon butter
            • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
            • 1/4 cup brown sugar
            • 1 cup steel cut oats
            • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
            • pinch of salt
            • 2 cups  milk - soy, rice, dairy and coconut are all great
            • 1 cup water
            • 1/2 cup hazelnuts
            1. In a medium saucepan, melt butter and Steel Cut Oats. Stir to coat and toast for a minute or two.
            2. Add cocoa, brown sugar, salt, milk and water. Cover, and bring to a boil. 
            3. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. 
            4. While oats are cooking, toast hazelnuts. You can do this in a dry skillet over medium heat - toast them until they're fragrant and browned slightly, but watch them closely to prevent burning. You can also pop the hazelnuts into the oven or toaster oven.When toasted, toss the hazelnuts into a colandar with wide holes and let cool. 
            5. When the hazelnuts have cooled enough to handle, stir them around with your fingers and massage off the skins that are loose. They won't all come off - don't worry about it. Chop the nuts.
            6. When oat cooking time is up, remove from heat and stir in most of the hazelnuts and allow to cool for ten minutes or so. You can add more water or soy milk if you want the oats to be thinner. 
            7. For breakfast ease, scoop individual portions into glass jars and garnish with remaining hazelnuts. Refridgerate until ready to eat; microwave for a minute or three and you're ready to roll! Bring on the day :)
            Note: Hazelnuts can be expensive - check out the bulk section of your grocery store or food co-op for savings.

            Friday, March 1, 2013

            Education of a Farmer: Welcome to Growing Power

            Growing kale in February. In Milwaukee. Did I mention that it was 7 degrees there last weekend?
            Why is it that city planning accounts for water sources, but not food? Car parking, but not bikes? Places to drive your car but not to walk? Why is there pick up for trash, but not compost? How can be have better, healthier, safer, more sustainable communities if we do not build them to be so?

            I recently completed my second weekend of Commercial Urban Agriculture training at Growing Power, an urban farm network in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. What is a dietitian doing at farm school? Good question.

            I have been working as a dietitian (RD) for a few years now. The traditional RD job is in a hospital setting - working to manage care in an acute setting and to help patients get ready to go home. This is important work, but it isn't the best fit for me: why not try to prevent so many folks from coming to the hospital in the first place?

            I have also worked for WIC: a government food subsidy program that provides vouchers to purchase food and formula for mamas and their kiddos up to age five. 1 in 2 babies in this country are on WIC at some point in their childhood. Unlike food stamps, you cannot buy just anything, you have to buy specific healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, eggs and beans. I think that this is a great idea: there is no reason that tax dollars should be buying chips and soda.

            Chicks in the City: Milk crates as laying boxes.

            Though WIC has been around since the 1960's, the fruit and vegetable portion of the vouchers has only been around for a few years. It is about stinking time! I can recommend that folks eat fruits and vegetables until the cows come home, but if the client or patient have a very limited food budget or live in an area surrounded by fast food and liquor stores, the chances of the fork meeting broccoli is slim.

            Goats: all on three acres
            Rather than crisis managements - simply putting out the various fires - how is a dietitian to be part of the solution? 

            Enter urban ag.

            We all know the adage about a man and a fish - teaching is better than spoon feeding. And while I'm not advocating for the dissolution of WIC and other government programs - I think they're an important safety net - I think that we can aim higher. How can we build better communities? At Growing Power, you would be hard pressed to find a more diverse group of folks.. We have students from across the country and abroad - folks living in cities and in the country, people who have grown up knowing hunger and those who have only heard about it. Our career paths are varied, and many of us, at all ages, joke that we're just now figuring out what we "want to be when we grow up".  The common denominator though is food: everyone there is passionate and wildly optimistic about wholesome, nourishing food in every community. Food justice for all.
            Growing mushrooms in a pallet
            Where is this training and unconventional career path leading, exactly? I don't know quite yet. There are remarkably few examples of what my daydreaming entails - hospitals with their own farms where patients can have calming visits with animals, schools that include class time in the garden, prisons providing horticulture job training to help prevent re-incarceration, physical therapy in nursing homes that focus on shelling peas and weeding lettuce, growing community and soil instead of violence and apathy. But, I remain hopeful. It feels like a big problem to be tackling - something akin to putting "solve world peace" on the to-do list next to "buy milk" - but the truth is, you have to start somewhere, you have to do something.

            Ispriring examples:
            • The Farm at Antioch College: small college in Ohio growing most of their own food
            • St. Joseph Mercy Health System: Dietitian Lisa McDowell dug in and got the farm started on her hospital campus and has blossomed to include two hoop houses and a farmers market. 

            Reader poll: Are you planning to grow something this year? Have you been pouring over seed catalogs too? If you've never grown anything, this is a great year to start. Go get that tomato plant!

            If you're wondering if you could qualify for WIC benefits, please click here.

            Will Allen is the founder of growing power and his new book The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities is a good great - I'd recommend grabbing a copy.
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