Posted in Food = Fuel, Food Travels, Healthy Lifestyle, Uncategorized

Getting to Know Your Food: Open Book Farm Tour

As a student member of the Northern District Virginia Dietetics Association, I had the pleasure of touring Open Book Farm located in Myersville, Maryland.  Mary Kathryn (MK) and Andrew Barnet started Open Book Farm in 2011 after gaining experience in sustainable and healthy livestock practices while apprenticing and volunteering at several farms across the country.  They grow a little of everything including a variety of tomatoes, onions, eggplant, melons, peppers, herbs, garlic, a variety of potatoes, kale, cabbage, leeks and whatever else MK decides to experiment with.  When we toured last weekend they had rows and rows of seedlings started in the greenhouse and numerous nutritional gems taking root in the field including potatoes, lettuce and leeks.

In addition to the produce, Open Book Farm also pasture-raises chickens, turkeys and pigs.  I know many of you out there are vegetarians or vegans, but the looks on the faces of these “happy pigs” might just make you reconsider.

For those of you swearing to only feed your family organic, Open Book Farm awakens you to the challenges and costs local farmers face when trying to meet organic standards and opens your mind to alternative practices that might even been better than organic and help everyone’s pocketbook along the way.  The following highlights a few of their farming practices:

  • They continually rotate the land where they pasture their animals.  Without rotation even eggs claiming to come from pastured chickens could be eating from the same plot of land with little to no new grass.  Next time you are at your local farmer’s market, it’s not a bad idea to ask how frequently they rotate the animals they pasture.
  • They use NO pesticides, fungicides or herbicides on their crops.  Isn’t that what you think about when you think organic?  The truth is there are a few of pesticides and fungicides that are permitted under organic standards.
  • They also don’t use antibiotics, growth hormones, or parasiticides  (“de-wormers”).  Instead they concentrate their efforts on keeping their animals healthy and happy.
  • They use no  GMO (genetically modified organisms) seeds. While many of the seeds they buy are organic, they prefer to keep their options open and buy seeds based on price and variety preferences.

Bottomline is that their growing and farming practices are, like their name. an “Open Book”.  Don’t take my word for it, read more about their practices on their Open Book Farm website.  They know they may not be for everyone, but take a look, give them a call and/or plan a visit to learn more.

I had two major takeaways from this whole experience.

  • The first is to follow your passion.  I still can’t get over that this couple found something they loved and put a plan in motion to make it a reality.  While they get some help from neighbors and volunteers, they primary run their modest farm and CSA by themselves.
  • Secondly, get to know your food.  It’s clear that our disconnection with our food has got us all into more problems than we bargained for.  We have let others make decision about what we eat without any accountability.  It’s time to reconnect with our food!

Even if Open Mind Farm isn’t for you, ask more questions at your local farmer’s market, do research on your favorite supermarket brands or simply start reading your food labels to know what you are putting into your body – and your family’s bodies.  The sooner we do a better job of getting to know our food and farmers, the sooner we start giving our health and nutrition the priority it deserves.

Posted in Food Travels

Maintaining weight on vacation doesn’t have to be an oxymoron

For the first time ever (with the exception getting a stomach bug on my last trip to India), I came back from vacation without gaining weight.  It wasn’t exactly an accident, but didn’t make myself crazy about counting calories either.  Here are a few simple tips that worked for me and hopefully you can use on your next vacation.
  1. Prioritize exercise amenities (and use them!) – What do you look for when you research hotels?  Free wi-fi, a lovely view?  Add whether or not your hotel has an exercise room to your top list of priorities.  They are becoming more common, but you can easily review the hotel amenities on your travel or hotel website to confirm.  This of course means you also have to prioritize packing your workout clothes.  They take up a lot of room, but the results (more energy and less jet lag in addition to weight maintenance) were worth it.  Try to get your workout out of the way in the morning so you can have the rest of the day for fun.  When that doesn’t work, head for a walk or to the gym when travel companions are napping to get your energy boost.  Working out on vacation is a must when you are gone longer than a week (I learned that the hard way).  It helps you maintain your muscle mass, keep your weight in check and restart your workout routine when you get back home since you won’t be starting from scratch.
  2. Hoof it – One of the best ways to explore a new city is on foot.  You stumble upon the best finds and it helps you get oriented with your new surroundings.  You’re going to burn extra calories while getting a first-hand view of your vacation destination.  You can look up walking tours of your destination before you go for a little guidance.  Be sure and pack comfortable walking shoes.  I cannot say enough about my Teva Kayenta Walking Sandals. I have them in Walnut and find I can wear them with shorts, skirts and dresses.  They are comfortable for a long day of hitting the pavement and look stylish as well.
  3. Eat local – This is always a great idea whether you are at home or on vacation.  We visited one of the local markets in Istanbul and found a dazzling array of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Figs were in season so I snacked on those between meals.  We ate local specialities (even when they looked strange) which were made with fresh local ingredients.  Eating local on vacation means that you are going to taste the best your destination has to offer and typically enjoy a high nutrient content meal since your food hasn’t had to travel a long way to your table.  Every location has its specialities, but for those who tend to gravitate to tropical destinations (like me!) you are mostly likely going to get your fill of juicy fruits and vegetables and the freshest seafood.
  4. Go meatless – I didn’t follow this 100% of the trip, but when I had the option, I opted out of meat at most meals.  This was easy to do given our destinations of India and Istabul, but it’s still a choice you make.  The vegetarian dishes were so flavorful, I didn’t feel like I was missing out.  When I did have “meat”, I opted for the fresh seafood that was plentiful and better prepared since they were local specialities.
  5. Indulge in moderation –  One of the reasons I’m a little surprised we didn’t gain weight is that we didn’t really deprive ourselves of indulgences.  I had my champagne cocktails and ate my baklava, but I was careful to do it in moderation.  Dessert was still a special treat, the ice cream was portioned to one scoop and the baklava was bite-size.  Drinks were alternated with water and were limited to prevent hangovers and ruin the following day’s workout and sightseeing.
  6. Give yourself a break and enjoy your vacation – It’s about enjoying your vacation not deprivation.  So if you go a little crazy one day (like I did on my food tour – more to come on that!) don’t beat yourself up over it.  Reset your intentions for the next day to get a little more exercise and listen to your hunger/fullness cues.  If the scale moves a little higher  than it was before you left, that is OK too.  Look back on your wonderful memories and then make a plan to double-down on your workouts and get back on track with healthful eating.
I hope you have enjoyed your summer vacations as much as I have and that you can use these travel tips on your next vacation (or staycation!).
Leave me a comment if you have your own healthy travel tips that you would like to share!
Bon voyage!
Posted in Food Travels

Indulging in the Flavors of Puerto Rico

So my family and I had a wonderful time exploring the flavors of Puerto Rico.  When I think back on our eating escapades I remember seafood, fresh fruit and MOFONGO!

Catch of the Day

I didn’t make a conscious effort, but I believe I had seafood at every meal we had out.  In general, I try and stick to that rule since that means I get to control where my meat and poultry come from.  It’s an even better idea in Puerto Rico when most of the seafood is freshly caught from the surrounding waters.

Fruit, Fruit, Everywhere

It was so easy to get your daily dose of Vitamin C in Puerto Rico.  The fruit was gorgeous and delicious.  One of my favorites was mango we picked up from the local supermarket.  You had to pick around and find a ripe fruit, but my mom cut up slices for an afternoon snack after the pool and it was sweet heaven.  Fruit was everywhere!  You could buy Coco Frio (cold coconut) on the roadsides stands.

We found some in during our drive through El Yunque Rainforest.  You need to have the right tools.  Our vendor uses a machete to cut off the top.  Then all you need is a straw to reach the refreshing and electrolyte-filled coconut water. Best of all, you find local fruit featured prominently in their fruity drinks where they add coconut, mangos, apples, citrus and more to homemade sangria, mojitos and margaritas.

Los Kioskos

Another great way to sample the local fare is to hit the kiosk food stands strewn throughout Puerto Rico.  We were lucky to be close to a popular set of kioskos in Luquillo.  While we had been told there would be mostly fried food options, we had one of our best meals in at Tapas 13 where we were able to sample small plates of yucca sticks, spicy garlic shrimp and calamari.  Walking through the stands was an adventure for the senses and we felt like locals partaking in this rustic experience. 

And for the grand finale! Mofongo!

I was told this was a must-have dish for our Puerto Rican experience.  I had heard of the dish, but had never tasted it.  I’m glad my first time was authentic.  We hit a beachside restaurant and I ordered my first Mofongo Relleno de Camarones (Stuffed Mofongo with Shrimp).  Mofongo is made by mashing plantains (typically fried first to soften) and then filling it with a thick soup of protein, garlic and vegetables.  I was momentarily disappointed when my plate arrived with only two shrimp on top only to “crack” into the mofongo to find a dozen shrimp swimming inside a garlickly broth.  It was delicious and fresh – reinforced by the plantain delivery they received during our meal.  

I arrived home a little sleep deprived and very well fed.  I’d recommend a trip to this tropical destination that is closer than Hawaii and where you don’t need to use your U.S. passport…just be sure you bring an adventurous appetite!

Safe summer travels to everyone!

Posted in Food Travels

Taking Eat2Win Global…well, sort of

Hey there. I’m coming to you from my iPhone 4. You got that right, my iPhone 4. No, I’m not texting this whole blog, but using my new Apple Wireless Keyboard and my iPhone WordPress App to write this test blog. I’ll be traveling to Puerto Rico, India and Istanbul over the next two months and I thought it would be great to share my food experiences from across the world. In any event, I think I am ready to pack and bring the worlds dishes to you.

Stay tuned if you are interested in international cuisine!