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Thank God for Crock Pots and Trader Joe's

I'm embarrassed to say that's pretty much the summary of my first experience with a 10-week CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program that was offered through my workplace. As a member, you purchase upfront a whole season of fresh produce from a local farm, which helps the farmers pay for costs related to running the farm. I love eating all vegetables, so I couldn't think of anything better than to receive a weekly box of colorful seasonal local produce. I'd just skip that section of the supermarket and plan my recipes on whatever was in the box. I'm a nutritionist and blogger after allI should have done this a long time ago!

Photo courtesy Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital. Onsite farmers market selections.

I didn't want to shell out the $440 upfront and neither did my coworker Eileen, so we decided to pay half and divvy up the weekly box. Week 1 was a delight. Opening that box and seeing vibrant strawberries, delicate carrots, butter lettuce, ears of corn. There was real dirt on everything! The slug in the lettuce affirmed this was farm-fresh. Wow I hadn't tasted real carrots like that since I was a child. Carrots nowadays have a bitter chemical taste. These were crisp and sweet. Same with the lettuce, which I devoured in one sitting. Week 2 offered strawberries again, though quite tart this time. Herbs that I didn't recognize. And more lettuce and carrots. But the carrots weren't sweet like last week's. We ate through most of the produce except the herbs, which wilted and turned yellow in two days, so they got thrown out. Weeks 3-6 I looked forward to seeing the box but became discouraged when I saw greens and herbs that were already droopy. I couldn't eat it fast enough. There was a lot of washing of dirt, chopping the greens, and peeling the beans.

Weeks 7-9 I actually started dreading the box. Hot peppers that I couldn't eat, unfamiliar herbs that looked like grass, purple-spotted beans. One week I forgot to take out of the box some beets that my husband enjoyed. He blamed me when he saw they'd molded. I'd been throwing out half the produce in the past few weeks. Oy vay, so much guilt.

Last week was our final box and Eileen and I silently rejoiced (she'd had the same problem as me). She was ready for it to end; there were just too many things that we would never purchase otherwise and didn’t end up eating.

The valuable lesson I learned is that my lifestyle is not CSA-friendly. Some crazy days I'm at the hospital 12-14 hours. Even if I work my usual 10 hours, I have to rush out to pick up my son from aftercare, then head home with 3 hours for us to eat dinner, do homework and wind down for bed. The CSA box arrived on Wednesdays, mid-week when I couldn't manage a cooking fest. 

Week 10 had lots of plum tomatoes and potatoes to add to my mountain of tomatoes and potatoes from the previous weeks. To celebrate the end, I attacked it all with a knife, chopping and throwing everything in my crock pot. I added my favorite soup, Trader Joe's Low Sodium Creamy Tomato, spices, and olive oil, simmering everything down and then serving it with Trader Joe's turkey meatballs. Not bad at all. I've been eating that stew for the past five days for lunch and dinner and I do feel good about it. 

My parents enjoyed some items I begged them to take. But overall I'm a failure because of all the waste I created. I couldn't handle even half a box. So humbling. The reason I'm sharing my failure is to give any readers who haven't tried a CSA to think seriously before jumping in. The downsides are that you will likely receive a lot of stuff you'd never buy in the supermarket, in large quantities. You need to be adventurous, find recipes, and be determined to use all the produce within a week (you can't stuff them into the produce drawer because guaranteed you'll forget they're there). Also I was disappointed that the CSA produce didn't always taste better than supermarket stuff. If your lifestyle is like mine but you want to support farmers and eat local produce, find supermarkets that purchase from your community's farms, or frequent farmers markets where you can choose items you know you'll use. Or else dig out your crockpot ๐Ÿ˜€.

I found some comfort in reading a similar perspective on CSAs in the Boston Globe, with a few interesting solutions described at the end.


Just a Kid in a Chocolate Factory

For the longest time I've had Vermont on my bucket list, just so I could see and experience where my favorite chocolates are madethe factory of Lake Champlain Chocolates, an award-winning family owned company. I crossed that off my list this summer as we relaxed in Burlington for a few days. The weather was unusually spectacular for August, 80s and dry, so that we would pick up a healthful lunch at City Market and picnic next to Lake Champlain. We enjoyed watching fleets of boats from sailing classes drift by and seeing families bike along the pathways. Everything about the town was quaint including the chocolate factory, which I wasn't expecting. I'd imagined it to be a large building in the middle of a green valley with a separate store showcasing all of their amazing candies. Instead the factory is located on an industrial street in the center of Burlington. When you first walk in, you're greeted by the retail store. There is a cafe towards the back offering hot chocolate and other drinks. 

The free factory "tours" are actually a 20-30 minute seated lecture that takes place on the hour, located to the left of the cafe. Our seats next to the open-window factory allowed us to peek at the assembly lines of chocolates being fitted into various molds. Our lecturer was a long time staff member who gave us the lowdown on everything from the origins of the factory because of a chocolate making "dare" by owner Jim Lampman in 1983 to their earning last year of a Fair Trade certification, Fair for Life, for their organic chocolate line.

Of course we also learned where chocolate comes from, starting with the cocoa pod filled with beans, to roasting and deshelling the beans into nibs, and further processing of the solids into chocolate liquor. The nonalcoholic "liquor" refers to the purified cocoa solids and cocoa butter in liquid form. From there, sugar and emulsifiers are added to transform it into the creamy dreaminess that we crave.

Jake's spinosaurus, for size comparison of the cocoa pod

Jake didn't care for the bitter scent of the cocoa beansWe were treated to a tasting of milk, dark and white chocolate samples. We learned that, at least in their opinion, white chocolate is considered real chocolate because it contains cocoa butter (derived from the chocolate liquor). After our taste buds were piqued, we were smartly dismissed to the retail section where I hoarded my favorite Granola Five Star Bars (their best seller) and a few other flavors on sale. A benefit to visiting the factory is that you can get nice discounts not found in their other two retail stores (also in Vermont), on their website, and at the Whole Foods Markets that carry the chocolates. 

I understand being a chocoholic. There was a time when I would eat any and every type of chocolate and chocolate derivative. I'd eagerly wait for post-holiday discounts on Valentine's and Christmas chocolates, gather girlfriends to attend all-you-can-eat chocolate buffets at local hotels, and visit chocolatiers in different cities. Thankfully I don't long for chocolate as I used to (too expensive and time-consuming!), but I like to keep a bar or two stashed away...just in case: Lake Champlain's Five Star Bar or Dark Chocolate Peppermint Crunch, and Ghirardelli's Dark Chocolate with White Mint Squares. If you're ever passing through Vermont, I'd highly recommend a quick stop at this factory store for a great education on chocolate-making and to stock up on some very high quality chocolate!


The Meta Effect

Fiber has come a long way, baby! It’s not usually a hot topic of choice (unless you’re a nutritionist like me) but whether you realize it or not it's a crucial part of our diets. Fiber is the stuff naturally found in the tissues of all plants that provides support in the stems and roots. “Dietary fiber” is found in plants that we can eat and comes in various forms (plant tissue, seeds, gummy material). None of these are absorbed because after we swallow it, it literally goes in one end and out the other. It’s interesting how fiber has no calories or nutrients, yet offers so many well-researched health benefits.

I am constantly teaching my patients how to add more fiber into their diets, and it’s not just for the folks who are blocked up! This is why I wholeheartedly agreed to sign on as brand ambassador for P&G's new line of wellness products called Meta. This includes their tried and true standby, Metamucil® (can you believe this has been around since 1934?), as well as their new Meta Health Bars™ (fortified with the same natural psyllium fiber found in Metamucil) and MetaBiotic™. The goal of this product line is to promote health from the inside out by offering multihealth benefits.

Many people don’t reach the 25-38 grams of fiber in their daily diets as recommended by the Institute of Medicine. Keeping a snack in your purse or desk drawer at work, such as a Meta Health Bar, can help satisfy an afternoon craving for sweets while helping to meet your fiber needs. Fiber-rich foods may not only help to satisfy hunger as a healthful snack*, but may promote digestive health* and lower cholesterol to promote heart health†.

Like I said, fiber isn’t exactly a sexy topic so I’m excited to now have a reason to talk more about its benefits because I’ve seen the positive results in my patients who eat more of it. Most of the recipes on this blog are plant-based and naturally high in fiber, but I will plan to post even more recipes that are based on fiber-rich whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and beans. I will also talk about various types of supplementary fibers such as that found in Metamucil and Meta Health Bars.

On the flip side probiotics are a very hot, sometimes controversial, topic. I will be delving into the reported benefits of these healthy bacteria, and what to look for when choosing an over-the-counter probiotic such as MetaBiotic.

Keep an eye out this month for the debut of the new Meta line, and check out the video below featuring spokesperson Michael Strahan. Also stay tuned for my fiber-ful posts!

*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.   

† Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 7 grams of soluble fiber per day from psyllium husk, as in Metamucil, may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol.  One serving of Metamucil has 2.4 grams of this soluble fiber.

Disclosure: I've partnered with P&G on this sponsored post but the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. You can find more information at MetaWellness.com.