Category Archives: Activism and education

Pittsburgh Farm to Table Conference

I think everyone has some sense of civic pride no matter where their from.  I’m from Pittsburgh, and often because of our sports teams my city gets a lot of attention for having an inordinate amount of people who have an inordinate amount of civic pride.  Pittsburghers love Pittsburgh.  I’m certainly no exception and although I’m not much of a sports fan, even I get swept up in the excitement when our teams are winning.
But something else about Pittsburgh that I positively love is that well beyond professional sports, we have a lot to brag about.  This is a truly remarkable city that has reinvented itself from smoky, filthy industrial town to one of the most environmentally sound and green cities in the country.  We’re a unique place that is at the crossroad of cutting edge medical and technological research and good old fashioned salt-of-the-Earth living. And this past weekend saw these two things combined in a neat way.
It was the annual Farm to Table Conference!  It was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center just a few blocks from my house and I have to brag and tell you that it is a Gold LEED certified building and the largest of its kind in the world.  Yippee, Pittsburgh!  I’ve been there many times before, but I especially think that holding a conference that focuses on food, farming, the environment, and sustainability is especially fantastic when it’s done in one of the most environmentally conscious places in the country.
But enough about Pittsburgh and the building, the conference was fantastic!  It was a two-day event that hosted many speakers, exhibitors, demonstrations, and even a farm-t0-table tasting dinner.  It’s a really cool event that has gotten bigger each year and this year I was so very proud to represent the Weston A. Price Foundation.
For those of you who don’t know, the Weston A. Price Foundation is a non-profit organization that hopes to perpetuate the workings of Dr. Price through education, research, and activism.  In a nutshell, the WAPF is an organization that hopes to get our farming and foodways back to traditional means, the way your great-grandparents ate, to preserve the quality of food and land.  There is a crazy amount of information here on the Weston A. Price Foundation website and I really encourage you to read up on it. Especially if you’re in support of nutrient-dense food that is good for the body, mind, and soul and sustainable farming practices that emphasize humane conditions for animals.
(You might have noticed that I kept using the term “WE” in the previous paragraph, as if I were a part of the Foundation.  Well, I am!  Me, along with my colleague, Carrie Hahn, are Pittsburgh area chapter volunteer co-leaders.  We represent the Weston A. Price Foundation in our neck of the woods. Check out our message board here.  Ask questions and join in the discussion.)
I leave you today with some photos of our little part of the Farm to Table Conference, and a request that you learn more about the WAPF.  Please do let me know if you have questions too!

(Me, Carrie Hahn, and WAPFmember and volunteer, Karen. We were there all day Friday.)

(Our WAPF team along with our conference neighbors, David and Addy from Green Pasture. Best cod liver oil on the planet.)

(That’s us!  Happy because we get enough fat to fuel our bodies, and enough nutrients to feel great.)

Healthy Terms Defined, part 1

After my last post where I threw around some terms and definitions that may or may not be familiar to everyone, I thought that perhaps it would wise (and polite) to maybe offer up a healthy eating/healthy lifestyle glossary of sorts.  These are words and phrases that I know I use on this site and that are popular in the media these days that might be confusing or at least need some clarification.
This is no where near an exhaustive list, but let’s start out with some basics.
Feedlot — A feedlot is a confined pen or corral where animals (cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens, etc.) are kept and fed. Typically feed lots are crowded, dirty places that do not allow the animals enough room to roam, graze, root, or lounge as they normally would.
Fermented — In the scope of this site, fermented usually refers to foods that are chemically changed in such a way (methods vary) so as to introduce beneficial bacteria.  I most commonly refer to fermented foods and drinks such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir.
Free-range — In days past this term and “pastured” meant the same thing, but now it is commonly used when an animal (typically poultry of any kind) is given access to the outdoors and to a pasture for at least a small portion of the day.  Free-range could signify that an animal is pastured, but could also mean that it has limited outdoor exposure before returning to indoor confinement.
Grain-finished — A grain-finished animal (typically cows) has either been fed grass or grain feed since the time it was weened from its mother and then fed grain the last several weeks of its life in order to “fatten it up” before slaughter.
Grass-fed — This term is predominately used when referring to beef or any other product that a cow produces.  It is important because it signifies that the animal that has produced the item was fed grass, and not soy, corn, or other grains which are NOT what a cow would choose to eat.  Cows are grazing animals and naturally eat grass and not these other things that are commonly fed to them when they are raised on feedlots.
Grass-finished — This is a hazy term that can mean one of two things.  It can mean the same as “grass-fed” and refer to an animal that has been fed its natural diet of grass from the time it was weaned from its mother, or it can refer to an animal that may or may not have been fed its natural diet of grass and then fed grass the last few weeks of its life before slaughter.
Natural — A very vague term that food companies, manufacturers, and suppliers use to try to give products a more healthy sounding reputation.  When selecting food, it is nearly meaningless because it merely signifies that there are no “artificial” ingredients used, but it says nothing about ingredient quality, production methods, or defines what “artificial” means.  Beware.
Organic — A food item that is called organic means that it is grown, produced, and/or raised without the use of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and has not been genetically modified in any way.  There are no artificial or harmful processes or compounds used in the production of the item at all.  “Certified Organic” is a legal term used by the US (and other) governments to signify that the facility that grew or raised the item adheres to rigorous standards outlined by the governing body and is re-certified (or not) every year after a thorough audit.  Goods can be organic but cannot be called “certified organic” without the government’s official certification.
Pastured — This is a common term used with chickens or other poultry to signify that the animal has been permitted to roam freely and to eat whatever it wants.  Animals that are “pastured” are not subject to indoor confinement.
Probiotics — Strictly speaking a probiotic is an organism that lives inside another and provides a benefit to its host.  In the scope of my site and with food, it typically refers to specific bacteria that live inside our small and large intestine and compose our “gut flora” keeping our bodies healthy and working smoothly.
Vegetarian fed — A common term used with poultry to signify that the animal who produced the food item was fed a diet that was purely vegetarian.  This is often used as a positive marketing term, when actually it is a negative term because the natural diet of any poultry animal is not vegetarian. Do not be fooled when you are shopping for chicken, turkey, eggs, etc.  This is not a desirable term to see on poultry packaging.
When making smart choices about food it is very important to know these and many other terms that food companies, grocery stores, and manufacturers use.  I will be continuing on with my healthy glossary as new words and phrases present themselves.  Please let me know in the comments any terms that you see in the media or in the market that you find confusing or misleading.

The Romance of Farming

This city girl spent the day farm hopping!  It certainly was an experience I’ll never forget and I’m excited to tell you a little bit about my day.  I’ll explain the title of this post below, but for now let me give you some background about why I did this.
Before Christmas I got involved in the Weston A. Price Foundation and became the chapter co-leader for the Pittsburgh area group.  My other chapter co-leader is Carrie Hahn, and from what I can tell, she’s pretty much a food hero, activist, and all around great lady.  I think to call myself “co-leader” is being very generous.  She is the woman with the experience, the brains, and the connections.  I’m a noob who wants to help out.
Anyway, I seriously invite you to check out the Weston A. Price Foundation.  Their website is a massive collection of information about food and nutrition research.  I invite you to learn about what exactly the Weston A. Price Foundation stands for, but in the meantime, I believe this quote from their mission statement summarizes it perfectly: “The Foundation is dedicated to restoring nutrient-dense foods to the human diet through education, research and activism.”  A thousand times, YES.
So, when I became co-leader, Carrie invited me to visit her home so we could talk and she wanted me to visit some of her favorite local farms and meet the people who produce some absolutely beautiful goods.  She lives in farm country for sure, a little over an hour’s drive from my city abode.
Now, let me be totally honest here.  I’ve been in the country before (I grew up in the ‘burbs, but awfully close to country lands), and I’ve been to farms before.  But my exposure to the reality of farm life was very limited if non-existent.  I believe wholeheartedly in what good, honest, careful, sustainable farmers do, but the reality of what goes on was never part of my consciousness.  I certainly knew where my food came from, but I didn’t know the whole story of what went into getting it to my fridge.

One of the guidelines I set out for my health coaching clients is that they must know their food – where it comes from, what it can do for them, etc.  I encourage people to know their farmers and know their food suppliers.  Along with getting to know Carrie, THIS is a big reason why I went farm visiting.  I do not want my food, or my clients’ food, to be anonymous.  Knowing exactly where it came from is essential if we are to value what we eat.
The day was an eye-opener to say the least.
People, farming is HARD WORK.  Wait, let me be more specific than that: Sustainable farming and producing top quality products is EXTREMELY HARD WORK.   The people I met and the work they do is no joke.  Farming is a lifestyle and not a job.  It’s not something that you can do for 40 hours a week and hang it up on the weekends and holidays.  It is serious business and it requires a kind of dedication that I think very few possess.

The Romance of Farming is the title of this post and that is a tongue-in-cheek catchphrase said by Erika Peterson of Green Circle Farm, one of the stops during the day.  She said it while we were walking through ankle deep mud, talking about moving her livestock, fencing issues, issues around gas well drilling, the cost of running a farm.  The romance of farming, indeed.  But it wasn’t a complaint, let me be clear.  From the moment I arrived at each farm on Tuesday, it was obvious that these people love what they do, respect their land and animals, and endure any kind of hardships that might come their way because farming is who they are.

So, let me tell you about the farms I visited and the people I met!
First, Carrie and I went to the John Byler family farm.  The Bylers are an Amish family and while I do know a little about Amish culture and lifestyle, this would have been my first experience actually ON an Amish farm, seeing the inner workings of their operation.  Sadly, nobody was home when we arrived so we moved on because we had many more farms to visit.  Not before Carrie gave me a tour around their barn to see their beautiful Belgian horses and Jersey cows. Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to visit the Byler family and meet them.
Next we went to Burns Angus Farm where I met Audrene Burns.  The Burns Angus Farm produces grass-fed beef, and their motto is fantastic. “Buy from who you know. Know what you eat.”  Yes!   I also can’t help but smile at something I saw on their website. “With the right dedication and hard work, we can turn grass into steak!”  Ha ha!  Audrene was such a nice lady and I spent a good amount of time listening to what is currently happening at their farm, petting the lambs she is bottle feeding in her garage, hearing about what farmers’ markets the farm regularly attends, etc.  My favorite part?  Where Audrene gave me a pound of her farm’s grass-fed ground beef and two beautiful beef shanks (with marrow!) for soup making.  (By the way, if you’re wondering why “grass-fed” is such a big thing nowadays, and why it’s important to eat grass-fed beef over grain or corn fed beef, check out the reasons here,and especially here.)

From there we visited the aforementioned Green Circle Farm where Erika and Boris raise chickens, pigs, ducks, and have a whole flock of guinea fowl roaming around, and I saw one goat too.  I am partial to Green Circle because Dude and I recently bought into their meat CSA (community supported agriculture) and get a weekly portion of their harvest.  Erika and Boris have a LOT going on at their farm and it was obvious from the time we arrived that this is a happening place.  Plus, I had never been this close to a pig before and they’re just HUGE!

My last stop was The Farmer’s Wife, Henry Family Farm.  Maggie Henry was who we talked to and is quite the lady.  When we got there she was just putting on her cover-alls and we headed out to see what she had going on.  I’ve never seen so many chickens in one place!  Besides that, she has quite a few pigs and cows.  Her chickens are all pastured (Meaning they aren’t confined to a box or feed lot, and they’re left to eat their natural NON-vegetarian diet. Chickens aren’t vegetarians.), her cows grass-fed, and everything on her farm is naturally grown if not organic.  Maggie had only one dozen eggs that were cleaned and ready for sale, which was just enough for me! I bought the dozen and have been enjoying them for breakfast the last few days.

I truly enjoyed my day with Carrie and these farmers who are so deeply dedicated to what they do, so respectful of their land and animals.  I thought I had an appreciation for where my food came from, but after Tuesday I can say that I have a deeper understanding of what it truly means to be a farmer and produce top quality goods.  I definitely got an education and I truly thank everyone for the time they took out of their days to spend with me.

Steel City Teas - a field trip

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook then you know that last week I spent a day with Betsy Hollweck, tea goddess extraordinaire.  I met Betsy late last year at the Slow Food Pittsburgh kraut event and ever since then the two of us have been trying to get together to talk tea.
Well, talk we did!  I had the honor of going to her house last Thursday and we not only drank tea, but we talked for over five hours, had a scrumptious lunch, and honestly said it was one of the most enjoyable afternoons I’ve had in recent memory.  Betsy is an absolute delight to be with and talk to, she knows a LOT about food and of course she knows more about tea than anyone I’ve ever met.
A little background – Betsy owned a tea and gift shop in the Pittsburgh suburbs for many years called Marktfrau, but that is just a recent chapter in her tea saga.  She’s been drinking it faithfully since her college days, she and her husband, Hans, sell it (among many other things) at their booth located in Munich, Germany’s giant farmer’s market, and she still sells teas today as Steel City Teas.  It might sound cliche to say, but Betsy has forgotten more about tea than I’ll ever know in my lifetime. Let’s be honest, she’s forgotten more about tea AND food AND cooking than I’ll ever know.
We wanted to get together and chat because tea and wellness so often go together.  Having a very good cup of tea that’s been carefully made using top quality teas can just make you feel good inside, but there are so many things in different kinds of tea that are also very good for you.  Drinking it is not like drinking a magic elixir that will cure all your woes and ails, but it can be a fantastic and tasty supplement to other natural treatments.  Plus it’s just darned yummy hot or cold.
There are about a zillion (official count) types of teas out there.  Something I learned from my day with Betsy is that in many ways it is similar to wine in that the type of tea plant grown, combined with the weather conditions it endured, combined with the kind of soil it was grown in, combined with when the leaves are harvested, combined with how it is processed, combined with how it’s brewed ALL matter in the end product quality.  That’s a lot of variables!  It turns out that just getting a box of whatever tea at the grocery store isn’t all it’s cracked up to be because that’s often the cheapest tea dust (sometimes swept off the floor according to Betsy!) that’s left over after the good stuff is sold to reputable distributors like Steel City Teas.  Yikes.

(This is just some of Betsy’s inventory.)

For our day of tasting, we decided to start with green tea.  Truth be told, we never got past the greens.  We barely scratched the surface.  Our first pot was a Japanese tea called Bancha.  Betsy called it a savory tea because it is not at all sweet, but rather smooth and easy.  I loved it.  And as it turns out, Bancha is not only tasty, but rather good for you too.  Bonus.

(The loose Bancha.  It had big broad leaves and was a lush green color)

Betsy put a few handsome scoops of the loose Bancha in a fine mesh tea basket, heated some filtered water in an old Proctor Silex electric pitcher she’s had for many years, poured the hot water over the tea and into a pot, let it steep and we were ready to drink.  She recommends a teaspoon of loose tea for every 8 ounces of water you’ll add.  I asked about specific water temperatures for optimum brewing and while it’s true that different teas respond better to different temperatures (consult some of Betsy’s materials I’ve included links to at the bottom of this post for temperature guidelines) she was very clear that people have been drinking tea for thousands of years without fussing over temperatures and thermometers and such.  Heat the water.  Pay attention to her guidelines and don’t worry about details.

(My beautiful first cup of Bancha)

Notice how light the color is.  That is something that struck me immediately.  It wasn’t a dark brown/black like a lot of other teas can be.  This was light and almost like the faintest lemonade.  The flavor was so silky smooth and wonderful.

(Bancha before and after)

And look at how the leaves changed before and after brewing.  The stuff on the left is pre-brewed Bancha, and the stuff on the right is some of what Betsy took out of the mesh basket.  The post-brew leaves were rehydrated and lush.  They still had a lot of tea left to yield and according to the expert she said that one batch of loose leaves can have several pots of tea in it.
So why am I telling you this?  Because as I mentioned above, tea can do a lot for your health and wellness.  The very act of making it forces you to slow down, be methodical, relax and savor it.  This is something that ALL of us can use in our lives, no?  Drink it with a friend and enjoy yourselves.  Who doesn’t need more friend time?  Perhaps most importantly, tea (unsweetened, please!) can be a healthy and natural replacement for other beverages that might not be so good for us (ahem, soda pop, ahem).  Betsy promises me she has some botanical teas that are naturally sweet and lovely and do not require sugar and you’ll never miss it.  But because we just enjoyed greens last week, that will have to wait for another day.
Now, let’s get to the good stuff!  This special day I had with Betsy was something I won’t soon forget.  But lucky you because she offers tastings and educational talks on tea for individuals or groups.  That’s right, you too can spend a few hours with her and learn all the ins and outs of tea.  Believe me, I hardly even scratched the surface here.  I’ll post more in the future, but nothing beats a few pots and some education from the expert herself.  Her selection is enormous (see below), her knowledge boundless, and you’ll no doubt leave with a few bags of a few new favorites to have at home.  I left with three new favorites.  🙂
Here is a small sampling of Betsy’s goodness available for order.  Contact her at for more information and to order your own tea!
Tea offerings page 1 – This gives you a brief history of tea and some of Betsy’s offerings.
Tea offerings page 2 – More of her selection, plus brewing tips and temperature guide.
Tea blends – A small sampling of Betsy’s blends available for sale.

Read my lips: No more negative-self talk!

The other day I received an email from someone I hadn’t heard from in a long while.  We used to be rather close, but as the years have gone one we’ve gone down our differing paths and while we’re still friends and we still care for each other, we’re not regularly in each others lives.  This email I received really bothered me because in amongst the cheerful holiday wishes this person completely dressed herself down for not staying in better contact with me.  She called herself names, used the F-word, and generally trashed her own character, all for having let several months pass since we last touched base. In essence she said she was a terrible friend and a jerk for letting so much time pass between emails and meeting for dinner. Truth be told, I am just as guilty of not staying in touch because the phone and email go both ways, right?  But to me, our several month hiatus didn’t really say anything about my character, rather it was just a product of being busy and not prioritizing getting in touch with her.  I’m sure that is what happened on her end too, but instead of just chalking it up to LIFE, she berated herself.
In the words of Hall and Oates — I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do).
In my health coaching practice, I run across this all the time.  A client think she’s a bad person because she ate something she shouldn’t have, or she tells me she’s awful because she can’t quite kick her sugar habit fast enough.  This negative self-talk stuff is not something that I can accept.  I think it’s a quiet epidemic and a growing one at that.  It seems to be so commonplace and so ubiquitous that when someone harshly cuts herself down to size right in front of us we hardly notice it.  Also, I don’t even know if we realize how often we do it to ourselves.  How many times have you dropped something on the floor accidentally and then called yourself a clumsy idiot?  Or missed a workout and told yourself that you’re lazy?  Or how about you’ve set a goal and didn’t quite achieve it and so you tell yourself you’re a failure?  I’ve done it too!  It happens all the time, and I’d like to start a movement to make it stop.  It’s harmful, it’s counter-productive, and it does not help anyone.

Starting today, I will not abide any negative self-talk from myself or anyone around me. 

Period.  I will not negotiate on this.  I’m not even waiting for 2012 to make this resolution.  It starts now.
So, how can we stop this?  How do we let people know that there is a zero tolerance policy out there for negative self-talk?
Starting with our own chatter, we can remind ourselves that we are in charge of our thoughts.  There isn’t an outside source that puts them into our head or makes us believe these things.  We are the ones who come up with this stuff and we can be the ones to stop it.  I love this blog post from Athleta that talks about resetting our mindset.  It’s a great example of someone who used to let her own negative thoughts control her and then one day, gave it up.
It might sound corny, but it works – affirmations and mantras.  Remind yourself daily, even multiple times a day, of all that you are, all that you’re capable of doing, and all that you are able to achieve.  Tell yourself that you CAN DO what you want to do. That you are a GOOD and CAPABLE person.  That you are STRONG.  Absorb the words and really concentrate on what they mean.  Focusing on the good and the positive might seem artificial at first, but stick with it.  You become what you believe.

Address what is negative in your life.  What is bringing you down and making you feel ugly, weak, lazy, unattractive, etc.?  Are there people in your circle who reinforce these thoughts?  Are there circumstances that you are in that make you feel incapable? Do you have poor habits that are keeping you from meeting your goals and therefore making you feel like a failure?  Figuring out what is at the root of the negative self-talk and eliminating it from your life can be a huge step to breaking the habit.  Be honest with yourself and those around you.
If you hear negative self-talk coming out of a friend or loved one’s mouth, nip it in the bud.  Tell them that YOU hurt when they tear themselves down.  I admit to being guilty of this at times and when I call myself a name for making a mistake, my Dude will often stop me and say, “Hey. That’s my WIFE you just called a jerk.  Stop it.”  You know what?  He’s right.  When I insult myself, I’m insulting his wife, my parents’ daughter, my friends’ friend.  Would my husband have such poor judgment as to marry a jerk?  No, he wouldn’t and by calling myself names, I’m not giving him the respect he deserves.

In response to the hurtful email I received, I wrote back to my friend telling her that it bothered me that she would talk about herself in that fashion.  I reminded her of just how much I care about her and how, although we have been out of contact lately, I don’t think any less of her for being out of touch.  I even reminded her that while she thinks it’s one sided and she’s been out of touch with me, it’s actually a two-way street and I’ve been just as guilty of not calling or writing.  I hope I challenged her thinking.
Who is taking the pledge with me?  Who else is vowing to stop the negative self-talk epidemic that is going on all around us and in our own heads? Waiting until the new year is waiting too long.  We’re starting now.  Today.
Let me know in the comments what strategies you employ to stop the madness.

Fresh Air and olive oil

Since I live in the middle of a city and because I work out of my home, I don’t spend too much time in a car, and consequently I don’t spend much time listening to the radio.  But on Monday afternoons I volunteer for the Travelers’ Aid Society of Pittsburgh at the Pittsburgh International Airport and have to drive a bit to get there.  The timing of my drive always corresponds with the airing of NPR’s interview program, Fresh Air.
Typically I have a passing interest in the topic, or it’s something I know nothing about and I get a little education during my drive.  But Monday’s show was so interesting to me, and so fascinating that I found myself driving very slowly so I could hear the entire interview before I arrived at my destination. (Apologies to those of you who were in traffic with me!)

The guest was author Thomas Mueller and he was promoting his new book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.  The interview (which can be heard here in its entirety. It’s only 20 minutes long.) had Mueller talking all about the making of olive oil, and how its production is hardly what it seems to be, and how what you’re buying as extra virgin olive oil, rarely is.  In fact, as the title of his book suggests, the whole enterprise of making, labeling, exporting, and selling olive oil is rife with lies and deception.
So, what does this have to do with health coaching and wellness in general?
I say everything.
One of the guidelines I give all my clients in our first session is that they must know their food.  Know where it comes from, what’s in it, who made it, what it does to their bodies.  Consuming food that is anonymous in these ways is not only foolish, but can be dangerous.  Many of us think we’re making a healthy choice when we decide to eschew vegetable oils for olive oil, right?  I mean, TV chefs, media pundits, health coaches and doctors everywhere are practically dumping it over their heads in jubilation for the stuff.  But do any of us know where it comes from?  Do we really know what kind of olives are used in making it?  Where they’re grown? What the difference is between extra virgin, virgin, cold pressed, first press, light, extra light, Greek olive oil, Italian olive oil, and Spanish olive oil? Not only do few of us know what these terms even mean, Mueller says that even if we do, the manufacturers of olive oil aren’t exactly being forthright on their labels anyway! Because so many of us are using olive oil to cook with and to drizzle on our salads or roasted vegetables and it is a base ingredient in sauteing and roasting, it is really important to know what we’re using and eating and it’s imperative that labels are truthful.
Because I haven’t read Mueller’s book yet, I cannot speak to what he recommends as reputable sources of olive oil in his book.  However, I have had personal experience with two US based olive oil manufacturers that I will vouch for in the highest regard.

(Here’s an olive tree from the Queen Creek Olive Mill. Olive trees can produce fruit for up to a thousand years!)

First, is the Queen Creek Olive Mill in Queen Creek, Arizona.  A few years ago Dude and I were lucky enough to visit this olive orchard and olive oil mill with some cousins of mine.  Here, like in Thomas Mueller’s Fresh Air interview, we learned how olive oils differ from one another, how reputable sources of olive oil will pick olives off of the trees to press into oil, and how cost-saving sources will use rotten olives that have fallen to the ground, mix in other types of oil with olive oil and still call it pure, as well as use hexane to extract and purify oils.  Blech.  We got to see every step of the manufacturing from picking the olives to the on-site bottling facility.  You can’t get any fresher than that.
Second, is Round Pond Estate in Rutherford, California.  They are a winery and vinegar makers as well as an olive mill so with one stop you pretty much have a significant part of your meal covered.  Because they’re in Napa Valley and also make wine, you can of course go to Round Pond for a wine tasting, but they also offer olive oil tastings, lunches and the opportunity to be there on the day they open their olive oil casks for freshly tapped oil to take home.

(A caprese salad from Round Pond shown with their Spanish varietal olive oil.)

I’m not affiliated with either place and haven’t received any kind of compensation for promoting them.  I just know they’re reputable domestic sources for high quality olive oil that is truthfully labeled.
Have you read Thomas Mueller’s book?  What kind of olive oil do you typically use?  Are you particular about your ingredients and know where they come from and how they’re made?  Share your experiences with me in the comments section!

The healing power of food

If you’ve not heard of this Hippocrates quote before, chances are you’ve heard some iteration of it.  It’s hard to read anything in mainstream media these days without running across a mention of a “super”food that can cure all your ails, or hearing other ridiculous diet claims like someone who ate nothing but pickles for 8 months and lost 200 pounds.  The gist of what Hippocrates was trying to say is out there, but I say it’s been twisted and contorted to suit the marketers’ messages to the point of it having lost its true meaning.
To me the real spirit of this quote is that through what we consume, we have the power to heal ourselves.
A friend of mine passed this brief lecture on to me and urged me to watch, and I’m going to do the same for you.  Please take the time to watch this.  It’s only 17:47 long, but I promise that by the time you finish watching you’ll be amazed, inspired, shocked, and maybe even a bit moved.  I sure was.  I haven’t heard a more compelling or impactful message about the power of food and a clean diet.

Convinced? Or at the very least, inspired to eat more vegetables?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Dr. Wahls’ lecture.  I’d like to know what your impressions were.  Please share your thoughts with me and others in the comments below.


Bit by bit with Bittman


Monday night I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Mark Bittman speak.  The Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures brought him to Pittsburgh as part of the Drue Heinz lecture series.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mark Bittman, he is an author, blogger,  frequent Today Show guest cook, activist, and food journalist for the New York Times.  He is most noted for writing a column in the Times called The Minimalist where, for 13 years, he wrote about food and recipes that were made to be used by novice cooks, but still celebrated the best his ingredients had to offer.
I thought he was going to talk about cooking, as he is quite revered for his ENORMOUS and thorough book, How to Cook Everything. (In fact, as an aside, if you happen to have an iPhone or an iPad, do yourself a favor and spend a few bucks for his How to Cook Everything app.  The foolproof step-by-step instructions on how to master nearly ANY cooking technique makes it worth it.)  Instead of talking about great ingredients or cooking, he instead talked about the importance of food activism, battling big food corporations and their influence, changing food policy, and changing public health.
All of these are naturally extremely important topics, but there was one bit of a message that really struck a chord with me.  He explained that the USA is in the midst of a health crisis.  Obesity rates are higher than they’ve ever been and climbing and that lifestyle diseases (diabetes, heart disease, etc.) are now killing more of us than communicable diseases for the first time in our history, and the only way to change these trends is to change the way we think of food and how we eat.
He explained a continuum of ways of eating that starts on one extreme with the worst of the worst foods, in the worst quantity.  Junk processed fake foods in enormous quantity for every meal.  On the opposite end of this continuum was the cleanest, healthiest, most pure, natural, all organic diet around.  We all fall somewhere along that continuum.  I’m willing to wager that most of us are not eating Cap’n Crunch and Hawaiian Punch with Ben and Jerry’s chasers all day, and I also feel comfortable saying that none of us are also angelically pure with our diets either.  We all fall somewhere between those extremes.
So, here’s the part that really got me excited:  Mark Bittman’s punchline in his lecture, my goal as a holistic health coach, your goal as someone who wants to live a long and healthful live, our goal as citizens who want a healthier populace should be to get ourselves and our families moving from Cap’n Crunch’s neighborhood towards the healthy side by making small conscious decisions to do so every single day with every single meal. 
When he delivered this point I should have stood up and applauded.  Or tried to start The Wave or something.
There can be lectures, news reports, websites, scientific findings, billboards, radio ads, and banners flying behind airplanes galore telling us to eat our greens and get more vegetables and eat humanely raised and organic meat, but until we start making small changes, one by one with each morsel of food, we’re not going to get anywhere.
We each have hundreds of opportunities each day to gradually change the course we are on.  With each meal or each snack of each day we can choose better.  So this is my charge to you today, fine readers: Choose something better, and move away from the bad extreme and more towards the healthy one.  Choose quality over quantity or impulse. Good health is made up of thousands of times where we chose to do better than we did before.  If it’s getting rid of your daily breakfast bagel and replacing it with a few scrambled eggs with vegetables, do it.  If it’s not having the cheese danish at the meeting each afternoon, do it.
And report back!  Tell me what you changed, no matter how small you may think it is.  I want to hear about it.  What’s getting you out of the Cap’n’s neighborhood and closer to the side of better health?

I went to kraut school


This past Sunday Dude and I attended an event that was sponsored by Pittsburgh’s chapter of Slow Food, sauerkraut and kimchi making.  I get so geeked out for stuff like this!  It was the perfect combination of cooking technique, history, and nutrition.  I firmly believe that getting educated about food, how it’s made, producing it yourself, and knowing what it can do for your body is a fundamental way to want to improve your health.  This class certainly fit the bill, plus there was a tasting and I love to eat.
The class was broken up in to three sections.  Out of order, we had a little history on sauerkraut making from Betsy Hollweck of Steel City Teas.  Betsy and her husband spend half their time here in Pittsburgh (her hometown) and the other half in Munich, Germany (his hometown) where they own a booth at the Vikualienmarkt, a large outdoor farmers’ market.  We heard much about making whole-head sauerkraut (that is, not shredding the cabbage but rather leaving it an intact head) and the difference between Bavarian style sauerkraut and more traditional style (Bavarian is sweeter because apples are typically added the kraut when it cooks).
We also got an actual kraut making demonstration (well, at least a demo of the initial steps) from the chef de cuisine of one of my very very favorite restaurants, Legume Bistro.  This was a breakdown of exactly how to make your own sauerkraut, step by step.  It’s as easy as shredding the cabbage, salting it at a ratio of 3 tablespoons of kosher salt to every 5 pounds of cabbage, pounding the heck out of it until you’ve produced enough briny water to cover the cabbage, and letting it sit, COVERED, for a few weeks in a cool place.  I found a few sites that explain the process very thoroughly to help you out if you’re interested in doing it yourself.  Click here and here for instructions.
The final segment of the class was run by Naomi Auth, and the best way I can describe Naomi is that she ferments for a living. She gave an excellent demonstration on kimchi making and talked about making kombucha, which is a fermented tea beverage.  She pickles, ferments and preserves all kinds of things and sells her goods to restaurants in the Pittsburgh area. (You haven’t heard the the last from Naomi. Hopefully she’s going to be reappearing here again soon!)
After the lecture portion of the class was over, we had a tasting.  Kimchi, three kinds of sauerkraut, homemade applesauce, Naomi’s kombucha.  It was a fantastic spread and a great opportunity for us to chat with the presenters and other guests.  Many thanks to Slow Food Pittsburgh who organized a terrific event.
So why should you care about sauerkraut and kimchi and kombucha?  Because fermented foods are very good for you when eaten raw.  These and other fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, some pickles, etc. contain live bacteria.  We’re kind of brainwashed to think of bacteria as bad, but this is definitely a good bacteria as it is the kind that aids in digestion, balances your gut flora, helps you absorb your food more efficiently, and….ahem….helps making a number 2 a more efficient and pleasant process, if you know what I’m saying and I think you do.  The raw part is important because when you heat these foods (like letting sauerkraut cook away in a slow cooker for a few hours) you kill off the beautiful bacteria that make your belly smile.  You want those little buggers to be alive when you eat them.
My suggestion?  Add a little probiotic boost to your life by trying some raw kraut or other fermented food to your life.  Farmhouse Culture and Bubbies makes great raw kraut ready to be eaten right out of the jar.  Give a little kombucha a try.  Who has a favorite kefir flavor?  Who has even tried it?  What did you think?
Ok, so who is going to make their own kraut or kimchi?  Who is up for the (non)challenge?  I might be asking Santa for a crock for Christmas this year.

Food Day 2011

I couldn’t have timed the beginning of my site any better.  Food Day is Monday!
We’re facing a food crisis in the United States and it’s taking several forms, ranging from the utterly sad state of school lunches, the number of Americans going to bed each night hungry, big agriculture taking over small farms, or the Standard American Diet’s utter lack of whole, natural, humane, and healthy foods.  I am positively thrilled that this movement has begun and hopefully year after year it will only get bigger and more influential.
Getting informed about all kinds of issues surrounding food is essential and I plan to make food activism a small part of what I present on this site.  Each and every thought, feeling, movement and cell in our body is a product of the food we’ve consumed over our lifetime.  I cannot think of a sentiment more powerful than that.  What we eat is that important and momentous over who we are and our quality of life, and therefore educating ourselves about the quality of our food supply, and ensuring all of us have affordable access to high quality, healthy food is fundamental.  This is why Food Day is such a huge deal!
There are many aspects to food activism and to Food Day.  Check out their 6 Principles to see which of those six principles resonates with you.  Which one most affects your life?  Where can you get involved in your community to help bring better food to all our tables?  There are also Food Day events going on all over the country on Monday.  Which one will you attend?