Celebrate World Oceans Day

Nowadays, all eyes are on the Gulf of Mexico as the BP disaster unfolds day after day. But tomorrow’s World Oceans Day isn’t about lamenting what’s been done; it’s about celebrating what we still have, deepening our connection to it and making strides to protect it for the future.

The United Nations designated June 8th as World Oceans Day in 2008 as a way to raise international awareness for the world’s water. Each year, organizations and individuals plan events and initiatives to help people learn about and take action to preserve our oceans and the ecosystems they encompass.

For our part here at NOURISH Evolution, we have a week full of goodies for you. To start, look out for our 7 Super Sustainable Seafood Picks on Tuesday (click here for last year’s … all still solid choices). We compile our lists by cross-referencing numerous sources to find fish that are sustainably sound and safe for us to eat. Then we add in a third factor … whether or not it’s easy to evaluate at the fish counter.

It may seem a dire time for the world’s oceans. But simple steps like talking to your fishmonger, learning more about the issues and buying only sustainable seafood will take us a long way towards a healthier future.

Learn to Love Your Vegetables

A few years back, I interviewed Mollie Katzen—the vegetable guru—for a profile in Prevention Magazine and she spoke about a concept that really resonated with me. She talked about teaching to love vegetables rather than just telling people to eat more of them and—flash—I realized that the shift from “gotta do” to “want to do” was precisely when everything changed for me.

love your vegetablesClockwise from left: Roasted Winter Veggies; Sauteed Radishes with Mint; Garlic Parsnip Fries; Fennel and Granny Smith Salad with Blue Cheese

Sure, I’d learned through my writing that vegetables were incredible allies in health and weight management. Yes, I’d become aware of their role in eco-clean eating, and those reasons alone made me want to eat more of them. But it wasn’t until I began experimenting with a variety of veggies in ways I hadn’t thought of before—often inspired by people like Mollie—that I discovered the most compelling reason to eat vegetables yet … they can be downright delicious. And this from someone who detested vegetables (other than lettuce, raw carrots and cucumbers) well into her twenties, so was against all odds we became an item.

Here, in one neat little package, are the reasons I fell in love:

Vegetables reduce risk of heart disease

Several studies around the world have concluded that people who eat more vegetables are less prone to heart disease. One of the most wide-ranging studies, looking at nearly 85,000 women over a period of eight years, concluded that each additional serving (1/2 cup for most, 1 cup for leafy ones) of veggies a day reduced risk of heart disease by 4%. Pretty significant! Vegetable’s cocktail of micronutrients (called phytonutrients) are probably a major contributor.

Vegetables can help you maintain a healthy weight

Many studies have looked at associations between diet and weight, but some are now beginning to specifically analyze whether people who eat more vegetables weigh less. Initial results look like indeed they do. One of the theories behind why this is so is that vegetables are less calorically dense (or energy dense) than other food groups (and, at the same time, more nutrient dense).

Eating more vegetables (and less meat) can reduce your carbon footprint

Many people don’t recognize that livestock farming—the intensive concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)—that most of our meat comes from produces more greenhouse gas than all forms of transport combined (18% of global, man-made greenhouse gas emissions). It also uses a great deal of water. It takes an average of 22,000 gallons of water—22,000!—to produce just over 2 pounds of beef.

Eating vegetables is FUN!

Eating seasonal, locally grown vegetables opens up whole new worlds of foods to play with. It’s like a Dr. Seuss book—your carrots can be orange, white or purple, and your cauliflower the same. Radishes can be red hot and spicy, or icy white and sweet or a gorgeous hue of magenta. If you don’t like steamed broccoli, try roasting it. If you don’t like boiled carrots, try sautéing them with a bit of spice.

Don’t just eat more vegetables (boorrrinnng) … fall in love with them.

Make Flavor with a Pan Sauce

I remember the first time I learned what fond was. I was in a kitchenware store in New Orleans and Chef Paul Prudhomme stopped by to give an impromptu cooking class. He sautéed some chicken with a spice mix and then picked up the pan and pointed to all the gunk glued to the bottom. “That’s the good stuff,” he chuckled. “That’s where the flavor comes from.” From that day on I stopped fretting when my sautés stuck. But it wasn’t until later, when I was taking a course at the Culinary Institute of America, that I learned the technical name for that gunk was fond, and that it was the essential ingredient for making a quick pan sauce.

make-flavor-with-pan-sauce Just add a splash of liquid—like wine or vinegar, or even broth—scrape up the fond from the pan (called deglazing) and you’ve got the makings of a tasty sauce. Take it off the heat, swirl in a knob of butter or a tablespoon of cream and some minced herbs and you’ve just turned a simple supper into something special.

Here are seven simple steps to making a pan sauce:

1 – Heat your (not nonstick) pan over medium-high heat. Heating the pan before adding fat or food allows the cells of the metal to expand, creating a nearly non-porous surface.

2 – Add your fat and let it get nice and hot. The heated fat—be it oil, butter or duck fat (ahhhh)—creates another barrier; having it hot ensures good browning when the food hits it.

3 – Add the main attraction to the pan … and then leave it be until it’s ready to be turned (be sure to leave enough room in between pieces to allow air to circulate or else the food will steam rather than sear). Be it meat or chicken or fish or tofu, if you move the food around too much, it won’t develop a crust. When it’s cooked through and nice and brown on the outside, remove it to a plate and keep it warm in a 200 degree oven.

4 – Sauté additional ingredients and aromatics. Nudge these around often, letting them get good and caramelized.

5 – Pour in liquid and deglaze. Wine, vinegar and broth are all great deglazing liquids. Use a stiff-edged spatula to scrape up the bits at the bottom of the pan. Here’s a quick video on how that works:

6 – Take pan off the heat and swirl in a bit of richness. Just a tablespoon or two of butter or cream can enrich a sauce dramatically. Be sure the pan is off the heat, though, or they’ll separate and become oily (that’s what it means when a sauce “breaks”).

7 – Adjust for acid and salt. Give the sauce a taste and adjust the seasoning: a squeeze of lemon for brightness, a drizzle of vinegar for punch, a dash of salt, a grind of pepper; add what makes you go “mmmm.”

To get you started, here are three different ideas for three completely different pan-sauces:

  • Sauté minced ginger and garlic before deglazing the pan with a dry white wine like vermouth and swirl in a bit of vegetable or chicken broth, a tablespoon or two of cream, and a pinch each of minced fresh thyme and lemon zest.
  • Sauté minced shallots before deglazing the pan with dry white wine, then swirl in a bit of vegetable or chicken broth and two tablespoons butter with a generous pinch of tarragon.
  • Sauté minced pancetta and onion before deglazing the pan with dry red wine. Add a touch of red wine vinegar, two tablespoons butter and several turns of freshly ground black pepper.

Or keep it simple and make the recipe below. In any case, set your sights on making some flavor this week!

Look at Your Food Labels

Alison’s piece last week on egg labels got me thinking about how confusing it can be to evaluate foods. So I thought I’d distill some solid rules of thumb to help you choose wisely when in the packaged aisles.



The Ingredient List: On labels, ingredient lists are ordered by weight, which means there’s a large amount of whatever comes first. If “unbleached flour” is the first ingredient listed, you’re getting mostly refined flour. If it comes after a whole grain or somewhere in the middle of the list, then you know it’s not the primary ingredient.

The Nutrition Facts Panel: The purpose of the Nutrition Facts panel is to give a healthy range of major nutrients to consume during the course of a day—this much fat, that much vitamin C, this much fiber. The issue is, there are hundreds of other nutrients that simply aren’t listed and that can make us myopic in our concept of what makes food healthy. To add complexity, nutrients don’t act in a vacuum. They interact with each other. The bottom line? Use the Nutrition Facts panel as a guide, but don’t take it as definitive.


These are the ingredients I try, at all costs, to avoid:

#1: Partially Hydrogenated Oil. There is no refuting the evidence that trans fats—which are the product of partially hydrogenated oils—are no good for us. As in, they can dramatically increase the risk of heart disease. Your best bet is not to buy—or eat—anything with partially hydrogenated oils (a label can have partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients list yet claim 0 grams trans fats if it contains less than 0.5 grams trans fats . . . which can still add up to several grams of trans fats a day).

#2: High Fructose Corn Syrup. I have always been suspect of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) simply because it shows up where it has no business being. In breads. In hot dog buns. In French fries. It’s one thing to debate whether HFCS is worse than sugar in a soda, where you’d expect a sweetener to be, and entirely another to have to remain vigilant against it infiltrating your pretzels. In any case, there is new evidence that high fructose corn syrup may indeed contribute to weight gain and is associated with illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. A recent study at Princeton University, in which rats fed water sweetened with HFCS became obese across the board (those fed water sweetened with sugar did not), hypothesizes that the culprit may be the chemical makeup of HFCS. Sugar molecules have an extra step for the body to metabolize whereas HFCS molecules are “unbound” and available for use immediately, which may explain why the body reacts differently to the two forms of fructose.

#3 Fillers and Preservatives. Nowadays, it’s no big deal to see an ingredients list as long as our palm. But how many of those ingredients are actually food? Watch out for lists that include a plethora of unfamiliar terms. They may sound intimidating and, strangely enough, credentialed for that very reason, but the truth is they’re most likely there to

  • Make the food more shelf stable (i.e., keep it from spoiling … but please don’t equate “spoiling” with bad in foods; it’s what they’re supposed to do after a reasonable period of time)
  • Make the texture or mouth feel of unnatural or low-quality ingredients more appealing
  • Mask the flavor of other chemicals

Do any of these make the product better for you? No. In fact, several studies have revealed that many of these “food-safe” chemicals may pose health risks.

This week, have a close look at your labels.

Get a New Grain: What is Quinoa?

What the heck is quinoa? You’ve probably heard about quinoa at some point by now—in a magazine, by a chef on a show. But is it really up to the hype? In a word: Yes.

whole-grain-what-is-quinoa-postWhat it Looks Like: Quinoa kernels look like little flat, ivory beads (red quinoa is a lovely burgundy hue). When cooked, the germ detaches from the grain like a little tail, making the quinoa look like a bowl of tiny commas.

What it Tastes Like: Quinoa is flavorful enough to be interesting, but mild enough to be versatile. It has a nutty note and slight “pop” when you bite into it.

How to Cook it: Unless you buy a box that’s labeled “pre-rinsed,” be sure to rinse the grains well to wash off the bitter saponin coating (a naturally-occurring insect repellent). Just swish them around in a fine-mesh strainer until the water runs clear and there are no suds. To cook, bring 2 cups water or liquid to a boil. Stir in 1 cup quinoa, cover, reduce heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

How to Use it: Quinoa makes gorgeous salads, but it also works as a pilaf, a morning porridge or even in crispy quinoa cakes (see ours below).

Additional Notes: Quinoa is unique in that it’s a “complete protein.” What that means, exactly, is that it contains all seven essential amino acids in correct proportion for our bodies to use effectively, just like it does the proteins in meat or eggs. It is native to South America and was the major source of protein for the ancient Incans.

(For more information on whole grains, see Gotta Get Your Grains.)

Understand Ecosystems

In this age of green, the term “ecosystem” gets tossed around quite a bit–from technology to tide pools. But it’s an important concept to grasp, as in really understand, when talking about creating a sustainable food system.

Traditionally, we’ve talked of the food chain. But an ecosystem is more like thousands of threads braided together than it is a neat series of links (plankton, small fish, big fish). Whether you’re talking about agriculture or aquaculture, wide open ocean or wild prairie plains, each has a unique set of environmental and biological factors that make it home to a specific mix of plants and animals that, when in balance, all thrive together.

Why is this important? Because trying to alter an end result—be it saving a vanishing species of fish or curtailing greenhouse gas—while ignoring the native ecosystem is like trying to light a candle while it’s underwater. Julie Packard of Monterey Bay Aquarium believes we need to evaluate aquatic ecosystems as a whole in order to save the oceans (and the life within them), rather than working on species-specific solutions. And many believe we need to shift toward more traditional, closed-system farming techniques (where, for instance, manure produced by cows is used to fertilize the land that grows their food) in agriculture.

It’s a little word, a big concept, and the foundation of talks to come.

This week, lock on to the meaning of ecosystem.

Go Slow

It’s March first and, maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the year is already zooming by. Ironically, well before the year began I had slated March to be a time when we slowed down here on NOURISH Evolution. Not in the sense of fewer posts or reigned in momentum, but in terms of taking a big breath and diving deeper. Into why fresh, seasonal sustainably-farmed, -caught and -raised food tastes better and is better for our bodies and the earth. Into how our communities are strengthened and nourished when we choose to eat these foods (and, by contrast, are depleted when we don’t). Into where the choices we make at the grocery store, as isolated as they may seem, really do have an impact on things like national health care; global warming; the obesity crisis and hunger in developing nations.

That last sentence may freak you out, but it’s true. Michal Pollan wasn’t exaggerating when he said that we vote with our forks three times a day, and this month we’re going to explore to a deeper extent the wider consequences of the choices we make regarding the food we eat.

But, I believe, that requires us to slow down first. There’s vulnerability in slowing down and allowing for introspection, and I think that’s a healthy place to be as we move ahead into this month. I know it’s where I need to be, and somehow it keeps getting reinforced. By the book proposal I’m working on, about soulfulness and seasonality and themes that resonate to our very core. By the very first My Nourish Mentor group call today, where the enthusiasm and eagerness for deliberate change was electric. By being asked to be part of the leadership team of our local Slow Food chapter as the organization takes dynamic strides towards an exciting vision (you’ll find out more about the Slow Food organization this Friday in a piece by Kurt Friese). All of these experiences are humbling. All are exhilarating. And all require the presence of mind and authenticity of spirit that simply isn’t possible when whipping through them at warp speed.

This week—this month—I invite you all to join me in going “slow.” Does that mean committing to hours a day contemplating Big Things? No; in fact, my schedule is only going to ramp up over these next few months. What it does mean is that we’ll try to catch ourselves when barreling down a well-worn road of habit, take a few deep breaths and, at the very least, notice what we’re doing. At the very best, we’ll change course and, step by step, start carving out the path we really want to take.

Check back frequently on NOURISH Evolution this month to see what we uncover at this snail’s pace.

Get Your Flax Straight

It seems talk about flax—both flax oil and ground flaxseed—heats up and cools down at various intervals. There’s no question, flax is an incredibly nutritious food. But no matter what the buzz of the moment, it’s important to understand that flaxseed and the oil pressed from those seeds bring different benefits to our bodies.

Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil is nature’s greatest source of plant-based Omega-3 Fatty Acids (walnuts and Canola oil are other non-animal sources, and salmon is also rich in Omega-3s of a slightly different makeup), which are vital to our health, but that our bodies cannot produce on their own. These fats affect the function of each cell membrane throughout our bodies, so it’s no surprise to find that their impact is wide reaching. Numerous studies have shown them to play an important role in protecting against heart disease and some cancers, and perhaps even autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Ground Flaxseed

Many people seek out ground flaxseed for the Omega-3s that make the oil so healthy, but they’re looking for the wrong thing. Flaxseed’s claim to fame is its lignans (flaxseed has 100 times higher lignan count than oats, which are next in line). Lignans are powerful phytochemicals with antioxidant properties that regulate estrogen, which may explain why they appear to protect against certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Balancing it Out

Adding flaxseed oil to your diet—either as a condiment (it’s a fragile oil that doesn’t taste super-inspiring, so you’re best off adding a drizzle here and there) or a supplement—is not a bad idea. Most recommendations are for a bare minimum of 2-4 grams of Omega-3 Fatty Acids a day, and just a half tablespoons of flax oil will give you 4 grams. To get that much from flaxseed, you’d have to eat over 2 tablespoons a day. But don’t discount flaxseed, with its lignans and fiber and nutty taste. I like it paired with oats and dark chocolate in these beauties.

Change Your Oil

One of the most frequent questions I get is, “Which oil am I supposed to use for what?” My answer is a combination of unwavering advice and “it depends.” Here are three questions to ask for choosing wisely in all circumstances—from grocery store shelf to pan on stove.

How was it extracted?

The first thing you want to ask—no matter what you’re going to use it for—is how was the oil extracted? I like to steer clear of any that are not expeller pressed.

  • Expeller Pressed — Expeller pressed means it was literally squeezed from the nut, seed or olive paste using pressure. Oils that are not expeller pressed are extracted by soaking the grounds in a chemical solvent (usually hexane) and then boiling it off, which removes any flavor or aroma. If an oil does not expressly state that it is expeller pressed, it is probably hexane extracted.
  • Cold Pressed – All extraction methods create friction and, consequently, heat—even expeller pressing. Yet heat is the bane of an oil. For especially delicate oils, cold-pressing (technically defined as expeller pressing below 120 degrees Fahrenheit) keeps both flavor and nutritional compounds in tact.

How was it refined?

The next thing you’re looking at is how it was refined and to what state. I keep a combination of refined and unrefined oils in my cupboard for different uses, although for refined oils, I opt for brands that use natural methods.

  • Refined — Refined oils have had impurities filtered out; in many cases through chemical processes. Look for oils that have been naturally refined to steer clear of unwanted chemicals. The upside to refined oils is that they’re more shelf-stable and have a higher smoke point.* The downside is that much of the flavor and nutritional content—like antioxidants—are removed during refining. Use refined oils when stir-frying or high-heat sautéing.
  • Unrefined and Unfiltered – Unrefined oils are unprocessed, although they may have been filtered of particulate matter. Unfiltered oils are essentially crude oils left in their virgin state after pressing. The solids in them make them flavorful, healthy (powerful polyphenols are what make your lips tingle when you taste a cloudy, unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil) . . . and unstable—all of which means they’ll spoil quickly and will smoke over even moderate heat. For this reason, unfiltered oils are best kept refrigerated and used only as finishing oils. If an oil solidifies when refrigerated (a function of a higher level of saturated fat), simply set it out on the counter to soften before using.

How are you going to use it?

In general, the more flavor an oil has, the lower its smoke point will be. The higher an oil’s smoke point, the more neutral its flavor will be. If you’re looking for a full-flavored oil to use in a vinaigrette, break out your best bottle of unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil or toasted nut oil. But if you’re making a high-heat stir-fry, reach for an oil that may have a milder flavor but can take the heat, like peanut or canola oil.

Oils can add enormous dimension and variety to your cooking—whether in the pan or on the plate. Now that you know how to choose wisely, buy a few and experiment with different uses.

* The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil begins to emit fumes (the flash point is the temperature at which it will ignite). While not an exact science, each type of oil will generally begin to smoke within a given temperature range due to its fatty acid makeup (some fats are more stable than others), but particulate matter in unfiltered and unrefined oils will also cause an oil to smoke at lower temperatures. When an oil smokes, it’s releasing unhealthy compounds into both the air and the oil and should be (carefully) discarded.

Count Your Blessings

Just about every culture spanning the globe partakes in some sort of thanksgiving benediction before consuming their food. The Japanese say, “itadakimasu,” which is a humble thanks for the food they are about to receive. Muslims quote from the Koran, saying, “Eat of your Lord’s provision, and give thanks to Him.” Before a banquet, the Chinese declare, “Duo xie, duo xie” or, a thousand thanks, a thousand thanks, and Jews and Christians alike open the meal with a blessing to God for the food before them. The world over, people count their blessings.

Regardless of the culture, all thanksgiving traditions have to do with one or more of three components: giving thanks for bounty of the meal, for the sustenance it gives our bodies, and for the communion it provides between those with whom we share it.

You don’t have to be religious to benefit from giving thanks before a meal. Saying grace can be as simple as a momentary pause to focus your attention, either silently or shared openly with others, to create a more mindful mindset. Thornton Wilder once said, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” And in that way, the act of pausing to give thanks for a meal is a blessing in and of itself.

This week, whether you borrow from convention or invent your own approach, say a blessing for the food you eat and observe how it subtly transforms your meal.