The Brilliance of Broccoli

Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! Broccoli is a powerhouse vegetable that can be grown year-round in most parts of our county. It’s undeniably a vegetable that deserves more praise.

Broccoli originated in the Mediterranean, developed from a wild cabbage that was selectively planted for years by the Etruscans in the Tuscany region. The name arose from “broccolo”, the Italian word meaning “the flowering crest of a cabbage”. This veggie was a staple food for the Roman Empire and was brought to England during the mid-18th century. Broccoli wasn’t brought to the United States until the 1920s with the flow of Italian immigrants. Today, China produces the most broccoli in the world, with India producing the second most, and California is responsible for 90% of the United States’ production of broccoli.

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, along with brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and kale. This family of vegetables is known for containing cancer preventing compounds and supporting destruction of defective cells. This powerhouse vegetable offers beta-carotene, calcium, choline, copper, fiber, folate, iron, lutein zeaxanthin, magnesium, manganese, niacin, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, selenium. thiamine, tryptophan, vitamins A, B1, B6, C, E and K, and zinc. It also contains many anti-inflammatory antioxidants, flavonoids, and omega 3 fatty acids. Glucosinolates are the compounds in broccoli that are responsible for the bitter taste.


Outstanding Olives

Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! Before the holidays we had an olive brining workshop, reminding us that olive season is ending soon. These little fruits have a lot to offer so be sure to harvest them while you can!

Olives and the Olea europea tree have significance in many cultures and religions. Mythology teaches that the goddess Athena gifted an olive tree to the Greeks, planting the first olive tree on the Acropolis. The oil is often used as holy oil for anointing and blessing bishops, kings, winning athletes, the dead, and for other ceremonial purposes.

Olives are considered a drupe or stone fruit and are one of the most largely produced fruits in the world. The olive tree – originating in Asia Minor, spreading to Mediterranean regions, and then even farther with Roman expansion – is one of the oldest cultivated trees, thrives in rocky soil and lives for hundreds of years. The difference in color of the olive is based on the level of ripeness when harvested – green olives are less ripe, whereas black olives have reached peak ripeness – as well as how long they are cured or soaked in brine. California produces 95% of the United States’ olives, growing mainly the Manzanillo and Sevillano varieties. Globally, Spain is the largest producer, followed by Italy, Greece, Turkey and Tunisia. Of the olives grown in the Mediterranean, 90% are used for olive oil.


Juicy Plums

Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! Juicy, delicious plums have been quite bountiful lately. There’s nothing quite like a ripe plum right of the tree for a summer day treat. Plums tend to be in season around June through August in Lake and Mendocino counties, so enjoy them while you can!

There is a wide variety of plums grown around the world, more than 2000 in fact. Plum varieties can offer such beautiful diverse fruits – some purple, red, yellow, green and white in flesh color. The exact history of plums isn’t known, but archeologists have found dried prunes in pyramids and tombs, as well as in digging sites that can date stone fruits as far back as the Bronze Age. Today, the most commonly sold plums are the European variety and the Japanese variety, originally from China. European plums tend to be used for cooking and drying. In France, plum trees are the most planted of any fruit trees! If you’re looking for the juiciest and biggest plums, the Japanese variety is the best. The biggest producer of plums is China and the US is second, with California being the main state for plum production.


Plantain: From Weed to Medicine

Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! This week we wanted to highlight a plant that often gets ignored in the garden. The wild herb plantain, which is often considered a weed, is commonly popping up around the community gardens and oftentimes taking over the pathways. It has been said that plantain was brought to Europe by Alexander the Great, and Europeans have spread it around since. Native Americans have actually referred to it as “Whiteman’s Foot” because it grew wherever white men had passed through.

As you’ve probably noticed in your own garden, plantain manages to thrive in any type of soil and full sun. I encourage you to – instead of weeding these and discarding them – eat the entire plant, roots and leaves, or use them for medicinal purposes. The leaves can be used just like spinach – salads, steamed, in soups, sautéed, oven baked chips, etc. There are a few different varieties of plantain. The Broadleaf variety is best for eating because of its bigger leaves, but other plantains can be enjoyed as well. It is best to harvest young leaves for eating so they’re not as stringy. However, the mature, stringy leaves are great for making tea or chips with an added crunch. Plantain leaves are also easy to dry and save for later use.


12 Ways to Eat Kale, One Guide!

It's the question we always get when a new gardener plants kale- how do you eat this stuff?

Alicia Yang, Golden Gate Dietetic Intern at North Coast Opportunities, is here to help! She created these dynamic resources on kale for cooking classes she taught to Preschool classes while working with NCO this fall.
And it's not all about kale, you can use the cooking ideas chart for other greens too. Similar greens you could substitute include Collards, Spinach, Chard, Beet and Turnip Greens- as long as it's dark and leafy, give it a try!
Feel free to print these images off and share them with friends and family!

A Community Treasure

This December brings great promise to Mendocino County! There's the welcome rain, of course. But there's also a new social movement afoot... a movement towards creating a culture of health and wellness. It's called Leaders for a Healthy Community.

Over 40 service professionals (including professionals from health clinics, school gardens, family resource centers, afterschool programs, Health and Human Services, high schools, preschools, hospital foundations, teen leaders, and parent leaders) came together in both Ukiah and Willits for the first of 10 monthly Leaders for a Healthy Community meetings. The participants officially signed on as Health Leaders, committing to work within their organizations to implement health, nutrition and physical activity programming and policies, and committing to collaborate and form new health connections across the community.

What a community treasure! The Health Leaders bring so much enthusiasm and experience to this work. All are dedicated to creating a community where health and wellness are front and center, where opportunities to eat well and be physically active abound. They are excited about sharing resources, learning more about nutrition education, promoting activity, building relationships across the community, and truly moving the dial towards greater health and wellness in Mendocino County.

In the new year, expect to see "health happening here" as the Health Leaders roll out their programs and make presentations to decision-makers and governing bodies around Mendocino County.

Health Doesn't Happen By Accident

From Guest Blogger: Tiffany Edwards
I was a twenty-year old bride eager to occupy the kitchen, even if I didn’t have a hot clue where to begin or what to do. Here I am, twelve years later with six hungry mouths to feed on a single income. My number one goal is to be healthy and not to go broke doing it. I write to you not as one with a lofty education, stellar credentials or a gourmet kitchen. I come simply because I want to people to know that eating healthy on a budget is not only possible, but enjoyable.
While there are endless ideas concerning healthy eating and money saving, I have chosen my top five tips. No two situations are the same, so modify as needed. Although much may be different, one thing is the same: we must make healthy choices in order to live healthy lives. Here are five ways that I try to do just that:

1.) Have a plan
Healthy eating and healthy money habits don’t happen by accident. Healthy choices are things we do on purpose to benefit our bodies, families and communities. Shopping on a budget and eating healthy meals are things that can’t happen unless we make a plan.
Here’s how to do it:
  • find a few recipes. Call a friend, peruse Pinterest, check out a cookbook from the library. Find recipes that fit your budget and schedule, and write them down.
  • make a menu. I plan my menu for two weeks at a time. I do this with my calendar in hand so I can see what is happening in life and what I need to plan meals around. You can do your menu for one week at a time or one month at a time, whatever you prefer. Arriving home late with hungry kids and no dinner plan is never fun. Planning ahead will keep you away from fast food and often prevents overspending.
  • make a shopping list. I am a person that will go into a store and come out with $100 worth of condiments and a half gallon of ice cream if I don’t have a list. I will have a little of this and a little of that, which leaves me running to the store to get the one more ingredient I need for dinner. Then I buy another $80 worth of ‘good deals’... You get the picture. Take your menu and make a shopping list. Shopping lists save so much money if you stick to them.
2.) Shop sales
I was standing in line as the woman in front of me was checking out. The cashier rang up a bag of oranges. She was alarmed by the high cost and asked the cashier to check the price. He verified the cost and she shrugged as she put them in her bag. I had purchased the same produce at a different store twenty minutes before for a fraction of the cost because they were on sale. I knew this only because I had looked at the sale ads and made my list (and my menu) based on what was on sale.
I understand this can mean shopping at more than one store, and for many that is a challenging task. There are days I do and days I don’t because life is always different. I will say however, that if you want to eat healthy and save money, the best option is to shop multiple stores to capitalize on the sales.
Notice that I didn’t mention coupons. I don’t have an issue with coupons and I will use them as often as I can. Many times however, if you are not careful, coupons can cost you money. I will see a coupon for a product that I don’t typically buy, but because I am saving thirty-five cents, I clip it and spend the $3.25. Also, coupons are typically for name brand items when often, the generic brand, which is comparable in quality, is still significantly less. While this is not true for all coupon situations, be careful of coupons as you don’t always come out ahead.

3.) Stack your meals
One of the first things I did when we got married was find women I could learn from. My friend Cristy had two children and a full-time student for a husband. She knew how to cook and she knew how to save. She introduced me to a simple concept that literally changed my life: stacking meals.
I remember her showing up at my house with a whole chicken. What in the world are we going to do with that? I wondered. She explained the concept of boiling a chicken until it fell apart. We added the wilted celery and the forgotten onion from the dark corner of the fridge. We added the wrinkled carrot, a few bay leaves and enough water to cover the chicken. We turned it on medium and let it simmer itself to perfection. After letting it cool, we removed all the chicken, shredded the meat, discarded what was unwanted and transferred the broth to glass bowls to put in the freezer. I then planned two or three meals that used shredded chicken (chicken pot pie, a chicken salad, chicken soups...the possibilities are endless!) I also used the chicken broth for recipes calling for chicken broth. The first time I got three meals out of a $4 chicken, my life was forever changed.
Watch for sales on whole turkeys, hams or chickens. Roast, bake or boil. You can freeze what you don’t use right away if you want more diversity in your menu than eating chicken for three nights straight. This works for veggies too! If you enjoy basil, but find basil to be expensive, buy it and plan several meals that call for basil. This concept works with any ingredient.
4.) Avoid pre-made meals, snacks and drinks
As I navigated the aisles of my local grocery and writing this article in my head, I was asking myself what I did differently than others that allowed me to feed a family of six on a meager budget. I observed other carts and other shopper’s choices and there was one major difference I saw: I don’t buy snacks. Boxed ones that is. I don’t buy soda or pre-made beverages. I don’t buy the pre-made pot stickers or expensive microwave popcorn. I buy a limited amount of breakfast cereals and avoid things like breakfast bars and instant oatmeal packets. These things add up really, really fast.
These choices are often high in sugar, sodium, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup and more. Purchasing a bag of old fashioned popcorn kernels and popping them in your own pot at home is much healthier (you choose the amount of oil you add) and so much cheaper! It only takes a few minutes longer. Pop some extra and put it into small containers for an easy snack or lunch addition. Cheap and healthy.
We have a saying on our house: If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not hungry. Snacks are not only expensive, they are often unhealthy. Take a bag of baby carrots for example. A bag of baby carrots will sell for around $2 while a bag of chips or box of crackers will cost $3 or more. Not only will the carrots benefit your body, brain and waistline, they will also benefit your checkbook. Save your money, boost your health and avoid the junk-food aisles.
5.) Do ahead
I understand that being healthy, making a plan and shopping multiple stores require more than intentionality, they require time. I understand that cooking a balanced meal and having healthy snacks available for growing kids with busy schedules requires a lot of time. Because I understand this, I not only plan ahead, I make ahead.
Take a Saturday morning or a Wednesday evening to brown meat, chop veggies, make granola (super easy!) or shred cheese. Purchasing things like pre-made bacon or shredded cheese only adds cost to the product and often sacrifices quality. Spend less and purchase the block of cheese or the pound of bacon to prep ahead of time and freeze what you don’t plan to use right away. You can boil a dozen eggs, peel them and put them in a well-sealed container. They will keep several days in the fridge. Easy snack. Healthy breakfast.
Buy a five pound bag of carrots and a bag of celery. Wash, peel and chop. Place them in a container, add a little water (to avoid drying) and just like that, you have a vegetable side for dinner, a lunch addition or an easy snack. Healthy and usually less than $5.
Plan ahead by planting a vegetable garden -- in containers on your porch, in a small patch of soil, or in a community garden. A few weeks or months later, you'll reap the benefits in extra veggies for meals and snacks.
Thinking ahead and acting ahead is a huge stress reliever. It will not only save you money, but you will stay healthy in the process.
Here’s to saving money and eating well!

Spice Up an Autumn Evening with this Seasonal Soup Recipe!

Pumpkin Coconut Curry Soup

Visit your local Farmers' Market and pick up some pumpkins or squash to use in this healthy and delicious recipe!

Pumpkin Coconut Curry Soup

By: Elizabeth Archer

This soup is perfect for fall. It’s as elegant as it is flexible: pick a squash, any squash; substitute white beans for chicken to make it vegetarian; play with the spices and proportions to get the flavor and consistency you prefer. However, unless absolutely necessary, do not leave out the fish sauce!


* 3-4 lb sugar pumpkin or other winter squash like Red Kuri, Kabocha, Butternut, or Hubbard
* 1 lb chicken breast or tenders
* 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
* 1 can full-fat coconut milk
* 1 medium onion, diced
* 2 cloves garlic
* 2 TBSP fish sauce
* 2 tsp hot sauce like Siracha
* Curry powder
* Garam masala
* Cumin
* Cinnamon
* Olive oil
* Salt and pepper to taste


1. Cut the chicken into strips and boil until cooked (about 3-5 minutes, depending on thickness). Drain and rinse with cold water, then shred. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, cut the pumpkin or squash into wedges. Scoop out the seeds and reserve if you're roasting them - incidentally, these same spices make for great roasted seeds! It’s up to you if you want to peel the pumpkin before or after cooking.

3. Arrange the slices flesh-up in a casserole dish. Sprinkle with curry, cumin, masala, cinnamon, and salt, rub with olive oil, and pour about one half-inch of water into the casserole dish to create a steam effect. Roast at 375 for about 40 minutes or until a fork goes in easily.

4. Peel the pumpkin if you haven’t already. In a food processor or blender, purée the cooked pumpkin with the garlic cloves, coconut milk, ½ cup broth, and fish sauce.

5. In a large soup pot, sauté the onions on medium heat in a tablespoon or two of olive oil with a generous dose of curry and a sprinkling of all the other spices.

6. Once the onions are translucent, add the shredded chicken and ½ cup broth; bring to a simmer.

7. Add the blended mixture and let cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more spices/salt/pepper as desired, plus more broth if you like a thinner soup.

8. Serve with crusty bread and a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, plus a drizzle of hot sauce or squeeze of citrus to brighten the flavors. This soup also freezes beautifully if you somehow manage not to eat it all!

Happy Fall!

Looking for more cooking inspiration? Click here for past recipes from the Real Dirt Blog!

Try it! Lebanese Kale Salad

Lebanese Kale Salad with Caramelized Shallot
1 bunch Red Russian Kale
3 medium shallots
1/3 C Garbanzo beans
1 medium carrot
¼ C Juice of Meyer Lemon
1 T Za’atar seasoning
1 T Tahini paste (heaping)
3 T Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
¼ t Kosher Salt
¼ t Pepper (coarse)
[Total prep time: 25 minutes; Active prep time: 13 minutes]

1. Begin by peeling and slicing shallots lengthwise. Add to a medium heat sauté pan with 1 teaspoon olive oil. To promote caramelization add ½ teaspoon cane sugar (optional). Sauté shallots for 8 – 12 minutes, stir sparingly.

2. While shallot sautés pull Kale leaves from stem. Pull from bottom up, leaves should free themselves easily. Rinse leaves with cold water. While leaves dry, prepare Za’atar dressing. Combine lemon juice, Za’atar seasoning, tahini, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Whisk ingredients together.

3. Shave carrot into strips with a vegetable peeler. Rinse and drain cooked garbanzo beans. At this juncture salad can be served hot or cold. Toss kale with dressing, carrots, and beans; then top with shallot. Or add to sauté pan warming everything through; dress last.

Green Tomato Salsa Verde

Autumn is bursting with ripe vegetables—and some not-so-ripe ones.
If you’re looking for a way to use your green tomatoes without having to roast or fry them, try this recipe, courtesy of Live Power Community Farm:

Green Tomato Salsa Verde
-1.5 lb green tomatoes, halved
-6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
-Half an onion, chopped
-1-2 hot peppers, minced
-Juice from 1-2 limes
-Cilantro, parsley, or mint minced

Place tomatoes (cut side down) and garlic cloves on sheet pan, and place under broiler for 5-7 minutes until skin on tomatoes starts to turn black, or roast for longer at a lower temperature. Combine roasted tomatoes and garlic (after removing the skin from the cloves) with remaining ingredients in a blender and pulse until combined, or chop and mix by hand. Add salt to taste.


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