Friday, June 7, 2013

To Market, to Market, to Buy Something Green Home Again, Home Again…..What the Hell do I make with this? Enjoying your produce from Farmer's Markets

The last day of school, the first hummingbird sighting, the opening of the pool and last but not least, the Farmers Market; all of these are rites of summertime.  I wake with anticipation on the opening day of the market.  What will I buy?  What will I cook tonight with it?  I arrive at the market and am usually enticed by almost each and every stall. Flowers, produce, organic meat and eggs, bread, honey and wine.  Yum.  I undoubtedly leave with a huge bag of impulse purchases. I get home, unload the bad and think, "now what?"  There is nothing worse than looking in my fridge the following week and seeing my expensive, uber-healthy produce rotting because I couldn't figure out what to do with it.

Several years ago, I was taking a gardening class at the Chicago Botanical Gardens.  The professor there recommended a cookbook called, "Food to Live By" by Myra Goodman for gardeners.  Myra Goodman is one half of the couple that created Earthbound Farms in California.  She and her family are omnivores and are committed to eating organically.  Over the years it has become my go-to before and after Farmer's Market trips.  I can not say enough good things about this book.  It contains delicious, easy recipes for every vegetable, fruit and berry that summertime offers.  It also has a wide variety of dressings and marinades for meats.  I have made a delicious "wild" Mushroom with Ragout and Polenta when a bag of wild mushrooms perplexed me.  I  also highly recommend the Tomato, Eggplant and Zucchini Tian for a different, delicious healthy side dish.

Myra has quite a sweet tooth and also has recipes for lots of desserts.  She features a Strawberry Ruhbarb Crumble, Fresh Peach Pie, Farm Stand Carrot Cake and Bing Cherry Sorbet to name a few.    Since berries are in season right now, here is  Myra's  recipe for Summer Berry Crisp:

Summer Berry Crisp
Makes one 2-Quart Crisp


6 cups assorted fresh berries, such as hulled strawberries, blueberries or blackberries
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Coitreau or Grand Marnier (optional)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch


3/4 unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. all-spice
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup Homemade Creme Fraiche (optional)*

*(I have substituted non-fat plain Greek yogurt and it is really good )

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 F

2. Make the filling; Place the berries, orange zest,lemon zest, lemon juice and liquor, if using , in a large bowl.

3. Place the granulated sugar and the cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk to combine.  Add the sugar mixture to the berries and toss gently to combine.  Transfer the berry mixture to a shallow 2- quart baking dish.

4.  Make the topping: Place the flour, allspice, salt, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and butter in a medium size bowl.  Using your fingers, blend in the butter until it is pea sized bits.  Add the rolled oats and stir to combine.  Sprinkle the topping over the berries but do not pack it down.

5. Bake the crisp until the fruit juices bubble up around the edges of the baking dish and the topping turns golden, 30 to 35 minutes.  Let the crisp cool slightly before serving it warm with creme fraiche (or no-fat yogurt!), if desired.

The Farmer's Market is a wonderful place to help you get out of your comfort zone and try new foods.  The right cookbook can help turn those impulsive grabs into a mid-summers night dream dinners.  Myra Goodman has come out with several more cookbooks but I find I have no need to stray from her original.  

Get out there and grow something! (or buy it at the Farmer's Market)
Happy Gardening,

Maggie Flynn

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Veggie Power or Power Outage?

I am constantly trying to get me and my family to eat more fruits and vegetables.   They are the basis for health and well-being.  At least that's what I have been told.  As a gardener,I am very keen to grow hybrid versions of plants, fruits and vegetables.  They are usually easier to grow, have larger harvests, and are disease resistant.  I have never really considered whether or not they are healthier than their ancestors.

This weekend in the New York TImes, Jo Robinson wrote an interesting Op-Ed piece called, "Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food".  Mr. Robinson is the author of the soon to be published, "Eating on the Wild Side, The Missing Link to Optimum Health".   He writes about the phytonutrient content in our produce.  A phytonutrient is compound with the potential to reduce the risk of four of societies largest health problems; dementia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Researchers now have the capability to analyze the milligrams per pound of plants, wild and supermarket produce.  The results are pretty shocking.

Spinach and I have a love-hate relationship.  I love it sautéed and hate the way it tastes raw.  My solution has been to add it to my smoothies, soups and sauces.  It never occurred to me that I would be much better off sneaking in Dandelion Greens.  That's right, dandelion greens. They are popular in the vegan set for raw salads right now. Dandelion greens  are such a super food that they make spinach look like iceberg lettuce.  Dandelion greens have seven times the phytonutrient content of spinach.  Forget the Weed Be Gone, grab a spoon and start digging!

Farmers throughout history have worked to make produce more palatable.  This usually involves removing the bitterness and making it sweeter.  Think of a Golden Delicious Apple.  It is sweet and fairly nondescript as far as taste goes.  It also has 100 times less phytonutrients than another heirloom species of apple.  Arugula on the other hand is very bitter and similar to its ancestors.  It is loaded with flavor and phytonutrients.  The produce America gravitates to, myself included are corn and potatoes. They have basically been hybridized to globs of sugar and starch.

Some of the other produce that Robinson recommends are; herbs (parsley, rosemary, basil), purple peruvian potatoes ( 171 phytonutrients per pound versus 1.03 for a white potato), and purple/yellow carrots (38.69 phytonutrients per pound versus 2.34 for an orange carrot).  Deeper colors seem to equate to higher levels of nutrients.

U.S.D.A.plant breeders have been tirelessly working on developing produce resistant to disease.  Robinson found they have spent decades without measuring the nutrient values of the new species they have created.

The next time we begin the debate of healthcare in America, we need to address the elephants in the room, us.  We have become a nation of obese, diseased, lethargic people.  It is no surprise that our medical system is overburdened.  Until we change our thinking to preventing the current state of our diets, we will continue to grow unhealthier.  Doctors and pharmaceutical companies are just like the boy with his finger in the dam.  The dam is starting to burst along with our waistbands.

Maybe the solution to our healthcare crisis is not another diet, pill, operation or exercise craze.  Maybe the solution is changing the quality of what we eat.  Hippocrates famously said, "let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food".  I think it's time that we as a nation take it to heart.

I'm never going to love eating raw spinach or kale but I am sure going to try.

Get out there and grow something (preferably very deeply colored)!

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

I Say Pumpkin, You Say Squash...

The other day in my home town in upstate New York, the weather was rainy and cool despite it being the middle of May. The mist had settled in and I could barely see the trees up in the hills. This kind of weather makes me want to bake sweets or make a big ol' pot of soup … I chose the healthier option.

The day reminded me of my favorite season – Fall, so a fall vegetable was called for, well technically a fruit. Butternut squash, otherwise known as butternut pumpkin in my native homeland of Australia, is classed as a fruit because it has seeds. I love butternut pumpkin and I especially love that it's a power food.

Butternut pumpkin is low in fat; delivers an ample dose of dietary fiber, making it a heart-friendly choice; provides significant amounts of potassium, important for bone health; has vitamin B6, essential for the proper functioning of the nervous and immune systems; and has folate, which reduces levels of homocysteine in the blood (a cardiovascular risk factor).

The pumpkin's bright tangerine color also indicates a noteworthy health perk. The color signals an abundance of powerhouse nutrients known as carotenoids. Studies have shown that people consuming diets rich in carotenoids from natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are healthier and have lower mortality from a number of chronic illnesses.

The gourd also has very high levels of beta-carotene. Alpha, beta, and gamma carotene are considered provitamins because our bodies automatically converts them to vitamin A.

What's more, just a cup of this power food gives you nearly half the recommended daily dose of antioxidant-rich vitamin C.

The first night the soup tasted great, but the day after it was even more amazing. My husband is not a fan of butternut pumpkin and he's told me more times than I can keep track of how much he dislikes thick, pureed soups, but I begged him to try it. His verdict was a sincere thumbs up as he finished off a bowl.

This is my recipe for Butternut Pumpkin Soup. It's simple and worthy of being served to guests. I typically like to keep my intake of foods low-fat, but this misty day beckoned me for some comfort food so I added cream cheese at the blending stage. You could certainly omit it, but I think it gave it more of a wow-factor, and let's face it, the nutritional value isn't that bad when the recipe yields at least 8 servings.


3 shallots, chopped
2 Tbl spoon olive oil
2 medium-sized butternut squash *
4 cups of hot water
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
1 tsp dried marjoram
¼ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp cayenne pepper (or more according to your taste)
4oz cream cheese

*Cut squash length-ways, spray flesh with a little olive oil and bake flesh-side down on a baking sheet at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45mins.


Dissolve bouillon cubes in the 4 cups of hot water. In a large pot, heat oil and saute shallots until tender. Add peeled, cooked squash, stock, marjoram, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 40mins. Puree squash and cream cheese in a blender in batches until smooth. Return to saucepan and heat through. Do not allow it to boil.



Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why Stephen King's "Children of the Corn" Could Never Have Been "Children of the Potatoes"

Lately there has been a lot of back and forth about the importance of organic. Is organic healthier or is it a scam to get us to spend more money? I have been reading several posts on Facebook that suggest since all produce whether organic or not has the same nutrient value, there really is no difference. The only difference in their opinion is price. What is the real cost of non-organic, mass produced produce? Should we be willing to spend more for food when the agriculture revolution has made it so inexpensive?

In Michael Pollan's book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma", he writes about his trip to a conventional potato farm located in Magic Valley Idaho;

""It was fifteen thousand acres, divided in 135 acre-crop circles. Each circle resembled the green face of a tremendous clock with a slowly rotating secondhand. That sweeping second hand was the irrigation machine, a pipe more than a thousand feet long that delivered a steady rain of water, fertilizer and pesticide to the potato plants. The whole farm was managed from a bank of computer monitors in a control room. Sitting in that room, the farmer could, at the flick of a switch, douse his crops with water or whatever chemical he thought they needed.

One of those chemicals was a pesticide called Monitor, used to control bugs. The chemical is so toxic to the nervous system that no one is allowed on the field for five days after it is sprayed, even if the irrigation machine breaks during that time, farmers won't send a worker out to fix it because the chemical is so dangerous. They'd rather let that whole 135 acres crop of potatoes dry up and die. That wasn't all; during the growing season, some pesticides get inside the potato plant so that they will kill any bug that takes a bite. But these pesticides mean people can't eat the potatoes while they're growing either. After the harvest, the potatoes are stored for six months in a gigantic shed. Here the chemicals gradually fade until the potatoes are safe to eat. Only then can they be turned into french fries.""

REALLY??? Pesticide so toxic that corporations would rather lose 135 acres of product than send a person out to the fields? And what is happening to the soil underneath that is soaking this crap in? What happens to the water that this soil runs into? What happens to the unfortunate who drinks that water? What happens to a bird that flies through to eat some insects? Common sense would dictate that when you could die growing something you are going to later eat, it's time to find a better way.

An organic potato will likely have the same nutrients as a non-organic one. That's really not the point. If we can produce food without using toxins why don't we?

Cancer, autism, ADD, ADHD, and the list goes on. We all know someone affected by something that seems potentially environmentally caused. 1 in 88 children born today will be diagnosed with autism. While science is trying to figure out the exact cause of all these awful diagnoses, why don't we eliminate the things that are potential culprits? It makes sense to grow and consume food that was made with little to no toxic footprint. It makes sense to support healthier ways to produce our food. Maybe chemicals aren't making us all sick, but maybe they are.

Potatoes are very easy to grow in containers. All you do is put the tubers in the soil, cover it with more soil, water, and a few months later, dump them out. Voila! Potatoes that didn't need six months to become safe to consume. You can grow sweet potatoes the same way. YUM.

I know organic is more expensive and not always realistic for everyone. Growing your own is an option. Also, knowing which inorganic produce to avoid is a good idea. The Environmental Working Group,, lists the “Dirty Dozen” of the produce with the highest pesticide levels. They also list the "Clean Fifteen" of the produce with the least levels.

Knowledge is power. Get our there are grow something! (just not with Monitor!)

Happy Gardening,
Maggie Flynn

Sunday, May 19, 2013

ADHD - Should I Medicate?

When my son was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade my husband and I were given the choice to medicate him with a stimulant, the most common form of treatment. Most people struggle with the thought of putting their child on conventional ADHD medication. My husband and I were thoroughly opposed to medicating him, and rightly so, have you seen the warnings and possible side-effects for taking those drugs? The thought of putting that into a tiny, growing body made me feel sick and guilty. We decided to ignore the advice and hoped he'd be able to cruise by; he was bright, tested with an above-average IQ and got great grades, but the almost daily emails and notes from his teachers made ignoring it impossible. So we tried for over six years the natural approach: Omega 3 and 6; over-the-counter herbal concoctions said to reduce or eliminate symptoms of ADHD; eliminating artificial food coloring, especially Red #40, which has been proven to cause hyperactivity in children; giving him half a cup of coffee before school; controlling sugar intake; brain games which aid in focus and attention; and of course, a strict, regimented routine. These kids thrive on knowing what comes next - they don't do well with surprises or changes.

All of these approaches at different times worked well although the teachers all had the same complaints: Work quality inconsistent, wanders around classroom chatting and disrupting classmates, seems to space-out. He held it together though and his grades were consistently As and some Bs, that is until 6th grade. It amazes me and our entire family at what these sixth graders are now being taught. The academics are a lot harder. What my generation and previous generations were taught in 8th grade these 6th graders are now learning. It isn't so easy to play catch-up anymore when you miss a portion of a class because you've submerged into your own world. We found the things that had worked well in the past weren't helping him as much. For the first time in his life he was bringing home some failing test grades. He was really beginning to hate school and he was calling himself stupid.

So, recently we did what we said we'd never do; we spoke to his pediatrician and decided to put him on the lowest dose possible of a short-acting stimulant. His doctor recommended a morning and lunch time dose, but my husband and I decided we'd give it to him just once a day in the morning. I contacted all the teachers and asked them to watch for signs of any side-effects. His teachers, apart from the mid afternoon teacher, saw immediate improvements in his concentration and his ability to remain on task and finish classwork. The end result is that my son hasn't brought home a grade lower than a 93% in any subject. He actually made honor role. The confidence and pride it gave him was a gift in itself and he likes school again.

I still feel guilty about medicating him, but I do have the small consolation that it's just one low dose and only given if he has a full day of academics. I want my son to have every chance possible for a successful, happy future - it starts now, now earlier than ever. Life is demanding and so much more competitive as the world's population rises to over seven billion. If your child has dreams of getting into a top-notch college they can't afford to graduate with a C average.

As a parent, though, you still have to put in your time. Medicine isn't a magic potion. It's what you do at home that makes a big difference: Make sure they study, do homework and help them if they're unable to; make sure you help your kids get organized as this can be an issue - my husband sets time aside every Sunday and along with our son they go through his school bag and reorganize it; make sure they sit at the table with the entire family at meal times without television; make sure they know their schedule and have it where they can refer to it; and most importantly, make sure manners are taught and adhered to – trust me, teachers are more forgiving towards your child if he/she is sweet and has impeccable manners.

If your child is young, then you need to decide which route you want to go, otherwise talk it over together with them. Find out your child's dreams and hopes for the future. Remember, that if they want to reach for the stars, you need to give them every opportunity to get there!


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Want to be a Hipster Gardener? Contain Yourself!

Everywhere you look right now there are advertisements for growing your own vegetables. The buzz is overwhelming. You'll save money, have better selection, better taste, and the list goes on. There are pictures all over the magazines of the "new hipsters" - the cool people who have turned their entire properties in to sustainable farms. They grow enough food to feed their entire brood. These "hipsters" usually look like they just stepped off the page of an Abercrombie ad. As a Master Gardener I am here to fill you in on a dirty little secret: These people don't really exist. If they do exist you should not spend your precious time envying them. Why? Because traditional vegetable gardening sucks. Why do you think that there was a mass exodus from farm to city living in the 1800's? If vegetable gardening was so easy and fun wouldn't the city people have all left their factory jobs for a life in the country? When the "hipsters" aren't posing for a fancy photo shoot they are most likely screaming at their kids or drinking, and having their gardeners help them with their plants. Take heart though, there is a compromise. To feed a family you don't need a huge plot. If you think small, you can make vegetable gardening doable without weeding, excessive watering, and hours spent scorching in the sun. You may not be as cool as Organic Gardening magazine would like, but you'll be a lot happier. The solution is container gardening.

Living in Dutchess county, we have a tremendous deer population. It makes vegetable gardening in your yard without proper fencing impossible. I do all my own vegetables on my deck. I have a 5x5 planter box from Gardener's Supply Co.The box cost about $100.00 and it holds 3 gallons of water to slow feed the plants. It's ideal for a deck because decks get really, really hot. In this box I have grown; lettuce, tomatoes, peas, squash and eggplant. I use "grow bags", that you can buy at Gardener's Supply, also to grow onions, sweet potatoes and fingerlings. All you do is fill the bag with soil, plant your plants and when they are ready to come out, dump them upside down; beats the heck out of rotot tilling, and digging. For my herbs, I use pots. The herbs are beautiful and deer rarely have an interest in them. I put the pots throughout my backyard flower gardens.

My favorite book on container gardening is called, "Vertical Gardening" by Derek Fell. This book gives great advice on what veggies grow well together in tight quarters. It also shows you through photos and drawings ways to support heavy fruit and vegetables that can vine upwards. Another recommendation is "All New Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew. He uses an excellent method of raised planters and sectioning them into different square feet. You can reach all the plants without stepping on the soil and it basically eliminates weeding.

One thing both these authors spend a significant amount of time on is soil structure. What you put into your containers, grow boxes and raised beds really makes all the difference. A high benefit of using small spaces to grow is that you can have much more control over your soil. Personally, for smaller containers I like moisture control potting soil. For my raised bed and grow bags I use Sweet Peet. Sweet Peet is a mixture of peat moss, manure and compost. Plants really thrive on it. You can make a mixture of soil 1/3 blended compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 coarse vermiculite. These can all be purchased inexpensively in bulk from any gardening center. Once your plants begin to grow, placing mulch in-between them helps prevent the growth of weeds.

Now is the time to get your vegetable garden started. Mother's Day is the benchmark I use for when I put my summer vegetables into the soil. I will keep you posted on what varieties I am using and how they do.

Get out there and grow something!

Happy Gardening,
Maggie Flynn

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

ADHD and Your Child's Education

Not too long ago the acronym ADHD was a dirty word.

The fact that someone in your family had it was a cause for secrecy. And with good reason; if parents knew your child had this neurobehavioral disorder they'd steer their children away from your's or give you a knowing look like, “This is why your child acts the way they do.” ADHD kids were thought of as stupid, and your parenting skills were certainly questioned.

I'm by no means an expert on this subject. What I can share is first-hand experience on living with my two peas, both whom have ADHD - it tends to run on my husband's side. I kept my son's condition a secret for the longest time because I didn't want him labeled; labeled as my husband was – he was tossed into a classroom with seriously mentally handicapped children and forgotten about until a substitute teacher realized how incredibly intelligent he was. I didn't want people to blame my son for everything because it was certainly easier to blame the kid with ADHD - they're not always in complete control of their emotions and actions. One parent I knew blamed my son for any argument between our kids even if hers were at fault: “It had to be your son; he's the one with the mental condition, and ADHD kids blurt out stuff without thinking how it's going to affect others.” Sometimes that is true, but it's true of most children, too.

The majority of people I know who have ADHD have a very high IQ, but channeling that intelligence into mainstream, conventional learning practices is a challenge in itself. All that most teachers see is a child that inhibits the learning of others, is fidgety, is inattentive, is unable to follow directions or the curriculum, and seemingly isn't interested in learning. If you're lucky you might get a teacher that sees the potential in your child, but even if they do they're unable to do much due to a class full of other students. So what can you do to bring out that creativity and know-how to show that your child is indeed above-average?

There's no simple answer.

Homeschooling is an option. It allows you and your child to discover what interests him or her. It allows for a more hands-on learning style; to touch, to create, to visualize rather than slapping worksheet after worksheet in front of them, which drives most kids insane let alone a child that finds focusing a true battle. But homeschooling isn't for everyone nor can some parents afford the time.

Another option is finding a private school which offers different approaches in learning, the kind where the teachers engage the students with lots of hands-on experiments; field trips; lots of sports to tire them out; a teaching style that makes kids think out of the box and applaud them for trying even though it may be incorrect. Again, not everyone can afford the cost of private school tuition even with financial aid.

As a parent you have to be your child's biggest advocate. You have to stay on top of what they're learning or not. You have to meet with teachers, you have to talk with the guidance counselor and you have to demand from the principal that your child gets the learning they deserve. And after all of that you have to have hope that in the long run your child will find their way.

A lot of times my house is crazy with energy, but that whirlwind are my peas doing what they do best: Creating, working, building, blogging, mapping out business projects, planning fundraisers … and that's just my 12yr old!