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8 Easy Ways to Remove Processed Food

12 Aug

Fresh Green Beans and Carrots...to be prepped for dinner...

Over the last 3 years, I have replaced most processed and prepared foods from my family’s diet.  It wasn’t and isn’t always convenient but it definitely has changed our health for the better!  We used to eat all the wrong stuff!  Everything I bought was ready made out of a box, can, or freezer.  If you’ve ever read the labels on a box of Hamburger Helper, it doesn’t even sound edible or tasty!   I have four very active and hungry children! It is a challenge to feed everyone and do it on a budget while at the same time keeping the meals healthy!  There are a lot of chemicals, additives, and preservatives in processed foods.  There are lots of things that we shouldn’t be putting into our bodies let alone feed to our children!  I started to recreate our favorite processed foods in my kitchen with the most basic ingredients.  Even though we are on a tight, shoestring food budget, I manage to buy certain organic ingredients that will maximize the nutritious benefits for my family!  Anyone can learn how to eat the healthiest meals and improve your family’s health!

Here are a few of the things that you can start doing right away!

1.  Rule of thumb – if you can’t pronounce words, recognize the ingredients as a food, and don’t have any of the things listed on the label in your cabinet, don’t buy it!  Read the ingredients of your favorite, go-to processed meals.  The labels are like commercials on the box, they will tell you things or put pictures on the box that really have nothing to do with the product inside the package.  For example:  a picture of a cow in green grass on a farm when in reality, the product came from a cow on a factory farm, laying in mud, sick, and pumped full of antibiotics!

2. Look out for the worst offenders in processed food ingredients:  MSG (monosodium glutamate), aspartame, high sodium content, non-organic corn or soy, partially hydrogenated oils, hydrolyzed soy/corn/wheat protein, and high fructose corn syrup.  If the product is supposed to be meat, from an animal, it shouldn’t have soy fillers in it!  95% of the non-organic soybeans in the US are genetically engineered to withstand very large amounts of pesticides and herbicides, not exactly a health food!  And soy is in everything!  I should know, since I am allergic to soybeans!

3.  Stay away from flavor packets!  These are always very high in sodium and contain lots of unnecessary chemicals.  It is better to use an organic and/or homemade beef, chicken, or vegetable stock to add flavor to brown rice and meats.  Fresh herbs like basil, oregano, parsley, and cilantro will take your meals to the next level of flavor and are so much healthier too!  My pantry is always stocked with fresh garlic and basil, these two together make tomato sauce taste wonderful!

4.  Fats.  Healthy fats are a necessary part of a balanced diet.  Not all fats are created equal and some do so much more harm to you than others!  Omega 3 fats are great and those are: coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, organic butter, and pastured egg yolk.  There is a whole host of nuts that are high in Omega 3 fats as well.  Healthy Omega 6 fats are from grass-fed beef and free-range poultry.  Fresh, wild caught seafood contain healthy fat and Krill oil is a great supplement to take!  Get rid of the soybean, corn, canola, margarine, and shortening because these oils are not heart healthy and overly processed!  Be aware that a lot of restaurants use these unhealthy oils and it’s best to avoid fried food and fast food for this reason.

Organic Fruit Salad

5. Choose fresh vegetables and fresh fruit as side dishes.  You don’t need the boxed rice and canned corn. Balance your dinner plate with a healthy protein and lots of colorful raw, steamed, broiled, grilled, baked, and sautéed vegetables!  My kids are in love with sautéed broccoli!  I drop it into boiling water for 6 minutes and then I sauté it with olive oil, fresh garlic, sea salt, and black pepper until fork tender.  They actually fought over the broccoli a few nights ago and there were no leftovers!  To add variety to our meals I’ll serve fresh strawberries or apples with dinner instead of pasta or rice.  Strawberries go great with roasted chicken!

6.  A word about salt.  Table salt has added iodine in it because people weren’t getting enough of this nutrient through everyday eating, right.  So how about we get iodine by eating things from the sea. Table salt will increase your blood pressure and has more sodium per serving than sea salt.  Why not just use sea salt with naturally occurring iodine and less sodium per serving!  We made the switch to sea salt and now table salt tastes way too salty to me and I am more sensitive to salty foods so I avoid them as much as possible.

7.  It’s always better to eat naturally occurring foods than highly processed foods.  For example:  Butter and margarine.  Years ago studies came out the saturated fat was bad, anyone remember that?  So, companies came up with a way to make a butter-like substance out of vegetable oil.  With vegetable right in the name, it’s got to be healthy right?  Well, not exactly.  You see, butter is churned from the milk of a cow.  If that cow is grazing in grass and happily lounging on a farm that butter will be so much better for you than digesting a factory processed, trans fat and hydrogenated “vegetable” oil.  I think factories and I think pollution, smog, and chemical by-products.  Definitely eat butter in moderation though.  Moderation is key with fats and salt!

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8.  Last but not least is sugar.  Sugar actually comes from a plant called sugar cane.  There are other sources of sugar that are in processed food though.  Genetically engineered sugar beets and high fructose corn syrup are the two most common ingredients found in processed food.  Our bodies process cane sugar, or sucrose differently than fructose.  A word of caution – high fructose corn syrup is made from genetically engineered corn, which is not naturally occurring in nature but created in a lab to withstand mass quantities of herbicide/pesticides.  The BT corn variety releases the pesticide when the insects bite it…and that is was makes high fructose corn syrup.  So again, naturally occurring vs highly processed is the choice to make.  I gave up conventional sodas 3 years ago.  When I do get a hankering for the sweet fizzy stuff, I grab a cane sugar soda instead.  Most of the time, I drink water.

So to sum up:  Buy Organic and Support your local farmers!  Go to some farmers markets in your area and try some fresh fruit and veggies!   Take a cooking class to learn some tips and techniques and start preparing homemade meals for your family!

Resources:

Dr. Joseph Mercola

Raise your hand if you like chocolate…

29 Jul

Hershey2

75% of the world’s cocoa supply comes mainly from two countries in West Africa; Ghana and the Ivory Coast.  Cocoa from this region is sold to many chocolate companies including Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle.  These companies in chocolate industry benefit directly from child labor, human trafficking, and modern day slavery.  In order to compete, cocoa farmers need child labor to keep their prices low because they are barely paid a living wage for their beans by these multi-million dollar chocolate companies.

mars-chocolates

Children end up working on these farms for several reasons.  They need to work to help support their families, they are sold by relatives to traffickers and farm owners, or they are abducted by traffickers from their small villages and sold into slavery.  The age of these boys is usually 12 – 16, although boys as young as 7 have been filmed doing the dangerous work of harvesting cocoa pods.  These kids are subject to beatings for working too slowly or trying to escape, they are exposed to toxic chemicals that are sprayed on the farm, and they work with machetes with the potential to sever appendages.  The children on these farms are not allowed an education, proper nutrition, and they live in unsanitary conditions.

Ten years ago the major chocolate companies promised to do something about these children and traffickers.  So far NOTHING has been done!  This year, they have made promises again to eradicate slavery from their supply chains, but it will be up to us, the consumers to hold them accountable.   If we keep buying their chocolate, we are continually contributing to the problems and misery of these kids.  Every holiday, every special occasion, every day chocolate lovers around the world indulge in the chocolaty goodness of child slavery!

nestle

The ILO says that the worst forms of child labor include, “likely to harm health, safety or morals of children”, if the children use “hazardous tools”, and the work “interferes with schooling”.  This describes what the children in West Africa live with daily.  For years Hershey’s, Nestle, and Mars have sourced their cocoa from these child abusers without batting an eye.  Only now, they have pledged to do something but is it just a public relations trick?  They say it’ll take years to source fair trade chocolate, but should we still go on buying their products waiting for the day when these kids are given a better way of life.  In another 10 years, the same problems will still exist and nothing will have changed unless, we take a stand today and stop buying slave produced chocolate, even on holidays and special occasions.  Most Americans have no idea where their favorite products come from…if they only knew, imagine the changes that can be made.  When your craving a candy bar, go for the ones that actually care about human beings…try a Green and Blacks, Alter Eco, Theo, Whole Foods Whole Trade Chocolate, Equal Exchange, and Sun Spire, just to name a few.   Slave harvested chocolate is cheap.  In order to pay farmers a fair wage and to source from farms that use ethical and sustainable practices, Fair Trade chocolate companies have to charge more for better quality!  Chocolate used to be a luxury and maybe convenience and low prices shouldn’t be the driving force behind our purchases.  I want to challenge you to take a stand, encourage your family and friends to join you too!  Together we can make a difference!!

Green and Blacksequal exchange SunSpire-Organic TheoChocolate1 wfmo_dark_chocolate_tanzania1

Check out these resources for more information:

Global Exchange

Fair World Project

Food Empowerment Project

The Dark Side of Chocolate

The Dark Side of Chocolate documentary

Lemon and Raspberry

3 Jun

Large and Mini Lemon Cream and Raspberry Cookies

These cookies happened totally by accident, a happy, happy accident!  I was on Martha Stewart’s website looking at cookies recipes and I came across this Old Fashioned Lemon Cookie Recipe.  I’ve been toying with the idea of offering a lemon option at the farmers market because several customers had asked about it.  I happened to have a lemon sitting on the counter and I already had the other ingredients, so I decided to give these lemon cookies a try.  I compared Martha’s recipe to my own sugar cookie recipe and it was pretty much the same, so I just added the lemon to my own recipe. I added a lot more lemon to my recipe!

Mini Lemon Cream and Raspberry Cookies

So, I followed Martha’s instructions and didn’t chill the dough but getting them onto the cookie sheet was a bit challenging.  I sprinkled them with a fair trade cane sugar before baking  for added tastiness.  I wanted to be able to offer samples of these cookies at the market so I made some little and I made some bigger.  The bigger ones, really came out huge!

Large Lemon Cream and Raspberry cookie

After the cookies came out of the oven, they looked really good and they were a bit crunchy.  I really liked them.  My 4 year old liked them too!  Some of the little ones didn’t come out looking very smooth, but the second and third batch came out smooth, like the picture above.  Eva, my daughter, and I had to eat the uneven ones, of course!  She kept sneaking  back into the kitchen and eating cookies!

I still had some lemon juice left over and I was contemplating glazing the cookies or making some kind of icing for the tops.  I couldn’t decide what to do and I was concerned about how the icing would do once I put the cookies in the bags for the market.

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This is how I package the cookies for the market ^.

So, I thought, what if I make cookie sandwiches and put a lemon cream inside the cookies!  I made the lemon cream and i started to pipe the icing onto the cookies.  I had just purchased 2 jars of organic jam, raspberry and blackberry.  Unfortunately, the blackberry jam had huge seeds in it and I couldn’t use it in these. 😦  The good news is raspberry goes really well with lemon and so I put the two flavors together and success!!!  I am in love with these cookies!  The litmus test would be how do they do at the market.  I sold the mini ones in single bags for $.50 each and the big ones, as one customer fondly referred to them as whoopie pies, sold for $2 each.  The next day the cookies were much softer even after they were in the fridge all night.

Mini Lemon Cream and Raspberry Cookies

 

They sold out!!   Everyone was delighted and I was very pleasantly surprised!  These may just make the regular rotation!  I love creating new products. Baking brings me joy!

These cookies can be ordered by the dozen and they can be made gluten-free with almond flour by request!  If you live in Northeast Florida you may order a batch today via email or Facebook!

Thanks everyone!!

Thumbprints – a very popular treat

13 May

Strawberry and Raspberry Thumbprints

This delightful treat is one of the most popular things that we sell at the farmers market.  The recipe isn’t complicated or even that special, it’s the technique and time that it takes to make these joyful tasty bite-sized yummies that makes these so great!

Buttery Thumbprint Dough

I start out with a basic cookie dough, whose name I will not say…gotta keep trade secrets, secret, you know!  The dough gets refrigerated and when it’s ready, I start making little balls of yummy, buttery goodness…

Buttery Thumbprint dough

These get rolled in cane sugar to be prepped for the thumb indents and shaping to come…

Thumbprint cookie dough

This step takes the longest…shaping each ball into to the thumbprint shape.  Of course, I am a perfectionist when it comes to baking goods, so I have to make each one the same size and same shape.  This process takes about 2 hours…once the dough comes out of the fridge until the finished dough goes into the oven.  I put the jam in before I bake them and then they are baked to perfection!  I’ve made these with apricot, orange marmalade, raspberry, and strawberry jams.  Raspberry is the favorite!  I sell out of those every time at the market and it never seems like I make enough!  I’m probably going to have to start doubling the recipe and just make raspberry.  I would like to try blueberry jam though…I love blueberry!  Sometimes, what I love doesn’t translate into sales though…I will try it out and see how it goes!

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Here are the finished, packaged cookies…this picture was taken at Christmas, hence the snowman plate.

The best thing happened this weekend at the market.  A customer bought a bag of the raspberry thumbprints and she started walking away from the table.  She casually opened the bag, took out a cookie, and popped it into her mouth.  She exclaimed, from several yards away, “These are the best cookies ever!!”  I turned around to see where that exclamation came from and she waved to me.  I laughed and turned to the next customer walking by and said, “After that endorsement you almost  have to buy something now!”  That person, immediately came to the table to check out what I was selling!

I love my job, well it’s not really a job when it’s your own company and you get to do what you love!

New Product: Coffee Gateau

24 Apr

Coffee Gateau Mini Cupcakes

This weekend at the St Johns River Farmers Market we will have these lovely cupcakes available for sale!! Yummy! This recipe is a family recipe passed down to me from my mom and grandma. We call it Coffee Gateau, which means Coffee Cake. In America, Coffee Cake is something totally different from this recipe though. My mother was born in England and they do things a bit differently than Americans, so sometimes the names for food are the same but the food itself is not! My mom makes this as a 2-layer cake most of the time and I’ve changed the recipe into mini cupcakes. This is my all-time favorite cake and the one that my mom makes for my birthday every year! I’m excited to debut it at the market and coffee lovers are sure to love this cake! Of course, I make it with organic and fair trade coffee, sugar, and vanilla! Gotta make it fair trade!

Coffee Gateau Mini Cupcakes
The cupcakes have a coffee buttercream and chopped pecans on top!

Oh and another thing, I’ve used organic ingredients to avoid gmos!

Check out my facebook page for more information about what we will be making this week! We are working on getting things in place to start selling online, but unfortunately, we can’t yet!

I’m looking forward to being at the market this weekend! Coffee lovers unite!!

Christmas at the Farmers Market

20 Dec

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This is our table from last week’s farmers market. We are currently selling a variety of Christmas Cookies and Gift Baskets.

 

Thumbprint Cookies

Here is one of our baskets with cookies, fair trade tea and fair trade chocolates.

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We also have some baskets with fair trade coffee. You can mix and match what you would like in the baskets and the prices range from $10 -$30.

Chocolate Dipped Sugar Cookies

Last week we had sugar cookies dipped in fair trade chocolate.

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These Thumbprint cookies were a big hit! We made them in apricot and raspberry varieties. We almost sold out of these last week. We will definitely have them again this week!

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These have been a crowd favorite and one of my favorite cookies! Classic Chocolate Chip. Some had walnuts too! Chocolate Chip Cookies were my first cookie that I baked on my own way back when I was just a teenager.

On the menu page there is a list of all the cookies that we make. We only bring a few varieties to the market and we do special requests as well. You can always order a dozen or three and pick them up this Saturday! Come out and see us on the 22nd at the St. Johns River Farmers Market on Rt 13 in Fruit Cove. The market is set up inside Alpine Grove Park from 10am – 2pm every Saturday. This is the last chance to get a gift basket for your neighbors, teachers, friends, and family! We make everything from scratch with organic and fair trade ingredients!

Merry Christmas from The Cooking Activist!!

Human Trafficking Awareness at the Jacksonville Zoo

9 Oct

On September 22nd I was part of a human traffikcing awareness event at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. It was called the SCTNow Jacksonville 5k walk and the purpose was to gather the community together to educate others about trafficking and modern-day slavery.

SCTNow sign on my table
This is the SCTNow sign that was on my table.

SCTNow 5k walk 9-22-12

My company handed out free fair trade cookies and muffins to the participants of the SCTNow 5k walk.

The Cooking Activist Company Table
The Cooking Activist Company Table

The Cooking Activist
This is me, The Cooking Activist!

My business partner and friend, Monica Greenblott, is the SCTNow Jacksonville Ambassador and she organized the walk. We set up a table and when people finished their walk, I got to talk to them and tell them what I do.  I love to talk about this cause.  It is dear to my heart and I am very passionate about it.

The Cooking Activist Company

My cookies were made with fair trade sugar, vanilla, and chocolate chips.  I also use organic and non-gmo ingredients when I bake because I am concerned about the health ramifications of pesticides and other cancer causing side-effects of gmos.  When a product is labeled as fair trade or ethically resourced or something along those lines, it means that there wasn’t any child labor/slaves harvesting the product.  The label also guarantees that the the farmer gets a fair price for his goods and no adults were enslaved or in debt bondage in order to harvest or manufacture the product.  The supply chains of many popular products are full of modern day slavery and  human trafficking.  Buying products with a fair trade label shows you that the company takes action against human trafficking and avoids slavery-produced goods.

Fusion Ministries
These lovely ladies are representing Fusion Ministries of Jacksonville!

I also made Banana Oatmeal Muffins, which the bananas were Whole Trade guaranteed by Whole Foods Market.  Whole Foods has a program called the Whole Trade Guarantee that investigates the supply chains of companies and their bananas have the this Whole Trade sticker on them.  Their pineapples, teas, coffee, and other products with this sticker show that they are ethically sourced.  I was excited to use these bananas and it made the muffins a wonderful example of how we can use products that are ethically sourced.

World Relief Jacksonville and NEFHTTF
This is my friend Michelle Clowe, who is the current Chair of the Northeast Florida Human Trafficking Coalition and she is the Human Trafficking Liason for World Relief Jacksonville.   There is another 5k coming up on October 13th called The Human Race.  Another friend of mine, Seth Johnson, is coordinating this 5k for  Transitions Global, another great organization that rescues and restores girls trafficked into the sex trade.

I had a wonderful time meeting new people and educating others about the importance of consumer purchases in the fight against modern-day slavery and human trafficking!

World Relief Jacksonville signage

There are much more exciting things coming my way this fall! Stay tuned for more exciting updates!! Remember to buy fair trade and check the labels for ethically sourced companies!!

Got Allergies?

5 May

Chocolate Cake, no gmos, no gluten, no soy

My sister and her husband visited a few days ago and I attempted my first cake with gluten free all-purpose flour. I’ve made flourless cakes before, but I hadn’t had much success with gluten free flours yet. When Vicki and I get together, it is not easy to eat at restaurants because we are allergic to soybeans and she can’t eat any gluten. It is also a challenge when we go to someone else’s house to eat because most prepackaged foods contain soy in some form or another. Vicki said my house was a safe zone because virtually everything I buy is soy-free! Our mother’s birthday was on May 3rd, so I needed to make a soy-free, gluten-free cake.

Unfrosted Gluten free cake

I found this recipe for a gluten-free cake. Of course, in my normal way of trying new recipes, I changed most of the ingredients. I always try to use organic ingredients when I can get them because my sister and I don’t eat GMO’s. I made some other changes as well, and the next time I make this recipe I intend on changing it further. I used different flours, different chocolate, and a different fat. I also doubled the recipe and baked it in a glass pan.

Gluten free birthday cake

This cake came out really moist and dense. I was surprised at how good it tasted! The frosting was delicious! I used a fair trade cocoa powder and butter from grass-fed cows to enhance the frosting, so it was ethical and healthier! I didn’t even measure the cocoa, I just dumped a lot into the bowl and it tasted more like a dark chocolate frosting. My husband and kids have become accustomed to the organic, homemade foods and we are definitely not the average American household.

I love experimenting with food, especially when it comes out great!

Have you ever had an Irish potato?

3 May

Irish Oatmeal Cream Pies
Irish Oatmeal Cream Pies

I love Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies, and I always have.  I haven’t had one in almost 3 years because like everything else, they are loaded up with soy.  Since I am allergic to soy, I have had to give up a lot of my favorites and I have been wanting to recreate this treat for quite some time now.

My basic oatmeal raisin cookie
My basic oatmeal raisin cookie

I used my basic oatmeal cookie recipe, sans raisins for the cookie and I made them bigger than the average cookie size. I was going to use a basic buttercream frosting for the filling, but I had 2 boxes of organic cream cheese in the fridge that I hadn’t used. Inspiration struck, and I thought, “why not make a cream cheese frosting instead?” So I improvised, and ended up creating this frosting that tasted like an irish potato.

Irish Potatoes

I grew up in the Philadelphia area, more specifically, South Jersey.  Every year around St. Patty’s Day, I would make Irish Potatoes from scratch at school and at home.  It is a traditional candy and very, very tasty.  It is made with cream cheese, coconut, butter, and confectioners sugar.  The filling is rolled into a ball and then coated with cinnamon.  It is very sweet because the recipe calls for a lot of confectioners sugar that I find hard to eat as an adult.

I didn’t have any coconut, (which may take this icing up a notch), so I used cream cheese, butter, and confectioners sugar.  Since I love the cinnamon in my cookies, I decided to add cinnamon to the frosting and when I tasted it, it was just like the Irish potato only not as sweet! I don’t like ultra sweet icing so I added enough and then had to chill the cookies to harden the filling.  My husband and I were so excited about these cookies!  They didn’t last long and the children loved them too!

Libby’s Test Kitchen: Homemade Goldfish Crackers

11 Jul

So I got the idea to make these from another blog, Miss Anthropist’s Kitchen. I’m always trying to find ways to recreate store bought snacks from scratch, so I was looking forward to trying it.
This recipe is like pastry with cheese. I used my blender to process the ingredients because I don’t have a food processor, well actually I do have one but the blades were lost when we moved. 😦 The blender worked ok chopping the dry ingredients and I used my mixer to blend in the butter. The dough was simple to put together. Since I don’t have a tiny fish size cutter, I used a coupling piece from my decorating tips to cut out small circles.
Homemade Goldfish Crackers

My daughters helped place the little circles on the baking sheets. The recipe made almost 300 little crackers. I baked them in the oven and voila! Little cheddar crackers!
Homemade Goldfish Crackers
Right out of the oven they kinda tasted like little biscuits but as they cooled they became crunchy. They certainly taste like little cheddar crackers, but not really like the goldfish brand crackers. That is ok. These are perfect for snacking and without all the salt that are in boxed snacks. I used unsalted butter and I did not add any extra salt to them because the cheese has more than enough sodium for these crackers. My 4 kids finished about 100 crackers at snack time! It is hard to keep any homemade food in this house! I’m so glad that my kids love the taste of simple foods made from scratch. This could easily be made once a week to add variety to their snacktime. I will certainly make this again, maybe next time I’ll try different cheese. There are so many possibilities!