Diggin’ into Plant-Based Diets

Following a plant-based diet is very trendy these days. Whether it’s an environmental reason (reduce your carbon footprint) or health goal (decrease the risk of some chronic diseases), many people, including myself are consciously reducing their consumption of animal products.

What does it mean to follow a plant-based diet?  That really depends. Some interpret it is being a vegan or vegetarian. Others view a plant-based diet as being broader, including more plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, and also fewer animal foods, like meat, fish and dairy. It’s not necessary to give up all the animal foods you enjoy; however, you can consider decreasing the portion sizes so these foods are no longer the main attraction on your plate. 

Ever since attending a 2019 nutrition conference, I’ve been inspired to consume more plant-based foods. It’s unlikely I will give up my glass of cold, fat-free milk in the evening (with one cookie); however, I do consume at least three meatless meals per week, eat smaller portions of chicken, fish, and lean beef and pork, and I load up half of my plate with vegetables (see my grilled vegetable recipe). This summer, my deck garden provided enough delicious red tomatoes to enjoy almost every day on salads. Since making these changes, I’ve maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure and feeling good about doing something for Mother Earth. 

Are you ready to ‘dig in’ and adopt a more plant-based diet? Here are some tips that helped me get started.

1. Go meatless one day a week. Beans, lentils, and nuts are great sources of plant-proteins and add fiber to your diet, which makes you feel full. Instead of adding meat to my pasta, I toss it with grilled vegetables. If you like chili, peruse recipe websites for a bean-based chili that appeals to your taste buds.

2. Combine vegetable proteins. Quinoa, is a perfect protein, meaning it contains the 9 essential amino acids your body needs daily. You can also combine other plant foods to get that perfect protein. Some of my favorite combos are black beans and rice, chick peas and pasta, and whole what bread and peanut butter (with some jelly).

3. Re-think your meat portions. You can still have meat at your meals, but in smaller amounts, like 3 cooked ounces (the size and thickness of a deck of cards). Many of meals like soups (winter) and salads (summer) are full of vegetables and whole grains, but I add a small piece of protein, like a leftover grilled and shredded chicken breast or a few slices of pork tenderloin.


Try this recipe for Easy Grilled Vegetables!

Selection of vegetables:

  • Red, yellow or green peppers – cut in half and seeded
  • Yellow and green squash – sliced length-wise, about ½ inch thick
  • Eggplant – sliced width-wise, about ½ inch thick
  • Mushrooms – whole cleaned
  • Onion – sliced width-wise, about ½ inch thick

Additional ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons, minced garlic
  • Fresh chopped or dried herb (parsley, thyme, basil, etc.) for garnish

Instructions:

1. Mix oil, salt, pepper, vinegar and garlic together.

2. Arrange vegetables on grill or in a grill pan (medium heat).

    Note: depending on the size of your pan you may need to work in batches.

3. Grill vegetables 6-8 minutes, brushing with oil, and vinegar mixture.

4. Remove vegetables from grill or grill pan and place on a platter. Drizzle remaining oil and

    vinegar mixture on vegetables. Sprinkle herbs over vegetables and serve.

Fashionable Flavor: Do the spices of your life match what’s en vogue?

At home, we have our dried spice and herb staples. Granted, there are some in the back of the cabinet that get less use than others; we have them on hand nonetheless for seasonal or specialty recipes.

We live in an ever-changing world with technology and resources that make information on anything ultra-accessible. The same goes for spices and herbs, their health benefits, how to use them, where they come from, and the like. Influxes of information can definitely be overwhelming and even confusing at times. People who want the best for themselves and those they care for feel the pressure to be current. Where can one start to process and apply flavor related changes? Well, when it comes to spices and herbs, I say look no further than the past for the present.

What does that mean? It means that the flavors we introduce into our kitchens have been around for a long time. When we embrace the people and their cultures which have been producing and utilizing them, we open up a newfound realm of appreciation for various spices and herbs.

Living in the U.S. affords us a plethora of cuisines. When the 2019 pandemic hit, I was nudged to recreate the foods I typically enjoyed outside of my home. I began to notice a “one off” ingredient I got for a particular recipe is actually common in other dishes from the region or even other regions. By expanding my awareness of cuisines, I accumulated new dishes to add to my meal plans.

Image from Rawpixel.com

Take turmeric for example. Many may be familiar with using it in a curry. With a little exploration, one may find traditional uses in rice or beverage recipes. Colleagues, classmates, cookbooks, neighbors, TV and the internet have brought a wealth of exposure to me and my kitchen. 

The latest research on the positive health effects of *insert spice or herb here* tends to send people (consumers and industry professionals alike) into a frenzy on how to incorporate it into our diets. By being open to a diversified palate, one adopts a lifestyle that complements the waves of science. Hopefully, we fret less about how to incorporate a spice or herb into our humdrum shakes, bakes or pancakes and use flavors as a gateway to bridge our understanding of others’ culinary cultures.

Sometimes, we put too much onus on ourselves to reinvent the wheel. Creativity is certainly an adventurous blessing, though we can consciously leverage the brilliance and benefits of generations past as continued by present cultures. Perhaps, we could view history as more than a subject; it’s a tasty way of life. Please, visit the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and FoodData Central for resources on how to “make every bite count” towards good health.

This post contributed by guest blogger Esu Obu

Fire up the grill for a healthy and safe cookout

Last weekend, millions of Americans will be fired up the grill for July 4 celebrations. Be sure to plan ahead and follow these steps to ensure a healthy and safe meal when cooking out with your friends and family.

Image by rawpixel.com
  • Clean the Grill: An important step in preparing the grill is cleaning it. Many people use the same brush year after year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report an increase in reports of people swallowing bristles from these grill brushes. To prevent this, replace grill brushes regularly before the bristles wear down or use a brush for cleaning that does not have steel bristles. Also, wipe down the grill with a wet cloth after scrubbing to remove small pieces of bristle on the grill racks that are difficult to see.
  • Select your meat: One of the advantages of grilling is the flavor it adds without extra fat.  Here are some suggestions for healthy meat choices. For hamburgers, try lean ground beef, turkey, chicken or veggie burgers made from chickpeas or black beans.  Another option is chicken, shrimp or fish.  You can make skewers with meat and vegetables or put them together in a “foil packet” to cook on the grill.
  • Marinate: If you want to marinate the food for extra flavor before cooking, be sure to marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Since the marinade has been exposed to bacteria from the raw food, you need to boil the leftover marinade to kill any harmful bacteria before serving it over the cooked meat. A better idea is to keep some marinade aside in a separate container in the refrigerator that you can serve with the meal. 
  • Storage: Raw foods, including meats and vegetables, need to be stored safely in the refrigerator or a cooler until it is time to grill and serve the food. If you buy the meat, poultry or fish more than 2 days before your barbeque, freeze it to prevent it from spoiling. Be sure to thaw it completely, in either the refrigerator or microwave, before grilling it to ensure even cooking.  
  • Use food thermometer to make sure meat is cooked:  Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast.  Watch the temperature to avoid burnt food on the outside and undercooked food on the inside.  Do not rely on its color to determine if it is done.  The only way to determine if a food is cooked to a safe temperature is with a food thermometer.  Ground meats need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F.  Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.  When reheating fully cooked meats like hot dogs, grill to 165 °F or until steaming hot. After cooking meat and poultry to a safe temperature, keep it at 140 °F or warmer by placing to the side of the grill rack or in a pre-heated 200 °F oven until ready to serve. 
  • Avoid cross-contamination: When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter instead of the one used for the raw meat.  Bacteria present from the raw meat juices could contaminate the cooked food.  

Plan your menu today for a healthy and safe summer and fire up the grill.  If you have any questions about grilling meat and poultry, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6843 or visit www.fsis.usda.gov .

Grow and Capture the Flavor of Fresh Herbs

Early this spring, I checked my outdoor herb garden to see what survived the winter. Many herbs are perennial and come back each spring. To my surprise, my kitchen garden was alive and growing! Parsley, rosemary, chive, sage, and mint all came back!

Herbs are easy to grow and do well in pots if you don’t have a space for planting. If you relish DIY projects you can build your own raised garden box. Many of my friends start growing herbs from seeds, which is less expensive and takes longer. I like to purchase small herb plants from my local gardening store, so I can reap the benefits from these tasty and nutritious greens sooner.       

After expanding my herb garden, the last few seasons I learned a few tips to share from my more experienced herb-gardening friends. Most herbs love full sun (at minimum 6-7 hours a day). Find a sunny spot in your yard to plant your garden or position your raised bed or pots. Also, add a soil or potting mix to your soil, which will help keep the soil well drained. Don’t forget to water your herbs daily, especially if your herbs are in pots. Potted soil tends to dry up quickly and you don’t want to pre-maturely ‘dry’ your herbs. Last but not least, remove flowers forming on your herbs. Flowers use up the herb’s energy and removing gives the energy back to the leaves; the part of the herb we use most often. Also, flowering herbs may lose some of their flavor and taste bitter.

I love using herbs when preparing my favorite foods and beverages. Herbs add flavor and eye appeal to my meals and fill my kitchen with mouth-watering aromas. Nutritionally, herbs contain similar nutrients found in green leafy vegetables like vitamins A, C, and K and polyphenols; which are plant substances that provide antioxidants and reduce inflammation in our bodies. Using flavorful herbs can also cut down the amount of salt and fat, making your meals healthier. Below, are some of my ‘go to’ herb parings:

  • Stuff  a chicken cavity with lemon and a combination of sage, rosemary, and thyme sprigs. Make a mixture of olive oil, pepper, and a dash of salt and brush it on the outside of the chicken. Bake it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • Make a rub of finely chopped rosemary, chopped garlic (fresh or in the jar), and pepper. Mix it with olive oil, enough to form a paste and rub it on all sides of a pork tenderloin. Bake or grill to an internal temperature of 155 degrees.
  • For refreshing botanical-infused beverages, add a rosemary sprig and a lime wedge,  fresh mint and strawberry slices, or basil and a watermelon wedge to tap or sparkling water served over crushed ice.
  • For an extra flavor punch in salads, toss snipped lemon thyme or lemon balm, chopped chives, parsley, basil or oregano.

Speaking of snipping, one of my most used kitchen tool in the summer is my herb scissors. You can purchase herb scissors at kitchen stores or online. A pair of craft scissors designate as ‘herb scissors’ also works well. Keep them sharp and wash with soap and water after each use. 

I have an abundance of herbs and found another use for them. I filled mason jars with water and a variety of fresh herbs and placed them around my house, including my bathrooms. What an amazing aroma to smell when I walked into my house!

Stay tuned for part two of this blog, Capture the Flavor with Spices!

Food Around the World

Food is a big part of our lives. Different cultures have different traditions and rituals that involve food. It can bring people together to celebrate and mourn. There are several different types of cultural cuisines but a few of the most common are Japanese, Indian, and Greek.

Japanese Cuisine

Japanese cuisine is mostly known for sushi, but there are other popular dishes such as ramen, tempura, gyoza, and sashimi. Tempura is the deep-frying of vegetables, meat or seafood. Gyoza is typically an appetizer or a side dish of dumplings filled with meat and vegetables. Sashimi is thinly sliced raw meat or fish that is often accompanied with soy sauce. Rice and noodles are a staple food in Japanese culture and there are always side dishes that are usually fish or pickled vegetables. Seafood is also very common in this type of cuisine because of Japan’s location being surrounded by the ocean. 

Each dish is usually served in different bowls and plates which relates to Japanese food etiquette and table manners. Each individual eating will have their own bowl and plate and it is disrespectful to eat from others’ plates.

Unlike in American culture, chopsticks are primarily used to eat food. While eating, there are certain things to do and to not do. For example, it is inappropriate to burp while eating at the table because it is considered rude. Yet, it is appropriate to slurp noodles because it shows that the food is good and your appreciation.

Indian Cuisine

Indian cuisine is another delicious type of food! The most popular foods from an American point of view are chicken tikka masala, biryani, naan, and samosas. While these are very yummy foods, there are many more great dishes to try. I’ve been able to try other dishes because my roommate is Indian and her family often sends her home with traditional food. One of my favorite dishes is palak paneer which consists of spinach and Indian cottage cheese. Another dish that I love is vada pav which are deep fried potato patties inside of a bread bun with a spicy chutney. 

palak paneer

In traditional Indian culture, once the meal is announced, hands must be washed and dried. People eat with their right hand because the left hand should remain clean. Some families have meals on the floor but that is typically in rural areas, and there are no “courses” like in Japanese culture – all of the food is served at one time. 

Greek Cuisine

Greek cuisine is another great option for hungry bellies! The most common Greek foods are olives and olive oil, dolmades, hummus and tzatziki, meat, fish, and spanakopita (spinach pie). Spices are a very important part of Greek cuisine. Spices such as mint, basil, coriander are most common and typically used in marinades for meats like lamb and pork. 

Greek dining etiquette is different from the other two cultures mentioned above. For example, wine is accompanied at lunch and dinner, and guests cannot eat until the host invites them to. Knives must remain in the right hand and forks in the left.

While the types of cuisines differ, there are also similarities. One of the most common similarities is that almost every culture has a dumpling. A dumpling consists of any type of starch that has a filling inside. In Japanese cuisine, gyoza is a dumpling. In Jamaican cuisine, a beef patty can be considered a dumpling. In Italian cuisine, ravioli and tortellini are dumplings. In Greek cuisine, spanakopita is an example of a dumpling. 

Food is a great way to bring people together and another commonality is that families and friends are able to share special memories with each other while enjoying a delicious meal. Knowing the basic rules of table etiquette for each culture may not be necessary for everyday life, but it could come in handy if traveling! 

Check out this site to look at more healthy and delicious recipes! Some examples of cultural cuisines from the University of Maryland Extension website are bok choy stir fry and Mexican pinwheels. 

This blog post written by Samantha Brenner, Family Science Major and Human Development Minor, Graduating May 2022

Resilience — Rooted in the Land

Farming is more than a job—it’s an identity that adds meaning to life. It is often a calling.

Farming is a frequently a multigenerational enterprise on land passed down through the generations. Farming adds a weight of responsibility and pressure to meet expectations of previous generations and not fail the next — to not lose the family’s cultural heritage. This drive to survive and thrive can be both a source of stress and a source of resilience.

Farming ranks in the top 10 most stressful occupations in the U.S. Farm and farm family stress, more accurately, distress, is brought on by pressures within individuals and families, farming systems and the farm as a business.

If you are in the business of farming, or working with someone who is, you know that along with the ordinary stress of life, farming has added sources of stress. Extreme weather, changing markets and commodity prices, episodes of animal and plant diseases and other events all bring added pressures and threats.

So how is it that you and your family can face multiple stressors and keep on farming? Research says it’s by being resilient.

I farm because it’s in my blood. You get done planting a field and you turn around and the sun’s setting over the pattern of the crops that you’ve just planted, and it’s a pretty rewarding experience to see all the hard work pan out and know that you’re helping to feed families throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

Mike Harrison of Woodbine, Md.

Resilience

Resilience is an asset that enables you adapt to meet challenges and changes of the times. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. Resilience means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”

Most farmers and farm families are optimistic. They draw on their values to get them through challenges. When life’s events are really hard, deeply held values become the motivation to draw on resilience to bounce back or bounce forward after recovering from the initial set back.

So ask yourself:

  • Do you draw on resilience resources like managerial skills, self-control, self-compassion, optimism and hardiness to prevent and deal with stress?
  • Have you drawn on the value of hardiness to get through?
  • Do you recall other challenges and how you, your family and past generations were able to get by?
  • Are you motivated to succeed for the next generation?

How critical is the value of resilience, of adapting to conditions to survive and thrive? It’s imperative and for farmers, driven by generational heritage. Multi-generational farms exist because farmers adapted to change. In the past three years, Maryland farmers, and other farmers, have experienced multiple challenges.

Those who are best able to adapt quickly are those most likely to withstand tests of their ability to survive and thrive. They are those who are resilient are most likely to succeed because they get great satisfaction from what they do. Farming is in their blood. They draw on resilience from being are rooted to the land.

Find resilience-building resources:

Farm Stress Management – University of Maryland Extension

Managing Farm and Farm Family Challenges Resiliently: A Worksheet to Explore Resilient Thinking and DoingUniversity of Maryland Extension and University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

The Road to Resilience American Psychological Association


This blog was written by special guest blogger Bonnie Braun, Professor Emerita, Extension Family Health Policy specialist and professor in the Department of Family Science in the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland.

Making Any Weekday Meal a Fun and Formal Occasion for Your Household

This blog post written by Samantha Benner, Family Science Major and Human Development Minor, Graduating May 2022

I can remember when I was younger, during the major holidays, family would come over and I was always told to set the table, except I had no idea how to do it correctly. Knowing how to properly set the table used to be important during family meals to show etiquette and learn table manners, but with modern life, the family dinner and well-set table have taken a back seat to convenience meals and eating on the go. During major holidays and special events like weddings however, it is still standard to craft a nice dinner with the table set and looking pretty. 

Table setting has been around for as long as people have been sharing meals, beginning with the ancient Greeks. In American culture, there are several different ways to set the table but for this blog, only the basic and formal ways will be discussed. 

The most basic way to set the table starts with a placemat, napkin, fork, spoon, knife, and a glass for water. Now let’s start setting it up!

Basic Steps:

  1. Place the placemat down. 
  2. Put the dinner plate in the center of the placemat.
  3. Take the napkin and fold it diagonally in half so the corners meet and then lay the napkin on the left side of the dinner plate.
  4. Next, place the fork on the napkin.
  5. Place the knife on the right of the dinner plate with the sharp side on the inside.
  6. Lay the dinner spoon to the right of the knife.
  7. Lastly, place a water glass slightly above the plate to the right.

The formal way to set the table is commonly used for elegant dinner parties or when you’re really trying to impress someone.

What You’ll Need:

  • napkin  
  • tablecloth 
  • dinner fork 
  • salad fork 
  • soup spoon 
  • dinner knife 
  • dinner plate 
  • soup bowl 
  • bread plate 
  • butter knife 
  • dessert spoon 
  • water glass 
  • red wine glass 
  • white wine glass 
  • salt shaker 
  • pepper shaker 

Formal Steps:

  • Place the tablecloth over the table and a placemat at each seat.
  • Set a dinner plate down the table in front of each seat.
  • Place a soup bowl on top of the dinner plate.
  • Place a nicely folded napkin to the left of the dinner plate.
  • Lay the dinner fork on the napkin and the salad fork to the left of the dinner fork.
  • Place the dinner knife to the right of the dinner plate with the sharp side facing the plate.
  • Next, place the soup spoon to the right of the dinner knife.
  • Then, place the dessert spoon right above the dinner plate and soup bowl.
  • Lay the bread plate slightly above the napkin and rest a butter knife horizontally over the plate with the sharp side on the bottom.
  •  Place the water glass slightly above the dinner knife, the red wine glass to the right of the water glass, and the white wine glass below the red wine glass.
  • Lastly, set the salt and pepper shakers above the dessert spoon. 

Get creative and try themed settings for seasonal or holiday dinners, or let your kids create a centerpiece. Knowing how to set the table is not only impressive, but it can make any meal feel special.

Dyeing Easter Eggs Naturally

One of my fondest childhood memories is dyeing eater eggs with my sisters. I carried on that tradition with my own daughter, and even though she is an adult, we still spend time together to color and decorate eggs for Easter. This tradition of decorating eggs dates back to the 13th century. Eggs were formerly a forbidden food during the Lenten season, the 40 days before Easter, so people would paint and decorate them to mark the end of the period of fasting, and eat them on Easter as a celebration.

The first step to dyeing eggs is to hard-boil the eggs. Lay raw eggs gently in a large saucepan, cover them with water, and put on a tight-fitting lid. Place the saucepan over high heat and wait for the water to boil. When water comes to a boil, remove from heat keeping the lid on the saucepan, and let it sit for 12 minutes. Then drain out the hot water, and fill the pot with cold water to stop the cooking process. Some eggs may crack so you can set those aside to use for eating. Let eggs cool before coloring.

There are kits sold in stores for coloring eggs but if you want to avoid those synthetic dyes – try making your own dye with natural ingredients. It may take longer but it will be more fun and a great time to enjoy as a family. Select what colors you want to dye the eggs and buy the appropriate food. The shell color of your eggs will also determine the color of your dyed eggs. 

For white eggs, purple cabbage will create a blue shade; beets create a pink shade; turmeric creates a yellow and gold color; onion skins can give reddish browns (red onions) or orange shade (yellow onions). Hibiscus tea provides a dark charcoal-purple color, Red Zinger tea creates a lavender color, and coffee provides a nice brown shade. The fun thing with using foods is the colors may vary depending on the length of time immersed in the dye as well as the color of the food itself. 

Here are the steps to dye eggs naturally:

1. Bring 1 cup of water to boil in a pot for each color dye that you have selected. Add 1 cup of chopped or shredded purple cabbage, beets, or onion skins to the boiling water. For the yellow color, add 2 Tablespoons turmeric to the cup of boiling water. 

2. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Brew or steep the coffee and tea in a jar while the vegetables simmer. The dye is ready when it is a few shades darker than you want for your egg. Check the color to be sure it is the shade that you want by dripping a little on a white paper towel or dish. 

3. Remove from heat and let the dye cool to room temperature. Once cool, pour the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a jar and remove the tea bag from water. 

4. Stir 1 Tablespoon of white distilled vinegar into each color. The vinegar creates a chemical reaction with the shell’s calcium and helps the color absorb better. 

5. Carefully put the boiled eggs into the jars of dye and secure with a lid.

6. Place the jars in the refrigerator for six to 12 hours or overnight, depending on the color you want. Longer times will produce deeper shades.  

7. Remove the eggs from the jar and place them on a towel-lined cookie sheet to dry.

8. Allow them to dry completely. You can polish them with a little bit of vegetable oil to give them a shine.

Add a little creativity to your egg design by wrapping rubber bands or lace ribbon around the egg before coloring.  After it has completely dried, remove bands or ribbon to see your design. For a personalized touch, draw or write something on the egg with a white crayon or candle and then submerge in the dye mixture.  The wax will prevent the dye from sticking to the egg so you can see your design. 

Remember to keep eggs refrigerated and use within one week.