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I was reading a Martha Stewart Whole Living email from early March and the guest experts were making suggestions for a healthy pantry. As many of you know, I’ve stated that all my family’s discretionary income goes into healthy food, so it begins with a pantry, for the weeks when times are tougher, and also to make sure that there’s no real excuse about not being able to cook something “fast” and healthy at home!
So, it was with interest that I pored through the 5 experts’ opinions and saw that I had almost all of the items — and many more. I decided to make most of my posting about putting together a pantry, but also continue to encourage you to set about learning to plant a vegetable garden this year.
Having the pantry will help you be able to make quick meals while you are planning and setting up your veggie garden. You see, it all works together, especially when you are just starting out.
Today, in the New York Times, there’s an article about a new Minnesota gardener, and they have an in-the-ground deadline beginning May 1, so the Southerners have been planting for a few weeks, and the most-northern lower-48 gardeners will start in a few weeks.
You can make up time by purchasing seedlings, rather than seeds, if you have to for the first crops, but after that you can get on-track for less money by using just seeds — of course, those of you who know me well, know that the next thing I will say is “use only organic seeds”!
As diabetics, I will also make the following recommendations when gardening.
___ Always wear strong, thick-soled shoes (never garden in sandals!).
___ Wear good garden gloves on your hands at all times (goat-skin are best, my father would say, and he was right). Diabetics have thinner skin — more easily damaged, and there does not need to be a visible “break” in the skin for bacteria to enter. Foot care and hand care are critical.
___ Also, wear a wide-brimmed hat and light-colored, long-sleeved shirt to protect from sun and prevent scratches. Healing is often a problem for diabetics, but if you set yourself up correctly, you’ll be able to work hard and also enjoy your garden. There are “mixed” reports on the science of sun-blocks. I’m recommending clothing and the time of day you work in your garden as the main prevention measures, instead.
The experts are telling us that for about $30 worth of seed, your return in home-grown produce will be between $600 – $1,200 worth of food, depending on what you plant.
The young, first-time, Minnesota gardener will be documenting his family’s experience, so follow it. Gardening is very therapeutic, and I was so pleased to see him starting this process building a relationship with his 3 year old daughter, as well as building a garden. The reference is for this NYT’s article is below, and it will include time and dollar “costs”, as he calculates them.
Onward, now, to the pantry list, and as you concoct recipes using it, write them down, so they become your own fast-food, easy prep way to deal with healthy eating in this deepening recession.
This is Martha’s team of experts’ list and I’ll add my additions soon. The comments next to the items are mostly mine.
We’ll start out with fresh veggies and fruits, refrigerator foods, then move on to frozen and shelf-stable items. Your “pantry” is not just a cupboard!
Fresh vegetable and fruit “staples”:
___ Greens – These are the most nutritious vegetables and they should be the foundation of your diet. They are high in iron, Vitamin A (even though it’s what gives the orange color to veggies, the dark green hides the orange), calcium and soluble fiber. Use them to increase the nutrition in any meal. Plants such as kale, spinach, chards, mustard and collard greens, all lettuces, cilantro, parsley, dark cabbages (like savoy and bok choy), sprouts, mizuna, arugula, watercress etc. all count. Greens always need to be refrigerated after harvest and only pick what you need. They’ll keep best on the plant. Just harvest outer portions of the plants so they can keep growing.
___ Onions – these are plants with excellent sulfur content. This is a vital mineral for detoxification and other biochemistry, and it is the main reason onions are so healthy — the stinkier the better, and best fresh and uncooked. Use yellow or white onions, spring onions (scallions), ramps, chives, leeks and shallots. Onions help you to fight infections, regulate blood pressure and moderate cholestrol levels. Shallots are usually expensive, but if you grow them yourself, you will not need to be concerned. All the alliums (onion family) are easy to grow and can store well, as long as you learn how to store them properly.
___ Garlic – This is a nutritional and pharmaceutical power-house, being able to kill 72 different bacteria and viruses! Garlic is another allium (onion-family plant). It also helps to protect you from ulcers, many of which are caused by bacteria H. pylori. Garlic is best unheated, just fresh, minced into salad dressings or put into butter on baked potatoes etc., as a “compound butter”. Garlic powder does NOT contain the most important components any more.
___ Tomatoes – member of the nightshade family, the leaves are poisonous. High in Vitamin C and in lycopene which is released by cooking them. Lycopene is a cancer-preventive and fighter and it reduces cardio-vascular disease. Prepare and store after using as much as fresh food as possible. Some people with arthritis are sensitive to nightshade family plants – tomatoes, eggplant, chili peppers and potatoes, as well as tomatillos. Learn how to safely make sun-dried tomatoes, and you will have another “expensive” pantry food for pennies.
___ Artichokes – fresh and frozen and marinated (in glass bottles, not cans). They help our gallbladders to discharge bile to work with fats in our diet. They are also a detoxifier. Freshly steamed ones are best. Most people don’t have enough garden space to grow many or even any artichokes, but you may check to see if any dwarf varieties have come on the scene or if you have room for one standard plant.
___ Fresh Herbs – Many common herbs and spices are potent healers. Oregano and thyme are excellent for this, especially. Mint is great for digestive upsets, as well as just being enjoyable. Chives are wonderful and can be planted in among the spring bulb beds, too e.g. along with freesias and tiny, so-called “minor” bulbs. Or, plant them under fruit trees to protect them from summer sun, but if started in spring before the trees leaf-out, they will grow well. Parsley and cilantro are also used as herbs and both are good detoxifiers. Basil, and especially Holy Basil, are revered for healing and are easy to grow. Rosemary is also an easy plant to put into your garden and should be in the flower garden as well as in the veggie garden; it brings lots of honey bees to pollinate, too.
___ Fresh and dried chili peppers – It is a wonderful sight to see strings of drying chili peppers outside the adobes of New Mexico, with the azure sky above. Classic. And, in many regions of the US, you can grow various types of chili pepper. Check with your local County Extension agent. All peppers have great Vitamin C content and some are effective for pain relief. They are also Vitamin A sources to help your eyes (but, absolutely never rub your eyes when you are preparing peppers!!!!). Cayenne pepper is the most healthful of the chili-based spices, and is heart protective.
___ Dried Mushrooms (only item I don’t usually use. See * below.)
___ Dried Herbs – Read the descriptions under Fresh Herbs. Keep your dried herbs only about 6 months. Try to use them up in that time frame. It usually takes 1/2 as much of a dried spice as a fresh herb in recipes. Keep your commercial spice bottles and refill them from your own dehydrated herbs — learn how to do this in a low-temperature oven or in a dehydrator.
___ Spices – These come from other plant parts — sometimes the fruit, sometimes the stems or roots, just not the leaves (which become herbs). Many dry spices are still very chemically helpful and active. Turmeric and ginger are, especially, as are saffron, paprika (another kind of sweet pepper), and fennel or anise for settling tummies. Cinnamon is healing for diabetics. Rosemary and sage also have important healing aspects.
___ Sea salt – Pay attention to the source of your sea salt! I recommend only salts from the northern coast of France – “Celtic” sea salts. I would not buy Mediterranean salt (it’s a filthy sea). I haven’t checked recently to see where Maldon sea salt (Britain’s best) is being harvested now; it was OK decades ago. Maine coast and northern Pacific coast would be OK, but not much is offered.
I would add — you can get sea vegetables from these last two locations that are worth buying and these sea veggies have lots of nutrition. Maine Coast Sea Vegetables is a good company, and Eden Foods carry great larger size pieces of organic, carefully-harvested, dry seaweeds.
Sea salt and sea veggies contain all the ocean’s wealth of natural minerals, in forms your body can use, and it needs all of them. In fact, we are made of cells of encapsulated ocean water, which is why the right minerals salt sources are so important. “Table salt” is only sodium and chloride, and as such, creates imblances resulting in high-blood pressure etc. — it’s pure poison. Get all your minerals in natural ratios, via Celtic sea salt.
___ Organic Green Tea – I was just in Stash Tea’s company store yesterday, and I was amazed how much this company’s line has grown over the past few decades. There were SO many great new things to try that I never have seen even in the local grocery stores, so I would recommend you go straight to the websites of your favorite companies. Stash Tea and Republic of Tea both come to mind, as they have a good variety of carefully crafted, organic tea, too. At Stash, yesterday, I got a treat – a packet of the “first” spring tea! Lovely. They even had a set of 5 beautiful little Japanese poem-inscribed teacups. It needed 5 cups to write out the whole poem. I have no idea what the poem said, but I love the idea as a way to welcome Spring.
Green tea is a really healing substance — filled with potent anti-oxidants, but people on blood thinners should consult their physician for guidance about how they can use green tea. Green tea can be utilized many ways, including green tea iced-confections (dairy, soy or coconut water based).
Vinegars – There’s a huge difference among vinegars, and the only one that behaves like an alkaline food, in your body, is apple-cider vinegar (ACV) made in the traditional way, with the “mother” included, as Bragg’s and Spectrum do. Heinz vinegars are nutritional disasters with very highly acidic pH inside your body. Use all vinegars sparingly other than ACV. Brown rice vinegar is a tasty choice, as are some fruit vinegars e.g. pineapple. Never use white vineagar for anything else than as a cleaner around your house!
Refrigerator and Freezer:
___ Miso – This is another traditional, healing Japanese food, which is mostly made from soybeans, (but it can also be from barley). Miso is a source of protein, Vitamin B12 and it is full of friendly probiotic bacteria to help your digestion and populate your intestinal flora. The sea salt is a preservative, but it also means that as a salty food, it is used sparingly.
It needs refrigeration and should only be added at the last minute to foods (like swirled into “miso” soup) in order to get the full complement of “friendlies”. If it is used in grilling to make delicious coatings, then some of the probiotic bacteria (and maybe even all) won’t survive and you will just be getting nutrition from the soybeans or barley and the sea salt.
___ Fish sauce – This food is an enzymatic power-house. Enzymes determine whether you will stay alive, as they are integral in promoting the biochemistry of Life. When you do not get in enough new enzymes, from only raw food, then you gradually depelete your enzyme bank-account and die at 25% level. So, as all other animals know, it is important to eat RAW!
Well, in today’s farming and hunting climate, that is not an option. Disease in land animals is rampant everywhere, as are sea and fresh water toxins from many sources affecting aquarian life. So, raw fruit and vegetables try to keep up our quota, but enzymes are used up in digesting all cooked foods. It’s a constant emergency in today’s world to find safe sources.
Raw eggs (part of a traditional Japanese breakfast) are not really safe in most countries, neither is raw meat – as in Steak Tartar – another traditional food. Sushi’s sashimi is still possible, but only in the hands of a properly-trained Sushi Chef from Japan (where they apprentice for 17 years to learn to watch for all fish diseases). So, what’s left?
The ancient Romans and Asians of many cultures developed a way to make an enzymatic brew where nothing “alive” survives, due to the high enzymatic content, it is just dissolved in the vat. Fish sauce is used in small quantities in salad dressings and dipping sauces if you want to keep the full benefit. All enzymes are permanently deactivated at 119F, so if you add fish sauce to hot food, you lose its goodness. By the way, it is a fairly gentle but intense flavor in the quantities used. Refrigerate after opening.
___ Plain, organic yoghurt – This form of dairy has been used from the Caucasus region west into Europe for quite some time. It is a source of probiotic bacteria, too, to help digestion, promote production of Vitamin K and keep our intestines from being populated by harmful bacteria, thereby aiding your immune system.
This dairy food provides calcium, but today, we can get the probiotics just as well from other yoghurts made from soy milk or coconut water. Lessening dependence on any one food group helps to prevent food sensitivity — so especially for those who are already soy or lactose intolerant, the appearance of coconut yoghurts will be a great blessing.
___ Hard Cheeses – Enzymatic action is what turns milks into cheeses, regardless of the source — dairy, soy or nut milks. Hard cheeses tend to have less fat than some soft cheeses, but each group has high and low fat versions. Read the labels.
Dr. Robert O. Young, PhD., author of The pH Miracle, does not recommend cheese, as it is a very concentrated food and has a high pH (when we need to be courting alkaline foods for most of our diet). A little cheese goes a long way. Watch out for fat and especially sodium content; they vary a lot.
Before unwrapping, wash off the wrapper with soap and water, rinse, dry. Then, after opening, keep in a closed container. I keep them in their washed wrapper, reclosed and inside a second container, but Martha suggests wrapping in wax paper, then covering with foil. This treatment helps the cheese last as much as 6 weeks in your refrigerator – ready when you need it. Have freshly cleaned hands to touch them, too!
___ Nuts – These foods are great nutrition sources with balanced amounts of the right fats, and adding calcium, magnesium, Vitamin E and fiber — but it is important for them to be eaten RAW.
In America, this is getting harder and harder to do! The California almond growers’ association sneakily mandated all California almonds (most of the world’s production) could still be labeled “raw” and yet now must be irradiated!
The only really raw almonds I have found are at Trader Joes, the ones they import from Spain which are labeled raw. Again, they are a very concentrated food, so a few nuts packs lots of nutrition and calories.
All nuts should be refrigerated in tightly closed containers, in order to protect their nutrition quality. Use them in nut pate, pesto, just as a snack out of hand. Make sure that you do not give nuts to children under 3, even nut butters. For young children, nuts in all forms are choking hazards.
___ Cooking Oils – Firstly, use only organic oils. Next, I am horrified that most people don’t know the extreme differences among oils. Apart from their nutrition profile of which essential fatty acids (EFAs) they contain (monosaturated and Omega-3 are best), there is the whole issue of flash-point temperatures. This is the temperature at which the oil will ignite during cooking (and, apart from a kitchen fire, the oil will have been de-natured and of no nutritional value). Always attend pans that are cooking with oil.
I believe it’s best to use all oils in non-cooked foods, but when we do cook with them, it is important to use ones which do not break-down at the temperatures we need. You have to look on the jars’ labels in a good health food store to learn which ones are high temperature oils of the choices on the shelf.
Only use the highest temp oils for cooking and use the best EFA profile oils for everything else. Olive oil is mid-range temperature, and is mon-saturated, which is heart healthy. I will not use peanut oil. Safflower oil is somewhat healthy but has lots of Omega-6. I like macadamia nut oil and avocado oil as Omega-3 sources, but they are sometimes hard to find; they have a higher temp ability. Grapeseed oil does too, but, again, it is an Omega-6 oil and most of us get too much Omega-6 already in the commercial products we use.
All oils should be refrigerated at all times, and it should be the first thing out of the refrigerator when youwalk into the kitchen. If it has not re-liquified in time, then place it in a bowl of hot tap water — not boiling water! Coconut oil is a saturated oil, but it is needed by our body as it is the main, external source of medium-chain fatty acids (which are used to produce our hormones).
___ Finishing Oils – These oils should never be cooked! All oils should be organic sourced. They are expensive oils but as most of them are the coveted Omega-3 sources, they are worth it! These oils are best used in cold or room temperature oils, and should only be added to warm (not hot) foods, rarely. Hemp seed oil, flaxseed oil, walnut, avocado and pumpkin seed oils are the back-bone of this category. Macadamia oil is a monosaturated, heart healthy oil.
Sesame seed oil is one I put in here too, as it is not a high-temperature oil, but it is an Omega-6 source oil, so should not be used daily. All nuts and seeds can be made into oils, and some ethnic cuisines use some foods which we do not, e.g. mustard seed oil. I don’t have the profiles on those oils.
Olives – These fruits are highly nutritious and are an alkaline food. But, Dr. Robert O. Young, PhD, renowned microbiologist would steer us clear of them as he does not want us to include fermented foods. You will have to decide, but for sure, do NOT buy your olives “loose” from olive bars in markets or even from delis. Loose olives in markets have been shown to harbor bad organisms — probaly from the cavalier way shoppers treat them, and delis may only be a bit better. There’s just too much air exposure, over time, as people think they can keep them that way for a long time. Instead, after opening your glass bottle of olives, keep it refrigerated and use clean techniques for removing the olives. In brine, olives can last a long time if taken care of.
___ Mustards – This condiment is pH acidic, maybe because of the other ingredients, but it should be used sparingly.
___ Pomegranate Molasses – This fruit is very nutritious, but I prefer to use pomegranate as juice! Research has showed that 2 oz. a day of FRESH pomegranate juice will reverse cholesterol plaques on arterial walls. My family uses POM brand juice in this quantity for each person, daily. Anything cooked to “molasses” is a dead ‘food’ — it may be flavorful, but it’s dead. So use it for flavor if you want, not for nutrition and use the juice or fresh fruit in season to help save your life!
___ Chicken and also Vegetable Broths – these are available in aseptic cartons, for partial use over 7 days, and many have organic options; however, as you cook, it’s easy to include broth-making, and making your own is lots less expensive!
Put water in your broiler pan, underneath, as you broil meats. Decant the broth into a glass jar and save for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. When steaming vegetables in a pot (not in an electric steamer gadget), then save the steaming water. Use the rough-cuts from washed vegetables to make broths e.g. the “woody” ends of asparagus, and the too-large and too-small areas of root vegetables (when you want uniform slices), along with celery tops and onion roots etc. Decant and save, as above. Save the water of any veggies you cook, even that of boiled potatoes.
___ Bread Crumbs – I seldom use them, but follow a good recipe and make your own from packages of end crusts you have saved for this purpose in the freezer; defrost and grind then dry them out; include garlic to help them keep better.
I use “panko”, a lighter Japanese mixture, for the few times I add the extra carbohydrate. If you need a “thickener”, I suggest using tapioca or oatmeal, instead; they have more nutrition than bread. And, for “coatings”, I suggest finely-ground nuts.
___ Oatmeal – This is a moister weather, northern latitude cereal crop and it’s not practical for home gardens; howver, most food cereal grasses can also be used as sprouts, so this may be a way to get lots of nutrition for pennies. Wheatgrass and barley grass are usually used for this purpose. I imagine you might use oats, too, but make sure all seeds you use for sprouting are organic, with no fungicides. Go to a site like Steve Meyerwitz, The Sproutman, where you can learn much more.
Oats are less acidic than some of the other grains, but all cereal grains are pH acid. Oats alos have lots of very beneficial soluble fiber, and this is probably the reason oats are healthful; they have a better fiber profile than the other cereal grasses and fiber is a useful detoxifier. Do not use instant oatmeal; everything is ground to almost uselessness. Steel cut, organic oats are best and can be made overnight in a crockpot. You can also use a little dry oatmeal as a binder or thickener in dishes that are likely to exude liquid (instead of using less-healthy flour or cornstarch).
___ Soba Noodles – These Japanese noodles are made from 100% buckwheat, in their traditional form, so they are gluten-free. Buckwheat contains all 8 essential amino acids, so it is a competent protein source for vegetarians. But, for those with wheat allergies or sensitivities, read the labels, as many manufacturers are mixing-in wheat flour now, unfortunately. Pure soba can also be used at Passover, which makes for more choices. Buckwheat is not a cereal grass; it is from the fruit berry of a Goosefoot family plant (the same botanical family yields amaranth and quinoa which can also be used at Passover).
___ Quinoa – This high-protein food cooks quickly, is a good non-dairy calcium source and is a serious contender for being one of the most versatile foods. As I just mentioned above, quinoa is also botanically classed as a fruit, not a grain, even though it looks like and cooks like a grain. It is gluten-free and able to be used at Passover.
All of the Goosefoot family are very pH alkaline foods, too, which makes them very beneficial, that’s especially true of quinoa. Make sure you rinse it, in a small-mesh sieve, very well, under running cold water. Manufacturers also have made it into pastas. I mostly use the whole food form, but I use the pastas once in a while.
___ Spelt – This is an ancient cereal grass and it is the progenitor of wheat (as is kamut). These ancient grains can sometimes be used by people who are intolerant to wheat, but for people who have real food allergies to wheat, I would not use spelt or kamut without consulting your allergist.
Spelt has a deeper, more complex flavor than wheat does, and a nuttier flavor, when using whole spelt. There is a white version that is still whole spelt; maybe it’s a different varietal. I’m not sure. Spelt bakes like wheat, and is a gluten grain. It stores very well in its grain form. Whole spelt (also called “farro” by the Italians) is available at health stores and at Trader Joe’s – a large German food conglomerate with businesses (of different names) in Europe and Australia as well as North America. Vita-Spelt is a brand which makes spelt pasta which cooks up very well.
___ Whole-grain pastas – As I just mentioned, whole grain cereal grains and alternative “grains” give you all sorts of pasta options. There are even pastas made from corn, rice and Jerusalem artichoke flours, if needed. All of these last ones are much more delicate to deal with, but spelt, kamut, and quinoa pastas are easy and keep well. Add some fresh garlic, organic olive oil, fresh or dried herbs and a protein source and the meal is made, with the addition of fresh foods.
___ Organic Rice – Rice is a blessing to the planet. It grows in so many places and varied climates. You can find it in prized black and red varieties as well as the prized brown Basmati and Jasmin rices of India and Thailand. Rice stores well until the next harvest. Brown rices have all their nutrition intact, whereas “white” rice has had its valuable B Vitamins milled off in the husk.
Brown rice only takes about 45 minutes to cook, so it is always reasonable to use for dinner, if you put it on first. My rice cooker is one of my favorite appliances, and I have been known to often use its “wait” feature to get my rice started and eat it from the warmed cooker even 6 hours later — still perfect — with a quick stir-fry after just walking in the door.
Rice products like Vietnamese Banh wrappers are also useful for corraling all kinds of healthy, fresh ingredients, and they are a good size for children’s hands, too. Get your children involved in making spring rolls with fresh ingredients you want to introduce them to, and ones they already love, along with a miso / fish sauce / sesame oil etc, dipping sauce.
___ Organic Legumes – Even in standard, mainstream supermarkets, you’ll often find plastic packages of organic legumes, but you’ll find far more in a good health store. Legumes are pH acid foods, so need to be “balanced” by lots of fresh pH alkaline food. They store very well, but they can get to be too old (after a few years) and then they do not cook up well. Most of the world uses rice and legumes as the foundation for their diet. They both store well under just about every condition in a well-sealed container.
Legumes offer good sources for soluble and insoluble fiber as well as some B Vitamins, like folate. They also give us a feeling of satiety. Experiment with many different kinds, from teparary beans from America’s Southwest Native Americans diets to soybeans in Asia — always use the whole bean (not a fractionalized “food” like tofu or soy milk) whenever possible). Sometimes beans are ground into flours like “besan” the lentil flour which makes India’s famous dosas — huge, thin, griddle-sized pancakes filled with tasty fillings. Investigate India’s other “Dals” — toor dal, urad dal and many others. I put toor dal in to my soups as another way to increase nutrition while “thickening” “cream-like” soups, without other less nutritous additions to do the same job.
OK, that’s their list. I want to help you get you started. I’ll share my own additions another time, but this next post will probably be a Passover post, as Pesach starts this next Wednesday evening.
Best to all — Em
P.S. – * I don’t usually use mushrooms as Dr. Robert O. Young, PhD, eminent microbiologist, says they are NOT a benign life-form and act upon US, when we ingest them (yes, they still have an “aliveness” capacity after harvest). He’s seen that under the microscope. They are changelings. This view is counter-balanced by the Asian cultures’ use of specific healing mushrooms – shitaki, maitake (hen-of-the-woods) and porcinis. These healing mushrooms are effective against cancer cells, which our bodies deal with all the time. Maitakes help with blood sugar control. Maybe consider using just these. Don’t use ‘shrooms indiscriminantly.
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