unmoo plant-based cheese lactose-free

This plant-based cheese & butter is delish… and lactose-free!

You don’t have to be lactose intolerant or vegan to love Unmoo

– By the Veggie Fairy Team

Unmoo is a new Richmond company making plant-based cheeses and butter that our Farmer Connector Sam has declared to be, “Amazing!” These artisan cheeses made from the milk of cashews and coconuts have their own unique flavors that people who can’t eat dairy will be grateful for… and the rest of us will want to add to our pizza-, cracker-, sandwich-, and bagel-topping repertoire.

Josh is the man behind it all. Josh loves eggnog. And cheese. And butter. But those dairy products don’t love Josh. Like a lot of lactose intolerant people, the Richmonder can’t eat dairy without suffering some very unpleasant consequences.

So, having studied microbiology, Josh put on his labcoat, gathered milk from cashews and coconuts, and experimented his way to some delicious solutions. First he won over his friends with his lactose-free spiked eggnog. (He was a bartender before he was a scientist.) Then he started working on cheese.

Cheese making is an ancient process of culturing milk. It’s possible to make cheese fast without a culture (plastic-wrapped yellow American slices, anyone?), but using a culture helps good bacteria in the milk flourish and leads to a more fully developed flavor in the final cheese, especially when you brine it and give it time to age, too. That’s how Josh makes his plant-based cheese.

unmoo plant-based cheese cashews

The ingredients are important, too. So the nuts Josh uses are all high quality, fair trade, and sustainably grown — just like everything else in our home-delivered farmers market.

unmoo plant-based cheese sandwich

Plant-based cheese #1: Notz

The first cheese Josh invented is Notz. You can see it in its natural state in the picture at the top of this post. It looks like mozzarella, white and semi-firm. But Notz, which is made from cashews and coconut, has a special flavor all its own — mild and buttery, yet tangy, with a creamy texture. It’s lightly brined, gently aged, meltable, shreddable, and really versatile. You can cut it into thick slices and eat it cold with a fresh local tomato and basil…

unmoo plant-based cheese pizza

…or shred it and serve it warm and melty atop pizza, zucchini, or whatever you can think of. You can even fry it. But don’t tell your doctor.

unmoo plant-based cheese bagel

Plant-based cheese #2: AM

Josh’s next cheese creation is made from cashews. He calls it AM, after the time of day when he recommends you devour it: morning. Slather it on bagels, danishes, toast, or if you’re feeling really decadent and rebellious, cheesecake. AM is raw and probiotic, and brightens with age. The flavor can be described as rich, bright, sweet, and creamy. Use it to dip, schmear, or bake.

He didn’t stop at cheese…

unmoo plant-based butter nutter

Plant-based butter: Nutter

Josh describes his European-style butter as assertive, rich, buttery butter. It’s made from cashews and coconuts and the cashew cream is slow-cultured before it’s churned out. Nutter can be spread, sauteed, baked, or whatever you use butter for.

unmoo plant-based cheese pastries

The results of all Josh’s experiments are delicious — so good you’ll enjoy it whether you’re lactose intolerant, vegan, or just looking to expand the cheesy delights in your life. Josh’s locally made cheeses and butter are started to pop up in Virginia restaurants and markets, and we’re excited to welcome Unmoo to our market, too!

Learn more in the Style Weekly profile of Josh and Unmoo.

Check out Unmoo on Instagram and get inspired!

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grassfed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

reuse Halloween pumpkins

5 ways to reuse Halloween pumpkins

Don’t throw away those Halloween pumpkins – they can still dish out more tricks & treats!

– By the Veggie Fairy Team

Is there a jack o’lantern sitting by your door? If the nearest cat is less enthusiastic about your pumpkin’s fashion potential than the kitty pictured here, we’ve got 5 other things you can do with it after the trick-or-treaters are gone. So here are our favorite suggestions for how to reuse Halloween pumpkins.

1. Turn it into pumpkin puree

Puree is incredibly versatile. Use it to make pumpkin muffins, breads, soups, even Thanksgiving pie – or if you have a carving pumpkin (which is bred for thick walls, not nutrition or taste) a facial scrub. Puree is simple to make. Just boil, bake, or steam your pumpkin. Good Housekeeping has step-by-step instructions. If you used a real candle in your jack o’ lantern, cut off and discard any burned sections or leftover wax. Puree freezes well for future use. Put it in zip-top freezer bags, filled and flattened for easy stacking.

2. Build a pumpkin catapult

Are you a home schooler or just need to keep the kids (or yourself) occupied for a few hours… or days? This video shows how one teacher turned it into a lesson in both history and physics. And this website provides plans for catapults large and small.

3. Leave it for the squirrels

One person’s has-been holiday decoration is another person’s feast – if you’re a squirrel. Move it away from your front door unless you like passing by an increasingly macabre-looking horror show every day.

4. Make a pumpkin bird feeder

This is a cuter way of letting the critters have at it. All you need is your gutted pumpkin, a knife, some string, and a stick. Oh, and bird seed. Details here.

5. Compost it

Your leftover pumpkin can help you grow your garden next year. Cut it into smaller pieces and toss it in the compost pile, or just bury it in the garden.

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grassfed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

kids eat veggies local food

7 ways I help my kids eat veggies (and fruits)

Ordering them to eat their veggies isn’t one of them!!!

MM morgan– By Morgan P, veggie fairy & neighborhood Market Manager in Virginia Beach

In my five years of motherhood, children and vegetable eating have definitely been an unsolved mystery to me. It’s like it’s in their DNA to rebel against at least some vegetables at some age. Just like most parents I know, I want my kids to be healthy and have balanced nutrition. But sometimes it’s a struggle to get those greens in them.

So here are my best tips, tricks, and suggestions to get help kids eat veggies, with or without their knowledge.

1. Let them unpack the box

Since we started getting our weekly Seasonal Roots basket, my 5-year-old gets so excited when she gets to take everything out and put it on the counter. She sorts, counts, and questions. Sometimes she’ll randomly pop a piece of lettuce in her mouth. The worst thing I can do is let on that I noticed! At least with my kid — it would guarantee instant rebellion. So I rejoice inside as my kid finally tries and admits, “I like salad.”

2. Get a Mother’s Helper stool

I have a “mother’s helper” kitchen stool that my 1-year-old and 5-year-old can stand on or sit on to help me cook. This gets them up where they can indulge their curiosity and taste-test everything. Being part of the process gets them excited to try new things. Bonus: Sometimes after taking the ends off a green bean or a radish they pop one in their mouth, or sample a freshly roasted beet.

3. Let them experiment

Sometimes their experiments are successful. Sometimes they learn what they don’t like.

4. Give them a mission

I give them tasks disguised as missions: Put the beets in the water/vinegar cleaning mixture, or lay the squash on the roasting pan after I cut it, etc. — whatever’s suited to their age and ability.

5. Chocolate chips are a parent’s friend

Recently I began adding a few chocolate chips to pumpkin muffins and zucchini bread. That was a game changer! They’re easy breakfast solutions packed with nutrients and a little sweetness. The pumpkin muffins didn’t last 24 hours in my house!

6. Hide the greens

I purée spinach and add it to meatballs. I add kale to smoothies, then freeze them into popsicle molds. My kids don’t like the smoothie texture but most of the time they love the popsicles.

7. Actually, you can hide just about anything

Case in point: I use puréed sweet potatoes to thicken my chili and it is delicious.

There are so many ways to expose children to vegetables creatively! Kids want to help, and when they help create and cook something they wind up a little more excited about eating it.

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grassfed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

home delivered farmers market - open house

Home delivered local food: How it works

Take a tour of the Hub!

– By the Veggie Fairy Team

When we hosted an Open House at our Hub in Richmond, more than a hundred people stopped by check out the place where we pack up your weekly orders. They got to talk about local food, sample it, and peek behind the scenes at how our home delivered local food gets from the farm to you. You can scroll down for a photo tour that shows you how it works! But first…

The Open House

home delivered farmers market - open house

We sure appreciated the farmers who took a break from their chores to come hang out with us! They included Jack from Sion House Farm

home delivered farmers market - g flores produce

…and Enrique and Cristian from the Flores family farm, G. Flores Produce.

home delivered farmers market - cattle run farm

Ralph from Cattle Run Farm was there, too, and brought grassfed beef for the sliders.

home delivered farmers market - farmer connector sam

Your Farmer Connector, Sam, grilled up the beef, along with grassfed chicken from Harmony Hill Farm.

home delivered farmers market - corn pool 1

The smaller ones among us dove into a corn-filled kiddie pool, which hid a whole herd of plastic animals.

home delivered farmers market - corn pool 2

Apparently there was a lot of corn splashing going on. After the last cutie crawled out, the corn was donated to Ralph’s pigs, who pronounced it delicious.

home delivered farmers market - fosters catering zee

Zee of Foster’s Catering is a local food artisan — her muffin tops in our home-delivered farmers market have many, many fans. She’s also a member of the Seasonal Roots team, leading the neighborhood Market Managers on Richmond’s Southside.

home delivered farmers market - fosters catering muffins & child

For the Open House, Zee baked up 265 mini muffin samples and gave them all away. Quote of the day: “These are so addictive!”

home delivered farmers market - fosters catering SR cake

Seconds after this photo was taken of the biggest cake Zee brought, the crowd descended… and this cake was GONE.

home delivered farmers market - fosters catering cakes

Zee also raffled off four mini animal cakes — a pig, a kitty, a cow, and a… dragon?

home delivered farmers market - fosters catering winners

A couple of the lucky winners!

home delivered farmers market - happy team

A lot of members of the Seasonal Roots team were there, too. Jamila, in the middle taking the selfie, is our Veggie Fairy Godmother, the one who helps us veggie fairies on our appointed rounds as we take care of members and support local farmers. Zee is on the far left, and between them is Duane, our founder and Head Veggie Fairy. On the other side of Jamila is Sam, your Farmer Connector who vets each farmer and food artisan and chooses what goes in the market every weekend.

And now for…

The Hub tour

Our local farmers and food artisans deliver their local food to the Hub on Monday. As soon as the food arrives, it goes straight into our two big coolers.

tomatoes beefsteak sion housen cropped

One is kept at 50 degrees for tomatoes, which don’t like to be too cold in order to max out their flavor… as well as hardy vegetables and fruits that don’t need to be too cold, like potatoes, apples, and winter squashes. The other cooler is kept at 41 degrees for greens, berries, and the like.

hub outside cooler

People who take the tour in person are always amazed at how big the Hub is. You can see the entrance to the coolers on the right, there. Through that door, the refrigerated areas alone add up to 3,500 square feet — bigger than a lot of our houses.

hub 2

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we set up the conveyor, get out the boxes, pull on our woolen undies, and line up along the conveyor to pack the orders right there in the coolers. Everyone who takes the Hub tour in person says, “Wow, it’s so cold in here!” Especially if they walk in from a hot summer day. But since the food never leaves the cooler until delivery day, it stays cool and fresh until it comes to you.

hub 1

Okay, so most of us don’t wear woolen undies. Or even own them. But hoodies, wool caps, and scarves, definitely.

box and packing slip

Since most of our members customize their basket and order Extras, every order is different. So a packing slip is generated for each order, and we follow that packing slip as we pack each box.

hub 3

It takes about 12 of us to pack up the orders with 8 others helping.

down the line

When the line gets going, a packed box comes off the end of the conveyor every 30 seconds.

quality control

At the end we do quality control, checking to make sure that each order has everything it’s supposed to have.

seasonal roots truck

At dawn on delivery day (Wednesday in Northern Virginia, Thursday everywhere else), we load up the boxes in our trucks and head out to the party stops.

veggie fairy at party stop

That’s where the neighborhood Market Managers in each area meet up to collect their neighbors’ orders.

loading car

They load up their personal vehicles with the boxes and place perishable items like meat and dairy in a cooler in their vehicle. When they make their rounds, they take the perishables out of the cooler and add them to your order when they arrive at your place — keeping your food cool, fresh, and safe from the farm to your door!

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grassfed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

veteran-owned grassfed farm Cattle Run Farm

Veteran-owned grassfed farm is good for America

From the Army to the farm, this veteran continues to serve

– By the Veggie Fairy Team

When Seasonal Roots’ Farmer Connector, Sam, recently visited Cattle Run Farm, LLC, he quickly observed happy, grassfed beef cows grazing the rolling pastures in central Virginia. You can count on Sam to find the best producers we can all feel good about. Cattle Run Farm, LLC, is a third generation family farm and veteran-owned, with the best grassfed beef.

After five deployments and 21 years in the Army, 1st Sergeant Ralph T. Morton retired in 2017, to his family farm in Ruckersville, Va., to help his father and sister with the 175-acre family farm. But his dad’s health was failing, and just two months later he passed away. Through his legacy and commitment to educating the future, Ralph is excited about continuing the family’s farming tradition with innovation and strategic initiatives. Not only does the farm provide grassfed beef, but they produce thornless blackberries, herbs, and vegetables.

Cattle Run Farm teaching 2

In between his daily farm chores, this veteran continues to serve others as he welcomes school groups, 4-H groups, community members, and other veterans to the farm, to engage in non-formal learning opportunities.

Ralph, a 4-H alum himself, and Cattle Run Farm, LLC, are designing an Agricultural Innovation Learning Lab (AILL) to innovate, motivate, and educate youth and families about science, technology, engineering, agriculture, and math (STEAM) using agriculture. The primary focus of the AILL is to provide hands-on, real-life application experiential learning opportunities that support social-emotional learning and community development. Additionally, programs are designed to develop curiosity and stimulate critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills, while linking key concepts to prior knowledge and practice.

The program will run from July 8, 2019, to August 1, 2019. Start your planning early as they only have 60 slots available. We will keep you posted about the registration process!

Cattle Run Farm teaching

Obviously, Ralph is committed to teaching the next generation, and the Veggie Fairy wanted to find out why.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

Why teach children who aren’t growing up on farms about good farming practices?

RALPH:

If we don’t preserve the family farm way of life, we’ll be a dying breed. All our food will come from big corporations, who don’t have the same commitment to good animal husbandry and land stewardship as small farmers do. Therefore, we wonder why we have unhealthy communities. Good agrarian practices lead to good health.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How did you learn about farming?

RALPH:

Farming has been a part of me since I was a little boy. I have been around farming my whole life. I was born and raised here on the farm. I grew up learning from my father and grandfather, and participating in 4-H youth development activities.

My vision is to do the same thing with my children that my father and grandfather did with me. I have four kids — the oldest is in college at the University of Arizona, while the younger three enjoy being out on the farm. As a parent, it’s important to expose and engage children at an early age to help them develop skills, a work ethic, and to have a greater appreciation for agriculture and natural resources.

Cattle Run Farm Ralph & his kids 1

I give our kids animals to be responsible for and they look forward to coming out every day to feed and care for them. Kids are sponges. You show them something one time and they’re saying, “I want do it! I want to do it!”

Cattle Run Farm Ralph & his kids 2

VEGGIE FAIRY:

Why did you choose to stick with grassfed?

RALPH:

For us, it makes raising cattle economically feasible. We have a lot of grass and living outside on pasture is low stress for them. Grassfed means cattle are allowed to forage and graze for their own fresh food. I use a rotational grazing system, using best practices gleaned from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). We took our pastureland and divided it into ten paddocks. Every seven days the cows rotate to a new paddock of fresh grass. This allows the grass to grow back for the next rotation. We do supplement the grass with a little bit of non-GMO grain, that is purchased from our local co-op. Maintaining good animal health requires giving them proper grasses, forages, and legumes which requires good soil health.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How do you keep the soil healthy?

RALPH:

Soil management is a key part of rotational grazing. We use both commercial and organic fertilizers. We are constantly monitoring the health of the soil by taking soil samples twice a year and adding the proper nutrients as needed. We plant legumes such as different types of clovers that naturally release nutrients into the soil through their roots.

Clover is a legume crop, belonging to the bean and pea family of plants. Legumes perform a unique service among the plant world. They fix nitrogen in the soil, transforming nitrogen gas found in air pockets of soil into organic compounds that can be used by plants. They do this by partnering with beneficial bacteria in the soil called Rhizobia, which grows in rounded nodules along the plant’s roots. Once legumes fix nitrogen, surrounding plants can use the nitrogen compounds to fuel growth.

If you just take, take, take from the land and don’t put back, the animals and the grasses won’t get the nutrients they need to grow and produce.

Cattle Run Farm winter

VEGGIE FAIRY:

We see you caring for your cows in the snow. How much do your cows stay outside in their natural environment?

RALPH:

Our cattle stay outside the entire time. Every once in a while, one might get a runny nose which can lead to transmittable respiratory problems – that’s the only time we administer antibiotics. Confinement, once you start confining them into feed lots, they get crowded and hot and it turns into a muddy muck hole. Not to mention a high-stress environment, which causes sickness and impacts the quality of the beef. Cattle turned out on pastures stay healthier and less stressed.

Another health practice for our herd is we fenced off our streams, as cattle like to stand in the water when it’s hot to stay cool. But then they develop foot problems and the streams become polluted, which is not environmentally friendly. So we have natural tree canopies for shade and put in an automatic watering system to ensure they’re consuming fresh water daily.

(VEGGIE FAIRY NOTE: Animals on farms that never give antibiotics may suffer unnecessarily if they do get sick and can’t be properly treated. The opposite problem occurs in conventional feed lots that crowd animals together in an unhealthy environment – often, all the animals have to be given antibiotics all the time just to prevent them from getting sick. As a result, some bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, which is making it harder to fight bacterial infections in humans, too.)

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How many cattle to you have at one time?

RALPH:

We run a cow-calf operation, a grow-your-own concept, so we’re not just buying someone else’s calves and fattening them up. We run anywhere from 40-45 head. We “background” all our calves, meaning when they’re ready we wean them off their mothers and condition them for 45 days. This prepares them to be turned out to pasture for grazing. Calves on a good forage program can gain anywhere from two to three pounds per day, which is good basic animal husbandry. The management is very methodical.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How does that compare with feed lot farming?

RALPH:

Finishing cattle is a very methodical process. It takes a great deal of planning and crunching numbers. The farmers who are in the cattle feeding business, operating a feed lot, don’t have much time to get their cattle to a certain weight to meet the packer’s request. They only have a window of anywhere from 120 to 240 days to get a 500- to 700-pound steer to a market weight of 1200 to 1300 pounds. Growth implants are delivered through a pellet under the skin in the animal’s ear. They enhance the reproductive hormones that occur naturally in the animal. In steers implants replace some of the hormones that were removed when the animal was castrated. Implants generally encourage protein deposition and discourage fat deposition. This improves both weight gain and feeds conversion. Fat deposition requires more than twice as much feed energy as protein deposition does. At Cattle Run Farm, we don’t foster these practices.

*

So those are just some of the facts that back up what we always say here at Seasonal Roots: Humane farming is good for the animals, good for us, and good for the planet!

Read about another grassfed farm that’s also part of the Seasonal Roots family.

Here are tips for cooking grassfed beef, which is different from grainfed because it has less saturated fat, more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and more antioxidants like vitamin E.

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grassfed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

back-to-school slow cooker

Easy back-to-school meals

Summer’s end is a time of “too muchness” but a slow cooker can help you find “just rightness”

– By the Veggie Fairy Team

Summer’s end is a time of “too muchness” – too much back-to-school busy-ness, too much running around with groups, clubs, and committees restarting after the summer lull, too much local food to cook – and not enough time to get it all done.

This is the time to plug in your slow cooker and enjoy “just rightness”. A slow cooker gives you control and convenience. Throw in the ingredients, set the heat and cooking time, then walk away and forget about it for hours… without burning down the house.

When you come back at the end of another crazy day or after a (hopefully) good night’s sleep, a complete meal is waiting for you. Done right, it’s like the veggie fairies came in and worked their magic while you weren’t looking.

WE’VE GOT EASY TASTY RECIPE IDEAS ON OUR SLOW COOKER PINTEREST BOARD.

How to pick a good slow cooker

Depending on the recipe, you can fill a slow cooker and hit start in about five minutes, just enough time to listen to this fun interview with Top Chef judge Hugh Acheson while you chop and toss in fresh local ingredients. He’s got a new slow cooker cookbook and a some great advice.

Slow cookers are relatively inexpensive, and paying more doesn’t necessarily get you a better piece of gear. All you need it to do is cook slowly and steadily and keep the food warm when it’s done. Most new slow cookers these days are designed to automatically switch to a warm setting after they’re done cooking, which will keep the food at a safe temperature until you’re ready to eat.

When you’re picking one out, the most important part to consider is the insert pot. A heavy, ceramic insert is best for even heat distribution. Other than that, just pick one with a control panel that’s simple and easy to use.

While a lot of bells and whistles aren’t needed, a programmable option may be a useful convenience. It lets your meal start cooking at a predetermined start time for a predetermined length of time.

Planning ahead makes it even more convenient

If you want to start your slow cooker first thing in the morning and your mornings are pretty crazy, just start the night before.

Chop up the fresh local ingredients, measure out the dry ingredients, and prepare any sauce, putting each group of ingredients in its own container. Don’t refrigerate them in the slow cooker’s insert pot. If the insert is chilled, it will take too long to heat up. That will lengthen cooking time, reduce the cooking temperature, and could make your food unsafe.

So in the morning, add ingredients to the cooker according to the recipe. Reheat any sauce to a simmer before you add it to the mix.

When you set the heat level, here’s a general rule of thumb: Cooking on the low setting (170 degrees for most models) takes about twice as long as cooking on high (usually 280 degrees).

If you won’t be home close to the end of the cooking time, this is when it’s good to have a slow cooker that will automatically switch to the warm setting when the cooking is done.

7 easy ways to boost slow cooker flavor

Slow cookers are admittedly a bit glamour-challenged, mostly because they’ve got a reputation for producing pots of bland mush. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t need help from a Top Chef to make sure your slow cooker meals are satisfyingly delicious.

1. Use fresh ingredients, never frozen. If you want to include some of your fresh local produce that you preserved in the freezer, let it defrost before adding it. That way it won’t interfere with the slow cooker’s ability to get all the ingredients hot enough to kill any harmful bacteria that might thrive if the temp is too low.

2. If you’re cooking meat, choose the right cut. Fatty, tougher meats like chuck roasts, short ribs, pork shoulders, and lamb shanks will melt in your mouth after all those hours in the moist, low heat of a slow cooker. Leaner cuts like tenderloin tend to dry out. Same with chicken — dark meat thighs and drumsticks will remain juicier than white meat breasts.

3. If you have a little extra time, brown meat before you add it to the cooker. For a thicker sauce, dredge it in flour before browning. Then use some of the liquid called for in the recipe to scrape up and pour all the savory, brown, caramelized bits from the pan into the cooker. You’ll get a richer flavor that you can’t get from slow-cooking alone.

4. One more bit of meat advice: Trim the fat and skin the chicken to avoid an oily, greasy cooking liquid. By limiting the excess fat, you’ll wind up with delectably silky sauces and gravies.

5. For even cooking, cut everything into uniform-size pieces. Place firm, slow-cooking root vegetables like potatoes and carrots at the bottom and pile more tender veggies and any meat on top.

6. Definitely use spices! But watch the wine. The slow cooker is sealed so the alcohol can’t escape and evaporate like it would from a normal pot. A splash goes a long way.

7. Don’t overfill. The insert pot should be only one-half to two-thirds full, or whatever your cooker’s owner’s manual recommends. It’s okay to slow cook roasts and whole chickens, but make sure the lid still fits snugly.

8. Never lift the lid while it’s cooking — at least not until 30 to 45 minutes before it switches to low to check for doneness. Each peek lets heat escape and adds 15 minutes to the cooking time. Usually there’s no need to stir, either.

9. Add dairy last. Sour cream, milk, and yogurt tend to break down in the slow cooker, so stir them in during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

10. At the end of simmering, a sprinkle of fresh herbs or squeeze of lemon juice brightens flavors and cuts through all those rich slow cooker flavors. You can also finish off with hot sauce, citrus zest, grated Parmesan, good-quality olive oil, or even sauteed garlic.

Cooking from scratch with fresh local food ends in a meal that’s full of more flavor and nutrients than you get from processed foods out a box, bag, or can. And with a slow cooker, it’s almost as easy. Thanks to slow cookers, you can be busy and still enjoy healthy eating!

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grassfed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

back-to-school meal planning

Back-to-school meal planning

Actually, meal planning is great for any kind of back-to-busy!

Adapted from veggie fairy Shanna D’s 5-part meal planning series:

After the summer, everything starts back up again, which can leave you grabbing whatever’s convenient to eat on the run. That can be hard on your body and your budget. Whether it’s back-to-school at your house or back-to-busy (or both), meal planning can keep you eating healthfully.

It took me a long time to figure out how to successfully meal plan for my family. I kept trying different meal planning systems – trying and failing.

I’m a busy, homeschooling mom. I’ve been a neighborhood market manager for Seasonal Roots’ home-delivered farmers market, and I used to be an agriculture research specialist… if anyone should’ve known how to meal plan, it’s me! Why wasn’t it working? What was I doing wrong?!

Step 1: Throw out the rules

The thing is, there are a lot of websites out there that will tell you how to plan a week of meals. I’d get frustrated trying to follow their rules and lose all the joy that came with cooking and eating nutritious food. What happened to meal planning making your life better, right?!

Well, better means different things for different people. For you, better may mean less time cooking, or less time shopping and more time cooking. Maybe you’re tired of wasting fresh veggies.

I was. I would find myself standing in the kitchen at 4:30pm wondering how I could turn a pile of wilty swiss chard and semi-mushy zucchini into dinner. It was often easier to compost it or even worse, throw it away and opt for the broccoli from the freezer. It was NOT working.

Meal planning IS the answer but everyone meal plans differently. I have diet restrictions and so does my daughter, but my husband can eat anything. Trying to make someone else’s meal plan fit our needs was a recipe for failure. Meal planning only started working when I figured out which rules fit our life. Then I threw the rest away.

So throw out the rules (not the fresh veggies)! With that in mind, check out these free meal planning resources. Just remember: Keep what works, throw the rest away.
http://realeverything.com/tag/meal-plan/
http://www.thekitchn.com/danielle-walker-new-york-times-best-selling-author-of-meals-made-simple-tells-us-how-she-meal-preps-for-the-week-229368
http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/our-free-meal-plans/
http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/recipe-collections-favorites/month-of-dinner-recipes
This next one has some sample plans, otherwise it’s a paid service:
http://emeals.com/meal-plans/?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=meal%20plans&utm_campaign=B_Meal%20Plan

Step 2: Shop at home

My favorite way to start meal planning is to take inventory of everything I have on hand. In other words, I shop at home.

That was the problem back when I was using prefabricated meal plans. Many have shopping lists prepared for you based on meals selected. I would print these nice little lists and head to the store, completely disregarding what I already had at home or had ordered from Seasonal Roots. Not budget friendly! I was also buying weird products for recipes and never using them again.

Now, before I decide what to cook, I determine what I have, including what’s buried in my freezer. You never want to find the last pound of that beautiful, pastured breakfast sausage bundle you ordered from Seasonal Roots covered in freezer burn!

I was also freezing vegetables to help reduce waste, but… I didn’t know that they should be blanched prior to freezing. The veggies were almost always freezer-burned by time I remembered I had them. Argh.

Now let my order from Seasonal Roots and the freezer inspire my meal planning every week. I’m saving money and time!

Here’s a quick guide on how to freeze extra produce… the correct way, by blanching first!

  • Prepare a stock pot of boiling water.
  • Clean and roughly chop vegetables.
  • Prepare an ice bath for the blanched veggies.
  • Place chopped veggies into a wire basket and lower into rapidly boiling water for a few minutes. The time depends on the vegetable. Here’s a good guide for times.
  • After blanching, put the veggies straight into an ice bath. Once they’re cool, drain them and put them in a freezer-safe container or baggie.
  • You can find more info on freezing produce (which lets you save it for up to a year!), here on the Veggie Fairy Blog.

    Step 3: Know your schedule

    After I finish my home shopping and review my upcoming Seasonal Roots order, I have an accurate idea of what I have on hand. That’s what I use to inspire my weekly plan. But there’s one more vital piece to this puzzle: our weekly schedule.

    It took me a while to figure that out. Normally families have the same commitments week in and week out, but when I assumed I could follow a plan that had a predictable daily themes, like Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, and so on, I failed again. It didn’t work.

    Once a week batch cooking — a.k.a. cooking up a storm one day and using the pre-cooked items throughout the week — also didn’t work. No one in my family is ever stoked about leftovers and it felt like that was all we were eating.

    I felt trapped. Once again, these “tried and true” meal plans were not working for me. I was either trying new recipes on my busiest days, or winding up with a large amount of cooked food that had to be eaten whether or not we felt like eating it just to avoid having to throw it away.

    Then it finally hit me. Every week is unique. Duh! It seems so obvious now: If I was going to be successful, I had to plan meals that actually fit our schedule. Rules were tossed again. After all, tacos taste good any night of the week.

    So now, Sunday is my planning day. I take about an hour and sit with a cup of coffee, cookbooks, Pinterest (where every week Seasonal Roots posts new recipes that use seasonal produce items), and my calendar planner.

    Based on what’s actually on our schedule for the upcoming week, I can better decide which nights I should use the crock pot, which nights I can look forward to cooking, and which nights we will need to have leftovers. Leftover night is much more fun when you have a choice in the matter. So make your plan fit your schedule, not someone else’s.

    Step 4: Teamwork

    Teamwork makes the dream work! Five words that make my family giggle and remind us that we are in this together. But if teamwork is so important to our family, why was meal planning and cooking ALL on me?! Involving my family in the planning process was a game changer.

    I was selecting all the meals when I was following prefabricated meal plans. It was easier this way, but I’d wind up frustrated when my family (mainly my daughter) wasn’t interested in eating what I had prepared.

    We all have unique palates and I was only cooking to mine. Meals became more enjoyable for everyone once I started asking my husband and daughter for their input. This is yet another example of why following someone else’s meal plan is not always successful.

    My family helps plan meals each week, which keeps us on track because we are all invested. This is important for children as well. Including kids in the planning process helps them learn healthy eating habits and will make them more excited about what’s on the table for meals. They’re more likely to try new things if they helped choose them.

    My daughter helps me choose the items in our basket every Friday when the Seasonal Roots farmers market opens. Not only is she helping me plan, she’s learning where our food comes from. Many children are not aware of how our food production system works. Food doesn’t come from the grocery store — that’s simply a place where we can buy it. When we order from Seasonal Roots, we can choose our items and see which family farm it’s coming from.

    Knowing where our food comes from and how to prepare it are important life skills. I’m helping my daughter learn by inviting her into the kitchen. In turn, she’s more willing to try new foods and eat what we prepare together. A total win-win!

    And in conclusion…

    Implementing these four things helped us transition from a family that eats on the fly to a family that plans. That’s helping us eat more healthfully. Hopefully it will help you too!

    ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

    Since 2011. , Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, eggs, grass-fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

    summer superfoods

    11 summer superfoods to boost health

    Plus recipes for each one!

    Summer is Mother Nature’s blockbuster season. Some faves come early, some late, and some keep coming all summer long. There are dozens of summer superfoods, but here are 11 rock stars — complete with health benefits, harvest season, and a link to a delicious, do-able recipe for each one from our Pinterest library.

    Basil

    This fragrant herb is popular for its flavor. Its impressive nutrition content is less well known, but it’s actually a great source for vitamin K, manganese, and magnesium, with strong antioxidant and antibacterial qualities. Together they help fight illness and infection. Add to a salad or marinade, sprinkle over berries and ice cream, or tear it into a summer cocktail. Virginia harvest season: May-November. Try this recipe: Easy Caprese Salad

    Bell Peppers

    All colors of sweet bell peppers deliver plenty of vitamin C, as well as some fiber and vitamin B6. Red peppers also contain beta-carotene and lycopene, antioxidants that help prevent cancer, improve cognitive function, and support healthy lungs and skin. Those red colored peppers also give you twice the amount of vitamin C you’d get from a citrus orange. Virginia harvest season: June-August. Try this recipe: Spanish Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

    Cherries

    These antioxidant-packed fruits contain anthocyanins, the flavonoids that give cherries their deep red color along with some serious superpowers. They help regulate immune responses and act as an anti-inflammatory. The sour varieties of this fruit may be even more helpful as an anti-inflammatory. In fact, studies suggest tart cherries could be more effective than aspirin at relieving pain and reducing inflammation. Virginia harvest season: May-August. Try this recipe: Cherry Bread Pudding

    Eggplant

    It’s one of the world’s healthiest foods. The anthocyanins in it protect heart health. Its nasunin may help improve blood flow to the brain. It also contains chlorogenic acid, a powerful free-radical scavenger that helps prevent cancer. It supports strong bones, boosts cognition, and protects the digestive system. Virginia harvest season: June-August. Try this recipe: Eggplant Rollatini with Spinach

    Grapes

    Sweet and tangy and bursting with antioxidants, grapes are a good source of vitamin K. That helps blood clot and may contribute to strong bones. A study in Experimental Gerontology found that eating grapes twice a day for six months protected against metabolic decline in regions of the brain associated with early Alzheimer’s disease, and enriched metabolic activity in areas of the brain related to memory and attention. You can snack on them fresh, frozen, or add to salads, salsas, or smoothies. Virginia harvest season: August-October. Try this recipe: Muscadine Almond Smoothie

    Peaches

    Every time you bite into a juicy summer peach, you’re getting a dose of antioxidants, vitamins C and A, and potassium. Potassium plays an important role in regulating blood pressure and may aid in muscle recovery after a workout. Virginia harvest season: June-September. Try this recipe: Balsamic Peach Chicken

    Summer Squash

    Zucchini and yellow squash are excellent sources of vitamin C and antioxidants for a strong immune system and good eye health. Use a spiralizer to make a healthy pasta substitute, chop them up and add raw to a grain salad, or brush slices with olive oil and grill. Virginia harvest season: May-September. Try this recipe: Summer Squash, Bacon & Mozzarella Quiche

    Sweet Corn

    Is it a veggie or a grain? One thing we can be sure of is that it’s a rich source of vitamin B1, vitamin B5, vitamin C, phosphorus, manganese, folate, and fiber. All of which means that, on or off the cob, it’s good for your heart, eyes, cancer prevention, and memory enhancement. Virginia harvest season: June-August. Try this recipe: Cowboy Caviar

    Swiss Chard

    This dark leafy green may look like it belongs in winter, but it reaches its peak during summer. It’s also full of cancer-fighting antioxidants, as well as magnesium, which helps fight depression and migraines, and control blood sugar levels. It’s also got potassium for good blood pressure, heart health, and bone and muscle strength. Add to your salad mix, use it as a sandwich or burger wrap, steam it, or add it to soups and stews. Virginia harvest season: All summer. Try this recipe: Swiss Chard Rolls

    Tomatoes

    These guys deliver an army of antioxidants that have been shown to fight various cancers. They’re also a rich source of vitamins like vitamin C and the beta-carotene that makes them red also makes them good for your eyes and skin. Minerals like potassium and phosphorus protect against cardiovascular disease, build strong bones and teeth, and help reduce blood pressure and inflammation. They detoxify the body and are good for your stomach and urinary tract. Virginia harvest season: July-October. Try this recipe: Tuscan Lentil Soup

    Watermelon

    Low in sugar and high in vitamins A and C, this summer treat can be eaten as a refreshing snack, a low-calorie dessert, or part of larger dish. Studies suggest watermelon may lower blood pressure and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. Plus the lycopene in watermelon could help protect the body from UV rays and cancer. Virginia harvest season: June-August. Try this recipe: Watermelon Salad with Mint & Crispy Prosciutto

    ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

    Since 2011. , Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, eggs, grass-fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

    potato nutrition facts

    Amazing potato nutrition facts

    Behold the mighty potato!

    Adapted from Live Science:

    Fresh potatoes like the ones grown by the McKenney family at Sion House Farm in Farnham, Va., above, may look like pretty dull company. But beneath every potato’s mild-mannered exterior lies a super-tasty, super-nutritional SuperSpud! Or they are when you eat them fresh, like these, not processed into store-bought French fries, chips, tater tots, or hashbrowns.

    Prior to the 1960s, Americans ate most of their potatoes fresh. But as freezing technology improved, processed potatoes became more popular. Today, the USDA says processed ‘taters eat up 64 percent of the potatoes we consume! Compare that to just 35 percent in the ’60s. Americans, on average, eat 55 pounds of frozen potatoes per year, 42 pounds of fresh potatoes, 17 pounds of potato chips, and 14 pounds of dehydrated potato products — whatever the heck that is.

    That’s a lot of potatoes. No wonder potatoes are the #1 vegetable crop in the United States and the fourth most-consumed crop in the world. According to the bean counters at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they’re beaten only by rice, wheat, and corn.

    Anyway, potatoes are often thought of as a comfort food — mashed with rich butter and sour cream or fried up crisp in vegetable oil. But when you prepare them like that, they can lead to weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Of course, grassfed butter is a different matter, because grassfed results in healthy fats.

    In fact, a study published in 2017 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate fried potatoes twice a week wound up with an increased risk of death. Yikes!

    But happily, the study did not find any correlation between non-fried potato consumption and increased death. This backs up University of Texas nutritionist Victoria Jarzabkowski, who argues that potatoes aren’t necessarily bad for you.

    The healthiest way to cook potatoes

    Baked, boiled, or steamed — which is healthiest? Well, the best way to eat a potato is in its whole, unprocessed form. So baking, or roasting, a potato is the best way to prepare it. Roasting loses the fewest nutrients.

    The next-healthiest way to cook a potato is to steam it. The worst thing you can do is boil it, because if it’s cut up or peeled, all the water-soluble nutrients leach out into the water. That includes B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, and calcium. As much as 80 percent of a potato’s vitamin C goes down the drain if you boil it.

    The same thing can happen when peeled or cut-up raw potatoes are left to soak to keep them from darkening. Exposing any cut up veggie to air is no better — air, light, and heat are the enemies of nutrients. Best to do all the prep right before you cook whenever possible.

    So when you cook potatoes the right way, without heaps of butter, cheese, or cream (unless all that dairy’s grassfed, because grass produces healthy fats), they really can be good for you. Just check out these amazing potato nutrition facts.

    Amazing Fact #1: The skin is the best part

    Don’t peel that potato! However you cook it, try to eat the skin. Ounce for ounce, the skin contains more nutrients — including the majority of the spud’s fiber — than the rest of the potato! Speaking of skin…

    Amazing Fact #2: Potatoes are your skin’s best friend

    According to Organic Facts, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorous can all help keep skin as smooth and creamy as, well, mashed potatoes. These nutrients are all present in potatoes, mashed or not.

    Amazing Fact #3: Potatoes are lo-cal

    Lo-cal, as in low calorie. Potatoes weigh in at just 110 calories for a medium-sized baked potato. And they’ve got zero fat calories. So a spud’s calorie count is not going to add to your waistline. By the way, in addition to being fat-free, potatoes are also cholesterol-free.

    Amazing Fact #4: Potatoes’ relationship with blood sugar is… complicated

    While a potato’s low calorie count won’t make you loosen your belt, they are starchy carbohydrates with very little protein. And those carbs are the kind that the body digests rapidly. They’ve got what’s called a high glycemic index value. Potato carbs cause blood sugar and insulin to surge and then dip, so you may wind up feeling hungry again soon after eating. That can lead to overeating. Plus the rapid rise in blood sugar can also lead to increased insulin production — not a good thing if you’re diabetic.

    On the other hand, potatoes are also a great source of fiber, and the fiber content helps you feel fuller longer.

    Meanwhile… a 2016 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that different people respond to a food’s glycemic index value in different ways. So this study suggests that the glycemic index is only somewhat useful when it comes to making food choices.

    Bottom line: Whether or not you should avoid potatoes depends on how your individual body reacts to them. There’s no one-size-fits-all.

    Amazing Fact #5: Potatoes and arthritis — also complicated

    Some people think potatoes and other members of the nightshade family — such as eggplants, tomatoes and peppers — trigger arthritis flares. However, the Arthritis Foundation says there is limited scientific evidence to support this hypothesis. They suggest that arthritis sufferers try cutting nightshade vegetables from their diets for two weeks to see if symptoms improve.

    Some studies indicate these vegetables may actually help reduce arthritis symptoms, the foundation said. For example, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that potatoes might actually reduce inflammation.

    Again, figure out what works best for you.

    Amazing Fact #6: Potatoes may help prevent cancer

    A 2017 study published by the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that consuming purple potatoes might reduce the risk of colon cancer. Purple potatoes are high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce levels of a protein linked to cancer cell growth in the colon.

    Amazing Fact #7: Potatoes have as much vitamin C as half an orange

    Spuds are the new citrus! Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, and antioxidants ward off damaging free radicals that destroy healthy cells throughout your body.

    Vitamin C also keeps your immune system strong, helps wounds heal properly, and aids in the absorption of a certain type of iron. Because of vitamin C’s many roles throughout your system, keeping up with your daily intake is important. Potatoes can get you there.

    Amazing Fact #8: Potatoes may help lower blood pressure

    According to Jarzabkowski, the nutritionist, there may be several reasons for this. All that fiber may help lower cholesterol by binding with cholesterol in the blood. “After it binds, we excrete it,” she says.

    Potatoes are also a good source of potassium, even more than a banana. A lot of it is in the potato’s skin, which also contains a good deal of fiber. Potassium is a mineral that helps lower blood pressure, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, by widening blood vessels.

    Plus, scientists at the Institute for Food Research have discovered that potatoes contain chemicals called kukoamines, which are also associated with lowering blood pressure.

    Potatoes are just plain good for your heart. Vitamins C and B6 help reduce free radicals; and carotenoids help maintain proper heart functioning. B6 also plays a crucial role in preventing damage to blood vessel walls, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

    Amazing Fact #9: Potatoes make you smart

    Potatoes’ high level of carbohydrates may have some advantages, like maintaining good levels of glucose in the blood. You need that for your brain to function properly. A 1995 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that modest increases in glucose could help enhance learning and memory. Potassium, by encouraging wider blood vessels, also helps ensure your brain gets enough blood.

    Also, the B6 vitamins in potatoes are critical to maintaining neurological health. Vitamin B6 helps create useful brain chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. This means that eating potatoes may help with depression, stress, and maybe even attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

    Amazing Fact #10: Potatoes go down easy and come out the same way

    Potatoes aid digestion, big time, due to their high fiber content, Jarzabkowski said. Their high level of carbohydrates also makes them easy to digest, while their fiber-filled skin can help keep you regular.

    Amazing Fact #11: Potatoes are a win for athletes

    When athletes sweat they lose sodium and potassium, two important electrolytes. Electrolytes are necessary for optimum body function, and having too few can cause cramps, as many athletes know. It just so happens that potato skins are full of sodium and potassium and can help restore electrolyte balance.

    And last but not least…

    Amazing Fact #12: Eek! Potatoes are poisonous… sort of

    Potato stems, branches, and leaves are toxic, containing alkaloids such as arsenic, chaconine, and solanine. Solanine is “very toxic even in small amounts,” according to the National Institutes of Health. But, seriously, who eats the stems, branches, and leaves? No one.

    Still, poison is also found in green potatoes. They turn green if they’re exposed to light too much. NIH says you should “never eat potatoes that are spoiled or green below the skin.”

    What about a potato’s “eyes”? Are they poisonous? The “eyes” of potatoes are buds, which will sprout into branches if left alone. If they’re not sprouting, they’re totally edible. If they are sprouting, NIH recommends cutting off the eyes and the sprouts. Once that’s done, you can chow down on the rest of that ‘tater.

    To get more details on the science and history of potatoes, read the original article.

    ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

    Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, eggs, grass-fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

    boost flavor with local food

    11 tasty tips to boost flavor

    The Flavor Fairy tells all!

    By the Flavor Fairy:

    Full disclosure: There are some flavor elements you can’t do anything about. Mother Nature gets a say in the flavor of your food because she controls the weather. Like the way cold snaps sweeten up greens, or the way dry weather can boost the flavor of fruiting crops like tomatoes. Those tomatoes will wind up with a lot more flavor than you’d get from a very wet season — if the farmer relies on mulches, soil that’s full of organic matter that retains moisture, and a little irrigation.

    But take it from me, the Flavor Fairy: You have the power to boost flavor, too, and you don’t need Mother Nature’s wondrous weather or a magic fairy wand to do it. Here’s how.

    1. Start with fresh, local produce and artisan fare.

    The Veggie Fairies who bring you your local food will tell you that there are many reasons to eat local food. Well, yours truly the Flavor Fairy is here to tell you that there’s only one reason, and one reason only: FLAVOR. Seriously — fresh, local food just freakin’ tastes better!

    But okay, I’ll admit that with local food, taste and nutrition do go hand in hand. The sooner you eat food after it’s harvested or made, the more flavor and nutrition will still be inside there to be eaten, since both immediately start to fade after harvesting and making. But as far as this Flavor Fairy is concerned, the extra nutrients are just a nice bonus. The flavor boost is what it’s all about!!

    As I’m sure you know by now, fresh, locally grown produce and freshly made local foods have a big advantage over the stuff in the supermarket because it doesn’t have to travel as far or as long. So it’s fresher. Plus local farmers can choose to grow things for their flavor, not their ability to withstand long trips and still look good. Many so-called improvements (more productive, disease resistant, tough enough to withstand the rigors of long-distance shipping) have been made at the expense of taste (and, okay, nutrition, too.)

    (This profile of the Flores family farm explains it all!)

    2. Prep garlic and onions at the last minute.

    Chopping them up unleashes sharp odors and strong flavors that just keep getting stronger and stronger until they’re overpowering. Frankly, this Flavor Fairy is horrified at the thought of chopping up any fruits and veggies that you aren’t going to eat right away — the longer you expose the interiors of fruits and vegetables to light and air, the faster the flavor and nutrients escape, never to return. So, whenever possible, wait with the chopping.

    3. Keep all those tomato seeds and the goopy stuff, too.

    Think they’re gross? The Tough Love Fairy says: Get over it. Most of the flavor is in the seeds and surrounding jelly, not the flesh and skin. Who knew?!

    4. Boil it NOT!

    Lightly steam or briefly sautee greens instead of boiling them. For root veggies, you can roast, grill, or braise them instead of boiling. When you boil veggies and then discard the water, you’re tossing the flavor, and the nutrients, too. But if you do boil…

    5. …Save the broth!

    Boiling is fine for some things. After you boil proteins like legumes and meat, save the leftover liquid for recipes that call for broth. It’s flavor-rich and (bonus!) nutrient rich, too.

    6. Strike when the pan is hot.

    When you sautee or stir fry, don’t rush the preheating. A hot pan seals in flavor. So wait for the oil to shimmer before adding veggies to an empty pan. Before adding meats to an empty pan, wait for the first wisps of smoke to rise from the oil.

    7. Add a wee splash of cider vinegar, salt, or sugar.

    Vinegar and salt brighten up the flavors of veggies and proteins, especially soups and stews. Reach for the sugar when you’re browning something. Browned food tastes better, and a pinch of sugar speeds it up. Sprinkle on veggies and lean proteins like chicken, pork, or seafood.

    8. Add soy sauce or anchovies.

    They contain natural glutamates, which enhance savoriness. Add a teaspoon or two of soy sauce to chili, or cook a few minced anchovies along with the vegetables in a soup or stew.

    9. Add fresh herbs at the right time.

    Hardy herbs like thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, and marjoram can go into whatever you’re making early in the cooking ­process. They need time to soften up and release their maximum flavor. Save delicate herbs like parsley, cilantro, tarragon, chives, and basil for the last minute. Add them too early, and all their fresh flavor and bright color will be lost — and that breaks this Flavor Fairy’s heart.

    10. Use fat to intensify dried spices.

    Cook ground spices and dried herbs for a minute or two in a little butter or oil before adding liquid to the pan. If you’re sautéing something like onions, wait until they’re nearly cooked before adding the spices to the fat in the pan.

    11. Oh, and keep those fats fresh!

    Ever tasted a rancid almond or oil that’s turned? It’ll give you a prune face for sure. Keep those off-flavors out of your cooking by keeping on hand only as much fat as you can use promptly. While your fats are waiting to be used, store them in ways that limit their exposure to oxygen and light to slow down the process that turns them rancid. Extra butter and nuts go in the freezer, nut oils go in the fridge, and vegetable oils go in a dark pantry.

    ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

    Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, eggs, grass-fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.