Monday, June 30, 2008

Raw Honey at the NYC Greenmarkets

So, where does one get this raw gold? At your local farmer's market, of course. Make sure you ask the tough questions, because even there you may find a dud.

Here in New York, we are lucky to have a fantastic beekeeper. Andrew, of Silvermine Apiary (better known as Andrew's Taste-Bud Bursting Local Honey), comes from a long line of beekeepers. One night, over a bottle of Spanish wine, Andrew told me all about his honey. He understands honey, and he bottles it in the same pristine state in which the bees created it. Look for him at the market ­ along with a wealth of information, you may get a dose of his mischievous sense of humor. In his spare time, Andrew teaches literature at a Connecticut college and travels the world for his non-profit organization, Bees Without Borders.

Andrew's Taste-Bud Bursting Local Honey is at Union Square on Wednesdays; on Sundays, they are at the Grand Street and Tompkins Greenmarkets. Truly, I think Andrew is the go-to guy for honey, bee pollen, royal jelly and propolis. In fact, his is the only honey we use at home.

The Many Benefits Of Raw Honey

I am passionate about honey. Maybe it's because it's in my blood; my grandfather kept bees. I remember playing in the orchard - the lazy warmth of the afternoon sun, the sweet, aromatic scent of ripening fruit and the gentle hum of the bees. I remember the honeycombs dripping with sticky, sweet liquid and my grandfather laughing at my eager anticipation. We used honey for everything - it was our cough syrup, our antiseptic for scratches, the topping for my bread and butter, the sweetener for my evening tea.

The social system of bees is incredibly complex and it all revolves around making honey. The field bees collect nectar from flowers and pass it on to the house bees, who add enzymes and then store it in the hive, where it ripens and becomes honey - food for the bees and for us. A conscientious beekeeper always leaves enough honey for the bees to survive and thrive. The bees are never harmed, though the same cannot always be said for the beekeepers.

Honey is not merely another form of sugar; it contains vitamins, minerals, protein, enzymes and amino acids. The quantities of individual nutrients vary widely and depend on the type of plant and region the honey comes from. As a carbohydrate, it is unique; it¹s an assimilable carbohydrate compound, meaning that it's been pre-digested and is therefore easier for your body to use. However, scientists still do not fully understand all the compounds in honey and why they are so health promoting.

Honey has unique antimicrobial properties and has been used traditionally to disinfect wounds and burns and promote healing. According to Dr. Molan of the University of Waikato, New Zealand, "Honey stimulates the re-growth of tissue involved in healing, making healing faster and reducing scarring."

And according to a study at the University of Memphis Exercise and Sports Nutrition Laboratory, if you eat honey just before a workout, you will increase your energy level, stabilize your blood sugar and improve your post-workout muscle recuperation.

Honey is also great for sore throats and congested bronchi. Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine found that raw buckwheat honey works better than over-the-counter cold medications. Suffering from stomach upset and diarrhea? Honey can rehydrate and remineralize your body and speed up the recovery. Honey has a long history of curing gastric and intestinal ulcers, improving digestion, rebuilding blood, eliminating inhalant allergies, aiding with weight loss and much more. No wonder honey was Hippocrates' medicine of choice.

Before you rush to your local supermarket to treat a sore throat, you should know that not all honey is created (or bottled) equally. Even though honey is widely available at supermarkets across the country, it is not the product I have been describing. You need raw, unheated, organic, unpasteurized and minimally filtered local honey - a rare commodity. Raw honey is full of bee pollen, royal jelly and propolis (for more on these, sign up for my newsletter), all of which are responsible for the healing qualities of honey. With pasteurization, enzymes are denatured and vitamins destroyed, rendering the original product merely a liquid, toxic sugar.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Berries - more than just nature's candy.

There are few things in life that give me as much joy as watching my kids gleefully dive into a bowl of luscious cherries and seeing the sweet, sticky juice run down their chins. And have you ever gone strawberry picking? Then you know how placing that sun-warmed berry in your mouth makes you understand what summer is all about. I've often wondered why nature makes this abundance of such sweet treats available at the beginning of the sun season, and here is my theory: after a long, cold season of rich, hearty meals, followed by a season of cleansing bitter greens and sprouts, we are finally ready for a boost of nutrients. We need energy for the summer - energy for increased activity, energy for the longer days and energy to rebuild our bodies and fortify for the cooler, less nutritionally-rich months.

All berries are loaded with vitamin C. Vitamin C plays an important role in diminishing the harmful effect of free radicals. It is interesting to note that vitamin C is a potent protectant against the damaging effects of ultraviolet light damage, which most of us refer to as sunlight. It not only protects against sun damage, but does a much better job of it than any sunscreen you can find on store shelves. It stays in the cells for approximately 36 hours and protects even if you go swimming or stay out in the sun too long. Got too much sun? It works to repair the damage - it slows down photoaging, helps with the formation of elastin and is crucial to the process of incorporation of proline into collagen. Tyrosinase and vitamin C, both of which are abundant in berries, team up to disrupt the oxidative process involved in the production of melanin, meaning no deep tan and no wrinkles. I am not suggesting you abandon your sunblock altogether, but you should know that there are some other natural options available.

And there's more - less sunscreen means more vitamin D production! Recent studies show that a deficiency in vitamin D greatly increases your risk of cancer. Most of us, especially in the northern climes, are deficient in vitamin D and the sun is the best, most efficient way to get it.

Antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals are all abundant in berries. Different varieties combined together have synergistic qualities, meaning that their benefits multiply exponentially. When traditionally eaten fresh and with cream, the nutrients become even more bio-available.

Time and heat destroy all the precious nutrients, so go to the market early, look for local, unsprayed berries and taste them. Are they sweet, fragrant and flavorful? If they are, chances are they are freshly picked. Ask the farmer if they are sprayed (the berries, not the farmers) - if they were, skip them. Berries rank high on the Dirty Dozen list (don't know what this is? Time to sign up for my newsletter...) and with their thin skins, they absorb the chemicals right in.

So, you love cherries, but hate pitting them for the kids? It took me a while to figure this out (don't ask why), so I am guessing that some of you are in the same boat. Tada! The cherry pitter - this one is fantastic - Oxo Good Grips Cherry Pitter It is so efficient and easy, it made eating cherries in my house a daily event.

On Saturdays, at the Union Square Greenmarket, you will find many farmers who sell unsprayed berries. Walk around, look, taste and ask - you are sure to find plenty of options. On Sundays, I head to the Tompkins Greenmarket where Norwich Meadows Farm displays rows of gleaming berries.

So, my advice: eat your berries, eat them now, eat lots of them, and eat them just-picked, local and unsprayed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kohlra-what? Try it, it's good!

Though relatively undiscovered in this country, kohlrabi has been hugely popular in Europe and Asia for centuries. It has a delicate, mildly sweet flavor and a crunchy texture reminiscent of a cabbage core or broccoli stalks. Kohlrabi is frequently mistaken for a root vegetable - the bulbous "root" is actually a swollen stem.

Kohlrabi is a great source of vitamin C, B6, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese and fiber. It is highly alkaline and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat colds. Currently, it is enjoying a reputation as a healer of colon and rectal cancer.

Choose the smaller bulbs and peel the kolrhabi before you cook it. It does not store well, so use it as soon as you can. You can eat it raw in salads, or sliced and with a bit of sea salt. If you give it to the kids, cut it as you would French fries, steam it for a few minutes with salt, and serve with a drizzle of honey and a pat of butter. If the leaves are fresh, they can be steamed and eaten like any dark greens. They are great tossed with sauteed garlic and olive oil. Really, you can do anything you can think of with kohlrabi, so experiment.

Here are a few links to recipes to get you going:

Kohlrabi Slivers and Pea Shoots with Sesame Dressing

Kohlrabi Puree

German-Style Stuffed Kohlrabi

For more information and a selection of recipes take a look at this flier.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Rethinking radishes...

It is the rare kid who enjoys the pungent, spicy snap of a radish. Adults, however, should be eating plenty of them throughout the growing season. Although it is usually buried in salads or cooked into an early death, it's time to celebrate the radish.

Radishes have been around for thousands of years and have been revered by all the great ancient civilizations. They are closely related to mustard, broccoli and watercress. You can eat them raw, cooked or pickled, and you can also eat the radish tops, which are highly nutritious and make for a great soup.

Radishes contain as much potassium as bananas. They're a great source of vitamin C, folate, calcium, phosphorus, sulphur, iron and iodine and have tons of fiber. They contain high amounts of antioxidants, which help prevent cancer. They are especially helpful in aiding digestion and improving liver and gallbladder function. Radishes regulate metabolism, improve blood circulation, and are a good treatment for acidity, constipation, nausea, gastric problems, gallbladder stones, and dyspepsia.

It is important to note that traditionally, radishes are not eaten at night or with milk. Why is this important? I am a huge believer in traditional nutrition, and I trust the wisdom of those who came before me to guide me in the right direction. Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine are especially important to me, and the aforementioned advice above comes from Ayurvedic medicine.

I prefer my radishes raw, with all the nutrients and enzymes intact. If you find them too sharp, removing the skin will take the edge off.

My favorite felon, Martha, has a fantastic radish and feta spread recipe.

Mariquita Farm has a list of great radish recipes - here are some of my favorites:

Spring Radish Salad
adapted from Verdura Vegetables Italian Style by Viana La Place

1 bunch fresh radishes
2-3 very sweet carrots
2 bunches arugula
salt and pepper to taste
E.V. olive oil
2 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Lemon wedges

Trim the radishes and slice them thinly. Peel the carrots and cut them on the diagonal into very thin slices. Snap the tough stems from the arugula. Gather the arugula into a bunch and cut it crosswise into strips.

Arrange the arugula on a platter. Scatter the sliced radishes and carrots over the arugula. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with enough olive oil to lightly moisten the vegetables. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over the salad.

Beijing Radish Salad
This can be made with watermelon radishes or other types.

1 bunch watermelon radishes or one medium daikon radish
2 tablespoons rice or balsamic vinegar (or a combination)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Wash and julienne radishes. They can be peeled (or not) as you like. I often use a mandoline to do the julienne-ing, or you can grate them. Mix together the rest of the ingredients and dress the radishes with the dressing.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Do cows need milk for healthy bones?

I didn’t make it to the market this weekend. Instead, I sat in class and listened to Annemarie Colbin - the founder of the Natural Gourmet Institute and the author of numerous health-related books - lecture on bone health, women’s reproductive issues and osteoarthritis. Okay, so maybe it doesn’t sound like the most exciting way to spend a sunny weekend, but I was riveted. Dr. Colbin really understands the role whole foods play in our health.

We all want strong bones, but the fact is that the rate of osteoporosis is rising, right along with diabetes and heart disease. The future looks uncertain.

So what makes bones strong? Calcium, right? Well, not so fast. Healthy bones have equal amounts of calcium and collagen matrix. Ever heard of collagen matrix? It’s what makes your bones flexible. Fragility fractures do not occur if your bones are flexible, even if they are porous.

I want strong bones, so the first thing I should think of is milk - or is it? The Nurses Health Study at Harvard showed that women who drank more than two glasses of milk per day had double the incidence of bone fractures than women who drank less than one glass a week. Hmmm.

So how do you make your bones strong and flexible? You’ve come to the right place! This is what I do for a living – help my clients dig through all this stuff and find the real answers. No, I’m not going to give you health advice and yes, you always need to talk to your doctor, but here are a few ideas.

- eat more vegetables
- eat even more vegetables
- eat tons of dark, leafy greens, lightly cooked
- eat beans
- eat whole grains – not whole grain bread, but the actual grains. You know, quinoa, brown rice, millet, buckwheat.
- eat lots of nuts and seeds
- eat quality fats
- cook with bone broths
- eat edible bones – sardines, canned salmon (and its bone), etc.

Notice how the dairy products are missing?

There’s much more, like exercise and other stuff you may want to do, but you would have to hire me to really get into this. Meanwhile, learn more about whole foods and how they can help preserve your health.