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All things food–real food!

Greenhouse Update #1, 1.22.15

Oh my, I feel like a new parent! Having just returned last eve from a 5-day trip to Florida for a family visit, I didn’t know what I’d find in the greenhouse. SO much has happened! I am giddy with joy! The seedlings in the grow pellets went from This:

Seedlings 1.11.15





To this:

seedlings2 seedlings1





The Meyer lemon is in a full revival mode, after a near-death experience, from being inside the house for 5 weeks in it’s shipping wrapper, while the greenhouse was being built (don’t ask…!); truth be told, the Meyer lemon is my favorite plant in the greenhouse, but don’t tell the other plants…

Meyer lemon





The seeds I sowed directly into the soil have begun to sprout! Here’s fennel, dill, and cherry tomatoes (you’ve got to really look for them):






cherry tomatoes





The rhubarb is going strong,






and the celery heart that I’ve placed in water is beginning to re-grow–eventually, I’ll put it in the soil also.






And finally, after taking these “before” photos, I transplanted to broccoli, beans, Brussel sprouts and artichokes:






radish.brussel sprout







My GreenHouse: growing organic food in the cold of winter, in the Midwest…

Green House 11 Jan 2015-1-2As I endeavor to share my experiences of (attempting to) grow my own food–in the midst of the cold Midwest winter–I marvel at the journey that has brought me to this unexpected life opportunity.

We moved from Northern California to Evansville, Indiana a little over a year ago for a job offer that we couldn’t resist. (you can read about that here, if you’d like). We had never even heard of Evansville, Indiana prior to the job offer and when we came to visit that first time in June of 2013, we had no idea what to expect.

Yep, I’d read online about the Midwest growing a mega-ton of corn and soy, I’d read about the humidity and rain, and I also read about a couple of small-farm farmers who had embraced “near-organic” growing standards in the area, and who offered a coveted CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, read more here). I was happy to read that EVV had a natural food Co-op food market, River City Food Co-op as well as another natural food market, Elbert’s. I reached out to one of the farmers (Yay Gwen, from Off the Fence Farms!) and was somewhat soothed to know that there was some cleanly-grown food available in the EVV area–not at all like what I had become accustomed to in NorCal–but perhaps it’d be enough to sustain us…


On that first weekend’s visit, we went to the SouthWest Indian Master Garden Association, primarily because John had read about the lovely flower garden that attracted a plethora of colorful birds. Much to my surprise also growing there was a huge vegetable garden. I was touched by the signage stating that the garden had grown several tons of produce in the previous summer that had been donated to the Food Bank, and that this garden was managed by volunteer Master Gardeners. To my delight, a mature couple complete with their MG vests and name tags were working in the garden that morning.

As John photographed the birds and flowers, I engaged them in conversation. Tactfully, I steered the dialogue towards the organic gardening techniques with which I was familiar from my growing experiences in NorCal, and they told me that this MG garden project did not use chemicals on the plants. My heart soared! I was jubilant! They went on to tell me about how I could become a Master Gardener, which was required for me to do prior to being able to volunteer to work in the garden. Wow! I had found a beautifully productive garden, for which I could eventually volunteer to grow, weed, cultivate and share the bounty with the community.


When we made the decision that Yes! we’d move to the Midwest, the thought of becoming a Master Gardener was enticing. I signed up for the semester-long, once-a-year class online, after an email exchange with the instructor acknowledging that I would still be in California when class commenced, and that I’d miss the first three classes which meant that I’d use up all of the allowed absences before even sitting in the classroom! The instructor tried to persuade me to wait but I couldn’t imagine waiting until 2014 to take the class–I wanted to become a MG and volunteer in that lovely and productive garden! To be honest, I barely skimmed the requisite materials in those first three weeks, being busy closing our medical practice and packing up the house, but I showed up enthusiastically on time for the fourth lecture, on October 2, 2013.


Immediately, I experienced a gut-wrenching insight: that sweet, mature couple who implied that the MG produce garden did not use chemicals were not correct. And it’s entirely possible that I misheard or misinterpreted what they said. Nonetheless, that very first day in the MG program, I learned that MG’s embrace chemicals. They strive for perfection and ease within their produce and flower gardens and will happily spray chemicals to achieve that perfection. To say I was disheartened would be too gentle, I was all that, but I was also flabbergasted and a wee bit outraged. I won’t say more about the MG approach to growing food and flowers, but suffice it to say that I have had many animated conversations with the instructor over the course of the semester and that several of my fellow students approached me during class breaks to articulate their shared concerns and voice their affinity for cleanly-grown food.

When it came time to put in my MG volunteer hours–a prerequisite for progressing through the program–I found myself to be hesitant to participate in a garden project. I did volunteer with some teaching modules as well as some judging of 4-H gardens for the annual county fair. I considered dropping out of MG, as I saw a fairly large disparity between what I value in terms of growing techniques for food and ornamentals as compared to what is embraced by SWIMGA. Disclaimer: I am not criticizing members of SWIMGA and I am not wishing to sound righteous; I do however feel that SWIMGA members have a rich opportunity to expand their gardening techniques by embracing non-chemical methods of cultivation. My philosophy to those MG’s willing to listen is: “what right does one person have to dump toxic chemicals onto the land, into the water and air, primarily to grow unblemished produce and flowers?” It turned out that the MG instructor is also the coordinator of interns and he encouraged me to not leave the group–although he and I do not hold the same opinions about chemicals in the food chain, he saw that I am passionate about cleanly-grown food, and as a health educator, he encouraged me to find a project that would allow me to teach while promoting organic growing of food.

A Greenhouse Urban Farming experience comes to life!

And THAT is how I came to have a greenhouse…that, and the desire to feed myself and my husband some of the foods that I dearly miss from my NorCal days: artichokes, Brussel sprouts, Meyer lemons, figs, and year-round herbs to name a few, and all grown cleanly, without chemicals.  Not that I’d ever grown those plants previously, but they had always been readily available seasonally where I shopped. I’d only ever grown tomatoes, cukes, peppers, zuchs, and some herbs previously, all from starts that I’d happily purchased at the local organic nursery.  To qualify as a MG project, I have invited neighbors with children and non-neighbor friends with children to participate. I have the honor of sharing my passion for cleanly-grown food, and why it’s important in terms of personal health as well as for the health of the planet. I have zero greenhouse experience, so this is truly a learning project for all of us involved.

I bought the greenhouse online–perhaps some other time I’ll share with you the nightmarish logistics that arose from my lack of understanding of what occurs with construction–but eventually it was installed at the end of our driveway. It’s quite a lovely structure and 7 weeks into it, there are all sorts of foodstuffs growing in there. The herb beds contain parsley, tarragon, sage, oregano, scallions, rosemary, and thyme; I’ve got the Meyer lemon and fig trees in the soil; and have recently started from seed, cherry tomatoes, 2 types of okra, 2 types of beans, tomatillos, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cucumber and sweet peppers. Seedlings 1.11.15We are off to a grand start! What we’ve/I’ve learned thus far:

  • 1. The pellets in which seeds are placed to facilitate their sprouting prior to being put into the soil require more water than you’d think! I lost most of the sprouts in the first 2 dozen pellets…

2. While the heater will keep the inside temperature at a lovely 60 degrees, the outside temperature will freeze the hose and water nozzle, rendering the watering process to become quite an act of creativity. Eventually, I figured out  to get a 3-gallon BPA-free container that will stay inside the greenhouse, to hold water for the days when the temps are below freezing. In the Midwest, there are plenty of those days.

3. Talking to plants helps them to grow strong and happily. I truly believe this.

4. The porous cement floor is absorbing some of the heat being cranked out by the heater, as observed by a friend who grew up on a farm. Per her suggestion, I am going to find some non-treated wood chips to put on the cement floor to provide a heat-retaining shield. This should diminish some of the Oy Vey! from the utility bill.

Stay tuned for progress and learning reports. Onward!



Green House 11 Jan 2015-1



How about a topping of anti-freeze on your ice cream?

PGSay what?! Antifreeze and ice cream in the same sentence, what’s that about?

Alas, antifreeze chemicals are indeed present in much of the packaged foods and beverages that Americans frequently consume. Last week, I wouldn’t have known that, but here’s how it all went down:

With winter approaching and freezing temperatures predicted, we began to look into how to keep our back yard fountain flowing without causing the motor to seize in the freezing water—so our visiting birds could continue to quench their thirst throughout the winter months. The contractor who installed the fountain suggested an antifreeze product that was safe, safe enough in fact that it is regularly used in the kitchen water systems of RV’s. Hmmm, antifreeze in the water that the birds were going to drink? That surely didn’t sound right. We went online to see what we could find out and woweezowee, did we get a lesson.

A bit of science: Propylene Glycol (PG) is a kissin’ cousin to Ethylene Glycol (EG)—EG being the toxic ingredient in auto engine antifreeze. EG will cause kidney failure if ingested, which could result in death. PG is a lesser version admittedly, yet PG takes twice as long to biodegrade as EG, and the description of PG as having a “lower level of acute toxicity when taken orally” did not alleviate my concerns as I continued to read more.

Propylene Glycol has been classified by the FDA as “generally recognized as safe” for use in food, and is found in many conventionally packaged baked goods, margarine, cake mix, ice cream, canned icing, sauces and dressings, flavored coffee drinks, and whipped dairy products. Oh yeah, PG is also added to soda, beer and some hard liquor. There are some 1200 food items that contain PG, not all of them labeled as such; that “artificial butter flavor” is a PG substance, but since it arrived in the food factory already pre-made as a fake butter, labeling laws do not require Propylene Glycol to be listed as a separate ingredient. Caramel coloring, which is present in nearly all snack foods is all PG; again, it arrives to the snack food factory as PG called caramel coloring, which is how it reads on the label. I used to think that referred to a caramel type of sweetener, until I read more. Yikes!

A few of questions came up for me as I read:

  • What led to the evolution from real food to processed foods with additives, such as PG? That one is easy to answer—PROFIT.
  • PG in food extends shelf life, which means that the manufacturer makes more money. (think pop tarts)
  • PG creates a creamier taste in food that entices consumers to continue to want it and buy it; and yep, you guessed it, that makes the manufacturer more money. (think McDonald’s Big Mac sauce)
  • PG keeps ice crystals from forming in fat-free ice cream—since there’s no fat to hold it together, fat-free ice cream tends to develop ice crystals—and, remember, this all began as a exploration to keep ice crystals from forming in my fountain… So fewer ice crystals and “improved” texture, means more fans of this food, and once again, we’re talking more money being made for the manufacturer. (think Breyer’s)
  • What does it mean when a food additive is Generally Recognized as Safe? While testing, if the lab animal doesn’t die immediately upon ingesting PG, is it deemed safe? Is that good enough for consumers – to not die immediately? Where is the testing that looks at the risk of ingesting PG every day, over a period of years? What about additives and Autism? Alzheimer’s? Multiple Sclerosis?
  • Do we really need food to “taste better”? Doesn’t real food taste just fine in its natural state? Do we need more than salt, pepper, natural sugar and other natural herbs to enhance the flavor? When were consumers lured into thinking that fat-free with a side of PG is somehow better than a moderate portion of real, full-fat, already-quite-creamy-thank you ice cream?

And this, a big-time revelation:

  • The cattle industry loves Propylene Glycol! Wanna know why? Because it makes cows fat. Yep, you read that correctly—cows are given oral doses of PG to offset the state of ketosis, to keep them fat for market preparedness (see below for an explanation of ketosis). If cows are made and kept fat by adding PG to their daily rations, what about human beings who ingest PG daily? Is this contributing to the obesity epidemic? Fat_cow

So, ask yourself this: Do you want to eat a muffin or cupcake that’s been infused with Propylene Glycol to keep it soft and moist so it could stay on the shelf for weeks and weeks at the mini-mart? Do you want to eat ice cream that’s had the fat taken out but that has had PG put in to trick you into thinking it’s creamy? Do you want to drink beer that has a stable head foam from the addition of PG? Is the soft and uniform crumb texture of Betty Crocker Super Moist Cake worth the ingestion of PG? Do you want to eat microwave popcorn that derives its “artificial butter flavor” from an infusion of PG?

As a coach for optimal health, I believe that each of us wishes to be their best—to feel vibrant, to approach each day with abundant energy, to feel connected to our physical self by living a life committed to eating real food—whole foods that nourish and satisfy us, as well as by engaging in regular activity and movement, and to nourish our souls by allowing a few moments of quiet reflection each day. Sometimes however, the commitment to self becomes buried under daily life on planet earth responsibilities; this may be when convenience foods show up to fill the few-minute gap you have between family, job, errands, etc. It’s not that you do not care about yourself—I know that you do—but if you haven’t had time to read about convenience food ingredients, you will not understand the potential concerns that arise when those processed foods take a seat at your table.

As a last note in this rather long blog, I will share that I am exploring my options as an advocate; an advocate for my family, friends and community, as an advocate for those without a voice, and as an advocate for our planet. In my burgeoning role as a full-time volunteer, and as I become more engaged with food and nutrition awareness and access via my Evansville, IN community, it has become more and more apparent to me that the giant food industrial machine does not much care about our health and well-being, nor about the health of our shared planet, but cares a lot for their profit margins. The longer foods last on a shelf, the more chemical additives they can infuse into food to “enhance” the flavor or texture, the more money they spend enticing children to ask for less-than-nourishing food vis-à-vis their advertisements, the more money they spend lobbying our elected officials to influence food policy, the more motivated I am to raise my own voice. I will research, share my findings with you, provide nutrition and cooking classes, and continue on my journey to pursue food justice.

And our backyard fountain? The contractor is going to install an underwater heater to prevent freezing from occurring. Happy birds, happy planet, happy me. Check out the fountain!

[Ketosis is the physical state of fat burning. Ketosis occurs when a shortage of glucose is present. Glucose presence results from the ingestion and metabolism of carbohydrates, at which time glucose is then burned for energy—quite efficiently, I might add. A low or no-carb eating plan leads to the state of ketosis simply by forcing the body to seek an alternative fuel source. If no glucose is present, the body will burn fat, which can work as a fuel source, albeit less efficiently. This is how low or no-carb eating plans work—by changing metabolism from glucose burning to fat burning. Fat burning will result in often-quick weight loss, yet there are considerations worthy of explanation: Carbohydrate ingestion resulting in the presence of glucose is the perfect brain food; glucose readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and feeds our brains with marvelous nourishment. Studies show that cognition is negatively impacted in those who follow a strict low or no-carb eating plan. As well, the metabolism of fat, as in ketosis, gives the kidneys and liver a lot more (unfamiliar) work to do, increasing the chance for their premature wear and tear. And to clarify, when I write about carbohydrates, I am talking about whole food, whole grain, good quality carbs, not those from high fructose corn syrup, or processed white flour products…]

Chili, Veggie Style: perfect for a spring snow day meal!

At this past Friday evening’s cooking class at In the Kitchen, I shared with the students a favorite recipe of mine, adapted from the original Moosewood Cookbook. By adapted I mean that all the flavorful goodness is there, I’ve simply made it easier and less time consuming. By using canned beans and roasting the veggies, the stove/sauté time is taken out of the food prep, making this the perfect high-protein, nutrition-packed dinner for the busy person to enjoy and be nourished by. It’s fabulous as a leftover lunch, also!


(adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook)


  • 2 cans kidney beans
  • 1 ½ cup tomato juice
  • 1 cup uncooked bulgur wheat
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 6 – 8 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 large celery stalk, diced                                      
  • 2 small zucchinis
  • 1 large red, yellow, or orange pepper
  • 1 large can tomatoes
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. basil
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • black pepper and cayenne, to taste
  • finely chopped purple cabbage (as a topping)

optional toppings:

  • finely minced parsley
  • grated cheese


  1. Add the chopped veggies, onion and half of the chopped garlic together in a baking dish; toss with olive oil, salt and pepper; roast for 20 minutes total at 350 degrees, turning the veggies over once, at the10-minute mark.
  2. While the veggies are cooking, heat the tomato juice to a boil. Add the bulgur to the pot, stirring it up well, cover, and let it sit for 15 minutes.
  3. In a large pot, heat the beans and the bean juice. Add in the rest of the minced garlic and let it simmer for a few minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and bring to a boil – just for a moment, then turn down the heat to medium-low.
  4. Add the tomato paste and let it completely mix in, stirring gently.
  5. Add the roasted veggies and bulgur. Add spices to your desired taste. You can add more tomato juice if you like a thinner consistency.
  6. The purple cabbage on top adds a lovely crunch and gorgeous color finish. Additional topping options are minced parsley and grated cheese. Yum!


What Oils Do You Have in Your Kitchen?

Twice this week I have been asked “what are the best oils to use for cooking?”, prompting me to share my response with you, devoted reader of HeartMatters News and with the great wide world…

My pantry contains olive oil as my go-to oil for almost all cooking, and coconut oil for baking or any time I crave a rich, flavorful fat. In addition, I keep sesame and peanut oil on hand for a tempeh saute or a Thai dinner.

This disclosure may startle you–after all, isn’t olive oil meant for moderate temperatures and isn’t coconut oil a–gasp!–saturated fat? Yes and Yes. And they are both marvelously healthy, delicious and versatile.

What’s more important to know about what type of oils to keep in your kitchen is in regards to the cultivation: are the plant seeds GMO; is Hexane or a similar toxic chemical used to extract the oil; and are preservatives added to extend shelf-life?

Most commercial oils are routinely derived from Genetically Modified seeds, including soy, canola, sunflower, corn, safflower and other oils. The good news is that there are several companies that produce these oils from non-GMO seeds/plants. I would like to invite you to avoid GMO foods — they are associated with disease and with environmental concerns, not to mention the unconscionable practices of the Ag Industry giant Monsanto, but hey, don’t get me going on that…

Expeller-pressed oil means the oil has been extracted from the seed using the natural process of pressing (squishing) the seeds to press out the oils. About 70% of the oil is able to be extracted using this healthful method. Most commercial oil producers, however, use a nasty petroleum product called Hexane to remove oil; the hexane binds with the oil, pulling nearly 100% of the oil from the seed. AND-get this-since Hexane eventually evaporates, the FDA does not require those companies using this frightening technique to label Hexane as an ingredient. I don’t know about you, but I’ll skip the petroleum in my food oil, thank you very much. This does mean that expeller-pressed oils will cost more, and may I point to this as a perfect example of when investing your food dollar in your own health is wise investment.

Most commercial oil producers add a preservative at the end of processing to extend the shelf life of the product as well as to increase its stability with higher cooking temperatures. First of all, oil is not meant to be stored indefinitely. May I suggest that you consider purchasing a container size will be emptied within a few weeks? The local co-op at which I shop has larger bins of oils that can be accessed to refill those smaller bottles so that your supply at home is always fresh. In regards to the temperature consideration, I simply cook at lower heat to avoid the concern for reaching the smoking-point.

The bottom line is that organic oils will be non-GMO and have no BHT or BHA added to extend shelf-life. A good quality oil is a worthwhile purchase, can be used in small amounts for flavorful cooking, and will provide rich sources of plant micro-nutrients and healthful fats. Enjoy!

HeartMatters and In the Kitchen: Delight in Summer Cooking and Eating

Our seasonal cooking and eating classes continue with this upcoming spotlight on the delights of summer. Join the fun while learning about light and nutritious salads, spreads, and main dishes…

Spinach Barley Saute

Spinach Barley Sauté

This is one of my favorite dishes! It can be eaten warm in the winter, yet it is also delicious, cool and refreshing in the summer.


• 1 cup barley, rinsed
• 3 cups fresh spinach, washed and torn
• ½ cup raisins
• olive oil
• garlic, chopped
• salt and pepper, to taste
• 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted


1. Place barley in a pot with 2 cups of water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Set aside.
2. While the barley is cooking, sauté the garlic and raisins in the olive oil, for just 90 seconds!
3. Add the spinach, sauté until it is wilted and not overcooked.
4. Mix spinach sauté to cooked barley and season.
5. Just before you are ready to enjoy this dish, sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts.

“When I began to work with Robin as a client, she immediately recognized that my success involved more than treating issues relating to my heart. Her knowledge and caring has given me the opportunity and confidence to improve my overall health and mental outlook for the future. I have received excellent care from many doctors but what may be more important is that Robin has made me want to do more for myself.
—Pat G., Client

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