The Blue Zones Diet

When Dan Beuttner began studying blue zones (areas of the world with the highest concentrations of people 100 years old or more) he discovered similarities that he revealed in his first book on the topic in 2008. There have been several more books on the topic since then, including a giant research study designed to bring Blue Zones to America. He makes the argument that there are cultural cues to tell people what is appropriate to eat. Beuttner partners with several cities to make their communities more Blue Zone friendly from offering smaller portions in restaurants, noting heart healthy food options in grocery stores, and getting people to walk more. The communities that participated showed great improvements in purchasing healthier food and being more active. The idea of making your physical community more friendly to good lifestyle choices is pretty new. Instead of depending on your own will power and determination to be healthy it helps balance your personal resolve with a supportive community structure. i.e. you're less tempted to buy a candy bar at the grocery store checkout if there are only raw nuts and bottled water at the register. 

The community I live in is amazing. Plenty of healthy food options at our grocery stores and restaurants. Multiple gyms, walking trails, and parks. But what about our own home? Yes, we have fields full of fresh produce in summer and even a hoop house with greens that serve our nutritional needs well into winter. We raise our chickens for meat and eggs, and regularly shop the farmers market. By all accounts we're doing well. But the secret of most farmers is that we're so tired from doing the physical work of planting and harvesting that we are very suseptible to making poor food choices. The emergency pack of hot dogs we keep in the freezer get eaten for lunch more often than not, and we eat more take out pizza than I'd care to admit. If the better choices are "instantly" available, meaning no one has to go through much effort to get it ready to eat, then we'll eat the best food. If the fridge is only full of ingredients but everything needs to be washed, chopped, peeled, or cooked first we'll probably take the lazy way out. So here are some things we do to make the easy choice the best one.

1) Keep bottled water in the car.

I know, I know. The earth! But there's no way I'm getting my 8 glasses a day if some of those glasses aren't in my car which is where I spend lots of time. If you feel strongly about the environmental impact then fill up half a dozen reusable water bottles instead. 

2) Keep whole fruit on the counter

Fruit, except apples, should never be refrigerated. It compromises the flavor too much. I bought a lovely assortment of white ceramic fruit bowls in varying sizes and keep them full. I can make the fruit last a whole week by selecting one variety of fruit ripe enough for immediate eating and another type that isn't quite ripe. i.e. a quart of plums that's soft and a harder half peck of peaches in summer or ready to eat pears with apples in fall. Berries suffer if left too long so I only get those if we'll be able to eat them in 24 hours. This means anyone passing the kitchen island can grab our version of a fruit snack.

3) Clean and prep your food BEFORE it goes in the fridge.

At our house the fridge is often full of ingredients, all of which need to be cleaned before use. Since not everyone can go out to their high tunnel and cut greens for a dinner salad (which is awesome) having food in a state as close to ready as possible makes it easier to select better foods. When I get home from the grocery store or farmers market I rinse or clean everything before I put it away. If I get a head of lettuce I rip it up, soak it in a bowl, spin it through the salad spinner, and toss it in a container with a paper towel. No one is going through the effort of making a salad if they have to do all that first. But lettuce in a container ready to toss on a plate has a much better chance of being used...and being used before it goes bad. 

4) Decant all of your foods into clear containers.

This might seem like over kill but food you can't see is the same as food you don't have. If only one person does the shopping it's unlikely the rest of the household even knows what's available. If it's all visible to everyone you can have the moment where someone opens the fridge and says, "Oh! I didn't know we had celery" and proceed to smear it with peanut butter for his or her snack. The same goes for pantry foods. If all of your nuts and dried fruits are in bags that someone has to dig through they're going to give up. If you've put your mason jars to good use then everyone can see you have almonds and dried apricots. I probably take this to the extreme as even my baking soda and eggs are in clear containers. But it looks pretty and there's never any guessing at the available options. Plus it makes putting together a grocery list a breeze. 

5) Double your recipes.

If you're going through the trouble of making dinner, make two and freeze the second dinner. Sometimes this doesn't even involve doubling. i.e. I can use one pound of ground meat to make meatloaf but only cook up half. Since it's just the hubs and myself we can't get through all of the leftovers anyway. And that extra meatloaf in the freezer means there's a backup dinner that can be made any time we're too tired to cook. 

6) Make your own

Most ready made food can be made healthier if you make it at home instead of buying the prepackaged version. I can go to the grocery store and buy cereal, yogurt, or nutella but I don't really need all that extra sugar in my life. I keep oatmeal, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits in the pantry always then combine them in whatever manner I'm feeling into muesli. It's a great alternative to breakfast cereal. Yogurt is expensive and usually chock full of addidtives, I bought a $20 yogurt maker on Amazon and have been making it myself ever since. You basically boil milk, add a little yogurt from a previous batch, and put it in the maker overnight. The little glass jars (are you sensing a pattern here?) are proportioned so we can just reach in the fridge and pull out a ready made snack. Nutella, you ask? Yes, I've been eating that since before it was ever advertised on tv. It's my all time favorite form of chocolate. I eat chocolate everyday and have no plans of stopping. But an emergency arose in the form a pantry empty of chocolate. What to do? I didn't feel like going out so I quick googled some recipes based on the availability of only cocoa powder. I had no milk for pudding but the knock off nutella recipes looked good. The first batch I made was way too sweet. So I made some adjustments and came up with 4 ingredient chocolate-hazelnut butter. 

Grab enough hazelnuts to cover the bottom of a 12 cup food processor. Run the prosecutor until the filberts start to liquify and stick to the sides of the processor. Continue to run the motor. Add 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil. After it combines add 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. The last three ingredients will mix in fast. Shut off the machine, scrape it out with a rubber spatula, and you're ready to go. The measurements are 100% estimated and can be changed to accommodate a more chocolately batch or one that is wetter. If you need it to be sweeter use powdered sugar instead of the syrup. As a note, I've tried this with all kinds of other sweetners. Honey didn't hold up to the rest of the strong flavors and molasses tasted too strong. 

7) Start a love affair with your slow cooker

It took me forever to understand the perfection that is the slow cooker. I always thought you used it to cook huge cuts of beef and then had leftovers for an army. It can successfully be used in that manner but I prefer to use it for things you wouldn't want to stand around in your kitchen all day to cook. i.e. chicken broth or steel cut oatmeal. If you set up your oatmeal the night before you look like a genius the next morning. 1 cup of steel cut oats to 4 cups of water (you'll only need 3 cups of water for regular rolled oats). I like to add a can of pureed pumpkin but I'm sure any pureed vegetable will do. The next day you have oatmeal ready to go and all it needs are your toppings. A splash of milk, some nuts, honey, and dried fruit. Don't be afraid to use the slow cooker for small batches of food. Meat balls for 4 people (or make enough for 8 and freeze the rest), 2 pork chops, or 6 chicken wings. 

8) Walk whenever possible.

Our culture is car oriented. Unless you live in a city with comprehensive public transport (I'm jealous if you do) it can be hard to move around. I can spend hours in the car each day driving to work, errands, events. Ick. But whenever I go somewhere I make a point to walk if I can. I go into town every Saturday and visit either the farmers market or the grocery store. I hit the library, maybe the book shop, some clothing stores, and the popcorn shop. I park in the middle of town and walk to all these places. I frequently have to stop back at my vehicle to drop off my purchases but I don't mind. It gets me moving around in a situation where I would otherwise move my car six times, which I believe would take longer than just walking anyway. And when we go into the city (Cleveland has a miserable public transport situation) we park far away and walk. It's usually cheaper to park that way and a 15 minute walk is good exercise. Plus we miss most of the traffic upon leaving a show or game. Unless it's the Browns and then there is no escaping the gridlock. 

So far these environmental habits have made it easier to make better choices and sneak in a few more vegetables everyday. Add in some walking around and I think we're well on our way to 100! 


Do I Need Pallet Forks?

The hubs wants some pallet forks for the tractor. We have an immediate need for them. The chicken coop needs moved. But I don't see how we can justify a $700 purchase of pallet forks for one time use. I would rather have a new bathtub. In terms of "price per use" I think the bathtub is a better buy. In his campaign to get pallet forks I have been forced to watch untold numbers of youtube videos outlining how he would use said pallet forks. Here are the top five reasons so far:

1) Moving brush. 

2) Moving pallets of firewood

3) Moving the chicken coop

4) Moving piles of scrap to the burn pile

5) Picking up a dumpster

For all of these items my response has been, "We have a tractor with a bucket and a gator with a dump bed? How is that not sufficient?" So far I think I've invested about 45 minutes in videos. The firewood one was actually promising. The guy had built racks on pallets then moved them up to his house. But I'm still not convinced that I'd use them $700 worth. 


How to replace the floor boards in your chicken coop

Sometimes there are farm tasks that become an emergency. Not necessarily life or death, just needs to be accomplished in a hurry. You're racing daylight (must complete fence setup before we can't see anymore), a store's closing time (birds are out of feed and TSC closes in 10 minutes), or CSA pickup hour (racing to pack the boxes before everyone shows up). This week we were in the racing-daylight-for-the-sake-of-the-chickens situation. 

The truncated version of the story is this: We had a stand of trees taken down in our backyard. To remove one in particular we needed to move the chicken coop. Which was fine. The guys used pallet forks and bobcat to take the girls on a ride around the yard. Once the work was done they planned to move them back. After several days of having our coop sitting cattywampus outside the back door the guys came back to move it. The move did not go well. The base of the coop decided it was time to part company with the sides and roof. Apparently it was tired of being pooped on. I can understand getting fed up with being scratched at, spilled upon, and pooped all over. I disagree with the form of protest it chose. Obviously.

So now we had a pantless chicken coop. It was 4pm, almost birdie bedtime, and the ladies couldn't sleep in their coop as it stood (precariously and leaning heavily to the right). To get the broken floor out and put a new floor on we had to flip the coop on it's back, which was accomplished by pushing it over with the tractor and crossing our fingers. The only collateral damage in that (smooth) move was a broken (yet easily fixed) coop door. 

The hubs took some measurements and hustled off to the store for plywood, screws, and 2x4s. Upon return he cut new support braces and I held some in place. See! I helped! I held the first piece of plywood for the floor and he said I was done. So I thought I was done. I went inside to eat some dinner and got through painting exactly TWO fingernails when he waved me back out to hold the skids. Skids? No one said anything about skids. I had clocked out. But by now it was getting dark and the skids were needed so we could move the coop later. So I am carrying 4x4 skids around the yard while holding out two fingers to dry. This made for awkward and inefficient work. Obviously. 


As we're working it's getting dark and the birds are unhappy. They are wandering around the yard yelling at us. We assured them we were working as fast as we could and could they please just be patient. Maybe our chickens don't speak English. They weren't having it. We ended up with a crowd of 20 divas demanding accommodation in the coop. And then the drill battery died.

The chickens revolted. "You're not even working on our coop anymore! We will not stand for it! We will find our own places to sleep!" So they did. A pile of chickens at the base of a tree, a chicken on the living room window sill, on the backs of our porch rockers, a chicken on the gutter of the garage, and one under the deck. And all of them shouting at us the entire time. "You'll pay for this!"

We used the tractor to flip the coop onto it's new base. Doing so dislodged all of the roosts inside. Great. However the chickens saw house ready to use and some of them rushed in. I am trying to hold up one roost for the hubs to screw in WHILE A CHICKEN ROOSTED ON IT. She wasn't waiting another minute. But there was division in the ranks as the rest of the birds had already found where they were sleeping and didn't want to move. Hence the greatest game of hide and go seek ever played. By flashlight we looked under machinery and on top of piles of materials for the birds, grabbed them (unwillingly) and dropped them onto the recently reattached roosts. Have you ever picked up a molting chicken? No? Imagine picking up a porcupine. Well, maybe more like a hedgehog since the quills are shorter. And not the cute cuddly looking ones you see on the internet. With the quills all flared out. Ouch.

Since it's too dark to see anymore we lean a piece of plywood against the door and call it a night. I return to the house covered in scratches, poo, and sawdust. But good news! My two fingernails weren't smeared! 

Do you hoard your leftover egg cartons?

What is our cultural obsession with saving egg cartons? Seriously, where did this originate? I know there is a leaning tower of Pisa-esque tower of cartons on top of your fridge right now. Don't deny it. And once the stack gets too tall it migrates to the garage. You inherently believe that there will be a use for them. Your child will require them for a school project three years from now (but probably not until the day after you throw them all away). Or maybe you are convinced you're going to start the seeds for your, currently nonexistent, garden in them. What about all those Pinterest crafts you will someday attempt? You will need the cartons to hold paint, beads, and pins. Or all those organizational projects you have had on your to do list for the last 12 years? You are going to put your loose jewelry, Barbie shoes, and daily vitamins in there. The only time people throw out egg cartons is when they move. But wait a second, you could use those cartons to insulate your breakables! That's what egg cartons were designed to do. So you move your empty egg cartons with you to your new place. The real question is, "Why do companies keep making egg cartons?!" We obviously don't need anymore since no one ever throws them away. 

But with the explosion of backyard chicken flocks you can now buy egg cartons at your local Tractor Supply or Walmart. Although I don't know why you would need egg cartons if you had your own eggs, unless you were selling them. We just keep our eggs in a basket in the pantry. 

I need to know why we have attached so much value to something that comes for free with every egg purchase.  It can't possibly be from the possibility we might use them one day. People have been saving egg cartons forever. Well, at least since 1911 when the egg carton was invented. Before that eggs were transported in an egg box, which looks exactly like those divided cardboard boxes used for storing Christmas ornaments. And before the Raylite Egg Box was created in 1906 people stored eggs in baskets. Just like the one in my pantry. 

To transport and sell eggs you can use a used egg carton. The State of Ohio allows us, after inspection, to sell eggs in old egg cartons as long as the carton is clean and our label and safe handling instructions are attached to each one. This is how we've become the depository for our entire town's egg cartons. People give them to us all the time. We come home and find them stacked on our front porch. Victims of a drive by egg cartoning. We've had customers bring us trash bags full of egg cartons. Every time I see any member of my family they have egg cartons for me. I can't imagine how long these egg cartons have been floating around in their cars, waiting until they next saw me. Until I realize there's a stack in my car from the last time we got together with friends. "Oh, do you need egg cartons?" For Christmas last year I received about a dozen egg cartons from various relatives.

Don't misunderstand. I LOVE being able to assuage egg carton guilt for everyone in a 10 mile radius. It's my good deed. Everyone can feel good about saving their egg cartons, finally justified in keeping that teetering stack of cartons for so long. But it's not just about my community service. I really enjoy not having to make another trip to Tractor Supply for egg cartons. So keep em coming! 


How do you define "good food"?

If you have to eat it should be good food. Good food is relative of course. But I define it as food that I feel good eating AND feel good having eaten it. I feel fantastic eating half a box of pasta. I feel the opposite of fantastic after having eaten it. This can be the food itself or the portion of the food. I can categorize eating one slice of Nutella toast as "good food." Especially if the bread and the Nutella are home made. That same "good food" can lose it's good food label when I eat four pieces of the same thing. Why four, you ask? Because there's a chance I have experience with that. (It was not so good food).  


Food Geometry. 

1. I must eat. 

2. I should eat good food.

3. I feel good when I eat good food. 

4. I feel good when I eat less. 

5. I eat less if I eat good food. 

I generally do an excellent job at eating a good food breakfast. We have ample access to fresh eggs (so long as an opossum is not systematically stealing them from the coop) and I eat them everyday for breakfast with whatever veggies we have on hand. A frittata made on Monday morning can last a few days in the fridge. Voila. A good food breakfast.

The system breaks down as the day goes along. I get busy or lazy or feel rushed to eat quickly and forget to take a break and eat properly.  Proper eating is on a plate while seated in a chair and doing nothing else (except maybe reading a book or newspaper). Any meal becomes instantly more civilized if you use metal utensils and eat off a solid plate and not out of a container with a spork. I would venture to say that no "good food" has ever been eaten with a spork. 

But busy, lazy, or rushed are the norm for most people, most days. So we grab the not so good snack or over-eat the most convenient food item at hand. But if we just take a minute, a deep breath, and an actual piece of silverware we can transform a potentially blasé meal into a good food moment. And when I'm busy or rushed I can definitely use that good food.