Tips for keeping fruits and veggies fresh

Last fall Mark and I invested in a share of a local CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture.)

We are going to do another one for the summer and I’m really excited about having fresh vegetables from local gardens — the second best option in my opinion to being able to grow them myself! I’ll discuss the CSA experience and the questions about local agriculture in another post, but today I want to discuss storing vegetables with you.

With the increase in cooking that has happened since Mark started his new exercise and workout regiment, we’ve had more vegetables moving through our kitchen. And nothing drives me more crazy than wasting food (…well, okay, I could think of a few other things… like dirty dishes. Ahem, Mark.)

A famous study at the University of Arizona showed that American families toss out an average of 470 pounds of food per year — about a half pound of fruits or veggies discarded per day, and about 14 percent of all the food brought home with them. That’s roughly $600 thrown down the garbage disposal. In total, Americans chuck about a fourth of all the produce we buy, or $43 billion worth of food every year. Why? Because it has gone bad. Wasting produce is, well, a waste for our wallets, bad for our environment, and with a growing world population and growing numbers of hungry people, just not cool.

It’s easy to get more out of the veggies we buy though if you just store them right.

Here are some tips:

Keep produce whole until ready to consume.

As soon as you start pulling fruits and veggies apart, you’ve broken cells and microorganisms start to grow. If you only need half an avocado, for instance, cover the other half in foil, store it in the fridge, and make a plan of when you will use it within the next day.

Do not store fruits and vegetables together.

Fruits that give off high levels of ethylene (the ripening agent) can prematurely ripen and spoil close-by vegetables. (Think of “one bad apple.”) Best to store fruits in one bin and veggies in another or your greens will wilt, yellow, or rot in just a couple of days.

Know where to store: counter vs. refrigerator.

Avocados, tomatoes, mangoes, melons, zucchini and pears will continue to ripen if left sitting out on a countertop, while items like bell peppers, grapes, all citrus, and berries will only deteriorate and should be refrigerated.

Once counter items are fully ripe though, either consume immediately or put them in the fridge to get another few days out of them.

Bananas in particular ripen very quickly, and will also speed the ripening of any nearby fruits.

Apples can go either place, but I refrigerate mine. I find they don’t lose that much taste and they definitely last much, much longer – like, months.

Don’t pre-wash most things.

Most fruits and vegetables don’t appreciate the extra moisture from washing them as soon as you get home. The convenience for you comes at a price. Just wait until you are ready to consume and then wash the items.

Buy and consume fastest to slowest.

You can totally get all your fruits and veggies for the week in one trip to the store if you do simple things like buying your greens last at the store so that they don’t warm up too much during the trip, visiting the farmers market early in the morning so your produce isn’t in the sun for too long, and consuming more perishable items first, like berries and tomatoes.

If you aren’t consuming fast enough, improvise. Make a fruit pie or a potful of soup, or cook up some tomato sauce and throw these things in the freezer. You could even calendar it in to check in and cook these things up midweek. Nearly all fruits and veggies can be stored in the freezer in airtight containers or freezer bags. Bananas should be peeled before storing.

Generally, foods that spoil the quickest include: artichokes, asparagus, avocados, bananas, basil, broccoli, berries (blueberries last longer), mushrooms, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant. And things with thicker skins tend to last longer: think oranges, grapefruit, watermelons. Tomatoes are a toss-up depending on where they come from. Straight out of the garden? Good for a week. Bought from the store? May go mushy in three days.

Things that last forever (slight exaggeration): Apples, beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, garlic, onions, potatoes, squash.

Vegetable storage: specifics.

Before storing, remove ties and rubber bands. Make sure the bag you store the veggies in has some holes punctured to allow for good air flow – nothing is worse than storing veggies in an airtight bag because you are basically cutting off their breathing! The idea is to let the veggies breathe, but just in a lower temperature so that they don’t ripen too quickly. Pack vegetables loosely in the refrigerator. The closer they are, the quicker they will rot.

Leafy greens (including lettuce) – if not pre-washed – can be washed before storing by soaking them in a sink full of water, but make sure to dry thoroughly before storing. They shouldn’t be stored wet, but moisture is important. Storing them with a damp cloth helps them from drying out. Kale and chard would do well with the stems in a cup of water.

Asparagus and green onions should be stored in the refrigerator with a moist paper towel around the stems or can be stood up in a glass of cold water with a damp paper towel wrapped around them to keep them crisp.

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Onions, potatoes, garlic, squash, sweet potatoes should be stored kept in a cool, dry place with a lot of ventilation, (e.g. don’t stack them on top of each other.) Why not store taters in the fridge you ask? The starch turns to sugar at cold temperatures. Sweet potatoes are the delicate ones of this bunch – they’ll only last a week.

Broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumber‐ place in a container in the fridge with a damp paper towel or wrap in a damp towel before placing in the fridge.

Herb storage: specifics.

Herbs are the best and the worst! I loooove adding fresh herbs to dishes throughout the week, but if not stored properly, they can go bad so quickly, which can be really frustrating.

We’ve gotten into a really good routine of immediately “repackaging” our herbs for storage as soon as we get home from the store. It’s super easy once you get into a routine. Most herbs do well by cutting off the ends a bit and storing them in a glass of water (like a bunch of flowers) and then covering the top with a plastic bag. Poke some holes in it.

You can also store washed and dried herbs in a plastic bag along with a paper towel, which will absorb extra moisture and make the environment more humid.

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It’s finnicky and fabulous: my favorite herb, basil, is the oddball out. It doesn’t like the cold, and it doesn’t like being wet. Store it in an airtight container or jar, loosely packed, and with a small damp piece of paper towel inside. Store on the counter.

Fruit storage: specifics.

Most of this has already been covered in the information above.

Fun tip about pineapples: the sugar in a pineapple is concentrated at its base, so you can store them upside down for a day or two at room temperature or in the fridge to allow the sweetness to spread throughout the fruit.

Stack berries in the fridge in a single layer if possible.

Pomegranates will keep up to a month stored on a cool counter. (Which is great, because pomegranates are awesome.)

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So there you have it. Hope some of this info helps.

A final note: If you don’t want to use all this plastic, experiment with paper bags.

Do you have any best practices/tips of your own to share? I’d love to hear them! 

–A

Foodstuffs n Movestuffs: “Fightin’ Shape” week 1 review

Last week I blogged about getting back into “Fightin’ Shape.” It has been a little over a week, so here’s the recap in food and workouts.

Movestuffs

I got in 4 runs on the treadmill this week — total of 11 miles. As I’ve mentioned before, running on the treadmill is not my favorite running scenery, but I’ve been listening to The Firestarter Sessions, which has actually made it much more enjoyable. That and talking to my mom — makes the time fly!

I also got back into the yoga studio yesterday! Yay! Mark and I went to an hour long class together. He was supposed to do YogaX with his P90X program, so we switched it up with an actual class. I hadn’t been to the studio in nearly 6 weeks because of my elbow, which still gave me problems in class, but it was really nice to practice with others again rather than a home practice. With the class and a home practice earlier in the week, I got in my 4 30min cardio sessions.

After indulgences in Valentine’s Day sweets, I’m ready to feel some burn. With midterms behind me, I’m excited about week 2.

Also, I updated my Pinterest with a bunch of exercise routines from one of my favorite bloggers, Peanut Butter Runner. I look forward to being able to easily pull these up on my ipad to get in a routine either in the gym or at home. Will keep you posted.

Foodstuffs

Lots of smoothies for breakfast. I posted on them earlier this week.

I also spent a lot of time at Starbucks this week, studying. I loved this breakfast jar I took with me Monday morning that had quinoa, almond milk, almond butter, cinnamon, walnuts, and dates. Yum.

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I made a giant pot of sweet potato chili early this week that made for a few delicious lunches. It’s super easy to make. I took 2 medium sweet potatoes peeled and diced, a can of black beans, can of kidney beans, can of stewed tomatoes, some garlic, chopped onion, chopped red pepper, chicken broth, and lots of spices (cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, etc.) and added them together in the crockpot. I let it cook for 6 hours. To serve, I added cooked quinoa (we had cooked a big batch to use for other meals) and avocado on top.

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It made an easy to-go lunch too.

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My favorite salad of the week: mixed greens, cucumbers, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, green olives, beets, eggs, chickpeas, blue cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette.

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I tried to not let midterms be an excuse for excessive caffeine consumption this week. This Kombucha tea helped. I love this ginger flavor — it’s energizing!

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What did your meals look like this week? Anything in particular you are craving in this cold weather? 

-A

The Weekender: lots of love.

My friend Rachel sent me an email the other day. Subject: “How I felt on the walk to work today,” with this video link. Made me laugh. She lives in NYC. I think everyone across the board is ready for our different versions of severe winter to be over. I’m not a fool though – we’ve still got a while here in Chicago. It’s snowing again today. You know the funny thing about long, brutal winters though? It’s a lot easier to notice the little joys, like getting the table next to the fireplace at the coffee shop, or finding a parking spot right in front of the building at school, or taking 10 extra minutes in bed because my little Lou boo is snuggled up in my arms. We will make it to spring!

This week I have a bunch on love. Tis the season.

  • VideoVows of Love, New York Times. A short video series to celebrate the theme of the weekend. Only have a few minutes? Catch the first two.
  • VideoThe secret to desire in a long-term relationship, TED talk. This talk is about long-term relationships, in which Esther Perel discusses how we often have conflicting needs in relationships and how being aware and navigating that is the essence of finding happiness in our relationships. It’s a wonderful piece. Turn it on while your cooking or working out or something.
  • Article: I couldn’t not include a food economics article in the Weekender. Did you get chocolate for Valentine’s Day this year? Here’s an article that takes a look behind the scenes of the making of that chocolate. Cocoa-nomics: Why chocolate really doesn’t grow on trees, CNN. Child labor is a historical issue in the West Africa cocoa sector (where more than 30% of the world’s cocoa originates.) The issue is actually quite complex and solutions are very challenging. This spotlights the issue and what companies (including my old stomping grounds) are doing to work in a culturally-sensitive, socially-responsible way to make positive change.
  • Podcast: If you have been watching the Olympics and are curious about all the tension people are talking about between the U.S. and Russia, check out a podcast interview I did for the Chicago Policy Review with Ambassador Ian Kelly from the State Department last week. I’m still getting the hang of being a good interviewer…

Happy Sunday!

-A

Schmoothie 101!

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Making a smoothie has become my morning ritual for the past year or so. Probably four mornings of the week, I have a smoothie breakfast. I’ve gotten quite a few requests to share recipes (maybe too many instagram photos?!), so here you go!

Why?

I love them for a number of reasons, including:

1) Number 1: It’s a super easy way to get my greens first thing in the morning, and that makes me happy. It’s easy to get my greens as part of breakfast when I brunch on the weekends and get an omelet full of veggies, or an eggy dish with a side of veggies, but during the week, it’s much trickier. I like the idea of getting a giant boost of A-C-K vitamins when I start my day.

2) Filling, but not toooo filling.

3) Perfect to-go breakfast. I don’t love encouraging eating on the-go, but when you are ready to dive into a busy day, a smoothie is a really convenient way to jump-start your energy!

4) It’s cost-effective.

5) Did I mention how easy it is? I love juicing too and still fit juicing into my morning routine before an early yoga class or on the weekends, but a blender is a gazillion times easier to clean and you get the benefits of fiber in fruits you add. I’ll discuss juicing versus blending in a different blog post!

Some Smoothie Basics

Intimidated by the green smoothie? Don’t be! It’s as easy as buying some simple key ingredients.

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  • natural, unsalted almond or peanut butter (or both!) in the cabinet
  • flax, hemp, or chia seeds (or all of them!) in the cabinet for an easy way to add some omega-3 fatty acids, which all three share. Chia and flax also provide a boost of soluble fiber, while hemp provides more protein than the others. But flax is way, way cheaper, so I tend to have this one more readily on-hand.
  • frozen berries. I love when fresh berries are cheap enough to buy and enjoy when they are in-season, but frozen berries tend to be cheaper and are definitely easier because you can stockpile! And if you can find a berry mix with cherries in it, YUM. I recently discovered this and LOVE the taste of them in my smoothies.
  • bananas. you can even freeze bananas if you end up buying too many. just unpeel and store in an airtight baggie.
  • bag of spinach. (please do not attempt to use frozen spinach. I’ve heard horror stories. gross. fresh spinach is cheap — unless you live outside the U.S. maybe? — so grab a bag on your weekly trip to the grocery store!)
  • almond milk, soy milk, or greek yogurt. Any of these will give you a good creamy base.

From these basic ingredients, you can make some fantastic, simple recipes.

My go-to favorite recipes

Base Green Smoothie Recipe: 

  • 1 banana
  • a handful (1-2 cups) of spinach (fresh, not frozen)
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (you could use regular or soy too, and vanilla if that’s what you prefer… your smoothie will just be a little sweeter)
  • a sprinkle of flax seeds (or chia)

Optional Add-ins:

  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt
  • 1 to 2 cups berries
  • 1 tablespoon of nut butter
  • a dollop of raw honey if you need sweetness

Sooo, confession. I rarely measure things… Tasting as you go is important. Just like most things in cooking, start with less and then add in as you see fit. I like the texture of a thicker smoothie, but if you don’t, you might want to add a few ice cubes or a 1/3 cup water at the end, but always taste test first! Also, putting the banana at the bottom with the liquid seems to make everything “catch” a bit better in my blender and mix quickly and easily.

Here are a few combos to try out:

Strawberry-Greenie 

  • Base recipe
  • 1.5 cups strawberries or berry medley (fresh or frozen)
  • if it needs more sweet, add a few dollups of raw honey

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Blueberry-Protein Blast 

  • base recipe
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 3 pitted dates
  • 1 tablespoon almond (or peanut) butter, all natural, unsalted

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Mango Madness

  • base recipe, except sub 1/2 cup greek yogurt for the almond milk
  • 2 cups frozen mango
  • 1 tablespoon almond (or peanut) butter, all natural, unsalted
  • 1/2 cup water

Isn’t this an awesome color?!

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Tropical Kick-Start 

  • 1.5 cups mango or 1/4 pineapple (can be frozen)
  • 16 oz. coconut water
  • 1 handful spinach
  • 1 tablespoon goji berries (or raspberries/cherries if you don’t have goji around)
  • 1/4 tablespoon grated ginger (or a squeeze of lime)
  • 1 healthy pinch flax seeds (or chia)

This one is full of antioxidants and electrolytes, so it would be great pre or post-workout.

*A word on ginger. Adding ginger to the regular list for a stocked kitchen has been wonderful for me. I have a piece of ginger root in the freezer in a mason jar and any time I need a little for a tea or a stir-fry or a smoothie, I just get it out and grate off some onto a cutting board. It’s so easy.

Other resources

I really only go to a few places for smoothie recipes because I don’t tend to feel the need to get wild and crazy with them. A few sites I do like to get inspiration from are:

Reboot with Joe Smoothie – I get the daily emails from this website, and I find the ones I tend to click “read more” on are the smoothie recipes! The Sand n’ Sun one I modified into the last one I list above that I just made for the first time last week. I suppose I was missing Mexico?

Peanut Butter Runner – I’ve been following this blog for a while now, and I constantly get inspiration for easy recipes,  time to share!

I like to experiment, so I’ll be sure to share some of my other favorites from time to time.

Cheers!

A

The Weekender: food policy, Sochi tweets, and PSH clips

I’m watching giant snowflakes fall outside our windows right now. Another three inches today, and it’s cold out there! I think my solo run down the block to Starbucks this a.m. will likely be my only venture outside for the day! We are staying inside and the boys are all snuggled up on the couches.

(We *might* have moved the bed mattress out into the living room to have a movie night last night.)

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I think Barry has cabin fever.

I spent this morning catching up on articles from the last few weeks, mostly about all the interesting happenings in the food security world as a result of the World Economic Forum in Davos and at the African Union Summit last week. Don’t worry — I won’t bore you with them — although I do have a few short, pithy ones related to food security.

Here we go!

Links I Love:

  • It Takes More Than a Grocery Store to Eliminate a Food Desert, PBS NewsHour. This is a great article highlighting an interview with Steven Cummins, professor of population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He discusses ways in which we need to think more critically about human behavior in the quest to combat food deserts, underpinned by a study he has conducted. Much more needs to be done on the topics he discusses.

Happy Saturday!

-A

Fightin’ Shape.

So, mid-terms are next week.

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It’s that time of the quarter where I regularly have “oh shit” moments in my head, and um, what have I been doing for the past five weeks??! because I feel really behind. (Wait, what is a multivariate regression?) But I know the “oh shit” routine pretty well by now, and I know how to manage it: eat well, keep fitting in a little bit of exercise, and focus my days.

The first two used to seem a little counter-intuitive to me. In college, exercise was the last thing on my mind when I had a big test coming up and I would hype up on caffeine drinks at Starbucks to get me through long nights of last-minute studying. I remember I used to regularly make a Starbucks run at 11:50pm (because it closed at midnight) to get a [*I'm not kidding*] caramel macchiato to keep me up through the night to write a paper or study for a test the next day. Oooooh sigh. Those were the days! Those were the days when 1) I didn’t know any better, and 2) my body could handle all of that better I think! (…and 3) I was worried more about grades than actually learning… which is the opposite now and greatly diminishes the pressure around exams these days.)

Now a days, when I get busy with life and start feeling a little stress, it triggers me to pause, go out for a run or a yoga class, and load up on fruits and veggies. And this time around, the pause came this morning.

I have been fighting a ridiculous upset stomach that has lasted literally for five days. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I also haven’t been taking it seriously enough to stop eating all dairy, and soy, and gluten (things that tend to irritate my system) and “clean eat” to give my body a chance to feel better. I’ve only cooked twice, and have only exercised once this week. Yesterday, I was glued to my books all day (seriously, did I forget to move??).

And this morning my tummy hurt again. After a little tiff with Mark about taking pepto bismol (I didn’t want to…), I’ve decided enough is enough. Not only do I need to make some commitments around my eating, but I also want to get back into what I’ll call “fightin’ shape” — when you feel really motivated and good about working out, you’ll push yourself to do it regardless of busy days and on weekends.

I’ve been toying with the idea of going completely gluten-free for a while to give my body a break and see if it makes a difference in my energy levels. I’ve done this before and had good success, but didn’t keep it up. After my tummy woes this week, I’m definitely committing — at least for the next month.

And to get me back into fightin’ shape, I’m committing to 10 miles per week running (I’ve been doing 5-7) and 3 sessions of yoga/xtrain a week (I’ve been getting in 1 through home practice yoga. My elbow still hasn’t fully recovered enough to get in good practices back at the studio.)

So what to do for accountability? I made a goal chart of course!

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“Goal” and “chart” are two of my favorite words.

I’m committed to two months of this routine, and then I want to shift to work on strength-building — particularly my arms.

So, I’ll split my miles up into 3-4 sessions a week and get in yoga or x-train through a combo of yoga classes, time on the bike (inside for now!), or Mark’s p90x workouts, which I’m really excited to keep trying! (I’ve tried the yogaX and the Plyometrics sessions so far, which were both good.)

Do you have any specific health/wellness/exercise goals right now? How are you staying committed?

-A