Welcome to Our Garden

Dinner on a rooftop garden, Brookline, MA

^^ Dinner in the garden

While I’m perfectly content lugging my grocery basket up and down the tiny aisles of my minuscule but much loved Whole Foods Market, there is something incredibly rewarding about growing your own food.

As a lover of local, organic foods and CSAs, having a small vegetable garden has been on my bucket list for years. I first acted on this agricultural impulse several years ago, when I enrolled in the Citizen Gardener Certification course from the Sustainable Food Center in Austin. The program consisted of two classroom & field lessons and required 10 hours of volunteer work in community gardens. At the end of the summer, the training then culminated in a beautiful potluck feast at the Barr Mansion in Austin, where students brought dishes created with their homegrown produce.

Despite all of the education and volunteer work, I completely wimped out on the actual act of starting a garden, still too daunted to put these lessons into practice. At the potluck, I sheepishly put my farmers market vegetable tartine on the table (at least it was homemade!), and quickly deflected all questions about my summer in the dirt. So much for that!

In the years since, I’ve been much more enthusiastic about buying plants, and have subsequently let several herb starts and an embarrassing number of succulents perish on my watch. This year, however, marked a turning point in my gardening adventures, as our cozy Brookline abode came complete with a spacious rooftop patio, which I am determined not to take for granted. Plus, our newest roommate is from the Pacific Northwest, and is using all of her quirky Portlandia knowledge to spearhead this project. (Admittedly, I am mostly only contributing dirt and curiosity.)

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Cultivating the seedlings into strong plants was a challenge, but apparently, that was only half the battle. Our third floor elevation protects us from most predators, but we’ve dealt with a few heartbreaking run-ins with a rather malicious squirrel, as well as an infestation of aphids.

After several months of care, we are finally starting to see some veggies springing up. We started peas, carrots, green beans, zucchinis, basil, Thai basil, Chinese chives, sunflowers, and cucumbers from seed—a particularly rewarding endeavor. We also have tomatoes, strawberries, oregano, mint, rosemary, and sage, which we grew from starts.

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If you’re looking to start your own garden, here are some tools we found particularly helpful…

Starting an Outdoor Container Garden in Boston

  1. Smart Pot // Amazon ( Assorted sizes, $8.72 for 5 gallon)
  2. BirdBlock Netting // Amazon ($8.35 for 7 ft x 20 ft)
  3. Neptune Harvest Organic Fertilizer // Amazon ($12.74 for 18 oz)
  4. Foxfarm Potting Soil // Amazon ($24.37 for 36.8 quarts)
  5. Seed Starter Pots // Amazon ($5.98 for 50 cells)

Are you growing anything this year?

– Kelly

Current Obsessions

Long time, no see, my friends! As summer craziness flickers out and we settle into fall routines, here are some of the things that I can’t get enough of lately.

Tomato Ricotta Toast

Tomato & Ricotta Toast

Toast is definitely becoming a “thing” now, but mashed avocado aside, this seasonal combination is definitely my favorite. Forget the cold, flavorless orbs you find on salad bars year round. Cherry tomatoes fresh from the garden are a food like no other, and their puckering sweet flavor promptly puts an end to the fruit vs. vegetable debate that haunts this ubiquitous crop. The best way to enjoy these summer gems is to pile them on crusty whole grain toast that’s been slathered with part skim ricotta, lightly drizzled with olive oil, then topped with a handful of fresh basil and a tiny sprinkle of salt and dried oregano.

Fastachi Mixed Nut Butter

Fastachi Mixed Nut Butter // $7.99- $15.99

Different nuts and seeds each have a unique nutrient profile, which is why it’s important to have a variety of these superfoods in your diet. This is also why I get paralyzed in the nut butter aisle at Whole Foods every couple of weeks. Thankfully, I came across this mixed nut butter, which boasts an impressive lineup of roasted nuts (hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, cashews, and walnuts), without the unnecessary added oils or sugars. All of the women that sit near me at work keep a stash of it, as it’s conveniently sold at the Copley Farmers Market (Tuesdays and Fridays) and at their charming Beacon Hill storefront. For those outside of Boston, you can also order online, or try making your own.

Biking in Back Bay, Boston

Biking to Work 

Yes, I wear a helmet; yes, there are bike lanes (most of the way); and yes, it can be scary. But it’s also really, really fun, not to mention the fastest way to get around the city. I got my bike in July, but it wasn’t until I moved to Brookline this September that I really started getting brave about riding on Boston roads. Now it’s my primary mode of transportation to and from work, and increasingly for other trips as well. If the FitBit registered pedaling, we’d be golden.

Produce Candles

Produce Candles // $20

Pretty much anything produce themed is an instant hit with me, and these charming candles are no exception. I first spotted them while browsing Milly & Grace in Nantucket, but was delighted to find them at my happy place (Brookline Booksmith) at a slightly cheaper price. The rhubarb scent smells phenomenal, although I’m also smitten with the earthier ones like kale (how could I not?!) and mint.

What’s on your radar lately?

– Kelly

Blueberry Picking + 10 Healthy Blueberry Recipes from the Web

Blueberry Picking at Parlee Farms

Gloomy (and thankfully, exaggerated) forecast aside, I started my Sunday with a blueberry picking double date to Parlee Farms, about an hour north of Boston near the New Hampshire Border. The pick-your-own prices were reasonable ($3.99 per pound), which means I now have three pounds of fresh picked, local blueberries to work through (kid stuff compared to Ashley and Josh’s ten-pound haul).

Whether you also have a plethora of fresh blueberries at your disposal, or you just want to take advantage of current sales and seasonal abundance, I’ve gathered up plenty of meal ideas to kickstart your culinary creativity. See below for ten healthy blueberry recipe ideas from around the web…

Ambitious Kitchen Muffins

^^ Healthy Blueberry Zucchini Muffins from Ambitious Kitchen // I love that this recipe works in whole wheat flour, zucchini (another abundant summer ingredient), and applesauce.

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^^ Turmeric Breakfast Muffins from Green Kitchen Stories // I’ve been dying to try this recipe for months now. These muffins are gluten-free (not what I usually lean towards), but luckily I have whole grain buckwheat flour (and plenty of blueberries!) on hand.

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^^ Peach Blueberry Oatmeal from The Oatmeal Artist // So simple, yet so delicious. I had a similar dish (“slow cooked oats with chefs topping”) at The Willow Rest in Gloucester, MA a few weeks ago, and have been craving this combo ever since.

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^^ Baked Blueberry Oatmeal from Nutmeg Nanny // This oatmeal bake is a tried-and-true recipe in my kitchen. (I’ve featured it here and here).

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^^ Blueberry + Avocado Detox Smoothie from Jillianastasia // When in doubt, throw your berries in a smoothie!

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^^ Berry Zinger Smoothie from The Crunchy Radish // Lemon and ginger can elevate a common berry smoothie into something special.

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^^ Brain Power Salad (Spinach Salad with Salmon, Avocado, and Blueberries) from Gimme Some Oven // Salmon and avocado pair wonderfully with nearly any fruit, but antioxidant filled blueberries keep this “brain food” recipe on theme.

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^^ Grilled Chicken Salad with Feta, Fresh Corn, and Blueberries from The Pioneer Woman // It’s not often that I link to a Pioneer Woman recipe on this site, but the grilled chicken and fresh summer produce are a refreshingly nutritious foundation.

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^^ Blueberry Pizza with Honeyed Goat Cheese and Proscuitto from In Sock Monkey Slippers // I will definitely be using blueberries on a flatbread pizza this week. If things go well, you might even have a recipe post coming your way!

Healthy Cheesecake Made with Greek Yogurt

^^ Lightly Sweetened Greek Yogurt Cheesecake from Kelly Toups // I couldn’t end this list without sharing a recipe from my own collection!

What’s your go-to blueberry recipe?

– Kelly

Bicycle Season

Bike Season

After nearly a year of romanticizing leisurely bike rides to the farmers market and around the Esplanade, I finally took the plunge and purchased a bicycle. Reality set in quickly, as it’s a bit of a struggle to shove the bike into our small, creaky elevator, and I’m still too nervous to ride on city streets alone. Nonetheless, I’m over the moon about my purchase!

So far I’ve only biked to Tatte Bakery in Beacon Hill, and done part of the Esplanade and the Battle Road Trail in Lexington, but I have lots of bike trips in the works (including Burlington, VT and the Cape Cod Rail Trail).

Cute Bicycles

^^Luckily, I was able to snag both the bike and the basket on sale

When deciding on a cruiser, I scanned the web a lot (including Craigslist) and ended up narrowing my search down to the four bikes below (hand brakes were mandatory), all around the $150 price range. (Keep an eye on the price — they were nearly all on sale when I was looking about a month ago.) I’ve also included a roundup of cute bike accessories, including helmets and baskets.

These bikes aren’t necessarily intended to power you through iron man races, but they do encourage just the sort of enjoyable daily activity that is so closely linked with health and longevity.

Best Bikes and Bike Accessories

1. Schwinn Admiral Hybrid Bike (Wal-Mart, $159) – this is mine!

2. Front Handlebar Wicker Bike Basket (Amazon, $27.95) – this is mine!

3. Nutcase Mini Dot Helmet (Amazon, $69.99)

4. Huffy Fresno Cruiser Bike (Target, $139.99)

5. Huffy Sportsman Cruiser Bike (Kohl’s, $179.99)

6. Schwinn Pattern helmet (Target, $26.99)

7. House of Talents Oblong Bike Basket (Amazon, $49.94)

8. Schwinn Perla Cruiser Bike (Amazon, $177.75, also seen at Academy, Kohl’s and Wal-Mart)

Any favorite bike routes in New England? Do tell!

–  Kelly

Croissant Class at Tatte

Tatte obsession

Those that know me (or follow along on Instagram) know that I am a huge fan of Tatte Bakery (evidence above). Aside from my monthly breakfast dates with Ashley at the Third Street location in Kendall Square, I also make frequent jaunts to the original Brookline location, which is all too conveniently located around the corner from my apartment.

Croissant Class at Tatte

My birthday was back in December, but this past weekend I had the opportunity to cash in on the ultimate birthday gift from my family: a croissant making class at Tatte bakery for Ashley and me. While I don’t have an overwhelming need to make croissants in my own home, this was the ultimate combination of my three loves: cooking, learning, and Tatte bakery. And to get to experience it with the friend that got me into baking in the first place (remember this recipe?) and who also loves Tatte made the deal even sweeter. No one would appreciate it more.

Tatte Bakery Class

Croissants are, of course, butter filled calorie bombs. This certainly wasn’t a healthy cooking class. In fact, there wasn’t a whole grain in sight. But nonetheless, I learned a lot about the technique behind this (very complex!) French pastry. Additionally, when my classmates and I got a visual of just how much butter goes into these flaky, pillowy delectables, we were abruptly reminded why croissants are considered a special treat, and not part of a daily routine.

Croissants from Tatte

The class itself, held at the Main Street location in Kendall Square, was about 3 hours long, with a short break in the middle. (Stumptown coffee was on the house!) Our instructor mixed up a dough and demonstrated the three stages of folds, but had various doughs ready in the fridge so that we didn’t have to wait around.

There was a lot of hands-on activity, as we each rolled out our own dough and got to shape our own dozen croissants with various fillings (almond, chocolate, and cream cheese) to bake and take home. Additionally, because a few people canceled last minute (the max number of participants is 12, although ours was an intimate class of 8), the instructor divvied up the leftover dough so that we could each bring some croissant dough home as well. Score!

Tatte Bakery Croissant Class

In addition to the popular croissant class, Tatte also offers classes on Brioche, Bread, Cookies, Tarts, and a few other holiday inspired treats. See here for the full class lineup, and to learn more about pricing and schedules.

– Kelly

P.S. Headed to Tatte? Get the muesli! It’s the most delicious way to start your day on a healthy note!

My Favorite Healthier Menu Items Around Boston

Wondering how a registered dietitian navigates the Boston casual dining scene? When eating out, it helps to have a few go-to healthy menu items in mind–dishes that are loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. See below for 5 of my current favorite nutritious menu options around town!

Healthy Menu Items in Boston: Museli from Tatte

Muesli from Tatte Bakery ($9 bowl pictured, or $6 cup): Unsweetened whipped Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, black sesame seeds, sliced almonds, pumpkin & sunflower seeds, oats, and a drizzle of honey

Healthy Menu Items in Boston: Grilled Veggie Whole Wheat Burrito from Annas Taqueria

Grilled Veggie Burrito from Anna’s Taqueria ($6.85): I choose the whole wheat tortilla (whole wheat is the first ingredient!) and fill it with black beans, pico de gallo, guacamole, lettuce, and grilled veggies (an impressive mix of bell peppers, broccoli, zucchini, corn, and green beans). That’s it. No meat, no cheese, no problem!

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Sweet Potato Sandwich from Crema Cafe ($6.95): Toasted whole grain bread filled with sweet potato, granny smith apple, hummus, sprouts, avocado, and sherry vinaigrette. Great for sharing!

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Salad from Sweetgreen (approx. $8.50-$10.50) I almost always go for the seasonal salads, but I also LOVE the Hummus Tahina and the Wild Child (with chickpeas)… and basically the whole menu!

Whole Wheat French Toast from The Paramount

Whole Wheat French Toast with Fruit from The Paramount Beacon Hill ($11): This is one of the few places that I have been able to find whole wheat French toast. Unfortunately, it was recently taken off the menu (to make room for new lunch specials), but the staff informed me that I will always be able to order it because they keep the whole wheat bread stocked for turkey sandwiches. So go ahead and ask for it, even if it’s not listed!

Do you know of any delicious, Boston area restaurant meals that are loaded with nourishing ingredients? Do tell! Also, for more of my food adventures, don’t forget to follow along on Instagram (@kellytoupsrd)!

– Kelly

Upcoming Appearance at Let’s Talk About Food Festival, 9/27

Let's Talk About Food Festival

If you’re interested in cooking, nutrition, food justice, the environment, and making our food system healthier and more sustainable, you should definitely check out the upcoming Let’s Talk About Food Festival in Copley Square on Saturday, September 27, 2014. Speakers include former White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook, Chef and Sustainable Seafood Advocate Barton Seaver, America’s Test Kitchen’s Dan Souza, and more. Events run from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM on Saturday (click here to see the full schedule). There will be cooking demonstrations, expert panels, and film screenings of acclaimed documentaries Cafeteria Man and Fed Up.

I will serve as an ‘expert conversant’ on childhood obesity from 10:00 – 11:00 AM at the Endless Table, then I will be manning the Ask-a-Nutritionist booth from 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM. Stop by and say hello!

Let's Talk About Food Festival

Images: 1 // 2

– Kelly

Root: Vegan Food for Carnivorous Palates

It’s refreshing to come across a menu that doesn’t use cheese as a crutch for vegetarian meals. At Root, a vegan restaurant, that’s not even an option.

Tortas

Tostada: Crispy corn tortillas topped with chili-spiced sweet potatoes, black bean and corn salsa, avocado, and (tofu based) crema, served with greens

If you have visions of rubbery “veggie meats” and endless tofu dishes, think again. In fact, you won’t even find tofu on the lunch or dinner menu (except cleverly blended into the house made aiolis). Clean eaters can still find superfood darlings, such as kale, quinoa, and beet juice. However, by creating whole-food versions of carnivorous favorites (hush puppies, burgers, tostadas, and more), the menu is approachable to people of all dietary patterns. The word vegan doesn’t even appear anywhere on the menu, so as not to isolate customers.

Tucked away in grungy Allston, Root is a clean oasis, with an atmosphere that reflects the food they serve. The small space is industrial, yet inviting, contrasting square, copper tables with an abundance of natural wood accents. Bicycle wheels decorate the walls. Water is served in mason jars. Root is counter service at lunch and dinner, but switches to table service for the weekend brunch.

At some vegetarian restaurants, such as Life Alive, all of the food tastes overwhelmingly of umami, with little differentiation between menu items. What distinguishes Root from its meat-free peers is that each dish has a unique flavor profile. Like the popular Boston vegetarian chain, Clover Food Lab, many dishes are Root are deep fried, and aren’t as healthy as the clean atmosphere and vegetable emphasis would have you believe. However, for the health conscious consumer like myself, there are many nutritious options.

Warm Kale Salad

Warm Kale Salad

One such item is the warm kale salad ($8). A hearty way to enjoy leafy greens during the winter months, this dish is a delightful bowl of lightly steamed kale, caramelized onions and bite-sized nuggets of roasted butternut squash. Dried cranberries, pepitas, and citrus miso dressing complete the bowl. Somehow, this generous salad leaves your body feeling nourished and content, even if you have just indulged in the artery clogging, yet oh so addictive, herbed fries and house made ketchup.

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Sweet Potato Quesadilla

Kale takes on an entirely different persona in the sweet potato quesadilla ($8). This appetizer-sized dish consists of a flour tortilla filled with sweet potato, kale, and sautéed onion. Rather than relying on a processed, vegan soy cheese to bind the quesadilla together, the dish is served with a creamy thyme sauce made from cashews. This rich, hearty sauce is also the secret to the delicious eggplant caprese sandwich.

If you’re looking for southwestern flavors, your best bet is the torta ($10 with choice of fries or side salad). Chili-lime black beans, tomatoes, avocado, pickled onion, and fried jalapeno, are pressed together in a locally made Iggy’s bun. The toasted bread is the perfect vehicle for the warm black beans and pickled veggies, while the avocado tones down the heat from the perfectly crisp jalapenos.

Other noteworthy dishes include the made-from-scratch black bean and quinoa based “root burger” and the famously fluffy vanilla pancakes (the secret is the coconut oil). With a menu this inviting, plant based diets have never seemed more mainstream. And at this inspired eatery, that is precisely the intent.

Root is located at 487 Cambridge Street, Allston, MA. info@rootboston.com, 617-208-6091. Hours: Monday-Friday: 11am-10pm, Saturday-Sunday: 9:30am-10pm.

– Kelly

What is a degree in Gastronomy?

Gastronomy

Last month, I graduated with a Masters in Gastronomy from Boston University. This revelation is often followed by blank stares and questions about my future in intestinal medicine or the study of outer space. Close, but no cigar.

Gastronomy is the study of food, not just from a culinary perspective, but from anthropological, historical, scientific, and policy-based perspectives as well. Below are the courses I took to complete my degree. You can click on each course to read more about it. Also, check out the Gastronomy student blog to learn more about current students and alumni.

Required core classes for the Gastronomy program:

Food Policy concentration:

Electives:

Other classes that I wish I would have had a chance to take (had time permitted) are: Food Marketing, The Many Meanings of Meat, Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts, Urban Agriculture, Food Science, and Food Microbiology.

What does one do with a Gastronomy degree? Graduates of the program work as food writers, consultants for food and beverage companies, culinary instructors, food marketers, as well as for nonprofit organizations working to reform the food system. As for me? I’m using my culinary training and knowledge of the greater food system in order to achieve my long-term goal of making healthy foods both more accessible and more appealing.

– Kelly

Field trip to a food photography studio

Farm to Table

For students that clamor over the latest issues of Edible Boston and weigh their dinner choices on “how it will look on the blog”, a field trip to a food photography studio is pretty much a dream come true. The trip last week was put on for my food writing class, where photographer Nina Gallant and her food stylist partner, Meridith Byrne, taught us the tools of the trade. They offered nuggets of wisdom on how to style food (tweezers and small dishes are a must), how to find food that is out of season and ripe (shop at Russo’s!), and how to get the best photograph (it’s all about the lighting).

Field trip to Nina Gallant's food photography studio

Our class split up into teams of three. Each group was given a tray of food and a concept to portray (ours was “Farm to Table”), reflective of the type of project that a professional food photographer might get assigned. We then worked together to style the food and compose the shots. Nina has photographed for cookbooks, food packages, and everything in between, so the advice that she and Meridith offered as they floated from group to group was indispensable.

So, what’s the secret to getting the perfect shot? Take several photos! As Nina likes to say, “Pixels are free”.

Food styling

Want to learn more? Nina Gallant is giving a food photography class here in Boston that meets four times this April and May. For details and pricing, see here.

– Kelly