Let's talk about… eating organic and sustainably raised food


You’ll Love Hotdish, True Comfort Food

If you live outside the Upper Midwest, you may think I’m playin’ ya. But, no, “hotdish,” the food, is for real, and the word and the dish are purely legit.

Preparing hotdish is as easy as reaching for a clean casserole dish and five or six ingredients you may already have in your pantry or fridge. It’s good, it’s filling any time of the year, but

  • especially in fall and winter months when you crave comfort food;
  • especially when you’d rather skip eating out;
  • especially when you want quick dinner prep;
  • especially when you want to eat deliciously well;
  • especially when you live in cold climates (Minnesota comes to mind);

Surprise! “Hotdish” is a native daughter.

The story goes that, in 1930, when the Great Depression was just a toddler, Mankato’s Lutheran Ladies Aid Society published a cookbook. Mrs. C. W. Anderson contributed her simply titled recipe, “Hot Dish.” (Note the use here of hotdish as one word, a gentle nod to the one dish meal.)

Mrs. Anderson couldn’t have known at the time that she’d just made food history. Why? The dish has grown in popularity since its birth eight-plus decades ago. And because she helped create memories. Ask any Minnesotan if they ate hotdish growing up, and you’ve likely stirred a warm spot in their heart. Most times, they’ll smile, and they may even share a memory or two.

Like this person. She points to her childhood and how hotdish was served at least once a week in winter months at her house. It’s the meal her mother served on Thursday nights, her bowling night. It was the only time she remembers her mom taking time for herself. Fixing hotdish before she left for the bowling alley was the quickest way she knew of to feed her hungry family.

If a family is lucky enough to have leftovers, just think of it: heat and eat, add a side of salad or applesauce, and you’ve just served real “fast food!”

Hotdish doesn’t just create memories of home. It’s a memory-maker wherever it’s served — and an odds-on favorite to show up at church potlucks or family get-togethers. One native Minnesotan shares that, at her family’s annual reunions — pretty sizeable affairs from her description – even with a dozen or more hotdishes, hardly a spoonful is left over.

A magical one-dish meal

  • It’s easily prepared.
  • It’s quickly prepared – say 45 minutes from prep time to dinner time, because…
  • it’s a formula dish.

The formula

A protein + a starch + a veggie + a can or two of cream soup + a topping.

That’s it! Love it yet?

To build an original hotdish…

Pick a protein food – hamburger, tuna, chicken, turkey, lamb; whatever you have on hand.

Add a veggie – leftover carrots, frozen green beans, a can of peas, a can of sauerkraut. Be creative!

Add a starch – cooked white rice, macaroni, noodles, potatoes. Or grab a bag of chow mein noodles, no cooking needed.

Mix in a can or two of cream soup – tomato, cheddar cheese, cream of mushroom (some call it “Lutheran binder”), celery.

Mix it all together, but wait! How about adding a topping before you pop the dish into a 350-degree oven (for 30 to 45 minutes)? Buttered crumbs? Crushed potato chips? Canned fried onions (you know the brand!). Tater Tots? It’s Numero Uno for hotdish lovers, and Tater Tots has a pretty interesting backstory.


Tater Tots’ story

Twenty-three years after Mrs. Anderson introduced Hot Dish to the food world, the two fellas who owned Ore-Ida had a problem. They had lots of potato scraps left over, and they didn’t just want to toss them in the garbage bin.

They came up with an idea: Through trial and error, they tried forming the scraps into cute little bundles and seasoned them. When they were happy with their creation, they added an equally cute name — and, there you have it! A handy new food that requires virtually no work on the part of the Tater Tot buyer debuted three years later. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

Except for this fun observation: Had these two Tater Tot inventors known about hotdish and had they secretly hoped this potato wunderkind would find its way to the top of countless hotdishes for decades to come? It’s fun to ponder, even though we’ll probably never really know.

Hotdish recipes

If you’d rather use a recipe instead of the formula, check out Pinterest.

Minnesota Hotdish: A Love Story

Maria Bartholdi is a Minnesota podcaster and producer who wrote this short, fun, and information-packed movie. To view and enjoy, click here.

Did you enjoy this post? You’re welcome to leave a comment!

Is a hotdish meal in your future?

Did you use the formula or a recipe?

If you used the formula, what ingredients did you use?


PRODUCT REVIEW: Field Day Sparkling Water

Our food co-op really likes the Field Day product line. How do I know? They keep bringing in more Field Day products. Field Day makes organic and non-GMO grocery items, and our co-op buyer’s first choice is organic products. It’s a comfortable marriage between the co-op and Field Day.

You might guess that our household also likes Field Day. Here are a couple other product reviews I’ve done in the past — peanut butter, and pasta and spaghetti rings.

You’ve probably guessed that, so far, we haven’t met a Field Day product we haven’t liked – a lot. Other shoppers at the co-op obviously feel the same. Otherwise, the buyers would replace the Field Day products  as fast as … that [hear my finger snap?]

We vouch for other items, too — gluten-free pasta, tomato sauce, cannellini beans, apple cider vinegar, round crackers (BETTER THAN Ritz!), and cookies.

Today is a sunny, warmer day in Central Minnesota. When we spotted the 6-packs of Field Day sparkling water on one of the co-op shelves, I don’t know about daughter Heather, but my mind raced to the season of summer – picnics in the park with family and a few friends, a hamperful of roasted chicken, cannellini bean salad, celery and carrot sticks, dip? (maybe), Texas sheet cake before going off to fly kites, toss a Frisbee, or take a brisk walk around the park. Followed by a cool beverage (and maybe a smaller piece of Texas cake).

Back to the present and Heather was swooping up the grapefruit-flavored six-pack, and popped open our first-ever can, not long after getting home and unpacking the rest of the groceries.

fieldday sparkling water mar202016

How does Field Day’s sparkling water compare to another brand?

There’s not a lot you can say about sparkling beverages. Either you like the taste, or you don’t. Either it quenches, or it doesn’t. Either it tastes good, or it doesn’t. If you’re on a mission to reduce sugary beverages, you won’t miss the sugar. Heather favorably compares Field Day’s sparkling water to the Wal-Mart store brand she’s had in the past.

I also liked Field Day’s sparkling water. I didn’t exactly sparkle after drinking it, but I don’t think that’s what sparkling water is intended to do. Refreshing? Yeah, definitely. I can even see taking a couple packs with us to that picnic in the not-too-distant future.

Four more things about Field Day products.

  • Any company living their mission like Field Day does gets our business. (Check out what they say about it on their website.) Sound like a company you want to support?
  • I also love the fact that their products are equal in flavor, if not better than, more well-known brands. But their prices will NOT give you sticker shock at the checkout. Well, maybe sticker shock in reverse: they’re affordable. Delightfully, wonderfully affordable.
  • Their logo — I love everything about their logo. It’s bright, upbeat, and makes me feel happy. Does it bring on a chunk of happiness for you, too?
  • And, last, I write about Field Day products because I want to share the latest product news with you about a top-notch product. Field Day does not compensate me in any way. Just wanted you to know that.

Have you tried any Field Day products? Which ones, and how did you like them?

3+3: Three Questions/Three Answers of Juice Lady Laura Akre

Laura Akre, a/k/a “the Juice Lady,” is no ordinary juice person. She makes smoothies and juices at home, you bet, but she also takes her talent on the road, setting up her mobile shop at festivals and other outdoor events in Central Minnesota. Laura owns Fountain of Juice, a juice truck business she started two years ago. In that short time, she’s made thousands of cold-pressed juices and whole food smoothies for eager health-conscious folks, and quickly becoming a favorite of event-goers (and organizers who love her professionalism).

Laura has another distinction: she’s the very first juice truck business in Minnesota!

Fountain of Juice. Pretty clever name, don’t you think? Catchy, and memorable. Hmmm… Just thinking. Could a fountain of juice also be a fountain of youth? It’s a pretty good question, if I do say so, and I’ll bet Laura knows the answer (we’ll save the question and answer for another post).

The Juice Lady is also a fountain of information. Besides awakening the palates of men, women, teens, and the younger set with cell-nourishing fruits and veggies, Laura starts conversations with her customers about the benefits they’re getting in the cup of happiness she just handed them.

Hey, what do you think about this? The day before every event, she shops for the freshest organic fruits and veggies she can find. Then she pops them into the fridge to preserve their freshness.

Can you guess Laura’s number-one goal when she launched her exciting venture two years ago?

The obvious answer would be she wanted to share her love for healthy drinks, and that is true. But to do that every month of the year? Laura’s bigger goal is to settle Fountain of Juice into an accessible brick-and-mortar storefront. Give St. Cloud folks a place to drop any time of the year by for nutritious food in a beverage container.

Does that mean she’ll park the juice truck, once and for all? Nope! She’ll keep on truckin’ to outdoor events, as well.


Let’s hear Laura’s answers to the three questions I put to her.


One – Consuming fresh juice is a great way to get high quality, dense nutrition into your body.

Two – Juicing is a fast, tasty way to increase your fruit and vegetable servings.

Three – Drinking fresh juice gives your digestive system a break and allows easy absorption of live nutrients


One –“I can’t even taste all the vegetables you put in here!”

Two –“I love that you offer such healthy food we can enjoy at fun events!”

Three — “Juice and smoothies taste so much better when I didn’t have to do all the work!”


One —Any (organic) greens

Two — Pears

Three –Young coconut

You’ve got to admire this enterprising businesswoman and mom of two. She knows what it’s like to not be healthy. Helping others find their best health is what feeds her passion.

Laura started a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the brick-and-mortar shop.

She’s also active on her Facebook page.

I love her new website. It and Facebook are two great ways to keep up with what Laura, the Juice Lady, is up to.

It’s YOUR turn:

Do you drink smoothies or juices? Often?

Do you make them yourself, or buy them ready to drink?

What are your favorite fruit and/or veggie ingredients?


Kitchen Countertop Gardening: Sprouting Seeds

Leon, publisher/editor of a writer’s magazine I once worked with, was, at the time, an avid gardener. Mention gardening to him, and he’d take the conversation from there, for as long as we both had time to talk. In January, when grappling with the long winters, short days, and heavy snowfalls, Leon didn’t spend time grumbling about the weather, he’d spend his evenings pouring over the latest seed catalogs, planning what would go into that year’s garden.

I’m guessing Leon hasn’t changed his January routine and that he’s probably received his seed order by now. He’ll be good to go for Garden 2016.

The toughest winter month is how history, and the first day of spring is winking at us, it’s so close.

Meanwhile, for any of us itching to commune with nature at some level right now, can I recommend seed sprouting? This nutritious crop is ready to harvest in four or five days.

A jazzy, new-to-us seed blend

I love broccoli sprouts. Hands down, they’re el primo at our house. But Luke, the bulk department manager at our nearby food co-op, tempted me with a new sprouting seed he recently brought in – it goes by the moniker of “Protein Powerhouse.” Always looking for a protein source to add to our menu on meatless days, I was anxious to try it. Garbanzo beans are a prominent part of this mix – for garbanzo bean fans, you’ll spot them right off, but if you’re not yet a fan, they’re the big lighter beans in the photo. Quick note: The beans in the top photo measure ¼ cup, or 4 tablespoons, or 12 teaspoons. That’s enough for a couple crops.


W hat I’m curious about is, how will that big garbanzo bean sprout alongside the petite ones? Dunno yet, but I’m up for finding out.

I’ll give you my “recipe” for easy sprouting on your kitchen countertop in just a bit, but, first, you might enjoy this perspective from an avid sprouter who just happens to be an over-the-road trucker named Wade, who is The Wheatgrass Trucker. About a minute into the video, I thought,

“Wow! If he can do it, just about anyone can.” That’s basically what Wade says at the end of the video .

Now, about the equipment you’ll need

If you’re wondering about what you’ll need to pull off this micro-gardening coup, gotcha covered. Head on over to The Handy Pantry.  Stay inexpensive with their Easy Sprout Seed Sprouter ($13.45 as of now), or go sophisticated but pricey; your choice. But they have more choices, too. My  preference is a mason-type jar with a screened lid.

What about seeds? Again, gotcha covered. If I didn’t already have a source for organic seeds, Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds would be my first choice. You’ll get the best nutrition from seeds that are non-GMO and organic, and that’s what they sell at Mumm’s.

Easy, peasy

The thing you’ll love about sprouting is how easy it is. It makes for a great where-does-my-food-come-from learning experience if you have young kids in your house, so you may want to get them involved.

Since my only sprouting medium has been my faithful jar with screened lid, these instructions will explain how to sprout using a jar.

Ready? Let’s get to it!

Prep Steps:

  • A clean, empty jar with screen lid
  • Seeds from a trusted source, 1 to 2 tablespoons
  • An out-of-the-way space on your countertop
  • Two hand towels


  • Measure the seeds into the empty jar
  • Fill the jar half full with fresh water
  • Screw on lid, and place the jar out of direct sunlight, overnight

In the morning:

  • Thoroughly drain the water (tip: capture it to use on houseplants — but NEVER drink it or you’ll likely end up with a three-day bellyache!). Angle the jar on your dish rack for 10 to 15 minutes to be sure the water is thoroughly drained (mold will spoil the crop if seeds are left in water).
  •  Place a folded towel on your countertop “garden” space. Lay the jar on its side, and cover the length of the jar with the second towel. Be sure to leave the opening uncovered.

Every day till harvest:

  • Two or three times each day, rinse the seeds thoroughly, drain them thoroughly, and return the jar to its comfy setting on the towel. Always cover the jar, always leave the opening uncovered.
  • Around day two, look for the seeds to burst out of their little jackets. Eureka! big, exciting moment! Are the kids excited, too?
  • When the sprouts have grown to two or three inches in length, they’re ready for one last sparkling rinse and drain. (Again, make sure they’re drained completely.)
  • Pop your crop into a container with a lid, and refrigerate. They’re good for four or five days.
  • Ready to start your next crop?

Your little darlings are ready to add to smoothies or sandwiches – or maybe you have another great way to enjoy them. If so, be sure to share your ideas in the comments.

That’s all there is to it. I’d love to hear about your experience with sprouting. What kind of seeds did you sprout? Feel free to share any tips you’ve discovered.


REVIEW: Good Boy Organic Baked Corn Snacks rates two thumbs up

Dodging the ole GMO-corn-in-snack-foods takes a little detective work. But once you find one, never let it go.

Have you ever noticed that

  • GMO snack foods are packaged in big bags (usually);  that organic, GMO-free ones are not.
  • GMO snack foods are cheaper, organic, GMO-free ones are not.

So there you have it: to-GMO or to-not-GMO. Do you go cheap and big? Or do you go a little costlier and smaller and keep those unwanted genetically-modified organisms (GMO) out of your body as best you can? Bottom line, it’s a decision about your health and your fam’s, now and down the road.

One more point about cheap and big: You’re getting lots and lots of calories and sat fats. Read: weight gain. Who needs that?!

So while more peeps today are opting for smaller, costlier, healthier, these smaller snack bags are also giving us portion control. And, in my opinion, that’s good.

But wait! What about all that hoopla over labeling GMO foods? If foods are not labeled, how do you avoid them? (As of this writing, Connecticut has voted to label foods containing GMOs. More states are following their lead.) Quick answer: Buy foods wearing the organic seal. Organic foods are not as pure as they once were for several reasons, but when it comes to packaged foods, they’re the best of what’s available.

Fun snacks by Good Boy Organics

Fun snacks by Good Boy Organics

One fun snack food that gets our food dollar

Here’s our pick for an organic snack food that’s also gluten-free. Good Boy Organics’ Baked Organic Corn Snack – OrganicaSaurus.

So, you ask, is it also taste-free? Nope! In an unofficial, unscientific survey of two people in my household who are very discerning eaters of the occasional snack food, we unanimously declare that these crunchy, cheesy dinosaur-shaped snacks are so good we’ll buy them again…and again. Their website says the snacks are “kid-verified delicious.” Okay, so aren’t we all kids at heart?

These snacks get our food dollar because they taste good, they’re organic and gluten-free (certified, no less!), they’re baked, and total fat per serving is 4.5 g. NO sat fat, NO trans fat, NO cholesterol. What am I forgetting…oh, calories. Just 130 of them per serving. Okay, okay, so they’re low on vitamins and minerals. But hey, c’mon! If it’s vites and minerals you’re after, tuck into a plate of raw veggies and skip snack foods altogether. If you like to mix it up a little, though, enjoy these snacks for what they are – a little fun while munching.

David and Victoria Byrnes are the brains behind this company, and they really get it. What they say in their promise pretty well tells what they stand for:

“We won’t put scary stuff in your food.”

One uber-fun website

I should also say that, not only do I like their snacks, I like their website, big-time. The Byrnes and their peeps educate site visitors on some of important food facts. I look at it as a snack-food-bite primer: enough info to stir your interest and find out more from respected sources like The Cornucopia Institute and Institute for Responsible Technology (world-renowned GMO expert Jeffrey M. Smith is the energy behind that great group).

I’ll be on the lookout for other great snack foods to try, but, meanwhile, why not check out the Byrnes’ website and learn about the GMO issue?

A couple more places you might want to check out are Green Polka Dot Box. Join their buyer’s club and have your organic foods delivered to your doorstep. Up to 60% off retail, no GMOs in their foods, and a $75 order gets you free shipping. Also check out the Non-GMO Shopping Guide. Get a free download for your iPhone.

Dandelions: not just a pretty flower

About a month ago, two things happened: our lawns became dotted — almost overnight — with pretty yellow flowers called dandelions, and herb lovers/writers everywhere told us why we should embrace them, use them, not eradicate them with hideous chemicals.

The Herb Bible’s Earl Mindell ranks this ubiquitous herb among his Hot Hundred. Another star in the herb universe is Rosemary Gladstar. Ask her who’s winning the war between dandelion-lovers and dandelion-haters and she answers that it’s dandelions, of course! “Dandelion’s tenacity is part of its beauty and, perhaps, has something to do with its medical properties; it has the ability to thrive no matter what.” (Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs)

A stray, l'il ole dandelion

A stray, l’il ole dandelion

Call them weeds if you belong to the Dandelion Haters Club, but, just so you know – us card-carrying members of the Dandelion Lovers Club have some pretty solid reasons why we embrace, never eradicate, these ever-faithful pop-up beauties:

  • Their nutrients, like Vitamins B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), C, E, P (rutin), and minerals, calcium, chlorine, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, silicon, and sodium. (P.S. They’re richly imbued with carotenoids that are even more plentiful than carrots! Of all the herbs that inhabit the earth, Earl Mindell chose 100 because of their potential for making “significant contributions to our lives.” (Check out this article on rosemary, another of the Hot Hundred.)
  • And this gem from Growing & Using Herbs: “Dandelion increase the aromatic quality of all herbs and, in small amounts, it helps most vegetables. It has a high concentration of potash in its body, and works to bring nutrients to the soil surface through its multifaceted root system.” Who knew?

And, what the heck – they’re eye-candy, they’re happiness, they ask nothing of us. We just enjoy seeing those hardy yellow blossoms throughout the growing season. Ever bring bouquets of dandelions to your mom when you were a kid? Kids know!

Convinced they’re not the intruders you were led to believe they are?

From roots to blossoms, dandelions are usable both in the kitchen and in the medicine chest (so to speak). Enjoy them by

  • chopping up young roots and use them in place of carrots in stir-fries or soups.
  • adding dandelion leaves to salads. They’re less bitter when the roots are young. Mix the less-young leaves with other salad greens to decrease any bitter taste.
  • collecting the lemon-yellow blossoms and make dandelion wine. It’s superb! (P.S. You’ll need buckets of them.)
  • collecting the blossoms and stir-fry them in pastured butter. Season lightly. Good eats!
  • steaming the greens, then lightly drizzle olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.
  • juicing them in your next green smoothie. Middle-aged leaves might have taken on a slightly bitter flavor, so add a sweet fruit like banana or raspberries to the mix with a couple more greens like spinach, celery, kale, or whatever greens you have on hand. (I use three kinds of greens and two fruits.)

Quick facts

Dandelion root is a good diuretic. (P.S. Skip any diuretic herb if you take synthetic diuretic meds like Lasix.)

Dandelion root is good for digestion.

Dandelion root is the go-to herb herbalists use for liver and gallbladder problems.

Consume dandelion root in tea, in capsules or in drops.

Bees love dandelion blossoms.

Dandelion means “tooth of the lion.”

You can actually buy dandelion seed and direct-sow it into the soil. Really?

Know this about the herb sage?

Salvia officinalis. That’s botanical-speak for sage. You might want to consider bringing this delicious, healthy herb into your world. Keep your own supply by growing sage in your backyard garden space, or in containers on your deck or patio. Container gardening is our choice for Garden 2013. A couple days ago, we bought a couple bedding plants of organic sage, and one each of winter savory and basil.

Organic sage bedding plants for our Garden 2013.

Organic sage bedding plants for our Garden 2013.

Our ancestors could probably recognize herbs on-sight. But their progeny aren’t quite as hip. What looks to us like bothersome weeds are, in reality, herbs; friend, not foe. (Like the misunderstood dandelion. Later on that.)

Sage enjoyed a robust reputation in the Middle Ages for being a cure-all. Bestowing wisdom was just one of its virtues. (Sage means “wise man.”) Some sage tea-drinkers fondly call it “the thinker’s tea”; good for the memory. Famous herbalist – reputed to be the father of herbs, Dr. Nicholas Culpeper, prescribed gargling sage tea for patients suffering from sore gums. Sage was also good for relieving tuberculosis patients of their night sweats. Even today, sage is a go-to for excessive perspiration. Modern famous herbalist Rosemary Gladstar remarks in her Medicinal Herbs, A Beginner’s Guide, that “Sage is another remarkable culinary remedy, as valuable in the medicine cabinet as in the kitchen.”

Sage is abundant in its varieties, about 900 of them, in fact. Colorful, too. They bloom in yellow or red, violet or purple, pink or white. But it’s the leaves that are used in teas and in cooking. The green sage has rough-textured leaves that are narrow, pale and gray-green.

That sage is also known as garden sage. It’s one of those cornerstones, must-haves, you’ll want in your herb garden. The perennial, which will produce for three or four years, grows as high as four feet. It’s ready to harvest when it reaches a height of eight inches. A couple planting notes: sage and cabbages make great garden buddies. The sage wards off the nasty cabbage butterfly. But sage and cukes — well, they just aren’t good teammates at all; their chem profile isn’t compatible. When cold weather settles in, if you gardened in a container, great news! Bring it inside for the winter. Just make sure it gets plenty of sunlight. But sage grown in the ground, according to one source,  winters well if protected with snow, or mulch of straw and/or leaves.

There you have it —  some of the highlights of sage gardening. Oh, and this. If you live in Zones 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, your sage should do well.

Grow it yourself and wait for the harvest, or buy your fresh sage from a sustainable and/or organic source. Ditto with dried sage. Know your source. Then, use it in these ways:

In the kitchen –

  • Egg or tomato dishes.
  • Poultry – chicken, goose, or duck.
  • Veal and pork – Try this: If you like what sage does for turkey but you don’t love  the taste of the bird, crush dried leaves on ham or pork.
  • Cottage cheese – Chop fresh sage and mix well.
  • Add a couple leaves of fresh sage to dinner salads.
  • Herbed butter: Chop fresh leaves and a garlic clove and add to softened butter.

In the medicine chest –

  • It’s a tonic tea, warming and extra good with lemon balm and honey.
  • It’s a mouthwash.
  • It can help digest a meal of rich, fatty meat.
  • It fights colds and flu.
  • It fights inflammation in the mouth and throat, even the tonsils.
  • It’s a mild hormonal stimulant, says Rosemary Gladstar, and helps women with regular menstruation; or women having hot flashes and night sweats; helps with leukorrhea.

Rosemary says, “Sage seems to work, in part, by “drying” and regulating fluids in the body.” Amen and thank you, Rosemary!

A couple of cautionary notes: Nursing moms should avoid sage. It can prematurely dry up their milk. Another source says that, “… this herb should not be taken internally by pregnant women, nursing mothers and epileptic patients.” One of sage’s key constituents is thujones. Too much of it can cause elevated heart rate, convulsions, or confusion.

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