Eating Seasonally in April for Wellness

Local Foods Available in April in Maryland

Patient all winter long, most locavores eagerly await the gifts of April. Vitamin and Mineral rich greens of all manners pop up as volunteers and intentionally planted. For me, stinging nettle marks Spring. I have a little patch in my front garden. Why you ask? The iron rich leaves make a delicious winter tea when combined with a few stevia leaves and a few elderberries. Nettle is the building block for a lovely healing moon day tea for a woman in her childbearing years. I spotted some delicious chickweed in my garden amongst the weeds (also known as plants that are in the wrong place at the wrong time). I know that by the end of the month asparagus will be here and strawberries are not far behind! Do you see food when you go outside and look around?

Fresh Seasonal Foods available in Maryland in April
Storage Foods available in April in Maryland

Small Batch Preserving

One of my greatest book finds as a local food advocate is a little book called The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving: Over 300 Recipes to Use Year-Round by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard (get yours at Better World Books and support a B Company and literacy around the world instead of lining the pockets of a billionaire). Inside this book are recipes for small batches, i.e. just a few reasonable sized jars, to preserve your local harvest of all sorts of things. I love opening a little jar of blueberry lime jam in the dead of winter. If you are growing your own cucumbers, you might not get enough at once to make 20 quarts of pickles but you may get enough to make a few jars one day and a few jars the week after. The best part of small batch preserving is that you do not have to reserve sunup to sundown or longer in order to make enough of something to last you and your neighbors for 2 years. If you have a big family or a can set aside a whole day or just love it then you might love to dive into Sweet-n-Sour Pickle Day or Tomato Sauce Day Or Two sometime this summer.

The-Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving
The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard

Best Way to Preserve Strawberries

Speaking of preserving, the first thing that comes on my preserving radar is strawberries. As much as I adore asparagus, I much prefer the texture and taste of fresh over preserved. So I don’t worry about drying, roasting and freezing, or canning asparagus. I enjoy it in season and miss it otherwise. But back to strawberries! In the past I have made strawberry sauce (thinking that I would add it to yogurt) and dried strawberry slices (fun but I didn’t seem to use them in anything besides homemade granola). My favorite way is to simply remove the green tops (save them!!), sit them on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper, and freeze them whole. Once frozen, put the berries into a zip tight bag and stash in the freezer for cold dark days when you need a bit of sunshine in your smoothie or want to make a small batch of strawberry jam.

ripe strawberries in white plate on table
Strawberry Photo by Nadi Lindsay on Pexels.com

3 Ways to Use Strawberry Tops

Strawberry tops are more than just handles that allow you to eat the ripe red goodness immediately after you pick it off the plant. They are greens that have important nutrients (iron, vitamin C, calcium) and can be a healthy addition for you and the Earth.

  1. Vitamin water – add quite a few tops and a bottom or two to a jar of water and let sit so the strawberry flavors and nutrients spread into the water for you to drink later. Store in the fridge if you have not finished off the jar before bedtime!
  2. Hen Treats – your backyard chickens love treats almost more than you do! Your eggs will be tastier and healthier when your hens get lots of variety and greens to their diet. Plus it is fun to watch them chase the tops when you throw them.
  3. Compost – a good gardening rule is to take as little from your garden as you can and when you do, give back to it for future garden health. Discarded vegetable and fruit parts are always welcome to return to the Earth and make future soil (soil is not dirt!). No compost pile? How about a vermicompost system for your kitchen? If all else fails, toss the strawberry tops outside where you do not mind if ants feast on the juicy bits before decomposition is complete.

If You’re Missing Tomatoes It’s Because You Did Not Pick Enough of Them Last Summer by Gabrielle at Next Step Produce

Next Step Produce is an 86-acre certified-organic farm located in Southern Maryland. We are a four-season farm cultivating diverse grains, dried beans, vegetables, and fruit. Since our inception in 2000, our specialties have evolved, and continue to do so. One thing remains the same – in our practices, we strive to make a viable, regenerative, and often adventurous contribution towards a local food system. When we were asked “Why grow rice?”, the answer was: “Because we eat rice.”

Next Step Produce logo

As harsh as this may seem for me to say, it is true.  Eating in season is easier for the farmer than for the consumer.  Farmers start the process of growing tomatoes 3-5 months before they are even ready to be picked.  And then they are picked, en masse.  For some, in much greater mass than others. 

I am a first generation farmer.  My husband, Heinz, is not.  He can tell his story; I will tell mine, briefly.

I first went into farming immediately out of college with a degree in Applied Ecology Natural Sciences.  I became enthralled with farming as it fulfilled my desire to work physically outdoors and to be in connection with the natural world.  I chose organic farming because I wanted to work in harmony with nature, and not at war with it.  My initial interest in farming then, was very personally-driven.

At some point the idealism of farming was faced with the reality of working hours, days, weeks, and years in the fields, physically and underneath the hot sun and oppressing humidity, or in close contact with the cold, wet, dampness of earth.  I have spent full, long dog days of summer, harvesting tomatoes, and tomatoes only.  In temperatures just above freezing, I have harvested wet lettuce mix with knees skimming along the cold earth for hours, washed the lettuce mix (this is the warming part where cold well water outside in the dead of winter feels warm relative to the air), and bagged the lettuce mix as wet fingers slowly lose feeling and dexterity.  But never, on our diverse, organic farm, have I had two, or two-hundred, such days in a row.  Chances are, you have eaten a tomato, or lettuce, picked by someone who cannot say the same.

Today, I am driven to farm for others, especially fellow farm workers.  On our farm, we strive to work in harmony with nature.  And we, human beings, are part of nature.  We are not exclusive of it no matter what the dictionaries say!  The farm system must be one that works with human nature and a human’s need for balanced physical work, mental stimulation, and emotional well-being – i.e. human dignity.

red tomatoes on board
Cherry Tomato Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Before you reach for that tomato in mid-winter, or even at the break of spring, ask yourself who picked it and under what conditions. Here’s a supremely important telling of that story: the documentary, Food Chains. It tells the history of farmworker-driven movements and struggles for justice that exist up until today in the 21st century – worth spending 1.5 hours listening to if you’ve ever eaten a winter tomato. You mustn’t be reduced to a “consumer”, you can be an informed eater who knows your farmer.


“Green Up” by Longview Farm

At Longview Farm, we raise our cows, chickens and pigs humanely and do not feed them hormones, antibiotics, growth stimulants nor animal-by-products. We follow natural practices – no pesticides, no herbicides, no chemicals – growing heirloom tomatoes, salad greens and flowers. We take seriously our mission to protect open space and to raise delicious and healthy food the natural sustainable way.

Longview Farm Logo

The seeds sown in the vegetable garden in the autumn are now flourishing lettuce. April 12th was  “green up” time  in the pastures – no more feeding hay. Yay! The cows are back to grazing on the green grass. With longer days, the hens are back to laying. Tom turkeys are out in full display courting the ladies.

Lettuce from Longview Farm
Lettuce from Longview Farm

It is time to get the grill fired up! What should you put on that hot grill? How about some pork sriracha burgers? Alternatively, you can enjoy a thick pork chops or choose from  a wide variety of Longview Farm sausages.


Quiche, Eggs, Chickens, and Soy by Chef Terrance Murphy

Chef Terrance: Intra-Extraverted appreciator of the complex & simple things alike. Baker of breads. Maker of live juices. Lover of all things nature provides.

Chef Terrance Murphy

I can vividly recall my first intimate encounter with Quiche. It was during the aught’s of 2k, on a misty spring day in Washington D.C. where we met. I was on lunchbreak and decided to have a looksee at a local café named, Vie De France. With the wet conditions being what they were, I scanned the menu to find one special that sung sonnets to my taste buds; Quiche Lorraine and French Onion Soup. Mostly because of the luscious varieties of cheese that were listed, gruyere-aged cheddar-fontina, after satisfying my belly I became a devout lifelong lover of Quiche.

Throughout the years since our first date, Quiche and I have evolved together, enjoying the inclusion of other ingredients to the party. I’ve layered it with everything from mushroom medley, onion confit, bacon, ham, and slow roasted tomatoes. The crusts and cheeses have been upgraded and refined to match my palette preferences, and the side dishes to accompany it have matured as well.

However after working in many food operations that served their version of the dish, it occurred to me that the star of the show was being relegated to a Z-list extra for many of these interpretations. I’ve witnessed and been party to the usage of the abhorring plastic bagged egg versions as well as the Big Ag carton types, devoid of soul and provenance. For a dish that’s comprised of upwards of 60% eggs you ask, how could the star of the show be handled so disrespectfully? Cheap Chicken Feed and GMO Soy is your answer. In a nation where, according to the FDA “GMO soybeans account for 94% of all soy beans planted”, most of the food used to “nourish” America’s poultry are fed a persistent diet of chemical laced soy and other grain products to plump these birds up.

My epiphany happened after I took on the project of raising six backyard birds of my own. I’ll tell you what, after incorporating my personal hen-house eggs into my Quiches everything was different. My Quiche’s were now fluffier, richer in flavor, and deeper in color. I was feeding my gals a blend of non-GMO soy based grains from the Amish in Mechanicsville MD, along with scraps from my compost piles. The hens loved it, and it showed by way of their egg production. Yet there was more to learn with respect to producing a happier-healthier-tastier egg that I had still to learn. After visiting our local creamery P.A. Bowen Farms in Aquasco MD, my awareness and understanding of the importance of feed quality took on another software upgrade. They feed their birds a non- soy chemical free locally sourced proprietary blend of grains.

For the first time I was being presented scientific evidence that demonstrated correlations between the SAD (standard American diet) high usage of soy products and chronic illness and disease. Needless to say, after doing more research into the matter, I made the upshift and have experienced improved vitality since. No matter what choices we make for the plants, fruits, animals we consume it ultimately can be distilled down to two driving philosophies:
–> Food is an abstract source of caloric fuel with the added benefit of stimulating our taste buds
OR
–> Food is an integrative, compassionate, and rejuvenative practice of nourishing our cells, organs, and spirit with health and high vibration Life-force.

Whichever philosophy you subscribe to, I can promise you this much. While the first Quiche I met all those years ago swept me off my feet, it’s only in name and slight similarity of appearance to the prettier, well rounded, more delicious, and more sustainable version that I dote over today. Eat Local Think Global. Enjoy your first date with my Quiche.


Eat Your Greens by Tracy Pritchard

Tracy Pritchard, CNS, LDN / Board-certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) and member of the Maryland State Board of Dietetic Practice (LDN), Tracy Pritchard works as a nutritionist at the Henry Chiropractic and Wellness Center in Lexington Park. Before discovering her passion for nutrition, she served 10 years in the US Marine Corps as a Logistics Officer. Wife and mother to three children, Tracy enjoys cooking, running, and blogging about nutrition.

Tracy Pritchard, Holistic Nutritionist

Recommendations for a healthy diet often include suggestions to “eat more veggies”. Incorporating more leafy greens may be the solution for health and weight loss. Not only are they packed with vitamins, minerals, and low in calories, leafy greens (spinach, kale, etc) contain structures called thylakoids, which help manage cravings and increase satiety. By simply adding a side-salad to your lunch, you may also be
helping yourself avoid the munchies later on.

Thylakoids are the photosynthetic membranes of chloroplasts that are found in the leaves of green plants. They are a promising functional ingredient that exhibit a lipase-inhibiting effect leading to a reduced appetite. Thylakoids include both proteins and lipids (mainly omega-3s), 50% of each. They also contain chlorophyll, antioxidants, carotenoids, and Vitamin E. Studies using spinach extract demonstrated an inhibitory effect on lipase activity, leading to delayed fat digestion.

Why does delayed fat digestion matter? Research suggests that fat can activate dopaminergic systems to help avoid overeating. When the fat remains in the gastrointestinal lumen longer, signaling mechanisms are activated. These signals include the production of hormones such as cholecystokinin (CCK), glucagon-like-peptide-1 (GLP-1), and leptin, which are gastrointestinal satiety hormones that regulate appetite. CCK also had positive effects on the brain’s reward system via serotonin release.

Seratonin, the feel good hormone, acts as a reward molecule that also supports satiety. In addition, these extracts reduced insulin levels and the hunger hormone ghrelin. However, not only did participants consuming the spinach extract lose more body weight compared to a placebo, they also reported increased fullness, reduced hunger, and reduced desire for something salty or savory. The positive impact on cravings cannot be understated since obesity is associated with dysregulation of hunger/satiety signals often blamed for overeating.

A 2016 rat study found that thylakoids not only reduced weight gain and body fat accumulation, but reduced the dangerous type of “deep fat” also known as visceral fat. This type of fat is associated with obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

The composition of microbiota in the gut may also be influenced by thylakoids in a prebiotic way of action. Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers that act as food for good bacteria. One rat study found lactobacilli were significantly increased in the thylakoid group compared to the control group. Researchers believe this could be due to a direct influence on the growth of bacteria in the intestines or may be the result of a reduced appetite and food intake that indirectly affects the composition of the microbiota.

While studies have not been conducted on cooking thylakoids found in whole foods, it’s easy to consume them raw in a salad or smoothie or added to a soup or stew at the last minute for some added nutrition!


Organic Food Pickup in La Plata, Maryland


April Recipes with Seasonal Ingredients

Dandelion Cupcakes

Spring sweet treat with dandelion flowers that offers a nutty flavor
Course: Dessert, Snack
Keyword: April, Herbs

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 3/4 cup freshly picked dandelion flowers just the tops
  • 1 cup organic flour wheat or gluten free
  • 1 cup organic rolled oats
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375.
  • Combine all ingredients mixing well.
  • Add to greased pan or cupcake pan and bake 30-35 minutes or until center comes out clean.
  • Let cool. Decorate with more dandelions ☺️🌼🌞

Notes

Notes:
Mountain Rose Herbs has a delicious dandelion flower frosting recipe and a dandelion root tea that pairs perfectly with this too!
Organically Sourced Ingredients:
Next Step Produce: wheat flour and oats
Red Tree Farmstead: eggs
Your Backyard: dandelion flowers with no pesticides
Contributed by Kate at Mama Bears Elderberries

Sweet and Sour Sesame Asian Cabbage and Kale

Here’s a classic sweet-and-sour taste with a mouth-watering, eye-catching twist. Tamari, ginger, and toasted sesame oil combine with lime juice to bring the Great Wall to your great room. And cabbage? That’s another super food that’s a must-have on the plate.
Prep Time12 mins
Cook Time8 mins
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: April
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons tamari wheat free soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Grade A Dark Amber maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups kale washed, stems removed and cut into bite size pieces
  • Sea Salt
  • 2 cups red cabbage shredded
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds toasted

Instructions

  • In a small bowl combine the ginger, tamari, lime juice, maple syrup and toasted sesame oil and set aside.
  • Place a small skillet over a low flame and toast the sesame seeds until they turn slightly brown and smell nutty, about 1 minute. Remove to a plate.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large, deep sauté pan over medium –high heat, then add the kale, and a pinch of salt and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the cabbage, and another pinch of salt, sauté for 1 more minute. Add the sauce and cook for 2 more minutes or until tender. Add the toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Notes

Organically Sourced Ingredients:
Next Step Produce: kale and cabbage (best in early April) 
Reprinted with permission from The Longevity Kitchen: Satisfying Big-Flavor Recipes Featuring the Top 16 Age-Busting Power Foods Copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson, Ten Speed Press, a division of the Crown Publishing Group, Berkeley, CA.

Buckwheat Crepes

A fun light meal where you can get creative with the fillings!
Prep Time2 hrs 15 mins
Course: Breakfast, Side Dish
Keyword: April

Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk of your choice
  • 8 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 cup flat beer or water
  • 1 Tbsp sourdough levain if not using beer 🙂
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cup soft wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp sugar

Instructions

  • In a blender, combine all wet ingredients. Add all dry ingredients. Blend and let sit at least 2 hours or up to 2 days in fridge.
  • Cooking crepes can be tricky. The key is to allow the pan to heat up thoroughly and to get the heat high. It is not unusual for the first one to not go quite right, but things only get better from there! Once hot, liberally oil the pan and ladle in about 1/4 cup of crepe batter. Cook, undisturbed, watching as bubbles form, and turning as soon as is possible (about 1 minute). Flip the crepe and cook about 1 minute longer. And repeat for as many as you need for that meal, storing any remaining batter back into the fridge.

Notes

Notes:
The picture features crepes stuffed with walnuts, blue cheese, and arugula. Spinach could most surely serve as a substitute, along with a dressing of vinegar, ground mustard, oil, and ground pepper. One of our restaurant customers makes the best crepes stuffed a plenty with root vegetables – steamed carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes are in season now!
Organically Sourced Ingredients:
Next Step Produce: wheat and buckwheat flours
Red Tree Farmstead: eggs
Recipe contributed by Next Step Produce

Chef Terrance Quiche

Prettier, well rounded, more delicious, and more sustainable than your average Quiche
Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time1 hr
Chill Time1 hr
Course: Breakfast, Main Course, Snack
Keyword: April, Protein

Ingredients

Crust

  • 75 grams Unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 45 grams Lard or organic vegetable shortening, chilled and cubed
  • 220 grams All purpose flour
  • 4 T ice cold water
  • pinch salt
  • pinch cane sugar

Custard

  • 8-10 Large eggs 50 grams per
  • 3 ½ cup Heavy cream
  • 3 ½ Whole milk
  • pinch Salt
  • pinch Black pepper

Filling

  • 1/2 cup Cooked and strained spinach
  • ¾ cup Confit onion
  • 1 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • ½ cup Gruyere cheese, shredded

Instructions

Crust

  • Mix dry ingredients with fats until pea sized clumps form
  • Mix in 1 T of water at a time until fully incorporated
  • Wrap and chill at least 1 hour
  • Roll out and settle into pie pan
  • Partially bake the crust at 400ºF for 10-15 min

Filling and Assembly

  • Mix all filling ingredients together well
  • Layer crust with enough cheese to evenly and loosely cover bottom, next confit onions, then spinach and remaining cheese
  • Pour custard on top, cover with wax paper or parchment paper
  • Bake at 350degrees for 45 minutes
  • Take parchment off and bake another 10-15 minutes until custard is slightly set
  • Allow to cool for 30-45 min and serve

Notes

Organically Sourced Ingredients:
Red Tree Farmstead: Eggs and spinach
P.A. Bowen Farmstead: Aged cheddar cheese
Recipe contributed by Chef Terrance Murphy

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