Secret Ingredients: Ona’s gingerbread houses

22 Dec

The secret ingredient that makes every recipe better is a story. In this first installment of our Secret Ingredients series, a shared recipe for gingerbread used to make gingerbread houses turns into a memorable Christmas experience for a family.

By Alan Miles

We have a lot of recipes at our house. Besides shelves full of cookbooks, there are notebooks, folders and card boxes overflowing with handwritten ones. But we have only one recipe that’s framed and hanging in the kitchen. Ona Yoder’s recipe for gingerbread houses is singled out in commemoration of a person and a Christmas my family never forget.

Ona

Ona Yoder in one of her many blue dresses.

Ona Yoder

Ona Yoder was our nearest neighbor when my wife, Karen, and I rented a farmhouse in the Iowa countryside in the 1980s. Ona was in her 80s by then, unmarried and still living (by herself) in the same house she had been born in. She grew up with farm-girl responsibilities when the family raised almost all their own food, made their own clothes and cut their own wood. As far I could tell, she owned only blue dresses. She said things like, “Oh my gracious!” and, “Well, I’ll be!” and peppered her conversation with endless homilies like, “Clear moon, frost soon.” And Ona was humble and generous to a fault. Continue reading

Sleeper Spices: Grains of paradise

19 Dec

Frontier Grains of Paradise

By Tom Havran

Wake up your palate and expand your cooking repertoire with spices you may not have experienced before. In this installment of our series highlighting “sleeper” spices, learn about the unique seasoning and spicing capabilities of grains of paradise — and get tips for using it to awaken your next cooking endeavor.

What it tastes like: With the most romantic name in all spicedom, grains of paradise warrant their illustrious title with their vivid, peppery flavor. Even though the flavor is reminiscent of black pepper, this exotic West African spice is actually distantly related to cardamom. It has an aromatic, volatile, slightly citrusy flavor and creates a pungent sensation on the tongue. People who find the taste of black pepper too sharp and unvaried may prefer the more suave, lingering heat of grains of paradise.

What it looks like: Whole seeds are brownish-black, 1/8-inch wide, irregularly shaped and grain-like. Continue reading

How I buy ‘local’ cinnamon

16 Dec
vanilla beans

Frontier Co-op CEO Tony Bedard tries his hand at vanilla bean sorting at our Madagascar supplier’s facilities.

By Alan Miles

I like local food. On our last visit to the weekend farmer’s market in nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa, my wife and I bought produce and flowers, nut butters and jams, and even dishcloths and soaps from small, local farmers and businesses. On a regular basis, we shop from the roadside produce stand that we drive by on our way to visit the grandkids. One of the things I like about my membership in New Pioneer Co-op (my local food co-op) is that they champion local products. And it’s not just because the price is right that we’re thrilled when our friends with big gardens stop by with their overflow harvest — the taste of those vegetables from down the road puts trucked-in produce to shame. Besides the quality of local products, I like the community, social, economic and environmental aspects of local buying.

At the same time, I also eat a lot of food that comes from the other side of the world — with the same enthusiasm. That’s because I look at the cinnamon from Vietnam, the vanilla from Madagascar and the other Frontier Co-op products I bring home from work as “buying local.” Here are my reasons:

The spices are sustainably grown. Okay, I can’t make the case that eating something that comes from nearly 10,000 miles away is minimizing food miles. But when it comes to something like cinnamon, I’m not going to find it locally grown. So short of simply not eating anything that doesn’t grow in Iowa, I have to make another assessment — I look at how sustainably foods that are unavailable locally are grown where they do grow.

A big part of our Well Earth® sustainable sourcing program is helping small farmers access the resources and knowledge they need to grow their crops organically and sustainably. The organic training center we funded in Sri Lanka, for example, does just that. Thousands of farmers, from numerous countries, have been trained in organic, sustainable agriculture — and the center does research to improve organic growing methods as well. (We’re funding a second training center in Sri Lanka that’s opening soon.)

Most of these small farmers are already committed to biodynamic, no-chemical farming. Their use of the land is efficient, low-tech and hands-on, with intense intercropping, natural fertilization and sound land-conservation methods. They improve their land rather than deplete it. Continue reading

5 tips for eating consciously at the holidays

11 Dec

By Kailee Meskimen

As the holiday season comes into full swing, our awareness of healthy habits is clouded by an endless succession of tantalizing treats: creamy spiced eggnog, boats full of gravy, piles of mashed potatoes and slices of pie. An abundance of shared food is a given at holiday gatherings, but eating it consciously and still celebrating the bounty doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

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Rather than depriving yourself of festive food and drink or feeling guiltily about over-indulging, stick to these five simple tips during holiday celebrations to keep ravenous behavior at bay and fully enjoy each bite. Continue reading

9 tips for using baking flavors and extracts

5 Dec

By Tom Havran

Liquid flavors and extracts are essential ingredients for successful cooking and baking. For example, the whipped cream topping on your pie or the icing on your sugar cookies wouldn’t go over so well if all you had to flavor them with were great chunks of diced vanilla beans. But how does all of that intense vanilla essence get into the vanilla extract that you do use in your whipped cream?

Extracts have greater flavor than the sum of the plants that are used to make them and flavors are a slightly different ingredient altogether. To use them properly, learn where they come from and how they’re made in our Baking Flavors and Extracts 101. Once you’ve grasped the basics, keep these important tips in mind. Continue reading

6 ideas for a smaller travel footprint

24 Nov

FR WEB Cayenne Room - Sustainable Travel

By Alan Miles

It’s hard to do much traveling without having a negative effect on the environment. After all, moving so many people and so much stuff around on the planet’s surface is a big part of our environmental problems to begin with.

But there are some ways to keep our traveling footprint under control. If we’re working on living more sustainably in our everyday activities, why not make it a part of special activities, like travel, as well?

My wife, Karen, and I aren’t exactly world travelers, but we enjoy the occasional getaway, and we have enough family and friends spread around the country to warrant trips away from home. In the course of our travels, we’ve come up with a few ideas about traveling sustainably — tips that, happily for our limited-budget lifestyle, coincide well with traveling inexpensively.

Embrace public transportation. When we took our five-year-old grandson to Chicago for a birthday present, we took Amtrak to Union Station, and walked to and from a downtown hotel. From there, we walked to the Field Museum to see Sue (the famous T. rex), Buckingham Fountain, Memorial Park and other downtown attractions. When Karen and I went to Washington, D.C., to visit our daughter, we stayed at a hotel right across the street from a Metro station. We got everywhere we wanted to go without contributing to automobile emissions or D.C. traffic congestion. When we visit New York, we stay with Karen’s relatives on Long Island and take the trains into and around the city.

trains1

It was no trouble getting five-year-old Trice to ride the train. In fact, the trains became a source of entertainment for him during our trip to Chicago this summer.

When we fly, we always use electronic ticketing for airplane flights, which avoids paper waste as well as being convenient. Enduring layovers is usually unavoidable when flying economically out of rural Iowa, but, if you can, flying direct is more sustainable since airplane emissions are greatest during takeoff and landing. Continue reading

My organic living “Aha!” moment: Learning the benefits of eating well and sustainably

20 Nov

By Liz Hopkins

My organic living “Aha!” moment was when I was hired as the chef at Frontier’s employee cafe.

I didn’t really have a sudden moment of revelation when I fully realized the value of eating organically. Instead, I gradually learned about the benefits of eating well and eating sustainably. I converted over a period of years from a meat-eater to a vegetarian committed to buying organic whenever I can.

But even though there wasn’t a moment of sudden realization in my progression, there was that definite turning point — when I was hired to run the employee café at Frontier. I’d worked in hotel kitchens for many years, but when I started at Frontier Co-op, I found for the first time a sizable group of people who appreciated natural food and preferred to eat organically.

ChefLiz_Feb2013-001a

Learning on the job

The new job was definitely a learning experience — natural ingredients replaced the highly processed ones I was used to, and the nutritional value and wholesomeness of the food moved front and center. Efficiency was still important, but it didn’t trump food quality in the Frontier Café.

My outlook — and my skills — changed. I enjoyed the experience of learning to cook with whole grains, dried beans, seasonal produce and the like. It was easy converting familiar recipes to more natural versions, and it was fun to experiment with the almost unlimited seasoning palette of the spices Frontier sells. I felt great about the food I was making at work, and soon I was cooking the same way at home. Continue reading

How to eat consciously with gratitude

18 Nov

FS-WEB-Cayenne-Room-Pondering-Hunger

By Tom Havran

Feasting. Throughout history, humans have enjoyed transitory moments of bliss induced by the sensual enjoyment of superlative food. The food might be humble and rustic or sophisticated and composed, but when it’s beautiful and delicious, something remarkable occurs. Our eyes, noses, taste buds and minds elevate the base experience of merely eating to rapturous and rare heights of joy where gratitude finds the space to flow in.

This phenomenon creates the mental space necessary for our minds to open to the whole story of the food we’re eating and the path it took to give us such pleasure. Eating good food consciously with a sense of gratitude not only turns mere gratuitous consumption into a grateful repast, it gives us profound insight into ourselves and how our minds work in relation to food.

Hunger and faith

I was raised by a father who is a skilled butcher and a mother who is a skilled cook. They both marshaled their talents to nurture a large family, all of whom participated in the raising, killing, cooking and eating of all kinds of animal and vegetable life. On the farm, I raised pigs, cows and chickens from their births on, growing fond of them in the process. I cared for and even loved these animals, then participated in the horrors of their deaths at slaughter and subsequently savored their flavor at the table. Experiencing the whole process, I learned where food comes from, but more profoundly, I understood that getting it to the table involved a continuum of tenderness and caring through pain and death, to tenderness and caring again during shared meals. How was my mind able to hold this? Continue reading

Sleeper Spices: Fenugreek

14 Nov

Wake up your palate and expand your cooking repertoire with spices you may not have experienced before. In this installment of our series highlighting “sleeper” spices, learn about the unique seasoning capabilities of fenugreek — and get tips for using it to enhance your next cooking endeavor.

Frontier fenugreek

By Tom Havran

What it tastes like: Fenugreek seed has a raw, nutty, moderately bitter flavor and a pungent aroma. Dry-roasting the seeds in a hot pan helps decrease the bitterness and transforms the raw, nutty flavor into a mellow, maple syrup-like sweetness.

What it looks like: The yellowish-to-tan seeds of fenugreek are small (1/8-inch) irregular rectangles. They are in fact little beans, as fenugreek is a legume. Continue reading

Why we switched to biodegradable packing peanuts

5 Nov

Frontier Co-op customers are smart people, and it’s not uncommon for us to hear questions that start with, “Why do you …?” This first post in our new “Why We” series explains a simple but important topic: Why we use biodegradable packing peanuts in our shipments.

By Alan Miles

We’ve answered a lot of questions from our customers about our packing peanuts — both before and after our switch to biodegradable ones in 2008. The switch itself answered most of the questions we had gotten before, which were basically variations on “How can you keep sending us polystyrene packing peanuts that are a mess to deal with, pollute our planet and take hundreds of years to decompose?”

The answer then was that it was very difficult to find something truly sustainable to do the job of protecting the wide variety of packaging (including glass) that we ship. We tried various biodegradable materials with mixed responses from customers and discouraging shipping costs.

PackingPeanuts2

The compact, starch-based pellets we bring in are 1/28 the volume of the biodegradable packing peanuts we puff them into for use in shipments.

Problem solved

We’re as happy as our greenest customers to have finally found the right solution — and to have accomplished one of our major sustainability objectives. We enjoy answering the questions that we’re getting now, which are basically variations on “What’s the deal with the new packing peanuts?”

The peanuts we’ve found not only do a great job of protecting our products and quickly biodegrade — they reduce shipping emissions and save us money, too.

Each pallet of pre-puffed starch pellets (made from corn or potatoes) we bring in produces enough biodegradable peanuts to fill a 53-foot trailer. Here in the Midwest, manufacturers typically haul that truck from Minneapolis, Minn. With our shipping volume, we’d need a full-truck shipment at least once a week. Instead, we bring in four pallets of compact, starch-based pellets twelve times a year to make all the packing peanuts we need on-site.  (We’ve purchased a machine which takes the compact starch pellets and puffs them up into the fluffy peanuts that protect your orders.) We ship in about 1/28 the volume of the puffed peanuts and eliminate the emissions from 40 truck hauls — each burning about 42 gallons of diesel. With a savings of roughly $78,000 in shipping costs per year, our switch to more sustainable packing peanuts paid for itself in less than a year. Continue reading

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