Sleeper Spices: Juniper Berry

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 juniper berries — and get tips for using them to awaken your next cooking endeavor.

Frontier juniper berries

What it tastes like: Juniper berries combine a fruity-tangy essence with a forest-fresh, palette-expanding note. The aroma is a bit reminiscent of grapes and evergreen tree resin.

What it looks like: Blackish-purple, plump little berries about the size of wild blueberries. Continue reading

January treat: Lemon-balm infused simple syrup

By Tom Havran

January can be a dreary time of year, making rituals like a cup of hot tea all the more important. For a special treat, sweeten your cup against the bitter cold winter with lemony-herbal simple syrup. It’s especially good in a light, flowery tea such as white peony.


Simple syrup is a classic liquid sweetener that is employed to more effectively and precisely sweeten iced beverages that tend to prevent granulated sugar from dissolving fully. A simple syrup infused with lemon balm leaves is a lovely way to flavor and sweeten beverages — both when you want to avoid using lemon juice and when you want to intensify its lemony flavor. Lemon balm herb (also called melissa) has a fine lemon-like flavor that is both suave and intense. Continue reading

7 steps to an easy stir fry (without a recipe!)

easy stir fy

By Alan Miles

I love stir fries. Not so much the ones on restaurant menus or from recipes in cookbooks, but the kind of easy stir fry I make out of leftover rice and odds and ends in the refrigerator and pantry. I love how much fun it is to cook them, how good most of them end up tasting and how no two of them are ever completely alike.

I’ve never made a stir fry from a recipe. My history with them goes back to my college days, when I first began to care about what I was eating, had little time or money to cook, and pursued a lifestyle that in no way included planning meals ahead of time.

With stir fries, I could load up on ingredients like bulk grains, nuts, seeds and fresh produce and throw it all together at the last minute for a healthful meal. Every so often I’d have the added step of cooking rice or another grain (usually a 2 to 1 mix of rice and wheatberries) — but I always made plenty extra, so most times I had cooked and refrigerated leftover grain to add to the pan as an ingredient.

Stir fry time machine
As I was making a quick stir fry the other day, I realized how little had changed from those college days — in either my cooking methods or my enjoyment of cooking and eating stir fries. My college stir fries were often pretty minimal. That was the situation with this one, too. Just like in college, I had few ingredients on hand, but I knew I was still going to be able to put together a satisfying stir fry.  Continue reading

8 New Year’s resolutions that begin in your kitchen

sustainable kitchen tips

By Alan Miles

If you’re thinking about 2015 resolutions that make both your world and the world better, start in your kitchen. It’s probably a hub of activity in your life, offers plenty of opportunities to save money and — because it’s a key area of resource use and waste production — it’s a great place to make changes with an environmental impact.

Here are 8 simple, kitchen-centric New Year’s resolutions that benefit you and the environment:

The resolution: I will make fewer shopping trips.
Shop less frequently (especially for non-perishables) with a shopping list to eliminate forgotten items.
How you benefit: Save gas and time, and make fewer potentially unhealthy and expensive impulse purchases.
How the environment benefits: Less fossil fuels used.

The resolution: I will buy local food.
Take control over your purchase of food and prioritize what you can find that’s locally grown and in season to put your eating in sync with your geography. Many co-ops and natural food stores champion local food. Also, check your local media for info about farmers markets and CSAs, or look them up on the Local Harvest website.
How you benefit: Get fresh, in-season food from people in your community and support your local economy.
How the environment benefits: Lower carbon footprint with less travel and packaging for food that’s in harmony with your geography and seasons. Continue reading

Secret Ingredients: Ona’s gingerbread houses

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 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

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

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

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.

small plates-2

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

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

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.


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