Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snowy Farm Photos

(Photo: The road to the farm - just the right amount of snow as our county no longer has enough money to plow on the weekends - sigh..........)

We've only had a small amount of snow so far, enough to take a few photos, enough for my husband to try out the blade and the front-end loader on the tractor in order to get practiced with this new skill for clearing our long driveway before "the big one" hits us, as it surely will before too long.

The new header photo for my blog is our garlic fields under their mulch and light snowy blanket. Additional photos below with captions:

(Photo: the beginning of our small covered front porch - we would have loved to build a full front porch but money is also needed to build a barn! A new roof will be done for the whole house once the framing for the porch is finished. Brrrr, cold work!)

(Photo: View of the west and south sides of our house - west side is getting new siding and new windows. We're also adding a small window for a bathroom on the main floor, then the new siding will go up.)

(Photo: many different footprints right outside the front door of our house!)

(Photo: Snow in the prairie and on the trails - just right for walking!)

(Photo: Kaya - she just LOVES her freedom being a trail and woods dog without need for the city leash!)

(Photo: our winter bee hive in the sumac grove)

I finally got the bird feeders cleaned and filled this week at our current home and within 10 minutes, the usual winter birds were at the feeders. In addition, the squirrels (now as huge as groundhogs!) came running into the yard!

(Photo: Female downy woodpecker on the suet feeder)

(Photo: Carolina wren - it was on the suet feeder above, dropped down to the deck, and then decided it was "bottoms up" as it dropped down to the ground below)

(Photo: this suet feeder, the one closest to the house, got a lot of action, including this acrobatic squirrel)

(Photo: Another acrobatic squirrel, a female white-breasted nuthatch on the platform feeder in the background. Red-breasted nuthatches have also been zipping in and out so fast that I cannot get them in a photo)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Recipe - Date Pinwheel Cookies

(Photo: Date Pinwheel Cookies - a long-time Grant-Dyer family holiday tradition!)

These date pinwheel cookies have been a special part of our family holiday traditions for as long as I can remember. My mother got the recipe from neighbors when they were living in a small Ohio town after first being married. They are "effort cookies" as I need 2 days to get them made. I have taken them to cookie exchanges, cookie sales, given them away to friends, and always save enough for Santa and us. Even in years when I was on chemotherapy or still recovering during the holidays, these cookies always got made somehow. :-)


1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup ground walnuts
1 package (7-1/2 ounce) pitted dates, cut small - Note: I no longer bother cutting up the dates but instead purchase date pieces

Boil all together until thick. Set aside and cool. I usually make the filling a day ahead of cookie rolling day, so it has plenty of time to cool.

Note: I have often added more walnuts or more dates to the filling recipe along with a smidge more water.

1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
4 cups flour (I use 2 cups white all-purpose flour and 2 cups white whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt


Cream butter and sugar with a mixer in a large bowl, then add eggs one by one, beating until well mixed. In separate bowl, mix flour, soda, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk to mix well. Slowly add the flour mixture into the butter mixture, mixing well after each addition. I do cover and put the dough into the refrigerator to chill for at least a few hours, sometimes overnight. (Note: this is a very stiff dough - use your most powerful beater/mixer when mixing in the dry ingredients.)

Divide dough into four parts. Roll out each piece of dough using a rolling pin between two large pieces of wax paper. (NOTE: see photos below for how I do this) I roll out the dough to be just less than the length of a cookie sheet and maybe 7-8 inches wide. I would guess that the dough is about 1/8 inch in thickness. I do a lot of "cut and paste" to get the dough fairly even all around the edges. Take off top piece of wax paper, spread 1/4 of the date filling as evenly as possible on the dough. Then roll up the dough starting on the long side nearest to you, rolling away from you. Even out the ends of the dough with your hands then wrap the roll in wax paper and freeze overnight on a cookie sheet or anything flat to keep the dough from bending. This recipe makes 4 rolls of cookie dough.

When ready to bake, unroll the dough from the wax paper, cut into slices ~1/4 inch in width, then place on ungreased cookie sheets. I bake these on parchment paper at 375 for 10-12 minutes. I do shift the trays in the oven to keep the cookies from burning on the bottom. We do eat any "black-bottom" cookies but never give those away.

This recipe easily makes 80-100 cookies. Yum, yum, yum. Every one with a Christmas stocking at our house (except our dog) gets a small private stash in their stocking. It's almost impossible to just eat one!

(Photo: Step 1 - rolling the dough between 2 pieces of wax paper)

(Step 2 - dough ready for filling to be spread)

(Step 3 - filling spread on dough - rolling pin to give you size perspective of how I roll out the dough)

(Photo: rolling the dough over the filling - I use the wax paper to help me roll it without needing to get my hands sticky from touching the dough)

(Photo - dough all rolled up - pinch in the ends, then roll the wax paper over the dough before putting it in the freezer overnight)

(Photo: dough sliced and ready to bake - you can see that I bake them on parchment paper - be very careful not to burn the bottoms. I have done this and yes, we still eat them!)

(Photo - close up of dough ready to bake)

(Photo: cookies cooling - no snitching!!)

(Photo: Close-up of cookies all baked and ready to eat - Oh, they are so hard to resist, just ask my older son. I wonder if he remembers that at age 5, he got a tummy ache when he found them cooling "unguarded" and irresistible!)

Happy Holidays to all and best wishes for a healthy 2010!!

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Recipe - Caramelized Onion and Roasted Red Pepper Dip

(Photo: Close-up of Caramelized Onion and Roasted Red Pepper Dip)

At a recent cookie exchange, I had the pleasant first-time experience of eating a dip using Greek yogurt and caramelized onions, that's it. It was scrumptious and put the packaged onion dip mix that is mixed into sour cream to shame. So, wanting to duplicate this recipe to take to a party tonight while using some of our home-made yogurt made into Greek yogurt plus my home-made roasted peppers for a festive look, I found a few on-line recipes that I reviewed and then concocted the following:

Caramelized Onion and Roasted Red Pepper Dip

-- 1 roasted red bell pepper
-- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
-- 2 medium size white or yellow onions, peeled and then thinly sliced
-- 4-5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
-- 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
-- Water for caramelizing
-- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
-- 1-2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
-- 1-1/2 cups unflavored Greek yogurt
-- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh parsley (finely chopped chives may also be substituted here)
-- pinch of salt and ~1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper (if desired - I did add them)
-- whole grain crackers, baguette slices, or pita chips

1) Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.
2) Heat the oil in the pan then add all of the onions. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking and to allow for even cooking, until they begin to brown, ~ 10 minutes.
3) Add the garlic and the ground fennel seeds.
4) Add 1/4 cup water, continue cooking onion mixture, stirring regularly to keep onions from sticking. Add 1/4 cup water every time the mixture starts to become dry. Keep doing this until onions are soft, browned, and begin to taste slightly sweet. It may take 30-60 minutes depending on how thick or thin the onions are cut, how well the heat is distributed by your pan, etc.
5) Finally add the vinegar and thyme and cook until the vinegar has evaporated.
6) Season the onion mixture with salt and black pepper (if desired) and cool completely.
7) Drain and finely dice one roasted red pepper (I put the pepper pieces on a paper towel to make as dry as possible).
8) Once the onion mixture has cooled, place it in a food processor along with the yogurt, mix thoroughly but leave a few hunks of onion in the final mix. Fold the pepper pieces into the yogurt mixture in a large bowl, then stir in the parsley (or chives). If necessary, strain any excess liquid from the yogurt before mixing it with the peppers and onions (you can see from the photo that my yogurt was thick enough to have a spoon stand up straight!).
9) Season to taste with salt and pepper.
10) If there is time, allow the flavors to blend for several hours or even overnight before serving
with whole grain crackers, baguette slices, or with pita chips.

I used our own yogurt (drained overnight using a coffee filter to make thick Greek yogurt), roasted red peppers, garlic, fennel seed, thyme and parsley, plus yellow onions from Garden Works!, which I purchased this morning at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

(Photo: Onions ready to begin caramelizing)

(Photo: Onions done caramelizing)

(Photo: Greek yogurt - see how thick it is with the spoon standing straight up? Roasted red peppers, diced small)

(Photo: Fresh herbs in my windowsill - lemon thyme and marjoram. I also have rosemary, sage, and parsley in my south-facing kitchen window during the winter months)
(Photo: Caramelized Onion and Roasted Pepper Dip, ready to eat with a sliced baguette from Mill Pond Bakery purchased at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market this morning!)

I hope your holiday season is filled with friends and family, peaceful moments, great food and kitchen smells, a little bit of snow (my older son is buried under 20+ inches in Virginia!), and enjoying the spirit of love and peace.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Spice Intake May Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

A recently published study has demonstrated that isolated compounds from the spices turmeric (curcumin) and black pepper (piperine) could help prevent breast cancer by limiting the growth of breast stem cells, the small number of cells within tumors that promote a tumor's growth. No effects were seen on normal breast tissue in this cell-culture research study.

I met the lead author for this study, Madhuri Kakarala, M.D., Ph.D., R.D, several years ago as she was starting this research project at The University of Michigan's Comprehensive Cancer Center. I had just begun hearing about cancer stem cells at that time. She explained to me that cancer stem cells are the small number of cells within a tumor that fuel the tumor's growth, and that current chemotherapies do not work against these cells, which is why cancer recurs and spreads. Some cancer researchers are now exploring the relatively new idea that eliminating the cancer stem cells is the key to controlling cancer. In addition, a newly emerging area of thought is that decreasing the number of normal stem cells, which are non-specialized cells that can give rise to any type of cell in that organ, can decrease the risk of cancer.

Dr. Kakarala's important research may lead to less toxic means of breast cancer prevention than use of the current drugs available to high-risk women. In addition, this type of research will hopefully lead to less toxic ways of treating breast cancer plus another strategy for reducing the odds of breast cancer recurrence.

In the meantime, I added some turmeric and black pepper to spice up the potato-leek-kale soup I ate for lunch today! Feel free to make liberal use of all herbs and spices in your cooking, taking advantage of the hundreds if not thousands of molecules in them, and in particular, taking advantage of the health-promoting synergy (1 + 1 > 2) that this study demonstrated when they are used in combination.

Both turmeric and black pepper are often used as spices in the mixture commonly called curry. I have several delicious recipes on my blog that contain curry (use the search function at the top of my blog typing in the word curry). In addition, be adventurous and try adding turmeric or curry to some of your favorite recipes such as soups, salad dressing, or egg dishes for starters. Both sweet curry and hot curry are available to purchase, so experiment, wake up your taste buds with something new, and know that you are helping yourself promote optimal health and wellness, too.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Soy Foods Reduce Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence

(Photo: Edamame, boiled, drained, chilled and sprinkled with a mixed herb seasoning)
A research study published today examined and compared the soy food intake and breast cancer recurrence and death rates in a large population of Chinese women living in Shanghai who are breast cancer survivors. The data, collected for approximately four years, showed a reduced recurrence and death risk in those women who consumed higher intakes of traditional soy foods.

The reduction in risk "maxed out" at an intake of 11 grams of soy protein per day, which when translated into food, could consist of approximately 1-1/2 cups of soy milk, 1/2 cup of firm tofu, 2/3 cup of edamame as examples (or an appropriate combination of various soy foods - check the nutritional labeling for the soy foods you purchase).

Women in the group with the highest intake of soy protein had a 29 percent lower risk of death during the study period, and a 32 percent lower risk of breast cancer recurrence compared to the breast cancer survivors who consumed the lowest intake of soy protein.

"The inverse association was evident among women with either estrogen receptor-positive or -negative breast cancer and was present in both users and nonusers of tamoxifen. This study suggests that moderate soy food intake is safe and potentially benefitical for women with breast cancer," the researchers write.

An accompanying editorial in the December 9 issue of JAMA does raise cautions about extrapolating these data to breast cancer survivors living in the US who will have many differences from Chinese women who were born and raised in China, but do say it is likely that soy foods such as those traditionally consumed in Asian diet are safe for breast cancer survivors and may provide benefit for reducing risk of recurrence and death from breast cancer.

After my second breast cancer diagnosis nearly 15 years ago, I began consuming traditional soy foods made from soybeans (i.e., tofu and soy milk) on a daily basis for the first time in my life. It's likely that I had eaten a small amount of tofu when eating at a Japanese restaurant, and I know I sampled soy milk when tasting foods at conferences, but I also know I had not purchased tofu, soy milk, or any other soy food other than soy sauce to eat at home.

However, I knew that soy beans contain a large array of molecules that have anti-cancer activity, although the molecule that has received the most attention is genistein, which has been called a "phyto-estrogen". To make a long story short, as both a breast cancer survivor and Registered Dietitian, I have been regularly following the research and talking to scientists for 15 years about the potential pros and cons of consuming this estrogen-like molecule in food, always coming down on the side of consuming it in the foods and amounts typical of an Asian diet (1-3 servings/day).

Has my soy food consumption helped reduce my risk of recurrence (either locally or as distant metastases)? Frankly, it is impossible to truly know if that is the case. However, as my oncologist told me ~ 10 years ago, it is very clear to him that, based on my experience, soy foods are safe, and he encouraged me to "keep doing what I am doing".

Thankfully science keeps marching on with data being accumulated to help cancer survivors make lifestyle choices to increase their odds for living a long and healthy life. This is a case of science catching up with me as I was making personal decisions that needed to be made before all the science was in.

Do we know everything we need to know yet? I am sure that is not the case, but right now, I feel quite comfortable continuing to recommend and consume soy foods on a daily basis. I will qualify that statement to state that I only consume organic soy foods, which be definition are not made from soybeans that were genetically modified. In addition, I try to only purchase soy foods made from organic soy beans grown in the US.

Journal References:

  1. Xiao Ou Shu; Ying Zheng; Hui Cai; Kai Gu; Zhi Chen; Wei Zheng; Wei Lu. Soy Food Intake and Breast Cancer Survival. JAMA, 2009; 302 (22): 2437-2443 [link]
  2. Rachel Ballard-Barbash; Marian L. Neuhouser. Challenges in Design and Interpretation of Observational Research on Health Behaviors and Cancer Survival. JAMA, 2009; 302 (22): 2483-2484 [link]

I'm going to try growing several varieties of organic soybeans next summer on our farm. I'll let you know how that works out (if I can keep the groundhog(s) away!).

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"All the Good Things of the Earth"

I saw this quotation today and knew I had to make a quick posting to share it with my readers.

“Cooking should be a carefully balanced reflection
of all the good things of the earth.”

~~Jean & Pierre Troisgros

That quotation is certainly supportive of the concept that we are what we purchase, cook, and eat, but in addition, reading it helped me take a step back to be reflective of the big picture that "we are what we grow" also. The "we" can certainly be extended to all of our farmers and growers, not just ourselves, as each of us votes with our fork on a daily basis to consider our food choices within our overall personal values of what is "good", taking into account numerous environmental, economic, health, and social justice considerations.

(Photo: Good = A variety of organic sweet peppers grown on a small organic farm outside of Ann Arbor completely managed by the husband and wife farmers and a few volunteer CSA members, picked by me last September, chopped and frozen in slices, chunks, rings, etc, ready to pop into recipes all winter long when organic peppers are either not available period or only available at a huge cost to my food budget plus a huge cost to our environment by being shipped from a location far, far away, even from overseas!)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, November 23, 2009

6,255 garlic cloves in the ground!

It is said that farmers' work is never done, but we have reached our goal and a time to rest for a little bit. Today, during Thanksgiving Week, Dick and I finally finished all of our garlic planting and the mulching of all the beds. Whew! We are both tired tonight, but I am so excited to have come this far that I am making this photo post entry before I fill up the tub for a good hot soak tonight. :-)

We look forward to our harvest next year and meeting so many new people while selling our garlic. Dick has already been told he is the "Garlic Czar" of Washtenaw County, just based on the variety and number of garlic bulbs we have grown in our community garden. Our total in the ground as of today is well over 10x that number. We gave all the help and effort to get this job done a toast and a big sigh filled with gratitude and contentment at dinner tonight. :-)

(Photo: Garlic shoots starting to come up from the very first bulbs planted at the end of October. Dick pulled one or two up to check their roots and saw strong, healthy 3-5" roots already! They got replanted and all these will be just fine during the winter.)

(Photo: Hmmmm, deer or Kaya? Lots of deer wandering through our garden, but these footprints are from Kaya. No damage from Kaya or the deer.)

(Photo: Here you can see stakes marking the very short sections where we have planted new garlic varieties that are "auditioning" for a permanent place in the show next year.)

(Photo: This is the end of the planting of our 500+ cloves that will be harvested as green garlic. These are harvested first in the spring, very small, as if they are garlic scallions. They are planted much closer together than cloves planted to become bulbs, thus we tried the trenching technique, which made the planting go fast, fast, fast!)

(Photo: Garlic all planted, rows all raked, ready to mulch.)

(Photo: Love those tractors! and the wagon used to haul the straw bales to the end of each row.)

(Photo: Starting to mulch the 12-1/2 rows of our garlic. As with everything, there is considerable "debate" about the best way to mulch. Dick and I were talking about other strategies to try next year while doing this.)

(Photo: Diana spreading mulch. Kaya is sleeping (I mean supervising) at the end of the row.)

(Photo: Yes, I'm supervising, not sleeping! I love sleeping - oh, I mean supervising - while lying in the straw - grin!)

(Photo: Sunset - thank goodness I looked up from spreading straw to notice the beautiful sky!)

(Photo: Victory! All done before dark.)

(Photo: Sunset - all planted and mulched and inspected by Kaya.)

(Photo: Sunset over our farm. Time to clean up, put the tractor away, and head home.)

(Photo: The Dixboro General Store - in our new hometown - just to show all my friends in New England that they do not have the market cornered on old, cute and quaint - grin!)

(Photo: Garlic planting celebration dinner - good thing we had food ready to heat up - we were way too tired to go out to eat and also too tired to really even clear off the table for a "photo shoot". In fact, as I was putting my camera away, I saw my napkin on the floor! Most of the ingredients for this meal came from our local farmers. I'll post the recipe for the Sweet Potato and Kale Soup on my kale blog later.)

Twenty-five years ago this week, I was admitted to Evanston General Hospital (IL) for surgery to treat my first breast cancer (diagnosed when I was only 34 years old in 1984) on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. How thankful I am that I am "still here", celebrating these 25 years by finishing our garlic planting for the year.

Off to soak in the tub and to sleep well tonight. :-)

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Garlic Planting Fiesta!

After planting nearly 2,500 garlic cloves by ourselves, working out the techniques, we put out a "last-minute" mass email to friends to come help us finish planting when we saw the beautiful weather forecast for the Saturday of last weekend (clear and in the 60's, a real rarity for a Michigan November day!).

Friends came and went throughout the day, helping with various tasks such as separating the cloves, counting the cloves within each variety, raking the raised beds to level them and also remove any obvious clumps of grass still trying to grow, marking the holes for the individual cloves, planting the individual cloves, marking the end of rows with stakes labeled by variety, chatting, eating, enjoying the sun and warmth, and also helping to move a huge brush pile to a more appropriate burn site for a future bonfire (we're thinking about the night of the winter solstice - Dec 21).

My husband is providing our helpers with some local currency that he is calling "Garlic Guilders" to be turned in next year for garlic crops when they come in. One of my sister-in-laws is excited about figuring out how to actually make paper from all the garlic bulb wrappers (i.e., the papery substance that surrounds a whole garlic bulb). We now have bags of this, which we could compost, but are hoping to do something much more creative with it all.

We'll have nearly 50 different varieties of garlic (~ 6,000 individually planted cloves), all from certified organic seed stock or grown organically in our community garden during the past 5 years, all to be grown with organic methods (it will be several years before our crops can be certified as USDA organic), starting with green garlic, then come garlic scapes, and finally the whole heads are to be harvested in July. What an adventure. :-)

Here are some photos to enjoy!

(Photo: What can I say? We are choosing to stay in Michigan but we are still loyal University of Wisconsin grads. Remembering the many years that Wisconsin's football team was at the losing end of a 67-0 type of score, we smile a little broader when Wisconsin spanks Michigan, like it did at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison this day.)

(Photo: Dick beginning the daily process of sorting, separating, and counting individual garlic cloves for planting.)

(Photo: Dick and friends Jim and Barry beginning the process of moving the enormous brush pile, mostly left by the previous owner, to a safer burn location. Guys just love tractors!)

(Photo: Dick and Barry. Not sure what they are pointing at since the burn pile will be moved a long distance from where they are pointing! You can just see Kaya, in her orange vest, between the trailer and tractor. )

(Photo: Dave and Jim planting garlic in the morning and talking about life "post-Pfizer")

(Photo: Friends - Ann (sister in law), Wendy, Cynthia all taking over from Dick the careful job of separating the garlic cloves, counting them, and getting them into a box correctly labeled with their proper variety name to be planted.)

(Photo: Geoff (one of my brothers) doing the important job of raking the next raised bed so that it is level and also removing any grass clods turned under but still trying to grow. The straw will be used to mulch the beds for the winter. )

(Photo: Kathy and Cynthia planting, planting, planting each individual clove.)

(Photo: Kaya, supervising from a shady spot. She had a great day greeting every new person who came - bark, bark, bark, bark, sniff, sniff, sniff, sniff!! She's old but does her "job" well!)

(Photo: Still planting - Wendy, Sandy, and Kathy! Shadows are getting longer, but it is still warm enough to be wearing short sleeves on this magical Michigan November day.)

(Photo: The "garlic girlz", Diana, Kathy, Sandy, Kris, Wendy, still planting garlic as the sun goes down. We were quite a team! Don't you just love Wendy's knee pads?!)

I forgot to take any pictures of our potluck at the end of the day, but suffice it say, we had great food and plenty of it. I cannot wait until we do this again next year.

Many hands truly make light and enjoyable work. It was a day of joy and nearly all the garlic is planted. The only cloves we had left to plant were: (1) a few varieties that are "auditioning", meaning we only had 1-2 cloves of brand new varieties to plant to see how they will grow in our soil and climate, and (2) the very smallest cloves which will be used for green garlic, the first harvested garlic crop of the year, usually only available at farmers' markets (unless you know us or grow your own!).

I'm going to end with a few photos of sunset on our farm. True disclosure, these photos were taken on a different day than the "garlic planting fiesta" but even though the photos from my camera don't do the evening justice, this evening was breath-takingly beautiful. I can't wait until we actually move out here!

(Photo: Shagbark hickory tree at the north-west corner of our land)

(Photo: Sunset looking at the SW corner of our land from the back of our house.)

(Photo: Sunset through the tree line at the SW corner of our land)

(Photo: Sunset at the SW corner of our farm, through the tree-line)

(Photo: Sundown looking at the SW corner of our farm)

We're on our way, shaping the future, one clove at a time. :-) Come buy from us at our local Farmers' Markets next year (Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and hopefully, even a new Farmers' Market in our own new hometown of Dixboro, MI, just east of Ann Arbor) or come help us harvest or plant in 2010!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD