This year has been a phenomenal year of lockdowns, variants and needles. Nearly 3,000 individuals died on September 11, 2001. 2021 has seen an average of 3,000 deaths from COVID-19 each day, for a total of 800,000 Americans since the beginning of the pandemic almost two years ago. In contrast, the flu kills about 20,000 Americans each year.
Everyone wants to stay healthy and strong — so COVID has altered our lives. We have grown accustomed to meeting by Zoom or FaceTime. Masks have become common. Did you ever think you would need to put a mask on to go to the bank?
Plans had to be changed when someone you hoped to spend the holiday with had been exposed to the virus — or worse, tested positive or developed symptoms.
We have gotten accustomed to spending less time at gatherings and more time alone. Fortunately, in the summer we could gather outdoors.
But now it’s winter. We miss the time spent with our friends and family. This is not all bad. There is more time to read, more time to devote to creative solitary pursuits like writing, arts, crafts.
Many restaurants are closed, but there is more time to cook and more time to create a healthier lifestyle. Eating healthy and getting fit rank at the top of most Americans’ New Year’s resolutions list, more than one-third of which include health, diet and fitness.
Fresh air and good nutrition are essential to a healthy lifestyle. Diet and fitness help strengthen your immunity, so you’re less prone to succumb to a virus. Vitamins and minerals are important weapons in the arsenal that help your immune system to ward off disease.
Fruits and vegetables are storehouses of vitamins and minerals. Citrus fruits contain an abundance of vitamin C. Vitamin D is plentiful in eggs, fish and dairy. Carrots, winter squash and sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A. Zinc is found in mushrooms, meat, beans, spinach and seeds. Make sure to eat enough protein, since protein deficiency is associated with an impaired immune response.
Greens — a symbol of fortune for the coming year — are among the healthiest foods. Many greens are considered ‘superfoods’ because their phytonutrients offer health benefits like disease prevention, reduced cancer risk, improved cardiovascular health and longevity. Most are high in fiber and antioxidants, rich in minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron and copper, a good source of vitamins like A and C, and low in calories.
Whole grains (as opposed to their nutritionally-stripped counterparts) are also important to good health. The FDA’s Dietary Guidelines (http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines/) recommend a minimum of three whole-grain servings each day.
Some foods — like garlic, onions, mushrooms, oats, elderberries, tea, and herbs like ginseng, curcumin and ginger — are known for their immune-strengthening ability.
Everyone needs a fresh start, and the New Year is the traditional time to do this. Almost every culture has a season to look back and look ahead, promising ourselves to do better and wishing everyone good fortune. Starting fresh is an ancient, timeless tradition.
Move toward better health by incorporating nutritious dietary choices. Forge ahead with optimism, hope and plans for the future. May 2022 be full of health, energy and productivity.
Fresh Greens and Whole Grain Salad
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
Juice from 1/2 lemon
2/3 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 or 5 cups fresh greens (I used bok choy, pea shoots and kale)
2 or 3 small pickles (about 1/2 to 1 cup, diced) – I used brine pickles
2 stalks celery or a piece of celery root
1 or 2 oranges
Rinse quinoa. In a small saucepan, combine rinsed quinoa, water and salt. Bring to a boil; lower heat to simmer. Cook until liquid is absorbed, 12 – 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
In the bottom of salad bowl, combine mustard, olive oil and salt. Grate or crush garlic, and add (I used a microplane). Squeeze in juice from half a lemon; use a teaspoon to pick out and discard any seeds.
Wash and chop the greens coarsely. Fold into the dressing. Add remaining vegetables – carrot, celery and pickle. Toss again. Stir in quinoa, a little at a time, and toss.
Zest the oranges, and add to the salad. Peel, and cut across the segments to release juice; stir orange into the salad.
Option: Add 1 can rinsed garbanzo beans or black beans before serving.
Savory Grains, Greens and Beans Stew
Stew is an adaptable dish. Feel free to substitute different grains, greens, and beans. Experiment!
1/2 cup dry beans, such as pinto, black, or navy
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion
1 teaspoon salt (less if using broth)
4 oz. mushrooms
2 stalks celery
1 or 2 carrots
4 – 8 ounces Italian or breakfast sausage, optional
Herbs: thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, cayenne
1/2 cup barley, brown rice, farro or millet
6 cups broth or water
1 bunch greens, like kale, collards, or mustard greens (about 4 cups)
1 or 2 cups diced tomatoes (1 14.5 oz. can)
Cover beans with water and soak overnight. If you forget, bring to a boil, turn off the heat and let sit about an hour.
Heat oil in kettle to medium-low. Peel and dice the onions; add, sprinkle with salt, and cook 5 – 7 minutes. Chop mushrooms; slice celery and carrots; stir in and cook another 3 – 4 minutes. Crumble in sausage, if using, and cook to brown, about 5 minutes, stirring.
Add soaked beans, barley (or whichever grain you’re using), herbs and broth or water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook about 1 hour, or until beans and grains are tender. During last 20 minutes, add kale greens that have been stripped from the stems and torn. Add diced tomatoes during the last 10 minutes.
Taste, and adjust seasonings.
Serves 4 to 6.
Option: Omit beans (if using sausage) or use canned beans. Drain, rinse, and add at the end with the tomatoes.
Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at [email protected] or on Facebook at Words Are My World.