Celebrating Summer at the 125th Street Farmers' Market

Plums and peaches

The 125th Street Farmers' Market is one of the best places to be this time of year. The summer growing season peaks in late July into August, so the market is bursting with the vibrant colors and aromas of produce like tomatoes, peaches, eggplant, beans, plums, and corn. The market also features all kinds of treats including grass-fed meats, hard cider, free-range eggs, jewelry, natural body products, fresh breads, and informational tents for alternative energy sources. There's also fantastic live music courtesy of Red Rooster Harlem, Ginny's Supper Club, and Harlem Community Development Corporation.

There's a whole lotta goodness in this slice of Harlem!

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Farmers' markets are fantastic because they offer such unique produce. Sure, you can purchase your typical apples and carrots, but interesting plants like cranberry beans (above), green plums, or yellow string beans (below) are also available at a fair price.

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The 125th Street Farmers' Market is a project of Governor Cuomo's FreshConnect initiative to bring fresh food from New York farms to underserved communities throughout New York. Almost 1.5 million New Yorkers live in an area with limited grocery store access, also known as "food deserts." FreshConnect aims to combat this problem through the "FreshConnect Checks" program. The project provides a $2 rebate check for every $5 in SNAP benefits (formerly known as "Food Stamps") spent at the market. This means that everyone can have access to local, sustainably-grown, delicious food.

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What we love here at Marcus Samuelsson Group about farmers' markets is how they connect us to nature. We live in New York City  surrounded by concrete instead of soil, skyscrapers instead of trees. Sometimes we forget there's a whole natural world out there! Farmers' markets connect us to the environment in a very tangible and delicious way. We're reminded of how scrumptious seasonal produce can be.

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We hope to see you at the 125th Street Farmers' Market on Tuesdays through November 25, 2104 from 10 am to 7 pm, rain or shine on the corner of 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd.!

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The Olympian's Plate

My culinary curiosity kicked in the other night as I watched the hyper-competitive swimmers jettison through the water with the grace of dolphin-sharks. How do these uber athletes fuel their bodies to be able to consistently sustain this level of physical output? Might there actually be such a thing as a Breakfast of Champions? I did some digging and just as I suspected, there is no magic meal that can turn us mere mortals into athletic forces to contend with. My peek behind the curtain did turn up some interesting info that makes the Games that much more interesting. Who knows, it might possibly help you improve your own athletic prowess a bit.

There was the story about what the athletes are actually eating, but how about a look at what they should be eating? To get to the bottom of this, I asked around and came up with this:

1. Sports dietitians are key members of the Olympic team. Food & Nutrition describes nutrition as one leg of a three-legged stool that makes athletes great. Genetics and training/coaching are the other two legs. Fortunately, the athletes don't have to go it alone in the nutrition department. Starting with the 2000 games, the International Olympic Committee mandated that licensed dietitians work with the caterers and consequently nutritional info is available for all dishes. In addition, our athletes have a record-breaking four sports dietitians of their very own in London to help shepherd them through what to eat and drink before and after training and competition. A dietician can be a help if you're pushing your body to its limit.

2. One size does not fit all for nutrition advice. Not only are an archery contender's needs different from a basketball player's, but the soccer goalie's needs also differ from the midfielder's. Senior USOC dietitian Shawn Dolan, PhD, RD, CCSD finds cookie-cutter nutritional info to be less than fully helpful and instead tailors her advice to meet the physiological needs of the athlete, the sport, and the position.

3. Calories are not the cornerstone of eating in the Olympic world. Michael Phelps' rumored 12,000 calorie/day intake is the food-fantasy legends are made of. Both Phelps and dietitians scoff at this figure, stating a true intake closer to 7,000-8,000, far in excess of the 2,000 plus/day range for most men. Some dietitians and athletes actually prefer listening to one's body to counting calories. That's a fine strategy for these energy-burning athletes but nixing calorie counts altogether will leave many regular people packing a few extra pounds.

4. Both carbs and protein are on their plates. I believe in balance and was thrilled to find that sports nutrition research puts us on the same page. They are not just packing protein or carb loading to within an inch of their lives. They are eating both. Fruits, veggies and whole grains vs. refined sugars are their carbs of choice. Carb-rich foods give them the muscle glycogen stores they need for fuel while protein helps the muscles repair.

Dolan describes the women's volleyball team as dining on oatmeal, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, English muffins with PBJ and bananas, smoothies, fresh fruit, hummus and veggies, sandwiches or wraps - a solid blend of carbs and protein. Smoothies and pasta are all-round favorites and salmon, tuna (think Omega 3's) and chicken are protein staples for many of the athletes. Turkey sandwiches are also a favorite snack. The list can also be translated into the same foods we should be eating (just less).

5. Rainbows rule. The message to eat a wide range of colors every day is resonating with many Olympians, including volleyball powerhouses Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings. This simple mantra is easy enough for everyone to remember and guarantees a great start at packing in a broad range of flavors, textures, and nutrients.

6. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. It's no surprise that the athletes have to replenish fluids at regular intervals with water, fruit juice or a sports drink. Plain old water remains the fluid of choice for many. The surprise is that a little underhydration actually trumps overhydration. Believe it or not, swimmers are the most likely to become dehydrated because they can't get out of the pool to take a sip.

7. Everything in moderation. The dietitians come with a disclaimer. They are not, in fact, the food police. Instead, they promote healthful eating at the core with a little wiggle room for moderation. Ryan Lochte was a long way from moderation when a typical breakfast consisted of 2-3 Egg McMuffins, hash browns and a chicken sandwich. He capped it off with 3-4 sodas/day and a bag of chips for a pre-training snack. He's turned the corner to scrambled eggs, oatmeal, and fruit for breakfast, wraps and salads for lunch, and 3-4 sodas/week. Could the dietary changes be responsible for his stellar performance Saturday? We'll never know for sure but we do know one thing. Healthier food choices undoubtedly helped propel him to the finish line.

It might be worth taking a lesson.

Health Benefits of Cherries

I love summer for so many reasons, one of the biggest being the abundance of fresh fruit that comes into season! Juicy peaches, sweet mangos, watermelon, plums, figs, and CHERRIES!!

I have been eating my weight in Rainier cherries. They are so amazingly good!!  Tasty, easy, and delicious...sometimes it's the simplest things that yield the greatest benefits.

"The nutritional benefits of cherries are pretty big, particularly when you consider their small size. Many of the health benefits of cherries are related to the natural chemical that gives them their color.

Anthocyanins give flowers, berries and other fruits the colors ranging from red to blue. Some of the best food sources of anthocyanins are red grapes, chokeberry, eggplant and, of course, cherries.

These pigments attract pollinators, act as a "sunscreen" and protect the plant from radicals formed by UV light, so they act as antioxidants. The antioxidant benefits are transferred to people when the fruits or vegetables are eaten.

The health benefits of cherries and other plant foods containing anthocyanins are many. Anthocyanins are used by the body to produce essential amino acids. As antioxidants, they protect the cells of the body from the damaging, aging and disease producing affects of oxygen, nitrogen and UV radiation.

Anthocyanins are also natural pain relievers and anti-inflammatories. They inhibit the production of COX-2 enzymes, as do over the counter and prescription pain relievers. Natural anti-inflammatories are believed to reduce the risk of many types of cancer. But, there are more nutritional benefits of cherries.

Cherries contain melatonin, another natural pain reliever and COX-2 inhibitor. Melatonin also helps to regulate sleep cycles and has been sold as a natural sleep aid. Reduced levels of melatonin have been associated with heart disease and increased cancer rates in night workers. The human body naturally produces melatonin, but primarily in darkness.

Constant artificial lighting present in most homes and work places reduces the amount of melatonin that the body produces. So, one of the health benefits of cherries to modern day man has to do with replacing some of the melatonin that has been lost to artificial light, unhealthy work schedules and unnatural sleep patterns. And, there are more nutritional benefits of cherries.

Cherries, like most fruits, contain vitamin C. The proven and suspected health benefits of cherries and other vitamin C rich foods are too numerous to be covered in this short article. One of the most exciting and newest discoveries has to do with cancer treatment. In both clinical trials and test tubes, vitamin C has been shown to kill cancer cells and inhibit their replication.

Cherries also contain fiber, which is important for a healthy digestive system. Diets high in fiber are believed to reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancer and most other diseases involving the digestive tract.

One of the most recent studies related to the nutritional benefits of cherries had to do with unhealthy cholesterol levels. A group of men with high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels were recruited to participate in this study.

The men were given whole food supplements containing cherries and other fruits. After 4 weeks, total and LDL cholesterol (known as "bad cholesterol") levels were significantly lowered, while HDL (good) cholesterol levels were increased. There were no changes in cholesterol levels in control groups, given a placebo.

In all, the health benefits of cherries and other fruits cover most of the systems of the human body. The healthy function of the digestive system, the immune system and the cardiovascular system are all linked to a healthy diet." (Source)

So eat up and take advantage of the amazing fruits of the season, your body will thank you!!

Photos: Linda Wagner

*For more healthy living tips and recipes please subscribe to this blog, follow me on TwitterLOVE me on Facebook, or if you are interested in getting started on your own weight loss journey, shoot me an email!

Linda Wagner is behind one of our go-to sites for Nutrition and Lifestyle updates, where this post originally appeared.

All About Strawberries

Few berries evoke summertime nostalgia the way that strawberries do. If you have a chance to get to a pick-you-own patch this year, it's worth it. Strawberry picking is not only fun, it will give you an ample stock for baking, making jam, or just eating straight out of the crate. Make sure to save those natural gems, though! Store strawberries properly as to save your summer produce for as long as possible.

Strawberries are great for your health. They can help keep your teeth white and boost your immune system with lots of vitamin C. Just like acai berries and blueberries, strawberries also contain potent antioxidants, which can help your body fight off those pesky toxins. Strawberries are low in calories making them a tasty and healthy treat whether you eat them straight or dipped in yogurt.

If you're planning on growing strawberries this season, keep in mind that the plants will need full sun. Strawberry plants do best in soil where nightshades have grown, affects the pH balance for the better. Pick the strawberries when they're at their ripest, which can mean a day or two after they've reached their full color. Taste testing is crucial (and delicious!)

Try making your own jam or even in a whole-wheat cake with your strawberries. If you want to really experiment with these tasty fruits, try adding them on top of pizza with meyer lemon.

What's your favorite way to use strawberries? How will you be using them this summer?

Photo: Lindsay Hunt

Ingredient Focus: Raspberries

Rubus idaeus is the scientific name for raspberries and they are just that: ideal rubies. Who wouldn't want to snack on these luscious berries? Now is the time to get started. Raspberries are perennial berries that blossom from June to early fall. This summer, get outside by packing your own picnic equipped with raspberry-spangled fruit salad and sit outside and enjoy the sun. You can also enjoy the summer sun by visiting a farmers' market and grabbing raspberries as a great healthy grab-n-go snack to take with you!

Raspberries are sweet and juicy with a nice subtle tartness to them. Besides being one of the juiciest and tastiest berries around, raspberries are jam-packed with nutritional benefits like vitamins A and C. They also contain ellagic acid, which is in the same family as tannins and helps provide the body with loads of antioxidants. Eating them is a delicious way to protect your cells from damage!

If you're looking to grow raspberries, be sure to keep them in the full sun and slightly acidic soil. Raspberries grow best in mild winter/cool summer areas. Using a trellis will make your raspberry growing that much easier as it can help you with the pruning and harvesting process. Watch out for over-ripe berries that are too squishy or fall off the stem. Pick them as soon as they are bright red and juicy.

Raspberries are a perfect ingredient for jams and taste delicious when paired with desserts like peanut cake or as a garnish on lemon bars. Go for a more exquisite dessert option by making macarons.

What is your favorite way to eat raspberries? Do you eat them by themselves or use them in recipes?

Photo: Muffet