The best tools for the trade, cast iron cookware

A good craftsman has the right tools for his trade. It makes his mission to create easier and allows him the freedom to explore his creativity without limitations. The same is true for a home chef, with the right tools, your cooking experience at home will be pleasurable and one that has little boundaries.
I came to this realization very quickly about 10 years ago when I decided to take the plunge and invest in a few cooking vessels! Now to be honest, when I first started my search, it was all about the aesthetics, functionality was an afterthought. However, as I dived deeper into my research, it became apparent that my eyes had behold, true cooking gems.

Let us explore a few of my favorite cast iron cooking vessels and why they are at the top of my list as some of the best tools for the trade of cooking!
Cast iron is one of the best materials to cook in and so, excellent for making pots. Made primarily of iron, cast iron has a natural nonstick surface that is durable, nontoxic, holds heat well and distributes heat evenly. Pots made of cast iron are typically easy to clean, safe and versatile regarding the cooking surfaces that it can be used on. There are two types of cast iron pots, raw cast iron and enamel coated cast iron.
Raw cast iron pots are the simplest of the two. They are made by pouring a mixture of molten iron alloy into a sand mold, sand casting, and then left to cool. The main benefit of using raw cast iron is that it naturally imparts tiny amounts of minerals into the food being cooked. So, it can be a good source of iron. Additionally, it brings out and intensifies the natural flavors of the foods that are prepared on its surface, and it is the most nontoxic form of cookware available on the market today.
The downsides to using raw cast iron cookware are that cast iron requires constant seasoning, a method that involves rubbing the cast iron surfaces with oil and then baking at constant heat, to maintain its nonstick surface and ease of cooking, special tools and efforts may sometimes be required for cleaning and the cookware is usually heavy.
Popular and notable brands for raw cast iron pots include Lodge, known best for cooking performance, affordability, durability, and quality; Victoria Cookware deemed best, based on the variety of shapes, sizes and uses in pots that this band offers and Smithey Ironware, known distinctly for producing unique, ornate, high-quality pieces.
Enameled cast iron cookware has become a favorite among many cooking enthusiasts. It is simply cast iron that has been coated with a thin layer of enamel. This enamel coat creates a smooth, non-porous finish that serves to protect the core material of the cooking vessel, giving it a colorful and attractive finish. The enameling process involves the cast iron surface being prepared by being cleaned, then sandblasted to create a rough surface to increase adhesion of the enamel. The enamel coat, prepared by mixing glass powder with a water-based solution to create clay, which is then aged and pressurized, is then applied evenly across the entire pot by spraying. The sprayed pots are then placed in a furnace, with temperatures up to 1600 F, to be cured and then cooled.
These enameled cast iron pots are one of my favorites to cook in, specifically the Le Creuset brand. They are versatile and can be used to prepare meals in just about any fashion, roast, fry, braise, boil, sear, or stew. They are also durable, I have had a few of my pieces for about 10 years, they have been used extensively but they look just as new as when they first came out of the box. These pots cook evenly on any cooking surface and can handle high temperatures up to 500F. They really can! I have even used them on the grill. Enameled cast iron pots are also non-toxic and not reactive to acidic foods. This prevents metal leaching. One of my most favorite things about enameled cast iron pots is that cleanup is usually a breeze, even if you have managed to burn a few of your dishes that have polymerized and become hardened. Now the note-worthy thing about these enamel pots is that they are simply beautiful! They are showstoppers, with vibrant colors that shimmer and shine! To be honest, cooking in these pots can be addictive. Once you start cooking in them, you will never want to stop!
The disadvantages to cooking with enameled cast iron pots are very few. Like with raw cast iron pieces, they are on the heavier side, and they are susceptible to thermal shock, which can cause cracking if the enamel coating. These types of pots can also be on the fragile side and easily chip if dropped or banged into something that is equally as hard and solid. They also hold heat very well and can get hot very quickly, so watch out with those bare hands! Lastly, because of their beauty, performance, and appeal, enameled cast iron pieces are typically on the pricier side when compared to raw cast iron cookware.
There are many brands that rival each other to be number one in the enameled cast iron cookware category. The most popular brands are Le Creuset, known for its relatively lightweight pots that are high quality, excellent in performance and have outstanding craftsmanship; Staub, also popular for its high quality and high performing pieces that have unique shapes, colors and patterns and Lodge known for producing budget friendly pieces that perform similarly to its high-end counter parts.
For the experience, the quality, the artistry, and owning items that spark joy, consider upping your cooking game and exploring the best tools for the craft you are honing. Consider choosing and cooking with cast iron pots, especially the enameled ones. Happy cooking!

Previously published on the on September 24, 2023.

The art of pot shopping: My Le Creuset Philadelphia Factory to Table experience

The Le Creuset Factory to Table shopping event happens twice a year in the USA. Once in the Springtime, usually in the South and another in early Fall, typically up North. It’s a time when cast iron pot enthusiasts, also known as, “Pot Heads”, gather to take advantage of steals and deep discounts on enameled cast iron pots, matching stoneware pieces, utensils, and accessories, offered by the company. What makes this event even more special is getting the opportunity to purchase a mystery box that could contain thousands of dollars’ worth of cookware for just $50. The mystery in the box is that you don’t know what you are getting! Boxes are packed beforehand and sealed. So, you won’t be able to tell what’s inside until you purchase and open the box. It is the thrill of not knowing the contents of mystery boxes that makes it so much fun! It’s something that fellow “Pot Heads” always look forward to at FTT events! One trick that I have found very useful over the years is the good old weight trick to ensure that my box has lots of cast iron pieces. To date this method has never failed! I usually ask the person handing out the box to give me the heaviest one he can find. Luckily with a big smile and a thank you, I have never been disappointed with the results.
The event usually starts on a Thursday morning and wraps up on a Sunday evening. Each day brings an element of suspense, with a specialty table that bears limited-edition cast-iron pieces that may have been released in other countries and are on the wish lists of many. These are termed unicorn pieces! The Thursday tickets are usually the most coveted, since this is the only day that there is the opportunity to purchase a mystery box! The Philadelphia FTT event was number three for me and the turnout was big! Tickets for this event were sold out within a day! There were long lines at each session that wrapped around curved and winding roads and were filled with the enthusiasm and chatter of “Pot Heads” that traveled from near and from far to indulge in purchasing these colorful, artisan, cast iron cooking vessels.
I was able to convince my younger brother to join in on the fun and he did oblige, traveling from Maryland with his young family to experience the utopia of a FTT haul! I had a list of all the items I was on the hunt for, which included pieces for a few of my pot friends that couldn’t make the trip. When it was time for our session, we were first in line and briskly walked inside, with laser focus when we were let into the event hall. I was in awe and so amazed at the huge selection of cast iron pieces that were there! There were pots and cookware in so many different colors, shapes and patterns and the prices were unbelievable! There were discounts as low as 60% off, which in my mind is a steal! So, it was very difficult to keep focused on my list!
As difficult as it was, I managed to stay true to my list, I purchased what I needed, ok what I wanted and grabbed a mystery box too! It was three of us, so there were triple the mystery boxes, triple the suspense and now came the best part, the trades!
The Le Creuset FTT events have had a following that has grown far and wide, with followers located across the US and the world. The Philadelphia event birthed a new movement that formalized the art of pot swapping that usually took place in the parking lots of FTT events, Le Creuchella. Le Creuchella is a celebration of food, friendships, pot swapping, lots of frolic, meeting online pot friends in person for the first time and trading elements of one’s mystery box for more desirable pieces. It was the highlight of our Philly FTT experience. There were even opportunities for pot personalization! Well, the knobs of the pots. I fell headfirst in all the celebration and festivities and enjoyed every moment.
We were satisfied with all the contents of our mystery boxes and decided to keep them all. But our satisfaction didn’t stop us from helping newfound pot friends trade their mystery box items and experience the same degree of happiness that we had at the end of it all! It was like the pot gods were reading our minds and took note of all the things we had on our list because whatever we didn’t manage to purchase, showed up in our mystery boxes. I don’t think we were alone in having this experience as many shared similar encounters from their mystery box reveals. From our three mystery boxes we managed to haul over $2500 worth of cookware for $150. I say not a bad deal for one of the best sets of enameled cast iron cookware pieces that you will ever find on the current market today!
Indulging in the art of pot shopping, yes, it is an art, and my experience at the Le Creuset Philadelphia FTT event was a memorable one. I shopped, I laughed, I ate, I made new pot friends, got reacquainted with old pot friends and spent quality time with my brother and his family. The cherry on top, going home with cast iron pieces and matching cookware that cost me a fraction of the price! Now I am reenergized and ready to step back into my kitchen to enjoy making tasty meals in these pots. I am so looking forward to my next FTT event experience, I just need to know where it will be!

Previously published on the on November 12, 2023.

Soups, healing to the soul

The first bowl of soup appeared about 20,000 BC, when early man discovered how to make clay pots and vessels. Since then, there has been an explosion of soup making and soup consumption around the globe. The word soup originates from the Latin word, suppa, which means bread soaked in broth.
A soup is typically a liquid-based meal that contains a combination of a variety of ingredients, typically meats, vegetables and roots, cooked in broth or stock. It’s composition and taste are heavily influenced by the availability of local ingredients.
Soups are wholesome, hearty, healthy, nutritious meals packed with a host of immune boosting vitamins and minerals. Consuming soups is a great way to stay hydrated, maintain a balanced diet, and keep your body in tip top shape, with an active digestive system. Soups are simply super foods!
Soups are one of my favorite meals to prepare and eat. In my opinion, they are one of the most versatile one pot meals. They are life savers for the busy working mom! Preparation is simple and usually a breeze, cook times are typically under 45 minutes and you don’t need to a Michelin rated chef to whip up the tastiest soups ever! Soups also give you the freedom to add an element of creativity to your cooking and fresh ingredients are not a requirement for a delicious dish, leftovers are just as good!
Soups come in a variety of flavors, temperatures and textures based on how they are prepared. There are broths, which are usually thin, opaque soups made by simmering the ingredients over a long period. Adding vegetables or meats to this type of soup adds flavor, body and texture.
Consomme is a type of clear soup that has a degree of complexity in its preparation. It is made from richly flavored stock or broth that has been clarified using egg whites to remove fats and sediments from other ingredients. Consommes are typically made with, meats, veggies or both.
Thick soups are soups that have been thickened by a thickening agent or by reduction. There are two types of thick soups, cream veloute -based soups, which are thickened by a roux and puree soups which are thickened by the puree of the main ingredients. Puree soups are sometimes finished with cream -based liquids, rice or potatoes to help thicken the soup. The best way to make cream-based soups vegan is by using full fat coconut milk or the thicker version of almond or oat milk.
Bisques are traditionally made from shellfish or meat and cooked with rice or finely blended shells or bones to thicken. However, modern day bisques are prepared with a combination cream, puree soup and simmered for a long time to thicken.
Cold soups are typically served chilled and are simply the cold version of either a cream-based soup or a unique blend of fruits or vegetables with blended yogurt. Cold soups can be further classified into cooked and uncooked cold soups. As you may have guessed cooked cold soups are the chilled version of hot soups and uncooked cold soups typically have a base that contains pureed fruits or vegetables to give body, flavor and a thicker consistency. Because cold soups are never heated, care needs to be taken in handling, noting that cold soups can quickly spoil and need to be prepared in small batches and close to serving the time.
Soups are such versatile dishes that will continue to grace the tables of families for generations to come. Are you a lover of thick soups? Try this tasty vegan version of potato leek soup. It’s tasty, nutritious and a soup that you family will love! Happy cooking!

Vegan Potato Leek Soup


3 tablespoons vegan butter
3 large leeks, white and light green parts only, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
6 cups vegetable broth
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tsp salt free all-purpose seasoning
1 cup almond milk
1 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
Green onions (green portion only), finely chopped, for serving


In a heavy bottom pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and garlic. Cook thoroughly, stirring regularly, until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add potatoes (golden and sweet) and stir. Add broth, bay leaves, thyme leaves, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and all-purpose seasoning to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover and turn the heat down to low. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are very soft.

Remove bay leaves, then purée the soup with a hand-held immersion blender until smooth or transfer to a blender and purée the soup. Add the almond milk, stir and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed and add nutmeg. Use additional vegetable stock to adjust soup to the desired thickness. Serve and garnish with green onions or your favorite toasted nuts. Enjoy!

Previously published on the on October 29, 2023.

Say vegan please! Tasty vegan cheese recipes to explore

One of the few things I missed when transitioning to a vegan diet was cheese! The salty, sweet, and sometimes astringent flavors all balled up into one bite, especially when paired with fruit or savory crackers, was one of my most favorite food indulgences. Luckily, very soon after experimenting and exploring a variety of vegan recipes, I stumbled upon vegan cheese! I was very delighted!
Soon after my gold mine discovery, while walking the aisles of my local organic grocery store, I found a variety of vegan cheeses made of very familiar ingredients such as potatoes, cashews, and almonds. Some were meltable and others not so much. But this didn’t matter as much because there was so much that I could choose from. There was vegan cheese for every cooking season! It was an instant celebration for me, and this is how it has been every time I cook with a recipe that calls for cheese or when I make sandwiches for my daughters.
Now what makes this plant-based journey even more spectacular is the fact that I can make my own vegan cheese at home and from scratch! This may not matter as much to you but equates to a win every single time in my book because I have control over the ingredients, the flavor, the salt content, and the freshness! Having this level of flexibility and sway over what you consume is truly priceless.
So, when do I typically use vegan cheese, essentially when I am working with a recipe that calls for any and everything cheese, vegan lasagna being one of the most popular. Does vegan cheese change the taste of the dish? In my opinion, certainly not! If anything, it enhances the flavor, adds dimension, and elevates your culinary experience.
Come take a peek into my world of vegan cheese! Here are two of my favorite cheese recipes that are sure to please every tummy. They are versatile, require the freshest ingredients that are familiar and will serve as excellent cheese substitutes every time. Explore, give them a try, and let me know what you think. Happy cooking!

Vegan Herb Ricotta


• 1½ cups raw cashews, soaked
• ½ cup coconut milk
• 1 large lemon, juiced
• 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
• 2 small garlic cloves
• 1 Teaspoon onion powder
• Fresh thyme leaves. from 4 sprigs
• 1 Tablespoon Fresh chives
• 1 Tablespoon Fresh oregano leaves
• Himalayan sea salt & fresh cracked pepper, to taste



• Soak cashew nuts for 5-10 minutes in hot water.
• Drain cashews and place coconut milk, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, garlic, onion powder, thyme and oregano into a blender or food processor.
• Process until mixture is creamy
• Add salt and cracked black pepper to taste as needed.
• Incorporate in your favorite pasta dish
• Enjoy!
Spicy Vegan Cheese Dip
• ¾ cup Yukon gold potato, peeled and diced
• ½ cup sweet potato, peeled and diced
• ½ cup carrots, peeled and diced
• 2 garlic cloves
• ¼ cup raw cashews
• 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
• 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
• 1 teaspoon onion powder
• ½ teaspoon sea salt
• ½ to 1 Scotch Bonnet pepper
• ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
• ¼ cup water
• Place the potatoes and carrots in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Add about 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until fork-tender, about 8 to 12 minutes.
• Drain liquid and transfer to a high-speed blender. Add the garlic, cashews, apple cider vinegar, nutritional yeast, onion powder, salt, olive oil, Scotch Bonnet pepper and water. Blend until smooth.
• Serve with your favorite chips (plantain or tortilla) for dipping or enjoy smothered with pasta.

Previously published on the on December 18, 2023.

Plant-based egg substitutes for meal preparation and baking

What really came first, the chicken or the egg? In the world of plant-based everything, it doesn’t even matter. What does matter, is finding a suitable substitute to meet the needs of whatever meals you are preparing that requires the use of eggs!
Eggs have been consumed by humans for about 6 million years and historic evidence shows that ancient Egyptians and Romans used eggs in the preparation of breads and cakes. This practice lives on today, as eggs are a staple ingredient in making cakes, breads, donuts, biscuits, and a host of baked products and sweet treats.
In the world of cooking, eggs have several different functions. Specifically, when it comes to baking, eggs add to the structure, color, flavor profile and consistency of baked goods. In baking, eggs act as a binding agent, which helps to combine and hold ingredients together, giving foods their structure. Eggs are also used as a leavening agent, which helps foods, such as cakes and meringues, to rise and expand during heating. Using eggs in baking also serves the purpose of adding moisture and contributes to the appearance of many baked goods, giving the all too familiar appearance of being golden-brown.
So, what are the best egg substitutes for cooking? Well, it depends on what’s being prepared. There is a long list egg substitutes that can be used in various dishes. Let’s discuss a few of the plant-based options available and then you can choose what suites your needs best.
Apple sauce is a puree of cooked apples often sweetened with sugar and spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Apple sauce used as an egg substitute is best when unsweetened and for baking. It will add moisture and help to bind ingredients together. Its mild flavor does not interfere with the overall flavor of the meal being prepared. ¼ cup of apple sauce is used to replace 1 egg.
Mashed banana is another egg substitute that functions in a similar manner to apple sauce. One of the differences being that the banana flavor is a bit more intrusive and will interfere and influence the flavor of the meal being prepared. Additionally, the baked product may not be as golden-brown and will be more dense, in comparison to, the egg-containing equivalent. ¼ cup of mashed banana is equivalent to 1 egg.
Like apple sauce and mashed banana, pumpkin puree is also an excellent plant-based egg substitute. This substitute works best when used in cakes, muffins and quick breads and has the advantage of not disrupting the flavor of the bake products it is used in. ¼ cup of pumpkin puree replaces 1 egg.
Ground flaxseed and chia seeds, when mixed with water and left to thicken, has a resulting consistency that is very close to real eggs. Both seeds have a high nutrition content and are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. The binding properties of flax seed and chia seeds make them most suitable to be used in making cookies, cakes, and most sweet treats. Because the use of fax seed or chia seed won’t add a rise in the same way that real eggs do, more baking powder may need to be used. 1 tablespoon of grounded flax seed or chia seed mixed with 3 tablespoon of water and left to thicken for a minimum of 5 minutes is equivalent to 1 egg.
Silken tofu, which is processed soy milk made into solid blocks, is another plant-based replacement for eggs. Silken tofu has a higher water content and softer consistency than firmer tofu options. It has a neutral flavor and, utilized best in bake goods that are typically dense and heavy. So, brownies and cookies are the best candidates. When used, the silken tofu needs to be whipped until smooth to prevent chunks in the end baked products. Substitute ¼ cup of pureed silken tofu with extra baking powder or baking soda, to help give a rise, for 1 egg.
Dairy free yogurts are an excellent egg substitute, especially if the goal is to add moisture to baked products. Typically, yogurts are neutral in flavor, assist in binding ingredients together and tend to give baked goods a rich texture. Yogurts work best in cakes and muffins. However, additional cook/bake time is needed to ensure that the mixture is cooked all the way through, when used. ¼ cup of dairy free yogurt replaces 1 egg.
Arrowroot powder is another candidate for a plant-based egg substitute. Arrowroot is a tuber plant found in South America that has a very high starch content. This starch, when extracted, is known as arrowroot powder. Arrowroot is a good egg substitute for cooking and baking alike. A mixture of 2 tablespoons of arrowroot powder and 3 tablespoons of water is the equivalent to 1 egg.
Aquafaba is the terminology used to describe the leftover liquid from canned chickpeas. Its consistency is very similar to egg white, making it an excellent egg white substitute. It has exceptional binding properties and what makes this egg substitute even more appealing is the fact that when whipped, it acts like egg whites, creating foams. Aquafaba works best for recipes that calls for egg whites such as meringues, marshmallows and macaroons, and any baked goods where the desired texture is to be light, fluffy, and crumby. Of course, a stabilizer such as sugar, or cream of tartar will be required for lasting foam peaks, when whipped. 3 tablespoons of aquafaba liquid is the equivalent substitute for 1 egg.
Apple cider vinegar and baking soda is a good egg substitute, especially when used in recipes that require eggs to act as a rising agent. When combined, the two initiates an acid-base reaction that results in the formation of carbon dioxide and water. It is this reaction that provides a light airy texture to cakes and muffins when used as an egg substitute.1 teaspoon of baking soda mixed with 1 tablespoon of apple cider is the equivalent to 1 egg.
In the world of plant-based everything, there are so many egg substitutes that can be used to enhance the taste and texture of your dishes. What you choose will depend on your desired outcome. One thing is for sure, you will never miss out on sweet treats because they contain eggs. There are substitutes that work well!
Try this simple egg free recipe for the most delectable pancake you will ever have! It is one of my family’s favorites! Happy cooking!
Fluffy Vegan Pancakes


2 cups unbleached flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups almond milk
1/4 cup plant butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 flax egg

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center. Whisk the wet ingredients (almond milk, slightly cooled melted butter, vanilla, and flax egg) and add to the center of the well.

Slowly fold in the dry ingredients until mixture is smooth.
(The batter will be thick and creamy in consistency with some lumps). Adjust the consistency of the mixture by folding in 1-2 tablespoons of extra almond milk into the batter little at a time, if the batter is too thick, i.e., it doesn’t pour off the ladle or out of the measuring cup smoothly.

Set the batter aside and allow to rest while heating up your pan or griddle. Heat a heavy bottom skillet or griddle over low-medium heat and wipe over with a little butter to lightly grease pan. Pour ¼ cup of batter onto the pan and spread out gently into a round shape with the back of the ladle or measuring cup.
When the underside is golden and bubbles begin to appear on the surface, flip with a spatula and cook until golden. Repeat with remaining batter until batter is all used up. Serve with your favorite pancake topping and enjoy! Makes 10-12 pancakes.

Previously published on the on August 27, 2023.

My experience as a Favorite Chef contestant

This year, the most amazing opportunity came knocking on my door for my birthday! It was my acceptance, as one of the contestants, for the Favorite Chef competition! This would be my first culinary competition and I was excited. It was a dream come true, as being the winner would help to catapult me into the limelight and unto the culinary stage! There was so much on the line and the prize, $25,000 USD, a 2-page editorial spread in Taste of Home Magazine and a cooking experience with celebrity chef Carla Hall. But who is Carla Hall? Carla Hall is an American celebrity chef who first came on the culinary scene as a contestant on the 5th and 8th seasons of the cooking competition, Top Chef. She later became one of the cohosts on The Chew, a lifestyle talk show with a heavy focus on food. And now she is and accomplished author who has been featured in several Food Network programing, including the Worst Cooks in America and Holiday Baking Championship.
This competition was not your typical run of the mill. Culinary creators from all walks of life and skill levels were invited to showcase their creativity, while supporting fundraising efforts for the James Beard Foundation. The James Beard Foundation is a nonprofit organization that has the mission to celebrate, support and elevate the individuals that drive the food culture in America and champion equity and sustainability in the restaurant industry. Each contestant got the opportunity to build their culinary profile, sharing their passions, the reasons for competing and their inspiration, while showcasing their culinary creativity through pictures.
Additionally, as the competition progressed, contestants got the opportunity to gain exposure to exclusive workshops by various movers and shakers within the culinary and restaurant industry. There were mini workshops on plating and presentation, selfcare, leadership, how to start up a successful restaurant and creating social media presence to boost your business. All workshops were designed to educate, uplift, and encourage each contestant as they journeyed through the competition.
With a pristine profile and a laser focused goal, competitors were expected to generate votes through the support of friends, family and loved ones, to become the peoples’ choice and be crowned Favorite Chef. The vote frequency was every 24 hours with two types of votes, free votes, and champion votes. Voters were allowed 1-2 free votes every 24 hours, depending on how their identity was verified. Champion votes could be made at any point during the competition and was simply donations made for a specified number of votes to increase ones vote count.
The competition started out strong, with over 6100 contestants split into 64 different groups, with each individual vying for the number 1 spot! Each round lasted 7-10 days, with consistent support for each contestant.
Round 1 was the first elimination round, with the biggest cut, where groups of between 93-95 contestants were chopped down to 20. My group had 93 contestants and I made the first cut, in the number 2 position, to the Top 20! The second round, the Top 15, also went well for me. With all the confidence in the world and my head held high, I made the cut, and I was in the lead. The Top 10 round had a shaky start as I flip flopped between the number 1 and number 2 spots. At the end of that round however, I finished strong being in first place. The same is true for the Top 5 round. It was a healthy back and forth and at the end of this round, I was the victor. I clenched to the number 1 spot, and I held on to it long and hard!
The quarterfinal round was one to write home about. It was the battle of the ages, in my group, right down to the last second. At the end of this round everyone was anxious and biting their nails, as the winner was not revealed for another 12 hours after voting was closed. Every second in that round had a new person in the lead. This was an important round, as only the individual holding the number 1 spot would advance to the quarter finals and guess what, I did it! I did it with the help of my village! I made it to the quarterfinal round in the top 1% of all competitors! The total number of competitors went from the thousands to the hundreds.
The quarterfinal round was a tough one. It was quite challenging and at any given moment in time it was difficult to predict what position you would hold. I went from 7th to 6th to 3rd to 2nd to 3rd place all in one day! I settled in at 4th place for the long haul and with less than 24 hours left in that round, I dropped to 5th place. Only first place holders would advance to the semifinals. So, my run for the Favorite Chef ended.
I got eliminated in the quarterfinal round, since I was not able to maintain the number 1 spot in my group. But at this end, I have held my head high, finishing 5th in my group and considered as being in the top 1 % of all contestants.
It was a fun journey and one that I would do again. I have learnt so much about myself and others in my life. I have learnt just how resilient and determined I am, even when I have stepped out of my comfort zone. I have seen how laser focused I can be when working to achieve a goal, even when it seems impossible. Further, I have learnt how much I am loved and how vested my friends and family are in seeing me thrive and succeed. It is heart-warming and indeed encouraging.
So where do I go from here? I will keep on chugging with a renewed enthusiasm, a renewed vision and a renewed commitment! You see I have a dream and this dream, after this culinary experience, will never die. It will be achieved!

Previously published on the on August 6, 2023.

Maintaining a healthy vegan lifestyle

It is no secret that plant-based diets have been climbing to their peak in popularity based on the many offerings currently available for those who choose to indulge, and rightly so. Research has shown that men on a vegetarian diet live an average of 10 years longer than men on a non-vegetarian diet and vegetarian women live an average of 6 years longer than their non-vegetarian counterparts. With the addition of extra years to one’s lifespan, who wouldn’t want to try this healthy eating option? It has also been demonstrated that a plant-based diet reduces the risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some mental health illnesses.
As described previously, adopting a plant-based lifestyle involves making plants the focus and the center of a meal rather than meats and processed foods. In other words, focusing on simple, wholesome ingredients. Adopting a vegan lifestyle is transformative. It reshapes your health and well-being completely. Being vegan is not just a diet, it is a way of life! But how do you keep up with a lifestyle that appears to be so unnatural to most and seems to require more effort than you are willing to give. To many, maintaining a plant-based life may seem like an impossible task, too difficult and too time consuming to upkeep. However, it can be so much simpler and rewarding as well. Here are a few key pointers that will help you to maintain a healthy vegan lifestyle.
The first is, plan. Planning will help maintain your focus and stay ahead of the game. With planning, everything will become a little more streamlined and less time consuming. If you start by having a weekly meal plan, then you will be able to have more control over what you eat, curb spontaneous cravings that you may have and cut down the amount of time you will likely spend in the kitchen. You will also reduce your exposure to opportunities of consuming unhealthy food options. Planning your grocery shopping trips and having a specific list, will also reduce your time spent in the store and allow you to make thoughtful decisions about the amount and types of food you will consume. Choose wholesome foods and healthy snacks that are quick and easy to prepare. Surrounding yourself with healthy and wholesome food options at all times reduces unhealthy cravings and the likelihood of reverting back to consuming meat and processed foods. Having meal portions that are satisfying and nutritionally balanced will go a long way in keeping you on track and worry free about the content of your diet.
Making the time to do weekly meal preparation will also help to control and reduce your time spent in the kitchen and expand your creativity. Simplicity is key and served best when thinking through and planning weekly meals. Soups, salads, and quick legume-based stews are good options to consider for the hustle and bustle of the mid-week. They are simple enough that anyone in the family can prepare them and highly nutritious as well. Meal preparation brings several advantages to the table. It creates a healthier relationship with food, prevents overeating, improves the content and quality of one’s diet, allows the control of portion size, lowers weekday stress, reduces food waste, and saves time and money.
Maintaining a home garden is a lifestyle choice that is sure to increase your enthusiasm about food and help you and your family understand and appreciate the reasons why healthy, unprocessed foods are so important and integral to a balanced vegan diet. Gardening helps to keep a variety of wholesome foods in your diet, provides a stock of wholesome foods year-round and reduces the cost of groceries. It also increases your enthusiasm for food and provides a learning platform for children to build character and become more educated about their environment and what they put into their bodies. For the picky eater, gardening will help to pique curiosity and opens the option for more exploration of plant-based foods.
Including the family in all aspects of your journey will also be advantageous in maintaining a plant- based lifestyle. This inclusion ensures that everyone is on the same page and pulls the family closer together as they navigate through the ups and downs of new experiences. There will be more opportunities to bond and talk about likes and dislikes on the journey. And of course, involving the family in the kitchen, for meal planning and preparation, ensures that all have a say in what’s being consumed and are comfortable with the food choices made. After all, a family that eats together grows healthy together.
Also, be intentional about making healthy decisions when eating out. It is always a good practice, when possible, to try to examine restaurant menus ahead of time when eating out, so that you will arrive with a plan of what you are able to eat. Also, don’t be afraid to request substitutions or omissions for your dishes of choice and always ask for the available vegan options. For me, when in doubt, I make a full meal out of appetizers and side dishes on the menu. There is usually a wide variety of veggies and plant-based options to choose from and the bonus is, these dishes are usually smaller servings. So, you can sample 2 or three different things in one sitting without overeating.
Regular exercise to keep the mind, body and soul engaged and balanced is another way to make your vegan lifestyle more sustainable. In addition to the large list of advantages that comes with being physically active, exercising while on a plant-based diet may also have performance-enhancing effects for various types of exercise. This is primarily due to the high carbohydrate levels and the high concentration of antioxidants and phytochemicals found in plant-based diets. It has also been shown that plant-based diets can help to decrease weight which creates a leaner body structure and improves stamina. So being a vegan athlete can definitely have its advantages when it comes to performance.
Before exercising, consider eating foods high in carbohydrates to ensure that there is enough energy to sustain your workout routines. Foods such as oatmeal, cereals, pastas, legumes, fresh fruit juices and sweet potatoes are ideal options to fuel your workout. After workouts, eating foods high in carbohydrate and rich in protein will help with the body’s recovery. Foods such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, whole grain breads, potatoes and nuts are good options to consider.
And finally, make your experience light and less strict. Be flexible and open to trying new things and expanding your palate. Try new recipes and new ingredients in your everyday meals. Also opting to try new styles of preparing your plant-based meals will enhance your experience. Exploring other ethnic cultures gives you the opportunity to explore different flavor profiles of the same types of food. Different seasonings and spices tend to enhance and define certain flavor notes and undertones. So don’t be afraid to explore!
Indulging in plant-based diets can be so much fun based on the growing options that are currently available and the creative ways that one can now enjoy fruits and vegetables! Maintaining a vegan lifestyle is even more enjoyable given that as a culture we are now more aware of our foods and just how important they are for our well-being. As a culture, we are now in the era of embracing plant-based living. Take advantage of all that this lifestyle has to offer and enjoy!

Previously published on the on July 23, 2023.

Growing healthy herbs to support your plant based lifestyle

Herbs are a vital element in the preparation of plant-based meals as they provide a variety of complex flavor notes and undertones, they significantly enhance the taste of a meal without adding a lot of salt and they can be easily dried and stored for extended use. Additionally, herbs are excellent sources of macro and micronutrients, which becomes the perfect supplement for a balanced plant-based diet. Further, a large population of herbs are high in medicinal value and provides healing not only to the body but also to the soul and mind as well! Having herbs as crop options, in a home garden, will also provide a healthy balance in the soil and ward off harmful pests that may potentially destroy your garden crops.

Being able to plant and cultivate herbs can be a simple and effortless task. They are easy to find year-round, they thrive indoors and outdoors, they are low maintenance high-yield crops, they can grow and be maintained with minimal sunlight and limited space and simple mediums, such as water, can be used to propagate them and maintain them for extended periods of time.
If you are intimidated or overwhelmed by the thought of starting a full-blown vegetable garden, dabbling with a small herb garden will be the perfect way to get your hands dirty and build confidence before moving on to the larger task. There is a wide variety of herbs that one can choose from depending on the desired look of your garden and the expected taste needed for dishes that you plan to prepare in the future. Let us explore a few popular options of the many herb choices available.

Basil is a low maintenance herb that can be grown in a container, garden bed or even in water. There is a large variety of basil herbs, with the most popular varieties being sweet basil and Thai basil. Basil is often utilized in a variety of Italian dishes, Thai dishes, salads, and is usually one of the key ingredients in a traditional Italian pesto. This aromatic herb can be consumed raw and is high in vitamin K. It is a known remedy for bug bites, nausea and is a natural antibiotic that also prevents the formation of ulcers.
Basil tends to grow in warmer seasons when temperatures are above 60 0C (140 0F). Basil should be watered generously without over watering to prevent wet, water-logged roots. This herb tends to grow tall and narrow and produces spikey flowers very quickly. To promote branching of the herb and for a fuller look, the plant should be pruned weekly. If planted in the soil, compost should be added around the base of the plant to feed with the required nutrients. Early production of flowers in the basil plant typically signifies that the plant is stressed and signals that the plant is not growing in the most optimal conditions.

Cilantro is a herb that is typically utilized in many Mexican and Indian dishes. The most popular being salsas and chutneys. I love using cilantro in just about every meal I prepare, especially in soups and stews. Its lemony and peppery flavor profiles give it its flexibility as a key ingredient in a variety of dishes. Almost every part of the cilantro plant in used in cooking including the seeds, which are known as coriander seeds. Cilantro is rich in vitamins A, C and K and is also a source for folate, potassium, and manganese. It’s a known antibiotic and has the potential to lower blood sugar levels in diabetics.

Growing cilantro can pose a few challenges. It is one of the few herbs that can be a little tricky to grow. It tends to bolt (that is the stems become thicker, the leaves change their shape and the flowers produced are tiny, in preparation for seed production), flower and seed very quickly if it is not being grown in ideal conditions. Cilantro thrives best in cooler seasons and should be planted right after frost has passed. For best results, cilantro seeds should be sown directly into ground to reduce the plant from being moved around. Disruption of its delicate tap root system can cause stress to the plant. The leaves of the cilantro herb should be harvested regularly to keep the plant healthy and encourage leaf production. When growing cilantro, plant next to taller plants that can provide shade to the herb and soil, making its local environment cooler. Cilantro needs four to six hours of sunlight for optimal growth. Planting cilantro seeds weekly will ensure a continuous supply of this flavorful garden herb during the growing season. At any given time, not more than one third of one plant should be harvested to promote a healthy plant.
Thyme is a nutritious herb that grows well in most seasons. It’s very hardy and has a shallow root system that makes it ideal for growing in containers that has well drained soil. Its tiny, fragrant flowers make the thyme plant very attractive to bees and other pollinators and so it is an asset to a garden that has other fruiting plants that require pollination, such as squashes, cucumbers, and tomatoes. There are about 14 varieties of thyme herbs that each presents its own unique flavor profile, which ranges from earthy to mildly citrus. The most common thyme varieties include English thyme, lemon thyme, lavender thyme and Italian Oregano thyme. Each of these varieties can be distinguished based on the color of the flowers produced, the leaves and the aromaticity.

Due to its distinctive taste and flavor profile, thyme has been a culinary staple for centuries and is still used today in a variety of dishes that spans diverse ethnic cultures. In addition to its bold flavor, thyme is packed with a host of nutrients including vitamins A and C, copper, fiber, iron, and manganese. It also boasts a slew of health and wellness benefits which include lowering blood pressure, boosting immunity, alleviating coughs, treating yeast and bacterial infections and repelling insects.
Mint is a popular herb used in both food and drink dishes alike. There are several varieties of mint with the most common being peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint and sweet mint. Typically, spearmint is used in savory dishes, peppermint in sweet dishes and sweet mint in teas in specialty drinks. Mint is a prolific growing herb and if not managed properly can take over an entire garden within a few growing seasons. The best way to grow mint is by itself! Growing different varieties of mint herbs side by side can cause them to lose their distinct aroma and flavor. The mint plant prefers sandy, well-drained soil and lots of sun light.
Traditionally, both peppermint and spearmint have long been used of their medicinal properties for aiding in digestion, alleviating a host of gastrointestinal issues and relieving nasal congestion and flu symptoms. The larger mint varieties also have a plethora of health benefits which include relieving pain, tension headaches, improving brain function, dental health and serving as an antibiotic. Mint is also nutrient rich and contains vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, phosphorous, calcium, and magnesium.

Oregano is an earthy herb used in many Italian and Mexican style dishes and is one of the prominent ingredients used in making pizza sauces. Oregano is high in antioxidants, dietary fiber, folates, iron, manganese, carotene and vitamins A, C and K. Typically referred to as a super food because of its rich nutrient content, oregano also boasts a host of health benefits. It’s high fiber content helps to control blood cholesterol levels. The variety of essential oils found in oregano such as thymol, limonene and carvacrol makes the herb a good antibacterial and antifungal agent and best for treating indigestion, mild fever, and pain.
Oregano is hardy, spreads quickly and is a relatively low maintenance herb. It is classified as a perennial plant, is self-seeding and will therefore return for subsequent growing seasons even after harsh winters. It thrives best in hot dry climates, with full sun and sandy, well-drained soil. Oregano is easily propagated from cuttings from a healthy, established plant and should be harvested frequently by pruning to encourage new leaf growth and a fuller plant. Plants should be watered at the base only when the soil feels dry. Overwatering should be avoided to prevent diseases. The best time to harvest oregano is right before it blooms. This is when the flavor is most intense in the leaves and the leaves also prime for drying.
Herbs add diversity and flavor to your garden and plant-based dishes, while providing required nutrient supplements and health and wellness benefits. Learning how to successfully grow and harvest these ancient wonders will enhance your gardening experience as your reward will be quick and bountiful and your cooking experience as the taste of the meals you prepare will be palatable to many.

Previously published on the on June 25, 2024.

Growing healthy root vegetables to support your plant-based lifestyle

Root vegetables are a diverse group of foods that are nutrient rich, high in vitamins, antioxidants and packed with carbohydrates. In some instances, root vegetables are considered super foods and are used for medicinal purposes as well. These vegetables typically grow underground, at the base of the plant, with the primary function of water and nutrient storage that will be later be used to feed the plant during the colder season. The culinary versatility of root vegetables is unmatched, as they typically show up as staples in a host of ethnic and plant-based meals. They can be used to influence the color, flavor, and texture of any dish.
Root vegetables can be classified into several different categories. Bulb root vegetables contain large bulbs where nutrients are stored. Examples of bulb vegetables include onions and garlic. Corms root vegetables have short thick stems that grow vertically and include the likes of taro, water chestnuts and celery root. Rhizomes are stems that grow underground horizontally and include vegetables such as ginger and turmeric. These root vegetables are well known for their medicinal properties and unique flavors. Tap root vegetables are typically the main root system of a plant that grows downwards into the soil. Besides storage and being the main source of a plant’s nutrients, the tap root also functions to provide deep anchorage and support for the plant. They are considered the true root vegetables and include popular vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and beetroot. There are two types of tuber root vegetables, root tubers and stem tubers. Stem tubers are bulbous stems that grow underground while root tubers are swollen roots. Common examples on stem tubers include potatoes, yams, and jicama and that for root tubers, sweet potatoes, and cassava.
Growing root vegetables can be tricky, but very rewarding at the same time, since the edible portion grows underground. Each class of root vegetable has varied harvesting times and requires its own unique mix of soil, light and nutrients for optimal growth. Being equipped with the right tips and tricks will guarantee a successful growing and harvesting season.
Beet root is known for its distinct flavor profile and deep burgundy color. It is heavily utilized in salads, stews, soups and sometimes makes its way into delectable chocolate-based desserts and natural juices. It is high sugar, low in calories and is nutrient dense. Hands down, beet is considered a super food packed with antioxidant, nitrates, potassium, manganese, iron, folates and B vitamins, which is known to improve blood circulation and lower blood pressure. For these reasons, beet is an excellent candidate to be added to the roster of vegetables in a home garden.
Beets can be grown from seed clusters or the crown of the beet root itself. They thrive best in loamy soil (an equal balanced mixture of sand, silt, and clay) with either full sun or partial shade light exposure. Seeds should be soaked overnight at room temperature to aid in optimal germination of beet root seedlings. Sprouted seeds should be thinned to reduce overcrowding and promote healthy bulb development. If you choose to grow the beets from the crowns, then they should be soaked in water for several days and planted only after a healthy root system has developed. Beets are best suited when they are harvested small and young. To ensure a continuous supply of beets during the growing season, succession planting should be incorporated into your gardening practices. That is, planting new crops to replace what has been harvested every 2-3 weeks.
Carrots are classified as true root vegetables and belong to the tap root family. Known for its signature orange color, carrots are rich in beta carotene, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Carrots are essential in supporting a healthy immune system, vision, and brain function. Like with beets, carrots can be grown from seeds or from the crown of a fresh carrot. Both the leaves and the root are edible, which gives carrots their versatility. Carrots are enjoyed best raw or cooked and are typically incorporated in salads, used as the base for soups and stews and make unique sauces and desserts. In addition to the popular orange hue, carrots can also be purple, red, white, or yellow, which also adds a layer of aesthetics of any dish containing these fun color varieties.
Carrots need loose, well drained sandy soil that is free from stones and has exposure to lots of sun light in order to thrive and fully develop into the well-known, thin, slender root structure we are used to seeing. Planting carrots from seeds can be a bit challenging as the seeds are very tiny. So, co-planting carrot seeds with radish seeds or a fast-growing vegetable will make it easier to identify planting rows. Radish grows and matures three times faster than carrots. Also, as the seeds sprout, the carrot seedlings should be thinned out to allow each carrot to get to its maximum size. Carrots take several months to mature, so one should be patient when growing these hearty vegetables. Seeds should be sown ¼ inch deep and planted every 3 weeks from early spring to mid-August to ensure continuous harvest during the growing season. To grow carrots from the carrot crown, the cut side of the carrot top should be placed in water and exposed to sunlight for several days. When new shoots emerge from the top, and small hair-like roots start to form around the edges, the carrot should be transplanted to the appropriate soil to complete its growth cycle.
As described above, potatoes are stem tubers and is the swollen portion of an extensive stem system of the potato plant. There is a large variety of potatoes that are all utilized in a host of ethnic dishes and different meal types. Russet, Yukon Gold and red potatoes are among the most popular varieties in North America. Russet potatoes are best when baked and topped with oils, herbs, mushrooms, beans and a host of other toppings. They are known to make the best French fries because of the low moisture and high starch content. Yukon Gold potatoes are my personal favorite. They are easy to cook, soft, creamy, and have a mild flavor which gives it the flexibility to be added to just about and dish and can be cooked in several different ways. Potatoes are high in starch, fiber, vitamins B6 and C and electrolytes such as potassium. They are naturally gluten free and known to improve digestive health, reduce blood pressure and aid in disease prevention because of the high antioxidant content.
Growing potatoes can be a very easy task. Potatoes grow best in loose, loamy soil and exposure to full sun light. For the average home gardener, potatoes are best propagated from seeded potatoes. That is potatoes that have started to sprout or bud from the nodes on the swollen stem. When planting from seeded potatoes, cuttings that include at least two eyes should be sown. Each cutting should be dried for a few days to promote hardening of the surface, which serves to protect the potato seed from soil-borne diseases and rot. When planting the seeded potatoes, sew in-ground cut side down. As soon as the leafy portion breaks ground, create a soil mound around the seedling. For ease of harvesting, potatoes should be planted in growing bags or containers.
Sweet potatoes are another variety of tubers that belongs to the root tuber family. They are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The typical sweet potatoes found in North America are usually orange in color. However, there are also other colors found in this root vegetable, which includes the white, red, pink, violet, yellow, and purple varieties. Different color sweet potatoes boast different flavor profiles, unique textures, and nutrient blends. In general, members of the sweet potato family are rich in vitamin C, potassium, carbohydrates, fiber, and beta carotene, specifically for the orange type. Incorporating a serving of sweet potato in your daily diet will promote gut health, enhance healthy brain functions, improve vision, and support your immune system. These swollen root tubes are best suited for utilization in both sweet or savory dishes, where the sweet flavors are intensified when roasted or fried.
Sweet potatoes are typically grown from slips, which are small-rooted pieces of the tubers. Sweet potatoes grow best in warmer climates, in nutrient rich, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. They are sun loving plants that take up to 4 months to mature. Sweet potatoes slips should be sown at least 8-10 inches deep and watered with at least 1 inch of water weekly. Like with potatoes, sweet potatoes are best harvested when grown in containers. During the growing cycle, the root size should be checked periodically at about 80 days to ensure that the root hasn’t overgrown. Overgrown roots can lead to root splitting. Another way to prevent root splitting, is to reduce watering when there is about 3 to 4 weeks left before harvesting. Sweet potatoes are usually ready to be harvested when the leaves on the vines start to turn yellow.
Radishes are quick growing root vegetables that instantly add a pop of color to fresh salads. Radishes are rich in antioxidants, minerals such as calcium and zinc, vitamins such as A, B6, C, E and K and electrolytes such as potassium. Consuming radish daily will help to support collagen production, lower blood pressure, and promote healthy digestive and heart systems. Radish can be consumed raw or cooked. Its crunchy, crispy textures and intense color makes it ideal for fresh salads and plating.
The average maturation time for radishes is approximately 45 days, which makes it ideal to plant for first time gardeners and children alike. Radishes grow best in cooler climates, well- drained soil that is nutrient rich, slightly acidic to neutral, and with an abundant exposure to sunlight. Soil should be kept moist to promote even growth. Seeds should be sown directly into the ground with about an ½ inch in depth. Seed germination takes about 7-10 days, with the best tasting radishes harvested when young, at about 30 days.
Ginger root has been in existence for thousands of years and was first used in ancient Chinese and Indian medicine to heal a variety of illnesses and aliments. Native to Asia, ginger is currently used for its medicine value, its intense peppery flavor, for meals, and in hair and skin care products due to its nourishing properties and aroma. Ginger in known to reduce inflammation, relieve nausea and pain, support a healthy digestive system and a healthy heart. Ginger is packed with a host of nutrients and minerals, which makes it a super food and quite flexible for use inside and outside the kitchen. It is rich in antioxidants, Vitamins B6 and C and essential elements such as manganese, copper, selenium, and zinc. Ginger root is used in teas, juices, desserts, soups, curry-based stews, and high starch dishes. My personal favorite use of ginger is in Thai-based cuisines and fruit juices.
Ginger requires a very long growing season in warmer climates and typically takes up to 10 months for full maturation. So, exercising patience is a definite must when considering adding ginger to your garden staples! For best results, ginger should be grown in partial shade with moderate watering. Like with sweet potatoes and potatoes, ginger can be propagated from pieces of ginger that has started to bud or develop an eye. Similar growing practices to growing potatoes must be adhered to, to have the most bountiful ginger harvest. If there is a desire to grow ginger in an area that experiences the four seasons, ginger should be grown in a pot where it can be moved periodically to ensure limited exposure to frost. Ginger is a root vegetable that keeps on giving. Once established, the plant will keep coming back for many growing seasons to come, if it is not exposed to temperatures below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
When transitioning to a plant-based diet, growing your own fruits and vegetables will aid in promoting healthy diet choices along your journey, making your transition an easy and pleasurable one. Adding root vegetables to your garden lineup will help to diversify your food offerings and ensure that your nutrient intake is robust and balanced. Gardening can be such a rewarding chore. Hopefully the tips and recommendations offered will set you up for success and abundant harvesting this growing season. Happy Gardening!

Previously published on the on July 9, 2023.

Growing healthy vegetables to support your plant based lifestyle

The journey to a plant-based lifestyle can be exciting and fun! To elevate this experience, why not consider growing your own foods. Growing your own vegetables and fruits can have so many health benefits and provide a platform for learning opportunities and wholesome practices on how to optimize your nutrition, save money, reduce the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers, and becoming gentler on the environment by reducing carbon emissions. I must confess that gardening is one of my favorite things that sparks joy. It is very rewarding to plant a seed, watch it grow and 8 to 12 weeks later prepare and make a meal from the fruits that have been harvested.
To be a successful gardener doesn’t require a huge plot of land in your back or side yard or fancy equipment. All you need are a few pots, jars and growing bags, rich healthy soil, a bright sunny spot on the outside, a variety of seeds and seedlings to plant, good gardening tools and a can-do attitude that will help your garden grow and flourish!
When choosing containers to plant in, pay close attention to the size and the materials that they are made of. The size of the containers used will be determined by the designated gardening space and it also dictates how big or small your plants will grow. Consider using pots that have a minimum diameter of 18 inches and is no less than 18 inches deep or is 5 gallons in total volume. The material choices for the containers are equally as important as they influence how much moisture is retained in the soil and influences the aesthetic element of your gardening space.
Plastic and fabric containers rank high on the list for materials that should be used in a home garden, since they do an excellent job of retaining moisture, thus promoting healthy root systems, they are easy to work with, due to them being light weight, thus making them easy to move around and they can last a long time.
The soil type for your garden plays a vital role in how bountiful your harvest can be. It provides a support system for the plants and their roots, it gives fruits and vegetable seedlings the necessary nutrients, and minerals needed to grow, produce flower, seeds, and fruits, it regulates and purifies the water and air supply to the plants, and it provides a habitat for organisms that are beneficial to the health and well-being of the plants. In my experience, I have found that the best soil for my vegetable garden is a 50/50 mixture of organic potting soil and organic gardening soil with elements of homemade compost included. Minerals and nutrients from this soil mix typically last an entire growing season. When the next growing season rolls around, I top up on my 50/50 soil mixture and load it up with a large amount of compost!
Location, location, location is everything! Choosing a garden’s location is critical to its health and success in producing fruit. Since plants are not mobile, it’s important to consider the natural benefits of your garden’s location of choice. One of the most important factors when considering garden location is sunlight exposure. In order to thrive, most fruit trees and vegetables require at least 6-8 hours of unobstructed sunlight per day. The sun provides plants with the energy needed to grow. So, choose a sunny spot so your veggies can flourish.
Water accessibility is another factor to consider. Ensure that water is readily available near your gardening site so that it doesn’t become a burden watering your garden. You will less likely skip watering sessions and increase the likelihood of your garden flourishing.
Wind protection is a key factor to consider when thinking about a garden’s location. Having substantial shelter from heavy winds is most useful especially for crops that grow upright and produces large amounts of fruits, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, peas, beans, and other climbing vegetables. Being exposed to strong winds can quickly dry out the soil, causing plants to topple over and suck moisture from the plant themselves, causing wind burns that destroy leaves and flowers.
Now that we have picked our containers and the perfect spot for our garden let’s look at the fruits and vegetable options that will be best suited for a garden. There is a large variety of fruits and vegetables that will thrive in whatever garden you put them in and take up minimal space. When considering what to plant, choose fruits and vegetables that will give the biggest bang on nutritional content and reduce your dietary deficiencies.
Broccoli ranks high on the list as it is high in antioxidants, fiber, calcium, vitamins A and C. Broccoli needs rich fertile soil that is high in nitrogen.
Kale and spinach are green leafy vegetables that are nutrient dense. They are both high in fiber and vitamins, Kale is rich in vitamin C, omega-3 and 6 fatty acids and antioxidants. Spinach is a great source of vitamin K, A and folate. Both vegetables do best when sown in cooler weather and harvested when young.
Garlic and onions are known immune system boosters rich in vitamins B1, B6, Manganese and calcium. They also enhance the flavor of just about any meal they are used in. In my kitchen they are staples in just about every savory meal I prepare. Both the bulbs and the leaves are edible which makes this duo a must on vegetables to include in your garden. Garlic and onions do best when they are planted in nutrient rich soil in the cooler months.
Bell peppers are a vitamin C powerhouse boasting 3 times more vitamin C than most citrus fruits. They are also rich in vitamin A and antioxidants and most nutrient dense when allowed to develop their orange and red colors. Bell peppers do best when grown in cooler areas where there is partial shade.
Squashes such as zucchini and yellow squash are beneficial for a healthy heart and boost the immune system. They are excellent sources of vitamin A and C. Squashes are very versatile and can be a low-carb substitutes for pasta. They thrive in cooler climates with lots of sun and water. Harvesting squashes when they are about 4 inches long promotes the production of more fruits.
Beans and legumes are a good source of proteins and fibers, with darker beans having high levels of antioxidants. Legumes go best in soups and stews to add substance to plant-based meals. I love growing a variety of legumes as their harvest are the most bountiful. To speed up the initial growth of legumes, soak dried beans in water over-night before they are sown. Water seedlings generously and ensure that there is ample sturdy support for the vines as the plants grow. Legumes are generally ready to harvest when the pods turn yellow, unless the goal is to intentionally harvest them when they are green.
Tomatoes are a very popular fruits to grow in home gardens given how quickly they grow and produce fruit. They are excellent sources of vitamins A, C and E and high in potassium and flavonoids. Tomatoes are used in a variety of stews and braised meals and is the key ingredient in marinades and sauces for pasta dishes. When growing tomatoes consider positioning them in full sun and water generously. Tomatoes are prone to pests such as the hornworm caterpillars. They can do substantial damage very quickly. Check tomato plants frequently for these hungry pests and pick them off when you see them. Spraying plant foliage with a mixture of liquid dish soap and water, then sprinkling with cayenne pepper will help to repel and reduce visits from these pesky pests.
Blueberries and blackberries are a great source of zinc, copper, vitamin C, antioxidants, and iron. They are excellent ingredients for desserts, smoothies, and juices. These plants love to be in the full sun and do best in acidic soil. Blueberries and blackberries are very hardy and can withstand the harshness of most cold winters.
Strawberries are considered one of the easiest fruits to grow. They are rich in vitamins C, B2, B5, B6, K, essential fibers, and micronutrients such as magnesium and copper. Strawberries grow best with lots of sun and well-drained soil. They are hardy plants and tend to run. When planting strawberries, consider planting in an area where there is some room for the plant to run and for berries to be off the ground.
Growing your fruits and vegetables at home can bring an exciting element to your plant-based journey. Armed with the knowledge, the right tools and a positive attitude can give you everything you need to have a flourishing garden this growing season.

Previously published on the on June 11, 2023.