A sustainable and delicious way to enjoy food

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Helen Cameron, along with her husband Michael, are the owners of Uncommon Ground, the iconic restaurants that from menu to roof embrace a sustainable approach to serving delicious, local food. Their practices have given them the distinction of being certified by the Green Restaurant Association as the Greenest Restaurant in America twice in previous years’ certification cycles, as well as being the first and perhaps only certified organic roof-top organic farm in America. They recently added Greenstar Brewery to the Clark location, and it is the first certified organic brewery in Illinois and only one of about a dozen breweries in the US that brew only certified organic beer.

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Helen Cameron, owner of Uncommon Ground and community leader for the good food movement

 

“I was a fortunate child,” said Helen. “I had European parents who taught me the old-world, traditional ways of growing and preparing healthy meals. My mother was from Germany where she apprenticed in food service and butchering animals. She was a huge influence on me while I was growing up and the reason why I ended up in the hospitality business.” These old-world forces created a childhood culture for Helen around growing food while fostering a joy of the participation, labor and enjoying the harvest.

Helen believes that this lifestyle formed the basis of her good health today. “In my mind, you are what you eat,” Helen adds. “I don’t feel good about eating or serving food with chemicals, it’s not healthful. Also, the joy I feel when I’m connected to the earth, the source of my food, brings me a lot of happiness.”

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Helen has supplied her many nieces and nephews a wide assortment of nutritious food over the years. It’s the same way she treats her child dinners– just look at the menu devoted to kids: mini grass fed burgers, griddled organic Amish chicken tenders, farm fresh scrambled eggs and grilled Wisconsin cheddar cheese sandwiches – all entrees are served with seasonal fruit or vegetables. Her commitment to nurturing kids into a healthy life is written all over the menu where one can find delicious items certified by Healthy Fare for Kids.

UG Newsletter menu.pdf“Healthy Fare for Kids gives us another way to bring attention to the healthy food we serve,” says Helen. Healthy Fare for Kids works with chefs to create healthy and delicious meals for kids following a set of nutritional guidelines that include sustainability practices like using local and sustainable ingredients and meats and poultry raised without the use of antibiotics.

Some of Helen’s favorite childhood memories are around gardening. “I remember getting up in the middle of a hot night unable to sleep and sneaking out to the garden to pick a tomato. It would taste delicious and be so refreshing that I’d be able to go back to bed and fall asleep.” And so goes her interest in creating a certified organic roof-top farm at the restaurant’s Devon Street location and a sidewalk farm at the Clark location. “I wanted the same experience with the quality of my backyard tomato available to me in our restaurants.”

Helen’s roof-top farm is unlike anything else in the US because it is the only certified organic roof-top farm anywhere. It uses traditional farming methods but in roof top containers and grows over 100 varieties of vegetables, herbs and greens which all go to the restaurant.

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The roof-top farm is another way to get urban kids introduced to farming and produce. “We get a lot of school groups and children touring the farm and the kids love it!” says Helen. “Having kids plant seeds, pull carrots out of the ground, and snap green beans shows them that it’s fun to grow food and that with proper sun and water, it can be raised almost anywhere. Kids love to get their hands in the earth and they will eat more of the produce if they grow it!”

But the farm is just one piece of the whole sustainability pie at Uncommon Ground. “Sustainability is about the entire spectrum of how I run my business, from the roof top farm to paper goods, our waste & water management, to how we brew our beer,” describes Helen. “People think that being green is expensive. It’s really a matter of being efficient.” At Uncommon Ground, solar thermal panels heat the water and provide 10% of the overall energy needs of the restaurants, the LED bulbs last 10 times longer than the old halogen bulbs using much less energy, and the electric hand dryers saved over $1000 each month in paper towels. Other parts of their sustainability practices are low-flow aerators that use half of the water than before, energy star rated equipment, reclaimed wood used in furniture in the restaurant, and many more.

“If you choose to switch to sustainable systems, the return on investment can be substantial and make you feel great.” Uncommonly good advice from the masters of bringing delicious food from roof-top farm to table.

For more information, visit Uncommon Ground’s profile on HealthyFareForKids.com

Recipes for Family Dinners

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Chef Sarah Stegner is a driving force of good food and sustainability in the Chicago area. Among many hats she wears, she is a co-founder of Healthy Fare for Kids. Back in September, 2011, she was so kind to listen to my pitch for an initiative asking for healthier meals on menus for kids, then offering her creativity, passion and network to drive it forward. Thank you, Sarah!

Sarah, a two-time James Beard Award winner, is passionate about getting food in front of kids. “If you get healthy food on the plate, sooner or later kids will try it then start to make the right choices. And if you never put it in front of them, they will never have the option to try it.”

Chef Sarah didn’t begin life on a farm. Her interest in good food and sustainability comes from wanting to serve and eat the most delicious food available. “It also looked like a lot of fun,” she said. Sarah is also the co-founder and co-president of Green City Market.

Getting a fruit or vegetable on the plate is her first goal when creating a kid’s meal at Prairie Grass Café, where she is co-owner and co-chef with Chef George Bumbaris. Prairie Grass Café’s kid’s menu illustrates her philosophy with items like Filet of Sautéed Lake Superior Wild Whitefish served with grapefruit, carrots and capers or the Panko Crusted All-Natural Chicken Cutlet with crunchy apple slaw. Both have the Healthy Fare for Kids logo, showing they meet our nutritional guidelines.

“If kids are involved in the process of cooking and growing their own food, it’s another way to get them to eat good food,” Sarah advocates. “In every classroom and in every home, there should be something live and growing, like tomatoes, herbs, peppers, etc.”

All of Sarah’s efforts – at her restaurant and at the Green City Market – center around getting sustainable food on the plate. “Growing produce with the fullest flavor and highest nutritional value is the result of creating healthy soil, harvesting it at its peak and shipping it the shortest distance to lessen the time between stalk and plate.”

Her tips for making the family plate as sustainable and delicious as can be: “Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables. What’s in season is the most abundant, cheapest and will taste the best. Currently in the Midwest, try any vegetables that are stored like local carrots, cabbage and apples. And try to choose meat and poultry raised without the use of antibiotics.”

I am delighted to offer Sarah’s Healthy Fare for Kids meal with recipes: Seared Parmesan Encrusted Tilapia With Slaw. Sarah uses farm-raised Ecuadorian tilapia, vegetables from Genesis Growers and apples from Ellis Farms.

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Red Meat and Processed Meat Causes What????

Well, that was a headline that got everyones attention this past week, “WHO Classifies Red Meat and Processed Meat a Carcinogen”.  And just the day before I ate a beautiful BLT sandwich with DaBecca Applewood Smoked Bacon. Now what?

My suggestion is to begin reading the interpretations from the many sources now writing about this finding. In particular, pay attention to how and why the WHO classifies substances and their risk for causing cancer. I am going to begin to post any newsworthy articles on this space so there can be a place for you to examine it all.

Upon reading my first few articles, it seems that the processed meat risk is caused by the nitrates and nitrites used in the curing process that gives bacon and ham, etc. the wonderful flavor. Therefore, my next suggestion is to read labels and purchase and consume those products whose meat is free of nitrates and nitrites (also free of antibiotics).

Finally, it’s very important to be informed. And, balanced. As my sweet grandfather said – who lived to be 96 years old and was swimming doggie paddle laps just months before he passed away, “Everything in moderation”. As well, know your physical state by getting regular check ups and appropriate cancer screenings.

Here’s my first article:

http://www.wired.com/2015/10/who-does-bacon-cause-cancer-sort-of-but-not-really/

http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2015/pdfs/pr240_E.pdf

Join Us For the HFFK Food Demo

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I’ll be at the Chicago’s Green City Market in Lincoln Park tomorrow, October 25, at 9:30 a.m. Join me as I demonstrate a healthy and delicious fall dinner for your family.

Crunchy Top Roasted Salmon                     Sautéed Squash Sticks Michigan Applesauce                                                                                                                             

Roasted salmon always puts me in the mood for Fall or is it vice versa? I have a quick way of roasting the salmon with a light mustard sauce and topped with bread crumbs which gives the cooked fish a bit of a crunch. I’m pairing it with heirloom squash that I’m cutting into matchstick size and sautéing delicately, then adding a bit of fresh thyme. Finally, I’ll be cooking up a batch of applesauce. So simple, so tasty and it’s versatility goes from table to packed lunch.

Join us tomorrow at Chicago’s Green City Market by the Club Sprouts Tent at 9:30.