a crunchy transition

Back in 2015, when good phyte foods just began the transition from a dream to something vaguely resembling a business, crackers were a fundamental part of the mission.  They allowed us to be creative with flavors using different vegetables and herbs in season, giving us an array of products with different phytonutrient profiles, and a satisfying, thin crunch that might — just MIGHT — become a more nutritious alternative to gold fish crackers for the kids we watched growing around us. We experimented again and again with combinations of various organic seeds, trying to achieve the perfect, lasting crunch (meaning one that would not be victim to Virginia summer humidity) while maximizing protein and healthy fats. We consulted with food scientist at Virginia Tech, whose immense knowledge crushed our high hopes of achieving a completely grain-free cracker, as she advised that a low-fat grain was needed in sufficient quantity to compensate for the natural oils in flax and pumpkin seeds. 

So, we set forth on a path to create a suite of different flavors rotating through the seasons, using a standard formula of three organic seeds, including millet. We even tried a couple shorter-lived flavors like spinach & tarragon, and I rocked out in the kitchen with my grandmother Margaret’s rolling pin day two or three afternoons a week. Once the labels were approved by Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (VDACS), we even developed some wholesale accounts. 

The problem, however, is that these crackers are a true labor of love. Once the dough is made (a seed-grinding and vegetable-blending process that takes about an hour from start to finish), the ensuing rolling, baking, and cooling could take four to five hours per batch, yielding somewhere between 18 and 20 bags. Inevitably, we lose up to 10% to over-cooking, which made my husband happy, since those were the only ones he got to eat. Such a time consuming product would be fine if we could charge $9 per bag (a price point that makes me cringe, even with the knowledge that certified organic seeds and quality local vegetables are not cheap). Pricing aside, we have no interest in specializing in crackers if it means all our kitchen time is consumed with their production, at the expense of things like granola, or bars, which are actually more in demand by our customers. Try as we might, there seemed no way to streamline the process in a home kitchen context without cutting corners on the quality. But wait.

Along comes 2018, and the diversification into fresh salads changes everything. In the quest to create a substantial crouton that was vegan, grain-free, and flavorful, the proton was born. Shortly after Erin Kath was hired as our first employee, we set to developing a formula for a whole-seed, protein-rich cracker that was substantial enough to be doused with dressing and not wilt like a petunia. The other requirement: it could NOT compete for oven time. Thankfully, when our kitchen underwent some renovations last summer, I created a space on the counter specifically measured to accommodate our dehydrator, which had previously been relegated to the (relatively clean but also relatively far away) basement. 

Though we are no means “finished” with tweaking the proton, we have (I think?) successfuly recreated at least three of our original cracker flavors in this new format. Now, we combine the vegetables, herbs, and spices with a heartier array of five high quality (still organic) seeds, including hemp and chia. This gives them a nutritional boost and makes them accessible to folks on a grain-free diet. 

Thus, this fall we are winding down production of our traditional crackers, and will only be making a few for our existing retail partners like The Juice Laundry, until we can get the labels finalized and approved for our protons.  We welcome any feedback you may have during this process, including the flavors you’d like to see, or places you’d like to be able to buy protons in the future. Email us with your comments at goodphytefoods(at)gmail.com.

Thanks for your support, ideas, and understanding as we continue to towards true sustainability as a mission-driven business. You are, and always will be, the most important ingredient.  That sounds like a horror film, but you know what I mean… 



magnolia crunch

Delighted by the popularity of our not-too-sweet but very seedy beet your heart out granola (made with gluten-free organic oats), we set out to create an entirely grain-free alternative that was equally crunchy and packed with protein and healthy fats to fuel you for hours. After some of the standard trial and error, we created something that, I think, is even better than the original.

ingredients: organic large flaked coconut, organic pumpkin seeds, locally grown beets, organic dates, organic sunflower seeds, organic raisins, organic chia seeds, organic locally grown carrots, organic golden flax, filtered water, organic virgin coconut oil, organic tapioca flour, organic cinnamon, organic ginger, himalayan pink salt, lemon extract, vanilla extract

dedicating the dar bar

As some phyte clubbers know, we’ve been working on a new bar flavor for a couple weeks now, and I’m grateful to all those who tried the versions 1.0 (not enough lemon), 2.0 (a little too salty), and 3.0 (still not quite lemony enough, but a great pre- and post fuel for the Charlottesville 10 Miler, it turns out). With all the good feedback in our pockets, we cranked out version 4.0 over the weekend, and can’t wait to share it with you!

Powered with organic pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia, this bar is different than our others in that it’s sweetened with organic figs instead of dates, and sparked up with lemon zest. I’ve been struggling with what to call this tart little powerhouse for days, literally lying in bed tossing out possible names.  The obvious “fig & lemon bar” just seemed to boring and literal alongside “superstar” and “mighty mint” not to mention that we’re proud of the fact that figs are actually NOT among the first two ingredients, naturally making the protein content higher and sugar content lower than most commercially available bars. So, what to call it?

The snark in me wanted to play on the old “Fig Newton,” which is of course owned by Nabisco which is of course owned by Mondelez International, which, as I have noted before, is a global candy & junk food behemoth that spent almost $3.4 million lobbying the U.S. Congress between 2012-2016 (source: Center for Responsive Politics).  In case you want to know why so many public school vending machines are stocked the way they are…

Inspired by #InternationalWomensDay, I thought Rachel Carson would be a more apt scientist than Newton to be associated with good phyte foods (though I’ve got nothing against gravity, don’t get me wrong). But “carson bar” was a bit of a confusing mouthful, and “rachel bar” just reminded me of Jennifer Anniston’s face. And who wants that?

Then, one night last week, as I struggled to sleep (I had an unusual coffee at Brazos at lunchtime, okay? okay?), it hit me. The perfect name, honoring a woman in my life who has inspired me with her unflagging energy, kept me humble with her honesty, and always pushed me to strive for better.

I met Dar back in 2008, when I had just started working for the darlene wolniknational Farmers Market Coalition (FMC).  She worked at the time for a partner organization in New Orleans (market umbrella), and I had just been hired into a big position for which I was probably seen as too young, too unknown, and too inexperienced. I will never forget first meeting her skeptical self in that small Comfort Inn lobby in Los Angeles, and the energized discussions that bordered on arguments we would have there, on the windy streets of San Francisco, and just about any city where we met for a project collaboration or conference, including her hometown of New Orleans and right here in Charlottesville. She had been an environmental activist in Ohio before becoming embedded in the the movement to develop and restore thriving local economies. Geez, she was intimidating! The woman devoured books! She seems informed about everything! She never went to college (she didn’t seem to need to), but a wry brilliance emerged in even the most casual of conversations. When did she sleep? The woman was a dynamo who happily and humbly saw her role as a foot soldier in the pursuit of social justice and environmental sustainability. How could I keep up?!

Through the years, we would plot, plan, write, dream big, gripe, and seek solace about state and national politics together. We offended each other. We forgave each other. I was impatient. She was patient. I would offend her again. She would forgive me again. When I stepped away from FMC after having Fionn in 2012 and gradually stopped working with her on one project or another, I realized it was her verve I missed the most. Though even I didn’t recognize it at the time, it was, in part, her indefatigable “good enough isn’t good enough” energy that inspired good phyte foods.

Aside from working now herself for FMC part-time, she publishes almost daily on a blog she runs called Helping Public Markets Grow, where she recently gave good phyte foods some props. She maintains a local history web side called French Quarter Block by Block,  and of course manages to do what people do who live in the French Quarter- have fun. Laugh. Walk around. Talk to strangers.

Though I see her infrequently now, we can still talk on the phone for hours. She is one of those rare people who mails random snippets of wisdom for no particular occasion, miraculously knowing exactly what you need to hear when you need to hear it. 

Oh, and in Spanish, Dar is the verb “to give.”  Gracias, Dar. For all you’ve given me. In your honor, good phyte foods will donate 10 cents from every dar bar sold to the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville.

ingredients: organic pumpkin seeds, raw organic sunflower seeds, organic dried figs, organic chia seeds, organic raisins, locally grown organic kale, lemon extract, organic lemon peel, himalayan pink salt, vanilla extract 

awesome allium crackers

Looking for a new flavor to fill the void of mid-spring, when the previous fall’s stored butternut wanes and we don’t yet have local broccoli for croccolis, I started playing around with what is abundant and nutritionally so important this time of year– Alliums!  Spring’s rainy weather and temperature swings can make us all vulnerable to colds, and alliums like onions and garlic offer proven immune-boosting properties, helping inhibit inflammation. I won’t bore you with the details of why alliums are awesome here, but you can read more about the benefits of onions in a quick summary by Care2.

I use spring onions and green garlic (currently from Bellair Farm) in this recipe, roasting them lightly to enrich the flavors. I suspect I’ll probably continue to tweak the spices this season to find the perfect flavor combination, but here is the present ingredient list:

golden flax seeds*, millet*, sunflower seeds*, locally grown spring onions (Allium x proliferum), green garlic, water, dates*, unfiltered apple cider vinegar*, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, cumin*, black pepper*, turmeric*,  brown mustard*

           (*certified organic)

a craft brew cracker? hill yeah!

You know the deal. You go out to meet up with some friends after finally agreeing on place, and though you arrive “not really hungry,” time goes by, and eventually you start feeling a little nibbly. Not steak house buffet kind of hungry, but definitely in need of something more substantial than those Goldfish crackers you see poking out of your friend’s kid-bag, or the mints you think you might have out in the car. This is why we love having our crackers at Random Row Brewery.  They go well with anything, are portable, and are nutritionally balanced, with vegan protein from organic seeds, and packed with vegetables from local farms.

But when you’re pairing crackers with your favorite brew (for me it’s whatever genius combination Mountain Culture Kombucha can come up with), maybe you don’t always want flavors that are too nuanced. Maybe you just want a “regular” cracker, like a Wheat Thin, Triscuit, Saltine, or any of the myriad brands you grew up loving for their salty plain-ness and ability to reliably serve as a medium for scooping or spreading other stuff.  Little soapbox segue here: did you know that all those crackers are brands of Mondelez International, which also owns Cadbury, Oreo, Chips Ahoy!, Nilla Wafers, Nutter Butter, and dozens of other candy and junk food brands? Mondelez International spent almost $3.4 million lobbying congress between 2012-2016, and you can bet it wasn’t advocating for stricter guidelines on marketing sugar to kids (source: Center for Responsive Politics).

Fortunately, our friends at Random Row are equally committed to supporting local food enterprises like ours, and wanted to expand our partnership. As conversations evolved, it became obvious that the perfect cracker to accompany beer would (duh) have beer in it.  So I went home with a growler of Comfortably Numb IPA and set to work, using my standard mix of organic seeds to make the base of the cracker:

I shared the product of this new concoction (beer cracker v1.0) with some friends at (you guessed it) Random Row on a Sunday evening, garnering positive feedback.  After many of my own samplings and debriefing with manager Zac Culbertson, we concluded that the black pepper was a little too much, and that there was a slight bitter aftertaste. The next week, I made another version, this time removing flax altogether, suspecting that it might be responsible.  I was wrong, and the resulting cracker was extremely brittle, with none of the binding properties that flax lends. And still a little too bitter.

So I went back to the drawing board, and incorporated some freshly baked butternut squash (from Double H Farm), and swapping out the hoppier Comfortably Numb for The Hill, a lager with a little richer flavor. Bingo! The yeasty smell of the crackers baking is divine!

Starting this week, you can find our new ‘craft brew cracker’ at Random Row’s Brewery on Preston Avenue, and pair it with your favorite beer, local Caromont Farm cheese, spread from Timbercreek Market, or your own BYO dip. Cheers, ya’ll!

butternut & sage crackers

I’ve been looking forward to experimenting with this one for a while now, waiting until an appropriately autumnal time. My husband and I have always grown butternut in our gardens (as I noted in last week’s primal pumpkin spice muffin post, they are as vigorous as they are delicious). In the good ol’ days (when buying bananas at a grocery store seemed a little colonial and gluttonous) we were more loyal locavores, and relied on the sweet hearty squashes to help feed us through the winter. I would slice the neck across into a series of 1/2 thick circles, line them in a glass baking dish, and chop a couple fistfuls of fresh sage. I would spread the sage on the top along with sea salt, black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil, baking until the edges of the circles (the skin) was crunchy and the interior soft and creamy.  That warmth, aroma, and flavor was what I wanted to replicate in cracker form. These come close, and the curry I added (just because) really comes through. A slight creaminess is courtesy of that mysterious property of a good butternut to resemble, well, butter.

#vegan #gluten-free #vitaminA

Ingredients:  locally grown butternut squash, organic millet, organic flax seeds, organic raw sunflower seeds, organic apple cider vinegar, filtered water, organic dates, locally grown apples, himalayan pink salt,  fresh sage, organic curry

pesto crackers

with fresh garlic, swiss chard, and organic golden flax

Since first bartering with Ben at Little Hat Creek Farm for basil in June 2015, I had an itch to invent a crisp cracker with the intense flavor of pesto. After a couple hours at the city pool the next day, I whipped up a mini-batch test version of these just in time for dinner (bartered Twin Oaks vegetarian chorizo with sauteed onions and greens), and was lucky enough to catch them before burning while juggling everything else. They were an instant hit as we ate them still warm, even with Fionn, who tasted one and asked for another with a mouth still stuffed with the first one.

I’m particularly excited  to include authentic Spanish smoked paprika sea salt from Spanish Food Works in these crackers. Jane Gregg, the maven of la comida de España behind Spanish Food Works, bartered her smoked pimentón salt for crackers during the soggy Saturday storm at City Market in summer 2015, and I suspected it would work well with the basil and garlic. A year later, I’ve made a few tweaks to the original test recipe, I can say that these are now ridiculously tasty and honestly nutritious. Welcome back, basil season!

Local producers: Spanish Food Works (smoked pimentón), Little Hat Creek Farm & Brightwood Vineyard & Farm (basil), Avant Gardens (fresh garlic)

Ingredients: organic golden flax, organic millet, organic raw sunflower seeds, filtered water, fresh basil, Swiss chard, organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar, organic dates, locally grown garlic, organic extra virgin olive oil, smoked pimenton flor de sal, smoked paprika

beet your heart out granola

Even if you can proudly resist candy, donuts, ice cream, and pretty much all processed sugars (good for you), you’ve got a crutch. Something you need after dinner (even if you’re stuffed), before brushing your teeth at night. A habit so entrenched you fear you might start slapping your loved ones or twitching on the floor if you can’t have it. At least I hope you do, because I don’t want to feel like I’m going out on a limb here. For me, it’s granola.

I’ve been making granola for years, baking enough every week to fill about three 1/2 gallon jars, using a basic formula but essentially winging it every time with different seeds, nuts, and spices. Believe it or not, my tiny family (basically, me and my husband, though my 3 1/2 year old is joining our ravenous ranks, slowly but surely) goes through it like wildfire even when I screw up and it’s not that good. Even at its best, it’s never as sweet as any other brand I’ve tried (oh, and boy do I still buy and try many) in which maple syrup or honey is among the first three ingredients. I consider those “dessert granolas” for enjoying in a mug of (raw) milk after dinner.

I usually use local honey as a sweetener, but I wanted to try something different here– a breakfasty granola that’s less sweet but more textured and nutritious to get you through a busy morning. Steaming beets (my preferred preparation) leaves us with quite a bit of magenta juice in the bottom of the pot, and it’s too beautiful and nutritious to waste. Some of it goes into our sweet beet crackers, but the rest, I use in the granola, adding a bit of anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory betalain, folic acid, and circulation-boosting properties to my daily breakfast (read more about beet benefits here).

I combine the beet juice organic dates to create a purée about the consistency of honey, and mix with the oats and four kinds of protein-rich seeds. The result is a low sugar snack that can add crunch and a smidge of sweet to your yogurt or even your salad.

ingredients: certified gluten-free rolled oats*, beet juice, raw sunflower seeds*, raw pumpkin seeds*, dates*, chia seeds*, golden flax*, goji berries, filtered water, virgin coconut oil*, vanilla extract, cinnamon*, Himalayan pink salt, lemon extract

*certified organic