Have you ever petted a cow? Looked into her eyes? Marveled at her sheer size? Called her by name?

Heyyy, Juanita!
Yo, Crackle! Pop!
Looking good, Autumn!

Hornstra Farms - Juggling With Julia
I have! Thanks to the New England Dairy and Food Council I got to muck around at the Hornstra Farms with registered dietitians Kara Lydon, aka The Foodie Dietitian, and Liz Weiss of Meal Makeover Moms fame. Also along for the dairy farm tour were Jen Taillon for Edible Boston, Kathleen Reale of Be Free For Me, and Julia Grimaldi of the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. A notably food-centric crew with an interest in supporting local producers.

Enter John Hornstra, himself a 4th generation farmer, who led us through all areas of the operation, from raising and caring for cows, to milking and processing, to bottling and selling. He was an animated and charismatic tour guide, and deliciously quotable. I was captivated the entire time.

Hornstra Farms - Juggling With JuliaHow best to share with you this awesome experience? The only efficient way is through pictures, and, while I was armed with my untrustworthy iPhone 4S (whose battery inconveniently died midway), I’ll try to do the visit justice.

The Cows. A small-scale conventional dairy farm, John says there are around 100 cows on the farm currently, mostly red and white Holsteins, with about 60 of them actively producing milk.

Hornstra Farms - Juggling With Julia  Hornstra Farms - Juggling With JuliaRaising and caring for them is a 24/7/365 job. “Let me put it this way,” he says. “Dairy farmers get up and milk the cows before they open their Christmas presents.” In other words, the cows are milked at 5 AM and 5 PM every day. No vacations. No days off. No sleeping in.

You could say that the milk waits for no udder ;)

While the cows are the #1 asset of a dairy farm, it was clear from the outset that John loves these animals. As we toured the milking barn, he petted and called them by name, describing both their personalities and their milk productivity. He even has a favorite. Jet Black is her name, and he claims she has one of the sweetest dispositions he’s ever known in a cow.

Hornstra Farms - Juggling With JuliaThat doesn’t mean he won’t eat her once her productive milking years are past. As he matter-of-factly puts it, he’d rather eat beef from a cow he knows was raised and cared for with love and compassion than any other beef.

Hornstra Farms - Juggling With JuliaConventional versus Organic. John is a conventional dairy farmer. His cows are fed a mixture of corn, grain, and grass. The corn is grown using a small amount of weed-killer (just one quart per acre) to suppress the weeds. There are no pesticides used, however. As John sees it, “If there’s a worm here and there, the cows don’t care.” His cows are not exclusively grass-fed because that practice takes enormous amounts of land and the cows expend a great amount of energy grazing; energy they could use producing milk.

When asked about his views on and practices with antibiotics, John stated unequivocally it is more humane to treat a cow with antibiotics if they’re suffering from something like mastitis instead of not treating them. The cow being treated is taken out of the milking rotation and their milk is dumped until the antibiotics have cleared their system. All milk, whether organic or conventional, is tested for antibiotics and must be free of them in order to be bottled and sold.

Milk Processing. For a dairy farm with 3,500 customers around southeast Massachusetts, the processing area is surprisingly small. In one corner you’ve got these mega-huge vats:

Hornstra Farms - Juggling With JuliaThey are filled with fresh raw milk, which is then pasteurized via a special low-temperature method (145 degrees F for 30 minutes) which John says kills the bacteria, but better preserves the integrity of the milk (such as enzymes).

When asked about offering raw milk, his answer is straightforward: absolutely not. “Drinking raw milk is like playing Russian roulette,” says he. And though he has many customers who continue to ask for it, he does not seem inclined to change that viewpoint anytime soon. He mentioned that a cow infected with Lyme disease can actually transfer the disease to humans who drink its raw milk. Yikes! I will remain firmly in the “Pasteurized, please” camp as well.

Hornstra Farms - Juggling With JuliaIn another corner is the bottling operation. Much of the whole pasteurized milk is bottled up once it has cooled. Yes, those are glass bottles. John is absolutely firm on this point – glass bottles preserves the taste of milk, while plastic alters it. Add that to the long list of stuff I didn’t know about milk.

The milk that isn’t immediately bottled is sent through what I think is an oddly small centrifuge, located in the middle of the room. Small, but mighty, I learned! This little baby can whirl about 700 gallons of milk per HOUR, separating the cream from the skim milk, allowing them to make lower-fat varieties for customers which are, as expected, in high demand.

(Thank you to my centrifuge-comparison model, Kara, for highlighting its small stature)

Hornstra Farms - Juggling With JuliaWhat to do with all that cream removed from the milk? In another corner, they make the base for ice cream. Don’t you want to just dive in? I nearly did when taking this photo.

Hornstra Farms - Juggling With JuliaThe ice cream product took years for John to personally master. He tried recipe after recipe, looking for just the right texture and creaminess. Finally, he settled on an ice cream base which uses some egg yolk in addition to the cream. We got to taste-test at will in the ice cream room. “Try them all!” said John. Between the group of us, I think we did! I’m something of an ice cream aficionado, and this was some of the best Mocha Chip I’ve ever had.

Hornstra Farms - Juggling With JuliaThat just about wraps up my visit to Hornstra Farm. It was such a great experience, and really makes me want to introduce my kids to a similar experience. Considering we, as a family, drink about 6 gallons of milk a week, I think it would be great if we explored other local dairies!

One of the best things that came out of this visit? It jogged some memories from my early childhood:

In the early 1970′s, I was 4 or 5. We had milk delivered right to our door. Sometimes, I was allowed to go out and let the milkman know what we needed that day. Other times, if he came before we were awake, he would place the items in this hole in the ground that had a metal lid. It was a huge thrill for me to lift that lid to find the treasures inside.

I had nearly forgotten those memories altogether, but visiting Hornstra Farms and listening to John – a modern-day milk man – talk passionately about raising happy, healthy, productive cows brought a lot of it back.

My thanks to both the New England Dairy and Food Council as well as John Hornstra, for a wonderful, and eye-opening day. After seeing his operation, it’s no wonder that his farm was named Massachusetts Outstanding Dairy Farm in 2013. I can’t wait to explore other farms in the area. Do you have a favorite? Let me know!

Disclosure: New England Dairy and Food Council sponsored this event. I was not compensated in any way. The opinions and viewpoints, as well as any errors, are mine alone.


Nutrition Philosophy Don't Stress -- Juggling With JuliaWhat’s  your nutrition philosophy? Making decisions about what to eat can be hard, right? It is no wonder. Nutrition information is coming at us from every directions – TV commercials, magazine ads, food packaging, infomercials, best-selling books, and a score of nutrition enthusiasts who share their stories on social media and blogs, encouraging everyone to jump on their bandwagon.  The worst part is, much of the information is conflicting.  Dairy and grains are under fire in one camp and touted as wholesome ingredients in another. The organic-versus-conventional produce debate drags on. Paleo-styled eating plans reign supreme in the fitness set, while the USDA encourages adults and kids alike to consume a balanced diet of grains, dairy, protein, and produce.

Having constant access to nutrition information is a blessing/curse that allows us to be both fully informed and wholly overwhelmed all at once.

Even for me. What – you thought that, being a registered dietitian with two master’s degrees and 20+ years of experience, I might have the secret? I only have one surefire answer: Don’t Stress. The rest of it is a big jumble and all I know is this: there is no one best answer. In fact, my own philosophy on nutrition, both for the world at large, and for myself and my family, is constantly evolving.

Thirty years ago, for instance, I was a high school senior eager to start my college degree in nutrition, hoping to become an expert in fueling my (and others’) athletic endeavors with delicious and healthy food, as well as divining the secret (finally!) to reducing the size of my bum-bum (Joking! Kind of.) In four years of nutrition studies at the University of Maine, I did my best to live what I was learning. I discovered a love of seafood, aerobics classes, and salad bars (kind of a novelty in the 1980′s). I also discovered the Freshman Five, thanks to Pat’s Pizza late-night deliveries — double-dough, double-cheese being  a particular favorite.

Twenty years ago, I was a young wife, new homeowner, and full-time working professional. I was – finally – a Registered Dietitian, employed in a local hospital and ready to solve the world’s nutrition problems, one low-salt, heart healthy diet at a time. A lifetime baker, I started cooking more and learned to make real meals. Unfortunately for anyone who ate my cooking, I was heavily influenced by the extremely unfortunate low fat/fat free craze that gripped the nation. Fat-free dressings, cookies, cheese, and even chips. Thank goodness that’s over with. Going on the best evidence available at the time, I strived for dishes low in fat and cholesterol.  Even now, my mother likes to remind me they were also often low in taste :)

Ten years ago, raising young eaters, my primary focus was to offer them whatever we were eating, and to simply avoid battles over food. It was easy with the first-born, who never turned down a mouthful of anything. Things started to go south when the second kid disgustedly spit out his first fruit – bananas. What baby doesn’t like the sweetest fruit in existence? By the time the third kid came around, I knew I was headed for trouble when she categorically refused nearly every cooked vegetable we ever offered her. Now, at age 9, she’ll say yes to just five: corn, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, and – wait for it – kale chips. Overall, we weathered the food jags and stand-offs and all three like a whole bunch of different kinds of foods.

Today, I am focused on tightening up our healthy diets even more, and trying to impart to them the skills and good decision-making they’ll need later on. We talk about where food comes from, and focus on local produce when we can, like the farm share we’ve been taking part in the last couple of summers. We’ve even grown some herbs and vegetables ourselves!

--Juggling With JuliaThey’re slowly learning their way around the kitchen. And I am continually challenging their taste buds through new dishes with different ingredients, flavors, and textures.

We could do better, though. Recently, I’ve started talking with them about their sugar intake. Don’t mistake me for the Sugar Nazi. We are a dessert family. Ice cream is king. It’s all the other stuff that ratchets up the daily sugar intake. Had my crystal ball been functioning properly a decade ago, I would have insisted on slightly stricter sugar standard for a couple of items – breakfast cereal and peanut butter.  Those two foods are eaten almost daily. Slowly we’re reducing. We’ve cut way back on cereal in general, and are buying mostly low sugar types. Two of the five are OK with natural PB. Work in progress :)

IMG_6277So that’s where I’m at on the whole eating well thing. My #1 goal always is to create a positive environment around food. No guilt, no anguish. My kids all have different tastes, and they (shockingly) don’t always align with mine. That’s OK as long as their diets resemble something that is mostly nutritious and, especially important, that they are happy eating it.

If you are plagued with concerns over whether you are feeding yourself or your family well enough, let me just ease your mind right now. You are doing fine. We all are. We’re cooking with love and good intentions and doing the best we can. We’re not trying to achieve the perfect diet. The ‘perfect diet’ is a fantasy. The best we can do it to weave healthy, nutritious foods into our lives in a way that makes sense for our lives, nourishes us physically, and satisfies us in every way.

I always say if you’re not enjoying your diet, you’re not doing it right. Food ought not to bring with it stress, guilt, or anxiety. Avoid broccoli if that’s not your thing. Snub that squishy eggplant. Crave chocolate with gusto. And ditch the stress over it all. Whatever you are eating, honor your appetite and savor every bite.










Best Ever Low Fat Pumpkin Bread

October 5, 2014 Breads/Quick Breads
Best Ever Low Fat Pumpkin Bread - Juggling With Julia

Low fat never tasted so amazalicious. Today, with great effort, I’m stopping just long enough to wipe the crumbs from my mouth so I can share with you the best ever, moistest, yummiest low fat pumpkin bread you’ll ever have. It is SO MOIST and SO PUMPKIN-Y that the wax paper I wrapped it in […]

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Quinoa Kale Salad with Edamame

October 1, 2014 Salads/Sides
Quinoa Kale Salad with Edamame -- Juggling With Julia

Quinoa Kale Salad with Edamame and an easy lemony dressing. Yep, I’m back again with another fast, delicious, super-charged healthy salad. If you hadn’t heard, that’s kind of my thing now. What? You hadn’t heard? Let’s review. First there was Massaged Kale Salad, which I’ve made so many times I’ve lost count. I even ate […]

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Opening Day of Lunch-Packing Season

September 9, 2014 Healthy Lifestyle
Opening Day of Lunch Packing Season -- Juggling With Julia

Yesterday was Opening Day for the lunch-packing season (aka the first day of school), and did it ever catch me by surprise. For the past week, in our soccer- and volleyball-filled life, we had been eating take-out pizza, burgers, cold cereal, and lots of bagels. The occasional Caesar salad. Maybe one really yummy truly home-cooked […]

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Purple Cabbage Cranberry Apple Slaw

August 24, 2014 Salads/Sides
Purple Cabbage Cranberry Apple Slaw -- Juggling With Julia

Purple Cabbage Cranberry Apple Slaw. Look at that gorgeous array of colors. That’s my kind of rainbow. Beautiful AND edible Eat the rainbow! Eat the rainbow! Why is it we dietitians are always saying that? I’ll tell you. It’s all about the phytochemicals – those tiny ninja butt-kickers that protect your insides. Colorful fruits and […]

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Peanut Butter Baked Oatmeal with Chocolate Chips

July 28, 2014 Breads/Quick Breads
Peanut Butter Baked Oatmeal with Chocolate Chips --  Juggling With Julia

Yesterday was a trying day. I was feeling low. To cure my foul mood, I came home and baked. Out came this amazing peanut butter baked oatmeal with chocolate chips. All better now Baking definitely soothes my soul. There is just something about mixing and measuring and scooping and stirring that works for me. Creating […]

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Lemon Garlic Green Beans

July 23, 2014 Salads/Sides
Lemon Garlic Green Beans -- Juggling With Julia

Simple, zesty, and fresh – that’s the best way to describe these amazing Lemon Garlic Green Beans. Straight off the farm these beans came, and a bit o’ pizzazz is all they needed to make them pop!They were the perfect addition to a simple meal of corn on the cob and steak. We had big […]

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No-Guilt Cranberry White Chocolate Cookie Bites

July 20, 2014 Breakfast/Brunch
No Guilt Cranberry White Chocolate Cookie Bites -- Juggling With Julia

Apparently, the thought of a sinless cookie appeals greatly to the masses The No-Guilt Banana Oat Chippies were a huge hit, and continue to cause excitement around the Internet. I say this gleefully, while simultaneously trying not to sound too excited, as if this is NBD and it happens, like, all the time. Which it […]

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Kale and Watermelon Salad with Feta

July 6, 2014 Salads/Sides
Kale and Watermelon Salad with Feta -- Juggling With Julia

Fast food? You betcha. I whipped this salad together in 5 minutes with kale I picked down the street. If not for Karen, my volleyball pal (check her out at the Healthy Green Flamingo), I might never have thought to put kale and watermelon together. As we hung out in the shade at last weekend’s […]

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