Monday, May 31, 2010
We left early on Saturday morning. We were mostly packed up the night before but as you know getting out the door is always the first battle of the war. But before 9:30am we were on our way. Thing 2 slept while Thing 1 watched a DVD. We took the Taconic Parkway north. It's a beautiful drive if you have never done it, lots of farms and fields of wildflowers.
I had no idea how many presidents and historical figures were from this area. I knew about Teddy Roosevelt who was born in Manhattan, but we also passed FDR's birthplace and later in Kinderhook we saw Martin Van Buren's birthplace and Benedict Arnold's home.
Our first stop was Hawthorne Valley. Their Farm store in Harlemville (Town of Ghent) is a lovely little food and supplement store (herbals and the like) where we bought veggies and salami, a baguette and some raw milk Havarti made at the farm. We were disappointed that they didn't have a 'pick your own' option. But I thought there might be other farms offering it, so we took our lunch and went up to road. We drove over to Kinderhook because I knew of another farm that had 'pick your own' fruit. Unfortunately once we got there, the man there said they were about 2 weeks away from being able to offer 'pick your own' anything. He said most of the people in the area were a few weeks away from having their full harvest. We were pretty bummed, but we did get a chance to say hello to the goats and the chickens there, and Thing 1 got a kick out of that!
Close by the farm we found a little park to have our picnic. It was a modest little park, but we got settled and the kids ran wild! There was room to run, flowers to pick (without upsetting anyone-since of course picking flowers is off limits in our city park) and a bench on which to set up our yummies. Everything was organic, but more importantly every thing was delicious! I am also happy to report that we picked up a bag of Hawthorne Valley's homemade crackers, and they were as stale tasting as mine. I started to think that was just the nature of the beast. Perhaps modern crackers are just a modern invention. I even wondered if poor people long ago were called 'crackers' because they were too poor to make bread and all they could make was that stale paste of flour and water. I will have to research this. Sorry to get hung up on the cracker thing, but I really love them.
To make the day even perfect-er, we found a little hotel off the thruway that had a nice indoor pool. The early part of the day was sunny and gorgeous and later it poured. While the sky opened up we were all enjoying the warm water of our heated pool. What more could you ask for? Though of course, getting home is also part of the fun too right?
Friday, May 28, 2010
My colleagues were quick to correct me. 'These are organic, and look, there's no weird ingredients listed on the back!' I turned over the package to see what was listed.
They were right. No mono- or tetra- anything. No TBHQ or other acronyms. The ingredients listed among others, potato flour, rice flour, cheddar cheese powder, probably a whey of some kind given the presence of dairy, canola oil, and probably natural flavorings, but maybe not I can't remember. After reading the ingredients I didn't have a snappy comeback. I never have the snappy comeback, they always come to me when I am, say, typing blog entries on the train.
This packaged dusty cheesy invention was absolutely made from food. There were no smoke and mirrors. Still I stubbornly fought that this was not food. My colleagues went back to their desks.
The bag contained 4 servings of puffs each containing 130 calories, 5 grams of fat and no fiber. Those of you who have ever been a part of the heavily copyrighted diet I have mentioned before will quickly pull out your slide rules and notice, the bag contains 12 food units. When I have a big lunch of a sandwich, chips and a side salad, it usually adds up to 10-12 food units. It is a tremendous amount of food! I usually don't want to eat for a long while after a 12 food unit meal. So if that is the case, how could I easily put away that entire bag of puffs between meals and still belly up to the table the next time the dinner bell rang?
My poor cube mate is a gracious woman who handles all of my passionate monologues with grace. She never interrupts, and always smiles when I am done. She was the only one left in our cube to listen when the it finally came to me.
Yes, the puffs are made from food, but they are not food. Why not? It's because all these food based ingredients have been taken out of their original food context. When you eat a baked potato, you get the carbs yes, but you also get the fiber and vitamins of the potato. And if you eat the skin like I do (love it) you get lots more nutrition. The potato's carbs will raise your blood sugar levels, but the fiber makes it harder to digest, so your body has to work harder and longer to get those carbs. You don't feel the raise in your blood sugar because the carbohydrates are absorbed gradually and the effects are spread out over time. But when you take a potato and make potato flour or potato starch, you remove the fiber and some (or all-i am not a nutritionist, so I am not certain) of the vitamins and minerals. These puffs are nothing more than reconstituted flours covered in cheese powders. All that flour is easily and quickly absorbed by the body, your blood sugar spikes because it is processed all at once and then you crash when it is all done, leaving you hungry again. Part of why you can eat so many of them is because in the processing they remove all the food parts that help you feel full and help your body signal you to stop eating. This is not just the case with potato flour, white bread flour is no better. There is some bit of magic in that wheat germ. That magic keeps us full. Have you ever tried to eat 4 baked potatoes? That's tough, you'd be stuffed. But that is also 12 food units.
There will never be a cheese puff that is a whole food. And 'whole food' does not just refer to a pricey grocery store chain. It is a term that means a food that is left as it was given to us by God. Not deconstructed by us only to be put back together again. I want to scream this from the top of the George Washington Bridge: EAT FOOD! Make your kids eat food! Real food! Not just stuff that's made from food. You deserve better, your kids deserve better!!
Forward this post to people if you like it! Please! Share this with your friends on Facebook if you agree. We need to stop kidding ourselves about what we are eating. At the same time we need to be realistic and kind to ourselves. We live in the modern world, no one is going to live a completely cheese puff free existence. I ate them myself the other day and I will again, I have no doubt. But if you are mostly eating whole foods, whole grains, veggies, fruits, meats, yogurts, nuts, etc you will be well on your way to health and well being. This post represents the heart of why I have taken on this project. I have passion about my family's health and well being. And our food.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
salt for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
In a medium bowl, stir together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Pour in the vegetable oil and water; mix until just blended.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough as thin as possible - no thicker than 1/8 inch. Place dough on an ungreased baking sheet, and mark squares out with a knife, but don't cut through. Prick each cracker with a fork a few times, and sprinkle with salt.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until crisp and light brown. Baking time may be different depending on how thin your crackers are. When cool, remove from baking sheet, and separate into individual crackers.
3 1/4 cups of brown flour (or wheat flour that has had about half the germ removed, be sure to let toddler taste the flour)
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
For starters, the first ingredient, Enriched Flour, had it's own ingredient list! All these vitamins had been added to the flour, which I suppose is not bad, but unnecessary in my mind. They do list the main ingredient as wheat flour, which is not untrue. But with whole wheat flour being such a sought after ingredient these days (at least among my crowd) I can only believe that there is some hope that you, the consumer, won't notice the omission of the word whole.
They also list something that I have started to see alot of places called TBHQ. And I suppose that is an understandable progression. With so many people saying these days, 'don't eat what you can't pronounce', and if you were a food company have an important ingredient called tert-butylhydroquinone you would want to shorten it to TBHQ too. Hey! Anyone can pronounce TBHQ, right? That means you can eat it!
TBHQ is a preservative. Particularly it is a preservative of unsaturated vegetable oils. It is colorless and odorless, which is good because you can't have a preservative screwing up the original product. The whole point is to preserve shelf life. You might think that is a good thing, because when you buy a box you can keep it open and pick at it for as long as you want and the crackers will taste fresh. But I have a feeling that the TBHQ is added so that the mid level distributors can buy it wholesale and leave it on their shelves for a long time until you mosey in to find that special cracker for your dinner party. A product that goes bad is a product that you can't sell and that is a huge problem.
In trying to research what this additive is, I stumbled across a website called www.scienceblogs.com that happened to use a quote from Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. The quote reads as follows:
According to A Consumer's Directory of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (ie-lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food.
I actually found a blog quoting Michael Pollan quoting a different book. How the heck do I notate that?? MLA take me away! The blog continues to say that TBHQ is NOT lighter fluid. However eating it in high doses can make you sick. I am sure that there are no high doses in my elfin baked crackers, and I have full faith that I am not going to get sick from these. However, that is one more mark in the "Throw It Out" column.
Additional suspect ingredients are monocalcium phosphate, high fructose corn syrup (just sugar--people do not be swayed, it is just a highly processed form of sugar!! Don't just look for items that replace the HFCS, look for items that OMIT them) and soy lecithin. Ironically, I took supplements of soy lecithin when I had a clogged milk duct shortly after Thing 2 was born. It cleared me right up. I'll have to do a separate post about that once I figure out what it is!
I have thrown these crackers out. I threw out the Kashi ones too. I actually made my own crackers this weekend. But you are just going to have to check the blog tomorrow morning to find out how they turned out!
tert-butylhydroquinone. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. wikipedia.org 25 May, 2010.
Molecule of the Day: TBHQ. Science Blogs. www.scienceblogs.com 27 March, 2007.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Thing 2 now has 2 half-teeth. They have been coming in for a couple weeks now (like 7 weeks), but they haven't come all the way out and there is no sign of any others. But I won't let that stop me. Before I had children I thought teeth were necessary for eating, and while they are certainly helpful, they are by no means necessary. In fact what has brought us to this middle food earth, so to speak, is that Thing 2 has fully learned to chew. That's another thing that I didn't understand before I had children. Before eating one must learn to push pureed food to the back of the throat to swallow it, then one must figure out that he can chew toothier foods to get them to that baby food consistency before continuing. And I always thought that all that behavior was part of the standard operating system, not so. Furthermore, this is not something that you can teach your child. No flashcards will work here. They just have to figure it out on their own, so I suppose the experts would say that it's a developmental milestone.
Without teeth there are a great many foods that one can eat. Most cooked vegetables and soft ones like avacados, soft ripe fruits or stewed fruits, well-cooked pastas, cooked grains like oats (even steel cut oats or barley if they are cooked soft enough), soft breads, or the interior of hard crusted breads (though Thing 2 did just fine with a spelt baguette this weekend, I just kept my eyes on him to make sure that he didn't break off any chokable chunks), meatballs made from ground meat, beans, lentils, and my personal favorite, baby soup.
This is the ultimate convenience food for a busy working parent! No disrepects to the lovely Food Netwok chef that creates delicious meals in slightly more than 29 minutes, but I don't have 30 minutes to cook when I get home. In that amount of time, Thing 1 would be piling up all the toys trying to climb up to open the china cabinet all with a couple of cap-off markers in his hands, while Thing 2 would be knocking over baby chairs and finding old pieces of popped balloons to savor (just kidding-we do pick all those up before he can get them!). No, my children need more supervision than that. I need a meal that takes 10 minutes to prep and 20 to cook on the stove. Because before dinner babies have to be nursed and toys put away and well, tv can be a good thing, but there comes a time when you have to turn it off for everyone's sanity. But to accomplish this you must be prepared with partially cooked ingredients or in this case, a meal that is cook once and eat several times! I love saving time!
This is by no means a tip from the annals of rocket science, but it is a sure fire way to get the kids to eat veggies as they grow up and get comfortable with food. And as an added bonus-no frying, no oil, just 20 minutes and soup's on! We started Thing 1 on this around 8-9 months too, and he still likes it, well, usually.
Take a small pot of water (I would use 3-4 cups of water, but I never measure, so that's just a guess) and get it warming up. You don't have to wait for the water to get hot, but throw in very small diced veggies and some chicken boullion. Let them cook until very soft, usually 20 minutes. I regularly use carrots, zucchini, potato, and broccoli. I also like finely shredded spinach, celery and green beans and have even used turnips, celeriac and, when he gets older, corn. This is an amazing thing to get rid of leftover CSA vegetables! My only reccomendation, and I don't know if anyone else has experienced this, but baby carrots never seem to cook soft enough, so I ditched them years ago in favor of their unpackaged older cousins. And I am not a peeler, what is so wrong with that thin carrot skin? Just wash it off thoroughly, but that's another entry for another day.
When I get the veggies soft I will throw in some of the turkey meatballs I keep in the freezer. And I throw in some orzo. It is a full meal in a bowl. It is completely flexible to the seasons. It is just vegetable soup. And best of all, 10 minutes of chopping and then leave it on the stove. But if you have young children, put a timer on so you don't get sidetracked and forgetful. Trust me folks, I have learned from experience.
I have realized while typing this that I really do blame myself that Thing 1 eats such a short list of foods. I knew the toddler years would be tough, but some days he refuses an entire meal or two and I feel he is just skin and bones. He was so good on this soup, and he ate it for a long while, like until he was 18-20 months old. At Thing 2's current age you really have to cook everything for it to be consumable for him. Baby food doesn't have enough bulk now, and I am not so much in favor of baby food in a jar anyway. It is a necessary thing early on, but around 9 months my kids always started disliking the repetive flavors of baby food. And there is something to each kid seeing that the food on his plate (or tray) is the same as mommy and daddy's. But when Thing 1 got old enough I began to favor foods that were easier to prepare. I got re-pregnant when Thing 1 was only 15 months old. And I could not believe how tired I was. I had to work all day, and sometimes take work home, and once I got home the toddler marathon would begin. Don't get me wrong, all for the best, but to get through it, I stopped prepping all my ingredients on the weekends, and weeknights became pasta city! Or chicken nugget junction! That's not a town I want to reside in now.
But as I looked at Thing 2 last night as he munched on his mashed black beans, I thought to myself that I owe it to him to keep this pace up all the way through the toddler years, even when things get tough. Even when he goes on hunger strikes (though I am having a hard time imagining that with his chubby tummy hanging over his diapers). This is something I have to do for the well being of my family.
Post Script: I don't eat a lot of the above soup even though the kids like it, I am not as into in. An adult version that I love contains shredded cabbage, carrots, green beans, corn, zuccini, celery and a can of tomato puree. But anything that is laying around works. I happen to like this combo better, but Thing 1 doesn't care for the cabbage or the tomato puree. And you can make these soups without the boullion (duh) and they would be totally vegan. Enjoy!
Monday, May 24, 2010
Just a few weeks after Thing 2 was born I started getting interested in 'medical herbalism'. The reason I put that in quotations is because I am no expert at anything really, and my admission of being interested in medical herbalism makes it sound like I am taking classes or something legitimate, when really I am just reading books and trying to self diagnose and cure myself of various things. Now do you see why I would put quotations around that?
I became interested in it so that I could eat natural things that would help my breastmilk production and avoid things that could limit it. But what started out as a self interest campaign became a fascination with the idea that basic foods (herbs) could perform great function within the body! I highly recommend the book The Herbal Handbook A User's Guide to Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman. He is a medical herbalist in Britain who has documented dozens of herbs and organized the books around their functions. I won't say that I am distrustful of medicine, I am grateful to be living during a time where being able to live through a whole host of illnesses is possible. But I do think that some basic herbs can do wonders for the body and we don't always have to get more powerful medicines involved.
So DH and I were sick last week and as we are better we'd like to flush out all the toxins in our body. So in Hoffman's book he mentions that dandelion leaves can act as a diuretic and help stimulate the body's release of water (and waste and toxins). Additionally a tea or tincture of dandelion root can help stimulate the liver's ability to function and thus cleanse in a different way. I found a dandelion root tinture at a local health food store and I found dandelion greens at the supermarket.
Well, DH and I laughed (or cried, I can't remember) our way through lunch. The salad of dandelion greens was just AWFUL. It was so bitter, I found myself swallowing and doing that involuntary shaking thing with my head. We even discussed how the salad was so bad that it was blog-worthy. The tincture was better, but held no dosing instructions, so I think we took too little. There probably isn't enough in the bottle for the two of us for more than a couple of days.
We never did find wheat grass juice by itself, but I know a place around my office that will grind some up for me. Did you know those crazy 'cleanse' programs you can buy on the Internet are based around wheat grass juice? Hoffman even mentions this in his book.
But I will say, I am feeling good from both 'treatments'. And I have plenty of dandelion greens left to mix into my salad for the resat of the week. However I won't be eating it straight anymore, I am absolutely going to mix it with some other salad mix!
Post Script 1: I now regret my title because a friend alerted me to Dandelion Wine yesterday. This is a wine easily made at home from dandelion flowers. Really the petals, but some recipes call for the whole flower head. so the whole plant is useful. Who knew? I will no longer look at them with disdain when I see them in the park. But I am not so sure I want to pick all the dandelion's out of a city park to make wine anyway. I have a feeling that the NYC park's department might take an issue with that even though they themselves would cut them off with a lawnmower. Hmmmmm. This may be a sister project to do in conjunction with the park's department. I might be just crazy enough.
Post Script 2: I have now had 2 days worth of dandelion treatments and I assure you they are working. I feel totally cleansed. I won't go into the details for your own sake. But this stuff really works!
Saturday, May 22, 2010
I remember a few years ago (okay, let's say 15 years ago) a certain fast food chain advertised a whole group of foods for 59, 79 and 99 cents. At the time that seemed perfectly legitimate to me. And I must admit, I ate several of the 59 cent items. But I was not old enough to buy beer ( or even cigarettes) heck I might not have been old enough to drive I can't quite remember.
Now it is 15 years later and I don't feel like the prices have changed. I see constant commercials for an enormous sandwich for five dollars. Now I have been saying for years that I didn't want to eat anything that had a built in profit margin at a price of five dollars. Or what about the ad in which a family goes to the grocery store to see how much a pound of raw chicken costs and how much a bag of flour costs among other ingredients. Upon to finding out the real cost of groceries, they throw out the list, and drive on over to their local fried chicken shack. I admit I sat slack jawed through that one. I also remember the chain that actually advertised "Fourth Meal" as a legitimate dining option. Seriously? Is anyone buying this?
But now that has all changed.
One of the key players just introduced a 2 dollar value meal. An ENTIRE meal for $2. Preying on those who cannot afford food, it is now cheaper to eat every meal at a fast food restaurant rather than buy groceries and cook your own food. Think about it. 7 days a week, 3 meals a day? For a family of four you could eat every meal at this particular restaurant for $84 a week. Sad really. But of course that whole family will get sick on the food. Or sick of the food, whichever comes first. Although, I am not so sure that my calculations are totally accurate because I do not believe the offending chain is open for breakfast. However I guess if you rolled out of bed at 10:45 am, I bet you could eat your 'breakfast' by 11am, lunch really anytime you like and your dinner could be more around that 'fourth meal' time slot.
Apparently this has all just gone down. My google search of "the cost of fast food 2010" yielded a ton of websites discussing this recent offering. Apparently other regional food chains have started to offer less expensive menus and the king daddy of them all (that chain whose food is synonymous with the single yellow alphabet letter out front) just wrapped up an 18 month project to completely revamp their dollar menu.
I don't mean to stand up on a soapbox today. And though I am a personal fan of capitalism, it will drive companies to the edge of profitability when there are no other selling features to offer. But what are we to do? The Government can't step in because who wants to live in a police state with the government telling us what to eat? We aren't getting what we need in terms of education. The gap between the haves and have not is not only getting wider but sadly that gap is also now showing that those who have not are also sicker than the haves. Not fair in my mind.
I am in favor of a large scale home economics programs coming back into our schools. Schools: teach our kids to cook because so many of our generation didn't learn it from our mothers. Before our kids get any fatter or sicker, we need to teach our children how to prepare a healthy meal and to eat real food.
Fast Food Maven. The Orange County Register. http://www.fastfood.freedomblogging.com/ 18 May, 2010.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The best thing in all of this? DH had the kids in the morning and our baby sitter had them in the afternoon, so I had the entire day to rest and feel better. I have not gotten so much time for myself during the day (sick or not) since I had my first child. I admit it was kind of glorious to not be responsible for someone (or some work) for a few hours. I think by tomorrow morning this will be behind me.
It was hard getting dinner on the table tonight because I still felt run down. DH suggested that we order in. But we bought all this food over the weekend so I pushed through and made the whole wheat pizza crust. And boy am I glad that I did. I was starving for carbs, probably my body's attempt at trying to feel better. I ate my entire half. Which I couldn't even manage to do the first time I made it.
Here's to making it myself!
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Monday, May 17, 2010
Saturday, May 15, 2010
I am a consummate list-maker and goal-setter. I am a Gemini which makes me analytical by nature, and planning is completely involved with my list-making neuroses.
My first list (shortly to be available to click on on the side bar of this blog) is of common processed or ready made foods that my family and I normally eat in a given week. This would include:
Breakfast cereals (cheerios, shredded wheat, etc)
Pretzels(we like the Utz whole wheat pretzels--really I like them, I don't think the kids know the delicious white variety that they are missing)
Potato chips (never really met one that I didn't like)
Sometimes salad dressings
Those individually packaged cheese sticks (yuk, Thing 1 likes those)
Crackers-both the cheesy fish variety and otherwise
Granola bars or other snack bars
And of course there are the condiments that sit around our house week after week avoiding consumption, things like mustard and ketchup and jams and the like.
If we are seriously considering getting off processed foods. I am going to hit everything on this list and add items to it when I realize that there are others I have forgotten. I would like to end up splitting these items into 1)Finding a non-processed or less processed version 2)Never eating them again because even organic varieties are still processed beyond belief or 3)Making peace and moving on.
If we can make changes to these core foods that we are eating every week, I think we can make some real progress. We might even be able to cut this list in half.
Friday, May 14, 2010
I have lived in the northeast for almost 13 years now. Almost as long as the years I spent growing up in Tennessee, and certainly I remember more of my time in New York since I have spent it as an adult rather than say, learning to walk, or speak and read english. One of the things I appreciate the most about the northeast are the seasons. Spring in West Tennesse is a short 4 week period of time when everything pollenates at once and the weather goes from 45 to 75. The mornings are still very cold and the afternoons can blaze with heat, and the hayfever is disasterous. Still this is preferable to the summer months of 95 degree heat coupled with 90% humidity (when it is not raining). I don't think I had a good hair day until I moved.
In New York, the allergens are easier. Flowers pollenate first and then the trees, and they seems to come in waves making it easier to handle. There are some trees that flower first and then sprout their leaves while others burst forth leaves first and flower at some later point. I don't know when, but instinct tells me they have to reproduce some how. We also get several weeks of weather that bounces around among the mid 50s and the mid 70s. My favorite is what I like to call "Inside-Outside" where the weather outside feels exactly like room temperature. This is particularly relaxing because the whole world feels just as comfortable as your own cozy living room. May and early June afford the best shot for "Inside-Outside" and that happens to be right around my birthday, so needless to say it is my favorite time of year.
So with all this meterological bliss, you'd think that the farmer's market would have an overwhelming amount fresh fare just plucked from the obliging earth. And my upbringing in warmer climes leads me to think this too. However May is deceptive in the northeast. The ground has just started to warm up enough to grow vegetable plants, but nothing has begun to flower, so there are no true "vegetables" or products of a plant's attempt at reproduction. What you find are just the leaves of those plants or the plants themselves.
In May at the farmer's market in New York you'll find greens and spinach (mostly baby and some adolescent spinach), baby lettuce greens, and asparagus. You'll usually find apples and potatoes available year round, but once you buy these in April and May it is pretty obvious that they are last year's crop. Not to say that there is anything wrong with those apples and potatoes. Kept in cold storage apple and potatoes hold up pretty well, but nothing holds a candle to a golden yellow potato plucked from the ripe soil of Washington or Columbia County, NY in say mid to late August. De-lish.
Last week I tried to formulate a weeks worth of meals around asparagus and spinach, salad greens and potatoes. This is tough because Thing 1 simply won't eat most of these things (can you believe he doesn't like potatoes? What kind of kid doesn't like potatoes?). I was looking to try something new, and I found it....ramps.
I had heard about ramps on the Food Network. There are cults formed around these hard to cultivate funky little oniony things. They are kind of like really pungent spring onions. They smell a little like garlic, but taste totally different. They remind me most of the clumps of funny smelling chivey-onion grass that I used to pull out of my back yard in Memphis as a kid.
Now DH is not a lover of garlic. We eat a lot of it, but on his terms, cooked or roasted, rarely raw. It upsets his stomach and he can smell it for days. I once ate falafel for lunch, and he had worked late that day and didn't come home until after midnight. Even though I was asleep in bed, he said our bedroom stunk like garlic. For me, if it is not smeared on my upper lip, I can't smell it. This being said I wanted to prepare something simple. Ramps and asparagus sauteed in olive oil with pasta would fit the bill.
No recipe needed here. I took the ramps and their leaves (the woman at the farmer's market laughed at me when I said I wanted her to cut the tops off them. I didn't know they were edible!!), and sauteed them in olive oil. Though they smelled pungent and funky when fresh cut, sauteeing them made them really mild. I added some sliced leftover chicken (recycling). I boiled the pasta and in the last 3 minutes I threw some asparagus spears cut into bit size pieces into the pasta water. Then I drained those and added them into the oil with the ramps and chicken. I added salt and pepper and lemon juice and let them soak up all the yummy sauce. Red pepper flakes would be good here too. I served this with a hefty sprinkling of parmesean cheese.
Thing 1 didn't eat all of it. I think he only ate the pasta, but there might have been a ramp clinging to it somewhere. And he didn't buy it when we told him that the asparagus was broccoli (his favorite veggie) But I am turning a blind eye, enough was consumed and there was no self-induced vomiting. DH inhaled it. This one is a keeper.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Apparently those days are over.
Early Sunday morning I loaded up Thing 1 and drove to Fairway. I left Thing 2 and DH (who has been very sick recently) at home to rest.
For those of you who don't live in Manhattan, Fairway is a locally owned grocery store chain that has recently gone from three stores to I think 7 and maybe more. They have prepared foods, all the conventional varieties and a great selection of organics. Their organics range from everything from fruits and veggies, canned goods, frozen goods, brand name prepared foods to their own store brand of beef, free range eggs and even grass fed organic milk from a dairy farm in PA (The most local source of dairy I have EVER been able to find outside of the farmer's market and even that is 2 states away). They also produce/ import their own store brand varieties of everything from oiled packed sun dried tomatoes to whole bean coffees to fresh baked baguettes. I tend to buy their store brand items because they are slightly less expensive, high quality and they turn through them really quickly so they are fresher.
Fairway has organic olive oil bottled under their store brand label that is imported from Italy. One liter costs $11.99. The conventional variety costs $8.99. That is an increase in price of 33%, but I feel good about it and I don't burn though it all that quickly. Unfortunately they don't import any other oils under their store brand, so I was forced to look at national names.
I was not surprised to find that there was row after row of 'Vegetable Oil' and a long row of 'Canola Oil'. Down on the very bottom shelf I found one enormous gallon jug of peanut oil. Success! At least I thought. This peanut oil was a very inexpensive brand that listed nothing about how the oil was produced. I though for sure they used a hexane solvent to get at those nuts. I put it back.
The only other company even offering peanut oil was Planters. I have always liked that little peanut guy with the top hat and the monocle. I have a positive impression of the Planters company (apparently a division of Kraft Foods and even Nabisco-I am pretty sure all industrial food companies are owned by just one big conglomerate, but I haven't found the smoking gun yet. Just kidding, I don't want to get sued for libel!) But I figured if there was anyone offering pressed peanut oil, it would be from the company that produces nuts specifically.
On a side note I like companies that only do one thing. I like it when a clothing company sticks only to doing clothes but maybe does different brands. I like furniture companies that resist the temptation to make sheets and vases, you know? So I appreciate that the Planters product line sticks pretty close to nuts and their brethren.
The only problem with this oil? The bottle didn't say whether or not it was expeller pressed or solvent extracted. That was a red flag. Usually when a food product has the attribute that is the prize of the moment, it will be visible. Maybe they won't post it on the front, but other expeller pressed items I have come across have pretty sizable type on the back of the product calling out why I should pay more money for their product. I bought the small bottle anyway thinking the best of the company.
Next I did exactly what I would encourage anyone to do. I went to their website to do some research. Not only did I not find out anything about the method of extraction, they didn't even have peanut oil listed as a product!! They must not make a lot of peanut oil. So I moved onto phase 2. I emailed the company to ask them how they obtained the oil.
I received a response the next day that read as follows: "...Kraft Foods purchases oil used in our products from well established food oil manufacturers that use refining processes to clean and otherwise prepare the oil for food use as required by FDA regulation and good manufacturing processes." Ummm....I could have guessed all that.
I wrote them back and used more specific language. They actually wrote me back same day, and spilled it. They pressed first and used solvents on the remainder. Sigh. It stinks that I bought the bottle before I checked into it. However, I am really pleased that they did in fact come clean with me about what kind of process they used. I think half the issue I find with processed food is the lengths at which the food companies go to try and hide how they are doing business.
On a brighter note, a dear girlfriend of mine was at Whole Foods the other day and called me to say that they had organic, unrefined, expeller pressed peanut oil there. Hopefully it will not cost $45 a bottle once I find the time to get there. Perhaps this is a worthy project for the upcoming weekend.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
If you are like me and assume the best, you would have visions of the seeds all being ground up and pressed to extract the oil, probably on some contraption in a factory that looks very much like a Dickens novel. Almost like Oliver Twist was sitting in the employee break room. I don't have a scientific mind or any scientific experience, so my solutions to problems are somewhat simplistic.
Well as it turns out, pressing through a machine called an expeller is one way of extracting oil. But as you'd guessed, it recovers only so much oil. The leftover waste of crushed up seed pulp still has a lot of oil into. So what the vast majority of manufacturers do is use a solvent made of a gasoline byproduct called Hexane (C6H14) to extract the oil. The process of using a solvent is much cheaper and more efficient than pressing the oils.
Hexane is a colorless liquid that evaporates pretty easily because of it's low boiling point (50-70 degrees Celsius). And if I am reading these websites correctly, it is the part of gasoline that smells like gasoline, because it is one of the first compounds in the gas to evaporate. Use of Hexane as a solvent has been deemed safe because the hexane is largely nonreactive with the food with which it is coming in contact. Hexane is also used in glues for shoes, leather products, roofing and textile manufacturing.
The seeds are crushed and then flaked into very small particles. That mash is combined with hexane and heated with steam. This process extracts all the oil in an oil and hexane solution.
That solution is taken away and the hexane is removed through an heated evaporation process. The oil is further refined and cleaned while the hexane is reused in another batch of mash.
Most of the hexane that is lost remains in the mash, or the leftover fiber and pulp of whatever seed was crushed in the first place. I didn't do a lot of research as to what happens to the leftover mash. I don't want to extrapolate on where it goes, I would bet that it is used in some industrial function.
I firmly believe that natural products are the way to go for my family. I don't want to eat anything that has had harsh chemicals used to make it. I also don't like the idea that it required me several days of research to find out how this food product ends up in my belly. Foods like this are faceless. You don't know who grew them, how they were processed or much else. These are foods that our great grandparents weren't cooking with a whole lot. Butter and Lard were much easier to render. And although olive oils and others have been made for centuries, Olives were not such a plentiful crop on the cold east coast of the colonial United States. Our food culture simply did not include olive oil because it wasn't available.
Today, I am looking for alternative oils. And there are alternatives. While I'd like to stay away from Canola, I understand that not everyone will find fault with it's GMO heritage. I have decided that I'd like to try peanut oil. It has a high smoke point and it is a food that in it's most basic state is edible. Cottonseeds, not so much.
Please read my blog tomorrow as I look for a peanut oil that is made without hexane solvents...
Hexane. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. wikipedia.org 9 May, 2010.
Vegetable Oil Processing. Environmental Protection Agency. epa.gov. 10 May, 2010
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
I have been cooking with vegetable oil and canola oil for years. In fact I can't remember having olive oil in the house until I was at least in high school. As an adult I use olive oil for about 80% of the cooking I do in my house. But there are certain applications that require something flavorless. I like veg oil for baking muffins, stir frying homemade Chinese food and our babysitter frys french toast in it (among other things). I also use a lot of butter. I really really love butter, and compared to my fellow Americans, I am not afraid of it in the least. But this post is about vegetable oil, not butter
At the beginning of this project I got to asking myself, as I had before without actually looking for the answer, "What is a Canola?" And for that matter, "If vegetables are fat free, how are they producing all this oil?"
Vegetable oil comes from seeds. Kind of like nuts which we easily understand have a lot of oil. Vegetable oil is a generic industry term for any kind of oil derived from plant seeds, like corn, soybeans, cottonseeds or rapeseeds. What are rapeseeds? Yeah, more on that later.
Soybean oil is probably the most common veg oil. It's the one you never see labeled on it's own in the grocery store. And there are a heck of a lot of soybeans grown in this country. Check the ingredients on a bottle of veg oil and it will probably say 'soybean oil'. But in some processed foods veg oil could be a general term for any oil that fits the bill, corn, soybeans, cottenseed, etc. All these oils are essentially flavorless and are interchangeable, so manufacturers look for the cheapest. It may be any of these depending on the season.
So what are rapeseeds? Rapeseed is a type of oil seed producing plant that is especially productive at producing oil. But the big issue is that naturally evolving rapeseeds produce an oil that tastes really gross. It has high levels of erucic acid. I am not sure if it's toxic, but it tastes gross. Hundreds of years ago, rapeseed oil was used for oil lamps in Asia and Europe. In the Second World War it was used in manufactering.
Well, as manufacturers usually do, a few scientists in the 60s and 70s in Canada got together and said, hey, we have an opportunity to really have a cheap plentiful supply of cooking oil that is low in saturated fat (the evil fat of it's day). But we have to work on this plant to produce edible oil. Through selective breeding they produced a rapeseed plant that produced edible oil. And the FDA pronounced it safe for consumption in the early 80s.
Now the problem is what do we call it? 'Rapeseed oil' doesn't sound like a best seller. So the scientists said, it's edible because we got rid of the erucic acid so let's call it CANada Oil, Low Acid. And canola as we know it was born.
Since the birth of Canola, scientists have tinkered with it even further. Now 80% of the canola oil on the market comes from genetically modified canola plants.
Tomorrow we'll discuss how they get the oil out of all those soybeans, corn kernels and rapeseeds. Then maybe you'll be willing to join in the land of peanuts. (Or palm, or coconuts....)
Monday, May 10, 2010
But a Mother's Day gift! I got a more than an hour in the kitchen. Yes, I consider this a gift. Even while sick, DH kept the kids occupied while I got some quiet time to do what I love. I made meatballs. The below is a great recipe. It is easy, it freezes well and I have made some changes to a classic meatball to make it crazy easy.
I love meatballs because they make 'recycling' easier. There are all kind of things that you can throw into meatballs, leftover veggies (especially greens), cheese. They aren't as good as soup for recycling leftovers, but they are pretty darn good.
Fortunately too, the kids love them. Thing 1 eats the meatballs I make almost 90% of the time (factor out 10% for over snacking and not really being hungry for mealtime). And yesterday Thing 2 ate them for the first time. He shoved them into his mouth by the chubby fistful. This just makes a mama proud.
Tonight we had the leftovers. Cook Once, Eat Twice. The kids love them so much that I make them in sauce, but I also add them to an easy veggie soup by dropping the meatballs into boiling broth in which I cook veggies and orzo pasta. The kids, both of them, always inhale it!
You can make these with any ground meat. Beef is good, turkey is a little lighter tasting, and sausage is delicious too.
Lazy Mama's Meatballs
(It's best to have all ingredients at room temperature)
1 pound ground meat
1/3 cup of breadcrumbs (unseasoned are best) (ground day old baguettes are even better, they are drier than conventional canned breadcrumbs)
splash of milk
1/4 cup of parmesean cheese
2 beaten eggs
granulated garlic to taste
italian seasoning to taste
red pepper to taste
salt and pepper to taste
prepared tomato spaghetti sauce
Heat the prepared sauce on the stove top until simmering. Start with the breadcrumbs in a bowl, pour a splash of milk over them to wet the breadcrumbs, but just enough milk that it will all be absorbed, you don't want a pool of milk at the bottom. Let the breadcrumbs sit for a few minutes to soak up the milk. Add the ground meat, cheese and all the seasonings and an additional sprinkle of dry breadcrumbs. Mix thoroughly. Add the beaten eggs and incorporate. Use a tablespoon measure and make 1 tbsp size balls of meat. Drop the balls directly into the simmering sauce and let them gently simmer for 30 minutes or until done. Stir the pot gently so as not to break up the meat balls.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Although I have been shopping at the Inwood Farmer's Market for a couple of years now and I have loved the high quality food, I had never actually asked the question 'Is your food organic?' I just naturally assumed that because these farmer's were pursuing the avenue of selling their fare at the farmer's market rather than contacting a supermarket distributor, that they must be organic. I also see all the folks from my neighborhood that I know from the CSA, and I know that they prize organic foods like I do. Surely the fact that other health minded folks I know shopped there, that MUST mean that everything was organic!
I have known for sometime about the USDA organic program. I know because of Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma, that family farms must pay a government certification company a lot of money to become certified organic, so they can stick that USDA ORGANIC logo on all their produce. Many family run farms simply do not make enough money to pay for the certification process, but their food is organic nonetheless. My CSA makes no effort to hide the fact that they fall into this category, and I always assumed that the folks at my farmer's market did too.
Well, I got to asking people. There were several stands that were obvious. Milk Thistle is labeled as organic, Bread Alone Breads too are labeled. The mill selling beans and flour are all labeled. The turkey however....the turkeys were not given hormones and antibiotics, but they did not eat organic feed. So they are not organic, even though theirs is a better practice than at most conventional animal farms. The apples are grown with both chemical fertilizers and pesticides. I have heard from my own CSA that growing fruits organically are especially challenging because there are so many other critters besides us that like fruit. Those buggies just get to it first. All of the vegetable stands sold veggies that were not sprayed with pesticides, but they all used chemical fertilizers. There was one exception, Hawthorne Valley Farm sells organic yogurts and breads and other delicious goodies. They are a not for profit biodynamic farm in Ghent, NY and they were selling organic salad mix. But that was it, no other veggies for sale. It was pricey, but I bought it.
So there I was at the market feeling a little lead astray. But not rightly so, none of these farms had ever lead me to believe that they were certified organic. None of them labeled their food with a misleading label. However I was blissfully happy to assume that they were organic when they weren't. But I didn't feel that I was left with much of a choice. I supposed I could have gone to my supermarket and bought all organic veggies that were trucked in from California. Those veggies would have been from upstanding but nonetheless factory farms like Earthbound farms who grow food in huge monocultures and manage to turn a huge profit. They are wonderful farms that started out small and grew through success. But I don't like that whole 3,000 mile trip that they make across country. Not only is it an amazing waste of gas, but I get fewer days to enjoy my food because it is older by the time it arrives in Manhattan. And the nutrients in food diminishes with each moment after it has been harvested. I have bought potatoes at the farmer's market that were in the ground 5 hours before I bought them (the farmer told me).
And furthermore, buying local means that my food dollar will stay within the economy of New York State. When I purchase a California grown carrot, my grocery store gets one chunk of my food dollar, a distributor or importer gets another chunk and that CA farm gets the last chunk. I am not sure whose chunks are big or little , but I know a thing or two about the wholesale industry, the profit is divided up amongst the people that connect your product to you.
Today I have decided that local is more important than organic. I was hoping that my choices would be more clear. I envisioned a big yellowish-maybe-slightly-orangish crooked carrot that had a pair of evil eyes that were red and swirling around. I would know NOT to buy that carrot because it was bad news. But the choices are not that easy. And it doesn't seem like anyone is talking about all this gray in the marketplace. They are just making black and white statements. Buy more of this and less of that. Eat this, and not that.
We all live in gray. I think the most important thing for each of us is to ask the questions and try and make your way though the cloud.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Friday, May 7, 2010
1 cup whole wheat flour
A good day progresses as follows:
5:30am Wake up, make coffee, take a shower, take vitamins, fix hair
French Onion Soup
One tbsp butter
One tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, cut into bite sized pieces.
2 large leeks
1 sprig of thyme
1/2 cup of red wine
4 cups of water
Enough beef bouillon to make 4 cups of stock. (I will never be the superwoman that makes her own broth, but if you are, then more power to you!)
Heat the butter and oil together. Saute the onions and leeks for about 20 minutes or until browned and slightly caramelized. Add the salt and pepper and thyme. Add the wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the water and bouillon. Let simmer for twenty minutes. Float a slice of toasted bread and if you really want to go over the top, lay a slice of Gruyere on that and let it melt. Holy mackerel.