Monday, May 31, 2010

Road Trippin'

So we decided on Friday that we would go away for the Memorial Day weekend. It was only for one night be we were excited to get away from the city and spend some time in the country. Hawthorne Valley (http://www.hawthornevalleyfarm.org/) is a bio-dynamic farm in Ghent, NY. They have a stall in the weekly farmer's market in Inwood and I have started buying several things from them because they offer organic yogurt and salad greens and breads. I knew they had a farm store where they sold their veggies and meat, homemade cheeses and breads, and I also figured that they had pick your own veggies and fruit, or even just an opportunity to have a picnic. So we set out compass on Hawthorne Valley in Columbia County, NY.

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

It's Made Out of Food, But Is It Really Food?


On a recent quiet Wednesday morning. Some co-workers and I nibbled on some organic cheese flavored corn/ rice puffs as we discussed that we shouldn't be hungry for lunch at 11:15am. I shoveled my fair share of the puffs into my mouth with cheese dust covered fingers and sighed. 'It's too bad this isn't real food.' I quipped.

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

The To Do List: Crackers, Part 2

So the Great Cracker Experiment didn't go as well as planned. Below is the recipe as I found it in allrecipes.com :

Ingredients
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

Directions
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.


The way I made it:

Ingredients
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)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup water
salt for sprinkling

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a medium bowl, get your not quite three year old to stir together the flour, 3/4 teaspoon salt and the olive oil oil and water; mix until just blended. Close the door to the spice cabinet, take honey away from the toddler (yes, it is a bear!) On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough as thin as possible (Yes honey, mommy's rolling pin is exactly like your play-doh rolling pin!)- no thicker than 1/8 inch. Place dough on an ungreased baking sheet, and mark squares out with a knife (no we don't need the pizza cutter. No baby....please put that down...the pizza cutter is just like a special knife....Hey! That's sharp give it to me, that's ONE.), but don't cut through. Prick each cracker with a fork a few times, and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 20, no 25 minutes in the preheated oven, check and bake another 5 minutes. Take crackers out and let them cool. Then decide that they need more time and return them to the 350 degree oven for another 10 minutes. When cool, remove from baking sheet, and separate into individual crackers.

The crackers were actually quite delicious. Their taste was great, but their texture was horrible, like seriously stale pita bread. But I am undeterred. I will find a good recipe and I will master it. The flavor was good, kind of sweet almost, and I ate some avocado with some of them last night and it was really good. Best of all, Thing 1 was THRILLED to be cooking with mommy and though he spent more time trying to lick the jar of cinnamon or picking up anything that resembled a knife, we both had a good time. And he has asked for these crackers over and over, he eats them and he likes them. I guess you never can tell.

Notes:
Wheat Crackers. http://www.allrecipes.com/ 22 May, 2010.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The To Do List: Crackers, Part 1

Amazingly crackers are one of the more complex processed foods that reside at my home. When I made the To Do List a couple of weeks ago I took a quick inventory of my refrigerator and pantry items to come up with the list of processed foods and crackers were high at the top of the list. We eat them every week. They kind of overlap pretzels, but this post is dedicated solely to crackers. I was surprised by how many ingredients these seemingly simple items contained. My beloved Kashi crackers have an ingredient list a mile long! Mostly because they use seven different grains and they ALL have to be listed separately in every application that they use them. But the crackers that were curtiously baked for me by the little elves that live in that cute tree had all kinds of strange stuff in them.

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!

Notes:
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

Baby Soup

We find ourselves in our household in that in between foodland where infants can eat real table food, but they can't eat everything. Or at least not all the fare we older people prefer.

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.

Baby Soup
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

The Dandelion: Everything but that Pesky Little Flower

This weekend found DH and myself wanting to completely cleanse everything. We did 6 loads of laundry, washed the fabric of our stroller and went in search of wheat grass juice and various dandelion parts.
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

Crazy Cheap

I am constantly surprised by the endless parade of commercials advertising cheap food.
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.


Notes:
Fast Food Maven. The Orange County Register. http://www.fastfood.freedomblogging.com/ 18 May, 2010.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Mystery of the White Yam and Other Stories


I have been keeping a rather good pace with this blog, no? I have posted every day but one and as long as I have the energy and the ideas to write about, I intend to keep up with it.

Well today I wasn't sure what direction to go in. I have written that we weren't feeling well this week. We have all been phoning in the housework and the cooking. I of course made a HUGE statement about making my own cheese--which I fully intend to do, I am just not sure when--so where do I go from here?

Then it all revealed itself to me. I bought a brand new food this week and I had no idea.

When we were walking through the isles at Whole Foods last weekend I looked for a sweet potato for Thing 2. He likes them and I am working on getting better at making him finger foods. I also realize now that I totally lost steam with Thing 1 around 15 months when he went from eating everything to eating only a small group of annoying foods, like hot dogs and American cheese. I blame myself, it all happened right around the time I got pregnant. I must have been too tired to cook. So back to what I was saying, I was in Whole Foods looking for a sweet potato. They had like 10 different kinds, and I really wanted one that was organic. So I chose something kind of exotic, a yam. I chose a yam that had a really dark skin because I have bought these ruby yams before that have a really deep red skin and beautiful dark orange flesh. They are yummy.

I have been meaning to boil it for the baby in little cubes all week. Tonight I finally got the energy. But much to my surprise as I peeled the dark skin. It was white underneath!!

What had I bought?

What was this foreign tuber?

I licked it, it tasted sweet. At least it was in the ballpark of what I expected.

That old rumor went through my mind "yams and sweet potatoes are really different and most things sold as yams in the US are really just sweet potatoes in disguise". Oh My Goodness, had I actually gotten a yam?

So I cubed it and boiled it. It was alot starchier than a sweet potato. It reminded me of taro root or yucca. But it was sweet. I still am not sure whether it was a real true yam, or yet another variety of sweet potato in disguise, but it would fit the bill tonight.

Now Thing 2 has had alot of newish foods in the last few days. I switched his oatmeal up to something of a completely different texture. I started giving him lentils, which I am not wholly convinced that he likes, and now this weird starchy thing? He looked at me like I was crazy. But after I put a couple bites in his mouth, he shoveled the rest of them in there. He did really really well with it. Thing 1 even took 2 bites, but true to his nature, those bites were fed to him by DH. *Sigh*. Does anyone else see the irony of spoon-feeding the 2 year old while the 9 month old is picking up his own food and feeding himself? This too shall pass.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nutrition



Today I was inspired to do some research on Omega-3's which of course everyone knows as that really good fatty acid found in fish and flaxseed. I expected to find some easy information about it from really ANYWHERE, but what I found was really complicated and confusing.

From Wikipedia I found out all about the chemistry of the acid, to what their chain of carbons look like to how the chains are reformed when the acids are ingested. I was completely confused. I couldn't even find the article interesting because I couldn't frame the information around, really, anything. However the one benefit, I must have looked mad smart to the guy standing behind me on the train. "Hey-Check out that chick in the skinny jeans reading about long carbon chains. Whoa."

From a study from the University of Maryland Medical Center I got some relatively boiled down information. They told me that the acids are 'essential' because they cannot be produced in the body, so they must be obtained from food. They also recommended that I eat fish at least 2 times per week (mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna or salmon).

But The University article also told me that while Omega-3 supplements had helped in trials for virtually everything from Rheumatoid Arthritis to Schizophrenia, it also stated for every single disease listed that alternate trials had shown that Omega-3's did not help. So what the heck are we left with?

Web MD had the most boiled down information. They took a very complex topic and took it to a 3 page article (or maybe I just didn't print the whole thing...). But they did mention that Omega-3's found in fish and walnuts among others help to make the blood flow better. Whereas Omega-6's (the other type of fatty acid being talked about now that comes primarily from seeds, like grains) make the blood 'stickier' and more prone to clotting. We are in theory supposed to eat 4 parts Omega-3's to every 1 part Omega-6. Currently the typical American diet is roughly 1 part Omega-3 to 20 parts Omega-6. That's alot of grain.

But as I was reading, I realized. I am no doctor and no scientist. I don't understand the information and it is hard to frame it in every day life. I don't eat a ton of fish or walnuts. But I consider myself healthy. Am I lacking in this essential nutrient? Am I getting it from other sources I don't know about now? I do have flaxseed in the house, but i bought it six months ago--has it gone bad? And I keep forgetting to put it in things. And what about Thing 1?? He doesn't eat any of those foods, in fact I think he lives on whole wheat pretzels and apples and plain pasta. What about his health? Thing 2 is living mostly on breastmilk and I do take a supplement for DHA and EPA, but studies always show that supplements are not as effective as real food.

And to make matters worse, the jargon is so confusing. The articles talk about health, but that is something different to a 60 year old than a 25 or 30 year old. My father may be concerned about coronary heart disease, but I am concerned about looking hot. I want to be thin because I live in Manhattan and I want to take care of myself and look great. I also want to have tons of energy to play with my kids and enough spring in my step to jump out of bed in the morning and make a huge pot of oatmeal for the family. Hopefully I'll remember to add the ground flaxseed meal next time.

I realize that I really need to stop reading these things. My mission is food knowledge, not nutrient knowledge. My hope is to get to better nutrition by eating more healthful foods. And I will accept the small victories. I made the ramp and asparagus pasta tonight and Thing 1 ate not one, but TWO asparagus spears. Small victories rock.
NOTES
Good Fat, Bad Fat: The Truth About Omega-3. WebMD.com 19 May, 2010.
Omega-3 fatty acid. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. wikipedia.org 19 May, 2010.
Omega-3 fatty acids. University of Maryland Medical Center. umm.edu/altmed/articles 19 May, 2010.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sick

I called in sick to work today. Which I rarely do for myself. I will take time off if the kids are sick, but usually if I am not feeling well, I'll usually push through and still manage to get everything done. But today I woke feeling pretty crummy.
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

The To Do List: American Cheese


Have you ever started something, like search for the answer to a question, only to trip onto another adventure altogether, never really having found the answer to the original question you thought you'd find? Okay that does sound more complicated than it needs to be, but that is exactly what happened to me today.

I went online today to print out some articles on cheese, specifically processed or American Cheese. I wanted to find the answer to the question 'What is American Cheese made of?' And apparently others have asked the same question because as I typed it into Google, 'What is American cheese made of' popped right up into the entry line at google.com. More than one person is trying to find answers to what they are eating!

Well I read the usual Wikipedia entries, but they failed to yield anything nefarious, so I kept looking. There were some entries that discussed vaguely what met the 'legal definition of cheese', and that intrigued me. I googled 'what is the legal definition of cheese'. That brought me to answers.com.

They had some fascinating information about American cheese. They state that:

"Processed cheese is...subject to legal restrictions and standards. Processed American Cheese must contain at least 90 percent real cheese. Products labeled "cheese food" must be 51 percent cheese, and most are 65 percent. Products labeled "cheese spread" must also be 51 percent cheese, The difference is that such foods have more water and gums to make them more spreadable. "Cheese Product" usually refers to a diet cheese that has more water and less cheese than American cheese, cheese food or cheese spread, but the specific amount of cheese is not regulated."

Wikipedia also documents that:

"After an FDA warning letter protesting Kraft's use of MPC [milk protein concentrate, an ingredient which does not appear in the above FDA definition of cheese] in late 2002, some varieties of Kraft Singles formerly labeled "Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Food" became "Pasteurized Cheese Product", Velveeta went from "Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread" to "Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product" and Easy Cheese went from "Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread" to "Pasteurized Cheese Snack" "

So as you can see, the company simply changed the name of the commodity after pressure from the FDA that their product did not meet the legal guidelines. They simply changed the name of their commodity to something that is not regulated. But to the American consumer, the regulated term "Cheese Food" does not have a clear definition. So how is that any different from the unregulated term "Cheese Product" or "Cheese snack"? It's not, we can't tell the difference without doing some Internet research.

Answers.com gave me the most reliable information about what American cheese actually was. Apparently one way of making American Processed Cheese was to take remnants of cheese like cheddar or colby, and grind them up into a powder. Then mix the powder with water and other gums and other fillers (no more than 10%!!) and pour the mix into a block to let it set. There, you have American Cheese. I couldn't find what the fillers or gums were specifically. Apparently everyone else is okay enough with this answer that they will eat it.

Anyway, I bought a mild cheddar cheese this weekend (not organic-because I wanted one made by a cheese maker, not a major corporation) and my hope is that Thing 1 won't notice the difference. I kind of don't care if he eats it or not. Cheese is a food that is really high in fat and often salt, and it is a treat in my mind, not something that is a food that you force a kid to eat if he doesn't want to. But I am ditching the processed cheese. Because one of these days I will be happy to say that my son loves really good cheese, not that gloopy slightly orangy stuff that comes individually wrapped in plastic.

But during my research, a light went off in my head. I have wanted to make my own cheese for a while, ever since I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle!. And the article in Answers.com got my mind a-racing. I am going to make my own cheese. This is going to be AWESOME!
Notes:
American Cheese. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. wikipedia.com 17 May, 2010.
Processed Cheese. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. wikipedia.com 17 May, 2010.
Cheese: Definition. Answers.com. 17 May, 2010.

Monday, May 17, 2010

If you search for happiness, don't go looking farther than your own back yard.


We finally found time today to go to Whole Foods. I mentioned a few days ago that I had been in search of some organic peanut oil. Well I decided that if I was going to go to Whole Foods for one item, I would just get everything there.

I had visions of isles of prefect and organic produce, all varieties of blissful fruits and vegetables. I expected 10 different varieties of organic tortillas and organic cheese to write home to my parents about. And I kind of found it, but I kind of didn't at the same time.

I did find beautiful fruits and veggies. Everything seemed to have a coat of gloss paint on it. But I was surprised to see that half of the produce was conventional and the other half organic. I did like that the store labels items that are local. Probably there are local varieties at Fairway, but they don't label them, so who will ever know?

I am a store brand shopper. I always try to buy everything from the store brand at Fairway, because it is cheaper and I think very high quality. Many of my friends do the same thing, I know the Fairway brand sells faster and so those goods are fresher. The Fairway brand is always clearly labeled as to whether the items are organic or not. At Whole Foods, I always thought that the 365 brand was always organic. It is not. And there were times that I found it hard to find the organic labeling on the packaging. Maybe that was just because I was looking for the label of organic and it wasn't there.

The most amazing thing though??? Price. I discovered that Whole Foods was no more expensive or less expensive than Fairway. I was SHOCKED about that. Mostly because I have said that I felt that Fairway was such an affordable grocery store, and at the same time I have been convinced that Whole Foods was so expensive. And maybe Fairway's conventional items are less expensive. But when it comes to organics, the brands are identical and the price is nearly identical. Some things you pay 10 cents more for other you pay 10 cents less. It is a wash.

I am happy with everything that I bought at Whole Foods. There are a couple of items and brands that they carry that I cannot find anywhere else. so I will probably try to run over during a lunch break to buy a bottle of prized oil or a great cheese. but I don't need to go out of my way to get all my groceries at Whole Foods. Heck, Fairway has a parking lot. And to me that is huge!

But I think the thing that stood out the most to me was that all the brands of organic items were exactly identical. Whole Foods did not have an expanded selection that was apparent to me. That says to me what I have heard for a long time. That there really aren't as many organic options in this country. For the millions of people in this country only a small percentage can eat food that is not conventionally grown. Not because of price, but because there is not enough supply. But my generation is coming. Our demand of organic food is growing because we are all seeing the effects of the 'modern' way of life. So much progress has been made recently, but we have a long way to go before we can proclaim that every child in this country has access to foods that have been created at every level in a way that preserves the land for their future.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The To Do List

It has been a couple weeks now and I have gone through many of my initial personal experiences regarding my family and it's food. But now I think it is time to make a to do list. Kind of like what I'd like to accomplish in the short term and the long term.

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
American Cheese
Those individually packaged cheese sticks (yuk, Thing 1 likes those)
Hot Dogs
Nutella
Crackers-both the cheesy fish variety and otherwise
Cookies (sometimes!)
Granola bars or other snack bars
Ice Cream
Pasta
Breads

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

Ramping Up

I grew up in the south, so I have always viewed the months of April and May as springy, getting into sandals, and everything in bloom kind of months. Even March can be warmish in the south. But certainly these are the months of green grass before the deluge of summer when the 90-100 degree heat turns even the most well cared for lawn brown and dead.

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

Sometimes you feel like a nut.

So last Sunday I went on an expedition. I was determined to find the perfect peanut oil. I was determined to buy like a gallon of it to keep in my pantry. I usually only buy oil a couple times a year. We use a little bit at a time, but just in case you need to use a half a cup for a recipe or you want to fry, I like to have a big jug on hand.

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

Yuk, that doesn't belong in my food!

As a continuation from yesterday, in regards to vegetable oil, How do they get all that vegetable oil out of all those soybeans and corn kernels and rapeseeds?

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...








Notes:

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

What is a Canola?


This question was one of the first that prompted me to start this long journey of education and food discovery. The answers were shocking enough to me that it motivated me to start blogging, so that I can share my answers with anyone willing to click towards my page. Oil and it's process to the table will consume much of my postings this week. So if you like what you read today-stay tuned.

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?"

You ready?

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....)
Notes:
Canola. Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia. wikipedia.org. 11 May, 2010
Vegetable Oil. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. wikipedia.org. 11 May, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Recycling

It seems like the whole weekend was non-stop. DH was sick all weekend, the kids were squirmy. Trying to get everything done around the house is always difficult, but when anyone is sick things just get even tougher. We even had to cancel our Mother's Day plans, so that was a bummer.

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

Local or Organic or ????

As yesterday dawned I was pretty sure that I had a direct path ahead of me. Buy more organics and buy more from the farmer's market. But through the course of the day it became apparent that my clarity had become a little cloudy.

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

Waste Not, Want Not: Part I


If you are going to write a blog about eating healthier and staying on a budget you really have to tackle the subject of waste. Waste is something that most people in my generation are keenly aware of. Those of us who grew up in the 80s will always remember the anti-litter campaigns and the grainy images of the overflowing dumps and landfills on the nightly news as our trash problem slowly emerged as something that needed to be discussed.

A weekly trip to the grocery store with my family includes taking a list so that we can stay on a budget, but invariably we end up at least 15% over that budget because of all the items that end up in our cart that were never on the list. It is not the kids that clamor for these food items. They are really too young for that kind of begging, and our problem now is getting the kids to eat at all, rather than overeating. It is myself and DH that are swayed into buying things like Kashi bars and $7 per pound dried blueberries. Well, okay, it is mostly me.

At least once a month I have to throw away foods that have not been consumed. It is mostly leftover side dishes that didn't get eaten, the ends of a loaf of bread, or juice that now tastes acidic and turned. There are always wilted veggies and brown fruit that we throw away. I sometimes lovingly refer to my refrigerator as 'The Food Museum', because everything is neatly packed into tupperware and on display. Look but don't touch.
Andrew Martin of the New York Times wrote in 2008 that

"...Americans waste an astonishing amount of food-an estimated 27% of the food available for consumption, according to a government study...It works out to be about a pound of food every day for every American."

Martin reports that it breaks it down into the following categories for a family of four each month:

18.5 pounds of grains
10.5 pounds of processed fruits and veggies
24 pounds of fresh fruits and veggies
22 pounds of liquid milk
10.4 pounds of meat and fish
15 pounds of sweetener
8.6 pounds of oils
12.8 pounds of other foods (including eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, dry beans, peas and lentils and dairy other than liquid milk)

Now his numbers include uneaten restaurant food and food that grocery stores throw away because of spoilage (also think foods that are unspoiled but past their expiration date) but it does not include ready to eat foods that grocery stores throw away like rotisserie chickens and sandwiches and soup. So although you could step back from these numbers and say "I am not directly responsible for this", we are consumers within this industrialized food chain, so technically we are culpable.

Martin's numbers were right in the middle of what I found when I searched "Americans waste food" at Google.com. Some sites quoted more along the lines of 12% of the total food available while some more politically motivated sites quoted closer to 50%.

My current mission of shopping for unprocessed foods, I am hoping, will have 2 outcomes. One, That I will cook more often and eat higher quality things. And two, food will become less convenient so I will eat less of it. But I think there is a third thing factored into these two objectives, because I will be expending more time cooking I will be less apt to waste foods into which I have put all that effort. In a sense, food will become more valuable to me and my family. And for the Frugal Franny I am deep inside, I will save money in the process.
Isn't this what we all want?
Stay tuned this week, I bought ramps at the farmer's market and I am not sure what to do with them. And tomorrow I go in search of pressed peanut oil at the conventional grocery. I wonder if I will find it.
Works Cited
Andrew Martin. One County's Table Scraps, Another Country's Meal. New York Times Week in Review. nytimes.com. 18 May 2008.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust






Okay before you just click away from the page because you read the title. Hear me out on this one. I had mentioned a couple of days ago that I had bought some whole wheat flour from a mill at the farmer's market in Inwood.

The Inwood Farmer's Market is located on Isham st between Broadway and Seaman. It is just a block up from 207th street. It is open every Saturday from 8am-3pm. The market is held every week year round and you can buy everything there, turkey meat (breast and ground among others), milk (whole, skim, 2% and cream), organic breads and pastries, of course seasonal produce and juices (some certified organic, some that just practice no spraying, etc), there is a fishmonger, pastured organic beef, sheep's milk cheeses, sustainable WINE (that's a new one), and my new best friends, the mill people. The folks representing the mill had various organic grain flours for sale, spelt, rye, whole wheat, etc. I have had only fair success with whole wheat flours in the past, so I opted for the 'Half-White' which has had half of the wheat germ removed. It was $4 for a 2 pound sack. They also had some dried beans, I bought black beans but they had garbanzo beans and navy beans and kidney beans as well.

I knew I wanted to make a pizza, but I did not have a good pizza crust recipe. And I like a certain kind of crust. I found on my Google search all manner of pizza crusts. some with olive oil, some without, some with honey, some that let the dough rise and some that were quick to put together and make. I finally, after reading a dozen, settled on one from the website http://www.easypizzacrusts.com/ I really hope that is someone's blog out there because I can't imagine paying a fee every month to support a website like that. They do have a lot of good recipes and some good tips about how to make the pizza better.

At first I was scared that if I chose a recipe designed for whole wheat flour that it would be tough and cardboardy like healthy food should be (c'mon, you know you feel that way too). But I decided that would be the one to try.

Okay--Attention! Parent Tip: The dough has to stand for 20-25 minutes. It is really easy and quick to add all the ingredients, so do that while the kids are doing something like watching TV where they won't move around too much since you'll be sticky and pulling them down by the ear as they are climbing up the bookshelves will be difficult. Let it stand while you do something that requires your full attention, like bathtime. And if it ends up standing longer than 25 minutes it doesn't really matter so much anyhow, it won't taste or act any different. I got my dough kneaded and rolled out and dressed just as I was going in to put Thing 1 to bed tonight. It went into a 400 degree oven and I went in to put him to bed. by the time I got out I had this gorgeous pizza waiting for me all hot and delicious. My toppings? Baby spinach, onions, olives, some leftover spaghetti sauce, and chucks of that peppercorn chevre I mentioned from last night. Then I dusted the whole thing with Parmesan cheese and black pepper. I don't do a lot of cheese on my pizzas partly out of habit since that heavily copyrighted diet where you track all your food units assigns a particularly high measurement to cheese. And now, I just don't eat a lot of it. But my life is no worse off, and I still do eat cheese when I really, really want it.

The pizza came out beautifully! But a couple things to note: I think I didn't knead it long enough (rushing through it because your kids are screaming will do that to you). The dough was very tender, but that's not such a bad thing. I just expected it to be much chewier. I'll knead it more next time. Also, I am fuller than I usually am after pizza even though I ate less. I have been making homemade pizza for years, but I always buy a store-bought crust. I can put away some serious slices, but I always feel like I have never eaten enough with the white flour crusts. This crust was tender, the wheat flour had a nice nuttiness that paired well with the chevre, and all that extra fiber filled me up. My first experiment was a success! I always thought pizza crusts were really hard. Yeast is a very intimidating ingredient. But it shouldn't be.

I have a feeling that Thing 1 will be eating some of this tomorrow (if he doesn't notice that I put spinach on it).

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 pkg instant yeast (.25 oz)
1/2 tsp salt
8 oz water, warmed to 110 degrees (i used the hottest tap water I could get out of my tap and it was fine)
2 tbsp veg oil (I used olive oil)
(I also added a squirt of hone, about 1 tsp--sorry for bastardizing your recipe easypizzacrusts.com!!)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare pizza pan by spraying with non-stick cooking spray (i just lined the pan in foil) Combine all dry ingredients, except whole wheat flour, into a large mixing bowl. Next, add liquid ingredients and gradually add whole wheat flour, until dough mixture becomes stiff and hard to stir. You may not have to use all the whole wheat flour. However if the dough mixture is still too moist, feel free to add more all purpose flour to stiffen the dough. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and set aside for 20-25 minutes, allowing the dough to rise. Empty dough out onto a clean, floured surface. Knead by had 6-8 times, it may be necessary to add additional flour to the surface to keep the dough from sticking. Roll into desired shape and thickness. Place rolled dough onto prepared pizza pan, add favorite sauce and toppings. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, depending on crust thickness. (Whole Wheat Pizza Crust. easypizzacrusts.com, 7 May, 2010)






French Onion Soup and the Empty Belly



Getting dinner on the table is especially challenging for me mid week.

A good day progresses as follows:
5:30am Wake up, make coffee, take a shower, take vitamins, fix hair
6am Drink coffee and make lunch and breakfast to take to work
6:30am Nurse the baby
7am Thing 1 wakes up
7:30am Walk out the door, Daddy drives me to work (what a luxury in Manhattan!!! I love you!) 8am-5pm Work
6pm Get home, make dinner, nurse the baby
6:30pm Dinner with both kids (I like to sit down and eat with them)
7pm Bath
7:30 Thing 2 in bed
8pm Thing 1 in bed
8pm-10pm Some combination of time to myself, or time to do laundry, watch TV, make bottles, clean up the kitchen, catch up with friends and family, read, put things away.

And every day progresses this way, except the bad days where Thing 2 wakes up at 5am or when Thing 1 won't eat his dinner or hits his brother and goes to bed early.

The hardest part of my day is from 6-7pm. I walk in the door to hungry, grumpy kids and I have to turn out a meal in 15 minutes or less AND it has to be healthy. Now I'll eat a wide variety of things. But Thing 1 won't and Thing 2 has the choking hazard problem, so his list is relatively short too. I am not the kind of Mommy who gives into her kid's every whim, but I do like it when Thing 1 eats. And every now and then he does.

Well last night was a tough night. I had to catch up with the babysitter, there was no meat defrosted. And Thing 1 although he'll eat a short list of healthy foods, he really doesn't do well with leftovers. But I had no choice. I reheated a previous dinner, a slice of a delicious turkey breast I got from the CSA, farmer's market roasted potatoes and asparagus. He licked every food and pronounced that he'd tried it, so he should be able to have desert. This kid is not even three, what am I in for????

I, on the other hand had not eaten and I usually eat with the kids. I had to wait until after the kids went to bed. Thing 1 committed one transgression or another and went to bed early, so I got to start cooking around 8pm. Yesterday I started to feel guilty. My first blog posting about organic food and I write about how I am happy with the state of frozen pizza in my house!! Meanwhile I am trying to wean off processed food. So foolish. So last night I was more ambitious and I was motivated by a rumbling belly. I had the intention earlier in the week to make french onion soup. The recipe will follow. The ingredients have come from everywhere, 3 week old organic onions from the supermarket, leeks I bought on Monday at the union square green market and wine that was a gift from a friend. It came out pretty good. And I am pleased to say I ate by 9pm. This meal was worth the extra time and effort, and made more enjoyable by a ubiquitous Irish beer and toast with peppercorn chevre.

Life is good when children are sleeping.

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!)
Salt and pepper to taste

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.