Tuesday, November 30, 2010

You Took Your Kids to Morocco for the Week of Thanksgiving?


Seriously, have I lost my mind? Yeah, I totally did drag my kids to Africa for a week during the Thanksgiving Holiday. And actually, the good far outweighed the bad. There was some serious bad. But when you haul a three year old and a one year old 5000 miles away from home and across an ocean, what can you possibly expect?

Last February, pre-blog, some dear dear friends and their children relocated from New York to Morocco. It was a devastating blow to lose such a good friend, and even more difficult because their Things are the same age as my Things. In fact, Thing 1 is all but carrying on a torrid love affair with their three year old daughter. They play, they fight, they share, they kiss, they make up, they hold hands everywhere they go. I cannot think of anyone that Thing 1 plays so well with. So, needless to say we were very sad when they left New York. Yet we all must make lemonade out of lemons. And our lemonade came in the form of a trip to Morocco, a mysterious place that has always been on my top 5 places to go before I die.

We left New York the Saturday before Thanksgiving. We were booked on a direct flight from JFK to Casablanca. The flight was overnight and the Things both slept the whole way. What a relief. They even both got enough sleep that they were in decent enough moods all day Sunday. Mommy did NOT sleep on the plane, nor did Daddy. Daddy took a nap when we arrived at our friends' home, but Mommy stayed up. I was good and loopy by the time we went to bed Sunday evening.

Monday morning we all drove to Fez to stay for two nights. Fez is an absolute must see if you travel to Morocco. Fez is known as the spiritual heart of Morocco. And I can see why. Winding streets, the best artisans in the country, and all around you the juxtaposition of modern living amongst centuries old cultural traditions. We stayed in a lovely Riad on the outskirts of the Medina. A small short door on a slim quiet cobblestone street opened up into a towering three story home/ hotel surrounding a central "garden".Though the garden is all inside and there is no dirt, it is mostly like a beautifully tiled living room whose ceiling extends all the way to the roof of the building while the guest rooms form the outside of the home. It was exquisite.
The food in Morocco was also lovely. A third world country because of it's lack of development, farming and agricultural are the main work of the country. Though there are modern grocery stores, most Moroccans shop in the much cheaper local medinas, or city centers, where local farmers or traders sell fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, grains, nuts and dried fruits. In Fez I saw a man selling raw milk fresh from urns on the side of the street. No joke. Interestingly enough, organics abound, but maybe not for the reasons you might think. The average farmer living in the countryside is too poor to use fertilizers and pesticides on their produce. They are too poor to buy their cattle grain feed. So most meat is organic and grass fed by default. Processed foods do not hold a place in the basic Moroccan diet, except for the more wealthy modern people who are eager to westernize. It was very different to be in a country where the poor ate healthful unprocessed organics while the wealthy ate more prepackaged, low nutrient foods. Very different from home! Though one thing is the same as the west, sugar reigns supreme. Sugar is added to yogurts, mint tea, tagines, b'stillas, honey soaked cookies, you name it. I felt like everything was tasted slightly sweet.

Another thing I was kind of amazed with is that the concept of convenience foods are almost unheard of in Morocco. To go coffee or take out dinners do not exist in your average restaurant in Morocco. I did not see one Starbuck's anywhere I went. And while I am sure that in the more modern wealthier areas such things do exist, such as in the more upscale areas in Casablanca, the only takeout we found in Fez was one restaurant who wrapped up some of their items loosely in tin foil. But hummus wrapped in tin foil is a challenge to even the most organized eater. But it is still easier than having 2 three year olds and 2 one year olds, a couple of whom were overtired and jet lagged, sitting in a restaurant. Even in the other cities I visited, sitting down to a meal with others was the preferred custom, not grabbing a sandwich on the go. Street food was really the one exception. But I did not see every corner covered in hot dog carts like you do here in New York. I only saw inexpensive street fare in the medina, and they are concentrated in certain areas. I definitely found that I could not get what I wanted everytime I wanted it. I wouldn't even have noticed that I had so many silly food cravings until I wasn't able to act on them. By the end of the week, we fell into a groove. We started to relax and take things they came. If we came across a snack, that was our good fortune. If we didn't, then we just waited. OMG, we were unable to have everything we wanted. And we survived. It might have taken some getting used to, but it was worth it to expand our viewpoint.
The amazing side effect of no convenience or to go food is way less garbage. When you are not constantly eating food on the go, there are few wrappers to throw away, no to go boxes, no disposable napkins, no individually sized plastic bottles. We did find a place that would give us to go coffee, espresso with a little steamed milk. It was amazing, and we got it in an Afriquia gas station. But their to-go cups consisted of two double stacked solo cups. Not exactly what I am used to. We had very little to throw away. In fact everywhere you went, you saw that poverty forced recycling. Homes were reinforced with tin sheeting, coke bottles were reused to contain everything from milk to argan oil, as in the picture below. I saw reused coke bottles all over.



Recycling in the US means comforting sterility. Melting down plastic and then remaking an exactly similar bottle. I think the conventional wisdom here is that empty bottles (aka-garbage) hold deadly germs that put us at great risk of disease. But a strong hot wash with soapy water most likely kills everything that could be present. Moroccans, I found, had a very different definition of what it is to be dirty. In fact, most of what I saw, from cities to people, was very clean.

Our friends also took us to their local grain market where one can purchase all manner of bulk flours ground at different levels of coarseness. There dried beans, seeds, dried fruits and oils can also be procured. Whoa. This place rocked my world. For such little money, one can get all local goods. It was brilliant, I got teary eyed. There must have been 6 or 7 different vendors at this market, all selling much the same items. But in Morocco, it is all about who your know, getting to know the person selling your food, you know, personal relationships.

On Thursday, we had a truly typical American Thanksgiving (more on that tomorrow), but since everyone had to work and go to school, and no one else in the country was celebrating, it was anything but typical! And our last few days were really about staying local and relaxing with friends.

Unfortunately, the kids struggled a bit with all the changes. Sleep happened, but bedtime involved alot of screaming and fighting. While everyone ate reasonably well in the first part of the week, by the end of the week, we were down to bananas, toast and milk. Thing 1 was occasionally eating ground beef, and Thing 2 still accepted eggs. While I am thrilled to say that Thing 2 started really talking on this trip, I was irritated that what he learned to say was "No, No, No!" as he shook his head and pushed a fork full of food away. I am not sure if it was the big changes, the unfamiliarity or the stomach virus that eventually all the boys succumbed to (including DH once we got home). Thankfully after we returned to New York, eating recommenced.

This Thanksgiving I felt particularly thankful for dear dear friends, the kind that even an ocean and several months between visits can't turn into strangers. I am also particularly thankful that these same dear dear friends can put my whole crazy family up for a week, even when Thing 1 threw up on one couch cushion, had an accident on another, and I spilled a glass of wine on a third. I mean, what are we some kind of pack of wild animals? Although we are a handful, we do offer fun stories you can tell your friends.

This trip was an unbelievable opportunity to immerse ourselves in a different culture. The times I have been to Europe, I have always noticed a certain simpatico. American ideals of high culture are based upon the European model. Yet while Morocco is very European in feeling, much of their culture and architecture is very Arab influenced. And I think just about everyone here in the States could use a lesson what it means to be Muslim. I found the whole experience delicious, intoxicating, thought provoking and beautiful. The entire trip was a huge paradigm shift. It might be a while before we take another international trip with our kids. The trip home involved several hours of screaming from Thing 2 and a very rude woman who turned to me only halfway through our flight to say "You know, the next time you make travel plans, you should really consider other people." Really? Like I enjoy being trapped on a plane with a screaming one year old? I only wish that Thing 2 had thrown up on her after she was so rude that she made me cry on the plane, instead of waiting until after we got home. But hey, there ain't nothing like the view from the high road folks.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Table of Promise Retrospective: Big Sugar

I have written alot about sugar. But perhaps you haven't read this post. I might have done more research for this post than any other. Please also check out all in this series: Sugar vs HFCS, Sugar and School Lunch, Sugar Addiction and Honey Ice Cream

This week at The Table of Promise I will relate the findings of my recent Internet digging surrounding sugar. There is a lot more to the story of sugar and sucrose/ fructose as it relates to our diet and health than you might think.

For me it all started as a simple question, "There is a sugar lobby in Washington?" Yes, in fact there is. There are a group of lobbyists in Washington DC whose job it is to promote sugar and it's use, both to the general public and to lawmakers. Meet the key players to US Sugar Policy: The Sugar Association: they are who we know as the Sugar Lobby. The Sugar Association was formed by growers and refiners in the US sugar industry. They began in 1934 under the name of The Sugar Research Foundation, dedicated to the scientific study of sugar's role in food and the communication of that role to the public. In 1947, the foundation changed their name it's current name. On their website, they state "The Sugar Association continues with its mission of educating health professionals, media, government officials and the public about sugar's goodness."

Florida Sugar Growers (among other states): Florida contributes the largest amount of domestic sugar to the US sugar supply each year. Cane grown in Florida account for 24% of all the refined sugar in the US. The single company US Sugar alone contributes 10% of the domestic supply. Sugar Cane and sugar beets grown in cooler northern climes each account for about 50% of the domestic US sugar supply. Many of the cane and beet farms are connected as different branches of the same conglomerate company. But the Florida contribution to the total is more significant that any other.

The World Health Organization (WHO): This international organization conducts research and make statements to the international community on health issues as wide ranging as diet to childbirth. Their current statement on sugar, as made in 2003, is that sugar should not exceed more than 10% of a person's total caloric intake.

The USDA and the USDA Food Pyramid: The USDA and their food pyramid have been taking a lot of heat in recent years for the new and relatively unpublicized discovery that suggesting that we root our diet in grain products actually worked against it's intention to guide the country into better health. Rates of obesity and diabetes have soared in the last 30 years creating the greatest health crisis in modern history. For the first time in US history, our children's generation has a shorter life expectancy than their parents. The USDA has revamped the food pyramid to suggest that we eat more fruits and veggies than anything else, 5cups of veg versus 3 cups of grains. But the way the pyramid is designed breaks up fruits and veggies into their own categories. This makes it look like grains are still the most important, or at the base of the pyramid. This is a great creative way to not have to come out and say "we screwed up, you really should make plant based food the most important part of your diet". I don't have many issues with what is in the pyramid, but at least come clean to the American Public. The public has proven over the last 30-40 to be listening to what the government says about nutrition.

Now that we know the players we can look at their interaction. In 2003, the WHO published it's latest report regarding diet. They stated that sugar should make up no more than 10% of a person's total daily calories. The Sugar Association fought back hard stating that they had evidence that said that a person's daily intake of sugar could safely be 25% of a person's calories. WHO subsequently reworded their recommendation on sugar stating that no one should eat sugar more than four times a day. But of course they don't say how much you can eat in any of those times, so draw your own conclusions. The head of the expert team that wrote the Association's scientific evidence saying that sugar could comprise 25% of your calorie intake per day and still be safe, is Harvey Fineberg. Amongst all the highly publicized fighting, Fineberg called the US Health Secretary at the time, Tommy Thompson, to say that his report was being misinterpreted by the Sugar Association. Even he did not want to be associated with the fallout.

The Sugar Association was so outraged by the WHO's report that they contacted our legislature to suggest a law that all future WHO funding should be predicated on an agreement from WHO to base it's reports on science. (Huh? Really?)

The Sugar Association has also successfully fought to eliminate the USDA's ability to mention sugar in it's dietary suggestions. If you click on the link to the new food pyramid I provided you will see that the top part of the pyramid that was up there for years, the "use added fats, oils and sweets sparingly" is now missing. Their recommendations regard only food. This has a couple of effects. It eliminates the sugar dialogue from the consumers mindset, and it levels the playing field among food products. If it is good to eat 6 servings of grains per week, the USDA has made no recommendation that you should limit breads that have added HFCS (Hi Fructose Corn Syrup). And furthermore I bet that a packet of instant flavored oatmeal with 16g of sugar added to the flavoring counts as a serving of whole grain.

The fact is that the government is hush hush about even discussing the issue of sugar. Thousands of products have added sugar. They lurk in the obvious places like cookies and soda. But they also are in less obvious places like breads and yogurts, flavored milk (I kinda think milk tastes pretty good the way God gave it to us), pre-made pizza crusts, rolls and hamburger buns, ketchup, dried fruit, juices marketed as real fruit juice, the list goes on an on.

The average consumption of added sugars has reached record highs! In 1996 each American consumed a record average of 152 pounds of caloric sweeteners!! That is about two fifths of a pound PER DAY. By contrast, total meat consumption in 1996 was 192 pounds. That includes all red meat, poultry and fish. Food for thought.

Notes--
Virata, Gillian. The Effects of the U.S. Sugar Policy. internationalecon.com. 9 June, 2010.
Bosley, Sarah. Sugar industry threatens to scupper WHO. The Guardian. guardian.co.uk.com 21 April, 2003.
Big Sugar. The Washington Post. washingtonpost.com 16 April, 2005.
US Agriculture--Linking Consumers and Producers. United States Department of Agriculture. usda.gov 9 June 2010.
An Overview of Florida Sugarcane. University of Florida IFAS Extension. eds.ifas.ufl.edu 11 June 2010.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Table of Promise Retrospective: www.localharvest.org

I get questions from people all the time about about how and when to join a CSA. Here is some good CSA info and some info about how to find one.

The weather here in the northeast has been so warm this spring, that it seems that everything has begun to grow early. One of the surefire signs that summer is here is the opening day of my CSA, or community supported agriculture.

CSAs are becoming more and more mainstream, and I have started to hear of CSAs available all over the city, in Long Island and Connecticut. Those are just some of my friends who have started to join. CSAs are available across the country these days.

But what is a CSA? A Community Supported Agriculture is a group of people who come together as a group and essentially buy shares of a local farm. For a seasonal fee paid in the early spring, shareholders will receive a weekly delivery of seasonal produce or fruit or even eggs. The produce is made up of what's available and in season. This ensures that you have the very best at the peak of it's life.

But isn't it a bummer to fork over a few hundred dollars for vegetables in late March? While the cost of joining a CSA may be pricey at the time of payment (prices vary widely), paying for the season in entirety helps the farmer pay for necessary upfront expenses like seeds and equipment and labor costs. The influx of capital in spring means that farm won't have to resort to bank loans or dept in order to bring it's produce to market. And if the CSA's member roster is full, it also ensures that everything will be sold. This is a much better scenario than the go into debt in March and hope to pay it back in July scenario that many family farms face each year. So many of us work on salary, or own a business whose doors are open every day of the year, that we don't always understand the income/ outgo that farmers face on a seasonal basis.

But, doesn't joining a CSA mean that I can't choose my own vegetables? Yes, that is what it means. You won't see carrots in a CSA share in early June here in the Northeast, because the carrot plant needs more time to grow and mature than say kale or bok choy. But what I have grown to appreciate about my CSA is that I eat seasonally. I have my fill of different dishes at different times of the season. Kale and Sausage soup or Stir Fried Bok Choy and Noodles in June, Tomato and Eggplant Casserole or Corn Pudding in August, and Roasted Acorn Squash or the most amazing Mashed Potatoes ever in October. You do have to be more creative sometimes in combinations throughout the season. But the pay off is well worth it. My family looks forward to the CSA each year because it gets us out of our food rut. The variety and surpise of the contents of the share each week keeps us interested. I still have to buy onions or carrots grown out of state most weeks from the supermarket just to flesh out what my picky kid eats. But during the summer we have developed a different list of favorite recipes, all because that first year we committed to trying new things.

How do I find a CSA? I found my CSA through word of mouth. But I live in a neighborhood where you are outside a lot in community places like playgrounds and parks. In the suburbs it can be a lot harder to hear what's going on in your neighborhood. A great resource for finding CSAs, farmer's markets and other things farm related is http://www.localharvest.org/ This website is comprehensive and easy to use. You can find thousands of farmer's markets across the country and CSAs also. So many people I speak to would love to eat more veggies, but the organic ones at the grocery stores go bad so fast. With so much time being committed to jobs and life commitments. Who has time to shop every day? We aren't going to change that problem without overhauling the whole American way of life and I don't see that happening anytime soon. Buying local means that items stay fresh longer because you buy them just after they've been picked. When you buy produce picked in California, it takes them at least a day to process it into packaging and then 5 days to truck it to New York. And who says you are buying it the day it's off loaded from the truck? Those carrots might have been sitting there for 4 days before you got them. No wonder they go bad.

I highly recommend buying more from farmer's markets and joining a CSA. http://www.localharvest.org/ makes it much easier to connect to local options. But one of the unexpected benefits of joining my local CSA was making friends in my neighborhood who shared my passion to local, organic and seasonal eating. It has been a community experience in the truest sense.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

I sincerely hope that your day is filled with family and love and lots and lots of delicious real food! Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Table of Promise Retrospective: It Made Out of Food, But It Is Really Food?

Writing this post got me so fired up. I hope it gets you angry too.

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.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Table of Promise Retrospective: Watermelon Sorbet

Today, one of my most favoritest posts. This post crystalizes how parents and other caretakers must work together to offer their children a better diet.

Let me start off by saying that I cleared this post with DH before even starting it. My blog is not an opportunity to bash my hubs in any way, he is such a great guy and a great father. So before you get the impression that I am just pointing fingers or being judgemental, I did make sure he was cool with this before I put it out on the internet. In fact, one could say he did a good thing by sparking my interest in the right direction!

The other day I asked DH to pick up some tortillas on the way home (mmmm, that was a good taco night). He texted me 'did you buy ice cream this week' and I said no. I think my husband is made of about 50% ice cream. I wasn't shocked by his text, he loves ice cream. I figured he would bring home some Breyer's. When I got home he was talking to Thing 1 about the awesome treat he got at the store: watermelon italian ice!! Whoa, that is a super special treat for Thing 1. After dinner he usually gets fruit, because who wants a two year old bouncing off the wall on a sugar high at bedtime. I am way more down with ice cream or sugar at 3pm than 8pm.

So after a somewhat pleasant dinner, DH got out the individually packaged watermelon ice and gave it to Thing 1. Of course Thing 1 loved it. My hubby has many fond memories of eating italian ice in the summertime on Long Island and wants to have our children to share the same great memories.

Then he asked me to try it.

It was seriously gross. And I am not just channeling my mother here, whose hatred of watermelon bubble gum was legendary. It was pure sugar, I didn't even hardly taste the watermelon flavor. And it had this syrupy consistency like something you couldn't quite get off the roof of your mouth. Then it hit me, it was grainy at the end and finished with an overwhelming freezer burn flavor. These things had probably been sitting in the store's freezer unit for 6 months or more. I looked at the ingredients, water, sugar, corn syrup, cellulose gum, soy protein, red food coloring, etc. If there ever was an imitation food, here it was. There was nothing that was at all real about this food. I told DH that this was exactly the kind of garbage I was trying to keep out of our kitchen by writing this blog. He tasted it and agreed it was pretty bad, but then laughed and said he had done me favor because he created a situation for me to write about.

Now cellulose gum sounds like a normal food additive to me. There are gums everywhere, guar gum, locust bean gum, etc. Cellulose gum is slightly different in that it is in no way or shape a food item. I repeat: some gums, like guar gum, are made from food, cellulose gum is not made from food. From Wikipedia I found the following: "CMC [cellulose gum] is used in food science as a viscosity modifier or thickener, and to stabilize emulsions in various products including ice cream....It is used primarily because it has high viscosity, is non-toxic, and is non-allergenic." Wikipedia also mentions that cellulose gum is used in everything from KY jelly to toothpaste, laxatives and diet pills to water based paints. This stuff is not food. I couldn't find a lot of sites that said what it was made from, though Yahoo 'Answers' had some guy saying that it was made from wood pulp and cotton. I find that Yahoo 'Answers' does not always have the most reliable information though so I am not going to stand here and tell you that that is a fact. But I have a strong feeling that this stuff is not derived from a food source. Undoubtedly though, this cellulose gum was responsible for giving the ice that sticky feeling on the roof of my mouth. That, and the corn syrup I am sure. I told DH to come home with some real fresh watermelon the next night and we'd see if we couldn't make something better.

Watermelon Ice or Watermelon Sorbet
4 cups chunked, de-seeded watermelon (I didn't really measure, I just took a quarter of a watermelon and cut as much as would fit into the blender)
1/4 cup sugar (or more if you really want it sweet or none if you like it the way it is)

Place your de-seeded fruit in a blender. Puree a little bit to get it going and then add your sugar. Blend until mixed. Pour the mix into a ready frozen ice cream maker and follow your machine's directions. I have a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker that is worth every penny. A lot of websites are selling the same one now for $50 so go out and get it! It is a kitchen gadget that can't be substituted by anything else.

So we made the 'watermelon ice cream' and it was a huge hit. I asked Thing 1 which one he liked better, the ice he had the night before? Or the one I had just made, and he said "this one". Now he is not yet three, so I am sure he would always prefer the real one on his spoon to the one in his memory. But even still, I'll take it.

Notes: Carboxymethyl Cellulose. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2 June, 2010.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Table of Promise Retrospective: Day One

This week I will be going back to my archives to bring up some of may favorite posts. Here is the VERY first post that I ever wrote. Enjoy!

May 4th, 2010
Why Today?
Why start this blog today?

I have been pondering a project like this for some time. I am a full time working Mommy of two boys, Thing 1 and Thing 2. I am the devoted wife of Daddy or Darling Husband (DH). We live in Northern Manhattan and have a right lovely life up here. A little more than 2 years ago I really needed to lose 15 pounds after the birth of my first son. I had never been so heavy in my life and felt very overwhelmed by the thought of having to lose so much weight. And furthermore I wasn't doing anything to make that goal a reality. A colleague at work told me that several co-workers were creating a group and signing up for a popular diet plan where you track your food intake and share you feelings about your experiences as a way to reinforce your weight loss. I am pretty sure that they are copyrighted and it is not my wish to piss them off, so they shall remain nameless. Needless to say I joined. I had had friends who had participated in the past and had enjoyed the experience so I said 'What the hey". My company even reimbursed me the cost of the program! Seriously what did I have to lose?

I started the program in January of 2008 and I inhaled all the information they could throw at me. Whole food options were recommended and there were also all kinds of modified processed foods too that seemed like healthy choices. I love to cook so I mostly looked for ingredients from the whole foods list for the most part. I started out with the goal of losing 15 pounds. By April, I had lost almost 25 pounds and felt better than I had in years. The program was eye opening. And I realized that although I was nursing my baby, and everyone tells you can eat whatever you want and the pounds will just melt off, I had been eating so much junk that my weight hadn't budged. I was eating all manner of pizza and tater tots and take out food. And if I was eating it, that is all I was feeding my baby. I had a real come-to-Jesus moment because I didn't want to be feeding my baby this food. And I didn't want to admit to him that I was eating it. And I certainly did not want him growing up thinking it was okay to eat garbage all day and night.

Around the time I lost all the weight, I was in an airport. I passed by a bookstore and saw a book on the shelf that I remembered reading about in a magazine. It was 'Animal, Vegetable Miracle!' by Barbara Kingsolver. I am never one to buy just one book, so I looked down the table and picked up a copy of Michael Pollan's amazing 'The Omnivore's Delimma'. And just like that, I was started down a path I could only imagine where it would lead. A friend recommeneded that I join the neighborhood CSA, and it sounded like something fun. It was relatively cheap and seemed like a great experiment. As I waited for that first delivery in June I read Kingsolver's lucious words teaching me about seasons, the balance of nature and even turkeys. I could practically see the dew hanging on the leaves of the tomato plants. I could feel the heat of the warm water she used to make cheese. Reading her book was an awakening. And reading her husband's commentary peppered throughout her prose taught me all kinds of information about chemical fertilizer (did you know it was made from petroleum?) and government regulations regarding tap water versus bottled water(did you know that the regulations for the cleanliness of tap water are stricter than that of bottled? And that they aren't even regulated by the same government agency??). All the information flooded over me. Then I started Pollan's tome. I devoured his book. I read it in a matter of days. I learned more about the politics of food than I ever thought possible. And what was once a simple topic of eat what tastes good and try not to eat too much, became this mission towards whole foods in their natural state, preferably local and organic. My son was getting bigger and eating real food, so it was fun to include him too! The veggies from the CSA were pouring in. I made a big veggie soup for him every week with anything from carrots to corn to cerlaric and turnips. My cravings for junk just vanished. We stopped going to the grocery store except for once a month and started shopping at our local farmer's market. We got to know the growers and excentric personalities at the stands. We started keeping cream in the house. I stopped tracking what I ate. I never gained back a pound. Even when the weather turned colder we kept going to the farmer's market. My son would only drink the milk from Ghent, NY and devoured the apples from Kinderhook. We made Christmas dinner almost entirely from items procured from the farmer's makert.

Then, I got pregnant again. We were thrilled and over joyed at the prospect of a second Thing. But it all became too much. The stress of cooking, the exhaustion, it was all too much. Fall turned into winter. The stands at the farmer's market dwindled down to the turkey guy and the milk lady and the stand that sells apples. They are the die-hards, they will sell their foods in the driving snow. I also took on more projects at work, and that only compounded everything. I had no time for cooking. I couldn't wake up at 5am anymore to bake muffins or shuck corn. I could barely stay awake to eat the dinner that Daddy had prepared. And that kind of brings me to where I am today. I still ate healthy while I was pregnant, alot healthier than my first time around. But my hunger was tough to manage and of course Pringles filled the void on several occasions.

Thing 2 weighed in at a whopping 9lbs 3 ozs at birth. A full pound and three quarters bigger than Thing 1. I believe that because I ate better I had a bigger baby. And he is still my good eater!!! I went back on the heavily copyrighted diet about 3 months after Thing 2 was born. I am proud to say that he has only ever had breastmilk, no formula, so I purposely lost the weight slowly, a pound or so a week, not super fast like the first time. I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight when Thing 2 was about 6 months old. I was THRILLED! But it wasn't quite the same. I was fighting cravings left and right. I swear croissants would actually talk to me as I walked down the street. Every 16 oz lost was a triumph.

I am not sure what made me buy two more Michael Pollan books 'In Defense of Food' and 'Food Rules'. Maybe I just felt spring coming on again. Maybe I just got curious about nutrition. Maybe I remembered the inspiration he lent me two years ago. Whatever the reason I can't put him down again. And his words on nutritionism have me on the move again. We even went back to the farmer's market last week, all four of us. So here I am on May 4th, 2010. And starting a blog about my life in food in the coming year seems so right. Now that Thing 2 is starting to eat real food, and Thing1 is firmly lodged in the land of hot dogs it seems like the time to get back to food that is right.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Happy Thankgiving!

I am pleased to announce that DH and I and the Things are packin’ it up and going on vacation. Since I will be gone and do not intend to travel with my computer, I have decided to take a short blog-cation as well. But since I have so many new readers, I thought this might be a perfect time to go back and republish some old posts to give you an idea about why I am doing this and where I have come from since I began the project. I hope you all enjoy! And I will see you back after Thanksgiving. I hope each and everyone of you has a healthy, happy and real food holiday!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Brewing Kombucha and Why I am Not At All Trendy

I don’t do well with trends. If something becomes wildly popular there is a good chance that I will want nothing to do with it as a result. I think perhaps it is a fear of being judged as just a faceless followers when I really want to be known for making my own decisions and being my own woman. I can’t bring myself to watch the new hottest show on TV Glee! for that very reason. That is not to say that if you are a Glee! devotee that you are just some faceless follower. But there is definitely something deep in me that drives me to be different than other people, for good or bad.

Kombucha is becoming a hot trend right now. Although, it is relatively unknown outside the greenie and foodies circles. But to those in the know, holding a bottle of Kombucha declares that you are in the know about the latest trend in nutritional science, probiotics. And at three to five dollars per bottle it also shows that you are either in the yuppie crowd who can blithely afford such a drink, or you value your health so much as to make yourself broke. But, I could only resist the siren’s call of Kombucha for so long. Because the truth is, it is really delicious. And no matter how hard I am trying to be a loner, good taste trumps all.

Kombucha is fermented tea. In much the same way that yogurt is fermented milk and wine is fermented grape juice, Kombucha is tea and sugar into which a culture has been introduced. I love beer and wine (like, really love), but lately booze just hasn’t been sitting right with me. Two glasses and I wake up the next morning with a headache (what a bummer). Not to mention the stress alcohol places on your liver. I am too old to be a hot mess these days. So the only answer is to drink less. I have said a few times that it would be great if I could drink a few beers without the effects of alcohol. Because I really like the flavor and it goes so well with food! But since I have been preggers a couple times, I know that non-alcoholic beer is not so good. Alcohol free beer makes me think that it has been processed in some way I wouldn’t like and plus, it doesn’t taste that great. And I have too much self respect to even attempt alcohol free wine. But Kombucha is a wonderfully healthy solution to my problem. It has the same tangy sweet flavor as wine but without all the alcohol. Now there are trace amounts of alcohol, but it amounts to less than .5%. So for those of you who don’t have an adverse reaction to the stuff, it should be fine. Plus it is filled with active live probiotics, amino acids and enzymes. All things that are super for supporting proper digestion. Plus it carbonates over time and end up with these lovely fizzy little bubbles. Delightful.

I ordered a dehydrated starter culture (or SCOBI) from a great website, Cultures For Life. They sell all manner of cheesemaking cultures, sourdough starters and kombuchas starters. They also have equipment for sprouting grains, etc. They are a great mail order site. It is so much easier for me to order from a website than to try and locate something here in the city. No doubt there is something around town, but there is no telling whether the one shop that has it is anywhere near me. Although Manhattan is dense, it is difficult to easily travel. So mail order is the way to go.

In a one quart container I placed 3 cups of almost boiling water and a ¼ cup of organic cane sugar. I let two tea bags steep for several hours until the water cooled down to room temperature. Then I added ½ cup of vinegar (I forgot to buy organic vinegar, boo, but I just couldn’t wait). And now that lovely mix is sitting on my kitchen counter with a towel covering it (no tight lids) and will for the next 20-30 days while my SCOBI works it’s little microbial magic. As it moves forward I will update you all on it’s progress. I will have to rebrew another batch once I get my culture up and running. So I figure I will be enjoying Kombucha during my annual New Year’s Party. You know I will document the whole experience for you!

In the mean time, do your self a favor and buy GT’s Raw Kombucha. I am doing so and saving all my bottles. Because GT’s comes packaged in a great heavy glass with a tight fitting lid. Even though it is $3 a pop, I figure getting the bottle out of the deal makes the value a little higher. Try some, you never know, you might really like it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Homemade Sauerkraut


In case you were wondering about my lineage (just in case), I am almost completely German. My mother's father was German and her mother was mostly Alsatian (Franco-German). My father's father was German and his mother was Scotch Irish. (Did I get that one right Dad?). With 3 of four grandparents belonging to a generally Germanic background, I always grew up saying that my heritage was German. But unlike the Italian-Americans, I did not get to grow up eating my homeland's food. Why not? Much of my German family came to this country around the turn of the 20th century, while some came over 10-20 years earlier I believe. During WW2, many German-Americans were eager to sluff off their heritage in favor of being Americans. It was very unpopular then to be proud of being descended from the country we were at war with, and later it only became worse when news of atrocities and genocide came out of Europe. What was a family to do except walk away from their culture. Many of my great grand parents spoke German and ate German food. But my maternal grandmother told me many stories about her desire to not be associated with her heritage. She was in her early twenties during Word War 2. I truly feel that this is a shame, because nothing has survived from my family's culture save our American traditions. But I will resurrect them if I can! Today I make Sauerkraut.

This Sauerkraut is nothing like what you buying in those terrible glass jars, all stringy and white and sour from vinegar. Jarred sauerkraut must be pasteurized to be allowed to sit on grocery store shelves indefinitely. And while my sauerkraut is technically preserved, it must be refrigerated in order to halt the fermentation. The longer it sits out, the more sour it becomes. And at a certain point, it definitely is not good eats. But, on the up side my sauerkraut is considered a raw fermented food. It is teeming with live enzymes and it is very good for your tummy!

Sauerkraut-from Nourishing Traditions
One head of green cabbage (You know--I never thought of doing this with red cabbage, but....apparently you can)
One tablespoon of sea salt
One tablespoon of caraway seeds
4 tablespoons of whey (or you could just use an extra table spoon of salt, which is nice if you don't want to go through the trouble of making whey)

Shred the cabbage and place in a large bowl. You could use the food processor, but I find that shredding with a knife makes for a better consistency. sprinkle in the sea salt, caraway seeds and whey. Using the pestle of a mortar and pestle (or some other similar blunt object) mashing the shredded cabbage until it's juices are released. Place in a large mouth quart sized jar and press down firmly with a pounder firmly until the juices rise to the top of the cabbage. The top of the cabbage should be more than 1 inch below the top of the jar (but mine was several inches below--small cabbage). Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about three days. After then it can be refrigerator. The Sauerkraut can be eaten then, but improves with age.

I made my kraut on a Sunday evening and let it sit. On Thursday morning I put it up in the fridge, but did not serve it for dinner until the following Saturday. I served the cabbage cool (I let it sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before serving) alongside fats links of turkey sausage and mashed potatoes. The kids refused to touch it. But DH, why he loved it! DH is also about half Germanic, though not from the same general vicinity as me. He grew up embracing his culture because much of his family came to this country after the war. When he had my sauerkraut he absolutely loved it. Which meant alot to me. It takes a special man to learn to love his wife's fermented vegetables. He also gave me a great idea. A hot panini with roast beef, swiss cheese and my homemade sauerkraut. Whoa. Now I am hungry.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Enzymes and The Raw Foods Diet

I have planned a couple posts this week regarding enzymes. The first will be a basic introduction into what they are and why they are important. Then I have some foods that I am hoping will help me eat more of these important thingies.

First off, we have all heard of enzymes, but what are they exactly? Enzymes are proteins that are catalysts for a whole host of bodily functions. Catalysts increase or decrease the rates of these functions, like digestion, electrical impulses in the body, neutralizing of pollutants in the body, many many functions require enzymes. Even seemingly simple functions like moving and talking and breathing. One category of enzymes and the one that I am dealing with in this post are the food enzymes. Food enzymes initiate the process of digestion in the mouth and stomach. They includes proteases for digesting protein, lipases for digesting fat and amylases for digesting carbohydrates. These enzymes are in a way "alive" and cooking renders them "dead". So naturally it makes sense that enzymes are found in many raw foods. The pancreas can create many enzymes, but it should not be completely relied upon for supplying all the digestive enzymes needed. Sally Fallon explains in Nourishing Traditions "A diet composed exclusively of cooked food puts a severe strain on the pancreas, drawing down its reserves so to speak. If the pancreas is constantly overstimulated to produce enzymes thatought to be in foods, the result over time will be inhibited function...The result, according to the late Dr Edward Howell, a noted pioneer in the field of enzyme research, is a shortened life span, illness and lowered resistance to stress of all types. He points out that humans and animals on a diet comprised largely of cooked foods, particularly grains, have enlarged pancreas organs while other glands and organs, notably the brain, actually shrink in size."(pg 46-7)

Almost two months ago I wrote a little bit about the various fringe diet movements I have read about. Back then I realized the similarities between the Real/ Traditional Foods People, the Paleo People, the Atkins People and the Raw Foods People. They all downplay grains, embrace vegetables and understand the importance of enzymes. Particularly the Raw Foods People. If you have ever wondered what is the thinking behind the celebrities embracing Raw Foods, it is the idea that raw foods contain enzymes and contribute to an alkaline body pH.

I took the following from one of the better Raw Food websites out there, Raw Food Life. It gives a good explaination of what the main ideas are around Raw Foods. "Here are the basics in a nutshell, though simplified for easy understanding. A raw foodist is someone that eats 75-100% live, nutritionally-dense organic uncooked and unprocessed food (and drinks pure, live water), enjoying delicious meals that optimize your health by alkalizing your body. At that rate your elimination system can get rid of the toxins created when you cook. But when you eat more cooked food you are consuming acidic toxins faster than your body can eliminate them so they back up, disrupting your body's delicate acid/alkaline balance, a major cause of excess weight and disease. Heating food above 118 degrees F. causes the chemical changes that create acidic toxins, including the carcinogens, mutagens and free-radicals associated with diseases like diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and cancer. Cooking also destroys the live enzymes that aid in digestion and health."

Most Raw Food Enthusiasts are strict vegans, though I suppose you could eat raw fish or beef if it came from a trusted source. I am very interested in eating raw foods. I don't think it is an accident that I find an unprocessed diet to be so agreeable to my tummy. I eat a raw salad for lunch most days, I will eat raw nuts and only lightly pasteurized milk, which retains some of the enzymes. While I never set out to specifically eat raw foods, I am sure that this is part of why I have so much more energy on my unprocessed foods diet. Processed foods are virtually all cooked and/ or pasteurized, which invariably kills the enzyme content. One must consume some raw foods in a day in order to support digestive function. Fermented vegetables also contain a considerable amount of enzymes.

Tomorrow...I make sauerkraut. At home. On my countertop. Yup, that's right.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Traditional Food Buying Clubs

So I recently discovered The Traditional Foods Club, which is a supply group for traditionally prepared foods in the Greater New York City area. I have not joined as of yet because I can't find out if they are any different than my CSA, through which I can purchase grass fed meat, eggs, chicken, turkey, jams, jellies, flour, you name it, they have it (except dairy). From my CSA, I can pick up my ordered goods once a month from a woman's apartment who lives nearby. You have to join the TFC in order to view their prices. Joining is not terribly expensive, it is only $20 a year of you agree to volunteer 5 hours of your time. And the TFC has pastured butter and dairy.

So I thought I would open it up to you guys today. Do any of you guys have experience with this or other buying clubs? How do they work? What are the benefits? What are the downfalls? Is it even possible to find their products through other channels of distribution? Should I join? Please please comment!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Didn't Find Any Real Food in Target

First, let me start off by saying that I love Target. I get almost everything I need and I get a decent enough price that I feel good about it. But the price isn't so low that I start to worry who is getting the short end of the stick. But I have never purchased food at Target, at least anything more than Halloween candy that we would give out to OTHER kids. (We haven't bee home on Halloween to hand out candy since we had the kids, and YES, kids in Manhattan do get trick or treaters. But you have to sign up with my building's doorman to accept trick or treaters)

Anyway, recently Target sent me a mailer. They had a newly reconstructed location near me in the Bronx in Marble Hill. And it was all about FOOD! The flyer told me that I could do all my weekly shopping at Target, meat, milk, fruits and veggies...and soda and chips and prepackaged frozen dinners, and chicken nuggets, the list goes on. I looked at the flyer with a little snobbery, and then threw it out. Then Sunday we hosted our family for a dinner. We will be away for the Thanksgiving holiday so the dinner was kind of a Thanksgiving for us. I did my shopping Saturday but still needed a couple things Sunday morning. I was headed to Target and figured I would pick up the last couple things I needed.

I really was going there for things like a flyswatter, long johns for the kids and Johnson and Johnson's Baby Shampoo. But I also needed juice boxes. I will get juice when we are having company, but I have stopped buying it for every day. I figured I could get something. It was harder than I thought. They had Capri Sun and Juicy Juice. I started reading all the labels and I was leaning toward the Juicy Juice, until I saw Honest Tea Kids Organic Super Fruit Punch. Organic? I was so happy to find an organic product at Target! Then I read the ingredients: Filtered Water, Organic Grape Juice, Organic Cane Sugar....Wha? I didn't continue reading after that. Cane sugar? In a kid's juice drink? I have heard such good things about Honest Tea products. I have heard of several moms who really like them! But I just couldn't believe it! I thought maybe it was just that one. It was Fruit PUNCH after all. So I checked out the website, and no, it's not just that one. EVERY product in their kids line contains sugar, even the Apple Juice has cane sugar! But it is advertised as having half the sugar of other kid's drinks. What, soda? It has half the sugar of soda? Big Whoop. I might not love giving juice to my kids. But if they get it twice a month I do not sweat it. But a juice with sugar added? That is NOT on the menu.

This is where I get very frustrated and even depressed about the state of kid's food in the US. It is not enough to read anything on the outside of a package. Organic doesn't mean healthy, and juice apparently doesn't even mean juice anymore. There are alot of us who are reading labels and are disgusted by the added sugar in everything. But most people DON'T read labels. How do we start to reach people? How do we spread the word about the dangers of added sugars? Even if not everyone wants to jump on the real food bandwagon, spend every last dime at the farmer's market or pick their grass fed meat up in some stranger's apartment once a month, shouldn't we all have a right to know about what sugar does to us? How much longer will the powers that be allow the Sugar Association to get away all their propaganda? Personally, I feel there is too much fighting about High Fructose Corn Syrup in this country. I don't care where it comes from, corn, beet, cane, agave, hive, we are eating too much of it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

That Second Kid Never Really Had a Chance

Thing 1 was always kind of flighty. He is dreamy and doesn't always pay attention. We have to ask him to do things 10 times before he actually does them. He plays with three toys at the same time and knows what is happening with all of them! He drags his feet, and always waits until I count all the way to three. He never enjoys cleaning up, and when he does it usually is motivated by the threat of a time out. But he looks you in the eyes and he always wants company when he plays with blocks. And he is very sweet with the kisses.

Thing 2 likes order. He always helps out. He is a pretty lousy climber, so I don't have to worry about him scaling the radiator (which Thing 1 did at around 16 months). He doles out the kisses regularly, wet sloppy ones. When I open the door to the apartment he always runs out the door toward the elevators. And when I find him down the hall, around the corner, he is just standing there smiling. But he whines. He has to have what he wants. He has trouble sharing. He always want to do everything himself, he wants no help. And sometimes I will be in the middle of playing a game with Thing 1 and I realize that Thing 2 is just sitting in the corner playing by himself. He is happy, just playing by himself.

I am a second child. I have one older brother. There is definitely a sense of competition between siblings. I am starting to see it with my two little Things. They are starting to fight over toys and other things more and more. The dynamic with two children in the house is intense. When we only had Thing 1 we paid him tons of attention and engaged him. We entertained him for almost two years! Thing 2 had built in entertainment. Overall we found him to be a much calmer child. But I think that had more to do with the fact that he had so much more to look at! As long as Thing 1 provided a show, Thing 2 would be quiet and contented.

Thing 2 has definitely learned to take care of himself in a way. He feeds himself (Thing 1, even at three, cannot say the same thing) He will play with toys by himself, because he can't always wait around for me. And when he sees us give something to Thing 1, well that just ends the world for Thing 2. Recently we had a cupcake treat after dinner. Thing 1 finished his dinner (with considerable help) and we brought out the cupcakes. As soon as Thing 2 saw the cupcakes well that was the end of his dinner. He really should have eaten more, but it would have never happened. TV is much the same. We watched Thing 1's TV watching so closely. He really didn't watch much at all until around 20 months. And even then it was tightly controlled. But the TV was a blessing when we brought the new baby home. And even though we monitor the programming, because it is on for Thing 1, Thing 2 invariably gets to watch TV from a very young age.

As a parent balancing a toddler and a new baby is hell on earth. No one is ever happy with anything you do. Now things are much better in our lives. The boys play together. They make each other laugh. But I can't help but think how different things are for my chubby Thing 2. I am a different parent, and he is a totally different kid. But how much of his personality is the way it is simply because he is the second child? There definitely are times when I wish I had more time to just be with him one on one. I am a second child, so I know what it is like to always be slower and littler. I guess I want to even the playing field for him a little bit because I know what it is like for him.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Eleven Years Today

Today I write a very special post. Today, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, it is the eleventh anniversary of my mother's passing.

My mother was a beautiful contradiction. She was both confident and self conscious. She had a warm smile and was always very welcoming to all. Yet, as is common of the women on her side (including myself I am told), she had a snappish temper. Hell hath no fury like a Stoffel scorned. She was a strong willed, stubborn, confident, smart and utterly charming woman. And as each day passes the woman I greet in the mirror each morning is resembling her more.

I have mentioned before that my mother was something of junk food addict-remember when we called it junk food? Somewhere in the last 15 years we dropped the word junk.... She always made a mean homemade pie, and had a passion for creamed chipped beef, frito pie, tater tots and the like. She cooked every night but meals were simple, much like I make for my family today. But while she loved to eat I never really got the impression that she loved too cook. She had a rotating menu of about 12 dinners that she made over and over again. She did love to cook sweets. I remember making peanut butter cookies with her when I was about 6. As we ate the warm cookies straight from the oven she told me how they were her favorite. I asked why she didn't make them more often. And her response? She said she'd eat them all. And I think she did. Those cookies were gone in two days. And we made them maybe once or twice more, that was it.

My mother let me help in the kitchen, but mostly I would make cookies or something like that. I don't think she took my kitchen interest as anything more than childhood curiosity. I don't ever remember sitting on the counter while she cooked. But then again, I don't always invite my Things into the kitchen, because I just assume they'd rather watch Yo Gabba Gabba! I should stop assuming and reach out more before these years pass me by.

My mother was diagnosed with brain cancer in April of 1998. I was finishing up my freshman year in college. She fought the good fight for 19 months. But she was being called home, and you can only fight that so long. She bravely passed eleven years ago today, but I still see her every day because when my kids smile, their fat cheeks make their eyes close up. And that is always how I remember her, with a smile so large that she could hardly see.

So in honor of you Mom, I will celebrate with some frito pie, but hold that canned chili please.
My Special Chili
One Pound of Grass Fed Ground Beef
One Medium Onion
Two Cloves of Garlic
One 28 Ounce Can of Whole Peeled Tomatoes
Paprika
Garlic Powder
Cumin
Salt
Black Pepper
2 16 oz cans of beans, any kind will work, black, pinto, red, kidney, etc
Concentrated Bone Broth (optional)

There is no need to buy pre-blended chili powder unless you like the flavor. Add the ground beef to a dutch oven with a little olive oil (my grass fed beef is really lean). Brown the meat and then add the chopped onions and garlic. Cook until soft. Add the paprika and cumin, salt and black pepper. I would love to tell you how much to add. But the truth is I just add a little at a time until it tastes right. I would start with two tablespoons of paprika and one tablespoon of cumin and see what you need from there. You are probably comfortable doing salt and pepper to taste already. After the spices add the can of tomatoes. I break them up in my hands before adding them to the pot. Then adjust the spices and add the bone broth (which is really just homemade beef bouillon cubes), cover the chili and let it cook for at least 30 minutes. Add the beans and cook another 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.
On the day you plan to serve the chili, fill a large ramekin or baking dish about halfway full with chili. And layer on the corn bread batter. Cook at 425 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and puffed up.


Squash-Corn Bread
1/2 cup squash puree (I just took 6 orange ice cubes out of the freezer and thawed them)
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup half-white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter

Combine the eggs, milk, butter and squash puree in a small bowl. In a larger bowl combine the flours and salt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry all at once. Mix thoroughly. And then continue placing batter on the chili. Hey, I am going to find room to squeeze that squash in there...
This post is part of Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Table of Promise Granola


I have been meaning to make granola for a couple of weeks. But I never got around to it. And the readymade granola I was buying was good, so why rock the boat. But I wanted to make my own. And I just discovered that the granola I was buying at the FM contained canola oil. So, this week I was more motivated to make my own...

I looked at a couple different recipes. I have one from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, I have grown us using the recipes and cooking tips and times and temperatures from that little red and white gingham tome. My mother loved her copy as I have said before and bought me one for Christmas one year. Some of the items in the book are a little "home ec"-y, so I only use some of them. But it is a great resource for figuring out how long and how hot to roast a 6 pound capon... I didn't like the BH&G recipe for granola. And I knew that a fellow blogger had a very good granola recipe. So I went there. I liked her recipe more, heavy on the nuts, not so much on the raisins. But I wanted to make some changes. This is the recipe I landed on. I am sure someone else out there in the ether(net) has one pretty similar.

The Table of Promise Granola (Which is so similar to someone else's granola)
3 1/2 cups rolled oats (old fashion oats, not quick cooking)
1 cup raw cashews
1 cup raw macadamia nuts
1/2 cup raw sliced almonds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup raw sesame seeds
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ground ginger
freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon sea salt

**All ingredients should be as raw, organic and unrefined as you can possibly find.


Preheat you oven to 250 degrees. In a saucepan, combine coconut oil, honey, salt and vanilla. Let it cook until everything is combined. In a large bowl, combine all oats, nuts and spices. Mix thoroughly. When the honey/ oil mixture is ready, pour the oil and honey onto the oats/ nuts mixture. Stir until everything is incorporated. Place the mix onto prepared sheet pans. I lined mine with tin foil. Bake in a 250 degree oven for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes, or until the granola is dried out. It will crisp as it cools.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Squash and Pasta


I had three weeks worth of CSA squashes in my cupboard last week. I had two delicata squashes, one kabocha and one butternut. I have run out of "orange ice cubes" for smoothies, and I was worried that they were going to go bad. So I needed to roast them all. The guy at the farmer's market suggested that rather than cutting the squashes and roasting them cut side down on a baking tray that I could go ahead and cut them in half, scoop out the seeds and put them back together and wrap them in tin foil and bake them in a 350 degree oven. I also added a little sunflower oil. That worked perfectly! Everything roasted beautifully and soft. And there were no hard ends where the squash dried out. It took about and hour and fifteen minutes for them to all cook through. I will never roast a squash differently now!

I made orange ice cubes for smoothies out of the kabocha and the butternut. But the Delicatas I did a little something different. This recipe came out so well that I might start making it every week. I buy squashes, or get them from the CSA. I love them, but maybe my heart isn't totally in it. We do alot of simple mashed squash as a side dish. And the kids do NOT eat it. I haven't made a great squash recipe that everyone really really loves. But now, that has all changed.


Squash and Pasta

4 ounces of bacon
1 medium onion chopped
2-3 small carrots
1-2 small zucchini
2 delicata squashes (or substitute any other squash), cooked and mashed
1/2 pound ground sausage, browned (I had some leftover cooked turkey sausage, this is optional, but you could brown it with the bacon or just do one or the other...)
cream to taste
8 oz whole wheat pasta

Dice the bacon (and sausage if you are using) and brown. Once it is very brown, remove the meat and drain off about half the fat. Saute the onions and carrots in the hot fat. When they are soft, add the zucchini and cook for a few minutes. Add the cooked and mashed squash and mix everything up. Put the lid on and cook until the vegetables are all soft. Then add the cooked sausage and the cooked bacon and a little cream (just because I like to be excessive). When it is all combined, add the cooked pasta.

Even the kids ate this one. Thing 2 ate it with relish. He even put a zucchini into his own mouth-which he has never done before. He has eaten mashed and hidden veggies, but this was a veggie in plain sight and he fed himself! Thing 1 ate somewhat more reluctantly. But he did finish his dinner and ate all the little bits. And DH? He asked me to make this for his family. There is no greater compliment!

Thank to my good friend DP for making this recipe at a recent Halloween party. Leave it to me for adding bacon, sausage and cream. I might just be going to hell!

Monday, November 8, 2010

How I Beat The Sugar Monster

When I first started out on Weight Watchers all those years ago, I noticed a big difference. And my friends all said the same thing happened to them too. We developed a sweet tooth.

Prior to WW, I affectionately called my cravings my 'fat tooth' for most of my quasi adult life because I was always drawn to snack on things like french fries and potato chips and cheezits. If it was salty and fattening, that was what I wanted in a down moment. I liked sweet foods, deserts etc, but I have never had a real problem with them, per se.

That all changed when I started on WW. I began to crave sugar powerfully. I liked to have a sweet something after every meal except breakfast and sweet treats in between meals weren't denied either. And usually breakfast had some sweetish element to it. My sugar cravings were strong and forceful. And while I pacified them with dried or fresh fruit, what I really wanted was mind numbingly sweet. When I was pregnant with Thing 2 I was CRAZY for sugar, not chocolate, but pure sugar like jelly beans and candy and soda. It was beyond weird. Even since I have been working on the blog I have craved sweet treats all while looking for ways to eliminate sugar, hence the Date Truffles.

But in the last month or so I have noticed a lovely turnaround. My hunger has been under control as well as my sugar sanity. Last week while visiting my folks I ate half a piece of pie. Just HALF, because it was too sweet to finish. Same with a cupcake (though I waited 90 minutes or so and polished off the remaining piece). I thoroughly enjoyed both items. I just didn't need a full serving to feel that I had had enough. I can't take full credit and I cannot say that this is a personal moral triumph. The truth is, I eat fat.

I have talked alot about this recently. I eat fat. I have switched back to whole milk. I use cream in my recipes that call for it without substituting for something less fatty. I have been adding coconut oil to my oatmeal in the morning, but also to my (full fat) yogurt or granola if that is what I eat for breakfast. I'll even lick the coco oil spoon before I put it in the dishwasher. There is a treat. I fully embrace butter. And I have been frying my hamburgers in beef tallow, because, well it just makes sense, beef and beef fat-no? On one hand, my mouth is happy. Just like a special treat, I really enjoy the fat in my dishes. And food should be completely enjoyed and savored. We cannot eat endlessly, so we should celebrate each delicious bite while we have room. Food is not just the sum of it's parts. It is passion and happiness. It is sensory and beautiful. Fat in food gives us the sensation of pleasure, so why not herald that?

But fat also makes us full. More nutritionists and health advocates talk about fiber or protein making you full these days. And that is true, fiber and protein do make you full. But if fiber makes you feel physically full and possibly slightly bloated, fat turns hunger off. For me it turns hunger off like a switch. I'll add nuts or a big tablespoon of almond butter (Thanks S!!) to oatmeal and without it I cannot make it to lunch. Protein is another very important macronutrient that keeps you full. But fiber and protein together need some fat to make them really fill your tummy. And I remind you. I have not gained any weight since I made these slight changes to my diet. The healthy fat in my diet has kept me full enough that I have refused 15 or so pleas for me to take someone's leftover Halloween Candy. I was not trying to be political about sugar, nor was I trying to be morally and gastronomically superior. I was in fact, too satiated. I didn't want it.

This brings up the interesting phrase "She can eat anything she wants". I kinda think I can eat anything I want. I can eat as much as I want too! (Now she is drunk with freedom). But the truth is, I eat clean, which makes me want to eat mostly clean foods. And I eat healthy fats, so I get full. What I an trying to do now is to avoid overeating. Because now a healthy portion means something smaller than what it used to be. Thinking in those terms, I can eat anything I want and as much as I want. Because everything I want is highly nourishing, and the amount that I want to eat is smaller than it used to be.

I don't think that adding fat to your diet means adding crappy food, but you knew that. You can't go eating a bunch of chocolate, or chicken fried steak. I don't think all the processed fatty foods and the polyunsaturated oils are having the same effect in my body. But the natural and saturated fats have been making me very happy. And sugar? There is no longer a red furry electrically charged monster creeping behind me. I beat the sugar monster.

So try it, stitch to whole milk. Then wait a week and buy coconut oil, etc. You don't have to make changes all at once. I didn't. Let yourself acclimate to them. You might just like them!!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Curry Plant, Did You Know?

So who knew about the curry plant? Why have I never heard about such a thing??

Last weekend when I visited the Memphis Farmer's Market with my father, we stopped by the plant lady who was selling all her remaining pots of herbs for $2 a pot. She had basil and dill, cilantro and parsley, thyme and...curry?

Yes one of her plants was labeled as a curry plant. I put my nose to it's rosemary-like leaves. Yup, that smelled like curry alright. The lady came over to us and informed us that yes, this plant was the main ingredient in curry powder. My father and I stood dumbfounded. I have had many different curry powders in my cabinet in my day, but I had always been told that it was a spice blend, much like Garam Masala.

So we took the plant home and my father chopped some up to put on a white fish for the evening. The fish didn't taste a thing like curry. But I did note a slightly bitter taste. Oh well, I thought, maybe there was some other seasoning on the fish, or maybe I was just not used to this particular fish. I finished it and moved on.

Then I sat down to write this post and started doing some research on the Internet. And came across this article about The Real Curry Plant. It is really a cool article.

Apparently the plant that we purchased at the FM was called Helichrysum Angustifolium which is an ornamental plant that smells like curry. However it is not at all edible. And you know what...the site said it had a characteristic bitter taste. The plant should be used in pot pourris and the like.
The site also goes onto say that curries actually are spice blends, all made up of things you have heard of like red pepper, cumin, ginger, coriander and turmeric, etc. These spice blends are indeed known as Masala in India. The English word curry comes from the Indian (Hindi? The site didn't specify) word kari meaning soup or stew. And many many curries are stews of meat and or vegetables.

So don't let this happen to you. I feel so duped. Fortunately, the herb is not poisonous, just not delicious. And I much prefer delicious food to non-delicious food.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chicken Day 2

So yesterday we talked a little about chicken and what kinds of chicken I am eating these days. Why don’t we spend some time talking today about commercial chicken.

I recently found a great article that details the process of raising chicken in a commercial chicken operation. It is not a site dedicated to vegetarianism or even “real food”. They are just a ‘how do they do it type of website’. Dear madehow.com, I am not plagiarising your work as much as I am spreading the word and heralding the thoroughness of your article!

The chicken most commonly eaten today is a descendant of Gallus gallus, a red jungle fowl originally native to India and Southeast Asia. As the bird was domesticated, the variety spread westward from India toward Greece. From Greece it was introduced into western Europe by Roman armies. During the Roman era the birds were commonplace. The first European settlers brought chickens with them when they settled in North America.

Today, the Commercial Chicken business is BIG business.

The Production Complex

The Hatchery

Most chicken bred for meat in the country are a mix of Comish males and White Rock females. While meat birds are raised in large houses, they are bred in a type of coop that you would consider more traditional. It consists of a large house with several small coops where hens can lay eggs. Once lain, the eggs are taken from the nests and placed in a incubation. Breeder hens live for less than a year, about 45 weeks, and then are slaughtered. The meat from these breeder hens is used in pet food or other processed food applications where a lower grade of food is needed.

Incubation
Eggs are placed into incubators for about 20 days, where they are kept warm and rotated by machines. Newly hatched chicks are not fed for their first three days of life as they are still living off their yolk sac for nutrition. Chicks are inoculated for diseases shortly after hatching, and shortly thereafter, they are shipped to nearby "grow-out" farms.

Growing Out
Chickens have been bred to reach a weight of about 4 pounds in a 6-7 week time period. The article I read mentioned bred chickens as opposed to genetically modified varieties. I am not under the impression that there is any GMO chicken out there on the market. Genetic Modifying has been more successful in plant foods such as corn and soybeans and canola plants. However if I am wrong--please comment on this post. I want to know for sure. Chickens, after hatching, are sent to "grow-out farms" where they will live and be fed in large houses with as many as 20,000 other birds. The birds are not caged but are provided with less than 1 square foot per bird, so some of the drawings at the Made How website are a little misleading because they show quite a bit more room in the chicken house than is actually allowed. Remember back to your school days. Much of the linoleum flooring found in those hallowed halls were comprised of 1 foot by 1 foot tiles. That would be one square foot. That's not that much space by the time those birds reach 4 pounds. At the growing out farms too, chickens are treated for diseases with antibiotics or other medication. The article did not mention whether all birds were treated, or whether just the sick birds were treated....The search for the truth goes on.

Collecting
Chickens are typically collected by hand by the farm workers. Although many mechanical chicken collectors have been created. Nothing works that much better than plain ole' human hands. The chickens are packed into boxes or crates which are then sent off to the processing plant.

Slaughtering
In the processing plant birds are suspended from their feet while still alive. They are passed through a vat of electrified water, the water only stuns the birds. Then the birds go through an automatic neck cutter which severs just their arteries, but leaves the head intact. The birds hang while their blood drains.

Defeathering and Evisceration
The carcasses then are passed through a hot water bath which makes the defeathering easier. Defeathering and evisceration are done by automated machine. Carcases are defeathered by moving rubber fingers, then washed again in the hot water bath, and defeathered a second time to remove any remaining feathers. The Defeathered carcasses are scrubbed. Then the head and feet are removed. Then the carcass is cut open, the innards are removed, and finally the bird is washed again inside and out.

Chilling and Cutting

The cleaned birds are sent next into a pool of cooled, chlorinated water for 40-50 minutes. The entire cleaning process takes about an hour. The birds once cooled are then passed along to be cut. The pieces are then diced up for whatever sale the processor is supplying. Some birds certainly are left whole or dressed for supermarket sale. Meat from neck and backs and wings may be removed and sold for use in hot dogs or coldcuts. Some birds may be cooked whole and processed so that their diced meat may be used in higher end processed foods.


The Made How article is very informative. I think the first step in making cleaner food choices is to know where conventional food comes from. I am not outlining anything in the above to highlight gross practices or dissuade you from eating conventional poultry. And I am much more concerned about how the birds are raised than I am how they are cleaned.

The article does mention waste. Chickens produce an awful lot of feces. And 20,000 chickens in one house create the biggest pile of s*** you can probably imagine. Interestingly enough the article does not mention the feces until the end of the article, completely separately from the farms themselves. But make no mistake. Our conventional chickens are definitely walking on poop all day. I just don't believe that their coops could possibly be cleaned well enough to leave their coops substantially poop-free. The article continues to say that chicken manure is attractive to flies, and enough manure can increase fly populations from surrounding areas. The ammonia gas has a very offensive odor. And the run off during a rain storm can wash harmful bacteria into local water supplies. Truly, large scale factory farms create some problems and imbalances in the environment that are not easily solved.

That's why I recommend smaller farms, local farms. Small local farms are more likely (though not always) to be in better balance with their environment, because their populations of animals are not so dense. You will pay more, but, isn't there another solution to that problem? You could just eat less meat overall. Many different sources state that we need 50-60 g of protein per day. One ounce of chicken breast meat contains about 6g. And if you eat nuts and yogurt, drink milk and eat other protein rich foods, 4-5 ounces of meat a day are probably all you need to get your daily requirements. I am of the opinion that meat is really necessary and very healthy. But I am no Dr. Atkins, I believe meat holds it's important place in a larger healthy diet of plant foods. But that is another post for another time...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chicken Day 1

This week I wanted to talk a little bit about chicken. We used to eat a lot of chicken. Because when you are striving for a low fat diet, you tend to gravitate toward foods that are lean and, well, low in fat. But as you know with the salmonella issues, and the 20,000 chickens to a coop issues, and all the GMO corn feed, modern industrial chickens are not such a clean source of food. (Check out Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it has some very good chicken information.) So we started eating pastured chicken purchased through my CSA. But I still bought chicken breasts from them mostly, because that is what I was accustomed to. But we like beef; and grass fed beef I believe to be actually very HEALTHY for you, so we started eating less and less chicken. What I did do was start buying WHOLE chickens.

The whole chickens at my farmer’s market are $7 per pound! Yipes! Through my CSA whole chickens are $4.99 per pound. That is still almost $25 for a standard 4-5 lb chicken. The grocery store chickens are less than $12 total. What’s up with that? The farmer's market chickens are also only available in the fall, not year round like at your grocery store.

Also an issue to consider, I used to use breasts or thighs because they are convenient. But as you know from any bird that you have roasted whole, there is a lot of waste if you only use the breast. In a commercial chicken operation, where does the waste go? My farmer’s market doesn’t even offer just breasts. Buy a chicken whole or don’t buy it at all. It is a lot of work to raise this already small animal only to sell off the breasts. Additionally when only purchasing parts, the consumer wants a cheaper price because they are only buying part of the chicken. In that scenario, it becomes more and more important to raise meat CHEAPLY. If the farmer can only sell off the breasts and the thighs then theoretically they need to make as much profit off those parts as they would if they sold the whole chicken. And if you the consumer are only willing to pay half the price of a whole chicken because you are not actually buying a whole chicken, then the farmers need to raise their chickens at half the cost that they previously did. Right? Do you see how big business screwed up chickens? Do you see why chicken was more of a local and seasonal or even home raised food rather than a big business food before 1950? Chickens are a lot of work and they have a pretty low profit margin unless you can raise them cheaply and quickly. And raising cheap chicken usually means a chicken that is bred (not genetically modified) to grow to a weight of 4 pounds in 6-7 weeks, is held in a “coop” with 20,000 other birds and who has to walk on it’s friends’ feces every day.

So, I started buying whole chickens. I am also buying them less often, maybe once a month. Because a large farmer’s market or CSA chicken costs about $35-40 (yielding 1-2 dinners and a soup). Whereas, a pound of grass fed ground beef costs $7-8 (yielding 1 dinner). And with a whole chicken, I get the added benefit of having all the bones to make homemade gelatin rich stock. Truly, nothing goes to waste.

Also recently I made a new Internet friend. Lisa from Caliban’s Kitchen is a blogger and fellow mom in my “upstate” Manhattan neighborhood. We were connected through a mutual friend. I love what Lisa is doing on her site and I have provided a link in my blog roll. She has recently been writing a lot about humanely raised chickens, and a particular brand Murray’s that is available to folks here in the New York City area among other places.

Murray’s Chicken claims that they use no antibiotics or hormones. But Lisa had some questions. Were they humanely raised? Were they pastured? Did they have access to outdoor space? What is the definition of Humanely Raised? Lisa contacted Murray’s directly and they were actually totally human and not some business style android in their response. Please check out her site in the following posts all about her experience with Murray’s chicken. If the links don't take you directly to the corresponding pages, but rather to her home page, you can click on the Archives section, you will find all of the following posts in the archives for October 2010.

Murray's to The Rescue? Well, Maybe

The Sunny Side of the Coop: My Chat With Murray's Chicken

Understanding the Life of the Chickens We Eat