Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Asparagus and Spinach Pizza

I am stuck in a food rut. I am hoping that the burgeoning vegetable season will inspire me to cook new foods.

Case in point, pizza. I make homemade pizza probably two to three times a month. I have fallen into a comforting routine of meaty spaghetti sauce, spinach, pepperoni (more on that later) and chevre style cheese with parmesan. The kids like it and usually eat it.

But last week I couldn’t. I was so sick of it. The kids were hungry. I knew a new concoction could backfire. But the air was balmy and blowing into my galley kitchen from the eastern side. And I said screw it. Enter pizza with olive oil, spinach, onions, asparagus, olives, chevre style cheese and parmesan cheese. Not that it is a massive difference from the original, but no sauce or meat made this pie feel very very light. Yet it was totally satisfying.

All I did was to start with my homemade whole wheat pizza crust, and add olive oil. I brushed it around so that the coating was even and went right to the end, not just where the toppings were. I then piled up the veggies, spinach first so that it cooked down followed by finely chopped asparagus, thinly sliced onions, olives and then finally the cheeses and some fresh black pepper. Everyone ate everything. I didn’t even tell Thing 1 that he had eaten asparagus. Who cares. He ate it!

If you are stuck in a rut, change it up

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Wish My A** Would Speak Up More

My mouth, well she is quite a yakker.
And she causes me to be a snacker.
She just talks, begs and groans, she won't quit,
Until she has thrown quite a fit.
When my mouth wants some junk she just yells,
And this nagging, it sounds alarm bells
"Give me cake, chips and pizza right now!"
She won't quit 'til I'm big as a cow.

Now my tummy is harder to read.
Because sometimes she says what I need.
When I truly need food then she cries,
"Give me meat, milk or veggies, not pies"
But when she's had her fill she falls quiet.
Yet my Mouth is still yearning to try it!
When my tum's full my mouth takes control
It is clear that she's still on a roll.

My back side's the quietest of all.
She speaks in a voice that's so small.
I wish that she'd turn up the sound
And pound my mouth down to the ground.
"Your crying for snacks Mouth is weak
And those calories just make me freak!
All those chips are just making me grow.
Getting bigger, it makes my top blow!"

I wish that my a** would speak up.
Or my mouth would just simply shut up.
Because every time I see a treat,
It always goes straight to my seat.
But if my mouth didn't want junk
Then I could resist and not flunk.
It's so hard to say no when your mouth
Keeps on making your diet go south!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Kefir Versus Yogurt

So what is the big deal between kefir and yogurt? Is it just that one is more liquid-y than the other?

I have known about kefir for some time. I have seen it in the grocery store and I have heard about people who drank it. I knew that kefir wasn’t just drinkable yogurt, but I admit, I wasn’t sure why it wasn’t just drinkable yogurt. So what is the difference between kefir, regular yogurt and Greek yogurt?

For the sake of this post I am just sharing some insight about the PLAIN varieties of all three products. It is true, most of the regular yogurt on the marketplace is sold inclusive of fruit, lots of sugar and in many case high-fructose corn syrup or even worse, aspartame. It (she laughs) wouldn’t be fair of me to compare only lightly pasteurized kefir to ultra pasteurized yogurt with HFCS. And I like fairness. So here are some things to keep in mind.

· Kefir and yogurt are both fermented milk products. That is, milk that has been partially ‘eaten’ by bacteria. These bacteria are both specific strains (not just any airborne bacteria will do) and beneficial to your gut.

· Yogurt usually contains one or two strains of bacteria like acidophilus and bulgaricus. These strains are common in Eastern Europe and the Caucuses. Something that our Bulgarian babysitter loves to proudly remind us of…often.

· Kefir contains up to 13 strains of different bacteria. According to kefir.net, those strains can include “Lactobacillus Caucasus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, and Streptococcus species.”

· Also according to kefir.net, “Yogurt contains transient beneficial bacteria that keep the digestive system clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria that reside there. But kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract, a feat that yogurt cannot match.” This was the information I was looking for on the internet….thank you.

· In case you didn’t read that last one: According to kefir.net, “Yogurt contains transient beneficial bacteria that keep the digestive system clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria that reside there. But kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract, a feat that yogurt cannot match.” That is pretty much the most important point in this post.

· The beneficial bacterium that is found in kefir and yogurt is found in the whey. Greek yogurt is plain yogurt that has been strained of much of its whey. This is why Greek yogurt is higher in protein (and calories) per ounce than its unstrained sister. Most of what remains are the milk solids. Greek yogurt is also lower in probiotic activity because it has had most of the whey removed. I love Greek yogurt because its taste is rich and thick and fatty. It is less tart and very pleasing. But I am not delusional; the greater probiotic choice is plain yogurt and definitely kefir.

The health claims of kefir beyond what I have mentioned above are long long long. It apparently helps everything from ADD to cancer to fighting Candida. And while I am not disputing that here, I remind everyone that kefir, like every other food and drug on the market, will likely work differently in different bodies. The taste is pleasing and the digestive benefits have been proven. And I love how filling it is. Whatever other positive benefits you reap are awesome, but conclusive of all 78 items on this list from the link I posted? I am just not sure. I don’t like posting anything here that I claim to be a wonder drug/ food. However that being said, I definitely have better digestion and by that I mean that my husband is less able to poke fun at me after a Mexican dinner.

I am truly in LOVE with my kefir. Go to http://www.kefirlady.com/ if you are curious. She has lots of great information, instructions and recipes. And she has been a pleasure to deal with!

This post is part of Traditional Tuesdays at Real Food Whole Health and Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFLINS and Sustainable Eats and Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade

Monday, May 23, 2011

Kefir! Kefir! Kefir!

The lady at the farmer’s market who sells me my milk every week (I now know her name-that is a big step!) has tried in the past to sell me on the Milk Thistle yogurt.

“I have another customer who says it beats the pants off the yogurt at {insert another local farm}, you should maybe try it. It is drinkable, a little looser than {insert another local farm}’s yogurt.”

I regretfully inform my almost-new friend (whaddya want, I am actually pretty shy deep down), that I am not interested in her yogurt because it is drinkable. I explain Thing 1 likes Greek style yogurt, I buy the other yogurt because Thing 2 occasionally eats it and doesn’t like the Greek stuff. Oh, and I cook with {insert another local farm}’s yogurt.

Finally she wears me down, okay I will try it. And it was delicious. But I didn’t buy it again. I just wasn’t ready for change. But maybe, just maybe, my almost-new friend planted a seed…

Late last month, inspired by a recipe I had seen for vanilla water kefir soda during a blog carnival, I decided to hop on over to The Kefir Lady’s website. MB, my kombucha mentor suggested I try kefir, but at the time I wasn’t interested. He told me about the website though and I filed it away. Thinking about probiotic cream soda though was enough to make me commit to shelling out cash for kefir grains. And while I was at it, I might as well try using the milk grains. I ordered one order of milk grains and one order of water grains.

Marilyn contacted me about a week later to say that they would be arriving the following week, which they did. I didn’t mind paying for my grains. Especially because I do not know anyone personally except MB who makes their own kefir. When the grains showed up I was very excited! I bought coconut water right away for the water grains and poured the milk over the milk grains that night.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. The process for the water grains seemed more like the kombucha with which I was comfortable…sugar water solution, let ferment for 3-5 days, strain and allow for a second fermentation in a bottle. But the milk kefir procedure was altogether different. Every day?! They would eat more and more and more milk if I let them? The grains sounded like selfish greedy little beasties to me.

But I gave it a whirl. The first day they produced a thin mild kefir, about 2 cups worth. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I put it in the fridge. The next day it was the same, but I could already see that the grains were growing bigger. My milk source is excellent and quite high in fat, and Marilyn said the grains LOVE fat. I was making too much kefir. I had a quart after 2 days and I hadn’t even started drinking any! Not to mention the everyday ritual. I was starting to feel like the chubby guy in those Dunkin Donuts commercials from the 80’s. Only I was getting up every morning bleary eyed saying “it’s time to make the kefir, it’s time to make the kefir.”

Finally I did begin to drink the stuff. At first I took a serving, 8 or so ounces, to work. I had my kefir with my granola. I would have brought milk to have with my granola anyway, so this was an easy substitute for calories already in my diet. I tried it, and you know, I really liked it. The taste was pleasing and mild. The texture was not unlike buttermilk. In fact, the kefir itself looked a lot like the buttermilk I had used to make quark all those months ago… And within a week the texture got a little thicker. Especially when I started adjusting the ratio of milk to grains. My water kefir on the other hand was strange, it tasted like sweet fizzy coconut water, but it smelled like cheese.

I have been drinking kefir for breakfast every day for the last couple weeks. It is way more filling than regular milk, so I have been able to lessen my serving of granola or on some days and entirely omit it on others. And to my kefir I add a teaspoon or two of honey (please don’t tell me that that defeats the purpose!) and I have been drinking it through a straw. Although I had stayed away from kefir for the reason that it was too loose, now its liquidity was exactly the characteristic that I was finding the most pleasing. Drinking kefir was downright…comforting. Wholly unexpected.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I Thought I Knew How to Wash Vegetables

Syndicated on BlogHer.com

I found myself in a slightly awkward situation a few days ago. And let me preface this by saying that those with whom I was talking probably didn’t find the situation awkward at all. I was discussing with some folks about how to wash vegetables, when a good friend asked me, ‘Why do you soak your produce in vinegar diluted in water? Will it really remove the pesticide residues any better?’ I stuttered a half confident ‘I heard it from a friend’.

Now that wasn’t an answer that I was happy about! I like to think of myself as being a researcher and having a mind of my own. I like to think that I will confirm anything I hear out there with some trustworthy report. I want to believe that I will truly understand the reasons why I do the things that I do. That is what builds confidence. People who read this blog don’t just want to hear what I do with food. They want to hear why I do something with my food.
It is likely that people reading wash their produce in many varying ways. Some may scrub. Others soak. Some many wipe food on their clothes (no joke), while others mist with a mister. Some people buy those veggie washes. But there are some things you need to know about washing fruits and veggies.

· There are three things (and maybe more) that you need to be concerned about washing off your fruits and veggies when you get them home: dirt left over from growth, bacteria picked up either from the dirt or through transportation/ handling and pesticide residues. I don’t always buy organic produce. But even when I do, I always wash my fruits and veggies.

· Veggie washes aren’t worth the money. As NPR reported in 2007, Cooks Illustrated Magazine did an analysis of various cleaning methods and they found that veggie washes did little more than simply washing in plain water.

· That same analysis showed that veggie scrub brushes did remove slightly more bacteria than simple washing.

· But the best results were obtained from washing fruits and veggies with a solution of one parts vinegar (they used white vinegar) and 3 parts distilled water.

I thought the distilled water bit was interesting. Distilled water has had all the bacteria and living bits removed in the distilling process, thus you will be less likely to contaminate your fruits and veggie with something that was found in the water itself. But my first impression? I drink my tap water. So I run no greater risk of polluting my veggies with ickies than when I drink a glass of water. However, you might not feel so confident about your tap water…and I get that. I am not going to be buying distilled water just to wash my veggies.

The article said that it was not necessary to soak fruits and vegetables in water before storing them. And again, I get that. But I have had GREAT results through soaking. What I typically do when I get home from the market is to scrub my sink with soap and warm water (including the opening of the drain!) and rinse thoroughly. I then fill the sink up with cold water and add in some apple cider vinegar (previously I have been adding a few tablespoons but as a result of reading the article I will probably start adding a cup or so). I let my fruits and veggies soak for 30 minutes to an hour. I agitate them during the soaking so that all dirt and residue is removed. Then I remove them from the water, shake them off and let them drip dry on a clean dish towel. As I have mentioned before, I store most of my veggies in plastic bags in the fridge. Lettuce I like to store in a big glass Tupperware. With spinach I will often remove the stems before storage.

Fruits and veggies I soak: all greens, carrots, green beans, leeks and scallions, apples, pears, potatoes, grapes, stone fruits

Fruits and veggies that I rinse just prior to eating: all berries, anything bagged in plastic or otherwise washed before prepackaging

Fruits and veggies that I don’t wash at all: bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, onions, oranges (all items that I NEVER eat the outer layer)

**As a note about pesticide residues. I found an interesting article on the WH Foods website that stated that one can remove most pesticide residue through washing and soaking, but not everything. And one cannot remove the pesticides that have been incorporated in the plant itself. I eat a lot of organic food, but I am not maniacal about it. Almost all the local fruit in my farmer’s market is sprayed with something! And I still prefer local to trucked in.My mantra is limit your exposure through buying some organics and washing the rest and then letting go and accepting the limitations of this life!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Do You Have Othorexia Nervosa?

A few weeks ago I saw the following title on Yahoo, “Two New Eating Disorders Discovered”, or something similar. Of course I was intrigued. So of course I clicked on the link.

The first ‘new’ eating disorder discussed was ‘Adult Selective Eating’, or Severe Adult Picky Eaters. These adults tend to choose mostly bland, white foods like plain pasta, cheese pizza along with French fries or chicken fingers. Sound familiar? I found it fascinating that they described the very same kid foods that I have tried so hard to banish from my house. Perhaps, the article extrapolates, these adults just never outgrew a particularly picky eating phase as children. Perhaps there were other deep seated phobic reasons for the choice of such bland food. The article did not delve deeper.

The second ‘new’ eating disorder grabbed my attention a little more. It is called Orthorexia Nervosa. The term Orthorexia Nervosa was coined by Dr Steven Bratman, MD, and it is Latin for ‘correct eating’. A person with orthorexia is obsessed with eating healthfully or correctly. And the article states that for many sufferers of orthorexia eliminating processed foods is the first step towards the disease.

This caught my attention in a rather dramatic way, seeing as how I have been obsessed with healthy food and eliminating processed foods for well over a year. And let’s face it; I might be slightly manic in my everyday life. I clicked over to Dr Bratman’s website where he has written several thoughtful essays including one entitled ‘The Health Food Eating Disorder’. In the essay, originally written in 1997 (proving that this eating disorder is not so new as Yahoo claimed it to be) Bratman describes the time he spent living in a commune in upstate New York. On that commune he lived with vegetarians, vegans, lacto-ovo vegetarians and those who enjoyed a side dish of meat. The essay is worth a read, so go ahead and click on over. Even one member had ideals about the way that vegetables should be cut in order to maintain the energy of the vegetable! There was little that the communists could agree upon. Raw versus cooked foods, meat versus no meat. The debate was endless and all of the nutritional ideals conflicted at certain points.

Of course the Yahoo article interested me. I don’t lie in this blog. Although I read and research about food and nutrition, I haven’t come up with any of my ideas on my own. I have simply read about them, tried them out and shared the ones that I have liked. I fancy myself in a store. I am only going to buy the clothes that I like. So does that make me orthorexic?

Bratman’s website links up to a quiz. I think I was born with a Seventeen magazine in my hand, so naturally I love to take quizzes. This quiz is relatively easy. Fifteen questions about your eating habits, at the end you will have a score which gives you a diagnosis of sorts. (Note: I am NOT a doctor, and taking quizzes online does no replace the care of a physician or health professional. Please PLEASE do not take drastic action in your life through diet, medication or any other means without first consulting with your health care professional) In the quiz, each answer is rated 1-4 and at the end a score of less than 35 denotes orthorexia.

Some of the questions seem simple and even mainstream: Are you willing to spend more money to have healthier food? Well, yes, always. That one was kind of easy, but some of the questions were more though provoking: Do you think that eating healthy food changes your life-style? Well, yes. My life has changed dramatically since beginning this blog. I would even go so far as to say that my life revolves around food. I try and make weekend plans around the farmer’s market because it is only open from 8am-3pm on Saturdays and the good stuff sells out. I eat out less often because I prefer my own home cooked organic meals to those heavy with salt and sugar from God knows where. In the last 3 months did the thought of food worry you? Well…yes. I have worried over non-organic produce. I have worried if I should opt for truly organic turkey rather than the one at the FM simply labeled ‘no hormones’. I have worried about enforcing a tighter budget because of concern that I would not be able to afford the food that I think truly benefits my family. And I have worried about phytates so much that I am simply not ready to discuss it right now. Are your eating choices conditioned by your worry about your health status? Absolutely. My score on the quiz? 28.

I read 40-50 blogs about real food on a weekly basis. Many of these other bloggers share the same fervor and passion that I have about food and health. Many of them have overcome health adversities as a result of eliminating processed food, chemical additives and food dyes. My children have cut their seasonal illness by two thirds. Seasonal allergies are the worst thing we are dealing with these days. I believe that eating real food is the way to go. I believe whole heartedly that fat doesn’t make you fat, but rather it is an important macronutrient. I believe that many chemical additives are making people sick and interfering with their general health. But is that a strict rule for absolutely everyone? No it isn’t. Many people eat crap I don’t advocate and lead perfectly healthy lives. So am I crazy for believing I should eat only real food? Does that make me orthorexic?

I do not think that ‘orthorexic’ is a term that can describe me. Yes I worry about what I eat. I put a lot of time and effort into learning about food, time and effort in something that others may not be interested in. I may have altered my life considerably to fit real food in my schedule. But that doesn’t make me orthorexic. Because when it is someone’s birthday in the office, I still reach for a cupcake to celebrate someone’s special day. I do still eat out on occasion and I ENJOY it. Food is amazing and carnal and blissful. It should be enjoyed. I don’t obsess over food so that I can get an ‘A’ from the food police. This is not about some satisfaction that I am eating better than other people. It is not about my ego or my self-worth.

But that being said, my previous paragraph shouldn’t negate the disease. I think likely there are people who are truly afraid to eat certain foods whether the danger is real or imagined. There are people who refuse to eat out for fear that something might harm them. There are probably people who have lost friends over their food choices, and that is unfortunate. You should see the hate mail that Dr. Bratman gets on his website! It is unfortunate that to speak out in the attempt to help some people who are suffering of something legitimate invokes nasty letters. Dr Bratman is not necessarily saying that everyone needs to eat the Standard American Diet. He is not an agent of Monsanto. He states several times that he sells about 12 books a year and does not make a dime from the website. I believe there are truly people out there who should seek counseling for their serious food manias. But maybe the online literature regarding the disease should spend more time talking about the phobia, mania and obsessive compulsive components of the disease and less about the health food. Because when it all comes down to it, I eat organic real food because I do believe it is better for me. But that does NOT make me an orthorexic.

**If you think you may be suffering from an eating disorder, contact your doctor. Eating disorders are truly serious and should not be confused with normal healthy eating.

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursdays at GNOWFLINS and Sustainable Eats and more!
and Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays

Monday, May 16, 2011

Why Doesn't My Lime Have Any Seeds?

I asked a simple question of my Facebook folks this last weekend. Why have I never seen a lime with seeds? I am still firmly in the grip of all things Mexican and so over the weekend I whipped up a marvelous taco fiesta with which we drank wine (so weird). I had to use up some grass fed steak that’s been hanging around the freezer and figured this would be a good way to do it. (FYI-Grass fed beef is awesome and the only thing I eat at home these days. But the steak version can be a little tough and sometimes chewy. So if you want to switch to the ethical grass fed meat but don’t know where to start, start with ground beef or any long and slow cooking beef cuts like brisket. Switch to steak last. We have totally switched and have come to love grass fed steak, though it took time.) Anyway in regards to the lime I made a fantastic sauce to go on the tacos, and I squeezed in the juice of a lime and the question rather asked itself of me.

I expected two or three people to respond something to the question to the effect of ‘Duh, haven’t you ever seen ‘X’ type of lime? It has seeds’. But…no one responded. Or at least no one responded before I could whip this post out and well, post it.

So I went online.

Turns out, according to the general internet consensus, that most of the limes on the market are Persian or Tahitian limes and they are seedless. The websites were inconclusive as the whether these particular varieties were bred to be seedless or were naturally seedless.

Some citrus are bred to be seedless. But many are naturally seedless, like the navel orange. The naturally seedless plants produce flowers that do not need to be pollinated in order to reproduce. And while I am a highly curious individual, I didn’t go the next step and find out what that was all about. I encourage one of you who is reading to figure that one out and report back for the good of the group.

The seedless varieties that are bred to be seedless are that way because of genetic mutations that are encouraged through breeding. So, of course, that begs the question, how do those plants reproduce? They….don’t, as it turns out. At the end of their lives they’d just die, if it weren’t for a crafty farmer who came along and planted a cutting. Yes, just like those fantastic houseplants that have propagated themselves around the world through cuttings, seedless citrus plants have been surviving this way for 100 years or more. The process is essentially cloning.

Whew! Halfway through reading some of these websites I was convinced that all seedless fruits were GMO’s. And I am highly fearful of GMO’s. BUT THEY ARE NOT!!! This is simple breeding. And breeding is fine. Breeding is the farmer’s way of exploiting nature. Seedless varieties are just genetic mutations, and while those mutations would be difficult to pass on in a wild growing environment (Duh! There are no seeds!), these sterile plants will live forever, so to speak, in the world of cultivation.

So, the secret is a secret no longer. Go make margaritas with all those inexpensive seedless limes. I wonder if you can make sour mix with lime juice and honey…

A Wicked Good Sauce for Tacos (I got the idea, if not totally ripped it off from this amazing blog)
4 Jalapeno Peppers, seeded and de-membraned
A good handful of cilantro
The juice of one lime
1 clove of garlic
I don’t know, 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar?
I don’t know, ¼ cup of olive oil? I had wine that night, who really knows?!
Salt to taste (that’s the only half-assed measurement that sounds professional)

Chop the peppers into big chunks and throw them, the cilantro, garlic, lime juice and vinegar into a blender. Pulse until chunky, add the olive oil and run until mostly smooth. Spoon onto tacos like a hot sauce or salsa. Wow it’s hot. Expect that you will act fresh all night. Keep in the fridge a few days. I am not planning on keeping it longer than the very next day when I will finish it off with huevos rancheros.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Above the Bridge Tomorrow Night at The Red Room

I am pleased to announce that I will be doing a reading Monday Night in conjunction with Above The Bridge, a writer's group cultivating Washington Heights and Inwood writers. This month's event is themed 'Local Growth'. I will be reading with many other local writers, including my friend Lisa from www.calibanskitchen.com

The event will be held at The Red Room Lounge at 181st st and Bennett Avenue. The cover is $5, cash only. It starts at 8pm. Anyone who is in New York, come on down!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Non-Food Alert: The Fakest Caramel Sauce Ever

Several weeks ago I came across this in my grocery store. Warning: Snark alert. I am feeling pretty snarky while writing this. When I saw it, I actually laughed out loud! Save 10,000 calories a month?! For real? Sugar Free? Calorie free? If there was no sugar in this ‘caramel sauce’, what on earth was in this bottle? I think of calorie free things as being watery things like vinegar or powdery things like Splenda, not thick sauces like fake caramel. I mean…gross.

So what is in that bottle? If my crappy photo is too blurry for you to read or you merely don’t have the patience to read what is in my crappy photo, the ingredients are: triple filtered purified water, caramel flavoring, caramel color, natural flavors, vanilla, sucralose, food color, salt, potassium sorbate (to preserve freshness) and lactic acid.

Haha! Gross.

So what is all that stuff? I LOVE that the company lists the first ingredient as not just water but triple filtered purified water. As though somehow that meant that the water was somehow higher class than if they’d used just tap. Caramel flavors and natural flavors are just the same, they are extracts or essences of flavors. Check out the link, he explains it better. Vanilla we know. Sucralose we know to be the sweet fake sweetener that is included in Splenda. We know salt. Potassium Sorbate is a potassium salt that is used as a yeast and mold inhibitor in processed foods. And finally Lactic Acid is a curious additive. It is actually found in natural fermented milk products like cottage cheese and kefir and yogurt! But in processed foods this acid is used to inhibit sharpness and other flavor related issues.

But perhaps my favorite thing about this product is that it is manufactured by a company that produces DOZENS of calorie free chemical laced products. And they do it all with a business name of ‘Walden Farms’. If this isn’t non-food being marketed as food, I am not sure what is.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ramps and Eggs

Still wondering what to do with those ramps you got two weeks ago at the farmer's market? My market smells funny in the last weeks of April because those funky wild onions stink up the joint. If you still have some hanging around like I did, trim them and chop them up with a little local spinach.

Saute the ramps and spinach in a skillet with a little butter. Throw in some leftover sausage. Pork is particularly nice.

Then place in the middle of an omelet.

Bon Appetite!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

The recent royal wedding has delighted my imagination throughout the spring. My family and I lived in London for 6 months in the fall of 1985. I remember everything, school, friends, the guinea pig that bit my hand, museums, the 'punks' with mohawks on King's Cross, castles, ruins and crown jewels. I have often thought that this visceral city experience as a child was the reason I longed to move to New York as a semi-adult.

I never had a royal sighting. But I do remember when a little girl in my first grade class was four hours late to school. When pressed as to why she said that her mother had taken her to see Diana's motorcade. To an American it seemed kind of silly to me. We don't have such a thing as royalty here. We do not think of any man as being somehow hanging between Godliness and earthliness. Yet here was Diana.

Since the royal wedding was announced some months ago I think I have clicked on every link Yahoo has posted to Diana and Charles's wedding photos. My own mother did not really look so much like Diana, but recently it occurred to me that the way she wore her hair was exactly the same. While I always attributed the style to my mother, it is likely that she was emulating Diana. She wore her hair like that for years, no…decades.

Today Diana reminds me of my own mother who was enamored of all things English. My mother drank coffee in the morning but always tea in the afternoon. I should note that my mother was not even one ounce English.

It was maybe the third or fourth weekend of my first year in college that Diana was killed. I went to church and the priest prayed for her and her family and I was sorely confused. When I returned to my dorm the first people were talking about it. I felt so deeply for her children. Yet it was only 26 months later that I would be just like her children, experiencing the loss of my own mother. And last week during William's most happy day, I admit I kept thinking how much it stunk to not have his mum there with him.

I still think of my mom every day and in many different ways. Now that I have my own children I see her so differently. If you have your mom, kiss her today. If you can't kiss her through the distance then talk to her and tell her you love her. And if you are fighting with your mom, just quit it. The path of pride is often lonely and never leads you where you want to go. If your mom is fighting with you then think of her and forgive her. We never know how many days we get to see the sunlight. Make them as beautiful as you can.

Happy Mother's Day everyone!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Some Goals for the Upcoming Year

1- Make a big pot of beans every week.

2- Get Thing 1 to eat 2 beans at each meal where they are served. Get Thing 1 to eat 1.

3- Get Thing 2 to eat dinner more than twice a week.

4- Pack healthy meals for both the kids when they are in school and daycare this fall.

5- Get a physical and all the blood work that goes with it. I would be curious to see what my Vitamin D level is, or my cholesterol.

6- Stay on a weekly budget. I might tell you what that budget is in a few days/ weeks. Until then you will have to guess amongst yourselves.

7- Research a series about salt. (That is actually underway.)

8- Learn more about soy.

9- Try making dumplings. Like the filled kind. And many of them.

10- Buy a sausage stuffer.

11- Buy a pasta extruder.

12- Make different kinds of tamales. Or really more Mexican food in general.

13- Read up on juicing.

14- Finally make soap. I have had the stuff sitting in my closet for 4 months.

15- Possibly, bread? Sourdough? Could I possibly?

16- Solve the problems in the Middle East. (ha—just kidding)

17- Send out my to-date-unfinished book proposal. Maybe that one should have been Number One…

Did I miss anything? Is there anything you think I should do or read up on? How can I make our family healthier?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sunday! Sunday! SUNDAY!!

So no, I am not completely homemade. I have made some cool stuff, but I am a working mom. I can’t make EVERYTHING every week. I try to look for things that come in big batches, huge pots of beans, big sheets of granola, tomato sauce. These are the real time savers for me, the items that either freeze well or are stable on the shelf for three weeks. Breakfast is easy, I keep a bag of granola at my office and that’s it. I like the expression ‘cook once, eat twice’. But I like ‘cook once, eat 5 times’ better. I think this is why preserved recipes suit me so well. A crock of pickles or sauerkraut or cultured mayo keeps in the fridge for weeks or months. I am not turning around every day and having to make mayonnaise for example. I do it once, culture it and then it’s there for me. This year has been as much about getting organized as it has been about understanding food and nutrition.

Sunday is the day that I cook the most. After a busy week I want to spend Saturday decompressing and having a little fun. These are the best days for meeting up with friends, going on a special trip with the kids, doing some shopping. But Sundays I like to spend around the house. I like to spend the morning cleaning. Scratch that. I like to keep the kids busy while DH cleans. But by the time noon rolls around I like to have a pot of something bubbling away on the stove.

Be it sauce or beans on the stove top or a pie or a chicken in the oven. Sunday afternoon was made for cooking. There is usually a quiet hour where Thing 1 is playing quietly, or playing with the kitchen faucet right next to me, and DH and Thing 2 are napping. For me this time is as peaceful as it comes.

My favorite things to make on Sunday:

1) Tomato-Meat Sauce: I have concluded that a good tomato sauce needs to cook for 2-3 hours on the stove top for it to have that settled in flavor. I like a red sauce that is rich and balanced. I also like it to be cooked down, not loose and light like a quickly cooked sauce. That’s just me. You might have a different preference. But getting rid of the jarred sauce was important for our family. Now once a month I make a triple batch and we freeze it in three different containers to pull out on a tight overly stressed night. It is my quick fix meal, and I know where it has been.

2) Granola-This recipe that I got from 100 Days of Real Food is amazing. I have replaced all boxed cereals that we used to buy. My hubs doesn’t even ask for s#!t like Honey Bunches of Oats anymore. This is all good real food. But it takes an hour to cook. So make it one Sunday. The batch is big enough that it will last you for a couple of weeks. Unless that is if you start selling half batches of your granola to your boss. Only then will you find that you turn through the stuff too fast. Not that I am doing that mind you…

3) Bone Broth-Making homemade stock has increased the culinary score of my kitchen by at least a full letter grade. I held off for a long time because I was afraid of the time commitment. I tried in vain to find a good bouillon. And while Better Than Bouillon’s organic varieties offer the best bouillon type product on the market place, it really isn’t a substitute for all the minerals and natural gelatin you will get from homemade bone broth. I like doing chicken broth on the stove top for 4-6 hours, while beef brother should be 18-24 hours and I think the beef is easier in the crock-pot. I encourage you to not to think of this as something you HAVE to do to replace your bouillon, but rather something NEW you should try because it is so different than bouillon. I mean how many crazy recipes did I try while I was avoiding making homemade broth?

4) Pasta-I admit, I need to work on my discipline here. With no pasta maker, making pasta at home with a rolling pin and a knife is a serious upper body workout. But the payoff is a batch of pasta that contains three to four eggs! That is vastly more protein than the boxes you buy from the store which contain only wheat and thus far less protein. And the lack of protein is my biggest issue with pasta in the first place. Having so much wheat with no protein spikes one blood sugar with nothing to slow digestion. It isn’t like drinking a soda, but it doesn’t make me feel good. Including eggs in homemade pasta is a big deal when it comes to more balanced nutrition. Now….maybe it is time for a pasta maker.

5) Fermented anything-I have made everything from mustard and mayonnaise to sauerkraut and preserved lemons by lacto-fermentation. More than just a fad (and it is gaining in popularity), lacto-fermentation allows you to preserve food much better. And add to this the climate controlled refrigerators we all have and now I can make homemade mayo with raw eggs and have it stay good for weeks at a time, just like the stuff from the store. Condiments were the biggest surprise in cooking from scratch. I didn’t enter into the blog expecting to make mustard but it has been one of the more satisfying things I have made. And the fermentation method makes me able to make a regular sized batch and not try and consume it all in the 3 days that it would otherwise be fresh. Fermenting on Sunday is not a necessity. These recipes don’t actually take a lot of active time. But it is nice to have something ‘cooking’ all week on your counter. And Sunday is a nice organized day to start off.

There you go. Those are my favorite things to cook. And you can see that they are all things that are made in big batches so I am more organized for the week. Pasta and sauce and soup are easy week night meals, but only if you have the stuff prepped. Doing more on Sunday has allowed me to spend my mornings getting ready rather than cooking at 5am (which I have been known to do).

If you have been wanting to ditch some food crutch that has been holding you back, think about why you turn to it. If convenience is the answer, consider cooking more on the weekends and looking for preservation techniques like fermenting or deep freezing to keep the ease in your week night routine.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tomorrow is my Blogger-versary!!

It fills me with much pride to say that Wednesday is my blogger-versary!! That is right. I have been clacking away at the computer for almost a year now. And since the whole point of this blog was to get off processed foods in a year, let’s ask the most important question of them all, are we off of processed foods?

The answer is yes, and no.

What a cop out, huh?

Let me try to explain. First I will give you a small recap. At this time last year I was a passionate CSA member whose heart thumped loudly when I came too close to a carrot. But behind my veggie fervor, many of our calories came from frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, potato chips, paninis, crackers and cookies, packaged cereals, ice cream….well you get the idea. For as much devotion to vegetables as I spouted, I fell into every food trap there was. I wasn’t paying attention to what I was eating and I was buying separate food for the kids thinking that was all they would eat, I didn’t want to deprive them…insert your best excuse here.

My desire to eliminate processed foods came from the rationale that if I made it myself, that I would make food 10 times more healthy and of better quality than the ‘chefs’ in the food industry were doing for me. Plus I could see to it that no icky chemical preservatives, dyes or other non-food ingredients were allowed to come to the party. Through cooking at home I could better nourish myself and my family. My mission was both nutritional and emotional. I was looking not only for a few good recipes, but really how do I regain control of my kitchen from the money-grabbing executives who had convinced me to fill my shelves with overly pasteurized sugar laden adulterated food!

I made a To-Do list of everything in the house that I wanted to examine. I said I would eliminate foods altogether, or attempt to regularly make them myself in my own kitchen or…learn to make peace with them as is. The worst offenders in the kitchen, the ones that had to be completely eliminated: American cheese, Nutella and ice cream, fishy crackers. These are not simple foods to make. They are complicated and require a lot of work to make them. And they contain a lot of yucky ingredients. Out they went. Though I have found a local ice cream that we like, but with it being so high in sugar, it only makes an appearance every 3-4 months instead of every week like the good ole’ days.

Next was another small group: hot dogs and crackers. Both these items I had originally thought I would just eliminate. But I have since found an excellent grass fed hot dog from Hawthorne Valley Farm, whom I have blogged about before. I have started buying them. But instead of having them twice a week, we have them once every other week or so. I feel good about these hot dogs and the people I am buying them from. Same goes with crackers. I didn’t buy crackers for months until I found Ak-Mak crackers. They taste good, they are organic and they are completely whole wheat. So, they are back in the game.

And then there is pasta. I have made pasta several times. It is easy. Well…relatively. I have the best of intentions but I don’t always get to it. I like my homemade version because it is far higher in protein than store bought. But I do keep a box of store bought around for those nights when my train runs late. Sometimes the best laid plans fail and you have to cook a 5 minute dinner.

There is one item that has stuck around in spite of itself, pretzels. The pretzels I buy are the Utz Organic variety. I believe they are 50% whole wheat and 50% regular white flour (oh for shame). But the kids really love them. And I buy one bag a month. I have no intention of making homemade pretzels (yet). And I am happy with them. I can put it into perspective. I am not trying to win any awards in food perfection, so the pretzels stay. We do not eat enough of them for me to consider them a problem food.

However when I wrote that post I never imagined all the things in my cabinet that were highly processed and potentially problematic that I ended up adding to that list: conventional mayonnaise, soybean and other vegetable oils, bouillon. This year has been about discovery for me. And finding alternatives to some of these foods, especially making my own broths at home, has been a deeply enriching experience.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thai Ginger Carrot Soup

I have been making my Potato and Greens Soup regularly since I posted about it last fall. It is a fabulous lunch side dish now that we are no longer eating potato chips at home. It is lovely with a salad or a sandwich. I love the velvety puree of greens and potatoes. I have also made it with kale and spinach rather than just collard greens. The recipe is flexible and easy. But the heaviness of the potatoes is a tad too wintery. With spring springing out all over the place I think have replaced it with a fresher feeling pureed soup that is even more satisfying: Thai Ginger Carrot Soup.

Last Friday my beloved City Bakery served what they called Carrot Ginger Coconut Milk Soup. I had had two cavities filled Friday morning (an appointment made in order to delay me from going to work so I could be home to watch more of the Royal Wedding), so I was looking for some puréed soup for lunch. I wasn’t that into it when they said it was carrot soup. But it was the only soup that was puréed, so I sampled it. And it was ridiculous. Savory, sweet, velvety, satisfying. Jeeeeeeez. I knew I had to make it at home. I went that afternoon to buy carrots at the USQ Farmer’s Market. I bought 4 bunches to be sure that I had enough.

I found several recipes online. Some were complicated. Some had lots of ingredients that I don’t keep around my house and buying all of them would cost me $30. And some seemed too simple. So I meshed them together to replicate what I had eaten. Of course I did! And the result was obsession inducing.

Thai Ginger Carrot Soup

1 small onion, or ½ a medium onion
2-3 inches of a leek, whites or greens are fine
7 scrubbed but unpeeled carrots (about 4 cups diced)
1-2 inches of lemongrass
¼ cup Ginger root, peeled and small dice
3 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 can coconut milk
Juice of two limes

Sautee the onion and leeks in a little coconut oil until soft. Add the carrots, ginger, lemongrass, curry powder and stock. I used water because I didn’t have any stock. But the soup really needed some richness, so I added some of the Better than Bouillon that I still keep in the fridge when I am in a pinch. Don’t tell anyone, ok? I was in fact making stock while writing this post. I just started *sigh* 3-4 hours too late for the making of this soup. Use stock be it chicken or vegetable, the soup needs the flavor, and bone broth will help the protein and mineral content.

Let the soup simmer until all the veggies are fork tender. Puree the soup either in a blender or with a handy dandy immersion blender (my pick). Stir in the can of coconut milk and don’t be tempted to use light. You’ll be hungry!!! Add the juice of two limes and a little salt to taste. Pass the soup through a strainer. That will eliminate the stringy ginger pieces. Serve and enjoy! Then proceed to the nearest market to buy enough ingredients to make a double batch tomorrow.

The post is part of the Simple Lives Thursday Blog Hop at GNOWFLINS and Sustainable Eats and more! and Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade