Monday, August 31, 2009

So-called healthy cereal

If you watch any amount of regular television you've probably seen at least one Kashi ad. Usually a vigorous-looking smiling young woman is engaging in some kind of sport, like wakeboarding or mountain-climbing. She talks about how she is passionate about health and being active, and that's why she works for Kashi (this is how I remember them, anyway -- I always try not to give 100% of my attention during these displays of intentional deception).

Here in the U.S. (as in many parts of the world) we have been hoodwinked into believing that breakfast cereal is part of a complete diet. This goes along with many other myths (like solidified soybean oil is healthier than butter, or we should all put a toxic compound into our mouths at least twice daily to prevent cavities). At the heart of the breakfast cereal propaganda is, of course, the desire to make money. In other words: GREED. There is absolutely no need for humans to consume puffed, extruded, denatured, and over-sweetened grains from a box to grow properly or have energy for the day or lower their cholesterol or lose weight. [Wow, until I wrote that line I didn't even realize just how many things TV had taught me about cereal!]

At this point most of us know that fruit loops, frosted flakes, and cocoa puffs aren't doing our bodies (or those of our kids) any favors. But what about the so-called "healthy" cereals? We have now been successfully brainwashed to think anything with the words "whole grain" or "organic" are good for us -- which is why people are shelling out $6.99 at my local Brooklyn grocery store for 10.4 oz. of Kashi Strawberry Fields. This breaks down to about 78 cents for a tiny serving (the nutrition facts are based on 9 servings per box, but most people would finish this box after about 4-5 bowls of cereal -- or so claim the eager eaters who are posting their comments on the Kashi site).

Not only does this cereal contain TWO sweeteners offering the equivalent of 2.25 tsp. of sugar per tiny serving (you could be getting 4.5 tsp. of sugars if you pour a more generous helping), but the two "whole grains" it contains are nothing special: rice and wheat. What's wrong with eating rice in its whole form? This would be what we know as BROWN RICE. It tastes great by itself, in savory dishes, or sweet ones (you can even have it for breakfast with butter, raw honey, milk, and a little cinnamon). And what about wheat? Wheat is high in phytic acid which needs to be neutralized, as well as enzyme inhibitors (rice contains both as well, but in smaller amounts). The processing that must occur to transform grains of wheat and rice into puffs and flakes is NOT A NATURAL PROCESS. Not only does it leave in all the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, but it also actually destroys the nutritional value of the grains. Sally Fallon writes in Nourishing Traditions, "Cruelty to grains in the making of breakfast cereals is intense. Slurries of grain are forced through tiny holes at high temperatures and pressures in giant extruders, a process that destroys nutrients and turns the proteins in grains into veritable poisons."

The organic label is no reason to buy this cereal. The whole grain label is no reason to buy this cereal. And the fact that Kellogg's owns Kashi is a great reason NOT to buy this cereal! Save your $6.99: buy yourself a bag of delicious organic locally-milled & grown oatmeal from your farmers' market along with some seasonal summer fruit, and enjoy many mornings of delicious wholesome breakfasts!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Quinoa-stuffed peppers

I was never a fan of quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) because it always tasted a little weird to me; however, I have at last discovered that proper preparation takes care of this problem and makes quinoa absolutely delicious!

Quinoa is one of those whole grains that's considered to be really healthy by modern health-nuts (of which I am NOT one). I do not ascribe to the current brand of health-fanaticism which claims we should eat tons of whole grains all the time; this type of diet would simply be too carb-heavy for most of us humans. I think foods should be prized for their long-standing tradition, for their flavors, and also for their nourishing benefits, not simply because they are a whole grain, per se, and therefore high in dietary fiber. There is more to health than this, but enough said for now.

In some traditional cultures quinoa was prized for its health benefits, and has even enjoyed galactogogue status in South America for a very long time (a galactogogue is a food thought to increase the supply of breast milk). Interestingly enough, however, in Peru, where quinoa is an important traditional grain among the Incas and Indians, it is considered toxic if not rinsed and soaked properly. This is a truth that we find repeated over and over in many cultures: foods are beneficial to our bodies not only because of their intrinsic nature, but more importantly because of how they are prepared. Of course, proper preparation also improves the flavor and our enjoyment when eating these "healthy" foods! So you must soak the quinoa ahead of when you want to make this dish. It will take about an hour or so to prepare everything, but unless you are feeding a large family there will be plenty of leftovers which heat up beautifully in a warm oven. You may also, of course, add some type of ground meat or increase the amount of cheese to make this dish even heartier. *Special tip: if you're making bone broth (stock) during the week preceding making the peppers, you can save the cooked veggies from the stock and use them in this recipe! Carrots and celery are great re-used in this way.*

You will need:
-2 cloves garlic
-olive oil
-1 medium onion
-2-3 large carrots
-2 stalks celery
-1 large tomato
-3 cups broth (preferably homemade)
-2 cups cooked beans
-2 cups organic quinoa
-6-8 medium bell peppers
-1 cup grated raw-milk hard cheese (plus a little extra to melt on top)
-1 tbsp. cumin

To start, rinse 2 cups organic quinoa to remove the saponins (a soap-like natural pesticide). Then soak in a big bowl with plenty of water and 4 tbsp. liquid whey or lemon juice. Keep the bowl in a warm spot covered with plastic wrap for up to a week (I soak quinoa between 2-5 days); it needs at least 8 hours, but I find that longer makes it taste better. Never mind if a white surface forms on the water, or if it looks or smells weird. It's fine, just busy doing its job of breaking down the anti-nutrients in the quinoa by means of beneficial bacteria & enzymes.

Next, prepare the peppers by slicing lengthwise down the center and scraping out the seeds (you can leave the stems for a nice touch). Set aside.

In a large pot, saute a couple cloves of chopped garlic and a chopped onion in at least 3 tbsp. olive oil (extra-virgin). Then add one chopped tomato, 2 diced carrots (cooked or raw), 2 stalks chopped celery, 2 cups cooked black beans (more if desired, any kind will do), 1 tbsp. cumin, and 3 cups chicken stock or broth (or a combination of water & broth). You will need to thoroughly rinse the quinoa and add it at this time, then simmer covered until everything is soft, most of the liquid is evaporated, and the flavors are blended (about 20 minutes). Adjust seasonings to taste, remove from heat, and stir in most of the cheese. Fill the peppers and place in an oiled oven-proof casserole dish; you can mound the rest of the filling in around them. Add about 1/4" of liquid to the bottom (cooking liquid, or broth, or water), dot the peppers all over with plenty of butter, and sprinkle the tops of the peppers with cheese. Bake covered for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. At the end, remove the lid and allow the peppers to bake about 10 minutes longer, until the tops are brown and melty.

I think these alternative-style stuffed peppers are absolutely delicious, but with one caveat: the first time I made them I followed the recipe pretty exactly (it's from the Feb. 2009 issue of Vegetarian Times), and after eating a large serving I felt weirdly hungry. I just wasn't satisfied. This time I added lots of butter, and the peppers were much more satisfying. I find that meals without much saturated fat are simply not satisfying for me, and I suspect this holds true for many other Americans. As people in this country have cut out a lot of the high-quality saturated fat in their diets over the past 30 years they have instead replaced them with lots of sugar. How often do you feel unsatisfied after a meal and reach for something sweet? You might try adding more saturated fat from grass-fed animals or coconuts (butter, lard, eggs, coconut meat & oil) and see if you notice a difference in your satiety level and if you enjoy a more satisfying flavor experience.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Microwave dinners for toddlers

Here I go picking on the Graduates line again again from Gerber (here is the last attack). I don't have anything against Gerber, per se. They are a normal company trying to turn a big profit. Unfortunately the way they're doing it is by selling pseudo food to trusting parents who will feed it to their small children (and babies), so I feel justified in attacking them.

These toddler meals, which offer only about 150 calories per tray, have very little nutritional value and include as much as 430 mg of sodium. This is more than 1/6th of what an over-salted American adult is permitted to have in a day (and by the way, our USDA-allowed limit of 2400 mg. is WAY higher than the UK limit of 1600 daily). Considering that each serving contains only about 140-150 calories, and toddlers are supposed to have around 1000 calories daily, the price tag of $2.99 is definitely not a good deal.

This is what is included in the Beef Ravioli in Tomato Sauce with Green Beans Lil' Entrees dish:


Salt and flavorings abound in these concoctions to disguise the fact that the overprocessed, ground, bleached, pureed, dehydrated, and "enriched" food remnants underneath have no real flavors of their own. If you're tempted to point out that at least this meal has no artificial flavors, you might be interested to know that so-called "natural" flavors are allowed by law to be up to 49% MSG, which we all know is bad, bad, bad.

For a fraction of the cost even the most culinarily-challenged parent can cook up some ground beef, add canned tomato sauce, serve it over pasta along with frozen or canned green beans on the side, and while this will not be the healthiest or most natural of meals, at least it will be far better than what we have here. Plus there will be leftovers.

Beans, glorious beans!

Reader Question: Soaking beans and grains
Q: "One of the things that surprised me [on your blog] was your suggestion to add an acidic element to oats and legumes while soaking. (Actually, I didn't even know that oats needed to be soaked!) Would you mind addressing this more thoroughly for me?" -Vanessa A.

A: Great question! All whole grains (with the exception of kasha which is buckwheat groats that have already been toasted) need to be soaked with water and a little acid (whey, yogurt, or lemon juice) in order to neutralize the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors that are naturally present in all forms of seeds; this process also renders them far more nutritious. Nuts should also be soaked in salty water and then toasted (see my blog entries on this), and beans should be soaked and cooked a long time to render them more digestible (some varieties also require a little whey or lemon juice added to the soaking liquid -- more on that below). [Soybeans are a special exception: they should be eaten only after they have been fermented, as in miso, tempeh, and natto. Soaking, sprouting, and cooking do not sufficiently neutralize the potent enzyme inhibitors in soybeans and can lead to reduced protein absorption, digestive problems, and amino acid deficiencies if consumed regularly.]

If you think about it, many of the healthiest things we eat are really seeds! Beans, legumes, nuts, and whole grains are all seeds that will sprout and become plants under the right conditions and provided the seed (which contains a tiny embryo) is still viable. All forms of seeds naturally contain enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid which interfere with digestion to discourage predators. Phytic acid also binds with minerals in the digestive tract and prevents absorption, leading to deficiencies in magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, and calcium over time. As you probably know, some seeds are even toxic and can cause cyanide poisoning. So seeds have a degree of natural protection to keep us from eating them, and to keep them from sprouting under the wrong conditions.

Cooking beans: All dry beans should be soaked and cooked for a long time; of course, fresh is best but it's hard to tell when buying beans in the store. [You can get fresh organic dry beans (and whole grains) from Cayuga Pure Organics at the NYC Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesdays (or order over the phone).] Lentils, chickpeas, and black beans all require lemon juice, whey, or vinegar added to the soaking liquid: 1 tbsp. per cup of beans. Simply rinse the beans, cover them with warm water in a big bowl, add the acidic medium if necessary, cover with plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place for 24 hours (or longer, if you like). Then drain and rinse the beans and cook in a crockpot or on the stove on very low heat, always making sure the cooking liquid is covering the beans, and skimming off the foam when it first reaches boiling. I recommend using bone broth or stock as the cooking liquid as the gelatin in this makes the protein in the beans go further; it also makes them really delicious! I also add a hand-sized piece of dried kelp when cooking beans for extra iodine, minerals, and the tasty flavor (not fishy, but richer and more complex). Leave this on the top and simply scoop it off if you like when the beans are done if it hasn't melted into the beans (which is fine). I cook beans for about 3-4 hours or until they are very tender (the type and freshness of the beans will impact the cooking time, as well as how long they were soaked). You can add them to salads, soups, stews, rice or potato casseroles, dips, whole grain dishes, fish & meat dishes -- pretty much anything! I generally soak and cook a few different kinds of beans or legumes each week. Then we have them ready to use in our favorite dishes. At our house we love refried beans, mashed and cooked with a little lard from pasture-raised pigs (plus generous dashes of cumin and chili powder, and of course sea salt), and creamy bean dips, blended with sour cream and herbs. A super-quick meal is a baked or boiled potato topped with beans, salsa, and sour cream or cheese. It is worth mentioning that the canning process, which involves high temperatures and pressure, may overly denature the protein in beans and harm other nutrients, so it's best to use dry beans.

Cooking grains: A good rule of thumb for whole grains: soak each cup of whole grain (like quinoa or brown rice) with an equal amount of liquid and 2 tbps. liquid whey, yogurt, or lemon juice. Simply place everything in a bowl, mix, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place at least 7-24 hours or longer (quinoa soaked for 5 days becomes incredibly delicious!). The enzymes, good bacteria, and lactobacilli in the whey, yogurt, or lemon juice serve to begin the breaking-down process for you, rendering the grain delicious, nutritious, and digestible! Simply drain and rinse the grain when you're done and cook as usual, in bone broth or stock if making a savory dish, or with water. Always add some form of fat as well (lard, butter, coconut oil) to further increase the nutritional value.

*Please note: if you buy whole grains that have been rolled or cracked already (such as oats), be sure they are in airtight packages and not taken from a bin. Once the protective coat on each grain has been broken, the precious oil in the grain will have a tendency to go rancid (this doesn't necessarily affect the flavor, but rancid oils are harmful to our bodies). Once you have opened the package or ground the grains yourself, be sure to store them in the refrigerator. Beans can be stored in a cupboard away from light.

Here is a wonderful article on cooking beans:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pictures from Chicago

We recently spent a week in Chicago visiting Hugo's family. Here are a couple of cute pictures of Oliver.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Preparing for the week

I will be honest with you here: eating well does require commitment, time, and planning ahead. I probably spend 2 hours per day preparing food (this includes 3 meals and sometimes packing a lunch for Hugo), and this doesn't include planning and shopping or cleaning up. I could do it more quickly, but I enjoy my time in the kitchen with Oliver playing at my feet, so I do things at a somewhat leisurely pace. I realize, of course, that I am pretty spoiled to be able to take time preparing healthy meals from fresh ingredients, but most of the things I make are far from elaborate and with a little prep work on the weekend it's possible to enjoy delicious meals all week without too much labor.

The picture above shows seeds (all beans, nuts, and whole grains are really seeds) of various kinds soaking in water and either salt or whey. Soaking neutralizes phytic acid in whole grains and de-activates enzyme inhibitors found in all forms of seeds. Soaking also renders seeds of all kinds more nutritious and digestible. For this week I am preparing the following:
1) black beans (which must be soaked with something acidic, like whey or lemon juice -- 2 tbsp. per cup of beans, and enough water to keep the beans covered as they swell)
2) peanuts (soaked with plenty of water and 1 tbsp. sea salt for about 4 cups of peanuts; later I will toast these in the oven for about 12-24 hours at 140 degrees, and make them into peanut butter with some coconut oil and sea salt)
3) quinoa (soaked with whey or lemon juice: 1 tbsp. per cup of grain. The longer you soak quinoa the better the results when it's cooked! Five days is great, but it should be at least one day.)
4) brown rice (also should be soaked overnight with lemon juice or whey: 1 tbsp. per cup of rice)

Other tasks for the week include:
-washing, chopping and taking the lettuce for a spin in the salad spinner
-cutting up the cantaloupe and melon
-making stock from the leftover chicken bones of last week's roasted chicken (I use carrots, celery, and onions for this, plus a big pot of water and 2 tbsp. raw apple cider vinegar to bring the minerals out of the bones and veggies). When the stock is done I will season it with sea salt and strain everything into freezer containers to be used later (such as, when cooking the beans and quinoa). I will also reserve the cooked carrots from the stock to use in the stuffed peppers.
-making bean dip after the beans are soaked and cooked (I use sour cream and spices and mix everything together in the food processor)
-making ice cream
-making salad dressing
-making peanut butter (when the peanuts have been soaked and toasted)
-marinating the tuna (rinse & pat dry the raw fresh tuna; then slice as desired and marinate in 2-4 tbsp. lime juice and an optional 2 tbsp. whey -- the bacteria found in raw lime juice and liquid whey will crowd out any dangerous bacteria on the raw fish so that it will be totally safe to eat. It also begins invisibly breaking down the tuna which makes it much easier to digest and absorb.)

I will also make mayo at some point this week, and chicken liver & onion pate (recipe to follow at some point soon!). Stay tuned for stuffed peppers with quinoa, and khoresh bademjan later in the week.

Please share about what you will be cooking (and/or eating) this week. What types of food preparations do you do early in the week so that you can eat well all week long?

Farmers' market booty

Here is the rundown of what I bought at the Union Square Greenmarket for this week:

-6 ears corn
-1 watermelon
-1 cantaloupe
-2 heads lettuce
-4 large cucumbers
-a couple pounds organic potatoes (for Alice Waters's easy potato gratin)
-4 large tomatoes (I desperately wanted the heirlooms, but they were $3.95/lb, unfortunately out of my price range for this week as I needed lots of tomatoes for Khoresh Bademjan)
-3 eggplant (for the Khoresh as well, which is a Persian eggplant, tomato & lamb stew)
-6 peppers (3 "flame," 3 purple)
-celery (for chicken stock)
-yellow & orange carrots (for stock & for quinoa-stuffed peppers)
-organic whole wheat "peasant" sourdough from Hawthorne Valley
-1/2 lb. fresh tuna (to have raw on salads)
-1/3 lb. Pepato cheese (raw sheep's milk cheese spiced with peppercorn)
-2 shanks (about 1.3 lbs.) from pasture-raised lamb (for Khoresh Bademjan -- this cut has a lot of bone and is good stewed for a long time)
-1.3 lbs. flap steak from Grazin' Angus Acres (this will make several meals sliced thin over salad) *Note: we usually have either red meat or poultry once a week, with leftovers one other night, and maybe for lunch as well. It's very unusual for me to plan two meat dinners in one week, but both of these things will stretch over several meals.

At Whole Foods I picked up the following:
-red cooking wine (for making chicken liver & onion pate)
-Pellegrino (to dilute my current batch of homemade ginger ale)
-organic peanuts (for making peanut butter)
-organic quinoa (for stuffed peppers)
-organic blue corn taco shells (for a quick meal w/black beans, salsa, lettuce & raw milk sour cream)
-one lemon & 3 limes (Hugo likes fresh lime juice on popcorn and cucumbers, and I need the lemon to make mayo)
-raw milk freshly-grated reggiano (Hugo still eats this sprinkled on corn-on-the-cob with mayonnaise like he did when he was little)

The final tab was around $115, and I anticipate some of this stuff lasting into next week. This doesn't include what we spend on raw milk, butter, etc. from our buyers' club, but this week we will be eating particularly well. Considering that in other parts of the world people spend 20+% of their income in food (in Zambia some spend 70% on food), I think we are shamelessly spoiled with low food prices in this country, which makes us expect cheapness at the grocery store. With a little extra effort and a granny cart, anyone can buy most of what they need at the local farmers' market, no matter what their dietary restrictions are. I am incredibly grateful that we can eat so well and get most of what we need from farms in the surrounding area (usually New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania). We are really lucky here in NYC!

Are you a regular at your farmers' markets or local CSA? Please share some of your experiences with buying local seasonal foods.

Saturday at Union Square Greenmarket

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How to roast a perfect chicken (and make delicious gravy, too!)

Last night Hugo roasted his first chicken! And it was a great success!

(Of course, by following my 5 easy instructions it is pretty much impossible NOT to roast a perfect chicken, but we won't tell him that.)

The 5 easy instructions are as follows:

1) BUY A REALLY GOOD CHICKEN. This is the hardest step, BUT once you have found a source of good pasture-raised chicken you will be amazed at the results, and you can always go back for more chickens in the future! Try to find the biggest, best local farmers' market you have, then go there on the most popular day (for example, here in NYC, the Union Square Greenmarket is quite big Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but it is HUGE on Saturdays. Going on a Saturday will ensure you have your pick of chickens.) Chicken is usually available year-round as it is kept frozen. We actually get our chickens (almost always frozen) through the buyers' club that I have mentioned many times. We usually get chicken for $3 a lb. or a little more, so a 4-lb. bird is about $12-17. Of course, it's quite a bit more expensive than a battery-raised $5 pre-roasted chicken from your local grocery or big box store, but really do you want your kids eating all the misery that went into raising that pathetic creature? (lots of antibiotics, genetically-modified pesticide-laden chicken feed, brutal living conditions, inhumane treatment, disgusting processing conditions, and horrible overbreeding that causes chickens to grow breasts so large their legs snap from the weight) Enough said. Buy a good chicken and enjoy the delicious flavor, the health benefits, and do your local farm economy a service. (I should warn you also not to be fooled by labels that trumpet the words "No Hormones!" It is illegal to give poultry artificial hormones in the first place. Just because the label says this does not mean it's at all a naturally-raised chicken.)

2) THAW THE CHICKEN. Leave it on a big plate in its plastic wrapping for 24 hours in the fridge. Of course, you can also thaw it longer.

3) RINSE & PAT DRY. Also remove any lurking chicken parts from the interior. You can save the organs if you like (I recommend doing this). Then place in an oven-proof dish, preferably glass or ceramic.

4) SLATHER WITH BUTTER! This is important. Do NOT use margarine. Do NOT use olive oil. Do NOT use some soybean oil crap on this. Treat your chicken right. Then sprinkle all over generously with sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper.

5) COOK THE CHICKEN. For a 4-lb. chicken you will want to roast it for about an hour and 20 minutes or so at 375 degrees (400 degrees if not using glass or ceramic). You don't need to wrap the chicken in anything and you don't need to baste it. All you have to do is stick it in the oven and check on it occasionally if you enjoy watching the magic happen. The chicken is done when it is a uniform crispy golden brown all over, and there is about an inch of delicious chicken fat sizzling in the bottom of the pan.

The chicken should cool for a few minutes before you serve it. Just take it out of the pan and set it on a platter. At this point I usually indulge in quite a lot of delicious liquid chicken fat, which is a little salty and absolutely divine. (Do I need to tell you it's also superlatively nourishing? This is not like taking a mouthful of vitamins to be healthy. This is the way eating healthy is supposed to be.)

You can make an easy gravy with just 5 ingredients: chicken stock or broth, the liquid chicken fat in the pan, 2 heaping tablespoons of flour (whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached white flour), seasoning (sea salt & pepper), and some form of cream (sour cream, creme fraiche, or even the cream at the top of your bottle of raw milk). You want to keep the pan kind of warm for this, so I recommend putting it back in the oven with the rack sticking out and bend over it while you stir (the oven can be off, though).

Add 2 cups broth to the pan, then dump in the flour and begin stirring. If you want to get all fancy and sift it into the pan this will save a lot of stirring time, but it's not necessary. Just begin stirring and smoothing out the lumps. Just as you despair that the gravy will never thicken and reach for the flour, the thickening will occur. It happens quickly when it starts! At this point you can add your seasonings. If too thick, you can always add more broth. If too thin, you can always add a little more flour. When the desired thickness and flavor is reached, remove the pan from the oven and fold in about 1/4-1/2 cup of the cream of your choice (more if you prefer). If your chicken produced a skimpy amount of fat, you can augment it with butter! This makes a gravy everyone will love, and is equally great on mashed potatoes, whole grain rice, biscuits, or anything else you want to serve.

*Note: you can do exactly the same gravy after pan-frying a steak. Simply use the steak drippings, add some extra butter, and use beef broth in place of chicken stock.

See my entry on pasture-raised and truly free-range eggs for more on proper ways to raise a chicken.

Bon appetit!

Simple summer salad

Yesterday for lunch Oliver and I enjoyed some delicious canned salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska). Generally I prefer to source our foods locally, but we have been tightening our budget belt a little lately and so I have turned to high-quality canned salmon as a great option for healthy fish. Oliver had his salmon pre-chewed (by me) and mixed with a little raw butter and a tiny pinch of sea salt. I opted to spread mine in chunks over a big fresh salad of red leaf and romaine lettuces, with red onion, radishes, and cucumber (all from the Union Square Greenmarket, purchased Monday). A big leafy green salad is a delicious and budget-friendly summer meal with each huge fresh head of lettuce currently at around $2-3. I got mine 2-for-$5 at a small organic stand run by a Korean couple. I also included some crumbled raw milk cheddar from Central Valley Farm. For dressing, I used the classic vinaigrette I love so well and enjoy making so much (see my instructions here).

When buying canned salmon, look for the words "wild-caught" and "Alaskan." Of course, if this is cost-prohibitive just get the best you can afford. However, the Alaskan salmon is generally considered cleaner in terms of pollution, and of course you always want to buy wild-caught, even if you are on a tight budget, as farmed salmon are notoriously bad for the environment and not great for your health either. Try to get a brand that contains only fish, and perhaps a little sea salt. And be sure to serve the skin and bones (they are quite soft), which are delicious and highly nutritious as well!

Naturally you will want to round out this meal a bit, depending on your appetite, activity level, and taste. I opted for a toasted slice of whole wheat sourdough miche (from Bread Alone, an organic bakery at the USG which doesn't include yeast in their sourdough). I spread it thickly with raw butter (from Springwater Farm in PA), and also had a local peach for dessert. If you're still hungry, include a glass of kefir or raw milk next time with your meal, or slice a hard-boiled pasture-raised egg on top of the salad.

Please weigh in here: what do you like for lunch in the summer? What do you enjoy putting on your salads? Where do you get great local ingredients?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Eggplant "fries"

I kid you not, Oliver and I eat these as if they were the most delicious French fries in the world -- they are really THAT good! All my life I disliked eggplant because I had only ever had it in the typical eggplant parm fashion, which doesn't really flavor the eggplant properly (maybe I've just never had really good eggplant parm, who knows?).

In recent years, though, I discovered I LOVE eggplant two ways: one is khoresh badamjan, which is an exquisitely delicious (but simple!) eggplant, lamb, and tomato stew made in the Persian style (recipe forthcoming in the next couple weeks! I just have to pick up some lamb for this), and the other way is roasted. Roasting thin eggplant wedges with olive oil and sea salt is similar to frying, but without all the work of watching vigilantly, flipping, and waiting. Even the cutting is easier with this method. Now is a great time to try eggplant cooked this way because they are only $1.25/lb. at the farmers' market! You could have a really nice snack for just $1 or so.

You will want to pick relatively slim eggplants for this recipe, about a foot in length (the idea is to be able to make thin wedges out of them). Eggplants are mainly water, so they shrink down dramatically which means you will need to make two of them for a big snack for you and your little one. Just wash them thoroughly, cut off the ends, cut in half once (around the "waist", not lengthwise), and slice into thin wedges. I usually make about 32 wedges in all from each one.

Next spread the wedges in a shallow layer in 2 oven-proof dishes (I recommend glass or ceramic), pour on a good amount of olive oil (maybe 1/4 cup per dish), add a few generous pinches of sea salt, and mix everything up very well (using your hands is fine! have your kids help you). Then bake at 375 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, turning a few times during cooking. The idea is for them for get a little brown and crispy, but also very soft and translucent.

Bon appetit!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bugs at the Zoo

I came across a new species at the Chicago Lincoln Park Zoo last Friday -- a new food species, that is. This product is a little like the kefir version of Go-Gurt, which in my opinion both classify as foods that should be outlawed. Of course, I am all in favor of getting good bugs into little tummies, but does it really have to happen in this over-sweetened, over-processed, over-packaged way? Even when we take the sugar found naturally in milk into consideration, this Pro-Bugs product contains 7 grams of added sugars in only 5 oz. of kefir! That's the equivalent of slightly over 2 tsp.

I know the raw milk kefir (unsweetened) in my fridge would never be able to recognize this stuff as any relation at all. Parents: Just say NO to kiddie yogurt, kiddie kefir, and all similar products! Say no to polluting of the earth and polluting of your child. Okay, enough said. I have to go calm down.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Nobody Cooks Here Anymore

Michael Pollan is right at the top of my "food heroes" list, and his recent article in the NY Times Magazine really hit the proverbial nail on the head. The main question he asks here is why we as a nation are watching more cooking shows than ever but actually cooking less. Is cooking really just a spectator sport? Why do we have time to watch people cook, but very little to spend actually doing much cooking ourselves?

This section really got under my skin, and I will be interested in hearing your comments: "I spent an enlightening if somewhat depressing hour on the phone with a veteran food-marketing researcher, Harry Balzer, who explained that 'people call things "cooking" today that would roll their grandmother in her grave — heating up a can of soup or microwaving a frozen pizza.' Balzer has been studying American eating habits since 1978; the NPD Group, the firm he works for, collects data from a pool of 2,000 food diaries to track American eating habits. Years ago Balzer noticed that the definition of cooking held by his respondents had grown so broad as to be meaningless, so the firm tightened up the meaning of 'to cook' at least slightly to capture what was really going on in American kitchens. To cook from scratch, they decreed, means to prepare a main dish that requires some degree of 'assembly of elements.' So microwaving a pizza doesn’t count as cooking, though washing a head of lettuce and pouring bottled dressing over it does. Under this dispensation, you’re also cooking when you spread mayonnaise on a slice of bread and pile on some cold cuts or a hamburger patty." (emphasis mine)

Follow the link below if you didn't catch this article the first time around. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Food brainwa$hing begin$ early...

The other day Hugo and I were shopping for a few gifts for Oliver's Big First Birthday. We both had a "WHOAAA" moment when we came across this highly instructive food set from General Mills. Apparently food education training begins early!

This brought to mind the baby & toddler-age book that I saw recently. It depicted babies eating exactly four different things: milk, animal crackers, an ice cream cone, and a cookie (I was surprised that juice wasn't shown instead of milk, and that cereal wasn't included). There was no trace of a vegetable or even a fruit to be found. What does this teach children? How are kids supposed to learn about real food when these are the images they get from their earliest years?

My advice to all parents out there is this: be very aware of the food images that you allow in your house! The major food corporations would LOVE to tell your children what they like to eat and get them started early on a well-balanced diet of frozen pizza, ice cream, cereal, cookies, crackers, white bread, soda, frozen dinners, conventionally-produced burger, French fries, canned foods, packaged meals (like Hamburger Helper), pasta, and juice. What they really need is grass-fed meat & organ meats, eggs from pastured chickens & wild fish, wild-caught seafood, raw milk dairy products (if tolerated), lots of leafy greens, lots of fresh veggies & some seasonal fruit, soaked or sprouted (or sourdough) whole grains, properly-prepared beans & nuts, and plenty of wholesome fats & oils (butter, lard, unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, high-vitamin cod liver oil, and palm oil). The best way to get them started the right way is to model good eating practices yourself. That's what I'm here to help you do, so keep reading!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

This is what $18.80 looks like...

 the farmers' market today:
  • 2 eggplant ($0.80)
  • a bunch of red onions (about 5 large) ($2)
  • a bunch of pink lady radishes (about 6-7) ($1)
  • 1/4 loaf whole wheat sourdough bread ($3)
  • 2 cantaloupes (I can't even tell you how delicious they smell!) ($4)
  • 1 lb. organic pinto beans ($4)
  • 1 lb. organic black beans ($4)

Body image tips

Body image is a big issue for every woman it seems (and of course for many men as well). So many times I have heard perfectly lovely healthy women say hateful things about their bodies or about certain aspects of their appearance, while completely ignoring their good features and the fact that they are standing right in the same room! I'm not saying I am perfect in this regard, but I certainly succumb a lot less to negative thinking about myself and my self-worth than I used to.

I was sharing these tips with someone via email, and decided they might be relevant to readers as well. These are some things I have learned that help with getting past negative thoughts about myself and my appearance. Be forewarned, some of them are pretty shallow, but they might work for you, too.

1. Compare yourself to someone else who you believe doesn't look as good as you -- NOT to be mean, but to realize that hey, you actually look really great in comparison to some people (at least in your own opinion) and should appreciate what you do have! This is what I always think when someone I know is complaining about having a little tiny bit of fat in front of someone who is very overweight; this is not only extremely insensitive, but also downright spoiled. While there will always be someone more beautiful (even if you are the most gorgeous woman on earth), there will always be someone less beautiful (by the world's dumb standards) as well. So why not use the "glass half-full" method here?
2. Think about the things you do have. I know the Pollyanna approach can seem annoying, but it's actually very appropriate here. For example, I always hated my legs my whole life (once I learned to compare their appearance to the "ideal" anyway). Then my father had an accident and became paralyzed from the waist down. While I still don't love how my legs look, it's pretty hard to justify obsessing about their appearance now that I realize the sheer significance of legs! They allow me to do so many things I love to do (or rather, loved to do before having a baby and losing all my free time): dancing, snowboarding, wakeboarding, roller-blading, etc. So I have learned to value function over appearance, at least to some extent, and it's the same with any part of the body. I think this is a very important lesson.
3. Imagine that _______ (insert your name here) is your little sister, or your own daughter perhaps, and begin telling her the sorts of things you would say to your sister or daughter. Be positive, be supportive, be encouraging, and treat her as the precious, valuable person she is! Somewhere along the path from childhood to adulthood we learn to treat ourselves worse than we do anyone else -- even the people we don't like! You would never stop someone in the street and say "you're fat! you're ugly! why aren't you more like that woman over there?" So why is it okay to do this to yourself?
4. Limit exposure to toxic messages. Once I read that there was a study done that showed women felt significantly worse about their appearance after looking through a women's magazine. How bad is that?! Media geared toward women (this includes TV, magazines, websites, lots of books) is often directly or indirectly about getting women to feel bad about themselves so they will buy some kind of "beauty" product or dieting device. Don't buy into this. If the only way to hang onto your few shreds of self-worth and self-confidence is to turn off the television and avoid magazine counters then by all means TURN OFF THE TV AND AVOID MAGAZINES! Remove the negative images and messages from your life and you will finally have the chance to start nurturing some positive thoughts about yourself.
5. Remember the biological function of your body. After having a child and breastfeeding I realized that women's bodies are designed to do many important things. The goal of a breast is not to look like a gravity-defying grapefruit, but to produce sustenance for a baby; the goal of a woman's belly is not to be concave and tight as a drum, but to create a nurturing environment for growing an entire human being in 9 months. Whether you like it or not, if you are a woman then these are the biological goals of your body.
6. Don't forget, we all die and decompose in the end. So even if you are 5'10" with a model's body, or a male body-builder with perfect muscles, flesh is still flesh and after we're dead and buried (assuming not cremated of course) this flesh (beautiful or ugly!) decomposes and becomes dirt again. So what is all the fuss about? Enjoy your body and what it allows you to do and where it allows you to go.