Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Thirteen Steps to a Healthier Mommy, Maybe

As I was lying in bed a couple weeks ago, wiped out from a double dose of joy — stomach flu and chest cold — I thought, maybe I should take better care of myself. But, how as a busy working mom with a small child? I did some research online (I typed "easy health tips" into Google) and here's some of the "ideas" I found from various sites. Only the first one is a factual tip, the rest are courtesy of the strange and uncensored world of the Internet. Do NOT take them seriously.
  1. Give up caffeine.
    Uh, no, not possible. Next?

  2. Every time you stop at a traffic light, tighten your thighs and butt muscles and release as many times as you can.
    Drivers, please ignore the strange constipated look on my face.

  3. Whenever you're standing in line, lift one foot a half-inch off the ground. Switch feet every few minutes.
    No, I do NOT have to pee. Unless it is the line for the bathroom.

  4. Never drive-thru, get out and park and walk to the fast food stop.
    Are we parking, what, 20 miles away to burn that meal choice?

  5. Circle the room when waiting for the meeting to start.
    Crazy, scary people get fired. Fired people walk to the fast food stop — to go to work.

  6. Keep mold out of your water bottle.
    Alright, that one is just disgusting.

  7. Got goose-bumpy skin on your buttocks? This is a symptom of magnesium deficiency.
    Gee, I just thought all the bumpy was cellulite. Great news!

  8. Think about sex, this usually very powerful ways to burn your spirit. (Text copied exactly, not mine).
    Um, just a guess, but English is not a first language here. But who cares when your spirit's all hot and bothered?!

  9. Allow yourself to sleep 15 minutes after lunch. This will improve your consentration and maintain your spirit to work.
    Same site as above including typos. If I nod off for fifteen at my desk after lunch, I'm down for the count. I am also fired (see fast food note). And, my spirit is already too busy burning from sexual fantasies to be maintained for work.

  10. If you get hungry you should chew gum. Some people just like to chew things.
    Can't say as though I ever get the urge to just chew. But then, I am not a Labrador retriever.

  11. Easy to follow breast health tip: Do exercises that involve the movements of your shoulders and build up your chest and upper arm strength regularly.
    We must, we must, we must increase the bust, the bigger the better, the tighter the sweater ...

  12. Making time for exercise is easy!
    Obviously, not a parent type. Making time for exercise IS important. Easy? No.

  13. Don't eat breaded deep fat fried foods: If it helps, think of how gross and greasy they are as all that saturated fat slides around in your blood vessels and gets trapped in your arteries!
    Yeah, that'll do it alright.
So, my best healthy tip? I probably could have gotten in a work out this last half hour instead of looking up all this stupidity. Laughing burns some calories. And my spirit is burning ... something. Or, it's just the tomatoes I left drying in the oven downstairs.

Another Meat Recall from E. Coli

Recall includes certain 10-pound boxes of Butcher's Best 100% All Beef Patties; certain 10-pound boxes of Kohler Foods burgers; certain 10-pound boxes of Sand Castle Fine Meat; some 2-pound boxes of Topps 100% Pure Ground Beef Hamburgers; and some 3-pound boxes of Topps 100% Pure Ground Beef Hamburgers.

The boxes recalled carry the number "Est. 9748" inside the USDA mark of inspection and were produced on June 22, July 12 or July 23. Details are here. The current estimated number of people who have been sickened is 21 people in eight different states.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

What, More Zucchini?

Apparently, summer squash is one of the easiest and most prolific vegetables to grow. No big surprise, every year we get inundated with the stuff between the CSA and the large, handwritten signs at the farmers market announcing THREE FOR A DOLLAR or less depending on the weather and the time of season.

I have to confess, I let a few of them go bad. There were so many, and I just couldn’t think of what to do with them all. After a while, I decided that this was my personal challenge for the summer, this abundance of squash. Here, in the final days, I think I have stumbled upon the perfect way to use up a ton of zucchini and like it. It sounds a bit odd, but trust me, it’s amazingly good. Besides, desperate times call for desperate measures, and in the world of cooking this often means one thing: just add chocolate.

Chocolate-Walnut Zucchini Bread

Still have more zucchini left? Here’s a nice Mediterranean twist on the 70s classic stuffed peppers. Tasty.

Stuffed Peppers with Eggplant and Zucchini
Looking for these recipes? They will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Still looking to use up the last of that summer squash? Here are the other recipes on this site that can help:

Summer Squash and Vegetable Fritter
Vegetable Parmigiano
Pesto Presto "Squaghetti"
Roasted Ratatouille
Roasted Vegetable Quesadillas

Basil-Mint Cucumbers

Here's one for Rachel over in Oz, facing the arrival of summer and a backyard full of mint. We got a little bit of summer left here as noted in the presence of two little cucumbers in the CSA bag along with the other summer staples of tomatoes, peppers and zucchini.

All I normally think about when I see cukes is Greek salad, tzatziki, and pickles. But with mint on my mind and cuke in hand, I decided to try something different. Call it an un-pickle. Call it what you will, even the kiddo ate her share of these.

Basil-Mint Cucumbers
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced into 1/2-inch by 3 inch strips
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 tbs. sugar
1 tbs. chopped fresh mint
1 tbs. chopped fresh basil
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)

Mix the vinegar and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Pour on the cucumbers and sprinkle with the fresh herbs and red pepper. Cover and store in fridge for a couple hours until chilled and the flavors marry. Serve chilled.

Junk Food TV

I spend a whopping one-to-two hours a week watching TV. Until recently, I saved that time for programs on Food Network. Then, they canceled Sara Moulton. And Mario Batali’s “Molto Mario” (other than spots on Iron Chef). Jamie Oliver, chef and school food activist — gone. They started adding irritating reality shows. Recruiting ever more Rachel Ray non-chef types. And kept taping things like Unwrapped’s Homage to the Processed Food Industry. As a final insult, I saw Paula Deen pimping her recipes on sponsor Smithfield Farms web site.

The coupe de grace, though, is the current “specials” being run entitled “Heavyweights” comparing top junk food manufacturers in segments titled “High Stakes Snack Cakes: Hostess and Drake's and Little Debbie's” and “Big Chocolate: Mars and Hershey's.” Other highlighted companies include Dominos, Pizza Hut, Pepsi, Coke and Lays potato chips. Unwrapped kicks in a “special” of their own, perpetuating the myth of kids’ preference for junk food with “Kiddie Cravings Unwrapped,” covering such food marketing tactics as a cereal icon museum, and manufacturing process for items like Kool Aid, Spagettios, tater tots, and cracker jacks, animal crackers and gummi bears.

Doesn’t the “food” actually have to be food in order to qualify it as “Food TV?”

Food TV missed the mark on everything with the local food movement. Cancelled any real cooking shows that teach about food and culture. Blatently disregards the childhood obesity epidemic. Anything edgy that relates to food is noticeably absent, or dumbed down to the point of mush. Mush is not good food. Not for the body, not for the mind.

When I looked at their programming guide, I realized that most of the shows that I like on the list have been canceled. They are just continuing to show the reruns. Of the others, hosts like Bobby Flay appear on no less than FIVE different shows, Rachel Ray is on FOUR. Which is a lot like a rerun in and of itself. All that’s left on the plate is Alton Brown (I still love you, Alton) The cool-under-pressure sexy discipline of Robert Irvine, and “Iron Chef.” Even this sacred show is next under the hatchet with the upcoming reality show twist, “The Next Iron Chef.”

Lately, I have been wondering if there isn’t something else on the culinary TV menu. If, perhaps, armed with Tivo and my two hours a week, I might be able to find something better. Turns out, I can. Even in some unlikely places. Like the Travel Channel, which hosts Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” and some notable specials like “Jamie Oliver’s Italy.” Bravo’s “Top Chef” has more content about food, making “The Next Food Network Star” look more like a Miss USA Pageant in comparison.

The most promising food TV source, however, isn’t on cable. It’s the same network that pioneered cooking shows with Julia Child’s “The French Chef” in 1962. I am talking, of course, about PBS. The commercial-free network offers no less than 18 different shows on cooking and food, some of which are hosted by high-caliber chefs like Lidia Bastianich, Ming Tsai, Rick Bayless, Todd English, and Jacques Pepin. Good programming, if you are burnt on celebrity chefs and want to watch chefs who teach and mentor instead.

The shows feature intriguing cultural explorations like “Food for the Ancestors,” a culinary-history exploration of Days of the Dead, Mexican traditions and ancient ways of life that still exist there.

Maybe I’ve been listening to NPR too much. I am beginning to demand more from my media, especially as I have less and less time for it. At the same time, I have even more options. I don’t even have to turn on the TV. NPR hosts a series of podcasts on “Hidden Kitchens.” Gourmet magazines Ruth Reichl hosts a podcast series “Diary of a Foodie.” I can watch Michael Pollan host debates on the Farm Bill and take on Whole Food’s founder in a discussion on the future of sustainable food. Or, I can read millions of blogs about food written by fascinating people that will never be on TV.

Just like my personal food choices feed my body better, I am realizing there are much better options out there for feeding my mind as well. It’s time to tune into something healthy.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Spinach Sauteed in Butter and Parmesan

I think the title says it all. No wonder I need a few extra laps. I do "eats me spinach" in healthier ways, just not at the moment. I didn't eat spinach as a child. All I knew of the stuff is that it came frozen, cooked down into a foul-smelling blackish mush that reeked of vinegar. Ick. That was the 70s. I discovered a new love of greens just these last few years of eating local. Something about the freshness, a new approach to preparing them, and the variety. It's sad that a less than ideal first impression of so many vegetables can keep many people from finding out what they really taste like.

In the wake of the latest bagged lettuce recall, fall is bringing a short, but welcome burst of fresh greens before winter bites down hard. Spinach is a rare treat this second season, so I bought two bunches to celebrate. The inspiration for this dish comes from a little Italian restaurant tucked away into a market storefront. The owner's mother is from Naples, and the recipes prepared including the light, crisp Neopolitan pizzas are hers.

Pizza is a mandatory stop once a week when we go to pick up our CSA bag. Our kiddo looks forward to it each week. So do I. The menu stays true to its roots; simple, great ingredients prepared with care.

Spinach Sauteed in Butter and Parmesan
2 bunches fresh spinach, washed, stems trimmed, dried
1 clove garlic sliced thin
2 tbs. butter
1 oz. grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the butter in a skillet. Cook garlic until lightly brown. Add spinach and toss with tongs, until it just wilts, but is still bright green. Remove from heat. Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle in all but a tablespoon of the Parmesan. Toss to mix. Serve with remaining grated cheese sprinkled on top.

The other dish in the photo is just fresh tomatoes, garlic and a bit of crushed pepper sauteed in olive oil and served with grated Parmesan and fresh basil over pasta. Easy, quick and a perfect late summer meal.

Drop and Give Me 20

Well, drop is right at least. I don't think I can do the twenty. Or even ten.

I have the best of intentions with my diet plan. What I am realizing is that now that I am officially OVER 40 and have a sedentary job, short of cutting my food supply in half, diet is not enough. Besides, I like food. I just don’t want to carry the “leftovers” around my waist for the next 40-plus years.

I’ve been doing a lunch run twice a week, for 3.5 miles. Fortunately, we have a shower at the office and a back door I can sneak out of in my workout gear. Coworkers should not see me in spandex.

Two runs makes seven miles a week. It seems like a lot. Given that walking at least two miles a day is the recommended minimum, I’m still three miles short for the work week. Worse, this mileage is pretty small when I consider that less than ten years ago I was training for a marathon, and anything shorter than ten miles in a single run was an “easy one.”

I had a lot more time then. These days, I get winded running downhill after a preschooler on a tricycle. Okay, so I had a chest cold. But still! Face it, I’m in lousy shape with less than an hour a day to do anything about it. Being active all my past life, I never thought I would end up fighting a few extra pounds. The busy mom thing ambushed me.

I’ve posted on how to promote physical activity to your kids. Maybe it was time to look for helpful tips to add more exercise to my life. Gotta love the internet. I found some on Like this gem: “Never drive-thru, get out and park and walk to the fast food stop.” Yeah, that’ll do it to work off the Biggie with Fries.

Or this one: “Circle the room when waiting for the meeting to start.” You know, if you start acting crazy at work, you get fired. Then, you are walking to the fast food stop — to go in to work. So, not so much help there for “easy tips.”

Maybe, like dieting, there just isn’t any easy way. Maybe, just maybe, you have to suck it up and just do it. I guess that means I am going to have to get the “butt firmer” step and DVD out of the box. It’s only been sitting there a month. Who knows, give me 10 years and this could be me.

Good, Better, but not Best (Yet)

If you go out looking for trouble, you are going to find it. Definitely. There is a long way to go with regard to fixing our food system and even the average person's perception of a "healthy diet." But, if you are going to stay motivated, sometimes it's good to see some progress in the right direction. Here's a few good links to start your week:

Good. Burger King joins 11 other companies in agreeing to healthier food promotions targeted to children under 12. The commitments vary from company to company, but overall, they mark a greater awareness of the food choices being marketed to an impressionable audience. Better is the food choices, but a meal of chicken fingers (roasted or nuggets) plus milk and apple slices is still a meal without a vegetable or whole grains and still loaded with additives. Best would be dinner at home and no marketing or fast food at all. We're not there. Yet.

Good. Tyson foods announces that it will now raise chicken products without the use of antibiotics. This is obviously better than continuing to risk the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella and other bacteria, but the rest of the confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) need to get a clue still. As well as just providing better living conditions for the animals. Best is the growing market and availability of pastured chicken and grassfed beef and other natural meats. All of which are better for the environment, for the animals, the small family farmers, and for you. They taste better, too, which is a great perk. You can find a source for local, natural meats through the farmer search at Eat Well Guide.

Good. The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 requires all school districts with a federally-funded school meals program develop and implement wellness policies that address nutrition and physical activity by the start of the 2006–2007 school year. Better would be if this requirement had any enforcement and clear guidelines. For now, you can empower yourself as a parent and order educational materials that will help you make sure your school is adhering to the new guidelines. These are quality materials, and they are delivered to you FREE (even shipping) by virtue of the Freedom of Information Act. You can order the materials for schools as well, and hand deliver them to your school staff. I plan on ordering up a set and just having them delivered to my kiddo's school. Like that old trick where you get a pizza delivered to an unsuspecting friend. But better. Best of course, would be programs like a farm-to-school food program with fresh, local foods prepared in healthy ways that kids love. Yes, these exist. Yes, they work.

The most important "Best" in all these situations is that the actions taken are in direct response to consumer demand. This is you. All of you, who care and vent your opinions and make better choices, write Congress, blog, bug school administrators. All of you. You are the best. Keep at it.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Let Us All Eat Cake

Earlier this month, I clicked off another number on my odometer. This is the lovely cake my husband made for me, with local wheat flour, eggs and cream even!

I always used to have this terrible habit at birthday time of evaluating my life's work up to that point and dwelling on all of the things I wanted to have accomplished by now. It's a lousy ruler, and one I would always fall short of.

Funny thing. I became a parent. And all of that went away. My life is focused on living today and the future ahead for my child. The things I thought were important, well, they just aren't so much. Even birthdays, my own, anyway.

We didn't have candles, but if I had made birthday wishes, here is what I would have wished for.

Birthday Wishes
  1. World Peace. Why not? If it works for every beauty pageant contestant, I can use it too. And mean it. Really.
  2. Sanity. My own and everyone else’s. The world is getting a bit too crazy, and it’s time for some common sense to return.
  3. Laughter. Supplied in abundance by my child, this wish keeps me sane despite the need for wishes 1 and 2.
  4. Wisdom. As a collective whole, we seem to have not learned key lessons from as recent as forty years back. Remember civil rights, ending pointless war, environmental awareness, making the president accountable to our nation’s laws? Here we are back in 101 class again. I hope we pass this time. I hope I have learned from my own past mistakes, too.
  5. Safety. Of course I want my child, all of our children, to grow up safe, well and happy. Would that we could just grant this one wish and all of us parents sigh in relief together.
  6. Family. My own has had so many issues, losses, breaches, no wonder that the Italian grandmother in my soul wants a big, happy family at my dinner table. Even if you are not related to me. I joke with my husband that if we win the lottery, I am having another child, adopting a few more and getting a dog or two. He can live next door. He thinks I am kidding.
  7. Value. As I roll into early mid-life (or late childhood depending on my moment), it’s more important than ever to me to have some meaning to my existence, some lasting good beyond my self. And I don't want any name plaque or anything for it.
  8. Health. For my child, my family, my friends, for us all. Globally.
  9. Gratitude. One gift in my life is the deep satisfaction I feel from knowing what’s worth having — and what’s not. And fully appreciating all that I have.
  10. Awareness. This one is a mixed blessing. Some things I don’t want to know, but if I am going to be a part of this life, I have to know reality in order to act responsibly.
  11. Faith. It’s hard to get, hard to keep, and too easy to lose. Sometimes, it’s all I have. I can always use more of it.
  12. Love. For my child, my spouse, family, friends. Love of those I have not even met.

It’s Friday. I’m not risking a “13.” Some of these wishes, I am lucky enough to have (and want to keep), some are probably always going to be wishes. And, just to cover my material wants, my spouse did get me a cool steel mesh glove. Nothing says "Honey, I want you to keep the rest of your fingers" like steel mesh. I am so ready to take on the mandoline again!

So, tell me, what are your birthday wishes?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Honey Cornbread

Recently, I posted about the joy of shelling beans and how great fresh-shelled ones taste in soups like the Purple Hull Peas and Ham recipe. The recipe specifically recommends serving the dish over cornbread. As it should be. But, I had not yet made the perfect cornbread recipe to post along with the dish. I fixed that.

I like my cornbread a little sweet, dense and moist with actual corn in it, not just corn meal. It's a great use for some of that corn I put up for winter meals. This recipe turned out just right.

Honey Cornbread
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

I Want to Go to Farmers Market!

Believe it or not, this exact phrase is what I get woken up with almost daily. Spoken from the words of my pre-schooler who loves going to the market as much as I do. It helps that our favorite market has great farmers, her favorite honey sticks and treats, a splash fountain to play in, a spice store, a live band playing and an outdoor bakery/cafe where we can sit and listen to the music. But it all comes back to the food.

If you have never been to a farmers market, it is a great experience for the whole family. I liked this video of local food's patron saint, Alice Waters, navigating a green market.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Is it Organic? Or Just Marketing?

If you asked me to show you a label on our meats, eggs, dairy and most of our produce to show you it was "organic," I couldn't do it. Truth is, most of the farmers whom we source our foods from are not registered as "organic" and don't care to do the paperwork or pay the fees for a largely "name-only" mark. I know from a handshake, or a farm visit, that the food we buy is raised with care. As I learn more about food regulation and issues, the "organic" label is beginning to mean far less. Even if it is not less at the cash register.

Take, for example, the recent legal complaints that The Cornucopia Institute has filed with the USDA against Aurora Organic Dairy. The USDA found 14 violations by the company including confining animals to feedlots and the mixing of conventially-fed and -raised dairy cattle with the organic operation. Thus, charging consumers more for a dairy product that was not organic. The USDA failed to penalize Aurora for any of the violations. The milk produced by Aurora can be found under the private labels for stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, Wild Oats, and Safeway.

Another interesting item regarding Big Organic is just who owns those quaint-sounding farm names that you find on the "organic" packages. Names like Seeds of Change, Odwalla, Back to Nature? Follow the corporate ownership on most of these labels will land you at the doorstep of companies like Heinz, Cargill, ConAgra, Kraft and even M&M Mars. In fact, many popular organic labels are owned by the top 25 food processing companies in the nation. See for yourself.

In fact, as more and more mass retailers hitch their profits to the organic wagon, it leaves us consumers with even less ability to blindly trust the "organic" label as we rush through the store trying to buy decent food amidst bagged lettuce and meat recalls, new research on food additives and high-fructose corn syrup. We can't just blindly trust organic as this slide show of a mass retailer demonstrates.

I am grateful that I have enough local options that we have cut our grocery store list by half. For the remaining half, I'll be looking at that label and the cost even closer.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Bit of Housekeeping

I finally updated the recipe index. There are 18 new recipes that have been added in the last couple months, be sure to check those out if are looking for any late summer meal ideas.

Many thanks to the blog carnival hosts of the past week.
Carnival of Family Life at My Two Boys

Carnival of the Recipes
Carnival of the Green

Monday, September 17, 2007

Attack of Chickenzilla

The title may sound scary and the size of this bird was frightening, but Chickenzilla was easily the best chicken I have ever had. Three of three family members agree, including our child who was munching a leg in one hand and crispy bits of skin in the other, all the while calling for "More!"

Based on our great success in sourcing local beef, we decided to look for local poultry as well. I had met a farmer who had both chicken and lamb, and he sold me some of his chickens to "try." I meet him, he has two ginormous birds, two smaller ones and a pack of lamb shanks. He asks me for ten bucks. I tried to force forty on him. He met me at twenty.

"You're nuts," I said. "This is a hundred bucks worth of meat at Whole Foods."

He smiled. And just handed over the bag. He's won us over for good.

You see, the natural meats, even at Whole Foods, are not pastured chickens. They are cage free, meaning they have some access to outdoors, but not true pastured chicken. That natural diet of grasses and bugs supplemented with organic grains. For the first time chicken didn't have an indistinct flavor that could be any tasteless meat. Chicken really does taste like chicken. And, I tell you, it's not what you've been eating all these years. Wow.

Here's the menu for our feast:

Apple-sage Roasted Chickenzilla

Honey-Sage Sweet Potatoes with Shallots

Looking for these recipes? They will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at The Cleaner Plate Club.

Dessert? No, we just had chicken skin for dessert. It was that good. The only problem now, I muttered to my spouse over a bite of chicken, is that we can't ever get chicken out again. We're ruined. Sad, but so true.

Monday Reading

From the New York Times regarding toys:
Perhaps it’s time to rethink the decision to allow the unrestricted advertising and cartoon promotion of toy lines that has produced year-round marketing and piles of plastic toys, bought and soon discarded. After all, we ought to be just as concerned about the impact of character licensing and toy advertising on our children’s psyche as we are on protecting them from ingesting leaded paint and magnets.
Amen. The gist of the article is that many of these toys lack any value in education, encouraging play or imagination. It's a good read. I've decided for Christmas, we are going with building blocks (unpainted) and sporting goods and books. All made in US, or at least not made in China.

From The American Conservative on corruption in Iraq:

Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company, has a no-bid monopoly contract with the Army Corps of Engineers that is now estimated to be worth $10 billion. In June 2005, Pentagon contracting officer Bunny Greenhouse told a congressional committee that the agreement was the “most blatant and improper contracting abuse” that she had ever witnessed, a frank assessment that subsequently earned her a demotion.

Halliburton has frequently been questioned over its poor record keeping, and critics claim that it has a history of overcharging for its services. ...

... Responding to complaints, Halliburton refused to permit independent auditing and inspected itself using so-called “Tiger Teams.” One such team stayed at the five-star Kuwait Kempinski Hotel while it was doing its audit, running up a bill of more than $1 million that was passed on to U.S. taxpayers.

It's a pretty easy guess that there is some corruption going on in Iraq, but the depth of it was pretty shocking and something we should be aware of. I just want our soldiers home, safe, soon. I pray for that. What a lousy situation for them to be in.

From The Nation is a video and essay on monitoring "food miles:"
But something very strange has happened to food in the richest country of the world. We can get a bad tomato just about any time of day in any season. We eat out of paper bags and drink the magnificent beverage of coffee out of Styrofoam cups. While we are drinking the coffee, we worry about the possibility of nuclear war over oil. We eat alone. We eat while driving. We eat but there is nothing sacred or beautiful or slow about it.
I am reading (slowly) Barbara Kingslover's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, in which she states that for every one calorie of non-local food we eat, 87 calories were used to produce and ship it. Since we have started down our eat local path, we have reduced our grocery purchases to one-third what we used to buy there. I never had a number to attach to the fuel savings, though. It feels pretty good to know that saves a lot of wasted energy. We haven't sacrificed a bit, either. In fact, we find it harder and harder to eat out because the food we get is just so much better than even a fine restaurant. And, that is good news.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Need Some Good News?

I sure do. After a week of flu, chest cold and allergies all together, I'd like a little dose of happy. For those of us concerned about toys, there are options. Here's a site where you can find a lot of clothes and toys that are US-made for the holidays.

As far as Iraq goes, few of us can think there is good news there, the best bit we can hold onto is that it is on the table for getting our troops home, and the tide is turning away from this conflict. I like this column from Mark Morford that sums up my thoughts.

Further, I am hoping in the wake of this administration is the wake up call we all need to be more watchful of what our country is doing and participate fully. It's time to clean house. The good news that I have learned here is that I have choices, even if my politicians are so far removed from them, I can and will act locally and as a consumer to buy local food, and buy US-made goods as much as possible. I realize that I do have choices and these do make a difference.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Preserving the Harvest — for Generations

A couple weeks ago we went to pick up our CSA bag. Part of the week's harvest included an small melon with a light green rind. It smelled crisp and citrus. I can't even remember the name of it. As we placed it in the car, the farmer said, "Hey, be sure to save the seeds on this for me. They cost me a dollar each."

He gave my husband instructions on how to save the seeds. When my husband cut into the melon, the texture and flavor were just like the smell. It was a very interesting fruit. He did as the farmer asked, and saved the seeds. When he counted them, he said, "You know, there's like $150 in here." The next week we returned the seeds to our farmer, keeping a few to try and plant ourselves.

Seed saving has been in practice for far longer than glossy seed catalogs. For many heirloom varieties, this is the only reason they have survived and been passed along for generations. When you consider that the diversity of our food crops have been reduced by 75 percent since 1900, it really becomes critical to preserve that 25 percent we have left.

You can learn more about how to save seeds and about the history and importance of seed saving at my post for this September's Eat Local Challenge.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Tomato Tart and Cantaloupe-Pecan Salad with Honey Viniagrette

Ah, September. Possibly my favorite month because of the weather. It's one of those times of the year where being outside is far more comfortable than being indoors. You get up early, head out, eat outdoors, play outdoors, and, as the sun fades, seriously consider a hammock, pillow and blankie.

September is also the best of summer's bounty fading into autumn's rich, earthy harvest. Fresh corn and tomatoes can be found alongside the first pumpkins and butternuts. A second small harvest of lettuces. And the last of those sweet, delicious melons from late summer. It is the best time to be a locavore.

Recently, I attended the Sustainable Table's Eat Well Guided Tour lunch here in my home town. The menu featured a selection of dishes nearly all made with local ingredients. I loved the salad; made with peppery greens, fresh cantaloupe, pecans and a honey viniagrette. The main course was a Tomato Tart with bacon and goat cheese. I did not get the actual recipes from the chef, but I took a shot at reproducing the menu here at home.

Salad with Cantaloupe, Pecans and Honey Viniagrette
Tomato Tart with Bacon and Goat Cheese
Tart Dough
Looking for these recipes? They will be included in my upcoming book co-authored with Ali of Cleaner Plate Club!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Cinnamon-Vanilla Applesauce

We were hit with a frost near Easter this spring, after a warm few weeks all of the fruit trees had started to bloom early. Ninety-five percent of the peach crop in our area was decimated. Things were not promising for fall’s apple harvest either.

So, you can imagine my surprise and delight to find tiny, but tasty apples at the market. I think they were as much a surprise to the grower as they were for me. I celebrated by buying a ton of them. After you have eaten a few, you set to work figuring out how to make the most of this sweet surprise. For me, that is Cinnamon-Vanilla Applesauce. It’s an easy, low-sugar recipe. Once you make this home made, you’ll never go back to a jar. I like my applesauce “rustic” style, so I don’t use a food mill, just a potato masher. Leave the lid off the pot for a while at the end of cooking to make your kitchen smell like fall.

Cinnamon-Vanilla Applesauce
12 gala apples, or enough to get 5 cups of peeled, cored slices
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out with the back of a knife
2 Ceylon Cinnamon sticks (or use regular cinnamon sticks)
3/4 cup 100% apple juice or no-sugar added cider
1 tbs. Lemon juice

Put all of this in a pot, especially all the vanilla seeds and the pods. Simmer on medium-low heat for about 30 minutes. Taste, and adjust with sugar if you have to for desired sweetness. I usually don't have to depending on my apples. Remove vanilla pod and cinnamon sticks. Mash with a potato masher to desired consistency. Tastes best cool the next day. Freezes well.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Maybe you don’t know. Maybe you just don’t want to know. But when you pull up to the drive-thru to get your breakfast in a hurry, that is not just an egg on your biscuit. It’s actually eggs and:

“food starch-modified, soybean oil, natural flavors (botanical source), sodium acid pyrophosphate, carrageenan gum, flavor enhancer [salt, maltodextrin, natural flavor (plant source), spices, herb, turmeric (color)], monosodium phosphate, citric acid, soy lecithin. Prepared with Liquid Margarine: Liquid soybean oil, water, partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils, salt, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, soy lecithin, mono- and diglycerides, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preservative), artificial flavor, citric acid, vitamin A palmitate, beta carotene (color).”

Mmmm. Yummy. What is all that stuff? Other than the recognizable egg and some very unhealthy hydrogenated oils, much of the other ingredients are food additives. Additives are chemical compounds that are used to enhance or preserve (enhance being a relative term) color, texture, flavor and shelf life of a manufactured food. Some additives are safe, at least as far as the FDA is concerned, in small quantities. However, there are many that I just don’t think belong in food despite what the FDA says.

In at least one case, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agrees with me. BHA, BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE, and BHT, or BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE, are both used to prevent oils from going rancid, oils such as those used in frying. BHA is considered to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Testing of BHT is unclear whether or not it may be a carcinogen as well, and residues of this chemical have been found in human fat stores. Despite the Department of Health and Human Services findings, the FDA continues to allow BHA to be used. You can find both of these substances in the sausage patties of a fast food breakfast sandwich.

TBHQ, or TERT-BUTYLHYDROQUINONE is used as an antioxidant for unsaturated vegetable oils and animal fats. It can be used in combination with BHA. It is added to a wide range of foods, with highest limit permitted for frozen fish. It is used to enhance storage life. For industrial use, TBHQ is used as a stabilizer and is added to varnishes, lacquers, resins, and oil field additives.

In high doses, TBHQ led to stomach tumors and damage to DNA for lab animals. Prolonged exposure to TBHQ may cause cancer. While this is for high doses and lab rats, I have trouble with the idea that something you can only handle with protective clothing, per the Material Safety Data Sheet, is going in my food. You can find TBHQ in a wide variety of fast food menu items, especially anything fried or cooked in oil.

YELLOW 6 is the third most common food coloring. Industry-sponsored tests showed that this dye caused tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney in the lab animals. The dye is often contaminated by carcinogens. The FDA reviewed this information and concluded that there is no risk to humans. You can find Yellow 6 in menu items like ice cream, chicken strip sauce, and desserts that include colored candy-coated chocolates.

I once found a peanut M&M under my desk that had been eaten by a mouse. The animal had selectively chewed through the orange outer shell to get to the nut inside, avoiding as much of the candy-coating as possible. If a starving rodent won’t eat it, I am thinking, why should I? I quit buying them even during the worst of chocolate cravings.

Other food colorings that are a risk include CITRUS RED 2, an additive that causes cancer that is still sprayed on some Florida oranges. No worries if you don’t eat the skin, since it’s not like people use orange zest or candied orange peel, do they? They do? Hmmm. Maybe they should have thought about that.

CARMINE, a commonly used red coloring, has also been shown to cause mild to severe anaphylactic shock in some individuals, but it not always clearly marked on labels. As a whole, artificial colorings have not been thoroughly tested.

PROPYL GALLATE has not been thoroughly tested. Initial studies suggest a linkage with cancer. It is used as a preservative in meats like sausage, vegetable oil, fried potatoes, chicken soup base and even chewing gum.

Here are a few more “ingredients” in your fast food, and other manufactured food products:

Sodium- and tetrasodium pyrophosphate, a “slightly toxic” food additive used as a thickening agent. You can find this in coffee creamer and other foods like marshmallows and some chicken nuggets. Define "slightly toxic?" Is it just slightly bad for you? Or just not even remotely good for you?

Polydimethylsiloxane is used as an “anti-foaming” agent in fried foods. It is thought to be relatively safe. It is also used in the manufacture of items like Silly Putty, silicone grease, breast implants. It can be used to treat head lice. Wow. I want to eat that.

Sodium hexametaphosphate is used as an additive to promote stability. It is also used in the manufacture of water softening agents and detergents.

Want to learn more about what’s in your food? I've included a link to one chain for each type of the usual suspects; burgers, pizza and uh, "Mexican." Or, just go to your favorite fast food chain site and look for the ingredient list.

When you view or download the ingredient list, just do a “find” (Control-F or Command-F) for the additive names. There are a lot of ingredients. Bon apetit!

Center for Science in the Public Interest report on Food Additives

Fast Food Menu #1
Fast Food Menu #2
Fast Food Menu #3

Sunday, September 02, 2007

End of Summer Recipe Carnival

Ah, what other season is so clearly marked at each end by a three-day weekend? None, in fact. As the last bit of summer begins to fade, seasonal produce overlaps and these first couple weeks of September offer a rare blend of fresh corn and tomatoes alongside the first winter squashes and sweet potatoes. No other time like it at the Farmers Market.

Since school is back in session now, I am going to give this week's "A" students top billing for sticking to the theme of the week's carnival. The rest I have tried to put into logical categories for your convenience.

Southern Comfort food is at its best late summer with Shawn Lea's Fresh Snap Beans with New Potatoes that uses the last of summer's bounty in her grandfather's garden.

Jennie presents Papery Husks and Powerful Flavor posted at Straight from the Farm. This post is worth just looking at for the gorgeous photos. The fresh, seasonal flavors certainly fit the menu for end-of-summer bounty. A-plus here.

Lucynda Riley presents Another Basil recipe and eggplant too posted at Quietly into the Night. The recipe sounds great, and I am always on the hunt for a good way to serve eggplant.

DeputyHeadmistress presents Tomato and Onion Salad posted at The Common Room.

Stephanie presents Watermelon Lemonade posted at Stop the Ride!. Good idea for something new to do with all that melon.

Dani presents Sweet-Tart Salad posted at Catch the Spoon.

Dawn presents My Tasty Space: Summer Crock posted at My Tasty Space. Sausage and Summer Vegetables combine for this easy, tasty meal that won’t heat up the kitchen.

Trent Hamm presents Tackling Breakfast: Healthy, Inexpensive, And Easy Meals To Get Me Started In The Morning posted at The Simple Dollar. Breakfast Burritos fit the bill for using end-of-summer produce.

Too full to eat? Try playing with your late summer produce instead:

Barbra Sundquist presents How to Make Fruit and Vegetable Edible Creations posted at Edible Creations.

Mama Squirrel (my preferred handle) presents Strawberry Mice posted at Dewey's Treehouse.

For those of you wanting to stay late and get extra credit, stop by my post at Eat Local Challenge and learn how to save that summer produce for a soup on a cold winter day.

Triticale, The Wheat/Rye Guy with Lemon Cheesecake Ice Cream.

Famous Recipes presents South Philly Hamburger posted at Famous Recipes.

Bill presents Barbecue Butter Beans posted at World Famous Recipes.

World Famous Recipes presents Famous Dave?s Legendary Pit Barbecue Ribs posted at Famous Recipes.

Hillbilly Willy presents Hillbilly Willy -Fun, Food & Politics: Hillbilly Pork Loin posted at Hillbilly Willy -Fun, Food & Politics.

Thelly presents Grilled Chicken Breasts with Fruit Salsa posted at Chicken Recipes.

Kathee presents Grilled Chicken Breasts with Fruit Salsa posted at Chicken Recipes - Recipes for Chicken.

Slow Cooker Recipes presents Crock-Pot Barbecue Beef Sandwiches - Lowfat posted at Slow Cooker Recipes.

Silvia presents Three Wonderful Italian Recipes posted at Po Moyemu--In My Opinion.

Chief Family Officer presents Chief Family Officer: Baby Food: Slow Cooker Prunes posted at Chief Family Officer.

Host Bee presents Trendy Cocktails! posted at Busy Bee Lifestyle.

Pancake Recipes presents Irish Mist Pancakes posted at Pancake Recipes.

Diabetic Recipes presents DIABETIC LEMON BARBECUED CHICKEN posted at Diabetic Recipes.

Joel Fuhrman, MD presents Super-Fancy Healthy Desserts posted at Disease Proof.

Living Without Meat / Style Fix presents And That, My Family, Was Vegan Lasagna That You Just Ate posted at Living Without Meat.

Sagar Satapathy presents 20 Foods that will Increase your Studying Effectiveness posted at Online University Lowdown.

FitBuff presents Foods High in Protein: Top 10 Healthy Choices posted at's Total Mind and Body Fitness Blog.

Curtis Penner presents How I Used Food To Beat Depression posted at Be Fit And Strong.

Every carnival has one, go make yourself a funnel cake, pay the money and go into the tent of weirdness.

Deirdre Dee goes “carnival” with a make-at-home version of funnel cake.

Rickey Henderson presents Rickey Reviews Odd Food Left in the Second Floor Staff Kitchen posted at Riding with Rickey.