Monday, April 30, 2007

Amazing NEW Diet Plan!


Call now for the easiest diet plan ever! You won't believe it. No pills to buy, no special prepared foods, no costly and useless supplements! Act now, and we will throw in this handy plate guide for FREE! All this is yours for just ...

Well, I could make a lot of money selling the next, hot, new diet. And why not? Everyone else is. Just think the Expat Diet!

"Oh, are you on Expat? So, am I!"

I can hear it now to the tune of cash registers ringing. Sign me up.

I hate diets. I hate diet ads and diet products and diet plans. I hate promises of that easy magic pill that lets you sleep away fat or some other b.s. And it is just that.

There's no magic pill. Get over it already. We're onto you diet people and you are not going to lie to us anymore. Or make us give up bread. You were a cruel, cruel man, Dr. Atkins.

So, here is my anti-diet. I had to learn this when I was pregnant and could not tolerate the glucola long enough to get through the test. So, I got to be treated for gestational diabetes. I got a lovely monitor and a food plan. Not diet plan. Food plan.

Most of it was common sense and a lot of pokes in the finger. It was also a lot of work. It was like I was walking — waddling — around all friggin' day either eating, getting ready to eat, or planning what I would eat next. I have vowed never to become diabetic.

But, I didn't take a vow that I would not gain weight like every other working mom, too busy to exercise much. So, here I sit, with my few extra pounds, tight waistband, and my food plan out again, trying to get back on track. I learned a few good lessons from the experience:
  • How many servings of each type of food I should eat each day
  • All the different colors and kinds of veggies I can eat on the plan
  • Small meals and healthy snacks work best for me
  • When is best to eat, and what combinations of foods are best (eat proteins with carbs)
  • The true size of a portion
  • The tremendous amount of healthy food I can eat for the same amount of calories as a small bit of unhealthy food
  • Glucola tastes awful, makes me throw up, and pass out
Other than the last lesson, this is some pretty useful information. The trouble is, it is hard to do all that measuring and planning when you are a busy mom. I mean, if I had that much time, I'd just work out more and keep eating ice cream. That's what always worked for me before. Okay, before I found out I have high cholesterol.

So, here's the easy plan I am going to try. See the plate photo at the top of the post? It's a normal size plate. I will not overload it or mound the servings to the rim. I will have three of these a day with half the plate holding fruit and veggies, one-fourth the plate holding a lean meat, and the other fourth holding a whole grain.

I will try to eat most, not all, of my meals like this. Sure, I will have to make adjustments for things like pasta dishes and other combination dishes. If I get hungry, I'll try to have a healthy snack. I will aim for 5-9 servings of vegetables and fruits per day, more veggies than fruit. I will try to make sure most, if not all, of my fats are healthy fats.

It won't work every day. I know this because I am a realist. But, I will aim to make it happen most of the time. And I will try to remember my portion sizes.

Some examples:
  • One serving of meat = 3 oz.
  • One serving of vegetable = 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw
  • One serving of fruit = examples are 1 small apple, or 1 cup berries, or 1/4 cup dried fruit
  • Grains/Legumes/Starches = 1/3 cup cooked pasta, or 1/2 cup mashed potato, 1 slice whole grain bread (note that potatoes are not in the vegetable category).
  • Milk = 1 cup skim, or 3-4 oz. sweetened yogurt
Surprised? Portions really aren't as big as what we think. Certainly not what's packaged or served to us in a restaurant.

Oh yeah, ketchup? Does not count as a vegetable. Sorry, but no way, unless you eat half a cup of ketchup. Fries count as a starchy vegetable, not a vegetable. Ready for this? You only get 10-15 fries per serving. That's like the corner of the supersize box, you know? Or maybe just licking the grease off the bottom of the carton even.

As far as number of servings of each food type to eat daily, the food guide pyramid is a good resource — if you can decipher the new food pyramid diagram, that is. Luckily, they have a handy calculator on the site. It also has tracking tools and a worksheet if you are more interested.

It's not a bad idea to check these guidelines out since this is the kind of plan that school lunches will be based on if they ever update the guidelines from the 70s. This is basic, healthy eating guidelines. It is not a diet. I hate diets. Almost as much as I hate sit ups.

Because I also hate to count servings (and don't have time), I will just stick to my plate, eat a lot of different colors of fruits and veggies, and take the stairs. And, yeah, once in a while, I'm still going to eat ice cream. Because I am a realist, and I really love ice cream. But, I really hate sit ups.

Leafy, Local, Luscious, Lettuce



I've been boycotting packaged greens. In fact, all winter I spent time figuring out ways to cook greens instead of the usual salad from California. Part of it is concern over food safety with 18 outbreaks of foodborne illness since 1995 linked to lettuce and one to spinach. The other part of it is that fresh, local lettuce is just so much better and lasts so much longer than greens harvested and shipped to the grocer's shelves.

Processing and shipping time aside, the lettuce tastes better because it does not have to be "conditioned" for shelf life through such processes as antioxidant treatment, modified atmosphere packaging, refrigerated storage, washing with chlorinated water or ozone, and most recently, irradiation, which was approved for use in 1998.

So, you can imagine my delight when I went to the farmers market and found two huge heads of leaf lettuce for $2.00 each. As a special bonus, the lettuce came with roots, dirt and pots attached. So I will (if I don't kill it) get about EIGHT heads of lettuce for $4.00. Even though I am too late for the Pennywise Eat Local Challenge, that's some darn good shopping.

Best of all, if I want to see how my lettuce is being grown, all I have to do is look out on my back porch. Yep, there it is, still growing. Didn't spray it with anything today. No wild animals or bad bacteria. Okay, let me just step outside and clip a really fresh salad.

I like this new local twist in my life! But we also LOVE greens. So, just in case I do kill my little red and green beauties, we signed up for a CSA with a grower that is even more fanatic about the quality of my produce than I am. He's also started a winter CSA using greenhouses, so we should be able to eat local lettuce in December. Almost enough to make me not mind winter. Almost.

With greens this fresh, you don't want to kill the flavor with commercial dressing. It's cheaper and better to make your own dressing. And, it's really easy, too.

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

More Good Reasons Not to Import Food from China

From the New York Times:
  • The pet food case has put China’s agricultural exports under greater scrutiny.

  • The country has had a terrible food safety record.

  • China’s recent food safety scandals include: fake baby milk formulas; soy sauce made from human hair; cuttlefish soaked in calligraphy ink; and eels fed contraceptive pills for growth.

  • Chinese officials deny that melamine from the country could have killed pets, but have created a ban on using the substance for export. How that ban will be enforced is not explained in the article.

  • Melamine has been mixed into Chinese animal feed and then sold to unsuspecting farmers as protein-rich pig, poultry and fish feed for many years now.

Note to self, buy local poultry and pork that does not eat commercial feed...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Got Grass?



On my way home from work, I pass not just one, but two California “Happy Cows” billboards. Given that I live in the Midwest, and I can find a cow standing in pasture less than 20 minutes from my city in any direction, I’m not all too clear on why I should be seeing ads about the mental state of cows in California. I’m also not certain why someone spent $17 million in 2001 alone to tell me how happy the cows are.

I mean, many of the cows here look happy to me. Especially the ones that make my milk. They pretty much live on a pasture most of the time. They get milked only a couple times a day, no hormones or antibiotics. They eat grass, lie in the sun and basically do all the things happy cows should be doing. I even have a photo of the actual cows that make my milk posted here. So, see for yourself. Do they look happy to you?

So, what’s the deal? And are California cows all happy? Is the cheese really better?

The deal is this: the ads were done by the California Milk Advisory Board to try and compete with Wisconsin for the cheese market. When you consider the budget for just one year plus superbowl ad and national TV and outdoor advertising, all for over 10 years, well, that’s a lot of cheese. Literally and figuratively. It’s also a lot of cows and a lot of milk.

Last time I checked, there was no statewide mandate in California that dairy cows could not be kept in large-scale dairy farms in order to produce all that milk. Farms where many of the cows live indoors, in a small pen, over a hard floor and are fed grain, not grass, along with hormones and antibiotics. Others live in muddy, crowded enclosures with no access to grass or pasture.

Giving birth is a job requirement for dairy cattle, but the calves are taken from the mothers in about 24 hours in most cases. As for these mothers, many of them wear out after a fraction of a dairy cow’s normal life span, and are then led (limping and lame because they never got to move around) to auction. Shortly after, the dairy cow is slipped between a sesame seed bun and handed to you through a drive-thru window.

It’s not so happy, is it?

When the heir to the Baskin-Robbins business considered joining PETA in suing over these ads, well, maybe the rest of us should think twice about the truth. Besides, the cows can’t exactly speak for themselves or hire a lawyer, can they? If they can, I want to see that ad.

So, is the cheese really better? Well, not that cheese, or at least not all of it. Good cheese comes from good milk. Good, healthy milk comes from a healthy diet. For a cow, that diet is grass. And, maybe, just maybe, being allowed to produce a normal amount of milk without hormones and living in healthy conditions has some affect as well. I'd like to think so.

Grassfed dairy products have been shown in studies to be one of the richest known sources of conjugated linoleic acid or CLA (Dhiman, Annand, 1999). CLA is a type of good fat. Cows that are solely fed on fresh pasture alone produce milk with as much as five times more CLA than dairy products from animals fed conventional diets.

CLA is thought to be one of the best dietary defenses against cancer, including lowering the risk of breast cancer. (Scimeca, et al. 1994) (Aro, Mannisto, et al. 2000). I've just begun researching the information on the benefits of grassfed dairy, meats, poultry and eggs, but as I find more, I will post it. In the meantime, this site is a good reference.

While I can’t attest to the taste of cheese from happy cows, (my dairy has not started cheese production yet), I can say that the milk is incredible. Complex, rich and has a lovely soft grassiness to it that I had never tasted in milk before. Possibly because I never had real milk before. The taste of the milk even changes with the season. You won’t believe the difference in taste.

I can’t wait to try the cheese. Or make some ice cream. Or drink some more milk. It’s good to have happy cows. Really happy cows.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Quote Roundup

It’s Friday, and my attention span is shot after a very long work week that will likely stretch into my weekend. So, for all of us short on attention and time this rainy, cool Friday afternoon, here are some lovely food tidbits and issues, a couple excerpts and links to the full story.

A couple bits from the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood:
"Our Achilles heel is the discussion about obesity," Coca-Cola Co. Chief Creative Officer Esther Lee confessed to attendees at the Venice Festival of Media last week. "It's gone from a small, manageable U.S. issue to a huge global issue. It dilutes our marketing and works against it. It's a huge, huge issue."
Hmmm. Define "manageable issue." Is that one that quickly fades from the radar and life goes back to business as usual? Look, you make soda. That's fine. Just quit marketing it to kids, or make some healthy options, too. Maybe you could make more money doing the right thing, even.

Food marketers fear as FTC issues mandatory requests for information from 44 food, beverage and quick-service restaurant chains this summer. The FTC wants to understand the full scope of these companies’ marketing practices targeted to kids. As an interesting twist, FTC will also examine not just commercials, but practices of in-store promotions, events, packaging, internet marketing and product placement in video games, movies and TV programs.

Good. I am not anti-marketing, but marketing should have some standards, especially where our children are concerned. More importantly, FOOD MANUFACTURERS should have some integrity in what they make and ask marketers to target to kids. You can read a 9-part summary of the obesity issue and food marketing in my series here on this site. You can also find more at the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood site.

Shrek’s Fitness Role in Question
CCFC raises questions over using Shrek in Public Service Announcements to encourage children to exercise. Shrek is featured in sixteen separate food promotions for seventy different products.

The products include: McDonald's Happy Meals, Kellogg's Marshmallow Froot Loops cereal; Keebler E.L. FudgeDouble Stuffed cookies, "ogre-sized" Peanut Butter M&M's, Cheetos, and Kellogg's Frosted S'Mores Pop Tarts.

Kids, can you spell "Hypocrisy?" I thought you could. CCFC has a point, if kids are going to believe Shrek when he says "Exercise is good," why aren't they going to believe the same character when he is saying, basically, "Sugar and Saturated Fat are good?" Kids aren't dumb, they can add two and two. And, they know when it doesn't add up, as well.

A couple from the Center for Science in the Public Interest:
“If U.S. pets must serve as the ‘puppies in the coal mine,’ we urge FDA to heed the warning and take action now to ban grains and other grain products until the Chinese government and producers can guarantee that these imports are free of illegal and dangerous substances,” wrote CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson and CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal.
Center for Science in the Public Interest urges FDA to ban imports of wheat gluten, rice protein, and other grain products from China after the recent pet food issues. CSPI wants all imports banned until the FDA can certify that the products are free of contamination.

I am starting to wonder how many products contain this grain and how would I know? Why do we need grain from China? We grow it here, last time I checked. It's even subsidized by our government. Read the full article and the CSPI letter to the FDA here.

“The difference between the current USDA and new IOM school food standards is night and day,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. “Congress should support parents and protect kids by having USDA bring its disco-era nutrition standards in line with modern science.”
Can you hear the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, too?

CSPI wants the Institute of Medicine’s School Food Recommendations to replace 30-year-old standards. Imagine that!

Ah, I love these CSPI folks. I like the brutal honesty here. I've said that before, but every time I see a press release from them, I think the same thing all over again. Great quotes, great watchdog group, better than a pay-per-view dose of Ultimate Cage Fighting in my book. You can read more here.

The thing is, none of these groups are asking manufacturers, marketers or government to do anything except the right thing; tell the truth, be consistent, care about the quality of your product and the people who buy it. Makes you wonder why they are issues at all.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Herbs

I have to admit that I am not much of a gardener. Friends know to never, ever, bring me a house plant. You can literally watch it die in my hands. It’s that bad. For some reason (my husband would say it is because he helps water) I have had some success with herbs. This is great, because I like being able to walk out on the deck and snip a few items to cook with just as I need them.

Not many things enhance a dish as much as using fresh herbs. And, given the cost of buying these in the store versus a few bucks for seeds or small plants, it makes a lot of sense to get my hands in the dirt. Research has even shown that getting dirty is good for your mood.

I definitely got my hands in the dirt. Three hundred pounds of dirt to be exact. This year’s container garden is my most ambitious yet. I am hoping something survives my “brown thumb.” Wish the plants luck, they will need it. This year’s “porch garden” includes the following herbs:

1-2. Genovese Basil and Black Opal Basil. Basil is one of the most used herbs and it works well both cooked in a recipe and for a garnish. Opal basil is deep red-purple in color and has a milder flavor.

3. Chives. Part of the onion family, both the stems and the flowers can be used in cooking. The flowers are most often used as a garnish. Avoid cooking this herb for long periods of time or at high temperatures. Chives have natural insect-repelling qualities. Chives are one of the four fines herbes of French cooking. The other three are tarragon, chervil and/or parsley.

4-5. Oregano, Italian and Turkish. Oregano is referred to as wild marjoram. Its flavor is a recognizable element in Greek, Italian and Mexican dishes. Unlike most herbs, the dried form can have more flavor than fresh. Oregano has a high content of antioxidants such as phenolic acids and flavonoids.

6. Italian Parsley has many varieties, but is commonly recognized in two varieties, curly and flat-leaf, or Italian, parsley. It has a sharp, tangy flavor that adds “life” to any dish it garnishes. Flat-leaf parsley is more commonly used in cooking, while curly parsley is often the garnish at the side of the plate.

7-8. Sage, berggarten and common. Sage was used for ceremonial and medicinal purposes long before it became a pantry staple. It does not play well with other herbs, however, and it has a strong flavor that complements fall dishes like winter squash, poultry and fatty meats like lamb.

9. Tarragon is best fresh as its flavor tends to change when dried. The slightly licorice-like flavor goes well with light dishes such as fish and tomatoes. Tarragon is recognizable as the main flavoring in Bernaise sauce. French tarragon, interestingly, cannot be grown from seed.

10-11. Thyme, French and lemon. Thyme comes in many varieties and is a hardy perennial. It is used in all types of dishes either vegetable or meat, and can even be used in some desserts. Egyptians used this herb for medicine and embalming as early as 3500 B.C.

12. Rosemary. This is easily my favorite herb. I often just put my face down near the plant and inhale. I use rosemary soap. I even use this herb in desserts like Blackberry Crumble and love it infused in caramel. Rosemary has medicinal uses and is purported to be a stimulant, and even dangerous in large quantities. Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding are cautioned to not eat large quantities of this herb. I am not sure how large a quantity this indicates. By the way, it is not uncommon for pregnant women to need to avoid certain herbs. Licorice root, for example, stimulates ovulation and is a good one to avoid during pregnancy.

13. Lemon Verbena. This is a new variety to my herb garden. I am not sure how I am going to use this lemon-flavored herb yet. The information I have on it says it can be used for fish and poultry dishes, vegetable marinades, salad dressings, jams, herbal teas and even a sorbet.

I also planted some other interesting things; edible flowers, bee balm, spring greens mix and red lettuce. Next market day, I will get lavender, marjoram, perhaps some mint, and more lettuces to finish my container garden. The bee balm and lavender are for any stray bees in my neighborhood. I am worried about the bees. Expect a post on that topic soon.

Fixing the Farm Bill

Ali at Cleaner Plate has been an amazing crusader for this issue. You can find a ton of information and her thoughts on the subject over at her site. Ali seems like one of the nicest people you could meet. A genuine altruist.

Me, I am an altruist, mostly, but I've been beaten up by my professional life in research and am becoming a bit of a realist. Human nature is that we will not take direct action on an issue unless we first, see a real benefit for ourselves (not being farmers, most of us). Second, we won't take action unless it is easy to do and quick.

No, I'm not cynical! I am a realist. And, as much as I know so many of you care about our planet and one another, let's just go down the realist path for a moment.

So, here are some good reasons why you, as a consumer, would want to send a QUICK, EASY email to support change. Hey, you don't even have to know your representative's name! And, realistically, most of us don't. It takes less than a minute!

Here are the two ammendments that would help the situation and the basics of what they would do for YOU.

The Healthy Farms, Food and Fuels Act will do the following for YOU the consumer:
  1. Promote renewable energy development on farms, ranches and forest lands (cheaper, clean energy FOR YOU!).

  2. Link producers with consumers through farmers markets and farm-to-cafeteria (as in your school's cafeteria) initiatives, and provide new assistance to low-income and elderly consumers (wait the last one goes under altruism, unless YOU are low income or elderly).

  3. Help create more organic farms, thus better and more sources of quality produce for YOU.
The EAT Healthy America Act will do the following for YOUR CHILDREN:
  1. Require federal feeding programs, including the YOUR CHILDREN'S school lunch and school breakfast programs, to adhere to the 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines.

  2. Expand the fruit and vegetable snack program in YOUR CHILDRENS' schools across the nation and develop new nutrition promotion programs to assist producers in enhancing their markets.
Fellow altruists, keep reading ...

Oh, see, I KNEW YOU CARED!

Both bills would also have the following benefits for us all (Kum-bay-ya! Kum-bay-ya! All together now):

  • Increase access to valuable export markets (go economy!).
  • Expand programs to assist local growers with the specific investments they need to increase competitiveness (go local!)
  • Increase opportunities for specialty crop producers to access conservation programs, which will improve air quality and water quality and supply as well as protection of working agricultural lands and of sensitive environmental resources (go environment!)
  • Invest in research priorities for specialty crops to improve prevention of invasive plant pests and diseases (go organic!)
  • Double funding for farmers to promote conservation (environment again!).
  • Fund the restoration of wildlife habitat, including wetlands and grasslands (again!).
  • Protect more than 6 million acres of farm, ranch and forest land (and again!)
Did I mention the QUICK, EASY, EASY LINK to tell your rep (whoever it is) to quit chasing pages (okay, that was cynical) and do something meaningful for all of us?

Thanks, Ali, keep us all on track, would you? I know our world is a better place with people like you in it. And that's real.

Wordless Wednesday


I love Santa Barbara, CA. This was early morning about 6:30 in the harbor.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Mad on Monday Morning

I had a funny post ready. With a recipe. And a happy ramble on the joys of planting herbs. But I don't get to post those this morning. Because I have to post on this.

If you have seen the front page of most newspapers, then you know that the FDA was aware of the problems that led to the spinach and peanut butter contamination for some time before the outbreaks.

In the case of the Salmonella in the peanut butter, the FDA knew of the issues as early as 2005. When FDA inspectors requested documents from the ConAgra plant, they were refused. The FDA inspector left and the issue was not followed up on.

While the spotlight is being thrown onto the FDA, with reason, there are others who need to be called into question.

"This administration does not like regulation, this administration does not like spending money, and it has a hostility toward government. The poisonous result is that a program like the FDA is going to suffer at every turn of the road," said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the full House committee, as quoted in the Washington Post.

The FDA was given a budget increase of just $10 million, a mere bandaid when you consider they are responsible for nearly 80% of the inspections of our food supply. The USDA was given a budget increase nearly 10 times that amount.

Let's also not forget that ConAgra knew of its problems and sent inspectors away. And did nothing. And the spinach producers knew of the issues, and the outbreaks continued. In fact, 18 outbreaks of foodborne illness since 1995 caused by E. coli involved fresh or fresh-cut lettuce and one concerning fresh-cut spinach. The 19 outbreaks account for over 400 reported cases of illness and two deaths.

So, when you line everyone up to take the blame, don't forget the food producers (ConAgra, others) who allow life-threatening problems to continue and deny them, the FDA that cannot and will not do its job, and the current pro-business administration who will not support the FDA in doing its job. That's a lot of blame. That's a lot of anger for a Monday morning.

Beyond blaming, what can we do? Because blaming does not solve the issue of getting dinner on the table tonight. As consumers we need to decrease our reliance on processed foods and mass-scale agriculture. We need to Eat Local, to buy food from people we know and trust, who feed their own families the same produce and meats that they sell to us. And, we need to tell our government that we are mad, that we do not support them. And tell companies who sell us tainted product, knowingly, that we don't care to buy their products. Any of them. And there are many.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Taking on the "Tater"



I've posted a few times about some of the more questionable entrees on the menu at my Kiddo's school. Hot Dog Tacos, Beanie Weenies, and the one I have tried for the longest to figure out — Tater Tot Casserole. Try as I might, I just can't figure out what kind of casserole you could make with mushy tater tots and soup base as the centerpiece.

A friend over at Mother Talkers solved this culinary riddle for me. She posted the link for the Duggar family's favorite Tater Tot Casserole recipe. The site is located at www.jimbob.info, and that is not a joke url. See, first I thought it was a joke. And then, when I read the recipe, I REALLY thought it was a joke. Three 2-pound bags of tater tots. Two cans cream of mushroom soup, two cans cream of chicken soup, 2 cans evaporated milk ... it sounds awful. Wait a minute. THREE TWO-POUND BAGS? SIX POUNDS of tater tots? What the ...

Then, I read the site. The Duggar family has 15 kids, with number 16 on the way.

Now, I love kids. I'd like to have a couple more running around. I really would. But, I am sure I could not handle 15 of them, much less 16.

Mrs. Duggar has spent nearly 11 years of her life pregnant. Which, between the being pregnant, getting pregnant, and just been pregnant, doesn't leave much time for cooking, I'd guess. Or much of anything else.

When I am trying to get through a busy day with one munchkin, (and not pregnant), I think, wow, how does she do that? If I had 15 kids running around, I'd be half crazy (or more) and afraid to stray too far from the bathroom because I'd be in there every time I felt a sneeze coming on. Or a laugh. Or a blink. Believe me, if you've ever been pregnant, you KNOW what I mean.

As for Mrs. Duggar, who seems perfectly sane, she may just need a quick way to get all those kids fed. So, I thought I would try and come up with a better way to do a potato-based casserole. Something a bit lighter, with some veggies in it, more protein, but still an easy, one pot dish. While I probably won't be volunteering to babysit for the Duggars anytime soon, I can offer up the following recipe and my best wishes.

Hashbrown, Chard, Tomato and Ham Frittata
Roasted Tomatoes
Looking for these recipes, they will be part of an upcoming book co-authored with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Does the Lunch Lady Wash Her Hands?

Not always, at least according to a recent Center for Science in the Public Interest report on food safety conditions in school kitchens. Keeping the risks in perspective, there have been 11,000 documented cases of food poisoning from school cafeterias between 1990 and 2004. Schools serve 29 million meals each school day.

Still, the food pathogens encountered currently are not a small matter with virulent strains of E. coli and more and more resistant strains of salmonella out there. Young children are particularly vulnerable.

The CPSI report, “Making the Grade,” analyzed inspection reports from high school cafeterias in 20 jurisdictions across the country. The 20 were then on quality of food-safety inspections, frequency of inspections, and if the public had access to the information. The inspection reports revealed unacceptable conditions such as roaches, both dead and alive; rodent droppings; and improper food storage and handling techniques.

“Cities, counties, and school districts shouldn’t wait until a major outbreak of Hepatitis A, E. coli, or Salmonella forces them to update their food codes and ramp up inspections,” said Ken Kelly, food safety attorney for CSPI and lead author of the report. “Regrettably, many school cafeterias may be just one meal away from an outbreak.”

Hartford, Conn., received the lowest score, 37 out of a possible 100. The jurisdiction racked up the most critical violations, including multiple cases of dirty equipment and utensils, inadequate hand-washing facilities, and poor personnel hygiene. Hartford also had infrequent inspections. Infrequent is kind of a subjective word, given that federal regulations only require two per year.

Others who failed to make the grade: District of Columbia, with the lowest inspection frequency; Rhode Island; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Hillsborough (includes Tampa) and Dade (includes Miami) counties in Florida.

Also from the CSPI: Beverage (soda) contracts are not that profitable for schools:

"Most school beverage deals aren’t very lucrative, raising an average of only $18 per student per year, according to the first-ever multi-state analysis of school systems’ contracts with beverage companies. The study, conducted by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI), analyzed 120 contracts in 16 states and found that the majority (67 percent) of the revenue collected from drink sales goes to beverage companies, not schools. The $18 dollars per student raised represents only one quarter of one percent of the average cost of a student's education, which, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, is about $8,000 per year. The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Argosy Foundation."

I don't know about you, but I would GIVE my school $18.00 a year to keep the soda out if I need to. Now we can print out the study, take it to our schools and demand the drink machines be removed as they don't provide an substantial benefit for anyone — except the beverage companies.

Well Said

“Of course, the Food and Drug Administration should be the one policing food labels, but the agency is so short-staffed and dysfunctional that officials won’t take action even when a neatly wrapped complaint is handed to them with a ribbon around it and a bow on top,” said Center for Science in the Public Interest executive director Michael F. Jacobson.

Well said. I love brual honesty. It's so ... refreshing. The quote relates to CPSI's step into the arena of actually bringing suit to companies that make exaggeraged or false nutritional claims on their packaging. Companies that have been the target of CSPI suits over labeling include; KFC, Enviga, Pinnacle Foods, Frito-Lay, Quaker and Tropicana.

The CPSI has also informed the FDA of additional labeling issues for the following foods:

  1. Gerber Graduates for Toddlers Fruit Juice Snacks -- despite packaging pictures of oranges, cherries, and strawberries, the main ingredients are corn syrup and sugar.

    "You can guess why Gerber doesn't call these things Corn Syrup Snacks-no parent would buy them," says Bruce Silverglade, CSPI director of legal affairs. "This is candy, not fruit juice."

  2. Betty Crocker Super Moist Carrot Cake Mix -- The only carrot ingredient is "carrot powder," which is the 19th ingredient listed, behind artificial color, salt, and dicalcium phosphate.

  3. Smucker's Simply 100% Fruit -- Both the strawberry and blueberry versions have more fruit syrup than fruit. The syrup comes not from berries but from less-expensive apple, pineapple, or pear juice concentrate.

  4. Kellogg's Eggo Nutri-Grain Pancakes -- the label indicates pancakes are "Made with Whole Wheat and Whole Grain," but the pancakes are made primarily with white flour and have more high-fructose corn syrup than whole wheat or other whole grain.

  5. General Mills' Yoplait Light Fat Free Yogurt -- the label claims to the product will help burn more fat. However, the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has called the evidence on dairy products and weight loss inconclusive.

  6. Quaker Oats Pasta Roni -- the label name refers to White Cheddar & Broccoli, showing pasta and pieces of broccoli. Broccoli appears on the fourth line of a 14-line ingredient list, and there are only small bits of the vegetable in the actual dish.
"Food manufacturers are shamelessly tricking consumers who are trying to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains," said Silverglade. "Too many processed foods contain only token amounts of the healthful ingredients highlighted on labels and are typically loaded with fats, refined sugars, refined flour, and salt, in various combinations."

Amen. And thanks to the CSPI for standing up for us all.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Spices

I was trying to plan my Thursday Thirteen during my "lunch run," the 3.7-mile loop around my office I suffer a few times a week. I realized yet another post on 13 things I do in a week might, just might, not be that interesting. In fact, I might not be that interesting. Other than a nod to my crazier past, well, I'm fairly normal, sort of, kind of, if all things are considered.

So, I have decided to make my Thursday Thirteen post center on 13 bits of culinary trivia to bore you with instead. Ready to begin? Fantastic! Let's go.

If you've read a few posts, you know that my Kiddo and I LOVE spices. The smell, the taste, the variety. Spices are so ingrained in our various cultures that many cultures even have a trademark "flavor principle." For example, Mexico is typified by chile and lime. India: cumin, garlic and ginger. Greece: cinnamon, lemon and oregano. You can experience the world from your spice cabinet.

Spices and herbs both come from plants. The primary difference is that herbs are usually from a plant's leaves, stem or flowers, spices are usually from the bark, roots, seeds, buds or berries of the plant. Some plants are the source for both an herb and a spice, as in the case of dill and coriander (cilantro). Fennel is also both an herb and the fennel seed is a spice, but the plant bulb is also used as a vegetable.

Thirteen Interesting Spices in My Cabinet:
  1. Anise and Star Anise, which are not related at all, yet have a similar flavor and name. Both can be used in pastry and vegetable dishes. Star Anise is one of the primary flavors in Chinese Five Spice Powder.

  2. Caraway. This is possibly the world's oldest spice, it's use has been traced to the Stone Age. Caraway is most familiar to us as the peppery flavor in rye bread.

  3. Cloves are the unopened buds of a certain species of tropical evergreen. Cloves have a powerful flavor and only a small amount should be used.

  4. Allspice. Even though it smells like a blend of cinnamon, cloves and nutmegs, allspice is from a single source, the dried berry from a tree found in Jamaica. It is commonly found in foods like cakes and curries, and jerk chicken.

  5. Cinnamon and Cassia. Actually, most of what we think is cinnamon here in the States is actually the less expensive, related spice Cassia. Cassia has a stronger, less subtle flavor than true cinnamon. There are also varieties that offer different flavors. For example, Ceylon Cinnamon is soft and fruity and complex in flavor. Vietnamese Cinnamon is crisp and deeply spicy. Both are very different in flavor than China Cassia, what is normally sold as cinnamon.

  6. Fenugreek. I just bought this and have used it on the herb chicken recipe. It works well with poultry. It has a fresh, tangy smell with a hint of almost maple to it. It is often found in curries.

  7. Nutmeg and Mace both come from the same fruit of a tropical evergreen. The mace is the lacelike shell around the nutmeg seed. Ironically, ground mace will retain its flavor for longer than most spices, but nutmeg quickly loses its flavor when ground. For this reason, it is best to buy the nutmegs whole and use a microplane or grinder as needed.

  8. Black and White Peppercorns both come from the same plant. The difference is the point at which they are picked and how they are processed. Black peppercorns are picked when the berry is still green, then it turns black as it is dried. White peppercorns are picked when the berry ripens and turns red, then they are allowed to ferment. The outer red skin comes off in processing and the resulting spice is white. White pepper is commonly produced by mechanically removing the black skin from black peppercorns. This is not the same spice, though the process is cheaper. This inferior white pepper should be labeled "decorticated."

  9. Galangal is from the rhizome of a plant that is native to India. It's flavor is similar to ginger but with pepper and pine notes. Fresh ginger can be used as a substitute.

  10. Saffron and Cardamom take the top two spots as the most expensive spices. It takes about 250,000 saffron crocus flowers to produce a pound of saffron.

  11. Curry. While there is a single jar on the shelf labeled curry, curry is actually a blend of several other spices. There are also several kinds of curries as well. The bright gold powder most of us are familiar with contains a blend of pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, ginger, mace and turmeric. A fun thing to do is to get a few of these blended spices and see if you can tell (no peeking at the label) what spices are in the mix. Well, it's fun for me, anyway.

  12. Masala. A masala is a blend of roasted and ground spices. Garam masala, a favorite of mine, contains a blend of pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, nutmeg, turmeric, bay leaves and fennel seeds.

  13. Juniper berries. I have these in my cabinet, but I have no idea why or what I might make other than a bathtub of gin. My culinary text says they can be used in wild game, venison or wild boar dishes. It's a bit more likely I would be making the gin.

There are hundreds of spices. Hundreds. I only get 13 in this post. But, there's always next Thursday!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Basic (Green) Beans

If I ever have to pull together dinner fast, there are a few sides, especially this one, I know I can count on to rest on the plate — even alongside a crown rib roast — and hold their own. No one has to know it took just a few ingredients and minimal effort.

I keep roasted or sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil) around as a staple. They have a ton of flavor and taste great. We also love nuts around here in the land of Genetically High Cholesterol. So, it’s no big surprise that this dish has both of these ingredients, plus the Kiddo’s favorite — fresh green beans.

Green Beans Sauteéd with Roasted Tomatoes and Shallot
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book co-authored with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

By Popular Demand: A Basic Veggie Dish

This recipe was from my last summer's trips to the farmers markets. Mike&Misty left me a nice note to say, "More regular vegetable dishes." So here is one. If you cannot find eggplant, just use all zucchini and tomatoes. Save this one for summer's bounty of squashes and tomatoes and eggplants.

I will admit that I have not been a fan of eggplant unless it is prepared very creatively. Remembering that eggplant is like a sponge that will soak up a ton of olive oil, I avoided the fry method. It also saves on calories, heating up the kitchen, and cleanup. However, I took the more laborious approach to the cheese filling, using fresh herbs from my garden. I also got a bit creative and used other vegetables I had from that market trip, zucchini and tomatoes. The result? My new recipe for Vegetable Parmigiano. Very tasty, crisp and light, then cheesy and luscious.

My eggplant-hating spouse devoured it. My toddler loved it. I was so emboldened by the initial success I bought a ton of eggplant the next week, white, Japanese and green ones. To my delight, a huge pan of this dish disappeared from a table of six adults and two kids. People asked for more to take home with them. Let me know if you try it.

Vegetable Parmigiano
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book co-authored with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Channeling Mario

Last night I had a crazy dream. I had been selected to be Mario Batali's sous chef. A thinner, younger Mario, by the way. Throughout the whole dream, we were preparing to go places to cook, but we never got anywhere and never cooked a thing. I don't know what this means.

I tried to stay asleep, to garner some subconscious bit of wisdom from Molto Mario. Alas, my dream was ended.

"Wake up, Mommy!"

So, I am looking to all of you for a path to wisdom. What kind of cooking tip do you most need? What ingredient do you most want a recipe for? Just ask, and I will try and find an answer. Maybe we can get by without Mario.

Wordless Wednesday


Not me, I took the photo. But I did this same task as part of my brief, former life as a Shark Wrangler.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How Was Your Day?

I thought a lot about my day yesterday, my perfectly normal day. I sat on the floor and watched my child sleeping, and said a word of thanks for the miracle of "nothing special." A day where we all come home at the end. Take a walk, eat dinner, play a bit, then settle into bed.

I thought about the parents who lost their children in the shootings at Virginia Tech. I thought how much they longed for just another normal day, because nothing, nothing, will be normal again for them, ever. My heart hurt for them. And it hurt from straining at its very seams with gratitude for having had just another normal day.

We take each day for granted. How was your day? Oh, the usual, you know, same old, same old. I challenge each of us, out of respect, to realize just how good every day is. Call it a meme, call it what you will. But make a post, leave me a link in your comment and let me know, "How Was Your Day?" I'd like to hear about it.

Where's My Beef (Coming From)?

A pig walks into a spinach field in California. A two-year-old in Idaho dies. Somewhere a cow gives birth to an exact replica of its sire. We buy a new freezer.

How can these events be related? With a nod to Michael Pollan, let me trace the events back to the source.

On Sept. 20, 2006, Kyle Allgood of Boise, Idaho died from eating food contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. Over 200 people in 26 states were sickened and two others died. This type of food poisoning is normally only associated with consumption of contaminated meat. The contaminated food source was spinach.

The spinach was grown in the Salinas Valley of California, and harvested just weeks earlier. It took a long time to trace the source of contamination. However, according to Dr. Reilly of the California Health Department, the outbreak was most likely caused when a feral pig walked into the spinach field after visiting a cattle feedlot nearby. The pig had the bacteria in its system and had carried on it some of the cattle manure from the feedlot.

The manure contained the virulent strain of E. coli, O157:H7, that is usually found in the intestines of cattle, sheep and goats who consume a grain-fed diet. This strain of E. coli evolved by surviving in the highly acidic digestive system of cattle in feedlots. Grain feeding increases the number of bacteria and its resistance to stomach acids according to recent research published in Science.

The high stomach acidity is not a normal condition for ruminants, but feed lot animals have to adapt in order to process a diet of corn instead of their natural diet of grass. The diet of the cattle and the living conditions in the feed lot also require heavy use of antibiotics in order to keep them healthy. As a result, antibiotic-resistant and virulent bacterial strains like E. coli O157:H7 develop.

The grain is part of the feed mix that has been developed for livestock to promote rapid growth. The feed also contains antibiotics, supplements, and animal by-products including chicken parts, feather meal and beef tallow.

Previously, the animal by-products included other beef sources besides tallow, but that practice is now banned due to the risk of Mad Cow Disease (BSE). However, that same feed, including the protein products cattle are banned from eating, is still fed to chickens and hogs.

According to Eric Schlosser, in his book Fast Food Nation, only 13 slaughterhouses process the majority of the beef consumed by 300 million Americans. Thus, if one portion of the meat is tainted, it becomes mixed with that of hundreds of other cattle processed that day and distributed throughout the U.S. This type of centralized processing, similar to that for the contaminated spinach, explains how one small portion of contaminated food can affect hundreds in different states across the nation.

The situation gets even more muddled when you mix in some politics as well. The current chief of staff at the Agriculture Department used to be the beef industry's chief lobbyist. The person who headed the Food and Drug Administration until recently used to be an executive at the National Food Processors Association.

Cutbacks in staff and budgets have reduced the number of food-safety inspections conducted by the FDA to about 3,400 a year — from 35,000 in the 1970s. The number of inspectors at the Agriculture Department has declined to 7,500 from 9,000.

A study published in Consumer Reports showed the impact of such cutbacks and lack of food policies: 83 percent of the broiler chickens purchased at supermarkets nationwide were found to be contaminated with dangerous bacteria.

Now, the same agency, the FDA, has decided for us that cloned meat is okay for human consumption. With no labeling required. So, you will never know if you are buying cloned meat, or not. Ironically, it was Upton Sinclair’s exposure of meat-packing issues that precipitated both a meat inspection law and the law which created the FDA in order to protect consumers.

So, we bought a freezer. And we sourcing our meat locally. Grass-fed, antibiotic-free beef that lived on pasture (the way cattle should live), raised by people I know by name, and then were slaughtered in a humane and sanitary fashion.

While I can’t help you with the freezer, I can point you toward some resources, and some question to ask to make sure you are getting your meats from the right source.

Places to Look:
Online you can find farms near you by searching at localharvest.org and sustainabletable.org. You can also ask restaurants who serve local produce and meats who their suppliers are, or try your local food circle or Slow Food convivium.

Questions to Ask
  1. Was the animal raised on pasture? How much of the time?
  2. Was the animal fed only grass? If not, what was it fed?
    You want to be sure that the animal was not fed commercial feed containing animal by-products including those from cattle, supplements or poultry manure and feather meal. If the animal was fed grain, you want to ask how much of the animal’s diet was grain and what types. Corn is the hardest for cattle to digest, but it is the cheapest grain, so it is commonly fed to cattle in feed lots. Cattle fed grain only often get sick.
  3. How was the animal “finished,” was it ever in a feedlot?
    The term finishing refers to a period of time prior to slaughter where cattle are often fed grain in order to promote marbling (fat) in the meat and weight gain. Cattle are often confined to feed lots during the finishing period. You will want to ask if the animal was in a feed lot and for how long, and under what conditions.
  4. Was the animal grain-supplemented?
    Some sustainable farmers will provide various grains to cattle along with grasses in order to promote growth, but the animals are not forced to eat the grain, and are allowed to eat grasses along with the grains. It is important to ask how old the beef was before it was started on grain. Calves’ stomachs are not mature enough to digest grain, it if best to wait until the animal is near 18 months old before starting on grain.
  5. Was the animal ever given antibiotics?
    Antibiotics promote growth and allow cattle to eat an all-grain diet without getting sick. Some researchers believe that the overuse of antibiotics will foster the development of highly resistant “superbugs” similar to E. coli O157:H7.
  6. Was the animal ever given steroids, hormones or other growth promoters?
    The answer to this should be no. If it is not, you should look for another source for your meats.
  7. Finally, ask if you can visit the farm and see how the animals are raised for yourself.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Gray Market

I awoke Saturday morning to snow on the ground. Snow. Not much, but still, it’s April! Later in the morning, the snow changed to a cold rain. We headed to the market for its first weekend — finally! We were met with quite a bit of disappointment. One farmer showed and he was selling strawberries. These are not ripe here until June, and many farmer’s lost their plants in the recent freeze. So … as much as I wanted to thank the guy for coming out, I didn’t want to buy non-local produce.

The day was gray and cold to start, which did not help my mood. Try as hard as I could to get happy, the burr was stuck under my saddle. The kiddo did not seem to mind it all. She got to eat her croissant at the market’s coffee shop and go color and smell jars at the spice store. I struggled for a good mood, giving five bucks to an indigent woman who is always there on Saturday morning. I figured I could use some good karma, or at least a reason the day was not lost.

As we drove home, the sun began to break through the clouds. Even so, the Kiddo had to drag me outside for a walk. I caved in, and watched her happily zooming up the sidewalk, full-speed through the puddles. She makes the best of every situation. It’s a good reminder for me. Sometimes, we all need to forget the rain and cold and just go jump in the puddles.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Frozen Green: Lima Bean Hummus



Really, it's good. It is. Even if you hate lima beans.

Given the weather here, our lovely spring is a bit on the frozen side, with a forecast that includes snow for tomorrow. Snow! I was hoping to be done with the cabin fever days of winter.

I’ve been making spring-like dishes using the other frozen vegetables around here — the ones in my freezer as opposed to the fields.

This is a nice appetizer and a way to get kids to eat a vegetable as a dip instead of the usual side dish. Even for those of us who do not like lima beans, this one has a great, fresh flavor due to the lemon juice and a bright green color that is perfect for a healthy lunch or dinner. The first batch has just been finished, and my husband is already wanting more.

Lima Bean Hummus
1 16 oz. Package frozen lima beans
1 cup vegetable broth, low sodium
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbs. Fresh lemon juice (plus zest strips for garnish)
Pepper to taste
1/3-1/2 cup olive oil

Optional garnishes:
For a spicy Asian flair:
1 tbs. Chopped mint and 1 tbs. Chopped basil
1 tsp. Sracha hot sauce (Asian market)
lemon zest

OR
1 tbs. Chopped flat leaf parsley
lemon zest

Heat vegetable broth and frozen lima beans to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes until the lima beans are soft. Peel garlic, no need to chop. Put everything except the zest and garnish ingredients in the food processor, including the broth from the lima beans. Pulse until it is a nice puree. Add olive oil with processor running until the hummus is the desired texture. Serve with pita bread or any good bread.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Soyccatash


It's colorful, at least. We've had some gray, cold and rainy days so I am trying to console myself in case the farmers market is a fridgid wasteland this weekend. Three nights in the 'teens could have killed all my hopes for fresh spring greens and asparagus. I hope not.

On the outside chance, I can at least make this dish using mostly frozen veggies. It's a variation of succotash. The thing that I changed is using soy beans (edamame) and the amount of edamame in proportion to corn. I also doubled the amount of red pepper. The edamame and red pepper are the healthiest veggies in the mix, and they are the ones my kiddo likes the best.

Soyccatash
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of a book co-authored with Ali of Cleaner Plate Club.

Thursday Thirteen

Almost Friday ...
  1. Survived management seminar, it was not too bad.
  2. Another day off to clean! Whoo-hooo.
  3. Swimming lessons start for the kiddo.
  4. Trip to the farmers market. A bit worried about this. Three days of bitter cold may have done a lot of damage.
  5. Get the rest of my herbs.
  6. Plant herbs, maybe, depends on the weather.
  7. Plan meals for when my mom-in-law visits.
  8. Strive for mental well-being. Okay, so that one is not going to happen.
  9. Cook for the coming week.
  10. Post my other three or four recipes.
  11. Spend time with my kiddo.
  12. Enjoy more time with my kiddo.
  13. Catch up on some blog reading.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wordless Wednesday


No, turtle soup is NOT on the menu. It's a bit of fun for Wordless Wednesday. This is one of my photographs from our honeymoon in Tahiti. Bit of color on a gray, rainy day here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Do 30-minute Meals Exist: Chicken Scallopini with Lemon, Artichoke and Capers



I missed the entry to Too Many Chefs 30-minute meals challenge. While I like the concept of quick and tasty meals, I think we need to talk about this a bit. Have you ever read the timing on a recipe (20 minutes active time, 30 minutes cook time) and based your dinner party off of that? Two hours late, things are coming out one at a time, at the wrong time?

To use my child's endless refrain for everything, "What happened?"

Simply this. Those prep times are based on an experienced cook who possesses one piece of equipment and two skills that most home cooks do not. Can this secret be so simple? Yes, yes it is. Master this, and you will be on your way to 30-minute meals that really are 30 minutes. It makes me a bit disheartened to see so many cookbooks and recipes and so few provide this basic information.

Here we go. The first skill is referred to in the culinary world as mise en place. This oh-so-sexy French phrase means "put in place." All this refers to is for you to do all your measuring and chopping and ingredient prep at the start of the recipe. This allows you to work carefully, and have all the ingredients ready. Once the burner goes on, you may not be able to juggle prep and cooking without screwing up or forgetting something. Mise en place allows you to work efficiently. Which means a lot with kids underfoot, dinner guests loitering in the kitchen and a lot of different recipes in the works.

The piece of equipment? A chef's knife, otherwise known as a French knife. You want a good one. Balanced, sharp, a decent piece of German or Japanese steel. It will set you back a hundred bucks or so, ouch. But it will last a lifetime, and you will wonder how you ever got along without a decent knife. It really makes that much difference.

The other skill is learning how to use that knife. Chefs know how to get a vegetable chopped with the fewest cuts and in the fastest and safest way. Like mise en place, it's all about efficiency. I am hoping to post some knife skill videos here in the future, but in the meantime, Food Network has a few good ones. The most important cuts to learn are how to cut an onion, julienne/dicing, and chiffonade. It just takes a bit of practice and you will notice drastic improvement in your prep speed.

Ready for a 30-minute dish? Here you go.

Chicken Scallopini with Lemon, Artichokes and Capers
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book co-authored with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Taute Cusine: Red Grape, Blueberry and Almond Chicken Salad


A lot of the recipes I create are designed around my child's favorite foods. She loves grapes, almonds and blueberries as well as my Lemon Herb Roast Chicken, so I created this chicken salad as a good way to use the leftover roast chicken in a healthy dish with all her favorites.

I was so happy when I put it on her plate. I was ready to see her dig into it and enjoy.

I am still waiting for that moment. Instead, she dug into the broccolini sautéed with roasted tomatoes. Three helpings of that, in fact.

I was pretty disappointed, scraping the uneated food off her plate. How could this be? I wondered. What can I do to make it better? Since I made a TON of this recipe, I had plenty of time all week to think about it while I ate the leftovers. What I realized is that the recipe is darn good. I am just being stupid. She ate THREE servings of broccoli for crying out loud. The chicken salad will be an easy sell later. The broccoli was what mattered. I'll post that one later under the incredibly easy/stupid mom recipe file. Here's the chicken salad, also easy and very good with very healthy ingredients.

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

This recipe is one of several featured on Sweetniks site, with her "ARF/5 a day" antioxidant-rich food recipes.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Perfect Day for Nothing at All




It was nearly eight when we got up. As all parents with a small child know, this is like NOON. It felt pretty good. Still I was happy to get up. We were on our way to the farmers market despite the bitter cold. I had visions of fresh greens and herbs.

Well, the visions will have to wait a week. The market won't be open until then. So, here we are, no market, in the cold. It had all the makings of being an off day. But, I don't operate that way. We made the best of it. We still made our traditional trip to the bread bakery. A croissant to share and a latte for me, a fresh loaf of sourdough tucked under an arm, we headed off to the spice store for some fun smelling all the test jars. It's heaven. We both love it. When the kiddo nearly dived into the fenugreek jar, I figured it was a keeper. I would use it on the roast chicken that night.

When we got home, we played more in the spice cabinet. Kiddo pulled out an empty jar I needed to refill. Thyme. Suddenly, Jim Croche was in my head and I sang, "If I could save 'thyme' in a bottle, the first thing that I'd like to do ..." I can't sing at all. And even in her tender young years, my child knows this. She starts giggling. "No, Mommy, no sing!" Giggle. I sing louder and more off key. "Is save every day until eternity passes, and then I would spend them with yoooouuuuu!" We're both laughing by then.

We put on music, played, danced, and just existed for a while. At one point, Kiddo reached up for a hug and gave me one of her special bear hugs, and just stayed there, head against my neck. I thought, if I could just save one moment, and spend it for eternity, this is it. All I can do to save it is to just realize what it's worth. And be in it.

So, no fresh greens or sexy spring vegetable recipes. But I managed to pull together the Lemon Herb Roast Chicken, a quick pasta salad, and Sweet Potato Parmesan "Fries." These are not complicated dishes, but good ones you can make when you have more important things to do than cooking, like nothing at all.

Sweet Potato Parmesan "Fries"
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book co-authored with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

You can also find more potato recipes at the Crazy Hip Blog Mama's Recipe Rally.

Happy Easter, and a bit about Eggs



Above: Beautiful green and brown eggs are dwarfed by the huge goose eggs. Both available through a local farm.

Can you say, Bah, Humbug at Easter? We've a bit of a winter blast going here and even Peter the Rabbit would freeze off his cotton tail. Two Easter egg hunts are not going to be as fun as hoped. But, we'll forge ahead anyway. Here's a few Easter eggs colored by the chickens themselves to celebrate your holiday.

What you need to know about buying eggs
Eggs can be found in several colors besides white or brown. The shells can be pink, speckled, blue or even green as above. The color of the eggshell has nothing to do with the flavor or the nutritional value of the egg. Both of these depend on the diet of the chicken, how it is raised and the freshness of the egg. There is a lot of confusion, however, with all the terms regarding eggs. Caged, Cage-free, Free Range, Pastured, Vegetarian-Fed, High-Omega-3 … what does it all mean?

The information out there does not make the learning curve any easier. For example, the American Egg Board, sponsored by industrial chicken and egg farming, states that “The nutrient content of eggs is not affected by whether hens are raised free-range or in floor or cage operations.”

This statement can be true, but not always, and it is incredibly misleading. The problem is the use of the term free-range. You see, a chicken that has access to the outdoors is free-range or cage free, but this chicken may live in a pen and its diet may be the same commercial feed as a caged, factory farm chicken.

Chickens who live in “cage and floor operations” have some of the worst living conditions of any large scale livestock farming. They are often force molted to increase egg production. Force molting is achieved by staving the chicken for five to fourteen days. The stress causes the chicken to lay more eggs temporarily. Just by supporting free-range chicken and egg production, we would be making a better choice. This choice may not greatly increase the nutrition content of the egg, however.

The nutrition of an egg is primarily determined by the chickens’ diet. A chicken that is free-range and has access to pasture and a natural diet of bugs and grass in addition to non-commercial grain produces eggs that are higher in Omega-3 and other nutrients.

Factory farmed eggs can be made higher in Omega-3 and some nutrients by supplementing the chickens’ diet with things like flax seed. These are more nutritious eggs than conventional factory farm eggs, but not a true substitute for the eggs produced from a pastured chickens’ natural diet.

A good clue to the nutritional content of an egg is the color of the yolk. The deep orange color often seen in a naturally produced egg yolk is related to the chickens’ diet. If the diet includes yellow and orange plant pigments called xanthophylls, the yolk will be deep yellow-orange. If the diet is low in these pigments, the yolk can be almost colorless.

The yolk holds all of the egg’s vitamin content including six B vitamins, as well as vitamins A, D, and E. The yolk also contains the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin and trace amounts of carotene, phosphorus, iron, and magnesium.

The American Egg Board’s claim of equality also does not address any differences in egg nutrition for a chicken on a diet of commercial feed and antibiotics for “floor and cage operations” versus a chicken raised cage free without antibiotics and not fed commercial feed. Commercial feed often contains animal by-products such as bone, feathers, blood, manure and animal parts.

These “animal by-products” are often from beef. This is the same ingredient that has been banned from commercial feed for beef cattle because of concerns over Mad Cow disease. Ironically, the “meat by-product” now used for the protein source in commercial cattle feed is chicken by-products and feather meal. So, which comes first? The chicken that eats the cow, or the cow that eats the chicken?

It's important to note, that unlike cows (ruminants), chickens are not vegetarians. They do eat protein sources like bugs. The reason you see "vegetarian-fed" on labels is to reference the lack of animal by-products in the grain that the chickens' diet is supplemented with.

What I learned from all this is that the ideal egg would be one from a chicken that has unlimited access to pasture and a natural diet of grasses and bugs in addition to grain that has not been supplemented with antibiotics or animal by-products. You can’t find these eggs in most grocery stores. You have to find the farmer or a grocery store that sources quality local eggs.

The Eat Well site has a great guide to what you should ask your local farmer when sourcing eggs, but here are a few important questions to ask so you can be sure you are getting the best eggs possible for you, and for the chicken:

  1. Are chickens allowed a natural and varied diet along with grain?
  2. How much access to pasture do the chickens have? How long do they get to be outdoors?
  3. Have producer describe "cage-free" conditions, or best yet, visit the farm
  4. Is the feed free of animal by-products (vegetarian)? What type of feed is the chickens’ diet supplemented with?
  5. Is the feed supplemented with high Omega-3 sources like flax seed?
  6. Was the chicken ever fed antibiotics?
  7. Was the chicken ever force molted?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Five Questions

These questions were kindly sent to me by Jen at One Plus Two. If you have not stopped by this blog, you should. And you should plan on staying a while. She's a good writer, but more than that she is a good soul and has a lot to say. I am happy I stumbled across her site. She sent along her five questions to me, and here I will post my answers. If you would like to see her post on answering five questions, they are here. Okay, here goes:

  1. You've been tasked to cook a four course meal for the President of the USA. What do you make, and why?

    Broccoli, because he hates it. Dodgy meats cooked rare from the slaughterhouses and feed lots that are allowed to continue to operate without sanctions … side of Peter Pan … Chicken processed in China and shipped back here ... a few bits from a dumpster for those in poverty.

    Okay, I am not a fan of George W. but I will do my patriotic duty to what shred of respect is left for what the office of the presidency should stand for.

    The meal would need to be comprised of nearly all-local ingredients as a lesson in sustainable agriculture for him. Let’s say the president is coming to my table just so I have the home advantage.

    First course: Sweet potato and root vegetable soup with roasted pumpkin seeds, balsamic reduction, topped with crisp sage and a swirl of cream from my favorite grass-fed dairy.

    Second course: Roasted beet salad on fresh-picked spring greens with fennel, savory pecan praline, with rosemary-balsamic vinaigrette, and locally produced goat cheese.

    Third course: We’re a beef town. But I would go with local, grass-fed beef and do a Filet Mignon cooked bleu (very rare) with a local port wine reduction and dried cherry sauce. Purple Asparagus with Creme Fraiche on the side.

    Fourth course: My Vanilla-Sweet Potato Pie with Brown-Sugar Pecan crust and a side of homemade Honey Ice Cream.

    The other guests at the table would be the farmers and ranchers who grew the food. We would discuss the state of agriculture, the farm bill, what’s happening to the bees, and some other pertinent issues. Mr. Bush would have to listen to how hard these people struggle to provide safe, healthy food to our community. No press or cameras would be allowed. Mainly I would be cooking my best to show the farmers my appreciation.

  2. Out of everyone in the world, who would be the 3 people you'd love to gather around the table for a good meal (all must be living).

    Jane Goodall. Joan Didion. George Clooney. I would never have said him years ago, but his work of late as a director and his activism as well as his sense of humor put him on the list. I figure after dinner with Dubya, I am going to need some intelligent conversation and a good laugh.

  3. You've been named Secretary of Nutrition. What is the dietary standard you'd impose on meals in public schools?

    I tip my hat to Alice Waters on this one. No more processed foods, soda or junk foods. Every school will have its own garden. The kids will work in the garden and learn about the food they are producing. There will be a real cook in the kitchen and kids will also learn how to prepare fresh foods and how to eat healthy. Meats, eggs, and dairy will be sourced locally from naturally-raised animals, no antibiotics or hormones.

  4. If you could take a cooking class from any one person, who would it be?

    Julia Child, but that breaks the rule that he/she must be alive. So, Mario Batali. He has a passion for simple good food and a love of life and people that is inspiring.

  5. Since I am overdoing the food theme, I'll shift it to something else. You have 1 million dollars. How do you spend it? (it must be spent rather than saved).

    Well, you tried to get away from food. I have a plan with a local farmer where he does a CSA. The CSA also provides farm access for walking trails and fishing ponds to the members as well as hands-on time growing the food. On site is a kitchen where we teach how to prepare all the seasonal ingredients and teach classes for kids as well. The kitchen can function as a restaurant as well. Proceeds and part of the produce go to local soup kitchens and shelters. The money allows for all this to be put in place, and for me to quit work and staff it full time.
Thanks, Jen! To pay this forward, if you would like me to pose five questions to you, simply put your email address in a comment.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Thursday Thirteen

I've been out and about on other blogs and have found some fun memes and carnivals. This one is the Thursday Thirteen in which I explain thirteen things going on in my household this week.

  1. After a trip to Mental Tessarae, I am now trying to recover from the realization that I have only one second toe longer than my first. My feet do not match.
  2. I finished the childhood nutrition series only to realize I am behind and have four new recipes I have to get posted; Blueberry-Almond Chicken Salad, Tomato-Chard and Potato Breakfast Torte, Soyccatash, Lemon Chicken Scallopini with Artichokes and Capers.
  3. Work. Always work. More work.
  4. I am taking vacation time to clean house. It's that bad.
  5. I have to remember not to give the car keys to my child. She believed my joke about her driving home yesterday and would not give them back.
    "Give Mommy the keys, please."
    "No. I drive."
    "You can't reach the pedals."
    "I drive!"
  6. More vacation time to clean the basement and garage! WhooHoo! I think I will wear Bermuda shorts and sunglasses, and sandals with black socks just so I can feel like an American tourist on vacation. Well, maybe not sandals. There are spiders. Big spiders.
  7. The farmers market opens up this weekend so I can buy more greens and my herb plants.
  8. I have to find organic potting soil for my herbs and lettuces and get them planted.
  9. I have to ponder my husband's request that we desperately "need to create a signature dish for parties." It's not easy for a laid-back, practical girl to be married to a metrosexual. He came complete with good looks, flowered dishes and a set of silver — service for 12. He tricked me with the manly Triumph motorcycle and the Rottweiler. And then I saw the dishes. I've been confused ever since.
  10. I have to figure out how to make deviled goose eggs when the eggs take a half hour each to hard boil.
  11. TWO Easter egg hunts
  12. A trip to a local grass-fed dairy to take my child to pet "baby cows" and learn where milk really comes from.
  13. Posting for the eatlocalchallenge.com site and the local site for the 2007 challenge.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Spring Greens: Chard Tart with Grana Padano and Goat Cheese


















It’s spring! I’ve been preparing for the opening of our farmers markets — this weekend — by creating recipes using the first seasonal ingredients I will be able to find locally. These include lettuces and hearty greens like chard and kale.

The newest recipe for spring greens was a happy accident. I was scrounging in the “Good Cheese for $2.00” bin at my Whole Foods and found a nice wedge of Grana Padano. This is a bit like sharp Parmesan and is a hard, aged cheese with that same lovely caramelized texture as good Italian Parmesan — with a price to match. So, the two-buck-bin is a real find for me.

The chard came from a trip to our local farmers expo to find out about new farms and CSAs available to us. While the filling recipe is original and my own, the crust is a recipe from Todd English’s The Olives Table.

I have nearly 200 cookbooks around this place (it's a disease). If I had to narrow the library down to the top 20, Mr. English’s book would be one of them. The recipes are heavenly good and the book jacket photo is not bad either. Let’s just say the stove is not the only thing that’s hot in that kitchen.

Swiss Chard Tart with Grana Padano and Goat Cheese
For the crust, you will want to make this first because it has to chill:
1 and 1/8 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. Sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup ice water
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes, cold

Place all the dry ingredients into the work bowl of your food processor. Drop in the cubes of butter, pulsing a bit each time to combine. Easy on the pulsing, though. Too much and you make the crust tough. Something to do with the glutens in the flour. Add the cold water and pulse until it just comes together. Remove from bowl and form into a ball. Store in fridge for 20 minutes. This chills the butter again, and helps the crust to bake up flaky. You can do your prep work for the tart filling while you are waiting for the crust to chill.

Here’s my bit: when you prepare to roll out the crust, put down some plastic wrap, then place sheets of wrap over the dough as well. Roll the dough out between the plastic to about 10 inches diameter. It will not stick to the rolling pin and is easy to reposition if needed. Place the crust into a 9-inch tart pan. Be sure to prick the crust with a fork a few times. Place back in fridge to chill.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

For the filling:
Two bunches Swiss Chard, about 14 big leaves, stems removed, chopped, washed and dried in a salad spinner
1 large shallot, minced
2 tbs. Olive oil
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 tbs. Half and half
Salt and pepper to taste
2 oz Grana Padano, grated
1 oz Fresh goat cheese

Do all the prep work first, because the filling cooks fast and is easy to overcook. Heat oil in skillet. Sauté the shallot until golden. Add the chard and sauté until just starting to wilt. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper and the half and half. Combine quickly and heat through — just one minute or so. Any longer and the chard will give up more water and you’ll have to drain the excess and have less flavor and texture from the chard.

Remove from heat. Mix in the Grana Padano. Place the filling in the crust. Top with dots of the goat cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the goat cheese just begins to turn golden and the crust is also golden. You can serve warm, or at room temperature.

I used to do a version of this with puff pastry, chard and a whole lot of ricotta, Parmesan and egg. My husband complained there was not enough green. So, he gets credit for sending me back to the kitchen for revisions. I like this version much better, especially with fresh chard on hand. The picture is not as good as I hoped. It tastes much better than it looks.

Childhood Nutrition Series: Complete Index

Wow. It's done. And I will be happy to get back to some recipes I have been working on! If you are looking for the article series, here is the index the complete set of posts:

  1. Children’s Nutrition Series (Intro)

  2. The State of Our Union’s Children
    A detailed overview of what trends are occurring in our children's diets, and the factors that contribute to the issues

  3. Our Children Are What They Eat
    A look at what our children are eating and the nutritional issues parents face.

  4. Why Kids Eat What They Do (or Don’t) Part I: Parents' Role
    A look at all the sources of dietary influence on our children's food choices. Part I includes the parents' role in influencing our children's diets.

  5. Why Kids Eat What They Do (or Don’t) Part II: Outside Influences
    A look at all the other sources of dietary influence on our children's food choices. This includes schools, social activity, marketing, food supply, culture. The post will examine each of the outside influences and how it affects our kids.

  6. Food Marketing and Your Child Part I: The Small Screen with Big Impact
    This topic belongs under the sources post, but it has become such a huge issue that it needs to be reviewed in depth. An estimated $12 billion is spent anually to market foods to children and youth. Often these marketing messages are targeted to pre-schoolers who are too young to be able to differentiate commercial messages from educational messages. Part I covers television advertising.

  7. Food Marketing and Your Child Part II: When the TV is Off, the Marketing is Still On
    Part II covers all the other forms of advertising, including marketing in our schools.

  8. We Shall Overcome: Recommendations for Parents
    A set of ten actionable steps we can take as parents to encourage a better diet and lifestyle for our children and minimize the impact of food marketing to our kids.

  9. Links and Resources
    Want to learn more on this topic? These links and resources are a great place to start.

Childhood Nutrition Series: Links and Resources

The following are recommended resources for more information on the childhood nutrition and obesity topic:

  1. Institute of Medicine's Food Marketing to Children and Youth
  2. Kaiser Family Foundation Report: The Role of Media in Childhood Obesity
  3. Kaiser Family Foundation Report: It’s Child’s Play: Advergaming and the Online Marketing of Food to Children
  4. Kaiser Family Foundation Report: Food for Thought: Television Food Advertising to Children in the United States
  5. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
  6. Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  7. Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood
  8. Shaping Youth
  9. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

scribbit: The April Write-Away Contest | A Blog About Motherhood in Alaska

scribbit: The April Write-Away Contest | A Blog About Motherhood in Alaska

I entered the April Write Away contest over at Scribbit. Part of the entry is to make sure and post this link to her site, as well as my entry. The post explains a lot about why I feel the way I do about local food and the family dinner. It explains so much about the foundation of this site.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Food Marketing: We Shall Overcome

So, what can we do about all this?

As I finished the book, Food Marketing to Children and Youth, the recommendations section largely dealt with the need for government regulations and national social marketing campaigns to help educate our children on nutrition and physical activity.

This is great, but I don't think we can wait for private industry to stop wanting to make more money from selling crap to all of us. I don’t think we can even afford to wait on the government to tell private industry not to make so much money off selling crap to our kids and us. Definitely not under the current administration.

So, since hell is not going to freeze over anytime soon, we have to worry about our kids in the meantime. These are my recommendations after spending a solid month plowing through all this research. Call it my Manifesto. Take it with a grain or two, or a shaker, of salt. Apply liberally, or create your own recipe for change.

1. Turn off the TV.
When I read statistics like an average of four hours of television per day for each child, it makes me cringe. I don’t think about the 15,000 to 20,000 junk food ads this child sees per year. I think about the value of that time lost for good. The loss of life to an empty void. Think about it. When you turn off the TV at the end of the evening, what lasting value have you gained in your life? Exactly. None.

Four hours is half a workday. Four hours can explore whole new worlds, read several books, go to a museum, walk in the woods, play a game or two of baseball. Four hours every day. One third of a child’s waking hours. It’s like losing a third of their lives, for nothing. It’s not worth it. For them or you.

2. Eat a Family Dinner. Often.
With the TV OFF. Families who eat dinner together, at home, eat healthier meals and have healthier relationships. Kids who eat dinner with their families tend to make better grades and avoid drug and alcohol use. Do you need any more reasons than that?

3. Teach Your Kids Not to Listen to Strangers.
One of the most insidious facts about marketing to kids is that so much of it is targeted to children too young to understand the difference between a commercial and the regular program. They simply absorb this message along with everything else. Parents need to teach their children to identify marketing messages and why these messages are often not serving a child’s best interest. We have to arm our children with defenses against marketing just as we have to teach them to look both ways before crossing the street, and not to talk to strangers.

4. Voice Your Dissent. Loudly and Often.
Tell your school to get marketers out of your child’s classroom. Tell them to get junk foods out of the lunchroom. Tell other parents your concerns. Tell your family, tell your friends. Blog it. Email it. Comment it. Post it. Tell the marketers you don't agree with what they are doing and you will not buy their products.

Advertisers are listening to your blogs, to what we say online in our communities. If you think they cannot hear you, then comment often and loudly on their sites. Disney is starting a new parenting community site. Go tell Disney how you feel about their marketing.

Say thanks to marketers who have voluntarily reduced marketing to kids, but in the same message, tell them you will be watching to make sure they keep their promise. Keep watching. Tell their competitors you won’t buy their products until they reduce their marketing to kids. Use this whole Internet thing to do your own anti-food-marketing marketing. Tell your state and national representatives your concerns. Don’t hold your breath, but tell them.

5. Educate yourself and your kids on nutrition.
Learn how to prepare healthy meals. You can do it on a busy schedule. It can be quick, good and good for you. When you eat right, you set an example for your kids. You’ll feel better. They will eat better. You will all benefit. Plant a garden. Visit a local farm. Go to the Farmers Market or the U-Pick Berry Farm. Teach your kids to cook. Make healthy, fresh food a family experience. Teach them how to make good food decisions.

Remember, some people have fewer choices. They work two jobs to survive. They struggle. There are limited options near their homes. Ask yourself, are you really that busy in comparison? Change your life and make healthy choices a priority. Demand better choices for everyone else, too.

6. Choose the Form of the Destructor.
We can’t escape marketing and character licensing. There are going to be movies and books, toys and games, and some TV in our lives. Choose wisely. Choose those who are giving your kids the right messages and not selling crap on the side. We have to filter all this noise and find the few decent things in the mess.

7. Say No.
Even when it wears you out. Stay the course. If the trip to the grocery store is too much pain, divide and conquer. Let your spouse take the kids, you take the cereal aisle.

8. Stay Out of the Drive-Thru Lane
There are meals you can prepare in less time than it takes you to order a Biggie with Fries. You can make a sandwich on wholegrain bread, slice some fruit and heat a few frozen veggies in five minutes flat. Need some incentive? Read Fast Food Nation or Omnivore’s Dilemma. You’ll be happy to go cold turkey — on wheat with canola mayo.

9. Know What Your Kids are Watching and Doing Online
It’s not just the perverts in MySpace to look out for. Talk to your kids about all the messages they are seeing on the TV screen and the computer screen. Make sure they understand what a healthy body image is and that who you are has nothing to do with what soda you drink.

10. Go Play.
Kids learn an active lifestyle from active parents. C’mon, you WANT to go down the slide, too, don’t you? You want to play catch, run and kick a ball or two. Who doesn’t? From the time a child is born, he focuses a ton of energy on learning to roll over, crawl, stand and walk. Don’t waste that achievement. Go play.

Okay. End of manifesto. Nobody likes a nag.

Your turn. Tell me how you plan on facing down the crush of food marketing and how you will overcome the busy life syndrome to start really living. We can do this together. For our kids. For ourselves.

The final post in this series will be links and resources for more information. I hope you have found this useful and helpful. I wish all of you and your children a healthy life.