Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Memoir Meme

Adam tagged me with this meme. It is based on a bet Hemmingway made that he could sum up his life in six words. Here goes:

Question Authority. Because I said so.

I love irony. I am also an activist sort. And a Mom sort who is dealing with a child who inherited Mommy's independent thinker gene and plagues me with "Why?" and other sorts of debate until I crack. Ah, the duality of it all!

A photo that defines my photography work and past life below.

Now, I get to tag six others: Ali, Jen, Frugal Mom, KatieZ, Kalyn, and Fat Guy on a Little Bike. I'll be by to tag you personal-like.

I Really Have Been Cooking Lately ...

You'd never know it from the posts. Lots of issues right now and these take up real estate in my brain. However, what's taking up real estate in my appetite (and nether regions post-repast) is this:

Garlic-Rosemary Lamb Chops with Blackberry-Balsamic Sauce

Garlic-Rosemary Lamb Chops with Blackberry-Balsamic Sauce

For the chops:

2 lb. Lamb Chops

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped fine

3/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper, ground

olive oil

For the sauce:

1 cup balsamic vinegar

3 fresh rosemary sprigs

1/2 tsp. black peppercorns, whole

1 9 oz. jar blackberry fruit spread (real fruit)

two grinds of a black pepper mill

Combine the sauce ingredients in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Simmer the sauce until it is reduced to about 1 cup of liquid and coats the back of a spoon. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve, working it across the mesh to get most of the sauce out. Discard the solids.

Heat the broiler.

Rub the chops with the oil, then sprinkle on the garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper, both sides. Broil the chops 4-5 inches from the heating element, about 3-1/2 minutes per side for medium rare depending on the thickness. Grilled is better, so if you can do that, I recommend it. Serve with sauce.

The sauce on this dish is a reduction sauce, my favorite. It is complex enough to make a simple, roasted meat special, but it won't overpower the lamb.

The sauce on this dish is a reduction sauce, my favorite. It is complex enough to make a simple roasted meat special, but it won't overpower the lamb.

After the recent meat recall from downer cows, I decided I have had it with any trust in school lunch programs — even our private school. Their menu is, well, if a three-year-old asks you to pack her lunch, you can guess the rest. I did call the supplier of meats for the school, though. Just to be sure none of their product was included.

I'm trying to create some lunch box-friendly vegetable dishes. I liked a similar slaw from Gourmet, but it was a bit too much for kids with olives and some other pungent ingredients. This version should be a new favorite way to eat carrots.

Carrot-Raisin Slaw

For a recent faux-Mex night, I wanted to make a black bean dish, but also wanted to bump the nutrition in it with sweet potatoes. This is a nice side for southwestern flavors.

Black Beans and Sweet Potatoes

Find this post and many other recipes in this week's Recipe Carnival.

Power and the People

Today, I am thinking about power. And how and why power can be used.

For Harm
This letter to Hillary Clinton pretty much sums up a lot of the food issues and the role of Monsanto and Big Ag in them. That all of this is tied to Bill's presidency and Hillary's law firm, clients, and corporate campaign supporters is frightening. Even if you take the letter with a grain of salt, and note that some of the issues share blame that goes farther back such as Earl Butz, there are some documented points in here that should give us all pause. (Thanks, Ethicurean)

For Good
The Global Seed Vault seeks to preserve diversity of food crop species in the event of massive climate change and/or man-made disaster (you could argue that climate change IS man-made disaster). One such man-made disaster is currently occurring with the contamination of natural plant species by GMO crops.

The Encyclopedia of Life launched with the mission to make all key information about life on Earth accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world.

For Greater Good
This is us. This is "we the people." As we face a new year that is so focused on politics, here is to remembering that WE are the primary branch of our government and we have a role in changing the Harm.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Not Milk.

The FDA is mulling over yet another labeling issue, this time over milk that would be used in items like cheese and ice cream. It seems it is cheaper to "ultra-filter" the milk, removing the liquid which contains things like vitamins and minerals (calcium), and to transport this concentrated substance then reconstitute it later. This ultra-filtered end product has none of the nutritional benefits of real milk.

The FDA would require the label to say "ultra-filtered" milk, which may or may not mean much to consumers who are not aware of the processing. Manufacturers insist that it would be an unfair economic "burden" to alter labels and would prefer to keep customers in the dark and more profits in the black.

You can comment on this issue until April 11, 2008.

Meanwhile, lobbyists are still pursuing a state-by-state dodge of the FDA ruling on allowing dairies to label their milk "rBGH-free." Utah and Kansas are the current targets. Missouri will likely be next. Got to keep those consumers in the dark about what their milk contains (or doesn't), it's good for profits. You can submit comment on this issue here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Now, I Think I Am Going to Cry

Corn and soy have long been genetically-modified. Most recently GMO sugar beets were developed to withstand the direct spray of Roundup herbicide. And now, onions join the ranks of GMO foods. The new onions were created for the sole purpose of preventing us from crying when we cut into them.

Unlike other GMO foods, this one has not had a new gene added to the mix, but by the process of RNA interference, the gene which triggers release of the sulphuric compounds has been turned off. Researchers claim this new onion is not only "improved" but healthier. They hope that this new onion will soon dominate the market. But, don't look for a GMO label, there are no regulations that require it. The closest thing to one might be the PLU# on the sticker.

When will the GMO-frenzy end? I think am going to go have a good cry.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ah, Thursday

I used to do this humor bit on Thursdays, a Thursday Thirteen, when I still had a sense of humor. Lately, the Terrible Threes have hit, and I am a bit confused. I thought I wasn't due for rebellion, drama, and "Don't talk to me, Mommy!" for another, oh, ten years. Wow.

That whole unconditional love of a mother is really nature's way of preserving the species, isn't it? That, and they are so gorgeous when they are asleep.

I desperately turned to the pages of Brazelton's Touchpoints for help, only to be met with, "Just as a child turns three, she and her parents are likely to enjoy a kind of second honeymoon. The toddler's negativism and struggles seem to resolve miraculously." Say whaaaat? Obviously, that book is not going to help me here. I put it down quickly.

See, I don't get a lot of time to read much besides work research and food research and food issue research. And more research. My few stolen moments a day with "literature" have been reduced to Curious George and, oh help me, Clifford. I've begun to get very critical of these, uh, books and I have to confess it: I hide the Thomas the Train one when my child is not around. There. I said it.

I also buy books for her that I can stand to read. I must have plot. I know, I'm pushing it for a three-year-old, but Mommy needs a break on this one. If you hear me, in the way that Other Moms (and Dads) do, you know what I mean. Here's a book list for us all:

The Paper Bag Princess
If you have a little girl, punt the Disney princesses out and get a real grrrl on the throne.

How I Became a Pirate and Pirates Don't Change Diapers
The illustrations are great, and you get to make the pirate voice, which is kinda therapeutic after a long day. "Arrgh!" I actually say that at work, too. Followed by a bit more sailor talk.

Skippyjon Jones and Skippyjon Jones and the Big Bones
They are about a Siamese cat who thinks he is a sword-fighting Chihuahua. And there is a lot of Spanglish in there so I feel like Antonio Banderas' Puss in Boots from Shrek. But, I sound like a mom trying to sound like ... well, you get the picture. I have these fears that my child will pop out with a cheesy accent and "Because we are full of the beans, too, Dude!" at the most wrong time and place possible. But I cannot help myself. They are fun to read. How sad it has come to this.

Finally, I like the Elephant and Piggy series. Maybe it's because the books are all written as a dialogue between two characters. It's creative and expressive. And, I get to do more funny voices.

It's late. The Kiddo is in bed asleep. I am going to go make sure the Thomas book is still buried, then I am going to call it a night.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Mangrove Jellyfish
Originally uploaded by expatkitchen

Mangrove Jellyfish, a beautiful inhabitant of the now-threatened Bimini mangroves.

Read and sign the Save the Mangrove at Bimini! Petition

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Funny how it's the little things you are proud of. We were eating dinner out, pizza, for the Kiddo's birthday. One pizza had meatballs on it. The waitress asks us if we like our dinner. The Kiddo tries a meatball, picks at the pizza, and looks at the waitress and says, "These meatballs aren't like my Mommy's."

To be fair, they were decent meatballs, but sausage and a bit heavier on the pepper. Still, these are the words that make a Mom's heart sing. She likes my cooking! After all the food worries from the days of baby food, to eating dirt, to Battle Orange, to now, she likes my food.

It's these comments that keep me trying. I decided maybe I would take on the, uh, cuisine at school with some real versions of their dishes. First I had to figure out what those are.

Basically, two-thirds of the meals consist of some kind of condensed canned soup, a meat, and a starch. So it goes like this; chicken and noodles, ham and noodles, beef and noodles, beef and rice, chicken and rice, ham and potatoes ... and so on. Three ingredients, not a tough challenge. I had some Thanksgiving turkey, cooked, in the freezer, so I opted for the recipe du jour of Turkey and Noodles.

Real Turkey and Noodles
Looking for this recipe? It is part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

However, I am now being requested to pack someone's lunch for school every day.

Issue Updates

Animal Abuse and Meat Recall
The Humane Society's undercover investigation of Hallmark/Westmoreland meat company resulted in the largest beef recall ever, some 143 million pounds of beef, dating back two years. Criminal charges were brought against the employees known to have abused the cows, though the charges did not extend up the management chain to whomever encouraged this behavior. We can hope for that to happen, though.

Banning Toxic Plastics
Amidst the lead-based toy recalls, other contaminants have also been identified as issues. Among these is phthalates, thought to be linked to reproductive, liver and kidney abnormalities. You can now sign a petition to ask your legislators to ban the use of phthalates in plastics.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Sometimes I think my voice works like a dog whistle in reverse; I talk, and every one but my child hears me.

Excellent Blog Award

Frugal Mom gave me this award for being an excellent blog. Thanks! Being just one of over 50 million blogs, it's nice to get a little notice once in a while.

By the rule, I am now supposed to pass this award along to ten blogs. Ten? Wow. So, here's my list of some favorites:

Ethicurean, love you guys
Eat Local Challenge, kinda quiet now, but wait 'til spring!
Girl Plus Two, who makes me want to be a better person
Kalyn's Kitchen, Kalyn also blogs on BlogHer and runs Weekend Herb Blogging
Thyme for Cooking, KatieZ makes me lust for her garden and life in Europe
The Green, Simran Sethi is the host and a hard-working environmental activist
Groovy Green, More environmental news
More Deliberate Every Day, Green stuff
Shaping Youth, Amy Takes on marketing aimed at our kids
Her Grace, a Mom Blog by a mom I think I would like in person

Right, there are so many more that I wish I just had time to read myself. But, lunch hours are only so long.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Important Food News

Oh, no, Monsanto!
After efforts to get rBGH-free labeling banned in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, Monsanto now sets it sights on getting the labeling banned in Kansas. This is a serious issue as it represents, once again, Big Ag interfering with your right-to-know how your food is produced and what it does (or does not) contain. Kansas residents need to act fast, there is only one week before the Kansas Senate is out of session. (Details at

More Monsanto: Sugar, Sugar
The USDA has approved the sale of Monstanto's newest genetically modified seed — one for "Roundup ready" sugar beets. Approval was also made possible by the EPA upping the allowable herbicide residue limits by 5,000 percent. About half the sugar used in the U.S. comes from sugar beets, so by next year, consumers could be eating yet another genetically-modified food without any labeling. Center for Food Safety and Sierra Club plus two seed companies have filed a lawsuit to try and block the approval. (Eco Child's Play)

Farm Bill Follies Redux: A Second Chance at Subsidy Reform?
The Bush administration, in a fervor to slash all non-Iraq spending, has promised a veto if Congress does not come up with a farm bill that doesn’t feature additional spending. As a result, the subsidy reforms are being revisited, particularly the income cap for eligibility. Opponents of the proposed "reform" advise that none of these measures will be effective. There are loopholes large enough to drive a combine through, which would allow the larger producers to evade the subsidy caps. (PlanetSave)

If Life is Like a Box of Chocolates ...

Then I hope it's just as full of amazing surprises as this one.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Obesity Legislation?

Kind of screams for a discrimination suit, doesn't it? But Mississippi has a proposed law to vote on that would prohibit obese people from being served in certain restaurants.

That's taking it a bit too far, as well as not recognizing the various sources of obesity and individual causes and medical conditions that can contribute to the condition.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Yes, We Have Bananas

I know, bananas are not exactly falling off the trees here in my part of the world. Neither is anything else resembling fruit in the dead of winter. So, we eat citrus, which is in season at least, and organic bananas. And wait. A long, cold wait for fresh, local berries in June.

I am a bit odd about bananas. I like them just at the point where they are not green any more. After that, I hate the mushy, brown ones. I also hate to waste good food. So, I try to be creative, and lately, indulge my child's new found love of peanut butter, we use the natural kind with no added oils or sugar.

Ginger Banana-Oatmeal Pancakes

Banana Peanut Butter Smoothie
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

This one is posted for the Vegetarian Carnival at Veggie Chic.

An Update on the Hunger Debate

A while back I strangely ended up in a BBC debate on the use of biotechnology (pro or con) as a solution to end world hunger. I made the point that, over time, organic methods have a higher yield and are more sustainable not knowing I was making the remark to the head lobbyist for Monsanto.

Turns out I am not the only one that is skeptical of GMO (and cloning) as a magic answer for world hunger. Monsanto and Syngenta are pulling out of an international assessment on agriculture that seeks a solution to world hunger (Ethicurean). Why? The draft document refuses to spew the company line on the proposed merits of biotechnology.

A Return to Victory (Gardens)

There's an interesting movement afoot just in time for spring. All across the grassroots network of eat local and "green" activism is a call for a return to the victory gardens that were once a community program during world wars. Call it the extremely local version of local food.

There are several programs to be found from "Victory Gardens" to "Food not Lawns" all about using your green space for food instead of care- and water-intensive grass.

I've been planning my own garden project, End the Curse of the Black Thumb, for a bit now. It is thusly named because, well, I kill every house plant that ever comes across our threshold. Every one. The idea of me gardening beyond my hard-to-kill herbs is pretty funny.

I'll be using the square-foot gardening method, mainly in containers, and I am going to make it an educational garden for my kiddo. So far, my garden is a few packets of seed and 4 square feet each of vermiculite and peat moss, a shovel, and an eye cast upon my husband's cherished compost pile. But, the starter seeds can go into containers right now indoors.

Honestly, when I visited the deserted garden center last weekend, I figured I jumped the gun. I did. But this whole garden thing is getting me through the depths of winter. Were it not for all the family birthdays to celebrate this month, I would have to argue that February is the cruelest month — at least for locavores.

So far, our little garden will just be growing a few heirlooms that we can't seem to get enough of at the farmers market; Roma beans, purple hull peas, black crowder peas, papa del rola peas, red Russian kale, Romanesco cauliflower, orange chiffon chard, lettuce mix, blue-green pumpkins and a few other heirloom winter squash, and these little ball-shaped carrots that are a French heirloom. And lots of strawberries! I chose primarily heirlooms because I love the unusual varieties and great flavors, but also because I want to do my part to support diversity.

I know many of you are gardeners, so any advice is welcome! I am starting small with just a few varieties, and hoping for the best.

Resources for Heirloom Seeds:
Kitchen Garden Seeds
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Seeds of Change
Seed Savers Exchange

Educational Garden Resources:
School Gardens
Links on School Gardens and Health

How to Garden:
Square Foot Gardening
Cornell Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners
Frost Dates and Hardiness Zones

Victory Garden Movement:
Revive Victory Gardens

Friday, February 08, 2008

Vegetable Meat Shepard's Pie

When I was ten, my sister and I were responsible for much of the household duties including cleaning and cooking. It made a lot of sense. Both of our parents worked and had long commutes. Thus, the only way we could have a family meal on the table for a weeknight was for my sister and I to cook it.

I believe my mom had about five meals she would trust us with; "wifesaver" meatloaf, spaghetti, "mock" stroganoff, something defrosted to heat up, and "Souper Meat and Potato Pie."

The last recipe consisted of ground beef topped with cream of mushroom soup, fake mashed potatoes and shredded cheddar cheese. It is the sole source of my hatred of any recipe that uses canned soup as an ingredient and anything that uses "potato flakes" (which contain BHT). We ate it every friggin' week. I had bad flashbacks when I saw on my child's school menu. It was then I decided this recipe needed to be rewritten into something edible.

This version feeds a family of four a couple night's dinners using only 1 lb. of ground beef. Not bad if you take Mark Bittman's "Meat Guzzler" article to heart and cut back on meat consumption. It also serves up a hefty portion of vegetables (more vegetable than meat, actually) and flavor in a familiar, kid-friendly dish.

Healthy Shepard's Pie
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Let the USDA Know You Know

I posted the video link to the Humane Society's undercover investigation. I just got a link to a letter you can sign and send to the USDA to let them know that you are not asleep at the wheel and you would like them to actually do something about all this.

There is one important thing about that video. Did you notice that these are all dairy cows? Yes, that company specializes in processing dairy cattle for meat, but why so many dairy cows and why are they in such bad shape?

While possible disease like mad cow can only be ruled out with a blood test, there are other reasons that dairy cows end up like this. Basically, they get worn out. The whole "happy cow" thing is a myth for the majority of these animals. From the Humane Society's site:

In addition to breeding them for astronomical rates of milk production, producers often inject cows with hormones to further increase their unnaturally large milk yield. One animal scientist compares the modern dairy cow's metabolic stress stemming from hyper-productivity to a human jogging six hours a day, every day. Dairy cows are milked for ten months a year (including seven of their nine months of pregnancy) until their worn-out bodies begin to give in and they're slaughtered. Approximately 15 percent of the hamburger meat in the United States comes from "spent" dairy cows.

Although cows can live to be 15 or even older, they're typically slaughtered around four years of age. And as The HSUS's investigation revealed, dairy cows who are too sick or injured to walk to their own slaughter ("downers") can endure terrible abuses.

This is one of the many reasons that I pay more for local milk from grassfed cows, who are not given hormones. The choice is one that I know is best for the cows, and, very likely a much healthier choice for my family. I hope that this type of natural dairy sees a return to more local food systems so that we all can have a better choice.

Is There No End in Sight?

How much more damage to the country and the world can be done in nine months?
  1. Bush budget calls for Arctic oil drilling in 2010
  2. There Goes the Forest: Bush Administration Opens 3 Million Acres to Logging
  3. Bush Budget Guts Proven Energy Savers, Gives More Handouts to Coal, Oil and Nukes

Monday, February 04, 2008

Playing Chicken with Arsenic

I've known that commercial chicken is given feed that contains arsenic for some time. What I didn't know was the extent of the issue and how many other food items are impacted by this practice.

64 Years of Feeding Poison to Chickens
The arsenic-based compound Roxarsone was created in 1944 and allowed to be fed to factory-farmed chicken. The compound encouraged weight gain, killed stomach parasites, and increased the size of the chicken's breast as well as "improved" the meat color. No tests were done on the safety or impacts of this practice for forty years after chickens were first fed the compound. After the European Union performed the first safety tests in the 1980s, use of the feed additive was immediately banned in Europe.

Recent Studies Prove Poultry Industry Wrong
The poultry industry's main justification for continued use of arsenic is that the chemical does not remain in the chicken's body, and thus, presents no hazard. In 2004, studies by The Food Safety and Inspection Service did find arsenic in live chickens. Tests done by the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy found arsenic in chicken meat purchased at the grocery store. The levels found ranged from 1.6 parts per billion to 222 ppb. To give this value some perspective, just 10 ppb of arsenic in tap water raises the percentage of cancer found in a population by one in 2000. The levels found in chicken far exceed World Health Organization recommendations.

Second, the poultry industry insists that the arsenic used is the less harmful organic arsenic. However, organic arsenic easily turns to inorganic in the presence of bacteria. Studies have shown that the organic arsenic in roxarsone becomes inorganic in as little as 10 days.

One bright note in the issue is that Tyson stopped using arsenic in its chicken feeds in March of 2004. They stopped the practice, not because of any concern for safety, they said, but because of public outcry. Naturally, admitting any fault would open the door to lawsuits. Regardless of the reason, it would be great if the rest of the poultry industry would follow suit. Don't hold your breath.

"There's never been any showings of human health risks from the addition of small amounts of roxarsone to the feed," Richard Lobb, a spokesman for The National Chicken Council, a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization for the industry, said in the Post-Gazette article regarding the research on arsenic.

Which seems to be the industry modus operendi; until you prove feeding poison to food animals actually kills people who consume the meat, it's just fine to keep doing it.

And, Speaking of Chickenshit
Much of the arsenic fed to chickens is excreted. Chicken manure is commonly used to create fertilizer that, where used, the arsenic remaining can seep into ground water. USDA tests have found arsenic in the soil, streams, and even tap water surrounding areas where these fertilizers are used. The same arsenic-laden poultry waste is also used in feed for cattle and pigs.

How to Recognize if You are Raising a Food Geek

When my child crawled up on Santa's lap last Christmas, he asked her the age-old question, "So, what do you want for Christmas?" She had no idea. In fact, she had no idea that you were supposed to ask Santa for anything. He's just this great guy around at Christmas time to visit.

By the time her birthday approached, this idea of actually choosing a gift has begun to take hold. As her friends gathered at a celebration, one of the other moms asked my child, "So, what do you want for your birthday?"

The Kiddo took a moment to think. "Berries. Strawberries and blackberries."

I ordered 30 strawberry plants for our garden today.

Other sure signs of Food Geekdom:

We made an urgent trip to the custard stand after finding all the ice cream at the store "melty." As we pulled up to the speaker, and the woman began talking, my child asked us, "Where is that woman talking?" She had no idea what a drive-thru was.

The Kiddo recognizes and asks for cheeses that I can't afford to buy on a regular basis.

The little button nose turned up at her birthday cake, a basic chocolate with cream cheese icing. But she requested seconds on a flourless chocolate torte covered in ganache and raspberries the night before.

I've had her hand me a store-bought chocolate cupcake that she picked out. "Here, I don't want this, Mommy. Can I have edamame?" I tried the cupcake. Turns out, it was a box mix and tasted thin and metallic. I fixed her the requested vegetable when we got home.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Source of Meat for School Lunch Programs

An important investigation by the Humane Society on the use of downed cattle for meat slated for the school lunch program. It's tough to watch, I am sorry, but you need to see this.