Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Flawed Thinking in "The Joy of Cooking?" Study

While I was traveling a couple of weeks ago, this study, called The Joy of Cooking?, came out and caused a little stir in the home cooking world. In it, three sociologists argue that encouraging home cooking should not be a part of fixing our food system.

As you know, I am all about home cooking, so this got my attention.  I've read the study and many responses to it now, and I am not persuaded at all. While they raise some legitimate concerns about poverty, none of their arguments change my feeling that more home cooking is a worthwhile goal.  

My main problem with the study is the straw man they set up. They argue that people are frustrated by feeling the need to cook some "ideal foodie" three hour extravaganza and give examples of families attempting that.  They suggest that because Michael Pollan can seem a little elitist, that all proponents of home cooking (and presumably this would include Michelle Obama's Let's Move which has identified home cooking as a piece of the fix, and ME!) are pushing "ideal" as the standard.

This is not only ridiculous, but really wrongheaded, perpetuating the myth that unless we create a dinner party worthy masterpiece we’re not really cooking, that unless we have the time to achieve this "foodie ideal" (and they use the words "foodie" and  "ideal" repeatedly) that we might as well throw in the dishtowel. "Ideal"is dangerous thinking and should not be a standard in the food world any more than it should be in the body image arena.  As Megan McArdle says in her response to the study, "don't make the perfect the enemy of the adequate." 

Using reasonable shortcuts and some packaged items that are thoughtfully chosen we can make home cooking possible for many of us, even on those busy weekdays. We need to approach cooking from a place without guilt or judgment.  We are all doing the best we can with what we have - time, money, space, interest - and should feel good about whatever steps we can take to make our food just a little bit healthier.  This is not an all or nothing venture. 

The home cooking movement is just one strand of many needed to repair our food system and turn back the obesity epidemic and its resulting health ramifications. The authors describe some families living in severe poverty and their particular challenges to home cooking. There is no dispute that there is much work to be done to help such families with food access and poverty relief in general, as well as continued and increased access to healthier foods and teaching about them in schools. But, as government and community groups attempt to assuage these problems (and we should all be activists fighting for changes that help all families eat more healthfully) we should not discount the value of home cooking in the mix, when it is at all possible. 

Baby steps are still steps in the right direction. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Granola for Breakfast

One of my favorite breakfasts is a bowl of plain yogurt with a small drizzle of honey, topped with fresh berries and a little granola.

I particularly love this in summer when I don't have the same physical need of the warmth of a hot bowl of oatmeal that I do on a winter morning, and when I can enjoy the sweet local blueberries.  I will be sad when blueberry season ends. My local farm stands include farms from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania so I've been able to stretch my blueberry season by moving north as the summer progresses.

One of my best finds this year has been Icelandic yogurt which my daughter introduced me to.  I think it might be even thicker and richer than the Greek yogurt I love, and is also nonfat.  It's full of protein and tastes just a little less tangy than Greek. As I discovered in my sugar experiment a while back, nonfat yogurt is one of the few food items where the stated serving size is actually larger than what I'd eyeball for myself!

Granola can be full of fat and calories, so I both make my own and use only about a 1/4 cup serving. I like the crunch and the nuts with only a little sweetness.  Sometimes I sprinkle on a little bit of hemp hearts as well. I base my recipe off of one from a Brooklyn shop that has made the rounds and has even been adapted by Melissa Clark of the New York Times.  I've adapted it slightly differently, reducing the sugar and adding some spices like Clark does, but changing out the nuts a little.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I'm really excited to tell you about my new venture!  After years of playing with this idea, I've finally taken steps toward making it happen.  I'm now officially offering my services as a "cooking coach," meaning I can come to your home and help you with whatever kitchen and cooking issues you'd like to resolve to make it easier and more pleasant for you to cook at home more.

I see this as a logical offshoot of what I've done in my own home and what I've tried to do here.  If you've been reading this blog, then you know that I try to make healthy and delicious, seasonal foods that satisfy all kinds of eaters.  I use whole, natural foods as much as possible and stay away from too many packaged items, while still trying to maintain ease and simplicity. Taste and fulfillment are paramount to me and I love to experiment with spices and international flavors as well as play around with much loved comfort foods to try to lighten them up. I'm not playing with molecular gastronomy here - I'll leave that to the restaurant chefs - but I'm hoping to make it easier to cook real food at home.

I've got an official website now, at  It's a new [dot]kitchen domain name which is kind of cool and different, so don't be confused by the unusual ending. I had lots of help from my great kids with design and photos so please head over and take a look! And if you like what you see, please pass it on to anyone you think might be interested in this type of service. I can help busy parents with recipes, skills and organization for time saving, healthy meals, I can help if you've recently received a medical diagnosis that requires an eating change, or just requires that you eat out less and cook at home more (though I am not holding myself out as a medical professional or dietician, there is much that I can help you adjust in your own home), and I can help if you just want to expand your weekly repertoire, learn some new techniques and lighten up your family recipes. I can do everything from a complete kitchen and pantry evaluation and overhaul to cooking skills lessons to recipe development.

For the near future, I plan to continue the blog right here and migrate some posts that are also relevant to the cooking coach side of things over to the website.  This site will continue to have new recipes and links as well as food politics.

See you in the!!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

To Be Organic or Not To Be Organic...

The Washington Post recently reported on Consumer Reports' Food Safety and Sustainability Center consideration of whether organic foods are worth the extra money.

For fruits and vegetables, they concluded that the priority to use organic is "high" to avoid pesticide residue.  They labeled beef and dairy "medium to high" priority for nutritional benefits (limited antibiotic use, more heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids especially with grass fed animals).  They also labeled poultry "medium to high" priority to avoid the antibiotics in regular chickens as well because organic chickens can not be fed what is called "poultry litter" which is a mix of chicken droppings, spilled feed and feathers.

Food for thought.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Irish Soda Bread

Maybe it was Maddy talking about making Irish scones with some friends who'd all spent some time in Dublin or maybe it was the bottle of farm fresh buttermilk that called out to me from the refrigerator shelf at the market or maybe it was the bag of locally ground wheat flour I recently purchased. I don't know.  But Irish soda bread has been on my mind for days, and today was finally the day.  Not too hot out, stuck in the house while the tree service chips the fallen limbs from my lovely maple, half gone now.

This is a pretty straightforward recipe adapted from Merrill Stubbs at food52. I've written about her recipe before, and linked to it directly, but over the last couple of years, I've made more changes so I thought I'd write about it again and add in my changes.