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. Feel free to experiment with reducing the sugar even further. One friend reported that she eliminated the sugar but added a couple of tablespoons of molasses to good effect. 

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.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Eating Well

Over the years, I've come up with some "healthier" truths that I use for my own eating and for cooking for my family and that inform my recipes here on the blog. As is obvious on the "pages" here, I'm not into extremes or completely omitting entire food groups, but I try to cover many bases of health while maintaining flavor and enjoyment. I favor a mixed/balanced approach, loosely based on the NIH created DASH diet and a love of Mediterranean cooking of all sorts, along with a little portion control and some exercise.

Many have provided rules for healthier eating that I like and adopt:

Of course, Michael Pollan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Marion Nestle (Nutritionist and Professor at NYU): "My guess: If you balance food intake with physical activity and are not overeating, the specific proportion of fat, carbohydrate, and protein won’t matter nearly as much."


"While the arguments about fat v. sugar go on and on:  Eat your veggies, vary the foods you eat, don’t gorge, and enjoy what you eat."

David Katz (Yale University Prevention Research Center): "A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominately plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention."

Now, Eating Well magazine has just come out with a list of 10 ways to cook healthier.  I'm linking it here, but please be warned that although I like the magazine itself, its online presence is quite annoyingly littered with pop ups and ads and forces you to see their list in slide show format rather than as one article, which I can not stand and seems to be the norm for these magazine lists.

But this list is pretty similar to what I've been saying here for years, though other than in my "Why I'm Here" piece, haven't set out so concretely and perhaps should have.  So here, with my usual caveat that I am not a doctor or nutritionist and don't even play one on tv, is my list of top things to do for eating healthier:

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Thanks, food52!

Nothing like a James Ransom photo to make your food look amazing!

Just saw yesterday that food52 selected one of my recipes, for a Community Pick, the best part of which is that the recipe now sports a fabulous photo taken by Ransom - much better than anything I could hope to take. Very excited and thrilled for the nod!

It's still a little early for local corn in most places, but keep this group of Community Picks in your pocket for when it starts making its appearance.  My recipe is right up top, Sauteed Corn, Green Onions and Shitake Mushrooms. If you click either on the name of the recipe or the picture, you can click right through to the recipe on food52. Or, you can go directly to the recipe from here.

And while you're there, check out the other great corn recipes, including the two that are finalists this week!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend Cooking Ideas

I guess it's pretty lazy and cheesy to repost my Memorial Day Weekend roundup from 2011, but really, all the recipes I wanted to put in this are already there!

So accept my apologies for the quick and easy approach and check out some ideas here.

Have a great weekend and take a moment out of the festivities to remember our fallen.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Healthier Veg

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released its annual list of vegetables and fruits with the most and least pesticide residue. The list is based on pesticide residue testing data from the USDA and FDA. These federal agencies produce the data, but don't collate it for the consumer, so the EWG provides this service for us.

Organic produce can be expensive, so it's helpful to know which items are more likely to have high levels of pesticides.  That way, we can pick and choose which ones, if any, we prefer to buy organic.  In many cases, produce sold at farm stands, grown on small farms, is grown using organic principles and little or no pesticides even if not certified as organic.  It's worth asking.

As in the past, strawberries and apples are at the top of the list of high pesticide residue. If concerned about pesticides in your food, simply buy organic for those items, even if you don't buy everything organic. The EWG refers to the top 12 items as "the dirty dozen" and recommends purchasing those organic if possible.  For the last few years, they've also added two more items to watch out for: leafy greens such as kale and collards and hot peppers. While these don't meet their usual criteria for the dirty dozen, they do show pesticides that are highly toxic to humans.  They recommend that if you eat a lot of these items, to purchase organic.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Check Your Sugar

Here's a brief update to my last blog entry, Sugar, Sugar, now that I've seen the movie Fed Up! and had a chance to process some of my thoughts.

This movie is an important public service because all of us need the smack in the head about sugar. Even those of us, like me, who are hyper conscious of what we're  eating, can learn from this movie. I appreciated the very simplified (almost dumbed down) scientific explanation of our bodies on sugar.  It made the reason to limit sugar much more clear.  The stories of the morbidly obese teens and families featured are compelling and heartbreaking, bringing me to tears more than once. I'm glad Paul saw it with me and I will take both my grown kids to see it when they're in town.

The experts interviewed are highly respected doctors, nutritionists, scientists and journalists. They are people who have been fighting this fight for many years. People like Margo Wootan of Center for Science in the Public Interest, Dr. David Kessler, a former head of the FDA who wrote The End of Overeating, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, the list goes on.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Sugar, Sugar

Trust in a sales relationship is a funny thing. I remember feeling somewhat unsettled when Paul and I bought our first piece of real estate, back in the day before buyer's brokers. Although I knew in my head and had been told many times, that both realtors worked for the seller, it was really hard to comprehend that even the broker we'd hired to show us potential homes still owed her duty to the sellers she might never have met. If there was some horrible flaw in a property that she wasn't legally bound to tell us, she was not going to tell us. If a particular property was out of our budget, she was not going to dissuade us.  And though we had a pretty nice relationship with that first broker, and she brought us a lovely Portmeiron bowl as a closing gift, I had felt a certain tension throughout the process.  She didn't behave like the stereotypical used car salesman. She was pleasant in a motherly sort of way. So though trained as a lawyer and a skeptic by nature, I still found myself pulled in and had to remind myself to be wary.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Chinese Food at Home

I realize these green bits look a lot like avocado slices in the photo, but they are cucumber!  This is Kylie Kwong's Chicken with Cashews, a recipe that I have loved for years and forgot about until the other night. I've been trying lately, to be extra conscious of not wasting food.  This sometimes requires a last minute change of plans in order to avoid throwing out an about to go off cucumber or some rapidly desiccating scallions.  

I had thawed a small package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs with thoughts of crispy chicken dancing in my head and then the weather suddenly got unseasonably warm that day (and for only that day!) and I found said vegetables in need of saving.  

The Washington Post featured this recipe when Kwong's cookbook, Simple Chinese Cooking, came out in 2007. It's a great book, filled with recipes that, once you have a few basic staples of Asian cooking, are quite accessible. This one, in particular, is on the lighter side and tastes like you've ordered it in from the best new Chinese restaurant in town.  It is up there with monkeymom's Ma Po Tofu on food52! And, as the book title asserts, it is pretty simple. Have everything cut up and ready in advance for this one.  

I like to serve this with a little brown rice and another vegetable.  Steamed or roasted asparagus, broccoli or baby bok choi are all great.  With a vegetable side, this should serve well more than the 4 it recommends.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Musings on Passover 2014

I found myself in tears the other day, in the crowded kosher supermarket, over a jar of cherry preserves.  Growing up, we bought a jar of Polaner's red cherry preserves (the other brands never tasted the same) every Passover.  What was left in the bottom of the jar at the end of the week usually remained uneaten, only to crystallize into unpleasant white icicles within a few weeks after the end of Passover.

This jar of sugary sweet mess was a favorite taste I shared with my mother and sister for many years as a Passover breakfast.  There is no explaining why that particular brand and flavor, not available, nor even desired, at other times of the year, was so incredibly delicious with cream cheese on matzo.

I bought those cherry preserves.  Though the past few years have found us experimenting with new traditions at Passover, this is one tradition that I won't change.   Not a creamy food lover, I'll spread my matzo like always, with a translucently thin film of Temp Tee cream cheese, then top it with the preserves.  For better or worse, I'll be back at the round white, vinyl tablecloth covered for Passover, kitchen table of my youth. Kodachrome.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Winning Chili

Awhile back I won a contest at Whole Foods for this chili.  Some of you have asked that I provide the recipe so here is the link to the recipe on the Whole Foods Market site.  I guess there's still enough chill in the air for one more chili dinner before it heats up around here!

Many thanks to all who voted!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Get a Move On Girl!

I wrote this post about the Washington Post's Future of Food conference almost three years ago, when I was newly inspired to find a way to affect people in a positive way with healthier cooking and eating beyond this blog.  I just reread it today and it made me somewhat sad that despite all my good intentions, for a variety of reasons, I haven't moved far from that place in the ensuing three years.  On the positive side, I am now working hard to make something happen.

I'm still as excited and passionate about many aspects of the politics of the food world.  Luckily, the momentum in this area is not only still going strong, but has even increased in force. I'll get there.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Marion Nestle Says...

In her latest blog post, Marion Nestle, Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and of Sociology at New York University comments on some recent studies about saturated fat and heart disease. Her opinion is that these new studies really don't show anything new or change her thoughts on the issue.  

She says "Focusing on one or another nutrient—fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, or sugar—takes foods out of their caloric as well as dietary context."

"My guess: If you balance food intake with physical activity and are not overeating, the specific proportion of fat, carbohydrate, and protein won’t matter nearly as much."

"While the arguments about fat v. sugar go on and on:  Eat your veggies, vary the foods you eat, don’t gorge, and enjoy what you eat."

So glad to hear an expert with this opinion!  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What a Week and Yes, a Recipe Too - White Beans and Greens!

The week before last was a banner one for healthier food policy. The week started off with First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announcing tighter new federal standards for marketing food to children.  On Thursday, she revealed proposed revisions to the "Nutrition Facts" label on packages of commercial products, which made it to this point in the review process in record time.  The changes are now open to comment for 90 days at the FDA. I think it will be very challenging for the food companies to object too strenuously to these changes, as the First Lady has achieved so much good will with these companies as well as with the press and the public with her health efforts. On Friday, Sam Kass capped the week off by announcing some healthier changes to WIC, the Department of Agriculture's supplemental nutrition program for "women, infants and children." These changes include an increase in benefits for fruits and vegetables and the allowance of yogurt and more whole grains.

What hard work and political finesse led up to last week's announcements! I suspect this was strategically planned to occur in the President's second term, but with enough time remaining to see these changes through.  A lesson that patience and timing (on top of a whole lot of hard work and forging connections) can be everything.

The proposal for the new Nutrition Facts label seems like a great boon for the savvy consumer.  I like that the calorie count will be in a larger font so I don't have to break out the reading glasses to see it.  I really like that information will be based on more realistic serving sizes, and not on arbitrarily created puny ones designed to trick us into underestimating how many calories we consume. Anyone who's read a label has seen instances where, for example,  a bag of chips that appears to be the amount one person would eat alongside a deli sandwich, reads 2 or even 2.5 "servings per container."  Seriously, I only know one person who could open that bag and eat only half the chips.

Another great new revision proposed will be the identification of added sugars.  We've had sugars on the label for years but added sugars would distinguish between the sugar that occurs naturally in the food from the sugar added to sweeten it.  For example, plain yogurt contains sugar, but sweetened yogurt contains that naturally occurring sugar plus however much sweetener a company adds.

I am a big fan of clear, usable information, but I do recognize that the public must still want to use the information.  I was surprised to read studies done recently that even where more markets were added to known food deserts, that people didn't change their eating habits, or that when calorie counts were added to the menus in chain restaurants, that people didn't change their orders.  My habits change when I read nutrition facts and calorie counts. For example, that really delicious quinoa and spelt scone at a European bakery chain - anyone else do a double take on that one? I even had a twitter conversation with someone I follow when she tweeted a photo of the menu with the shockingly high calorie count shown, but didn't identify the restaurant. I recognized it immediately because I'd had the same experience a few weeks earlier. Information is power, people!

So this recipe happened a couple of times lately, here in the healthier kitchen.  I came across this recipe in last month's Bon Appetit magazine, and even shared the link to it on Facebook because I was so excited about it. The dish has the flavor of the overnight cooked white beans one gets in Tuscany, but done in a more reasonable time frame and with the punch of healthy greens.  Yes, using dried beans makes everything take longer, but as long as you plan ahead and soak the beans the night before, this is a perfect weekend dish to make and enjoy all week. In fact, if you soak the beans tomorrow night, you can make this for the absurd cold snap forecast for Thursday.  I've streamlined the recipe a little so here is my adaptation.

Just make sure to soak the beans the night before!!

This makes a large amount of beans.  If you don't love them as much as I, try making a half batch.  If you do go for the full recipe, you can serve it the first time as a main dish or side dish to some other protein, and make a soup with the remainder.  To make the soup, add stock, either chicken or vegetable to the beans and greens to thin it out and throw in some already cooked tiny pasta shape.  Serve with the same drizzle of olive oil and shaving of Parmesan as usual.

White Beans and Greens

(adapted from Bon Appetit)

Serves 6 - 8

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 anchovy fillets, drained
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
scant 1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
a few turns of freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes (if you don't have Aleppo, use 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes), more if you like heat
1 sprig rosemary
1 pound dried cannellini or gigante beans
1 pound kale, chard, spinach or mustard greens (or a mix!), cleaned and ribs and stems removed and coarsely chopped
4 cups arugula or watercress
juice of 1/2 lemon, more if it's particularly small or dry
Parmesan cheese to grate on top

1.  Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add in the anchovies and stir until they just start to dissolve.  Add the garlic and stir into the anchovies until they dissolve completely.

2.  Add onions into the pan, along with the salt and pepper.  Let cook until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the Aleppo pepper and stir again. Let cook another 2 or 3 minutes.

3.  Add the rosemary, beans, and 8 cups of water.  Raise heat on burner to let this come to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  This will cook for about 2 or 3 hours until the beans get soft and creamy.  You might need to add another cup or two of water if the pan contents start to look a little dry.

4.  With the back of a large spoon or with a potato masher, crush about 1/4 of the beans and mix well.  Add the greens and mix in and let cook until all the greens are wilted and incorporated.

4.  Add the lemon juice and stir.  If it's really thick and dry, add a splash more water.

5.  Top individual servings with a grating of Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of good quality olive oil.  Serve with slices of a baguette or country Italian bread.

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Why Nutrition Is So Confusing"

Yesterday's New York Times included an opinion piece by Gary Taubes, a science writer who's written extensively on food and health, titled Why Nutrition Is So Confusing. He provides scary statistics about the increase of obesity and diabetes and asserts that the nutrition research community has failed to establish what actually causes them. At least he's doing something about that by helping found an initiative to provide for more research on this issue.  And, don't get me wrong, more research is a good thing.

But while I agree that figuring out how to eat right is surprisingly confusing (See f.n. 1- haha maybe you've never seen a footnote in a food blog before) and deserves much more well funded and thorough research, I'm not sure it matters whether it's sugar and white flour that's causing our ills or if it's saturated fat. Taubes is very focused on finding out which it is we Americans are eating too much of.

My guess as a non-expert, but intelligent and self-aware person who primarily cooks and eats at home, exercises, eats the right foods most of the time, limits saturated fats, white carbs and sodium and still grapples with weight, is that we are eating too much of everything.

For me, a person privileged enough to be able to buy whatever healthy food I desire, to still be grappling with maintaining a healthy weight means that I have to watch the amount of everything I eat, not just the bad stuff.  Though I definitely think that eating a selection of healthy foods, mostly cooked at home, is the way to go, even too much whole wheat pasta will pack on the pounds.  Other than, perhaps, kale, this is true for most foods (see f.n. 2 - and here, my friends, is your second footnote in a food blog!). I'm guessing this is true for some of you as well.

So then it is particularly galling to have this already really, really hard thing made even harder by restaurant chains where a single plate is delivered to the table towering with enough food for two and at fast food chains where the menus are replete with choices containing a day's worth of fat and calories and a week's worth of sugar and sodium.  I choose to avoid those places and cook at home more often with as few packaged items as possible. When I eat out, I choose places that share my food choices.

But I pay a premium for this.  Fresh vegetables, fish, and grass fed beef and milk, and healthier style restaurants are expensive and unhealthy packaged foods are not. When one shops with a limited budget, it can be challenging to pass up quantity, albeit unhealthy quantity.  When one is at the poverty line, the choice becomes even more Hobson-like. Many items in the grocery store are, much like the dishes at many chain restaurants, full of more fat, calories, sugar and sodium than we should eat in a day let alone in a single serving.

This is not just a matter of personal failings by all these people battling obesity and disease. We are being sabotaged in our efforts by restaurant and food corporations who try to deflect attention from what they're really doing by making donations to schools to renovate playgrounds or gymnasiums.  These corporations need to be forced to really partner in this fight, not just with their token donations, but by cutting out the extra sugar, fat, sodium and additives they add to junk food (and regular food for that matter) to make it so appealing to the kids who attend those schools. And by not targeting their advertising of that junk food directly to those same kids.  And by not insulting and endangering the families of those kids when they have a meal out at one of their establishments.

Willpower can only go so far, people, in the face of food-like substances that have been expressly designed by scientists to get us to eat more (f.n. 3 - yes, one more!) and are only going to make us sick if we do so. Let's demand better for ourselves and our communities.

f.n. 1  Five or six years ago I began reading all I could on food and health and concluded that it just wasn't clear, at least as far as avoidance of heart disease and diabetes, who to listen to.  Most experts advise the avoidance of saturated fats.  Others, including Taubes, believe that the culprits are sugars and processed white grains.  Most agree that we should eat less salt, but there's even some controversy on that.  Throw in the wild card diets gluten-free, dairy-free, Paleo, and vegan and it's like the Tower of Babel out there. There's even some research indicating that the right way to eat might vary from person to person based upon stomach bacteria.

f.n. 2 This is just a mild exaggeration.  I am, of course, including other vegetables in the category of what we can eat in an unlimited way, but even here the discussion is complicated.  Some would argue that starchy vegetables should be limited as well as potatoes.

f.n. 3  Please see The End of Overeating by David A. Kessler, MD.  It is quite shocking what games some corporations are playing with our tastebuds…and our health.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Food News

In the news today, the Senate joined the House in passing the Farm Bill and, as expected, cut $8 billion from SNAP benefits (what used to be called food stamps). This will affect about 850,000 poor families, many with small children, who will lose about $90 per month in benefits. It now awaits President Obama's signature which is expected to happen on Monday.  At least the SNAP cuts are less than what some House Republicans originally sought.

Also, in the spirit of positive thinking, there's this spin on the cold weather we've had this winter.

I'd also like to share this terrific find that I think will not only be a staple in my house but will help me lighten up some favorite recipes.  Labne.  I've made my own and written about it before, but I bought some at a Middle Eastern market recently and not only was it even more delicious than what I made, I had the packaging with the nutritional breakdown.

This could be just the thing when cream and full fat yogurt are called for in, say, an Indian recipe such as Tikka Masala or Makhini.  It is as rich and full bodied as creme fraiche with a fraction of the fat and calories.  And, it is much richer and thicker than yogurt.  I will be doing some serious experimenting with this theory!

Feb 8 update:  Signed, sealed, delivered…yesterday at MSU, President Obama signed the Farm Bill.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Winter Musings - It's Time to Move On

We are snow covered once again here in DC and encased in another veil of frigid polar air.  I am not a fan of severe cold, really who is, but I am probably less tolerant than most.  I want to hole up in a cocoon of blankets and fleece and drink cup after cup of tea.  Going any further afield than my front walk and driveway that need some occasional attention with a shovel, requires substantial effort on my part.

The upside to the cold and snow is that my burrowing yesterday left me with time to take care of what we used to call paperwork (which now is primarily computer work), reservations that needed to be made, forms that needed to be filled out and calls that needed to be made.  And, I had plenty of time left to let my thoughts meander a little.  I spent some time on my current project which is to figure out a new career path for myself.  Then, I found myself in the Galilee with Maddy, where she is currently volunteering at an organic and sustainable goat farm known for its cheeses as well as a quirky and lovely rustic restaurant.

Not to sound overly sappy, but it is immensely fulfilling to see my kids growing into the adults they want to be, maybe even were meant to be, the kernels of which have actually been apparent for years.  To see the boy who adored blocks pursuing architecture or the little girl who wrote her own story of Gwenhwyfar choosing to study English in the UK is so utterly perfect and fascinating and so essentially "them".  Where this will take them is an exciting unknown, but that is what they love.  They are becoming these people who, while influenced by Paul and me and our tastes and interests, are going their own ways and following their own paths and interests, maybe riffing a little off of what we've shared.

The hardest job we have as parents, I am coming to see, is not the diaper changes or plugging the outlets or making sure they are neither bullied nor bully or making sure they are happy.  At least for me, it is letting go of them and allowing them to make some really sucky choices amidst their sound, and sometimes even genius, choices and letting them flounder or fail and learn from the experience.  And trying to trust that I've been at least partially successful in helping them acquire the skills necessary for adulthood more often than freaking out that I haven't been.  Many phases of parenting have seemed overwhelming at the time, both physically and emotionally, but this phase is asking of me something well outside my comfort zone of control and planning. Thankfully, most of the physical work is now behind us, but the temperance and restraint which is now required is as unnatural and challenging to me as going out in the frigid cold.

Amidst this phase of letting go of them and watching them evolve and find their way, I am also trying to figure out my own next step, this time, for real, moving back out into the working world in some way.  This new path, I hope, will take me deeper into some manner of helping others have access to, cook and eat healthy foods.  So, when I realize that both kids have an interest in healthy food and cooking, I'm hopeful that maybe I can reproduce this petri dish outside my home.

I love that they are each connected to food in ways unique and appropriate for them.  I'm astonished that Maddy was drawn to experiment with the earth in the context of organic goat cheeses, and that Ted built a barbecue on his patio and experimented with cooking everything from meats and vegetables to pizza on it.  Before she left, Maddy was both exploring blogs and creating her own vegetarian and vegan recipes of all sorts.  Ted spent a semester in Italy with almost as much focus on the local food and wine available as on the art and architecture.

They do not only follow my lead with their food choices but stretch beyond, experimenting with their own tastes and taking me along with them to places I might not have explored otherwise.  They might not realize quite how much pleasure I take in this.  Indeed, I'm not even sure how either would respond to this knowledge as I don't think either is exploring food to forge a connection to me or to seek my approval, nor should they. So there I am on Maddy's Israeli hillside, away from this cold, seated on Turkish carpets on an outdoor patio, eating a meal of goat cheese and labne and salads made with vegetables grown on that land.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Habitant Pea Soup

I grew up eating my mother's split pea soup, so thick your spoon really could stand up in the pot, and filled with chunks of carrots. Because we were a kosher home, my mother used a turkey carcass to flavor the soup, instead of a ham bone. Sometimes she also added flanken and beef bones.  I loved that soup. In fact, that was usually what I requested for my first meal home during college vacations.

After making many different pea soups and making my mother's recipe from time to time, I realized that the turkey flavor could be overwhelming, and not quite smokey enough. Paul finally revealed that despite my love for my mother's soup, he just didn't like split pea soup at all. Eventually, I just stopped making it.

For the last few years, though, this kosher bred girl has purchased a local Virginia country ham for an extended family buffet the day after Thanksgiving. Paul really likes ham about once a year.  I freeze the leftovers in separate containers to be used later for another dinner or for a breakfast of ham and eggs. In one big bag, I save the hambone along with the smallest of the scraps to use in a soup on a cold winter day.  This year, I didn't host the buffet, but tried one of Trader Joe's little half uncured hams one day in December once the other meat eater arrived home.  The bone wasn't large, but it was enough to save for soup later on in the winter.

That bone didn't have long to wait.  This week's arctic vortex cold was the perfect impetus for pea soup. Plus, veggie girl is off gallivanting about in Israel right now, so I didn't have to come up with a side by side vegetarian version.  I made a riff on Quebec style Habitant Pea Soup which calls for yellow split peas and is a little thinner in consistency than the one I grew up with. Who knows if it's the ham over the turkey or the change in peas, but if Paul likes it too, it's all good.

On another subject entirely, after a wait of an extra couple of weeks due to a technical glitch over the holidays, I finally found out last week that my trout pate won the contest at food52!  Many thanks to all who voted!  I have to admit that although this is relatively small potatoes, I was pretty thrilled and tickled to finally win one of the contests!

Habitant Style Pea Soup

(adapted from Cooking Light magazine)

serves 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 medium sized carrots, diced
2 cups yellow split peas
4 cups homemade or no or low sodium added stock, can be beef or vegetable
4 cups water
1 large bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 leftover ham bone
4 -  6 ounces leftover ham, diced
salt and pepper to taste
creme fraiche for garnish

1.  Heat a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat and then add olive oil.  Add the onion, celery and carrot.  Add a pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of pepper and cook the vegetables until the onion begins to get translucent, about 5 - 10 minutes.

2.  Add the split peas, stock, water, bay leaf, thyme and ham bone to the pot.  Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer.  If there's a lot of foam on top skim a little off from time to time.

3.  Let the soup cook for about 1.5 to 2 hours, until the peas soften.  Turn off the heat and use an immersion blender to puree about 1/3 of the soup.  Stir well.

4.  Add in the diced ham and return soup to a simmer.  After about 10 minutes, taste for salt and, if needed add more and add some pepper.

5.  Add a small dollop of creme fraiche in the middle of each bowl as you serve.