Monday, July 30, 2012

on my mind monday 7.30.12

news | photo: mconnors
It's never the same two weeks in a row.  It's what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition and holistic health.  Read what's on my mind.

Non-fermented probiotic milk and juice - As I've talked about before on this blog, fermented foods and probiotics are especially beneficial to our health.  This new functional food is not yet on the market so I can't get a look at a label to give you information about it.  However it does appear that alginate, a seaweed, is being used for the thickener.  For some this will be a problem. In the meantime, if you are interested in adding healthy probiotics to your diet, it is easy to add fermented dairy such as yogurt and kefir as well as fermented beverages such as kombucha, kvass, and water kefir.

NY trans-fat ban has cut consumption - Mayor Bloomberg received a lot of flack for this initiative back in 2008.  Not necessarily, as I understand it, that much from consumers (who were still somewhat confused by the whole trans-fat issue) but from food producers.  They all claimed that it wouldn't work, that the consumers would be unhappy because of the changes, and that it would be difficult to do.  Four years later it appears to be working.  Trans-fat consumption is down.  Although saturated fat consumption bumped up modestly, it was not nearly to the degree of reduction in trans-fats.  Although there are no specific numbers that I could find, given the link between trans-fats and cardiovascular disease, this reduction most likely also reduced cardiovascular disease levels.

Put the apples where the chips are - I have to admit that I give Mayor Bloomberg a lot of credit.  It's difficult to get people to change the way they think about food.  His latest campaign is to try changing the eye-level and check-out locations of foods, replacing the unhealthy options like chips and candy with whole foods like apples and bananas.  It's a voluntary pilot program being run in the Bronx, which apparently has an obesity rate of 70%.  While some people are against this proposal it does not seem to be drawing nearly the same ire as his soda ban.  I'm not sure that this will change the way people shop, but perhaps it will encourage them to reconsider the choices they are making.  I'm very sure that the grocery stores and the junk food manufacturers are not going to be happy with this as grocery placement is a science and this will potentially be a huge hit to their profitability.

And one more for Mayor Bloomberg who wants to put baby formula under lock and key at the hospital.  This is part of the Latch On Initiative which aims to convince more mothers to breast feed their babies.  I have written about breast feeding here and here; long time readers will know I am a big proponent of it.  Not only is breast feeding best for the health of your baby (they have reduced incidence of allergies and infections and increased support for gastrointestinal health) it's also good for mom helping to reduce her lifetime risk of developing ovarian and breast cancers.  While some women are unable to breast feed I am happy to see that they are at least encouraging it and hopefully more will choose to do so.

GMO apples - I've written about this a few times, mostly on my Facebook page.  The purpose of this apple is to keep it from oxidizing (turning brown) when it's cut open.  The company claims this will also prevent minor bruising from showing up.  As readers to this page will no doubt already have figured out, I am opposed to this.  First of all I do not believe we need to be producing any GM food.  Secondly I believe this is a really silly thing to GM as a squeeze of lemon juice accomplishes the same purpose without the need to interfere with the food.  The document showing where to write or call to share your opinion on this product is located here.

High Intensity Training for both weight loss and cardio - Many people don't like going to the gym or the amount of time they think they have to spend there in order to lose weight and/or get in shape.  High Intensity Training can significantly reduce your cardio time.  And for those who don't want to even go to the gym you can do it at home if you have an elipse machine, a treadmill, or even an X-iser. Here's a video of how to use an X-iser at home.

Not reading anything this week as I continue to work on the campaign to publish my book.  Yes (happy dance), a book. It's called The Pantry Principle:  learning the read the label and understand what's in your food.   This book not only talks about different categories of additives, but also covers the concepts of making different choices at the grocery store that will allow you feed yourself and your family better.  There are even a number of tasty and delicious recipes included in the book.  Currently I'm pre-selling The Pantry Principle in order to raise the funds I need to hire a Copy Editor and a Layout Design Artist.  I want to get this book off the presses and into your hands.  If you are interested in knowing what you are eating, in making healthier choices for yourself and your family, please contribute to my campaign and help me publish the book.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

seeds of hunger - a review

Seeds of Hunger
by Yves Billy and Richard Prost
Icarus Films

Food security. It's probably not something that many of us think about. We don't worry about where our next meal is coming from, what it will consist of, nor how much it will cost. Yet all over the world, from India and Asia to Great Britain and even the United States, food security is a growing concern.

Food shortages, the increased cost of staple items, crop losses and failures all contribute to the likelihood of decreased food security that is a reality for many. Billions of people are malnourished and starving, yet the increasing genetically modified, corporate-profit-driven policies do nothing to address the very hunger and scarcity they promised to defeat.

One part of food security is the creation of food deserts, more and more of which are appearing across the landscape. In the United States alone there are 803 counties that are considered food deserts. These are areas with populations so rural that everyone living there is 10 miles or more from a grocery store with fresh fruits and vegetables. Sadly these areas are often highly populated with fast food restaurants and cheap non-nutritious food stores.

Seeds of Hunger, named the Best Documentary at the 2009 Bourges International Festival of Environmental Films, was filmed on three continents and looks closely at these issues and others. It examines the rising number of components which contribute to the growing crisis of food insecurity and instability. Interviews with many different people along the food chain from farmers to manufacturers, exporters, and even financial analysts provide a dramatic picture of food used for fuel, food riots, and how this trend is reshaping the eating habits of billions of people. The film helps viewers understand our changed global economy and it's impact on social structure.

The trailer is available on YouTube.

I originally wrote this for a private client. They are no longer publishing their newsletter and I am now able to share this review with you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

can probiotics make you sexier?

mice | photo: AleXXw
Probiotics have been gaining a lot of attention these days.  Mainstream science has begun to realize how important they are for  overall health and that good digestive function in required to maintain a healthy body state.

Probiotic therapy is beneficial in restoring intestinal flora when there has been an illness such as diarrhea or one that requires the use of antibiotics (which indiscriminately kill both good and bad bacteria).  Unfortunately our modern diet is not supportive of a strong, healthy gut which further depletes the amount and strength of available probiotic colonies.  Many people find it beneficial to add probiotics to their diet.  This can increase the availability of certain vitamins and minerals in the diet.  Probiotics can also support good bowel health, help with allergy symptoms, and provide other beneficial supports for our bodies.

Now there may be another reason to consider probiotics.  According to recent mouse studies there was an increase in "sexiness" among those mice who consumed higher levels of probiotics.  The original intent of the research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was to study the effect of probiotics on the issue of obesity.  Surprisingly, an unexpected set of results emerged.  It turned out that the mice who ate probiotic yogurt had thicker fur (an indication of good health), the males had larger testes (as much as 15% heavier than the mice fed a "junk food" diet), females were impregnated faster, there were more pups, and females were better at weaning large litters.

All joking about "mouse swagger" aside the study has some interesting implications for humans as well.  We share approximately 99% of our DNA with mice, with 80% being identical (the rest have one-for-one matches).  This is why so many medical studies require the use of at least one rodent study.  According to Dr. Jorge Chavarro, a nutritional epidemiologist who has looked at the correlation between yogurt consumption and the quality of semen in men, there does appear to be a positive association.  Studies are on-going on the issue of probiotics and fertility.

While eating more live culture yogurt may not make you "sexier" in the conventional sense, it may well be a beneficial support for those seeking to get pregnant.  If nothing else it will certainly support better digestive function, and for that, it certainly makes sense to include more probiotics into your diet.

Send me an email to receive my free probiotic handout

Monday, July 23, 2012

on my mind monday 7.23.12

news | photo: mconnors
It's never the same two weeks in a row.  This is a collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, and holistic health.  Read what's on my mind.

Photo Essay on Food Waste - While the pictures are surprisingly pretty the underlying fact isn't.  One third of the food we create on this planet goes to waste.  One third!  That's a mind boggling amount of food.  What's even worse is that a significant percentage comes from the United States.  All of this food waste has an astounding impact on the environment.  It is also a startling thought when we stop to consider that, according to the United Nations, 925,000,000 people are chronically hungry in this world.  While it would be great to see more Compost Cabs and other community compost programs to help deal with food waste, the truth of the matter is we need to learn to waste less.  We need to be more mindful of what we buy and how much we are using.  Here are some great tips from Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland: how American throw away nearly half of it's food (and what we can do about it).

What's in your Greek yogurt? - Greek yogurt has become, hands down, one of the biggest food products to take over in it's category.  So popular that some manufacturers have tried to take shortcuts by not really making strained yogurt but rather by thickening their product to make it seem like Greek-style strained yogurt.  However milk protein concentrate and cornstarch are not good additives.  Look for versions without added thickeners or make your own at home.

Banana pasta? - It may sound strange but it's the newest thing to hit the market.  Appealing to the gluten free crowd this pasta may also wind up being a hot new favorite among those who want to eat lower carb.  Low carb?  Yes; green banana flour is a form of resistant starch, often referred to as the third fiber (after soluble and insoluble).  Resistant starch foods appear to bypass primary digestion and then function as a form of fiber in the intestinal tract.  Other foods which are forms of resistant starch include uncooked potatoes, certain high starch foods after they've been cooked and cooled like sushi rice and legumes, and also certain difficult-to-digest seeds like flax (in their whole form).  If this pasta takes off I imagine there will be other green banana flour products flooding the market.

Veggies - Raw vs. Cooked - There's a lot of information out there these days about a raw food diet and it seems that more people are eager to try it.  One of the common misperceptions is that by cooking food we destroy most, if not all, of the nutrients in it.  I am not opposed to a raw diet.  If done correctly there are a lot of cleansing benefits to the body.  However I find that many people have a hard time eating a varied, balanced raw diet over a long period of time.  As this article points out, some nutrients are improved by cooking, different cooking methods have different results, and for those nutrients that are most fragile (such as vitamin C), there are plenty of options to get them in the diet.

Nix the Country Of Origin Labeling on Meat? - This would certainly explain why I haven't seen this labeling appear on any meat packages in spite of the fact that it was supposed to be implemented by now.  I admit that it would change my buying habits even more.  Right now I look for the best quality meat I can and whenever possible try to choose pastured and organic.  But I still don't always know where it's coming from.  If you eat meat would this change your buying habits?

Fruit Kvass - while I had always heard of beet kvass I had never thought to extend that concept to fruit. This sounds quite intriguing however I confess to being over my eyeballs in kombucha and water kefir. So for the moment I'm going to have to pass on adding one more fermented beverage to my kitchen lineup.  But if any of my readers try it please let me know know it goes, I would love to hear from you.

Since we're talking about fermented beverages (and because recently I've been sharing a bunch of SCOBYs with folks) I thought I would show you this video about how to brew a batch of your very own.  Julie demonstrates how to brew one quart at a time....I typically do one gallon at a time, it is simply a matter of measurement.  [some people have said that the videos are not coming through in their email reader....for those folks here's a direct link

Email me to get a free copy of my kombucha brewing instructions (you will also receive a complimentary subscription to my newsletter).

What I'm reading:

Showing Rebecca Wood's article about fruit kvass above sent me to my bookshelves to get down my copy of The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia.  Including Western Nutrition, Aurvedic and Chinese properties of foods I always find this book fascinating.  I'm going through the sections for the foods I currently have growing in my garden.


Friday, July 20, 2012

parenthood and exercise not mutually exclusive

family fun time | photo: vharjadi
Today we have a guest post from Alex Webb of Tristate Orthopaedic, a sports medicine provider in  Cincinnati.  Alex is someone who has been working very hard to figure out just where exercise fits in to her busy schedule - and she doesn’t even have children yet! Follow her on twitter @alexandriakwebb.

We all think our lives are busy, but ask any parent and they will tell you that they miss "busy." Being a parent makes busy feel like Sunday brunch in bed. Without a doubt, being a parent is rewarding, but between work, household duties, family time, social obligations, and running children to all of their appointments and social engagements it’s all too easy to neglect another aspect of your life: Yourself. 

One great way to take care of yourself is through physical activity. Some of the benefits of exercising are improved health, more energy, improved mood, better sleep, and an improved sex life. While all those benefits (and the list doesn’t end there) sound great, the parents out there are most certainly saying, “Of course I should be exercising - I already know that, but when? How?”

Thursday, July 19, 2012

king corn, a review

King Corn 
Independent Lens
Written by Aaron Woolf, Curt Ellis, Ian Cheney,  and Jeffrey K. Miller
Directed by Aaron Woolf

 Did you know that more than 92,000,000 acres of corn were planted in 2007? Are you aware of the fact that in 2003 the USDA estimated that Americans ate an average of 73 pounds of corn sweetener per year? And it turns out an elemental isotope analysis of your hair may very well show that you are predominantly ingesting corn?

Corn has invaded our diet to startling levels. Aside from the obvious places like corn on the cob, corn syrup and corn starch, corn is also turned into fillers, modifiers, extenders and other ingredients that are used in everything from chips to cookies to beer and more. With almost 200 ingredients made from corn it's exceedingly difficult to avoid. Sadly this extends even further into our diet with cows, pigs, chickens, and now even farmed fish all being fed corn. What they eat becomes what you eat. Corn truly is pervasive in our diet.

This film, King Corn, was created by Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis in 2007. Recent college graduates motivated by America's bulging waistline they decided to try to grow an acre of corn and follow it all the way through it's process. Along the way they discovered just how much of what we eat comes from corn. Unfortunately corn has become a staple products of the American diet. Equally unfortunate it is a crop that brings with it numerous health problems. It is one of the most genetically modified crops, it is laden with pesticides, and it is a highly acidic food.  Corn is also not a profitable crop; not, that is, unless our tax dollars are brought into the equation and used to subsidize greater and greater amounts of corn being grown across the country.

In 2005 corn subsidies totaled more than $5 billion, enough to keep the corn empire rolling on and on and on.  These subsidies are what keep the junk food cheap, what keeps the corn coming in our diet.  It's also what encourages more and more acreage to be turned over into corn crops every year.

The trailer is available on YouTube.

King Corn is an amusing yet eye-opening look at just how much corn impacts our food supply. If you look at the list of ingredients that corn is transformed into such as artificial flavorings, artificial sweeteners, crystalline fructose, potassium gluconate and more, you'll realize just how difficult it is to avoid. In order to understand the impact of corn on our country, our agriculture infrastructure and our waist-lines, King Corn is a movie that you don't want to miss.

I originally wrote this for a private client. They are no longer publishing their newsletter and I am now able to share this review with you.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

canning...not that kind

Recently I was invited to a canning event where I could learn about dry pack canning.  It was loud, fascinating, fun, and definitely a bit of work.

We assembled in the early evening at the warehouse.  We were instructed on the different stations on the assembly line and how to operate the machine (for those who were doing that).  We then all trooped over to the sinks to wash our hands and put on nets (two for the guys with beards), gloves and aprons.  Next we lined up in our spots along two different assembly lines.

The responsibilities were:

  1. opening the large containers that the dry goods were in
  2. filling the #10 cans almost to the top
  3. adding an oxygen absorber for long term storage
  4. running the machine to seal the lid
  5. labeling the cans
  6. checking the inventory
  7. boxing the cans. 
My spot was at the end of the line and my responsibilities went something like this:
  • write the date on the label
  • put the label on a can
  • check inventory to see how many of that particular can goes in a box
  • put the cans in the box
  • label the box
  • do it again

While the canner was running it was very loud in the warehouse and all conversation either stopped or was limited to the person standing next to you.  Otherwise it was not too noisy.  Although there was an occasional lull in the process as one part or another of the line got backed up, we spent a fairly solid couple of hours processing dry food.  While it was obvious that many of the others had done this before, they were very supportive of those of us who were new to the process.  Overall we still managed to be quite an efficient team and the lines moved along fairly smoothly.

The items that we canned were:  rolled oats, rice, macaroni, dried apples, black beans, pinto beans, refried beans, non-instant milk powder, dried carrots, and dried onions.  I was fascinated to learn that the shelf life for these dry good in this type of can is quite long.  Some of these foods, because they are so dry, and with the use of an oxygen absorber, can last for up to 30 years in the can.

Many people use these dry goods as part of their pantry system, rotating the cans through as needed.  Instead of purchasing their dry goods in bags or boxes, they purchase them in cans which are vermin proof and watertight.  Other people purchase these items as a part of an emergency food storage system.

It was work, but it was also fun.  I had the opportunity to chat with a number of the people there and really enjoyed our conversations.  I also learned something new that I hadn't known before.  Maybe next time I can run the canner.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

unseen labels - what's in your fast food

A friend recently posted this picture on their Facebook page.    And I've heard a number of people talking about the "hand-spun" shakes at Chick Fil-A.  I believe hand-spun means nothing more than using an old-fashioned, metal wand device, rather than a blender.  However, with the words home-spun in there it sounds wholesome.  And the picture, of course, makes it look tempting and delicious with a large peach right up front.  The limited time only is, I suppose, there to make you feel that if you don't get yours now you've missed out.

Unfortunately the ingredients tell a different story:

Icedream (whole milk, sugar, nonfat dry milk, cream, corn syrup, natural and artificial flavors, dried whole eggs, cornstarch, mono and diglycerides, disodium phosphate, cellulose gum, carrageenan, sodium phosphate, guar gum, sodium citrate, annatto and caramel colors, artificial color [Yellow 5&6]), peaches, sugar, dextrose, water, citric acid, pectin (pectin, sodium diphosphate, calcium orthophosphate), lemon juice concentrate, salt, turmeric extract (propylene glycol, extractives of turmeric), natural flavor, ascorbic acid, annatto, milkshake base (whole milk, sugar, cream, whey powder (milk), nonfat dry milk, artificial flavor, disodium phosphate, mono and diglycerides, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, guar gum, cellulose gum, carrageenan), whipped cream (cream, milk, sugar, sorbitol, nonfat milk solids, artificial flavor, mono and diglycerides, carrageenan, polysorbate 80, mixed tocopherols [vitamin E] to protect flavor, propellant: nitrous oxide), cherry.

Rather than a whole food peach milkshake we have a host of chemicals which include artificial flavors (appearing three times), colors, preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients.

Considering that a traditional peach milkshake has ice cream (choose organic, whole fat and chemical free), milk (again organic and whole fat), and peaches (organic - to avoid pesticides), it's somewhat ridiculous that this lab-experiment-gone-wrong is being promoted as a tasty treat.

My suggestion?  Skip theirs and make your own.

Monday, July 16, 2012

on my mind 07.16.12 - meg's edition

news | photo: mconnors
Normally this is where I write about what's on my mind and share information and links on a variety of food, nutrition and holistic health topics.  Today we have a guest post from Meg in Connecticut who has been reading along for a while and was inspired to put together this list of links.

Triage Your Food - this excellent tip from Lifehacker claims that by creating a triage box in your fridge you can keep track of what needs to be eaten first and possibly save $100 per month or more.  I'm currently scrounging around my bin collection to see what I have that can be repurposed so I can implement this very idea.

USDA 'playing chicken with safety' - Essentially the government wants to turn the inspections over to the companies themselves.  This is not the first time this sort of issue has come up and I am assuming it won't be the last.  Unfortunately this is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse and I do not believe that safety will continue along its current levels which are already not good enough.

Maryland politicians chicken out on arsenic ban - Yes, there is arsenic in chicken feed.  No it is not necessary.  Yes chickens, and people, would be healthier if it was removed from the feed.  The producers put it in there to reduce or eliminate coccidiosis, a common problem with overcrowded poultry conditions.  The dangers of arsenic go beyond the exposure in the meat, the run-off present in chicken excrement also poisons water supplies and the environment.  Buying organic chicken or from a a farmer you know and trust is the only way to avoid exposure to this toxic metal.

Ag-gag laws in five states - I find this very disturbing.  Producers are so concerned about public opinion if consumers know what they are really doing that they have managed, in five states, to successfully gag anyone who tries to report on them.  So what are they hiding?  Poor conditions, inhumane treatment of animals, unhealthy and unsanitary conditions, and possible/probable contamination which can affect the consumer.

USDA needs to label mechanically tenderized beef - meat that is tenderized by machine is considered "non-intact" and therefore has more surface area.  This higher level of surface area provides more growth medium for bacteria, therefore requiring a higher cooking temperature to avoid illness.  This issue has apparently been under review since 2009.  Quite frankly I'm not sure what the holdup is, this could prevent illness and bacterial outbreak and makes perfect sense to me.

What's inside the 26-ingredient school lunch burger - The first ingredient is meat and the second is water.  But the third ingredient is soy flour ( there no allergen label in those school cafeterias?).  Most of the ingredients are not food and should not be in there, including "natural" flavor and disodium inosinate both of which are key words for MSG, and caramel color, which the Center for Science in the Public Interest says is a carcinogenic ingredient.  Last time I made burgers I had just six whole food ingredients, meat, egg, onion, parsley, oregano, and salt.  No chemicals, no harmful ingredients.  What's in your burger?

Paper Mache Carrot Pencils - a really cute craft idea to encourage veggie interaction.

Regulating sugar like alcohol - This is an opinion piece from CNN which points out all the reasons that sugar is so bad for our health and how difficult it is to control in our diet.  If nothing else it should at least help you to be more cognizant of how much sugar you may actually be consuming in your diet without being fully aware of it.

Growing Your Own Veggies - more and more people are turning to the idea of home gardening.  Not only to combat the rising cost of food or the increasing food contamination issues, but because growing food is fun.  And other people are learning how to identify, forage for, and eat weeds.

Friday, July 13, 2012

take back your kitchen

I was talking with a friend of mine who recently moved to this area.  She was stunned to discover how many people don't cook.  It seemed very strange to her that so many eat out almost all the time or purchase prepared "convenience" foods.  I think this is something which is happening not just where we live but all over the country.

While I no longer cook the way I used to when I had three small children at home, I do cook on a regular basis.  In prior days I cooked a lot, every day.  I still cook a lot but the meals tend to be simpler and less involved.  I still use my slow cooker frequently however instead of feeding five it now feeds two to three with leftovers, a bonus as far as I am concerned.  A hearty pot of soup, a tasty stew, these are all so easy, delicious and nourishing.  And the leftovers are perfect for our current lifestyle.

I believe that just about anyone who walks into a house fragrant with the smells of a roasting chicken  or a robust ragout will comment on how delicious that house smells.  We know good food when we smell it, we just think we can cut corners to make it.

We've been sold a bill of goods about food and sacrificing "convenience" for time.  I believe it's a myth.  There are things that you can do to make your time in the kitchen faster or less involved.  But there's no way that you can convince me that prepared foods in a box or a can are "just like homemade."  Especially after you read the label and see how many non-food items are in that package.  I also find that in spite of the rising cost of groceries your food dollars are well spent when you buy the ingredients for homemade wholesome food.

Additionally most of us have forgotten how to cook.  A lot of people have lost the native understanding of how flavors go together, how spices work, what constitutes the basics of culinary knowledge.  One of my biggest joys right now is watching my two older daughters taking their culinary knowledge to the next level.  Working together with them in the kitchen or enjoying a fabulous meal that they have made from scratch.  Sharing my cooking knowledge with them as they add their own twist to a dish or develop their own culinary style.

Just because you don't cook doesn't mean that these skills can't be relearned and you can't take back your kitchen.  You can.  And not only will it taste better and, I believe, be better for you, you're nourishing more that just your belly.  There's something intrinsic about cooking and eating something that you have prepared yourself that quite simply nourishes the soul.

Here are a few simple, easy recipes that I have created which you can easily prepare at home:

Breakfast Quiche Muffins - these can be made in muffin form and frozen until needed.  Or you can make it as a quiche and serve it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  You need to adjust the time as it will take longer to cook if you cook it in a pie pan as a large quiche.

Black Bean Casserole - this is a great dish to serve as is with lots of steamed veggies on the side.  But the leftovers are also fabulous for topping on salads, baked potatoes (with my salsa recipe), they also stand on their own reheated as leftovers very nicely.

Peas-y Peas and Celery - this is a fabulous side dish, easy to make and absolutely delicious.

For true kitchen basics here are some videos:

Giada DeLaurentis' Tomato Sauce - this is a basic sauce that goes with pasta, chicken, beef, and is very versatile

Mark Bittman's Roasted Tomato Soup - because nothing says comfort food like a good bowl of homemade tomato soup.  This is the deluxe version and totally worth making

Homemade Chili - a classic comfort food it's always good to know how to make this

Bechamel Sauce - a white sauce a basic foundation for many different uses

Paula Deen's Macaroni and Cheese - once you start making homemade you'll never want the boxed stuff again.  Be warned though this is a treat food and needs to be served as a side dish not the entree

Jill Sanpietro's Basic Pizza - much better than store bought and easier to make it just the way you like it

Whole food cooking doesn't have to be expensive.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

three bean salad

This is a guest post by my Aunt Haya who recently shared a very sweet story about food, connections and memories.  I love food stories.  I like hearing where food came from, how it's changed, and the associations we make with our food; those moments that join us together.  I agree with my Aunt that in this over stimulated fast paced world it's nice to have these kinds of connections to make us stop a moment and reflect on the various ways that our food comes into our lives. I also love how so many recipes, when shared, keep the name of the person who gifted them to us.

This evening my congregation will be hosting a group of 32 members of a congregation in Maryland who are on a 10 day tour of Israel with their Rabbi. After many guided tours to historical sites they are looking forward to sitting and talking with folks who live here. I have been asked to contribute my three bean salad to the meal.   I am always glad to make and share it.  While assembling the ingredients I stopped to think about it's entry into our lives.  

Nowadays, three bean salad is well known all over the US and multiple variations are on the web. But while living in Houston (in the late 1960s), my husband and I made sure that each of us would have some private time each week, with each of our children.  On one such outing I went with our son Daniel to attend an outdoor performance of an abridged version of some Gilbert and Sullivan operetta out on a lawn of The University of Houston. I think that it was the Pirates of Penzance, but am not sure. 

I did not recognize anyone sitting near us in the audience but Daniel soon picked up a conversation with a boy near his age. I introduced myself to his mother and learned that they were in Houston for the summer while her husband, a school teacher, took summer classes at U of H, in order to eventually qualify to become a school principal in their home town somewhere I think in Arkansas or Alabama. He was often busy attending those summer program classes or working in the university library on his homework, so she and their son were exploring Houston on their own. 

I invited them to join our family picnic the next week in Herman Park on the 4th of July--speeches, fire works and all. They were glad to accept and she brought three bean salad that she'd made. We'd never tasted one before. We all enjoyed it so I asked for her recipe.   She wrote out on a piece of paper which I copied on to a file card after I returned home. I added her name Eula Ross.  We got together only once or twice more during that summer, but three bean salad became a staple in our family's favorite summer recipes; particularly as a contribution to buffets and picnics.

Here in Israel the recipe has changed somewhat. I add diced fresh rosemary needles (that I pick fresh from the shrubs) to the chopped parsley in the original recipe and often use chickpeas for the third bean. 

Today I found that I needed to purchase more chickpeas so used red beans as I have no red onion and wanted to add color other than the chopped sweet red pepper to the salad.  I use less sugar in the dressing that Eula Ross recommended and the minimum quantity of oil.  But each time I prepare this dish, whether or not I check the details on the old file card or fly free with improvisations, I think a special thanks to Eula Ross where ever she is now. 

I am sharing this story with you because in this day and age of instant communication, information from people whom one never meets, an entire rainbow of recipes for any dish for which one could possible conceive of hankering, this older, slower, deeper time of meeting a stranger who became an acquaintance and shared her recipe and it's evolution to fit my current location and dietary preferences, pleases me a great deal.

Eula Ross' Three Bean Salad

2 cups each green string beans, yellow string beans, red beans or pinto beans,
2 stalks of celery cut into cubed shape pieces
1/2 red union diced 
1 cup chopped fresh parsley 
1/2 cup chopped bell peppers 
1/2 cup vinegar 
1/3 cup sugar 
1/4 to 1/2 cup oil 
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper 

Whisk the five dressing ingredients together and pour over the vegetables. 
Mix together cover and chill in fridge. 
Keeps for 10 days 
Aunt Haya's changes: 

1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary to the parsley 
I used frozen cut yellow and green beans which I steam over boiling water just until they thaw, so that they are still a bit crisp
I sometimes substitute chick peas for the red or pinto beans - I soak which ever of the three that I use over night, then cook them myself, drain them before adding to the salad. (I find commercial canned beans of all three types, over cooked (too soft) and too salty) 
I use only 1 teaspoon of salt
About 1/3 cup of oil
reduce the amount of sugar
I like to use apple cider vinegar

Monday, July 9, 2012

on my mind monday 7.09.12

news | photo: mconnors
It's never the same two weeks in a row.  A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition and holistic health.  Here's what's on my mind.

How can a big gulp look so small? - Mayor Bloomberg's soda ban has raised all kinds of backlash across the system.  The biggest misconception put forth is that we "know" how much we are consuming.  Manufacturers keep trotting forth this phrase each time they feel threatened to limited by any type of legislation that may impact their ability to peddle their product.  Frequently it's the least healthy manufacturers who complain the loudest.  So now another study has been done that once again proves that our brains don't do geometry very well.  We are not accurately able to gauge how much we are consuming, instead cueing off the size of the container.  This study, to my mind, confirms a study previously done with bottomless bowls of soup.  We do indeed eat with our eyes, frequently over-eating because we rely on visual cues.

Our Daily Bread - a slightly modified take of the work they've published in their book Hungry Planet: What The World Eats, Peter Menzel and Faith D'Alusio have an exhibit at the Museum of Science in Boston.  It shows a wide variety of people with the food that they plan to eat for that day.  The variety and circumstances are startling.  It gives one definitely pause for thought.  I hope the exhibit is very successful and even more that it will travel around the country, perhaps making it's way to a museum in Houston so that I can go see it.

Food Companies Concerned About Sustainability - As more consumers become more educated, more companies are beginning to listen.  Realizing that they need to be aware of and involved in this issue as well if they want to sell their products.  As always I propose we start with whole foods, but I do believe that sustainable practices across all parts of the food spectrum are important.

Nutrition Education on Wheels - This looks like an interesting concept.  Using a food truck and providing recipe cards and cooking demonstrations people are getting some ideas for how to use the food they get to make healthy, nutritious meals.  This is an idea that I think could be expanded greatly all across the country.  It seems to me that it would not only help people to eat healthier, but also to help avoid food waste as people often don't use what they don't know how to use and it sits until it becomes inedible.  I hope to see more food trucks like this.

EU Organic Label Now Mandatory - Well this just proves that it can be done.  It can't come to our shores fast enough in my opinion.  I even like the symbol they chose.

I use a LOT of onions in my house.  I've tried to grow there but here in my hot, piney woods garden they have not done well.  Out of two onion sets I got one reasonable size onion, yes, one onion.  The others all seemed to melt and disappear into the garden.  I'm still not sure how that happens but I've decided that, for now, growing onions is not for me. I continue to use them as they are flavorful and a great, healthy way to punch up your recipes but, for now, I'm still buying instead of growing them.  As a good source of vitamin C onions also provide a lot of phytonutrients.  They are considered to be beneficial for heart health and are also anti-inflammatory.  Using them can be a challenge however as chopping a spherical object into nice tidy dices or even slices isn't always easy.  Learning the proper way to chop onions is a handy skill.  Here's a great video demonstrating how to do it.



Thursday, July 5, 2012

thoughts on water

rain on grass | photo: adrian benko
We've been getting a fair amount of rain so far this year.  We don't have a rain gauge (although I'm beginning to think we should) and I have my eye on this one.  For now we simply mark when it rains on the calendar because after two years of severe drought we're more mindful of how desperately we need water in this Eastern Piney Woods Region of Texas.  

The drought was considered the worst one since the 1950's and the effects were devastating.  The biggest environmental impact the highly destructive series of wildfires which burned nearly 2,000,000 acres of Texas land.  Livestock and wildlife were badly affected and thousands of people were made homeless by the fires.  Locally in my town fortunately no homes were destroyed by the fires, however we lost more than 15% of our trees and clean-up is still continuing nearly a year later.

So although we've been grateful for the rain, our household become more mindful of our water use and we've realized there are a few things that we can do to help conserve water.  There are of course a the typical things you can do:

  1. adjust your sprinkler system to not over water and install a rain gauge so you don't water when it's raining
  2. aerate your lawn so water can reach the roots rather than creating run-off
  3. mulch your garden to help retain moisture
  4. check outdoor faucets to make sure they don't leak
  5. compost rather than using the dispos-all
  6. Wash fruits and veggies in a pan rather than under a running faucet
  7. shorten your shower time (1-2 minutes can add up to over 100 gallons per month)
  8. turn off the water while brushing your teeth (estimates claim this can save up to 25 gallons per month per household)
  9. check your toilet to make sure the valve closes completely after filling
  10. when cleaning your fish tank use the nutrient rich water for houseplants

However there are other  ways to increase your water conservancy as well and we've just implements two that I think will really help with our water usage.

My husband just installed a Dual Flush Toilet Conversion Kit.  I love these things.  Instead of a lever flush you have a cute button with a one dot push and a two dot push.  Each one of course corresponding to the common euphemisms for pee and poo.  The big reason to love it though is that now we don't use more water than we need.  Let's be honest, when you pee it takes far less water to flush the remains to the sewer system; however a regular flush system doesn't allow you to differentiate.  It was easy to install and should last for a long time.

Also in the water conservation mode he recently installed a Rain Barrel.  After just a few rainstorms our barrel is full.  We plan to use this water for container plants and the vegetable garden.  We figure it's better than turning on the hose and plants seem to love rainwater more anyway.  Also easy to install, it diverts the flow from our downspout.  When the barrel is full there is an overflow valve which backs up and the water again flows through the downspout.  I haven't needed to use the water yet as our rainfall has been sufficient, but it's nice to know we have it if we need it.

Given the growing world wide water crisis it is important that we all become more aware of how we use water.  To be more conscious of what we use and if it can be recycled or if we can use less.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

eating out...or in...but are you eating healthy?

dirty dishes | photo: mikamatto
Americans eat out.  A lot.  Eating out does, in my book, include take out (in other words you went to a restaurant and brought it home or called in an order and had it delivered).  Sadly there are those who eat out more than one meal a day and/or more than five times a week.  That's a lot of eating out.

It turns out we're not the only ones to do this.  Over in England I imagine there must be a lot of people who eat out.  Enough that a rather unusual service has been invented.  One where you can not only order food to be cooked and delivered, but for an extra fee they'll even bring the dirty pots so it looks like you cooked it yourself.

In the United States it seems that our food costs are so low that we spend a fairly small percentage of our income on it.  According to a link found on Visualizing.Org in 2011 the United States spent approximately 6.9% of household income on food.  This number has gone up due to inflation but the highest number I have been able to find is still less than 10%.  Compared to Brazil (24.7%), Canada (9.1%),  France (13.4%), Russia (28.0%), and India (24.5%) we don't spend a lot.  In my house I know we spend more because we make the choice to vote with our wallet when it comes to groceries.  However we certainly still don't spend nearly as much as many other people around the world.

Cheap food costs in American leaves a lot of money left for other food options such as take out.   I believe, in part, this is due to our feeling hurried, and pressured for time.  We are running late, working late, between activities, or worn out from a long day and the temptation to eat out is easy and fairly inexpensive.

However even if we aren't eating out we still may not be making healthy food choices.  According to a recent article from Planet Money it turns out Americans are spending less of our money on food now than we did 30 years ago.  Sadly that spending is increasingly going to processed food.  While spending on fruit and vegetables remained fairly stable between 1982 and 2012 (14.5% vs. 14.6%) the amount spent on processed food has soared to nearly double (11.6% to 22.9%).  Given that overall decrease in food costs it is hard to believe that many people are not choosing to eat more foods which are nourishing and support health.  While food costs are rising, they still are not at a level that should prevent you from considering the option to eat more whole foods.

Strategies to consider:
  • Evaluate your current household food budget.  Look at what you're spending for various categories of foods and consider if perhaps you can make healthier choices while not changing the dollar amount you spend.  
  • Choose more nutrient dense foods (which provide a lot of nutrients per calorie).  Examples of nutrient dense foods include:  eggplants, green beans, spinach, broccoli, apples, blueberries, and plums.  Examples of nutrient poor foods include chips, soda, donuts, or french fries.
  • Consider other food preparatin methods, such as pressure cooking, slow cooking, or grilling as a means of preparing healthier foods while saving time. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

on my mind monday 7.02.12

news | photo:  mconnors
It's never the same two weeks in a row.  A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, health and holistic living.  Read what's on my mind.

Tending the Body's Microbial Garden - It seems that mainstream science is beginning to realize that wholesale, repeated slaughter of our intestinal flora may not be such a good thing. Holistic practitioners have been saying for decades that supporting the gut is key to supporting health. Starting with a baby's first inoculation via the birth process to our exposures we build a hopefully healthy intestinal eco-system.  When we take antibiotics and wipe out both good and bad bacteria there are negative health effects that accumulate from this overarching destruction.   I'm glad to see that mainstream science is beginning to recognize the benefits of a healthy digestive system.  If you want to learn more consider reading Liz Lipski's amazing book, Digestive Wellness.

Meat Without Drugs - For those Omnivore and Flexitarian eaters out there this is a huge deal.  The FDA has known for decades that the producers in the meat industry over-use antibiotics in order to keep their animals healthy in spite of overcrowding and filthy conditions.  The problem is that those antibiotics are still present in the meat when you eat it, leading to a regular low level exposure.  Over 70% of all antibiotic use in this country is in animal feed.  That's an astounding number.  It appears that this situation may also be one of the leading causes behind antibiotic resistant bacteria.  We are essentially inoculating our bodies over and over again.  You can avoid eating meat with antibiotics in it by purchasing organic, purchasing meat labeled "raised without antibiotics", or purchasing directly from a farmer that you trust.  And support this campaign, sign the pledge.

More than honeybees - It turns out the dangers from our damage to the environment are affecting more than just honeybees.  One big takeaway from this article is how the loss of meadows and wildflower habitats is affecting the bee population.  They need to have a wide mixture of plants available for foraging.  All the spaces that we consider weedy and remove or cover over or control by mono-cropping are exactly the spaces needed by the bees.  And we need them to pollinate our food.  It is, after all, an eco-system and one which we need to respect.

Olive Oil and Slippery Politics - sadly it's not just in this country that politics and corporate aims challenge the issues of sustainability and environmental responsibility.  Unfortunately this compounds the situation already clouded by adulteration of olive oil.  To my mind the solution is simple and straightforward.  Stop adulterating the product, support small farmers, accept that this is a regional product that does best when produced sustainably.  However the EU's solution is to create an overwhelmingly tragic repeat of what has happened to the dairy industry in this country by paying farmers to stock a reserve which will at some point no longer be acceptable for consumption.  It's difficult as consumers to know what makes a good choice for olive oil, to know who is not adulterating and who is not being squeezed out (sorry) by corporate interests.  I know of a few producers that I believe sell a clean, quality product if you are interested in purchasing your olive oil for quality and purity.  Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard in Elmendorf, TX, Texas Hill Country Olive Company in Dripping Springs, TX, and the Chaffin Family Orchards in Oroville, CA.  High quality olive oil costs more, but you can tell by the flavor that you are getting an amazing product.

Farm to Dumpster - So much of our food is wasted.  In a world where there is growing disparity between the food haves and the food have-nots this is a deep shame.  In a world where food costs are rising this is sad.  In a world where the environment is stressed and global warming is a reality, this is just wrong.  We need to do better.  We need to be more mindful about our food and how we use it.  Learn more and make changes....start with Jonathan Bloom's excellent book, American Wasteland.

What I'm Reading:

Cooking for Isaiah by Silvana Mardone - This book was on a friend's cookbook shelf and she pulled it down to share a recipe that she particularly liked with me.  Flipping through the pages it looked amazing and, more than that, delicious.  I am one of those people who truly does READ a cookbook.  Reading through the pages of this one is a journey through foods that signify comfort and love.  But they come without gluten and dairy, a huge issue for many people.  I was so inspired by this book that before I was done reading it I ran to the grocery store to buy the gluten free flours to make Sivlana's mix.  The one issue with her mix is the use of Xanthan Gum which is a binding agent.  Some people can be very sensitive to it and suffer from flatulence or bloating when eating it.  I haven't experimented enough with the mix and the recipes to know if it's okay to leave it out but I must say the recipes I've tried so far have all been amazing.

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