Tag Archives: vegetables

Easy Teriyaki Noodles

18 Jun

A super-easy recipe post this week. This is a pretty no-frills dinner (though easy to “frill up” if you so choose) but I was pretty proud of it, the product of one of those “what do I have in the fridge” kind of lazy nights. In fact, these are all ingredients I have on hand pretty much all the time, so it was really nice to accidentally discover a new recipe I could throw into the no-effort rotation.

What You’ll Need:

  • Sesame oil
  • Garlic
  • Scallions
  • Ginger
  • Soy sauce
  • Sugar
  • Angel Hair
  • Carrots
  • Peapods
  • Cashews
Yes — This was a no-measure recipe. Sorry! Have fun with it!

How You Do It:

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil, and cook the angel hair according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil (probably about a tablespoon) in a large fry pan or wok over medium-high heat, 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add about a clove of minced/grated garlic, a handful of chopped scallions (whites and greens), and a few dashes of ground ginger (more if you like extra spiciness), and sauté about 2 minutes, stirring so the garlic doesn’t burn.
  4. Toss in carrots, peapods, or whatever veggies you choose, and sauté 3-4 minutes, until vegetables are slightly soft.
  5. Add about a tablespoon of soy sauce, a small pinch of sugar, and the cooked, drained angel hair pasta. Sauté to coat noodles.
  6. Add cashews and serve!

Everything here is easily substitutable — try it with whatever oil you have on hand, use rice noodles or orzo, etc. — so feel free to play around with ingredients and flavor, and let me know what else you have come up with!

Eating Less Meat — Kiddie Style

2 May

The other day via Twitter, my friend Lindsey mentioned that her family is trying to eat less meat overall, but having a tough time coming up with recipes that translate well into toddler food. With a growing-like-a-weed nearly-16-month old on their hands, this is a major issue. Gavin needs his protein! So I’ve come  up with a couple of ideas to get them — and anybody else out there with kiddos trying to go meatless every now and then.

Some of these are ideas for how to construct a meal for both adults and toddlers (as a former nanny, I have some experience with this, because I am lazy and don’t like to cook twice at each meal), and others are more veg-centric (which, since I was a vegetarian nanny, I also have some experience with).

1. Eat with Your Hands

This is “think like a toddler” advice. If you can eat it with your hands, chances are good a toddler can eat it. Obviously, anything really tough or crunchy may not work, depending on where your toddler’s teeth development is, but for the most part, anything you can pick up is toddler-edible.

When brainstorming finger foods, really think like a toddler. What do you eat with a utensil that doesn’t really need one? We sometimes forget that all the pieces of a salad, for example, when not drenched in dressing, are finger foods. And how cute would it be to get your toddler obsessed with eating raw spinach leaves, or dried cranberries?

2. Sandwiches & Fritters

Some ideas for great vegetarian recipes that are less flatware centric include sandwiches and fritters (as long as they are served cool enough to handle!). Sandwiches can get pretty gussied up for dinner, going way beyond grilled cheese (though that is also delicious): Cucumber and cream cheese, roasted red pepper and goat cheese, eggs and bacon and gruyere!

I’ve also lately come across lots of yummy veggie fritter recipes that would work similarly. Try these summer corn cakes, mashed potato cakes (a great one for leftovers), or zucchini fritters. You could easily mix in summer squash, carrots, or cabbages into similar recipes, too. Great pick-it-up food that is primarily vegetable, rather than fried grain.

3. Split Your Meals into their Littlest Selves

Toddlers need to eat a lot — but they tend to prefer to do it in more frequent, smaller meals, than we do. So when thinking about what you want to make for dinner, ask yourself what smaller portions you could dole out over the course of cooking, and then eating, to your toddler.

If you have a meat-based dinner, for example, with two or three sides, the little one can snack on tomatoes and avocado cubes while you’re prepping, and then some shredded chicken and tortillas while Mommy and Daddy enjoy their grown-up Chicken & Guacamole Tostadas (probably with a Dos Equis or two…). Pineapple Chicken Satay for you can become pineapple and sugar snap peas for him, with chicken and dipping sauce at dinner.

This allows the grown-ups to get grown-up meals without having to cook something different for Junior — and has the added perk of keeping him occupied while you are cooking!

4. Substitute

You can also take a lot of the meat-based toddler-friendly recipes you may already have in your repetoire and transform them into veggie options with some simply substitutions. Once allergy concerns have passed, tofu is very kid-friendly, as are lentils, seitan, etc. If you’re not big on meat-substitute products, you can also find grain and veggie substitutes, like eggplant in place of meat in Italian recipes like lasagna, or quinoa in place of ground chicken in nuggets.

My very favorite thing about kids — whenever I’m around them — is that they remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. Feeding your young is serious business, but it can also unlock a totally different spirit to our cooking. Enjoy little bites! Eat with your hands! Get messy!

Nothing better than eating with a smile…

What toddler eating advice do you have? Anyone out there raising fully meatless kiddos have some tips I didn’t think of? Leave a comment and share your ideas!

Potato Leek Soup

15 Feb

A few weeks ago, I wrote about celebrating winter with winter flavors. Since then, we’ve seen a recipe for kale pesto, and today, a hearty, creamy soup chock full of root vegetables.

Leeks are my vegetable nemesis. I like leeks, enjoy their rich, onion flavor. I also think they look quite lovely. But some of my biggest flops in the kitchen have involved leeks. Their flavor is so strong, and turns so quickly and easily. I once tried to adapt a sweet potato and leek tart with, I think, potatoes, cheese, orange peppers and leeks. Maybe the grossest thing I’ve ever tried to eat. I think we ordered pizza that night.

So this time, I went with a tried-and-true combo instead of re-inventing the wheel. I’d never made potato leek soup before, but I’ve eaten and enjoyed it many times. I found this recipe from Bon Appetit, and stuck by it to the letter.

The verdict? Delicious, if time-consuming. While you do have to put in the prep time to chop lots of veggies, the simmer time to tenderize them, and then the rotating puree into a blender, this creamy soup also has the additional step of returning to the pot for added cheesiness. Once again, I found myself longing for an immersion blender. Maybe my next kitchen investment.

All that said, if you have the time, this soup is a great way to warm the kitchen on a cool winter Sunday night. Serve with crusty bread, mix in a few gnocchi for texture, or swirl in some of that pesto, and warm your insides, too.

What are your favorite winter recipes, or vegetables to feature in the colder months? Leave a comment and share your favorite roots with all of us!

How Does Your Garden Grow?

9 Feb

I’ve never been a gardener.

I know. It seems like someone who rants and raves about fresh food, and the joys of vegetables as much as I do should really have a little patch of her own, right? But the truth is, I’m a terrible plant steward, so I’ve never bothered to try and grow my own food. I’ve mentioned kitchen fails before on the blog. But when it comes to plant fails — nobody’s got me beat. I once killed a plant that was in my care for a single afternoon. Seriously.

But a few weeks ago, my friend Amy mentioned to me that she’d love to see a blog post about how to plant in her enclosed porch, and I got to thinking that maybe this was the year to give it a shot.

I’ve begun doing research for the kinds of planting options that might work for my living arrangements (renting a house with little direct sunlight, but a shared backyard), and here’s what I’ve learned so far. I’ll be blogging my gardening journey as I grow, too, and promise more pictures once the process is underway.

What to Grow

For the smallest, easiest, least amount of indoor effort, it seems an herb garden, which you can grow in small pots on a windowsill with good light, is the best bet. Herebs grow easily indoors, and take up very little space.

But there are plenty of vegetables to grow indoors, too. The easiest seem to be…

  • Lettuce is fast growing, requires less light than other vegetables and is really healthy! I love a variety of mixed greens, so I’m excited about this prospect.
  • Tomatoes and Peppers need lots of full sunlight, so they can be trickier indoors, but the right varieties (small-fruited) and the right lighting choices make them possible, especially since they like especially warm temperatures.
  • Radishes and Carrots grow relatively quickly indoors, with the right technique

There are also all sorts of options for indoor sprouted seeds, such as corn, barley, alfalfa, lentil, etc.

Where to Grow

  • Indoor growing requires containers. You can be pretty creative with containers, as long as they will hold soil and stand up to watering.
  • You have to especially make sure to have provisions for draining the containers as you are watering them — whereas outdoors, you can just let the water pool out, indoors, that might mean a puddle in your kitchen, so a small pan around the pot to catch excess water seems a good idea.
  • Since containers hold a smaller amount of soil, you will likely need to water more frequently.
  • Some people have experimented with using hanging baskets, as certain small fruited plants have varieties developed for growth in those containers.
  • The advantages of containers, though, are great. First, you can be creative & colorful, using recycled materials and interesting yard sale finds. Plus, the containers are easily transportable, so you can maximize your plant’s light exposure.

Even if you don’t have so much as a windowsill, you may be able to garden. Check out community garden options in your area — a fun, social opportunity as well as a way to get fresh veggies. You could even give guerrilla gardening a shot!

How to Grow/How not to Kill and Destroy

When it comes right down to it, the basic requirements for plants to grow big and strong are soil, light, water and nutrients (yes, I have to start out that basic). For each plant and variety, make sure to research the specific needs, modify and meet those needs with your container and location, and take it from there. I have found a lot of good info so far from this Virginia Tech Extension website, and plan to gather specific as I go.

Overall, it seems to me that gardening is a lot like baking: if you have to take one of those things out (say, you can’t get direct sunlight), find a way to replace it (with a clamp-on shop light for example). Don’t be afraid to play around, do some research, and decide what works for your space. As always, feel free to drop me an email to ask a question — we’re in this one together!

What are your tips and tricks for successful gardening — indoor or out? Any advice or pitfalls to avoid for new, inexperienced, or horrifically disastrous gardeners? Leave a comment and share your wisdom, green thumbs! Or, if you’re a black thumb like me, ask a question and see what our We*Meat*Again community has for you!

Winter Kale Pesto

31 Jan

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that a great way to get through the lean months of fresh produce can be to make the most of what winter does have to offer, so for this week’s recipe, I decided to showcase a summertime favorite — pesto — that can very easily be shifted according to the seasons.

Kim O’Donnel’s Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook has a great four-way pesto recipe, wherein the leafy greens and nuts are rotated out to accomodate seasonal flavors. The winter variation just happens to use the very leafy green I had in my crisper drawer: kale!

That’s right. You can turn this:

into this:

The original recipe can be found online (though I highly recommend this cookbook), and I followed it closely in terms of measurement. My only variations were that I did not toast the walnuts or pre-cook the kale (because I am lazy) and that I used regular curly-leaved, not lacinato kale. I also usually add the grated Parmesan cheese to my pesto per use, as I find it helps the pesto keep longer in the refrigerator.

Making pesto is so quick and easy — only about ten minutes including chop time for the kale — and it has so many uses. Tonight, I plan to toss mine onto some potato gnocchi. Tomorrow, I will be brushing it on fresh-baked garlic knots.

But you can be really creative with pesto. This summer, my friend Rachael and I were amazed to discover just how well (never home)maker’s recipe for Basil Pesto French Toast actually really does work. You can mix pesto into soups for extra flavor. Use it as a spread on burgers or a sauce on pizza. A marinade on grilled shrimp or salmon. Stir it into soup, succotash or chicken salad. The possibilities are endless! The sweet, garlicky tang of pesto can add a zing of summer to almost any dish.

What’s your favorite pesto combination, or recipe? Do you have another powerhouse condiment idea to share with us all? Leave a comment and let us know!

Becoming Food Advocates: Steve’s Story

23 Jan

A few months back, I asked We*Meat*Again readers to leave me questions they’d like answered about me on the site. Cristina posed this question: I know you don’t like the term, but what made you become a “foodie”? Lots of people like to eat, but what makes you care about the state of food.

Little did she (or I) know at the time what would come of the asking.

You can read my answer here. But I was so inspired by the responses to my original post, that I decided to ask some friends to share their stories with me. I sent out a few rounds of emails to people I’ve known in various stages of my life, asking if they would share their “becoming a foodie” story with me. And of the responses I’ve received so far, all have been powerfully moving accounts of wild variation, centering on the theme of food. So I decided to start showcasing some of them here.

One common theme, however, is a near-universal dislike of the term “foodie,” so I’ve decided to try and pioneer the new term “Food Advocate,” since I hope it allows for multiple meanings (some people feel themselves advocates for artisinal food, others for food justice, others for environmentally sustainable food, etc.) without being too unweildy to say or remember either. I’ll explore this in more detail in a future post.

For now, enjoy our first installment in the new “Becoming Food Advocates” Series, from my good friend from New Hampshire, Steve, who writes the blog Or Until Golden Brown. Read, enjoy, and leave us comments sharing which aspects of Steve’s story resonate for you.

Becoming Food Advocates: Steve’s Story

When I was growing up, I fondly remember my mother asking me every year around my birthday what I wanted for my birthday dinner.  And inevitably, I always chose macaroni and cheese with sliced up bits of hotdog throughout.

Kraft macaroni and cheese.  The kind with the powder that you mix with margarine and skim milk and stir into cooked noodles.  And probably generic brand Shaws hotdogs.  Sliced into discs.

This was my idea of gourmet.

It tasted so good.  And it was salty.  And a fun, bright orange color.  And those hotdog slices were meaty and fatty and just so good.  And it was the one night of the year when I didn’t have to eat microwaved frozen vegetables with my dinner.

But of course, it was the 80′s.  Convenience was all the rage.  Butter was out, margarine was in.  Whipped cream?  Out.  Fat-free cool whip?  Yes please.  And anything that could be thrown together out of a box, anything frozen or pre-packaged or canned was very much in.  With my family, anyway.

The idea of mashed potatoes is one perfect example.  On a regular basis, my mother would prepare mashed potatoes for dinner.  But did this involve peeling, boiling, and mashing an actual potato?  Of course not.  It involved measuring out potato flakes and mixing them with boiling milk and then adding…what else?  Margarine.  Are you sensing a theme here?

Only on Thanksgiving would my mother prepare “real” mashed potatoes.  That was the distinction.  Either “mashed potatoes,” which came out of a box, or “real mashed potatoes,” which came from a potato.  Even at the time, I recognized a disconnect between preparation of food and awareness of what that food actually was.

I’m sure there were people in the 80′s who ate organic.  Who had a clue where there food came from.  Who put time and energy into cooking everything from scratch.  Surely, some people already had a finger on the pulse of what I’ve come to think of as post-millennial food awareness.  But they didn’t live in the Gravelle household.  Or probably in Merrimack, New Hampshire, a small suburb boasting King Kone, the local soft ice cream stand, five Dunkin Donuts, and a frequent Meat Bingo at the VFW Hall.

Which is not to say that it was my mom’s fault.  She grew up eating only seven things.  Seven meals.  My grandmother, child of the depression, made exactly seven meals.  One for each night of the week with no variation.  And that’s all my mom knew.  She had never tasted pizza before she met my father.  Had never had any cheese except American slices.  Had never tasted a fresh strawberry.  She was 21 years old.

And so I can’t blame her for not knowing how to cook many things, and for playing it safe.  Frozen spinach would never go bad and have to be thrown out like fresh might.  Canned wax beans can’t develop mold.  And a box of mashed potato flakes is surely more economical than pounds of fresh potatoes.  And she was raising three children!  Who can fault her for wanting to employ cost-saving and time-saving into her cooking?

I don’t remember exactly when it happened that I started to seriously think about food.  How I went from actually thinking of vegetables as being frozen to being aware that they grew out of the ground and could be bought fresh.  I know that college was a big part of my food awareness.  Before leaving home, I had never tasted Thai food.  I didn’t know what sushi was.  I thought that I didn’t like asparagus because I had only tasted it from a can and it was stringy, salty and mushy all at the same time.  It turns out, I love fresh asparagus.

In college, I feel like my friends and I were starting to move from the quick, easy meals of our childhood and into more awareness of food generally.  Trying international cuisine certainly helped.  Sneaking ziploc bags of vegetables from the dining hall salad bar home to make stir-fry helped a lot.  And when I decided early in my sophomore year that I was tired of the Tater Tot Casserole (ground beef, leftover tater tots and lots of cheddar cheese), I had the idea to experiment with vegetarianism.  To see how hard it would be to leave peperoni pizza behind and to give up Chicken Patty Wednesday and to stop eating meatballs with my spaghetti.  And I found very quickly that I started to question all of those paradigms I had as to what food is, why we eat it, and to how it makes us feel.

I wanted to incorporate more color into my diet.  I tried every color of bell pepper for the first time.  My friend Ben taught me to sprinkle salt on my eggplant before cooking to draw out some of the moisture and prevent it from getting stringy.  I tried fresh arugula for the first time and found myself loving it.  And suddenly, I was only visiting the dining hall to pilfer ingredients and I cooked most of my meals at home.  I fell in love with veggie burgers and meat substitutes.  I started cooking with beans and tofu and considering foods I’d never seen before.  I first heard the idea of buying “Local” produce when our local grocery store started a small rack of entirely local foods.  It was the beginning.

For the next few years, I went back to eating meat, first poultry by way of incorporating animal protein back into my diet to help put on muscle mass.  I was living in New Jersey and working out three to five nights a week, and I realized that tofu and beans weren’t enough to get me through a weightlifting plateau.  So I started eating chicken and developed shoulders like mountains.

But just because I started eating meat, I was still primarily vegetarian.  I kept the idea of putting lots of color on the plate.  I kept experimenting with new vegetables and fruits.  I tried my first pomegranate that year when my Iranian roommate brought one home from the market.  I still remember the juice dripping down my arms.  My Texan roommate taught me to cook black-eyed peas and how to drink bourbon.  My Jersey-born roommate got me a job at an Italian restaurant, where I tried Lobster Ravioli and Chicken Piccata and Clams Fra Diavolo and Fried Calamari for the first time.  Moving away from New Hampshire and developing friendships with people from all over the country and of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds opened my eyes to food in a whole new way.  The possibilities of what ingredients were out there and how one could cook them seemed endless.

Around that time, I moved to Philadelphia to become an apprentice at a well-known local theatre, where I met a friend from Georgia, one from Virginia, people from California and Colorado and Montana and Seattle.  From the South, from Spain, from Michigan and Canada.  And the more I cooked, the more I found myself talking about food.  And obsessing about food.  And all of these friends I made started to realize how much I loved food and we all started talking about it.  All the time.  And people shared their family recipes with me.  And their methods for cooking one thing or another.  And I just kept cooking.  I cooked every week and started cooking for my friends.  And I started watching the Food Network on a regular basis and discovering new ingredients and new cooking styles I’d never even heard of.

And all of this food talk and cooking and watching and learning started to mingle with documentaries like Food, Inc. and books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and various shows on NPR about food and food issues.  And the idea of Food Justice started to enter my mind.  And what we eat and how we eat it and things I’d been thinking about for years suddenly combined with the question of where does my food come from?  And I met some friends who advocated passionately for Whole Foods, and I started going to restaurants that promote local food.  And I discovered first hand how much better food tastes when it’s both local and seasonal.  And I just kept cooking.  And started going to farmer’s markets.  And buying local meats and learning about where my cheeses from from.  And tasting.  And eating.  And cooking.  And hosting dinner parties.  And a weekly Brunch Club for my friends.  And then I found myself cooking a huge meal of both vegan and omnivore versions of the same food.  And I cooked all the food for my own wedding’s rehearsal dinner.  I started a food blog to share my food experiments and experiences.  And I just kept cooking.

So where does this leave me?  I feel like a perfect storm has been brewing in America’s social consciousness about food.  Suddenly, it seems like everyone is asking these big questions about food.  Where does it come from?  Why do we eat so much imported produce?  How are the animals we eat being treated?  How does something fresh taste versus something frozen?  How important are questions of ethics to food?  How important is organic?  Who actually produced and food we consumed?  What is in that McDonald’s hamburger, and how different is it from a grass-fed, locally produced burger at a nice restaurant?

And I don’t have all the answers to those questions.  But to me, being a foodie doesn’t mean always making the perfect food choices.  Sometimes, I just want a Cheez-it.  But being a foodie means asking the question.  I’m not going to visit every farm to check out the growing of everything I put into my body.  But I’m going to try to only buy local produce.  And seasonal.  And to support what I see as a better system.  Local farms are like any local business… without the support of local people, they die out.  So even though it may sometimes be more expensive, a potato that came out of the ground today will always tasted better than one that travelled across the country from Idaho in the back of a huge truck.

And I feel fortunate that I am living in a time when food matters.  And when it isn’t enough to open a box, add margarine and milk and call it good.  When we actually care and are starting to demand more knowledge and more participation in our food system and how our daily choices affect the system as a whole.

As for my mom?  She had ovarian cancer in the late 90′s and started eating an entirely organic, vegan diet, blaming preservatives and pre-packaged foods for her cancer.  She went through a number of dietary changes over the years, from developing an allergy to gluten, beef, mushrooms and soy, to finding the Blood Type Diet and following that for a while.  Now she’s eating cultured vegetables and kefir as part of the Body Ecology Diet, and she’s feeling great.

She’s come a long way from the 80′s.  And so have I.  I don’t eat boxed mac n’ cheese anymore, and I only eat hotdogs rarely, but I do make a mean baked mac n’ cheese from scratch, and I make my own sausage with a meat grinder and sausage stuffer.  But now I use local pork and locally sourced natural casings.  And it tastes—and feels—so much better.

Interested in sharing your story of becoming a food advocate? We’re looking for all variety of stories, from people of all walks of life, whether you consider yourself a casual amateur or a gourmet chef, whether you care about the environment, nutrition, your children’s health and safety or your local butcher.  If you’d like to submit your own post, here’s all you need to do:

  1. Write up the short story of your food journey. What inspired you to start thinking about what you ate and why it mattered. What your wake-up call was. What’s changed. What your challenges have been.
  2. Anything goes — nothing is too small or tangental. (But please write something new — don’t just send us a link to an already-published post.)
  3. Email this story to us: marissa@wemeatagain.com. Use the title: BECOMING A FOOD ADVOCATE STORY.
  4. If you have them, also send along 2 (or 3) photos to help illustrate your story.
  5. Include your contact information (name, what you’d like us to call you, blog address — if you have one, etc.)
  6. Be patient. We’ll get back to you ASAP — but publishing on the site may take several weeks.

Of course, if you have any questions — just leave ‘em in the comments section or email us at marissa@wemeatagain.com.

And don’t forget today is your last chance to enter for a chance to win a copy of the new, illustrated edition of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, as We*Meat*Again celebrates our 10,000th site visit!

Adventures with an Ingredient: Barley

5 Dec

Today’s showcase ingredient is barley, at work here in an Arugula & Barley Salad with Tomatoes & Corn

Well, hello ingredients list. Is it summer again?

No, sadly, it is still December and will be winter for quite some time. But when I discovered organic arugula at the grocery store this week, I couldn’t resist whipping up a simple, weeknight dinner with a light, lemon flavor.

Arugula is one of my favorite leafy greens. Much lighter and less bitter than others, I’m happy to eat these little guys leaves and all. It holds up well to citrus acid and black pepper, some of my favorite seasoning, and it’s very versatile. When I found a recipe that used it with barley, an under-used grain on my part, and some of my favorite vegetables, I was eager to try it.

The recipe I used is an oldy from the New York Time, fast and easy, and without almost any strange ingredients (unless you don’t usually keep these veggies on hand). While the original calls for pearl barley and suggests soaking, I had quick-cook hulled barley, so my version took only about 20 minutes total.

You can buy barley in several different forms, which are differentiated based on how much of the hull or shell of the barley has been removed. Hulled barley is the whole grain form, and is most nutritious, but takes the longest (an hour or more) to cook . Pearl barley is what people refer to if they just say “barley,” and has had the outer husk and bran layers removed. This form takes about 40 minutes to cook (though less if, as the recipe above suggests, you soak it). I’ve got Quaker quick-cook barley, because that’s what they sell at my grocery store, this form as been par-cooked and retains the least nutritional value, but is still about equal in nutrients to a whole wheat pasta, so I’ll take it.

At any rate, all this recipe requires cooking is the barley. The rest is as simple as washing arugula, chopping tomatoes and whisking a simply dressing. The result is a delicious and filling entree salad that will allow you to master barley as an ingredient without having to juggle other cooking tasks at the same time, all while bringing a hint of summer into our December kitchens.

The Weird & Wacky World of Food Marketing & Policy

29 Nov

Sometimes, as a composition teacher, I get very sad at the world.

Sometimes I have to walk around in a world where many people speak, think and behave in the very ways I try to convince my students not to. They use flawed illogical assumptions. They repeat ideas without verification or citation. They trust a single source without questioning its authority or credibility. And they build their own knowledge base with this rotting foundation.

Nowhere is this more true than in the world of food policy.

This is a world where it makes more sense for the government to spend trillions of dollars we don’t have on direct subsidy payments to farmers to grow corn we don’t need, and allow corporations to profit by injecting this corn into every known food substance to the detriment of the nation’s health — rather than  to change the policy.

This is a world so upside-down-backwards-on-its-head that very little makes sense any more. And I think of this whenever I try to have a conversation with someone who hasn’t spent as much time in this world as I have, whenever people ask questions like “Why is it such a big deal for my vegetables to come from Mexico?” or “But isn’t corn-fed beef the best kind, you know, according to the USDA?

So I have a brief policy roundup for you all today, to use as fodder whenever you are up against opposition that’s so dramatically different from your world view you don’t know where to start. Because we have to start. It’s up to all of us who care about food to have those tough conversations, and to have them with compassion, not condescension. The education has to begin by explaining just how weird food policy becomes when Big Ag marketing strategies and lobbying budgets get involved:

  • The Freakonomics blog calls a relocalized food system “inefficient” in comparison to modern industrial agricultural systems. Nevermind that industrial ag grows corn that becomes steak or salad dressing emulsifier or bread-browning agent or gas that costs more to make than its worth, whereas locally grown produce becomes, you know, food. That would be inefficient. (Anne Lappe has a great take-down of the Freakonomics post featuring actual economics, here.)
  • Congress failed to pass new regulations mandating certain amounts of certain types of actual vegetables in school lunches (considering the existing standards adhere to federal dietary suggestions from 1989, and include items you may have seen in headlines like the tomato pasta in pizza sauce) in a patently obvious fold to industry pressure. The frozen food industry didn’t want to have to repackage their meals to be “less palatable” to children, so instead our children get to eat whatever the frozen food industry can produce cheap and easy (see above. Corn is a vegetable, right?). This is where all those “Pizza is a vegetable” headlines are coming from.
  • A national marketing strategy document for the innocuously-named “Center for Food Integrity,” (sponsored by, among others, Monsanto and Smithfield) suggests the following for responding to consumer trends towards more sustainable farming methods:

As consumer values change, the food system needs to evaluate and potentially modify current practices and fundamentally change the way it communicates in order to maintain consumer trust.

See the rest of the document yourself to decide whether you think the CFI is looking to modify its practices or just to change communication strategies to make themselves sound more sustainable. See Tom Philpott’s coverage of a Sara Lee rebranding plan for Hillshire Farms to see proof of these communication strategies in action.

My point here is that the modern agricultural industry is an industry. I do not believe everyone who works for Monsanto is evil, nor do I believe that large corporations have no place in a new food system. I don’t think there is a giant, nation-wide conspiracy to force-feed us all corn (well, I kinda do). But industries behave like industries. The job is a CEO is to turn a profit, and he will do this with a billion dollar lobbying budget, campaign financing, public relations and marketing strategists and any other tool at his disposal.

So when we hear information on food policy, even from the federal government, we must trace that information back to its source and run a credibility check. If the author of a marketing memo stands to turn a profit from getting his audience to believe that “corn sugar is just sugar,” perhaps we should find out whether “our body can’t tell the difference” from a medical, rather than a marketing, expert.

Adventures with an Ingredient: Red Cabbage

16 Nov

Like many people out there, I’ve struggled with incorporating vegetables into my diet. I’m a very picky eater, and reticent to try new things, so I often stick to the old standards at the grocery store. I’ve written before on the blog about what happened to my weight and health as a non-veggie eating vegetarian, and given some advice on how to incorporate more veggies into your diet, generally.

But this week, as I stared into the crisper drawer of my refrigerator, I was inspired to try something new. To write a series of posts, perhaps, as how-tos on certain, possibly under-utilized vegetables. I was inspired by my head of red cabbage.

Image copyright Ian Alexander

I have a weird love of red cabbage. Since the salad bar days of my youth, when I first tried red cabbage, I couldn’t get enough of its sharp, tangy crispiness, the way it jazzes up a salad. Sometimes I even just chop up red cabbage, toss it with a little balsamic vinegar, and eat a bowl of it for a snack. But even as much as I like it, this is all I’ve ever done with it. Staring at the half-used head of it there in the crisper, I realized I had no idea what to do with red cabbage.

And if I, someone who will actually buy it and enjoy it, don’t know how to cook red cabbage, then what are the odds too many people out there are enjoying all that red cabbage has to offer?

So here’s the lowdown on red cabbage, and a recipe for an outside-the-box way to use it.

Red Cabbage vs. Radicchio, courtesy of FoodBlogga

First, red cabbage is not radicchio (which is also delicious). Radicchio is a “leaf chicory,” the same family as Belgian endive, with a bold, slightly bitter natural flavor. Whereas red cabbage is, well, a cabbage. I prefer the red variety to the green because it’s a bit sweeter, and less pungent (though when cooked, it still has that distinctive cabbage taste — and smell).

Red cabbage in particular, and all cabbage in general is a super-health food! While cabbage offers high Vitamin C and anti-oxidant benefits, red cabbage includes a newly-understood group of plant pigments known as anthocyanins, which early studeis suggest offers cancer protection, improved brain function and heart health.

So what can you do with it?

In my searching for an answer to that question that went beyond “gnaw on it raw like a bunny,” I came across this great article on cabbage and its many uses from Wise Bread (a great frugal living resource staffed in part by my friend Meg Favreau!).

It probably comes as no surprise that many cabbage recipes involve turning it into a slaw or sauerkraut — the ingredient has strong German heritage — and many may have heard of cabbage soups, made popular by a 90s fad diet (which, while stinky, probably worked). But I was intrigued by the casserole idea, so I went forth to find a recipe that would make good use of my red variety.

Enter scalloped cabbage with cranberries and turkey. I made a few modifications based on my pantry. I don’t have any fennel, so I skipped that. I used orange juice instead of cranberry juice. I had sliced deli turkey breast on hand, which worked just fine, and of course, I used red, rather than green cabbage.

What a surprising treat this recipe turned out to be. When cooked, especially with the fruit juices and salty broth, the red cabbage’s sweetness took on a new complexity. The turkey helped keep the dish from being overcome with sweetness — very much like when you mix together everything on your Thanksgiving plate, with your grandma’s crunchy sauerkraut thrown in. I’d add this to my list for next week — would be a great, creative way to use some Thanksgiving leftovers without being repetitive to the original meal.

Hopefully, you’ll all think about picking up a head of red cabbage next time you’re at the store. Don’t be put off by its size — I used about half a small head for my scaled-down version of this recipe, so it’s easy to use up fast. And if all else fails, at least you know tossing some raw red cabbage in a bowl with ranch dressing works — and is a lot better for you than doing the same with a head of iceberg.

What are some of your favorite ingredient secrets? Are there vegetables, fruits, meats or even non-traditional ingredients you love, and believe may be under-appreciated? Or, what ingredient do you always pass by warily at the store? What ingredient have you always wondered — what the hell would I do with that? Leave a comment and share your recipes or fears, and you may be featured in a future “Adventure’s With an Ingredient” post!

 

Review: Food Cures by Joy Bauer

2 Nov

I was so excited to return home last Friday afternoon and find a package from Rodale Publishing waiting for me, and even more excited to have the chance to review a great new book here on We*Meat*Again that focuses on real food solutions to health problems. You all know I’m a big fan of whole foods, and that I advocate awareness of what makes foods good or bad for you, and of taking charge of your own health by taking ownership of what goes into your body. So Joy Bauer’s newly expanded and revised Food Cures is right up our alley.

The whole book is centered around the notion that changing our diets, specifically by focusing on whole ingredients, and developing an awareness of the nutrients our bodies need from natural foods, can help Americans tackle many of the most common, and chronic, health issues currently facing our nation. I found the book engaging, informative and comprehensive. Let me break it down for you…

Who Is Joy Bauer?

And why should you listen to her? Well, she’s got the nutritionist credentials to back her up. Bauer is a Certified Nutritonist-Dietician and the official nutritionist for both The Today Show, and the New York City Ballet (which I found appealing as it means she’s interested in a holistic approach to health that includes physical fitness and not simply dieting). She’s written several other nutrition-focused bestsellers, and this version of Food Cures is expanded to focus on the most common ailments her clients approach her with.

Educational, Informative Approach

The book is organized into sections based on health issues. The first and most detailed section is on weight loss, which is no surprised given America’s current obesity crisis. But there are also sections on “Living Long and Strong,” “Looking Great,” and “Feeling Good.”

But ok. All of that you could get from your standard diet or self-help book. Bauer’s book is unique for how much information she provides. Each chapter focuses on one issue or ailment, and provides a detailed explanation of just what vitamins or minerals (antioxidants or Omega-3 fatty acids, for example) are needed to combat that condition, as well as nutritional features that should be avoided because they might aggravate or cause the condition (saturated fats come up frequently).

Bauer doesn’t simply provide the reader with the science, however. She moves beyond the educational into the practical by including shopping lists of desirable ingredients, as well as meal plans and recipes that pack the most punch for whatever condition you’re targeting! Many of the recipes sound delicious, like Pesto Salmon with Roasted Artichoke Hearts and Potato, designed to combat cardiovascular disease, or Pork Tenderloin with Cranberry Couscous and Sauteed Greens for vision improvement.

Mix-and-Match, Customizable Info

I love this all-in-one approach. You get both the information you need and a way to use it, which to me translates into lots of customization. When you know why you’re eating butternut squash for memory retention, it’s a lot easier to move ingredients or recipes around. You’re not blindly taking supplements or following a daily regimen, nor are you resorting to tailor-made processed mail order diet foods. Knowledge is power, people.

Similarly, because there are so many goals and health crises tackled in the book, Bauer has worked hard to make sure everything in there is healthy. So if you’d like to lose weight and protect your skin, you can. The healthy skin ingredients are good for you all around, and all the meal plans in the book are designed to have low-caloric impact, supporting any healthy weight goals.

So often when we focus on the goal instead of the means required to achieve that end, our diets can become murky. This is why, as a vegetarian, I was able to eat things like Cheez Whiz and instant mashed potatoes. I was concerned only with what I wasn’t doing, rather than what the intention behind vegetarianism was. By focusing the entire book around whole foods, Bauer advocates a holistic approach to health that addresses best practices, rather than just results — which is the approach most likely to produce results.

More than Just Losing Weight or Looking Good

The thing that initially intrigued me about this book was that, despite its focus on weight loss and other “cosmetic” goals (though of course, having a healthy weight is good for your insides and outsides, and maintaining good hair and skin is indicative of a healthy body), the book also tackles actual illnesses. Now don’t go thinking this is some hippie-wackadoo ‘you can reverse your HIV diagnosis with bell peppers’ kind of thing — it’s not a catch-all guide. Not every disease can be cured with dietary principles.

But some can. The book discusses ways to reverse Type II diabetes by changing diet — but also how to best manage irritable bowel syndrome and Celiac disease to minimize their impacts. In addition to diseases or illness, the book explore solutions to mood problems, insomnia, migraines and PMS. And perhaps best of all, Bauer addresses how eating whole, natural foods can prevent the onset of some of the most serious chronic illnesses, including osteoporosis and many, many types of cancer.

The amount of research I did while working on my book that indicates the very close relationship between American cancer rates and our meat habit made me particularly interested in this aspect. And even I was surprised to learn that only about five percent of cancers are caused by genetic predispositions. More than 35 percent, scientists estimate, are related to nutritional choices (the remainder being made up of tobacco use, and environmental factors like pollution, infection, etc.). Certain types of cancers are more susceptible to developing from other causes (skin cancer is still primarily caused by radiation, for example)but the second leading cause of cancer in Americans (after tobacco usage) is obesity. And in the book, Bauer explores the vitamins and nutrients used to fight off obesity in general and cancer in specific areas of the body.

Overall, I obviously highly recommend checking out the book, or Joy’s Food Cures website, which you can find on my sidebar anytime.

My only complaint about the book might be that it’s too comprehensive — topping out at around 500 pages, it’s certainly not for the feint of heart. I relish this depth and breadth of information, but I imagine the book might be a bit less accessible for someone looking for just a diet plan or an easy fix.

But I think that potential weakness actually demonstrates the ethos of the book. Changing your diet isn’t an easy fix — it’s a systematic repair, one that requires a restart focused on whole foods. And with that kind of reprogramming, detailed information and many options will always be the best, most sustainable route to making your body a better place to live through food.

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