Sunday, July 31, 2005

Tomato Fest: Heirlooms

It's nearing August and I have committed to a weekly post on Eating Local. Last week's bag of goodies yielded tomatoes, and not just any tomatoes, but heirlooms.

Heirlooms, for those not in the know, are what I would call "real tomatoes." Commercial agriculture specializes in growing varieties that look appealing and will survive the trip to market. They are often picked before peak of ripeness, and a general rule are dark red, very symmetrical, attractive, and totally flavorless. Especially when not in season.

According to Barbara Berst Adams' article on Heirlooms on the Farm and Garden site:

"Tomatoes have been cultivated around the world for centuries. The origin of tomatoes is considered to be the western coast of South America, in present day Peru, where eight species in the tomato genus still grow wild in the Andes Mountains.

During those centuries of cultivation, tomato seeds were saved year after year for next year's crop, allowing the farmer or gardener to choose tomato seeds from plants with particular qualities. For example, seeds were saved from plants that produced an especially good aroma, texture or flavor."

Thus, heirlooms come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, textures and flavors. Some are ugly, bulgy even with cracks in them. Don't judge an heirloom by its cover. Some of the ugly ducklings are the most intesely flavored tomatoes you will ever eat.

By definition, an heirloom must be saved from each season's fruit, "true to type." It must also have been available as a seed variety at least fifty years and each variety must have its own unique history or story.

To celebrate the year's first batch of heirlooms, I sliced up a German Green, a Zebra (green) and a Tigerella Orange. I served these slices with basil leaves, fresh mozzarella slices and a dash of balsamic vinegar and good olive oil.

We also had a cherry tomato tasting. With the selection including sun golds, juliets, sweet chelsea, black plum, black cherry, and garden peach. The small gold ones (garden peach) were so sweet they were more like grapes.

I added herbed goat cheese bolcocinni wrapped in proschutto with a candied walnut (no, nothing local there unless you live in Italy) for appetizers while we waited for the main course: more tomatoes.

My husband in his enthusiasm bought 3 varieties of vine-ripened romas, about 80 of them. The guys roasted up the Romas with herbs and onions, then through the food mill and onto the stove to finish with wine. That sauce (credit Alton Brown) plus some 3-cheese tortellini and we were pretty happy with the outcome of Tomato Fest.

This week's box of tomatoes is HUGE, and tonight's menu calls for a bacon and tomato tart (August Tart) ala Todd English's Olives Cookbook. Ah, he cooks as good as he looks. I had quite the dilemma with him competing against Mario Batali on Iron Chef. Mario prevailed for me and for Iron Chef. There are some fine sounding recipes on his site.

Another blog, but I will write soon about Mr. English's new restaurant, Bluezoo. He has no idea who I am, but I did the Bluezoo web site.

Am planning on another cherry tomato tasting this evening as well. If you have not tried the heirlooms, you should. I highly recommend the tasting approach, adding only some basic herbs and vinagrette, cheese perhaps. Nice light, crisp white wine.

If you are interested in the whole idea of heirloom tomato growing, you can purchase seeds online. Here is just one aptly named site, "Tomato Fest". But don't consider that an endorsement, just the first one that came up for me. Do a Google search and use your best judgement.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Jelly Beans and Wine

I can't fathom putting those two items together on a menu, but there it is. A friend sent along an article that explains how a wine site uses jelly bean "recipes" to help people understand all the flavors that make up a varietal of wine. Want to try it? Check it out here: WineX Magazine.

I was pretty intrigued when I saw some time ago that Jelly Belly started making jelly beans that taste like such items as dirt and grass (for a Harry Potter tie in). They also have such flavors as vomit and earthworm, and I am praying those are not flavors that are useful for wine flavors. Though, I have had some wines that might qualify. I was young. They had a screw top. I have learned. Fortunately, I lived to try real wine.

Now, the "grass" and "dirt" beans have a practical application giving that depth to certain recipes that imitate a wine. For example, a New Zealand Sauvingnon Blanc has 4 Grass-flavored Jelly Bellies in it's recipe.

Here's the Jelly Belly recipe for a generic, unoaked Zinfandel is as follows:
2 raspberry, 1 cherry, 1 strawberry, 1 blackberry, 1 blueberry, 1 pepper, 1 plum, 1 licorice and 1 Dr. Pepper.

For an oaked and manipulated Zin, add 1 French Vanilla, 1 Cinnamon, 1 Chocolate to the above.

I have to try this. The kits are expensive, but a trip to Mr. Bulky's should prove just as easy and a lot cheaper. Just when I thought there was NOTHING that could convince me to go to a mall.

Just reviewing the recipes themselves really help you visualize the flavors. The web site presentation could be better (occupational hazard from my "real" job), but the content of this site is fantastic.

Friday, July 22, 2005

August Eat Local Challenge

Was out scanning other food blogs and wandered into this Eat Local Challenge from a blog title "life begins at 30." Have to admit the blog title enticed me. Yes, I AM over 30. Little story from culinary school days and I will get back on track:

My culinary school team gathered around our little prep table and did the usual introductions. The team was myself and three young men, one was the typical "I have all the answers" type. It was not long before the how old are you question came up. 37 (at the time), I said. "Why are you here at that age?"

Oh my. First, Julia Child was a 36-year-old spring chicken when her culinary adventures began. Second, life does not stop after 20, or even 30. If you can only choose one path and that's it for life ... what a limited view. Life is an exploration, an adventure. The minute you stop learning and seeking, you get old and not a minute before. That's why I love food. It speaks to that passion for life and new things that I need.

The same kid wondered why his ravioli filling did not work out when he used the, uh, "parmesean" in the green can. That pretty much says it all right there.

Okay, back on track. August. Eat Local.

We have a CSA membership (community supported agriculture). Every week we get the same locally grown, organic produce as the top restaurants in town (and there are some good ones). It is beautiful stuff, especially the heirloom tomatoes. For my challenge, it will be to try something new with each week's bag of goodies and post comments on it. It could be a bit on this week's type of tomato (German stripe or lemony or zebra) or it could be what the hell to do with kohlrabi. But I will do my best to post all about my local produce in August. I'll do my best to make it "edutaining." Here are the answers to the challenge questions:

1. My definition of local:
Locally grown or produced, organic. Free range chicken and eggs, fresh organic produce. Heritage seeds. This means supporting the cultivation of many varieties of produce that have been nearly wiped out. Commercial produce growers tend to grow the stuff that appeals to the eye, and most importantly, survives shipping. Often this produce is picked too early and ripened artificially. It does not have the flavor and the amazing variety that the "real" stuff offers. Support for heirloom seeds and crops is a big part of the Slow Food Movement. Check them out for more information. It is a great movement.

2. Exemptions, well being in the Midwest some produce (citrus) just is not obtainable locally. We'll do our best to stick to the bag of goodies. I do have a weakness for imported cheeses and real aged parmesean as you can tell. So I am calling cheese, chocolate, coffee and wine exemptions. Though there is a local cheese maker that does a nice, though pedestrian cheddar ...

3. My goal: Post faithfully all about the produce and other local products we use in the month of August. This is a lot to ask, this faithful posting. I work full time and have a little one as well. Second, make the posts interesting and worth the time people will (hopefully) spend reading them.

Cheers to the over-30 blogger for trying to get the Eat Local message out.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

At the Dinner Table

Some of my fondest memories are from the family dinner table. Somehow, glancing across the table to see your brother with a green been up his nose (deliberately) was just about the funniest thing in the world. While there were also some not happy memories like staring down a plate of calf's liver for three hours (you can't leave the table until you eat a bite ...), what I remember most is feeling like a family. What I loved most was that time together. I am sure that feeling is the core of why I love food and cooking today. Food, in that context, IS love.

That's why it is so interesting that a recent study claims that kids who grow up having dinner with the family do better on SATs and are less likely to do drugs. I'd like to find the study and will post the link here when I do. The study was quoted in a NYT article on Kurt Anderson, "Kitchen Voyeur: Kitchen Sage."

When you read about this guy, it makes the whole "I am too busy to make dinner" excuse pretty flimsy. It also renewed my commitment to making the family dinner a nightly occurence.

It's time to slow down with the constant parade of soccer and activities. Time to get back to the dinner table. With the TV off. But just don't serve liver.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Bowling Ball Revisited

As I mentioned in "Insights from the Bowling Ball" the diet given to me by my doctor has some serious issues in it, besides the lack of calories for my activity level.

It's tricky doing nutrition for someone who is pregnant, working out (with heart rate limits) four times a week, may or may not have gestational diabetes OR may or may not be hypogycemic. But there were some very obvious issues with the diet provided. I realize they have to aim for the lowest common denominator and hope they can get someone to follow most of it, but the diet was very misleading as I found out when talking to a dietician who specializes in meal plans for diabetics.

BEST THING: Check with a dietician and get a plan that is right for you. This is the plan they gave me compared to the adjustments a professional dietician made to correct the plan:

BREAKFAST
Their Suggested Breakfast:
8 oz skim milk
3/4 cup cereal
1 slice toast
2 tsp margarine

What are the problems here?
1. the cereal needs to be a WHOLEGRAIN and unsweetened
2. toast should also be WHOLEGRAIN. Whole grains contain fiber and are much better for you. Fiber is VERY important for pregnant women as the digestive system slows down. Hey, the hemorrhoids will come with labor, why get them early?
3. Margarine is a trans fat and very bad for you pregnant or not
4. No protein included. Protein helps balance the carb load here carbs=blood sugar especially simple sugars from white breads. Ah, you say, but what about the milk? Yes, milk does have protein, but also has lactose, a sugar, and it counts as a carb. Go figure.

My Alternate and Healthier Version:
1 slice wholegrain bread
*2 tbs. natural peanut butter
8 oz. skim milk
* Regular peanut butter contains both trans fats and sugar. Both are bad for you. Natural peanut butter is just peanuts. Check with your dietician about how much fat you can have. All plans should be customized for YOU.

Moving on ... the key with keeping your sugars balanced is to keep them at a steady level, so small meals and snacks are the way to go.

SNACK 1
Their Snack 1:
1 small banana

What's the problem? You got it, no protein. To make this an acceptable snack, add a serving of cheese, 1 oz, or cottage cheese (which counts as protein) 1/4 cup, or another protein equivalent.

My Snack:
1 small banana
1/4 cup cottage cheese

LUNCH
Their Lunch:
2 slices bread
3 oz turkey
2 tsp mayo
1 small apple
8 oz skim milk

Problems:
1. You got it, WHOLE GRAIN bread not just any bread.
2. Mayo? Not a great choice. Mustard has no saturated or trans fats and is sugar free (unless you are cheating with the honey mustard ... check the label for sugars and other fats you don't want).
3. Where's the vegetables? This diet had NO vegetables in it until the evening meal. You get three servings of vegetable to equal one carb in a day. That's quality and quantity.

Here's my alternate lunch:
1/3 cup brown rice
1 small fruit (half an apple cut up on salad is good)
1 cup salad greens, spinach is extra good
8 oz. milk
3 oz meat
1-2 tsp. olive oil plus vinegar for salad dressing
*1/4 cup walnuts

Olive Oil is good fat, all fats should be good fats if possible. Good fats also contain Omega-3 fatty acids which are very important for the growing baby.
*I was allowed 1/4 cup nuts as a snack. Nuts don't raise your blood sugar and are very good for you. Walnuts are high in Omega-3s. I combined the spinach, 3 oz cooked chicken breast, walnuts, apple and dressing for a nice salad.

AFTERNOON SNACK
Their Afternoon Snack:
1 small orange
5 crackers or 3/4 oz. pretzels

Make the crackers whole wheat. The house brand of whole wheat crackers (look like Triscuits) at Whole Foods has only two ingredients: whole wheat and salt. Need a protein added here as well.

My Snack:
4 whole wheat crackers OR 1 small fruit
1 oz cheese

DINNER
Their dinner:
1 medium potato
3 oz meat
1 cup veggies
salad
2 tbsp vinegar and oil
8 oz skim milk
1 small fruit

Problems:
Wow. Suddenly a ton of food. What size is "medium" anyway?
1. Margarine, again trans fats are bad.
2. Oil needs to be walnut or olive or another oil high in Omega-3
3. On their plan, there are only 2 servings of vegetable in a day
4. Salad, how much salad, what toppings?

My dinner:
3 oz lean meat
1 small sweet potato (actually raises your sugars less than a white potato plus has vitamin A and beta carotene)
1 tsp butter
1 cup salad greens (no iceberg, dark green leafies only)
2 tsp vinegar and oil
1 cup cooked vegetables (tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli, all good)
8 oz skim milk

EVENING SNACK
Their Snack:
8 oz skim milk
3/4 oz cereal OR 3 small graham crackers

1. 3/4 oz? They made a typo, it should be 3/4 cup, WHOLE GRAIN, unsweetened cereal
2. No protein, need to add one

My Snack:
1/2 cup wholegrain, unsweetened cereal
1 cup skim milk
2 tbs. peanut butter

Surprisingly, this is a LOT of food in a day. Much more than I thought.

Again, talk to your dietician if you have gestational diabetes, find out the right plan for you. But this all goes to show how much a difference a small choice can make, like choosing a whole grain versus a simple carb. I never felt better on any diet before. It was almost more food than I could eat in a day (I had dietician-approved extra carbs for workouts that are not included here) and it was all healthy and fresh. Nothing processed. My blood sugar numbers were all excellent and I felt good. I did not have swelling in my feet until right before labor. I gained only baby weight. Most importantly, my baby was healthy and strong. If I ever get pregnant again, I will go right back on the same diet even if I can pass the glucose test.

Talk to your doctor, and a dietician. Ask, be involved. Research. Take an active part in your health decisions. Food matters.

Here is a good link:
American Diabetes Association
They have information and recipes and resources. For anyone who is living with diabetes, or even gestational diabetes, my heart goes out to you. It is hard, seems like our whole nation is against you as you struggle to eat well. It is so much easier to find bad food cheap than it is to find healthy alternatives. Even going to a friend's house for dinner is a complicated balancing act. Good luck and the best of health to you.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Feed Me Better

Has anyone seen this? Ever since I watched "Supersize Me" and found out just how prevalent junk food was in schools, this issue has been top of mind. According to the documentary, junk food manufacturers SUBSIDIZE our nations school lunch programs to get their product to our kids. This is so wrong on so many levels.

I was poking around on the Internet, and visited Jamie Oliver's site and learned about a series he did in Britain called "Jamie's School Dinners." He started a movement there to get parent's involved in demanding better food for our kids in schools. It is called "Feed Me Better."

We need to get this movement started here in the states. Now. I am very disappointed in Food Network for not airing the series and spent over half an hour trying to find a way to email them to comment. They bury the contact links pretty well in the site, they did not used to do this. If you can find the contact link, send them an email and demand it. I used the email link for one of Jamie's other shows as the way in.

Let's get this started. Our children's future depends on it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Molto Mario

Recently had my first big night out since becoming a parent (yeah, it's been months and months). My husband, in a shining example of insight, booked us and another couple a table at for Mario Batali's dinner from his new cookbook. Fantastic. I opted for the octopus and potato salad, roast duck, and the chocolate and pinenut dessert.

We had a brilliant evening, my husband made immediate friends with the table next to us, a group of women. One of whom promptly stated she had the building for my and Jerry's restaurant and we were set. Wouldn't it be great if all the grand schemes over wine and good food came to fruition? Surely the world would be a better, richer place.

Then off to the patio, cookbook in hand to get it signed. My husband and I have an agreeement: if something happens between us, then we each get a chef from Food Network to console ourselves with. His pick: Giada De Laurentiis. Mine: Mario. Okay, it was Tyler Florence for the obvious: young, fun, attractive. But Mario swayed me. Why? He always shifts the attention from him to those around him. Like on Iron Chef: he wins, first thing he does is say how great the challenger was and commends his sous chef and team. He never drones on all about Mario. I love his philosophy on life and lust for life. Even on his show, it is all about the food, the region, the history, not Mario.

It was late in the evening and after a lunch session as well. But Mr. Batali was still available, tired looking, but available. True to form, when I told Mario he was my favorite, then joked that my husband preferred Giada to him, but not for the food ... Mario did not miss a beat: "I can see why, but you are prettier than she is."

Of course, this is a lie, but it was a really nice one. I was not disappointed. I respect people who attain that much in life and are still humble and attentive to others. Who are still students of life and open to the value of the average person. So rare. Among the ranks: Jean-Michel Cousteau and so far no other celebrities that I have met.

Thanks, Mr. Batali.