Wednesday, January 30, 2008

(Not So) Wordless Wednesday


Juvenile Snapper and Black Mangrove
Originally uploaded by expatkitchen

Juvenile Snapper and Black Mangrove

Mangroves are the nursery grounds for hundreds of marine species, an integral part of the ocean's ecosystem. These same mangroves are being destroyed by a development in Bimini. Despite developer's commitment to a "sustainable" development, the island's ecosystem is being systematically destroyed. The people of Bimini will lose their local fisheries and tourism as a result of this unwise approach to what should have been a beneficial project for the local economy and people. You can stop this.

Click on the photo to view more information and sign a petition to help Bimini's development project take a more sustainable course.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hmmm, More Winter Squash



We started the winter with about 200 lbs. of winter squash and sweet potatoes. I got a bit crazy at the farmers market's last days. I just don't know how to let go. Surprisingly, the sixty-odd pounds of squash we still have is still edible. I'm just running low on ideas.

A friend at work read my blog and sent this recipe to the rescue. It uses a whole, small pumpkin all at once. And, you use the pumpkin itself for the baking vessel. Pretty impressive for company.

I wish I knew who to credit (he did not give the recipe author's name) but here is the dish:

I am going to call it Cheesy-Bread-Baked Pumpkin or Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Gruyere or ... just good.

Ingredients:

  • 1 5-pound cooking pumpkin
  • 1/2 pound French or Italian country-style bread
  • 1 cup crème fraiche
  • 6 ounces grated Gruyere cheese
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Method:

Rinse the outside of the pumpkin and wipe dry. Using a sharp knife, and cutting at a slight angle so that the angle of the knife is tipped downward into the vegetable, cut off the top 1/4 of the pumpkin to form a lid. With a large spoon, scrape out the seeds.

Cut the bread into thin slices and toast until golden brown. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line the pumpkin cavity with one layer of the bread, spread with 4 tablespoons of the crème fraiche, 1/4 of the cheese, and a generous sprinkle of salt and fresh ground pepper. Continue layering (4 layers in all), finishing with the Gruyere. Set the top back on the pumpkin.

Cut a piece of aluminum foil large enough to wrap the entire pumpkin. Brush the pumpkin lightly with the oil. Wrap the pumpkin with the foil and place on a baking pan. Set in the oven and bake for about 1 hour and 40 minutes. The pumpkin is done when the skin has softened and a sharp knife can easily pierce through to the interior flesh.

Remove from the oven, discard the foil and place the pumpkin on a serving platter. Carefully remove the lid and stir the interior mixture, making sure to incorporate the pumpkin into the other ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

The Meat Issue

This article in the New York Times by Mark Bittman really sums up the issue on meat consumption and how the animals are treated in "production." If you have never seen a confined-animal feeding operation (CAFO) look closely at the photos, a picture says a thousand words.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Some Thoughts on Cloned Meat

Bring in the clones.
You knew these were coming. Since the FDA approval, blogs and news sites are all hotly debating the safety of cloned meat and dairy products. A good round up of differing opinions can be found at Ethicurean. I agree, the safety of the consumption of cloned meat and milk should be carefully reviewed. Basically, it just ain't natch'ral.

This "ick" factor of the whole thing is disturbing, and as artificial a process of creation as so much of our other manufactured food supply. Which I also question regularly, and which has also been approved by the FDA.

But let's take a step back and look at the larger issue.
The "purpose" if you will behind cloning is to narrow the genetics of certain species for traits that are desirable to the food industry. Perhaps not me as a consumer, but we consumers seem to have lost our voice in how our food is produced. The process is designed to duplicate an exact set of genetics many times over into the species. In other words, limiting the gene pool. Decreasing diversity. Marrying your first cousin. [cue banjo music].

Even without the device of cloning, the diversity of our plant and animal food supply has been reduced by over ninety percent, 75 percent for plants alone, since the 1900s. GMO crops have created a "patent" system that profits from controlling diversity. Selective breeding practices have created turkeys that can barely stand on their own, much less breed naturally. All of this was done to serve the best interests of industrial agriculture.

Survival of the fittest is the best "biotechnology."
It doesn't take a biologist to recognize that this approach is not a good survival strategy. When forces of nature change the status quo, as they may well with climate change, there is little gene pool left from which nature (or man) can adapt.

Cloning is merely a mechanism, certainly a more powerful one than selective breeding and artificial insemination where you still have DNA from both parents. It will definitely speed up the process of limiting diversity. And it is that goal that should be questioned most of all.

Bagging the Plastic



It's good news to hear all of the bans on plastic shopping bags, especially when those bans extend to corners of the world like Mumbai and China. We bought some reusable grocery bags to take on our weekly shopping trip, but they are a bit bulky and I find myself forgetting to dig a bag out of the back of the car for my other shopping.

I found one of these cool, reusable totes that actually folds up into a case which fits in my purse. Now, I have no excuses for bringing home more plastic bags even on a quick errand. I'm ready for any bag bans that come my way. And, no they aren't paying me to promote this. It's just a handy solution while we retrain ourselves to BYOB (bring your own bag).

Now, the rest of the country, including the cashier at Target who tried to charge me for my reusable bag as merchandise, needs to just catch up.

Meatball Stroganoff

Kids love meatballs. Who am I kidding? We all love meatballs. Not sure why, but there's just something about them, especially the little ones. Naturally, where there are meatballs, there must be noodles, which also top the kid-friendly list.

I enlisted both of these allies to help sell the dijon mustard, cognac and mushrooms that comprise the rest of the dish. The end result is an easy, classic dish that appeals to the whole family; the meatball loving kiddos, and the adults who claim to love the sophistication of shiitake mushrooms, herbs and shallot — but really just love the meatballs.

Meatball Stroganoff
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Few More Good Links

Here's a great follow on Grist up to my moment on BBC worldwide debating food systems for developing countries. Seems there is a movement to let these people have some say in what they grow and eat. Wow, imagine that! Makes sense to me, especially with the focus on sustainable agriculture.

Raj left me a comment about that BBC discussion which was interesting. Apparently, I expressed my views on organic versus industrial agriculture directly to the Vice President for Food & Agriculture of the Washington DC based Biotechnology Industry Organization. This organization is none other than the major trade lobby which represents Monsanto. Ah, had I known, I would have used more choice words.

Raj is Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. Amazon describes his book thus:
"Half the world is malnourished, the other half obese-both symptoms of the corporate food monopoly. To show how a few powerful distributors control the health of the entire world, Raj Patel conducts a global investigation, traveling from the "green deserts" of Brazil and protester-packed streets of South Korea to bankrupt Ugandan coffee farms and barren fields of India. What he uncovers is shocking — the real reasons for famine in Asia and Africa, an epidemic of farmer suicides, and the false choices and conveniences in supermarkets. Yet he also finds hope-in international resistance movements working to create a more democratic, sustainable, and joyful food system."
You can find Raj's blog here. He is a former policy analyst for Food First, a leading food think tank, and is a visiting scholar at the UC Berkeley Center for African Studies.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Redefining "Kid Food"

Every now and then I decide to seek expert advice for my dinner instead of winging it into a new recipe myself. I visit the "library," a small collection of nearly 200 cookbooks between my husband and I. Oh, the cookbook club people probably shed a tear the day I quit. I likely put someone's kid through college.

So, I pulled one off the shelf I had never cooked from, The New Way to Cook, a self-described revisionist look at Julia Child's masterpiece, The Way to Cook. It has lighter and healthier dishes in a very thick volume. I picked a butternut squash (yeah, we have few squash still around here) and garbanzo bean stew with saffron, cinnamon raisins and ginger. This was good.

From my cooking love, Mario Batali, I picked Pollo al Vin Cotto out of his excellent book Molto Mario. The translation is chicken in cooked wine. It also has raisins in it, plus almonds. The sauce is a wine and vinegar and honey reduction. Very good. You know the thing about not serving chicken to "company?" Forget that. Serve this one.

But, I wasn't cooking for company. Just my husband and child and myself. So, if you are wondering, did my child eat that? It sounds pretty "adult." The answer is yes, and she liked it. And yes, the alcohol cooks out of the wine!

Other than the wine, it's really not anything challenging. Kids like raisins, and cinnamon, and honey and almonds. Chicken? Sure. Butternut squash? Yes, unless you are in the throes of your own Battle Orange.

It's easy to buy into the idea of "kid food" with a whole marketing industry ready to sell you a ready-made solution. It's a myth, I tell you, a myth. If it tastes good, they will eat it. Might take a try or two or fifteen, but they will.

Friday, January 18, 2008

One Minute Down, Six to Go?

This whole blogging thing has certainly put a bit of craziness into my life. I just got off the phone with BBC Worldwide's show,"World Have Your Say." The podcast should be available here so you can hear my awful voice trying to get a word in edgewise.

The topic was whether or not to produce food for the world at any cost using any technology, or to do something more sustainable and safe. Their focus was on issues such as GMO foods, conventional agriculture methods, and animal welfare and cloning.

My bit was just long enough (one minute of fame) to interject that studies show organic methods over the long term have a higher yield and less detriment to the soil quality than conventional agriculture. Here is a link to that research for those who are interested. And here. And here.

Now, it will take time to implement sustainable agriculture systems in developing countries, but in the meantime, giving those countries cheap food has not been effective in at least one large-scale study in treating malnutrition. The food in the study, an enhanced peanut butter, was produced in the African country of Malawi. Treatment allowed malnourished children to remain at home, not in a hospital as with conventional treatments, and was successful in 89 percent of the critical cases in comparison with a previous treatment success of 50 percent. So, better food works better, and it can be produced in country. Peanut butter is not the long term best either, but getting good nutrition in place until the foods can be produced is saving lives.

Which begs the point, if we are able to save lives using foods like this, without the untested extremes, why not use these good foods now and take the time to put in the right solution for the people and the planet?

These improved short-term solutions are important for the immediate need, while long term, sustainable solutions can be reached. The solutions need to allow farmers in the countries to produce the foods, providing income and self-sufficiency to fuel a better economy. Tough to do with the AIDS crisis and war in the backdrop. Going to take time and global effort.

Other food production ideas discussed on the show included the recent approval by the FDA of cloned animal meat and milk for human consumption. Well, based on the FDA's politics, ties to special interest and "stellar" track record, I wouldn't be touting their stamp of approval.

The long term safety of cloned animal products was tested for a whopping three and a half months by feeding the products to other animals. Further, there isn't a huge benefit to the process that limits the gene pool, is extremely expensive and not very successful for the animal's survival as a fetus (high fetal mortality rates) and sometimes a hazard to the surrogate mother. Nature was doing just fine, with a better track record and selective breeding as it was. This just allows certain companies to patent the genes just as has been done for corn and soy, and make more profits. It's not a hunger solution.

GMO crops? Well, given that we are headed for tremendous climate change, I can't see how limited gene pools and monoculture is going is going to do much to save our butts. The gene pool, and diversity of plants as well, need to be able to survive these kinds of changes. Diversity is the only intelligent response.

So, there's what I would have said, given a chance to interject my opinions.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Grass Gas

Reading all the headlines about farmers racing to plant more corn for ethanol and the prices of these commodity crops rising makes me shake my head and feel more than a bit depressed. The race to alternative fuels as it is currently headed will just fuel more monoculture and more environmental issues. Monsanto's stock is going up, however. A lot.

This approach, other than the projections on the need for nitrogen-based fertilizer and GMO grass seed (when will we learn) makes a whole lot more sense:
"Cost competitive, energy responsible cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass or from forestry waste like sawdust and wood chips requires a more complex refining process but it's worth the investment," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said at the Range Fuels facility groundbreaking in November. "Cellulosic ethanol contains more net energy and emits significantly fewer greenhouse gases than ethanol made from corn."
Indeed, while corn ethanol only outputs 25 percent more energy than required to make it, switchgrass ethanol produces 540 percent more energy than the input required. Better still, the land required to grow these native plants can be of marginal quality, and the grasses support the local biodiversity. The article continues:
"In fact, Vogel and his team report this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that switchgrass will store enough carbon in its relatively permanent root system to offset 94 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted both to cultivate it and from the derived ethanol burned by vehicles."
Clearly there is a better way than corn, why aren't we pursuing it? Oh yeah, ask Monsanto.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

History and a Lesson in Trust

I've been reading Michael Pollan's new book, In Defense of Food. About fifty pages in, I got a jolt to the memory. Like stumbling onto an old to-do list and finding a couple really important things I still hadn't done.

The first section of the book describes nutritionism, the blend of science and food industry efforts that have gotten us lost as eaters. The primary example he was using to explain this theory was the rise and fall of trans-fats and the resulting "low fat" diet era.

Some of it was not new information. In fact, in 2004 I had read an article about one researcher who, in the 50s spoke out about the dangers of trans-fats. She was "encouraged" by the food industry not to pursue this topic. (Wish I could find the article, it was in a food magazine and I have turned the house upside down looking for it. If you know the one I am talking about, please leave me a comment!). Pollan's information suggests that this researcher was not the only one who had doubts about using trans-fats. I've thought about that article over and over while writing on food. It was my first glimpse at the little man behind the curtain and the myth of food marketing and the food industry acting in the interest of my health.

So, here's where I am going, here's the jolt:

Reputable researchers knew there might be a serious problem with trans-fats fifty years ago. The food industry not only ignores this but discourages the research. They didn't stop and say, "Whoa! This is going in food, we should be sure it's safe first."

No, instead we got a massive onslaught of margarines that were "better" for you than butter and entire aisles in the grocery store dedicated to low fat crackers, cakes and cookies. Brands were created solely on the basis of being healthy snack options. Consumers listened. Consumers ate tons of this stuff. Trans-fats were in everything processed, just as HFCS is today.

It's fifty years later. The researchers were right. Trans-fats are being banned by entire cities just like smoking — for the same reason of being a major health hazard. And I wonder, how many consumers ate the wrong thing blissfully believing it to be a "healthy choice?" How much damage was done in fifty years? Could lives have been saved? Are we going to see a lawsuit like that with the tobacco industry in the next decade? Dare I hope?

In a discussion at a mom community, we were commenting on new research linking meat consumption to cancer. I raised the question of the possible differences between grassfed beef and CAFO, or industrial, beef. But, I said, I don't have a lot of research to link to on that.

One of the women called me on it, on not having enough research. Well, I am not going to make research up, and the reality is, if the research is not linked to potential capital gain, it's not as likely to get funded. There just isn't going to be the same amount of studies done. Think about it. A handful of companies dominate meat packing, and even the feed that goes into the animals. A closed loop with the farmer trapped in the middle.

If research shows that naturally-raised and fed animals are vastly superior to industrial ag's unnatural methods, well, that would put a handful of very powerful companies in danger of losing billions of dollars. It's self-preservation, or you can call it greed. But it's the same reason these companies have such a choke hold on Washington.

I'm not paranoid, just pragmatic. I took the red pill. Even the research that is done, is not always reliable. For many reasons. The most relevant to this discussion is a brief reference in Pollan's book to a study that showed when food research is commissioned by industry, the research usually finds results that are favorable to the industry who funded the project. In fact, I read the abstract, it is 95 percent more probable that paid research will find an outcome that favors the industry providing funds.

So, good, independent research is not always heeded by the industry. But is still needed to prevent malnutrition issues. The food industry ignores potential serious threats to your health, historically, and this has not changed much given the record number of meat and food recalls of 2007. Bought research is not reliable. This leaves you, standing at the supermarket, food product in hand, wondering if you can believe the health claims. And many of those claims are questionable as well. How do you know? Who do you trust?

I'm not going to rewrite Pollan's new book here with my own examples and links. It's a good book, a better one than I could write. Yet as I turn the pages, I think about all of the information on food I've read and posted in the last couple years. The book is less revelation than affirmation. Like a sign post reminding me that I am on the right road. Or, the found to-do list that keeps me on track.

The Good Old Days

Saw a link to this on my favorite mom site. The article and photo are from the 1950s and show a year's worth of food for a family of four. The family spent about 25% of their income on food and the grocery list includes only corn flakes, margarine and shortening as "processed" foods.

Note the absence of soda, chips, frozen entrees, packaged crackers or cookies, or pre-made meal items. Note the enormous mound of produce.

Ah, the good old days. Not perfect, but a damn sight better than the average American diet in 2008.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Passion Fruit



This week (or next) our experiment with new fruit will continue with passion fruit. Look for a heavier fruit when you purchase. The fruit will also be very wrinkled when it is ready to eat.

The last new one we tried was a pommelo. It is the predecesor to grapefruit. Not nearly as tart or juicy, or as sweet at the ruby red variety. I was a bit disappointed with that one. Even though the fruit looks huge, the rind is nearly an inch thick. You end up with about the same amount of fruit as an average grapefruit. Interesting, but not sexy.

Passion fruit? Well, that one just has to be sexy. Plus, I kind of like the idea of something named "passion" that's at its best with a few wrinkles.

Carrot-Quinoa "Biriyani"



I am always a bit out of my comfort zone tackling more ethnic flavors in recipes I am writing. I love warm, earthy spices and complex flavors. But it's newer turf and easy to go horribly awry. I did want something with lots of color and flavor on the plate with the nuggets (below).

This recipe uses quinoa, a whole grain that is very high in protein, instead of rice. It also has lentils and lots of vegetables. It's as healthy as it is colorful.

Carrot-Quinoa "Biriyani"
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

The Unnecessary Nugget



I am proud to say, the only McDonald's food my kiddo has ever been exposed to was a milkshake in desperation while I was pregnant. We drove a long way looking for something else. Because we've never crossed under the golden arches, I'm not competing with nuggets at the dinner table. The only breaded chicken we've had is Chicken Scallopini with Lemon, Artichokes and Capers and Chicken with Roasted Tomatoes, Goat Cheese and Pesto.

But, according to statistics, those damned statistics, nearly one-third or more of our children's calories are consumed outside the home. Half of these meals are from restaurants and fast food restaurants. The majority of our nation's preschoolers and younger will eat at McDonald's at least once each month.

Given this, I figured it was time to answer Amy of Shaping Youth's challenge to build a better nugget. It's pretty easy, you actually start with chicken. Which helps, a lot.

You also do a baked nugget instead of fried. Oh, but the crunch, how about the crunch? It's true, the baked version just never seems to have the delicious crunch you get from fried. However, you can have that light, crisp crunch without the heavy, greasiness.

Golden-Crisp Chicken Nuggets


Now, I need to make up a few dipping sauces. Pesto is a good candidate. Just don't look for a drive-thru window outside our kitchen anytime soon!

This post is part of the Carnival of Family Life, hosted this week by Diary of One.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Quote

I recently posted my idea of a CSA/food-prep program for low income families as a path to getting healthier foods included in current food programs. Reading the second page of this article on AlterNet, I'm thinking maybe my ideas is not so much a pipe dream as an inevitability. Let's all hope so, and do what we can.

"These projects and policies have inched us closer to bridging the divide between the haves and have-nots, but unless every segment of society rejects the notion that there is one food system for the poor, and one for everyone else, these gains will remain marginal."
The Poor Get Diabetes, the Rich Get Local and Organic by Mark Winne

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Not Too Late

To nominate this humble blog for a food bloggie. Thanks.

The Other Glow-in-the-Dark Meat

Guess you won't have to worry about finding your pork chop if the power goes out. Oh my.

Eggs, Not Over, But Easy

Ask the Kiddo on any given morning, noon or night, what she wants for a meal and chances are you will hear an emphatic "Scrambled eggs!"

Not only does she eat about 3-4 eggs at a time, but she loves to help cook them. She even reminds me about the pinch of salt when I forget it.

Last weekend, I thought we would expand on the egg repertoire a bit since the Kiddo has been on a meat strike these days. I fixed the most protein laden breakfast I could muster. Starting with a tofu-fruit smoothie and moving onto pancakes and shirred eggs.

The pancake was more of a clafouti, as much egg as flour. That results in this huge, fluffy baked pancake. The recipe is from Gourmet and calls for apples. You don't have to use just apples, come early summer, you can use fresh berries. Just skip the step where you cook the fruit. Add the strawberries to the skillet with the melted butter, pour on the batter and bake. I prefer just powdered sugar on the strawberry version, as the recipe calls for. But the apple version tastes better with maple syrup.

I also served up shirred eggs just to change things up a bit. Shirred eggs are a classic dish, but you don't see it too often on menus these days. I love it for brunch since you can make individual portions ahead and keep warm. The recipe easily adjusts up.

Shirred Eggs
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Art work for this post provided by the Kiddo herself.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Groundhog Diet? And Other Updates

Seems that if you don't like the groundhog's prediction for more winter come February, well, you can just shoot him and make confit. I've had my share of eating small, strange mammals, and I think I will pass.

In other news, a Reuters article suggests that more Americans are opting for long-term healthy eating instead of dieting. The new emphasis is on eating healthy, not just weight loss. Good news that I hope we see more of in 2008.

Reuters also examines the issue of whether food miles really do help reduce global warming. The article makes some good points, but misses more important issues for local food and the environment; the support of sustainable agriculture methods; preservation of rural areas in a community; preservation of local cuisine and food traditions; decrease reliance on centralized agriculture and monoculture farming; preservation of seed diversity and heirloom varieties; less dependence on environmentally-destructive CAFO operations; support for food animals raised without antibiotics. To name a few, anyway.

Monday, January 07, 2008

TLC for TCS

In the wake of the holiday season, long after the decorations are finally down and the brown wreath is composted, some of us still feel the pain. I'm not talking about the bills or the extra pounds around the middle. No, I am talking about Tired Child Syndrome, or TCS.

TCS normally strikes for the first couple weeks of trying to get back into a normal schedule. Causes include too many holiday events, late nights, travel and sleeping late. Symptoms for children include tantrums, exhaustion accompanied by an adrenalin rush that prevents sleep, restless sleep, and erratic behavior followed by extended time outs. Treatment primarily consists of toughing it out and getting things back on schedule. Side effects of treatment (for parents) include; ringing eardrums, exhaustion, lateness to work, and an increased desire for a glass of wine. With consistent treatment, TCS should resolve itself within two weeks or at the thinnest point of parental patience.

Wow. What a night. The storm began brewing on arrival at home, built with a rejection of dinner and peaked at the point Mommy got hit with a fork. As our child wailed, face down in the time out corner, my spouse and I achieved a truly parental Zen moment and had a nice adult dinner conversation and leisurely meal. Once the storm subsided, Hurricane Kiddo joined us at the table, and not only tried all the vegetables on the plate including the kale, but had a bit of salad as well.

It's pretty easy to see how any tired parent could mistake a bout of TCS for a food issue. Thing is, the food had nothing to do with it. The dinner table just happened to be the first object in the path of the storm. It's hard to batten down the hatches, lower the sails and ride it out. Especially after a long day at work.

Just like dealing with other forces of nature, sometimes you have to wait until the storm blows over and salvage what you can. Kids', at their best, have erratic food preferences. No wonder moments like these can cloud the issue. We were lucky enough to see a bit of sunlight this time, but it just isn't always the case. If dinner is a no go, don't give up, just try it again when your child is not in the throes of TCS. The rejection of your menu may have nothing to do with food at all.



Sesame Kale
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

This post will be part of the next edition of Carnival of Family Life at Write from Karen.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

One Bite at a Time

We parents use a lot of fighting words to describe our day-to-day; battle of wills, control game, reinforcement, rivalry. It all sounds pretty menacing, but mostly, we're just trying to stay sane and survive. Not exactly warrior types. More tired, frustrated and self-doubting types. At times, I am honestly not sure if I am winning or my child is.

Take, for example, the whole new food thing. I've never done the "you can't do/have "x" until you finish your dinner." I aim significantly lower. I set my sight on "just try one bite." If you don't like it, I add, you don't have to eat it." Granted there are times when this backfires completely and I get a masticated lump of something warm in the palm of my hand.

Then there are nights like this evening, where I am not sure who's winning, or what game we're playing. I made a ground lamb and couscous dish, topped with roasted vegetables and feta. I planned on resistance from an exhausted child, and placed kiwi fruit, edamame and cottage cheese — known favorites — alongside. Plus one tiny piece of cave-aged Gruyere cheese.

Kiddo eats the cheese. "Can I have more cheese?"

"Sure, I say, please try one bite of your other food while I get it." I load up a small forkful. There is flak. Eventually the lure of damn good cheese wins out. The forkful goes in and ... stays. In fact, I can tell, she likes it. I load up the fork again. Then go to get her another sliver of the good stuff. The fork is clean when I turn back. Ah, the game's begun now. We do this exchange a few more times. I load the fork up and make the cheese sliver smaller each time. Then, the Kiddo is full. Most of the dish has been eaten.

Now, I think, did the Kiddo win by having Mommy steppin' and fetchin,' or by eating her coucous and getting good cheese too? Or, did I win, because I got a healthy new dish under the radar? Who knows. I'm calling it a win-win and getting some sleep.

Roasted Vegetables, Lamb and Couscous
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Response to Amy Stewart of NPR

A recent NPR editorial by Amy Stewart titled "Shut Up and Eat" suggests that perhaps it is time to quit all this worrying about the source of our food and just belly up to the buffet again. Check the Eat Local Challenge site for responses from the authors there. Good stuff.

An excerpt of my response appears there, but here is the full text:
As Amy Stewart suggests in her editorial on NPR, we should all just stop thinking and talking about our food. Frankly, that kind of “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” attitude is how our food supply got into the sorry state it's currently in.

Does it truly make sense to just shut up and eat 30 million pounds of tainted meat? To idly push our grocery carts along the aisles filled with cheap processed foods that won’t break the bank account but bankrupt our nation nutritionally and environmentally? Wow, that’s a lot to swallow, Ms. Stewart.

I suppose if this approach makes sense, then I should also just quit thinking about global warming every time I hop into my SUV to drive a mile to the grocery store to buy peanut butter contaminated with Salmonella. After all, I am tired of hearing all the alarming news about global warming. It’s everywhere. Why can’t I just keep the pedal to the metal without all that bothersome stress and anxiety?

Or, how about the Iraq war? It’s all over the news, NPR in fact, every day. Gosh, I am sick of hearing about that. I should just think about something else besides our troops and the loss of innocent lives.

Human rights? Homelessness? Health care? Who needs to talk about those things? Why can’t we just gossip at the table instead?

Though, you are correct, Ms. Stewart, all this thinking sure does put a lot of stress and anxiety on that lettuce leaf of yours. But that may no longer be a worry. If we just don’t talk about the new Federal regulations for lettuce growers, you won’t be able to purchase lettuce from sustainable local sources anyway.

However, Ms. Stewart, if you’d like to shut up about local food, hey, I’m all for it.

A Tiny Bit on Culture ...

Seems my new year predictions lost me one reader. I do, however, stand by my predictions especially the oncoming backlash for our country to look for what's honest and true across all facets of society as well as our food. Especially our food. Given the situation, politics and food are inextricable. At least in this kitchen.

Let's look at history for a moment. Forty years ago in the wake of the Nixon administration and the Vietnam war, our nation's largest generation ever underwent a Great Disillusionment leading to a cultural revolution never seen before. Civil rights and women's rights along with the sexual revolution added to the intensity. "Question authority" became a mantra. Anti-establishment sentiment abounded. Change was blowin' in the wind.

Flash forward to the Bush administration and the Iraq war. While wiretapping has occurred and other transgressions like torture and civil rights abuse along with a questionable war, nobody resigned. Our food system is in a sad state, controlled by big business interests. Then, there is our country's first real contender for presidency who is a man of color, along with a strong woman contender. Sounding familiar? I honestly think we are in the birth of a Second Great Disillusionment. Frankly, it's about time. I just hope the changes are real.

As a side note, Ali at Cleaner Plate put together a quiz on food issues of the past year. If you believe for a moment that there are not political issues linked to our food safety, well, take the quiz.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Weekend Herb Blogging/Fennel: Vegetable, Herb or Spice?




Actually, all fennel is all three. The lacy fronds are used as an herb, the seeds are used as a spice, and even the bulb of the plant itself is edible both raw and cooked, making fennel one of the most versatile items in the produce section. Though rare, fennel pollen is also used as a spice.

Each of these edible elements shares a similar flavor, in varying degrees, to the spices anise and star anise. In fact, the three completely different species all have the same aromatic compound called anethole. Fennel pollen and seed have the most concentrated flavor. The fronds and the bulb have a milder, sweeter taste. Fennel lends a distinctive taste to the foods of several different cultures as diverse as Indian and Middle Eastern, to Chinese as one of the components of Five Spice Powder. Fennel seed can also be found in European foods such as sausage and rye bread.

I've looked for fennel at my farmers market in season, but so far have not had much luck. Now that winter is here and we have to buy a bit of produce at the market, it seemed like a good time to give it a try. It is harvested in late summer and autumn, thus works well with either a light salad or a hearty fall soup.



Fennel, Potato and Leek Soup

Clementine and Fennel Salad


You can find other herb posts for Weekend Herb Blogging at Kalyn's Kitchen. You can find this week's recipe carnival at The Common Room.

Was it the Black-Eyed Peas?

They say it's good luck to eat black-eyed peas for New Year's. Now that I am on day three of eating them, I'm thinking maybe they are right! Anyone's guess, but a few interesting things are afoot that I seem to be stumbling on.

First, there is my crazy concept for an urban garden/CSA/nutrition center that does the "super supper" kind of ready-made real food for low income families. Well, I stumbled on a revolutionary school and social services campus that will be built in my city. I sent them the idea and offered to help connect them with local resources if they are interested. Maybe it will work, maybe somebody will make it happen. I'd like to see such a program!

Back at the Kid's Cuisine site I blog for, I wrote a review for a new book by two doctors called Food Fights. A great resource for parents. The authors found the review and asked if I would be interested in collaborating on a project with them and Kid's Cuisine. How cool is that?

Now, if my copy of the new Pollan book shows up today, that would be icing on the cake. Maybe we all could use some black-eyed peas.

Black-Eyed Peas and Smoked Ham Hock
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Food Predictions for 2008

Seems as if everyone from Reuters to Gourmet is casting their ballots on what was and will be the next big thing in food. I may as well put on my best attempt at channeling Jean Dixon and Julia Child and toss out a few myself. Here goes:

A return to what's real. As we find everything around us is fabricated from our food supply to the lie of "weapons of mass destruction,"Americans will search for something honest — both on our plates and in Washington.

More muckraking to expose harmful food politics, especially the in the meat industry. Fact is, the meat industry is more incestuous now than in the great trust-busting days of Teddy Roosevelt. A few good Farm Bill tidbits put the brakes on selling cloned animal products for now and will prevent slaughterhouses from owning the animals fourteen days prior to slaughter as well as other livestock reforms. It's not much, but when you consider the full nelson these companies have had on the market, it's a good start. I'll be right there with Ethicurean and ELC and the rest of the kids blogging away.

The reduction of high-fructose corn syrup in food products. With the price of corn soaring, HFCS will no longer be a cheaper than sugar. Look for bold statements on packaging "Now! HFCS-free!" as if the company is doing something for your health. Bullshit. They only changed because the price of corn went up. As did the price of the food product.

Michael Pollan's new book will be more anticipated than the last Harry Potter book. Yeah, right. Maybe just in this household. Still, the Patron Saint of Real Food will stay around to keep us on the right track for 2008.

The decline of Rachel Ray. Yep, the honeymoon is over. Just like that starter marriage you can't believe ever happened. Or the pop song in heavy rotation. RR and EVOO will go. Viewers will want to see real chefs and real cooking again, even if they have to watch them on PBS. Don't feel too bad, she's made a fortune and she'll be just yummo.

Yep, 2008 is looking up.

Another Year Over and What Have We Done?

243 posts.
93 original recipes.
A few odd carnivals.
One failed farm bill effort.
Plus a handful of nominations and a finalist award.

A bit shy of my goal for having 100 recipes in a year, but then, I have not posted the few recipes I created over my recent and unexpected "blogiday." I got tired of hearing how tired I looked. So, in an uncharacteristic turn, I rested. Hung out with the Kiddo, went sledding, ate some good meals with friends and family. And napped a whole lot.

Naturally, this puts me about two weeks behind in posts, recipes, blog reading and news. It also means my house is still a bit of a mess and I have not gotten the thank you notes out yet. Makes me want to go nap just thinking about it all.

Instead, I will take a moment to think about the value of this past year in blog that has not been assigned a number: all of you. Your comments, sites, support and kindness has been the most unexpected and wonderful gift of this whole pursuit. I hope to see more of you in the coming year, and to be better about visiting your sites and sharing your kindness.

Cheers.