Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Milk, Cow's Milk That Is

My foray into weaning last week has me thinking a lot about milk, cow's milk that is.

I am a devotee of milk. I think it is both delicious and nutritious, all those vitamins and protein suspended in a colloid? Yummmmmm. We drink a lot of milk at my house, though to be fair the kids do the lion's share of the drinking. But often at 3 in the afternoon I will sneak a glass because I feel like I always need a little protein push at that time of the day. Please take note that I am not moving into the topic of raw milk. I have not done enough research about raw milk to render a statement either way. I have no doubt that raw milk holds many delicate health benefits, but it also comes with microbial risk, there is no controversy about that. However I still believe that pasteurization does not render milk an evil food. I think it still has many nutrients and health benefits even after it has been pasteurized.

To be sure though, I do opt for an organic, low temperature pasteurization, non-homoginized milk from a local Columbia County, NY dairy. However I can only get this at my farmer's market on Saturdays, so when we have weekend plans we have to buy the organic milk from Fairway. Fairway uses standard pasteurization and homoginazation processes. To the best of my knowledge they do not 'ultra-pasteurize' their milk which is a high temperature procedure which really kills every microbe in the milk and renders it useless for cheesemaking. (Not that I have made cheese yet) Fairway's milk is also from a dairy in Pennsylvania, which is more local than other sources of organic milk. I have only ever seen two other brand names for organic milk, Horizon and Organic Valley, which both make ultra pasteurized milk. Both of these producers are based in Wisconsin, so for me it ain't so local. Also if you read Michael Pollan's An Omnivore's Deilimma you know that he discusses Horizon and confirms, it is a convential dairy in every way except that it does not administer antibiotics and they feed the cows organic corn feed. That is to say, Horizon operates a CAFO or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. I want to drink milk from a cow that has a life and is breathing real fresh air and eating grass, not one that walks around a pen standing on a pile of mud mixed with feces and eating corn, even if it organic corn. I have not as of yet joined PETA (they have an okay message, but they really should hire a better PR director), but with all my love of meat and milk I am not sure I would pass the entrance exam.. But I do believe that our karma extends beyond what we do to other people. If you believe that God made us the keepers of this Earth as he says in Genesis 1:28 (and even if you do not, that's cool too) then how can you justify creulty to animals? We have a great responsibility on this earth, we must treat animals ethically even if we end up slaughtering them. We all have to draw the line somewhere. That's where I have drawn mine. But now I am way off topic. This post started out being about milk and it's lovely history, so let's go back there shall we? Milk has been drunk for millenia. Scientists believe that this began when animals were first domesticated in about 5000 BC. Many believe that animals were first domesticated for meat purposes and then we realized it was far easier to drink their milk every day because it was a daily source of calories versus one slaughter-kill-eat cycle. Plus milk was a very efficient way of turning acres of inedible grass into a foodstuff that humans could eat.

For the vast majority of Americans, access is limited to one of the two brands of organic milk I mention above or conventional milk. Almost all milk in the US is both pasteurized and homogenized. Pasteurization is the process by which milk is heated for a short period of time to kill any microbes, buggies or cultures in the milk, kind of like what I do before I make yogurt at home. UHT (Ultra High Temperature) Pasteurization is where the milk is raised to a higher temperature but for a shorter time. Ultra-Pasteurizing kills everything resulting in milk with a longer shelf life. But it effects the taste of the milk, making it blander in my opinion. Raw milk is just UNpasteurized milk. Homogenization is defined as the process that prevents milk from forming a separation of the fats, or developing a cream layer. I have drunk homogenized milk all my life until recently. It wasn't until I stored my own breastmilk in my fridge that I saw the fat separation of my own raw milk.

Some interesting milk facts:

Milk glands are really highly specialized sweat glands. Some scientists suggest that the original function of lactation was to keep eggs moist. This theory is based on the study of egg-laying mammals.

Humans are the only animal that drinks milk after they are weaned. We are also the only animal that drinks the milk of another species.

Milk is actually not necessary for good health (are all those lactose intolerant people sick or dying because they can't drink milk? Nope, they are all just fine). In fact while the Milk Board (also known as the California Milk Advisory Board, The National Dairy Promotion and Research Board, The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board...There are actually several milk groups out there and I can't find out who is funding the 'Got Milk' campaign, so I have to believe that it is a group effort) wants you to think that you need milk for calcium, fluid milk is not even the best source of calcium out there. An equal portion of collard greens or rhubarb or cornmeal actually contains more calcium. Yogurt wins the calcium dense foods according to one website's research. There is alot of controversy over this I am sure because osteoporosis (calcium defiency) is the number one defiency disease in the United States, but I imagine that if we ate more leafy greens along with all the milk we drink, we would all be getting enough calcium. There is no doubt in my mind that we need more than one source of calcium in our diets. And to clarify, I drink milk and eat cheese because they are delicious, not because I am under the impression that they are a crucial part of my daily diet.

Humans around the world cultivate milk from not only cows but camels, donkeys, goats, horses, reindeer, sheep, water buffalo and yak. Every mammalian female produces milk, but we just don't cultivate all of them for human use.

Cow's milk is on average 3.4% protein, 3.6% fat, 4.6% lactose, 0.7% minerals and supplies 66kcal of energy per 100 grams. But there are variations. For example Holsteins produce milk at around 3.6% fat while jersey cows produce a milk that is on average 5.2% fat.

On the other hand (this is for all those who are super pro-breastfeeding-and btw-formula is based off cow's milk with various supplements to mimic human milk), human milk is on average 1.1% protein, 4.2% fat, 7% lactose and supplies 72 kcal of energy per 100 grams.

On Wikipedia (where I have gotten virtually all of the above information-they can be a great web source of varied information on a single topic), I found an especially concerning article. I have always assumed the following to be true, but have never seen it written so clearly. I may never drink non-organic milk ever again,

Since November 1993, with FDA approval, Monsanto has been selling recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), also called rBGH, to dairy farmers. Cows produce bovine hormone naturally, but some producers administer an additional recombinant version of BGH which is produced through a genetically engineered E.coli because it increases milk production. Bovine growth hormone also stimulates liver production of insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF1). If rbST-treated cows produced milk with higher levels of IGF1 this would be of medical concern, because IGF1 stimulates cancer growth in humans.

Elevated levels of IGF1 in human blood has been linked to increased rates of breast, colon, and prostate cancer. Monsanto has stated that both of these compounds are harmless given the levels found in milk and the effect of pasteurization. However Monsanto's own tests, conducted in 1987, demonstrated that statistically significant growth stimulating effects were induced in organs of adult rats by feeding IGF1 at low dose levels for only two weeks. "Drinking rBGH milk would thus be expected to significantly increase risks of developing breast cancer and promoting it's invasiveness"

On June 9th, 2006, the largest milk producer in the world and the two largest supermarkets in the United States--Dean Foods, Walmart and Korger--announced that they are "on a nationwide search for rBGH-free milk." Milk from cows given rBST may be sold in the United States, and the FDA stated that no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and that from non-rBST-treated cows. Milk that advertises that it comes from cows not treated with rBST is required to state this finding on it's label.

In the European Union rBGH is banned.

The US government (by way of the FDA) has been clear in stating that it has found no difference in the milk derived from hormone treated cows than non hormone cows. But is this good enough for you?? It is not good enough for me. All of my friends are talking about the fact that it seems like everyone knows someone who is sick from cancer, or knows a 9 year who has gotten her period, or has a child from autism. I am under NO CIRCUMSTANCES saying that hormone treated cow's milk is responsible for this. I am not a scientist and I have not as of yet be able to find an article or report that shows this to be true. But that is no wonder, since I can't think of one company who stands to gain from a report like this. I know that I want to eliminate as many chemicals and odd hormones from my life as I can.

Organic milk, local milk or minimally processed milk can still be a wonderful and excellent part of your diet. I love it and I will drink it forever!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Farmer's Market Grapes

So, we all know about tomatoes, right? The conventional grocery store ones look beautiful but are like bitter flavorless card board. Whereas tomatoes grown at home or from a local farmer retain this x factor of deliciousness that is addicting, and likely to make you a FM convert like myself. Everyone knew this about tomatoes, no?

Well did you know about grapes? Maybe it is not that commonly known because grapes come in at the end of the summer through fall, just when some of the FM staples like greens and tomatoes and basil are coming to a close. Many FMs are only open from May-August. I also think that because grapes require cool weather and sandy soil they just don't work everywhere. So this might be a truly regional delight as opposed to a cultural staple.

I bought grapes from the Union Square Farmer's market that were grown at The Cheerful Cherry from Hector, NY.
They were the most amazing grapes I have ever tasted. They tasted a little like concord grapes, but sweeter and with a thin palatable skin. You also could tell the wine notes, which sounds dumb, but when was the last time you bought grocery store grapes that tasted like wine you would like to drink? Ironically my co-workers and I agreed that they tasted a little like grape soda. Hahaha! Home grown grapes are so far removed from the American garden that my generation doesn't know that grape flavored soda is meant to emulate these babies, not the kind available in most grocery stores.
I loved them so much I shared them with my entire office. Later on that afternoon I went back to the farmer's market with a friend in tow and we bought more off the same guy. This one was a real game changer. I am not sure I can fake it at the grocery store any more.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Personal Forgiveness

I am so there.

I am in the middle of that week where DH has worked late, the kids have been screaming messes, my inbox is overflowing and I have hard work deadlines to meet next week. Not to mention that last week was the same high stress at work, and we hosted my folks all weekend. This was a true blessing, but instead of taking Sunday to rest, I threw a party and cooked a from-scratch meal from CSA and farmer's market ingredients for 7 adults and 4 kids. Don't misread me, I didn't mind having the party (I was thrilled-it was really fun), but now here I am with no clean laundry (laundry machines are 12 floors downstairs) and a freezer full of rock hard meat, blog posts to write, thank you notes from the kid's birthdays, soup and other real food kid staples to make, on top of the daily childrearing responsibilities I have before and after work, and I have exactly 2 hours a day to do these tasks. And the bonus? With the 6 hours of sleep I am getting every night and the frenetic pace of my everyday life I am feeling really run down, and maybe a little bitter.

I understand why parents turn to take out and lunchables. I am so there! I am not some magical meal planning fairy. I encounter the same real world obstacles you do. My kids ate salami sandwiches for dinner twice last week. But when someone jumped in front of my subway train last Thursday triggering the train's emergency brakes and trapping me underground in a 100 degree tin can for over an hour, what was I going to do? I give my kids dinner every night, the baby sitter does breakfast and lunch. She works a 10 and a half hour day, so when I waltz in an hour late, she is pretty much out of tricks.

I committed to eating real food and not turning to processed foods. I keep easy things (like whole wheat bread for sandwiches) at hand, but lately walking into the kitchen is daunting. I have a bowl full of tomatoes sitting on my table and one kid that eats them and one that doesn't. In fact in the last two weeks it seems that my kids are eating exactly opposite things, so someone is always screaming. And if you want to tell me 'keep with it, it takes 30 times before a child likes something'. That's all well and good, but I am not sure how to get my three year old to try something without physically prying open his mouth and shoving it in (and that didn't go so well...and no, I am not kidding).

Right under the header for my blog I show my mission statement. The most important part of that is NO JUDGEMENT. Where I am right now is why. I took a client to lunch the other day and all I can wonder is whether or not my hamburger was made from grass fed meat (it probably wasn't), or if the aioli was made from olive oil or soybean oil (probably GMO soybeans) and while I am positive that the french fries were real potatoes and not frozen, they too were probably fried in GMO soybean oil. But I did pass on the ketchup with HFCS, at least that was clearly written on the label.

Everyday I try to make the healthiest choices for me and my family. This week I had no energy and a fridge full of weird food. So what did I make? Pasta. I sauteed some tomatoes and garlic in olive oil and then poured in some white wine. Then I threw in a can of chickpeas and a bit of fresh parsely. I finished it with a handful of feta cheese. It sounds really good right? Well it wasn't. The kids HATED it and even I didn't care for it. Thing 1 tried one chickpea, but only after he saw the cat eat one. He hated it and spit it out on the table for me to clean up. This just wasn't a winning recipe, the whole bean and pasta combo was really misguided.

But today I forgive myself, I did the best with what I had. I didn't order in. Small victories. I am going to take this one day at a time. A wise Weight Watcher's leader once said to me 'If you forgot to brush your teeth one night, would you never brush your teeth again?' This is really true, taking care of ourselves is day in and day out. Don't stop now, everything good thing you do counts in bettering your life. Even if you only make a couple of changes like going to whole wheat bread and grass fed meat, you are better off than you were before. And I won't judge you for just being where you are today.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Back To School in Our House

I am excited for back to school this year! It is the first fall that there has actually been a ‘back to school’ at all, so it is an exciting time. Thing 1 started a preschool program last Spring that was just 2 days a week 2 hours each day. I saw a big difference in him after he started, picking up toys, helping and listening and taking turns. He just became a lot more behaviorally organized I guess you could say.

This Fall the program is still two days, but the days are each three hours, and starting properly in the fall is getting us all excited. We all took a trip to the school last week to drop off the tuition check. Thing 1 ran right in and even forgot to take off his shoes he was so excited to see his school. And his teacher? Well, he has a major crush on her, so he went shy and beet red when he caught a glimpse of her dark tresses. I was happy to have finally met her since it is usually our babysitter who drops him off.

Preschool of course brings up the beginnings of the school lunch issues. The kids at my son’s school do not receive a full meal, but they do get a snack. Usually the snack is something like Cheerios or Goldfish. But with everything I have researched recently, I have stopped serving both Cheerios and Goldfish at home. Granted, those foods are not like a government subsidized deep fried corndog, but it does force me to ask myself “how am I going to handle this situation?”

I like to see myself as kind of an in-between parent. On one hand, my Things are free to explore the world, express themselves, play with toys however creatively they want to and ask whatever questions they like good or bad. I am very open, use big words and talk to them just like I talk to you dear readers, because they deserve the same respect I do. On the other hand if they misbehave, I will step in. And I mean business, I will not accept poor behavior including stealing toys, hitting, being un-nice (in the south we’d say ‘being ugly’), not sharing, etc, and I will intervene. Sometimes I raise my voice, probably because that is what my parents did. I know that child-led-rearing works really well for some kids, but I pretty much call the shots in my house. If it’s time to go out and play, it is time to go out and play. If you can give me a compelling reason why we should do something else I am all ears. But “I wanna watch more TV” is not a good enough reason. Don’t think I am a tyrant, but we do stay on a schedule. I have two kids, I try to make sure that everyone will have a good time.

I try to see things from my Thing’s perspective, if only to understand how things will affect him. When it comes to the Cheerios and Goldfish, I don’t want to tell the teacher “My son is not allowed to eat those and I have packed organic whole wheat crackers for him”. I want him growing up and fitting in with his peers. I did enough sticking out as a child. I remember what it was like to feel different. Kids haven’t changed at all, it is just the paraphernalia that has changed. So I am not going to fight that battle over a couple of crackers. Will I pack him a healthy and veggiful lunch every day when he starts going to Kindergarten at the Public School? You betcha. But for now Cheerios are not worth the battle.

After much thought about how I actually would handle this situation, I approached the teacher and asked how she felt about cooking with kids. She said she taught a kid’s cooking class at another center. (Score!) So I volunteered to take a couple Fridays off work this school year and come to my son’s school and help the kids cook. What will we make? I have no idea. I am drunk with the possibilities.

I have never been so excited for Back to School.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

ANDI Scores

Do you know what ANDI scores are?

I had to go to Whole Foods the other day because I needed a loaf of sprouted grain bread and Whole Foods or Fairway are the only places I know of that sell it. I am sure there are other smaller health food stores, but when I need something, I just need it—okay? I don’t want to have to search around at 10 stores or spend 30 minutes on the internet trying to find a place. Anyway, I go into whole foods and I see a sign showing the ANDI score of every vegetable in the produce section. ANDI stand for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index. This is a system that scores food items based on their, what else, nutrient density. For example, soda gets a 1 and a bunch of Kale gets a 1000.

This just brings up a whole host of questions in my mind. I almost don't even know where to begin. I did find a great article on thatsfit.ca about the scoring system. The system was invented by Dr Joel Fuhrman in the late 1990's as a way to identify foods that are nutrient rich but low in calories. Basically, a high ANDI score is a way to identify a food that is a good 'bang for your buck' in nutrient/ caloric terms.

At first glance I thought this would be a great easy system. And then I started looking around. I found kale, that got that high score of 1000, Bok Choy got an impressive 824 and radishes got a surprising 554. But then something funny started to happen...I got into the sweeter and higher carb vegetables like carrots (336) and butternut squash (136) and potatoes (43) and the numbers all went down so low. Is Whole Foods trying to suggest that Kale has more value in our diets than carrots on purpose? Or are they just doing it inadvertently?

I do get the point, Whole Foods is trying to steer customers toward healthier foods, more fruits and vegetables, and items that have more nutrients. However there are some major flaws to the ANDI scores.

The ANDI system measures a whole host of vitamins and antioxidants, Calcium, Caretinoids, Folate, Iron, B Vitamins, Vitamins C and E, among several others. But it does not differentiate among the vitamins in the scoring process, nor does it offer the consumer a way to easily diversify their nutrient intake. One could say that this is because the system does not want to FAVOR any vitamin over any other. It does not take into consideration that some vitamins like iron or beta carotene are available in such low calorie foods like kale while other caretenoids are found in higher calories veggies like carrots or butternut squash that happen to include sugar. Kale might be higher in it's nutrient content per calorie than any other food, but it does not contain ALL the nutrients one needs in a day. So in my opinion any food nutrient guide that allows for a perfect score for one food that doesn't have all your RDAs for all nutrients is a flawed guide.

The system overall rates all foods, not just whole foods. So my second biggest issue is that Whole Foods is only labeling vegetables, pitting plums against peaches and tomatoes against potatoes. But while Fuhrman's guide does give soda an ANDI score of 1 (actually .6 to be more exact) none of the soda's sold by Whole Foods have their ANDI scores displayed like all their healthy counterparts do in the produce section. Does anyone else see the irony in this?? Whole Foods has adopted a system that gives high/ low marks to all foods and then only displays the results of the healthiest foods in their stores, produce? This robs the consumer of the ability to make clear decisions across all food products in the store. All it does is make some vegetables look less desirable than others. In a country where we need to eat more vegetables, like 3 or more time more than we are currently eating every day, we need to do everything we can as a culture to promote any whole fresh vegetables to be consumed, not make you feel guilty for eating zucchini because it only gets a 43 (zucchinis are still healthy by the way).

My third biggest issue with this system is really more of an issue with Whole Foods. Each produce item's ANDI score is clearly labeled with the number on that laminated sheet that they use to tell you tidbits about the kind of veg you are buying. You see that and a very short description talking about the guide. The one page sheet explaining the index was displayed by the escalator that one uses to enter the produce department. You can see it as you are descending, but once you are down stairs, a post blocks it from view and you have to crane your neck over some cheese display to get a good look at it. At least that is what it was like at Union Square. This means they are doing a good job telling people what the scores ARE but not a good job telling people what the scores MEAN. If I have learned anything in the last few years reading about nutrition and our eating habits in the US I have learned that left to our own devices Americans will instinctively attach good/ bad status to high/ low scores on any scale. The Whole Foods customer is absolutely doing this. Don't kid yourself.

This is a shame because I visited Dr Fuhrman's website and it does seem like he has the right idea about nutrition. His food pyramid is right in line with my own beliefs. And I don't even want to bring up the issue of personal/ corporate responsibility. If Whole Foods is going to adopt a nutrient index it should be prepared to educate their customers. Especially since they have adopted an index that gives a lower score to Olive Oil (9) than to White Pasta(18), Potato Chips(11), or American Cheese(10). It might even be a help if we ate the same serving of white pasta as olive oil, but of course that is not taken into consideration.

We can make numbers say anything. If you don't believe me, ask the guys that used to run Enron. But as consumers we must drill into what the numbers are saying. In my opinion, ANDI scores give us some interesting information. But it is not really ALL the information that I need to make wise decisions for me and my family on what to eat.

So if I can't use the system to decide what to eat, what is it for?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

CSA Week 12

I am so sorry that I am beginning the second half of the CSA. I have never blogged before this year and so I never took notice of when the halfway mark was for the CSA. I never want it to end.

This week was a tomato extravaganza. We got 4 medium tomatoes, 3 red stipeys, 1 purple zebra, 4 plums and 15 baby romas. Oh my goodness, I can't wait to eat every single one....um....I mean, I can't wait to share them with my family. We also got one cucumber, one bunch of radishes, one head of lettuce, one small head of fennel, two bell peppers, a bunch of swiss chard and four serrano peppers. We also got three pounds of nectarines.
As an update to last week when I asked for recommendations. We made veggie tacos with the corn and tomatoes and zuccini. I made that with sprouted corn tortillas, grass fed pork chorizo and lots and lots of hot sauce. We also made a batch of my ratatouille and polenta, which I have turned into a casserole now so that I can make this the night before and heat it up. This might violate some international food laws, but my family likes it and I think it is better the next day.

Tonight we made leftovers of rice and beans and added a quick tomato and cucumber salad. I tossed on this a little red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and some italian seasoning. Easy and simple.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Stone Fruit Tart with Almond Crust

First let me say that this recipe got me way more Ooohs and Aaahs than I expected. I certainly got more credit than I deserved considering how easy this was. The plums were from the CSA and the peaches were from the farmer's market. But any stone fruit would do. There are currently 5 or 6 different kinds of plums at my farmer's market. I chose the peaches because I though they would be a bit sweeter than the tart plums.

I got the recipe for the tart shell from a recent post at The Nourished Kitchen which I only recently discovered. I was actually so inspiried by the gorgeous picture she took that I went out and bought a tart pan the very next day and this was the first time I used it. The shell contained:
2 cups of almond meal
1 egg white
4 tablespoons of butter (half a stick)
2 tablespoons sugar
The Nourished Kitched calls for a stand mixer to mix the ingredients, but my stand mixer is all covered with stuff in the only crummy pantry I get in my tiny apartment, so I opted for a potato masher instead. And you know what? It worked just fine. By the way, thanks to my dad for takin' the pics. I was so happy you came to town for a visit!! Plus, I never get a photographer in the kitchen! It was really fun.
I worked all the ingredients together. When the dough came together I put the whole lot of it in the tart pan and spread it out into the pan. Just squish it out evenly and press it into the corners to move it out. The almonds have alot of fat so it gets a little messy. It is also nothing like a wheat based dough, there is not springiness to the dough. It is more like a paste, so just be gentle and sread it out evenly.
The tart is not totally gluten free because I did put a little flour in with the fruit to soak up the juice. But if you have gluten sensitivity just omit it. I mixed about a quarter cup of brown sugar in with the cut up fruit and placed it in the unbaked tart. Then I baked the tart at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes of until the whole house smelled like almonds. Yummy.Here is what it looked like after I served it.
That piece got eaten. There were no leftovers. That is when you know you've got a hit: no leftovers.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Weaning and Hunger (Or Lack Thereof)

It is about that time again.

Thing 2 turned one a few weeks ago, and we have begun the process of weaning. I am thrilled that we have gotten to this point. I am thrilled to be in charge of the weaning process (I understand that there are ALOT of moms who want their child in charge of the weaning process, I don't oppose this, it just isn't me) and I am thrilled that Thing 2 is doing so well overall. I think that has alot to do with the breastmilk in the first place. But I am slightly sad to think that it is coming to an end. Slightly sad but very much at peace.

When Thing 1 was born, we had a tough time. He was asleep so much. He would sleep all day and fall asleep during every feeding. I had to resort to stripping him down and tickling his feet to get him to stay awake long enough to eat. I wasn't making enough milk because he wasn't eating enough. He lost over 10% of his birth weight before he started gaining. The lowest he got to was 6 pounds 13 ounces. By three weeks he was just barely back to his birth weight of 7 pounds 9 ounces. I came to terms with it, I had to supplement with formula for his health.

The supplementation was not that bad, it was a few extra ounces a day after a nursing and thankfully when his 6 week growth spurt kicked in he got extra hungry and nature took over and we got off the supplementation. Life was good.

But when I went back to work when Thing 1 was 12 weeks old, everything fell apart. He started preferring the bottle over me. The stress of my job definitely was got to him. I started to have trouble pumping, and by the time Thing 1 was 4 months old he was refusing to nurse. I would nurse him for 5-7 minutes and then pump the rest of what I had and feed it to him in a bottle. At 5 months he cut his first tooth and proceeded to bite me constantly every time I nursed him. All my friends and family said 'tell him no, he will learn'. Well I told him no, then he would cry and 2 seconds later he would bite me again with a look on his face that said 'why are you doing this to me?' After a couple weeks of biting and a couple of instances of pumping blood (Oh God YUK), we parted ways and headed for the bottle. I kept pumping for another 2 months, dutifully 4 times a day at home and 3 times at work. But it wasn't enough. Exhausted from all the effort, I weaned him at 7 months and reminded myself that I did alot of hard work and my baby must have reaped some of the benefits. Still, it was a hard decision. And even harder to cope with the idea that I couldn't make it work. All of my friends had managed to make nursing work. They seemed to have these close intimate relationships with their babies that reminded me of any number of print advertisements for some mother's product where a gorgeous mommy cuddles against her baby's chubby face with the rosy glow of the setting sun as a back drop. Meanwhile I had this skinny Thing who didn't like my boobs.

When Thing 2 was born I was READY. I was going to make this work. No supplementing, no falling asleep, no schedules. I was ready. I prepared myself for endless nights, I didn't take anyone's samples anywhere, I got ready for cluster feedings, I said feeding on demand no matter what! I said no bottles before 5 weeks old and even then very few and just to prepare him for my going back to work. And wouldn't you know for all my preparations...Thing 2 came out hungry. It was that simple. My baby was hungry and so I fed him. It was glorious. It was easy. It was the second time around, so it didn't hurt at all. He nursed alot, but he nursed, so I didn't care. When I went back to work, Thing 2 didn't seem to mind. The only bottles he got were when I went to work. That worked out to about 15 bottles a week and about 35 nursings. I started to feel like this was going to work. I am pleased to say that my Thing 2 has never had formula.

Some people want to jump out of a plane. I wanted to have a natural childbirth, nurse my baby and have it be completely natural.

So now we get to the part that is actually relevant to my blog, so thank you to anyone who made it this far, especially any men, childless people or hardcore foodies that may feel like this had nothing to do with a food blog. Now that weaning is well underway and will likely be completed in the next 3-4 weeks, I just can't eat like I used to. Losing weight this time was more difficult because I had to not just lose the weight but make sure I didn't lose it too fast. I didn't want to jeopardize the nursing. Eventually I found the balance and it worked out well.

The bonus was that I could eat so much because I had such a hungry baby. Now it is not the same way. I am down to four feedings a day but he isn't into it like he used to be. He is drinking whole milk readily now and that finally makes me feel like the end is near. Now that I am nursing so much less, my metabolism is slowing down and I am stuffed every time I eat what I consider to be a normal meal. For the last several months I have been adding a few extra nuts here and a little more cream there to manage my hunger and keep up my milk supply. Now I have to cut back on all that and eat a more typical amount of food every day. Sorry if you see the recipes on The Tale of Promise going low cal. I am NOT gaining this weight back.

When I eat too much I feel tired and sluggish. It is partly the food: good quality food makes me feel better than poor quality food, but even too much good quality food can make me feel gross. In In Defense of Food Michael Pollan talks about cultures that promote leaving the table 80% or 85% full, or even less! I am doing alot of meditating on this right now as I need to recultivate the willpower to limit what I eat.

I am trying to find that beautiful balanced place between hungry and full. The French would say 'Ca Suffit' or literally translated 'That Suffices'. (For all your high school francophones, 'Je suis plein' actually is a slang way of saying 'I am pregnant' not 'I am full') And this phrase is one way of viewing what is a cultural belief to eat enough without eating too much. Is it possible for me to find the amount which satisfies my hunger and stop there and walk away?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Farm Subsidies, Did You Know?

So I have been doing some internet research this week around some legislation surrounding nutrition and kids, etc. While I was poking around the internet I found this great article on Yahoo that was from 2007. But now I can't find it, so that makes me look a little less credible. I did find other another one though that says very much the same thing.

I had downloaded the 2008 Farm Bill a couple years ago after I had read Michael Pollan's An Omnivore's Dilemma. The book made me curious. The topic of subsidies as addressed in the bill was complicated and I didn't read it all. There were some interesting bits of legislature regarding organic farms and what initially looked like tax breaks to small farmers that only fueled my unfunded dream of having a hobby farm in the Hudson River Valley. But I haven't read any of the Bill in a long time.

I had heard that the bill was up again recently. Pollan and his colleagues and their ideologues have kicked up quite a stir of interest in the politics behind the crummy junk food so many of us have built our diets around for the last 30 years. It seems that a number of new Freshmen Democratic senators from farm states were all set to vote against the Farm Bill because the subsidies program once again centered around Corn, Soybean, and Wheat growers, precisely the commodities that go into making processed foods, devoid of most nutrients.

When Nancy Pelosi caught wind of the intentions of these freshmen senators, she became concerned that they would lose their seats in the elections that November and therefore the Democratic party would lose their majority in the Senate. So she worked to convince all those senators to pass the Farm Bill rather than have a real open discussion about where the subsidies are going and who is profiting off them and who is suffering as a result of them.

And so I say to everyone reading, when will we the voters send a message to Washington that we want subsidies to go to growers who grow broccoli and green beans and carrots and sweet corn (because the corn getting all the subsidies is 'number 2 corn', or field corn which is not terribly delicious for humans and indigestible for many other animals but fed to cattle, chickens, pigs and now sadly even farmed salmon). The idea that an open discussion about Farm Subsidies was quelled because of the fears of a political party that they would lose their majority makes me stark raving mad! Yes, Big Corn and Big Beef interests are powerful lobbies in this country so I am not surprised. But how many people are going to have to get sick with heart disease and diabetes before our law makers start to stand up for us? How many Americans died of smoking related illnesses before we started to make real progress against tobacco companies and fund anti-smoking campaigns and teach kids about the dangers of smoking? In my mind all this liquid-corn-soda and corn-on-legs-beef is no different.

The issue of personal responsibility versus public health is a subjective one. Marion Nestle discussed just that in a recent post about food safety on her blog Food Politics. Also, a Table of Promise reader recently mentioned a parent's responsibility to feed their child(ren) healthy food instead of fast food or junk. I agree, parents are responsible to feed their children healthy food. But now that I am a parent I realize just how vulnerable children are. For kids, what they eat isn't so much about personal responsibility because they aren't cooking or shopping for themselves. I am speaking not only about a government that serves substandard food in school lunches, but also about parents who are serving their kids junk food because the are under-educated about nutrition. Note, I am not talking about uneducated people here, there are plenty of people who go to college who are under educated about nutrition. I believe that by subsidising commodity crops like corn and soybeans and wheat, all the wrong foods to make up the base of our food pyramid, our government is suppressing prices for junk food and making it that much easier for working Americans (and parents) to consume. Think about it, if you were on a limited fixed income working full time with two kids, would you buy the cheaper ground beef and tater tots that you knew your kids would eat with no fighting? Or would you spend your only free hour shopping at the farmer's market across town buying $4 a pound organic heirloom tomatoes?

Subsidies have created a food economy that makes cheap beef and soda available at every grocery store and convenience store across the country. This issue of availability is what makes the fight between governmental responsibility to public health and personal responsibility so gray. Is it the fault of the working poor that unhealthy food are so much cheaper and ubiquitous? Do we, as a culture, expect everyone to suck it up and drive or take public transportation to the one healthy grocery store in the good part of town? I actually believe that if beautiful produce were available to all people in both wealthy and disenfranchised neighborhoods that more produce would be eaten.

In my working life, I do a little business. Everyone in my industry understands one simple principle, even if they understand nothing else. If you put a certain item on sale you will sell more. And if you can hit the right low prices you can tap into different groups of consumers who have less discretionary income. Do we think that food is exempt from this basic economical law?

I say subsidize the vegetable growers, give incentives to organic farmers, put money not only in school lunches to provide healthy meals for kids, but also fund home economic style wellness programs that teach kids about nutrition and how to cook simple healthful meals. When we have done everything that we can as a culture to promote health then we can start talking about 'personal responsibility'. For now we need to start talking 'public health'.

Who is ready to march on Washington with me? Let's tell our politicians that we think that it is high time we start to subsidize healthy foods rather than soda and hamburgers.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

CSA Week 11

Holy Mackerel. I am tired. Work has been busy this week, crazy busy. Between trying to meet deadlines and trying to research what I want to research for the blog. I am drained.

The CSA gave us a manageable amount of veg this week. We got one head of lettuce, one bunch of radishes, 2 zucchinis (I was naughty and took the only big ones in the box, hey someone had to take them! The next people won't even know!!), 2 cucumbers, 2 peppers, 2 onions, a pound of yellow beans, a whole mess of tomatoes-little ones, big ones, yellow ones, red ones. We also got the world's smallest head of cabbage and also the world's smallest bunch of dill (it is really like 3 sprigs). But I am not being snarky. No, I am actually thankful. When I buy cabbage or dill at the farmer's market I usually end up throwing some away because there is just too much. A shame I know. We also got a basket of yummy plums.

I am planning on a tart for the plums. I bought a tart pan this week. I am thinking of making an almond crust?? That will definitely be a blog post provided that it actually happens. I am just not sure what to do with the other ones...I suppose I have to think on things. This is the week I need easy recipes, no time plus no energy equals a Mommy that needs a break on the complicated cooking. I have really been going at it recently with big elaborate meals. This week might need to be more salads. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Child Nutrition Act

There has been a lot of buzz around the internet lately about the Child Nutrition Act. Michelle Obama has been talking a lot about it, declaring that the Senate should act now and pass the bill while they still can.

Many articles and blogs have been lit up about the legislature's inability to pass the bill, which is mostly just an extension of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 that establishes a National School Lunch Program. Last week the Senate passed the bill finally and sites across the internet have been proclaiming this a victory for children everywhere. But...none of the articles I read exactly said why it was a victory. Everyone from the smallest blog to the New York Times insinuated what the passing of this bill meant for the average school age child, how the bill would ensure all children had access to healthy meals, and yet no one really went through the particulars of why it was so crucial.

Did you know that bills before congress and the senate are a matter of public record? No longer do you need to hop a Greyhound Bus to DC to request to see what's in those bills. The finished versions are available as PDF files right on the internet. I wanted to see what was the big fuss. So I downloaded it. All 220 pages of the Child Nutrition Act.

Let me preface all of this by saying, I did not read the entire document. Remember, I have 2 babies, a full time job, 2 hours of commuting time a day and a blog where I post 6 times a week. I am a pretty motivated lady, but I am not an Incredible. The table of contents lays out what is in the bill. The first title lays out the program: a secretary of the program will be hired, they have this much money, each state has a right to the funds provided they apply to the office of the secretary for reimbursement. It is pretty boring but if you would like to establish order for a program that feeds a couple million people a day, it is of utmost importance. I spent most of my time looking at Title 2, Reducing Childhood Obesity and Improving the Diets of Children since this was what most of the articles I have read seemed to talk about. The amount of funding and the program parameters established in Title I are important points that should be hashed out, but maybe not here on this blog. I am concerned about the food.

Within Title 2, there is Subtitle A for the National School Lunch Program. It states that within 18 months of the bill being signed into law, the Secretary of the program is required to establish regulations to update meal patterns and nutritional guidelines for the National School Lunch Program. Once the new regulations are in place, the secretary will establish a date by which all schools have to comply to the new regulations. AND the secretary's office must supply a quarterly report to the Senate to say how they are doing at getting schools to meet the new requirements. Once they get everyone on board, and the new nutritional regulations take effect, schools (and school food service companies) that can prove that they comply to the nutritional standards will be eligible to receive an additional 6 cents for every qualifying meal they serve. Schools have to be certified by the state to get the extra 6 cents.

Did you catch that?

There is nothing in the bill requiring schools to serve healthy food to kids. The intent is there, but the writers of the bill are assigning the Secretary, whoever he/she may be, with the task of deciding what proper nutritional standards are. One good thing though is that they are calling for a revision of the nutritional standards. And these nutritional standards will apply to the food program as well as all foods sold outside the school meals programs, on the school campus and at any time during the school day. But we must wait and see who is hired and what their own background or political motivations are before we can say that positive nutritional change is headed our way. The bill does say that the Secretary must establish standards that are in line with the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990. You know that will be the next bill I download.

Another good thing? Local School Districts have the right to establish their own policies to enforce the regulations under Section 204 (c). So a motivated school board can make sure that their district and their district's food service companies comply. This is a call to action for impassioned teachers across the country in my mind.

Also participating schools must report information about the school's nutrition environment to the Secretary of the program periodically. There seem to be a lot of reports, but that is what keeps people accountable. Reports are a drag, but they are a written record that you have either excelled or failed.

Another VERY INTERESTING program that the Child Nutrition Act establishes? In Title 2, Subtitle A, Section 210, the government establishes the ORGANIC FOOD PILOT PROGRAM. The Secretary is charged with creating a pilot organic food program and providing funds to support it. The bill is not specific about what the program will be. So who knows if the program will end up supplying organic processed pizza to schools? But the bill states that the purpose of the program is to introduce organic foods and raise the nutritional level of school lunches and reduce childhood obesity. For all those eager teachers who want their school to be a part of the pilot program, a school food authority must seek out a contract from the Secretary of the program by applying directly. And preference will be given to applicants who service school districts in which more than 50% of the households are at or below the Federal poverty line. So teachers-if you are teaching in an economically depressed area, get ready to lobby your local food service provider to get them to enroll in this program. The most motivated district will surely see funding. Funding can still go to well off school districts if no one from the tougher areas steps forth and asks for a grant!!

So in short, the bill does a lot of good. It lays a lot of groundwork to make the National School Lunch Program better. But at the same time it leaves huge loop holes in HOW that is to be accomplished. But that is the Senate for you. They do mean well and they do want the best for their constituents. But to do the work and take a stand against the food companies? Better let the program leaders be the bad guys. And if the Secretary ends up being an ex-Sodexo employee? God help us all. There are still a lot of ways that this could stall out with no improvement. Let's all stay tuned and stay involved.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Washington Heights Peach?

Last week, because of their birthdays, I had to take my Things to their annual pediatrician appointment. As we were walking home (everyone is good, healthy and growing) my big guy noticed that one apartment building had a peach tree planted in the small flower bed in front of their building. To my amazement the tree was full of nice big ripe peaches. Thing 1 stopped to check it out, because he loves peaches. I think he was a little surprised to see peaches on a tree since he usually sees them at the Farmer's Market or the grocery store.

We do alot of sharing in our city life. We have to share the sidewalk, our playground, our park, our hallways and elevators. With a little brother now, we share all toys and books. I like the idea that our set of toys is communal. We never had too many problems with "mine-itis" and I think that is because we are always sharing things with other people. But this peach tree was not for sharing. We are at an age now when we are talking alot about other people's property, what is appropriate to touch, whose toys you can play with (those abandoned in the playground) and whose you shouldn't (those in someone else's hands).

As we were stopped, having a conversation about the peaches on the tree, the building's Super overheard me saying that Thing 1 shouldn't take a peach from the tree because it belonged to the people who live in that building, nor should he take the peaches off the ground because they were icky or had worm holes. The Super told me that he had just picked some peaches from the tree and that we should take some home. In his truck nearby he had a big bag of peaches, which he told me to go home and wash because of the prickly peach fuzz. As he left to back inside Thing 1 shouted "THANK YOU!" and the Super called after me "These are organic you know, no pesticides or fertilizer or nothing." After dinner Thing 1 reminded me that I had the peaches in my bag and we all ate them for dessert.

What a special treat this was. I read local food blogs all the time and I love the spirit behind supporting your community's food. I love the connection to regionality and where one is on the earth that comes from eating local and indigenous foods. But to me in New York City, eating local means eating foods that were grown 100 miles north in Columbia County, in Northern New Jersey or Long Island. There is alot of amazing food that comes out of these places, but it is not exactly my backyard. It is unfortunate that the patch of earth that feels my footprints every day will likely never sustain me.

There are a few people who have windowsill herb gardens. I know of some friends that are planting some veggie plants in pots in quiet, out of the way outdoor places. There are a couple of community gardens in the city, and there are some very cool people working on a whole roof top farm in Brooklyn. The interest in Urban Farming is growing in our community, but in the borough of Manhattan it is different. Most buildings do not have any outdoor space, and of those that do, most of them are paved areas in the back of the building with little light because of adjacent buildings. I am fortunate that my building has a full backyard and shrubs and a flower garden, but I share this garden with about 1000 other people and I can't just go and rip up the ground for my own personal use. We would all have to agree that that is what we want to do. Our roof is off limits because of liability and insurance issues, but somehow I am going to find a way to have a tomato plant next year...without pissing off my neighbors...I will just have to keep at it and think of a way.

So to sit with the kids on a lovely cool evening with the windows open and a breeze coming in, and eat peaches grown and serendipitously found in Washington Heights, well it was sublime. For us in the concrete maze we call home, to eat from this land is especially sweet.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

How Do You Eat Healthy While Traveling?

Earlier this week I had a grueling day of travel. Flying to Chicago for two meetings and flying back to New York all in the same day. I was lucky enough to see the baby in the morning before I left, though since that was because he woke up at 5am (and I left the house at 5:45) I am not sure DH felt quite as lucky.

I always find traveling difficult. I am usually in my office all day with access to filtered water, a refrigerator and microwave and healthy restaurants not to mention the biggest Farmer’s Market in the Northeast just a few blocks away. When I fly at least there are various food options available and I can usually find a banana. But last month I drove for a few hours in the car and almost starved since the only thing available at the NJ turnpike rest stops were Burger King or Cinnabon. I try to pack snacks, nuts and a bottle of water, a Larabar, or fruit. But sometimes I simply run out of time and have to purchase food. But the options of whole or unprocessed foods are so limited while you are traveling. What are some things you do to eat healthy while traveling? Are there places you look for because you know you can get healthy or unprocessed foods?

By the way-I am trying to get you to leave a comment. So please don’t be shy.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pickled Peaches

Last week the CSA gifted us 20 peaches. That is far more than two adults, one child and one baby with 5.5 teeth can possibly eat in a given week. After all, I must assume that I will get an equal amount of these perky orbs next week.

A friend recommended pickled peaches. I had never heard of these wonders.My friend said she adored them and that they were amazing. Each website that she suggested to me was written by people who loved these peaches. What did I have to lose except 14 peaches and some sugar? Besides, canning doesn’t scare me!

This recipe is from allrecipes.com, it is entitled Nana’s Southern Pickled Peaches.

Original Recipe Yield 4 quarts
4 cups sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons whole cloves
4 pounds fresh clingstone peaches, blanched and peeled
5 (3 inch) cinnamon sticks

Combine the sugar, vinegar and water in a large pot, and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Press one or two cloves into each peach, and place into the boiling syrup. Boil for 20 minutes, or until peaches are tender.

Spoon peaches into sterile jars and top with liquid to 1/2 inch from the rim. Put one cinnamon stick into each jar. Wipe the rims with a clean dry cloth, and seal with lids and rings. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes to seal, or consult times recommended by your local extension.
I did all of the above except that I made a half batch and I forgot to boil the peaches in the syrup. I just blanched them and quartered them and put them sliced in the jars like that. My jars were too small to fit whole peaches, so that is my excuse. But really I didn’t read that part of the recipe until the cans were in the water bath. I am sure that mine won’t be as good as yours. But I am getting another 4 pounds worth of fruit soon (really by the time this posts I will have already gotten more). So I am planning on putting these babies up until the fall or winter when I can crack them open and relive the glory days of 80 degree weather and warm breezes and kids that can stay up until 9 because it is still light out and everyone is in a good mood. Only thing is, I put a cinnamon stick in each jar so that they would look pretty-is that going to introduce bacteria and screw everything up?

I had a few peaches that wouldn’t fit into my jars, so they are in a Tupperware in the fridge. Those I will sample this week. Looking forward to it!! The syrup tasted awesome when I sampled it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Give Me Your Ugly, Malformed and Unpretty Foods

On a normal weekend I will take Thing 1 to the farmer's market and then the grocery store (in that order) on Saturday morning while Thing 2 stays home with my DH and naps. It has become a nice time to spend some special time with Thing 1 and get him excited about eating fresh real food.

We always go to both markets and this week the Farmer's Market was again bursting with high summer goodness. Tomatoes and squash and eggplants, among others were all just waiting to be scooped up. When we arrived at the grocery store I noticed, there was not one ugly vegetable to be purchased. Even in the organic section, all the roma tomatoes were about the same size and perfect shape. The cucumbers were all the same color with no yellow 'ground spots' on one side. The broccoli were all tight and taut and the apples were all perfection. Not a worm hole in sight. The farmer's market on the other hand has food that looks like it was grown in the real world. Sometimes the carrots are forked in the middle. Some apples are different sizes than the others. Some broccoli buds are blown out on one side while the other side is tight and closed. The food at the farmer's market looks natural. And the flavor is more intense. The peaches taste sweeter, the carrots are sweet but also spicy-bitter like a root vegetable should be. The tomatoes taste the way everyone knows a tomato should taste. My grocery store is great. But the veggies all taste clean. The organic ones have more flavor for sure, but even they taste like supermarket veggies, and of course everything is so damn good looking.

The taste of farmer's market food to me is a big reason why I write about food. I don't care if something is crooked, spotted, bent, notched or twisted. If it is crisp and fresh, sweet and delicious, I will love it just fine.

I encourage you to embrace ugly food. A generation ago Joni Mitchel sang "Farmer, Farmer put away your DDT. I don't care about spots on my apples, leave me the birds and the bees." Today the debate is still about what chemicals are finding their way into our food supply in the name of beautiful food. But it is also about the food experience of which we are being robbed. Conventional produce just doesn't taste the same as it did two generations ago. Perhaps there never was a golden veggie era that I imagine that there was. Many decades ago grocery stores were really just dry goods stores and you still bought all your fruits and veggies from open air temporary markets. I still think farmer's markets are the answer for an urban population. There are now over 6000 farmer's markets across the US and that is on the rise. I pray that one day everyone has both access to a farmer's market and the desire to shop there for fresh food. And then in between today and that day, perhaps the next step is growing your own garden like people did so many years ago. However for those of us whose plot line ends at the front door with no yard of any kind to speak of, we will still rely on others to grow food for us. I will buy from real people who grow real food. Ugly or not.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


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I hope you see somthing that you like!

CSA Week 10

This week at the CSA we got another cornucopia of veg. One bunch of yukina, one head of lettuce, one beefsteak tomato, 2 small tomatoes, 24 cherry yellow tomatoes, two green bell peppers, teo onions, 2 zucchinis, 2 cucumbers, one bunch of radishes, four hungarian hot peppers, five ears of corn and a basket of black plums.

We all got a summer tummy bug last week so we weren't eating much, and veggies were not the food of choice when we did eat. I ended up with alot of leftover veggies. So I made vegetable curry! A new dish to clean out the veggie drawer.

I started with one small onion, two baby eggplants and three carrots. I sauteed everything in peanut oil (by the way-unrefined peanut oil will make everything taste like peanut butter, I pray you do not make the same mistake). Then I added three very ripe tomatoes. If I was writing a cookbook I would tell you to remove the skins, but this is a weeknight meal, so the skins go in! When that gets all cooked down I added curry powder, ground ginger, granulated garlic and cumin. Then I added three small cubed potatoes (peeled of course) and the two patty pan squash from last week. Adjust the seasoning and serve over basmati rice with plain yogurt. Very nice. And now I have room for all of this week's stuff.

And by the way-Happy Birthday Thing 2!! I can't believe you are a YEAR old today!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Have I Been Too Hard?

Today I am asking, have I been too hard on highly processed food additives like Guar Gum and Xanthan Gum and Modified Food Starch?

Bob's Red Mill is an excellent manufacturer of all manner of wonderful flours and grains. I buy a couple different things from them, flaxseed meal, organic polenta, etc. If my miller at the farmer's market doesn't have something that I am looking for I like to buy Bob's products.

The other day though I was looking for almond flour or coconut flour (yes, to my friend who lives abroad--I was attempting to make the recipes you sent me) and I noticed in the corner a couple of small bags of guar gum and xanthan gum and textured vegetable protein. I have to say that I was surprised to see a fine purveyor making wonderful healthful goods along with items I also considered highly processed and bordering on non-food. These highly processed food stuffs all help fake food look and act more real. But they also, more innocently, help gluten free breads keep their shape, among other things.

I have read in several sources recently that being a vegetarian or flexitarian is really the best diet for your long term health. I have considered going vegetarian for health reasons. But I know I wouldn't eat enough protein and I need a good amount of protein to stay healthy and maintain my energy. If I could get 50-60g of protein a day from beans and veggies I probably would give up meat. But the kids don't really eat beans (not yet!!), nor does DH. If I went vegetarian I would probably have to turn to TVP and other highly processed soy products that come ready made in order to get the protein I need. I have known so many vegetarians that have gone down that route. But this I feel would be against the point of doing it in the first place.

A month or so ago I purchased Vital Wheat Gluten Flour from Bob's Red Mill so that my whole wheat muffins would hold together better. Two tablespoons of the Vital Gluten Flour to two cups of organic whole wheat flour certainly helped me to eat healthier but making 100% whole wheat muffins and get more of the muffin in my mouth, but did I cross the line by essentially adding a binder to my muffins?

What do you think? (I really don't know, so I am asking for your comments please...)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hot Hot Hot Sauce

Early last week, as I was contemplating my food priorities and closing some of the 'loopholes' in my current program, I had a yummy treat-a bagel with scallion cream cheese and lox. What better condiment to go with my yummy treat? Hot Sauce.

For anyone who has never had a spicy novie, go out and make one, they are divine. Soak some lox in your favorite hot sauce overnight and then place on top of a toasted bagel spread with cream cheese. Add thinly sliced cucumbers and red onion. Jeeeeez. It is really good.

In my friendly office I knew several people who keep hot sauce in the fridge and I borrowed a tablespoon or so from someone I knew wouldn't mind. She had Trader Joe's brand of hot sauce, which from the cult following I figured would be a good options. It was delicious. But I looked at the ingredients afterwards just to check. They were (from memory-sorry if I omit something) Peppers, Garlic, Salt, Spices, Xanthan Gum. Xanthan Gum? Huh? Another colleague had a bottle of Cholula brand sauce and I checked that one. It had Xanthan Gum too.

Xanthan Gum is a fermented polysaccharide that is derived from corn syrup that is used as a thickener in many food application. Like HFCS it is made from food, but I don't really count it as food. It is fermented because the bacteria Xanthamonas campestris is introduced into standard issue corn syrup. The bacteria eats the sugar chains in the corn syrup breaking them down into a single substance that is like a colorless slime with properties similar to cornstarch. This bacteria Xanthamonas Camestris is the same bacteria responsible for black rot on vegetables like broccoli and the like. Xanthan Gum will not make you sick from the bacteria, but yet again. I don't really want to be eating this stuff.

When I went to the supermarket last weekend I checked different bottles to see who had what in there. All the varieties of Cholula all contained Xanthan Gum. Most of the small brand hot sauces did not. All the Roland varieties had some kind of stabilizer in there. They produce many types of products from regular hot sauce to Asian sriracha sauce. I found the ingredients to Tabasco Sauce online which I was pretty impressed about, they only use peppers, salt and vinegar.

My most favoritest hot sauce in the world is Frank's Red Hot. When I was pregnant with Thing 1 I would balance a plate of tater tots on my belly and eat each one drenched in Hot Sauce. I was surprised that I did not give birth to a tater tot actually. I ate an entire bag every week, by myself, without fail. I was really scared that I would have to give up my favorite hot sauce.

Thankfully, Frank's Red Hot only contains Aged Cayenne Peppers, Vinegar, Water, Salt and Garlic Powder. Whew! Another bullet dodged.

And by the way--Happy Birthday Thing 1!!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Brown Eggs Vs White Eggs, Winner Takes All!

If you have ever wondered what was the difference between white eggs and brown eggs, well wonder no more.
I started to buy brown eggs a couple years ago when I switched to organic eggs. I found that organic eggs were usually brown. And I always thought they were very pretty. I felt good eating them! I pay more for the eggs because they are organic, but I wondered, are all brown eggs better than white eggs? The snob in me said 'yes', the investagator in me said 'I have no idea'.
Nutritionally the inside of an egg is the same regardless of the color of the shell. For those of us that believe the early scientific findings that say that organic food contains more nutrients than conventional food, organic eggs will still be superior. But the color of the shell does not influence nutritional value. Rather the color comes from a pigment that is derived from hemglobin called protoporphyin. This pigment is also responsible for tinting the chickens feather's brown or slightly red, which is why some folks say that brown chickens lay brown eggs and white chickens lay white eggs. The white chickens simply don't have the protoporphyin.
Other interesting information, in many birds (not just chickens), protoporphyin is often laid onto the egg in the form of spots when the mother hen doesn't have enough calcium to make a shell that is hard enough. Wikipedia says that if a bird with protoporphyin lays 10 eggs it is more likely that the last eggs laid will have spots as her body has lower amounts of calcium in it after laying the first eggs. Interesting.
I think there is a common thought these days that brown eggs are more healthful than white eggs. I used to wonder if perhaps white eggs were bleached before coming to market. Well, no, consumers of yesterday overwhelmingly preferred white eggs. Hence, there were more white eggs in the store. Now the display of brown eggs is about equal in my grocery store, organic and conventional both. I like having the choice, but I definitely buy brown eggs because of some deep seated assumption that they are more natural, even though they aren't. I like my brown eggs.
And now that we have that cleared up. I am going to keep buying them.
In researching this post, I came across the transcript of an NPR interview with Marie Simmons, author of the book The Good Egg. In the interview, Simmons recounts what sounds to be a lovely recipe. Bake a potato in the oven until baked through. Remove from the oven and cut open the top. Remove some potato and put in some olive oil or butter as well as parmesean cheese. Crack an egg into a small bowl (to easily pick out any stray shells) then pour the egg into the potato. Put it back into the oven until the egg is cooked to the desired consistency. I would top with more cheese. I haven't made this-but doesn't it sound good??

Friday, August 6, 2010

Are There Things I Just Shouldn't Eat? Take 2

Yesterday I discussed my food priorities. Today I discuss what I am going to do with stuff that doesn't fall on the list.In food, with my rules, there is 'white food', 'gray food' and 'black food'.

White food is easy-it is pure, local, organic and healthful. Done. Some of my food falls into this category.

Most of what I eat falls into the 'gray' category. But even there, some foods are more 'off white' while some are 'charcoal grey'. In the 'off white' category I would say that it is pure (read whole or minimally processed), local and healthful but not 100% organic. Or maybe it is pure, healthful and organic, but it comes from the West Coast. You see what I mean? I still feel great about food that meets three of the 4 rules.

'Charcoal gray' food is a food that meets maybe only one or two of the 4 rules. Maybe it is locally made cherry pie, local but conventional and not really healthful and maybe it even has white flour (!!!!!), more on that later. I try to limit these. A splurge to keep up the spirits is fine, but more than once or twice a month and it's a habit, not a splurge.

There are a couple of foods that have been like question marks, falling smack dab in the middle. They are white flour (I am not talking about enriched flour here, that's a whole different ballgame), refined sugar and juice. These things are technically processed foods. I consider any food that has been taken out of it's original whole food context to be processed. But these foods are pretty straightforward with one or two steps of processing. Adding synthetic vitamins, preservatives or non food chemicals is not what I am talking about. In their most basic state white flour, sugar and juice are not evil franken foods. But they don't offer a lot in the way of nutrition. So I am limiting those. But for the sake of saying 'what gets eliminated', I am trying to focus more on items that are more industrial in nature. I am not going to eliminate white flour, sugar and juice for the sake of this blog, but I will limit them for the sake of my family's health. (Especially refined sugar which is not good at all, I like to replace it where I can with natural sugars, but it is everywhere and I would like to enjoy my life, so I will not sweat a little sugar)

And then there is 'black' food. Food that meets none of the rules is automatically off the list. First off, if it meets none of the rules, then it must break the first rule that food be food! And the whole point of this blog is non-processed foods. So even though I never eat them, I will now officially commit to ditching Coke, Diet Coke, other sodas, Cheese puffs and other snack foods that include charming ingredients like powdered cheese, American cheese, traditional hot dogs, chemical additives like MSG and Splenda, high-fructose corn syrup, conventional frozen processed french fries, conventional tater tots (my first true love), chicken nuggets, power bars and protein powders, margarine and shortening.. And there have got to be others. Tell me what I missed! What else is a 'black' food to you?

Our diets are varied. And truth be told, while I am a card carrying Michael Pollan soldier, I am equally as much a soldier in James Beard's war against boring fare. The kitchen needs passion and color and excitement and fat. At least 4 people emailed me off the blog about my posting about salmon covered in cream last week. Now you know why I don't blog about my baby spinach salads, just about the raspberry dressing. Food is and should be sensory. I don't just want to reduce food to it's nutritional nuts and bolts. I don't want to eat something that is high in omega-3's because it is the right thing to do, I want to eat it because it is delicious and makes me happy! I also want my blog and my recipe's to feel accessible to other people, like encouragement to do the healthy right thing! I really want to eat healthy, delicious food. And I do believe that it can be both.

Defining the rules this week has helped me to plan out the 'second trimester' of my non-processed foods project. In order to challenge myself down the road I have got to be specific about my short term goals. I place a heavy importance on homemade items, but I know not everything can be made from scratch. Or maybe I just haven't figured out how just yet-wink, wink.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Food Priorities

Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to what my blog really is, and how far I will really go to eliminate processed foods. Check out this very cool family in North Carolina who is eating nothing but whole unprocessed foods for 100 days. Very Cool! But I have been pondering the finer points of the experiment as it relates to me, how processed is too processed, and are there certain foods that I should not eat regardless of the circumstances? Then one step further, are there foods that I would not allow my child to have at all, even outside the home? They are not easy questions.

Last week I caved. Work was crazy last week. Intense meetings all week ended in some very good work done by all. But I was concentrating on my job, not food. In a frosty plexiglass container beautiful red and silver cans of Coke and Diet Coke bobbed gently in ice water. Although catering was a healthy mix of salad and roasted veggies and a variety of sandwiches, I couldn't help myself. I grabbed a Diet Coke. I just wanted it. I figured that the Diet Coke would be better than regular Coke, but why? High Fructose Corn Syrup is no great ingredient, it is processed and high in calories. But was I really choosing aspartame, a non food chemical, over a processed food? Huh? Where is the logic in that?

Needless to say I was very conflicted over the decision and had some considerable internal dialogue about it. When I sat down with my lunch and Diet Coke a dear friend and colleague, who happens to have subscribed to the email service of The Table of Promise, innocently said 'Oh I am surprised to see you drink that.' Now dear friend-I know you will read this, no offense taken, you really would have to work overtime to offend me. But the statement did give me pause.

I have been at other functions where family or friends have apologized about the food being fattening or not organic. So I thought about my food priorities so I could set the record straight. I don't want people thinking I am offended! BTW-Michael Pollan has already committed most of these rules to print in Food Rules. But the below is a list of MY top priorities after 3 months of living this way. By the way, these are listed in order of importance, not every food has to conform to all rules.

First, I think food should be real food. What do I mean? Food should not contain chemicals or preservatives, additives or chemicals. Food should be straightforward and simple and as close to it's whole state as possible. I also think that if it is not possible to make a certain product in your own kitchen or if you cannot buy the ingredients without a chemistry degree or some kind of wholesale business licence, then it doesn't belong in my body. I am happy to let others cook for me, but you gotta do it my way. That means Cheetos and American Cheese are out. Same goes for anything with chemicals, nitrates, non-natural preservatives. Bye bye Diet Coke. You were a good friend for many years, but, it's me not you.

Second, food should be healthful. I love a good pie and I go though a stick of butter a week cooking for my family (and about a liter of olive oil a month), but I eat a lot more raw veggies and lean grass fed meats than some of the more fattening stuff I sometimes blog about. The reason I am able to eat stuff like cheese grits and cherry pie and salmon covered in cream is because I usually consume nothing but oatmeal or yogurt, nuts, raw veggies and some chicken before dinnertime. The amount of veggies and fruit I eat in a typical day is way larger than any other food group.

Third, food should be local. I think it is important that we support our local community. I am way more interested in buying a product from a local source that may or may not be organic rather than finding one that is certified organic but trucked in from California. I am not dissing on anything from Cali, but I live about 3000 miles away from there. (I actually have some serious California envy, I wish I lived closer, but I will save my California food affair for when I am in closer proximity) So it makes more sense that I would eat stuff local to me.

Lastly, food should be organic. I do actually believe this. But it is the least important in my food priorities. 'Organic' as a term has become so commonplace these days that many people believe that it is synonymous with 'healthful'. The only thing the term organic refers to is how the product was raised. It cannot be genetically modified, it cannot be sprayed with pesticides or fertilizers and for processed foods it cannot contain certain unapproved additives and preservatives. I have looked it up-check out what the USDA says about it.

For my food priorities, there are all kinds of 'grayish foods', like salad greens that are neither local nor organic, or strawberries that are local but not organic. Or locally made breads. What about organic American Cheese? Most foods do not conform to all my rules, but it meets a few. Sometimes we don't have a choice at all. I eat the catering at work when it is served to me because that is what is offered, but I'll choose the most healthful offerings (most of the time). My grocery store has many organic choices, but not everything is available to me at all times due to seasonality or limited availability. I actually kind of like not being able to get anytime I want. It makes it special. I like to eat organic and local, but if I cannot, I am going to eat food, like real fresh food such as meat and veggies and fruits and whole grains.

So I use the above rules to decide what the buy. If the organic local tomatoes look like they are on their last legs, I will sometimes opt for the local non-organic ones and other times I will buy a different vegetable altogether. I try to shop seasonally without too many recipes in mind. But it is all about balance. The more I think about this the more I realize that it is hard to put into words that EVERYONE will understand. Perhaps it is more art than science.

Tomorrow, what is just totally off the menu?