Monday, May 17, 2010

Parent vs Madison Avenue

I haven’t had a good rant in a while and I’m due.

The issue is the talk about regulating the marketing of junk / highly processed food to children.
Here are the major issues—marketers are pushing high fat, salt and sugar food with loads of preservatives and flavor enhancing chemicals to children through electronic media, the second is that childhood obesity is linked to sedentary lifestyle.

My question is: Who is raising the kids? Madison Avenue or parents?
Don’t want to answer that, do you?

The recipe for the cure is very simple, doesn’t cost any more than the families are spending now and anyone can do it.

The ingredients: minimally processed food (families have to buy food anyway, they just need to choose better) and a parent with a spine.

Shut off the TV, computers, video games and mp3 players allow 1 TV program, and 30 minutes of video games at predetermined times each week. The kids will miss most of the brainwashing the corporate media provides. Their friends will influence them to some point, but by the time they get old enough for it to be a big issue the parents would have the kids trained to eat real food. They will whine, but no one ever said that parenting is an easy job.

The second step is to push the children outside to play.
When they come back inside give them a piece of fruit and a glass of water or a peanut butter sandwich and push them back outside. When dinner time comes the parent chooses an appropriate meal of minimally processed nutrient dense food, which the child eats because no other options are offered. If a child refuses to eat the minimally processed food, put it on the plate any way. If they don’t eat it the first second or third meals, don’t sweat it. They will eat it when they are hungry and kids get hungry pretty quickly.

This is where the spine comes in, the parents can’t bend to the child’s pleas for junk. The parents cannot have junk food in the house, except on specific occasions such as birthdays or holidays because they will eat it if it is there. (The parents might lose a few pounds too doing this!)

Repeat daily until the children are old enough to learn how to cook and then integrate Kids Cook Nights. Then the parents will get served things like borscht, squid stir fries, chicken with noodles and veggies, baked chicken with baked potatoes and a salad by their children, like I get served by my child. She is eight, she can do most things except drain boiling liquids on her own (I’ll admit that she has been in training on/near my hip since she was an infant). She is going to bake and frost my birthday cake next month, from scratch.

When it all starts to work the parents need to brag about it to all their friends, so that it becomes a standard expectation for parents and other people will follow them.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stinky Stuff Fusion

I made millet the other day, I like to play with grains/starches. I get bored with the rice, noodle, potato routine. It is bland like all the rest and goes with just about everything. I picked it up at an Asian grocery, which I find to be much less expensive and has much better stock turnover than most health food stores. It is cooked just like rice except that it requires 3 parts water for 1 part millet.
Today’s meal was to go with the leftover millet, so I walked out to the garden, picked a bit of the red chard, washed and chopped it and then stared at it for a few moments to figure out what it wanted to be when it grew up. I decided that it needed to be a sort of Indian meal, but not quite. I wanted the lime tang of Vietnamese food…so I chopped an onion, and two carrots from the garden.
The chard in the garden is about to go to seed, so I am eating as much of it as I can. I hated chard as a kid, but once I learned that vegetables can be seasoned with more than salt, pepper and a bit of butter, and don’t need to be cooked until they are unrecognizable, a whole new world opened up.

I pulled out my grandmother’s trusty cast iron skillet and heated a little oil. Into that oil I tossed asafoetida, yes, you folks who took Latin read that right, it means stinky stuff, another name for it is hing. The folks in India who have religious reasons for not using garlic or just don’t like garlic or bad breath use it instead, the scent does cling to your clothes though. I think it is great, and it really lets you know who your real friends are!
Next some black mustard seeds, and cumin seeds. When those started popping, I tossed in a little turmeric, some garam masala, and some red pepper. As soon as the red pepper hit the pan I grabbed the chopped onion and tossed it in, because I know that if it smokes I’ll be coughing while opening every window in the house. Next went in the carrots and the stems of the chard. When those were softened, I added the greens, tossed it a bit and then put on the cover and turned it to low. While that was cooking I zapped the millet. I scooped the greens into the bowl, scooped some chick peas in on top and drizzled a little lime juice with a bit of sugar over the top of it all.

Very yummy, very filling, has complete proteins, and certainly is not boring. It has no name, but today I called it lunch.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Yes, yes, I disappeared for a bit and then surprised everyone the other day by returning to my blog.

I have presented myself with a challenge, I decided to take off the pounds I accumulated while trying to get over my lower back issues. I am back to my old self, now is the time to make a new improved self.

I’m not following any traditional diet, I eat when my stomach growls and eat to what the Japanese call “hara hachi bu”, three quarters full, sated but not “full”. One of my main meals each day is to be vegan. One condition of this—the food must taste good, be interesting and this whole thing needs to feel like a challenge rather than a sacrifice. I am also writing down everything that I eat each day to make sure I am getting a good balance of foods and to keep myself honest, you will not be subjected to the daily details of that.

It does seem to be working.

I am stating this simply because the pattern of my recipes will change a bit, but they will still contain funky international stuff and experiments with old fashioned ingredients. I figure that a huge portion of the world population lives a near vegetarian life, not for philosophical reasons, but for economic ones, and as a result there has to be a wealth of recipes out there that taste good. I intend to find them.

My garden is bursting with greens at the moment, soon the cabbage caterpillars will win the collard battle, but until they do collards are a regular part of my days. Collards, for a Northerner, are a foreign food. So, when I realized that they are one of the most productive veggies in this climate, I decided that I needed to figure out what to do with them. I pick them, give the ones the caterpillars have won to the chickens and head inside with the rest. I strip the thick stem from the leaves, wash/soak them in a big bowl of salted water (take that, you nasty caterpillars!) while I prep everything else.

The recipe I made yesterday is in the Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special cookbook, by the Moosewood Collective in Ithaca, NY. Of course, since I am incapable of following a recipe all the way through, and since I usually refuse to run to the store for a missing ingredient, it is a little different from their recipe. I have made this recipe many times over the years, Asian Beet and Tofu Salad, it has gone over very well, even with folks who I didn’t think would touch tofu. I substituted collards for the spinach and I did not have scallions on hand, so I put in onion and then added extra herbs.

Here is what I did:
1 can of beets (I’m saving the ones in the garden for oven roasting)
1 14-16 oz cake of firm tofu
A mess of collard greens, which down here is a measurement and folks are supposed to understand—just the average bundle of greens in the market would do.

1/3 c soy sauce
½ c lemon juice
3 garlic cloves
1 T ginger root
¾ of an onion
A mixed handful of basil, cilantro and mint from the garden, chopped

Wash collard greens and chop into small pieces. Place in a skillet with barely enough water to cover, simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until the larger veins are tender. Do not over-cook. Drain.
Cut tofu into small sticks or triangles, place on a plate covered with paper towels (or sack cloth/tea towel –I have some that I use for food prep only, draining tofu, yogurt and cheese, etc.) Place a layer of toweling over the tofu and then another plate and a weight of some sort-a cast iron pan or a can or two of tomatoes. Let this sit until the rest of the ingredients are prepped.
Mince garlic and ginger, chop onion and herbs. Drain can of beets (or cook fresh beets and drain them).
Mix all marinade ingredients together and place the tofu in the bowl. Let sit for ten minutes. Make a cup of tea (not required, but this is how I do it) and check the mail. Scoop the tofu out with a slotted spoon and arrange in the center of a serving plate. Place the beets in the marinade remaining in the bowl. Let sit ten minutes. Meanwhile, c heck your e-mail and read the news headlines. Use the slotted spoon to remove the beets and arrange them around the tofu on the serving plate. Place the collards in the marinade and set the table and wash the utensils, colander and pan that you have dirtied. Scoop out the collards, and arrange them around the beets.
For something a little different visually, use the fresh beets and put them into the marinade first and then put the tofu into the marinade. You will end up with hot pink tofu.
Tastes even better the second day, but it’s less visually appealing.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Fruit Quest Crisp

My daughter has been inquiring about berry crisp for over a week and I could see that she wouldn’t be able to contain that craving for much longer.
(Wonder where she got that from??)

We found a pick-your-own blueberry farm in the next town over (Bluebela Farms LLC ) and decided that it was time to make our late-spring (in Florida, at least) pilgrimage to the bushes.
Following the lead of a recent animated film my family has been calling our excursions to new places "adventures", and often the term is quite true.

Today, we had the excitement of having the google map directions be completely bizarre.

After fifteen minutes of the directions making absolutely no sense, the map showed a straight road and we had completed two ninety degree turns and encountered intersections with roads that weren’t featured on the map, and the road up ahead looking like it was taking us deep into Florida beef cattle country, I was all set to turn around on the next road and give it up for another day. As we started our turn, I realized that it actually was the road to the farm.

I didn’t have to break it to my daughter that this evening might not be the best time for our adventure. Good.

Two minutes later we were turning up the drive. As with every good farm that sells to the public, this farm had the welcoming committee of friendly dogs lazing in the driveway and then sidling up to the car for an ear scratch or two. The greeters led us to the people who work for them, handing out buckets, making change and such. We each got our bucket, and headed for the rows of Emerald and Jewel blueberry bushes.

It was the end of a busy weekend, the wrong time to go a pick-your-own (PYO) farm, but since my daughter had been sick for most of the week this was our first opportunity to head outside. There were ripe berries on the bushes, but they were hiding amongst the leaves, the easy to see berries were long gone.

My daughter was purposely picking berries with a little bit of reddish purple because she likes the tang. Then she wanted to know why I was laughing at her, but I wasn’t, I was having déjà vu of a time when, at about the same age, I had to explain to my mother why I was picking McIntosh apples that were slightly green. The picking was a little slow going, but we picked a couple of pounds and decided to come back mid-week when fewer people would be picking and more berries would be ripe or almost ripe.

As we paid for our berries and chatted with the farm owners, we mentioned our blueberry crisp urgency and Angela requested the recipe, so here it is:

Fruit Quest Crisp

4-5 c fruit blueberries, blackberries, peaches, apples--whatever you have (slice apples or other large fruit, I often don't even peel the apples)
1 Tbs lemon juice (for apples or other fruit that discolors or needs a little something)
2/3 c flour
1 c brown sugar
2 c rolled oats (old fashioned, not quick, the texture changes)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c melted margarine (1 stick)

Preheat oven to 375º

Grease a rectangular 9X12 pan or casserole.
Place fruit in a layer, if using apples, sprinkle with lemon juice.
Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl with the melted margarine until crumbly. Sprinkle over apples and bake at 375º for 30 min.
Serve with ice cream, whipped cream or with milk.

It is supposed to be a dessert, but it tastes good for breakfast the next day warmed up with a little milk on it. It’s oatmeal, right?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Leftover Fusion

The two nights ago I prepared a full Indian meal with Saag Paneer (I substituted blanched collards for spinach, because they were on hand, the paneer was home made with goat milk), dal, rice, cucumber koshimbir and tomato koshimbir and tortillas, since I hadn’t made any bread. Since it had been quite a bit of work to put together and I was hungry, I immediately began to eat. A few minutes into the meal my husband reminded me that I should have taken a picture of my plate for the blog.

I seem to be completely incapable of making a small pot of dal, no matter what I do there always seems to be a vat when I am done, so I am in search of ways to creatively use it. I’ve made fritters much like falafel in the past, today I decided to make dal pancakes. I added two eggs, water, flour and baking powder until it looked like pancake batter.

I pulled out a relish I made a couple of weeks ago with kumquats and cranberries, that was uninspiring, and added Vietnamese chili garlic sauce and rice vinegar to turn it into a sweet chutney.
I pulled out my trusty cast iron pan, cooked up pancakes and topped them with the gloriously bright red chutney. It tastes even better than it looks, and it is good for you!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Two days before Christmas, gingerbread cookies are all frosted, the shortbread cookies are gone, the homemade marshmallows are topping coffee and hot chocolate. The real cooking frenzy is about to begin. The more savory stuff is about to come at a rapid pace.

Tomorrow, on Christmas Eve we will continue a fifty-one year tradition for my family, we will eat what my mother prepared for her first Christmas Eve as a married woman and every year since: pork chops, baked macaroni and cheese, and applesauce and family made fruitcake (We will eat no other fruitcake). I’ve asked her why she chose this meal, her response: “I really didn’t know how to cook anything else!” We usually ate pretty late, because my mom usually didn’t start wrapping presents until that day and the whole house had to be cleaned before the extended family came over on Christmas Day. Around 9:00 PM, we’d sit down to this meal, which really set it apart from the rest of the year, because we usually ate promptly at 5:30 PM.

When I lived alone thousands of miles from my family, I made this meal for myself on Christmas Eve. Visions of feetie jammies, Mario Lanza caroling, and the raw anticipation of a kid on the big night run through my mind as I prepare this meal. It wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without it. This year, my mom took pity on my family and shipped a bottle of her homemade apple sauce for us to eat. Florida can only grow two kinds of apples (I only know of one orchard) and they are ripe in the spring, so making applesauce around here just isn’t practical and the jar stuff from the supermarket leaves much to be desired. We’ll eat our meal knowing that my sisters and my mom will be eating exactly the same meal 1800 miles away.

It’s funny that Christmas Day for us has less in the way of food traditions, growing up we would have roast beef, ham or turkey, with whatever sides we felt like having that year and with assorted pies—always including mincemeat and squash--for dessert. This year, my family will be really non-traditional, we are having chao shi (Chinese roast pork), mien tang (noodles in broth with shitake mushrooms and greens), and eggplant with garlic sauce. We will have pumpkin pie and cookies for dessert (if any are left at that point, hmmmm might need more).
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Squash Posole Pantry Scrounge

Trying to find ways to cook that involve minimal standing time in the kitchen and then minimizing cleanup time has been a challenge since many processed foods contain dairy (cow milk) products. Using the items available that do not contain dairy products, I have been able to conjure up a few interesting meals.

Last night I took some Boston butt roast (about 1.5 lbs) and popped it into the pressure cooker with tomatoes and water intending to make chili. While it was cooking, I changed my mind. Thinking of a recipe I have made a few times that uses squash, tomatoes and green beans with chipotle peppers, I started improvising. First considering the seven year old taste buds that were to eat this, the hot peppers were relegated to a condiment.

Next, I pulled out some frozen squash and defrosted it, then chopped an onion and caramelized it in olive oil. When the pork was tender I pulled it out of the tomatoes to cool, then added the squash, caramelized onions, chili powder (the, oh so chic, Sam’s Club variety), a couple of good shakes of smoked paprika, lots of black pepper and a bit of salt to the tomatoes. That cooked down a bit while I chopped the pork into bite sized pieces and then returned it to the pot. I added canned kidney and black beans (rinsed), and in a moment of inspiration tossed in a can of (drained) hominy. This was served in bowls with gas flame toasted tortillas (done right on the burner of the stove, as one of my former students who hailed from Michoacan, Mexico taught me-the best method I've found so far), a dollop of goat’s milk yogurt and red pepper for the adults. It ended up being a squash posole.

This meal dirtied a total of two pans, one cutting board, one sharp knife, one wooden spoon, four bowls, and four spoons.

It tastes even better for breakfast the next day!

Low Effort Squash Posole
Approx 6 servings
1.5 lbs Boston butt pork roast
1 can diced tomatoes, 15 oz
2 c water
1 pkg frozen cooked winter squash
1 onion, chopped
1 t cumin seed
1 T olive oil
2 t chili powder
½ t smoked paprika
1 t oregano
Black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1 can of black beans, 15 oz, rinsed and drained
1 can of kidney beans, 15 oz, rinsed and drained
Yogurt or sour cream to garnish
Your favorite hot pepper condiment
Cook pork, tomatoes and water for 45 minutes in the pressure cooker (until pork is tender). Meanwhile chop the onion, and caramelized with the olive oil with the cumin seed in a skillet. Drain and rinse the beans and drain the hominy. Have a cup of tea and read a book in the extra time. When the meat is tender, remove it to cool. To the pot add the onions, squash, spices, beans, salt and hominy. Chop the meat into bite sized pieces and return to the pot. Cook about ½ hour longer to develop flavor, get back to your tea and book. Immediately before serving toast tortillas directly on the burner of the stove (it works on both electric and gas stoves) and only takes a few seconds. Place into serving bowls and garnish with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and hot pepper condiment of your choice.