New leaf?

Nov. 13th, 2012 12:41 am
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English: Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) with vari...

English: Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) with variously colored stems on sale at an outdoor farmers’ market in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the pantry project is ongoing, but just lately Glinda and I have started talking quite seriously about how badly we tend to eat.  To that end, we’ve made a couple of pacts:  First we said salad once a week, minimum.  By which we meant dinner salad.  This was a good decision but badly thought out because it’s gotten cold here and the last thing we want for dinner is a cold salad.  Tonight we agreed that a heavily vegetable-based meal would do as well in the cold months.  Of course we agreed this while eating a perfectly delicious meal of a half of a (large) sweet potato each, some freshly roasted chicken with lemon zest, curry powder and garlic, and a fantastic kale salad that was pretty much the same as my Swiss chard with lemon and ginger except served cold, not hot like the chard.  When you can eat things that taste so good, eating better is not a hardship.

The other pact?  Fish at least once a month.  We made that agreement over a month ago and tomorrow night will be our first proper fish meal since I don’t count tuna casseroles.  I suppose I could or should, but I don’t.  Glinda’s cooking, YAYZ!

It’s all well and good to make promises like that but going at it rather haphazardly is a recipe for disaster (Forgive the pun. Normally I’m not given to them, but sometimes they race up and whap you over the head.)  So after having experimented with about a week of making a to-do list every day, I observed, over coffee on Saturday, that we really should try mapping out a week’s worth of menus.  Since we were going shopping on Sunday, we could decide what we wanted to make and then make a shopping list too.  I mean, this is what real people do, right?  Grown-ups.

So we talked about it for a while, and came up with the following:

  • Saturday: Tuna noodle casserole.  It was already planned so not a big stretch.
  • Sunday: Butter chicken.  Glinda makes a great butter chicken curry.
  • Monday: Sweet potato with kale.  Alas, I lost track of the recipe I wanted to use so I had to improvise.  The reason there was chicken was that we went to the meat dept. of Whole Paycheck and got a roasting chicken and a rump roast.  Why there?  Well, if we’re going to eat meat at all, and we both still do, we would at least like to make healthier and more humane choices.  We’re willing to pay more for that, but then it becomes all the more imperative that we make good use of what we buy.  So… wait, what was I saying?  Oh yeah, the chicken.  We got a roaster and I cooked it this afternoon.  I figured we’d have some with dinner, and then I’d cut the rest of the meat off the carcass and use it for chicken a la king at a later date (It’s in the freezer now.) The carcass is in the slow cooker with six cups of broth and some herbs.  It’ll be ready some time tomorrow morning.  This is spreading the cost of the $10 chicken out across at least three meals and possibly four or five.  Yes, it’d be even cheaper from some other source but like I said we’re paying for our principles.  Oh yeah and we’re collecting drippings for the Thanksgiving gravy because Glinda’s sister, Laurie is The Gravy Master and uses all sorts of drippings in her masterpiece.
  • Tuesday is fish and veg.  Glinda is in charge.  I’m really looking forward to it.
  • Wednesday is what my friend, Gwen, used to call “Choice day.”  You take what’s in the fridge or you fend for yourself.
  • I’m excited about Thursday because I’ll be making some jumbo shell pasta stuffed with a chard and ricotta mixture and baked in homemade marinara from our neighbor, Linda.  How many times can I say that we have the best neighbors on earth before everyone tells me to shut up?
  • Friday I’m going to be making a rump roast the way Mom used to.  I have some serious trepidation about this because Mom was one of the best cooks I ever knew, and also I’ve never made this by myself.  Good thoughts will be appreciated.  If all goes well, we’ll get at least three meals out of the roast, and probably more.  I’m looking forward to a hot beef sandwich, and finally to making up a beef pot pie and freezing it for later.
Shakshuka

Shakshuka (Photo credit: Pabo76)

I honestly have no clue what we’ll do over the weekend, but I am beginning to have a freezer full of useful stuff.  And I’ve been wanting to make shakshuka, a savory bread pudding, and matzoh soup, all of which I can do with what’s in the house, so I’m feeling kind of good about our choices, how I’m starting to shop and the way I’m beginning to think about food.

Why am I writing all this?  Because I’m starting to feel that it’s really possible to change the way we do things if we just pay attention to how we think about those things. I know I’m not going to accomplish a complete 180 and make my life perfect overnight.  Doubt it’ll be perfect ever, but I can keep on trying.

So this weekend, we’ll sit down and talk about what’s for dinner next week.  And it should become a habit. And when it does, we’ll be one step closer to eating better and saving money.  I don’t think you can argue with that outcome.

For anyone who is interested in the recipes that informed what I’ve been cooking lately, here’s a partial list.  If you know me at all you know I consider recipes to be nice suggestions.


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Home3

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against rats per se.  I just don’t like them around my house.  They’re voracious and can be highly aggressive, which is one reason why they’ve adapted so well to city life.  I know they make great pets and I’ve met some lovable rats in my time, but city rats?  Not so much.

 

  A few nights ago, Glinda and I were out in the garden, and I saw something run past, hugging the wall of the garage.  You don’t live in the city your whole life without learning how to recognize various forms of wildlife by their silhouette and the way they move.  We have rabbits; this was not a rabbit.  It was also not a stray cat, dog, opossum, raccoon, vole, wombat or T-rex (Though I’m told that when our late, un-lamented imported Japanese grass, stuff that laughed in the face of our lawn mower, was at its tallest there were sightings of tigers, giraffes and dinosaurs.) This was a rat.  It wasn’t threatening anyone, it was just using the garage wall superhighway to get from one side of the garden to the other.  The problem is that it or its kin, have been sighted around here quite a lot lately, so I reported it to Streets and Sanitation.

 

 The S&S car showed up two days later, manned by some very nice folks who do a thankless job.  I brought them into the garden to show them where the rat had been and the guy  said, “I see a problem already.”  Of course I said, “Oh gosh, what?”  ”This is way too nice a garden,” he said.  ”They want to be here.”  I told him I’d never heard that rats had well-developed aesthetic senses, but that I’d bear that in mind.

 

This very nice man, named Goodman (Quite apt.), taught me how to recognize a rat hole (Goes straight down about two to three feet, and then horizontal.) and that bleach, ammonia and mothballs all deter them.  I’m not big on mothballs since they’re not only probably carcinogenic but they’re very damaging to cats and can cause total liver failure in short order, but the other two wouldn’t be bad to sprinkle around the house.  The bleach would certainly kill the weeds.  I asked about peppermint oil and he confirmed that they hate it, so our garden is going to smell like peppermint this summer, I think.  I also have a bottle of animal repellent that we got when shopping the other day.  We wanted to use it on our fruit and veggies, but it gets into the plant and makes them taste and smell horrible, which is not really what we want in our crops.  However as soon as the wind dies down a bit here – I totes do not want a face full of that stuff – I’m going to spray along the back of the yards from the sidewalk across to Linda’s place.

 

To be honest, I wish we didn’t have to call out S&S.  I wish they didn’t have to kill as many rats as they can or put out poison where other animals can get it.  Goodman told me that yeah, rabbits may well eat the stuff.  I don’t like killing things, and I sure don’t like doing it by accident while attempting to kill other things.  I wish there was a better way to live with these creatures.  All we’re really doing is breeding smarter, stronger rats, and that’s not a good thing.

Doin'  the bunny shuffle My rabbit, Nutmeg; she’s one reason why I love bunnies.

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To discourage seed predators, pulses contain t...

There's no point to doing this project unless I start digging down and using some of the less attractive stuff that's sitting in my pantry, by which I mean, food items that I look at and think, "What the hell was I thinking when I bought that?"  One of those things is a whole array of lentils.  I have a jar of green, half a jar of black and a metric fucktonne of red lentils.  I suppose I bought them during one of my bouts of "I'm going to get healthy/go vegan/be an earth mother" and the good thing is that they can sit there forever and not really suffer for it.  The bad thing is that they're always sitting there staring accusingly at me.

So this morning, I cooked up some lentils because I wanted to make a lentil salad.  I'd found a couple of interesting recipes on the internet and really wanted to give it a try.  I used green, red and black because I thought it'd be nice to have a multi-colored salad.  Yeah you lentil eaters know what I'm going to say. What I got out of the pot was a big, mushy glop of black lentils. So now I know to cook them for a shorter time and to NOT cook black lentils with anything else. They were too mushy for salad so I stirred them up with olive oil, lemon juice, a packet of dip mix from Wildwood Specialty Foods (Jalapeno-green chile) and some lemon-garlic marinade from The Spice House. Roasted, chopped walnuts and salt to taste, and I have a KILLER dip. I am not kidding when I say it was so good that I kept on eating way past where I should have stopped and now I'm regretting it. I also regret that I won't be able to reproduce it because that dip mix was from a store in the wilds of Wisconsin  (The Elegant Farmer; they make pies that are to die for.) and the company website is pretty unhelpful.

Well really, I shouldn't say I won't be able to reproduce it. I've got a list of what's in the mix:  onions, garlic, jalapeno pepper, green chili pepper, parsley and chives.   So I know it's an oniony mix, and that the amount of garlic in it wasn't enough to get the flavor I wanted so I'd need extra garlic in any event.  The peppers are easy as is the parsley, so I can probably get close with what I have in my spice cabinet.  This is a great thing because it's a pretty healthy dish, and also versatile.  I can use it as a dip, a spread, or mix it into broth for a soup.  I'm sure I'll think of other applications.

I also finally baked the tofu I'd been marinating for several weeks (not on purpose, I just got sidetracked) and it's really tasty. I marinated it in Litehouse sesame ginger salad dressing and baked it @ 350 for half an hour. Then I turned off the heat and let it sit. The result is that I have cubes of tofu with the consistency of soft caramel and a fantastic flavor. I've been snacking on them right out of the fridge.  I haven't been too nuts about the Litehouse line as dressings, but as marinades they're really very good.  I see they have a new cherry vinaigrette that looks tempting.

I expect I'm babbling on here about healthy food in part because I've been taking a lot of flak about my review of "The Blood Sugar Solution."  Now bear in mind that I gave the book four stars and said that I thought it was a valuable resource.  Apparently that's not good enough for the rah-rah brigade.  They're all over me because I suggested that 1) the process might be too expensive to jump into feet first and 2) that it might be too huge a change for many people, and perhaps a slower approach could bring people to the same point with less attrition.   Since the review went live two days ago I've been informed that anyone can do the program you just have to want to do it, with the unspoken implication that those who can't do it are somehow morally deficient and didn't want to from the get-go.  I've also been told that if you can afford a burger you can afford the program.  Leaving out the cost of the book for a moment, I would say that a $3 burger is vastly different from having to throw out all the food in your house and start over with only approved items.

So far I've been responding politely, though the last comment which accused me of pre-programming my own failure, got a snarky response.  But I have to admit I'm losing patience.  I don't consider haranguing to be valuable motivation.  If someone asks for your cheerleading, then by all means break out the pom-poms and the brass band.  I wrote a positive review which expressed some concerns.  I didn't say it was impossible, I didn't say not to try, I didn't say it could never work.  I said, take a moment to consider your needs and prioritize them.  Then approach the program with those priorities in mind, always intending to reach the point where you do spend those six weeks eating the way Dr. Hyman suggests.

On the plus side, 116 of 120 people thought my review was valuable to them.  That's only four people who didn't, the four presumably, who left comments.

And finally, on my way back from the garbage cans this afternoon, I noted that the garlic sprouts are starting to get quite tall.  That's exciting.  Our garlic was excellent last year and this year we'll be using garlic grown from garlic that we grew ourselves.  How cool is that?  I'm looking forward to the first scapes in late spring.  Glinda and I have been talking about the garden all winter, and one of the biggest thrills, for me at least, is seeing it start to come to life.  The chard is still coming up -- we have a local bunny who grazes on it -- and I see the first buds on the nectarine,which means it's time to get out there and prune.  The mint is sprouting along with all the bulbs, and the ferns never died back.  They're big and lush and green; even more so than they were in the fall.

Frankly, we didn't have much of a winter and that worries me, but at the same time I'm really looking forward to spring this year.    

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Let me cut right to the chase: Do I think this book is worth buying? Yes. With reservations. Before I get to them, though, let me tell you why this is such a valuable resource. Dr. Hyman understands that there are a myriad of factors that affect both our weight and our overall health. One of the things I find most helpful about this book is the focus on environmental factors such as pollution, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics in our food. Taken a step or two further he has nothing good to say about heavily processed food, and while there are processed foods that I genuinely enjoy like Nutella (which I will no longer eat because it contains palm oil, which is a whole other issue) I recognize they're not good for me, and I try to avoid anything that falls into this category. Fair enough, I say, it's relatively simple to cut much of the processed food out of your diet. You just have to make smarter choices and work a little harder.

It's also relatively easy to buy foods that are organic, rBGH-free, free of high fructose corn syrup and so forth (non-GMO foods are harder.) Relatively easy. Not simple, and certainly not cheap. If you make a commitment to avoiding these things, it takes some homework, and rebudgeting. But doing these two things are good starts.

Taking supplements because our diets will probably never provide the level of nutrients many of us need, that's a good start too. Again, quality supplements aren't cheap, and by now you're beginning to see that good health is a bigger commitment than you might imagine. It's not just about eating less and jogging for an hour each morning. Far from it. It's about making the choices I've mentioned, and as Dr. Hyman points out, it's about advocating for change in every aspect of life that affects our health. Big business isn't going to worry about whether we're fat and miserable, they're just going to keep shoveling cheap, sugary, salty food at us and watching their bottom line. Industry isn't going to clean up the air and water voluntarily because it costs them money. So part of taking control of your health is becoming an advocate for everyone's health.

Exercise is another important part of Dr. Hyman's program, and I can testify to the effectiveness of even a little exercise. It has improved my blood glucose dramatically and put a big dent in my depression. We have to move to be healthy. I hate to say it because I'm sedentary by nature, but there it is. We have to move.

Where I tend to disagree with Dr. Hyman is in the way he's structured his program. Now I have no argument with the idea that cutting out whole food groups will help pinpoint whether you have a problem with them. That's just common sense. What I do have a problem with is that you start the program by cutting out all sugar, including the so-called "healthy" sweeteners like honey, agave, stevia and all artificial ones; all gluten, all other flour products, even gluten free ones, all dairy, all processed foods, all grain, all starchy vegetables and all fruit except for 1/2 cup of berries a day. In fact, he says you should start by throwing out everything in these categories, just dump it. I say, I'm sorry, but who -- apart from someone in a blind panic about his or her health problems -- has the money to do that, not to mention the will power to wake up one morning knowing that you're going to spend at least six weeks eating virtually nothing but lean meat or fish, legumes and leafy vegetables? I can't. I can't afford it and I sure know that I'd maybe last two days on a regimen like that before I'd be running out for a burger or some cookies. To me it's like setting yourself up for failure and self-flagellation.

You do start adding foods back into your diet once you've... I guess de-toxed is the word. Not that I necessarily buy into detoxification diets, but hey, whatever, right? You add them in and you pay attention to how you feel as you do. And that makes a lot of sense in terms of discovering where your problems lie, if any -- there are group of questionnaires at the beginning of the book to help pinpoint where some of your problems may lie, and no matter what your score, Dr. Hyman says you need his plan. Well yeah; why would he say you don't right? So so you might well ask what is the point of all those questions? But I think they're valuable because they can show you where you really may be having problems. Sensibly, to me anyway, that's the place to start. By all means work the program, but work it in a targeted manner. There's so much in it that's good that you have to start feeling better if you do even part of what he recommends. If you can do it all, then wow! Go you! You're a star. But for most of us, that's simply not going to happen no matter how much we may want to do it.

Bottom line: This is a commonsense plan save for the fact that he doesn't seem to accept that human spirits are always willing, but the flesh is very, very weak in most cases. It's certainly a plan that's worth working with, but if you find it overwhelming, you'd be better off working at it slowly than giving up on it entirely.

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There are a lot of "vegetarians" out there these days. Some are vegan, which means they eat no animal products at all, including things like honey. Some are lacto-ovo vegetarians, meaning that they will eat dairy products, but no meat of any sort. Some vegetarians eat fish, and some people who call themselves vegetarian actually do eat meat occasionally. Most people are flexitarians which is really just another way of saying that they're omnivores, but trying to eat less meat. Mostly that's the camp I find myself in, and that's why I value good vegetarian cookbooks, which offer a variety of vegan and lacto-ovo choices so that I don't find myself thinking wistfully of a hunk of moo while choking down some rice and bean concoction studded with rubbery tofu.

I like "New Vegetarian" because there is a variety of recipes here. Many are vegan, and in fact all the desserts are since those who eat dairy products are unlikely to have to pass on any dessert. I have yet to see a pork truffle or chicken torte served as the final course of a meal (Though bacon is finding itself into chocolates. I remain skeptical.) Many of the recipes Asbell includes here are Asian-inspired, though that's hardly a surprise since most Asian cultures view meat as a condiment rather than a central focus of a meal. But inspiration comes from all over. The asparagus wrapped in phyllo and baked looks heavenly, as do the spinach empanadas. However I will also remain skeptical about the substitution of tofu for fresh mozzarella in a caprese salad. However as I still eat cheese, it's not an issue for me. And it's good to know that someone has thought of a vegan option. There are appetizers, soups, salads and main courses as well as the aforementioned desserts, giving the vegetarian user a wide variety of dishes to choose from.

Also included is a short primer on how to get protein on a vegetarian diet. (You need a lot less than you think you do.) and where your vitamins will come from. There's also a page of resources, just in case you can't find certain ingredients in your town.

It's not a dazzling but, but a good, solid resource for anyone who wants a bit more variety in their vegan/lacto-ovo diets. And frankly, it couldn't hurt some of you carnivores out there to give some of these recipes a try. You might even find you like eating less meat. Maybe.

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Tracy Rowan

August 2013

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