Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It's been a very long break from food blogging.  I found after my friend Mike died that I lost motivation.  But here I am, and it's the start of a new year, the days are getting longer, the light is returning.

We are having friends for dinner tomorrow night, so I thought I would do some menu planning.  We have quite a lot of leftover leg of lamb, so I am leaning towards a lamb pilaf.  Sari and Rowan will need something vegetarian, so falafel from scratch.  Then we can make some skordalia, hummus  and the like for starters, a nice big salad, and some lamb kofta because we do have a whole lamb down in the freezer to work our way through.  Perhaps I can convince Sari to make pita and a batch of puff pastry, and we can make sweet pastries for dessert, lemon and cheese, honey and walnut, and chocolate. 

Groceries from long ago.  Here's to a fresh start.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Seasonal produce at last!

Since I started blogging I have been grocery shopping by starting in the meat department and seeing what looked good/affordable.  But there is finally enough local produce that I will be switching to starting in the produce section.  Which got me to thinking about meat and dairy and their availability locally.

I was a vegetarian for years, and one of the main reasons was I thought it would be much better for the environment.  There is no question to me that factory farmed meat is very very destructive for the earth. I am increasingly certain that pastured meat is actually much better for the planet than annual row crops.  Pasture encourages diversity, perennials have the deep nourishing root systems that hold water in the soil and prevent erosion, etc.  In the winter, given the choice between local humanely processed and pastured meat and dairy or row crops shipped in from who knows where, I have been focusing on meat.

But now it's summer, real glorious summer, and I can focus on produce.

I will put a new shopping list in the side bar later today, I am heading to the store now.  But here is my plan:  Start in produce and select a weeks worth of local produce.  (Well, this week I am only shopping for a few days, we are heading to a convention for 5 days.)  I will try for a variety of colors.  My emphasis will be on greens and aromatics, but if there is anything starchy or any local fruit I will buy those too.  From now till the fall I am going to attempt to only buy local produce.  This will naturally limit or change what I can cook, and determine the shape of my other grocery choices.

Because the cows are out on quickly growing summer pasture I am going to also emphasize local grass fed dairy options.

I will end at the meat counter and select whatever looks good for grilling or other quick energy conserving and heat minimizing cooking methods.  Though, the crock pot doesn't heat up the kitchen too bad and you could always stick it in the entry or a bed room or something.

A few center of the store staples like tea and coffee, beans for the vegetarians, and some dark chocolate and I should be set.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Patio planters

I love planting patio pots with a mixture of annuals, and several people have asked me lately how I decide what to put in them.  So I thought I would write out my tips, though none of them are earth shattering or new.

The advantage of patio pots is I can change them every year.  So much of my yard is perennials, and I actually like making new gardens better than I like gardening, so mixed pots give me that creative outlet.

The first thing to consider is form, I generally plant one tall thing, one or two draping things, and then the rest to fill in.

I think texture, scale, and shape are important, so I try to have some different kinds of foliage texture and shape, like long blade like leaves from spike or an ornamental grass, bigger leaves such as sweet potato vine, and some finer textures like asparagus fern.

Next I consider color, and I focus on foliage more than flowers.  Your options are pretty much dark green, chartreuse, silver, variegated, and purple.  And of course coleus, which I always use, because it's as good as a flower.  Variety is good, but chaos is bad.  Unity is good, but too much and it's boring.  And in addition to each pot having a good composition, I like all the pots to go together, but be different.  I don't cram every foliage color in each pot, too chaotic, every pot will end up with normal green, so I pick one or two other foliage colors for each pot. This year all of my pots have some chartreuse, and some dark red and chartreuse coleus to create unity.  Then some have variegated foliage as well, and some have purple as well.  I skipped anything silver this year.

Flowers are actually the last thing I think of.  I created unity among my pots by using dark red and purple snap dragons in all of the pots.  Each pot has one different kind of dark red or purple flower that's a focal point, and several of the pots have peach colored petunias as filler.  I didn't really pick the flower color scheme this year because I got a purple, scarlet, and peach mixed pot as a gift, so I just made the rest go with that.  But I use purple and peach a lot, so it's no hardship.  The flowers match the foliage and coleus too.

I have two lovely cobalt blue planters and would love several more in different sizes and shapes, but until I can afford that I make due with a few big terra cotta pots too.  I just can't afford to go too crazy with the pots, but whimsical interesting containers are half of the fun.  Fine Gardening magazine has lot's of fun ideas in this regard.

Finally, this year most of my pots have different scented geraniums, don't forget scent and feel too.  I often will put Rosemary as the vertical element, mint, fuzzy plants, etc.  The planters are in high traffic areas and are easy to touch and smell.  Herbs do great in mixed pots.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


I added a page in the side bar, it links to my google spread sheet of camping packing lists.  I have a list for backpacking, canoe camping, and car camping.  To an extent they are geared to my family of 5, but one could easily adjust as needed.  Items in parenthases are for cooler seasons or are otherwise optional.  I will put up a page of camping daily menus and shopping lists too soon.

I live and camp in Minnesota, while it is cold up north, and cold in fall, winter, and spring, it is fairly warm in summer.  I used all of the cool weather items when I was in Scotland, as well as a cooler rated sleeping bag.  In July I can get away with much less here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Weekly Menu 6/16/2012

I went shopping on Thursday, just to mess everything up for myself.  My son was having a sleep over and wanted all manner of specific things, and we had no food in the house, so we just did it.

Thursday: hamburgers, baked sweet potato fries, yogurt and granola parfait.  I also made a chinese style hot and sour pork ball and noodle soup for the gluten free set, and saved some for lunches through the crazy busy weekend.

Friday: dinner out before my son's concert.

Saturday: green pork tacos, cheese quesadillas.  Today is crazy with performances, a memorial, and much running around, so I am going to put the pork in the crock pot, and whenever we need food we can pull out some pork and throw together quesadillas for the kids.  Everyone is getting a bag of plums, string cheese, yogurt, and a bag of homemade granola to bring with them today.

Sunday: Possibly also crazy busy, barbecued beef in the crock pot, mashed sweet potatoes, sautéed kale, fried tofu for the vegetarians, or potentially veggie burgers, whichever they prefer.  Edit: we were barely home and all subsisted on bars all day on Saturday, so we are having the pork and quesadillas tonight and will move the whole menu back a day instead.

Monday: Roast whole chicken, tomato and rosemary stewed white bean ragout, sautéed red chard.

Tuesday: Mini meat loaf with the rest of the pork and the other pound of hamburger.  Tomato salad, quinoa pilaf.

Wednesday: The kids and I may take off for a camping trip somewhere in here, but one way or the other there will be grilled brat worst. Devilled eggs for the vegetarians, and whatever vegetables and carbohydrates I can scrounge up, we have plenty of cheese and some gluten free noodles, maybe mac and cheese?  Edited to add: I forgot the kohlrabi!  We will have creamed kohlrabi with our brat worst.  I think of creamed kohlrabi as a German thing, because I had it fairly often in Germany, but it may very well be one of those Finnish things I picked up from my host-mother.  

The smoked trout will show up in lunches or breakfasts.  Or possibly some composed salads.  I made homemade strawberry and coconut granola in vast amounts on Thursday, so that will be a feature of breakfasts, along with the bacon and breakfast sausages.  I am also baking bars and brownies to share with people after the memorial.  Edit: I shamelessly bought mixes.  I am sure the perfect gluten free brownie is homemade, but really, the mixes are so good.  I also made a double batch of the Joy of Cooking lemon curd bars, but with Bob's Red Mill shortbread mix for the crust, and GF flour in the lemon custard layer.  In my 12 x 18 jelly roll pan they turned out perfect.  And I made a double batch of Betty Crocker cook book Toffee Nut Bars, which are my family's favorite.  

Weekly Shopping

Several people have asked if I am going to change my shopping list to reflect the change of seasons, but sadly here in Minnesota there is virtually nothing local to buy yet.  What there is I have added though, and it's remarkable how it shapes my shopping to go to the produce department and search out the local food and emphasize it.  We didn't sign up for a CSA this summer, we seem to use an every 3 year schedule of CSA buying, it's hard to get motivated to use a CSA when the co-op is at the end of your block.

I haven't posted in a while, and truly haven't shopped normally in a while because one of my closest childhood friends has been very ill and died last week.  I spent a fair amount of time cooking, cleaning, and gardening for him, in an attempt to help.  But more than lost time, I spent a lot of time grieving and sad.  I am sure I will write more about it later.  The intensity of my own recent grief, losing my friend, the end of the school year, and the hectic pace of life in general would have been a great time to just plug in menus and shopping lists from the past.  Instead we ate from day to day, David did most of the cooking.  And we got a lot of takeout.  True Thai has a gluten free menu now!  Himilaya continues to be the best local Napli food, and I have become obsessed with Brasa.  Did you know everything at Brasa is gluten free except for the bread and corn bread?  Nothing they deep fry has gluten.  None of their sauces have gluten.  And it's really easy to order low-carb.  The place is dietary nirvana for me.

In fact, how weird would it be to go get some pulled beef and fried yucca for breakfast?

But I did go shopping this week, so down to business:

We started in the meat department, my vegetarian daughter is right, I do place meat at the center of my meal ideas these days.  We got two pounds of ground beef, some fresh brat worst, a package of bacon, a half pound of breakfast sausage, a pound of ground pork, a chuck roast, a whole chicken, a package of smoked trout, and a boston butt roast.  Now that I type it there is a lot of pork there.  Generally I try to emphasize fish and ruminant meat.

We walked back towards produce by way of the dairy department.  We bought whole milk, cream, whole milk cottage cheese, sour cream, 2 things of butter, whole milk plain yogurt, 5 small yogurts, and 3 dozen jumbo eggs.  All of our dairy was organic, and all but the small yogurts and cottage cheese was local.

In the produce department we searched for local produce, and then looked for seasonal produce, and then broke down and added the out of season shipped from who knows where staples.  We got: local lettuce, local tomatoes (hoop house?) local asparagus, local kale, local red chard, local scallions, local kohlrabi, local bok choi, local bell peppers, local button mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, onions, jalapeños, avocados, celery, a musk melon, plums, limes, sweet potatoes, ginger, and bananas.  There are great looking local strawberries, but we don't need them because we are getting a big bowl of strawberries a day from our garden.

Bulk we got: rolled oats, walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds.

Cheese department: cheddar, co-jack, goat cheese, bulk string cheese, and swiss cheese, all local.

Prepared food: two cans of raspberry green tea, my son was having a friend over and this was as close to soda as we would let him get, cheese puffs, pickles, chocolate whey protein powder, dehydrated coconut, freeze dried strawberries, gluten free sugar cookie mix, gluten free brownie mix, corn tortillas, and whole wheat hamburger buns.

Our P6 total was %56.  If you took out my son's junk food it would have been closer to %65.

We went over our budget by exactly the cost of the chocolate whey protein powder.  For some reason my son NEEDED to have several odd things for his sleepover, including whey powder. The kicker?  They didn't even have any of the whey during the sleepover.  They did make dinner though, hamburgers, baked sweet potato fries, and yogurt granola parfaits.  My son and his friend are entering a healthy school lunch contest, and they are convinced that Michelle Obama is going to come have lunch with them next school year as their prize.  For a vegetarian my son had very strong opinions about how to make the burgers, but everyone said they were super good.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mushroom wild rice soup

My absolute low points as a cook have been the disastrous beer cheese soup (which was fine, it just turns out my husband loathes beer cheese soup,) and the mushroom wild rice soup I made for our writers group.  I was pregnant with my daughter at the time, and my husband and I were both working for mortgage companies, he for Norwest, me for Prudential.  Our writers group was meeting at our apartment fairly soon after work and I thought I could make up a nice vegetarian cream of wild rice and mushroom soup recipe in the crock pot.  I did all the things I do to make good soup, sautéed an onion, added diced carrot and celery, sautéed the mushrooms, and added wild rice and water.  I planned to add cream when we got home.  I scooped it all into the crock pot and left for work.

Turns out wild rice will expand infinately and assume a very mushy and horrible texture if left in the crock pot for an entire day.  If you want soup and not porridge you only need about half a cup of wild rice, not a whole bag.  Also, pregnant ladies are sensitive to strong tastes and odd textures and may not be able to eat either mushrooms or wild rice for years if they have one bad experience.  Don't make cream of mushroom and wild rice soup in the crockpot if you value your tummy and wish to impress your guests.

Cream of Wild Rice Chicken Soup

However, I redeemed myself yesterday by making what my husband claims is the best soup I have ever made.  Dave roasted chicken on Monday night, and it was great.  My husband just rubbed it with butter, salted and peppered and sprinkled rosemary, thyme, and poultry mix on it, and rubbed garlic butter under the skin.  He roasted it at 450 for about an hour in a small gratin dish.  It was truly a great roast bird.  I ran off to my book club while he pulled the remaining meat off the bird, and made a stock with the carcass and pan juices and a bit of water, but nothing else.  There was maybe a cup and a half of mostly pan juices when I got home, plus some chicken meat in the fridge.  (He also served reheated leftover pureed sweet potato and cut up fresh vegetables and some melon.)

Tuesday I got home from work and sautéed a big onion in some butter.  I added diced carrots and celery.  I split the aromatics into two pots, and added sliced button mushrooms to one.  I added peeled and diced broccoli stems to the other.  They both got 1/2 - 3/4 cup of wild rice, salt, pepper, and some fresh herbs including thyme, savory, sage, parsley, and chives.  The mushroomy soup also got the chicken broth.  I added water to cover and cooked them both till the wild rice was done. I needed to go run an errand, so when the rice was cooked I added cold whole milk to both to stop the cooking, turned off the heat and went on my errand.  When I got back I added a lot of broccoli to the vegetarian soup, and a little broccoli and the chicken meat to the chicken soup.  Once the broccoli was cooked and the soup was simmering I added cream to both, and cheese to the vegetable soup, adding the cheese off the heat.  I threw in another handful of herbs and that was it.

Fundamentally it was the same soup as 20 years ago, though the awesome chicken and broth made it much much better, not to mention my new found love of cream.  But the funny thing is, I wouldn't have been able to make this soup without experiencing the disaster of the other soup.  I wouldn't have known to cool the soup down so I could run my errand without having made the horrible porridge.  Which I guess just goes to show that you should forgive your cooking failures as long as you learn from them.  And also, just because you failed at something once doesn't mean you will fail again.

Also, it turns out no amount of cheese or broccoli, which my children all love, will make up for the presence of wild rice in soup for my youngest son.  Sadly I even intended to make their soup with jasmine rice, but my daughter convinced me to use the wild rice.  I guess you can't win them all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Healthy Blood Sugar

Bacon covered meatloaf, fat and protein to get through the day
All of my life if I missed a meal, or it was 7:00 and I hadn't had dinner yet I would pretty much lose my mind.  My poor husband has spent many an evening driving around looking for a restaurant that had a table for us while I got increasingly confused and hysterical.  These episodes always end in tears.  Most of my time as a teacher I have eaten breakfast, a snack around 10:00, lunch, and another snack around 2:00, and possibly 4:00, before going home to make dinner.  On nights when I have to stay at work until a performance I regularly would bring a giant bag of food just to get through my day.

An interesting thing has happened since I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes and started controlling my blood sugar with diet, I can go hours without food.  I no longer get frantic, hysterical, or teary if I miss a meal.  Simply keeping my blood sugar under 140 at all times, in addition to bringing my HBA1c down to 5.1 (my goal is 4.8,) has smoothed out my hunger.  I only snack for entertainment purposes now, not because I will lose my mind if I don't eat this second.

You have probably read the saying "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a peasant, and dinner like a pauper."  I have found something like that works for me.  I eat big, hearty breakfasts full of fat, protein, and vegetables, with a bit of fresh fruit.  Lunches are salads, stir-fries, or soup, with some protein and nuts or cheese.  Well, okay, all of my meals are actually about the same, high quality protein, healthy fats, lots of vegetables, a bit of fruit.  I get almost no carbs at breakfast, half a grapefruit or a few slices of pear maybe.  Any carbs in the morning really impact my blood sugar.  For lunch I can have a bit more carbohydrate, and for dinner I can tolerate up to 30 grams, a bit of sweet potato, some wild rice, a little milk.

I have been thinking of this lately because I have been crazy crazy busy.  So busy I have been missing meals left and right.  Several days this week I haven't gotten home till 3 or 4, but since I planned on getting home at 1:00 I didn't bring a lunch with me.  And I have been fine.  A bit hungry maybe, but mostly just busy.  On Tuesday I missed lunch, made dinner at 4:30, and then went to my class till 10:00.  I had a little bed time snack when I got home, but I was fine with basically two meals.

Doctors hate the term hypoglycemia, it's a short step away folk superstition for them, and indeed, when I feel frantic with hunger my blood sugar is always a bit high, at least 120.  My personal theory is that my body is pretty good at predicting my meal time, and releases about as much insulin as it thinks I will need at the appropriate time.  When I don't then eat, I release stress hormones, then glycogen from my liver, and eventually end up with high blood sugar.  It's probably the stress hormones that make me feel so rotten.

If my body doesn't expect much carbohydrate, it won't release as much insulin for the next meal, and the crash if it comes, is smaller.  Also, I was probably pretty protein deficient all those years as a vegetarian.  I think of protein as slow-carbs, available to be turned into glycogen whenever my body needs it via gluco-neo-genesis.  And getting enough fat to slow digestion evens things out a lot too.

I am pretty thankful I don't have to go through the crashes anymore.  And I am pretty happy I can make it through a day without planning so many snacks.  And I am really happy I ate a good breakfast this morning, because lunch was 4 hours late, yet again.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Fancy Restaurant Diet

For several years I have been toying with writing a diet book.  I have the best plan: the fancy restaurant diet.  Seriously, the best and often most nutritious meals I make myself are like what I eat at my favorite restaurants.  An appetizer from Cafe Maude: Greens sauteed in butter, piled in a shallow soup plate and topped with a perfectly poached egg, a few crumbles of sheep milk feta, a sprinkle of pepitas, and shreds of crispy bacon, probably half a slice of bacon worth.  Any lunch at the Birchwood.  My favorite dinner from the Craftsman: a microgreen salad very lightly dressed with olive oil and wine vinegar, a 6 ounce hanger steak, and a few ounces of cheese with a half an apple very thinly sliced and a few walnuts for dessert.  I always get one perfect glass of red wine with the meal and a pot of tea with the cheese course.  The Bento boxes from Midori's Floating World are like a tutorial in complex and balanced elements, each jewel like and lovely.  Any meal at Restaurant Alma.

Fine food should be flavorful and delight your memories, your sight, and your emotions.  All of my favorite restaurants source local and organic whenever possible.  They use good fats, butter, olive oil, nut oils, and they aren't afraid of fat.  The serving sizes are small, but they feed the senses and satisfy because they are complex and visually delightful.  Consideration is given to variety, seasonality, and the progression from one course to another.  Protein is the focus, with lively and interesting vegetables on the side.  If you skip the bread basket, though one or two slices of fabulous fresh warm bread are almost certainly fine for you if you don't have Celiac, and if you don't drink too much wine, there is no reason you couldn't happily lose weight eating like this.  And lately all my favorite restaurants are increasing their use of local food by pickling foods to save for later seasons, and lacto-fremented vegetables are really healthful for you.

A condensed version of my fancy restaurant diet:

  • Focus each plate around a small serving of the best protein you can afford.
  • Grass fed meats, wild game, wild caught sustainable fish, duck eggs, homemade tofu and hand crafted tempeh, artisan cheeses, fresh seasonal beans like fava beans, and shellfish are the best proteins.
  • Select foods that are local, organic, and seasonal.
  • You should be able to list the farmers that produced your food, the names of their farms should be poetic.  
  • Authentic ethnic foods are always better for you.
  • Use great fats: homemade butter made from grass-fed milk, really good flavorful olive oil, delicate fresh nut oils, coconut oil for high heat and for richness in your curries and asian inspired foods.  Make your own ghee.  Many things taste better with a drizzle of white truffle oil.
  • Fat is filling and carries flavor, don't fear it.
  • Make sure that there is a balance of flavors and colors on each plate, make the plate vibrant with vegetables, fruits, and herbs.  Try to add smokey, toasty, or earthy flavors.
  • Include sour flavors from citrus, fruit reductions, fine vinegars.
  • Include crunchy textures from finely diced raw vegetables, lightly toasted nuts, small amounts of bacon.
  • Mushrooms, especially wild-crafted ones, are awesome.
  • Sauces should be a delicate complement to the authentic flavors of the food, use a light hand and don't overwhelm the food.
  • How your meal looks is almost as important as how it tastes.
  • A small serving of naturally fermented foods adds an intense burst of flavor, capers, diced pickle, a few delicate shreds of pickled beets, umeboshi, any kind of Japanese pickle.
  • The best snacks are like the amuse at a restaurant, a shot-glass of super rich soup, a morsel of cheese with some nuts and a tiny serving of fruit, a bit of fancy preserved meat with some raw vegetables. Pate with crispy crackers.
  • Dessert is important and it should be exquisite.  The very best dark chocolate with a perfect cup of espresso and a few walnuts, fresh berries with a dollop of whipped cream, a lovely cheese drizzled with local honey, rose-water and cardamom panna cotta.
  • Eat in courses when you can, each a delicate morsel.  Focus your full attention on each.
  • Breakfast should be hearty and special, lunch should be salad and soup, or salad with protein, dinner portions should be small and complex.
  • One great glass of wine, ample ice water, and a warm drink with dessert.
  • Make every meal a special occasion with family or friends.  When you eat alone light a candle, and read great poetry, or listen to soothing music.
  • Take your time and make sure to have lively and interesting conversations.
The best part of my diet plan is even if you don't lose weight your food will be much more enjoyable so you won't care.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

While I was away

I didn't blog so much, but I did take a few photos of things I ate and drank.  There were some lovely cocktails one warm night.

The one on the left is a cherry gin and tonic, the one on the right is an apricot and tequila cocktail with considerable lime and lemon juice.

The light comes in the window over our kitchen sink in a lovely way, washing lettuce is much more fun in lovely light.

My husband fried a steak, then threw some onions and tomatoes in the hot pan, steamed broccoli, and made rice in the rice cooker.  Not so fancy, but simple and tasty.  Any meal cooked by someone else tastes ever so much better I think

My favorite breakfast ever, sauteed greens and mushrooms, poached eggs, crispy bacon.  I had a half an avocado on the side, and a few wedges of orange.

My son's S'more pie.  No idea how it tasted as it is chock full of gluten, and I wasn't there when they ate and photographed it, but conceptually it seemed good, graham cracker crust, melted chocolate bars and marshmallows under chocolate cream pie filling, meringue topping.  The four of them ate it in one sitting.  Must have been good, right?

Weekly shopping 5/6/2012

I shopped in the late afternoon today, and I have to say going at 8:00 AM is clearly a better choice.  We started at the meat counter and I finally caved in and bought a pork loin to roast.  We also got 2 packages of chicken thighs, chicken feta sausages, pork chops, sockeye salmon, a package of stew meat, and one of hamburger.

We back-tracked to the veggies and got potatoes and onions, mushrooms, lettuce, celery, carrots, red cabbage, bell peppers, jalapenos, avocados, two winter squash, eggplant, young garlic, spring onions, bananas, grapes, two grapefruits, and apples.

At the dairy counter we got butter, tofu, a few lunch yogurts, 3 dozen eggs, and some kid-friendly cheeses.

We got corn tortillas, crackers, rice, and corn chips for our carbs this week, and curry sauce, salsa, canned chili, pancake mix, and prepared hummos for our prepared foods.

From the freezer section we got two bags of strawberries, one of mixed berries, and a bag of green beans.

We spent 230.00, though we bought milk and cream at breakfast, so add 10 bucks to the total.  For the last few stressful weeks we have been splitting our shopping in half, which adds to the total for sure.  But we do have quite a bit of food lurking around, so we didn't need as much this week.  Dinners this week will be -

Monday:  Teriyaki salmon, Japanese sesame eggplant, squash and carrots steamed, miso with seaweed, and rice.
Tuesday:  Scottish mince, quesadillas, hash, salad.
Wednesday:  Curried beef, curried chickpeas, rice, indian spiced pureed eggplant, banana raita.
Thursday: Mashed potatoes, sweet and sour red cabbage, pork chops, eggs.
Friday: Roast pork loin, pureed squash and carrots, sauteed mushrooms, salad, fried tofu.
Saturday: Ethiopian spiced butter roast chicken thighs, sauteed bell peppers, stewed green beans and onions, curried lentils, rice, and I may send one of the kids to go buy some fresh injera, which is not gluten free, but the others will like, or if I have the time and energy I may make some homemade chickpea crepes which I can eat.  One of these days I will make some 100% teff injera from scratch, but not this week I think.

The kids are getting chili with cheese for lunch tomorrow, with some chips and grapes.  Crackers with hummos, yogurt, and apples on tuesday, cheesy vegetable rice on Wednesday, left over curry with rice on Thursday, and after that I have no idea, maybe mac and cheese?  Salsa, chips, and beans?  I cannot express how much I love our thermoses.  My kids don't have celiac, but I try to minimize their gluten in the off chance it will delay their getting it.

David and I mostly eat leftover dinner for our lunches, but the chicken feta sausages are for emergency lunch.  I have started taking half an avocado most days for lunch, or eating it for breakfast.  There is enough pork we should cook it earlier in the week and have leftovers for lunches.  The nice thing about shopping for the week and having a menu is you can switch at any time as long as you take the meat out of the freezer and soak the beans ahead.

I'll be eating eggs and veggies and fruit for breakfast.  The kids will have oatmeal cooked in the rice cooker overnight, yogurt and homemade granola, pancakes with homemade canned peaches, smoothies, and huevos rancheros.

Have a lovely week.

Sings of Spring

Twilight apple blossoms
Soon I suppose I will have to admit that it is summer now and actually go work in my garden, but in the mean time I am very happy that my mother and I have planted so many blooming bushes and trees.  The bloom progression works wonderfully in my yard, first the plums, then the redbud, the neighbors apple tree, then one of ours and the other.  Standard lilacs, then Miss Kim lilacs.  By the time the spring blooming trees are finishing up the azaleas and lilly of the valley are starting, and then it's summer.

I have been spending all of my gardening time making a garden for a sick friend.  It's much much more fun for me to make a garden from scratch.  I like designing and installing gardens more than maintaining them.  But even more than that I like having a lovely garden, lot's of flowers, and fresh herbs.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

When life get's in the way

I haven't posted in a few weeks, I have been juggling so much in my life, and when I have time I have been anesthetizing myself with netflix and chocolate.  I am at one of those life moments when there are too many changes, some good, some hard, going on at once.  I am at the limit of my processing power.  My daughter is trying to figure out where to go to college, and we are trying to figure out how to afford it.  A close childhood friend is ill, and I have been working hard to make sure he has a lovely place to enjoy the outdoors.  My youngest son has been struggling at school, and keeping him on an even keel is a challenge.

But mostly, I have been dealing with the fact that I had a miscarriage.  I certainly can't complain about fertility issues, I already have more than my fair share of kids.  And it's no particular shock at my age that this pregnancy didn't work out.  As miscarriages go this was uncomplicated, my HCG levels are coming down normally, and I didn't require any medical management. On some level I suspected things were going wrong, I normally have horrible morning sickness and fatigue, but this time I felt great.  But I would much rather have been focusing on new life and the adventure of expanding our family rather than on loss and the possibility that I am done having kids altogether.  I am grieving this child, and also the possibility of having more children at all, which seems pretty unlikely now.

Mortality and the fragility of life are much on my mind.  I am trying to prioritize my life, decide what brings me joy and what I do because I feel I should.  Also, I am just trying to get through the days, back to working full time, coaching a student teacher, helping my friends, taking care of my kids.  Somehow I don't seem to have any time.

I haven't been posting my groceries, David shopped from my list the last couple of weeks, and I did photograph them and save the receipts, so maybe I will post them soon.  I haven't even been making menus, though since we know roughly what to eat each day, it's been going okay.  David has been doing a lot of the cooking.  We've been eating a lot of Napali take out.  I've been watching brainless television shows and resting when I can.

But after I build a deck later today I intend to go shopping and start posting again, it's going to be an interesting week to plan a menu for.  And soon we will leave on a last minute college tour.  Gardening for my friend has made me anxious to get out in my own garden.  And yesterday was the CSA fair at the Seward Co-op, and I am excited to blog my CSA boxes when they start coming.  It hasn't been easy the last few weeks, but I seem to be handling it all about as well as one can.  Just doing what comes next.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Drinking vinegar?

Look what Melissa at HuntGatherLove just posted about: Pokpok drinking vinegar.

I think I will be ordering some soon.

Crab, crab, and more crab.

My dinner plate, you can see crab cakes in the background
We had a strange but very tasty dinner tonight.  I bought a can of crab meat this week.  Other than in California rolls at Sushi restaurants I have never really eaten crab, which isn't exactly common here in Minnesota.  Neither of my parents grew up eating it, so it's just never been a part of my reality.

My son's veggie sushi on a piece of tamago
But NomNomPaleo keeps posting these tasty looking crab recipes so I decided to give it a try.  I made her Krabby Patties and her crab hand rolls (scroll down to see a great photo of her crab hand rolls,) which don't really go together, but since they both involve crab and mayonnaise why not?  We had artichokes and I set out a variety of sushi fillings for the kids to make their own sushi.  I will never be a sushi chef, but Rowan has promise!

I have been searching for ages for the right combination of healthy oils for homemade mayonnaise.  100% olive oil gets a strange bitterness, walnut oil mixed with olive has the same problem.  I have read recipes for coconut oil mayo, but somehow that doesn't appeal to me.  I categorically don't use any oil that has to be steamed, bleached, or involves strange solvents, so most of the bland vegetable oils are out.  So far my favorite has been "virgin" cold pressed, local, high oleic sunflower oil, but it's way more expensive than olive oil, so it's a rare treat.  I can say that unfiltered raw sesame oil is okay, but has a tahini taste that doesn't belong in mayonnaise.  Next time I buy oil I think I will try hazelnut if I can find some.

Here are the vegetable fillings for our sushi, those are sorrel leaves and chives from our garden, plus sushi ginger, carrots, and cucumbers.  There were also a few avocados lurking around the table.

I have never used coconut flour before.  I like that it's lower in carbohydrates, and it worked great for dusting the crab cakes.  The crab cakes were sweet, with a moist interior and a crispy fried outside, which I assume is how they should taste, though I have never had one before so I can't compare to traditional crab cakes.  I mixed a bit of wasabi in with some of the mayo which made a great sauce for the crab cakes.  Here they are frying.  I used coconut oil to fry them, which worked great and tasted great.

One of my favorite things about my kids is their relative flexibility with food.  Sure, none of them will eat peas or bell peppers, but my older son had three crab cakes, and my younger son was a sushi making machine, making up creative new vegetarian rolls, and he tried the crab cakes.  I credit their love of Japanese food mostly to our family tradition of eating at Midori's Floating World for special occasions.  And Midori's habit of giving my kids special treats at the end of every meal, pretty Japanese suckers or hard candies.  She doesn't do it any more, but when they were little and impressionable she wooed them, and they are devoted to her now.  One of the very best things about Midori's is that they have a gluten free menu with a great selection.  Back when I could eat gluten I thought they had the best tempura in town.

Tomorrow I'll post pictures of the S'more pie my younger son made up today.  We would have finished it tonight but we are all too full to contemplate making the filling for the crust we made earlier, so the pie will have to wait.

Tamago and kim chi for homemade sushi

Fermented beverages

Believe it or not, I am not talking about wine, cider, or beer.  I want to mention the weird world of non-alcoholic ferments.  Some people believe them to be very health promoting.  Seth Roberts has a hypothesis that the umami sense is really a taste for complex fermented flavors / bacteria which are necessary to good health.

About a year ago I had a horrible antibiotic related tummy problem (c. dif?  by the time I went to the ER they couldn't find anything so it's hard to know, though they only did the quick test.)  I was able to make it mostly better by taking the strongest pro-biotic I could find every three hours, and drinking and eating every kind of fermented food I could get my hands on including kombucha.  I also took all of the mucilaginous seeds I could think of, like chia and flax.  C. diff. can also be treated with cholesterymine, and chia and flax have some of the same binding properties.  That and the change in antibiotics cured the problem.  Hardly scientific evidence, but it was pretty effective.  There is real scientific research that taking pro-biotics can resolve c. difficile infections, here is a nice meta-analysis.

But to be honest I am less interested in the health aspects than the taste aspects.  I don't drink soda or juice because of the carbohydrates.  I believe and research seems to show that artificial sweeteners actually cause weight gain, and any way they're gross.  Wine and cider are great, but you can only have so much.  We drink ice water with meals, and coffee and tea.  But sometimes you want a complex, flavorful, relatively low in carbohydrate beverage.  What then?

My introduction to non-alcoholic ferments was inauspicious to say the least.  I read about kombucha in my co-op newsletter and bought a bottle as I was driving to my friends house.  It's a longish drive and I was super thirsty.  Once I was on the free-way I opened the kombucha, tried it, and almost spit it out.  Gross!  As I drove I kept taking little sips to see if it was still gross.  I was really thirsty.  When I got to my friends house I tried to get her to try it by saying: "You have to try this, it's totally gross!"  Which, strangely, didn't work, she refused to try.

But for some unknown reason I kept sipping at it until it was gone.  And the next day I sort of wanted another one.  Eventually I developed a bottle a day habit.  A taste that grows on you.  Kombucha is sour, there are definitely vinegar notes.  Some flavors have fruity notes, I like the ginger and lemon flavors best.  I don't like the brands that aren't sour.  I tried making it myself once, but I let it go too long, it turned to very strong vinegar, and I just couldn't sustain my interest in gross looking slimy symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast.  It's a bit expensive, so I generally buy it as a treat these days.  A half bottle in a fancy wine glass is the perfect amount.

I tried beet kvass for the first time this week.  Kvass it a Slavic drink normally made with bread and thus gluten containing, but beet kvass is supposedly super healthy, a blood tonic, and who knows what all else, and it's gluten free.  It was good, more savory than sweet, it had that coppery slightly earthy beet taste, with the strong tang of lactic acid.  Also, it was crazy magenta.  How can you not love magenta food?  At 7.99 a 12 ounce bottle I won't be buying it often, but the recipe at the link above looks easy enough, so I may give it a try.

I have been intrigued by the coconut water kefir at the co-op, but I haven't been able to pull the trigger on $10.00 a small bottle.  If anyone has ever tried it let me know.  Though that does bring me to the much more common and way cheaper fermented milk category.  I was thinking I would start making kefir or yogurt, the friend I mentioned above makes her own yogurt and it tastes great.

In the mean time, here is a great recipe from my German/Finish host mother.  (She is from Finland, but was an exchange student to Germany and fell in love with my host father and stayed.)  I think this must be a Finish recipe, but I never know what of the things I learned from her were Finish and which German.

Buttermilk drink


The amounts of the above are not important, adjust to your taste.  Squeeze half a lemon into a tall glass, stir in a small spoon of sugar, or honey, or maple syrup to your taste.  I am not the biggest fan of sugar, but in this case sugar let's the lemon shine through, and I use less than a teaspoon.  Pour in some buttermilk and stir, add several ice cubes, top with more buttermilk to fill the glass, or mineral water if you want a lighter drink.  I like sour things, but you should make this sweet/sour.

I would love to try this with real buttermilk, the whey left over from making butter.  I bet the whey left over from making greek yogurt would taste great this way too.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Weekly dinner menu, 4/2/2012

Monday: Steak, baby potatoes, asparagus, beets and green beans in a salad.

Tuesday: Chicken and rice casserole with artichokes, crudites.  (Not sure when the boys are getting home, my vegetarian son can have an omelette if they are here for dinner.)

Wednesday: Green pork chili soup, guacamole, quesadillas, carrot sticks for kids, papaya for dessert. (Make homemade mayonnaise for crab cakes, deviled eggs, and potato salad.)

Thursday: Crab cakes, sauteed zucchini, tomato salad, cole slaw.

Friday: Pot roast, mashed potatoes, chard, steamed carrots, whatever vegetarian son wants that night, probably a quesadilla.

Saturday: Bacon cheese burgers, veggie burgers, rice, sauteed zucchini.  Or potentially, split pea soup with the ham bone from last week, and vegetarian split pea soup.  Depending on the weather, I could go either way.

Sunday: Grilled bratwurst, deviled eggs, potato salad, sauteed savoy cabbage, or cole slaw, or something else clever with cabbage that I think my kids might eat. 

Weekly shopping 4/2/12

I give up, my official grocery shopping budget has to be $250.00.  Since the kids are gone we bought a bunch less food, and then I thought, I'll get some treats that I don't usually get.  And, voila, $247.00.  $50.00 per person per week seems reasonable.  44% of our purchases were P6, mostly because we bought less dairy.  The only local produce we bought were the potatoes and the hydroponic tomatoes.

Meat: can of wild caught crab meat, bacon, ground beef, chicken thighs, breakfast sausage, chuck roast, flat iron steak, Boston butt roast, bratwurst, and mild italian sausage.  Meat total: 93.39.  It was the steak and the crab meat that did me in.

Produce: a bargain bag with some little potatoes, garlic, and an onion, and another with three zucchini and 2 cucumbers, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, carrots, 4 artichokes, a savoy cabbage, bunch cilantro, 2 cara cara oranges, chard, 4 avocados, 3 pabloanos, a vine of hydroponic tomatoes, asparagus, bananas, tomatillos, a giant papaya, bag of yellow potatoes, a mango a bunch of pears, and a yellow bell pepper.

Dairy: 1/2 gallon whole milk, pint cream, butter, 2 dozen eggs, and a container of cottage cheese.

Bags, boxes, and cans (otherwise known as the center of the store:) Nut thins, Earl grey tea, Breakfast tea, rice thins, nori seaweed, coconut flour, sesame oil, sauerkraut, beet kvass (weirdly magenta, but tasty,) kombucha, dish soap, cleaning concentrate, and olive oil.

Signs of spring

Strange photo-booth picture of the red bud
I let my sons take the camera, technically "their" camera on vacation, so these are taken with my in-computer camera.  Sort of dreamy and odd.  The plums and red bud are in full bloom, and some time this week we are going to have to build our fence to the plants don't get too big.

Since the children are all out of town David and I are trying to eat down our food in the house a bit before we shop.  I made chicken stock with the remaining chicken and turkey products that have been taking up space in the freezer.  I am looking forward to a light shop later today or tomorrow.
Day lilies!
Plum blossoms with the neighbors apple tree in the back ground

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Buckwheat crepes!

I finally got around to making the buckwheat crepes I mentioned earlier in the week.  They were great!  David ate his with yogurt, maple syrup, and bananas and liked them very well.  I salted mine and tore off pieces to eat with a soft boiled egg, as though it were toast or a socca.  They had a flavor that reminded me a little of injera, the Somalian flat bread normally made with teff flour.  I might try letting them ferment longer next time to get more of that sourdough flavor.  The texture on the tongue was smooth and crepe like, but they are not as resilient as wheat flour crepes, I would fold them rather than roll them around a filling.

Next time I am going to add a smidgen of baking soda, and beat the egg whites and make the batter into small blini type pancakes and serve them with some sort of savory topping.  I think that would suit the texture more.  David said they would make fine dosa substitutes with some sort of curry filling.

The yogurt and buckwheat flour mixture was very thick, and I used all of the whey from two containers of yogurt to make up part of the 8 ounces.  If you are making your own greek yogurt this would be a great way to use the drained off whey.  I might also try this with buttermilk or kefir instead of the yogurt.

This amount made 8 thin 8 inch crepes, plenty for two, probably enough for four if you have other dishes as well.

Buckwheat Crepes

4 ounces raw buckwheat groats
8 ounces plain whole fat yogurt
4 eggs
pinch of salt

Put the groats in your blender and blend on low for 4 minutes.  Sift through a fine mesh strainer returning any coarse bits to the blender and repeat until all of the flour passes through the strainer.

Whisk the yogurt and buckwheat flour together in a bowl and cover loosely with a plate or a cloth and a rubber band.  Leave in a warm draft free spot overnight or up to 24 hours.  (I did mine over night and there was a mild sourdough taste and a little yogurt taste, I think I would have liked to ferment it longer.)

In the morning add the eggs and a pinch of salt, whisk till smooth, and cook in lightly buttered crepe pans till gently brown on the bottom and dry on top.  Flip and cook for a minute or two more until the other side has some brown flecks.

Edited to add: According to MyPlate this recipe has about 850 calories, and around 40 grams protein, 50 grams fat, and  60 grams carb.  (If you figure on 2 good tablespoons of butter for the pans.)  1/4 of that would make a fine breakfast side dish with some meat or eggs for me.  1/2 would be about right for David. 

I made the first one too thick, and liked it best.  Experiment with how thick you like them.  My crepe pans are non stick, but I buttered them liberally and enjoyed the buttery flavor a lot.  Unfortunately we gobbled them all down before I thought to take a picture.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

A collection of links: Friends

Many of my friends and family members have blogs or web sites, I spent the morning making a page of links in the sidebar, but I thought I would also post it as a regular post.  I will add more as I find the links to others.  Oddly, other than Barth Anderson none of them are writing about food, but I am blessed with a lot of friends who are amazing writers, musicians, and artists.

My friend Barth Anderson is a food writer, food policy wonk, and also a fantastic fiction writer.  His book Patron Saint of Plagues is one of my favorite books of all time.  He writes about food and food policy at Fair Food Fight.

My friend Eleanor Arneson is a fiction writer and a poet, and gives the most amazing poetry advise.  She blogs about popular culture in the form of movies, economics, the environment, feminism, Iceland, and more here.

Tanya Brody in addition to being a lovely musician, knowing how to sew life size puppets, and writing for legal publications blogs here.

Daniel L. Byman was the best man at my wedding, and is very smart.  If you are interested in counterterrorism and mid-east policy, he's your man.  He writes articles with some regularity, like this one at Foreign Policy, and also writes policy books like The Five Front War.

My friend Kevin Caufield is a potter, though he doesn't blog.  Wouldn't you love a set of hand made dinner ware?

Haddayr Copley Woods writes very smart and interesting essays about disability, autism, and family.

Ted Davis is an international man of mystery, I am pretty sure he knows everyone.  As in, all of the people, everywhere.  This is his business.

Tate Hallaway and Lyda Morehouse write science fiction and paranormal romance novels and blog about writing and parenting here. (They're secretly the same person, shhhh.)

My dad Charles Hoffman makes guitars and has a great web-site, and blogs too.

My mom Susan Hoffman is a realtor if you would like to buy a house you should call her.  Her old friend and broker has a fun column about getting your house on the market called Dear Pat.

Doug Hulick is also a fiction writer and blogger who has been known to write about writing, sword fighting, and fatherhood here.

Dakota Dave Hull is sort of like my music uncle, he played at my wedding, schooled me about great coffee at an impressionable age, and generally has been an avuncular presence in my life.

Naomi Kritzer writes about writing and motherhood.

My friend Kevin Matheny blogs about gaming, technology, and coaching little league.

My friend Mike Matheny is blogging about his journey with cancer at The Unintentional Expert.  He is a great musician as well, you can download his latest album here.

My very old friend Kelly McCullough is a fiction writer, and blogs about writing, cats, and sometimes his adventures in Wisconsin politics, which completely blows my mind.  Kelly, a county commissioner, what is the world coming to?

As far as I know John Calvin Rezmerski doesn't blog, but you should read his wonderful poems anyway!  He is the current Poet Laureate of the Minnesota League of poets.

My childhood friend Jessy Scholl used to blog here, but the old posts are interesting, so go read what she had been writing, and perhaps by the time you catch up she will start back up.

Also not blogging is my amazing artist friend Margo Selski, but her gallery has a website with a lot of her art.

If Dakota Dave Hull is my musical uncle, then Robin and Linda Williams are my musical god parents.  I grew up in the Minnesota folk music scene, and volunteered for years at the greatest folk music coffee house The Extempore.  Whatever I know about singing I learned from singing along with Linda while I listen to their albums.

Several of these lovely writers and several more of my friends also blog at their writers group site Wyrdsmiths.

Google seems to think I have used up all the search band-with I am allowed for the day, so I will add and update more later.  If you are a friend who has an internet presence don't be offended if I left you off of the list, but do send me your link so I can add it.  I want to add several other of my music friends for instance, and I have very few of my artist friends on the list yet.  Also, now that I am blogging I can't for the life of me imagine why my book club ladies don't start a blog.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Blogging out of school

I think I have mentioned that I am an art teacher.  I spend my days drawing and painting and playing with clay, with the most amazing, adorable, interesting children.  I get to tell them all the things that are cool about art history, and make connections with science and literature, and figure out what's going on in their life, and try to support them.  Sometimes I get to order boxes and boxes of art supplies, which when they come feel exactly like birthday presents, and then I get to unpack the boxes and neatly organize things in my cupboards, and make lists.

Seriously, could there be a better job?

The school where I teach (FAIR school Crystal) is focused on integration and equity, and one of the areas we seek to create equity is through technology.  We are working hard to eliminate the digital divide.  We do this through a strong commitment to technology.

If you think about it there are 3 intersections between technology and education.  1. Using technology as a teacher to make the work of teaching more efficient or effective.  2. Using technology with students in the service of your curricular goals.  3. Teaching technology to children, or providing them with technology resources.  An example of number 1 in my room would be the amazing ease with which I can make power point presentations using high quality images from museum web sites to show my students art history examples.  Early in my career I would check out books from the library, mark images I wanted to use in my instruction, rent time with a photo-copy stand at a local art center and take slide-photos of the examples I wanted to show children, and have the film processed into a slide set.

Some aspects of using technology as a teacher have slowed me down.  I used to use a paper grade book, calculate my grades with an adding machine, and fill in bubble sheets with a number two pencil to submit my grades.  Now I use an online grade-book and submit my grades electronically.  It takes about 5 times as long.  Seriously, the software was designed by a committee!  I actually weep regularly when I have to use it.  Don't even get me started about the wasted potential of photo-seating charts, but every time I try to use the software I have realized I would have been better off with a ruler and some graph paper.

I use technology with students in several ways.  The classroom teachers all have interactive "smart boards."  For several years I was angry and hurt that I didn't have one, but honestly, a lap top projector is all I need.  My students are doing most of the time, they don't need to come to the board to get that sort of stimulus.  Google image search is nirvana for art teachers.  I used to have so many reference books in my room, books about animals, books about the ocean, cupboards full of National Geographics (actually, I still have that, you can pry them from my cold dead hands,) books about art history.  Now if a kid wants to know how to draw an emu, I have them look up an emu online.

Also, the photocopier is my best friend.  What to do in the background of your self-portrait?  Here, let me make you 3 photo-copies and you can try three ideas and decide which looks best.  Can't decide what medium to use?  Photo copies!  Need to enlarge your drawing, but don't think you can do it by hand?  You get the idea.  And projecting images my children have made during performances, conferences, and posting them online?  Awesome.

One of the best ways to get teachers to confidently teach technology is to give them access to technology.  Our district, and my principal in particular, have committed to giving teachers, and thereby students, immersive access to technology.  Our 8-12 grade students have lap tops to use.  So do the teachers.  We have many wonderful programs, film editing, photo editing, you name it.  And teachers and students are encouraged to bring their computers home, share them with their families, and use them for their personal interests.  Because that kind of fluent, personal use is how people learn!

All of which is a very long introduction to why I feel totally fine using my work computer to create and maintain a personal blog.  And to explain why I have been sick to my stomach all week and haven't been blogging.  In a recent post I casually linked to the site when I mentioned the percentage of my groceries that were P6.  A teacher friend of mine followed the link and was re-directed to a fairly raunchy porn site.  Yuck!  She posted a comment chastising me for this, rightfully so, I should not be posting corrupted links.

Upon further examination I found that my link was good, the site had been hacked.  We tried using the url from home on several devices and realized the fault was in the site, not my link.  So we notified the people who might be able to fix it, and I assume all is fixed, though to be honest, I haven't checked it out on my work computer...

So here is the thing: technology and the internet is very perilous for us teachers.  I have read cases of teachers being fired because a friend posted a photo of the teacher drinking wine at a party.  I have read cases of teachers being fired because there was horrible mal-ware infecting their computer which caused a child to see a porn image.  But how can we expect teachers to stay current and teach their students and be relevant if we deny them access to resources that almost everyone else takes for granted?

Negotiating the balance between changing technology and the classroom is a huge challenge.  Everyone in the modern world is hooked in to their cell phone, but is it appropriate for a teacher to have a cell phone on during instruction time?  I would say no.  How about response times for e-mail?  My husband will return a work e-mail within 20 minutes.  I might not check my e-mail till the bitter end of my day depending on clean-up, parent phone calls, and prep work for the next day.  Don't expect me to have access to a computer until after work most days.

I have no conclusion, just a wish list.  I wish that our society would remember the variations in peoples work day/rhythm/technology access.  I wish my district had grading software that actually saved me time.  I wish I could afford a personal laptop to blog from at home, and while I am at it a good digital camera with manual focus and a tripod to photograph close-ups of wee little plants in my garden.

And I really wish that things that I link to don't get hacked by icky porn sites that make me afraid to link to anything again.

Monday, March 26, 2012

More signs of spring

The red buds are coming!
Enough chives to eat.
One week till rhubarb sauce.  The not-yet unfurled leaves look like green brains, or morel mushrooms.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Melissa Mcewen's take on food-reward

I think Melissa share many of my reservations about the current theory of food-reward.  Please read her article here.

I am going to edit my previous post to include that link, but if you were interested in my post about how modern food lies you might like her post as well.

Edited to add: Oh, look, Paul Jaminet seems to agree with me as well.  Or, at any rate isn't quite on board with food-reward as it is currently advertised.

Though, let me take this moment to re-iterate that Stephan Guyenet is a very excellent blogger, seems to be a level-headed scientist, and also seems to be a nice guy.  But I do believe that respectful disagreement is one great way to increase the total of knowledge.

Buckwheat crepes?

This photo has nothing to do with crepes, but I like it.
You may have noticed I bought buckwheat groats this week.  The universe of blogs seems to be telling me to eat buckwheat crepes, so who am I to deny it?

Shauna at Gluten Free Girl and the Chef posted a lovely photo and the ratio for crepes here.

Melissa at Hunt.Gather.Love wrote about buckwheat pancakes in this post, which I have already linked to.

I plan to use Shauna's ratios and suggestion to grind the flour in my blender, but Melissa's suggestion to soak the flour in yogurt (or maybe a yogurt water mix so it's not too thin thick?) for a day or two first.

Hmmm, maybe I will make those instead of rice noodles for fish night.  I wonder if I could get my hand on some caviar?  Make a russian mushroom cream sauce for the fish?

Weekly dinner menu, 3/25/2012

We helped a friend move and paint all day yesterday, so when we got home there was no way we were going to cook.  We got Nepalese take out from Himalaya.  They have the best palak paneer in town.

I got another bag of end of the road bell peppers which I am about to roast, and I made beef/lamb stock with the ox-tail and lamb bones this morning.  I keep a zip lock in the freezer to which I add leek greens, mushroom stems, etc. and when I make stock I have some vegetables to flavor the stock with.  Today I also added celery, allspice, bay leaves, and a few carrots.  I roasted the lamb bones at 450 till they were brown and put everything in a big stock pot with filtered water to simmer for a few hours.

Tonight we are making the eye of round as roast beef, making mashed rutabagas and parsnips, and broccoli and asparagus.  I think I am going to make latkes as a side dish for the meat eaters and the main dish for the vegetarians.  Once the meat is out of the oven I am going to make a pavlova shell, we have a lot of cream left over from last week so I am going to use it up in a fancy dessert.  We have too many lemons and limes so I may make curd for the dessert.

Monday: I got two lovely looking pieces of salmon, I think I will make a teriyaki type glaze, pan fry some rice noodles with sauce, and make spinach with sesame seeds.   I got some shiitake mushrooms, so they will work their way into the meal too.

Tuesday: I am going to bake all 5 pounds of the russet potatoes and serve baked potatoes with cheese sauce for the kids, and stroganoff for the grownups.  Green beans for a vegetable.

Wednesday: Twice baked potatoes, baked ham, and chard.

Thursday: French onion soup?  I made beef broth this morning after I went shopping, so something lovely with that.  I have bonito in the house, so I promised my son I would make him soup with noodles this week, I will start the vegetarian soup with dashi, and then either make a hearty miso with tofu and green onions and other vegetables, or perhaps make a sweet and sour vegetarian soup.

Friday: Turkey with mashed sweet potatoes and broccoli, frittata for the vegetarians.

Saturday: Ham again, probably just pan fried with whatever vegetables are left over.  All of our kids will be gone, the boys are going to Chicago with their Grandparents, my daughter is going to Belgium with her aunt.  To be honest I just think my husband and I will clean and do yard work all of spring break.  We both have really hard busy weeks at work, probably we will both be working more than 40 hours this week, so I am really looking forward to break.

Weekly shopping 3/25/2012

I have figured out why I have been going over my budget the last few weeks!  I have been bringing David with me.  Not that my husband is a profligate shopper, but we have doubled up on things without noticing, and our inner mental menu doesn't necessarily match.

We spent 250.00 again this week.  46% of our purchases were P6, (Edited to add: someone followed my P6 link and ended up at a porn site!  Ack!  My link was good, so I think the P6 site is hacked.  I broke the link and will see if I can find a different P6 link. ) which is pretty good considering we are in the absolute winter produce doll-drums right now.  We manage that amount by buying all local meat, eggs, and dairy.  Which, by the way, is mind boggling.  Think about how much more sustainable my animal products are than the produce I bought.  If we didn't have an oil based shipping economy my family could still eat the same animal products, we would probably eat less rice and more oats, buckwheat, and tubers, and during March the only vegetables we would be able to eat would be sauerkraut and stored winter squash.  So much for a vegetarian diet being sustainable.  I wonder how high I can get my P6 percent during the summer?

Meat: we still have hamburger and the never ending supply of frozen chicken from several weeks ago, so we just bought ox tails which were on special, and lamb soup bones, an enormous ham, also on special, and a variety of sausage and some bacon. Our fish this week is frozen wild Alaskan Sockeye. Meat sub total: 75.00  (actually it was 72.something, but close enough.)

Dairy: We got lots of yogurt, whole plain, and flavored, 1/2 gallon of whole milk, a pint of cream, butter, cream cheese, cottage cheese, 3 dozen eggs, colby jack and muenster cheese.  Dairy sub total: 106.48  All of our dairy products cost about 5.00 per unit, I wonder if that's some sort of psychological dairy purchasing limit beyond which people don't like to go.

Fresh produce: bag of almost over the hill peppers, bulk spinach, #5 potatoes, daikon radish, shitake mushrooms, bag of oranges, mushrooms, asparagus, cucumber, onions, beets, garlic, limes, kale, lemons, ginger, orange bell pepper, scallions, avocado, green beans, bananas, kiwi, bag of pears, broccoli, sweet potatoes, bag of apples.

Cans, boxes, and bags: nut thin crackers, crushed tomatoes in a glass jar, rice noodles thick and thin, buckwheat groats, frozen raspberries and blueberries, veggie burgers, rice, coconut milk, rice thin crackers, tortillas, and dried kelp, because I just read an article about kelp and I had to have some.

Apparently the co-op tracks purchases for members and can provide a purchase history for us.  I am both intrigued and horrified by the thought of seeing my grocery shopping broken down over a quarter.  Maybe once I have been shopping weekly for a while I will give it a try.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Interesting new journal

I use a piece of kombu in my beans, and make dashi and miso fairly often, so this article about flavor in seaweed was really interesting to me.


Which for some reason reminds me of my very first serious cooking moment, my friend Tammy and I often went out to eat at Chinese restaurants with my parents, ethnic back then meant either Vescios or a Chinese restaurant.  One day over at her house we decided to recreate egg drop soup.  We boiled some water, "dropped" the beaten eggs in, and added salt.  We showed her mom Pauline, one of the great cooking influences of my life, who suggested we start with broth and gave us some stock cubes.  I am pretty sure Tammy and I trashed their kitchen that day making batch after batch of egg drop soup.  The idea that I could eat something made by a "real" cook, think about it, and then recreate it was born at that moment.  I can't remember when Tammy and her family moved from that house across the street, but we were pretty young, and that memory is definitely in the old house kitchen.

One of my other favorite memories of food and that kitchen is the wild grape vines that grew up the power pole in the back yard.  When the grapes were ripe Pauline would call the power company to come cut down the vines, and then she would make grape jelly I can't eat grape jelly without smelling the grapes boiling in that kitchen in the angling late summer light and the feel of the open windows and the giant grape vine mess in the back yard.

Egg Drop Soup

A very small step up from the original kitchen egg drop soup:

Heat some flavorful chicken broth, taste for salt and pepper, and add a few drops of rice vinegar, gluten free Tamari, and sesame oil.  You could add some red pepper flakes if you wanted to be fancy.

Beat a few eggs in a measuring cup.  With the soup at a simmer gently stir the soup while pouring the egg in in a thin stream.

Put the soup in bowls and garnish with finely sliced green onions and perhaps a drop more of sesame oil.

I think I am going to teach my children how to make egg drop soup later today.

Friday, March 23, 2012

My grand unification theory of weight, or, how modern food lies

Pork chops and bean stew, hyper-palatable?
Stephan Guyenet posted this interesting essay about weight and the reward hypothesis there of.  So I thought I would try to articulate my own theory in the simplest possible terms, which I think incorporates many of the things I have read about food reward.  Keep in mind I am an art teacher who has read a lot about diet and nutrition.  I am certainly not up to date in all of the research.  But the current consensus, while having a lot of merit doesn't include many of the observations I have made about my own body.

As I understand it there are two ways to sense flavor in food.  The taste buds are a sort of blunt instrument which perceive saltiness, bitterness, sweetness, sourness, and perhaps umami and fat, though perhaps fat is a mouth feel/consistency perception.  We also have scent receptors which perceive the direction an odor is coming from, if it comes in through your nose (ortho nasally) it is registered as a smell, if it comes up from your throat and mouth (retro nasally) then it registers as a taste.  Depending on whose theory you believe those odor/taste molecules are perceived because of their shape or their vibration.  They are more and less precise depending probably on genetics, use, and skill.  There are well recognized super smellers or "noses" who have incredibly discriminating scent/taste perceptions.  But everyone can detect a remarkable range of chemicals with their scent/flavor receptors.  There are also "taste" receptors in your digestive system.

Interesting side note: even though the chemicals are the same, and the sensor is the same, smells and taste molecules are processed in totally different parts of the brain.  I need a term to differentiate the taste bud taste from the aroma taste by the way.  At any rate, the smell of strawberries is processed in a different place than the strawberry gas that drifts up through your sinuses retro nasally.  How cool is that?  I am not a super smeller like my mom, but I have a very acute sense of flavor molecules, I suspect that's because I focus on aroma and flavor.  The part of my brain that processes that information is rehearsed.

So the question is, why?  Why do we have these taste systems?  People who lose their sense of smell are at significant risk of eating rotten food and getting sick.  We are pretty good at smelling when food has gone bad.  That's a good reason.  My mom is a super smeller, she can detect smells in minute amounts and long before anyone else.  But she doesn't like cooking and can't recognize small amounts of herbs in a dish like I can.  She can smell slightly off milk from a mile away.  My mom throws away a lot of food other people would keep using for days.

The taste buds seem to be a system for making sure we can recognize macronutrients, our salty and bitter receptors help us perceive minerals in our foods, our sweet receptors help us perceive carbohydrates, our umami sense helps us perceive amino acids, etc.  I would love to see research into people without a sense of smell and their habits around macronutrients and their micronutrient status.  Some people have a much denser distribution of taste buds than other people, my family always calls me a super-taster, but I am not.  Super tasters often don't enjoy food as much as non-super tasters, they have a lot of aversions.  I would love to know if there is a relationship between super-tasting and weight.  I would predict super tasters would be more slender than not.

As Proust pointed out, our sense of smell, and in my personal case my sense of taste, are directly wired into our strongest memories.  I believe that we come to associate specific tastes and smells with the nutrients those foods contain.  That all that direct connection between smells and tastes and learning are to help us remember where to find food (I smell honey, I remember getting lot's of carbs when I smelled that before, reward-anticipation kicks in, I find honey, I eat honey, my body registers carbs, I am rewarded, I remember.)  We also, and often very dramatically use our senses of taste and smell to learn aversions, I couldn't eat pizza for years after an unfortunate morning sickness pizza incident.

The sense of smell and taste are very discriminating, I can often identify individual herbs in a dish.  And sometimes I have huge overwhelmingly strong cravings for specific herbs.  I figure that is my body saying, hey, remember the last time you smelled that smell?  Tasted that taste?  When that happened I got something I needed, do that again, 'kay?

This is of course directly related to all the reward and palatability Stephan and his fellow researchers are talking about.  I eat something my body needs, it likes it, it rewards me, I do it again, I (and my body, which seem to have become separated in this little narrative) win.  Where I differ from the direction the current research is going is that I don't buy that crappy processed food is "hyper-palatable." (Though, according to the glossary Stephan has started to put at the bottom of his posts it is, so maybe I just have a nomenclature disagreement with him.) I don't think our bodies are that stupid.  That the food companies have figured out what ingredients they can add to food cheaply to make us eat a lot is clear, but I don't think that's the whole story.

Here is my thought, I think the food learning process is being interrupted/fooled by foods that have the tastes and smells of nutrients that aren't there.  My body learned to associate citrus aromas, and sour taste bud stimulus with vitamin C, and probably all manner of bioflavonoids and other nutrients in citrus.  I often have strong cravings for citrus aromas and sour tastes. When I am camping and don't eat fresh foods that have vitamin C I get overwhelming cravings for sour things.  Sour candies can help in the short term, they have the aromas and taste I am craving.  But my body isn't getting what it wants, so the craving comes back making me eat another sour candy.  That sets up an addictive cycle.

Interesting side note, I am not the only one.  People living in Minnesota forts in pioneer times ate mostly salt pork and grains and beans.  They had casks of citrus juice shipped to them, which they fermented and added to alcohol. If you are camping a flask of lemon juice/honey/brandy which you add a dash of to your tea can stave off the citrus cravings.  The pioneers called it shrub.

I suspect that after enough learning the body starts rewarding the taste, rather than wait for conformation from the digestion about the actual nutritional content of the food.  That's the reward the researchers are talking about.  If I really need a nutrient such as C, or perhaps something else in citrus, my body will reward me for eating the sour/fruity candies, even though the nutrients aren't there, but it will send me the craving signal again as soon as it realizes I was faking it out.  Research into drug addicts shows that the dopamine starts flowing as soon as they anticipate the dose.  More dopamine - reward occurs as they ready their paraphernalia, the sensory information is ahead of the actual chemical stimulant.

If I find a patch of fresh raspberries or thimbleberries while I am camping I get immediate  physical feedback from my body that make me want to eat them.  My sour craving intensifies, I produce saliva, and even if I am near my camp site or have a really heavy pack I will stop and pick and eat those berries.  When I do, my sour craving is satisfied and doesn't come back.  I don't have to eat sour candies if there are berries around.  The berries are satiating, or they satisfy my craving.  But I have a raspberry patch in my garden and I almost never go out and eat every berry I can find, because my at home diet probably has plenty of whatever the raspberries have.  I have often been in a situation where I could eat all the berries I want, and I stop after about 300-400 calories of berries, which is a heck of a lot, but not outrageous.

If I could carry enough sour candies I would probably eat thousands of calories of them while camping.  I would never get the signal to stop because they don't have what my body wants, even though they taste like they do.  If I carry vitamin C lozenges they are more satiating, though not as satiating as the berries, there are probably any number of not-yet-discovered nutrients that my body gets from the berries that are not in the lozenges, but at least I am getting the C.

I think the issue with modern processed foods isn't that it is hyper-palatable, I think the issue is that it is carefully crafted to communicate that it has certain nutrients, but it doesn't actually have them.  The flavor triggers the reward, like the sight of a needle will trigger dopamine for a heroin addict, but the food can't deliver, so like the heroin addict isn't satisfied with the little hit of dopamine, the eater isn't satisfied with the food.  But they are motivated to try again, because the cue their body has learned was present, the reward was triggered.  The problem with modern processed food is that it is nutrient poor, while having the flavors of foods with nutrients.  The problem is, it lies.

But all that sophisticated communication about what we are eating isn't just about getting us to eat the right nutrients, it's also about processing the things we eat.  The tastes we taste are how our body knows what enzymes, what hormones to release as we eat.  Even thinking about eating specific foods can cause those physical changes.  But what happens when we lie to our body with our food?  I believe that our body learns we are unreliable.  Take diet soda for an example, you taste the sweet taste, your body releases insulin to deal with the sugar... that never arrives.  Now the closely regulated sugar that was circulating in your blood is getting shuffled off to storage because of all the extra insulin.  Half an hour later you have to either release some glycogen from your liver or eat some carbs.  Also, next time you taste something sweet your body might not release enough insulin, it's not dumb, it learns.  But what if this time that sweet taste is a real soda?  Crap, now you are damaging your tissues with too much blood sugar.

I suspect that the more unreliable messages you send your body over time the higher your body moves it's set point.  I also suspect that some people who are over weight are either not getting the nutrients they need so their body in a desperate attempt to get those nutrients just keeps sending out the hunger signals hoping to get enough.  As our food has become less nutrient dense (which lot's of research says it has) we need to eat more to get the basic nutrients we need.  Set point moves up, that's how many calories we need to get the basics.  I think one of the benefits of exercise is that it uses the extra calories that you need to eat to get the nutrients, and if you are some how damaged in your ability to get enough nutrients, or you have taught your body that you are completely unreliable no amount of exercise will matter.

Many magazine articles suggest that we eat less dense foods, watery soups to fill the tummy and "satisfy us" or fill us up.  I think that is the exact opposite of what we should do.  I think we should eat the most nutrient dense lowest volume foods.  I think way to much attention is paid to the stretch receptors in the stomach, and nowhere near enough attention is paid to the nutrient composition of our food.  If my body gets the message that no matter how much I stretch my tummy I won't get enough nutrients, than I will only stop eating when my stomach is super stretched.  If my body gets the message that I will get all that I need in a moderate amount of food, then I will be satisfied with less.  That has absolutely played out for me.  A few ounces of meat satisfies me like cups and cups of bean and whole grain salads didn't.  Because the meat has the protein I need, but maybe also because it has carnatine, or usable iron, or some other thing I needed that wasn't in the way more caloric beans and grains.

I haven't quite worked them in to this theory yet, but I am interested in Seth Roberts Shangri la diet, which is the opposite of diet soda, in other words lots of calories no taste.  Also, even though I give myself permission to eat whatever I want at Thanksgiving, including massive amounts of carbohydrates, my blood sugar never goes very high.  Whereas if I eat an entire baked potato with a normal dinner my blood sugar shoots up.  Thanksgiving is a high anticipation meal for me, I think about what I am going to cook, and what I am going to eat, for days.  I cook all day long and think about what I will be eating.  And when I eat it, my body is ready for it.  I remember hearing a study of diabetic Muslims who had no problem with controlling their blood sugar during religious fasts, but would have serious problems with low blood sugar if they missed a meal.  Our anticipation and thinking about foods is powerful.  So if we consume a lot of food related media, might that be interpreted as unreliable information for our body?  I love reading cooking magazines, I have a very vivid taste memory/imagination and can often taste the recipe as I read it.  Am I getting the little hit of dopamine when I do?

What happens to people who never get nutrients they need?  Who never have the opportunity to learn the flavor associations with vital nutrients?  Is this why formula fed babies have a greater risk of obesity? Is there a window of opportunity beyond which you cannot learn those relationships?  Can we create people who have a complete disconnect between their sense of taste/smell and what their body needs?

Another interesting thought I have had is that I seem to be controlling my blood sugar much better since I started planning my meals.  I know what I am going to cook, and I can mentally prepare for it.  Also, the amount of carbohydrate is predictable, and my meal times are more regular too.  However, my weight set point has gone up about 10 pounds.  My anticipation helps me process the food, but am I lying to my body by thinking about what I am going to eat?

I don't disagree entirely with the reward research in weight, in fact my recommendations are probably exactly the same as Stephan Guyenet's, I just think there is more going on then that crappy processed foods taste so good we over eat them, which is what a lot of the writing about food reward seems to boil down to.

Edited to add:

I think Melissa at Hunt.Gather.Love may share many of my reservations about the current theory of food-reward.  Please read her article here.

Paul Jaminet seems to agree with me as well.  Or, at any rate isn't quite on board with food-reward as it is currently advertised.

Though, let me take this moment to re-iterate that Stephan Guyenet is a very excellent blogger, seems to be a level-headed scientist, and also seems to be a nice guy.  I have no argument with him, and his reporting of the research and consensus amongst obesity researchers.  I do believe that respectful disagreement is one great way to increase the total of knowledge.