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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lunch some lovely day last week

Chicken feta sausage with sauteed veggies and that may be the sun shining through a glass of wine.
The side plate you can see on the left had a few pieces of dark chocolate, several walnuts, and a few orange wedges.  For dessert, you know.

Fish tacos version 2.0, mince, and green shredded pork

I made fish tacos on Monday again, and they were an even bigger hit.  This time I made the same marinade, but I picked the pieces of fish out of the marinade and rolled them in masa harina (dry) and then fried them in my stainless pan in some coconut oil.  The sprouted corn tortillas I like fall apart if you steam them warm, so this week we put them on cookie sheets, put cheese on them, and broiled them.  We constructed our fish, cabbage, and guacamole tacos on top of these melty cheesy tortillas, and they were very good.  Very messy, but very good.

Mince and whatever strange thing Scottish people call parsnips

Tonight we had my take on Mince.  I never actually had mince in Scotland, it is almost always made with gravy thickened with flour, but I like the thought of it so I keep making my own version.  I am sure an actual Scottish person would be horrified.  Tonight I sauteed an onion, peppers, carrots, and celery in some butter till a bit brown, added a pound of hamburger (by volume about equal to the veggies,) and browned the hamburger.  I added a few ounces of tomato puree, a few squirts of ketchup, a splash of the red boat fish sauce (as a Worcestershire sauce substitute) and enough water to make it a gravy consistency.  I simmered it while I sauteed some mushrooms, sliced some tomatoes, and made parsnip and potato hash.  The vegetarians had baked beans and fried eggs with their hash.  My younger son declared he hates fried eggs, and then proceeded to eat four of them.  Not an elegant meal by any means, but good and very filling for the kids running off to rehearsals.

I also did the prep work for tomorrows green pork chili.  It's all set in the crock pot liner in the fridge, we just have to take it out and plop it in the crock pot base in the morning, let it come to room temperature, and then turn on the crock pot and head to work.

Green shredded pork

I quartered 8 or 9 tomatillos, a huge onion, a green bell pepper, and two jalapenos.  I added several cloves of garlic, and a good big pinch of cumin seeds, and a splash of coconut oil.  I roasted the veggies in a 400 oven until they were getting some brown roastiness and had collapsed a bit.  While the veggies roasted I browned a 3 pound bone in pork butt.  The co-op meat department has been cutting more bone in cuts and pricing them much cheaper, which is a win-win for the slow cooking cuts.  The bone gives you added flavor and nutrition and you save money.  The veg went in the bottom of the crock, the meat on top, and I had saved the fish marinade which was onion, cilantro, lots of lime juice, salt, and peppers so I threw that in as well.  It will get plenty cooked enough to kill any raw fish germs in the crock pot.  I deglazed the pan I browned the pork in with a cup of water and poured the water and all the crunchy brown bits over the top of the meat.  When I get home I will pick out the bones, shred the meat into the sauce, add lime juice, salt and pepper, and chopped cilantro.  I will serve it with mashed and fried red chili beans, vegetable garnishes like lime wedges, diced avocado, chopped fresh onion, etc. And quesadillas for the kids.  I didn't add chicken broth this time, I am looking for more of a shredded pork with sauce texture rather than a soup texture.

Weekly shopping 3/18/2012

Despite carefully setting it aside when I rushed off for my busy day I have somehow lost my receipt for grocery shopping on Sunday.  I went over my budget again this week, I am finding that I do fine buying the meat, the vegetables, and the dairy, but what kills me is the non-weekly but still required staples.  The olive oil, salt, and gluten free Tamari are what push me over.  Is it cheating to count them separately?  Yes, I need them to cook.  Maybe I just have to budget for 100 dollars more a month to stock up on monthly staples.  This week it was salt and honey that did me in.  I like local minimally processed honey, but its 14 bucks for a pint jar.  I have been using a very old box of run of the mill kosher salt for weeks, but I finally broke down and bought the mined Richmond Red Salt that I prefer.  Two bags, one fine and one course. 

I remember that I had %56 P6, so that was pretty good.  

I bought a 3 pound pork butt roast, 1.5 pounds of wild cod, a 2 pound Eye of Round, a package of organic all beef hotdogs, a bison summer sausage, and .5 pounds each of chorizo and breakfast sausage.  We still have a bunch of chicken in the freezer from the sale two weeks ago.  And we are still slowly using up the ground beef we bought months ago.  

I arranged my produce much more attractively this week, so I will let it speak for itself.  I did cheat and put the produce front and center, so here are some close ups of the packaged stuff. 

And the bags of beans and vegetables.  I buy my mushrooms in paper bags, and they stay good all week.  A plastic bag retains too much water and they get slimy.  By the end of the week they may be a bit shriveled, but they are still full of mushroomy flavor.

Just look at all that lovely produce.  Really, we live in amazing times.  All of the produce was organic this week by the way, and the parsnips, tomatoes, lettuce, and rutabagas were local.  The bananas were equal exchange, so fair trade.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What I ended up doing with six almost over the hill peppers

I roasted and peeled them, and made a lovely salad with balsamic vinaigrette and shaved parmesan.  I served them with carrots and fennel.

I roasted poblanos to go with the fish tacos tonight.

I am probably going to roast some more bell peppers for the green pork on Wednesday.  I had planned on saving a poblano, but I forgot and ate them all.

Bell peppers are one of the foods that I couldn't eat at all before I gave up gluten, and now I eat them all the time.  I love the taste of them, and they are so darn easy.  I eat way more dairy now, after a life time of suffering through lactose intolerance it's pretty fun to now be able to eat as much dairy as I want.  I could always have a little yogurt or cheese, but never a lot, ice cream made me seriously ill.  About a year after giving up gluten I started to notice that I could eat more yogurt, more cheese.  I started cautiously adding other dairy.  I still wouldn't drink cups of milk, but mostly because I never really got used to that much dairy and I don't have the taste for it.

Spring is coming!

Plum blossoms getting ready
Actually, as near as I can tell we skipped spring and went directly to some sort of strange brown plant-less summer.  Last year it snowed on May 14 as I left for work, I cried the entire car ride because I was so done with winter and really, May 14 snow?  (Average last day of frost for Minneapolis is May 15, it's not that outlandish, but it was a hard winter last year.)  But, here, let me show you the strangeness this year.  My Maple tree is in full bloom.  I would say it's a month early?

My pussy willows are almost done, here they are a few days ago, the light was bad tonight, but I hope to catch their full yellow blossom tomorrow.

Chives and sorrel are up and almost ready to start nibbling.

And strawberries and rhubarb are on their way.  The lilacs are leafing out, but they hardly count.  I could easily turn my garden and plant stuff, but for all I know we could still get a foot of snow.  I will be kicking myself for not planting if we don't.  Maybe I could find some spinach seeds to throw in.  Radishes would probably do okay either way.

Weekly dinner menu, 3/18/2012

Sorry I am late posting, we were out of town on Friday-Saturday, and then spent Sunday helping a friend paint at her new house, and helping another friend out around his house.  I did my grocery shopping right when the co-op opened Sunday, and it was easily the most pleasant Sunday shopping trip I have had.  Going early is the plan from now on.  I did make dinner between painting and helping my friend, but whew, it was a busy day!

Sunday: Beef stew, cauliflower cheese (like macaroni and cheese, but with steamed cauliflower instead of noodles,) mashed potatoes, beet and greens salad with walnuts.

Monday: Fish tacos, but I'm going to fry the fish this time, and do something different with the tortillas too.  Guacamole and other fish taco fixings, lettuce and cabbage salad.

Tuesday: Scottish mince (onion and gravy with hamburger in it, I make mine a little tomatoey.) Baked beans and fried eggs, roast parsnips, sauteed mushrooms, fresh tomatoes.

Wednesday: Green pork chili in the crock-pot, refried beans with cheese, rice, crudites, and avocado.

Thursday: I have a meeting after work, so David will make hamburgers, baked potatoes with cheese sauce (unless it's crazy warm again, then maybe potato pancakes for the vegetarians, with baked beans on the side?) steamed broccoli and carrots.

Friday: Can you believe we still have the chicken drumsticks in the freezer from two weeks ago?  Maybe we will actually make them this week.  I made a cool casserole dish in my ceramics class that I am dying to use, so I think I will make some manner of baked chicken thing, with some rice and maybe some prunes, sort of mid-eastern spices.  The vegetarians will get hummus, yogurt, and rice.  Green beans for the vegetable.  I didn't buy prunes, so I may make a special trip.  We do have some raisins hanging around though, so maybe not.

Saturday: Roast eye of round, savory custards, mashed sweet potatoes and parsnips, vegetable medley (that's whatever vegetables are still left at the end of the week,) fruit salad.

We will have eggs, oatmeal, yogurt, and I bought some chorizo for a spicy breakfast one day.
Lunches will be left over dinner in thermoses for the kids as much as possible.  I soaked and cooked some garbanzos today and am planning on making rice overnight in the rice cooker, so the kids get that for lunch on Tuesday.  I have to work full time all week, woe is me, so I am packing leftovers too.  I bought a package of hot dogs for emergency protein and I have a hot dog packed for my lunch tomorrow already.  My student teacher gave me a hard boiled egg today, because I forgot to bring my lunch.  So sad.  I had a beet salad and some left over stew when I got home though.

Ways of knowing

On the way home from work today I heard a "cooking expert" casually dismiss soaking beans.  I have been thinking ever since about the different ways we have of knowing information, and how easy it is to get lost.  I have an example that I think is telling.

For years women told one another that you could cure a UTI by drinking cranberry juice, no one new why it worked, but it worked so often for so many women that word got around.  Science decided to test the cranberry juice theory, who knows, maybe all these women were on to something.  The theory was that cranberry juice must acidify the urine so much it killed bacteria, so the scientists gave different test subjects different amounts of cranberry juice and tested the PH of the urine, and it turned out no matter how much cranberry juice you gave the women it didn't really change the PH.  Cranberry juice for UTIs was declared an old wives tale, and Doctors everywhere rolled their eyes at patients who insisted that the juice worked.

Meanwhile, many people for whom it did in fact work stopped believing in science a little bit.

We know now that cranberry juice does indeed reduce the duration and frequency of UTIs, but by a totally different mechanism than was expected.  Turns out there is a sugar in cranberry juice that humans don't digest, that is cleared in urine, that sugar blocks the part of E. Coli bacteria that normally latches on to the urinary tract, allowing the bacteria to be washed away.

There is no question that well designed scientific research is a very good way of proving and disproving things, perhaps the best way we have right now.  But there are a number of limitations to science.  One major limitation is the tendency of humans to pay more attention to evidence that supports their bias, and disregard the limits of that evidence.  The doctors and scientists didn't want to believe that cranberry juice helped UTIs, though they were willing to test it just in case.  When their test was negative they were completely comfortable rejecting any possible mechanism for cranberry juice to work.  In fact their test just showed that cranberry juice didn't work by acidifying urine.

Another great example is food and acne.  Many people have noticed that their diet impacts their acne.  Various food culprits have been blamed.  If you ask a doctor they will tell you in total certainty that food has no impact on acne.  All the people who see their diet impacting their acne stop believing their doctors a little when that happens.  Apparently the research the doctors are quoting was one brief study comparing a group that ate a chocolate bar with a group that ate a candy bar with no chocolate.  I hope you can see the gross limitations of that research.

So back to the beans.  Harold McGee, a very interesting food writer, wrote a book called "On Food and Cooking."  He wanted to test whether soaking beans increased their digestibility.  Indigestible polysaccharides are blamed for the gas promoting effect of beans, we can't digest certain sugars, but the microbes in our gut can, and they over grow and produce gas.  So McGee soaked some beans, measured the sugar content of the soaking water, and determined that soaking didn't increase the sugar in the water, and if you think about it, how could soaking leach out more than a tiny fraction of the polysaccharides from the beans any way?  Soaking was declared unnecessary.  Most people who write about food have read McGee, or at least heard of him, so the don't bother soaking message is really wide spread.  The food expert on the radio was almost certainly referencing McGee today.  By the way, I think McGee is a smart guy, and I have learned a lot from his books.

But it turns out that much of the problem with beans and grains is in phytates and other anti-nutrients which the plant uses to defend itself.  Mice and other animals produce a lot of phytase, an enzyme that digests the phytates.  Healthy cows have micro-organisms in their rumen that produce phytase, and some lucky humans have robust intestinal flora that can help them digest beans with no problem.  Soaking and thus partially sprouting beans activates all sorts of enzymes as the living bean begins the process of growing into a plant.  If beans aren't a huge part of your diet, if you are getting ample vitamins and minerals from other sources, than traditional soaking is probably enough.

People all over the world have figured out that soaking beans makes them more digestible, and eating them with certain herbs also helps.  I have noticed that when I soak beans for a good long time (changing the water regularly) that they have a better texture, a better flavor, and they don't bother my tummy as much.  They are more pleasurable to me, and they help me feel connected to a long tradition of cooking and eating.  Beans taste best if you eat them with spices in the cumin/fennel/caraway family and herbs like rosemary, oregano, cilantro, and epazote.   Cultures that have eaten beans for a long time flavor them with those spices and herbs, they soak and ferment the beans.

I don't eat beans very often any more, they move my blood sugar too far too fast.  But I do feed them to my vegetarian children, what are the alternatives?  Soy dogs and wheat gluten burgers?  When I do feed beans to my kids, I prepare them carefully, and I trust to thousands of years of human experimentation to figure out how to make them as safe as I can.  This doesn't mean that I reject scientific research, I understand it as a very important way of knowing.  But that research is dependent on figuring out a good hypothesis, figuring out a correct test, and don't forget actually getting the research funded.  In the mean time, I can use other ways of knowing to make choices, and conveniently they tend to be more aesthetically pleasing.

Here is an article at Weston Price about preparing beans and grains.
Here is a lovely post by one of my favorite bloggers about her experiences with food intolerances and figuring out what she needs to eat to feel well.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Paleo, or what?

When I was a very little girl my mom and I were vegetarians, it was the 70s, my mom was a peace activist, it's what you did back then.  There was even a brief period of living on a communal farm and some toying with Macrobiotics.  My mom tells a hilarious story about my Grandma Alma visiting and a big feast of possibly undercooked beans and the disastrous gastro-intestinal results.  Unfortunately us back to the land types only had an outhouse.  My poor Grandma.

When I was four we started eating meat again, and for most of my childhood my favorite food was steak.  I remember my 9th birthday the one thing I wanted to do was have a fancy steak dinner with my three best friends, Aislinn, Ingrid, and Tammy.  Somewhere in there I was diagnosed with a wheat sensitivity and told I would eventually grow out of it.  Curious.

Then, when I was about 10, I spent a day on a cousins farm communing with a particularly lovely and kind cow.  Have you ever looked a cow in the eyes?  They have lovely long lashes and the kindest eyes.  I was a rebel type, spending a lot of time protesting for world peace.  It made perfect sense that I became a vegetarian.  I was a dedicated vegetarian for 30 years.  Right up until I started having health problems, stopped eating wheat, and realized that if you can't eat wheat, and don't eat meat, there's not a lot left to eat.

Barbara Kingsolver helped me mentally adjust to the idea of eating meat again.  Her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle  while celebrating all of the things I value about food, local, home grown, organic, nourishing, also spoke to ethical meat eating.  Then came the great local and sustainable food films, Fresh, Food Inc., etc.  Realizing that much of what I had thought about the economics and sustainability of conventional mono-cropped annual grains was wrong, that in fact you could heal land with responsible grazing... oy, to say it caused cognitive dissonance is an epic understatement.  I had always said that I had respect for hunters, that animals raised with respect on healthful diets were a natural and ethical food.  Luckily for me right around this time our Co-op started a meat department featuring ethically sourced, ethically processed meats.  Read the Wendell Berry quote at the Lorentz Meat web site and you will know that they respect animals, and respect life.

Eventually I stumbled upon the Paleo or Primal blogs, and found a community talking about ethical, healthful grass-fed meats.  Since I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes around the same time I started focusing on my carbohydrate intake as well, and suddenly it all came together for me.  A community of people who had a coherent vision of healthful, ethical, low carbohydrate, natural foods.  In a nutshell, the Paleo community believes that we should eat as our Paleolithic, or pre-agricultural ancestors ate.  What exactly that means is open to wild debate and argument, but I like how Kurt Harris approaches it, a prioritized list of what to eliminate first.  Another great approach, and perhaps closest to how I eat is The Perfect Health Diet.

I am sure most of the Paleo community would scorn the wheat my family eats, the fact that I have two vegetarian children, and my occasional corn muffin.  I am also influenced by The Weston Price foundation and their approach to diet, though I don't always sprout my oats and I am not going to eat sourdough bread any time soon.  Perhaps the book Real Food by Nina Plank comes the closest of all to my philosophy.  I have come up with my own version of healthy eating, open to tweaking, that makes my body feel good.  I eat grass fed, local, meats with an emphasis on ruminant meat.  I eat lot's of fresh vegetables, some of them raw.  I eat enough carbohydrate to keep from developing worse insulin resistance than I already have, but not so much that my blood sugar ever goes over 140 an hour after I eat.  I eat a bit of fruit and a bit of dark chocolate and the occasional small serving of dessert, because life is too short not to.  And sometimes I have a corn muffin, because even though I am sure they are not great for me, I love them.  I am not afraid of fat, and in fact think I was probably horribly deficient in good healthy fats for years.  I listen to my body.   Ultimately, as long as you're are eating real food, that's all anyone can do.

Fish chowder

I wouldn't call the fish chowder a wild success like the fish tacos last week, but I liked the fish chowder, and everyone ate theirs.  There was enough for lunch for everyone today as well.  And it was very fast and convenient.  From start to finish dinner took us about 40 minutes, including making biscuits and setting the table.

Fish Chowder

One of the nice things about fish night is that everyone can eat the same thing.  But I ruined that by using some of my smoked ham hock in one batch of fish chowder, and making the other one ham free.  I heated two pots on the stove, added a tablespoon of butter to each, and sauteed half a leek and half a large onion in each.  I added a diced stalk of celery and a diced carrot to each as well, and about 1/2 cup of finely diced ham hock meat to one.  While I let the aromatics get a touch of brown to them I peeled and diced 4 big yellow finn potatoes and added half to each pot.  I covered the potatoes with water, just to the top of the potatoes, and added salt, pepper, and fresh thyme.  I brought everything to a boil, and turned the heat down to simmer till the potatoes were just barely cooked.

While the potatoes cooked I diced the cod into 1 inch chunks, and scrubbed the mussels, discarding one with a broken shell.  My husband and my younger son made a batch of biscuits, they use the Beard on Bread recipe, and I am pretty sure they both have it memorized.  I also peeled a few carrots and sliced some bell peppers and fennel into thin slices, cut the carrots into sticks, and arranged the veggies on the table.  My older kids set the table and got a pitcher of water out.  As soon as the potatoes were just barely done I put the fish, a bunch of milk, and a glug of cream in each pot and turned the heat up, when it boiled I turned the heat down to simmer for a few minutes, and added a big handful of minced parsley and half of the mussels to each pot.  The mussels steamed open and the soup was done.

I make a very similar soup with smoked trout that is something like a bowl of Cullen Skink my daughter and I had in Scotland last summer.  The great thing about the ham hock is it gave that same smokey taste to the soup, and I loved it.  My husband and kids preferred the plain chowder to either the Cullen Skink or the chowder with ham hock.  I probably wouldn't bother with the ham hock for this recipe again, it's easier to just use the smoked trout and then every one can eat it.  Cullen Skink is normally made with smoked Haddock, but Star Prairie smoked trout is local and wonderful.

Monday, March 12, 2012

What the world eats

The current contents of my freezer.
Somewhere in the last few years I saw a photo essay about what people eat in various parts of the world, and those images stuck with me.  That's why I have been piling my food on the table and photographing it each week.  It turns out there is a Time article and a book with these photos:

Time article.


I think I need to do a better job arranging my food attractively!  The American family's food has always depressed me, no insult to that specific family, but it's all so processed.

I also saw a photo essay about the contents of people's refrigerators which was both horrifying and illuminating: here.

I am enjoying the visible evidence of my shopping choices.

Lemon cream rice pudding

I have a number of old cook books, one of my favorites is "The Boston Cooking School Cook Book."  The version I have was published in 1935 by Little Brown and Company, but it was originally copyrighted in 1896.  One of the most interesting things about it is how many totally gluten free recipes are in it.  Think about it though, it's not like there were 24 hour a day markets, if you were out of an ingredient in 1896 you made do.  In fact, the very first thing in the book is a list of substitutions followed by ways to use soured milk.

Another interesting thing is how little sugar the recipes use, and how small the serving sizes are.  The menus are pretty entertaining too.  There is a whole section on vegetable luncheons or dinners, not to indulge your vegetarian friends I assume, but perhaps for fast days or if you are simply out of meat.  In many ways it's a very modern cookbook.

I am always trying to think of ways to get more dairy and eggs into my vegetarian children.  I worry about protein, good fats, and vitamin B12, not to mention choline, iron, all the things they are missing.  I used to think you could get adequate nutrition as a vegetarian, but I am no longer so sure.  Have I mentioned that I haven't had a cavity since I started eating meat again?  I had a cavity every dental appointment of my life.  My old cook books have many recipes for using up extra milk and eggs, in fact I think that's the entire purpose of the dessert chapter: using up milk and eggs.

Last night I tried the Lemon Cream Rice recipe, and it was awesome.  It's a lemon rice pudding baked with a meringue topping.  I made a few minor changes and we all loved it!

Lemon Cream Rice (Adapted from The Boston Cooking School Cook Book.)

1/2 cup jasmine rice
3 cups whole milk
1/3 cup honey
grated zest of a whole lemon
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
2 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract

Combine the milk and rice in the top of a double boiler, place on top of simmering water, cover and simmer until rice is cooked and very soft about 30 minutes.

Stir together honey, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and egg yolks.  Gradually stir in 1 cup of the hot rice mixture to temper the egg yolks.  Add the egg mixture to the rice and milk mixture in the top of the double boiler and stir constantly for a few minutes until the mixture is slightly thicker.  Pour into a buttered baking dish, I used a small quiche type pan.  Let cool in refrigerator till thick and just a bit warm.  Can be made ahead to this point, set out to warm to room temperature 30-40 minutes before proceeding.

Beat egg whites till foamy, add two tablespoons sugar and continue beating till stiff, gently add lemon extract.  Top pudding with egg whites and bake in 350 oven just until delicately browned.

(The eggs in the meringue are basically raw, if making for immune compromised people consider using pasteurized eggs.)

I found this not too sweet, and it did all the things lemon meringue pie does for me, but easier and gluten free.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Weekly dinner menu, 3/11/2012

We are having pot roast, potatoes, turnips and carrots, a salad of water cress and lettuce, and maybe some sauteed cabbage and zucchini for dinner tonight.  I think I'll make mini frittatas for the vegetarians.  My friend Shelly gave me these awesome little pans that are like mini paella pans that seem like they want little frittatas in them.  I read a recipe for an egg tart and lemon curd in the recent issue of The Mix, a newspaper of the Twin Cities co-ops, and I am thinking a meringue shell with lemon curd and whipped cream sounds pretty tasty.  I also saw a recipe in my 1890s Fanny Farmer cookbook for a lemon pudding with a meringue topping, so I am headed in that direction for dessert.

For this week's dinners I am planning:

Monday - Fish soup.  Can't decide if I am making a potato and milk based chowder, or a tomato, fennel, orange kind of Mediterranean thing.  Either way there will be mussels in it though.  I cut off some of the ham hock before freezing the rest and am toying with using some of that in the soup, even though then I have to make two batches because of the vegetarians.  I'll make David and the boys make biscuits for the wheat eaters, and I'll make a salad or fruit salad too. (I am going to have my daughter make homemade bread rolls for tomorrows burgers and for Wednesdays lunch.)

Tuesday - Grilled cheese burgers, potato salad, green salad, pickles and olives.  There will be lots of eggs in the potato salad for the vegetarians.  Home canned peaches.

Wednesday - Pork chops, it's supposed to be warm so if we can we will grill them, otherwise I will fry them, there will be rosemary and garlic involved in the pork as well, baked potatoes and cheese sauce, broccoli.  With luck we will be baby sitting a friends new baby that night, so simple is important.

Thursday - Lamb and zucchini stew with a cinnamon, thyme and tomato sauce, feta cheese, rice pilaf, oniony lentils, carrot sticks and apple slices.

Friday - The kids will be at my parents, and we will be out of town.

Saturday - Soup night!  I never made the chicken soup I had planned for last week, so I will make Turkey soup and split pea soup.  I have never used a ham hock before, and I really want to make split pea soup with a ham hock in it, but that's sort of pointless since the split pea soup is for the vegetarians so I may end up making three separate batches of soup and then freezing a lot of soup for lunches and later.  Split pea soup and chicken soup both freeze well as long as you don't use potatoes in them.

Sunday - Beef stew, mashed sweet potatoes, peas and lettuce, quiche.

Breakfasts:                                                      Lunches:

m - oatmeal                                                     leftover frittatas and stew
t - bacon and eggs / yogurt and fruit               cream of potato soup and biscuits
w - chicken sausage with veg. / granola         egg salad sandwiches on homemade rolls
th - oatmeal                                                     potato and broccoli in cheese sauce
f - bacon and eggs / yogurt and fruit               tofu fried rice

Weekly shopping 3/11/2012

I failed totally in keeping my total under $200.00.  Not counting cat food and supplements, but including our discount we spent $225.00.  Only 35% of our bill was P6, small, local, cooperative, etc.  Though, the supplements and cat food are mostly to blame there.  This week we bought:


Swan Island mussels, wild caught cod, 2 packages of grass fed beef stew meat, 2 packages of bone in center cut pork chops, a smoked ham hock, a package of ground lamb, a pound of bacon, and a package of chicken feta sausages.  The meat subtotal was $74.00  The stew meat and pork chops were on sale.  We have plenty of chicken left over from last week.  The lamb and fish were pretty expensive, but I was really wanting lamb.


Cauliflower, red and green bell peppers, a bag of marked down bell peppers that I will roast today and do something interesting with I hope, parsley and a package of "poultry herbs," 2 zucchini, celery, a head of lettuce, fennel, mushrooms, broccoli, 2 leeks, 2 lemons, 2 avocados, a bunch of onions, russet potatoes, yellow potatoes, sweet potatoes, a 5 pound bag of carrots on special, apples, bananas, and oranges.  Only the potatoes, onions, and mushrooms were local, and it's possible the onions were bought by the growers cooperative from out of state.


We had 2 half gallons of milk already, so we bought 3 doz. eggs, cream, 2 things of cream cheese, co-jack, prairie breeze, parmesan, 6 individual yogurts for lunches and snacks, sour cream, babybel cheeses for lunches, and peanut butter.


We had plenty of rice and masa harina in the house so we only bought polenta, red boat fish sauce (a blogger I like recommended it, so I'll give it a try,) walnuts, and split peas.  I am just realizing I should have bought some tomato product of some sort, I might have to run back.  Actually, we could use honey and greek yogurt too.  I can put that off till next week though.

Shop Co-op!

Photo from
About ten years ago my husband and I made the commitment to do all of our grocery shopping at Seward co-op.  Shopping at the big box grocery stores in our neighborhood was increasingly depressing and horrible.  The worst of human nature on display in a way that made any help or intervention impossible.  I'm not going to lie, it's more expensive to shop exclusively at the co-op, but it's so very much more pleasant.

One of the advantages of the co-op is they act as a curator for my food choices.  They have a list of principles they support: local, organic, sustainable, fair-trade, non-GMO, co-operatively produced, etc.  This saves me some of the work of selecting products I can believe in.  Another advantage is that I have a voice through my membership and voting to impact decisions at the co-op.  Frequently I can meet the producers of my food, at CSA fair days, during sample demonstrations, at farm to table dinners.  That connection makes me feel good about my food choices.

Because the co-op is very close to my house I go there pretty often, my whole family does.  I know most of the long time employees by name, and they know me.  They are a part of my community and they keep an eye out for me and my family.  A lot of them know about my food sensitivities and will steer me towards good food choices.  My mom and I were actually among the founding members of the co-op, I remember cutting and packaging cheese as our volunteer job when I was a little kid.  Shopping at the co-op has been a part of my entire life, and I love that connection and sense of belonging.

Even my dog get's involved, though I wish she wouldn't.  We must walk there so often there is a strong scent trail from our house to the co-op.  My dog has followed us there several times, and discovered that the automatic doors will in fact open for her.  Thank heavens there is a customer service person right by the door to stop her.  I am embarrassed to admit how often someone from the co-op has brought our dog home to us.

I am making it work, shopping at the co-op without going broke.  I do this mostly by focusing on ingredients and avoiding processed foods.  Beans, rice, root vegetables, grass fed and pastured meats, dairy products, and lots of fruits and vegetables form the basis of our diet.  We focus on local and seasonal choices when we can, and that brings the price down too.  And because we plan ahead we aren't wasting our food or throwing anything away.

Beyond that, I feel that conventional food is much more expensive in the long run, it just looks cheaper to the shopper.  I can't feel good about the way conventional agriculture damages the soil, poisons the water, creates super weeds and super bugs, damages the health of farm workers, is cruel to animals, encourages unfair trade practices in the developing world.  I am bothered that millionaire mega-farms receive subsidies to over produce commodity crops, suppressing prices for small farmers world wide.  Those costs will be paid by all of us.  But I can make a better world for myself, and my community by using my food dollars ethically.  It may cost a bit more in the short term, but that is our charity, our donation to the world at large.

Please consider shopping cooperatively.  There is a list of all the food co-ops in Minnesota at cooperativesociety.  Here is a nation-wide list of cooperative groceries at Cooperative Grocers.

Full disclosure: my husband is a board member of Seward Co-op.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Vegetables for breakfast

I have a hard time understanding the "5 a-day" campaign and people who struggle to get enough vegetables.  I have to consciously limit the amount of fruit I eat to control calories and blood sugar, left to my own devices I would just nibble fruit all day.  I love vegetables!  But a lot of people have told me getting enough vegetables is hard for them.  Or, they like vegetables but they get bored with steamed green beans.  Once I was at a "healthy living" seminar and a personal trainer suggested eating a family size bag of frozen green beans every night to get all your servings of vegetables.  Can you imagine?  No wonder people struggle.  I like green beans a lot.  I even kind of like frozen green beans.  But a bag, every night?

So here is one trick.  Eat vegetables for breakfast.  Not a lot, for heavens sake, not a bag's worth.  A tomato, a handful of mushrooms, a half of a bell pepper, and an orange and an apple shared between several people add up to a good breakfast and a serving of fruits and vegetables for each.

A pan of creamed spinach makes a great bed for poaching eggs.  No need for a white sauce, just put a lot of spinach in a skillet, add some cream, and cook till the cream reduces and the spinach wilts.  Make little wells in the spinach and crack in eggs.  If the wells look dry add a little bit of butter or some more cream to them first.  Salt and pepper everything, grate on some cheese, and put the lid on the skillet.  Turn the heat down and check often.  I have made this for a crowd using big baking dishes and the oven too, it works great.

My German host mother makes breakfast salads.  When I was visiting one summer she would go out to the garden and pick a zucchini, a few herbs, some marigold petals, and chives.  She grated the zucchini, mixed in a bit of apple or tomato, some olive oil and seasoning, and fed some to my host father, then mixed the herbs in with the rest for her and I.  (My host father has to avoid vit. K.)  Inspired by this I have branched out into grated carrot salads, cooked beet salads, even cole slaw.  I am not a fan of lettuce at breakfast, but composed vegetable salads are great.

Any thing you would put in an omelet tastes good with breakfast.  Sauteed broccoli with diced ham.  Sauteed mushrooms with grated cheese.  Fresh sliced tomatoes.  Sauteed chard with bacon.

Finally, that breakfast classic: hash.  The secret to hash is to use a cast iron skillet, don't be afraid of a little butter, dice the vegetables fairly small and evenly, and cook it at a lower heat for longer.  This morning I used a chunk of peeled raw butternut squash, a small rutabaga, and some broccoli.  Maybe two cups of vegetables total.  I heated a medium cast iron skillet on medium low (I have a "professional" high BTU stove, so perhaps medium high on a regular stove) and added a tablespoon of butter.  I put in the root vegetables and let them sit without stirring them for a few minutes, tossed them around and let them sit again, and finally added the broccoli and let them sit a bit longer.  I pushed them to the side and added a little more butter and fried two eggs on the side.

I shared with my husband, so that's two good servings of vegetables to start off our day.  This works with any combination of starchy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables that would taste good to you.  Add the non-starchy vegetables near the end. The vegetables aren't crispy, this is not fried potatoes.  If you want crispy oven roast vegetables at 450.  But that's more of a Sunday thing.  Hash you can do on a weekday.  I often add diced ham, but if you want to add bacon fry diced bacon separately and sprinkle it on top.  That way the bacon stays crispy and the vegetables taste like butter.

When I worked at a fancy Italian restaurant the Sunday brunch buffet was loaded with amazing vegetable dishes, marinated salads, sauteed sweet Italian sausage with broccoli and bell pepper, pickled vegetables, olives, baked eggplant.  If a fancy restaurant can serve vegetables for breakfast, why not you?