Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Another Busy Week of Cooking

I haven't posted in a few days because I've been cooking, of course!

Last night my second CSA box arrived with loads of fresh organic vegetables and fruits. I was so excited to start preparing delicious food that I couldn't sleep. My CSA box contained the most beautiful arugula, red leaf lettuce, baby spinach, rainbow chard, kale, sage, rosemary, oregano, red potatoes, and onions. Along with juicy blood oranges, tangelos, d'anjou pears, red pears, and lemons. For those of you who read a previous post about my first CSA box, you might remember that I was a little disappointed to receive a few items that traveled from distant farms. Well, I found a way online to make modifications to my order. Thus, this week I replaced a few distant items with more local pears and oranges. I also added fresh herbs that are grown in Duvall, WA.

Arugula and Blood Orange Salad
For lunch today I put my fresh ingredients to good use and made an arugula salad with blood oranges and balsamic vinegar. It was delicious, and I can't wait to make more fresh food. Earlier in the week I made pizza dough and used half the dough to make a pasture-fed beef sausage tomato based pizza. I now have enough dough left over for one more pizza and plan to top half the pizza this time with tomatoes, basil and pecorino romano and the other half with olive oil, fresh oregano, pecorino romano, and maybe a little arugula when it comes out. So excited!

Homemade Almond Milk

In addition to pizza dough and inspired by a friend, I also made homemade almond milk. It was so easy. Just soak the almonds for 48 hours, rinse, blend with water, and strain (I used a cheese cloth for straining). Voila! Almond milk! I used the milk for making oatmeal, and I used the crushed bits of almond/almond meal in pancakes. I have to say I loved the nutty addition to my pancakes.

I also made pate brisee for the first time this week. Basically, it's a basic crust for pie and quiche. I used mine for a caramelized onion and goat cheese quiche. I LOVE quiche, and it's on the menu for dinner again tonight (leftovers, that is).
Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Quiche

Pate Brisee

Eat well and be well. If you'd like any of these recipes, just leave me a comment, and I will post them. Thanks!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Say "NO" to Sugar-Free

You might be surprised by the title of this post, but after I explain it in context, I hope you agree.

This morning while I was preparing to shower at the gym, I glanced up at the Today Show on the television. They were discussing the calorie content of specific breakfast meals. In front of Hoda was a plate of three gigantic pancakes and a small glass carafe with about 1/4 cup of syrup in it. After explaining that this breakfast has over 650 calories and the syrup alone contains over 10 teaspoons of sugar, they suggested switching to sugar-free syrup. In the middle of the locker room, I blurted out, "Oh, please, just eat the real stuff!" Unfortunately, no one was around to hear me so I couldn't preach my beliefs about food to anyone. Americans, this is why we have a problem with obesity in the first place. We're replacing real foods with synthetic CRAP that trains us to eat MORE. Yes, you could have an unlimited supply of sugar-free syrup to go with your triple stack of gigantic pancakes, but that defeats the purpose. Let's GET BACK TO THE BASICS. Had I been invited to discuss food on the Today Show, I would've retrieved two more large plates, divided up the three huge pancakes amongst the three plates and poured a little REAL syrup over each one. Heck, I would've even thrown in a pad (1/2 T.) of REAL butter on each, with an 8 oz. glass of whole milk, and a cup of fresh berries. Now how's that for a breakfast under 650 calories.

Spinach Salad

On the bright side, this syrup fiasco inspired me to do a little "cooking" today. I have pizza dough rising and sliced sweet potatoes roasting in the oven, and I just finished eating a delicious spinach salad. For the salad, I used organic spinach with beautiful, dark green, thick leaves, fresh organic basil, local roasted hazelnuts, an organic local gala apple, goat cheese, lemon, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. I like to call this salad: spinach salad with apples, goat cheese and roasted hazelnuts, dressed with a lemon basil balsamic vinaigrette.

Here are a few pictures of dishes I've prepared this week:

Broccoli Cheese and Rice Casserole

Thai Tofu with Cabbage and Parsnips

Lemon Pomegranate Scone and Latte

Now, I hope I've inspired you to get cooking with REAL food.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Omnivore's Dilemma

"Getting Back to the Basics" started as a new year's resolution to feed my family only whole REAL foods. At the same time, I began reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, a book written by Michael Pollan; and soon after, I began getting back to the basics in a more powerful way. Not only was I changing what and how my family was eating, but I was also questioning where the food I was eating came from. Over the last 2 months I've been scrutinizing each food item I purchase and have had many "omnivore's dilemmas":

(1) to buy conventional produce, organic produce that came from Mexico, organic produce that traveled half way across the country, produce from the farmer's market, or produce through a CSA;
(2) to purchase a roasted chicken that was not treated humanely by my moral standards, organic free-range chicken that still may not be treated humanely, or pasture raised chicken from a local farm;
(3) to buy canned beans, organic canned beans, dried beans, organic dried beans, or dried beans in season from the farmer's market.

I've had a dilemma, like these, for every food item on my grocery list: milk, eggs, wheat flour, oats, soy milk, cheese, tomatoes, etc. And as I've been working my way through all of these dilemmas, I've deemed it necessary to understand where and how these foods are produced, cultivated, and/or processed. For when we understand how the food was brought into existence and to our dinner table, we can make better choices (which are defined by each of us based upon our morals) about which foods to eat. For instance, if I want to bake fresh bread using wheat flour, which type of wheat should I use (durum, emmer, red fife, winter wheat, etc.), which type of flour should I get (unbleached, bleached, cake, pastry, self-rising, etc), how much processing should the wheat undergo (e.g. white versus whole wheat flour), and finally which brand of flour should I purchase (i.e. should I buy a national brand or a local product).

Learning about wheat flour is just the beginning for me. I have much to learn about every food in order to feel comfortable with the food I buy. To be conscious of what we're eating is achieved more fully when we understand where the food came from and the energy cycle it takes part in. To be appreciative of what we're eating is developed when we attempt to prepare the food (and each of its ingredients) with our own hands. "A meal that is eaten in full consciousness of what it took to make it is worth preparing every now and again, if only as a way to remind us of the true costs of the things we take for granted."

My bucket list just got a lot longer!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My First CSA Box

Last night I received my first box of produce from Full Circle Farm in Carnation, WA. Since it's wintertime this farm partners with other organic farms to provide produce to its customers. I thought I'd try it out and for $35/standard size box it's comparable in cost and quality to shopping at the West Seattle Farmer's Market (I was there on Sunday and was able to do a cost comparison). Each standard box should feed 2 adults and 1 child for a week. I currently am scheduled to receive a box of produce every other week, and I may need to purchase a few additional items from the farmer's market the week I am not scheduled for a shipment. In my first box of produce I received (in order from most local to least local):

1 lb. of turnips, 3 apples, 3 pears, and 2 onions from Washington
1/2 lb. Cremini mushrooms from British Columbia (only 2 hours away)
4 oranges, 1 bunch of broccoli, 1 bunch of kale, 1 bunch of green leaf lettuce, and 1 bunch of spinach from California (up to 900 miles away)
1 cucumber from Mexico and 1 mango from Ecuador (I was surprised by these 2 items)

Since half of my order still traveled quite a distance to get here, I will put in a special request to the farm (I'll ask for two orders of a local item in place of an item further south than CA.). If my request cannot be fulfilled, then I may postpone more orders through this farm until the spring months arrive and I can be assured most, if not all, of the produce will be provided by the farm itself. Despite my slight disappointment with the location of some of the partner farms, I am so far very impressed with taste. I just bit into my first orange and have not tasted a better orange since I moved to Washington over two years ago. The flavor was extremely concentrated, and although I know there's no fat in an orange, this orange had a smooth, creamy texture (3 pieces slipped right out of my hand as I picked them up). Because of the flavor and texture, I was completely satisfied after eating half the orange, and I saved the other half for my son when he awakes from his nap.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Buying Seasonally and Locally

Yesterday I went to the West Seattle Farmer's Market and picked up a few things, including winter squash, parsnips, frozen pitted cherries, roasted hazelnuts, grass-fed beef sausages, and raw beef bones for our dog. They had sold out of medium and large eggs by the time I arrived so I will have to pick some up next week to try. Afterwards I went to QFC to buy local Twin Brook Farm's milk, which comes in a glass jug and makes me wish I lived on a farm during the first half of the 20th century. I also grabbed some local organic yogurt and examined the produce section. I wanted to get a few fresh herbs that I could not find at the market. I found organic cilantro made in the USA; however, the other herbs I was looking for (basil, chives, and rosemary), despite being organic, were grown outside the USA. I knew I'd feel guilty for buying them since they'd traveled so far to get here, so I passed them up and made a reminder note that I need to start growing my own fresh herbs again. There were two food items I did buy that were not local or seasonal: organic bananas from Peru and a lemon (I'm not sure where it came from). From the time I entered QFC until I got home, my stress level was high. It sounds crazy to get stressed out over grocery shopping, but trying to buy seasonally at a supermarket is nearly impossible. So from now on, I'm going to do my best to avoid supermarkets. I know that these changes I'm making (to never buy processed foods, to eat locally and seasonally, to buy grass-fed meat) are difficult now, but soon they will become a habit that I will no longer have to think about. It's just like starting an exercise regimen,quitting smoking, or cutting up credit cards and paying for everything with cash. It's hard at first but over time, habits are formed and the actions become quite subconscious.

So today for lunch I made winter squash stew (pictured above). I caramelized onions, garlic, and the cubed winter squash in olive oil, and seasoned it with salt and pepper. I used the remnants of the onions, garlic, and squash (skins and ends) to make a broth by boiling them in a quart of water. I strained the broth, poured 2 cups of the strained broth into the caramelized vegetables, and added about 2 cups of garbanzo beans.

I also saved the squash seeds and roasted them with a little salt.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Organic Lingo

If you read the labels found on items in the produce, meat, and dairy sections of a supermarket, you might be stumped about the different terminology. I know I was when I began my resolution to eat whole foods and started to think more about where my food came from. Be aware that "natural", "organic", "cage-free", "free range", etc. are simply marketing tools. My favorite marketing vocabulary that I recently noticed in a QFC advertisement for poultry was "vegetarian fed" (I actually laughed when I read this). Although "vegetarian fed" sounds healthy, the chickens may still be housed in feed lots eating mushed corn by the billions of bushels. These chickens may not even be consuming organic feed, but by putting a "vegetarian fed" label on it, many of us are fooled into believing this chicken is a lot better than a chicken without the same label.

All I can stress is that we need to do a little research on our food. Yesterday I spent several hours doing just that, and after a long discussion with my husband, I came up with a step-by-step process of changes we can make to our diet that will lead us to better health and a better environment:

Step 1: Eliminate all processed foods so our diet consists of only whole foods
Step 2: Reduce our consumption of animal products
Step 3: Make the switch to organic produce or, better yet, buy from a local farm/farmer's market (Don't worry about these small farms not having an "organic" label. Many small farms are doing more than what's required to get that "organic" label; they are practicing sustainable farming.)
Step 4: Make the switch to local dairy products that come from grass-fed animals

Step 5: Purchase wild seafood that is not endangered
Step 6: Start purchasing grass-fed meat from a local butcher

Achieving all these steps may be difficult (our family is still working on steps 3 through 6) so start small. Even if you just get through step 1, you're making a HUGE difference in your life; and if we all made it through step 1, we'd change the food industry for the better! Good luck, and if you're interested in grass-fed food, check out http://www.eatwild.com/.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Value of Food

This past Sunday as I was rolling out what seemed like an endless amount of dough for fresh pasta, I started thinking more about our relationship with food. If everyone, including our children, spent a day in Great Great Grandma's kitchen (or with me rolling out pasta by hand to feed a family of 12), I think we'd all have a greater appreciation for REAL food and become more disgusted with what so many of us actually call food. In addition to spending a day in Great Great Grandma's kitchen, I think we should all spend a day volunteering on a farm. If we understand more about where our food comes from and how much labor is necessary to produce quality food, I think we'd value food more.

I have always valued the flavor of freshly made pasta and croissants, but I didn't recognize the effort that went into making such delicious food. I am thankful that I can walk into The French Bakery whenever I have a craving and pick up a fresh chocolate croissant. My homemade croissants were good but nothing like those from The French Bakery. It'd take me a lot of time and patience to get them just right, and I'm not sure I'm up for that task since I can coneniently pick one up from the bakery whenever I want. Although I cherished every bite of the croissant prior to making them myself, I now can not put a price to a croissant. $2.55...that's nothing! and that's what I've been paying for a croissant for the past 6 months when The French Bakery opened its doors in downtown Bellevue. For the convenience of having a fresh croissant of such perfection, I'd pay a lot more than that. 

Unfortunately, how we currently measure the value of food is solely by price. $1.99/lb for ground beef and $0.79/lb for oranges...that's a steal if you aren't aware of how they're produced. So how do we train ourselves to get away from the mentality that cost is the primary driving force for our food purchases? I think a day with Great Great Grandma and a day on the farm would do the trick.