Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A CHILI TO BELIEVE IN

I believe that if you impulsively buy dried black beans at the market because your eyes meet the eyes of the lady sorting and bagging them (which happened to me yesterday) and then a link to a recipe for Black Bean Chili from March, 2009 appears next to the Roasted Vegetables for Thanksgiving article you're reading in November, 2010  (which happened to me this morning) that you better make that chili (which I did). 

And guess what?!  Alice said, "That's the first thing you've made which I actually liked."  A miracle!!!!  I won't use up valuable blogging space to go on and on about my attempts to feed Alice healthy meals.  Let it suffice to say,  she's 13, has lousy eating habits, and is prone to hyperbole.    

Here's the recipe.  I did everything it said except I used fresh plum tomatoes instead of a 28 oz. can. ( There is no such thing as a can of tomatoes in my neighborhood whereas there are plum tomatoes by the bazillion.)

 She had a second bowl of it just now!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

S 510 - IS FOOD SAFETY REALLY THE POINT?

Have you ever bought food from a local farmer or at a farm market?  Cider from a roadside stand?  If so, and if you were happy with your right to do it, it may be time to come up to speed with Bill S 510 pending in the Senate.  Debate will start again after Thanksgiving.  In fact, Thanksgiving is a perfect time to think about the food on the table and where it comes from...

In 1996, I owned the Apple Barn Farm Market in New Boston, NH when E. coli in cider made  in Connecticutt and NY made people sick. The national media went nuts.  Everyone became afraid to drink unpasteurized cider, the government considered requiring all cider to be pasteurized (some would say ruined), and a lot of family businesses in our area  threw up their hands and quit.   Orchards turned into housing developments. 

The apple business in NH was tough enough because of the short growing season.   Profits, were never huge.  The added expense of pasteurization was unthinkable.  Not to mention that cider had been made for hundreds of years pretty much the same way.   

All this history came back to me reading yesterday's NY Time's article:  Small Cheesemaker Defies FDA Over Recall.  It offers both the small producer and the FDA's perspectives.
 
My sympathies are with the small farmer.  That's where I get all the food I can because I know it's freshest and it's raised with a "hands on" approach (I would say "with love" but I hate it when you roll your eyes).  Industrially produced food can't be.  I don't want my local farmers harassed, or burdened.   I trust the county extension services which are part of state universities, to keep them informed of the latest developments with their crops/products and problems that might effect them.
  
Also, I fear big agribusiness.  When you see headlines like:  Vegetables Are The New Meat, and read:   unrestrained vegetable eating has never been more eagerly pursued. Sunchokes are everywhere, black kale is all the rage, and even plain old broccoli—never mind boutique brassicas like spigarello and Romanesco—is hot. Vegetables, you see, are newly and increasingly fashionable, at least among a certain segment of fine-dining, CSA-belonging, Michael Pollan–reading, rooftop-garden-crazed New Yorkers.

This new breed of plant lover isn’t motivated entirely by ethical, environmental, or even health concerns (though those reasons come into play), but by culinary ones. Simply put, the once-meat-obsessed populace is realizing that vegetables actually taste good. Especially when fresh, in season, and carefully prepared ...You know that the meat lobby has to have a reaction.  They are very powerful in Washington. Remember what happened to Oprah?  Would the meat lobby try to make it tough on their competition by any means possible, including increased regulation?   Well, that's their job.
 
So I ask you to read about the bill and to weigh in with your senators.  (The bill has already passed through the House).  Going to Congress.org and typing in your zip code at the upper right is one easy way to find your senators and send an email (or snail mail, or CALL).

To read more about S 510 and what's at stake, check out Slow Food USA.  

Friday, November 19, 2010

IN THE NEWS: COCA LEAVES, BACON, SEEDS AND NUTS

Three interesting articles appeared in the last 48 hours about food being more effective than drugs for treating many diseases.  The one that kept me reading late into last night, Epilepsy's Big, Fat Miracle - NYTimes,  is about a little boy who had over 100 epileptic seizures A DAY! After trying 11 different drugs, his parents put him on the ketogenic diet.  It's cut the seizures by 75%.  Remarkably, this diet has been around for 80-90 years.  That's the interesting thing about food as medicine, so much of it has been replaced by drugs.  Drugs don't necessarily work better than food, and drugs are expensive -- particularly for those 50.7 million Americans without health insurance.  

About 3 million Americans have epilepsy, and finding a food cure for the million who have drug resistant epilepsy, would be wonderful, but what if there was a food cure for heart disease, something that effects over 80 million Americans and is the number 1 killer of both men and women?  That would be STUPENDOUS, right?   Dr.  Joel Fuhrman's article in the Huffington Post today claims he's got the food cure and has already helped 100's of people reverse their disease.  Here are some excerpts but please read the whole article.

What is the optimal diet for heart disease prevention and reversal?
Certainly not the small dietary changes recommended by government agencies and other organizations -- these are only modest changes to the average American's diet, and the average American starts developing heart disease during childhood. (5) Unfortunately, these widely voiced recommendations have made many people think by eating reduced-fat, processed foods and replacing red meat with egg whites, fish and chicken, they will be protected. They will not. These changes are simply not rigorous enough to assure predictable reversal.

I propose that a high-nutrient, vegetable-based diet can be even more effective.   90 percent of calories (must) come from nutrient-rich plant foods: vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts and seeds.

To provide optimal levels of protective micronutrients, a diet must be vegetable-based, not grain-based. Vegetables and beans are far superior to grains and white potato when it comes to nutrient density.  Seeds and nuts are indispensable for cardiovascular health. The protective properties of nuts against coronary heart disease were first recognized in the early 1990s, and a strong body of literature has followed...

Finally, also today in The Huffington Post is Dr. Andrew Weil's article, Why Plants are (Usually) Better than Drugs Please read the whole article.  Here's a small excerpt to get you interested:  

...For Andean Indians, whole coca leaf is the number one medicinal plant. They use it to treat gastrointestinal disturbances; specifically, for both diarrhea and constipation. From the perspective of Western pharmacology, this makes no sense. Cocaine stimulates the gut, it increases bowel activity, so obviously it would be a good treatment for constipation, but what could it do for diarrhea except make it worse?

However, if you look carefully at the coca leaf's molecular array, you find 14 bioactive alkaloids, with cocaine in the greatest amount. While cocaine acts as a gut stimulant, other coca alkaloids can have precisely the opposite action, they inhibit gut activity.

This means that when you take the whole mixture into the body, the potential is there for the action to go in either direction. What decides it? The state of the body, which is a function of which receptors in the gut's tissues are available for binding. 

Herbs  that can "tone" the body and bring it back to homeostasis are known as adaptogens... Asian ginseng, for example, has an array of active constituents known as ginsenosides. One of them, Rg1, can stimulate the nervous system, while another, Rb1, has been found to calm it. But even this is an oversimplification. Other constituent cofactors apparently increase the adaptogenic properties of ginseng, making the therapeutic whole more than the sum of its parts. Ultimately, this non-specific response boosts resistance to stress -- whether the stress is physical exertion, infection, or some other problem.

So using whole-plant remedies is a fundamentally different -- and, I would argue, often better -- way to treat illness. In Western medicine, we typically give the body no choice. We use single compounds that, essentially, shove physiology in one direction.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

OLIVE OIL IN THE CHEAP KITCHEN

Times are tough for a lot of people these days, including us.  My big contribution is to cook.  We used to go out to eat a lot.  We've stopped.  Instead I make good, almost always vegetarian meals every day.  This takes time, but involves so much color and creativity I can't think of anything else I enjoy as much.  And it's made us healthier!   We are saving on doctor's visits and medications.  I now have few headaches and my daughter's tendencies to pick up viruses is way down.  Still, one big expense I was allowing myself was cooking with extra virgin olive. Until today.
  
Thanks to Harold McGee's article today in the NYTimes:  Is It Time for and Oil Change in the Kitchen?  I can stop the insanity of cooking with olive oil.  It did seem counter-intuitive to make the healthiest, cheap dish in the world, Muhjadarrah (consisting of lentils, rice, and an onion) with 4 T. of olive oil, but until I read this article I would've been afraid not to. 

Not that I'm going to stop using olive oil altogether.  I love the flavor, and the health benefits are very well documented, but from now on I'll only be using it raw.  Two places where it makes taste and money sense to me is in dressing salads (I never buy salad dressing anymore) and dipping bread -- it's healthier than butter and butter isn't cheap either. 

The whole Times article is well worth a read for just how extensive the taste testing went, and as a heads up on that store brand olive oil that always seems so price appealing...  but here is the key excerpt:  
 

I investigated the flavor question by heating 15 oils — 4 olive and 11 seed oils — with nothing else in the pan, so I could taste what heat alone does to them. And I served some of them to trained oil judges.

We were surprised at how thoroughly heat obliterated the flavors in cooking oil until they all tasted more or less the same. Even prize-winning, and costly, extra-virgin olive oils lost much of what makes them special, though they retain their apparently healthful pungency. To get food with the green and fruity flavor of good olive oil, it seems more economical and effective to  fry with an inexpensive refined oil and drizzle on a little fresh olive oil after cooking.

My cooking oil of choice for now will be canola.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

MORE THAN MINIMALLY CHEERED UP

I try to cook at least one tasty, healthy meal every day, and because I like to experiment, some days things don't work out so well.  Today I made an awful lentil vegetable soup.  I can't even explain all the ways I hated it, but the lentils not being soft was only the beginning.  So I got depressed.  

After feeling like a loser and a failure for an hour or so,   I decided I needed some new inspiration and watched a few cooking videos at the Alice Water's Green Kitchen site.   That cheered me some.  But then a foody angel took over my computer and opened The NY Times Minimalist Video site, a site I never knew existed.  Why not? I read the Times on the internet ALL THE TIME.  Mark Bittman saved my day.  Tomorrow I will wake up excited, go to the market, and cook once more.   Thank you foody angel!


Meanwhile I wonder if I can fix my lentil soup by puréeing it in the blender....  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A PERFECT STORM OF HEALTHY EATING?

Just read a short interview at www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com with Dr. Ayala Laufer-Cahana, MD.  Here is my favorite excerpt:

What’s the most important news story today that you think we all need to pay more attention to?
I think that the news about the obesity epidemic’s global dimensions, combined with growing concerns about rising healthcare costs, and the growing awareness of just how poor our eating habits and food have become, are creating a perfect storm. I have a feeling we’re reaching a tipping point in which being health conscious will become mainstream.


I so hope she's right about health consciousness becoming mainstream.  People need to have more positive things in common.  To this end, I think it's key to keep food politically neutral and to encourage everyone to share food and health research.   

Here's to your health!  

 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

PEEL APPEAL

Just read that you should eat banana skins.  They're very nutritious and may combat cancer. But in further reading about bananas I find there are about a billion different varieties of banana, whereas usually only one, the "Cavendish" is commercially available where bananas don't naturally grow.  Cavendishes have rather thick skins and may not be conducive to baking. Many cultures bake bananas in their skins and eat the whole fruit.  Here in Morelia, I have found tiny bananas in the market with very thin skins, so I think I may stick those in a blender drink and see how it tastes.  

In general, lots of nutrition is available in fruit and vegetable skins -- potatoes, apples, eggplant... the skins (particularly colorful skins) have nutrients the fruit inside may lack. Carrots are more wholesome on the outside than inside, making those "baby carrots" you buy at the grocery store of less nutritional value than the whole unpeeled kinds because babies are really carrot cores.

Dr. Cynthia Geyer in the talk that induced me to start eating 1/2 a plate worth of fruits and vegetables at every meal, explained that scientists trying to find the healthiest part of the blueberry so that it could be synthesized into supplements, found that it was the WHOLE blueberry -- the pulp plus the skin working together -- that made it nutritious.  Why wouldn't the same hold true for other plant foods?  It certainly appeals to my common sense.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

EATING BERRIES, YOU CAN'T GO WRONG




Black chokeberries or aronia berries, have so many health benefits that I won't even bother to list them all, but cancer, heart disease, and kidney problems are three issues they may address.

Serviceberries (also called Saskatoonberry or Juneberry)  from the amelanchier shrub/tree have very similar properties and health benefits to blueberries.  And don't forget the valuable Elderberry!

Red raspberries and strawberries have over-the-top nutritional benefits too.  

In general, eating berries is an excellent idea and mixing them up and eating them in season is smartest. All of these berries are native or naturalized in the US, so consider growing them or picking them in the wild -- certainly the best way to insure freshness and lack of pesticides.

Note:  As a long-time garden center owner/operator I can tell you that blueberry, chokeberry (aronia), and serviceberry (amelanchier), and elderberry plants are quite ornamental and turn lovely colors in the fall making them both useful for eating and landscaping.   

Raspberries and blackberries need more care.  They are thorny, not very attractive, and can quickly spread out of control.  Prepare them a bed of their own, away from other plants.  


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

MEDITERRANEAN FOOD DIET DEFINED

When I hear "Mediterranean Diet"  I visualize a small round table with a white tablecloth. There's a glass of red wine, a loaf of bread,  a plate of olives, and there's turquoise water in the background....  I didn't know Mediterranean Diet had a medical definition and a food pyramid chart.  

MayoClinic.com is my go-to-site for all health related issues  (I love their symptom checker).     Today I ran into their Mediterranean diet post and thought I should share it along with the pyramid.  

Mediterranean diet: Choose this heart-healthy diet option

The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan combining elements of Mediterranean-style cooking. Here's how to adopt the Mediterranean diet.

By Mayo Clinic staff

If you're looking for a heart-healthy eating plan, the Mediterranean diet might be right for you. The Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating — plus a splash of flavorful olive oil and perhaps a glass of red wine — among other components characterizing the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

Most healthy diets include fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, and limit unhealthy fats. While these parts of a healthy diet remain tried-and-true, subtle variations or differences in proportions of certain foods may make a difference in your risk of heart disease.

Benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. In fact, a recent analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of overall and cardiovascular mortality, a reduced incidence of cancer and cancer mortality, and a reduced incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

For this reason, most if not all major scientific organizations encourage healthy adults to adapt a style of eating like that of the Mediterranean diet for prevention of major chronic diseases.

components of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Getting plenty of exercise
  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)

The diet also recognizes the importance of enjoying meals with family and friends.

Fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains

The Mediterranean diet traditionally includes fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice. For example, residents of Greece eat very little red meat and average nine servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the "bad" cholesterol that's more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.

Nuts are another part of a healthy Mediterranean diet. Nuts are high in fat (approximately 80 percent of their calories come from fat), but most of the fat is not saturated. Because nuts are high in calories, they should not be eaten in large amounts — generally no more than a handful a day. For the best nutrition, avoid candied or honey-roasted and heavily salted nuts.

Grains in the Mediterranean region are typically whole grain and usually contain very few unhealthy trans fats, and bread is an important part of the diet there. However, throughout the Mediterranean region, bread is eaten plain or dipped in olive oil — not eaten with butter or margarines, which contain saturated or trans fats. (Read rest of article.)


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A IS FOR AVOCADO

Avocados are good for your brain, eyes, and for restoring muscles.  Avocados fight aging, cancer, and heart disease.  If you have bad cholesterol numbers or trouble absorbing vitamins, avocados are the fruit for you. High blood pressure?  Avocados might help. 

Avocados are particularly high in folate, potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin C and pretty high in lots of other nutrients.  They're also an excellent plant source of protein.  

Since you eat them raw, avocados are easy to consume.  Cut one in half,  leave it in the skin, lightly salt the flesh, maybe squeeze some lemon or lime on it, and eat it with a spoon. The skin makes a fine bowl.  When I was a kid, I thought that was the coolest lunch.  

Like apples, avocados begin turning brown almost as soon as their skin is removed, so don't start cutting until you're ready to serve.  If you want to try to save an avocado after it's cut, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and store in the frig. 
 
Easy ways to use avocado is chopped in salad or on sandwiches or as a standalone side dish, or spread avocado on a sandwich as a mayonnaise substitute.
   
There are many recipes for guacamole (mashed avocado dip) on the internet, but just mashing an avocado with some jarred salsa makes a fast, impressive condiment. 
 
Buy avocados hard and store them in the refrigerator until 2 or 3 days before you want to use them.  Let them ripen at room temp or put them in a bag with an apple for quicker ripening.    

Monday, November 1, 2010

VEGGIES IN THE NEWS: WHY DON'T AMERICANS EAT HEALTHY FRUITS AND VEGETABLES?

Here's an article from yesterday's Enterprise News.

GLOBAL CONVERSATIONS: Why don’t Americans eat healthy fruits and vegetables?Dr. Michael Kryzanek  is executive director of the Center for International Engagement at Bridgewater State University.

The current “big thing” at universities here in Massachusetts and throughout the United States is what is commonly called internationalizing the campus. Here at Bridgewater State there are over 100 international students, whose presence on campus enhances the learning opportunities of the entire student body.
 
For international students, however, making sense of the American style of living takes some getting used to and often leads to telling questions about how we do things here in the United States. I teach a group of international students, mostly from China, on American culture and society and each class I begin by taking questions from my confused students. This exercise is supposed to be a learning experience for the students, but often ends up making me think about our way of life.

 In the first few classes this semester many of the questions were not about Barack Obama or baseball, but rather food. The Chinese students often ask, “Why do American students each so much?” This question is usually followed up by “Why don’t Americans eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables?” The Chinese students, who are not weight challenged and have a lifestyle based on the consumption of fruits and vegetables, have hit on one of the bedrocks of growing up American.

 The perception of these Asians, and I suspect other international students, is that Americans have grown up in a country with such abundance and media blitzes that accent the value of “super-sizing” and couch potato video games that little thought is given to what is on their plate or why they are 20 pounds larger than their fellow students from abroad. My Chinese students know this is the land of plenty, but they also suspect that Americans haven’t really thought about food, other than gobbling up huge portions of burgers, pizza, cupcakes and soda.  (Read rest of the article)

It's really sad when Americans are being known foremost for their bad diets!  This article reminds me of a recent Thomas Friedman (NYTimes) column, also about the Chinese perception of the American diet.

According to my son Jack at Trinity College in Hartford, these foreign students are going to have trouble eating a decent fruit and vegetable based diet if they're eating on campus.    I'm sure that has to do with demand... possibly another fertile topic for discussion with foreign students.