Thursday, December 23, 2010


A recent conversation between me and my 13 year old:

ALICE (as she eats): This is pretty good.

ME: Oh, I'm glad you like, it's really good for you.

ALICE (yelling and setting aside her plate): Why do you always do that? Now I don't even want to eat it! Who cares if it's good for me?

I mulled that conversation over and over forever. Why would knowing that something is healthy make a person upset? My final conclusion: If you have information it's up to you to make choices. Like if you know there's global warming you have to drive less or use less heating oil, or, or, or... So people choose not to know.

Before I came to the global warming conclusion, I wrote to Marion Nestle about Alice's response and she wrote me right back (and made my day because Marion Nestle is a really important food activist!) Of course her advice is excellent.

I feel your pain, having been the mother of kids who were hard to deal with at 13, to say the least. In her case, it’s easy. She likes your food! Just say thanks if she compliments it, make healthy meals, and talk about something else. In my experience, adolescence is not the best time to try to enforce food habits. Rather, make sure the foods you have at home are healthy. Don’t buy what you don’t want your kids eating—house rules. Outside of the house, you can’t control what they eat. But you can set an example at home and hope that when they grow up. With luck, they will grow up, will know what it means to eat sensibly, and will thank you for sticking up for what you believe. Courage!

I may give this some more thought and use it next year. Thanks and happy holidays. Marion Nestle
What is the appropriate age to start teaching kids about which foods are good for them and why? Do they teach nutrition at your child's school? In what grades? Do you teach your kids at home? I know that one reason nutrition isn't taught is because adults, including parents, teachers, and even doctors, don't have a firm grasp on the subject. Another reason, I'm afraid, is some adults choose to believe there's not a connection between good health and the foods they eat.

What about you? Do you believe in spinach?

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Alice and Geoff have made a big deal about a chili recipe I made a few weeks ago from the NYTimes so I decided to whip up a huge pot of it for our Christmas open house.   My concept was to start the beans soaking Thursday, make the chili Friday, let it sit in fridge overnight and serve on Saturday (Chili is WAY better after it sits in the fridge for a day).  But late on Friday Geoff said I should make two pots full.   This meant no way could I soak the beans.  I whipped out my Rick Bayless Mexican Kitchen cookbook and reread:

After having cooked almost 12,000 pounds of beans a year for most of  nearly ten years... I was taught to soak beans and I no longer do..... Soaking does practically nothing but reduce cooking time.  Soaking doesn't really make the beans much more digestible, which is what we were all told...What makes beans more digestible is a steady diet of beans, the diet nutritionists tell us we should have anyway.... If the beans are covered during cooking, they come out creamier (though more likely to stick on the bottom): when uncovered, they're more separate and nicely intact (especially if you use lots of water).  The more beans you cook at once, the more evenly cooked and better textured they'll be.  

Thanks Rick!  So it's 8:30 Saturday morning and the cooked beans sat in their pots in the fridge all night.  They have a lovely consistency this morning.  I did run out of steam yesterday, so I'm finishing the chili this morning and putting it back in the fridge to sit until tonight.   I'll let you know how it comes out.

Note:  They don't sell canned beans in my part of Morelia, if anywhere in Mexico.  Plus it would feel kind of heretical to use them here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Chile peppers and tomatoes are mainstays of the Mexican diet.  I can't imagine living without them.

This is part of a series of food paintings I'm working on.

Peppers and tomatoes are both in the nightshade family as are potatoes, tobacco, and eggplant.  Sort of a weird family, don't you think?  They're common feature are alkaloids.   Nicotine is the alkaloid in tobacco, capsaicin is the alkaloid in peppers.  Is one as addicting as the other?  Sometimes when I start eating salsa, I can't stop  even when my mouth is on fire, so maybe!

A good site on nightshade plants: 

Acrylic on canvas (32cmX32cm).

Sunday, December 12, 2010


In an email Tuesday, my friend Lucille said she was going to let me try her chard with garlic when I came over to stretch canvases.  I have to say I wasn't that excited about the prospect, and when she plopped a dish of it in front of me straight from the fridge, I was less so.  HOWEVER, I was so wrong.  It was Delicious!  I now have my own batch in the fridge and it will definitely stay in my arsenal of anti-depression foods for the whole winter.

Ingredients:  2 big bunches of swiss chard (if you use less, it's hardly worth bothering because chard cooks down so much), 2 cloves of garlic (minced), 2 T of olive oil (maybe less -- I didn't measure), a pinch of salt.

Recipe:  Remove stems from the chard up to where they become thin. I do this by folding the leaf in half and cutting away the stem with a sharp knife.   Wash the leaves, and tear or cut them up -- they don't have to be in small pieces.  Heat a big pot on the stove with a tiny bit of slightly salted water in the bottom (1/2 an inch will do).  When the pot is hot, throw in all the chard and put the lid on.  Stir a couple of times as the chard reduces to about 1/4 of the volume you threw in the pot.  It only takes a few minutes for it to cook down.  Don't let it burn!

Dump it in a colander and let the excess water drain off.

In a big pan,  heat the garlic in the olive oil.  As soon as you smell the garlic, add your chard.  Make sure it all gets a coating of olive oil and garlic.  This takes about two minutes.

Now it's ready to serve BUT if you let it cool and then put it in the fridge to enjoy cold, you'll thank me later.


Recent research has shown that chard leaves contain at least 13 different polyphenol antioxidants, including kaempferol, the cardioprotective flavonoid that's also found in broccoli, kale, strawberries, and other foods. But alongside of kaempferol, one of the primary flavonoids found in the leaves of chard is a flavonoid called syringic acid. Syringic acid has received special attention in recent research due to its blood sugar regulating properties. This flavonoid has been shown to inhibit activity of an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase. When this enzyme gets inhibited, fewer carbs are broken down into simple sugars and blood sugar is able to stay more steady.

Note:  Yesterday I sautéed whole blanched green beans in garlic and squeezed a little lime on them.  Alice asked me to put them in the fridge, announcing, "this will taste better cold."   She's right.

Friday, December 10, 2010


We are a household that does not cope well emotionally with the short days of the year, so I've been researching diet as it relates to depression (I've included a lot of sources below -- lots of interesting reading).  The bad news:  neither white wine nor tequila are helpful, but I guess I already knew that.  The good news is that there are lots of foods that are helpful, even for those who are taking anti-depressants.
Based on what I've read, my food plan for the winter months is to avoid meats but increase our fish consumption to 3 times a week;  add flax seeds to the green smoothies I make in the mornings;  serve lots of beans (particularly lentils) and green leafy vegetables;  and snack on seeds and nuts. 

Plus we'll try to cut back on alcohol -- this can be hard when the days are short -- but drinking IS counter-productive if you're trying to avoid depression. And sugar isn't good either, though a little dark chocolate does have some proven benefits.

Important supplement: Exercise. My motto is -- the less I feel like getting it, the more I know I need it. The same goes for getting outside in the sunlight.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I don't know about you, but when I get compliments on my vegetables I take notice. After Thanksgiving I got an email from the hostess specifically about how much her husband liked my green beans. Yesterday my own husband enthused about my brussels sprouts. What's my secret? Blanching.

Blanching is a useful way to break down tough veggies like green beans, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and broccoli (and to turn them a beautiful green) so you can quickly sauté them later. (Mollie Katzen in one of her cooking videos suggests blanching all your veggies right when you bring them home from the store.)

How I blanch: Before I do anything, I put a large bowl of water in the freezer and add a few ice cubes because you need to submerge the blanched veggies in ICE COLD water if you want them to stay bright green.   

Note:  Really cold tap water does not equal ice water.

Fill a big pot with slightly salted water and bring to a rapid boil. Put your veggies in and as soon as they turn bright green and are just tender to the bite (this can take a couple of minutes for broccoli florets or as much as 9 minutes for fat green beans -- watch the color turn and sample, sample, sample!) take them out with a slotted spoon or tongs and plunge them into the ice water bath. As soon as they're cool, dry them.  Then refrigerate.    

Note: Don't put blanched moist veggies in a sealed containter in the fridge or you'll end up with stinky, gross tasting veggies. THEY HAVE TO BE DRY.   I dry them by rolling them up in a kitchen towel.  (I have a couple rolled up towels in my fridge right now.)  

Note: I also dry lettuce by rolling it up in a towel (salad spinners are too expensive here in Morelia). I learned the rolling technique from an Alice Waters video.  

To Thanksgiving I brought: blanched green beans which had been snapped into thirds before boiling, a raw yellow bell pepper also cut in bite-sized lengths, and a baggy with minced garlic and ginger in it.  Minutes before dinner, after the turkey was out of the oven, I stepped to the stove, heated some oil in a big pan, threw in the bell pepper and sautéed it until it started to soften -- a couple of minutes.  Then I threw in the garlic, ginger, and green beans and sautéed them for about two minutes or until the smell of garlic and ginger was in the air and the beans were heated through.  At some point I added a little salt.  Ta-daa!  They were on the table in no time and I didn't get in anyone's way. 

For the brussels sprouts:  I sautéed an onion in butter.  When the onion was translucent I added a little more butter and my blanched and halved brussels sprouts.  I sautéed them till the flat sides turned just a little brown.  My husband ate half a dinner plate full and asked for more.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Marion Nestle is a food authority I rely on for solid information. This article has so many good parts, you just have to read the whole thing. I colorized the line that ticked me off the most. 

Nutrition and public policy expert Marion Nestle answers readers' questions in this monthly column written exclusively for The Chronicle. E-mail your questions to, with "Marion Nestle" in the subject line.

Q: I may be preaching to the choir here, but isn't eating a variety of unprocessed (or at least minimally processed) foods the best way to make sure your diet is healthy?

A: Indeed it is, and processing is the healthful food movement's new frontier. Processed is code for "junk" foods - foods of minimal nutritional value. These crowd the center aisles of supermarkets, add loads of unneeded calories, rely on added nutrients for health benefits, last forever on the shelves and generate enormous profits for their makers.

Sodas are the obvious examples. They have no nutrients (unless fortified), and all their calories come from added sugars.

The food industry will insist that practically everything you eat is processed in some way. Unprocessed foods are rare exceptions - fruits direct from the tree or vine, vegetables pulled from the ground, nuts from wherever they come from, and raw meat, fish, eggs or milk.

Everything else is at least minimally processed - washed, aged, dried, frozen, canned, pasteurized or cooked. But these cause little, if any, loss of nutritional value and make some nutrients more available to the body.

In contrast, more extreme processing changes foods. It reduces the nutritional value of basic food ingredients, adds calories from fats and sugars, and disguises losses in taste and texture with additives such as salt, colors, flavors and other chemicals. Manufacturers add vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, omega-3s and probiotics expressly to make health claims.

Manufacturers say they make the products to give you what you demand: cheap, easy-to-eat-anywhere foods that require no preparation and give you the tastes you love. They back these contentions with increasingly far-fetched health claims, billions of advertising dollars and lobbyists galore.

The big issue is "ultra-processing," says Carlos Monteiro of the University of São Paulo in Brazil. Writing in the November issue of the online Journal of the World Public Health Nutrition Association, Monteiro ranks the effects of food processing on health as the most important issue in public health nutrition today.

Ultra-processed foods, he says, are the primary cause of the rapid rise in obesity and associated diseases throughout the world.

He charges the food industry with creating durable, convenient, attractive, ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat products that are so palatable that they are habit-forming. And they are meant to be eaten everywhere - in fast-food places, on the street and while watching television, working or driving.

Ultra-processed foods are much higher in calories for their nutrients than unprocessed and minimally processed foods. They have loads of fat, sugars and salt, but are low in vitamins, minerals and fiber.
They are often cheaper than relatively unprocessed foods, especially when sold in supersize portions at discounted prices. And they are often the only foods available in convenience stores or vending machines.

He notes that virtually unregulated advertising identifies ultra-processed foods and drinks as necessary - and, when nutrients are added, as essential - to modern lifestyles and health. Overall, Monteiro says, their high palatability, along with aggressive and sophisticated marketing, undermine the normal processes of appetite control and cause adults and children to overeat.

This is just another way of saying what former Food and Drug Administration head David Kessler says in his provocative book, "The End of Overeating." Kessler argues that processed and fast foods high in fat, sugars and salt have turned us into a nation of "conditioned overeaters" unable to recognize hunger or satiety.

Current policies ensure that ultra-processed foods stay cheap, and it's no accident that the relative cost of fruits and vegetables has gone up by 40 percent since the 1980s, while the relative price of sodas and fast food has declined.

If you can afford it, choosing relatively unprocessed foods is good advice. As I wrote in "What to Eat," it's best to stick to the real foods around the supermarket perimeter. My only slightly facetious shopping rules: Avoid processed foods with more than five ingredients, ingredients you can't pronounce, and those with cartoons on the package aimed at marketing to kids.

Marion Nestle is the author of "Food Politics," "Safe Food," "What to Eat" and "Pet Food Politics," and is a professor in the nutrition, food studies and public health department at New York University. E-mail her at, and read her previous columns at
Read more:

Sunday, December 5, 2010


The NYTimes story at the top of the on-line Most Popular article list this Sunday morning is: Weight Watchers Upends Its Points System. Amazing. Fruits and most vegetables are now 0 points. I think that's wonderful. I also think it could be the end of the $1.4 billion dollar "empire" that is Weight Watchers. But dying for a good cause is noble. Bravo Weight Watchers.

My prediction: Once folks get a taste for fruits and veggies (which are delicious) and see that weight basically pours off when you start filling each meal with them, the need for counting points will go out the window.

Of course all Weight Watchers are not happy.

“I don’t want to be forced to choose veggies. I do NOT like veggies or fruit,” one member wrote in an online discussion on the Weight Watchers Web site. “I feel like I am being forced to ‘diet,’ and that is what I DO NOT WANT.”

Message to this person: You haven't tried enough fruits and vegetables. Give your body a chance. There are people in the world who actually get up in the morning and CRAVE a green smoothie (fruits and leafy veggies combined in a blender). You CAN become one of these people. Imagine the quadruple pleasure you'd experience:
  1. This is "FREE" (0 points) -- whoopee!
  2. This tastes GREAT!
  3. My weight problem is GONE!
  4. I have an extra $12 ($15) dollars a week!
If, as the article suggests, the 1,750,000 members and adherents "rethink how they shop, cook, and eat", watch out! It's going to be crowded in the produce section.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Right after I finished an excellent bowl of lentil and rice soup this afternoon, I came across this posting on Legumes Linked to Appetite Control. It's about how adding beans to meals makes you feel full longer and therefore you'll eat less and weigh less. The article gives a number of recipes.

I think my lentil/rice soup today was particularly good because I used a homemade veggie broth made by boiling up an onion, a carrot, garlic, a whole serano pepper and 1/2 a banana pepper. (They're the ones from this painting.)

The broth came out way too spicey, so I froze some to use as concentrate and watered some down to add to the soup. (Any store bought veggie broth would be good too, I'm sure.)

The soup couldn't be easier: In a biggish pot, dice and sauté an onion in some oil until it starts to brown. Add 6 cups of veggie broth and bring to boil. Add 1 & 1/2 cups of lentils and 1/2 cup of brown rice. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or just until both the rice and lentils are the perfect texture. Salt to taste. You could add a garnish or some yogurt or sour cream, but I didn't. Geoff and Alice finished every drop. I served it with rolls and a salad.

Here's the article:

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—An important solution for staying at a healthy weight might be residing in your pantry: beans and other legumes. As described in a recent article in the medical journal Advances in Nutrition, Purdue University scientists looked at available research on legume consumption, satiety (feeling of fullness after eating), and weight management. They concluded that people should increase consumption of beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils, since all these legumes have a beneficial effect on satiety and on weight loss.

Low-fat, inexpensive beans and legumes come with many essential nutrients, including protein, fiber, resistant starch (another type of fiber), and minerals, which all may aid in satiety, according to lead study author, Megan McCrory, PhD, assistant professor in the Foods and Nutrition department at Purdue. “There are several mechanisms behind this,” says McCrory. “One is that protein and fiber help delay the rate of digestion by slowing the progression of nutrients from the stomach to the small intestine. When the digestion rate is slowed, that slows the entry of digested carbohydrate (glucose) into the blood stream, which in turn delays the return of hunger.”

“Thus, as long as you keep away from snacking when you're not hungry, you’ll likely eat less during the day,” continues McCrory. “Also, fiber and resistant starch are broken down in the large intestine by bacteria that live there. This breakdown process creates by-products called short-chain fatty acids that we can use for energy, which also helps stave off hunger.”

All of which points to legumes as a tasty ally in the fight against weight gain—including that insidious and annoying “creeping” gain that can occur as we age. Ready to fight back? The Rodale Recipe Finder is full of options for cooking beans and legumes. For you non-vegetarians and non-bean-lovers out there, here are some great meat and bean dishes that will fill you up, not out. (Continue Reading)

Aside: Loved this tidbit from Wikipedia: Psychologist Paul Rozin suggests that eating chilis is an example of a "constrained risk" like riding a roller coaster, in which extreme sensations like pain and fear can be enjoyed because individuals know that these sensations are not actually harmful. This method lets people experience extreme feelings without any risk of bodily harm.[16]

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Got around to exploring this morning. Some of the cables read like spy thrillers! In the one below, a 60 million euro yacht is gifted by a Russian company in exchange for possible rights to drilling for oil or, it is speculated, for selling tractors or starting a chicken farm in Turkmenistan. Global agri-biz is so much more exciting than I realized.

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: According to expatriate sources in Ashgabat, a yacht that recently set sail on the Caspian Sea -- reportedly worth 60 million euros -- is actually a gift from Russian company Itera. Itera is working on signing a deal jointly with Russian state-owned companies Rosneft and Zarubezhneft and Turkmenistan’s Turkmenneft to develop blocks 29, 30, and 31 in the offshore Caspian area at some point in 2008. According to news reports, Itera is also an enthusiastic partner in the development of the Avaza free tourist zone located on the Caspian Sea, is funding the Ashgabat branch of the Gubkin Oil and Gas University, and is involved in importing farm equipment from Tatarstan, in competition with John Deere and Case New Holland equipment. In addition, the government forced a Swedish-owned shipping company to give up seven of its most valuable employees to become permanent crew on the yacht. Itera’s business activities are wide-ranging and difficult to isolate, and the reported gift of the yacht serves as a sign that the company’s willingness to go to great lengths to win business should not be underestimated.

¶8. (C) COMMENT: Itera has a deal to build a urea/ammonia plant, and also an $8 million deal for ambulances, but there are most likely other deals of which post is not aware. The company undoubtedly really wants a gas exploration contract, especially onshore, and the gift of the yacht is a nice enticement to move the process along. As local businessman XXXXXXXXXXXX said, “The gift of a yacht might be for an onshore gas deal, a chicken farm, or works already in progress. Nothing is free in this country.” IPC Group, official distributors of John Deere and Case New Holland equipment in Turkmenistan, have had concerns about Itera and the company’s ability to take over the farm equipment market in Turkmenistan at least since Berdimuhamedov’s visit to Tatarstan. Itera’s business activities are wide-ranging and difficult to isolate, and the reported gift of the yacht serves as a sign that the company’s willingness to go to great lengths to win business should not be underestimated. END COMMENT. CURRAN

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Yes, The Food Safety Bill passed in the Senate yesterday. But it looks like there will be problems in the House. Not the least of which is described in this Food Saftey News article:

To add to the uncertainty in the House, large produce industry groups, including the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marking Association, are working feverishly to convince lawmakers that the final legislation should not include the small farm exemptions, which were recently adopted into the Senate bill at the urging of Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT and Kay Hagan (D-NC).

The Tester-Hagan amendment intends to protect small farmers and the burgeoning local food movement from cumbersome regulation. The larger produce industry, which is in favor of broad safety requirements to help prevent dangerous and economically damaging foodborne illness outbreaks, has remained squarely against any blanket exemptions based solely on farm size or geography.

"We're pushing for a conference and for the removal of the Tester amendment. We think there is time to do conference," Robert Guenther, executive vice president of public policy at United Fresh, told Food Safety News yesterday. "[The amendment] fundamentally undermines the entire legislation, the rest of the bill is science- and risk-based."