Random Stuff

I’ve finally had some success baking bread!! I’ll still play around with the recipe. I’m starting to get the “feel” of the dough. I’ve been trying to avoid adding gluten, which I finally figured out was like putting the cart before the horses. Whole wheat is harder to work with, so until I get the basics down, I’ll keep adding gluten (in the form of King Arthur’s organic unbleached all purpose flour for now) back into the recipe until I get it right. Then I’ll start working backward again, until I figure out a way to make it with just whole wheat. I just need the training wheels a little longer. I checked out King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook from the library, to get a few more tips.

Speaking of books, I’ve read a few lately. Mostly about food of course. Even Eat, Pray, Love had a section solely dedicated to food. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan was okay, but honestly it wasn’t anything I hadn’t already heard. If you just skip to the last section, you’ll get the entire book in a nutshell. If you aren’t already familiar with reasons to eat whole food, Big Industry and Big Agriculture and such I recommend it. I’ve been told I might like another one of his books,  Omnivore’s Dilemma more.

I read Building Bone Vitality, which was boring, to be quite honest, but there was some really compelling information in there explaining what’s wrong with the current recommendations to eat lots of dairy and take calcium supplements to build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis.  The authors/doctors recommend eating less meat and dairy and other the high acids foods that steal the calcium right from your bones. Instead eat calcium rich fruits and vegetables like collards, kale, spinach, broccoli, carrots, oranges, dates and raisins. Even nuts and seeds have calcium.

I also read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. They actually had it on cd at the library, so I listened to most of it while chauffeuring the kids back and forth to school. (The girls were so glad when I finished it.) The author basically uprooted her family from Arizona and moved back to Virginia where they grew most of their own food (fruits, vegetables, eggs, chickens and turkeys) and ate locally for one year. Very inspiring, and there was a lot of insight in this book about eating local, whole foods.

Now I’m reading The Conscious Kitchen by Alexandra Zissu. I like this book the most because it’s more of a why and how to. She gives lots of tips and resources, like how to read PLU codes (those little stickers they put on produce). 5 digit numbers beginning with a 9 are organic and according to her, conventional produce begins with a 4 and has a four digit number (however I know that some also begin with a 3). Genetically Modified produce can be labeled with a five digit numbers beginning with an 8, but good look finding those. PLU’s are optional and I doubt those producers would be willing to divulge that information. She also has touches on almost everything I’m concerned about these days – from dairy to fish to plastic and more. Read this book!!

Next on my list is Real Food What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck. Then maybe the other Michael Pollan book.

One more thought. I caught a quick glimpse of an episode of Oprah last week in which she was discussing the horror of puppy mills. Shortly after that, I was shopping at HT and found myself in line behind a woman with reusable grocery bags (great!), but she also had a ton of prepackaged food in her cart. I know every little bit helps, so I’m not knocking their efforts by any means. In fact I need to ramp up my own. What I’m suggesting is that now that we’re paying attention and doing our part to rid the planet of puppy mills and plastic bags, it’s time to take the next step, whatever that means for you.

Pick one thing that concerns you and figure out how you can make that situation better. When it becomes a habit, choose another. Recycling is good, but avoiding all that packaging is better. (Something I need to work on.) Likewise, if you can’t bear the thought of puppies raised in a mill, then you should reconsider buying conventional meat from the grocery store. That steak or chicken was once a living animal that most likely came from a factory farm. The animal abuse and neglect happening on factory farms is much worse than that of a puppy mill. (See pictures below.) Livestock and chickens aren’t bred for adoption and the public isn’t looking to rescue them. The whistle’s been blown and still no one is listening.

For me, the next step is going to be further avoiding packaging and any meat that might have been factory farmed. I’m going to reuse all the produce bags I’ve been saving. I use them at the farmers market, but now I’m going to take them into the grocery store too. Once they’re gone, I’m going to put a couple of those handy grocery baskets inside my cart and put the produce right in there. I’m also going to try and eliminate paper products at home. That will be a little harder and the additional washing will probably fall to me. I’m not sure if I’ll get a lot of support at home for this one.

Avoiding conventional meat outside of my home will be difficult. I have been reluctant to take this step, because it’s not something I can do discretely. It will leave me vulnerable to ridicule and some people will question it. But I’m going to do it. Some might think I’ve gone vegetarian, and that’s fine I guess. In fact, this would probably be easier to explain than: I only eat minimal amounts of meat from animals that were raised humanely and fed a proper diet, free of growth hormones and antibiotics. Unfortunately, someone along the way will take offense to that. They might assume I think I’m too good to eat what they are eating or that I’m judging them, when in reality I’m just taking a stance against something I feel strongly about. I’m sure there will be opportunities for me to show my girls that standing up for what you believe in may not always be easy, nevertheless it’s an important virtue. Of course I’ll probably break the rules every now and then, when it can’t be avoided, but I am going to give it more effort. Saying “I will never eat” or forbidding myself from any food is not something I’m willing to do.

 

How is this...

 

 

... different than this?

 

 

Mama pigs are literally pinned down so that her babies can nurse freely and to keep her from rolling over on one of them, which is a real possibility. But still no excuse.

Mama pigs are literally pinned down so that her babies can nurse freely and to keep her from rolling over on one of them, which is a real possibility. But still no excuse.

 

 

These might be considered "Free Range" chickens on a factory farm, but not to me. Buyer beware.

 

The Healthiest Variety

Last night for dinner we had Cheese & Spinach Stuffed Portobellos. This is not B’s favorite meal, but I like it, and eating vegetarian is something I like to do at least once or twice a week. I followed the recipe exactly, except I used homemade spaghetti sauce that I had in the freezer. I served it with a side of steamed broccoli and cauliflower. (I used the other half of the bag, leftover from my Honey Stir Fry Chicken from the night before. The one I got on the reduced cart at HT for $1.00 – savings!)* If you like mushrooms, you’ll like this recipe. Although I have to say that it wasn’t very good leftover. The mushroom had a slightly gamey taste today. Since B doesn’t really care for portobellos (texture thing), he wanted to know what the health benefits of mushrooms were. We’ve found that knowing the health benefits can actually make things taste better! So I got my Worlds Healthiest Foods book out and we discussed it. According to what I read, crimini (which are just baby portobellos) are one of the healthiest varieties. However, in my past research I remember that maitakes and shiitakes were higher on the list.

I have this sometimes annoying, but usually beneficial habit of wanting to find the healthiest variety of everything, and then wanting to know the best way to prepare it in order to get the most nutrition from it. For instance, most vegetables and fruits are best eaten raw or lightly steamed. The longer you cook them and the higher the temperature, like in a hot oven, on the grill or in a pan with searing hot oil, the more nutrients are lost. However, tomatoes and garlic are better for you when they are lightly cooked. They still shouldn’t be cooked at high temps or for a long time.

Let me get back on topic. If I’m going to eat something, it might as well be the most nutritious. If I’m going to eat an apple it might as well be Red Delicious. (Edited to add: Red apples contain more antioxidants. However, if you are diabetic or prediabetic, you might want to eat a green apple instead. They convert less sugar.) And if I’m going to eat yogurt it might as well be Greek yogurt. (I like 2% Fage.) And if I’m going to eat nuts, I might as well eat raw, unsalted walnuts, almonds, pistachios or cashews (in that order, no more than 1/4 cup a day).

Well the problem is when you’re searching for the best of something, you’ll also find the worst. And when one of your favorite things, is the least healthy variety, it can be a bit disappointing. I love fish because it yummy and it’s good for you. It’s the best source of Omega 3’s. A couple years ago, I decided we should eat more fish. I hadn’t cooked fish at home much and wanted to learn. So I found that tilapia is really mild and tasty and therefore, difficult for me to screw up. The best part was that it was cheap! I can usually get it on sale at HT for around $2.99-$4.99/lb. Great! We ate tilapia at least once a week, and (at that time) I thought it was good for us.

A few months ago, I was researching to find the healthiest fish. Guess what? Tilapia is not one of them. Not even close. It’s pretty much near the bottom of the list. I remember reading somewhere that it was actually one of the worst types of fish you can eat. Incidentally, Salmon is the best. Too bad I don’t like it. In my research I also found that wild caught fish is the best because the natural habitat creates a leaner, healthier and tastier fish. Farm raised fish aren’t that great. Disease is also more prevalent in farm raised seafood. Basically it’s fat and lazy couch potato fish. (Just like our fat and lazy chickens, pigs and cows. If you haven’t watched Food Inc, you should. Also check out episodes of Dirty Jobs about turkeys, chickens and pigs.) Although farm raised tilapia are an ecologically better sustainable seafood choice. I also remember reading something about fish from China being, unreliable. The guidelines and standards in their fishing industry are questionable. Fish in general may be in danger due to our over consumption and water pollution. Well guess what. My $2.99-$4.99 a pound tilapia was farm raised fish from (you guessed it) China! Oh and my convenient-to-have-in-the-freezer-for-a-quick-meal, buy one get two free, easy peel shrimp… is also farm raised from China. Gah!!

Now I know that these are my opinions and standards here, and that this information might be arguable. (In case you couldn’t tell, I was smiling and shrugging as I typed “might” in that sentence, but my opinions are never set in stone and the minute I learn better, like the tilapia, I reform my opinion.) But It took me days of sifting through information to form an opinion, and it is my opinion that wild caught, cold water fish (they’re more oily), not from China are the best. Trout is my personal favorite because it’s milder than Salmon, but still high in Omega 3’s. Haddock and cod are also okay.

My dilemma now is that fish, by these standards, are hard to come by and are not cheap. They usually costs somewhere between $10 (if your lucky) and $20 per pound. Right now I buy most of my fish from HT, but the pickings are slim. Haddock and cod are less expensive and easier to find. The few times HT had something good on sale, they either ran out, or it was icky-looking. (Fresh seafood should be fleshy and clear and have a very light odor. Stay away from any seafood that smells funky, looks opaque or has juice that looks milky.) If anyone out there knows where I can find fresh fish in the Charlotte area, that meet these standards PLEASE (I beg you) email me or comment below.

*A foodie might recognize the hypocrisy of this statement in a post about choosing the healthiest variety. Fresh foods have more nutrients. The fresher the better… but a dollar?? Sometimes the bargain hunter in me wins!