Food Myths and Slow Food Shortcuts

Ever heard the term “slow food”? The movement was basically created in opposition to fast food. We have a local chapter, Slow Food Charlotte. The idea is that food should be clean (free of artificial preservatives, coloring, irradiation, synthetic pesticides, fungicides, ripening agents, fumigants, drug residues and growth hormones), ethically produced and not overly processed. Food should be prepared from scratch, at home, using local and minimally processed ingredients – most of the time. (Notice I didn’t say something vague like “whenever possible” or “as often as possible”.) But we eat three meals a day and if we don’t use some shortcuts, we’d likely spend all day thinking about and preparing food. We have to find ways to simplify food preparation, without sacrificing quality, our health and the environment. But first, we have to change our thinking a bit. We need a reality check and we need to recognize some food myths for what they are.

MYTH: RECOMMENDED PORTION SIZES ARE UNREALISTICALLY SMALL

This is the biggest problem facing America’s health today. The amount of food Americans typically eat borders on and sometimes clearly crosses over to gluttony. It’s no wonder we’re a nation of obesity. And when a normal portion of food is placed before us, what do we do? We balk. We feel ripped off. We make jokes. We double or triple the recommended serving or go for seconds. Portion control is out of control. If anything, more often they are unrealistically large (like super sized drinks and fries). We need to eat less food.

MYTH: IT COSTS TOO MUCH TO EAT HEALTHY

Over and over and over again, I hear that organic, free range, pastured, grass fed and local food is too expensive, bla, bla, bla(sigh). It’s not. The truth is that most of what you find at regular grocery stores is junk and it costs too little.  We should be suspicious of it’s low cost and expect to pay more. Americans spend smaller percentages of our income on food than most other countries in the world. We are getting what we pay for –  low quality food. And thanks to the low costs, we’re also consuming too much food. If we add over consumption to the equation, I’m not convinced that it really does cost that much more up front. And you’re paying more for it in other ways – in the form of quality of life,  healthcare and environmental clean up. And, The sooner everyone lays this myth to rest, the sooner we can move on to the next problem.

MYTH: SWITCHING TO “HEALTHIER” VERSIONS OF FOODS WILL HELP WITH WEIGHT LOSS

Don’t expect switching to healthier versions of bad food to noticeably improve your health or help with weight loss. Better for you doesn’t mean good for you. Here are some foods that some might consider “better” for you: baked chips, pretzels, whole grain cereal, whole grain bread without high fructose corn syrup, low fat foods, foods with sugar substitutes (like diet soda), flavored low or no fat yogurt, flavored low sugar oatmeal, margarine, reduced calorie foods. And here are some brands that people automatically regard as healthy, even though they aren’t  – Kashi, Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers, Stonyfield… I know there are many more and I wish I had time to list them all.

I’m not saying some of these foods aren’t slightly better. A few of them are. What I am saying is that you will not notice improved health or weight loss if you consume these “healthier” versions regularly. If you want noticeably better health and weight loss, omit them completely. It does not matter how few calories or how little fat it contains. Especially when it comes to prepackaged processed food, the fewer fat and calories a food contains, the less nutrients you are probably getting. The nutrients  are most likely replaced with air and/or water. So stop looking at nutrition labels and health claims like “low fat” or “low sugar” and look at the ingredient list. Even foods  labeled “organic” aren’t necessarily good for you. Read the ingredient list. Ignore everything else.

Whole foods that only have one ingredient (for example, carrots only contain carrots) are good for you. If the ingredient list doesn’t contain items you can easily find in you pantry or refrigerator, then it’s probably not good for you. Eat a wide variety of fresh, organic produce. Eat plain yogurt or oatmeal and add fresh fruit, nuts and if you still need a little sweetness, add a touch of honey or pure maple syrup. Instead of soda, have water, milk, unsweetened tea or coffee. Instead of bread or pasta, eat quinoa or brown rice. Eat meat, but only a little. The fewer the ingredients the better. Ideally anything with more than five ingredients is junk. Foods your grandma (or grandpa) remember eating as a kid are probably okay. Fat and sugar are okay in moderation (sugary foods should especially only be consumed in moderation) as long as they are naturally occurring and easily recognized by your grandmother (lard, butter, fruits, honey, maple syrup). Exotic foods eaten for generations by other cultures are also okay (olive oil, coconut oil, bananas, coffee). They would be recognized by grandparents in other countries.

MYTH: I DON’T HAVE TIME

Sure you do, but striking a balance means something different for everyone.

For me it means being more flexible – preparing simple, healthy meals that taste great, but without taking too many shortcuts.  Before this journey and for many Americans, shortcuts in the kitchen too frequently lead to a pantry (and freezer) filled with boxes of prepackaged processed food. That’s not something I’m willing to do anymore. I’m not going to abandon my general slow food philosophy for convenience. Doing so would lead me right back to that unhealthy Standard American Diet. Here are some shortcuts I use:

  • Scale down recipes to around 5 ingredients
  • Keep dinner preparation under an hour
  • Double up recipes for leftovers (I make my own “microwave dinners” or lunches by dividing leftovers into small individual sized Pyrex containers with lids.)
  • Doubling up on prep work (washing and chopping enough veg, herb, garlic, etc.  for this meal and the next one or two)
  • Dinner planning (Once a week I jot down around five meals. I use this to create my grocery list, which cuts down on costs and waste. My goals are to include one protein (a small amount of meat, fish or beans), at least two or three vegetables and fruits (preferably seasonal and at least one raw) and occasionally one rice, pasta, grain or quinoa dish. We aren’t eating like birds around here.)

Resolutions

It’s the time of year that we start talking about our new year’s resolution. Last year I resolved to do something new every day, even if it was something small, like going a different way to get to the same place. I can’t say for sure that I followed through every single day, but it is on my mind most days. Change and new experiences really make me feel alive. I’ve certainly done a lot of things differently when it comes to health and food. I get more sleep. I’ve tried many new foods and still try to find something I’ve never eaten before every time I shop. That resolution, to try something new everyday, has graduated to a principle.

This year, I could make the resolution to get back on track with our healthy lifestyle. It wouldn’t be the first time for me and it’s probably the most popular resolution in America. I’ve really loosened up on the food rules too much this holiday season. We’ve been eating too many carbs and sugary foods and not enough fruits and vegetables. That has something to do with traditional holiday fare, but it also has a lot to do with eating seasonal. This time of year starchy root vegetables like carrots and potatoes are plentiful. There are some winter greens available (mostly kale now), but there isn’t much variety here in the winter. So I’m going to go a little unseasonal and take advantage of modern conveniences (i.e. unseasonal vegetables and fruits available at the grocery store) for the winter months. However, getting back on track is a given for me, not really a resolution.

If you do decide to go the “diet” route with your new year’s resolution, I have a few suggestions.

  • Don’t resolve yourself to fad diets like Weight Watchers, Atkins or the Mediterranean Diet. These diets are all really the same –  less food (especially less refined carbs) and more healthy, whole foods. Nothing new there really. Just good common sense. But there’s a lot of marketing and false nutrition information in these and other fad diets. Some of them even peddle their own wares – highly processed food (microwave dinners and energy bars), books, dvds, kits, tools, subscriptions, etc. Instead, do what you probably already know is right for good health and learn the truth about food. I suggest one of these books instead: Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food or The Omnivore’s Deliemma, Nina Planck’s Real Food: What to Eat and Why or The Conscious Kitchen by Alexandra Zissu. You can check them out at the library and it won’t cost you a dime. If, however, you think one of those diets is the only thing that can keep you motivated or get you started, then go for it. But don’t sell yourself short. We all have the strength and will power in us to make healthy choices. But sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and be sure to take baby steps. Don’t try to change everything at once. Relax a little when it comes to food. Eat slowly and savor every bite. Food should be nourishing and satisfying, not just good for you.
  • Consume less food. Caloric intake is the key to losing and maintaining weight. Even if you eat well, you won’t lose any weight if you don’t burn more calories than you consume. Read this story about a college professor who lost weight on a Twinkie diet. Start by really adding up the calories you consume with a calorie journal. There’s really no shortcut here. I don’t like the point system that weight watchers uses, because it isn’t universal and is self promoting. To check the calories in foods without labels you can use TheCalorieCounter.com or NutritionData.com. You can use this Calorie Calculator to find out what your caloric intake should be if you want to maintain, lose a little or lose a lot of weight. But once you’ve done this for a few weeks and realize how quickly calories add up, abandon the journal and just let the calorie counting happen naturally.
  • Avoid  processed food and restaurants (and Twinkies). They’re loaded with empty calories and bad nutrition. A single meal at a restaurant can cap or exceed (sometimes even double) your caloric intake for the day. Eating junk food makes cravings worse. If you don’t believe me, pay attention the next time you eat something as simple as processed cereal for breakfast. You’ll probably find yourself craving a salty or sugary snack before lunch. When you do, just know that it’s the corn flakes talking – and ignore it. Restricting food completely will set you up for failure. Just keep it out of your house. There will still be plenty of junk food elsewhere. As long as it’s not a part of your usual diet, it’s okay to indulge. But don’t underestimate the gratification you’ll feel after saying “No thank you.”
  • Exercise. This is my new year’s resolution. Exercise is a cornerstone of good health, yet I cannot find the motivation to stick with it. I’ve been active – parking as far away from the door as possible, taking the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator, gardening and yard work, chasing and playing with the kids, etc. – which is better than nothing. But it’s time for me to stop making excuses. Busy people find time to exercise and so will I. I’ve always enjoyed yoga because it combines exercise and meditation, so I’ll start with that. And when the weather is nice, maybe I’ll take Izzy or London for a walk. One hour a day. Three or four times a week. That’s my commitment for now. Baby steps…

Whatcha Eatin?

Some of you may remember my post “Whatcha Drinkin?” People seem interested in what we’re eating. We rarely eat processed foods, which probably accounts for at least 70% of the food found in grocery stores. I buy whole, real foods, local and/or organic when possible, pastured meats and dairy and use the grocery store for things that aren’t available locally like oils, flour, spices, some produce, etc. We’ve cut way down on our consumption of refined carbs.

What we’re eating is… whatever is in season, mostly. So far so good. Except that the kids are already tired of sweet potatoes, and we aren’t even halfway through November. Right now sweet potatoes are definitely in season. I bought some from the farmers market and my mom gave me just a few more… but they’re the size of footballs. I made soup with one of them. I had a small package of free range organic chicken legs in the freezer. (This is the last of the “grocery store” meat left in my freezer. They’ve been in there for over a month, and I’m glad its all gone! Free range is better than conventional, but pastured is best.) If I presented my family with one drumstick each, they’d look at me like I was crazy and think they were going to starve. So… I had to get creative. I boiled them for a couple hours to make a stock, removed the drumsticks to let them cool. I pulled the chicken from the bone and mixed it with some chopped garlic, salt and pepper to add flavor and let that marinate while I tossed the chopped sweet potatoes, garlic, onion, celery into the stock. I also threw in some kale and a splash of apple cider vinegar toward the end. Served it up in bowls with generous portions (wink-wink) of chicken on top. Delicious and hearty.

I’ve included lots of links for recipes and health benefits of particular foods. If the ingredient is highlighted and underlined, it will link you to a web page regarding health benefits.

BREAKFAST:

  • Pumpkin pancakes and waffles – Click here for the recipe. I used whole wheat flour, instead of all purpose, and buttermilk, instead of plain.
  • Stone ground grits using Grateful Growers pastured pork sausage, fresh veg from the farmers market (usually sauteed leafy greens of some sort, mushrooms, onion and sometimes tomatoes) and a combination of whatever cheeses we have in the refrigerator
  • Sausage gravy – Click here for the recipe (I don’t use maple flavored sausage. We were in a hurry and I didn’t have time to make biscuits, so I just served it on toast.)
  • Greek yogurt with walnuts and honey and sometimes granola. I miss my summer berries, so I decided to try it with pumpkin. I mixed in some pumpkin puree, cinnamon, allspice and a little ground clove. Pretty good! The flavor reminded me of Pumpkin Cheesecake, but it was a little thin. I’ll be having that for breakfast for awhile.
  • Breakfast burritos – using pastured eggs, cheese, chili powder and sometimes pastured bacon, sausage or even deli meat (ugh… in moderation and without, or at least as few chemical additives as possible – Dietz & Watson’s turkey is what we have at the moment) all wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla
  • French toast or scrambled eggs – using local pastured eggs (not conventional free range or organic or “vegetable fed” – a term I dislike for chicken and eggs, since chickens are not vegetarians by nature. They like to eat bugs and it’s good for them.)
  • Cold cereal – in moderation
  • Fresh Fruit – always, one serving with breakfast.

LUNCH:

  • Leftovers
  • Sandwiches
  • Whatever odds and ends we can find, like granola bars, fruit, veggies, yogurt, etc.
  • The older girls eat from the school cafeteria, which I’m not a fan of, but we’ve worked out a deal. They have to make healthy choices. They can choose the main entree, but they have to eat it with two whole fruits or vegetables on the menu. No yogurt parfaits, canned fruit or those jello-fruit thingys. They have to drink plain milk and can only buy dessert once a week. I occasionally check online (Paypams) to make sure they are holding up their end of the bargain. Other than a few mishaps, they’re doing great. The biggest problem with school lunches is that most kids usually choose the junk on the menu (of which there is plenty). Luckily in our case, the kids are making good choices – and they’re learning a great lesson to boot.

DINNER:

  • Roasted pork chops on a bed of chard, topped with balsamic braised leeks and served with… sweet potatoes and green beans; or Korean style pork chops with white sticky rice (a treat) and kimchi.
  • Roasted chicken (at least once a week) with whatever veg we have in the refrigerator
  • Soup – using whatever ingredients and broth I have on hand
  • Vegetable stir fry with brown rice
  • Delicious homemade ravioli stuffed with leftover roasted chicken, spinach, ricotta, aji dulce peppers and parmesan cheese (served with homemade marinara)
  • Veggie pizza with homemade dough

Meals I’ll be making: roasted chicken, chilli, halibut and more ravioli, using leftover filling that I froze.

Our menu changes every week, which is fun for me. It’s so easy to find a good recipe these days. I use allrecipes, epicurious and the food network all the time. I usually change it a little to fit my taste or use what I have on hand. I also substitute healthier ingredients whenever I can. I use whole wheat flour in place of all purpose and always substitute bad fats like canola, vegetable, corn, etc. for good ones like coconut oil (my favorite, great moisturizer too), butter, olive oil and lard (yes, lard). Sugar can sometimes be cut out completely, or can usually be reduced by a 1/4 to 1/3 without sacrificing flavor (especially if you’re palate is used to less sugar). I try to use “super foods” whenever possible, instead of nutritionally average ones. For instance I prefer a salad made with spinach rather than lettuce. Asian sweet potato instead of the usual orange ones. Greek yogurt in place of regular yogurt. Honey, maple syrup, sweet fruit instead of refined sugar. Full fat dairy (more on this in my next post) instead of low fat. Whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, etc.

We learn as we go and it’s taken about 9 months to get here. And we’re still learning, so our food philosophy is constantly evolving. I’m always  looking for a new recipe, a new food, a new technique to try. I’m inspired by the food itself and the many bloggers, authors, media, food shows, new paper articles… the farmer’s market. It’s the best way to ease into and keep up this lifestyle without getting bored or complacent. Some may say ignorance is bliss. I disagree. Especially when it comes to food. I’ve been there – and I can tell you with certainty that this is so much better!

Hillbilly Produce, Super G Mart, Harris Teeter and… Food Lion

I drove all the way out to Hillbilly Produce just to buy chestnuts this morning (they’re so yummy and good for you)… and they were sold out. The guy I spoke with said they probably weren’t going to get anymore in. Boo hoo hoo…  This is about the third time I’ve been here and I’m still not impressed. But I did buy 3 pie pumpkins for $5 and some more Grateful Growers pork chops while I was there. I was bummed that I missed out on the chestnuts.

While I was pulling away, I decided to check out the international food market, Super G Mart, across the street (where Bi Lo used to be). Several people, including my Korean mother have mentioned this place to me several times. I’m so glad I finally went!! Maybe it was meant to be… the first things I noticed was that they had chestnuts! They are the Asian variety I think because they are much larger than the ones you’ll find around here. I bought a huge bag of them – probably around 3 or 4 pounds. I’ve already roasted a few (in the microwave) and they are yummy. So I got what I was searching for, just in another place.

I walked in without a cart or basket thinking I was just going to look, but after my fingers and arms started cramping from carrying so much stuff, I decided to grab a basket. By the time I left, my forearm was sore from the weight of the basket and my fingers were cramping from carrying stuff that wouldn’t fit in the basket. Next time I’ll be sure to get the shopping cart.

The produce selection is pretty amazing. They have most of the standard stuff plus lots of exotics. They had my favorite Asian sweet potatoes (which are actually yams, I think and also really good for you) so I stocked up on bunch of small ones – perfect size for snacking. They taste much better than the standard sweet potato and are better for you. You should definitely try them if you find them in an Asian market. I also scored a couple of 2 quart sized, Low Sodium Kikkoman Soy Sauce on sale for $8.99 each. I picked up some enoki mushrooms and organic, non-gmo tofu. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten these mushrooms, so this is my “something new to try” for the week.

Tofu is something that I’ve eaten once or twice before. Even though this was a staple in my house growing up, I’ve never really given it a fair chance. I think my mom puts in her egg rolls (which I love, as does anyone who’s ever tried one), but I can’t really remember trying it any other way. I’m sure I must have as a child. Maybe that’s when I formed my unfair opinion about it. So it’s another food (like the eggplant) that I’m going to give a second chance. I don’t know how I’m going to use it yet.

Harris Teeter made me very happy today. I was out of milk, so I had planned to use some Organic Valley coupons there this morning. I decided to check the sale add before going and it’s a good thing I did. They were super doubling coupons! So all of my $1 off coupons were now worth $2! I got 4 half gallons of milk for $3 each, 2 small containers of heavy whipping cream for about $0.35 each and 2 bricks of cream cheese $0.59 each!! I also grabbed some of their eggnog. There was no coupon for that, but I couldn’t resist the thought of sipping a nice warm cup of eggnog (with a little spiced rum) with all this cold rainy whether we’re having. I also picked up some Lara Bars for $1 each (usually $1.50). I highly recommend these. They only have a few ingredients and no added sugar. My two favorites are the peanut butter and the cashew one. The fruity ones (apple and cherry) are pretty tart – too tart for my taste. I got Seattle’s Best Cinnabon coffee for $4 after vic savings and coupon and Starbucks coffee for $6 after coupon.

Seventh Generation products were also on sale. Some of them weren’t worth the small savings, but the detergent was on sale for $9 and I had $1 off coupons (but not subject to doubling). I also picked up the paper towels, toilet paper and automatic dish washing gel. The bonus is that more seventh generation coupons were generated when I checked out. I’ll be going back for more tomorrow probably.

Oranges and tangerines were on sale too. They are in season now and taste so good! I’m sure my kids will be happy to know that we have something besides apples in the house. This should hold us over until the clementines show up.

I forgot to pick up ginger root for dinner tonight, so I decided to run by Food Lion because it was convenient. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in there. I got the ginger, but also wanted to see if they offer any of the products that I usually buy these days. Nope. Not one. I couldn’t easily find any organic produce (though I just gave it quick look). Didn’t see any eco-friendly/safe cleaning products, though I do remember buying Greenworks there before. Food Lion, you guys need to get with the program. If this is your usual grocery store, might I suggest you step out of your comfort zone and venture to a Harris Teeter at the very least. This might be a good first step into a healthier lifestyle.

I’m Not Spending a Fortune on Food!

Inspired by a local blogger, a few weeks ago I decided to cut my food budget down and prove that it isn’t so expensive to eat consciously. It’s all about trade offs. We’ve stopped over consuming and wasting food and we eat out less. We spend the extra money on better quality food. As you can see from my other posts, we aren’t exactly starving or eating poorly! Even if the cost of groceries is slightly more than you’d expect, you’ll find that spending those extra bucks now, will pay you back in dividends later.

I’d estimate that I was spending around $200 to $225 per week on food for our family of five (which falls between the Low and Moderate range on the current Official USDA Food Plan Average). I’m shooting for $150 now (Thrifty), but giving myself permission to spend $175, which still falls well below the Low-costs plan even after subtracting 5% for a family of five as the fine print instructs.

The past few weeks have been pretty successful, although we were running low on a few of our favorite foods around Thursday last week. It didn’t bother me much. I actually liked that it forced us to think outside the box for a few days. We used some things that we might have passed over before, as well as some leftovers and produce that probably would have spoiled and been wasted. There’s nothing thrifty about wasting food!! I only spent $150 last week, but let me assure you – we had plenty of food and still have some of it leftover. It just wasn’t the convenience food my family is used to. I did eventually grow tired of hearing them complain that “There’s no food in this house!” Umm, yea there is.

We ran out of eggs and milk (though these were restocked on Wednesday and were within our budget), lunch meat and cereal around midweek and by Saturday morning, yogurt. I didn’t bother going back to the store to get more. Instead, we just ate something else, even if it meant I had to personally go into the kitchen and prepare it myself. They’ll get used to it and maybe they’ll learn to ration better, instead of eating all of their favorites up in the first few days!

I spent $175 this week, so next week I’ll do my best not to go over $150. Here’s where the money went.

– Farmers’ Market $72 (lots of produce, pecans, honey, a whole chicken, two pounds of pork chops, ground pork sausage and goat cheese)

– Trader Joe’s $20 (mozzarella cheese, lunch meat, uncured bacon and some kettle corn)

– Harris Teeter $55 (yogurt, ricotta, bananas, white button mushrooms, crimini mushrooms, OJ, some convenience a/k/a processed food – three boxes of cereal, healthier versions of snack bars – Odwalla’s  and Clif Kid Organic ZBars – both on sale, can’t remember anything else at the moment)

– Dairy and eggs $28 (gal of low fat milk, 1/2 gal of buttermilk, a pound of butter and two dozen eggs)

The local dairy (and eggs) is something new I’m trying and I don’t intend to spend that much each week. I probably won’t buy eggs there again (however the cost will move over to the farmers market, next week) or buttermilk. It’s not cultured, which is what I want and I only buy it about once a month. I probably will buy the butter again, but this pound should last at least a few weeks. I’m only planning to buy 2 gallons of milk next week, which will cost me just $12. Yes… I’m am paying $6 a gallon for milk. But organic milk in the grocery store is around $5 or $6 anyway and this milk is from pastured, humanely treated cows (you know how I feel about that). It tastes better and it’s better for our health, the cows and the earth.

I’m getting better at planning, so (fingers crossed) I’m hoping I won’t get any complaints this week from the family. The point is you can eat consciously without breaking the bank. It might take a few weeks to get the hang of it, but as you can see I’m not spending a fortune on food each week as you might have imagined. I’d be willing to bet that we’re spending less than the average shopper who’s buying mostly conventional food for their family of five.

First Test

So, right after my last post we made a last minute decision to go out for dinner with family. While driving to Jake’s Good Eats I went back and forth trying to decide whether I was going to start abstaining from conventional meat that night or put it off for just one more meal. When we arrived I still hadn’t decided. After looking at the menu, I realized that this place was more upscale than it looked. It’s also well off the beaten path and appears to be on the edge of a farm of sorts. Was it possible that this was a place for a conscious eater?

I made a bold move (one I’m going to have to get used to) and decided to ask the waitress a few questions about the food. Nothing’s local, but she tells me that the chicken is free range and free of antibiotics. That’s good. I mean, it’s not perfect, but it’s edible. Worst case scenario is that it came from a factory farm where free range means thousands of chickens freely ranging under a small, crowded, dark, dusty and disease filled poultry tent. That would definitely take the wind out of my sails. She mentioned that they use Sysco, which has been offering more local and sustainable foods to it’s customers (so they say). There was some hope. Click here to view Sysco’s 2009 Case Study.

There were a few other things about this place that gave me the sense that someone running it was thinking consciously about food. They make all of their own salad dressings. Balsamic vinaigrette was drizzled on the plate with some sauteed leeks and fried green tomatoes. Wow! This was a great start. I could have eaten the entire appetizer, but it was too good not to share.  At first I resisted an offer to try the scallops, but then let my guard down and tried a tiny nibble. Pretty tasty.

I should tell you that when we first pulled up to this restaurant, Haleigh practically shouted in despair and dread “UUUGH! THIS PLACE IS UUUGLY!” After chastising her for being rude and telling her to keep those thoughts to herself, we pulled into a parking spot facing a couple of horses. Things were already looking up for my drama tween.

The restaurant does slightly resemble a shack at first glance. Not really knowing much about this place, I was expecting typical local diner fare, such as hamburgers and maybe some not so healthy country cooking in a dusty old dining room. Corn hole was set up by the front door. The inside is decorated with some antiques and old plaques, but with an artsy touch. The bathroom almost had a sort of boutique feel about it. As it turns out, the place is pretty charming. I don’t know if it was intentional, but the dinnerware was not uniform. All the plates were white, but different shapes and sizes. Maybe the owner doesn’t have the money to purchase uniform sets, or maybe they like it that way. I did. Unfortunately for the wait staff, I noticed it seemed to make clearing tables slightly more difficult.

I’d ordered blackened chicken breast over homemade fettuccine alfredo. There were a few small cherry tomato halves mixed in. They didn’t have much flavor, but the rest of the dish had plenty. I didn’t want to bombard the waitress with questions, but I wish I’d asked what part of the fettuccine alfredo was homemade – the pasta or the sauce or both. I’m guessing the menu was referring to the alfredo sauce, which was very good. There was nothing special about the noodles, though they were more than adequate. They were cooked a little past al dente, but still, it was a good dish. As my sister-in-law pointed out, it would have been better if there were more vegetables mixed in – maybe some spinach or broccoli. The vegetables on everyone else’s plates looked fresh and nicely cooked. But back to my dish. The breastbone was removed from the chicken, but the drummette from the chicken wing was left intact. Nice touch. The skin was also left on, although it was a little too  charred.

This wasn’t a huge portion of food, but plenty in my opinion. I still had enough leftover for lunch the next day. The take out box offered another pleasant surprise. Instead of bringing me one of those eco-unfriendly styrofoam takeout containers, the waitress handed me a nice brown box made from recycled materials. I’m not at the point yet where I’m thinking enough ahead to remember that I don’t want to use those styrofoam ones, so it was nice that they’d thought of it.

While this isn’t a great restaurant (that would be one that uses local and organic ingredients), I still loved it. The real clincher is that it’s just a few miles away from home. There are several things on the menu that I can’t wait to try. Most of the restaurants that I would prefer to dine in, serving fresh, local ingredients, are in south Charlotte and don’t quite fit into our budget. Though I wouldn’t exactly describe this restaurant as cheap, it’s nice to have a semi-conscious option, i. e., one that I don’t have to fear, for an occasional dinner out that’s close to home.

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.