Cooking is proving to yourself that you can make something that you don’t like into something that you do.


Strolling through the green market, I spied purple okra.  Purple!  Okra!  Late blooming Not quite the vibrant purple of eggplant, it was billed as “drier than green okra”.  While checking me out, the farmer – or his representative – reiterated that characteristic to me and I asked, “Meaning, not as slimy?”

“Well, yeah,” he said with a laugh.  “I guess it does.”

I brought the purple beauties home, and cooked them with tomato after sautéing them in olive oil, thinking that the purple would look nice against the tomato red.  Imagine my surprise when I lifted the lid and discovered that they had changed color!  They looked exactly like their green cousins.  Eating them was not so similar, however.  The drier quality was a dead-on description; they were not as slimy.  Call me old fashioned, but I’ve come to expect a little slime with my okra.  It’s what makes okra . . . well, okra, unlike any other vegetable.

But if the sliminess, or the mucilaginous (as it’s called) quality of okra, is the only thing keeping you from eating it, then purple okra is for you.  The taste is identical.  Anything that you can do with green okra you can do with purple.

As I mentioned before, I like the idea of radishes much more than I like those magenta orbs of subtle spiciness.  Passing a stall piled high with many candidates for saladification, I saw some pickles set out for sampling.  One was pickled radishes.  I tried one, and it turned me right around on the radish front.  The sweet and pungent pickling marinade (just vinegar and sugar) was the perfect antidote to the spice that my palate had found subtle objection.  I bought the radishes, and came home and made a batch for Today’s Preparation, proving to myself yet again, how easy it is to turn something you don’t care for into something that you like.

If you don’t peel the radishes before slicing and marinating them, you will have radishes looking more like carrots.  The red from the skin conspires with the vinegar and the color ‘runs’, turning my batch into a fluorescent pinkish orange.  Pretty.  Sweet and pungent and spicy all at once, the vinegar flavor giving the spice a run for it’s money.  If you want them white, then peel them.  The pickled radishes at the market were combined with carrot slices.  They would also be good combined with cucumbers and onions – green for a delicate flavoring, red slices for a more dramatic effect.  Drain before serving.  Add to salads, put on sandwiches, use in a relish tray, or munch them whenever.


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Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things
that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover
. –Mark Twain (1835-1910)


Some blogs are heartbreaking.  People are really suffering from adverse effects of poor eating habits.  No, a lifetime of poor eating habits.  No, it’s even worse than that.  A lifetime of binge eating that they are powerless to control.  Binging born of what is known as emotional eating.  It seems rampant, a product of our overabundant society.

I have to confess that I don’t really understand binge eating.  When depression has me in its maw, I have no interest in eating much of anything, and will peck at minimum nibbles just to keep going.  I am truly moved by some of the blogger’s  writings.  And my heart breaks.  And I want to offer some solace or solution or something.

With so many people suffering so, how can the professionals not know how to treat this?  There is a psychological component, one that is not always shared in the blogger’s online confessions.  Is it easier to confess to eating a whole box of cookies than to own up to feelings of professional failure or lack of friends or loneliness more unbearable than physical pain?

But the blogger seems to have friends.  They post pictures of laughing people crowded around birthday cakes, everyone mugging for the camera.  These are not professional actors; you can’t fake having fun in front of the lens.  And how can anyone who is surrounded by rooms full of friends think of themselves as a failure?

The blogger considers their failure to control their eating their worst nightmare, one that they live with every day.  A good day or week of “sensible” eating is inevitably followed by a worse week or month of binging.  Two steps forward and three back.  I wanted to respond to one blogger, to offer some way out of the futility to which they are tied.  Sometimes a view from outside can result in a different way of looking at the issue that can provide an untried inroad.  But I chickened out, not wanting to intrude with my opinion to someone I didn’t know.  So I’m posting it here.,

From reading your blog, you seem to be a loving person with family and friends many would kill for.  You are also sincere and heartbroken in your struggle, one that is shared by many.  I relate in a different way, having discovered that I am wheat-intolerant.  A few things I’ve found helpful:

  1. Total elimination conquers cravings.  It is far easier to avoid eating something if I don’t ever eat it.  Cheating a little brings back the craving, full force.  Avoiding it altogether allows me to stare down a doughnut without feeling tempted.
  2. Self-imposing my own rules help.  I don’t eat or buy wheat, or have it in the house.  I find substitutes for myself and family.  Thoughtful friends surprised me with a (wheatless) birthday flan that was enjoyed by all.  Sabotage is no friend to anyone on a difficult road.
  3. Eating things that make me feel good in the long run is better than eating things that make me feel good right now.  So, results trump taste. I will NEVER regret NOT eating a doughnut; I will ALWAYS regret eating a doughnut.  (See #1.)
  4. The food industry is run by the people who ran the tobacco industry.  They have specialized in finding ways to addict people, beginning with chemical additives in cigarettes to increase the power of nicotine addiction.  Now they are doing the same with our food.  We don’t naturally crave salt, sugar or fat unless we are deficient in them.  Eating these things to excess is not only harmful, it trains our bodies to crave them.  Big Food puts in lots of these salt, sugar and fat to addict us so we will buy more and eat more.  No surprise why American children are struggling with food-related health issues: allergies, attention deficits, early-onset diabetes, obesity, heart conditions and shortened life expectancy.
  5. To avoid refined wheat (and other assorted mukhwa) in food products, including most restaurant food, cooking is a good solution, and it doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. Excessive amounts of salt and sugar paralyze our taste buds so that, without it, food tastes bland.  By cooking our own food we can rediscover what real food tastes like, and that real food doesn’t need salt or sugar, certainly not excessive amounts.  By eating real (unrefined) food, we can avoid becoming addicted to unhealthy ways of eating.  This is the path to good health.

Sorry to go on so.  Since January, I’ve been researching the many things that sabotage health, and exploring solutions for maintaining healthy eating habits in a daily blog.   I would love to continue a dialog with you about the complex struggle that so many Americans face.  By the way, I thought that the earlier comment made by the skinny bitch was unwarranted and cruel.  You should delete it.

Today’s Elaboration focuses on a dozen or so things to do to divert eating attention away from foods that are toxic.  These are different for everyone, so tailor your regimen to one that suits, and alter when necessary.  I hope this helps.





JUNE 4th:
JULY 3rd:

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand
everything better
.  -Albert Einstein

On Friday, a federal judge banned seed giant Monsanto from planting or seling genetically modified (GM) sugar beets, MSNBC reports.  Environmentalist advocacy groups brought suit last year against the biotech company to halt planting before they had completed a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had issued the go-ahead to plant the controversial seed based on preliminary environmental study results that seemed to indicate a negligible impact.

That’s when the Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club and others cried, “Foul,” announcing their suit to block further planting pending full compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laws and regulations.  GM sugar beets already harvested are not affected, but the ruling prohibits planting in next year’s season.  Farmers can plant conventional and organic sugar beet seeds in the next planting season to keep up with demand for sugar beets, the primary product grown in the US to make table sugar, so a shortage of sugar is not expected.

This is a huge victory for the people of the world who depend upon farming for their livelihood.  GMs have been found to encourage the proliferation of superweeds, increasing the need for stronger and more toxic herbicides.  These chemicals are dangerous to farm workers, and increase the costs to farmers.
Pesticide-resistant GMs also have created a race of super bugs necessitating even stronger pesticides, and have been known to promote an increasing number of plant diseases among GM crops.

In addition to creating out-of-control environmental factors, GMs also harm neighboring farmers as seeds inevitably travel with the wind and animal life, contaminating non-GM crops which cannot be used in organic farming.  Contaminating organic farms can destroy their ability to maintain organic certification, threatening those farmers’ livelihood.

Farmers in poor countries are finding that converting to growing genetically modified organisms (GMO) is not a sustainable farming method, and many have been ruined by the increased costs of buying the seed and the powerful chemicals needed to keep vibrant weeds and pests at bay, as well as seeing increasingly poorer crop yields over time.  The Institute of Science in Society, reprinting a talk by Dr Mae-Wan Ho at the National Justice and Peace Conference in the UK in July discusses exactly what is a GMO and it’s adverse  impact.  Check it out; it give the case against GMOs in a nutshell.

The US Supreme Court upheld a ruling last June revoking Monsanto’s USDA-approval of planting GM alfalfa pending an EIS.  Expect cash-flush Monsanto to appeal to the highest court to overturn Friday’s ruling.  The seed company has demonstrated that they will stop at nothing to overtake the world with seeds that only they control, and that require yearly purchase by farmers rather than saving seeds from previous harvests.  Their predatory tactics to bring suit against non-GMO farmers whose fields have been contaminated by the patented seed is legendary.

Conventional seeds have never shown to have any of these adverse effects on farmers or crops.  Why man insists on trying to fool Mother Nature at the expense of mankind’s health and well-being and that of the planet is a conundrum that can only be understood in misguided financial terms. One pundit observed that the only reason for GMOs to exist on the planet is for the profit-making of the manufacturer. Fortunately, public opinion is swaying in the direction of increased sensitivity to the GMO issue.  One can only hope that the global picture prevails over corporate interests.

Let’s see if the EIS  that Monsanto submits, probably in 2012, supports the continued use of what many the world over believe to be a truly insidious product.  And let’s also see if the US government follows Europe’s lead in requiring labeled indicating the use of GMOs in food products.  In the meantime, let’s see if farmers planting conventional sugar beets decide that they don’t need GMOs, and opt out of the futility of unsustainable agriculture.  And if they were to go in the direction of organic rather than GMOs – well, now that would be something.


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This #$%! has got to stop.  ~Mark Bittman

Six Word Saturday and the living is madness.  That is, if you get a load of what’s been erected in Times Square.  A load of crap, that’s what, called Pop Tart World.  A 3,000 square-foot monument to marketing and answers the question why is America suffering from such massive eating issues, soon to turn into massive health issues.

That people actually enter such a place is a mystery to those who appreciate real food because this is a landmark to all that is artificial in our food chain.  If they can get people to eat the Pop Tart sushi they offer, it is also a testament to American food foolishness.  See the Huffington Post‘s video and text- they put the word ‘assault’ to good use – and save yourself a nightmare of a visit. Be like NYrs and vote ‘No’ with your feet.  And buy not.

I couldn’t agree more with Mark Bittman‘s pithy comment, above.  What dd surprise me was that he actually ate the Pop Tart sushi.  I’ve renamed the artificial crab meat rolled in rice faux sushi.  This one I’ll just call #$%!.

Fooducate exposes this product for what it is:

  • Less than 2% fruit, at logical odds with the front of the box which says, “made with real fruit”.
  • Sugar content, 17 grams, equals more than four teaspoons.  Ingredients list sugar four times.
  • Serving size says “One Pastry”, but there are two to a pouch, misleading at least some consumers.
  • The label says there are no trans fats, at odds with the ingredients list which lists partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
  • The enrichment by chemical vitamins does not begin to compensate for the amount of sugar, chemical additives and artificial ingredients.

Sound like a healthy breakfast to you?

Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thia
min Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Dextrose, Soybean And Palm Oil (With Tbhq For Freshness), Sugar, Cracker Meal, Contains Two Percent Or Less Of Wheat Starch, Salt, Dried Blueberries, Dried Grapes, Dried Apples, Cornstarch, Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Corn Cereal, Citric Acid, Gelatin, Modified Wheat Starch, Soy Lecithin, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean And/Or Cottonseed Oil?, Modified Corn Starch, Xanthan Gum, Caramel Color, Red #40, Vitamin A Palmitate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Color Added, Niacinamide, Reduced Iron, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Blue #2, Blue #1, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Turmeric Color, Folic Acid.


  • Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, etc) All flour is enriched in the US, by law.  Most flour is from wheat.  If the ingredient list does not state, “100% whole wheat flour”,  it contains refined flour, lacking nutrients and fiber.
  • Corn Syrup A syrup made from cornstarch.  Used as a sweetener due to its high glucose content.  Prevents crystallization & can help increase shelf life in baked goods.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup Corn syrup with some of the glucose converted to fructose.
  • Dextrose A term for glucose.  Glucose & fructose together make sucrose, commonly known as table sugar.
  • Soybean And Palm Oil Soybean old probably made from GMOs.  Canola oil would have been a healthier alternative because of its high unsaturated fat content.
  • TBHQ (E319) Tert-Butylhydroquinone, a preservative for oils. May be carcinogenic in high doses.
  • Sugar Because the product is not sweet enough without even more sugar.
  • Wheat Starch A powdery substance obtained from wheat kernels, used as a thickener.
  • Dried Blueberries, Dried Grapes, Dried Apples There’s less than 2% of each whole food in the product.
  • Cornstarch A powdery substance used as a thickener.
  • Citric Acid A natural preservative that is used in beverages to add an acidic, sour taste.  Although it is naturally found in citrus fruit (oranges, lemons), industry has a found a cheaper way to manufacture it. This is through a fermentation process in which a mold called Aspergillus Niger is used to ferment a carbohydrate such as molasses.
  • Gelatin  (E441) A translucent, colorless, brittle, nearly tasteless solid substance, derived from the collagen inside animals’ skin and bones; commonly used as a gelling agent.
  • Modified Wheat Starch Same as wheat starch, above, but modified not to loose its thickening properties when heated.
  • Soy Lecithin (E322) An oily substance derived from soybeans. Used as an emulsifier and to keep the dough from sticking
  • Partially Hydrogenated Soybean And/Or Cottonseed Oil A source of trans-fat.
  • Modified Corn Starch A common additive used as a thickener.
  • Xanthan Gum (E415) A common emulsifier & thickener made from reaction between glucose & Xanthomonas campestris bacteria.
  • Caramel Color (E150) A natural food coloring.
  • Red #40 (Allura Red / E129) An artificial food coloring.  It is being phased out in Europe due to health concerns.
  • Tricalcium Phosphate (E341) A raising agent.
  • Color Added In addition to the artificial colors stated by name, this mystery color is added.
  • Niacinamide Vitamin B3.
  • Natural And Artificial Flavors Enhanced by some proprietary, secret formula to conceal the poor taste due to all the refined products, chemicals and preservatives.
  • Blue #2 Artificial color.
  • Blue #1 (Brilliant Blue FCF / E133) A synthetic dye derived from coal tar.  Was previously banned in Europe but now is allowed.
  • Turmeric Color A yellow/orange powder from the turmeric spice, one of the few natural ingredients in this product.

Your reward for reading through this mukhwa is Brian Regan’s funny riff on how to toast a Pop Tart.

Comedy aside, this product that is not in any way a healthy breakfast.  This outpost is the corner drug dealer who has opened up a big top for pushing empty, sugary food, having convinced consumers that this is ‘fun’.  This is one way food manufacturers keep people sugar-addicted and unhealthy.  Take a stand.  Just say No.

I’m no genius, but why don’t they begin making it more healthy to compete favorably in a world where we’re already on the cusp of a shorter life span?  Become part of the solution rather than continuing to try convincing people that it’s okay to eat this stuff.

  • Start with using all whole grain flour.
  • Replace the sugar with fruit juice and fruit pulp, dried fruit or maple syrup.
  • Increase the whole fruit content.
  • Eliminate artificial coloring and flavorings.
  • Get rid of all of the trans fats and use healthy oil, like olive or non-GMO canola.

That would be something to celebrate:  the food industry innovating and leading the charge towards real and healthy food.  It can be done, and I personally challenge food companies to do it.  Who will be first?

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The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.  ~Hanna Rion

Rare as they are, the Ladies Home Journal scored an interview with First Lady Michelle Obama to promote her Let’s Move! initiative.  There is not much that is new here, despite the title of the article.  She talked about the importance of healthy eating, relating her personal experiences, some of which we’ve heard before.  She made light of  both Obamas’ dislike of beets, and talked about teaching her young girls the importance of healthy living, even when you don’t feel like it, because it pays off in the end.  It was all good – if not ground-breaking – news, and I was surprised to see that others felt differently.

It is not Ms Obama’s general commitment to healthy eating that got the focus on Obama Foodorama.  Author Eddie Gehman Kohan presented an in-depth analysis on the interview, making much of the First Lady’s admission to engaging in a periodic food cleanse.  The First Lady said:

Recently I was on a sort of cleanse and I was just eating vegetables. . . . [T]hey help me clean out my palate. Because when you start adding things like sugars into your diet, you start craving them. And the more you eat, the more you crave. . . .  So maybe I’ll do a cleanse for two days.

What this says to me is that for two days she eats only vegetables as an antidote for the inevitable sugar consumed in the course of normal eating.  This seems a way to temper the less-than-good with some extra good.  I’m no fan of cleanses, but this seems a reasonable and balanced solution that she has found to work for her.  What’s not to like?

Oboma Foodorama opined otherwise:

The word “cleanse” raises the ghost not only of imbalance, but of extremism. And because the LHJ story is titled “Michelle Obama’s New Mission,” and is all about Let’s Move!, it seems as if cleansing is a recommended part of the campaign, too. It sounds like policy.

She also quotes Marion Nestle, respected food scientist and nutrition professor, giving a response that reads even more into the First Lady’s words:

When I hear “cleanse,” I immediately think of things ranging from total fasting, to vegetable juices, to drinks with all kinds of herbal and other weird things in them, to coffee enemas.  Some are healthful (vegetable juices). Some are not (coffee enemas).

They are both interpreting the use of the word cleanse in a specific way that implies something other than what the First Lady said or even hinted at.  Her remarks didn’t sound extreme, weird or unhealthful.  It was the magazine that titled the piece a “New Mission” as well as used “The Cleanse” as a paragraph heading.  Nowhere in the article did Michelle Obama mention the words juices or enemas.

I wondered if anyone else in the media had pounced on her words, so taking a www.stroll and, except for an Associated Press story that was duplicated on all of the news sites in a straightforward way, I found the following:

Expecting VegetarianStar to take to task both Obamas for disliking beets, they simply analyzed her comment that people have either a strong or recessive ‘beet gene’, taking her quip as a point of discussion, and concluding:

Thankfully, Michelle doesn’t possess genes for hating all vegetables, as she recently went on a vegetable cleanse for two days to clean her palate.

I’m wondering what others read into the Ladies’ Home Journal story.  Does it sound to anyone else as though some have misinterpreted and overreacted?

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It’s a good thing to have fish in our lives. . . .  I’m not saying that we should stop  fishing or that we shouldn’t have this wild food; quite the contrary.  I think it’s a beautiful thing to have abundant, wild food in our lives. . . . fifty percent of our seafood is now farmed.  We could end up replacing a very good and beautiful and functional wild food system with an expensive, potentially environmentally degrading farmed food system.  And I don’t want that to happen; I want there to be wild food.  I think there has to be some farmed fish, but we need to figure out a way to farm it in a way that does not affect wild populations.
~Paul Greenberg (NPR Interview)


Whether you are concerned with the future of fish as a culinary commodity or an important part of the earth’s ecosystem, you will get a lot out of Paul Greenberg‘s book, Four Fish:  The Future of the Last Wild Food.  The New York Times prints an excerpt, and he is interviewed on NPR‘s Fresh Air.  Greenberg is to fish as Michael Pollan is to plants and animals, and believes fish is just as important to humans as land-based food sources.

In the interview, Greenbeerg explains how fish are farmed, how this form of wild life is coming to be over-harvested, and the far-reaching consequences.  The selective breeding of salmon developed in Norway resulted in a way to feed farmed fish that required half the feed of the wild vairent.  That was a positive outcome of farming development he says, but

while the per fish efficiency is better, the overall footprint of the salmon industry is getting bigger and bigger.

And the food industry’s growing footprint this is a growing global concern.  Drawing parallels to land-based food production, Greenberg tells us how food monocultures are not good for the earth, the plants or animals, consumers or their health.  He explains terms like commercially extinct, forage fish, and fruits of the sea, concepts humans would do well to understand.  We all know that fish is better for humans than red meat, but Greenberg tells us why, from the point of human health which is, after all, the point of food.  If you’re wondering why the antidote to the Gulf oil spill may be worse than the oil, he enlightens us.

Greenberg’s kind, thoughtful message is born out of a lifetime of eating fish that he caught and he bought, and he understands the nuances of the great and small ones who swim in the waters of the world.  Wanting them to be around for a long time after we are gone, Greenberg puts the ecological needs of fish in context with humans’ responsibility for maintaining the health and well-being of the animal kingdom.  Maintaining nutritional density benefits both fish and man.

Advocating eating less red meat, and more fish and plants – as does every independent food professional today – the author provides a sensible plan to sustain the fish population, enjoy while preserving it:  incorporating fish each week into our meals is a good thing.  Indeed.

High in omega 3 nutrients, Greenberg advocates eating the forage fish, the smaller fish that feed the larger:  sardines and anchovies.  Actually, they make a flavorful enrichment for soups and gravies.  Julia Child puts it in her stewed beef (pot roast).  And if Julia Child can put to good use this tiny, nutrient-rich food source, we would do well to follow her lead.  Anchovies and sardines are very French.  We could make use of it as a kind of silver bullet to give us a nutritional boost and to help preserve the health of the larger fish population so that, not only we can enjoy them today, but future generations – your grandchildren’s children – can benefit from them for many tomorrows.

Off the top of my head, I can think of these things to say about anchovies:

  1. For starters, forget about the fact that they are quite salty.  We’re already addicted to salt, and anchovies probably don’t have any more salt than most food products we’re already buying.  Salt brings out the flavor in food, so using anchovies to flavor and salt food is actually a pretty good way to go since the salt is inherent rather than added.  You can always rinse the anchovies in cold, running water  before using.  This will diminish the salt, but leave the nutrients intact.
  2. Anchovies can be used interchangeably with sardines in any recipe.  Try each and see which suit best.  Anchovies are smaller, and their skeleton less noticeable; I recommend beginning with them.
  3. Rich in protein and essential fatty acids, fish oil is great for making hair healthier.  So if you want to nourish your tresses, add anchovies to your weekly food intake.
  4. If you’re concerned about health, use anchovies in place of bacon.  No, not fried beside eggs for breakfast, but as a flavoring, in dried bean dishes for example.  Because they are bland, dried beans (chickpeas, black beans, pea beans, etc) need added salt.  I can think of no better pairing of foods than beans and anchovies to get the best from both.  Other dishes that need salt are those with heavy tomato concentrations, and egg dishes.  Both suited to the addition of sardines while omitting the added salt.
  5. Substitute the oil from sardines or anchovies for olive oil (or half the amount) to make salad dressing, or for cooking pasta or other dishes.

I like the idea of anchovies so much, I’m going to add them to my list of Good-For-You Foods, now thirteen in number.  And I’m going to experiment with the beans, reporting back what I discover.

Now, you know that I wouldn’t end without giving you some things to do with anchovies right off the bat.  Anchovies could be the new bacon.  Today’s Elaboration gives you ways to incorporate anchovies or sardines into your weekly meal planning.  Here are five general categories of them:

  1. SNACKS Liptauer Spread, or blend anchovies into cream cheese thinned with plain yogurt or milk for a dip with chips or crudités.  Blend into Humus, store-bought or home made (omit the added salt), for a robust flavor when dipping bread, corn chips or crudités.
  2. SALADS Caesar salad, already have a preparation for that.  But don’t stop there.  Traditional antipasto includes anchovies.  Also part of a traditional Salad Nicoise, anchovies go right on top of tuna, hard-cooked eggs, tomatoes, olives and blanched green beans.
  3. SIDES Combine softened, unsalted butter with anchovies or sardines to put into other things, like mashed potatoes, noodles, polenta or pasta.  The next time your child won’t eat anything but noodles, try it.
  4. MAIN Add to quiche, souffles or scrambled eggs to flavor these dishes without using added salt.  You’re going to be pleasantly surprised.
  5. FUN Put into Tacos, on home-made Pita Pizza or blend into the sauce.

Whoever said you can’t teach an old cook new tricks was just wrong.  The practice never ends; nor does the fun.

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Happy and successful cooking doesn’t rely only on know-how;
it comes from the heart, makes great demands on the palate and
needs enthusiasm and a deep love of food to bring it to life
~Georges Blanc (1943 – ) Ma Cuisine des Saisons

If you’re lucky enough to find fresh basil, cilantro or arugula with the roots attached, put them in a vase with just an inch of water, leaving any dirt balls attached.  Treat like fresh-cut flowers, replacing the water every day.  But, better than flowers, you can eat the leaves, adding freshness to any salad, sandwich or cooked dish you fancy.  To up the ante, consider growing an herb pot, just to have a fresh supply of your favorite herb on hand.  A bouquet or pot of fresh herbs is a thoughtful gift for any hostess who cooks for you.

I had the privilege of visiting a delightful Italian Restaurant in lower Manhattan on Monday that had me thinking about serving possibilities.  Italian food is about freshness.  Fresh fish.  Fresh pasta.  Fresh greens and vegetables.  Fresh fruit.  Rather than relying on standard combinations of foods, stretch your imagination to put together different and unexpected things, whether they are cooked together or assembled on the plate.

I brought home a few cooking tips from a stellar meal, just for you:

  • Pasta is a versatile base on which to put an endless variety of meats, seafood and sauces.  A sauce is merely a combination of viscous or pureed foods to which spices and flavorings are added.  A dish of freshly-made spaghetti was adorned with shrimp in a light tomato sauce spiked with sherry, sage and lemon zest.  The combination was sensational.
  • Salad greens don’t have to be limited to a dressing-tossed version; add them to a meat entrée for a fresh approach.  A tender, white wine poached or lightly grilled chicken breast with tarragon was garnished with baby greens, arugula, cherry tomatoes and thinly-sliced Parmagiano.
  • Think of using fruit as a garnish for meat.  Thinly sliced proscuitto was graced with goat cheese and a fresh fig.

I challenge you to stretch your cooking combination vocabulary, creating different results using a variety of fresh produce from the summer green markets.  Strike now and see what you can do with nature’s garden.  You’ll not regret it but if you don’t, come fall, you may wish you had.

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You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food
from fresh ingredients
.  ~Julia Child (1912 – 2004)

In a bit of SB&C spontaneity, I’ve exchanged posts with Jane, from Australia.  We share the date today – her tenth anniversary of open-heart surgery and my birthday – so it seemed like a good idea to reach around to the other side of the globe and get a different perspective.  Jane talks about her food experiences growing up and how eating well ahs made a difference in her life.  On her blog @ Number 8, I’ve talked of Picnics in NY Parks.  Welcome, Jane.

During my childhood in New Zealand we ate healthy but somewhat bland food; mostly seafood, mutton
(that is older lamb rather than goat, as in India) and assorted plain vegetables. My mother prepared corned beef, with cabbage and carrots, in a pressure cooker. I detested this meal; the smell was enough to put me off. Then she would add a white sauce with parsley. I now know that the food was extremely overcooked. It makes me shudder to think of it.

While I recall rice, I don’t recall pasta. There were salads with a dressing of condensed milk and vinegar blended together. My mother used the famous Edmonds Cookbook. From this she produced scones, cakes and evening meals called tea;  Caucasian New Zealand cuisine remained highly derivative of British food. We always referred to ourselves as British first and New Zealanders second. Therefore, such traditions as morning and afternoon tea were adhered to.

Arriving in Australia in the late 1960’s, I encountered foods I had never seen at all, whilst my parents re-encountered foods that had been restricted from import into New Zealand. We tried Coke-Cola and pizza for the first time. We were faced with a wider range of fresh produce and palatable delights. Sadly, I thought spaghetti came from a can, though we called it a tin.

Jump forward to motherhood with an interest in getting healthy food into young children.  I still suffered from a limited palate, however, I wanted the food experience to be different for my children.  I decided to be creative. Rather than attempting to make them eat certain foods, I introduced self-service. Common in North American homes but not so much here back then, I set the table with food in beautiful serving dishes. The rule was you eat whatever you put onto your plate; start small and go back for more rather than over estimate in the first serve.  To a large extent, this worked.

In their early teens we moved north to a subtropical climate. We became very interested in what we ate and the choices around us. Having arrived in winter, we found it strange to encounter strawberries, until now a Christmas fruit. As summer came around, we discovered the joys and abundance of mangoes, cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, BBQ and creative salads.

Australia’s immigration policy from the mid 1900’s has had a significant effect upon the food we now eat. In the warmer climate, eating out is more attractive, and the restaurants and cafes offer a broad range of cuisines. My children introduced me to Thai food, and I taught myself to make Asian and Italian foods.

I experienced my first ever winter without illness in 1995, and realised that there is a connection between what I eat and my  health. This seems obvious to me now but was not before.

I decided that I would eat what I needed rather than what I wanted. I have, of course, not always succeeded, yet I have always been able to see the difference. While I do not actually like broccoli or avocado,  I understand they are good for me, and thus eat them often. I do not like seafood, however I make myself eat it for the benefit it has.

I have recently learnt to make pasta, and find it is well worth the relatively little effort required.  Adding a simple sauce an inexpensive and delicious meal can be had.  Along with a nicose salad and some crunchy bread, I am satisfied, happy to have flu-free winters.

Australia has embraced the foods of its immigrants. We can source the best produce from farmers markets, and local delicatessens offer exotic ingredients, meats and spices. European and Asian families off wonderful foods from their homelands; Greek, Turkish, Italian, French, Spanish, Middle European, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai and Polynesian are readily available.

Our television channels abound with cooking shows; the recent series Masterchef has proved to be an unprecedented success. Indeed, we are shortly to have Junior Masterchef burst upon our screens:  eight- to twelve-year old girls and boys with remarkable skill and passion. It ought to be interesting.

This may seem similar to North America, but for Australia it has taken several decades to truly embrace our differences. Masterchef shows a diversity of culinary styles. Last year, a stay-at-home mum was the winner. This year’s winner, an Australian who lived in Japan for several years has a diverse and rich understanding of  exotic foods. Food festivals around country celebrate the richness of variety we have.

The hard-gained maturity of my palate is measured by the development of the food industry in Australia.

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These are changes in society that occurred as a result of food industry pressures to sell more food to more people in more places.  ~Marion Nestle

Running into severe time shortages this week.  Does anyone know where I can pick up a few hours to add to the day?  I’m using this overworked opportunity, taking the easy way out, to feature a superb interview of Marion Nestle, published on Organic Connections last week.  Entitled How the Food Industry Hijacked Nutrition, I hope you will read it in it’s entirety.

As frequent readers will know, I’m a big fan of Dr Nestle, often expounding on her sensible arguments, and following her lead on keeping up with the important and far-reaching food discussion to which our nation has finally connected.  I like this article because it gets to the meat of her important food advocacy.

Points that she makes sum up the state of the food supply in pithy quotes:

  • All you have to do is observe the way the food industry behaves and see that sales take precedence over anything else. . . . growth every ninety days is critically important for any corporation.  For food corporations it’s particularly difficult because there’s so much food available, twice as much as anybody needs, or as the country needs as a whole.
  • Soft drink companies unapologetically name eight- to twelve-year-olds as marketing targets.  McDonald’s produces commercials, advertisements and a website specifically aimed at children eight to thirteen. In January 2000, Quaker Oats began a $15M, five-month campaign devoted entirely to promoting sales of its heavily sugared Cap’n Crunch cereal to children.
  • People obtain information about diet and health from the media:  newspapers, magazines, television, radio and more recently, the Internet.  Media outlets require news, and reporters are partial to breakthroughs, simple take-home lessons and controversies.  Virtually every food and beverage company is represented by a trade or public-relations firm whose job it is to promote a positive image of that item among consumers, professionals and the media.
  • In the 1950s, only 25 groups of food producers dominated agricultural lobbying. By the mid-1980s there were 84 such groups.  By the late 1990s there were hundreds – if not thousands – of businesses, associations and individuals attempting to influence federal decisions related to every conceivable aspect of food and beverage production, manufacture, sales, service and trade.
  • . . . General Mills’ Total cereal in big print on the front says, ‘Blueberry Pomegranate . . . Total Blueberry Pomegranate cereal – 100% nutrition.’ Anybody looking at that will think that not only is it going to meet all his or her nutritional needs, but it’s got blueberry and pomegranate, which by this time are known to be, quote superfoods, unquote.  The thing is, there is no blueberry or pomegranate in the cereal; none, zero.
  • Society has changed an enormous amount in the last 30 years since the early 1980s, when obesity wasn’t such a problem.  And those changes will be extremely difficult to reverse, in part because people have grown up living with this system and don’t know any other system.
  • [Jamie Oliver is] demonstrating . . . how the Department of Agriculture’s rules, for example, make it so difficult to serve healthier food in schools.
  • The Department of Agriculture is full of contradictions.  First, while it subsidizes corn and soybeans, it is also responsible for dietary advice to the public that tells people to eat more fruits and vegetables. But fruits and vegetables aren’t subsidized.
  • The school food issue is a very important one and a very good place to start, because people can go into a school and make a difference. . . .  I would pick an easier school than Jamie Oliver did. . . .  But there are plenty of schools in which changes are being made, and they are very impressive changes.
  • If you don’t act, nothing will happen.  Not doing anything is a decision to allow the system to proceed as it has been proceeding. . . .  Individuals have made a big difference in lots of different ways. Some of it is legislative; some of it is on a local level.

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Hubris  –n.  1.  Pride or arrogance  2.  (In Greek tragedy) an excess of ambition,
pride, etc, ultimately causing the transgressor’s ruin
.  ~Collins English Dictionary*

I reported on July 28th about  the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) suit against Coca-Cola, makers of vitaminwater.  Seems some of their flavors have as much sugar as soda pop.  Now it gets entertaining.

In The Huffington Post, John Robbins reports the latest volley between the public advocacy organization and the soda giant.  He writes:

Now here’s something you wouldn’t expect. Coca-Cola is being sued by a non-profit public interest group, on the grounds that the company’s vitaminwater products make unwarranted health claims.  No surprise there.  But how do you think the company is defending itself?  In a staggering feat of twisted logic, lawyers for Coca-Cola are defending the lawsuit by asserting that

“no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking
vitaminwater was a healthy beverage.”
[Emphasis mine]

Does this mean that you’d have to be an unreasonable person to think that a product named “vitaminwater,” a product that has been heavily and aggressively marketed as a healthy beverage, actually had health benefits?  Or does it mean that it’s okay for a corporation to lie about its products, as long as they can then turn around and claim that no one actually believes their lies?

So we’ve heard it from the serpent’s mouth.  I guess this explains why no one got back to me explaining why they do not put the nutritional labels or ingredients list on the vitaminwater website. It is included on the Coca-Cola website, but it’s located deep within the site so you have to really want to find it. Adweek reported, back in January when the suit was filed, some other disturbing discoveries:

The brand’s marketing claims the products can, among other things, reduce the risk of chronic disease and promote healthy joints. The health advocacy group [CSPI] feels the drink is more likely to do harm than good, considering the 33 grams of sugar [in one flavor]. The marketing of vitaminwater “is truly an irresponsible act by Coca-Cola. They know it is flavored snake oil,” said [CSPI litigation director Steve] Gardner.

He pointed to the brand’s double labeling practices as “them just thumbing their nose at the Federal Drug Administration and the consumer.” Specifically, the servings of calories and other “bad stuff” are shown per every eight ounces while the vitamins and minerals are labeled per bottle [twenty ounces]. [Emphasis mine.]

Looking at the nutrition label, the consumer would never know about the deception of the quantities, clearly defying FDA regs.  They seem uncomfortable informing the consumer about the sugar or high-fructose corn syrup some varieties contain.  What dos that tell you?

The food industry cannot  be trusted to make healthy food products, and consumers need to judge this leopard by its spots meaning what they can see, and not what they hear.  Most food products with more than five ingredients are not particularly healthy.  But they are required to accurately list the ingredients on the package. As you’ve heard before, here and elsewhere, the best practice is to always


on all food products that you buy, paying attention to serving size.  Like vitaminwater, many products claim a serving size smaller than the size of the container.  Know what it means if a serving has 15 mg of salt or 30 g of sugar.  If the package says “2 servings” and you’ve consumed the entire package, then you’ve just doubled the amount specified.  Reading the ingredients and the nutritional label is always your best defense against being hoodwinked by clever marketing campaigns.

Of course, naming the product vitaminwater only illustrates the beauty of living in a sophisticated society where irony is a desirable form of discourse.

Stay tuned to see how the lawyers continue to defend companies by creating ever-more complex ironic feats of daring that come from, not only extreme confidence, but extreme hubris as well.  We can only await the final outcome, to see how they are brought down.

Here’s a thought:  why don’t they just take the sugar out of it and leave just water and vitamins?  But wouldn’t that live up to their modus operandi of ever more outrageous practices and products.  Good lesson to teach the kids.  In marketing, truth has no currency.

*”hubris” Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 08 Aug 2010. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hubris>.

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