Friday, November 30, 2007

Making Fat

I’ve been thinking about fat.

Not in the “I’ve got too much of it and need to lose some” kind of way, but in the nutritional way.

One of the offerings in this month’s package from the meat CSA is a side of pork. I have to confess, I didn’t even know what a side of pork was. Adventure is part of the charm of belonging to a CSA. Ah, but Google knows. A side of pork is the part that bacon comes from. More specifically, I think it’s the part that’s left after the bacon and ribs have been removed.

It’s fat. And I have a big slab of it. You can see why I’m thinking about it.

I’m supposed to render it and get lard. The powers-that-be in the CSA gave us some general instructions and pointed us to someone’s blog where it’s discussed. But I couldn’t find the blog and anyway, I had something just as good.

In an honored place on my bookshelf is Jessica Prentice’s Full Moon Feast and I knew perfectly well that she talked about rendering fat. In fact, she has a whole chapter devoted to it. I’ve read it before, of course, and it’s thought-provoking. Enough so, that I generally try to avoid non-fat, low-fat, skim… whatever, and try instead, to eat the Real Thing.

Jessica makes no bones about the idea that fat from free-range, grass-fed animals is not the enemy of our health. Sugar, refined grains, processed food, animals raised in cages or feedlots… these are the enemies. This is the kind of idea that makes so much sense to me, that I have to be careful I don’t just accept it without investigation. After all, everyone will tell you that fat is bad. Every person in the health industry. Nutritionists. Dieticians. Lawyers, even. It’s one of the accepted doctrines of western civilization.

Why do we think that? Why don’t we agree that the other list is far more dangerous? Why doesn’t the government’s food pyramid put those items in the “use sparingly” category?

We all know that heart disease, high cholesterol, stroke, diabetes, etc. are at epidemic levels. We all know that this epidemic has been growing the last 80 years or so and we’ve let the “authorities” tell us it’s because we eat too much red meat, too much bacon, too many eggs, too much fat.

The “authorities” never tell you that the last 80 years have also seen the growth of the processed food industry. That in that time, we’ve become completely dependent on Big Agriculture and food created in laboratories. That even our fat has become adulterated by chemically grown plants and animals stacked up in feedlots and fed food they were never intended to eat.

And of course, we eat way too much of this stuff, because, as Jessica says, it’s not satisfying. Especially if we eat the ‘skim’ varieties. Fat used to be healthy. It used to be nutritious. It used to be satisfying. And most of us didn’t get “fat” from it.

Challenge yourself. Eliminate all the sugar and processed food from your diet. Buy local, organic produce and meat. Eat artisan whole-milk cheese and dairy products and don’t worry if your meat has yellow gobs of fat in it. Try it for a while and see if you’re not in better shape.

I’ve been eating this way for several years. It’s been a gradual process and I’m not completely there, yet. But my cholesterol is about 30 points lower than it was when I was doing the low-fat diet thing and eating processed foods and fake sugar. My weight is about the same. I still don’t have diabetes or high blood pressure.

And I can really enjoy my food.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Reclassify Salt?

The medical community (who are they, exactly?) is asking the FDA to reclassify salt. Right now, salt is considered GRAS – Generally Recognized as Safe. The new classification would make it a food additive tied to limitations.

Why, you ask?

It turns out the medical community is tired of treating our excessive-salt related illnesses. They consider excessive salt intake to be a public health hazard and want the government to force limitations of it.

Lest we forget: salt is essential for humans. We’ll die if we don’t have some in our diet. But like a lot of other essential nutrients, too much is poison. That skittish happy medium is once again in the spotlight.

The medical community is focusing on processed foods, which of course, makes me want to jump up and down in joy. The food industry has known for decades that they put a dangerous amount of salt in the processed food, but they’ve done very little about fixing it. Because after all, processed foods taste perfectly horrid if they aren’t loaded up with salt and/or sugar. Nobody would buy the stuff if they had to eat it with a sensible amount of salt.

Wait, let me repeat that. Nobody would buy the stuff if they had to eat it with a sensible amount of salt.

Can we all say “D’oh!”?

Government regulations can force the industry to lower the amount of sodium in their food products. But they will want us to buy these products, so they’ll have to do something to help the taste. I shudder to imagine what they might come up with.

We’re in bad shape on this, too, because salt is addictive. We have three or four generations that have grown up on this heavily salted diet of processed foods. If that’s what you’ve eaten for most of your life, you’re going to have a hard time learning to like Real Food. Cutting back on salt is like quitting smoking.

Most people have no idea what Real Food is supposed to taste like. And when they’re forced to eat processed food that is low in sodium, they HATE it. The good news is that, like quitting smoking, it gets easier over time. If you start eating Real Food, your mouth gradually forgets the overly salted taste of the fake stuff and you begin to actually TASTE the food you’re eating. Stick with it for a year or two and you’re probably home free. I know when I try to eat processed food, I’m not usually successful. I can’t stand the taste of the stuff, whether it’s a can of Campbell’s soup or a frozen meal from Lean Cuisine.

So we’ll see what happens. The food industry is fighting the doctors' recommendation and the food industry has a lot of money. I’m not going to place any bets on what the FDA will decide. In the long run, it doesn’t matter. Like I said earlier, the food industry will have to put something in the food to make it palatable and that something will probably not be good for us. The answer is to stop buying and eating processed foods.

That’s always the answer.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Easy plans

I'm in the kitchen today. My own, this time. I must get started on baking for the holiday. And I have chili to make with turkey leftovers. I've decided to make a batch of sausage.

My back hurts, so no sitting at the computer. Standing and cooking is just the ticket!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Raw Milk

If you live in California, you will shortly not have the right to buy raw milk.
AB 1735 takes effect on January 1st, having passed the legislature with no debate and no warning to dairy farmers or consumers.

This is not how our ruling bodies are supposed to work.

Read the letter from Ron Garthwaite and Collette Cassidy of Claravale Farms and then write to your legislators. More information can be found at

I use raw milk for my yogurt. It makes the best yogurt I've had this side of Ireland and I don't want to give it up. Raw milk is safe and much healthier than the pasteurized junk put out my the Food Industry.

Sure, it needs to be produced by a properly clean dairy. Isn't that true for all our milk?

Oh, right. The pasteurized stuff can come from cows standing in their own muck, because it gets pasteurized. Silly me.

I truly do have a hard time holding down the sarcasm and cynicism when it comes to rulings like this. Help us out and write a letter or send an email.

Dairy farmers are fighting back.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Prep Day

The turkey is brining, the cornbread is drying, the sweet potato casserole is cooling. The giblet stock is in the frig, as is the homemade cranberry sauce, and the prepped ingredients for the stuffing. The housekeepers are coming but after that I'll probably work on the veggies for tomorrow.

What to do for dinner? I've been quite persistent at using up leftovers this week, so I have room in the frig and freezer. We still have some spaghetti sauce, but I don't want to use pasta. I also don't want to cook the spaghetti squash, yet.

I think I'll make a soup out of the sauce. Add some water (or maybe wine), throw in some cannellini beans and toast some bread with olive oil, salt and pepper. I've got a rind from the parmesan cheese that will go good in that, too. The sauce already has spinach in it, but I'll see what's in the freezer, in the veggie department. The more, the merrier!

Sounds good, no?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Plans

I get to cook nearly everything this year - a real treat for me! I'm brining the turkey, which is probably old hat to everyone, but since I don't usually do the turkey, I've never tried this before.

The brine is made and is cooling in the frig. Tomorrow morning, we'll pack the turkey in it and load it into our cooler with lots of ice.

Tomorrow, I also need to make the cornbread for the stuffing (something else I haven't had for a long time, since I don't do the turkey) and I'll make the sweet potato casserole, too. That leaves the oven clear for turkey and stuffing on Thursday. I've decided to forego dinner rolls, this year. I like to make the rolls, but really, why would we need more bread?

I will probably also do the prep work tomorrow, for the green bean/mushroom salad and the sauteed shredded brussels sprouts, and maybe the giblet gravy to use as stock for the stuffing. Thursday, I'll make the mashed potatoes and the stuffing. Appetizers are just crackers and cheese. Our guests are bringing the dessert (a lemon pudding cake) and I already have the pumpkin ice cream done.

So, um... it looks like Wednesday is my big cook day and Thursday is finish-up-and-set-the-table day.

I love to cook!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Eating Local and Fair Trade

An article in Sunday’s Chronicle (Farmers in Developing World Hurt by ‘Eat Local’ Philosophy in U.S. by William G. Moseley) pits Eat Local advocates against poor farmers in Africa. According to Mr. Moseley, it’s our fault that farmers in third world countries can’t get a fair break even when they turn to Fair Trade practices.

You know, I just can’t see it. In the first place, very few Eat Local advocates insist one must never buy anything from someplace else. How many of us live next to salt flats? How many can grow cinnamon or cumin or other spices? Have all of us given up coffee or tea? Chocolate?

The very people who want to eat local, are the same ones most likely to buy Fair Trade organic food when they need or want something they can’t get locally. We’re the ones who insist on food grown with fair labor practices and living wages for workers. But that doesn’t mean I have to buy all my food already processed and packaged at the grocery store, in order to support a farmer somewhere.

If I choose to buy my potatoes from a local farmer, I’m not putting a farmer in Africa out of business. If I decide to make my own spaghetti sauce from tomatoes grown by the farmer selling them at the farmer’s market, instead of the Fair Trade Organic brand found at Trader Joe’s, am I really responsible for starving children in China?

I think it’s a stretch.

In the second place, and this is the biggie, these third world farmers are put out of business because America subsidizes our own corporate farms at a horrendous rate and we flood the world market with our subsidized mono crops. Solve that problem!

Africa’s problems are a lot bigger than the elite of America shopping at the farmer’s market on Saturday. I’m not about to get into it on this blog, either. But the farmers there need more choices and freedom and markets, there, where they live. Their whole answer is not selling to a niche market in Europe or America.

Look, it’s hard enough to get people to think about where their food comes from and what’s in it. Let’s not let all the air out the movement before it even gets off the ground. Our own farmers are going out of business. Charity is fine. But I want to keep the farmer down the street in business before I’m going to worry about the farmer in Africa or Mexico.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Good things to eat

Super-easy pasta sauce for two people:

1/4 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced (large cloves - lots of garlic!)
1 large tomato, diced
1 jar anchovies, drained
1 or 2 basil leaves, chopped

Sautee the onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil (you can use the oil from the anchovies if you want) for a minute until the onion softens. Add tomto, anchovies and basil. Let simmer until liquid from tomato has reduced, 5 - 10 minutes. Stir it occasionally.

Serve over whole-wheat pasta or spaghetti squash, with parmesan cheese.

You don't need salt for this. The anchovies take care of that!

I roasted pumpkins last night and I've got lots of pumpkin pulp, so it's going to be soup time. Maybe a loaf of pumpkin bread? I'll use it up one way or another. I roasted the pumpkin seeds this morning and they're still in the pan, crunchy and salty. I've had a few. Must stay away!

It's also time to start thinking about Thanksgiving. It's kind of nice that this meal is traditional and includes favorites from previous years. There is very little planning to do. I could almost do it in my sleep. Our meal is with friends and it's always a potluck. I wouldn't mind doing the whole thing, but I think other people also enjoy preparing the food. The thunder must be shared!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Have you heard about the "comprehensive" study (shouldn't all studies be comprehensive?) about mercury in fish from the delta? It's been in the paper lately. We've known for years that there is mercury in fish and we have to be careful how much we eat. But now they've determined that the amount of mercury depends on the type of fish and where in the delta it lived.

So some are safer than others. Basically, the larger, predator fish have more mercury than the smaller species and the fish caught nearer Sacramento will have more than the fish caught lower down. Great. Information we need, as long as we remember to take it to the store with us and ask the seafood clerk where the fish was caught and hopefully, he or she will know that.

Not really likely, methinks.

My only point is a complaint I've had ever since I was a teenager: why do business people (whoever or whatever kind of business) feel they have the right to pollute our water (in this example) to make it easier and cheaper for them to do business?

This has always pissed me off. In this particular case, the mercury (most of it) is a holdover from our golddigging days. You heard me - over 150 years ago! It was cheaper and faster to blast the hills with high-pressured water and wash all the debris into the rivers, so that's what they did.

Okay, maybe they didn't know they were washing mercury into the rivers and condemning their descendants to a polluted environment and poisonous fish. But this kind of thing happened all over, with all kinds of industries. It's why we insist on having regulations on businesses, now. It's why businesses will pack up and go to China or someplace without regulations, so they can poison those people and save some money.

And my reaction has not changed from the way I thought 35 years ago, and this is the way I run my own business, now:

If you can't afford to run your business in a way that protects and sustains the environment and the people around you, then don't be in business. Please, do something else. We don't want you.

Pumpkin Ice Cream

I have to confess, this is one of my favorite things to do with pumpkins. Pie is great, especially with whipped cream. Soup is even better and lets not forget all the yummy casseroles and side dishes you can use it in.

Ah, but ice cream...

I made some yesterday and it will last a while. Partly it's for dessert on Thanksgiving, in which case, maybe it won't last for a while. I may have make more.


It's so easy, too. Dangerously easy. But once you do it, you will never want store-bought ice cream again.

I had some pulp left from bake fest, so I blended it well and cooked it until it was thick, like in the can. I do this all the time, anyway, so it wasn't a special step for just the ice cream. Feel free to use the canned variety, here. It's one place that's good to do, just be sure to get the organic variety.

I have one of those Cuisinart ice cream makers, the kind that you keep the bowl in the freezer and pour your mixture into it and turn on the machine and let it go. Easy, easy! Here's the recipe (from

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp molasses
1 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla

Using a hand mixer and medium bowl, combine the milk, brown sugar, and molasses. Mix until the sugar is dissolved, 1 - 2 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin and spices.

Add the cream and vanilla, stirring just until mixed. Turn the machine on and pour in the mixture. Run for about 25 minutes.

That is it! If you want, you can add graham cracker chunks, pecans, or even chocolate chips to the mix about 5 minutes before it's done. I like to leave the ice cream plain and let each person add what they want.

You'll notice the recipe calls for heavy cream and if you're like most Americans, you're screaming. But let me tell you: you want to use the heavy cream. I've tried it with skim or nonfat milk and it just doesn't work. When you buy that stuff in the store, look at the ingredients. They have to add all kinds of weird things to "fix" the texture.

Ice cream is meant to be creamy. Don't be afraid. Just eat a small serving - say 1/4 cup. You'll be surprised at how satisfying it is.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Remember that I said I'd use the skirt steak for spaghetti sauce? It's still in the freezer and frankly, I'm beefed out. I'll leave it there and do something else with it when I'm in the mood.

Not that I didn't have spaghetti. There was enough cross-rib roast that we ate less than half of it on Saturday night, but I cooked it all. The leftovers were cut up and used as the base for the spaghetti sauce, which I made yesterday. So we'll get at least five meals from that one roast.

I tried to be good, too. I'm really struggling with my weight right now, enough that my husband has actually offered to help. That's extreme, folks. Not because he doesn't help with things, but because he would normally never suggest I was less than perfect. I'm serious!

So we had the original roast sliced over salad and our pasta was spaghetti squash. It's really good served as a pasta with sauce and it's nice to eat as much as I want and not feel stuffed.

I get more meat from the CSA next Monday. For now, I have enough prepared meals in the freezer to get us through the week, so I don't need to buy more meat. I like to have 2 or 3 vegetarian meals every week anyway, so we're not eating meat all the time.

Friday, November 9, 2007

What to do with all that meat

One of the challenges of belonging to a CSA is that you take what you get and figure out what to do with it. It's a challenge, but it's also fun, so I look forward to it. At this time, I only belong to a meat CSA (Bay Area Meat CSA - clever, huh?). Once a month or so, I get a bag with a few different cuts of meat, maybe a chicken and some eggs, too. All of the meat is from ranchers in the area and all the animals are raised on pasture and grass-fed. Or bug and grain-fed in the case of the chickens and eggs.

The meat is delicious in a way that feed-lot meat cannot even compare to*. I may be crazy, but I don't think it's very expensive, either. It doesn't look like a lot of meat, but it seems to last and I try real hard to not buy anything extra from the store. 'Cept bacon, of course. I have to have my bacon.

So I have to put my thinking cap on and figure out what to do with it. Last month, I got a whole chicken, which gave me a huge laugh because it still had its head and feet attached. Not having grown up around farms, this was a big event for me! I also got a cross-rib roast, a pork loin roast, a skirt steak, and a chuck steak. Oh and a dozen eggs. I do wish I could get more free-range eggs.

It's just my husband and me, for the most part, so these cuts of meat represent 3 or 4 meals. It's a good thing I'm a personal chef. I know all about preparing a meal and freezing it!

The chuck steak turned into Guinness-Braised Chuck Steak, which I fed to my grandsons along with my husband. It was very popular and we still had leftovers! The pork loin was covered in mustard and maple syrup and roasted, then served with heavenly Sherry-Raisin Sauce. I think I posted that recipe in an earlier post. That beautiful chicken massaged with paprika and olive oil and roasted with onions, carrots, celery, and barley in some chicken broth. You have no idea.

I haven't decided what to do with the x-rib roast, but that's for tomorrow and I think I'll use the skirt steak to make my dad's oh-so-yummy-straight-from-the-old-country spaghetti sauce. By then, it will be time to pick up my next order of meat!

*Warning! Dangling particples! Yes, I know it's there.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thanks to an idea from Leslie Stiles in the Contra Costa Times Food Section, I had a wonderful autumn dinner the other night.

I had a couple of smallish squashes that I'd used as decorations for Hallowe'en. Just had 'em sitting out on a table surrounded by leaves and candles. More of an autumn-y decoration than Hallowe'en, but I decided they'd been sitting around long enough and it was time to eat them! So based on Leslie's suggestion:

I washed them and cut the tops off, cleaning out the seeds and pulp. I then layered some sliced zucchini, onion, mushrooms and cooked spinach (steamed and squeezed dry). I had some leftover manchego cheese so I threw that in there, too. Then I beat up a couple of eggs with 2 cups of milk and salt and pepper. This mixture was (very) carefully poured into the stuffed squashes. This must be done slowly, allowing time for the liquid to settle to the bottom and around the vegetables. I even used a finger to push some of the filling aside and let the milk run in.

Those were really full gourds!

I put the lids back on and baked them at 350 for an hour or so, until the the squash meat was tender when I poked a fork into it. Now came the tricky part, 'cause Leslie didn't mention how to serve these things. Each squash could easily serve two people, but cutting them open would be a challenge with all that yummy stuff inside!

So I went for dramatic rather than clean. First, I let them sit for about 10 minutes so everything would thicken up and settle. I got out our nice soup bowls and placed one of the squashes inside, then sliced it in half length-wise. Using a big spoon, and with my fingertips gingerly helping with balance, I moved one half to the other bowl. The squashes sort of fell on their sides and the filling spilled out a little into the bowl, but it was very attractive. Bright orange squash meat with the green-skinned zucchini, brown mushrooms, and green spinach with the milky sauce was simply gorgeous.

And oh, yes. It tasted terrific!