Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Eating Out

This is what my kitchen looks like.
I haven't cooked all week, and let me tell you, that's a weird feeling.
One or two more days methinks. Then I'll post a FINISHED picture!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Farm to Fork

The Local Harvest newsletter had a piece about this article in the New York Times, talking about the need for the government to establish a detailed tracking system for food. The Times editorial was written a couple of weeks ago at the height of the tomato scare. The author is pushing for this program, saying it's a good idea and the government needs to declare an emergency and get it set up immediately.

It's a lousy idea. It's worse than lousy. It's stupid.

The answer is not more consolidation, more paperwork, or RFID tags and barcodes on everything. The answer is decentralization. The answer is small community farms that feed the people around them. Most of the food in a grocery store is grown on large (huge!), monoculture farms, with fertilizer and pesticides and herbicides. The animals live in feedlots, are strictly confined, are fed corn (no matter what kind of animal they are) and are left to stand in their own feces until finally hauled away for slaughter. The food is shipped all over the country to central warehouses and processing plants where it is mixed with food from everywhere else, and from there to the kitchens of huge food conglomerates. It's prepped and processed and packaged and shipped again to supermarkets all over the country. Then to your kitchen.

By the time you get it, it's nearly impossible to know exactly what you have or where it came from. This is why misguided people are agitating for a strict tracking system. As if that will solve the problem.

I buy my meat from a CSA that is supplied by the ranches just over the hill. I buy my vegetables from a farm about forty miles from here. I buy milk from a local dairy that bottles it themselves without sending it to a central factory in Nebraska, someplace. If we get sick, it will be a simple matter to trace the problem.

No, I don't get everything from local producers. I know that's impossible. Humans have always traded for the things they need, but can't produce themselves. That will never end and I'm not suggesting it should. But our food system is a ridiculous example of carrying trade to the extreme. We need to rig a wrecking ball and tear it down.

A tracking system will fall heaviest on the small farmer, and be one more nail in the coffin for the hard-working people who are trying to grow healthy food for a local market. As usual, the conglomerates will just hire someone to take care of the paperwork and raise prices to cover the cost. The small farmer will go out of business because he can't afford to file all that paperwork or buy the electronic IDs to put in the food. It's all unnecessary for him - he can tell you in ten minutes where his product goes because he's supplying local restaurants and residents. There's no reason for a federal agency to track his food.

Farm to Fork is a terrible idea. It won't keep thousands of people from getting sick. We need to stop shipping our food to central plants and mixing it with food from everywhere else. If people get sick, the illness will stay localized and the source can be traced quickly.

Why is this so hard for people to understand?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to Eat Local and Make it Work

Eating local is for the rich, but what about the rest of us?

If we want to eat fresh, locally-grown food, we need one of two things: a lot of time, or a lot of money to pay someone else for their time.

Because, let's face it: the reason processed foods are so popular is because they are cheap and fast.

Granted, they aren't as cheap as they used to be, and I've always maintained that it's possible to eat much more cheaply by buying the ingredients and making it yourself. As long as you buy what's in season and aren't trying to get the strawberries from Chili in January.

The article cited above is in the New York Times today, and tells us about people who can afford to pay someone to not just cook their food (hello Personal Chefs), but also to plant a garden for them and do all the work of maintaining it.

See, that's what I need. Not because I don't have time, but just because I can't seem to get the hang of making food grow.

But I can't afford to pay someone. And processing food takes time.

I spent a while this morning doing it again. I had five cucumbers from the CSA and what am I going to do with them? It's just me and my husband. I suppose I could use one cucumber a day on a salad for us, but really - we just don't eat that much. So I made cucumber soup. One jar in the frig for consumption this week, the other in the freezer for later.

Then there were those 3 big ears of corn from CSA. Darn - I was going to cook those last week, but I forgot about them. And back to my first dilemna, it's just the two of us. We can't eat 3 ears of corn at one sitting.

So I cut the corn off and froze it. Now I have a bag of corn I can toss into a soup or salad whenever I'm ready.

A week or two ago, I made yogurt, waffles, and carrot soup. Last night, I chopped up several of the red onions from the CSA and made onion soup. I steamed the pretty purple carrots and froze them for another meal. And don't forget all the plum things (preserves, sauce, pies...) I've been making and canning and freezing lately.

This is what is takes to buy food from our local farmers. Time and effort. I love doing it and I would do it even if I was working a full-time job. But most people don't feel that way about it. So they keep eating the cheap, convenient, lousy processed food.

We need co-ops. I'm giving this a lot of thought and I'm going to come up with a business plan. Sure, I can add it to my services as a Personal Chef. I'll be available to work for a group of people who want someone to process their food. But the real winning idea is for people to do it themselves.

Form co-ops and share the tasks. It could be done in several different ways - people working all week could have weekend work days where each member commits to work an hour or two. They could do it in shifts until all the food is processed, then everyone takes home their share. Or have a few people do it all one week, and different people do it all the next week. Whatever will work for that group.

I think it's essential that we come up with a way to do this. We cannot survive if we stay dependent on the Food Industry. I'll keep working on the idea and I'll write more about it as it develops. Once I have a plan in place, I want to get the word out. I'd love to help coordinate these groups. Give people ideas on how to do it, and pitch in and help, too.

Because eating local, organic food is NOT just for the rich. It's for all of us.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Diet Plans

What are your reasons for losing weight? What diet plan do you use?

These excellent questions have been raised by our local newspaper Diet Club sponsor, Joan Morris.

My reasons for wanting to lose weight run the gamut - I want to be healthy, live a long time, and look good while I'm doing it. I want clothes to fit. I want to not look seven months pregnant. I'm not sure I can decide which of those reasons carry the most weight (hah!), so I just let them all be my motivation. I've noticed a slight increase in things like blood pressure and cholesterol as my weight goes up, and I definitely want to keep those under control. My family has a history of heart disease, too. So I have to watch it.

I've been steadily gaining weight since I was 30, after a lifetime of skinniness. I weighed 95 pounds after the birth of my fourth child. It's taken over twenty years for me to truly understand that I can't eat the same amount of food that I could back in my breastfeeding days.
My problem is not eating "right." I'm the Earth momma you talked about (just not rail-thin), and I love fresh vegetables and whole grains. It's been about eight years since I revamped my diet in a major way by turning to fresh, organic food, more fish, less red meat and more vegetables. My husband and I both lost about twenty pounds when we did that. It was a lifestyle change and we still eat that way.

But all the weight didn't magically disappear, and it's come back more than once, and then some. With the advent of menopause, my weight has shot up and nothing seems to help. Hence, my second epiphany and another major lifestyle change: I must eat less.

A lot less, as it turns out. I'm still feeling my way on this, but I'm trying to cut my calories by at least a third. This isn't a "diet," this is probably forever, like giving up Burger King. My metabolism has slowed drastically, and my food intake needs to follow.

Do I follow a diet plan? No, because I refuse to eat processed food, especially things like artificial sweeteners, "lowfat" anything, or the latest snack with hoodia, or something. I don't eat snacks and I don't drink sodas. Basically, I refuse to eat what I call "laboratory food." I make all my own food from organic ingredients, bought from local producers, as much as possible. Just this morning, I made some yogurt from raw milk, a batch of granola, and a stack of waffles for the freezer. Eggos will never be in our house, but we'll never have the Weight Watchers version, either.

I like having control over what goes into my food. But the drawback is, that it's nearly impossible to keep track of calories, fat, and carbs. All the tables and databases I've found concentrate on processed food. None of them have information on flaxseed meal or amaranth grains. And even if I can find the information, I have to list every ingredient and do the math myself. Thank goodness for Excel.

But it's a hassle. After several years, I have a general idea of the nutritional value of my food, so I just don't bother anymore. My current meal plan follows my own hunger and blood sugar needs, based on years of observation. It's something like this:

A good breakfast of ½ cup of yogurt, ½ cup granola, and fresh fruit, with green tea = around 400 calories.

No lunch, if possible. Sometimes I'm lucky and not very hungry. If I have to eat something, then I try to have a salad or soup. But I try to keep daytime eating to under 300 calories.
Dinner has been the biggest change: my husband gets home around 7:00, so that's when we eat. I was having lots of problems with GERD and nighttime gas. It turns out that 7:00 is just too late for me to be eating. So I eat around 4 or 5, usually leftovers from the night before. When my husband gets home, I sit with him and have a glass of wine. On days that he is not working, we eat around 4:00. But whatever I do, dinner is a tiny amount of food. I aim for around 250 calories, but no more than 400, and that includes the wine (or beer or whatever).

If you added that up, you got 1100 calories. "Not enough to live on," I can hear you say. "You can't meet your nutritional requirements on that!"

I know, but it leaves me room to cheat. Because any meal plan I follow may as well include wiggle room. I'm going to do it, so I may as allow for it. A smidgeon of dessert, once in a while. Dinner out (where I eat a little and take the rest home, but the calories are still humongous). Lunch with my friends (never hungry for dinner on those days). Or it lets me add extra protein to the salad at lunch, or have a slice of truly yummy, excellent cheese. Or, goddess help me, I might have some bread. I love bread.

I do exercise, too, so I'm not depending on diet alone to solve the weight problem. If I can maintain this eating style--and it's fresh, Real Food, which gives me the highest benefit of nutrition from what I eat--then I will slowly lose the weight. Hopefully, I'll keep it off. But I recognize this is a permanent change I must make. No dieting for six months and going back to old habits. I'm just getting older, and I'll never be the lean, mean, calorie-burning machine I was in my twenties.

It means I think about food differently. I'm a chef, so I have a true love affair with food. I don't want that to end. Sometimes, I feel bitter - when did food become the enemy? But mostly, I try to truly appreciate what I CAN eat. Every meal is special, because I get to eat it. Guilt is not allowed. Just good health, good food, good company. And hopefully, long life.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cooking Days

Yesterday was catch-up cookday. I had already simmered a batch of plums from our tree. The tree on the side of the yard was just loaded with the little cherry plums and I'd picked two huge bagfuls. The simmered batch was in the frig, waiting for me to have some time to finish processing it.

I poured them into pot and added a couple of cups of sugar and let it boil. I added another cup of sugar later and tons of cornstarch. But I've learned something about plums. They are nothing but juice once they're cooked. I was hoping to use this batch to make a couple of pies, but nothing I did got it thick enough. The meat of the plum completely disintegrates. Eventually, I poured it through a strainer to separate out the juice. I think what's left will make a decent pie. But what do I do with all that juice? It's got cornstarch in it, so it can't be used for syrup or a liqueur. I have in mind making a few batches of plum sauce, the kind that's used in Chinese food.

I used my new kitchenaid for the first time and made some dough for pie shells. I haven't tried to roll them out yet. Maybe I'll do that today. But I don't expect to make the pies, right now. I'm waiting until next week when Francisco and Cahlil are here. They can help us eat it. I'll have to make some ice cream, too.

I also used up the two batches of mint that I had. I minced them up and combined it with mustard and yogurt to make a sauce. It will be good on sandwiches and maybe with some meat. I still have lamb chops in the freezer. I'll do the best I can with it - mint is so hard to use.

Then I shredded a batch of carrots and made soup, which we used for dinner. So good. I could eat bowls and bowls of that stuff. The batch of purple carrots I steamed whole and put in the freezer. I'll use them with dinner next week.

I think that's all I cooked yesterday. On Friday, I made a batch of pesto with all that basil from the CSA. I was going to coat the halibut with it and broil it for dinner, but we ended with Naomi and John over, so instead I made it into a cream sauce with pasta and poached the halibut in the sauce. It went further that way and it was really good.