Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dish of the Day: Soft Tacos

Summer's here and who wants to use the oven? I sauteed and chopped up this dinner in under 10 minutes. Veggie ground round went into a skillet, with some onion and spices. I then chopped up:
- lettuce
- red and green peppers
- tomatoes
- green onions

I also opened up a can of beans, and set the table with salsa, sour cream and shredded cheese. Everyone had lots of options to customise their taco, and yes it was pretty messy. But a good time was had by all and we ate a very balanced meal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Aspartame - is that a vegetable?

This is a link to a good Q. and A. column in the Globe and Mail focussed on answering the public's health questions. The answer to the question "Is Aspartame Harmful?" is measured. One the one hand, two researchers with ties to the artificial sweetener industry have recently published studies saying there's nothing wrong with it. On the other, a doctor's recent study (he has no ties to the sweetener industry) did find links between aspartame consumption and neurological disorders.

Common sense should make us naturally skeptical of consuming items that are not foods we'd consume in the wild; for example: sugar and other sweeteners, salt, alcohol, manufactured fats like margarine, drugs, or tobacco. Yet because we like, even crave, these non-foods, we keep finding ways to rationalise that they are, in fact, safe. It's very important to be curious and cautious about consuming non-foods and to continue to study them, while acknowledging that food studies are very hard to quantify. Subjects are not locked in rooms for months on end and fed a strict diet, and most of the facts gleaned from these studies come from the subjects self-reporting most of what they ate and drank throughout the study period.

Roll the dice if you like, but I'm not gambling on my health or my that of my family. We are given only one body for our entire lifetime and I'd like to keep mine in optimal condition, by avoiding potential impurities as much as possible.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dish of the Day: Cucumbers!!!

Today we harvested the very first cucumber from our garden. It was big, juicy and delicious. We didn't dip this baby, as it was so yummy that everyone was happy to chomp on it without any added flavouring.

Since we have 2 more cukes on the way and about a dozen little stubs that will soon be big and juicy like this one, we're going to need to get creative about how we eat them. I'm thinking:
- lots of Greek salad
- cucumber, tomato and chickpea salad
- cucumber added to summer couscous
- cucumber raita
- cucumber martinis, and cucumber gin and tonics, and cucumbers and soda with Pimm's No 1 Cup (not for the whole family of course)

Does anyone have any other good ideas...?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Baby Shells Peas

One of the most accessible vegetables for children is peas in a pod because they are a fun shape, don't need to be washed or cooked and they can be opened and eaten by even the smallest of hands. My Bug loves to "help Mommy!" in the kitchen and so I plopped her down in front of an empty bowl. I broke open each organic (no pesticides) pea pod and asked her to "put them in the bowl". She did a great job and really enjoyed doing something all by herself.

I ended up making a whole wheat pasta in a light olive oil and garlic sauce with shrimp, red peppers, broccoli and peas, and fresh basil and coriander from the garden.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In Defense of Food

There's nothing like regret. A sad emotion that can't be changed because what caused it is in the past, and cannot be undone. I have huge regret that I missed Michael Pollan's appearance at the nearby UBC Farm last Saturday. I can't even remember what we did on Saturday but it probably wasn't anywhere near as exciting as hearing this very knowledgeable man speak.

Check out Pollan's latest book, In Defense of Food. His words are clear and logical and his message is being echoed around the world. The idea of eating the food our great-grandparents ate is what I was taught in my studies on holistic nutrition and is simply a return to common sense, but it's becoming a battlecry taken up by all kinds of food and health advocates all over the world.

Alice Waters, Michelle Obama, the Slow Food Movement, are all saying the same thing: Eat real, unprocessed food, from not too far away, maybe from your own backyard. It's a message we must heed, if not for the sake of our environment, then at least for own health.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"We must cultivate our garden" - Candide

From the French: "Il faut cultiver notre jardin."

In his novel 'Candide', Balzac concluded his fantastical tale with his protagonist offering sage advice for what felt like dire times. It was Europe in the mid-1700s, and this pragmatic response of "let's just focus on our own affairs", was a sensible reaction to the intense optimism of a very difficult period in history.

Taken literally, "we must cultivate our garden" feels like pretty good advice for right now, too. With food prices rising ever higher and food security issues popping up more frequently in the news ("Bagged Spinach E. Coli Outbreak"), now is the perfect to be growing food right in our own backyards. And for families who want to encourage their children to eat more vegetables, there's no better way to pique their interest than by getting them involved in the act growing and cooking green foods. My Bug isn't even 18 months old, but she loves getting her hands in the dirt and touching the green leaves. My 7-year-old wasn't so keen on lettuce until her father and I exclaimed how yummy our own lettuce is; she's now a big fan.

My small patch of garden is thriving, much to my surprise, and the enjoyment of my kids. It's only the beginning of June and yet each day this week we've eaten something from it: a mix of lettuces for a salad, Romaine leaves for Caesar salad, wilted kale leaves with olive oil and balsamic, and Swiss chard with lentils and tomato sauce.

There's nothing simpler than cutting something from the garden and bringing it inside to wash and season. And I'm living proof that it's easy to grow something, even if you've never done so before. There are so many resources available online, from the whimsical yougrowgirl.com, to the seriously informative Better Homes and Gardens website. Do a search on "vegetable gardening" and your region and you'll find many resources to help you start something growing right now, whether it's a patch of lettuce in the backyard or cherry tomatoes in a container on your balcony.

I'm taking comfort in these trying times by cultivating my own garden, and eating the fruits of my labour is my sweet reward.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Long Lost Art of Cooking

There was a great article in last weekend's New York Times called "Commander in Chef" which talked about Michelle Obama's plans for getting American families to eat more healthfully. Most people know that early this spring they broke ground for a vegetable garden at the White House but this article points out that Americans need help when it comes to what to do with those raw vegetables.

Raw Food enthusiasts would say "What do you need to do? Wash them and eat them!" but some of us like a bit more variety in our meals, like cooked vegetables, sauces and non-vegetable items.

The author pointed out that Americans ate takeout for 128 of their meals in 2008 and since the economic downturn and McDonald's recent surge in profits, it's pretty safe to assume that those meals were mostly fast food. Another worrying statistic quoted that 42% of the foods brought home from the grocery store were packaged and processed rather than fresh. The convenience foods industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. Since I'm currently trying to watch our family's spending, I'm very reluctant to give money to companies whose mass-produced meals mean less nutrition for my family.

Most folks do need help for how to cook and Food Bloggers are here to help you. Take a look at the many recipes and Dish of the Day links on the right-side of this very page! And there are hundreds of recipe sites, such as the high brow epicurious.com, the something for everyone recipezaar.com, or the eco-conscious VegetarianTimes.com.

Judging by this summer's newest cookbooks, there are many of us out there longing for a return to simpler times when cooking and eating together was the norm, rather than a rarity. Titles such as "RATIO: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking" by Michael Ruhlman and "A HOMEMADE LIFE: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table" by Molly Wizenberg are but a few titles by authors who want to help us get back to basics and enjoy the simple pleasures of eating and socialising with friends.