Reconnecting with our food

Ya! Last night, post afternoon Latte, I participated in a Huffington Post Live conversation on how we are disconnected from our food and how we can reconnect.

Joining the conversation was also Joel Salatin. If you’ve ever seen Food, Inc. you’ll recognize Joel as the farmer from Polyface farm in the Shenandoah valley. You may also recognize him from a recent episode of Growing a Greener World where we visited Polyface and spoke with Joel about biodiversity and organic farming. He’s a true expert in his field; if you have a handful of minutes, this conversation is a goodie.

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Good Stress Tastes Great

Super-sous, Latte and I have been working out like maniacs the past few weeks. Scratch that. We’ve been working out like Olympic athletes (so we like to think.) That said, someone did tell us today that we were insane for doing our regular hour stair workout 6 days a week followed by an hour at the gym for weight lifting and an occasional evening hike. Okay, I’m getting tired just writing about it. In fact, I’m also getting hungry. Enter today’s lunch which took (bonus!) only 5 minutes to prepare:

 

Back on topic…. by embracing a lifestyle of exercise, we benefit from the fruits of our labor:

  • losing weight
  • gaining muscle
  • increasing our stamina
  • eating food as a means for energy rather than habitually – we focus on eating when we’re hungry instead of as a habit (e.g. the ole “it’s dinner time, what should we eat” routine even if you’re not hungry)
  • better sleep (aka passing out when the clock hits 11pm and not moving until the alarm at 7am)

I’m sure, at some point, we’ll perhaps tire of the stairs and try a new physical challenge, but for now, the great thing about walking stairs is that they are free and available to anyone.

In the end, it doesn’t really make a difference whether you walk, dance, do the stairs or swim. By exercising a little bit every day, by physically stressing your muscles, you actually get stronger-which is an amazing thing! Conversely, when we don’t move, we get weaker. The point is that the human body was made to move.

Even if you don’t have the time for an insane 2 hour workout, there are so many little things that we can all do that add up. Like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further from the grocery store doors than we usually do, walking with your family or dog a block or two after dinner.

It doesn’t take much, but it makes a big difference – physically and mentally.

 

 

Choices and Sacrifices

Super-sous and I have been in the routine of busting out hour-long stairs workouts 6 days a week. To beat the heat, we have been scheduling our workout in the mornings – at about 8am. The routine has been to wake up at 7, get ready and head to the coffee shop that is 2 blocks from the base of the 231 step staircase that we trod (endlessly) up and down.

The Lattes served are delicious. The kind where you don’t even need any sweetener. It’s been a wonderful morning routine. That little kick of caffeine right before the stairs. It’s been perfect. Until… we found out yesterday morning that they do not use organic milk in their espresso beverages.

What a buzz-kill. Literally.

There are choices (big and small) we, as consumers, make every day that have a ripple effect on other people, the environment, politics and so on. Everyone has to find their own path through the road of knowledge and awareness. It can be exciting, daunting, and exhausting. Where does the road begin and where does it ever end?

Super-sous and I have decided that we can’t support the non-organic dairy industry via our daily habit. Months of Lattes equals a fair chunk of change. Plus, we know too much about how non-organic milk affects the environment, animals and our health. This is a wonderful thing. We are informed and can support that which we feel is important. At the same time, it’s also sometimes a bummer. In this case, we really loved that local coffee shop routine. (We have asked them to switch to organic milk – so perhaps this caffeine induced relationship will soon be rekindled.)

Now, on an individual level avoiding non-organic milk may not seem that big of a deal. But this subject expands and broadens over time and knowledge. Like when you find out where your favorite restaurant sources their food from and it’s not what you were hoping to hear. Or who the parent company is behind your favorite organic cereal and you don’t like what they support or how they do business.

The questions and choices go on and on. And the more you know, the more choices you are able to make.

For now, Super-sous and I are having our morning Latte at home (before heading to the stairs) using locally-sourced beans and organic milk. (Bonus? We’re saving a chunk of change every day!)

I’ll drink to that… and a double shot Latte sounds like just the thing.

Playing With Your Food

This week, I’ll be attempting, for the second time, to make sweet corn ice cream.

This came as a request from one of the farmers that I see every week at the Hollywood Farmers Market.  He sells the most deliciously sweet corn and, as it happens, he has quite a sweet tooth.

When he asked me two weeks ago if I would make him some corn ice cream, I happily obliged. (With so much corn in abundance at the local farmers markets, it’s time to loosen the culinary belt and start thinking beyond grilled corn, corn soup and corn salad.)

Now, as I mentioned, this is attempt number two. The first attempt didn’t work out so well. Why? Well, uhhh, I waited a bit too long to make the ice cream and those poor ears of corn that I had most happily received from my farmer friend had, over the week, dehydrated, making the ice cream too starchy. Think licking a slice of raw potato, but sweet. Thus, that batch went straight from the ice cream maker to my mouth to the trash. Sorry, corn. It was me, not you.

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So, I’m back on it again and today is the day – just 2 days after buying the corn and 3 days after it was picked fresh from the field.

So here goes another round.

Sweet corn ice cream with a touch of cinnamon.

Now all I need is a homemade waffle cone and a double shot Latte.

 

Cheesecake Heaven

This weekend, amongst a lot of delicious cooking with Super-sous, I made my Lemon-Vanilla Ricotta Cheesecake, which can be found in my cookbook, Great Food Starts Fresh.  (Page 111)

This cheesecake recipe, which took me 9 tries to get just perfect, is the b.o.m.b.

Seriously – it’s really good. Plus, it has a ginger snap crust that’ll blow you away. This recipe is no joke.

I made this cheesecake for one of Super-sous’ and I’s friend’s script reading event. He had completed a writing class and created a TV spec script based on the show Community. This was his big night to share with everyone what he had done – and he did an awesome job!

So, I thought it fitting to bring something special to the show (and it was too late to bring a round of Lattes)…

It was devoured by our friends and his family in minutes.

Although making a cheesecake can be a bit time consuming, I promise, this one is worth the effort. For real.

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End of an Era

Last night it happened.

It was a double shot.

(And I’m not talking about Latte.)

My Krups blender that I purchased as a floor model, may it rest in peace, finally gave out on me after 13 years of wonderful mixing and blending AND the 2000 feet of plastic film I got from a restaurant I worked at 7 years ago, finally gave out it’s last swath of film.

All in one night. My very first blender. Bam. Then my momma roll of film. Gone.

Just like that.

It’s the end of an era. These two kitchen goodies were with me, side by side, through many a recipe and more specifically, 6 years of cookbook creation – recipe development, testing, fine tuning, and so on.

Yes, I suppose it’s time for a new blender, one that has a readable dial and labels, and plastic film that rolls out with ease and cuts with precision.

All I know is, whatever comes my way next, they’ve got big shoes to fill.

 

Prop 37 – Labeling #GMOs

This morning, I had a conversation with the Media Director for California Right to Know 2012 Ballot Initiative (Prop 37), Stacy Malkan.

Proposition 37 (up for vote in California in November) requires labels letting consumers know if foods are genetically modified.

Last time I mentioned something about GMOs in my blog and on my Facebook page, I got a wide array of comments from people which made me realize that this time, I should give a little background and information on GMOs before getting too deep.

So, what exactly is a genetically modified organism or GMO?

Wikipedia describes GMOs as: “an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques… use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. Transgenic organisms, a subset of GMOs, are organisms that have inserted DNA from a different species. GMOs are the constituents of genetically modified foods.”

What foods are genetically modified?

The world of researching GMO and the companies that are responsible for introducing GMOs into the food supply, (like Monsanto), is seemingly endless. It’s hard to discern what exactly is fact or fiction when it comes to health reports/studies around GM foods.

That said, there are facts and figures out there agreed upon by both sides (proponents and opponents of GMOs). For example, what GM foods are currently in circulation?

This is from the website for The Non-GMO project. (They provide a certification process for food companies (voluntary) to achieve a “Non-GMO project verified” label.)

High-Risk Crops:

  • Alfalfa (first planting 2011)
  • Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
  • Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop; approximately 988 acres)
  • Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Sugar Beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop in 2010)
  • Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approx. 25,000 acres)

Now, think about a trip to your local grocery store. Considering most processed foods (things found in boxes, cans and fruit or soda drinks, etc.) contain soy (e.g. soybean oil) or high fructose corn syrup (or beet sugar) and/or canola oil, you can just imagine how prevalent GMOs are in the national food supply. (Unless, of course, something is labeled organic.)

Why produce GM foods?

Corn is an easy example to look at.

While the crop grows, corn has a natural predator. A type of caterpillar which turns into an equally ‘hungry for corn’ moth . It burrows its way into the nose of the corn and eats away at the plant. One of the methods for preventing this moth from infiltrating a corn crop is to use a toxin found in an herbicide called Bt Toxin. Instead of spraying the corn with this herbicide or other pesticides, genetic engineers have taken a gene from that toxin and inserted it into the corn so that the corn grows with that pesticide as part of its genetic makeup. The corn is then resistant to that moth which will not survive its journey into the corn.

The toxin has been deemed safe by the USDA in that it is at a low level and will presumably be broken down by our digestive system before being absorbed into our bloodstream.

On one hand, the prospect of not having to spray pesticides on acres and acres of land is a wonderful thing, on the other hand, how do we really know ingesting  Bt corn is not harmful, especially when it has only been recently introduced into the food chain?

Other concerns are the environmental effect of the toxin (will it prevent other insects, like monarch butterflies, from proliferating), could it be damaging to the soil, will the pollen travel and mix with non GMO plants, will the moth evolve to become resistant to the Bt corn?

One more thing I think important to point out, for your information, is that Walmart has just approved the selling of this Bt corn in their supermarkets. It’s the first direct-to-consumer sold GM corn (to date, GM corn has only been used only for animal feed and processed foods, i.e. refining the corn to make corn oil, corn flour, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and a myriad of other products that are made out of corn, like modified cornstarch, dextrose, glucose… and so on.) However, with no GMO labeling required, you will not know if the corn you are purchasing is genetically modified or conventionally grown corn.

There are a lot of unanswered questions about GMOs simply because they are newbies in our food system.

All that said, pros and cons, shouldn’t we, as consumers, have the choice as to whether or not we want to buy, cook with and eat/feed our friends and families GMOs?

Which brings me back to my conversation with Stacy this morning from “California Right to Know.”

She shared with me that “Big Ag” (big food companies) have invested $25 million (that’s a lot of Lattes!) in opposition of labeling GMOs.

This is the age of information sharing.

If Big Ag believes GMOs to be harmless and actually helping the environment and global food problems (think GM drought-resistant crops or apples that won’t brown), then shouldn’t they be encouraging labeling?

Personally and professionally, as a chef, I am constantly researching about the food I eat. That’s why I love to visit farms, shop at my local farmers markets, visit artisans, speak with chefs. I want to know what’s in my food and how it’s grown or made.

I for one am looking forward to participating in empowering others with more knowledge, not less.

Regardless of how we all feel about GMOs, a vote on prop 37 will be coming up in November in California, so let’s educate ourselves and keep the conversation alive so that we are able to choose what’s best, not only for us, but also our community.