books

Five Reasons to Hit the Market Before It's Over for the Season

Only two Markets left for the 2016 season, and they'll be held, rain or shine. In fact, the only time I can remember the Market being cancelled was that one Saturday Market with the huge gusty winds which blew canopies away, turning them into projectile missiles... As the sun and pleasant temperatures give way to that monoseason which lasts from October to July, I thought you might need a little motivating to get out there two more times:

ONE: The apple pie contest was moved to this week, October 20! It's not too late to turn out and have your mouth water while you look on.

apple_pie

TWO: It's time to stock up. Last year I experimented with "cold storage" for apples. I put a cooler outside and put a couple bags in and then just ate them at a regular rate. Worked just fine. This frees up refrigerator space for the bags of pears and Asian pears! Potatoes also keep fine in the fridge, and we let squash go all winter just sitting on the floor in the pantry.

THREE: Disaster preparedness! In our home I've been assigned gathering canned/boxed food in case of The Big One. Clearly last Saturday's storm was not The Big One, which means it's still out there. If this nameless disaster were to hit today, based on the current pantry ingredients, my family would be thrown back on lots of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, chicken broth, tuna, a can of coconut milk, and some strange parsley sauce that was on clearance at QFC. Our Market offers tuna, of course, in more flavors and varieties than the grocery store, as well as pickled foods in jars, beef and tuna jerky, jams and honey, and beverages. Because if the power is going to be out or you've been pinned under a fallen bookcase, you might as well live a little.

preparedness

FOUR and FIVE and FIVE-POINT-FIVE: Because walking and vegetables and wine will improve your health. Read a great book this week, which I'll write more about later, but the author's main point was that "healthy habits matter more than weight." And, according to author Sandra Aamodt, "four health habits predict much of the risk of dying over the next fourteen years, regardless of weight." These silver bullets are: (1) not smoking; (2) exercising at least twelve times a month; (3) eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day; and (4) light to moderate drinking. The Market can't help you with your smoking habit, but walking the stalls can be part of your exercising, and there are fruits, vegetables, and wine bottles galore. (FYI, "light to moderate drinking" was defined as a glass of wine per day for women and two glasses for men.)

So you see, I've turned the last couple weeks of the Market into a life-or-death situation for you. So please--choose life!

Families That Eat Together

Collapse.jpg

My book club chose a parenting book for the back-to-school season, Leonard Sax's excellent The Collapse of Parenting. You just know, with a dismal title like that, that there'll be some good anecdotes in there that make you feel like, possibly, you aren't in the bottom quartile of Worst Parents in the World. The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups

I was hoping reading this book would provide the Schadenfreude I used to experience when I turned to episodes of Supernanny when my kids were younger. It didn't disappoint.

But Sax didn't just bemoan the failings of modern parenting. He also talked about what helped. And since this is a food-related blog, I'm zeroing in on the much-lauded family mealtime. Because family mealtime came in as Recommendation #2, just after (to paraphrase) Be the Boss of Them!

Eat dinner with your kids. And no cell phones allowed, no TV in the background during dinner.

(I squirmed a little during that last bit because we often have the Mariners game on, but I rationalize that, since they're usually losing, we don't pay it much attention.)

According to Sax, eating meals together yields a host of benefits, regardless of background or income level.

Kids who had more meals with parents were less likely to have "internalizing problems" such as feeling sad, anxious, or lonely. They were less likely to have  "externalizing problems" such as fighting, skipping school, stealing, etc. They were more likely to help others and to report feeling satisfied with their own lives.

And the benefits didn't require nightly dinners, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. It turned out that

at almost every step from zero up to 7 evening meals a week, each extra dinner a child had with a parent decreased the risk of both internalizing problems and externalizing problems and increased both prosocial behavior and the child's general satisfaction with life.

See what magic food and community are? I think of my own family's dinner conversation last night. It mostly centered around how my 15YO son didn't like the soup I'd made, but it prompted him to come up with a couplet rhyming "cabbage" and "garbage." You know--art. Just to let me know how he felt about it. Magic.

I post this recommendation now because all the kids' crazy after-school activities and school itself are now under way, which means the schedule goes out the window. How on earth, you ask me, can we all sit down to eat together? I guess I just have to throw up my hands and wait for internalized and externalized problems!

Sax would say to limit the after-school activities, but even participation in one sport at the middle- or high-school level usually involves practices/games taking multiple nights per week. Then multiply that times your number of children, and you see how you'd basically have to put the kybosh on ALL sports or only allow one child to have a sporting life.

I've come up with some compromises:

  • Breakfasts and lunches can count! I try to plop myself down and eat my breakfast when the kids are eating. Or if they trail in and out at different times, I like everyone to have a little human contact.
  • Divide-and-conquer will have to do. Can one parent be there, even if the kids have to eat at different times?
  • Substitute quality time for quality time. The dinner hour might be chaos, but is there time in the afternoon for a shared snack or an errand together or even a game? Can there be a chunk of time set aside on the weekend for family time?
  • Bribe them. I usually manage to get my youngest to come to the Market with me by promising her her choice of snack.
  • Prioritize what family time remains. We don't do a lot of evening entertaining or being entertained because I'm trying to hoard what we still have. No need for the kids to go for sleepovers during the school year or dinners at someone else's house.

Fall is always the worst season for family meals, but, because my oldest only does a fall sport, things calm down considerably by mid-November. Anything can be survived for a season. It's when it becomes year-round that you might have to call a time-out.

Happy back-to-school to all! I'd better wrap this up now, because I have to plan and start tonight's dinner, to be eaten in two shifts...

Victorian Fast Food

phizcopperfield.jpg

For a school assignment, my high school junior recently had me get a copy of Fast Food Nation, Morgan Spurlock's account of putting himself on a fast-food diet and checking out the results.

If you happened to miss the book and the subsequent movie, here is the summary (spoiler alert!): fast food turns out to be not so good for you.

No big surprises there, but all the persuasive books in the world can't prevent my occasional cravings. We went to a potluck wedding a month ago, and what did I lunge for? The bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, naturally. Hey--I get homemade food all the time, but sometimes you just want the Colonel's eleven herbs and spices. And if French fries appear in a three-foot radius of me, watch out.

Not having the time, inclination, skills, or equipment necessary to cook your own food isn't a new problem, it turns out. Or, at least, it isn't a problem that only developed in the '60s and '70s, when women left the homefront and entered the workforce. Fast food, it seems, began as a Victorian phenomenon.

As a major 19th century British literature fan, this was a fascinating read. And, as a food obsessive, the chapter "Feeding the Streets" was doubly interesting. Why exactly did David Copperfield go into a pub and get a pint of ale for breakfast? Well, when the options are crappy, untreated water or ale or beer made from boiled water, go for the ale or beer. It's not fresh-squeezed o.j., but at least it won't give you cholera.

Victorian London was teeming with people, people, and more people, jammed and crammed in dicey neighborhoods (most without kitchen access), and all those folks needed food. From early morning when everyone walked to work or waited in omnibus-clogged traffic jams, to late at night after the theaters got out, fast food could be found on the streets.

In the mornings there were pastrycooks offering penny loaves of bread or slices of "pudding" (like a bread pudding). Consider this recipe cadged from Recipes Past and Present:

Bachelor’s Pudding

  • Four ounces of flour
  • Four ounces of raisins
  • Four ounces of suet
  • Four ounces of Demerara sugar
  • Four ounces of breadcrumbs
  • Two ounces of butter
  • Two eggs
  • Half a teaspoonful of baking powder
  • Half a teaspoonful of ground ginger
  • A little milk

Method; Rub the butter into the flour, mince the suet, stone and divide the raisins, mix all together, add the sugar, breadcrumbs, baking powder, ginger, eggs [beaten] and milk, mix thoroughly. Butter well a mould; entirely cover the inside with brown sugar, pour in the mixture, cover with buttered paper and steam for two hours. Note to make the pudding less rich leave out the butter.

If it's got suet, you know it's gotta be good.

Street-sellers sold coffee, shellfish, meat, hot potatoes. A favorite offering was hot eels, "which were cheap and, because of their gelatinous consistency, filling." Then there were the cheap oysters, four for a penny, "opened, vinegared and peppered."

And, of course, there were the muffin men (as in, "Do you know the etc.") and the pie men. Not being generally tempted by eels and oysters, I would have hung around the pie man's stall, but, then as now, people were known to cut corners and scrimp on costs and quality ingredients in their processed foods:

To maintain their price at the expected penny, the piemen were forced to scrimp: their pies were made with cheap shortening, or had less filling, or poor-quality meat. Many of the legends of cats'-meat, or worse, in pies spring from this period. In 1833, Sam Weller advises the horrified Mr. Pickwick, 'Wery good thing is weal pie, when you...is quite sure it ain't kittens.'

Nowadays we might avoid the pies for the hydrogenated fats, and we still know the disappointments of skimpy pie filling, but at least we are spared the cats.

On the plus side, fresh and seasonal were givens. Gooseberries and strawberries in summer, hot green peas at Easter, hot elder wine and pease pudding in winter. And as for beer, you only had to leave your pot hanging on your railing and potboys from the nearby pub would come by and fill it on weekday evenings. Like having your own milkman, but for beer.

If you had a little more time and money to eat, you could bypass the fast food offered at street stalls for a coffee house, soup house, or chop house. The last option served meat, bread, and half a pint for sixpence. And then there was the wonderfully named "slap-bang" aimed at poorer Victorian clerks with only a 15-minute lunch "hour." You hung up your hat, sat down, ordered, bolted your food, paid, and ran back to work.

And finally, for those for whom fast food wasn't fast enough, waiters could deliver food to office workers. I guess the sad practice of eating at your desk isn't something we invented this century either!

Nor were the ill effects of all that fast food just a modern consequence. As Morgan Spurlock discovered, too much low-quality food on the run wreaks havoc with your vitals. In Dickens' time, if you made it to the age of 16 without managing to die from the cornucopia of mortal diseases, your average life expectancy was 58. If you made it to 25 without mishap, you might eventually reach 61. Dickens himself only made it to 58, which doesn't sound old at all nowadays, but, really, that's a lot of stewed eel and cat's-meat pie.

Get Your Thanksgiving On -- Only Two Markets Left!

Has it been driving you nuts, all the Christmas ads playing already? As a major Thanksgiving fan, I don't need the stress of worrying about Christmas this early. Let's take our holidays in order, people. Which means I should acknowledge Veterans Day before I get on with this post.

Thank you, veterans. May you be celebrated with a home-cooked meal today, which in no way makes up for your service, but it's more than lots of folks get, nowadays.

If you don't happen to have any veterans in your life, here are a couple books I've recently devoured about our soldiers (and the hardships they've faced!):

Now onward to Thanksgiving. With only two Markets left, we have to plan ahead. So this would be the week to buy your usual favorite items, as well as ingredients for a couple make-ahead side dishes. Since we'll be headed over the Pass to see my in-laws, I'm in charge of several side dishes and hope to put a couple in the freezer this weekend: rolls, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce (which keeps forever in the fridge), and possibly the base for butternut squash casserole.

If you've been invited to a friend's and only have to bring beverages, consider some fresh cider from Martin Family Orchards, or a bottle of Washington wine. And don't forget that hostess gift! Maybe some toffee or a pie? Definitely flowers.

Here--I've made your shopping list for you:

apples (I might just get a whole box. The ones in the store are so not crisp.)

pumpkin (for the daring among you. I imagine you could whack it in half and cook it on LOW in the slow cooker, just like I do for butternut squash. Super easy.)

winter squash

green beans

onions

cranberries (hoping we'll see Bloom Creek...)

wine

cider

baked goods (if you don't like to make your own rolls or pies. Buy now and freeze.)

eggs (I'm getting a couple dozen, at least. Eggs keep forever in the fridge, although we blow through them at our house. I'll miss those thicker egg whites all winter!)

And with all the preparing for Thanksgiving, you might be too tired to make your own dinner, in which case I recommend some of the delicious prepared food. See everyone Saturday!

Are Healthy Processed Foods an Oxymoron?

You might have seen the headlines yesterday that profits at McDonald's and Coca-Cola dropped in the last quarter. Could it be that Americans are finally turning away from junk food and soda?

Baby, don't hurt me, don't hurt me no more

The answer to that question seems to be Yes and No. Yes, Americans might finally be heeding all the warnings about our favorite junk foods, but, No, we still need convenient meals and snacks. Just give us the "healthy" stuff. The processed foods with added protein, vitamins, fiber, omega-3s, what-have-you.

We'll put down the Coca-Cola and reach for the Vitamin Water. We'll bypass the french fries for the whole-grain cereal. But are the "healthy" alternatives any healthier?

Recently I read another food-industry-investigation book, this one called Pandora's Lunchbox by Melanie Warner.

If you've run the gamut of food books, from Michael Pollan's oeuvre to Salt Sugar Fat and their ilk, you won't find a whole lot new in this book, although I did find a few interesting nuggets:

  •  Digesting a meal of whole, unprocessed foods raises your metabolic rate almost 50% over a meal of processed.
  • When Kraft started producing processed cheese, WI cheese makers wanted it called "embalmed cheese."
  • If soybean oil weren't bleached, it would be reddish-orange and contain beta carotene.
  • There are 2 ways to fix our omega-6/omega-3 imbalance: eat 6-10 ozs of salmon/day (until all the salmon are overfished and gone) or cut back on processed food.
  • Most of the 5000 food additives allowed are industry self-regulated and untested. (Basically a wait-until-somebody-gets-sick approach.)
Warner also includes a chapter called "Healthy Processed Foods," to look into such novelties as "resistant starch," which is "molecularly rearranged to withstand human digestion"--like fiber! Most natural fibers get broken up or removed during processing, so food manufacturers generally have to add it back in. Yes, resistant starch resists digestion, but can it reproduce the complexities of natural fiber, which comes with its own nutrient benefits that the gut processes in its equally complex ways? Who knows.

Warner notes that, "between 2007 and 2011, among the eight thousand packaged products evaluated, healthier choices made up roughly 40 percent of sales but generated more than 70 percent of sales growth." "Healthy" is good business. And "healthy," as defined by the food industry means reducing sugar and fat and generally replacing them with other cheap ingredients: "zero-calorie sweeteners, starches, gums, or taste-modification molecules." Genuine healthier food items require whole ingredients and less filler--hence the high prices of KIND bars which I remarked on earlier.

Can you find healthy processed foods? Since I don't think even a KIND bar can technically be called a healthy food (it's more like a healthier candy bar), the options are slim. There are roasted nuts in cans, frozen fruits and vegetables, unsweetened yogurt, plain old rolled oats. But, as always, the answer seems to be, if you want real healthy--genuine healthy--the only guarantee is to buy it yourself and cook it yourself.

Our farmers market offers the best of both worlds: whole foods from a farmer or vendor who can tell you exactly where it came from and how it came to be, and processed foods, where the vendor can tell you exactly where it came from and what went into it. No weirdness, no chem lab, no fillers.

So, fine, skip the McDonalds and the Coca-Cola. Our Market offers tuna and beef jerky, all kinds of baked goods, yogurt just waiting to be swirled with artisan jam, Hosui Asian pears, roasted peanuts, crisp apples and multiple varieties of pear--all to be washed down with fresh-pressed ciders or even Washington wine. Do these offerings cost more than the storebought ones? Sometimes--in the short run. The final tally on the processed foods won't be determined for years, but if the rising levels of obesity and metabolic syndrome and food allergies are any indicator, those "foods" have their own hidden price tags.

Are We Evolved Enough to Eat That?

Great job selecting for desirable traits, early farmers!

If you've read books that mention the history of agriculture, you've learned by now that wild maize bore little resemblance to the crunchy, sweet, essence-of-summer corn we now enjoy. Nah--the wild stuff had few kernels on tiny ears and required plenty of scavenging before you could make a meal of it, much less a bowl of tortilla chips and a gallon of high-fructose corn syrup.

Our hunter-gatherer forbears spent up to six hours a day to accumulate enough calories to feed their small bands, and they ate a diet made up largely of fruits, tubers, nuts, seeds, and wild game. As a result they got plenty of physical exercise, fiber, and enough of a chewing workout to make their jaws grow large enough to fit their teeth--all their teeth. They were also seasonal eaters by default and not too subject to widespread famine, since they could always move on elsewhere or put up with less choice offerings, like rabbits having to eat grass after they're already devoured your pea plants.

After millenia and millenia of such a diet, it only makes sense that natural selection favored bodies that processed such food best, and this story would all have had a happy ending, except that humans decided to start sticking around in one place and farming.

I've been reading again.

Really it was the "health and disease" part of this book that interested me, since I've been wondering about all the different diets and nutritional advice out there. It seemed best to listen to an evolutionary biologist to figure out what exactly are we designed to be eating?

The short answer is: not what we're currently eating. Lieberman classifies many of our modern illnesses as "mismatch diseases," meaning, our bodies now encounter foods and environmental circumstances which are different from what our bodies have come to expect after so many gabillion years, so we get sick. Examples of mismatches:

  • Obesity. Most of us in the developed world experience an energy surplus of food. Our bodies have been designed to sock away fat, so we have a continuous supply of energy to fuel our giant, energy-sucking brains. But we used to experience lean times as well as bonanzas, and now all we have are bonanzas.
  • Type 2 diabetes. Remember that bit about the hunter-gatherer diet? It included hardly any sugar (all pre-agriculture fruits were about the sweetness of a carrot) or simple starches. The carbs we ate had lots of fiber and therefore made our bodies work hard to get energy out of them. Which meant, no sugar spikes in the blood and no insulin spikes and no consequent insulin resistance.
  • Myopia! (Lieberman gave many, many disease examples, but I include this one because I always wondered how nearsighted people could've survived the caveman era.) Back in ye old hunter-gatherer days we were mostly outside and never spent hours with our eyes frozen in flexed position, staring at books and screens. It turns out that the teeny muscles holding up the lenses in our eyes get to relax when they look far away, but nowadays we hold the poor muscles clenched up, focusing close up, with sad, contact-lens-wearing results. Among the few hunter-gatherer populations remaining on earth, you don't find many needing lasik.
There's much much more to the book, but the lifestyle advice is familiar and straightforward. Prevent mismatch diseases by avoiding "stimuli that are too much, too little or too new." 
  • Too much = sugar, simple starches, overly processed foods.
  • Too little = fiber and physical activity (walking is just fine--that's what we're designed to do, along with a little running on our arched, springy feet, when necessary)
  • Too new = environmental pollutants, weird foods like transfats (our bodies are like, what the heck?), high-heeled shoes, sitting for hours
Our bodies are trying to catch up with the crazy brave new world--there's already some selection happening for people to produce more insulin--but all the changes happened so very fast, evolutionarily speaking, that we aren't going to turn those mismatches into matches anytime soon.

So grab extra of those fruits and vegetables and pastured meats at the Market this week, and park your car in the furthest spot in the lot. Oh, and read this book!

Summer Fruit, YA Pop Culture Edition

Last night my book club met to discuss that ubiquitous teen tearjerker The Fault in Our Stars. As always, we tried to theme our food to the book.

Here they are, in l-u-v

If you haven't read it, the story is about two teenagers with cancer who fall super-de-duper in love, and I learned that the two stars in the movie also play a brother and sister pair in Divergent, which weirded out those viewers who saw both. Having seen neither, I was good to go.

And here they are in sibling mode

But I digress.

As I was saying, we try to theme the food to the book, so we went with "cancer-fighting." And what fights cancer better than our friends, fruits and vegetables? Since book club takes place after dinner, I have to admit that no one brought a vegetable of any kind, and any cancer-fighting that was going to happen fell to the fruits.

My Peach Crisp (which I neglected to photograph before it was eaten)

There was peach crisp and peach-cherry cobbler and one chocolate cream pie because chocolate is a fruit, right? Or is it a vegetable? A bean or a berry? We need a botanist to step in here.

I know I already went on and on about the fruits in season at the Market, but really--there's more to say.

For example:

My sister has always said that, when they bred the seeds out of watermelon, they also bred out the flavor. After buying this traditional, seedful melon from Alvarez, I am inclined to agree with her. SEEDS = FLAVOR!!!

My lazy kids took some coaxing to try the seedful watermelon, but after they tasted it, there were no more complaints. (I might have given the speech, "When I was a kid, there was no seedless watermelon...etc. etc.") Get one of these melons and see if you don't agree.

Then there's River Farm's Charentais melons:

Like mini-canteloupes, they pack amazing, perfumed flavor, as if everything in the canteloupe had to be boiled down and concentrated. Don't miss these ones either!

This post now ends abruptly. I got a new laptop with Windows 8 and am still in the love-hate, I-love-this-speed/I-am-going-to-throw-the-danged-thing-in-the-street-and-back-over-it stage. But I leave you with this funny recycling idea our book club hostess had, for those darned plastic honey bears. See? Perfect for dish detergent, and much more winsome than the branded bottle!

In Praise of Fresh

Wow. Summer is going strong, and if you aren't eating Market fresh yet, let me persuade you not to miss this! Take just one, eeny weeny example:

It's green bean season, people. They're skinny and crisp and flavorful, and they're on our dinner menu just about every day this week. So far we've had them two ways, both so delicious that I had to share them with you. As always, ingredients found at the Market are marked with an asterisk (*).

Green Beans with Bacon and Goat Cheese
1 lb green beans, trimmed*
1 Tbsp butter
2-3 slices bacon*
1 dried-fig-encrusted goat-and-sheepmilk cheese from Tieton Farms* (1 little cheese is enough for 2 recipes)

Steam beans till crisp-tender. Drain and add butter. Season with salt and pepper. Crumble cooked bacon and cheese over and serve warm or at room temperature.

Once you've run out of the awesome cheese, you might want to try a more international recipe. My book club met last night, and as always, we tried to theme the food to the book. In this case we had read Lost in Shangri-La, a fascinating nonfiction account of a plane that went down in WWII in a highland Papuan valley. The survivors of the wreck encountered Papuan tribespeople with Stone Age technology, who had never before seen white people or modernity.

 I highly recommend it for WWII and adventure buffs or those with an anthropological bent. One of the members of our book club had lived as a missionary in Wamena and knew all the places mentioned in the story, so we had her draw up a typical Indonesian menu for us, for which each of us prepared a dish. Everything was so tasty that most of us went home uncomfortable, but a particular hit were the "Buncis Tumis," the stir-fried green beans. Thus:

Buncis Tumis

 
Heat in a wok or large skillet:
2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
2 tsp crushed garlic (3-4 cloves)*
2 tsp grated ginger (about a finger length)
 
Add:
½ sweet onion, sliced to shape of green beans*
1 cup sliced carrots, sliced in shape of green beans*
2 cups green beans, cut in 1-2” lengths*
½ cup water

2-3 T kecap manis (sweet Indonesian soy sauce found at Asian markets)

Stir fry until beans just begin to grow tender, maybe 3-4 minutes.

Remove to serving dish.  Toss well with fresh ground black pepper.

Clockwise from top: Chicken Curry, Buncis Tumis, Turmeric Rice, Gado Gado ("Mix Mix")

As long as you're stopping by Uwajimaya or the Asian Food Market for kecap manis (pronounced "ketchup mayonnaise," if you need to ask the clerk), you might as well grab some Indonesian Gado Gado dressing or a packet of "Bumba Gado Gado" (Gado Gado Spices) to make your own. Then just make up a tray of your favorite fresh items--

  • potatoes, boiled and cubed*
  • cucumbers, peeled and cubed*
  • boiled eggs*
  • tomatoes*
  • green beans*
  • sweet potatoes 

--sprinkle cilantro* over and drizzle with dressing. You can also squeeze fresh lime over it. 

And lastly, while I'm on the subject of fresh, did you notice the newly-caught salmon from Two If By Seafoods?

From the bin labeled "Grill Me"

 Get 'em while they last!
 

5 Christmas Books for The Foodie In Your Life

As I reviewed 2013 on Goodreads, I realized I read fewer foodie books than normal, possibly because I was getting tired of the standard foodie-memoir format: gal at a crossroads in life goes somewhere else and finds herself through cooking, food, and some kind of romance. Insert [Name], insert [Exotic Place], insert [Recipes too Complex for the Reader to Bother With], insert [Foreign Boyfriend's Name], insert Implied Happily Ever After (even though the writer is only in her thirties). It's like Memoir Mad Libs. If this formula is new to you, and you would like to read such a book, just ask at the bookstore and they can direct you to shelves of them.

But in the meantime, I have collected five food- and/or environment-related books that I learned much from and enjoyed, in hopes that you or a loved one with similar interests might like to find one under the tree this Christmas.

In no particular order:

1. Nutritionism by Gyorgy Scrinis.

It's put out by a university press, so it can veer a little academic, but I highlighted this book like crazy. Basically, Scrinis argues against viewing foods as nutritional delivery systems, to be tweaked according to the latest fads. (I'm looking at you, eggs with added omega-3s.) First of all, eating food is not the same thing as taking a supplement of the targeted nutrient. No one exactly knows how food interacts holistically with other foods and with the body to do that voodoo that food does so well. Of far more interest and importance in Scrinis' eyes is the amount of processing a food undergoes--many high-tech ingredients and processing methods have not been studied for their effects. They just don't happen to be illegal, so in they go. Think of the delightful trans fats we all ate plenty of for years until someone figured out they're not so great. Scrinis says the jury is still out on the new ways of processing fats that manufacturers developed. The new fats aren't trans fats, but they're not fats found in nature, either. That's just one example. Just about everything food-related comes in for scrutiny: the latest diets (--Cough!--no-carb and Paleo), the glycemic index, food labeling, Michael Pollan arguing in circles, you name it. A fascinating, recommended read.

2. Speaking of Michael Pollan, I really enjoyed his latest

A long, at times meandering hymn to the wonders of cooking processes that few people have experience with anymore, from wood-roasting pork (barbecue), to braises, to bread baking from wild yeasts, to fermenting just about everything. As an everyday cook I was still amazed how much I learned, and how many modern crutches I continue to use (e.g., commercial yeast). I'm dying to try my own sourdough starter now and to pickle something, although both processes sound mind-bogglingly involved and time-consuming.

No idea why this book has drawn criticism where it has--Pollan in no place says women should get back in the kitchen. Certainly few people--male or female--have the time or perseverance to attempt mastering the skills Pollan writes about, but many, like me, might pick one or two experiments to try.

Worth the read.

3. For the foodies in your life who are also history buffs:

 

A quick, interesting read for Jefferson fans and foodies alike. How his years in Paris and traveling in France and northern Italy influenced both the man and the national cuisine. The dealings with James Hemings, Jefferson's slave and legally-unrecognized brother-in-law also fascinate. Don't look for much of sister Sally here, though.

4. And then there are the lovers of all things artisanal:

A foray into the ultra high-end world of bespoke clothing. Author Noonan hunts down vicuña shearers in Peru and fabric weavers in the Brontes' old stomping grounds of Yorkshire. There are passages on Beau Brummell and buttons and how hard it is to find an apprentice nowadays. After you read this, you'll be trolling the vintage clothing stores, looking for natural materials and lost craftsmanship.

5. Finally, for the environmentalist in your life (a Venn diagram of Marketgoers and environmentalists would probably show a distinct overlap):

This was one excellent book. Informative, fascinating, alternately depressing and hopeful. As a culture we are being buried in trash--especially plastic and food waste. Humes follows the history of waste "disposal" without righteous hand-wringing or drama. The situation is dramatic enough and the conclusions obvious without all that.

I came away considering a plastic fast in our family--using and recycling the last of the plastic wrap and existing bags and containers, but trying, trying, trying to minimize/eliminate them after that. Just about everything is made of plastic or comes in single-use, disposable packaging, so I don't even know if it's possible unless you go whole-hog like the families that write the Zero-Waste books.

A lovely, cleansing read for the post-Christmas hangover that is the month of January. 

That's the UrbanFarmJunkie's reading year in review. Hope you find something here to share!
 

Literary Passovers and Easters

Happy Passover or Easter to you all!

Having been raised as a child with no religion at all, everything I learned about these holidays I learned from books. Take, for instance, Passover. Sydney Taylor wrote a wonderful series based loosely on her childhood, growing up in the Lower East Side of turn-of-the-century New York City, and her books served as my introduction to feasts like Passover, Purim, and Succos.

When Passover rolls around for this family, all the girls but mischievous Henny have been laid low by scarlet fever, but Taylor carefully describes what is found at the Seder meal and why. While the sick girls listen from the bedroom, the parents and Henny read the stories and perform the rituals and share the meal: wine, "matzoth," bitter herbs, hard-boiled eggs dipped in salt water, and then "chicken soup with matzoth balls (dumplings made of matzoth flour), chicken, vegetables, and stewed fruit.

On our recent trip back to New York we ventured down to Broadway and Canal and Orchard Streets to recapture a feel for the All-of-a-Kind Family era, where the family goes to the Rivington Street Market for fish and vegetables, candied fruits and Henny's pickle, all sold from the dozens of pushcart vendors.

The turn-of-the-century vendors are gone, but there were still plenty of pushcarts selling nuts and hot dogs, now manned by more recent immigrants. If you don't get around to picking up the books, the Huffington Post linked to this chicken soup recipe that the girls might have eaten at Passover.

[Photo: Cooking Light, 2012]

Two more favorite childhood book series for me were, of course, Laura Ingalls Wilder and the lesser-known Maud Hart Lovelace, and for Spring Break this year (which in the Bellevue School District has no connection whatsoever with either Passover or Easter in 2013) I've planned a girly literary pilgrimage with my daughters to Wilder's and Lovelace's stomping grounds. Yes, we're off in a couple weeks to wade through Minnesotan slush to explore Plum Creek and Lovelace's "Deep Valley" (Mankato). Now, Easter doesn't come up for the Ingalls family (they seem to be all about Christmas), but it rates frequent mentions in Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy books. Her Ray family, like Sydney Taylor's, tends to celebrate with hard-boiled eggs and chicken dinner, but in one spin-off book, Emily of Deep Valley, Emily visits Mankato's "Little Syria," populated by Lebanese immigrants, and shares their Easter foods. She makes particular mention of "Easter sweet cakes which were buttery, like doughnuts, and spicy. Kahiks, they were called."

Sounds tasty, but "kahiks" don't come up on a search. From the shape, they could be these "Lebanese Easter Cookies"

Lebanese Easter Cookies [Allrecipes.com]

or something called "Ma'amoul"--cakes stuffed with dates or sugared walnuts/pistachios. While I found this recipe for the latter, they look way too complicated, despite their beauty and my love for sugared pistachios.

Ma'amoul [from TheFoodBlog]

At least I can stick with the ubiquitous hard-boiled eggs, which appear across cultures and traditions. Old eggs work best for boiling and peeling, but if, like me, you forgot to stockpile, Tamar Adler has this suggestion in An Everlasting Meal: "I find that after a few minutes in an ice bath, once water gets under shells and loosens them, they come off fairly easily." Let's hope she's right.

Have happy holidays, and take advantage of the time off to read a good book!

Favorite 2012 Reads for the Foodies in Your Life

According to Goodreads, I read eleven food-related books in 2012, not counting the couple I tried and abandoned. If you find yourself on December 19th (or later), with no ideas in the pipeline for the foodie in your life, consider a book! (Or, alternately, if some of your recent kitchen-gift concoctions have gone woefully awry...)

You may have seen some of these at the Bellevue Farmers Market, those times we hosted Readers to Eaters. They can also be found at the wonderful University Book Store Bellevue, which gift wraps in the loveliest papers and ribbons for free. They also ship media rate gratis, so if your recipient doesn't mind lateness, that option is still open for you. For friends with ereaders, these books can be found in the usual cyber places, and University Books now sells Kobo ereaders.

And now, without further ado, my 2012 favorites:

Best Memoir

Le Billon undergoes food culture shock after moving to France. The book combines memoir with cultural studies with parenting. I can't say it changed what I fed my family (though it did cure us of car snacking for about three days), but it made me wish I could start over with my kids, food-wise. I posted a more complete review here.

Best History

Granted, I only read three food histories this year, but this one was the most consistently informative and fascinating. Pretty self-explanatory. Pair it with your favorite peanut butter and you're set! As promised, here is my extensive Goodreads review of it.

Best Exposé

An astonishing, informative, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful book about the tomato in general and the conventional tomato industry in Florida, in particular. Halfway through I was vowing that, should I ever find myself on the East Coast, I wouldn't touch a single conventionally-grown tomato, in protest of the dreadful working conditions; rampant lethal pesticide and fungicide use; and--let's face it--awful hardness and lack of flavor. By the end, however, Estabrook had me feeling optimistic about the dreadful working conditions, at least. Not only had major fast-food chains and Whole Foods signed on to pay a wee bit more for fairer worker treatment, but nonprofit private groups were improving worker housing and job conditions. With the momentum going that way, I imagine the other grocery store chains will follow eventually. The things may still taste like big, watery NOTHING, but at least no one would be poisoned, enslaved (not kidding) or dying, so that I could have chunks of the big, watery NOTHING in my winter salad.

A couple interesting facts I learned about tomatoes in general:

1. They were declared a "vegetable" by the Tariff Act of 1883 to protect American farmers from Caribbean imports.

2. "All varieties of cultivated tomatoes that have ever been bred contain less than 5% of the genetic material in the overall tomato gene pool" (p.12). Yes, all those different sizes, colors, shapes, and flavors found even at the best farmers markets are very similar at the DNA level--inbred, feeble, and vulnerable to just about everything.

3. An acre of FL tomatoes receives 5x as much fungicide and 6x as much pesticide as a CA tomato.

Your best bet? The local farmers market. If you didn't know already, tomatoes grown in soil and picked when ripe have the best flavor. And you can ask the farmer himself about how he treats and pays his workers.

Best Scary Book

This one doesn't really count because it's not available until December 27. I suppose Lustig and his publisher figured no one wanted to hear this news before Christmas. Per my earlier post, this is quite the book. I swore off sugar for all of two days before succumbing to Christmas cookies and some kind of almond cake, but I vow to try again in January.

In other news, I roasted my Skagit River Ranch turkey, and we're taking on the 13-Meal Challenge again. The tally so far:

1. Fancy turkey sandwiches.

2. Turkey a la King.

No post next week, but do enjoy your holidays!
 


Sugar, Fat, and All of That

Mea culpa

I write today's post, fully aware that yesterday I ate four gingerbread cookies, two spritz cookies, one "Beurre and Sel Jammer" (Butter and Salt Jammer), one blueberry strudel cookie, part of a brownie, and part of a chocolate-covered Rice Krispy treat. In my defense, I had come from a Christmas party, but nevertheless, this post should probably be labeled Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do.

People magazine tweeted this morning that, for the first time, thirteen-year-olds will appear on the show The Biggest Loser. And why not? In the last thirty years, obesity and its attendant health ills have crept downward to become a problem of even the young. Nor are Americans the only people getting fatter. The Biggest Loser and its local spin-offs are hit shows in twenty-five countries worldwide and counting. Obesity is a big deal and big business. But what could be causing the worldwide weight gain?

If you're Dr. Robert Lustig, you think you've found the smoking gun. In his new book entitled Fat Chance (Penguin, coming December 27, 2012), he shares his alarming findings and provides plenty of evidence to back them up.

Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF whose "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" lecture video got lots of hits on YouTube, has been watching the rise of obesity and its attendant ills in his practice over the last umpteen years. While not every obese person is unhealthy (and many people with acceptable BMIs still suffer from metabolic syndrome), obesity frequently brings in train "the cluster of chronic metabolic diseases...which includes...type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), lipid (blood fat) disorders, and cardiovascular disease," along with "co-morbidities associated with obesity, such as orthopedic problems, sleep apnea, gallstones, and depression." Lustig even mentioned the increase of dementia as tied to this whole mess, as insulin resistance leads to dementia!

Consider some of his alarming statistics:

- 1/4 of U.S. children are now obese;

- Greater than 40% of death certificates now list diabetes as the cause of death, up from 13% 20 years ago;

- The percentage of obese humans GLOBALLY has doubled in the last 28 years; there are now 30% more overnourished (obese) people than undernourished, worldwide;

- Fructose (all the sugars you can think of, apart from the sugar in milk) is "inevitably metabolized to fat";

- Fructose consumption has doubled in the past 30 years and increased six-fold in the last century;

- The majority of humans, regardless of weight, release double the insulin today as we did 30 years ago for the same amount of glucose; this hyperinsulinemia leads to insulin resistance, the body thinking it's starving, and increased eating, especially for foods high in fat and sugar because our dopamine receptors aren't getting cleared--a vicious cycle;

- The processed food industry has turned to increased sugars of all kinds to improve flavor and shelf life; we eat lots of processed foods; therefore, 20-25% of all calories we consume on average come from sugars; in adolescents this number can approach 40% of daily calories.

Because I was blitzing through this, I didn't absorb the science as well as I might have, but Lustig helped me understand that how often, how much, and how unhealthily we eat can be a function not of choice but of our biochemistry. The feedback systems and processing systems which served humans so well for eons were not built to handle as much food as we eat nowadays, particularly the avalanche of empty sugar calories. Sweets and fats used to be hard for us to come by--if we hit a surplus, of course our bodies stored it up (as fat) for a rainy day! Unfortunately, there are no more rainy days, so we keep storing and storing and overloading the system.

Lustig's book is not about dieting or losing weight--in fact he says we have natural weights we gravitate toward, and there isn't a heckuva lot we can do about it, exercise or no exercise. But obesity is a new thing that is environmentally-aided, and that can be fought against.

His conclusion? You can probably guess. Lots of fruits and vegetables and fiber. The fiber in fruits requires enough work to digest that it effectively negates the fructose. Milk or water to drink (lactose is not processed like fructose). Meats (not corn-fed) and dairy (ditto) are fine, but don't skip the produce. Whole grains (all the brown in them--exactly how my son doesn't like them), but even then there's no need for tons of grain. And, if it has a nutrition label, it's a processed food. Use sparingly.

The low-hanging fruit Lustig tackles first is ridding your life of soda, smoothies, frappucinos, and fruit juice. (8 ozs of orange juice has more sugar than 8 ozs of Coke.) If you do alcohol, do just enough wine to get the resveratrol benefits and then lay off. (Another source of resveratrol? Peanuts!)

As Lustig points out, changing one's food environment is all but impossible for the poor. After all, corn and soy receive massive government subsidies, making the processed foods based on them cheap, cheap, cheap. Even if you have access to fresh produce, your money goes farther on the stuff in boxes, and food stamps cover soda. One of the more disheartening bits of the book was when he talked about meeting with Michelle Obama's personal chef Sam Kass, the point person for the White House Obesity Task Force. Kass admitted everyone in the White House (including the President) had read Lustig's NYTimes article "Is sugar toxic?" but they would do nothing to help. "Because they don't want the fight, this Administration has enough enemies." Sigh. Not that the Republicans mentioned fared any better. Basically, changing our food landscape is up to us. For those of us with the dollars, vote with our dollars! If we don't buy it, not all the food stamps in the world will make it profitable.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it's kind of a bummer to read this going into Christmas-cookie season, but one of my New Year's Resolutions will be to improve the food environment for my kids. I'm already talking up the benefits of fiber and fruits and vegetables, and the juice boxes are history.  (How I wish I had a time machine! I would never have introduced our biggest consumption area for processed foods--breakfast cereal. I can only comfort myself that we don't eat any off of his "Ten Worst Children's Breakfast Cereals" list! In the meantime, I've converted my youngest to occasional oatmeal and have started making bran muffins for my oldest. The middle child's cereal tooth can only be tempered with homemade waffles, full of colon-busting whole grains and flaxseed.)

I highly, highly recommend this book. Pre-order it for your family as a Christmas gift that will keep on giving!

The Leftover File

Hope your Thanksgiving was tasty, warm, and filled with friends and family, recharging your gratitude tanks. The holiday recaps I've heard range from "we ate so much that we weren't hungry all the next day," to "I'm proud that I managed to fill my plate, stay away from seconds, and didn't feel ill afterward," to--at the other end of the spectrum--"our family usually goes for a walk around Lake Washington while the turkey is roasting." Goes for a walk? It crossed my mind, the thought of exercising, as I lay on the floor watching football afterward, but that's as far as that went. Instead I only roused enough energy to put on the sweatpants I was smart enough to pack for just such an occasion.

Sadly, we've eaten up the leftovers, but if you still have mashed potatoes lingering in the fridge, give Deborah Madison's mashed potato cakes recipe a try, from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I served these up with her applesauce (made from leftover market Jonagolds that didn't fit in the pie) and sour cream. Yum.

Mashed Potato Cakes
2-1/2 cups mashed potatoes
1 cup dried bread crumbs (I just ground up a bread heel in the food processor)
clarified butter or olive oil for frying

Shape the potatoes into 12 round or oval cakes about 3/4" thick. Coat them with bread crumbs and set on wax paper. Film a heavy skillet with some of the butter and set over medium heat. When HOT, add the cakes and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Flip and fry on the second side.

She also suggests serving them with sauteed onions, which I'll have to try next Thanksgiving!

Besides lying around in my food-induced coma, I managed to get through one book off my UrbanFarmJunkie to-read list, for which I posted this review on Goodreads.


The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan. (3.3 of 5 stars.) McMillan goes "under cover" as a migrant worker, a Wal-Mart stocker, and an Applebee's "expediter" to understand where our American food system goes wrong. (I say "under cover" in quotes because I can't imagine--given that she's white and small in stature with soft hands--anyone in the California fields was fooled by her story that she just wanted to work hard and not think about things or talk to people.)

What she discovers will not be too earth-shattering for people who read about our food system. Field workers are under-paid by the piece, which then gets converted to minimum wage, resulting in ludicrous pay statements that say they only worked a couple hours that day. McMillan claims that, in the price of your average supermarket apple, the cost of growing/harvesting it amounts to 16% of its price, with marketing infrastructure making up the remaining 84%. Thus, if wages to workers were increased by 40%, the resulting increase to the average American family's annual produce bill would be about $16. Count me in! I look forward to chats with my local farmers market farmers next spring about how they would divvy up their costs. Given that their produce prices are comparable or only slightly lower than supermarkets, does that mean more of the money makes its way to the farmer and workers?

The Wal-Mart produce section wasn't such a shocker, though I didn't realize 1 in 4 American produce dollars gets spent there. Things get wasted, things get "crisped", things don't have a lot of flavor. The pay is lousy, full-time employment is hard to come by, overtime is avoided. Uh-huh. Interesting that, when Wal-Mart has a lot of competition in the food department, their prices are lower. If there's just them, or them and another store, they're not that much cheaper. Also, because of their ginormous deals, they're your go-to folks for shelf-stable, processed, fake foods.

Applebee's was another case of overwork and underpay, not to mention Olive-Garden-style nuked and reheated pre-prepped food. The discussion of how the assembly-line model moved from manufacturing to food service was interesting. I had no idea it began around the turn of the century (the 20th, that is).

Because she worked at survival wages for a couple months in each situation, McMillan's heart is with bringing decent food and wages to every class in America, not just the middle-class and beyond, happy with their organic produce and farmers markets. The rise of urban gardening in Detroit and the new availability of fresh produce in food deserts are two hopeful trends, as is the modification of the food-stamp program to require fresh fruits and vegetables. As she points out, the underpaid have both less time to spend on home cooking and less money for great ingredients, but, at least among the migrant workers, there was still plenty of cooking and shared food happening. Maybe such a return to community division of labor would make better eating possible for more of the population.

If this subject interests you, you might also enjoy CHANGE COMES TO DINNER by Katherine Gustafson (discussion of hopeful signs in how Americans are relating to food and getting fed).

Next up I had a foodie-type memoir, but I abandoned it fairly early on, biased perhaps by the recent New York Times article on how memoirists need to make sure they have something that needs saying. As I read about the author's unloved childhood and pot-smoking college ventures, I had the tired feeling this story was all too common, and I didn't feel like slogging through to where the risotto saved her. Never fear, however! My UFJ to-read list remains six books long, and growing...

Consider the Fall and the Fork

Alas. Thursday markets are history for 2012. At least we have Saturdays until Thanksgiving, but gone for the season are the days when I could forget something or run out of it after Thursday and just pick more up on Saturday. In fact, missing this past Saturday's market forced me to buy store eggs for the first time all summer. Sigh.

But enough droopiness! There's plenty of good food to be eaten, including this recipe for Indian-style Potatoes, Green Beans, and Carrots with Cashews, adapted from Cooking Light, August 2000. This recipe is perfect for all those fall vegetables, can be made vegan, or goes great with roasted chicken.

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 cups sliced onion
2 Tbsp minced, peeled fresh ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
8 cups (about 1.5 lbs) 3/4" cubed potatoes (ask your farmer which variety holds up well to stewing)
2-3 cups julienne-cut carrots (about 1/2-1 lb.)
2 chopped, seeded jalapenos or other pepper
1.5 cups vegetable or chicken broth, divided
1/2 lb green beans, cut in 2" pieces
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup ground cashews
2 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped, toasted cashews

Onions sauteeing in the Le Creuset

Heat the oil over medium-high in a big enough pot with a lid. Add onions, ginger and turmeric, and saute 2 minutes.

Add the potatoes, carrots and peppers. (Notice I ran out of carrots and Hedlin had a milder pepper that day.) Add 1 cup broth. Bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes.

Add remaining broth, green beans, and sugar. Cook 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in ground cashews.

Serve, topped with cilantro and toasted cashews.

********************
You'll notice I cooked mine up in my little orange Le Creuset dutch oven. Not to go all product-placement on you, but I recently I read Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson. Among the many technologies Wilson discusses, from boiling in water, roasting spits, forks, and chopsticks, to microwaves and refrigerators, the cooking benefits of cast iron come up. As Wilson writes, "If well seasoned, a cast-iron skillet has excellent nonstick properties, and because it is so heavy, it can withstand the high heat needed for searing." The downside to cast-iron: it rusts easily and leaches iron into your food. To counter these, in 1925, two Belgians began coating the iron in a "vitreous enamel glaze." Le Creuset was born, with its distinctive, beautiful colors, including my Flame Orange, which was the first shade developed!
Consider the Fork is an interesting history of all things cooking and kitchen, in the tradition of Bill Bryson's At Home. In addition to technology, Wilson makes fascinating detours into topics like how the way we eat has affected orthodontia (we all have over-erupted incisors because we don't grab and tear meat with our front teeth anymore) and fear of new kitchen technologies (refrigeration raised eyebrows because then sellers could pass of old food as fresh). She discussed food fashions and how technology determined food culture. I would have loved to hear more about how food processing affects our bodies, as she notes early on that: "There is good evidence to suggest that the current obesity crisis is caused, in part, not by what we eat (though this is of course vital, too) but by the degree to which our food has been processed before we eat it." Wilson cites a Japanese study where lab rats were fed the same amount of calories, but in different forms. After twenty-two weeks, the rats on the soft-pellet diet had become obese, despite the fact that the pellets they received were identical in nutrients and calories to the what was being given the other rats. The only difference was processing and texture. If that doesn't make you want to lay off the Cheetos, I don't know what will. But we've entered a processed world. Wilson cites a 2006 survey that found that, although 75% of Americans eat dinner at home, not even one-third of them were eating meals prepared from scratch. More likely it came from a frozen meal, a boxed mix, a jar. Soft pellets, people...

Speaking of home-cooking, Wilson investigates the claim that Victorians cooked all their vegetables to textureless mush and discovers that, given the pot size and cooking methods of the time, their boiled veggies weren't that different than what those of us who eat boiled veggies would deem acceptable.

I would recommend this book both to foodies and to history of science lovers. But most of all, I would recommend hitting the Saturday Market and cooking a couple meals from scratch!

(There will be no post next week because the UrbanFarmJunkie will be on a little vacation without a computer. But no matter where I am, my thoughts are always on my next meal!)

At the Marketers' Mercy

I'm in the middle of a thrilling read (more on that in a moment), which I had to lay aside temporarily to:

  1. Pay the bills;
  2. Vacuum the water out of the dishwasher because it's not draining properly; and,
  3. Write this post.

I don't mind Item #3 on the list because my thrilling read will probably interest you as well. You might remember a post I did some time back, based on a Martin Lindstrom article in Fast Company, on how stores like Whole Foods "prime" us to open our wallets. Intrigued by Lindstrom's claims, I picked up the book from which the article was excerpted, Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy. Quite the eye-opener!

Who knew, for example, that we can have our tastes formed from gestation onward? Not just our taste buds, but what kinds of music we find appealing, what environments we find comforting, what smells draw us in??? Lindstrom recounts one mall in Asia where the owners assaulted shoppers, particularly pregnant moms, with baby powder smells and specially chosen mall music and so on. After the babies were born, many of the moms continued to patronize the mall because they found it had an instantly soothing effect on their infants. We form our affinities early and marketers are well aware of this. The average American child sees 42,000 television advertisements per year, and those clever children have their methods for encouraging parents to buy. Once brands become fixtures in childhood, we are loath to shed them. One study found teens and adults still use over 50% of the brands they used in childhood.

Not only are we swayed before we have the wherewithal to choose for ourselves, we have troubled, addictive little brains. One Stanford University study estimates "roughly 6 percent of the population, or seventeen million Americans, suffers from a shopping addiction, a condition that, according to the authors of the study, typically coincides with other disorders ranging from mood and anxiety to eating disorders to substance abuse." How do we recognize when shopping becomes an addiction? It's just like any other addiction: there's the anticipation of shopping, the shopping, the release of dopamine when we purchase, the crash of guilt and remorse afterward. Lindstrom might also have added, as with other addictions, the toll it takes on our finances and often in family peace.

Then there's the addictive quality of high-fat junk food, spiked by those wily food companies with "addictive quantities of habit-forming substances like MSG, caffeine, corn syrup, and sugar." Addictions within addictions! In fact, lab rats hooked on junk food not only became obese, but it took their dopamine receptors two weeks to return to normal after quitting cold turkey, versus two days of reverting to their baseline when researches took them off heroin or cocaine. (If I could feel pity for rats, I would here. What a life.)

Nor is the desire to hook us just about food. Lindstrom finds the menthol added to many lip glosses and cigarettes is "habit-forming." And if the menthol doesn't do it, try adding ingredients to lip balm that actually irritate or dry out lips, so that the user has to keep applying lip balm. Gasp. Watch out for that phenol in your Carmex.

If marketers can't tap our addictive natures, they appeal to nostalgia or the use of peer pressure or the endorsements of celebrities. We may think we're smart cookies and know when we're being manipulated, but Lindstrom marshals loads of disturbing data to back his claims. We really do want to buy something because, deep down, whether we admit it or not, we want to be that person in the ad.

I'm only to the 52% mark on my Kindle edition of Brandwashed, but I'm ready to recommend it. Nothing like a little awareness before we reach for the credit card. The human race comes off as a little sad and lemming-like, but self-awareness is one of the Twelve Steps, isn't it? Yep--there it is at #4: "Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."

I'll go first. I'm the UrbanFarmJunkie, and I buy certain foods and products because they remind me of my youth, feed my addictions to fat and sugar, or make me think I'll look like JLo.

"Hoperaking" in Action

Who hasn't wanted to be a member of the Mariners ground crew, at one time or another? You get to be right on the field among the players; you get to drag those big rakes; you even get to do that little dance, whether or not you show any special gift for dancing.

You may wonder what such an opening paragraph has to do with the Bellevue Farmers Market or eating well, but stick with me, faithful reader/eater, because today's UrbanFarmJunkie post is all good news, all the time.

For starters, pitchers and catchers have reported to Mariners Spring Training in Peoria, Arizona, starting the cycle of hope all over again. So what if the Angels signed Albert Pujols? This might be the year! We're already playing .500 ball, since the reset button has been hit and everyone's 0-0. That ground crew isn't just raking Ichiro-trodden dirt, they're raking hope!

I'm into "hoperaking" lately, having greatly enjoyed Katherine Gustafson's Change Comes to Dinner: How Vertical Farmers, Urban Growers, and Other Innovators are Revolutionizing How America Eats. Gustafson coins the word to describe her mission of traveling around the country finding hopeful stories of where food is going right. She ranges far and wide, exploring small-farmer co-ops in Montana, inner-city rooftop greenhouses, sunless hydroponic gardens in shipping containers, farming programs in prisons that reduce recidivism and feed into a catering business and school lunches! Gustafson covers some familiar food-writing ground, of course, in her journeys--a review of our dependence on a few species, our over-use of pesticides, soil erosion, etc., but she has much to say that was new to me. For one, she questions the foodie law of "local is automatically better." As Gustafson points out, "An apple in a load of millions shipped cross-country in an efficient eighteen-wheeler might well account for fewer carbon emissions than an apple in a single bushel driven thirty miles to a farmers' market in an old diesel farm truck." It just depends. However, what local food does provide in spades, she discovers, is a host of intangibles: community building; "bolstering local food economies"; job creation; greater responsiveness between market and consumer; increased food security through preservation of species variety.

The stories in Change Comes to Dinner are small, small Davids, in the face of Goliath agro-industry, but the sheer number of Davids Gustafson uncovers demonstrates how widespread is American interest in restoring connections to food, community and quality of life. Especially heartening were the stories of gardening programs for prisoners and inner-city youth, two populations historically without access to the earth or farms. Learning farming skills not only provided nutritious food, but also opened up professional opportunities and built confidence. Great stuff.

While each little David may not make Goliath blink, much less bring him down, the sheer number of Davids might, when it becomes a larger cultural shift.

Consider this last tidbit from the Wall Street Journal. Under pressure from McDonalds (which is itself under pressure), pig farmers are being encouraged to eliminate confining gestation stalls. As the article points out, McDonalds purchases 1% of the pork in America (!), so when they talk, producers listen. Well, Americans eat 100% of those McRib sandwiches, and when we talk, McDonalds listens. And so it begins.

Happy Valentine's Day! Treat the honeys in your life to great community food and go rake some hope!

2012 Reading List

My to-read pile is pretty huge. So huge it has spawned sub-piles, one of which I thought might interest Bellevue Farmers Marketgoers. I'd love to hear if anyone has read these or has opinions on them, or we can read them together over the coming months. In any case, I'll be posting reviews here and on Goodreads.

In no particular order:

1. Change Comes to Dinner: How Vertical Farmers, Urban Growers, and Other Innovators are Revolutionizing How America Eats by Katherine Gustafson. The author explores alternatives to the industrial food system, including a farm truck that picks up goods from local producers and brings them to urban locations, producer co-ops, food grown hydroponically in storage containers. So far, so interesting.

2. Year of Plenty by Craig Goodwin. A Spokane pastor and his family spend a year changing the way they approach food, going local, simple and greener. 



 

3. Wildly Affordable Organic: Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet--All on $5 a Day or Less by Linda Watson. Given my penchant for Thrifty Cooking, I'm looking forward to this one. Speaking of thrifty, we've just enjoyed Meals #9 and 10 from our Skagit Turkey (see "Lucky Thirteen" post for details): Turkey-Star Soup. It made a ton, and my 10YO son even said, of his own volition, "This is really good soup" (!!! These are the moments you live for!).


4. Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty by Mark Winne. How can we prevent eating healthy and conscientiously from becoming a prerogative of the rich? 

As a foodie, a tightwad, and a wannabe good global citizen, you can see where these books fall in the sweet spot. Sometimes I just want to know I'm not the only person on the planet who wants to wring thirteen solid meals out of one organic, humanely-raised, local turkey.


Join me for a little reading?
 

Five Christmas Gifts for Your Food-Lover

It works for her! (Photo: Good Housekeeping)

And, really, who isn't a food lover? There are the occasional oh-so-superior people who don't like sweets (!!), but these, thankfully, are few and far between, as natural selection keeps them to a minimum. (Who could date--much less marry and have children with--a person who, after dinner, carelessly passed on dessert or chocolate when you yourself were dying for some?)

Food-related gifts can't be beat at Christmas for so many reasons, including:

  1. They don't junk up the house and end up in a Goodwill bag a few years down the line.
  2. They don't break.
  3. They are frequently shared with the recipient's family, if not with the very giver.
  4. They can reap benefits for all involved in cases like restaurant gift certificates, cookbooks, or actual food (see #3).

Therefore, if you were thinking of reaching for another tie, pair of slippers, Barnes & Noble gift card, or what-have-you, consider these suggestions instead.

(1) A meal at a new restaurant. Forget the big chains--we had some great chefs visit the Bellevue Farmers Market over the past few years, and in the Market off-season we can still sample their tasty food locally. A partial list:

    • Cantinetta Bellevue for Tuscan-inspired Italian food incorporating Pacific NW ingredients.
    • Seastar or John Howie Steak. Most likely you've eaten at one of John Howie's restaurants already, but who ever objects to a repeat visit?
    • Bradley Dickenson's stylish Pearl. Fresh seafood, steaks, NW ingredients, and local vegetables.
    • And the venerable Bis on Main for French/Italian/Delicious.
    • If gift certificates aren't your thing, consider a scavenger hunt with clues ending at the restaurant, or even a "kidnapping" on a certain date. Design something related to these to put under the tree.

(2) Food itself. I've got Market-made jam, peanut brittle, salmon, and honey waiting to be handed over as-is or incorporated in homemade food gifts. Many of the vendors featured at the Bellevue Farmers Market can be found at other local farmers markets (use the locator link from my previous post) or in specialty stores. Get creative! How about a Local-Food-of-the-Month Club? Doesn't have to be big. Just some seasonal produce or cheese or beef jerky or whatever. Something to look forward to.

(3) How about a cooking class? Talk about a gift that keeps on giving. And if you've read Kathleen Flinn's THE KITCHEN-COUNTER COOKING SCHOOL, which I reviewed here, you know something as simple as learning to use a knife properly can change someone's life. Flinn offers a link to video cooking classes, which I haven't checked out, but plenty of local places offer a Knife Skills class.

(4) A cookbook. Yes, I cook using online recipes frequently, but it's not my favorite. I don't want to print the recipes out (waste of paper) or write them out (too lazy), so I end up bringing my laptop into the kitchen, a habit that will one day end in disaster. I still love a good cookbook. If your friend has too many cookbooks already, consider a homemade album of your absolute favorites? I bought mini photo albums one year and typed up ten of my go-to recipes for the bread machine. My mom still uses hers!

(5) A book about food. I've mentioned many on this blog, and many have hit the bestseller list. They do tend to get political, given the state of food in America, so keep that in mind. Some past ideas:

    • Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. A memoir of growing up on an Iowa farm during the Depression. Talk about self-sufficiency! Sad how much food Iowa must import now because it's all gone the way of corn and soybeans.
    • The Kitchen-Counter Cooking School (see above).
    • Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. More a book about how her autism gave her a better understanding of animals. Grandin has worked in the livestock-processing industry and her experiences are moving and eye-opening.

Hope this helps. Feel free to recommend other books or food-gift ideas in the comments!

My father-in-law's guilty pleasure is a game show called Baggage. In this twist on The Dating Game, contestants choose from among potential dates who gradually reveal their...baggage, with each round disclosing worse and worse revelations of the junk in their trunk. Just when you think, "Better pick Gal #2--Gal #1 is t-r-o-u-b-l-e," Gal #2 goes on to admit she's in relationships with two prisoners. Yep, the show is a cultural train wreck, and you can't take your eyes off of it.

Writer, cook, instructor, and Cordon Bleu Paris graduate Kathleen Flinn hooks readers Baggage-style in her latest book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, going through the grocery carts, pantries, refrigerators, and food-related baggage of a dozen different women in the Seattle area. After performing these audits, she has each woman prepare a typical meal for her. She discovers--as every would-be dieter knows--that our relationship with food and cooking is complex and emotional. We eat what we eat, we cook or don't cook, based not only on surface factors like convenience and taste, but also on our associations with those activities. Did anyone teach us how to cook? Did anyone say anything disparaging about our cooking abilities? Do we cook or not cook to embrace or avoid certain assigned roles? What do certain foods signal to us? One woman confesses to a Gold 'n' Soft margarine addiction; she grew up with it, and to the very end of the book, butter tastes odd to her. Another digs a pack of four-year-old chicken parts from the freezer--not having any idea what to do with it, she's let it sit year after year. Still others open crisper drawers on liquefying lettuces or discover warehouse-store-sized "deals" that turned out to be not so thrifty when they couldn't be finished before they spoiled.

Flinn's investigations reveal both the alarming and the familiar, sprinkled throughout with interesting food facts. When one mom complains about her son being a picky eater, only liking the usual, highly-processed kid foods, Flinn cites another book, noting, "Many of the foods on the common kid-food list--chicken nuggets, powder-based mac and cheese, fish sticks--have been engineered to stimulate pleasure centers in the brain. Studies found that, as a a result, rats can become addicted to junk food in the same way that they do to cocaine or heroin." Put down the mini corn dog and back away, Johnny!

After the kitchen audits, which I found the most fascinating part of the book, succeeding chapters detail a series of cooking lessons Flinn offers the women, covering everything from knife skills to trusting your taste buds to making your own bread and stock. While this is familiar ground for anyone who does cook, the book is replete with great ideas, recipes and inspirations. I'm eager to try the no-knead artisan bread and to finish off the last of the salad dressing bottles so I can concoct my own. I'm also eager to challenge myself with reducing wasted food. As Flinn points out, most families could painlessly cut their food bills by just buying what they'll actually use. Now why didn't I think of that?

Each woman comes off better for her experiences, whether in big changes of eating habits or small starts like replacing a fast-food visit with a packed sandwich or foregoing the additive-laden pancake mix. I highly recommend this book, especially if you find Michael Pollan's works too daunting and just want to improve your eating and cooking habits, one tick at a time. To paraphrase Terri, a former alcoholic featured in Kitchen Counter, just as with kicking alcohol or other bad habits, if you try to change everything at once, it never works.

Make a small start this week. Hit our Bellevue Farmers Market for something fresh. Sharpen your knife, heat up your pan, add a little something leftover from the fridge, and go!

(Note: I read Kitchen Counter Cooking School in a complimentary Kindle galley from the publisher in return for a review. This was brave of them because, in writing about Flinn's earlier book The Sharper the Knife, the Less You Cry, I had permitted myself some snarky remarks.)

Wisdom of the Last Farmer

Another trip to California prevented me from making it to either the Thursday or Saturday markets last week, which explains why, last night, my family finally got around to eating the kale I'd bought at least three weeks ago. The stuff weathers well. I threw out a few yellowed leaves, cut out the spines, and we were good to go. My grand ambition when I bought it was to make kale chips, but in this case I just ended up boiling the chopped kale with some beet greens, and then sauteeing it briefly with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. The perfect side to Lime-Coriander Rubbed Salmon.

Anyhow, while I missed the markets, the plane ride did allow me to finish a wonderful book, David Mas Masumoto's Wisdom of the Last Farmer. Masumoto comes from a family of organic fruit farmers in California's Central Valley. If you've read his Epitaph for a Peach you know that he has the ability to make your mouth water with his fruit descriptions, of which there are more than a few in this book. Wisdom is a tender, lyrical tribute to Masumoto's father, who suffers a series of strokes and experiences the loss of the farming which ordered his life. It's also a family history, since the Masumotos have been farming the Central Valley since before World War II, with only the unavoidable hiatus of their internment. Beyond being moved by the stories, reading this book will help us non-farmers understand the hard work and love that goes into growing our food, as well as what we have lost as consumers when we assume a certain fruit should look a certain way, no matter what it tastes like.

After reading this book, I can't wait to talk to some of the folks from Tiny's Organic and Johnson Orchards and Martin Family Orchards about their favorite peach or apple or pear varieties, and to thank them again for preserving those delicious ones that--in a grocery-store word--might otherwise be lost.