clean fifteen

Hot Off the Skillet Food Links


Whoa. I meant to do a post on interesting food links monthly, but a quick scroll reveals I haven't done a Hot Off the Skillet since early January. There's always exciting news in the food and nutrition world, beginning with this link I saw today! Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found a daily cup of tea may reduce heart attack and cardiovascular risk? Beginning in 2000, they followed 6000 study participants, who were free of heart disease at that time. Eleven years later, it was the tea drinkers who showed 1/3 fewer incidences of "heart attack, stroke, chest pain, or...other types of heart disease." Yay, Earl Grey!

photo (1)

In other happy news, you'll remember I wrote about my favorite food/nutrition book of 2015, Mark Shatzker's The Dorito Effect. Because I also follow him on Twitter, I heard about his recent Epicurious article, holding out the promise of better-tasting real food in the future. As he discussed in the book, for years folks bred supermarket food for looks and speed and durability, letting actual flavor go by the wayside. Hence the baseball-hard tomatoes that taste like drywall and grocery-store chicken with all the flavor of tofu, only with a texture even more revolting. But, joy of joys, flavor is making a comeback, and not just the flavors found in a chemistry lab. Agricultural think tanks are working on breeding flavor back in--the old-fashioned way, by crossing plant varieties and hoping for good results.

Like heirloom tomatoes, but wish they were sturdier? Now's your chance to get tomato seeds for Garden Gem and Garden Treasure, two new varieties which are already winning taste contests! For a small donation to the University of Florida's Klee Laboratories you'll receive 15 seeds of each kind, just in time to get them started indoors.

And lastly, as we find ourselves in a strident political season, I always like to show bipartisanship. Having referenced the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen produce lists in the past, I now present the other side, in which our supermarket produce is found to be very, very clean, according to USDA pesticide sampling, as reported in Forbes. The author makes a couple good points, including the fact that pesticide residue can be found in both conventional and organic produce (some organic countermeasures are allowed but act similarly to regular pesticides). I would love to believe our fruits and vegetables more than meet the EPA's tolerances. What is a tolerance? "The tolerance is generally 100 times less than a dose that could cause any ill effect. The allowed residues are also lower than the levels of natural pesticidal compounds that many crops make to defend themselves." (As Mark Schatzker also discussed in his awesome book, plants do produce natural toxins so they don't get eaten or eaten at the wrong time by every Bird, Cow, or Billy Goat Gruff.)

Tolerable produce still doesn't address the issue of agricultural workers who are exposed to higher levels of pesticides, however, in producing the crop. Nor does it dispel that niggling memory I have of the potato farmer in Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire, who farmed conventional potatoes for all of us, but only fed his family from the small organic plot behind the house... But, hey, it's still good news for when we can't resist that out-of-season basket of berries. Berries below tolerance!

May it hold us until Opening Market Day.



Hot Off the Skillet - Food News Links for Your Consumption

It's still the New Year, folks, so it feels like a good time to do a round-up of tips, ideas, and info for your eating life.

First up, what's expected to be hot, hot, hot in 2016? The National Restaurant Association has come up with this handy graphic:

Courtesy of the NRA What’s Hot 2016 Culinary Forecast

Absolutely, fascinating, if you ask me. First off, just because  an item is waning doesn't mean it's going to go away anytime soon. It just means your restaurant (or trendy kitchen) won't be cutting edge if you say things like, "You've got to try my new recipe for Agave-Sweetened Quinoa-Kale Porridge Coated in Bottom-Feeder Weirdfish Flakes." But people will ooh and aah if you brew your own alcohol and pair it with African Curried Egg Gelato in your backyard pop-up restaurant. (Eggs from your own hens, of course.) Oh, and insects are out, so put down the freeze-dried crickets.

If "hyper-local sourcing" is in, that's all the more reason to grown your own, pickle your own, brew your own. Sure, you say, but even if I had time to garden, who has the space? We live in Bellevue, not on our own three acres! In 2016, that excuse won't serve any longer because this Mental Floss article claims we can all grow fruit-bearing bonsai trees.

My Science Academy pic. Photoshopped? I hope not.

Of course, it looks like one awesome apple is about all that little tree can bear at a time, lest it suffer the fate of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, so I'm guessing you would need a grove of the little bonsais to keep a family going. Another possible use for the family dining room, that nobody dines in?

The Paleo diet receives another body blow, this time from a Stanford dissertation. The author argues (you probably will not find it necessary to sit down to read this) that all that hankering after a caveman diet is actually our longing for a simpler, utopian world, unplagued by the plagues of civilization. Never mind that your average caveman had a pretty short lifespan, and what life there was was often rough stuff. Good old Otzi the Iceman, for example, the 5300-year-old corpse discovered in the Alps, suffered multiple bone fractures, Lyme disease, food between his teeth, and even an inflamed stomach from that troublesome Helicobacter pylori microbe, which still gives us literal ulcers today.

Otzi, Paleo spokesman.
A reconstruction of what we hope was one of his good days.

Well, fine, you say. Any advice on what we should be eating this year, apart from African spices and our bonsai apple?

Just the usual: more home-cooked, less processed. More produce, organic where necessary and possible. Robyn O'Brien gives some tips on affording organic in this article, and I would just add that you don't need to buy organic if the fruit/veg is on the Clean Fifteen (or if you grew it in your grove of bonsai trees).

That'll do it for this week. Happy, healthful eating in 2016!

Noteworthy Notes, February Edition

Links and pictures from around and about that impact our Washington life

While New England continues to get buried in snow on snow on snow, Washington State faces a dismally low snowpack year. We're only at 49% and the temperatures continue warm. Lower snowpack equals lower streamflow in the spring and summer, which equals bad news for farmers who depend on irrigation and bad news for folks who eat what farmers grow. 

Speaking of what farmers grow, check out this cool map from the Farm Bureau:

While the view is very high level, it's clear that growing food is big business in Washington. $49 billion in revenue, according to the Farm Burea. Unfortunately, the ongoing port slowdown is impacting our farmers' exports and what they will plant in the coming year.
Farmers markets are still a small piece of the pie, but it was good news to learn that King County will be holding off on raising inspection services fees for at least another year. Proposed increases would have raised food vendor fees by 42-264% and a market coordinator fee would more than double. I understand the inspectors would have to be paid for their time, and everyone likes the idea of food safety, but I do think Americans are a little overexcited about food safety. Visit markets abroad and you'll find unrefrigerated eggs and ambient temperature cheese and such. And I've taken the online course and gotten a food handler's permit, and all I can say is, if you eat at my house you take your chances because I'm not going through all that rigmarole at home.
All of which is to say, it looks like food prices will be rising this year. Plan accordingly! We King County folks do like buying organic, according to an article in the Puget Sound Business Journal, but remember--if it's on the Clean 15, save yourself some cash and buy conventional.
Thank you, Environmental Working Group!

Feeling the Food Price Pinch

I don't know about you, but in the past couple years, I've seen our average grocery bill increase by about 50%. Yes, my kids are bigger now, and the adolescent boy complains every night about how he's starving all the time, and his sisters have learned not to leave food they plan on eating unattended, but that can't account for the entire upswing. So I was glad to see some recent articles that told me the rising costs weren't all my fault.

The Wall Street Journal cites the unrelenting drought in California, which has gone on for three years, impacting the crops in the graphic below:

And USA Today expanded on the carnage at the cash register by looking at the 10 fastest-rising food costs:

1. Bacon. Possible explanation? The delightfully-named Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) in hogs.

2. Ground Beef. Culprit? Drought.

3. Oranges. Blame: Citrus greening disease in Florida and drought in California.

4. Coffee. Guilty party? Drought and producer stockpiling.

5. Peanut Butter. Pointing finger? "Poor growing conditions" and possibly increased Chinese demand, for Pete's sake!

6. Margarine. The Reason Why: who cares! You seriously should not be eating this fake food anymore anyhow. Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter. And it was called just plain Butter.

7. Wine. Whodunnit? Drought in California and general demand increases. Apparently we're drinking more to comfort ourselves for rising food prices.

8. Turkey. For want of a nail...drought led to rising corn and soy prices, which led to more expensive feed.

9. Chicken. See Turkey. That, and the whole world is eating more and more chicken because agro-industrial practices have made it comparatively cheap.

10. Grapefruit. See Orange.

What does this mean for our farmers market? I expect we'll see higher prices. After all, a rising tide lifts all the boats. I know that Skagit River Ranch cut way back on their chickens because of the feed costs, especially since they can't make up the dollars lost by cramming chickens in crates on top of each other. It'll be interesting to talk to the farmers and ask how Washington's precipitation is doing, from their perspective, and what rising costs of their own they see.

I do have a couple money-saving reminders for you, though, so all is not lost. Remember, if you can find your vegetable or fruit on the "Clean 15" list, there's no need to buy organic.

Thanks, Mary Crimmins, for the cute graphic!

I've taken to stretching a pound of meat with a can or two of black beans, and remember that saturated FAT promotes satiety faster (and slows spikes in blood sugar). Add more butter. More cheese. More whole milk and cream. Slather those bagels and pieces of toast and what-have-you in cream cheese! As I mentioned last week, to everyone's relief and good health, fat is back on the menu.

So raise your milkshake to an end to the drought, and here's hoping prices come down soon.

Speaking of Rhubarb...

As I mentioned in my previous post, rhubarb takes on a whole new meaning in Washington State, where its season doesn't line up with strawberries. If you've been tempted by those lovely ruby stalks and have already given the Rhubarb Sauce recipe a go, I've got another one for you: Aunt Hazel's Rhubarb Cake. This one comes from Mildred Armstrong Kalish's memoir Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression. Despite having read the book, I have no idea what she means by "red sugar," unless she means the stuff we sprinkle on sugar cookies at Christmas. I substituted standard white sugar with no ill effects.

Aunt Hazel's Rhubarb Cake
1 ½ cups red sugar (or white)
½ cup shortening (I haven't tried substituting butter or oil. Used Spectrum Organic's non-hydrogenated shortening)
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
3 cups rhubarb, chopped and mixed with ¼- cup red sugar (about three large stalks)

Topping: Mix together cup sugar, cup nuts (I used chopped pecans and would probably up it to 1/2 cup), 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine dry ingredients and sift. Separately, combine buttermilk with beaten egg. Mix together dry and wet ingredients. Now add the chopped and sugared rhubarb. Pour into a lightly greased and floured pan, and then gently add topping.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. 

This coffee cake was a big hit at a brunch I had recently. Seems like people are always looking for a way to use up rhubarb!

While we're on the subject of produce, the Environmental Working Group has put out its annual list of the most- and least-pesticide-laden produce. Another reason to buy at our farmers market. I also tend to be leery of "organic" produce coming from overseas, where standards and oversight might not be as strict as in the United States. Without further ado:

Dirty Dozen 2011

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines (imported)
  7. Grapes (imported)
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries (domestic)
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale/collard greens

And the winners:

Clean Fifteen 2011

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Asparagus
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Mangoes
  8. Eggplants
  9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cabbage
  12. Watermelon
  13. Sweet potatoes
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms

See you all at the Market. Thursday 3-7, parking lot of the First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue, and Saturday 10-3, parking lot of the First Congregational Church.