You'd be shocked at the number of people who think our daughter and her family live in Sweden. Just as homeschoolers know that they will inevitably and repeatedly be asked the S Question ("But what about socialization?"), the Swiss know that much of the world will always think they live in the land of IKEA, ABBA, and free health care. Thus I was not surprised to see the following in an article on the Cooking Light website.
First Up: You'll love this Rösti Casserole with Baked Eggs. We have whittled down the calories in this traditional Swedish dish and added our own spin with Greek yogurt and artisan spices. This dish embodies the alluring qualities you'd expect from rösti—shredded potatoes that are cooked until browned and crisp on the edges. Serve with a colorful mixed greens salad.
At least the Swiss won't have to be annoyed at the alterations to their traditional dish—they can blame it on the Swedes.
Chick-fil-A remains my favorite fast food restaurant, ever. I like the company; friends who have worked there say it's a good place to work. I like the fact that they are closed on Sundays. Well, okay, I've more than once wished I could eat there on a Sunday, but I do appreciate that they take—and give their employees—the day off. I also like the fact that, although not required here to do so, they post the calorie counts of their meals on the menu.
None of that, however, would of itself induce me to eat there. That takes good food. For the genre, it's great food. If we're in need (or want) of a quick, easy meal, and there's a Chick-fil-A nearby, and it's not Sunday, there's no debate: Chick-fil-A is my first choice. Their chicken sandwiches—especially the spicy versions—are the best I've eaten anywhere, including those from my own kitchen. Their waffle fries are very good, their lemonade is real, and their breakfast biscuits? ahhh!
Why this paean? We just returned from breakfast at our local Chick-fil-A: a spicy chicken biscuit for me, and their new grilled chicken sandwich for Porter. Ketchup and barbecue sauce came with our meals, but we brought them home untouched: the food was that good, unadorned. I could easily have eaten two of those spicy chicken biscuits—except, of course, for the above-mentioned calorie counts.
Even better: thanks to coupons, our breakfast was totally free. This is a case where I will not say a meal was worth what we paid for it! And despite our not spending a cent, the man who took our order was friendly, cheerful, and gracious, and did not hesitate to fix us the chicken sandwich (normally a lunch and dinner item) during early breakfast hours, only apologizing that we had to wait five minutes.
Now if only Connecticut would get with the picture. The closest Chick-fil-A to Old Saybrook is north of Springfield, Massachusetts!
"I don't want to eat" has almost never been a problem in our family! Nonetheless, this article on ending mealtime battles caught my eye, and it has some wisdom in it, so I'm passing it on. I can sum up what I like about it in a couple of quotes.
It's dinnertime and my 4-year-old son is deep in play. When I announce that dinner is ready he makes his own announcement: "I don't want to eat, Mommy."
I tell him five words that avoid the food battle that he wants me to engage in: "You don't have to eat."
This is the rule in our house but it is followed by a second rule that everyone follows, regardless of wanting to eat or not. I tell him that family dinners are about being with family, and not just eating, so we all have to sit at the table.
What I like most about Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding, is it gives parents and children very specific jobs in the realm of feeding. Parents are in charge of deciding what is served at meal time, when meals occur and where. Children get to be in charge of choosing what to eat and how much from what is offered to them.
So when my children complain about what I make for them, I always remind them that they can choose not to eat it. And I make sure to include at least one or two items they are likely to accept. This gives them some control, melts away the tension, and makes them more likely to try it....
This strategy puts more onus on the parents to make sure all the food offerings are nutritious: if the meal on the table includes chips and soda, a strategy of letting your children decide what and how much to eat from the offerings appears a lot less wise. Nor would I include anything not part of the family meal among the offerings, i.e. no chicken nuggets when the rest of the family is eating chicken tikka. But letting them choose proportions (including nothing) from a good meal sounds like a reasonable strategy for giving children autonomy within secure boundaries.
I wonder: if I had not been required to eat a portion of everything served, would I have learned to like vegetables sooner than I did? Very early on I developed the tactic of swallowing my vegetable bites whole, with great gulps of water, like pills. (Peas are particularly easy.) My parents were willing to insist I eat the veggies, but would not go so far as to require me to chew and taste them. If, instead, they had simply been offered as part of the meal, and I had observed my parents enjoying it all, might I not have tried them now and then, thus developing the taste for certain foods that eluded me until later in life? I'll never know, but I like this strategy better.
Publix, our local grocery store, often has tasting centers set up throughout the store. Of course they are meant to encourage you to buy the product; sometimes I do, mostly I don't. But I love the tastes, especially when it involves the sushi department. :)
One of the stations usually involves not just a single product, but a whole meal or main dish prepared before your eyes (if you want to stick around and watch, which I usually don't). These are almost always delicious, and every once in a while I can't resist picking up the ingredients to make it myself. So it was one day last week.
Does Chicken over Warm Kale and Asparagus Salad sound good to you? I can't say it did to me, but that's the advantage of these stations: I tasted it. I'm including the recipe below, at least as much for myself as for anyone else. On the other hand, as far as I'm concerned recipes are merely suggestions, so here are some of the changes I made, or might make next time. There will be a next time. It was so good each of us ate more than the 1/4 recipe portion size recommended, and I could have eaten a lot more.
- I did use the shallots, but next time will probably just go with red onion, or any onion I have on hand; I don't think it makes that much difference.
- I didn't buy any fresh basil, because I thought we had enough on our basil plant at home. But it turns out it still needs more growing time, so I used fresh Thai basil from our abundant supply. (The flavor is quite different, but still great).
- I didn't add the asparagus, because what was available at the store didn't look very good.
- Instead of the raw chicken breasts, I used shredded meat from a whole chicken I had cooked earlier, adding it later in the process, because all it needed was to get hot. I also used a lot less chicken than the recipe calls for, and mixed it in with the salad rather than placing it on top.
- I used Essex Garlic Salt (a wonderful product that was birthed about the same time Porter was; thanks, PJS!)
- The "kale salad blend" was by organicgirl ("Baby kale, tango, baby spinach, baby green chard, green romaine, baby green oakleaf lettuce. Ingredients may vary by season.") It was on the pricy side, but absolutely delicious. I'm trying to quell my frugal side when it comes to things that will help us eat more healthy food.
- The Parmesan cheese was fresh-grated, of course!
- I added some chopped pecans at the end, just because I had them and the idea sounded good. It was.
Chicken Over Warm Kale and Asparagus Salad
1 (3-oz) package shallots, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 lb fresh asparagus spears
1 3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/4 teaspoons garlic/herb seasoning, divided
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pint grape tomatoes
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 (5-oz) container kale salad blend
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Chop shallots and basil.
- Cut asparagus into 1-inch long pieces, removing tough root end.
- Preheat large sauté pan on medium-high 2-3 minutes. Season chicken with 1 teaspoon garlic/herb seasoning (wash hands). Place oil in pan, then add chicken; cook 4-5 minutes on each side or until browned.
- Reduce heat to low. Stir in tomatoes and shallots; cook and stir 2-3 minutes or until tomatoes are softened.
- Combine vinegar and sugar, then stir into tomato mixture; cook 8-10 minutes, turning chicken occasionally, or until liquid has reduced by about one-half and chicken is 165°F. Remove chicken from pan; let stand 5 minutes to rest.
- Stir kale, basil, asparagus, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon seasoning into tomato mixture; cook 1 minute or until salad is wilted. Transfer salad to serving plates; slice chicken and arrange on top of salad. Sprinkle with cheese; serve.
CALORIES (per 1/4 recipe) 380kcal; FAT 13g; CHOL 115mg; SODIUM 320mg; CARB 19g; FIBER 3g; PROTEIN 45g; VIT A 80%; VIT C 50%; CALC 15%; IRON 15%
It's times like this I am so happy to be neither Jewish, Muslim, nor Theonomist. We had pulled pork for dinner the other night and it was so, so, so, so good! We've been eating the leftovers ever since. I can't believe it took me this long to discover that I could make this dish myself. So easy! My apologies to our kids for depriving them of delicious pulled pork throughout their childhoods. What kind of a Southerner am I, anyway?
Pulled Pork Sandwiches
pork roast that will fit in your crock pot (butt or shoulder; these shred better)
1 onion, chopped
barbecue-ish spices for rub
1½ cups liquid, approximately (e.g. a bottle of hard cider, beer, water, juice)
barbecue sauce (Jack Daniels No. 7 Original or your favorite)
hamburger buns, lightly toasted
The day before Rub roast well, all over, with lots of spices. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning Place chopped onions in the bottom of a crock pot. Add the roast and liquid. Cook on low 8 - 10 hours or on high 4 - 5 hours.
Remove meat from pot. Pour and reserve any excess liquid. The meat may have shredded itself by now; if not, shred using two forks, and return to pot. Add some barbecue sauce for flavor. Some of the reserved liquid can be added back if the pork is too dry and you don’t want to add more sauce.
Serve on hamburger buns, with more barbecue sauce on the side if desired.
(Cobbled together and modified from several pulled pork recipes online.)
Asian buffet restaurants are kind of like IHOP as far as I'm concerned: you need to go there every few years to remind yourself of why you don't go there more often. The idea always sounds so good ... and the reality always disappoints.
We had a coupon for the new World Gourmet restaurant in town, so we went there after church on Sunday. (The link is to the one in California, but it looks like the same thing.) You can't say they don't have variety: I wouldn't go so far as to say world, but there was what I'd call standard American fare in addition to the Asian food. But as usual, the quality just wasn't there, nor can you expect it with all that quantity and variety.
Still, the selection was nice, the honey chicken was especially good, and—when I made a point to be the first one in line when the new batch came out—so were the French fries. Whenever I'm in a place like that, I think of a football-playing friend of Heather's in high school: he could really have done it all justice. Me? I took what I liked, and for once didn't eat too much. Someone has to make up for the football players.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan (Penguin, 2013)
(This is a long post, with many excerpts from the book. Consider it an appetizer.)
I almost always start writing reviews in my mind before finishing the book. I'd planned to begin this one with, "I've never met a Michael Pollan book I didn't love. Having made my way through the 468 pages, I can still say that with honesty, though honesty also compels me to admit the last quarter of the book was somewhat of a trial.
For all his interest in food, Pollan hadn't given cooking much thought.
Until, that is, I began trying to unpack a curious paradox I had noticed while watching television, which was simply this: How is it that at the precise historical moment when Americans were abandoning the kitchen, handing over the preparation of most of our meals to the food industry, we began spending so much of our time thinking about food and watching other people cook it on television? The less cooking we were doing in our own lives, it seemed, the more that food and its vicarious preparation transfixed us.
I see this less as a paradox and more as a repeated pattern: the less we commit to and invest of ourselves in the heart and meaning of something, the more we extravagantly value the form, and set others to doing it for us. When the marriage itself was the raison d'être of a wedding, a reception created and overseen by "women of the church" was sufficient to honor the couple and the guests. Now we have devalued the marriage vows and it's the reception, professionally catered, decorated, and orchestrated, into which the time, money, and attention are poured. The less we make music ourselves, in our families and communities, the more we value the concert tickets, recordings, and iPods that bring the work of the professional musician into our lives. How many sports fans, ever-ready to critique the missed basket, the dropped ball, the faulty kick, get any closer to a real game than driving their children to practice?
But I digress. What Pollan did was to get serious about cooking for himself and his family.
[The decline of home cooking] is a problem—for the health of our bodies, our families, our communities, and our land, but also for our sense of how our eating connects us to the world. Our growing distance from any direct, physical engagement with the processes by which the raw stuff of nature gets transformed into a cooked meal is changing our understanding of what food is. Indeed, the idea that food has any connection to nature or human work or imagination is hard to credit when it arrives in a neat package, fully formed. Food becomes just another commodity, an abstraction. And as soon as that happens we become easy prey for corporations selling synthetic versions of the real thing—what I call edible foodlike substances. We end up trying to nourish ourselves on images.
It has been argued that it is more efficient to work an extra hour at the office, doing what we do well, and let restaurants do what they do best.
Here in a nutshell is the classic argument for the division of labor, which, as Adam Smith and countless others have pointed out, has given us many of the blessings of civilization. It is what allows me to make a living sitting at this screen writing, while others grow my food, sew my clothes, and supply the energy that lights and heats my house. I can probably earn more in an hour of writing or even teaching than I could save in a whole week of cooking. Specialization is undeniably a powerful social and economic force. And yet it is also debilitating. It breeds helplessness, dependence, and ignorance and, eventually, it undermines any sense of responsibility.
Pollan divides his cooking adventures, cleverly and classically, into Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Fire is a dissertation into the earliest and most primitive cooking method: meat over flame. Along the way he explores the "cooking hypothesis," a recent theory that attempts to explain the development of Homo erectus, "the first primate to bear a stronger resemblance to humans than apes."
Anthropologists have long theorized that the advent of meat eating could account for the growth in the size of the primate brain, since the flesh of animals contains more energy than plant matter. But ... the alimentary and digestive apparatus of Homo erectus is poorly adapted to a diet of raw meat, and even more poorly adapted to the raw plant foods that would still have been an important part of its diet, since a primate cannot live on meat alone. The chewing and digestion of raw food of any kind requires a big gut and big strong jaws and teeth—all tools that our ancestors had lost right around the time they acquired their bigger brains.
The control of fire and discovery of cooking best explain both these developments. ... Appliying the heat of a fire to food transforms it in several ways—some of them chemical, others physical—but all with the same result: making more energy available to the creatures that eat it. ... [C]ooking opened up vast new horizons of edibility for our ancestors, giving them an important competitive edge over other species and, not insignificantly, leaving us more time to do things besides looking for food and chewing it. ... [Anthropologist Richard Wrangham] estimates that cooking our food gives our species an extra four hours a day. (This happens to be roughly the same amount of time we now devote to watching television.)
By freeing us from the need to feed constantly, cooking ennobled us, putting us on the path to philosophy and music. All those myths that trace the godlike powers of the human mind to a divine gift or theft of fire may contain a larger truth than we ever realized.
Yet having crossed this Rubicon, trading away a big gut for a big brain, we can't go back, as much as raw-food faddists would like to. ... By now, "humans are adapted to eating cooked food in the same essential way as cows are adapted to eating grass," Wrangham says.
Pollan discusses animal sacrifice, and why fire-cooked meat-eating grew up as a sacred act, hedged in by a multitude of rules and governed by a priestly class. From there he moves naturally to the modern barbecue, which retains obvious vestiges of those ancient cultures. I dare you (unless you happen to be a diehard vegetarian) to read this section of the book without your mouth watering. For the record, "authentic barbecue" has nothing to do with what you do when you slap a steak on your gas grill. It is pork, pork alone, and preferably the whole pig, cooked with as many rules as any ancient sacrifice. It's a pity I didn't know anything about barbecue culture when my in-laws lived in South Carolina! (More)
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch—Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods by Jennifer Reese (Free Press, 2011)
In 2008, like many people, Jennifer Reese lost her job. I don't know what that job was, but if it didn't involve writing, losing it was not a tragedy, but a blessing. She's a wonderful writer: clear, informative, and funny. Definitely funny.
Faced with the opportunity to reconsider her life, Reese decided to focus on food, and the modern tension between do-it-yourself and buy-it-off-the-shelf:
Where is that sweet spot between buying and making? What does the market do cheaper and better? And where are we being deceived, our tastes and habits and standards corrupted? Could I answer this question once and for all? I didn't want an answer rooted in ideology, or politics, or tradition, or received wisdom. I wanted to see the question answered empirically, taking into account the competing demands—time and meaning, quality and conscience, budget and health—of everyday American family life.
And so, over the next months and years, I got some chickens, which I loved; and some ducks, which I loathed; and some turkeys, which we slaughtered. I learned to make cheese and keep bees and worried that the neighbors were going to call Animal Control. I cured bacon and salmon, canned ketchup, baked croissants, and made vanilla extract and graham crackers. I planted tomatillos and potatoes and melons and squash. My son, Owen, joined 4-H and practically moved into the yard, while my teenage daughter, Isabel, refused to step outside the back door at all, especially after the goats turned up. My husband, Mark, rolled his eyes at all of it except the homemade yogurt. That, he ate by the quart. At the height—or maybe it was the depths—of my homemaking experiment, I had pickles lacto-fermenting on the counter and seven varieties of jam, ranging from banana-chocolate to plum, arrayed in the pantry, and absinthe and Taleggio cheese mellowing in the crawl space behind my closet. I was overwhelmed and a bit of a mess, but I had my answers.
Turkeys? Homemade bacon? This was no simple save-money-by-making-my-child's-school-lunch project. But the results make for marvellous reading. It's a treasure trove of recipes, too, and I would be tempted to add a copy to my collection, if I weren't busy trying to get rid of a vast collection of cookbooks gathering dust on the shelves because when I need a recipe and it's not handy, I immediately turn to Chef Google.
The answer to the question that drove me to reading the book, Why not make the butter? is a simple matter of economy. Making butter is easy, and the result delicious, but cream is expensive. Store butter is good enough that the author can't justify the extra expense of homemade. "Unless," she adds, "you have a cow."
Reese might have chosen a different title: Make the Bun, Buy the Hot Dog. What she went through to make hot dogs leaves me all the more glad that Oscar Mayer now has a nitrate/nitrite-free hot dog that is delicious.
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is much more than a recipe book. For each entry, you get a story (often funny), a recipe, a difficulty rating, a cost comparison, and a "make it or buy it" recommendation. Sometimes the answer is "both." There's nothing like homemade mayonnaise, for example, but "Hellmann's has its place."
Maybe my favorite quote:
"Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself," Michael Pollan writes in Food Rules. ... "Chances are good it won't be every day."
Oh Michael Pollan, you underestimate me.
Finally, a longish quote from the Afterward, which sums things up well:
It's empowering to know I can cure bacon, brew vanilla, age Camembert, extract honey from a hive, and behead a chicken, even if I have no desire to do at least one of those things ever again. Even if, in the end, I spent more money than I saved. (A few costly projects like the chickens and the bees ate up all the savings of from scratch cooking.) Big food companies flatter us by telling us how busy we are and they simultaneously convince us that we are helpless. I am moderately busy, but not all that helpless. Neither are you. Everything I did in the course of my scratch-cooking era—with the possible exceptions of eviscerating poultry and stuffing hot dogs—was very, very easy. [She must have blocked out the experience of making croissants: "unbelievable hassle," though she still recommends making them, unless you live near a good French bakery.]
But the more helpless we feel, the lower those food companies move the bar of our expectations, and the bar is now very low at your local supermarket. Trust me. I have eaten my way through mine. It makes me quite furious when I think about the sicketating powdered hollandaise sauce, the extortionate price of the vanilla extracts, the pathetic bread, the soups sweetened with corn syrup, the abomination of Pillsbury "creamy vanilla" canned frosting that contains neither cream nor vanilla. It upsets me that we pay as much for these foods as we do.
Almost everything is better when it's homemade. While this may have started out as opinion (though I'm not sure it did), I would now state it confidently as fact. Almost everything. But not everything. Which makes me inordinately happy. Because I think it's reassuring that you can walk into a supermarket and buy a bag of potato chips and a tub of rice pudding that are better than anything you can make at home. I wish there were more foods like that. I really don't want to spend my life standing over a stove, muttering about the evils of ConAgra and trans fats. It seems a tragic waste to shape one's life around doctrinaire rejection of industrial food. Which means, I suppose, both insisting on high standards most of the time and then, sometimes, relaxing them.
Jennifer Reese has a blog, The Tipsy Baker. I haven't read much yet, but I'm sure I'll find it clear, informative, and funny.
Speculoos à Tartiner, in its American incarnation as Biscoff Spread, is now available at many stores here and around the country. Trader Joe's even has its own version, which I will be able to sample and compare because we are finally getting our own Trader Joe's! You can even buy Speculoos in tiny Hillsborough, New Hampshire—which also needs a Trader Joe's, but we'll take one step at a time.
The exploding popularity of this heavenly spread was featured in the Orlando Sentinel yesterday. I don't know what goes into the decisions involving placement of articles and advertisements on the page, but surely this could be no coincidence:
On the bright side, all this publicity may dampen the TSA's suspicious attitude, although there is now less reason to transport it in my luggage.
It's no secret that I like Michael Pollan's food books, and I'm fifth in line for his latest, Cooked, at our library. In the meantime, here's a chance to hear Pollan speak on the nutritional value of home cooking. (H/T DSTB) I'm sorry I can't embed the interview; you'll have to click on the link to hear it. Here are some quick excerpts:
Why don't people cook at home anymore? Skills have been lost over the last two generations, and people are intimidated by culture of cooking they see on television.
Time is not a valid issue: "people make time for things they've decided are important."
Neither is demographics: "poor women who cook have better diets than wealthy women who don't."
"Built into the very nature of cooking at home is a curb on consuming the worst possible food."
The best diet for an American today? Pollan, quoting a marketing researcher in the food industry itself: "Eat anything you want, as long as you cook it yourself."
Pollan's final recommendation leaves me scratching my head, however: Cook at home, and get soda out of your house, and obesity is taken care of.
It sounds great, but reminds me of the facile advice I heard years ago that an easy way to gain more time is to cut down on television viewing, or that you can save a lot of money by quitting the smoking habit. What if you don't smoke and don't watch TV and still find yourself short of time and money? What if you already cook at home and don't drink soda?
Having watched the documentary on GMO foods, which reveals that those in charge of food safety in this country have treated with scorn the simple request that products made with genetically modified organisms be labelled as such, I have little faith that the Food and Drug Administration will not grant the request of the dairy industry to to alter the definition of "milk" to include chemical sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose without putting "Low Calorie" or "Reduced Calorie" on the label. The artificial sweeteners would still be included in the ingredient list on the packaging, but the main label, that which most people read, would give no hint that the product was artificially sweetened.
I say that even "low calorie" is disingenuous. "Artificially Sweetened" or "Contains Sucralose" (Aspartame, whatever) ought to be in large, bold print on the package. Once upon a time, "no sugar added" was synonymous with "unsweetened." Now we must drill down to the small-print ingredient list to find out this important information, and more than once I've been caught and ended up at home with a useless product. It is as if the surgeon general's warnings were printed on the inside of cigarette packages.
In the spirit of Fruitless Fall, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Food, Inc., Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, and similar stories about problems in our food supply, I present Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of our Lives (H/T DSTB).
I'm always a bit skeptical of one-sided documentaries, especially of the scary and countercultural kind. But this look at the unforeseen consequences of the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms into our diet, environment, and social structure is well-done and contains much food for thought, including the rise of herbicide resistance, decreasing yield, suppression of academic freedom, and the devastation visited on third-world farmers. I had to watch in bits and snatches because the film is an hour and 25 minutes long, but I found it well worth the time invested.
Here's hoping my nephew will accede to the suggestion that he take on, as a school project, a balanced investigation of both sides of these claims. If he does, and gives his permission, I'll report the results here.