Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Corn-Free Re-Cap and Concluding Thoughts

Well, here we are. The day I was starting to think would never come. July 31st. All in all, year two has been a great success. I want to sincerely thank everyone for participating on whatever level you did, even if it was only reading along. For a starting blogger, every single time the site is viewed, it's a joy.

Some things I'm looking forward to starting tomorrow are spending under six dollars on a jar of tomato sauce, saying yes to offers of snacks, and of course saying goodbye to that accompanying feeling of being the party pooper with the diet restrictions. Allergy sufferers, I don't know how you do it.

But it wasn't as hard as it could have been. Or would have been even a few years ago. The world we live in is becoming more conscious of the importance of whole foods. Farmers markets, CSAs, and health food stores are more numerous every year, and more and more mainstream grocery stores are featuring organic and natural food sections.

The demand is there, and it will only grow as we start to see the negative effects of industrial agriculture more and more directly.

The only question left is whether sustainable food is really sustainable. There are some noisy objectors to the war on industrial agriculture, and they make some valid points, most notably about the space and time it would take to grow organically on a larger scale.

It's going to take a shift in priorities if it's going to work. I think we can all agree at the point that if we want to live in a world without factory farms, we're going to have to eat less meat, period. There simply isn't the grazing space for the 27 million head of beef cattle raised in the United States every year.

Another thing standing in the way, of course, is our dependence on convenience foods, and the lifestyle that drives it. If tomorrow, fast food restaurants (yes, that includes you, Starbucks) and microwave dinners disappeared, it would force a slow-down. We couldn't be running around from one errand to the next all the time. Eventually, we'd have to go home and cook something. I shudder to think about the ripple effects such a thing could have on our entire national identity.

What else would have to change in order for a healthier, more sustainable food system to really take hold? Do you think it can work? And if so, what are you doing to see that we get there?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Beef Tenderloin Picatta

For those of us who get just as much nourishment from a good book as we do from a good meal, it seems too good to be true that such a thing as The Book Lover's Cookbook by Shaunda Kennedy Wenger and Janet Jensen should exist, but it does. Each recipe in the book is introduced by a passage from a novel that features that dish. What a great idea, right? I won't admit which book inspired this particular recipe, since it's a guilty pleasure author, but I will admit that it's delicious. The recipe was originally for veal, but I had to improvise with what was available at the farmers market. Feel free to try a different protein and leave feedback in the comments sections.


- 1/2 pound beef tenderloin
1/4 cup unbleached flour
- dash ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 cup chopped mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon pasture-fed butter
- 10 ounces organic linguine, cooked


1. Pound the beef with a flat-surfaced mallet between 2 pieces of waxed paper until it's about 1/4 inch thick.
2. Combine the flour and pepper on a wide plate.  Dip the beef in the flour mixture and coat thoroughly.  Cook over medium heat in a frying pan with oil, about 5 minutes (beef should not fully cooked yet), then remove from the pan.
3. Leave beef drippings in the pan and add the wine and lemon juice.  Bring to a boil.  Stir the liquid until thickened.
4. Return beef to the pan, add mushrooms and 1 tablespoon butter.  Cover and simmer for about five minutes, until beef is cooked the desired amount.
5. Serve over linguine.

Serves 2-3.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why Shouldn't We Shop EVERY Aisle of the Supermarket?

One of the favorite rules of thumb for avoiding temptation at the grocery store is shopping around the perimeter; you know, sticking to the fresh produce and newly baked bread on the outer edges, and staying out of those aisles right in the middle where they keep the Oreos and Hamburger Helper.

Except that they're onto us. I'm not the first one to note that salad dressings heavy in fats, sweeteners, and all-around grossness have migrated to the edges of the supermarket where they live in harmony with the lettuce they accompany on your plate. There's no doubt that this is convenient. If you're looking to make a salad, you only need to shop in one aisle and you're done. No chance of forgetting anything.

This isn't a new technique, either. We see salsa and tortilla chips in the same aisle, even though they have few if any common ingredients. Spaghetti and tomato sauce, flour and chocolate chips.

How about lemons and seltzer water?

I get a lot of raised eyebrows when I assert that seltzer water is delicious. People think it's everything from boring to too bubbly to I don't even know what else. Personally, I think it's a great soda alternative. It's got that carbonated bite to stop regular water from being boring, without tasting too sweet or leaving that fuzzy coating on your teeth. And it comes in so many different flavors!

But if you want to get a little more nutrition out of sparkling water, and some real richness and authenticity to your flavoring, slice up some real fruit in there.

Not that that's something anyone's going to think to do in the grocery store. It's maddening enough to remember to get milk to go with your mac and cheese, and those non-food items that still have to be taken into account, like toothpaste.

But what if there were one of those darling little wooden boxes full of limes next to the seltzer water?

At my local grocery store, a twelve-pack of twelve-ounce cans of Coke goes for $5.69, and the same amount of Polar Seltzer is available for only $4.39. You can get three limes for a dollar. If each lime slices into four pieces, that's twelve lime seltzers with maybe even some naturally occurring Vitamin C thrown in for a few cents less than twelve Cokes.

What if supermarkets featured a recipe of the week in this way? It would have to start with local and/or health focused grocery stores of course, but what if they featured a recipe from a local restaurant, say, and grouped those ingredients together, along with recipe itself? Trader Joe's does something like this with its Fearless Flyer, a pamphlet every shopper can pick up on their way into the store that introduces some of their featured products and how to cook them in conjunction with each other. Trader Joe's also has a guacamole kit consisting of a pre-packaged grouping of all the ingredients you need to make the dip.

We've proven that in addition to lack of money and time, one of the big thing standing between the average American and healthy, home-cooked meals is a lack of knowledge. What if these subtle suggestions and shortcuts inspired people to try new recipes while making it more convenient for them to buy all the necessary ingredients? And tricking us into buying healthier food at the same time without even thinking about it? It would certainly keep sales high for the stores, just maybe not on the thing brand-name items that typically get the most marketing.  What do you think? Could this work? Do you frequent a grocery store that does something like this? What do you like about it?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sweet 'n' Crunchy Breakfast Bowl

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but who has the time to think about diet restrictions first thing in the morning? This tasty and light yet filling cereal alternative can be prepared in seconds, and it's vegan and gluten-free too!


1/3 cup raspberries
1/3 cup blueberries
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablesppon pure maple syrup

Mix ingredients together in a bowl to start off your day with vitamins, fiber, and lean protein!

Leave a comment if you find a new favorite
ingredient to add. This is the combination I like best, but I've also had it with almonds, cereal, granola, different kinds of fruit...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tacos That Almost Came Out Right

The casual polling I've done to find out what people just aren't willing to go without during Corn-Free July has yielded an almost unanimous response of tortillas or tortilla chips. After searching all the usual hook-ups for minimally processed ingredients to no avail, I realized I'd have to try to make them myself.  Luckily, there's a wide world of food blogs out there, and a tortilla recipe was just a Google search away.

Once I found the recipe, I for once not only read the entire thing through ahead of time, but actually bought all the ingredients a whole day in advance.  With all this planning ahead, there was no way anything could go wrong.

The following morning when I read the recipe (and my package of flour) a little more carefully and saw that I had whole wheat instead of white, I figured it was no big deal. When I realized too late that I'd used the wrong measuring spoon and added three times the baking soda I should have, I didn't want to waste all that flour it was already mixed in with. When I was straining my shoulders trying to roll the dough out ever thinner so that it at least approached the eight inch diameter that the recipe was supposed to have yielded, I said what I always say when work gets too frustrating, "I'll finish it after lunch."

Except that it was lunch. The Thai place on speed dial in my phone couldn't help me out of this. I mentally took stock of what was in the house as I tried in vain to get the dough to roll thinner without bunching in on itself. Corn-Free July, as you know if you're participating, takes a serious toll on the old bank account.  After deciding that I just couldn't eat cereal or spaghetti one more time this week, I found I'd exhausted my options.  So I kept rolling.  And eventually, the tortilla rolled out enough. Sort of.
This one came out looking like a heart!

In the end they were a little too thick, a little too gritty, and they just tasted...well...weird.  But I liked them anyway. Maybe because I felt pride in having made them, maybe just because I was so hungry by the time they were finally done.

The following recipe is adapted, very poorly, from Lisa Fain's blog Homesick Texan, and she in turn adapted it from The Border Cookbook by Cheryl and Bill Jamison.  Click over to one of these no-doubt great primary sources if you're chicken, but if you're up for an adventure, stay and read on.


2 cups all-purpose flour (If you absolutely can't face using all white flour, substitute one cup whole wheat flour, but not both. It get all gritty, and, no.  It just doesn't work.)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (That's the measuring spoon that says "1/2" on it.  If it looks bigger than the one just you just used for the cream of tartar, that should be a clue that it's the wrong one.)
2 teaspoons organic canola oil
3/4 cup Horizon Organics milk, warmed on the stove. (Don't forget that it's warming on the stove.)
1 organic tomato
1/2 green pepper
1/2 white onion
1/2 jalapeno pepper
juice from 1/2 lemon (Beware of citric acid in the bottled stuff.)
1 can black beans
1 bag Horizon Organics Monterey Jack cheese (This brand makes all kinds of grass-fed dairy products, and is available at Whole Foods.)
1/2 head of lettuce, shredded


1. Mix together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and oil in a large bowl.
2. End the debate with your roommate over whether the latest installment of 50 Shades of the Hunger Games at Twilight or whatever is worth a read.  No one is going to change anyone's opinion here.  It'll just make you lose focus on what you're trying to cook.
3. Add the milk and stir until a loose, sticky ball is formed.
4. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for at least twenty minutes.
5. While the dough is resting, make your salsa. Dice up the tomato, onion, and peppers. Put all these together in a bowl, then juice the lemon over the mixture, sprinkle with a dash of salt, mix together well, and let it sit.
6. Back to the dough: break into 8 sections, roll into balls, place on a plate (make sure they aren't touching each other), cover the plate with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let sit for at least ten minutes.  This part is what will get the dough to relax and roll out properly.
7. While dough is resting this time, heat up the black beans in a skillet with your favorite herbs and spices, then remove from heat and cover so they stay warm.
8. Sprinkle a hard surface with white flour and, one a time, pat each dough ball into a four-inch circle and then roll them out until they are eight inches in diameter. (If you don't own a rolling pin, an empty wine bottle will do the trick.)
9. In a skillet heated on high, cook each tortilla for about 30 seconds on each side. (Note: 30 seconds isn't very long. Just stand by the stove. Don't walk away and do something else.)
Or else this will happen.
10. Throw in your beans, cheese, lettuce and salsa.  Fold and try to enjoy.
Not too bad, right?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Stuffed Zucchini Boats

This is my own twist on a recipe I found in Claire's Corner Copia Cookbook, from Claire's Corner Copia, a vegetarian, sustainable restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut.


- The 2 largest zucchini you can find, ideally about 3 inches in diameter
- 1/4 cup safflower oil
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1/3 pound mushrooms, chopped
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, diced
- 4 cups cooked quinoa
- 1 teaspoon dried mint
- salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375.  
2. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds and some of the pulp.  
3. Heat the safflower oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
4. Add the onion and pepper.  Cook until onion starts to caramelize, stirring frequently.  

5. Add mushrooms and tomatoes; cook for another 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  

6. Add the quinoa, mint, salt, and pepper.  Stir to mix well.  Taste for seasoning.  

7. Spoon the mixture into the zucchini shells and place them in a baking pan.  

8. Pour 1 cup of water into baking pan and cover tightly with tin foil.  

9. Bake for about 75 minutes, until zucchini are tender when pierced with a fork.

Makes 4 servings

Monday, July 9, 2012

Guest Post: CSA Membership

This week, my mother, whose writing you may remember from her guest post last fall, tells us a little about her share in a Community Supported Agriculture program with Bishop's Orchards in Guilford, CT.


  How long has it been since you’ve really looked at a cabbage?  Carved a rose from a radish?  Cooked a spinach quesadilla?  These are just a hint of the pleasures to be found in CSA membership.  The obvious ones, of course, come from the taste and nutritional value of vegetables and fruits that are so fresh that they all but jump into your collection bag.  These bags, (or bins,) full of anticipated goodies and surprises, are like weekly Christmas stockings.  Most CSA farmers email a preview list three or four days before pick-up so that we don’t duplicate at the supermarket.  Nonetheless, the collection of a personal order still has that wonderful open-a-package thrill about it that is definitely a day booster.
     CSA membership gives a window into knowing, literally, what’s up, (in the garden, that is.) Here in New England, hardy snow peas, radishes, and greens like lettuce, spinach, and mustard come first. Since most CSA providers operate on a 20-week early summer to fall calendar, it makes for slim, or repetitious, pickin’s early on.  At first, be prepared for showers of snow peas and greens, beefed up with whatever else might be available…honey, homemade bread, or maybe a glossy food magazine to weigh down the container.  Before you know it, though, fruit ripens, cabbage matures, and the bag gets heavier.
     Speaking of cabbage, last week’s “special feature” was the Napa variety, a type of Chinese cabbage that looks shorter, fatter, and curlier that what is offered in the grocery store.  It was puzzling to see many people removing it from their own bags and tossing it into the “unwanted” bin.  Napa cabbage, if nothing else, is beautiful!  It also makes a terrific stir fry.  If cooked cabbage isn’t your favorite, Napa is great fun in a salad.  Don’t like the taste?  Stick it in a bowl of water and use it as a centerpiece!
     Even though I’ve never met a fresh vegetable that I would actually kick off my plate, I have to admit that last week’s English peas came close.  They were much too chubby for my taste; definitely not to be eaten raw; ‘way too floury (gag.)  Happily, a quick boil with a clove of garlic brought them to edible life…a little butter, and they were delightful! 
     Next week's "menu," just posted, lists first-of-the-season green and yellow squash, more English peas, cabbage, and lettuce, plus chard, hot house tomatoes, (minus the corn- and soy-based wax coating they might get in the supermarket,) and bread.  My half (or 2/3) share, costing $400 for 20 weeks, provides adequate vegetables for one or two people, but I do round it out here and there with my own garden produce when the chipmunks, raccoons, and deer leave something uneaten.  A full share is $600 for roughly twice the quantity.  Cost wise, CSA doesn't exactly save, but since the full amount is paid up front, every week seems like a gift. Aw, shucks, aren't fresh vegetable and fruits always a gift?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Chickpea Picatta

Adapted from a recipe from The Post Punk Kitchen, this much a delicious corn-free, vegan meal.


1 cup thinly sliced shallots
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
2 cups vegetable broth
1/3 cup dry white wine
black pepper to taste
1 generous pinch of dried thyme
1 16 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup capers with a little brine
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (beware of ascorbic acid in the bottled stuff)
4 cups arugula
6 small red or white potatoes
1 cup almond milk

1. Peel and slice potatoes, drop into a pot of boiling water until soft.

2. Preheat a large heavy bottomed pan over medium. Sauté the shallots and garlic for about 5 minutes, until golden. Add the breadcrumbs and toast them by stirring constantly for about 2 minutes. They should turn a few shades darker.

3. Add the vegetable broth and wine, salt, black pepper and thyme. Turn up heat and bring to a rolling boil and let the sauce reduce by 1/2, about 7 minutes.

4. When potatoes are ready, remove from heat and mash, adding olive oil and almond milk until desired texture is achieved.

5. Add the chickpeas and capers to shallots mix. Heat through, about three minutes. Add lemon and turn off the heat.

6. Place the arugula in a wide bowl. Place mashed potatoes on top, and ladle picatta over the potatoes.

serves 3

Monday, July 2, 2012

At Least We All Agree on the Facts...Or Do We?

"Did you know that only about 1 percent of the corn we grow is eaten as corn?  The rest works its way into our food supply in other ways, such as animal feed or sweetener, or is used for industrial purposes like making fuel for cars."
If you think the above quote might have come from Michael Pollan or Marion Nestle or someone else known for criticizing our country's agricultural system, you're in for an eyebrow raise.  It's from something called the "Fact Book" on the website of the Corn Famers Coalition.

It's bragging.

The Corn Famers Coaltion has been around since 2009 in an effort "to educate policy-makers in Washington about how tech-savvy, innovative farmers are growing more corn every year...while using fewer resources and protecting the environment." The website is peppered with Rockwell-esque pictures and anecdotes of fifth-generation family farmers who are just so passionate about growing the plants that feed our country.  The coalition sees it as a good thing that technology continues to raise the number of bushels per acre that a single farm can grow, and that it continues to create demand to meet the supply.

It felt like I was reading the story of a rag-tag band of ingenious heroes who used their intelligence and dedication to persevere in the face of adversity.  They saw that their farming techniques were just too good, that they were producing too much and so they went to work finding ways for their fellow hard-working, family-loving Americans to be nourished in more and more ways by this wonderful crop.

It doesn't address why, instead of just, I don't know, growing a different plant, they instead choose to put all this technology into creating spaces for corn where there previously weren't any. I mean, I like dessert as much as the next person, but does everything have to be sweetened?  Even salad dressing?  Even ketchup?

The Corn Farmers Coalition doesn't just take pride in how much corn they grow, but how good the quality is.  They applaud American ingenuity for perfecting the technique of cross-breeding corn plants in order to produce a harvest with desirable traits.

The issue of genetic modification is suspiciously missing from the twenty-four page Fact Book.

Of course, there are some "facts"- like that claim from the coalition's mission statement that it somehow protects the environment- which are debatable at best, but before I get to that in a later post, I want to hear from you: Is picking one thing we're really good at growing and putting it in everything really such a bad idea? Is proudly admitting to many of the things for which they've been criticized and putting them in a new light a brilliant marketing move on the part of the corn farmers?  What else would you like to ask the Corn Farmers Coalition if you could?