Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Organic Corn Syrup

I was in the sweetener aisle of Whole Foods the other day looking for maple syrup and I stumbled on something funny: organic corn syrup. It claimed to not be made with GMOs.

I kind of wanted to throw up my hands and stop trying to eat healthy altogether. In a world with ambiguities like this, how can anybody win? Organic corn syrup? I'm pretty sure I've used that exact phrase to explain to someone what an oxymoron is. What are you trying to pull, Whole Foods? It's not April Fool's Day!

And then I thought about it. You can break down pretty much any type of plant into a sugar in a more or less "natural" or "organic" way. That's the argument against the health benefits of fruit juices, and it's also the argument the Corn Refiners Association has been trying to shove down our throats for years.

So what's the difference between the innocent sounding "organic corn syrup" and the Orwellian acronym "HFCS?" As far as I can figure out, (and that's a big caveat, so, ya know, take it with a grain of non-iodized sea salt.) high fructose corn syrup, on top of being grown irresponsibly, fed to animals who can't digest it, and put in way too many food products than could ever make sense, is also messed with in a lab to give it more fructose that it naturally has, which makes it sweeter and less viscous, which makes it easier to put in Twinkies and graham crackers and Special K. Oh and did I mention it makes it even sweeter?

But even without all that, corn syrup is a simple sugar. It's not what you call a whole food. (Not in lower-case letters anyway.) And like those stupid TV spots used to say, "it's fine in moderation." The question becomes, what's moderation?

Health food is starting to go mainstream, and Whole Foods is right there to provide the demand for the supply, with its organic corn syrup and its Annie's mac'n'cheese and its vegan frozen pizzas. Is this kind of "health food" the new Diet Coke? Tricking us into thinking it's OK when it's really just more of the same? Would none of this be an issue if we were capable of pacing ourselves and truly moderating how much sugar we ingest?  Or does Michael Pollan's food rule "don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize" come a few generations too late? Should we not be eating processed foods at all? There is that so-called Paleo movement where people try to live like cavemen, running around barefoot and eating raw meat and stuff. How extreme should we get with this?

But back to the organic corn syrup. 'Tis the season to indulge, and if I could find a way to justify baking with this, it would open up a whole new world. I could make my own caramel! I could make those little chocolate turtle things!

How about you? Do you bake with corn syrup? If not, what's your sweetener of choice? More importantly, how do you define "moderation," and how do you reign in your sweet tooth during the overly commercialized overly indulgent stress-packed joyful weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Apple Cider Bread

I was first introduced to the concept of apple cider bread a few weeks ago when a loaf of it found its way from the local deli to the break area at work. Somewhere between snack and dessert (and OK I'll admit it; I've had it for breakfast),  this is one of those dense, moist breads that could no doubt easily and deliciously transfer into muffin form.

I carry the curse of the label reader, though, and by the eleventh unpronounceable item on the list, I realized that despite the innocent clear plastic wrap and the cutesy little sticker trying hard to sounds like someone's actual grandmother rather than a brand name, this was just another edible food-like substance. It was a shame though. It really was good.

Deconstructing the apple cider bread and rebuilding it with natural ingredients proved a challenge in an unexpected way: all the really out there sounding stuff I decided were probably just preservatives and could be omitted altogether. What really got me was the vagueness of the ingredients. Things like "spices," "sweeteners," "flavoring," and "leavening." How does that count as an ingredients list? Why don't they want me to know what's in their bread? Is it because it's Grandma's Super Secret Recipe that's been passed down for generations, or is it just because it's made with whatever's cheapest on the market that day?

I think I just answered my own question. Anyway, here's my take on a great dessert bread with a New England touch. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Let me know what you're eating this week in the comments section!


1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter, melted
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups apple cider


1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease the bottom and sides of a loaf pan.
2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon in a small bowl.
3. In a large bowl, mix together butter and sugar, then add eggs one at time, followed by maple syrup, vanilla extract, and cider. Blend well.
4. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until the mixture has a smooth but slightly viscous consistency, a little thicker than cake batter.
4. Bake for about 45 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
5. Let cool and then gently detach the cake from the edges of the pan with a knife. Flip it over onto a plate, then reflip to serve.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

GMO Labeling Proposition Loses California Vote

Call me an idealist, but I was genuinely surprised when Proposition 37 failed to pass on November 6th. An item on the California ballot, it would have mandated the labeling of grocery items that contained genetically modified organisms. Not banned them or taxed them or anything like that; just said that consumers deserve to know what they're consuming.

I thought that, as a species, our thirst for knowledge could overcome anything. I mean, we're a society that can't go two hours without checking the weather, the traffic, Kim Kardashian's Twitter feed, you name it. We're obsessed with up-to-date information on just about everything. So how did a majority of people at the polls in California of all places manage to take a look at that ballot and say, "Eh. I don't really want to know what I'm eating. Let's keep a little mystery alive?"

The answer to that question can pretty much be boiled down to money, as so many things can. Combined with a little disorganization and naivite on the part of the "Yes" campaign, the immense (some sources say up to $45 million!) amount of money spent by Monsanto, Coca-Cola, and a handful of the other usual suspects managed to buy enough negative advertising to swing things their way.

But if there's nothing wrong with GMOs, why bother? If you have $45 million to spend, why not spend it on publicizing how great GMOs are and how you should buy them even if they are labeled as such? Or better yet, they could spend that $45 million dollars on, I don't know, research proving that GMOs aren't bad for us. No matter what the truth is about these foods, it’s important to try to find the truth, and the fact that the companies that sell them are not only trying to hide the truth from consumers, but are actually going out of their way not to find out the truth for themselves is alarming.

But now for the good news: the proposition made it onto the ballot. It got talked about. It's in the public eye, at least somewhat. And yes, it was voted down, but it was voted down 53% to 47%. That's pretty darned close. And from what I've read in the aftermath of all this is that the pro-labeling campaign is learning from its mistakes, gearing up for similar fights in other states using a different marketing strategy and better consolidation of funding.

So what do you think? If you live in California, how did you vote on Proposition 37? Why did you choose the way you did? Those of you everywhere else, did you know it was on the ballot or is this the first you're hearing about it? How would you vote if something similar came up in your state? Let me know in the comments section, and while you mull over your response, enjoy this amazing sarcastic rap video explaining what you need to know about genetic alteration and our food.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Harvest Dinner

Remember my mom's guest post from the beginning of the summer about her first experience as a CSA member? Apparently she's been saving up a bunch of the spoils in the freezer, and last weekend when I was down in Connecticut we had what can only be described as a warm-up for Thanksgiving. In celebration of the end of the CSA run and the summer season it stands for, as well as two of my mother's friends' kitchen remodeling forcing them out of their home, we gathered around for a locally sourced and fall themed feast.
It got pretty crowded in the oven.
You know it's fancy if it's a two fork kind of night.
That's not corn on the left; I don't know what you're talking about.
Turkey, sweet potatoes, apple cider. I'd forgotten how delicious fall can be.
In true harvest fest fashion, overeating ensued, but it didn't stop anyone from indulging in dessert. This fruit crumble is at its best fresh from the oven with a little vanilla ice cream on top. Its also a good taste of something different to bust out at Thanksgiving dinner. You know, to vary things up a little if there are too many pies. Ours featured peaches, blueberries and raspberries, but use whatever you've got in your freezer from picking season!


5 cups fruit
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup grass-fed butter
1/4 cup chopped pecans


1. Put fruit in a 2 quart baking dish and stir in the maple syrup.
2. In a separate bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, spelt, and nutmeg.
3. Cut in the butter, so that the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
4. Stir in the nuts, and sprinkle topping over fruit.
5. Back at 375 for 35-40 minutes.