Wednesday, July 31, 2013


As Corn-Free July comes to a close, I want to touch briefly on a subject I've run screaming from since I started this project, but deserves some discussion. As we know, everybody eats corn: people, cows, dogs, cats, fish, pigs, chickens, you name it. It's appalling how many different ways corn gets sneaked into our food, both directly and indirectly. But someone else eats corn, too: cars.

Your average Mobile station in the U.S is serving up a gasoline cocktail that's actually 10% ethyl alcohol derived from the same exact Midwestern corn farms that source our Pop Tarts and cheese burgers.

I haven't talked much about the ethanol issue in the past because it comes with a whole different set of baggage than the food issue does. There's really no "pro" argument to speak of in defense of the way our processed food is sourced. It's unhealthy and it can't be sustained.

Our cars' food though...that's a little bit of a different issue. Plant-based fuels burn more cleanly than petroleum based fuels, and they cut down on the need for drilling oil, two huge environmental concerns. Not to mention that whole Middle East thing.

But then there's the issue of how much fossil fuel is needed to grow the corn in the first place. Some numbers suggest it's actually more than we save. And runoff from pesticides end up polluting the water supply. So are we really coming up in the black on the environmental issue or not?

There's also the concern that we're literally burning food. "I know there are people starving, but I really needed to put that corn in my gas tank so I could drive to Starbucks" isn't a particularly compelling argument.

I'm not sure where I stand on this issue. I don't have enough of the facts. What I do know is that in July I drove my car 661 miles.

661 miles at my Forester's average of 25 miles per gallon means I used 26.4 total gallons of gas. If 10% of that was ethanol, then that means a little over 2.6 gallons of ethanol. It takes about an acre of corn to produce 50 gallons of ethanol, which means that not including fuel for buses and other modes of transportation that I used, and various other non-food items like charcoal and plastic bags, I'm responsible for 2,178 square feet of corn this month.

That's a corn field twice the size of my apartment. Just this month. Just in fuel.

I have no agenda with this post. I have no idea how many acres of corn the average American uses in a month. It just seems like an awfully big number.

What does that number mean, you guys? Should I ignore it? Should I do more research? Do I need to take the project to the next level for 2014 and stop driving as well? Where do you stand on the crop as motor fuel issue?

As always, thank you for reading. To check my statistics on the back end and see that even one more person has found this site is a feeling that I hope never loses its thrill.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Life Alive: Fast is the New Slow?

For my first and only dinner out this July, I went to Life Alive, an organic cafe in Cambridge. I was with two friends who had come up from Rhode Island just to have dinner with me, and this fact combined with the memory of so many really exceptional homemade meals that I've had this month, and the strong recommendations from three separate people, set the bar high.

Luckily, the food was great. I mean, it was great. And there wasn’t anything mysterious about it. It was all fairly straight-forward, and almost all the entrées were built around the basic principle of vegetables and sauce on a bed of grain. Nothing revolutionary here, but it tasted so good. The best way I can think to describe it is that is tasted like food. They say you can tell the difference between organic and conventionally raised crops just by the taste, and in this case, I think that theory is absolutely correct. The bold yet simple flavor of every single thing on my plate stood out in every bite in a way that reminded me how simple and yet difficult it is to just make good food using good ingredients. My entrée was “The Lover,” a bowl full of shiitake mushrooms, carrots, beets, broccoli, and dark greens served over brown rice.  The textures balanced extremely well; the mushrooms and beets were soft, the dark greens (kale, I think) were crunchy, and the rice and carrots were somewhere in the middle. The dish was served in a ginger-lemon-garlic kind of sauce, so there was also a great combination of sweet, tart, and savory in every bite.

Maria got “The Rebel,” featuring carrots, beets, broccoli, dark greens, and sprouted legumes over quinoa & brown rice in sesame ginger sauce.

Mark chose “The Goddess,” (yes, the dishes all have names like that) with carrots, beets, broccoli greens, and legumes over brown rice. The added avocado made the dish a little more savory and filling.

What wasn't so great, though, was the service and overall ambience at Life Alive. It's less "restaurant" and more "coffee and sandwich shop." This isn't really what any of us were expecting or wanted.

Since becoming a....God I hate the word "foodie," don't you? I've gotten very persnickety about where I eat. I’ve adopted the experience of eating almost as a crusade. Food tastes better to me when I’ve had fun cooking it.

In much the same way that some concerts or other events will plant trees to offset the amount of carbon they used, I want to spend hours at a time savoring everything about the experience of food to offset all the occasions when I’ve barely noticed the flavor of Chinese takeout while my mind was on something else. And the next best thing to having fun cooking a meal is relaxing at a table with a drink while you peruse the menu.

But Life Alive is one of those places where you stand in line to order and then go find yourself a table. Now, I was with friends. We were talking about the menu and debating what we should get, it would have been a pleasant enough experience had it not been for the Saturday night bustle of people constantly coming and going in an aisle that was too small. It made for a constant feeling of having to be aware of your surroundings in case you’d have to move out of the way quickly. Not to mention that, although the menu encouraged customers to "Talk to us about your cravings and questions and if you're curious as to why you feel so great eating our food!" the place was just way too busy for this to be possible. It was all I could do to make sure the cashier had heard my order correctly before she made it clear she was done with me by answering the phone.

Once we found a table, things got much more relaxed. The hard part was done; we just had to wait for the server to come find us. At least we didn't have to wait to hear our numbers called like you do in some places. The eating experience was actually quite nice. And now I know that there is a place where you can grab a quick lunch to go that's healthy, organic, local, ecologically responsible, all the things I find important in a meal. In fact, the menu boasts that,

"We know you no longer want to compromise between whole food goodness
and fast food convenience, so we have devoted ourselves to making nourishing
& delicious "slow" food convenient and full of pleasure."

This had me scratching my head just a little bit. Do I really no longer want to compromise? Is quick, convenient, quality food really a good thing or is it an oxymoron that misses its own point, like microwave dinners from Whole Foods? Am I just being disagreeable, or is there a deeper, more tangible level on which your stress level correlates to the amount of physical nourishment you get? What does Woody Allen think?

What about you? Are there places like this in your area? Do you see this becoming a trend? Take the poll!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Summer French Toast

French toast can be a great weekend breakfast. It takes relatively little skill and effort compared to, say, an omelette, but is still more substantial than something you'd wolf down on the way to work. During this alarmingly warm summer, though, anything that involves the stove has a tendency to seem unappetizing. A garnish of fresh fruit and a subtle infusion of coconut oil will cool you right down and remind you of the fun parts of the season.


- 2 pieces sourdough bread, preferably from a bag that has been open a few days and is just on the verge of starting to go stale (Make sure you read the ingredients!)
- 1 free-range egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- pinch cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
- handful raspberries
- maple syrup to taste


1. Coat a frying pan with cooking oil and place over medium heat.
2. Whisk egg, water, cinnamon, and coconut oil in a wide, shallow bowl until well blended
3. Coat each piece of bread thoroughly with egg mixture and place in the frying pan.
4. Fry bread slices for about 3 minutes on each side, until egg is thoroughly cooked.
5. Serve hot with berries and maple syrup.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Guest Post: Corn Free July Simplified

The following guest post is courtesy of my mother: teacher, author, and gardener Judith Manzoni Ward. Find her on Facebook or read her previous guest posts about losing weight on the corn-free diet and joining a CSA.

     I used to think that reading food labels in the grocery store was strictly for pretentious weirdoes. Then, along came Corn Free July, which, by necessity, plunked me right into the midst of the most avid label readers.  Surprisingly enough, it’s not a bad place to be.  A lot can be learned from the brief text printed on the side of a can or package.  I never knew that graham crackers can contain, along with “whole grains,” a couple of corn derivatives mixed in with all the other additives.  Even canned tomatoes, (except for Pomi in a box,) are enhanced with citric acid, which is commonly produced in industry with (you guessed it!) corn sugars. These sneaky semi-chemicals in my favorite foods made Corn Free July too much of a challenge last year, and I gave up after two weeks.
     This year, I’ve stopped the lazy nonsense and started paying attention to a term that I used to consider too trendy for my blood: Whole Foods.  It turns out that the whole foods catch phrase is catchy because it simply means what it says: food that is whole, sort of like an element as opposed to a compound.  I figured that if I stuck to elements for a month, maybe Corn Free July wouldn’t be so intimidating.
     It helps that July is a fine month for growing edibles.  Squash and green beans are at their peak in the backyard garden I share with numerous wild animals, and cabbage, beets, early kale, boc choi, spinach, onions, berries, and even kohlrabi are showing up in more than adequate quantities in my CSA bin every week.  These are all “whole” and corn free, at least until on-the-cob ripens.  Each of these can be cooked on its own with Irish butter from grass-fed cows, or can be combined into homemade corn free compounds and served with grass-fed beef, or free range chicken, or wild caught seafood.  Lots of times, meat can be skipped altogether, letting the rich flavors of vegetables stand up for themselves. Just the other evening, I was bowled over by the taste and texture of a simple boiled potato, mashed with only black pepper, and served without butter.  This revelation came to pass as I searched for a substitute for the richness of a dessert; it worked well (for now.)  Also, when I get sick of the beauty of boiled potatoes, there is always the newest addition to the Corn Free Cookbook: chocolate cupcakes!!  This is getting easier and easier.
     Breakfast foods can be a little problem if you’re used to eggs and bacon and toast.  I’d skip the bacon, but organic free-range chicken eggs can be found if you look around, and Ezekial bread makes a delicious and nourishing piece of toast.  For snacks, I like organic whole grain rice cakes or any kind of fruit and nuts that can be mixed with a little honey or maple syrup if you just have to have a sweet. 
     That’s about it; three weeks and counting into July.  I’ve experienced little or no suffering so far, and it seems possible, maybe even probable, that the rest of the year might turn my diet into “corn-limited,” if not altogether corn free.  After all, life without an occasional graham cracker or store-bought ice cream cone wouldn’t be so very cheery; or would it?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chocolate Cupcakes

I recently found a really fantastic recipe for chocolate cupcakes in an unexpected place: a spice catalog.

Penzey's Spices in Arlington, Massachusetts, in addition to selling what I've heard multiple people say are the best quality spice around, give out catalogs with recipes that feature their products. I still wouldn't have expected to find a recipe for chocolate cake, but apparently Penzey's deals in things like vanilla extract and cocoa powder as well. The following recipe is my own de-cornified version.

These cupcakes have a dense, moist consistency. The light, airy, and not-too-sweet frosting is a great balance against the richness.

Ingredients for the Cake:

- 2 cups flour of your choice (I used 1 1/2 cups all-purpose and 1/2 potato flour, which adds moisture and Vitamin B, and cuts down on the gluten.)
- 1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
- dash salt
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1 3/4 cups white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 3/4 cup cocoa powder (but check the ingredients list for icky stuff. Penzey's and Ghirardelli are two corn-free options)
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3 "free range, " "pasture raised," or "humanely raised" eggs.
- 1/2 cup water

Ingredients for the Frosting:

- 1 cup grass-fed whipping cream (I like Organic Valley brand, available at Whole Foods)
- 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon starch such as potato or tapioca.
(The recipe calls for powdered sugar, which usually contains corn starch. You can make your own with regular sugar and a substitute starch, but if don't feel like buying a whole bag of starch just to use 1/2 teaspoon, it's totally fine to just omit that ingredient.)


1. Preheat over to 375. Grease two cupcake trays or line with papers.
2. In a large bowl, sift together flour(s), baking soda, and cream of tartar.
3. Combine dry ingredients with salt, oil, sugar, baking powder, cocoa powder, and the first 3/4 cup of water.
4. Add vanilla, eggs, and the other 1/2 cup of water. Beat until creamy and smooth.
5. Fill each well about 2/3 of the way, and then bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cupcakes feel springy, and a toothpick comes out clean.
6. Combine frosting ingredients in a bowl. If you've never made your own whipped cream before, this is the fun part. It's easiest if you have an electric mixer, but if you don't, a whisk will also do the trick. Just beat on high or stir as rapidly as you can until your frosting magically takes on a fluffy, spreadable consistency. It happens more quickly than you might think, so make sure you quit while you're ahead, unless you want to end up with butter.
7. Wait until the cupcakes cool to frost and enjoy.

Yield: 2 dozen

Thursday, July 11, 2013

New Hampshire: Live (Corn) Free or Die

Pine Beach Resort (not its real name) in New Hampshire hasn't changed much in the three generations that my father's family has been vacationing there. This past weekend, on my first trip to the place, I saw many things that didn't belong to 2013: children wandering around unsupervised, dress codes at dinner, entire buildings without a television or WiFi access. The whole establishment runs on nostalgia, and for the most part, the past that it resurrects is a good one.

And then there's the food.

When I asked our waiter (a local high school student who had clearly been in the workforce exactly three weeks) what the vegetables were fried in, he told me it was margarine. Because apparently, and I honestly did not think this was true, they still make margarine!

You can even put it on toast! America!

Even the sub-par food, though, was all part of the fun. Like a relative who tells the same tacky jokes year in and year out, the Resort, in the end, proves enjoyable in spite of itself.

"Hearts of Iceburg"

By Corn Free July rules, I had to order this gem without dressing, which was only disappointing until I saw the dollop of what looked suspiciously like mayonnaise that arrived slathered on my uncle's, um, "salad."

Scrod and boiled potato

Presentation is everything at Pine Beach. The deliberate choice of serving the potato without a garnish is just so minimalist, allowing nothing to cloud its bold, starchy flavor. Remember: they made us dress up for this.

The menu called this "peaches." Plural.
This dessert wins the presentation contest hands down. I honestly expected them to at least slice it, and before you say "but I bet that course at least had some flavor," rest assured that it was not ripe.

Fruits and vegetables a la carte continued to be the main staple of my Pine Beach diet, supplemented heavily by the trail mix I had brought from home. Bland flavors and boring presentation for the most part, with the one exception of a half-way decent vegetable soup on one of the lunch menus:

OK so maybe the oil film doesn't make it all that photogenic.

I was overjoyed to find this. Until:

You just can't win.

So that's my vacation story. How have your healthful eating goals stood up to summer festivities? Any particularly egregious foodie nightmares? Let me know in the comments section!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How to Shop a Farmers' Market

This post was originally published at

Shopping a farmers’ market is an art form not to be taken lightly. It’s a different world from that of most other shopping experiences, and requires a whole different approach if you’re going to get the most out of it. Things aren’t arranged by what they are, but by who makes them. And there’s no one running around that you can ask for a particular item who will say “Oh yeah that’s in aisle 5.” The layout of a farmers’ market demands a little more right-brained thinking than your average trip to Stop & Shop. But for all that it’s also less stressful and time consuming if you know how to do it right. Here are a few pointers:

1. Make a List
Actually, make two lists. I’m an if-it’s-not-written-down-I’ll-forget-it kind of gal, but if you prefer to do this in your head, go for it. The first list is Stuff I’m Running Out Of. You know, like toothpaste, and milk. Some of this will be more likely to be found at the market than others, obviously, but it’s good to keep the whole list in mind, because you never know.
The second list is what your week looks like. Are you gonna be pretty busy, or have more free time? Are you having people over for dinner? Going to a party? Will you need to pack lunches for work? Take a brief look at your calendar and make a rough assessment of what days you’ll have time to cook and what days you’d rather heat up leftovers. Is there a gift occasion coming up for someone in your life? Birthday? Housewarming? That kind of thing?

2: Make a Pass
There are very often two or more vendors selling similar products, so you want to assess the situation before you make any commitments. If you’re looking for, say, lettuce, you’re likely to find about twelve different varieties, so do a little comparison of prices and levels of freshness before you make your decision. And remember: the person who grew it is right there, so ask them the questions that are important to you: What’s the different between red lettuce and green? Does your farm use pesticides? How long is this vegetable in season? Will I be able to get it next week?

3: Match Up Your Information With Your Lists
Is there a particularly tempting cut of meat anywhere? Great. Build a meal around that and think about vegetables you saw on your first pass that would go well with it. Some vendors will bring recipe cards with them. If one looks interesting, see how many of those ingredients you can get while you’re here.
How many items from your Stuff I’m Running Out Of list can you check off? You might be surprised. You’re almost certain to find some great sandwich bread if you can learn to live with slicing it yourself. Depending on the size and scope of the market, you may even be able to pick up pantry staples like pasta, jam, and honey.
What kinds of non-grocery vendors are there? A lot of times you’ll see hand-crafted jewelry, soaps, or chocolates. These make great gifts.

And finally- the fun part- what impulse purchases do you just have to make? That scone that you’re going to enjoy on the walk home? The strawberries that look so good you’re gonna have to bake a cheesecake just so you can put them on top? Go for it! Just remember to keep track of how much you’re spending. Five or ten bucks at each table doesn’t seem like much until you realize all the money in your wallet is gone.

Once you’re done at the farmers market, you can fill in the holes on the rest of your list at the supermarket or drug store, and that should be easy with the week’s menu roughly planned out. Just remember not to ask the clerk at CVS whether the tomatoes in the Campell’s soup are freshly picked.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Blog and Tweet Boston Event at Cocoanuts

Corn Free July is in full swing and some of the toughest things to get my hands on are desserts. In theory that's a good thing, what with dessert being bad for you and all, but come on.

Luckily for me, I was recently invited by the lovely ladies at Blog and Tweet Boston to attend a complimentary event at Cocoanuts, an adorable, tiny snack and dessert shop in Boston's famously delicious North End. The event was hosted by co-owner Tara Shea, who had laid out some beautiful plates for us to sample. The displays made for great photo opportunities, and also great suggestions for how to present a spread when hosting at our own homes.

The mango in between bites of dark chocolate really balanced things nicely.
Featured on the plate are Yes Chocolates, handcrafted in Walpole, Massachusetts. Personally, I love a chocolate bar with some nuts and dried fruit involved for texture. These were made from high quality chocolate, but not overly sweet. I'm a big fan. The dried fruits you see on the plate next to the chocolate bar are Danielle Mango Chips, a crispy/puffy snack that tastes kind of like what a Cheeze Doodle might taste like if it didn't taste like the inside of a vending machine.

We were also treated to several selections of cookies form Lark Fine Foods in Essex, MA. These are not corn-free, but only because of the eggs and dairy involved. Happily, Cocoanuts sells Lark cookie mixes, which you can adjust with grass-fed dairy products and free range eggs to be corn free, or veganize by getting creative with oils and nut milks!

Baking it yourself is more fun, anyway.
We also got to taste bars from Antidote Chocolate, an aptly named labor of love infused with healing herbs and sweetened with organic, raw cane sugar.

After sampling everything, I browsed the shop for a bit and was pleased to find, among other things, Taza Cacoa Nibs on the shelf. The Taza Factory is about half a mile from where I live, and it was nice to see my side of the Charles River being represented in the fancy pants North End.

Don't be afraid to tour the factory. The folks are quirky, but more Gene Wilder than Johnny Depp.
A treat from Cocoanuts is a great option as a stop during a day trip to Boston, a dessert location after dinner in the neighborhood, or just a place to stock up on great gifts or snacks for entertaining.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

Well, here we are again. The third Corn Free July is officially under way. I got off to a good start this morning with a cup of black tea and a smoothie. I've been really enjoying smoothies lately. If you're like me and aren't hungry when you first wake up, only to arrive at work starving and with no time, smoothies are a good way to get some nourishment in beverage form. Here's the recipe for the one I had this morning:


1 banana, cut into 1" thick slices
2 tablespoons wheat germ
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup frozen strawberries, chopped


Pulse all the ingredients in a blender or food processor for about 30 seconds, then scrape the sides to make sure everything is getting blended, and blend for another 30 seconds or so. Pour and serve immediately. That's it!

Happy Corn Free July everyone!