Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

What’s a Green Bean?

A funny thing happened at the grocery store this weekend.  Our cashier held up a bag of green beans and asked me what they were.  Really?  She may have only been a teenager, but she really didn’t know what green beans were?  I get it, some of those produce items can be more obscure, and it’s understandable that someone may need to ask for help.  For example, how many of you know what what Jicama looks like?  Or the difference between Collards, Kale or Mustard Greens?  Steve and I walked out both thinking the same thing, even Gavin knows what green beans are.   That’s when I realized that I think that I might be doing something right.

Grocery shopping with kids is not always a great experience, especially when your kids are no longer content to sit in the cart and people-watch.  Gavin is 3 now and Skylar is 17 months.  My usual approach is to put Skylar in the top of the cart and throw Gavin in the back.  As we get near the end of the shopping trip, that area gets smaller and smaller with our purchases and understandably, Gavin wants to get out and walk.  I usually let him.  In anticipation that this will happen, I try to plan shopping trips for times of day where there will be less people at the store.  Gavin is starting to listen pretty well and understands that he needs to stay close to me, but the urge to run down that open aisle is sometimes just too much to resist.  I try and keep him occupied by having him help me pick out food to buy.

He is especially excited to help in the produce section.  We buy a lot of fresh produce, especially in the summer months, and Gavin has developed some strong opinions on what we should put in our carts.  He never seems to like my picks for blueberries or bananas, but I have been successful in steering him in the right direction.   In the last couple of shopping trips, he has actually made requests for certain produce.  This past week, he was very upset that we did not buy any grapes, in the starting-to-cry upset kind of way.  It’s because of him that we got the green beans in the first place.  He thought that I forgot to get them.  He was also very particular about which heads of broccoli to bag.  I’ve been using his assistance in my produce selections purely to keep him occupied and close by me.  It’s hard to pick out the perfect potatoes when you have a 3 year old running towards the carrots, but it dawned on me that I’m offering an education of sorts that I never realized. 

He is learning about all the different types of fruits and veggies that are available.  He loves to ask what certain items are and wonders why we aren’t buying them.  Prior to this phase, we used the produce section to practice naming colors.  We also talk about preferences.  For example, it’s ok that Mommy only likes the red grapes, but it’s great that I’ve tried the other colors too. It’s because of Gavin’s curiosity that we bought a broccoflower a few weeks ago.  I do have to be careful because he likes to sample things before they are bought and washed.  A few weeks ago, I bent towards him to hear what he was saying to me and got a huge whiff of cilantro on his breath.  He was snacking on cilantro leaves!  (He also loves basil and mint.)  Most importantly, buying produce is a regular part of our shopping trip, and he is engaged and aware of these purchases on a weekly basis.  He is learning that fruits and vegetables are a standard and expected part of our diets.  Hopefully, these early lessons will not only teach my kids what the different produce items are but that it is the norm to include them in your weekly shopping trips.  Now, if only I could get Skylar to understand that the ear of corn needs to be cooked before she can eat it, everything would be perfect.


Do You Know Which Cow Your Milk Came From?

Unless you’re a dairy farmer, you probably don’t know. I don’t know either, but I do feel lucky that I can at least check out the cows that provide my milk.  I buy my milk from Merrymead Farm. It’s an adventure when I take the kids with me to buy milk.  You can walk around and check out a giant hog, some rabbits, donkeys, goats, peacocks, chickens and all the cows.  Sometimes the cows are out grazing in the field.  Sometimes they’re in the barn eating.  You can watch them line up to be milked.  You can even watch them during the milking process.   5 feet stands between you and your potential milk source.  If you’re lucky, they might even amble up to the window and moo at you. This scenario is more than enough for me to feel comfortable with how the cows are treated that produce my milk. 

All that aside, the real goal of any dairy farmer is to get his cows to produce as much milk as possible.  That can be accomplished with rBST injections, with painkillers do dull any discomfort, and unnatural diets that increase the amount of physiological issues requiring medication.  All bad methods, and yet common practices in the commercial production of milk.  Remember – rBST, painkillers, antibiotics all end up in your milk.  Research shows that cows will naturally produce more milk when they are happy and content.  I can’t even cite one source because there are so many out there.  I dare you to google it.  Any woman who has ever breastfed probably understands this fact.

Yesterday, I read an interesting and somewhat entertaining article about alternative approaches that some dairy farmers are taking to keep their cows happy, and they are seeing positive results.  Chiropractic sessions to avoid painkillers.  Water beds to take some of the pressure off their joints.  Misting in the barns to cool down the animals.  Even naming the cows can help them produce more milk. 

Cows may not be the smartest animal on the planet, but they too feel pain and discomfort.  They respond positively to human interaction and good treatment.  While I’m not suggesting that we all run out and find a dairy farm that gives its cows daily massages, but it can’t hurt to know what kind dairy farm is producing your milk.  A little education might change your mind about where to invest your milk money.

Making Italian Bread

It’s been a while since I posted any cooking ventures, so I thought that I would share a recipe for homemade Italian bread.  Bread making is easy as long as you follow the directions.   In most of my bread-making, I use All-Purpose flour and/or wheat flour.  For this recipe, I use bread flour.  Bread flour has a higher protein content than other flours, which is useful in bread-making because it creates longer and strong chains of gluten.  High gluten content helps to make bread that is airy and light.  Bread flour is bad for baking because it can make baked goods that are chewy and dense.  

Italian Bread

1 cup of hot water (between 100-110 degrees)
1 tablespoon of yeast (or 1 package of yeast)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
3 cups bread flour
1 tbsp butter, melted

Add the yeast to the hot water and let it sit for 5 minutes until foamy. Most hot water heaters are set to 120 degrees, so just letting your faucet heat up is sufficient for getting the correct temperature of water. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast. Too cool water will not trigger any yeast growth. Mix together remaining ingredients (except butter) and add yeast mixture when it is ready.

Once mixed turn on to a floured surface and begin kneading. Knead dough for about 10 minutes. The kneading process is what builds the gluten strands. If you cheat and knead for less time, your bread will be dense.

Once you’re finished kneading, you should have a ball of smooth dough. Put into an oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

After it has doubled, punch down the dough and turn it on to a floured surface. Cover the dough ball with the bowl and let it rest of 15 minutes. Then shape the dough ball into a 12″ baguette shape. Cover with a damp cloth and let it rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

After it has doubled in size again, melt 1 tbsp of butter and brush it on top of the loaf. Bake it for 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees until bread seems hollow when tapped.

My bread could have used a little more flour to hold its shape. When it rose the last time, it seemed to spread out rather than get higher.  Regardless, it was still light and flavorful and enjoyed by everyone in my family.  Bread making is interesting because the same recipe can turn out differently from one attempt to the next.  The most important thing to remember is to knead, knead, and knead your dough.  The first couple of times of kneading for 10 minutes can seem like forever, but it is crucial to make light and airy breads. Enjoy!

All I Want is Fish for Dinner

We’ve all heard about avoiding certain types of seafood because they contain high levels mercury, but there are several other reasons to avoid certain seafood as well. This information makes seafood buying complicated and consuming, especially since most of the products that we shouldn’t eat is what is sold in the typical grocery store.  Here is an interesting link to describe what fish we should avoid in detail. I’m highlighting my favorites.



Imported Shrimp – Imported shrimp are typically farmed shrimp where their growing environment is very dirty. They contain antibiotics to fight diseases and parasites, chemicals that were used to clean their pens, and even mouse and rat hair. Yuck. Eat domestic shrimp instead.
Atlantic Flatfish (includes flounder, sole, and halibut – one of my favorites!) – Avoid these fishes because they are so extremely over-harvested that some only have 1% of the population needed to support sustainable long-term fishing. A good substitute is Pacific Halibut.
Atlantic Salmon – Wild caught numbers are too low! Fish farms are crowded making them ideal conditions for diseases which require antibiotics to keep the fish healthy. Opt for Wild Alaskan Salmon.
Orange Roughy – Very high in mercury but more importantly, it can take 20-40 years for these fish to reproduce! This fact makes it impossible to sustainably harvest even though some Orange Roughy is sold with that label. Even Red Lobster  won’t sell it.
Chilean Sea Bass – This fish which almost always seems to be a special at your favorite restaurants has the same fate as the Orange Roughy. It reproduces late in life and most of what is sold in the US has been illegally caught. Greenpeace has reported that if people don’t stop consuming this fish, it could be commercially extinct in 5 years.

What can you do to make sure you are consuming healthy, sustainable seafood? Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch has a helpful, printable list that you can take with you grocery shopping to help you make good choices. Shop at Trader Joe’s , Whole Foods or Wegman’s who have all made a commitment to selling fish from sustainable sources. If you’re still unsure, ask where the seafood came from. If you’re grocery store can’t answer that question, why would you want to eat it in the first place?

Any other tips, please share.  This topic is new for me and the guidelines are so extensive that I feel like I’m navigating tricky waters (no pun intended!).

It’s Still Zucchini Season!

Living by the rule that you should always buy what is in season and local, I bought even more zucchini and yellow squash last week.  Many people think that zucchini is only good for one thing – zucchini bread.  This notion always makes me laugh because it is probably one of the most popular garden vegetables in my region, and people struggle with what to do with it. It is easy to grow and the yield is huge.  Plus, the deer don’t seem to like it.  Zucchini is very versatile.  It doesn’t have an overpowering flavor so it can be used in a multitude of dishes.  I prefer zucchini shredded or thinly sliced.  It has a lot of water in it, and that water leaks out during cooking and continues even after you’re finished.  The smaller the pieces the more water that you can eliminate during the cooking process.

 One nice thing about being stuck in the house during a hurricane is there is lots of time to cook.  On Saturday night, I whipped up a squash casserole and cooked salmon fillets for a delicious meal.  I actually bought this enormous fresh salmon fillet at Costco for a dinner with friends Saturday night.  We had to cancel that dinner because of the hurricane and every time I opened the fridge, that huge piece of fish was staring at me wondering what I was going to do with it.  We rarely freeze meat or fish in my house.  We prefer to eat it fresh, but I had no choice.  This fillet was probalby 2 feet long.  I have a good appetite but not that good. In the freezer it went.

Before I even started cooking, I whipped up my favorite cocktail – a mojito.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have all the ingredients so I fudged a little.  My typical mojito includes light rum, tonic water, simple syrup, mint, and fresh lime juice.  I had everything but the tonic water and fresh limes, so I substituted with ginger ale and lime juice in a bottle.  It hit the spot.  Just a side note, if you ever want to grow mint in your garden – DON”T.  Grow it in a pot or else in a couple of years you will have a garden of mint despite best efforts of removing it.

Next I started on the Squash Casserole.  You will need the following:

2 cups cornbread stuffing
2 small zucchinis, shredded
2 small yellow squashes, shredded
1 can of condensed cream of mushroom soup (I think cream of celery might add a nice flavor too)
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

This recipe calls for 2 cups of cornbread stuffing.  You can easily find this in the grocery store with the bread; however, if you are a vegetarian beware.  It is always made with chicken stock and a bunch of other ingredients that you won’t be able to pronounce.  My solution is to make some cornbread in an 8×8 square pan – either from scratch or from a mix.   When it cools, crumble it up, add a little bit of olive oil and seasonings (I used salt, pepper, garlic powder and thyme leaves) and presto – you have cornbread stuffing.

Put half of the stuffing in the bottom of a 9×9 square pan.

Mix together remaining ingredients.

It may look like a goopy mess, but it will be delicious.  Pour this mixture on top of the cornbread stuffing and top with remaining stuffing.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through. 

Now on to the salmon.  Salmon is very easy to cook.  I mixed a little bit of butter, lemon juice and basil and brushed it on top of the fillets. 

See that little piece on the left…that’s for Gavin.  I was unsure if he would even try it, but I made him some just in case.

Next you toss it into a skillet.  I use a non-stick skillet and there is enough fat in the salmon that you don’t have to worry about it sticking to the pan.  You can see by looking at the bottom of the salmon that it is already starting to cook.

When it looks like it has cooked halfway through, flip it over and cook the other side.

Voila!  Oh and by the way, Gavin ate every bite of salmon.

30 Days Later: Am I Still a Vegan?

Aside from my cheating on day 30, I think that I was pretty successful on the vegan diet. I felt great on the diet, tried new foods and made a positive impact on the environment. With all those positive results, you would think that I have fully embraced the vegan lifestyle. The answer is no. I am not a vegan.

Don’t be too disappointed yet. It has actually been 3 months since this experiment, and I have had time to see how my experience with veganism has changed me. I have made some significant changes in my diet because of this experience, and I try to lean more towards vegan food choices. I’ve acquired a fantastic vegan cookbook called Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero and have made some delicious new foods. I often try to eat vegan at least for breakfast and lunch. I very rarely eat cheese on my tacos, pasta or in my sandwiches. I’ve mastered cooking tofu! This accomplishment is huge for me and look for a future blog posting for a tofu and cashew stir-fry. Another significant change is the amount of whole grains that I eat now. I only buy whole grain pasta and whole grain or whole wheat bread. I consciously make meals with whole grains as the key component. I no longer cook with white rice. It’s brown rice all the way.

Why and how am I not a vegan? I missed cow’s milk –a lot. I thought that I would miss yogurt more but not as much as actual milk. Now, I will drink a glass of milk when I feel like it and use it my cereal. Truthfully, this reversion back to my old diet makes me happy. Cow’s milk is healthy for you, and I buy my milk from a local dairy farm where we frequently visit the cows. They are not ill-treated and like to come to the window and moo at us. Eggs are another forbidden food in veganism. I rarely eat eggs plain, but I do cook with them. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I enjoy baked goods which require eggs. I also occasionally use eggs in main dishes when the recipes call for them. Every once in while I eat some old-fashioned French toast. Seafood is back on the menu in my house. We probably eat seafood twice a month, but I really enjoy it. I eat shrimp, crab, salmon or haddock. I like the taste of seafood and again, it is healthy food. I don’t over-indulge because I understand the impact of commercial fishing on the fragile ocean ecosystems. And finally, there is honey. When I first discovered that honey is considered a non-vegan food, I laughed at what I thought was a ridiculous notion. When I did more research on honey farming (or is it bee farming), I realized that there are valid reasons to avoid honey. I am more aware of what food products I buy have honey in them, but that hasn’t affected my food choices.

At the end of the day, I am not a vegan – most days, but I am more educated and make more informed food choices. Overall, I am healthier than ever before and enjoyed my 30 days as a vegan. I’ve walked away with valuable information, and who knows, maybe veganism is in my future.

The Vegan Experiment: Day 30

Day 30

Breakfast: Kashi Island Vanilla cereal with vanilla soy milk
Lunch: Risotto, apple
Snack: Crackers and hummus
Dinner: Pasta with cilantro pesto, cake

I made it! I spent 30 days as a vegan! As I boast and brag about my success, I must also admit that on this very last day, I cheated. I intentionally cheated. I hope that I didn’t disappoint too many people, but let me explain what happened.

It has actually been several months since I did this experiment. I journaled about my experiences and decided that it would fit well on my blog and enable me to share my adventure with others. Day 30 happened to fall on my birthday. For those that know me, cake is on my top 10 list of favorite foods. It’s the best part of any birthday party, a highlight at weddings, and may favorite part of any bridal or baby shower. Cake isn’t a dessert that I eat on a random evening. It signifies a special event or celebration.

On my birthday, I love my cake, more than I love whatever special dinner that I’ve eaten. My request every year is for a round, yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Yes, it can be a boxed cake with tub frosting, but it has to be round. I love that layer of chocolate between the 2 layers of cake. This year my husband told me that he was going to make a vegan cake for me. I know – he’s pretty great. The problems started when he had problems finding a recipe that would substitute for my favorite cake. Here we go again – problems with food substitutions. The other problem is that I know my way around baked goods pretty well, and I knew that a cake without eggs and milk just wouldn’t be a cake.

I made the decision that I would cheat and have real cake. It was delicious, and I don’t feel bad about it at all. I enjoyed every bite. The question is whether or not I will be having leftovers. Stay tuned tomorrow to find out if I’m still a vegan!