Monday, October 29, 2012

How to avoid GM foods

Just a quick post, elaborating on the GMO food labeling issue I posted about last week.

I just came across an interesting website,, and the blogger there has a great list of things to avoid and why.

I think you will find it enlightening. I learned a few things reading it. I hope you will, too.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Prop 37 in California

If you live in California, you’ve no doubt heard about a proposition that is on our November ballot that calls for foods to be labeled if they contain genetically modified organisms (or GMO’s). This is big. I mean, really big. California would be the first state to have such legislation and that’s a big deal because in many ways California sets the tone for the rest of the nation. California is the world’s 8th largest economy after all (at least as of 2011).

It is estimated that up to 70% of the processed foods sold in grocery stores - from soda to soup, crackers to condiments – contain genetically engineered ingredients. And I’ll bet most people don’t know that. In an era of “transparency”, where we want to know EVERYTHING about EVERYBODY and EVERYTHING, you’d think everybody would be on board with this. It just seems like a no-brainer.

In order to understand why there might be those who think this piece of legislation isn’t worthwhile, I had to check out the “No on Prop 37” website to see what on Earth their arguments against it could possibly be. After you get to the site you’ll see their tagline “Stop the deceptive food labeling scheme”. This just gets my goat. I mean, give me a break.

What’s so “deceptive” about Prop 37, when it actually provides information for consumers to make better food buying decisions? The website has some of the lamest arguments against it. They claim the legislation will cause the following:

1.       Higher grocery bills – they’ve estimated that Prop 37 will increase a family’s grocery bills by $400 per year. How they came up with this number is a mystery. I just don’t see how this is possible. If you don’t care that your food consists of GM ingredients, then buy away. No one is forcing anyone to actually buy the labeled foods. If they mean repackaging the foods with the new labeling will increase manufacturing costs which will therefore be passed on to the consumer, I just don’t buy it. Since manufacturers have 18 months to comply, they will likely change their label in the meantime anyway. I hardly think the small price increase in changing the artwork on the label will drive these mega-food conglomerates out of business!

2.       There will be a slew of “shakedown” lawsuits that result from this – those opposing Prop 37 foresee ambulance-chasing lawyers suing family farmers and grocers for “things they didn’t even know they were doing wrong”. This is ridiculous. All grocers need to do is make sure the foods on their shelves comply. They have 18 months in which to do so. How are farmers going to suffer? Maybe many of them will finally switch to growing organic because they have been forced by their buyers to grow GM foods for a while now. How can this be bad?

3.       Special Interest / Arbitrary Exemptions – this one is completely ridiculous. They claim that the foods requiring the labeling are arbitrary. Not really. They were chosen for a reason.
Fruit juice would require labeling, while beer wine and liquor would not
The reason for this is that most fruit juice sold in America contains HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) which is made from genetically engineered (GE) corn. Your 100% fruit juice manufacturers will be more than happy to say they are made without any GE ingredients. Beer is brewed from primarily barley and wheat, wine is made from grapes, and liquor distilled from potatoes, etc. so these beverages are typically not made from GE ingredients anyway, so what kind of an argument is that?

Soup sold in a grocery store, but not soup sold at restaurants
This is because most canned soup (think Campbell’s and Progresso and the like) contain GE ingredients while soup made in restaurants will typically be house-made. Monitoring whether or not soup sold at a restaurant contains GE ingredients would be virtually impossible, if not totally unnecessary. Think about it? Do we expect the “soup police” to come in to each establishment and dissect its ingredients? What government agency has the time for that and would it even make any sense? Give me a break.

Soy milk would require labeling, but not cow’s milk
Now that’s an easy one! 91% of soy grown in the U.S. is GE. Cow’s milk is not GE. It comes from… wait for it…yes, COWS! See the Center for Food Safety website.

Snack food sold in a grocery store would require labeling, while the same snack food sold at a snack bar would not
Well, I don’t completely understand that one. Again, I think it’s for the same reason why it would be difficult to monitor restaurants. How can we enforce this at EVERY establishment, be it restaurants or snack bars? It’s much easier to monitor grocery store chains.

Cookies and candy sold by non-profit groups made in America, while fortune cookies and candy made in China are exempt
Wow. This one’s really trying to tug at our heart-strings! What, now we’re going after the mommy bake sales? Oh brother, is nothing sacred? I would venture a guess that most of the cookies and candies baked by these moms and sold by non-profit groups are made from ready-made cookie dough that you just cut and bake, or from cake mixes that contain GE ingredients.  And regarding China: what control do we have over their manufacturing processes over there? Please! We can choose to not buy and eat Chinese food products if we are at all concerned about their safety. Why don’t we stop worrying about what other countries do and worry about our own?

Dog food with meat would require labeling, while meat for human consumption from animals fed GE grains are exempt
Well, I’ve said it before, most of the commercial dog food made in America is utter garbage, made with less-than desirable ingredients that humans wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole. Most of the common brands (Pedigree, Purina) contain mystery ingredients we'd rather not know about, so labeling would be great. 
Frankly, I’d like to see meat for human consumption labeled, too, for the exact reason the opposition lists. Conventionally produced meat is fed GE grains and that’s too bad because it isn't as good for you as grass-fed meat, but we’ve gotta start somewhere, folks. Let’s tackle the meat and poultry debate down the road. We can’t do everything at once.

4.       Conflicts with Science (they claim there are 400 studies that say GMO’s are “safe”) – you can look to a thousand “studies” that claim there are no adverse health effects of ingesting GE foods, but it depends on who conducts the study and how it is done. I like to think of it this way: for tens of thousands of years Man has survived by eating real food in its natural state and has done just fine. Any time we create Frankenfood, fooling with Mother Nature, we risk compromising our health, because it’s just not the way Nature intended. It’s as simple as that. 

Those against Prop 37 have everything to gain by keeping people ignorant about where their food comes from. By passing this proposition, people might become more aware of what they are eating and make better food choices in this era of declining health and obesity. Do we really want to live in a country where people are kept in the dark? This isn’t a country that suppresses knowledge to control its people, is it?

Their argument that those who are funding this Prop are putting profits in front of science is completely ridiculous. It's about caring about quality food! Some of California's most successful natural food companies, such as Nature’s Path, Dr. Bronner’s Soaps and Lundberg Family Farms, have naturally invested in it because they can afford to. Unfortunately, it takes money to get things done in the political system, no matter which side you're on. This is reality.

But let's look at the list of those financially supporting the No Vote (between just 2 major chemical companies, Monsanto and DuPont, they’ve invested over $12,000,000. Pepsico, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Nestle, General Mills and the Kellogg Company are right behind them)! They have a lot at stake here. If this passes they will be forced to fess up to their crap ingredients and that might be bad for the junk food business. It’s far better for them if we stay stupid, folks.

In support of Prop 37 are a number of celebrities like food writer Michael Pollan, the Slow Food movement guy I’ve written about before, Carlo Petrini, famous chefs Alice Waters, Mario Batali and Jacques Pepin, who all believe in quality food and transparency.

If anyone is to be attacked for being “deceptive”, it’s the No on Prop 37 advocates

It’s clear to me. I hope you’ll join me in voting “Yes” on Prop 37 November 6. 

For more information on California’s Right to Know, click here

For information on how to avoid eating GMO foods, I just came across this fantastic post at which you might find interesting.

Friday, October 19, 2012

How I plan my weekly menu

Central Market Hall, Budapest, Hungary
I have been very fortunate to have spent a lot of  vacations in Europe since my early childhood - my first visit being at the age of 4. I’d spend weeks, if not months, visiting aunts, uncles and cousins, seeing much of Germany and its neighbors. Over the years, as my interest in food and cultures developed, I grew to want to see the markets that the natives shop at in the countries I visited. One thing I noticed was how the Europeans grocery shop much more frequently than we do in the States. 

Mercato Centrale, Florence, Italy
One of my favorite markets was in Hungary, the Central Market Hall, where I could have spent a few days! Stall after stall of family run businesses selling everything from spices and liquor, fruits and vegetables, to baked goods, cheeses, meats and flowers. At one stall I had some of the best strudel I have ever had, made fresh by what appeared to be a brother and sister rolling out dough by hand and working it, filling it, and cutting it as if they had done it a thousand times before (and likely had). Another such monster market was the central market, or Mercato Centrale, in Florence, Italy, equally fascinating in the enormous variety of foods offered. These huge everything-under-one-roof markets are incredible, but what's most charming are the mom and pop markets at the corners of everyday neighborhoods. Many cities in America offer the same thing, clearly transplants from the Old World.

Regardless of market size, I think the Europeans shop frequently for food because they are sticklers for freshness and because they simply can. Many of my relatives (i.e., the women) were stay-at-home moms and had time to. Maybe it also helped that they had  markets close by, often within walking distance, so it was easy to pop in if they needed something. My one aunt, for instance, had a butcher across the street, and a grocer and baker around the corner from her. She didn’t have far to go on foot and never bought more than she could carry. 

When you shop more frequently, you can plan your menu day-to-day, getting whatever you’re in the mood for. But I can’t imagine going to the store every day or even every other day myself – even if I had the time. Stores are too far from home, and most of us work and have too many other errands to run. So I plan my meals in advance, as I’m sure many of you do, to avoid multiple trips and to save time.

But creating a weekly menu rather than a daily one requires organization and planning. I have a rough framework I always use. With 7 dinners to plan, I nearly always include 2 chicken or turkey dishes, 2-3 fish, 1 egg, 1 pork, and 1 vegetarian (tofu or bean) night to keep it interesting. Then I think about what’s in season vegetable-wise, what I’m in the mood for, and most importantly, what’s left in the pantry and refrigerator that needs to be eaten! Then I start looking through my recipe collections and from there start make my shopping lists.

A typical weekly menu at my house will look something like this one:

Monday – A good day to go vegetarian as we usually had meat over the weekend. It might be something simple like a Frittata with a plethora of vegetables bought at the farmer’s market. Or maybe a Bean and Veggie Soup I may have made on Sunday when I had more time

Tuesday – Turkey meatballs in tomato sauce or turkey “burgers” wrapped in lettuce leaves, big mixed green salad with veggies and sunflower seeds or nuts

Wednesday – This has to be a fast and easy dinner because I bike ride after work. Pistachio-crusted tilapia with sautéed spinach with garlic and butter is quick to whip up and oh so delicious. If it’s asparagus season, I like to cook some and then drizzle over a little (ok, a lot) of ready-made Trader Joe’s Hollandaise sauce. It goes really well with the fish, too

Thursday – I do Yoga weekly and I’m always inspired to eat something Indian on those nights (I know, I’m funny like that).  Chicken Tikka Masala, cauliflower florets sautéed with ginger and onions, and either basmati rice or poppadum (lentil crackers) alongside some mango chutney or tamarind paste, and then either some ready-made Bharta or Palak Paneer that just needs to be heated. It’s a lot of food, but then we've got enough for lunch the next day

Friday – I get home a little earlier on Fridays, so I have a bit more time to spend in the kitchen than on a regular “school night” so it might be Rosemary and fennel-crusted pork tenderloin, with boiled or roasted red potatoes, and a veggie puree, all of which actually doesn't take that long to prepare

Saturday – This has to be a fairly easy meal since Saturdays are busy with bike riding, grocery shopping and housecleaning. Maybe something that can be grilled, like Salmon with a spice rub or chipotle raspberry BBQ glaze, along with something like steamed green beans or sautéed Swiss chard

Sunday – Usually a big cooking day. I make stuff to take to work for lunch, I might make dessert or cook a soup. Dinner will usually be something that takes a while, too, like Pulled Pork or a whole roasted Chicken with roasted vegetables and a big salad.

Does this take effort? Absolutely. 

But then, everything in life that is worth anything, takes effort.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The wonders of the worldwide web

The internet is truly amazing. Where else can we reach the entire world with our message? I would never have thought that I would have such a reach with this humble blog of mine. In just over 2 years, I have had over 8,000 page views. All that, for just a simple girl who loves food.

Blogspot, also known as Blogger, is managed by Google. Google scans the internet 24/7 for information - all those "spiders" and "bots" and whatnot. 

And because those geeks at Google are masters of information gathering, I can see which of my posts are the most read, how readers are coming in to my site (via google search, to blogspot directly, through facebook, etc.) and which countries are doing the reading.
Sometimes I'm rather surprised by which posts get the most action. "The Sandwich" is an all-time favorite (with 444 page views as of today), followed by my "Flavor Profile" posts on herbs (283) and spices (220). Others, that I thought were more interesting received less attention. It just goes to show you - it's hard to predict sometimes.

But what I was most interested to learn was "Who in the world is reading my Blog?".

Not surprisingly, the country with the most readership is the United States, and next comes Germany (thanks to the family). Those are the obvious ones. 

But what about these, where I know maybe 1 person, or not a single soul

United Kingdom

Amazing, isn't it? I thought it was pretty cool and thought maybe you'd find it cool, too.

In summary, I want to thank everyone, wherever you are, for coming here and reading. Thank you for your support. As always, feel free to send me your comments and suggestions.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Eating Locally

We hear a lot about eating locally, but why should we do it?

Here are a few good reasons.

  • Local food is fresher and tastes better. It hasn't been trucked or flown in from thousands of miles away. If you don't think there's a taste difference between lettuce wrapped in plastic for a few days and lettuce picked fresh that morning, with some of the dirt still on it, think again!
  • Local foods are seasonal and taste better.  We have become used to seeing foods at the supermarket that wouldn't ordinarily be there because they aren't in season where we live. Usually these items come from the other hemisphere where they are enjoying the opposite season, so the foods are in season THERE, not here. Why not wait until next summer when we yearn again for the sweet taste of apricots or nectarines? They will taste even better if we wait. (You've heard the saying: "Absence makes the heart grow fonder").
  • Local foods have less environmental impact. Look for farmers who follow organic, or at least, sustainable growing practices and energy use to minimize the food's environmental impact. And again, trucking or flying it in from somewhere else is an enormous waste of fossil fuel. With current gas prices, think what this will do to the price of food! Eat from your local farmer!
  • Local foods preserve green space and farmland. Isn't it lovely to see some bits and pieces of agriculture in between the cities where you live? Help support that. Green is beautiful!
  • Local foods promote food safety. The fewer steps between your food's source and your table, the less chance there is of contamination. Most of those e.coli outbreaks were from mega-food producers, not the little guys.
  • Local foods support your local economy. I'd rather hand over my hard-earned dollars to my  local farmers instead of some food corporation in another city, state or country.
  • Local foods promote variety. Corporations are only interested in growing what can withstand a long truck haul with minimal bruising and damage. The local grower cares about variety. My local fruit guys sell at least 8 different kinds of plums in the summer, each one unique in color and flavor. You're not going to see that at the supermarket.
  • Local foods create community. Knowing where your food is from connects you to the people who raise and grow it. At the farmer's market you can usually look the farmer in the eye and get to know him or her. You don't get that at the supermarket either.
Am I down on supermarkets? You betcha.

For a great list of how to eat locally, check out this link.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pulled Pork

When Fall hits, it’s only natural to want to make dishes that are hearty and satisfying. Soups, stews, braised meats with vegetables are all good this time of year. The kind of food that "sticks to your ribs", as my mother would say.

One of my favorite things is pulled pork. It’s rich and warming on a crisp evening. I described it to a friend of mine and when she said how good that sounded, I decided to make it for her when she came over next. Which is what I did last night.

The recipe I originally started with was a lot spicier, calling for a can of chipotle peppers. My husband and I could barely get it down, it was so hot. The next time I was in the mood for pulled pork, I made modifications, using barbeque sauce instead, but it lacked a bit of punch. The next time I made it, I used chipotle barbeque sauce which added just enough spice without torching our lips and intestines. I think it’s just right the way it is now.

It’s a super simple recipe to make. All you need is time, as in all afternoon, so it’s best made on the weekend. You could try it in a slow cooker, but it won’t be totally the same unless you brown the meat before adding it to the slow cooker. This is the oven variety.

Pulled Pork


·         2 onions, peeled and quartered
·         1 whole pork butt (pork shoulder roast), bone-in
·         Salt and freshly ground black pepper
·         1/2 to 1 can real Coca-Cola, with sugar (not diet)
·         ½ bottle chipotle barbeque sauce

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Place the onion quarters in the bottom of a pot. Trim roast of some of the fat but leave the roast whole and if it has a bone, leave that in. Sprinkle the meat all over with salt and pepper, and then place on top of the onions. Pour just enough of the cola so that the liquid comes up to the middle of the roast. You don't want it to swim in too much liquid. Then add the chipotle barbeque sauce over the top.
Cover the pot, put in the oven and cook for at least 5 hours, preferably 6, depending on the size of your roast. Turn the meat 2 or 3 times during the cooking process. The last time you turn it, you might want to leave the lid partially off in order to get some carmelization on the meat. Otherwise, put the lid fully back on.
When it’s done, the meat should be fork-tender and easy to shred.  Shred the meat completely (either inside or outside of the pot) but return pork to the juice until you serve it. This is delicious and super easy.

It would go quite well with a bottle of Grenache. This lighter red wine would be perfect with the sweetness of the pork and its sauce. I'll usually serve this with potatoes, but you could drain some of the liquid or maybe reduce it to a thicker consistency and serve it as a pulled pork sandwich.

Friday, October 5, 2012

What I'm drinking now

On Labor Day, friends Lorine and Todd came over for a barbeque. Lorine and I used to work together in the hotel business where we learned we share an appreciation for good food and good wine. We had been trying to get together for a long time, so it was great that we finally made it happen.

Our guests were kind enough to contribute many tasty things to our dinner party but my favorite (besides the mesquite and lime-marinated shrimp!) was the wine, made from a varietal I had never really considered before. I discovered that was a huge shame and have them to thank for enlightening me.

The wine was fantastic and went exceptionally well with our grilled foods. Light, soft, and without the harsh tannins that often exemplify red wines, it was smooth and easily drinkable and unfortunately gone rather soon.

Grenache grapes
My research revealed that Grenache is one of the most widely-planted red wine grape varieties in the world. It ripens late, so it needs hot, dry conditions like those found in Spain, the south of France and California’s San Joaquin Valley. The grape most likely originated in Spain where it is called Garnacha, but it eventually migrated north into France. It is now found in California and Australia as well.

The wine label
Opolo Vineyards hails from Paso Robles, California. Set apart by unique climate and geography, Paso Robles Wine Country provides prime growing conditions for more than 40 varietals planted over 26,000 acres of vineyards. Nearly 200 wineries craft these grapes into premium wines, gaining recognition around the world. The fruit, the wines and the distinct environment have quickly made Paso Robles California's third largest and fastest growing wine region. And I love visiting it when we’re up seeing the in-laws, as you may have gathered from a previous post.

Because the fruit itself lacks color, acid and tannin, it is often blended with other varieties, especially those that are more assertive. In Australia in particular, it is a component of “GSM”: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, which, by the way, is a great combination.  In Rhône wines it comprises up to 80% of the grapes used.

Grenache is generally a bit spicy, definitely berry-flavored and soft and has a high sugar and alcohol content. It has flavor notes reminiscent of raspberry, strawberry, coffee, gingerbread, honey, leather, black pepper, spices and sometimes roasted nuts.

Because Grenache pairs well with game, grilled meats and stews, this is the perfect time of year to enjoy it, when the weather starts cooling and we begin making these kinds of dishes.

If you’re not much of a red wine drinker, Grenache is a great introduction into the world of reds. Its lighter, fruitier nature, and the fact that it has little or none of the tannins normally associated with reds, might sway you in the direction of reds once and for all.

Our dinner guests picked up this bottle at the winery itself. If you can’t make it to Opolo, then you might find it at Total Wine, BevMo, or your local wine shop. If not, try another Grenache from one of the recommended growing regions and see what you think.

It would be delicious with stews such as Coq au Vin or Beef Bourguignon, grilled steak or roasted pork tenderloin, but I could also see it with just about anything, really. For vegetarian cuisine, grilled Portobello mushrooms or a hearty lasagna would work well.

Recommended growing regions
Southern Rhône (France), Sardinia (Italy), Navarra (Spain), Paso Robles (Central Coast of California), and Australia.

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