Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Do you know what you're eating?

I was raised mostly in the suburbs, drifting at the whim of the US Navy while my parents tried to make some kind of "normal" life. Still, I had a center to my world and no matter how far away we moved, Grandma and Grandpa's little ranch in Sonoma was home. Grandpa, like my father, had been a career Navy man, but was pretty much settled down by the time I became aware of his existence. He had run away from his home on a Mississippi plantation when he was 16 to join the Navy and, eventually, married an Italian American girl, my Grandma. I learned my love of Italian things from her, the comfort she created in her home, the Mediterranean flavor of her gardens full of patios, hanging baskets, fruit trees, and arbors, and her wonderful cooking. I learned about real food from Grandma, because Mom and Dad were busy appreciating the convenience of canned vegetables and the whiteness of Wonder bread. When I was a young woman I lived in Europe for a number of years. My appreciation of real food was enhanced there. Then, after returning to the US, I sought a rural life in which to raise my children. I wanted them to connect to the Earth and to know what real food was, the reward of growing your own food, and a simple understanding of how things worked.

This all just to say that "real" is what is important in my life. Recently, I was enlightened by a friend about some food that I had, up to then, enjoyed. Frozen potatoes. I always liked those little tater tots, the french fries from fast food stores along the freeway, hashbrowns to whip up a quick dinner, or weekend breakfast. Yeah, I knew they weren't that healthy, but they were just an occasional treat, or the vegetarian fast food when I was still a couple hundred miles from home on the freeway.

No longer. Never again. I am sad. My friend grew up in rural Oregon and at one point worked in a potato processing plant. She said the potatoes were sorted, No. 1's, No. 2's, etc. The rotten ones went into a bin. Black, rotten, who knows with bugs in them maybe. The bin was then sent off where the smart people who make these things, poured some kind of bleaching agent on them. They were then processed into, yep, those yummy french fries.

I can't help but have this image in my mind of those thousands of people stuffing their faces with those rotten potatoes disguised as food.

Everyone always raves about yogurt as a health food. When I lived in England, in the summer I would pick strawberries near our village. One of the farms grew strawberries for a yogurt plant. Wonderful strawberries, that were put into a big vat, had some powder sprinkled over them that turned them completely white, and held until needed by the yogurt plant, sometime in fall or winter. There, they put the strawberries into vats of strawberry flavoring and coloring before adding them to the yogurt. Hmmmm. Someone missed the point.

So, what's the point of this ramble? Eat real food. Eat fresh food. If you eat something with some processing involved, like yogurt, buy the plain, organically grown, preferably local, or make your own and add some fresh fruit. Sprinkle a little toasted nuts or wheat germ on top. Yumm.

Here's a recipe. With a little olive oil in a skillet, saute some brown rice. Add vegetable broth, home made, from a carton, or using a vegetable base. Add enough broth to cover the rice twice as deep as the rice itself. Turn the heat down low and cover. Meanwhile, chop up some onions, red pepper, bok choy, celery, or? When the liquid is almost gone dump the veggies into the pan with the rice. Continue to cook until the rice is done. Stir and serve. Top with some almond slices if you like.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Egg or Not Egg

For years I said, "Why would anyone who will not eat meat, choose to eat eggs?" I wondered why they thought that it was ok to eat a chicken embryo, but not the chicken itself. I asked a couple of people and the answer from them was that the egg wasn't viable if it wasn't fertilized. So, I thought, ok, next time I was in an airport and wanted something to eat with my cup of tea, I guess the muffin is ok. There is still the cruelty issue, however. Commercial egg farms are incredibly inhumane, not to mention an environmental blight. So, no muffin in the airport. I have, on occasion, bought eggs. I look for locally grown, cage free chicken's eggs. I don't feel like I am rustling up much karma when I use a couple in the bread pudding my grandson requested. A couple of times I ate an omelet, but didn't feel too good afterward, so unless I am feeling very protein deficient, I don't expect to make that a regular thing.

I am, however, going to put a couple in the bread pudding I am making today. This is not the custard-with-bread-in-it American version, but the version I learned to make while living in England. It comes out like a very substantial, almost cake. Here's the recipe with choices according to your dietary karma perspective:

Bread :Surviva or Wonder? Best made with bread without too much air. To make a spring form pan full you will need a loaf to a loaf and a half.
Butter or margarine :I use an olive oil based margarine, but butter makes a richer product. Spread lightly on slices of bread.
Sugar :your choice of white refined, Organic Succanat, or Maple Syrup. They all work, but the white tastes pretty wimpy once you've tried the others. You really don't need much sweetener; maybe a third to half of a cup.
Salt :A quarter teaspoon full. If you use unsalted butter, maybe a little more.
Cinnamon :1 or 2 teaspoons to taste. You can use other spices if you want. A little pumpkin pie spice would be good.
Vanilla :1 teaspoon. I'm sure I don't have to talk about the difference between imitation and real.
Eggs :3 eggs beaten with a fork
Milk :You can use any kind of milk. I like Almond milk for the richness. Use enough to moisten bread so it gets mushy.
Fruit :Lots of room for creativity here. Any dried fruit such as golden raisins, currants, cranberries, cherries. You could dice up some fresh apple. I am not a big banana fan, but what about a mashed up banana and some rum flavoring? hmmm. . .

Once you've buttered the bread just throw everything into a bowl and stir it around. I think a wooden spoon makes it taste better. You want the bread to be just softened so it is falls apart. Oil your pan. A spring form works really well. A bundt pan makes a nice presentation, but make sure it is well greased. An 8X8 baking dish works just fine. Or why not try individual muffin sized bread puddings?

Bake at 350F until its done in the middle and golden brown. It will probably take about 40 minutes depending on how wet it was when it went in. If it was wetter and it is getting dark but still soft, turn the oven down to 300F and cook a little longer. Next time don't use quite so much milk.

This recipe makes a great picnic dessert. You can fancy it up with a sauce of some kind, like lemon or raspberry. My family like to eat it with milk or cream poured over while it is warm. Some other ideas: Add nuts to the batter. Add cocoa powder to the batter or serve with a chocolate sauce. That might be really good on a bread pudding made with dried cherries. What else?

About the egg: Any of the usual egg replacers would probably work just fine. I haven't experimented yet. If you do, let me know how it comes out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Vegetarian Fast Food

When I talk about fast food, I ain't talkin' about Burger King. I want it now, I want it to taste good, and I want it to feed my spirit as well as my body. So, in my search I have discovered some gems I think are worth sharing.

Brown rice is a Vegetarian staple. A really great thing to do is cook enough brown rice to last for the week. Then just put it in the fridge and take out what you need each day. The trouble with that idea is that I can be away from home, forget to put the rice cooker on, or otherwise not have the time or energy to just do it. So I find myself at dinner time with about twenty minutes to invest in preparing a meal and no brown rice. I have used the instant stuff, but while it tastes good and is supposedly still whole grain, it is not attractive in a full-of-prana kind of way. I keep a box in the cupboard, but don't use it very often.

Another important vegetarian food is beans. Brown rice and beans are important nutritionally as well as being substantial and filling, but beans are another food that require forethought. If I have remembered to cook the rice, or have just enough time for it, but not enough for the beans, I will use canned beans. In fact, I keep a supply of them in my cupboard for making quick sandwich spreads, soups, or other dishes.

I recently found a product from Eden Foods that is helpful. It is a canned brown rice and beans. They have several combinations of Lundberg brown rice and beans, including Pinto, Lentil, Kidney, and Garbanzo. One of them is a bit spicey, but the others I tried have no noticeable seasoning. You can season to match the rest of your meal. Make quick meals to take to work as well.

Last night I opened a can of Pinto beans and rice and stir fried some asparagus and onion to serve with it. Yum! Less time preparing means I can eat a relaxed meal and have time to digest before bed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Vegetarian Food for Busy People

I am a minority person working in the food service industry, a vegetarian. For several years I was vegan. The trouble was that it caused other people so much angst that I made a conscious choice to eat some animal products, ie cheese and yogurt and on occasion even egg. I don't generally have these products in my house, but if I am cooking for others I will make sure that they are organic, at least. When I am travelling, or attending meetings, I will eat what is available if I only have to compromise with dairy or egg. This makes it easier on me and on the people I work with. If you are vegetarian, especially vegan, you will already know that it is difficult to find good food when travelling. I mean, I really don't enjoy paying restaurant prices for a side salad and a baked potato, or choosing the token Pasta Primavera from the menu. Do restaurateurs have any idea how boring their menus are to vegetarians? Of course, there are ethnic choices that make dining out a little more exciting.

I sometimes think it is getting better, but then I travel away from home and am reminded that I am just projecting my experience as a resident of Eugene, Oregon on the rest of the country. Home Sweet Home. Even at home, there are challenges. I work long hours as a manager and often only have a couple of hours between arriving home and having to head for the hay. If I don't want to go to bed with a full stomach that means eating pretty quickly after I walk in the door. I've gotten pretty good at finding healthy foods that are quick and easy to prepare. I hope to share some of these ideas with you over the coming days.

Recently I discovered some new products that have made dinner time joyful. FakinBakin from LightLife is smokey flavored thin strips of tempeh. They make good TLT's on a good, toasted, sprouted grain bread using a good Vegan Mayo like Vegenaise. I like The Original Surviva Bread, flourless, sprouted wheat bread from Nature Bake. The sandwich and a cup of Roasted Red Pepper Soup from Pacific Friend or one of the other carton packed soup brands, and its a light tasty supper that won't give me nightmares.

Here's another way to use Fakin Bakin. Cut some Bok Choy up in 1 inch lengths. Chop up an onion. Cut a slice or two of Bakin in 1/2 inch lengths. Throw it all in a pan with a little olive oil and quickly stir fry. Serve with brown rice and beans. Soul food for the New Age!