Thursday, January 29, 2009

Um, Mark?

I will say this about my friend Mark Bittman -- and this is not meant as a complete trashing, more like a polite expression of confusion -- for someone recommending less meat in our diets, he sure does recommend a lot of meat for our diets. 

I read a few posts and I'm all ready to go buy me some rib-eye, or soak some ribeye in cinnamon wine, or have a pig dinner with some farmers. (sounds AWESOME!) All the posts are either "don't eat meat", or else "hey check out this delicious meat you can eat". 

It's okay. He's a good man. I know he doesn't mean it. He just likes meat, but he knows it's bad.  I completely relate. 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

No Meat?

I'm not going to give up on Mark Bittman, because I love the man. 

I love his Minimalist column, I love his list of New Year's suggestions, I love his entire ethos, about cooking simply and inventively, especially in a small kitchen. 

In fact, the interview on NPR last week notwithstanding, I've been having a bit of a Mark Bittman moment lately....

- Coq Au Vin with Dried Figs
His recipe specified prunes; I had figs. It was fantastic (seen here with radishes and salad and bread). At its best coq au vin can be such a warming, silky, life-is-okay-after-all meal, and that's how this one was. 

Pasta with Anchovies and Arugula (see last post).
Delicious and easy cupboard cooking. 

Mussells a la Plancha...
...seared on a hot cast iron pan, and served in their own juices. Smoky and juicy and delicious!

Linguine with Clams and Tomatoes... 
Okay, I cut out the tomatoes (needed them for my kids' lunch) and threw in some arugula. But as called for in Bittman's recipe, I cooked the clams in a hot dry skillet, added chopped garlic and olive oil, and the not-quite-done pasta and a cup of pasta water, and finished it all together. (Okay, I added a knob of butter, too). 


So I'm a diehard Bittman fan, and completely attached to the one cookbook of his that I have, which inspired all of the above dishes (Quick and Easy Recipes). 


He was on NPR last week pushing his new book, Food Matters. In the book, he calls for eating less meat and not really eating fish, largely for ecological reasons. He says he can't even recommend fish, ethically, considering the decimation of fish populations. And meat, he says, is completely ecologically devastating, considering the rain forest clear cutting that's going on, to make room for grazing lands. 

Okay, this all sounds good. It gets me where I'm weak. Yes, yes, yes, I want to save the earth. I am a despicable gluttonous American meat-eater and I am ready to repent. 


First of all he's mostly addressing industrial farming, which is not where I get my meat and eggs. And he's completely glossing over the refined carbohydrate issue, which I believe is responsible for many of our current health problems. But whatever. I'm not going there. I know I eat too much meat. I know my daughter eats too much cured meat, which is really bad. I agree with him that we should eat less meat. 

But here's the problem: what are we going to eat?

Um, it's winter? So, his recommendation that we eat more vegetables...? Like, which ones?

At the Coop, where I shop, they list the mileage traveled by most of the produce. It's all 100 miles, 500 miles, or else "Chile", or the sinisterly vague-sounding "USA". 

I shop based on these labels. I want to save the earth, right? Not be trucking and flying my food in from halfway around the world?

So this is what's local in New York in late January: Delicata squash (not even butternut or acorn, which are from the 'USA') (and which, every time I buy it, my dog and I are the only ones in my house who eat it) and apples. That's pretty much it. Even the brussells sprouts and the kale are from distant points only vaguely described. 

Okay, so scratch the local. 

Less meat, more greens. What to eat? My family has settled into a protein-daze. Our meals are basically animal protein and greens, fruit, and occasionally some whole grains. There are many schools of thought who would say this is an ideal diet. But I want to help save the planet, like Mr. Bittman says. Or rather, I want to contribute less to its destruction. 

Okay, I'm making February my month of no meat.

Okay, I'm making February my month of less meat. Ideas for a family whose children are blissed out on protein, and not so into carbs?  Bean tacos? Mezze platters? CHEESE? If they get protein-deprived enough will they turn to alternative sources? 

Wish me luck. 

Some other points of interest in the media lately:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Vegetarian Pasta ...with Meatballs

It's 6 pm, on a freezing cold winter night. Even though I just shopped the other day, somehow there's nothing to make for dinner. Well, there's a chicken, but I don't feel like roasting a chicken. There's ground turkey, but my friend who made this amazing turkey meatball-pasta dish for us last week is out of town and can't give me the recipe. As far as meat goes, that's all there is. 

We are meaty people -- but I am trying to break us of our flesh dependence. This adds indecision and anxiety to my meal-planning, and leads to flailing about at 6 pm in search of dinner ideas. 

So I flip through Mark Bittman's Quick and Easy Recipes and come up with Pasta with Anchovies and Arugula. Perfect -- I can use up the wilted arugula in the fridge, and we have garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Plus, I love 'cupboard cooking' -- making dinner from staples in the cupboard. 

I thinly-slice four cloves of garlic and let them slowly cook, alongside 8 anchovies, in about 1/4 cup of olive oil. I wash and chop the arugula and put on a pot of water. My kids hate pasta so I make a bunch of turkey meatballs. (salt and pepper the meat, make the balls, fry them in, um.... bacon fat.) 

I drain the pasta, and forget to save the cup of pasta water that Mark Bittman calls for.  So I just toss the olive oil mixture with the arugula -- which immediately wilts perfectly -- and grate a blizzard of Parmesan cheese on top. Unbelievably, we don't have red pepper flakes, so we do without. I wish I had some pine nuts to toss in. 

It comes out very good -- simple, but satisfying. My daughter won't even try it. This is where the anxiety comes in: I don't push, because I don't think white flour pasta, even with the famous hard durum wheat, is all that good for you. 

(Yes, I am completely conflicted about the carnivorous thing -- don't want her to eat so much meat, but also don't want her eating lots of white flour. And am not a big fan of whole wheat pasta because, unless it's with a really rugged meat sauce, well: yuck. Argh.)  

But if there were pasta-eating kids at the table, who were non-arugula-eaters, it would be easy enough to push the loathsome green bits aside and eat "plain" pasta (deliciously, luxuriously flavored with dissolved anchovy bits). 

My daughter eats the turkey meatballs. At least it's a little lower on the food chain than beef or pork meatballs, right?

My son is away for the weekend, which is maybe why I risked pasta at all. It wasn't too long ago that serving him pasta for dinner made him cry.

Anyway, how can get I upset with my daughter about being even more of a ravenous meat-eater than her parents, when her food instincts consider what came next a perfect dessert? She would probably choose this over anything else in the world:  Raspberry Cassis Sorbet (from Blue Moon Sorbet. Ingredients: Raspberry Puree, Water, Cane Sugar, Cassis) and frozen blueberries. Something good's happening there.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My Little Hunter-Gatherer

My five-year-old daughter is such a meat-eater, it's a little astonishing. She would happily live on salami and bacon, with a side diet of frozen blueberries and sorbet. She doesn't like toast or pasta, and she'll have her salami sandwiches without the bread, please.  

Considering her blood type is an O, she'd probably make the D'adamo clan pretty happy. They're the blood type-theory people, and they believe that people with O blood type have the constitution of the original hunter-gatherers. Since the origins of this blood type are pre-agricultural, O people are best on meat and berries, not wheat or grains. 

I like reading about the blood-type theory, but I'm a wee bit skeptical. I feel about it the way I do about astrology. I can so TOTALLY identify Leos and Tauruses and I seem to have a thing for Geminis. But you know... it's more fun than anything else. 

So I'm not totally comfortable with my daughter's carnivorous preferences, and we are always trying to broaden her horizons.

Our latest triumph: quinoa. 
We serve it to her with an Asian dipping sauce: equal parts fish sauce and lime juice, sometimes with a pinch of sugar or a splash of water mixed in. 

It's not exactly a traditional pairing for a Peruvian grain, but what am I going to do? Dude, it's fusion. Besides, quinoa is so mild and friendly it can hold its own in pretty much any grain dish -- risotto, pilaf, tabouli, etc -- from any region. AND it only takes 20 minutes. How's that for friendly?

Quinoa has more protein than any other grain, so maybe that's why she likes it. I've been putting it into her lunch box, with a separate container of the lime-fish sauce mixture, which she pours on herself. 

Finally! Freed from the drudgery of making those lunchbox octodogs! Now if we can just get her to give up the bacon. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tiny Fingers and Toes

Historically, January is one of my least favorite months. It's such a dismal letdown after the splendor and excitement of the holidays. Cold, dark, frozen and boring. And four months left til anything green happens.

It doesn't feel that way this year. It feels like a year still in its infancy, like a brand new, unrealized baby. Newborns are sort of boring, right? They don't really smile at you or laugh or talk or do funny things. The wonder of them is all in their potential, this unformed, unseen future. 

So I'm thinking of the new year in the same way. It's not that this part of its life is boring, it's that everything cool and great and inspiring and new hasn't happened yet. It's all about the potential. 

So instead of resolutions, which seem mired in the past and full of recrimination, I'm doing imaginations. Sitting over the crib, peering at the tiny fingers and toes, and imagining the great things that are either definitely or maybe or hopefully going to happen this year. None of which include weighing five pounds less or cutting out refined carbs. But all of which still seem to be related to food, imagine that. 

Here's the I'm-pretty-sure-this-will-happen part and love-thinking-about-it part:

1- I go to grad school, starting next week. I got accepted to the masters program in Food Studies at NYU, and I start next week. I looked for a food or nutrition masters program for a while, and this was the only one that quickened my pulse when I read the course list. It feels like a delicious, mad indulgence... and maybe it is.

2- My son goes to sleepaway camp at Farm and Wilderness, something I've looked forward to him doing for years. If you feel like getting weepy, check out the videos, or maybe it's just me. The kids take care of farm animals and learn wilderness survival skills and work in the garden and go on overnight camping trips and have silent meetings in the woods. It's so groovy and awesome. I can't wait for him to go.

3- We get chickens. We've been talking about it for a long time and this could be the year. We live in Brooklyn, so this is a little weird, I admit, but people do it. Three, maybe four chickens, in a little coop. I'm thinking about auracanas, which lay the colored eggs, but am also intrigued by various gorgeous and bizarre-looking breeds.  

4- My husband finishes re-doing our kitchen. It's only been two weeks without a downstairs bathroom or a laundry, so I can't get melodramatic or weepy about it just yet. The dream is that it gets done, all of it, including the picture window-installation by... spring?

5- We get a new wireless router and I start being able to post pictures on my blog again! (for those of you wondering whatever happened to those gingerbread house pictures -- and I know there are a lot of you out there -- now you know where to lay the blame.)

okay here's the dreamy part, the things that I might have to have another year or two if I really want them done:

-We buy a little house in the Catskills with a lot of land attached to it, and then move up there and sit out the middle school years which are fast approaching (my son is in 4th grade now), surrounded by garden and mountains and fresh air and horses and chickens. 

-I finally see my friend Blake, who lives in Italy, and whom I haven't seen since we were in our 20's and have begun to despair of it ever happening. We've never even met each other's kids. 

- We start a rooftop garden on the roof of our elderly neighbor's outbuilding (he said we could, but we have some other things to take care [see above, #4]). This might be for the next year. 

That's about it. What a precious, lovely year!  Such cute little weeks and days! But they'll be getting bigger and stronger and more lively very soon.  I'll keep you all posted as my lovely little baby-year grows and matures. 

Happy New Year!

This just in (and unconfirmed but from a reputable source)... David Berkowitz was fired today. He's the director of the Office of School Foods in NYC. 

In my opinion he' s a line-tower. He used to work at Aramark, the food service company, which serves NYC schools. Uh, little bit of a conflict of interests there, Dave? I think out of necessity he's been talking the talk about local food and fresh food, but I don't think he's really got it as a priority. 

This could be a great moment for NYC schools, and for everyone. This is how these things go, right? They start in California with a rarefied seemingly-impossible-to-reproduce thing (Alice Waters, Ann Cooper, that whole lot turning school food around in Berkeley), then NYC picks it up and makes it a little more rugged and practical, then it spreads. 

Cross your fingers that it's true and that the right person is chosen. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Maaa Yogurt, Please...

I've always had a complicated relationship with milk. Not that skinny is everything, but my skinniest time ever was when I went off all dairy. I put soy milk in my tea, Tofutti on my bagels and went cold-turkey off the grilled cheese. In addition to losing lots of weight, I felt energetic and un-congested. It felt so right -- until I got pregnant with my daughter, and the bacon quesadillas came calling.  

I never went off dairy again. I still don't drink milk (haven't in decades) and neither do my kids or my husband, but we eat cheese and yogurt and use milk for cooking and in coffee. Did I mention that we eat cheese? I love cheese so much that it feels wrong. Especially when I remember how great I felt when I was off it. That's what I mean by complicated. 

So I was interested to read this book, Milk, by Anne Mendelson, about the history of milk.  She writes that humans in most of the world have been milking animals forever, but only drinking fresh milk for the last couple hundred years and only in one tiny corner of the world (northern europe) and how we have lost so much with the advent of the industrialized dairy. She rails against homogenized milk, and the loss of other kinds of milk, like from goats and sheep and water buffalo. 

(She also says, as I've been carping about forever, that it is a weird and totally culturally-biased public policy to be pushing fresh milk on populations who lack the mutant gene that allows them to digest lactase. Most people in the world can digest soured or cultured milk, but not fresh milk. And that it's only been since the advent of refrigeration that even the mutant-gened northwestern Europeans have been able to drink fresh milk with any real commitment.)

It made me think, as I have been in general, that it is not any one food that is bad. It's not milk or meat or sweets or bad combos or gluten. It's industrialization. If you avoid industrialization, you automatically avoid other pitfalls. (ha, partly because you can't afford anything in excess, if it's locally grown and small-batch-prepared).

Anyway, the book led me to do things yesterday out of curiosity: 1. buy unhomogenized milk ($4.50 for 1/2 gallon, yikes) and 2. buy goats milk yogurt ($2.76 for 6 oz, YIKES).   

Even though I've had maybe one glass of milk in the last couple decades, I couldn't resist trying a glass of this here new-fangled unhomogenized milk. Last summer I tried a glass of raw milk in New Hampshire, but didn't think too much of it. But this stuff was delicious. It totally took me back to the milk I used to drink growing up. It was creamy and delicious and lacking in the very slight bitter undertone that I have come to associate with drinking fresh milk. 

Then the goat's milk yogurt, which I had for breakfast and loved. Thinner than the Brown Cow cream-on-top yogurt I usually eat, and tangy and bright. I love bright. I love tangy. Thin is okay.  $2.76, I don't love. Oh well, you can't have everything. 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

NEED: Birthday Help

Hi people, and Happy New Year! Thank you so much for reading my blog! It’s always nice to know I am not alone in my efforts to feed my kids, and lord knows it’s an endless battle. (eg: my son, unprompted, ate radishes and arugula last night! Whoo-hoo! But the same day his lunchbox came back essentially untouched. Bah!)

Anyway, I have a question for you all. I’m writing my April installment of my Feeding Your Family column, which I write for I’m talking about birthday parties. Okay, I’m ranting a bit about birthday parties.

Granted, I was a kid who didn’t care for games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and I’m always a little creeped out by those pictures of 1-year-olds with birthday cake frosting smeared all over their faces, looking dazed and drunk and sick, so I’m not starting out with the warmest of feelings toward the whole kids’ birthday party genre. Yes, I admit that I'm a bit of a birthday-party-scrooge.

But as we’ve all gone greener in our lives, it has struck me that birthday parties are in desperate need of a green makeover. In the last few decades they have become comprised on an entirely disposable, non-recyclable mentality. From the pizza boxes to the paper plates and plastic forks to the balloons to the plastic games to the goodie bags, which could easily be renamed the Crappy Bags….
(cue loud carnival music and obnoxious barker’s voice): ** CRAPPY BAGS! Filled with LAME Plastic Crap and CHEAP Candy that your Kids Will Play With for TWENTY Seconds. Do Those Toys Suck? No Problem, Moms! Just THROW Them Away!**

That’s not even getting into the candy issue, which I’ll sheepishly with a guilty grimace let rest for now.

Every year I try to make the parties greener, and they end up feeling paltry.  

So lay it on me, peeps. Any ideas? How can we make birthday parties more sustainable without taking away the fun? Are they just by their very nature destined to be chaotic avalanches of waste filled with over-stimulated kids jacked up on a potent combo of sugar and musical chairs? Or can we figure out some way to make them greener and more sustainable? Or is it just one day a year, and who cares?

I’d love any ideas you all can share with me about how to build a better goody bag, what to fill a piƱata with if not Cheap Crap, and alternatives to balloons (hey, even the Obamas got rid of the balloons!). Can we figure out how to narrow it down to ONE giant garbage bag for every 120 minutes of party fun? Do you all register for gifts to cut down on unwanted things, or does that seem rude? I don’t know, I need help!

Thank you!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Orange You Precious!

I am SO happy for Pete Wells.

It must be wonderful to have a four-year-old who is an obsessive cook with the palate of a French gourmand -- and AT THE SAME TIME get to write a monthly column for the NY Times magazine about the quirky, precious joys of parenting said culinary-genius child.

I am also happy for all the parents whose children never break down, who go to bed without prompting, who spoke at 1, toilet-trained at 18 months and read at 3.

I am happy for all the couples who got into the stock market at the right time, got out before Bernie Madoff went down and are now enjoying their homes in Aspen and their three-story loft apartments in Tribeca and already have their unborn children’s college funds already taken care of.

I’m happy for that dopey cute guy I used to work with in a restaurant on Nantucket, who started Nantucket Nectars and then married the CEO of Jcrew and then traveled around the world with her in his private plane. They sent dispatches home to the Nantucket paper and it was so great.

I am happy for women who married men who always shave and know how to shop for jewelry and like to surprise their wives with tickets to Italy.

I am happy for my little cousin, who was a toddler like a year ago, but has now started a girls’ soccer league in Uganda and is living there developing her non-profit coalition even though she is only like 22.

I’m happy for Colleen, whose parents surprised her and her sisters with a Christmas pony when they were little, and for Miriam and Sarah, who had horses when they were teenagers.

I am happy for everyone in the world who, right now, is out skiing in powder or snorkeling in the Caribbean or discovering Paris or doing anything more pleasant than sitting at work trying to keep the new-carpet fumes at bay and feeling irritated by the New York Times magazine.

All this is to say that I really am happy for Mr. Wells. But I highly resent the implication – which I have noticed ALL parents of good eaters make – that by merely having the right "attitude" you can produce children who are great eaters. It is simply not true, not for every child, and certainly not for children in the 3-6 year range.

Hey, I took my kids to pig farms and green markets, just like Mr. Wells modestly brags that he did. We made apple sauce, too, you obnoxious phoney. My kids know that apple sauce comes from apples, too, you jerk. When my son was in 1st grade he drew a cartoon panel: first a live, feathered chicken, then a chopping block, then a chicken in a roasting pan, then an oven. Didn’t mean he wanted chicken salad for lunch.

The Times rolled out Wells’ new column on Sunday. Expect to hear a lot of griping from me. Reading about Amanda Hesser’s super twee courtship of Mr Latte was bad enough. Now we’ve got to hear minute details about a precocious four-year-old’s doings in the kitchen and are expected to feel sheepish about that fact that we don’t let our kids grind the coffee beans and that’s how they became picky eaters.

Ahhh, fooey.