Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Seven Rules

Michael Pollan recently spoke to to a big crowd at the Center for Disease and Control. He gave Seven Rules for eating, and dispelled Four Myths.

Check it out.

Greening the Easter Basket

Yippee! Spring is here! Asparagus, strawberries! No more wind burn or chapped hands or down coat the size and heft of an arctic sleeping bag! Crocuses and daffodils! Easter baskets! Plastic grass, stupid throwaway toys, cheap crappy candy and --- wait, whaaaat?

Ew, when did Easter baskets get so lame?

In "Feeding Your Family", the column I write for, I wrote about this pressing issue: Easter Baskets, how to spruce them up a bit. Really, how to make them less crappy. Less plasticky, less disposable, less dollar-store, less cheap slave labor-produced chocolate. I mean, come on, what would Jesus think about those atrocities we all grew up with?

Okay, I'm not really thinking about Jesus when I make up an Easter basket. It's more of a Pagan holiday for me, a little celebration of spring. Here are some ideas:

- Spring-colored dish cloth instead of plastic grass
- Egg-shaped candles instead of lots of candy
- Seeds or bulbs or pots of flowers

I'll take a picture of the ones I'm preparing, as soon as I have everything assembled. If you have any ideas, post comments. Pictures? Send them to me and I'll post them.

Happy Spring!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Like Parent Like Child

We had raw oysters last night, at my 9-year-old son's urging. Yeah, the picky one. My picky kid. My kid who has driven me crazy at the dinner for the last ten years, who basically inspired my interest in the whole concept of picky eating, and also inspired this blog. The kid who wouldn't eat cake or pizza or drink juice until he was 3 or 4. Who hated baby food. Who ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch for about three years straight, then switched to turkey sandwiches and has had that for about the last three years. Who didn't like rice, beans, eggs, anything green (except massive quantities of broccoli about twice a year), or anything new or anything unusual. That kid begged for us to stop at the fish store so we could get oysters. (The other kid, 5, cheered because then we could have fish for dinner!)

There is hope for us all.

He has suggested that, just as we have our "Meatless" Sundays, that we also have Clam Fridays. We should have clams every Friday, and sometimes oysters, he says.

Where does this come from? I wondered this as I watched him methodically squirt some lemon juice on a wobbly silvery-gray mass of living sea flesh -- and just as quickly remembered how obvious it is. Uh, from his parents and relatives? Whether it is genetic or environmental, my son was born into a family that is greedy and self-indulgent when it comes to seafood. Since he was a baby he has seen family holidays celebrated with shellfish. It turns out modeling does work; children really do absorb their family's food culture. It just takes ten years.

I'm so pleased.

We're not done, but we're on our way.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Please Sign!

I just joined this group, Healthy School NYC, which is trying to get artificial hormones out of the milk served in NYC public schools.

Please sign the petition and pass it on to anyone you think might sign. According to one of our members, who works with the city, 1000 signatures will make the Office of School Foods sit up and take notice. Help us reach our goal!

Oops, I'm editing this post to make a hyperlink. Sign the petition here.



Sunday, March 15, 2009

Italian Sundays

All weekend long I mentioned to the various large and small people in my family that Sunday was coming up and it was our Day of No Meat.

This announcement was repeatedly met with indifference -- until about 6 pm tonight, when indignation and outrage blossomed. ("WHAT?" "WHO decided THAT?" "Does DAD know about this?")

Here's how my Day of No Meat went for me:

Sunday morning:

Both kids had sleepovers the night before (a first), so I woke up, as usual, hours before my husband, to the calmest house I've experienced in 10 years. I drank coffee and read Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife, which I am addicted to and highly recommend, and then walked the dog.

When I got back to my still silent (ahhhhhh) house, I made an omelette which I filled with a slice of what my husband calls "the Italian version of Brie, but I can't remember what it's called" and a leftover saute of leeks and mushrooms. MMMMMMM! Yes! A bazillion points for vegetarian breakfasts! Another bazillion points for our All-Clad saute pan, which it turns out does a genius impression of an omelette pan!

Later I took a few kids to the zoo, but at the pickup station was unable to resist a half a bagel with cream cheese and lox, which the other parents had spread out right in front of me. Okay, minus 2 (200? 2000?) points for the lox. That was lunch.

For dinner we had rice and black beans, with radishes, tomatoes, onions, cheese and hot sauce. Okay, fine, so the kale and the black beans both had some pancetta in them. I have, like, this HUNK of pancetta in my fridge. What am I supposed to do it with it, as I cook beans and kale? NOT use it?

Fine, so I'm doing the Italian version of vegetarianism. I lived in Italy for a year as a vegetarian; Italians were constantly reassuring me that I could enjoy this or that or the other dish, because the meat was in little little pieces.

Husband: "I thought this was a no-meat dinner."

Wife: "It is."

Husband: "What's with all the pancetta?"

Wife: (shrugging in that irrepressible La Vita é Bella! way): Just a little bit! For the taste!

Dinner was good.

9-year-old ate rice and beans, salad, and everything else on the table except for the kale

5-year-old ("BEANS AND RICE? BUT WHAT AM I GOING TO HAVE?") squeezed her own lime and fish sauce condiment, and ate a massive portion of brown rice, a few tomatoes, and, out of idle curiosity, one bean.

That's all that matters. We're on our way.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cold, Hungry, Need Food

I went to Harlem yesterday on a food tour, and before I can even blog about it, I had to go shopping and start cooking. It was really cold, the food was great, and afterwards I came home, exhausted, to a largely food-less house. This combination has resulted in a cooking version of hoarding.

This is what's happening in my kitchen, even as I blog:

Pasta Puttanesca
I started to make this last night, but realized we didn't have garlic. Or black olives, or capers. I had to shelve the half-cooked onions until today. I don't even know when we are going to eat this, but I wanted to finish it. It is one of those food weeks where I will just feel better knowing we are minutes away from dinner. (Yeah, yeah, my kids don't like pasta with tomato sauce, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.) 

Red beans, soaking
I had this red bean-turkey soup at Lee Lee's Bakery in Harlem yesterday. They are known for their rugelach, but it came out eventually that they also have red bean soup. It was really salty and smoky with the beans falling apart, and unbelievably delicious. Alas, I couldn't find a smoked turkey neck at the Coop this morning. Or any kind of smoked turkey. I got ground turkey, and plan to add a bit of pancetta.
These are the beginnings. I guess that's more than "a bit" of pancetta. Oh well. I think I can make it work.

Jacob's cattle beans
I had no specific plans for them, but they are NYS-grown, and they looked beautiful, so I bought them. I might cook them with some of that pancetta, and serve them with collard greens and corn bread and macaroni and cheese, and I will feel like I am at Manna's Soul Food Buffet on 125th Street.

Black Beans 
They are soaking in anticipation of our Sunday night rice and beans. No meat on Sundays, right? Well, except for bacon in the morning, and pancetta in everything.

Friday, March 6, 2009

1 Part Organic Fetish + 1 Part Economic Crash....

= a renewed interest in home gardening.

When I was growing up, even my non-homebody-ish grandmother used to grow tomatoes, cucumbers and basil in her TINY courtyard. It was just what you did. 

My mother took it a little further -- when she moved to a little residential block with a shady backyard, she planted corn in her front yard, which when I was a teenager I thought was just plain weird. (My mom, shrugging, unconcerned: "But that's where the best sun is.").  Then I grew up and moved to Brooklyn where, in Chinatown, you can still see entire front yards taken over by squash vines and corn stalks. It's making sense to me now. I'm sure I could grow great tomatoes in my front yard...

Leonard Lopate had blogger Kerry Trueman and urban "ag-tivisit" Adam Brock on his show yesterday, talking about urban gardening. I was desperately trying to listen to the show in the car, while also carrying on a conversation with my daughter. Not a great outcome.

I just found it on the WNYC website, and I'm totally psyched to start gardening this spring!
Have a listen:

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Feed a Fever

Late winter viruses have hit our house -- my son last week, my daughter this week.

My son, who is nine, knows a thing or two about being sick. He lies on the couch in a sleeping bag, alternately moaning and sleeping. He can swallow aspirin, asks for tea with honey, and he knows what sick foods he likes. Chicken soup that Mom is making from scratch right there as he sweats it out on the couch? Uh, no. He likes tortilla chips with lime, and bananas. Those are his return-to-eating-after-a-fever foods. Those and ... this new request.

From the couch, a feeble creaky voice: "Mom? Can you make an apple pie?"

I don't know if it was a fever dream, but I jumped at the chance. Why not? I had butter and flour, could get apples around the corner, and I would love for him to have another fever food. PLUS, I was working on a deadline and needed something to procrastinate with.

Unfortunately, he was may have been hallucinating, as he turned out to have no interest in apple pie, and I was forced to eat most of it.

My daughter is sick now, but takes after her mom, and sees no reason to let a little feverish stomach ache keep her from eating.

What do you all feed your kids when they're sick?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

$266.14 Later...

We've been suspended at the Coop for a couple weeks now, and I've been slowly going crazy. I can't shop at other stores.

When I am suspended, I go to Fairway, which is a huge, gourmet-ish grocery store that started out in Manhattan years ago and recently came to Brooklyn. It has a parking lot, a great fish counter, incredible cheese selection, and also these particular lemony olives that have no weird sodium derivatives, just plain sea salt and are perfect for martinis, but more about those another time. So it is not all bad at Fairway. The biggest problem: it's more expensive, has more tempting crap (like chocolate-covered ice cream bon bons and other things with my name scrawled all over them and screaming out to me) and has boring, blah-ish produce. The arugula wilts by the time you get to the cashier, maybe because it is so far away (the store is vast), and everything seems so industrial and unanppealing.

Okay, really, there's nothing wrong with it, I'm just spoiled by the Coop, which is a produce lover's dream. The Coop has organic and conventionally grown produce, and it's all completely beautiful and robust and lovely. The best part is they mark everything's origin, so you can make an effort to be local. And it's cheap. And when you make those impulsive grabs for stuff you never bought before, it is more likely to be green tea chocolate bars or pomelos (sweet grapefruit) or chocolate covered almonds, things you don't regret when you get home.

Anyway, now it turns out we have another grace period -- the two weeks after a suspension, in which you are able to shop. So, wooooo hoooo, I shopped today.

And shopped, and shopped, and shopped.

I was like a starving person just back from Siberia. I bought so much food, mostly produce, that I almost couldn't pack it into the cart. The cashier said skeptically, "So, it this a week's worth of food?" God, I hope so.

As soon as I got home I sat down and ate soba noodle salad with TVP, and a roll of avocado sushi. Then I put all the food away, and made a Coq au Vin for dinner, which is simmering away right now. Tomorrow we're having clams with spinach and chickpeas. Friday, burgers. Somewhere along the way: yellow lentil soup, spaghetti with turkey meatballs, chocolate covered almonds, raspberry sorbet, lemon grass soup with rice noodles, honeycrisp apples, roasted yukon potatoes, hearts of palm, fennel and radish salad, black beans and rice, pecans and cashews, almond butter and bilberry jam sandwiches, humboldt fog goat cheese, oh yeah -- SHEEPS MILK YOGURT, and, okay, thick-cut fatty salty incredible no-nitrates bacon.

And some martinis, if I still have some of those olives leftover from Fairway.

Dammit, why doesn't the Coop sell those?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Pathetic-ness Averted

If you read my account of the pathetic and twisted conversation I led my five-year-old daughter through earlier this evening (see below) in an effort to interest her in eating beans and rice for dinner, you may be as shocked as I am to learn that it all turned out great. 

She and I cooked dinner together: cut up radishes, pounded garlic in the mortar to make the vinaigrette, spun salad, grated cheese, cut avocados, set table, and squeezed limes for her fish-sauce-and-lime sauce.  She also peeled brussels sprouts and garlic, and tossed them in olive oil. (Why roasted B. sprouts in a Latin-style dish? Because we had them.) 

My daughter is the kind of kid who, in order to erase an Etch-a-Sketch drawing, holds the tablet really rigidly in her arms and jumps up and down really hard for five minutes. She has a lot of energy and she loves doing things. So she was so happy to help.

Okay, I did chop up a little bit of bacon and fry it and then add it to the beans. I did not put any interesting dried smoky chilies in the beans, since I was hoping my kids would eat the beans and didn't want to add any spice.  

Anyway, the rice and beans were delicious to us, of course. My daughter ate rice with fish sauce and limes, just like she'd said, along with a brussels sprout in exchange for a few scraps of bacon. The big surprise was... my 9-year-old son, who topped his rice and beans with everything there was and then fought with my husband for the last serving of salad. 

"When can we have this again?" he asked.

"We're always having no meat on Sundays," my daughter informed him.

"How about next Sunday?" I said.

"How about Wednesday?" he countered (Wednesday being the next night we eat together, since I work late the next two nights). Before bed he asked again when we could have rice and beans again. 


Willy Nilly on The Bean Frontier

We're having rice and beans tonight. With tomatoes, avocados, cheese, radishes and maybe even sour cream, if I think it'll make them eat the rice and beans. No meat. 

We are not bean eaters.  I think we eat so much animal protein that my kids' bodies don't really see the point of beans. Every effort at introducing beans has resulted in struggles, and even tears. Usually I just let it go. Beans and bean soups are for grownups in our house. 

But I'm trying to push the less-meat agenda (and I'm suspended at the Coop and can't get the farm-raised meat I like to have), so it's rice and beans tonight. The kid have had ample warning. Researchers in school food programs have shown that kids are more likely to accept a new food if they have studied it, and also if they help prepare it. So, we've been talking about beans, and they're going to help me cook. Unfortunately, the conversations are not going quite as planned, because there is something wrong with me, and I am obviously conflicted about eating less meat. 

Here's one:

Mom: Look, this is a picture of rice and beans. People and kids eat rice and beans all over the world. (Shows a picture of rice and beans on the computer.)

Kid (glancing up with barely any interest): Eww, that’s digusting. It’s got orange stuff in it. (Orange-y bits of sautéed onions.)

Mom: That’s just onions. You don’t have to eat those if you don’t want to.

Kid: [disinterested silence]

Mom (desperate to entice): Orrr… maybe the orange bits would be bacon in the rice and beans.

Kid: I would eat it if it was bacon.

Mom (backpedaling after the bacon suggestion [stupid, stupid!]): The nice thing about rice and beans is that no animals got killed for us to eat.

Kid: Because we love animals.

Mom: Right, we really love animals.

Kid: Except fish. We hate fish, right?

Mom: I don’t hate fish.

Kid: Well, we like to eat fish, but we don’t love fish.

Mom: Oh, you mean we don’t like to snuggle with fish.

Kid: Right.

Mom: Right. We don't snuggle with fish. So, anyway, that’s nice if we have rice and beans, and no animals were killed.

Kid: Let’s never kill animals.

Mom (pathetically, goes on the defensive): Welllll, let’s just try to cut down. What if we had some days every week where we never ate animals?

Kid: Today! No animals today! Just rice and beans.

Mom (again, pathetically, gets defensive, and also thinking that a little bit of bacon in the beans would be deLISHous): Not even bacon in the rice and beans?

Kid (thinks for a minute): Yes, bacon!

Some time later….

Mom: So you’re going to have rice and beans tonight?

Kid: Rice. Rice and fish sauce.
Mom: with limes, right?

Kid: Yeah, with limes. 


Backyard Growing

Just got this link to a report about backyard food production. Apparently in Russia, where they don't exactly have a long growing season, 90% of the country's potatoes are grown in backyard gardens. 

Could there be hope for those of us with tiny shady urban backyards?