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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sea Vegetable Fest

An all-seaweed lunch. I was developing recipes for today's
seaweed class and they all came together for lunch on the patio: wild nori chowder, sesame sea palm, seaweed salad over greens and mandarin-lime kanten. What a joy to bring sea vegeatables into my life in a bigger way.

Seaweed has been a part of the human diet from the beginning. Every coastal and most inland traditional diet has included sea vegetables, such as those of Japan, Korea, China, Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Denmark, Hawaii and other Pacific Islands. According to noted herbalist Susan Weed, seaweed’s benefits include: “increased longevity, enhanced immune functioning, revitalization of the cardiovascular, endocrine, digestive, and nervous systems, and relief from minor aches and pains.”
Sea vegetables are nutritional powerhouses, high in iron and calcium, and containing B vitamins, vitamin A, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iodine and trace minerals like selenium, zinc, copper, and molybdenum. As modern agriculture techniques deplete soil minerals, modern diets are increasingly deficient and many of us suffer health problems as a result. They are high in fiber, support water metabolism and elimination, and alkalize the body. The brown seaweeds, including kombu, wakame, arame and hijiki, contain alginic acid, which binds and helps expel heavy metals and radioisotopes. In Traditional Chinese medicine, they are said to soften hardness and promote urination, and are used in this and other traditional healing systems to treat goiter, cysts, hernia, edema, UTI, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, asthma, menstrual and menopausal symptoms and much more.

Sea vegetables are also one of the few sources of wild foods in many people’s diets. They are nutrient dense and practically calorie-free, the opposite of so many modern foods. They provide many of the nutrients available from fish and seafood, notably iodine and calcium, but are more sustainable. Strive to include them in your diet daily. Seaweeds can concentrate toxins from the waters in which they are grown, so know your sources!

Strand seaweeds: arame, hijiki, sea palm—soak and use in salads, veggie dishes, soups
Strip seaweeds: kombu, wakame--soups and broth, soak and cut into strands and use as above
Sheet seaweeds: wild nori, dulse—toast or fry for toppings or sandwiches, soups, scrambles
Kombu: cook with all grains or beans for enhanced flavor and nutrition, faster cooking times for beans
Good as condiments and in trail mix: toasted sea palm, dulse, wakame, nori

Seaweed Salad
1 oz. sea palm, sea whip or arame
3 T. brown rice vinegar
1-2 T maple syrup
Optional additions: toasted sesame oil or seeds, minced garlic minced green onion, etc.
Soak the seaweed in cold water to cover for 5 minutes or more. Drain and use the water for soup stock, grain cooking or at least give it to your plants! Mix the vinegar and maple syrup into the seaweed and season to taste with optional or other additions. Serve over salad greens or plain. Variation: use soaked wakame, with the tough middle rib removed (save for soup stock), cut into thin strips.

Sesame Seaweed
This dish is popular even with seaweed neophytes. The sesame and seaweed together pack a powerful punch of calcium!
1 oz. sea palm, arame or hijiki
1 onion, sliced
1 T. sesame or olive oil
2 T tahini
½ tsp tamari
Dash umeboshi plum vinegar
Soak seaweed in cool water to cover for 10-15 minutes, then drain, saving the water for soup stock, adding to bathwater, or fertilizer. Heat the oil in a skillet and add the onion, sautéing until it begins to color. Add the seaweed and continue to sauté until the seaweed begins to get tender (how long this takes will depend on the type). Stir in the tahini and a splash of water if the tahini is very thick. Keep stirring until the tahini is evenly distributed, then stir in the tamari until all is smooth. Finish with ume vinegar to taste. Serve as a side dish, or use as a pastry or filo dough filling. Variations: add carrots cut in matchsticks after the onions, use almond butter or peanut butter instead of tahini, add garlic with the onions, use lots of whole toasted sesame, sunflower or pumpkin seeds instead of or with the tahini.

Vegetarian Dashi
This is the stock of those classic miso soups, minus the bonito flakes. It goes well with noodles, almost any vegetable, any miso, and can be used in veggie and seafood stews. Since it can be made with mostly dried ingredients, you might be able to whip it up on those days when you want good nourishing food, but haven’t been to the market in a while.
2 6” strips kombu
1 onion or 2 spring onions, sliced
2 slices fresh ginger
6-8 dried shitakes
2 T tamari
Mirin or sake to taste
Seasonal vegetables, chopped
Bring all to a boil in 7 cups of water and simmer, covered for 20-30 minutes. Fish out the mushrooms and the kombu and slice thinly, then return to the pot. Taste and finish with more salt, vinegar, or toasted sesame oil.

Seaweed websites: Nice collection of recipes, seaweed blog Herbalist Susun Weed’s wonderful website The Mendocino Seaweed Company’s website, and a way to order their book, still the essential guide to seaweed harvest and use.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wolf Cooking, Part 2

The nutrition school I attend recently posed a challenge to the students: to try to eat healthfully on a tight budget, specifically the Federal Food and Nutrition services maximum benefit, for one week a month in 2009. The idea arose out of the common complaint of our clients that eating healthy food is too expensive. It truly was a challenge to feed my family of three on $108 a month. I complicated the matter further by striving to meet not only our nutritional but our ethical and political needs as well. I really did not want to buy non-organic anything, or factory-farmed meat. I did choose organic beans, $1-2/lb. which I have found may come from China even if found at your local natural foods store, over local beans at $2-4/lb. We almost succeeded. By Saturday, we were out of milk, which for a preschooler is a no no. I went to the store for more and went back to raw milk which I believe has twice the nutritional value, worth it at twice the price.

This is our shopping list for the week:
Farmer’s Market:
Local pastured eggs: $8/2 dozen
Whole Grain Wheat Bread $4
Local Raw Honey, 1 lb. $7
Organic Apples $2.75
Organic Carrots $2.50
Monterey Market/ Berkeley Bowl:
Organic whole wheat flour $1.59
Organic Yellow Cornmeal $.59
Long Grain Organic Brown Rice $2.00
Green Beans $2.27
Organic Black-Eyed Peas $1.04
Organic Potatoes $.70
Organic Celery $1.79
Local Salted Butter $3.49
Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter $5.99
“Natural” Jack Cheese $5.14
Cherry Tomatoes $1.29
1 gall Organic Whole Milk $7.49
Sale Organic Apples $.99
Sale Cara Cara Organic Navels $.76
Pot Sticker Skins $1.69
Niman Ranch Ground Beef $3.11

Plus $15 (paid a year in advance) for our CSA box, which had: Carrots, oranges, bok choi, red Russian kale, spinach, butternut squash, and fresh onions this week, plus leftover cabbage and Nappa cabbage from last week. We had local, pastured short ribs and ground pork in the freezer from our meat buying club and a can of wild salmon from a local discount warehouse, plus barley from our grain CSA to sprout for soup and salad, $24 in all. Total outlay: $108 for the week, not including the Sunday run for milk. Also, we ate homemade bone broth from the freezer, homegrown and canned apple-blackberry sauce, home-pickled vegetables, and kale, leeks, arugula, sorrel, dandelion greens, green onions, parsley and herbs from the garden. Chocolate, maple syrup and a huge tin of almonds we received as gifts, luxuries that were much appreciated. We contributed back to the gift economy this week by giving away some apple chutney from our fall apple harvest. And we were sure to cash in that coupon for a free loaf of bread from a local collective bakery. I didn’t include our spending on wine and coffee beans, which amounted to about $40 for the week.

We were surprised at how, although we ate well and really not too differently from usual, we felt constrained and at times resentful. It’s incredible how putting up a barrier can do that, even if it is a contrived one. The truth is, we are on a budget although we don’t act like it, and it would be good for us to bring our grocery purchases closer to this level. Next time, I would shop a little more carefully (I could have saved $2 by buying the peanut butter at my coop), and leave more room for spontaneity. I really missed that second trip to the Farmer’s market in the week, but I was out of money. I was impressed how much mental energy was freed up by planning meals a week in advance. I thought a lot less about food than I usually do.
It was strange, too, how the vegetarian meals didn’t feel quite complete. I was vegetarian for 15 years, and a vegan chef—so I should know how to plan a satisfying vegetarian meal. My husband, a Midwesterner, is much happier with meat on the plate, even if it is just a little. This exercise confirmed that animal products, especially sustainable ones, can take up a big piece of a budget, even if you stick to cheaper cuts of meat, like bony cuts and ground meat, and cook the bones into soup, too. I think the meat-as-condiment paradigm is the way to go. One trick that really worked was that baking can do a lot to stretch the budget and add cheer. Black eyed peas with leeks and greens were a lot more exciting with cornbread and honey butter! Another trick was making yogurt at home to save money and increase beneficial bacteria. Beans and grains, of course, are the great budget stretchers, especially because they double in volume when cooked or sprouted.

Having a young child involved in this experiment was another challenge. While he doesn’t eat as much as an adult, he doesn’t have adult tastes. For example, he rarely will eat leafy greens which are easy to grow, inexpensive and appear many of our meals. He loves fruit, dairy and meat, but will eat grains and beans, too. The higher purpose of the experiment is lost on him. It really gave me compassion for families trying to feed children on a tight budget. You want so much to do the best you can for your child, it is painful if you feel you cannot. It’s no surprise that I started him on vitamins this week for the first time…I’m looking forward to trying this again next month.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Growing Resistance

Spring seems to be coming, all too soon. A girl’s thoughts turn to…gardening. Our weekend project is a new raised bed in the second-sunniest spot in the garden. This week our evenings are consumed with poring over our favorite seed catalog for heirloom veggie and flower seeds. We are fond of Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. Some of the varieties date back to colonial times or farther. Most important, they are heirlooms, and owned by the human race, not Monsanto or Seminis.
I was sad to realize that the seeds sold at my neighborhood garden center are not from a small seed company like Baker Creek, but a formerly small seed company swallowed up by a giant seed, or maybe even biotech, company. Another small way to resist the concentration of the global food supply into the hands of an ever-smaller number of corporations. I’m also getting some seeds from the Ecology Center’s seed library, where they have some very local varieties like tree collards, which are perennial. Perennial vegetables, how brilliant. I have been enjoying the book by the same name from my local library. They are a lazy gardener’s dream.
Our gardening fever has been fueled by our participation in yet another food experiment. My nutrition program has called for us all to take the Frugal challenge this year. For a week a month in 2009, we will limit our food budget to the national Food and Nutrition Services maximum benefit, which for our family is about $106/week. We didn’t quite succeed this time, but more on this in my next post. Suffice it to say here that I have really appreciated the perennial greens I have under the apple tree, the wild arugula and sorrel, punctuated with dandelion greens from throughout the garden, as a big component of several “foraging lunches” which didn’t impact the food bill at all.
The war on GMO’s is heating up, at last, on the national front. The Institute for Responsible Technology has called to make 2009 “the year of the non-GMO tipping point.” According to their managing director, Charles Burkham “consumers are often shocked to find out that about 70% of the foods in your pantry have some level of GMO toxins which carry documented health risks.” You haven’t heard about these health risks? Not surprising, since little research has been done. What has been done has been scary. For example, one animal study showed that transgenes can transfer out of the GMO food into our precious intestinal bacteria after just one GMO meal, according to Claire Hope Cummings in her excellent book Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds.
The main GMO crops are also the processed food giants: soy, corn, cottonseed and canola. Organic food, by definition, must not contain GMO’s, although, in the case of corn, it can be very difficult to be certain that GMO’s have not contaminated the corn crop. Download IRT’s excellent non-GMO shopping guide here: They are issuing the challenge of eating GMO free for 30 days. I am really excited by their proposal that if only 5% of American consumers conscientiously avoided GMO’s, it would be more than enough to purge GMO’s from our food supply.

UPCOMING: The last two weekends in February I’ll be teaching free workshops at the CoG in Emeryville. Check out their website at for details.